'And where would you go, Dick, and find better?' said Kate.
'Anywhere. I should find better in America, in Canada, in the Far West, in New Zealand—but I mean to try in Australia.'
'And what will you do when you get there?' asked Kilgobbin, with a grim humour in his look.
'Do tell me, Cousin Dick, for who knows that it might not suit me also?'
Young Kearney filled his glass, and drained it without speaking. At last he said, 'It will be for you, sir, to say if I make the trial. It is clear enough, I have no course open to me here. For a few hundred pounds, or, indeed, for anything you like to give me, you get rid of me for ever. It will be the one piece of economy my whole life comprises.'
'Stay at home, Dick, and give to your own country the energy you are willing to bestow on a strange land,' said Kate.
'And labour side by side with the peasant I have looked down upon since I was able to walk.'
'Don't look down on him, then—do it no longer. If you would treat the first stranger you met in the bush as your equal, begin the Christian practice in your own country.'
'But he needn't do that at all,' broke in the old man. 'If he would take to strong shoes and early rising here at Kilgobbin, he need never go to Geelong for a living. Your great-grandfathers lived here for centuries, and the old house that sheltered them is still standing.'
'What should I stay for—?' He had got thus far when his eyes met Nina's, and he stopped and hesitated, and, as a deep blush covered his face, faltered out, 'Gorman O'Shea says he is ready to go with me, and two fellows with less to detain them in their own country would be hard to find.'
'O'Shea will do well enough,' said the old man; 'he was not brought up to kid-leather boots and silk linings in his greatcoat. There's stuff in him, and if it comes to sleeping under a haystack or dining on a red-herring, he'll not rise up with rheumatism or heartburn. And what's better than all, he'll not think himself a hero because he mends his own boots or lights his own kitchen-fire.'
'A letter for your honour,' said the servant, entering with a very informal-looking note on coarse paper, and fastened with a wafer. 'The gossoon, sir, is waiting for an answer; he run every mile from Moate.'
'Read it, Kitty,' said the old man, not heeding the servant's comment.
'It is dated "Moate Jail, seven o'clock,"' said Kitty, as she read: '"Dear Sir,—I have got into a stupid scrape, and have been committed to jail. Will you come, or send some one to bail me out. The thing is a mere trifle, but the 'being locked up' is very hard to bear.—Yours always, G. O'Shea."'
'Is this more Fenian work?' cried Kilgobbin.
'I'm certain it is not, sir,' said Dick. 'Gorman O'Shea has no liking for them, nor is he the man to sympathise with what he owns he cannot understand. It is a mere accidental row.'
'At all events, we must see to set him at liberty. Order the gig, Dick, and while they are putting on the harness, I'll finish this decanter of port. If it wasn't that we're getting retired shopkeepers on the bench, we'd not see an O'Shea sent to prison like a gossoon that stole a bunch of turnips.'
'What has he been doing, I wonder?' said Nina, as she drew her arm within Kate's and left the room.
'Some loud talk in the bar-parlour, perhaps,' was Kate's reply, and the toss of her head as she said it implied more even than the words.
HOW IT BEFELL
While Lord Kilgobbin and his son are plodding along towards Moate with a horse not long released from the harrow, and over a road which the late rains had sorely damaged, the moment is not inopportune to explain the nature of the incident, small enough in its way, that called on them for this journey at nightfall. It befell that when Miss Betty, indignant at her nephew's defection, and outraged that he should descend to call at Kilgobbin, determined to cast him off for ever, she also resolved upon a project over which she had long meditated, and to which the conversation at her late dinner greatly predisposed her.
The growing unfertility of the land, the sturdy rejection of the authority of the Church, manifested in so many ways by the people, had led Miss O'Shea to speculate more on the insecurity of landed property in Ireland than all the long list of outrages scheduled at assizes, or all the burning haggards that ever flared in a wintry sky. Her notion was to retire into some religious sisterhood, and away from life and its cares, to pass her remaining years in holy meditation and piety. She would have liked to have sold her estate and endowed some house or convent with the proceeds, but there were certain legal difficulties that stood in the way, and her law-agent, McKeown, must be seen and conferred with about these.
Her moods of passion were usually so very violent that she would stop at nothing; and in the torrent of her anger she would decide on a course of action which would colour a whole lifetime. On the present occasion her first step was to write and acquaint McKeown that she would be at Moodie's Hotel, Dominick Street, the same evening, and begged he might call there at eight or nine o'clock, as her business with him was pressing. Her next care was to let the house and lands of O'Shea's Barn to Peter Gill, for the term of one year, at a rent scarcely more than nominal, the said Gill binding himself to maintain the gardens, the shrubberies, and all the ornamental plantings in their accustomed order and condition. In fact, the extreme moderation of the rent was to be recompensed by the large space allotted to unprofitable land, and the great care he was pledged to exercise in its preservation; and while nominally the tenant, so manifold were the obligations imposed on him, he was in reality very little other than the caretaker of O'Shea's Barn and its dependencies. No fences were to be altered, or boundaries changed. All the copses of young timber were to be carefully protected by palings as heretofore, and even the ornamental cattle—the shorthorns, and the Alderneys, and a few favourite 'Kerries,'—were to be kept on the allotted paddocks; and to old Kattoo herself was allotted a loose box, with a small field attached to it, where she might saunter at will, and ruminate over the less happy quadrupeds that had to work for their subsistence.
Now, though Miss Betty, in the full torrent of her anger, had that much of method in her madness to remember the various details, whose interests were the business of her daily life, and so far made provision for the future of her pet cows and horses and dogs and guinea-fowls, so that if she should ever resolve to return she should find all as she had left it, the short paper of agreement by which she accepted Gill as her tenant was drawn up by her own hand, unaided by a lawyer; and, whether from the intemperate haste of the moment, or an unbounded confidence in Gill's honesty and fidelity, was not only carelessly expressed, but worded in a way that implied how her trustfulness exonerated her from anything beyond the expression of what she wished for, and what she believed her tenant would strictly perform. Gill's repeated phrase of 'Whatever her honour's ladyship liked' had followed every sentence as she read the document aloud to him; and the only real puzzle she had was to explain to the poor man's simple comprehension that she was not making a hard bargain with him, but treating him handsomely and in all confidence.
Shrewd and sharp as the old lady was, versed in the habits of the people, and long trained to suspect a certain air of dulness, by which, when asking the explanation of a point, they watch, with a native casuistry, to see what flaw or chink may open an equivocal meaning or intention, she was thoroughly convinced by the simple and unreasoning concurrence this humble man gave to every proviso, and the hearty assurance he always gave 'that her honour knew what was best. God reward and keep her long in the way to do it!'—with all this, Miss O'Shea had not accomplished the first stage of her journey to Dublin, when Peter Gill was seated in the office of Pat McEvoy, the attorney at Moate—smart practitioner, who had done more to foster litigation between tenant and landlord than all the 'grievances' that ever were placarded by the press.
'When did you get this, Peter?' said the attorney, as he looked about, unable to find a date.
'This morning, sir, just before she started.'
'You'll have to come before the magistrate and make an oath of the date, and, by my conscience, it's worth the trouble.'
'Why, sir, what's in it?' cried Peter eagerly.
'I'm no lawyer if she hasn't given you a clear possession of the place, subject to certain trusts, and even for the non-performance of these there is no penalty attached. When Councillor Holmes comes down at the assizes, I'll lay a case before him, and I'll wager a trifle, Peter, you will turn out to be an estated gentleman.'
'Blood alive!' was all Peter could utter.
Though the conversation that ensued occupied more than an hour, it is not necessary that we should repeat what occurred, nor state more than the fact that Peter went home fully assured that if O'Shea's Barn was not his own indisputably, it would be very hard to dispossess him, and that, at all events, the occupation was secure to him for the present. The importance that the law always attaches to possession Mr. McEvoy took care to impress on Gill's mind, and he fully convinced him that a forcible seizure of the premises was far more to be apprehended than the slower process of a suit and a verdict.
It was about the third week after this opinion had been given, when young O'Shea walked over from Kilgobbin Castle to the Barn, intending to see his aunt and take his farewell of her.
Though he had steeled his heart against the emotion such a leave-taking was likely to evoke, he was in nowise prepared for the feelings the old place itself would call up, and as he opened a little wicket that led by a shrubbery walk to the cottage, he was glad to throw himself on the first seat he could find and wait till his heart could beat more measuredly. What a strange thing was life—at least that conventional life we make for ourselves—was his thought now. 'Here am I ready to cross the globe, to be the servant, the labourer of some rude settler in the wilds of Australia, and yet I cannot be the herdsman here, and tend the cattle in the scenes that I love, where every tree, every bush, every shady nook, and every running stream is dear to me. I cannot serve my own kith and kin, but must seek my bread from the stranger! This is our glorious civilisation. I should like to hear in what consists its marvellous advantage.'
And then he began to think of those men of whom he had often heard—gentlemen and men of refinement—who had gone out to Australia, and who, in all the drudgery of daily labour—herding cattle on the plains or conducting droves of horses long miles of way—still managed to retain the habits of their better days, and, by the instinct of the breeding, which had become a nature, to keep intact in their hearts the thoughts and the sympathies and the affections that made them gentlemen.
'If my dear aunt only knew me as I know myself, she would let me stay here and serve her as the humblest labourer on her land. I can see no indignity in being poor and faring hardly. I have known coarse food and coarse clothing, and I never found that they either damped my courage or soured my temper.'
It might not seem exactly the appropriate moment to have bethought him of the solace of companionship in such poverty, but somehow his thoughts did take that flight, and unwarrantable as was the notion, he fancied himself returning at nightfall to his lowly cabin, and a certain girlish figure, whom our reader knows as Kate Kearney, standing watching for his coming.
There was no one to be seen about as he approached the house. The hall door, however, lay open. He entered and passed on to the little breakfast-parlour on the left. The furniture was the same as before, but a coarse fustian jacket was thrown on the back of a chair, and a clay-pipe and a paper of tobacco stood on the table. While he was examining these objects with some attention, a very ragged urchin, of some ten or eleven years, entered the room with a furtive step, and stood watching him. From this fellow, all that he could hear was that Miss Betty was gone away, and that Peter was at the Kilbeggan Market, and though he tried various questions, no other answers than these were to be obtained. Gorman now tried to see the drawing-room and the library, but these, as well as the dining-room, were all locked. He next essayed the bedrooms, but with the same unsuccess. At length he turned to his own well-known corner—the well-remembered little 'green-room'—which he loved to think his own. This too was locked, but Gorman remembered that by pressing the door underneath with his walking-stick, he could lift the bolt from the old-fashioned receptacle that held it, and open the door. Curious to have a last look at a spot dear by so many memories, he tried the old artifice and succeeded.
He had still on his watch-chain the little key of an old marquetrie cabinet, where he was wont to write, and now he was determined to write a last letter to his aunt from the old spot, and send her his good-bye from the very corner where he had often come to wish her 'good-night.'
He opened the window and walked out on the little wooden balcony, from which the view extended over the lawn and the broad belt of wood that fenced the demesne. The Sliebh Bloom Mountain shone in the distance, and in the calm of an evening sunlight the whole picture had something in its silence and peacefulness of almost rapturous charm.
Who is there amongst us that has not felt, in walking through the rooms of some uninhabited house, with every appliance of human comfort strewn about, ease and luxury within, wavy trees and sloping lawn or eddying waters without—who, in seeing all these, has not questioned himself as to why this should be deserted? and why is there none to taste and feel all the blessedness of such a lot as life here should offer? Is not the world full of these places? is not the puzzle of this query of all lands and of all peoples? That ever-present delusion of what we should do—what be if we were aught other than ourselves: how happy, how contented, how unrepining, and how good—ay, even our moral nature comes into the compact—this delusion, I say, besets most of us through life, and we never weary of believing how cruelly fate has treated us, and how unjust destiny has been to a variety of good gifts and graces which are doomed to die unrecognised and unrequited.
I will not go to the length of saying that Gorman O'Shea's reflections went thus far, though they did go to the extent of wondering why his aunt had left this lovely spot, and asked himself, again and again, where she could possibly have found anything to replace it.
'My dearest aunt,' wrote he, 'in my own old room at the dear old desk, and on the spot knitted to my heart by happiest memories, I sit down to send you my last good-bye ere I leave Ireland for ever.
'It is in no mood of passing fretfulness or impatience that I resolve to go and seek my fortune in Australia. As I feel now, believing you are displeased with me, I have no heart to go further into the question of my own selfish interests, nor say why I resolve to give up soldiering, and why I turn to a new existence. Had I been to you what I have hitherto been, had I the assurance that I possessed the old claim on your love which made me regard you as a dear mother, I should tell you of every step that has led me to this determination, and how carefully and anxiously I tried to study what might be the turning-point of my life.'
When he had written thus far, and his eyes had already grown glassy with the tears which would force their way across them, a heavy foot was heard on the stairs, the door was burst rudely open, and Peter Gill stood before him.
No longer, however, the old peasant in shabby clothes, and with his look half-shy, half-sycophant, but vulgarly dressed in broadcloth and bright buttons, a tall hat on his head, and a crimson cravat round his neck. His face was flushed, and his eye flashing and insolent, so that O'Shea only feebly recognised him by his voice.
'You thought you'd be too quick for me, young man,' said the fellow, and the voice in its thickness showed he had been drinking, 'and that you would do your bit of writing there before I'd be back, but I was up to you.'
'I really do not know what you mean,' cried O'Shea, rising; 'and as it is only too plain you have been drinking, I do not care to ask you.'
'Whether I was drinking or no is my own business; there's none to call me to account now. I am here in my own house, and I order you to leave it, and if you don't go by the way you came in, by my soul you'll go by that window!' A loud bang of his stick on the floor gave the emphasis to the last words, and whether it was the action or the absurd figure of the man himself overcame O'Shea, he burst out in a hearty laugh as he surveyed him. 'I'll make it no laughing matter to you,' cried Gill, wild with passion, and stepping to the door he cried out, 'Come up, boys, every man of ye: come up and see the chap that's trying to turn me out of my holding.'
The sound of voices and the tramp of feet outside now drew O'Shea to the window, and passing out on the balcony, he saw a considerable crowd of country-people assembled beneath. They were all armed with sticks, and had that look of mischief and daring so unmistakable in a mob. As the young man stood looking at them, some one pointed him out to the rest, and a wild yell, mingled with hisses, now broke from the crowd. He was turning away from the spot in disgust when he found that Gill had stationed himself at the window, and barred the passage.
'The boys want another look at ye,' said Gill insolently; 'go back and show yourself: it is not every day they see an informer.'
'Stand back, you old fool, and let me pass,' cried O'Shea.
'Touch me if you dare; only lay one finger on me in my own house,' said the fellow, and he grinned almost in his face as he spoke.
'Stand back,' said Gorman, and suiting the action to the word, he raised his arm to make space for him to pass out. Gill, no sooner did he feel the arm graze his chest, than he struck O'Shea across the face; and though the blow was that of an old man, the insult was so maddening that O'Shea, seizing him by the arms, dragged him out upon the balcony.
'He's going to throw the old man over,' cried several of those beneath, and amidst the tumult of voices, a number soon rushed up the stairs and out on the balcony, where the old fellow was clinging to O'Shea's legs in his despairing attempt to save himself. The struggle scarcely lasted many seconds, for the rotten wood-work of the balcony creaked and trembled, and at last gave way with a crash, bringing the whole party to the ground together.
A score of sticks rained their blows on the luckless young man, and each time that he tried to rise he was struck back and rolled over by a blow or a kick, till at length he lay still and senseless on the sward, his face covered with blood and his clothes in ribbons.
'Put him in a cart, boys, and take him off to the gaol,' said the attorney, McEvoy. 'We'll be in a scrape about all this, if we don't make him in the wrong.'
His audience fully appreciated the counsel, and while a few were busied in carrying old Gill to the house—for a broken leg made him unable to reach it alone—the others placed O'Shea on some straw in a cart, and set out with him to Kilbeggan.
'It is not a trespass at all,' said McEvoy. 'I'll make it a burglary and forcible entry, and if he recovers at all, I'll stake my reputation I transport him for seven years.'
A hearty murmur of approval met the speech, and the procession, with the cart at their head, moved on towards the town.
It was the Tory magistrate, Mr. Flood—the same who had ransacked Walpole's correspondence—before whom the informations were sworn against Gorman O'Shea, and the old justice of the peace was, in secret, not sorry to see the question of land-tenure a source of dispute and quarrel amongst the very party who were always inveighing against the landlords.
When Lord Kilgobbin arrived at Kilbeggan it was nigh midnight, and as young O'Shea was at that moment a patient in the gaol infirmary, and sound asleep, it was decided between Kearney and his son that they would leave him undisturbed till the following morning.
Late as it was, Kearney was so desirous to know the exact narrative of events that he resolved on seeing Mr. Flood at once. Though Dick Kearney remonstrated with his father, and reminded him that old Tom Flood, as he was called, was a bitter Tory, had neither a civil word nor a kind thought for his adversaries in politics, Kearney was determined not to be turned from his purpose by any personal consideration, and being assured by the innkeeper that he was sure to find Mr. Flood in his dining-room and over his wine, he set out for the snug cottage at the entrance of the town, where the old justice of the peace resided.
Just as he had been told, Mr. Flood was still in the dinner-room, and with his guest, Tony Adams, the rector, seated with an array of decanters between them.
'Kearney—Kearney!' cried Flood, as he read the card the servant handed him. 'Is it the fellow who calls himself Lord Kilgobbin, I wonder?'
'Maybe so,' growled Adams, in a deep guttural, for he disliked the effort of speech.
'I don't know him, nor do I want to know him. He is one of your half-and-half Liberals that, to my thinking, are worse than the rebels themselves! What is this here in pencil on the back of the card?' Mr. K. begs to apologise for the hour of his intrusion, and earnestly entreats a few minutes from Mr. Flood. 'Show him in, Philip, show him in; and bring some fresh glasses.'
Kearney made his excuses with a tact and politeness which spoke of a time when he mixed freely with the world, and old Flood was so astonished by the ease and good-breeding of his visitor that his own manner became at once courteous and urbane.
'Make no apologies about the hour, Mr. Kearney,' said he. 'An old bachelor's house is never very tight in discipline. Allow me to introduce Mr. Adams, Mr. Kearney, the best preacher in Ireland, and as good a judge of port wine as of theology.'
The responsive grunt of the parson was drowned in the pleasant laugh of the others, as Kearney sat down and filled his glass. In a very few words he related the reason of his visit to the town, and asked Mr. Flood to tell him what he knew of the late misadventure.
'Sworn information, drawn up by that worthy man, Pat McEvoy, the greatest rascal in Europe, and I hope I don't hurt you by saying it, Mr. Kearney. Sworn information of a burglarious entry, and an aggravated assault on the premises and person of one Peter Gill, another local blessing—bad luck to him. The aforesaid—if I spoke of hi before—Gorman O'Shea, having, suadente diabolo, smashed down doors and windows, palisadings and palings, and broke open cabinets, chests, cupboards, and other contrivances. In a word, he went into another man's house, and when asked what he did there, he threw the proprietor out of the window. There's the whole of it.'
'Where was the house?'
'But surely O'Shea's Barn, being the residence and property of his aunt, there was no impropriety in his going there?'
'The informant states that the place was in the tenancy of this said Gill, one of your own people, Mr. Kearney. I wish you luck of him.'
'I disown him, root and branch; he is a disgrace to any side. And where is Miss Betty O'Shea?'
'In a convent or a monastery, they say. She has turned abbess or monk; but, upon my conscience, from the little I've seen of her, if a strong will and a plucky heart be the qualifications, she might be the Pope!'
'And are the young man's injuries serious? Is he badly hurt? for they would not let me see him at the gaol.'
'Serious, I believe they are. He is cut cruelly about the face and head, and his body bruised all over. The finest peasantry have a taste for kicking with strong brogues on them, Mr. Kearney, that cannot be equalled.'
'I wish with all my heart they'd kick the English out of Ireland!' cried Kearney, with a savage energy.
''Faith! if they go on governing us in the present fashion, I do not say I'll make any great objection. Eh, Adams?'
'Maybe so!' was the slow and very guttural reply, as the fat man crossed his hands on his waistcoat.
'I'm sick of them all, Whigs and Tories,' said Kearney.
Is not every Irish gentleman sick of them, Mr. Kearney? Ain't you sick of being cheated and cajoled, and ain't we sick of being cheated and insulted? They seek to conciliate you by outraging us. Don't you think we could settle our own differences better amongst ourselves? It was Philpot Curran said of the fleas in Manchester, that if they'd all pulled together, they'd have pulled him out of bed. Now, Mr. Kearney, what if we all took to "pulling together?"'
'We cannot get rid of the notion that we'd be out-jockeyed,' said Kearney slowly.
'We know,' cried the other, 'that we should be out-numbered, and that is worse. Eh, Adams?'
'Ay!' sighed Adams, who did not desire to be appealed to by either side.
'Now we're alone here, and no eavesdropper near us, tell me fairly, Kearney, are you better because we are brought down in the world? Are you richer—are you greater—are you happier?'
'I believe we are, Mr. Flood, and I'll tell you why I say so.'
I'll be shot if I hear you, that's all. Fill your glass. That's old port that John Beresford tasted in the Custom-House Docks seventy-odd years ago, and you are the only Whig living that ever drank a drop of it!'
'I am proud to be the first exception, and I go so far as to believe—I shall not be the last!'
'I'll send a few bottles over to that boy in the infirmary. It cannot but be good for him,' said Flood.
'Take care, for Heaven's sake, if he be threatened with inflammation. Do nothing without the doctor's leave.'
'I wonder why the people who are so afraid of inflammation, are so fond of rebellion,' said he sarcastically.
'Perhaps I could tell you that, too—'
'No, do not—do not, I beseech you; reading the Whig Ministers' speeches has given me such a disgust to all explanations, I'd rather concede anything than hear how it could be defended! Apparently Mr. Disraeli is of my mind also, for he won't support Paul Hartigan's motion.'
'What was Hartigan's motion?'
'For the papers, or the correspondence, or whatever they called it, that passed between Danesbury and Dan Donogan.'
'But there was none.'
'Is that all you know of it? They were as thick as two thieves. It was "Dear Dane" and "Dear Dan" between them. "Stop the shooting. We want a light calendar at the summer assizes," says one. "You shall have forty thousand pounds yearly for a Catholic college, if the House will let us." "Thank you for nothing for the Catholic college," says Dan. "We want our own Parliament and our own militia; free pardon for political offences." What would you say to a bill to make landlord-shooting manslaughter, Mr. Kearney?'
'Justifiable homicide, Mr. Bright called it years ago, but the judges didn't see it.'
'This Danesbury "muddle," for that is the name they give it, will be hushed up, for he has got some Tory connections, and the lords are never hard on one of their "order," so I hear. Hartigan is to be let have his talk out in the House, and as he is said to be violent and indiscreet, the Prime Minister will only reply to the violence and the indiscretion, and he will conclude by saying that the noble Viceroy has begged Her Majesty to release him of the charge of the Irish Government; and though the Cabinet have urgently entreated him to remain and carry out the wise policy of conciliation so happily begun in Ireland, he is rooted in his resolve, and he will not stay; and there will be cheers; and when he adds that Mr. Cecil Walpole, having shown his great talents for intrigue, will be sent back to the fitting sphere—his old profession of diplomacy—there will be laughter; for as the Minister seldom jokes, the House will imagine this to be a slip, and then, with every one in good humour—but Paul Hartigan, who will have to withdraw his motion—the right honourable gentleman will sit down, well pleased at his afternoon's work.'
Kearney could not but laugh at the sketch of a debate given with all the mimicry of tone and mock solemnity of an old debater, and the two men now became, by the bond of their geniality, like old acquaintances.
'Ah, Mr. Kearney, I won't say we'd do it better on College Green, but we'd do it more kindly, more courteously, and, above all, we'd be less hypocritical in our inquiries. I believe we try to cheat the devil in Ireland just as much as our neighbours. But we don't pretend that we are arch-bishops all the time we're doing it. There's where we differ from the English.'
'And who is to govern us,' cried Kearney,' if we have no Lord-Lieutenant?'
'The Privy Council, the Lords Justices, or maybe the Board of Works, who knows? When you are going over to Holyhead in the packet, do you ever ask if the man at the wheel is decent, or a born idiot, and liable to fits? Not a bit of it. You know that there are other people to look to this, and you trust, besides, that they'll land you all safe.'
'That's true,' said Kearney, and he drained his glass; 'and now tell me one thing more. How will it go with young O'Shea about this scrimmage, will it be serious?'
'Curtis, the chief constable, says it will be an ugly affair enough. They'll swear hard, and they'll try to make out a title to the land through the action of trespass; and if, as I hear, the young fellow is a scamp and a bad lot—'
'Neither one nor the other,' broke in Kearney; 'as fine a boy and as thorough a gentleman as there is in Ireland.'
'And a bit of a Fenian, too,' slowly interposed Flood.
'Not that I know; I'm not sure that he follows the distinctions of party here; he is little acquainted with Ireland.'
'Ho, ho! a Yankee sympathiser?'
'Not even that; an Austrian soldier, a young lieutenant of lancers over here for his leave.'
'And why couldn't he shoot, or course, or kiss the girls, or play at football, and not be burning his fingers with the new land-laws? There's plenty of ways to amuse yourself in Ireland, without throwing a man out of window; eh, Adams?'
And Adams bowed his assent, but did not utter a word.
'You are not going to open more wine?' remonstrated Kearney eagerly.
'It's done. Smell that, Mr. Kearney,' cried Flood, as he held out a fresh-drawn cork at the end of the screw. 'Talk to me of clove-pinks and violets and carnations after that? I don't know whether you have any prayers in your church against being led into temptation.'
'Haven't we!' sighed the other.
'Then all I say is, Heaven help the people at Oporto; they'll have more to answer for even than most men.'
It was nigh dawn when they parted, Kearney muttering to himself as he sauntered back to the inn, 'If port like that is the drink of the Tories, they must be good fellows with all their prejudices.'
'I'll be shot if I don't like that rebel,' said Flood as he went to bed.
BEFORE THE DOOR
Though Lord Kilgobbin, when he awoke somewhat late in the afternoon, did not exactly complain of headache, he was free to admit that his faculties were slightly clouded, and that his memory was not to the desired extent retentive of all that passed on the preceding night. Indeed, beyond the fact—which he reiterated with great energy—that 'old Flood, Tory though he was, was a good fellow, an excellent fellow, and had a marvellous bin of port wine,' his son Dick was totally unable to get any information from him. 'Bigot, if you like, or Blue Protestant, and all the rest of it; but a fine hearty old soul, and an Irishman to the heart's core!' That was the sum of information which a two hours' close cross-examination elicited; and Dick was sulkily about to leave the room in blank disappointment when the old man suddenly amazed him by asking: 'And do you tell me that you have been lounging about the town all the morning and have learned nothing? Were you down to the gaol? Have you seen O'Shea? What's his account of it? Who began the row? Has he any bones broken? Do you know anything at all?' cried he, as the blank look of the astonished youth seemed to imply utter ignorance, as well as dismay.
'First of all,' said Dick, drawing a long breath, 'I have not seen O'Shea; nobody is admitted to see him. His injuries about the head are so severe the doctors are in dread of erysipelas.'
'What if he had? Have not every one of us had the erysipelas some time or other; and, barring the itching, what's the great harm?'
'The doctors declare that if it come, they will not answer for his life.'
'They know best, and I'm afraid they know why also. Oh dear, oh dear! if there's anything the world makes no progress in, it's the science of medicine. Everybody now dies of what we all used to have when I was a boy! Sore throats, smallpox, colic, are all fatal since they've found out Greek names for them, and with their old vulgar titles they killed nobody.'
'Gorman is certainly in a bad way, and Dr. Rogan says it will be some days before he could pronounce him out of danger.'
'Can he be removed? Can we take him back with us to Kilgobbin?'
'That is utterly out of the question; he cannot be stirred, and requires the most absolute rest and quiet. Besides that, there is another difficulty—I don't know if they would permit us to take him away.'
'What! do you mean, refuse our bail?'
'They have got affidavits to show old Gill's life's in danger; he is in high fever to-day, and raving furiously, and if he should die, McEvoy declares that they'll be able to send bills for manslaughter, at least, before the grand-jury.'
'There's more of it!' cried Kilgobbin, with a long whistle. 'Is it Rogan swears the fellow is in danger?'
'No, it's Tom Price, the dispensary doctor; and as Miss Betty withdrew her subscription last year, they say he swore he'd pay her off for it.'
'I know Tom, and I'll see to that,' said Kearney. 'Are the affidavits sworn?'
'No. They are drawn out; McEvoy is copying them now; but they'll be ready by three o'clock.'
'I'll have Rogan to swear that the boy must be removed at once. We'll take him over with us; and once at Kilgobbin, they'll want a regiment of soldiers if they mean to take him. It is nigh twelve o'clock now, is it not?'
'It is on the stroke of two, sir.'
'Is it possible? I believe I overslept myself in the strange bed. Be alive now, Dick, and take the 2.40 train to town. Call on McKeown, and find out where Miss Betty is stopping; break this business to her gently—for with all that damnable temper, she has a fine womanly heart—tell her the poor boy was not to blame at all: that he went over to see her, and knew nothing of the place being let out or hired; and tell her, besides, that the blackguards that beat him were not her own people at all, but villains from another barony that old Gill brought over to work on short wages. Mind that you say that, or we'll have more law, and more trouble—notices to quit, and the devil knows what. I know Miss Betty well, and she'd not leave a man on a town-land if they raised a finger against one of her name! There now, you know what to do: go and do it!'
To hear the systematic and peremptory manner in which the old man detailed all his directions, one would have pronounced him a model of orderly arrangement and rule. Having despatched Dick to town, however, he began to bethink him of all the matters on which he was desirous to learn Miss O'Shea's mind. Had she really leased the Barn to this man Gill: and if so, for what term? And was her quarrel with her nephew of so serious a nature that she might hesitate as to taking his side here—at least, till she knew he was in the right; and then, was he in the right? That was, though the last, the most vital consideration of all.
'I'd have thought of all these if the boy had not flurried me so. These hot-headed fellows have never room in their foolish brains for anything like consecutive thought; they can just entertain the one idea, and till they dismiss that, they cannot admit another. Now, he'll come back by the next train, and bring me the answer to one of my queries, if even that?' sighed he, as he went on with his dressing.
'All this blessed business,' muttered he to himself, 'comes of this blundering interference with the land-laws. Paddy hears that they have given him some new rights and privileges, and no mock-modesty of his own will let him lose any of them, and so he claims everything. Old experience had taught him that with a bold heart and a blunderbuss he need not pay much rent; but Mr. Gladstone—long life to him—had said, "We must do something for you." Now what could that be? He'd scarcely go so far as to give them out Minie rifles or Chassepots, though arms of precision, as they call them, would have put many a poor fellow out of pain—as Bob Magrath said when he limped into the public-house with a ball in his back—"It's only a 'healing measure,' don't make a fuss about it."'
'Mr. Flood wants to see your honour when you're dressed,' said the waiter, interrupting his soliloquy.
'Where is he?'
'Walking up and down, sir, forenent the door.'
'Will ye say I'm coming down? I'm just finishing a letter to the Lord-Lieutenant,' said Kilgobbin, with a sly look to the man, who returned the glance with its rival, and then left the room.
'Will you not come in and sit down?' said Kearney, as he cordially shook Flood's hand.
'I have only five minutes to stay, and with your leave, Mr. Kearney, we'll pass it here'; and taking the other's arm, he proceeded to walk up and down before the door of the inn.
'You know Ireland well—few men better, I am told—and you have no need, therefore, to be told how the rumoured dislikes of party, the reported jealousies and rancours of this set to that, influence the world here. It will be a fine thing, therefore, to show these people here that the Liberal, Mr. Kearney, and that bigoted old Tory, Tom Flood, were to be seen walking together, and in close confab. It will show them, at all events, that neither of us wants to make party capital out of this scrimmage, and that he who wants to affront one of us, cannot, on that ground, at least, count upon the other. Just look at the crowd that is watching us already! There 'a a fellow neglecting the sale of his pig to stare at us, and that young woman has stopped gartering her stocking for the last two minutes in sheer curiosity about us.'
Kearney laughed heartily as he nodded assent.
'You follow me, don't you?' asked Flood. 'Well, then, grant me the favour I'm about to ask, and it will show me that you see all these things as I do. This row may turn out more seriously than we thought for. That scoundrel Gill is in a high fever to-day—I would not say that just out of spite the fellow would not die. Who knows if it may not become a great case at the assizes; and if so, Kearney, let us have public opinion with us. There are scores of men who will wait to hear what you and I say of this business. There are hundreds more who will expect us to disagree. Let us prove to them that this is no feud between Orange and Green, this is nothing of dispute between Whig and Tory, or Protestant and Papist; but a free fight, where, more shame to them, fifty fell upon one. Now what you must grant me is leave to send this boy back to Kilgobbin in my own carriage, and with my own liveries. There is not a peasant cutting turf on the bog will not reason out his own conclusions when he sees it. Don't refuse me, for I have set my heart on it.'
'I'm not thinking of refusing. I was only wondering to myself what my daughter Kitty will say when she sees me sitting behind the blue and orange liveries.'
'You may send me back with the green flag over me the next day I dine with you,' cried Flood, and the compact was ratified.
'It is more than half-past already,' said Flood. 'We are to have a full bench at three; so be ready to give your bail, and I'll have the carriage at the corner of the street, and you shall set off with the boy at once.'
'I must say,' said Kearney, 'whatever be your Tory faults, lukewarmness is not one of them! You stand to me like an old friend in all this trouble.'
'Maybe it's time to begin to forget old grudges. Kearney, I believe in my heart neither of us is as bad as the other thinks him. Are you aware that they are getting affidavits to refuse the bail?'
'I know it all; but I have sent a man to McEvoy about a case that will take all his morning; and he'll be too late with his affidavits.'
'By the time he is ready, you and your charge will be snug in Kilgobbin; and another thing, Kearney—for I have thought of the whole matter—you'll take out with you that little vermin Price, the doctor, and treat him well. He'll be as indiscreet as you wish, and be sure to give him the opportunity. There, now, give me your most affectionate grasp of the hand, for there's an attentive public watching us.'
Young O'Shea made the journey from Kilbeggan to Kilgobbin Castle in total unconsciousness. The symptoms had now taken the form which doctors call concussion; and though to a first brief question he was able to reply reasonably and well, the effort seemed so exhausting that to all subsequent queries he appeared utterly indifferent; nor did he even by look acknowledge that he heard them.
Perfect and unbroken quiet was enjoined as his best, if not his only, remedy; and Kate gave up her own room for the sick man, as that most remote from all possible disturbance, and away from all the bustle of the house. The doctors consulted on his case in the fashion that a country physician of eminence condescends to consult with a small local practitioner. Dr. Rogan pronounced his opinion, prophetically declared the patient in danger, and prescribed his remedies, while Price, agreeing with everything, and even slavishly abject in his manner of concurrence, went about amongst the underlings of the household saying, 'There's two fractures of the frontal bone. It's trepanned he ought to be; and when there's an inquest on the body, I'll declare I said so.'
Though nearly all the care of providing for the sick man's nursing fell to Kate Kearney, she fulfilled the duty without attracting any notice whatever, or appearing to feel as if any extra demand were made upon her time or her attention; so much so, that a careless observer might have thought her far more interested in providing for the reception of the aunt than in cares for the nephew.
Dick Kearney had written to say that Miss Betty was so overwhelmed with affliction at young Gorman's mishap that she had taken to bed, and could not be expected to be able to travel for several days. She insisted, however, on two telegrams daily to report on the boy's case, and asked which of the great Dublin celebrities of physic should be sent down to see him.
'They're all alike to me,' said Kilgobbin; 'but if I was to choose, I think I'd say Dr. Chute.'
This was so far unlucky, since Dr. Chute had then been dead about forty years; scarcely a junior of the profession having so much as heard his name.
'We really want no one,' said Rogan. 'We are doing most favourably in every respect. If one of the young ladies would sit and read to him, but not converse, it would be a service. He made the request himself this morning, and I promised to repeat it.'
A telegram, however, announced that Sir St. Xavier Brennan would arrive the same evening, and as Sir X. was physician-in-chief to the nuns of the Bleeding Heart, there could be little doubt whose orthodoxy had chosen him.
He came at nightfall—a fat, comely-looking, somewhat unctuous gentleman, with excellent teeth and snow-white hands, symmetrical and dimpled like a woman's. He saw the patient, questioned him slightly, and divined without waiting for it what the answer should be; he was delighted with Rogan, pleased with Price, but he grew actually enthusiastic over those charming nurses, Nina and Kate.
'With such sisters of charity to tend me, I'd consent to pass my life as an invalid,' cried he.
Indeed, to listen to him, it would seem that, whether from the salubrity of the air, the peaceful quietude of the spot, the watchful kindness and attention of the surrounders, or a certain general air—an actual atmosphere of benevolence and contentment around—there was no pleasure of life could equal the delight of being laid up at Kilgobbin.
'I have a message for you from my old friend Miss O'Shea,' said he to Kate the first moment he had the opportunity of speaking with her alone. 'It is not necessary to tell you that I neither know, nor desire to know, its import. Her words were these: "Tell my godchild to forgive me if she still has any memory for some very rude words I once spoke. Tell her that I have been sorely punished for them since, and that till I know I have her pardon, I have no courage to cross her doors." This was my message, and I was to bring back your answer.'
'Tell her,' cried Kate warmly, 'I have no place in my memory but for the kindnesses she has bestowed on me, and that I ask no better boon from Fortune than to be allowed to love her, and to be worthy of her love.'
'I will repeat every word you have told me; and I am proud to be bearer of such a speech. May I presume, upon the casual confidence I have thus acquired, to add one word for myself; and it is as the doctor I would speak.'
'Speak freely. What is it?'
'It is this, then: you young ladies keep your watches in turn in the sick-room. The patient is unfit for much excitement, and as I dare not take the liberty of imposing a line of conduct on Mademoiselle Kostalergi, I have resolved to run the hazard with you! Let hers be the task of entertaining him; let her be the reader—and he loves being read to—and the talker, and the narrator of whatever goes on. To you be the part of quiet watchfulness and care, to bathe the heated brow, or the burning hand, to hold the cold cup to the parched lips, to adjust the pillow, to temper the light, and renew the air of the sick-room, but to speak seldom, if at all. Do you understand me?'
'Perfectly; and you are wise and acute in your distribution of labour: each of us has her fitting station.'
'I dared not have said this much to her: my doctor's instinct told me I might be frank with you.'
'You are safe in speaking to me,' said she calmly.
'Perhaps I ought to say that I give these suggestions without any concert with my patient. I have not only abstained from consulting, but—'
'Forgive my interrupting you, Sir X. It was quite unnecessary to tell me this.'
'You are not displeased with me, dear lady?' said he, in his softest of accents.
'No; but do not say anything which might make me so.'
The doctor bowed reverentially, crossed his white hands on his waistcoat, and looked like a saint ready for martyrdom.
Kate frankly held out her hand in token of perfect cordiality, and her honest smile suited the action well.
'Tell Miss Betty that our sick charge shall not be neglected, but that we want her here herself to help us.'
'I shall report your message word for word,' said he, as he withdrew.
As the doctor drove back to Dublin, he went over a variety of things in his thoughts. There were serious disturbances in the provinces; those ugly outrages which forerun long winter nights, and make the last days of October dreary and sad-coloured. Disorder and lawlessness were abroad; and that want of something remedial to be done which, like the thirst in fever, is fostered and fed by partial indulgence. Then he had some puzzling cases in hospital, and one or two in private practice, which harassed him; for some had reached that critical stage where a false move would be fatal, and it was far from clear which path should be taken. Then there was that matter of Miss O'Shea herself, who, if her nephew were to die, would most likely endow that hospital in connection with the Bleeding Heart, and of which he was himself the founder; and that this fate was by no means improbable, Sir X. persuaded himself, as he counted over all the different stages of peril that stood between him and convalescence. 'We have now the concussion, with reasonable prospect of meningitis; and there may come on erysipelas from the scalp wounds, and high fever, with all its dangers; next there may be a low typhoid state, with high nervous excitement; and through all these the passing risks of the wrong food or drink, the imprudent revelations, or the mistaken stimulants. Heigh-ho!' said he at last, 'we come through storm and shipwreck, forlorn-hopes, and burning villages, and we succumb to ten drops too much of a dark-brown liquor, or the improvident rashness that reads out a note to us incautiously!
'Those young ladies thought to mystify me,' said he aloud, after a long reverie. 'I was not to know which of them was in love with the sick boy. I could make nothing of the Greek, I own, for, except a half-stealthy regard for myself, she confessed to nothing, and the other was nearly as inscrutable. It was only the little warmth at last that betrayed her. I hurt her pride, and as she winced, I said, "There's the sore spot—there's mischief there!" How the people grope their way through life who have never studied physic nor learned physiology is a puzzle to me! With all its aid and guidance I find humanity quite hard enough to understand every day I live.'
Even in his few hours' visit—in which he remarked everything, from the dress of the man who waited at dinner, to the sherry decanter with the smashed stopper, the weak 'Gladstone' that did duty as claret, and the cotton lace which Nina sported as 'point d'Alencon,' and numberless other shifts, such as people make who like to play false money with Fortune—all these he saw, and he saw that a certain jealous rivalry existed between the two girls; but whether either of them, or both, cared for young O'Shea, he could not declare; and, strange as it may seem, his inability to determine this weighed upon him with all the sense of a defeat.
Leaving the sick man to the tender care of those ladies whose division of labour we have just hinted at, we turn to other interests, and to one of our characters, who, though to all seeming neglected, has not lapsed from our memory.
Joe Atlee had been despatched on a very confidential mission by Lord Danesbury. Not only was he to repossess himself of certain papers he had never heard of, from a man he had never seen, but he was also to impress this unknown individual with the immense sense of fidelity to another who no longer had any power to reward him, and besides this, to persuade him, being a Greek, that the favour of a great ambassador of England was better than roubles of gold and vases of malachite.
Modern history has shown us what a great aid to success in life is the contribution of a 'light heart,' and Joe Atlee certainly brought this element of victory along with him on his journey.
His instructions were assuredly of the roughest. To impress Lord Danesbury favourably on the score of his acuteness he must not press for details, seek for explanations, and, above all, he must ask no questions. In fact, to accomplish that victory which he ambitioned for his cleverness, and on which his Excellency should say, 'Atlee saw it at once—Atlee caught the whole thing at a glance,' Joe must be satisfied with the least definite directions that ever were issued, and the most confused statement of duties and difficulties that ever puzzled a human intelligence. Indeed, as he himself summed up his instructions in his own room, they went no further than this: That there was a Greek, who, with a number of other names, was occasionally called Speridionides—a great scoundrel, and with every good reason for not being come at—who was to be found somewhere in Stamboul—probably at the bazaar at nightfall. He was to be bullied, or bribed, or wheedled, or menaced, to give up some letters which Lord Danesbury had once written to him, and to pledge himself to complete secrecy as to their contents ever after. From this Greek, whose perfect confidence Atlee was to obtain, he was to learn whether Kulbash Pasha, Lord Danesbury's sworn friend and ally, was not lapsing from his English alliance and inclining towards Russian connections. To Kulbash himself Atlee had letters accrediting him as the trusted and confidential agent of Lord Danesbury, and with the Pasha, Joe was instructed to treat with an air and bearing of unlimited trustfulness. He was also to mention that his Excellency was eager to be back at his old post as ambassador, that he loved the country, the climate, his old colleagues in the Sultan's service, and all the interests and questions that made up their political life.
Last of all, Atlee was to ascertain every point on which any successor to Lord Danesbury was likely to be mistaken, and how a misconception might be ingeniously widened into a grave blunder; and by what means such incidents should be properly commented on by the local papers, and unfavourable comparisons drawn between the author of these measures and 'the great and enlightened statesman' who had so lately left them.
In a word, Atlee saw that he was to personate the character of a most unsuspecting, confiding young gentleman, who possessed a certain natural aptitude for affairs of importance, and that amount of discretion such as suited him to be employed confidentially; and to perform this part he addressed himself.
The Pasha liked him so much that he invited him to be his guest while he remained at Constantinople, and soon satisfied that he was a guileless youth fresh to the world and its ways, he talked very freely before him, and affecting to discuss mere possibilities, actually sketched events and consequences which Atlee shrewdly guessed to be all within the range of casualties.
Lord Danesbury's post at Constantinople had not been filled up, except by the appointment of a Charge-d'Affaires; it being one of the approved modes of snubbing a government to accredit a person of inferior rank to its court. Lord Danesbury detested this man with a hate that only official life comprehends, the mingled rancour, jealousy, and malice suggested by a successor, being a combination only known to men who serve their country.
'Find out what Brumsey is doing; he is said to be doing wrong. He knows nothing of Turkey. Learn his blunders, and let me know them.'
This was the easiest of all Atlee's missions, for Brumsey was the weakest and most transparent of all imbecile Whigs. A junior diplomatist of small faculties and great ambitions, he wanted to do something, not being clear as to what, which should startle his chiefs, and make 'the Office' exclaim: 'See what Sam Brumsey has been doing! Hasn't Brumsey hit the nail on the head! Brumsey's last despatch is the finest state-paper since the days of Canning!' Now no one knew the short range of this man's intellectual tether better than Lord Danesbury—since Brumsey had been his own private secretary once, and the two men hated each other as only a haughty superior and a craven dependant know how to hate.
The old ambassador was right. Russian craft had dug many a pitfall for the English diplomatist, and Brumsey had fallen into every one of them. Acting on secret information—all ingeniously prepared to entrap him—Brumsey had discovered a secret demand made by Russia to enable one of the imperial family to make the tour of the Black Sea with a ship-of-war. Though it might be matter of controversy whether Turkey herself could, without the assent of the other Powers to the Treaty of Paris, give her permission, Brumsey was too elated by his discovery to hesitate about this, but at once communicated to the Grand-Vizier a formal declaration of the displeasure with which England would witness such an infraction of a solemn engagement.
As no such project had ever been entertained, no such demand ever made, Kulbash Pasha not only laughed heartily at the mock-thunder of the Englishman, but at the energy with which a small official always opens fire, and in the jocularity of his Turkish nature—for they are jocular, these children of the Koran—he told the whole incident to Atlee.
'Your old master, Mr. Atlee,' said he, 'would scarcely have read us so sharp a lesson as that; but,' he added, 'we always hear stronger language from the man who couldn't station a gunboat at Pera than from the ambassador who could call up the Mediterranean squadron from Malta.'
If Atlee's first letter to Lord Danesbury admitted of a certain disappointment as regarded Speridionides, it made ample compensation by the keen sketch it conveyed of how matters stood at the Porte, the uncertain fate of Kulbash Pasha's policy, and the scarcely credible blunder of Brumsey.
To tell the English ambassador how much he was regretted and how much needed, how the partisans of England felt themselves deserted and abandoned by his withdrawal, and how gravely the best interests of Turkey itself were compromised for want of that statesmanlike intelligence that had up to this guided the counsels of the Divan: all these formed only a part of Atlee's task, for he wrote letters and leaders, in this sense, to all the great journals of London, Paris, and Vienna; so that when the Times and the Post asked the English people whether they were satisfied that the benefit of the Crimean War should be frittered away by an incompetent youth in the position of a man of high ability, the Debats commented on the want of support France suffered at the Porte by the inferior agency of England, and the Neue Presse of Vienna more openly declared that if England had determined to annex Turkey and govern it as a crown colony, it would have been at least courtesy to have informed her co-signatories of the fact.
At the same time, an Irish paper in the National interest quietly desired to be informed how was it that the man who made such a mull of Ireland could be so much needed in Turkey, aided by a well-known fellow-citizen, more celebrated for smashing lamps and wringing off knockers than for administering the rights of a colony; and by which of his services, ballad-writing or beating the police, he had gained the favour of the present Cabinet. 'In fact,' concluded the writer, 'if we hear more of this appointment, we promise our readers some biographical memoirs of the respected individual, which may serve to show the rising youth of Ireland by what gifts success in life is most surely achieved, as well as what peculiar accomplishments find most merit with the grave-minded men who rule us.'
A Cork paper announced on the same day, amongst the promotions, that Joseph Atlee had been made C.B., and mildly inquired if the honour were bestowed for that paper on Ireland in the last Quarterly, and dryly wound up by saying, 'We are not selfish, whatever people may say of us. Our friends on the Bosporus shall have the noble lord cheap! Let his Excellency only assure us that he will return with his whole staff, and not leave us Mr. Cecil Walpole, or any other like incapacity, behind him, as a director of the Poor-Law Board, or inspector-general of gaols, or deputy-assistant-secretary anywhere, and we assent freely to the change that sends this man to the East and leaves us here to flounder on with such aids to our mistakes as a Liberal Government can safely afford to spare us.'
A paragraph in another part of the same paper, which asked if the Joseph Atlee who, it was rumoured, was to go out as Governor to Labuan, could be this man, had, it is needless to say, been written by himself.
The Levant Herald contented itself with an authorised contradiction to the report that Sir Joseph Atlee—the Sir was an ingenious blunder—had conformed to Islamism, and was in treaty for the palace of Tashkir Bey at Therapia.
With a neatness and tact all his own, Atlee narrated Brumsey's blunder in a tone so simple and almost deferential, that Lord Danesbury could show the letter to any of his colleagues. The whole spirit of the document was regret that a very well-intentioned gentleman of good connections and irreproachable morals should be an ass! Not that he employed the insufferable designation.
The Cabinet at home were on thorns lest the press—the vile Tory organs—should get wind of the case and cap the blundering government of Ireland with the almost equally gross mistake in diplomacy.
'We shall have the Standard at us,' said the Premier.
'Far worse,' replied the Foreign Secretary. 'I shall have Brunow here in a white passion to demand an apology and the recall of our man at Constantinople.'
To accuse a well-known housebreaker of a burglary that he had not committed, nor had any immediate thought of committing, is the very luckiest stroke of fortune that could befall him. He comes out not alone innocent, but injured. The persecutions by which bad men have assailed him for years have at last their illustration, and the calumniated saint walks forth into the world, his head high and his port erect, even though a crowbar should peep out from his coat-pocket and the jingle of false keys go with him as he went.
Far too astute to make the scandal public by the newspapers, Atlee only hinted to his chief the danger that might ensue if the secret leaked out. He well knew that a press scandal is a nine-day fever, but a menaced publicity is a chronic malady that may go on for years.
The last lines of his letter were: 'I have made a curious and interesting acquaintance—a certain Stephanotis Bey, governor of Scutari in Albania, a very venerable old fellow, who was never at Constantinople till now. The Pasha tells me in confidence that he is enormously wealthy. His fortune was made by brigandage in Greece, from which he retired a few years ago, shocked by the sudden death of his brother, who was decapitated at Corinth with five others. The Bey is a nice, gentle-mannered, simple-hearted old man, kind to the poor, and eminently hospitable. He has invited me down to Prevesa for the pig-shooting. If I have your permission to accept the invitation, I shall make a rapid visit to Athens, and make one more effort to discover Speridionides. Might I ask the favour of an answer by telegraph? So many documents and archives were stolen here at the time of the fire of the Embassy, that, by a timely measure of discredit, we can impair the value of all papers whatever, and I have already a mass of false despatches, notes, and telegrams ready for publication, and subsequent denial, if you advise it. In one of these I have imitated Walpole's style so well that I scarcely think he will read it without misgivings. With so much "bad bank paper" in circulation, Speridionides is not likely to set a high price on his own scrip.'
Lord Danesbury read Atlee's letter with an enjoyment not unlike the feeling an old sportsman experiences in discovering that his cover hack—an animal not worth twenty pounds—was a capital fencer; that a beast only destined to the commonest of uses should actually have qualities that recalled the steeplechaser—that the scrubby little creature with the thin neck and the shabby quarters should have a turn of speed and a 'big jump' in him, was something scarcely credible, and highly interesting.
Now political life has its handicaps like the turf, and that old jockey of many Cabinets began seriously to think whether he might not lay a little money on that dark horse Joe Atlee, and make something out of him before he was better known in 'the ring.'
He was smarting, besides, under the annoyances of that half-clever fellow Walpole, when Atlee's letter reached him, and though the unlucky Cecil had taken ill and kept his room ever since his arrival, his Excellency had never forgiven him, nor by a word or sign showed any disposition to restore him to favour.
That he was himself overwhelmed by a correspondence, and left to deal with it almost alone, scarcely contributed to reconcile him to a youth who was not really ill, but smarting, as he deemed it, under a recent defeat; and he pointed to the mass of papers which now littered his breakfast-table, and querulously asked his niece if that brilliant young gentleman upstairs could be induced to postpone his sorrows and copy a despatch.
'If it be not something very difficult or requiring very uncommon care, perhaps I could do it myself.'
'So you could, Maude, but I want you too—I shall want you to copy out parts of Atlee's last letter, which I wish to place before the Foreign Office Secretary. He ought to see what his protege Brumsey is making of it. These are the idiots who get us into foreign wars, or those apologetic movements in diplomacy, which are as bad as lost battles. What a contrast to Atlee—a rare clever dog, Atlee—and so awake, not only to one, but to every contingency of a case. I like that fellow—I like a fellow that stops all the earths! Your half-clever ones never do that; they only do enough to prolong the race; they don't win it. That bright relative of ours—Cecil—is one of those. Give Atlee Walpole's chances, and where would he be?'
A very faint colour tinged her cheek as she listened, but did not speak.
'That's the real way to put it,' continued he, more warmly. 'Say to Atlee, "You shall enter public life without any pressing need to take office for a livelihood; you shall have friends able to push you with one party, and relations and connections with the Opposition, to save you from unnecessary cavil or question; you shall be well introduced socially, and have a seat in the House before—" What's his age? five-and-twenty?'
'I should say about three-and-twenty, my lord; but it is a mere guess.'
'Three-and-twenty is he? I suspect you are right—he can't be more. But what a deal the fellow has crammed for that time—plenty of rubbish, no doubt: old dramatists and such like; but he is well up in his treaties; and there's not a speaker of eminence in the House that he cannot make contradict himself out of Hansard.'
'Has he any fortune?' sighed she, so lazily that it scarcely sounded as a question.
'I suppose not.'
'Nor any family?'
'Brothers and sisters he may have—indeed, he is sure to have; but if you mean connections—belonging to persons of admitted station—of course he has not. The name alone might show it.'
Another little sigh, fainter than before, followed, and all was still.
'Five years hence, if even so much, the plebeian name and the unknown stock will be in his favour; but we have to wade through a few dreary measures before that. I wish he was in the House—he ought to be in the House.'
'Is there a vacancy?' said she lazily.
'Two. There is Cradford, and there is that Scotch place—the something-Burg, which, of course, one of their own people will insist on.'
'Couldn't he have Cradford?' asked she, with a very slight animation.
'He might—at least if Brand knew him, he'd see he was the man they wanted. I almost think I'll write a line to Brand, and send him some extracts of the last letter. I will—here goes.'
'If you'll tell me—'
'DEAR B.,—Read the inclosed, and say have you anybody better than the writer for your ancient borough of Cradford? The fellow can talk, and I am sure he can speak as well as he writes. He is well up in all Irish press iniquities. Better than all, he has neither prejudices nor principles, nor, as I believe, a five-pound note in the world. He is now in Greece, but I'll have him over by telegraph if you give me encouragement.
'Tell Tycross at F. O. to send Walpole to Guatemala, and order him to his post at once. G. will have told you that I shall not go back to Ireland. The blunder of my ever seeing it was the blackest in the life of yours, DANESBUBY.'
The first letter his lordship opened gave him very little time or inclination to bestow more thought on Atlee. It was from the head of the Cabinet, and in the coldest tone imaginable. The writer directed his attention to what had occurred in the House the night before, and how impossible it was for any Government to depend on colleagues whose administration had been so palpably blundering and unwise. 'Conciliation can only succeed by the good faith it inspires. Once that it leaks out you are more eager to achieve a gain than confer a benefit, you cease to conciliate, and you only cajole. Now your lordship might have apprehended that, in this especial game, the Popish priest is your master and mine—not to add that he gives an undivided attention to a subject which we have to treat as one amongst many, and with the relations and bearings which attach it to other questions of state.
'That you cannot, with advantage to the Crown, or, indeed, to your own dignity, continue to hold your present office, is clear enough; and the only question now is in what way, consistent with the safety of the Administration, and respect for your lordship's high character, the relinquishment had best be made. The debate has been, on Gregory's motion, adjourned. It will be continued on Tuesday, and my colleagues opine that if your resignation was in their hands before that day, certain leaders of the Opposition would consent to withdraw their motion. I am not wholly agreed with the other members of the Cabinet on this point; but, without embarrassing you by the reasons which sway my judgment, I will simply place the matter before you for your own consideration, perfectly assured, as I am, that your decision will be come to only on consideration of what you deem best for the interests of the country.
'My colleague at the Foreign Office will write to-day or to-morrow with reference to your former post, and I only allude to it now to say the unmixed satisfaction it would give the Cabinet to find that the greatest interests of Eastern Europe were once more in the keeping of the ablest diplomatist of the age, and one of the most far-sighted of modern statesmen.
'A motion for the abolition of the Irish viceroyalty is now on the notice paper, and it will be matter for consideration whether we may not make it an open question in the Cabinet. Perhaps your lordship would favour me with such opinions on the subject as your experiences suggest.
'The extra session has wearied out every one, and we can with difficulty make a House.—Yours sincerely, G. ANNIVEY.'
The next he opened was briefer. It ran thus:—
'DEAR DANESBURY,—You must go back at once to Turkey. That inscrutable idiot Brumsey has discovered another mare's-nest, and we are lucky if Gortschakoff does not call upon us for public apology. Brunow is outrageous and demands B.'s recall. I sent off the despatch while he was with me. Leflo Pasha is very ill, they say dying, so that you must haste back to your old friend (query: which is he?) Kulbash, if it be not too late, as Apponyi thinks.—Yours, G.
'P.S.—Take none of your Irish suite with you to the East. The papers are sure to note the names and attack you if you should. They shall be cared for somehow, if there be any who interest you.
'You have seen that the House was not over civil to you on Saturday night, though A. thinks you got off well.'
'Resign!' cried he aloud, as he dashed the letter on the table. 'I think I would resign! If they asked what would tempt me to go back there, I should be sorely puzzled to name it. No; not the blue ribbon itself would induce me to face that chaos once more. As to the hint about my Irish staff, it was quite unnecessary. Not very likely, Maude, we should take Walpole to finish in the Bosporus what he has begun on the Liffey.'
He turned hastily to the Times, and threw his eyes over the summary of the debate. It was acrimonious and sneery. The Opposition leaders, with accustomed smoothness, had made it appear that the Viceroy's Eastern experience had misled him, and that he thought 'Tipperary was a Pashalick!' Imbued with notions of wholesale measures of government, so applicable to Turkey, it was easy to see how the errors had affected his Irish policy. 'There was,' said the speaker, 'somebody to be conciliated in Ireland, and some one to be hanged; and what more natural than that he should forget which, or that he should make the mistake of keeping all the flattery for the rebel and the rope for the priest.' The neatness of the illustration took with the House, and the speaker was interrupted by 'much laughter.' And then he went on to say that, 'as with those well-known ointments or medicines whose specific virtues lay in the enormous costliness of some of the constituents, so it must give unspeakable value to the efficacy of those healing measures for Ireland, to know that the whole British Constitution was boiled down to make one of them, and every right and liberty brayed in the mortar to furnish even one dose of this precious elixir.' And then there was 'laughter' again.
'He ought to be more merciful to charlatans. Dogs do not eat dogs,' muttered his lordship to himself, and then asked his niece to send Walpole to him.
It was some time before Walpole appeared, and when he did, it was with such a wasted look and careworn aspect as might have pleaded in his favour.
'Maude told me you wished to see me, my lord,' said he, half diffidently.
'Did I? eh? Did I say so? I forget all about it. What could it be? Let us see. Was it this stupid row they were making in the House? Have you read the debate?'
'No, my lord; not looked at a paper.'
'Of course not; you have been too ill, too weak. Have you seen a doctor?'
'I don't care to see a doctor; they all say the same thing. I only need rest and quiet.'
'Only that! Why, they are the two things nobody can get. Power cannot have them, nor money buy them. The retired tradesman—I beg his pardon, the cheesemonger—he is always a cheesemonger now who represents vulgarity and bank-stock—he may have his rest and quiet; but a Minister must not dream of such a luxury, nor any one who serves a Minister. Where's the quiet to come from, I ask you, after such a tirade of abuse as that?' And he pointed to the Times. 'There's Punch, too, with a picture of me measuring out "Danesbury's drops to cure loyalty." That slim youth handing the spoon is meant for you, Walpole.'
'Perhaps so, my lord,' said he coldly.
'They haven't given you too much leg, Cecil,' said the other, laughing; but Cecil scarcely relished the joke.
'I say, Piccadilly is scarcely the place for a man after that: I mean, of course, for a while,' continued he. 'These things are not eternal; they have their day. They had me last week travelling in Ireland on a camel; and I was made to say, "That the air of the desert always did me good!" Poor fun, was it not?'
'Very poor fun indeed!'
'And you were the boy preparing my chibouque; and, I must say, devilish like.'
'I did not see it, my lord.'
'That's the best way. Don't look at the caricatures; don't read the Saturday Review; never know there is anything wrong with you; nor, if you can, that anything disagrees with you.'
'I should like the last delusion best of all,' said he.
'Who would not?' cried the old lord. 'The way I used to eat potted prawns at Eton, and peach jam after them, and iced guavas, and never felt better! And now everything gives acidity.'
'Just because our fathers and grandfathers would have those potted prawns you spoke of.'
'No, no; you are all wrong. It's the new race—it's the new generation. They don't bear reverses. Whenever the world goes wrong with them, they talk as they feel, they lose appetite, and they fall down in a state like your—a—Walpole—like your own!'
'Well, my lord, I don't think I could be called captious for saying that the world has not gone over well with me.'
'Ah—hum. You mean—no matter—I suppose the luckiest hand is not all trumps! The thing is to score the trick—that's the point, Walpole, to score the trick!'
'Up to this, I have not been so fortunate.'
'Well, who knows what's coming! I have just asked the Foreign Office people to give you Guatemala; not a bad thing, as times go.'
'Why, my lord, it's banishment and barbarism together. The pay is miserable! It is far away, and it is not Pall Mall or the Rue Rivoli.'
'No, not that. There is twelve hundred for salary, and something for a house, and something more for a secretary that you don't keep, and an office that you need not have. In fact, it makes more than two thousand; and for a single man in a place where he cannot be extravagant, it will suffice.'
'Yes, my lord; but I was presumptuous enough to imagine a condition in which I should not be a single man, and I speculated on the possibility that another might venture to share even poverty as my companion.'
'A woman wouldn't go there—at least, she ought not. It's all bush life, or something like it. Why should a woman bear that? or a man ask her to do so?'
'You seem to forget, my lord, that affections may be engaged, and pledges interchanged.'
'Get a bill of indemnity, therefore, to release you: better that than wait for yellow fever to do it.' 'I confess that your lordship's words give me great discouragement, and if I could possibly believe that Lady Maude was of your mind—'
'Maude! Maude! why, you never imagined that Lady Maude would leave comfort and civilisation for this bush life, with its rancheros and rattlesnakes. I confess,' said he, with a bitter laugh, 'I did not think either of you were bent on being Paul or Virginia.'
'Have I your lordship's permission to ask her own judgment in the matter: I mean with the assurance of its not being biassed by you?'
'Freely, most freely do I give it. She is not the girl I believe her if she leaves you long in doubt. But I prejudge nothing, and I influence nothing.'
'Am I to conclude, my lord, that I am sure of this appointment?'
'I almost believe I can say you are. I have asked for a reply by telegraph, and I shall probably have one to-morrow.'
'You seemed to have acted under the conviction that I should be glad to get this place.'
'Yes, such was my conclusion. After that fiasco in Ireland you must go somewhere, for a time at least, out of the way. Now as a man cannot die for half-a-dozen years and come back to life when people have forgotten his unpopularity, the next best thing is South America. Bogota and the Argentine Republic have whitewashed many a reputation.'
'I will remember your lordship's wise words.'
'Do so,' said my lord curtly, for he felt offended at the flippant tone in which the other spoke. 'I don't mean to say that I'd send the writer of that letter yonder to Yucatan or Costa Rica.'
'Who may the gifted writer be, my lord?'
'Atlee, Joe Atlee; the fellow you sent over here.'
'Indeed!' was all that Walpole could utter.
'Just take it to your room and read it over. You will be astonished at the thing. The fellow has got to know the bearings of a whole set of new questions, and how he understands the men he has got to deal with!'
'With your leave I will do so,' said he, as he took the letter and left the room.
Cecil Walpole's Italian experiences had supplied him with an Italian proverb which says, 'Tutto il mal non vien per nuocere,' or, in other words, that no evil comes unmixed with good; and there is a marvellous amount of wisdom in the adage.
That there is a deep philosophy, too, in showing how carefully we should sift misfortune to the dregs, and ascertain what of benefit we might rescue from the dross, is not to be denied; and the more we reflect on it, the more should we see that the germ of all real consolation is intimately bound up in this reservation.
No sooner, then, did Walpole, in novelist phrase, 'realise the fact' that he was to go to Guatemala, than he set very practically to inquire what advantages, if any, could be squeezed out of this unpromising incident.
The creditors—and he had some—would not like it! The dreary process of dunning a man across half the globe, the hopelessness of appeals that took two months to come to hand, and the inefficacy of threats that were wafted over miles of ocean! And certainly he smiled as he thought of these, and rather maliciously bethought him of the truculent importunity that menaced him with some form of publicity in the more insolent appeal to some Minister at home. 'Our tailor will moderate his language, our jeweller will appreciate the merits of polite letter-writing,' thought he. 'A few parallels of latitude become a great school-master.'
But there were greater advantages even than these. This banishment—for it was nothing else—could not by any possibility be persisted in, and if Lady Maude should consent to accompany him, would be very short-lived.
'The women will take it up,' said he, 'and with that charming clanship that distinguishes them, will lead the Foreign Secretary a life of misery till he gives us something better.—"Maude says the thermometer has never been lower than 132 deg., and that there is no shade. The nights have no breeze, and are rather hotter than the days. She objects seriously to be waited on by people in feathers, and very few of them, and she remonstrates against alligators in the kitchen-garden, and wild cats coming after the canaries in the drawing-room."
'I hear the catalogue of misfortunes, which begins with nothing to eat, plus the terror of being eaten. I recognise the lament over lost civilisation and a wasted life, and I see Downing Street besieged with ladies in deputations, declaring that they care nothing for party or politics, but a great deal for the life of a dear young creature who is to be sacrificed to appease some people belonging to the existing Ministry. I think I know how beautifully illogical they will be, but how necessarily successful; and now for Maude herself.'
Of Lady Maude Bickerstaffe Walpole had seen next to nothing since his return; his own ill-health had confined him to his room, and her inquiries after him had been cold and formal; and though he wrote a tender little note and asked for books, slyly hinting what measure of bliss a five minutes' visit would confer on him, the books he begged for were sent, but not a line of answer accompanied them. On the whole, he did not dislike this little show of resentment. What he really dreaded was indifference. So long as a woman is piqued with you, something can always be done; it is only when she becomes careless and unmindful of what you do, or say, or look, or think, that the game looks hopeless. Therefore it was that he regarded this demonstration of anger as rather favourable than otherwise.
'Atlee has told her of the Greek! Atlee has stirred up her jealousy of the Titian Girl. Atlee has drawn a long indictment against me, and the fellow has done me good service in giving me something to plead to. Let me have a charge to meet, and I have no misgivings. What really unmans me is the distrust that will not even utter an allegation, and the indifference that does not want disproof.'
He learned that her ladyship was in the garden, and he hastened down to meet her. In his own small way Walpole was a clever tactician; and he counted much on the ardour with which he should open his case, and the amount of impetuosity that would give her very little time for reflection.
'I shall at once assume that her fate is irrevocably knitted to my own, and I shall act as though the tie was indissoluble. After all, if she puts me to the proof, I have her letters—cold and guarded enough, it is true. No fervour, no gush of any kind, but calm dissertations on a future that must come, and a certain dignified acceptance of her own part in it. Not the kind of letters that a Q.C. could read with much rapture before a crowded court, and ask the assembled grocers, "What happiness has life to offer to the man robbed of those precious pledges of affection—how was he to face the world, stripped of every attribute that cherished hope and fed ambition?"'
He was walking slowly towards her when he first saw her, and he had some seconds to prepare himself ere they met.
'I came down after you, Maude,' said he, in a voice ingeniously modulated between the tone of old intimacy and a slight suspicion of emotion. 'I came down to tell you my news'—he waited, and then added—'my fate!'
Still she was silent, the changed word exciting no more interest than its predecessor.
'Feeling as I do,' he went on, 'and how we stand towards each other, I cannot but know that my destiny has nothing good or evil in it, except as it contributes to your happiness.' He stole a glance at her, but there was nothing in that cold, calm face that could guide him. With a bold effort, however, he went on: 'My own fortune in life has but one test—is my existence to be shared with you or not? With your hand in mine, Maude,'—and he grasped the marble-cold fingers as he spoke—'poverty, exile, hardships, and the world's neglect, have no terrors for me. With your love, every ambition of my heart is gratified. Without it—'
'Well, without it—what?' said she, with a faint smile.
'You would not torture me by such a doubt? Would you rack my soul by a misery I have not words to speak of?'
'I thought you were going to say what it might be, when I stopped you.'
'Oh, drop this cold and bantering tone, dearest Maude. Remember the question is now of my very life itself. If you cannot be affectionate, at least be reasonable!'
'I shall try,' said she calmly.
Stung to the quick by a composure which he could not imitate, he was able, however, to repress every show of anger, and with a manner cold and measured as her own, he went on: 'My lord advises that I should go back to diplomacy, and has asked the Ministers to give me Guatemala. It is nothing very splendid. It is far away in a remote part of the world; not over-well paid, but at least I shall be Charge-d'Affaires, and by three years—four at most, of this banishment—I shall have a claim for something better.
'I hope you may, I'm sure,' said she, as he seemed to expect something like a remark.
'That is not enough, Maude, if the hope be not a wish—and a wish that includes self-interest.'
'I am so dull, Cecil: tell me what you mean.'
'Simply this, then: does your heart tell you that you could share this fortune, and brave these hardships; in one word, will you say what will make me regard this fate as the happiest of my existence? will you give me this dear hand as my own—my own?' and he pressed his lips upon it rapturously as he spoke.
She made no effort to release her hand; nor for a second or two did she say one word. At last, in a very measured tone, she said, 'I should like to have back my letters.'
'Your letters? Do you mean, Maude, that—that you would break with me?'
'I mean certainly that I should not go to this horrid place—'
'Then I shall refuse it,' broke he in impetuously.
'Not that only, Cecil,' said she, for the first time faltering; 'but except being very good friends, I do not desire that there should be more between us.'
'No, no engagement. I do not believe there ever was an actual promise, at least on my part. Other people had no right to promise for either of us—and—and, in fact, the present is a good opportunity to end it.'
'To end it,' echoed he, in intense bitterness; 'to end it?'
'And I should like to have my letters,' said she calmly, while she took some freshly plucked flowers from a basket on her arm, and appeared to seek for something at the bottom of the basket.
'I thought you would come down here, Cecil,' said she, 'when you had spoken to my uncle. Indeed, I was sure you would, and so I brought these with me.' And she drew forth a somewhat thick bundle of notes and letters tied with a narrow ribbon. 'These are yours,' said she, handing them.
Far more piqued by her cold self-possession than really wounded in feeling, he took the packet without a word; at last he said, 'This is your own wish—your own, unprompted by others?'
She stared almost insolently at him for answer.
'I mean, Maude—oh, forgive me if I utter that dear name once more—I mean there has been no influence used to make you treat me thus?'
'You have known me to very little purpose all these years, Cecil Walpole, to ask me such a question.'
'I am not sure of that. I know too well what misrepresentation and calumny can do anywhere; and I have been involved in certain difficulties which, if not explained away, might be made accusations—grave accusations.'
'I make none—I listen to none.'
'I have become an object of complete indifference, then? You feel no interest in me either way. If I dared, Maude. I should like to ask the date of this change—when it began?'
'I don't well know what you mean. There was not, so far as I am aware, anything between us, except a certain esteem and respect, of which convenience was to make something more. Now convenience has broken faith with us, but we are not the less very good friends—excellent friends if you like.'
'Excellent friends! I could swear to the friendship!' said he, with a malicious energy.
'So at least I mean to be,' said she calmly.
'I hope it is not I shall fail in the compact. And now, will my quality of friend entitle me to ask one question, Maude?'
'I am not sure till I hear it.'
'I might have hoped a better opinion of my discretion; at all events, I will risk my question. What I would ask is, how far Joseph Atlee is mixed up with your judgment of me? Will you tell me this?'
'I will only tell you, sir, that you are over-vain of that discretion you believe you possess.'
'Then I am right,' cried he, almost insolently. 'I have hit the blot.'
A glance, a mere glance of haughty disdain, was the only reply she made.
'I am shocked, Maude,' said he at last. 'I am ashamed that we should spend in this way perhaps the very last few minutes we shall ever pass together. Heart-broken as I am, I should desire to carry away one memory at least of her whose love was the loadstar of my existence.'
'I want my letters, Cecil,' said she coldly.
'So that you came down here with mine, prepared for this rupture, Maude? It was all prearranged in your mind.'
'More discretion—more discretion, or good taste—which is it?'
'I ask pardon, most humbly I ask it; your rebuke was quite just. I was presuming upon a past which has no relation to the present. I shall not offend any more. And now, what was it you said?'
'I want my letters.'
'They are here,' said he, drawing a thick envelope fully crammed with letters from his pocket and placing it in her hand. 'Scarcely as carefully or as nicely kept as mine, for they have been read over too many times; and with what rapture, Maude. How pressed to my heart and to my lips, how treasured! Shall I tell you?'
There was that of exaggerated passion—almost rant—in these last words, that certainly did not impress them with reality; and either Lady Maude was right in doubting their sincerity, or cruelly unjust, for she smiled faintly as she heard them.
'No, don't tell me,' said she faintly. 'I am already so much flattered by courteous anticipation of my wishes that I ask for nothing more.'
He bowed his head lowly; but his smile was one of triumph, as he thought how, this time at least, he had wounded her.
'There are some trinkets, Cecil,' said she coldly, 'which I have made into a packet, and you will find them on your dressing-table. And—it may save you some discomfort if I say that you need not give yourself trouble to recover the little ring with an opal I once gave you, for I have it now.'
'May I dare?'
'You may not dare. Good-bye.'
And she gave her hand; he bent over it for a moment, scarcely touched it with his lips, and turned away.
A CHANGE OF FRONT
Of all the discomfitures in life there was one which Cecil Walpole did not believe could possibly befall him. Indeed, if it could have been made a matter of betting, he would have wagered all he had in the world that no woman should ever be able to say she refused his offer of marriage.
He had canvassed the matter very often with himself, and always arrived at the same conclusion—that if a man were not a mere coxcomb, blinded by vanity and self-esteem, he could always know how a woman really felt towards him; and that where the question admitted of a doubt—where, indeed, there was even a flaw in the absolute certainty—no man with a due sense of what was owing to himself would risk his dignity by the possibility of a refusal. It was a part of his peculiar ethics that a man thus rejected was damaged, pretty much as a bill that has been denied acceptance. It was the same wound to credit, the same outrage on character. Considering, therefore, that nothing obliged a man to make an offer of his hand till he had assured himself of success, it was to his thinking a mere gratuitous pursuit of insult to be refused. That no especial delicacy kept these things secret, that women talked of them freely—ay, triumphantly—that they made the staple of conversation at afternoon tea and the club, with all the flippant comments that dear friends know how to contribute as to your vanity and presumption, he was well aware. Indeed, he had been long an eloquent contributor to that scandal literature which amuses the leisure of fashion and helps on the tedium of an ordinary dinner. How Lady Maude would report the late scene in the garden to the Countess of Mecherscroft, who would tell it to her company at her country-house!—How the Lady Georginas would discuss it over luncheon, and the Lord Georges talk of it out shooting! What a host of pleasant anecdotes would be told of his inordinate puppyism and self-esteem! How even the dullest fellows would dare to throw a stone at him! What a target for a while he would be for every marksman at any range to shoot at! All these his quick-witted ingenuity pictured at once before him.