Charles James Lever.

Lord Kilgobbin : a tale of Ireland in our own time online

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build upon for future pretensions, and then with an old home,
peaceful, tranquil and unmolested : where, as iu such a spot as this,
one might dream of gi'eat things, perhaps more, might achieve them !
What books would I not write ! What novels, in which, fashioning
the hero out of my own heart, I could tell scores of impressions the
world had made upon me in its aspect of religion or of politics, or of
society ! What essays could I not compose here — the mind elevated
by that buoyancy which comes of the consciousness of being free for
a great effort ! Free from the vulgar interruptions that cling to
poverty like a garment, free from the paltry cares of daily sub-
sistence, free from the damaging incidents of a doubtful position
and a station that must be continually asserted. That one disparage-
ment, perhaps, worst of all," cried he aloud : " how is a man to enjoy
his estate if he is ' put upon his title ' every day of the week ? One
might as well be a French Emperor, and go every spring to the
country for a character."

" What shocking indignity is this you are dreaming of ? " said a
veiy soft voice near him, and turning ho saw Nina, who was moving
across the grass, with her dress so draped as to show the most perfect
instep and ankle with a very unguarded indifference.

"This is very damp for you; shall we not come out into tho
walk ? " said he.

" It is very damp," said she, quickly ; " but I came because you
Baid you had a message for me : is this true ? "



" Do you thiuk I could deceive j'ou ? " said he with a soi-t of
tender reproachfulness.

"It might not be so very easy, if you were to try," replied she,

" That is not the most gracious way to answer me."

"Well, I don't believe we came here to pay compliments;
certainly I did not, and my feet are very wet already — look there and
see the ruin of a ' chaussuro ' I shall never replace in this dear laud
of coarse leather and hobnails."

As she spoke she showed hft* feet, around which her bronzed
shoes hung limp and misshapen.

" Would that I could be permitted to dry them with my kisses,"
said he, as stooping, he wiped them with his handkerchief, but so
deferentially and so respectfully as though the homage had been
tendered to a princess. Nor did she for a moment hesitate to accept
the service.

" There, that will do," said she, haughtily. " Now for your

"We are going away. Mademoiselle," said Atlee, with a
melancholy tone.

" And who are ' We,' sir ? "

"By 'We,' Mademoiselle, I meant to convey Walpole and
myself." And now he spoke with the irritation of one who had felt
a pull-up.

" Ah, indeed ! " said she, smiling, and showing her pearly teeth.
" ' We ' meant Mr. Walpole and Mr. Atlee."

" You should never have guessed it ? " cried he in question.

" Never — certainly," was her cool rejoinder.

" Well ! He was less defiant, or mistrustful, or whatever be
the name for it. We were only friends of half-an-hour's growth
when he proposed the journey. He asked me to accompany him as
a favour ; and he did more, Mademoiselle : he confided to me a
mission — a very delicate and confidential mission — such an office as
one does not usually depute to him of whose fidelity or good faith ho
has a doubt, not to speak of certain smaller qualities, such as tact
and good taste."

" Of whose possession Mr. Atlee is now asserting himself? " said
she, quietly.

He grew crimson at a sarcasm whose impassiveness made it all
the more cutting.

" My mission was in this wise, Mademoiselle," said he, with a
forced calm in his manner. " I was to learn from IMp.demoisclle
Kostalergi if she should desire to communicate with Mr. Walpole


touching certain family interests in which his counsels might be of
use ; and in this event I was to place at her disposal an address by
which her letters should reach him."

•' No, sir," said she, quietly, " you have totally mistaken any
instructions that were given you. Mr. Walpole never pretended
that I had written or was likely to write to him ; he never said that
he was in any way concerned in family questions that pertained to
me ; least of all did he presume to suppose that if I had occasion to
address him by letter, I should do so under cover to another."

" You discredit my character of envoy, then ? " said he, smiling

"Totally and completely, Mr. Atlee ; and I only wait for you
yourself to admit that I am right, to hold out my hand to you, and
say let us be friends."

" I'd perjure myself twice at such a price. Now for the hand."

" Not so fast — first the confession," said she, with a faint smile.

" Well, on my honour," cried he, seriously, " he told me he hoped
you might write to him. I did not clearly understand about what,
but it pointed to some matter in which a family interest was mixed
up, and that you might like your communication to have the reserve
of secrecy."

" All this is but a modified version of what you were to disavow."

" Well, I am only repeating it now to show you how far I am
going to perjure myself."

" That is, you see, in fact, that Mr. Walpole could never have
presumed to give you such instructions — that gentlemen do not send
such messages to young ladies — do not presume to say that they dare
do so ; and last of all, if they ever should chance upon one whose nice
tact and cleverness would have fitted him to be the bearer of such a
commission, those same qualities of tact and cleverness would have
saved him from undertaking it. That is what you see, Mr. Atlee, is
it not ? "

" You are right. I see it all." And now he seized her hand
and kissed it as though he had won the right to that rapturous

She drew her hand away, but so slowly and so gently as to convey
nothing of rebuke or displeasure. " And so you are going away ? "
said she, softly.

" Yes ; Walpole has some pressing reason to be at once in
Dublin. He is afraid to make the journey without a doctor ; but
rather than risk delay in sending for one, he is willing to take me
as his body surgeon, and I have accepted the charge."

The frankness with which he said this seemed to influence her in


his favour, and she said, with a tone of like candour: — " You were
right. His family arc people of influence, and will not readily forget
such a service."

Though he winced under the words, and showed that it was not
exactly the mode in which he wanted his courtesy to be regarded, she
took no account of the passing irritation, but went on : —

" If you fancy you know something about me, Mr. Atlee, / know
far more about you. Your chum, Dick Kearney, has been so out-
spoken as to his friend, that my cousin Kate and I have been
accustomed to discuss you like a near acquaintance — what am I
saying? — I mean like an old friend."

"I am very grateful for this interest; but will you kindly say
what is the version my friend Dick has given of me ? what are the
lights that have fallen upon my humble character ? "

" Do you fancy that either of us have time at this moment to
open so large a question ? Would not the estimate of Mr. Joseph
Atlee be another mode of discussing the times we live in, and the
young gentlemen more or less ambitious, who want to influence them ?
would not the question embrace eveiything, from the difficulties of
Ireland to the puzzling embarrassments of a clever young man who
has everything in his favour in life, except the only thing that makes
life worth living for ? "

" You mean fortune — money ? "

" Of course I mean money. What is so powerless as povei-ty ?
do I not know it — not of yesterday, or the day before, but for many
a long year ? What so helpless, what so jarring to temper, so
dangerous to all principle, and so subversive of all dignity ? I can
afibrd to say these things, and you can afi'ord to hear them, for there
is a sort of brotherhood between us. We claim the same land for our
origin. Whatever our birthplace, we are both Bohemians ! "

She held out her hand as she spoke, and with such an air of
cordiality and frankness that Joe caught the spirit of the action at
once, and bending over, pressed his lips to it, as he said — " I seal
the bargain."

" And swear to it? "

" I swear to it," cried he.

" There, that is enough. Let us go back, or rather, let me go
back alone. I will tell them I have seen you, and heard of your
approaching departure."

( 101 )


A VISIT to his father was not usually one of those things that young
Kearney either speculated on with pleasure beforehand, or much
enjoyed when it came. Cei-tain measures of decorum, and some still
more pressing necessities of economy, required that he should pass
some months of every year at home ; but they were always seasons
looked forward to with a mild terror, and when the time drew nigh,
met with a species of dogged fierce resolution that certainly did not
serve to lighten the burden of the infliction ; and though Kate's
experience of this temper was not varied by any exceptions, she
would still go on looking with pleasure for the time of his visit, and
plotting innumerable little schemes for enjoyment while he should
remain. The first day or two after his arrival usually went over
pleasantly enough. Dick came back full of his town life, and its
amusements ; and Kate was quite satisfied to accept gaiety at second-
hand. He had so much to say of balls, and picnics, and charming
rides in the Phcenix, of garden-parties in the beautiful environs of
Dublin, or more pretentious entertainments, that took the shape of
excursions to Bray or Killiney. She came at last to learn all his
friends and acquaintances by name, and never confounded the stately
beauties that he worshipped afar off, with the " awfully jolly girls "
whom he flirted with quite irresponsibly. She knew, too, all about
his male companions, from the flash young fellow-commoner from
Downshire, who had a saddle-horse and a mounted groom waiting
for him every day after morning lecture, down to that scampish Joe
Atlee, with whose scrapes and eccentricities he filled many an idle

Independently of her gift as a good listener, Kate would veiy
willingly have heard all Dick's adventures and descriptions not only
twice but tenth-told ; just as the child listens with unwearied attention
to the fairy tale whose end he is well aware of, but still likes the
little detail falling fresh upon his ear, so would this young girl make
him go over some narrative she knew by heart, and would not sufier
him to omit the slightest incident or most trifling circumstance that
heightened the interest of the story.

As to Dick, however, the dull monotony of the daily life, the
small and vulgar interests of the house or the farm, which formed
the only topics, the undergrowl of economy that ran through every


couvcrsation, as though pcnuriousncss was the great object of
existence — but, perhaps more than all these together, the early
hours — so overcame him that he at first became low-spirited, and
then sulky, seldom appearing save at meal-times, and certainly con-
tributing little to the pleasure of the meeting : so that at last, though
she might not easily have been brought to the confession, Kate
Kearney saw the time of Dick's departure approach without regret,
and was actually glad to be relieved from that terror of a rupture
between her father and her brother of which not a day passed
without a menace.

Like all men who aspire to something in Ireland, Kearney
desired to see his son a barrister : for great as are the rewards of
that high career, they are not the fascinations which appeal most
strongly to the squirearchy, who love to think that a country gentle-
man may know a little law and be never the richer for it — may have
acquired a profession, and yet never know what was a client or what
a fee.

That Kearney of Kilgobbin Castle should be reduced to tramping
his way dowTi the Bachelors' Walk to the Four Courts, with a stutf
bag carried behind him, was not to be thought of ; but there were so
many positions in life, so many situations for which that gifted
creature the barrister of six years standing was alone eligible, that
Kearney was very anxious his sou should be qualified to accept that
1,000/. or 1,800L a year which a gentleman could hold without any
shadow upon his capacity, or the slightest reflection on his industry.

Dick Kearney, however, had not only been living a very gay life
in town, but, to avail himself of a variety of those flattering attentions
which this interested world bestows by preference on men of some
pretension, had let it be beheved that he was the heir to a very
considerable estate, and, by great probability, also to a title. To
have admitted that he thought it necessary to follow any career at
all, would have been to abdicate these pretensions, and so he evaded
that question of the law in all discussions with his father, sometimes
affecting to say he had not made up his mind, or that he had scruples
of conscience about a barrister's calling, or that he doubted whether
the Bar of Ireland was not, like most high institutions, going to bo
abolished by Act of Parliament, and all the litigation of the land bo
done by deputy in Westminster Hall.

On the morning after the visitors took their departure from
Kilgobbin, old Kearney, who usually relapsed from any exercise of
hospitality into a more than ordinary amount of parsimony, sat
thinking over the various economies by which the domestic budget
could be squared, and after a very long seance with old Gill, in which


the question of raising some rents and diminisbing certain bounties
was discussed, be sent up the ste\Yard to Mr. Richard's room to say
he wanted to speak to him.

Dick at the time of the message was stretched full length on a
sofa, smoking a meerschaum, and speculating how it was that the
" swells " took to Joe Atlce, and what they saw in that confounded
snob, instead of himself. Having in a degree satisfied himself that
Atlee's success was all owing to his intense and outrageous flattery,
he was startled from his reverie by the servant's entrance.

"How is he this morning, Tim?" asked he, with a knowing
look. " Is he fierce — is there anything up — have the heifers been
passing the night in the wheat, or has any one come over from Moate
with a bill?"

" No, sir, none of them; but his blood's up about something.
Ould Gill is gone down the stair, swearing like mad, and Miss Kate
is down the road, with a face like a turkey-cock."

" I think you'd better say I was out, Tim — that you couldn't find
me in my room."

" I daren't, sir. He saw that little Skye terrier of yours below,
and he said to me, ' Mr. Dick is sure to be at home ; tell him I want
him immediately.' "

"But if I had a bad headache, and couldn't leave my bed,
wouldn't that be excuse enough ? "

" It would make him come here. And if I was you, sir, I'd go
where I could get away myself, and not where he could stay as long
as he liked."

" There's something in that. I'll go, Tim. Say, I'll be down
in a minute."

Very careful to attire himself in the humblest costume of his
wardrobe, and specially mindful that neither studs nor watch-chain
should offer offensive matter of comment, he took his way towards
the dreary little den, which, filled with old top-boots, driving-whips,
garden-implements, and fishing-tackle, was known as " the lord's
study," but whose sole literary ornament was a shelf of antiquated
almanacs. There was a strange grimness about his father's aspect
which struck young Kearney as he crossed the threshold. His face
wore the peculiar sardonic expression of one who had not only hit
upon an expedient, but achieved a surprise, as he held an open letter
in one hand and he motioned with the other to a seat.

" I've been waiting till these people were gone, Dick, — till we
had a quiet house of it — to say a few words to you. I suppose your
friend Atlee is not coming back here ? "

" I suppose not, sir."


" I don't like him, Dick ; aud I'm much mistaken if he is a good

" I don't think he is actually a bad fellow, sir. He is often
terribly hard up and has to do scores of shifty things, but I never
found him out in anything dishonourable or false."

" That's a matter of taste, perhaps. Maybe you and I might
diflfer about what was honourable or what was false. At all events,
he was under our roof here, and if those nobs — or swells, I believe
you call them, — were like to be of use to any of us, wo, the people
that were entertaining them, were the first to be thought of ; but
your pleasant friend thought differently, and made such good use of
his time that he cut you out altogether, Dick — he left you nowhere."

" Eeally, sir, it never occurred to me till now to take that view
of the situation."

" Well, take that view of it now, and see how you'll like it ! Yoit
have your way to work in life as well as Mr. Atlee. From all I can
judge, you're scarcely as well calculated to do it as he is. You have
not his smartness, you have not his brains, and you have not his
impudence — and faith, I'm much mistaken but it's the best of the
three ! "

" I don't perceive, sir, that we are necessarily pitted against each
other at all."

"Don't you ? Well, so much the worse for you if you don't see
that every fellow that has nothing in the world is the rival of every
other fellow that's in the same plight. For every one that swims,
ten, at least, sink."

" Perhaps, sir, to begin, I never fully realized the first condition.
I was not exactly aware that I was without anything in the world."

" I'm coming to that, if you'll have a little patience. Here is a
letter from Tom M''Keown, of Abbey Street. I wrote to him about
raising a few hundreds on mortgage, to clear off some of our debts,
and have a trifle in hand for drainage and to buy stock, and he tells
me that there's no use in going to any of the money-lenders so long
as your extravagance continues to be the talk of the town. Ay, you
needn't grow red nor frown that way. The letter was a private one
to myself, and I'm only telling it to you in confidence. Hear what
he says : ' You have a right to make your son a fellow-commoner if
you like, and he has a right, by his father's own showing, to behave
like a man of fortune ; but neither of you have a right to believe
that men who advance money will accept these pretensions as good
security, or think anything but the worse of you both for your
extravagance.' "

" And you don't mean to horsewhip him, sir ? " burst out Dick,


" Not, at any rate, till I pay off two thousand pounds that I owe
him, and two years' interest at six per cent., that he has suffered me
to become his debtor for."

" Lame as he is, I'll kick him before twenty-four hours are over."

" If you do, he'll shoot you like a dog, and it wouldn't be the
first time he handled a pistol. No, no, Master Dick. Whether for
better or worse, I can't tell, but the world is not what it was when I
was your age. There's no provoking a man to a duel now-a-days ;
nor no posting him when he won't fight. Whether it's your fortune
is damaged or your feelings hurt, you must look to the law to redress
you ; and to take your cause into your own hands is to have the
■whole world against j'ou."

" And this insult is then to be submitted to ? "

" It is, first of all, to be ignored. It's the same as if you never
heard it. Just get it out of your head, and listen to what he says.
Tom M^Keown is one of the keenest fellows I know; and he has
business with men who know not only what's doing in Downing-street,
but what's going to be done there. Now here's two things that are
about to take place : one is the same as done, for it's all ready
prepared, — the taking away the landlord's right, and making the
State determine what rent the tenant shall pay, and how long his
tenure will be. The second won't come for two sessions after, but
it will be law all the same. There's to be no primogeniture class at
all, no entail on land, but a subdivision, like in America and, I believe,
in France."

" I don't believe it, sir. These would amount to a revolution."

" Well, and why not? Ain't we always going through a sort of
mild revolution ? Whait's parliamentary government but revolution,
weakened, if you like, like watered grog, but the spirit is there all
the same. Don't fancy that, because you can give it a hard name
you can destroy it. But hear what Tom is coming to. ' Be early,'
says he, * take time by the forelock ; get rid of your entail and get rid
of your land. Don't wait till the Government does both for you, and
have to accept whatever condition the law will cumber you with, but be
before them ! Get your son to join you in docking the entail ; petition
before the court for a sale, yourself or somebody for you ; and wash
your hands clean of it all. It's bad property, in a very ticklish
country,' says Tom — and he dashes the words — * bad property in a
very ticklish country ; and, if you take my advice, you'll get clear of
both.' You shall read it all yourself by-and-by ; I am only giving
you the substance of it, and none of the reasons."

" This is a question for very grave consideration, to say the
least of it. It is a bold proposal."


" So it is, and so says Tom himself; but he adds, ' There's no
time to be lost ; for once it gets about how Gladstone's going to
deal ■R'ith land, and what Bright has in his head for eldest sons, you
might as well whistle as try to dispose of that property,' To be sure,
he says," added he, after a pause — "he says, 'If you insist on
holding on, — if you cling to the dirty acres because they were your
father's and your great grandfather's, and if you think that being
Kearney of Kilgobbiu is a sort of title, in the name of God stay where
you are, but keep down your expenses. Give up some of your use-
less servants, reduce your saddle-horses,' — my saddle-horses ! Dick !
' Try if you can live without fox-hunting.' Fox-hunting ! ' Make
your daughter know that she needn't dress like a duchess,' — poor
Kitty's very like a duchess ; ' and, above all, persuade your lazy, idle,
and very self-sufficient son to take to some respectable line of life to
gain his living. I wouldn't say that he mightn't be an apothecary ;
but if he liked law better than physic, I might be able to do some-
thing for him in my own office.' "

" Have you done, sir? " said Dick, hastily, as his father wiped
his spectacles, and seemed to prepare for another heat.

"He goes on to say that he always requires one hundred and
fifty guineas fee with a young man ; ' but we are old friends, Mathew
Kearney,' says he, ' and we'll make it pounds.' "

"To fit me to be an attorney ! " said Dick, articulating each
word with a slow and almost savage determination.

" Faith ! it would have been well for us if one of the family had
been an attorney before now. We'd never have gone into that action
about the mill race, nor had to pay those heavy damages for levelling
Moore's barn. A little law would have saved us from evicting those
blackguards at MuUenalick, or kicking Mr. Hall's bailiff before

To arrest his father's recollection of the various occasions on
which his illegality had betrayed him into loss and damage, Dick
blurted out, " I'd rather break stones on the road than I'd be an

" Well, you'll not have to go far for employment, for they are
just laying down new metal this moment ; and you needn't lose time
over it," said Kearney, with a wave of his hand, to show that the
audience was over and tlie conference ended.

"There's just one favour I would ask, sir," said Dick, Avith his
hand on the lock.

" You want a hammer, I suppose," said his father, with a grin —
"isn't that it? "

With something that, had it been uttered aloud, sounded very


like a bitter malediction, Dick rusliod from the room, slamming the
door violently after him as he went.

" That's the temper that helps a man to get on in life," said the
old man, as he turned once more to his accounts, and set to work to
see where he had blundered in his figures.

dick's reverie.

When Dick Kearney left his father, he walked from the house, and
not knowing, or much caring in what direction he Avent, turned into
the garden. It was a wild, neglected sort of spot, more orchard than
garden, with fruit-trees of great size, long past bearing, and close

Online LibraryCharles James LeverLord Kilgobbin : a tale of Ireland in our own time → online text (page 11 of 48)