Charles James Lever.

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

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opposition to that lady's dictation.

Malevolent people, indeed, had said that Mathew Kearney had
once had matrimonial designs on Miss Betty, or rather, on that snug
place and nice property called " O'Shea's Bam," of which she was
sole heiress ; but he most stoutly declared this story to be groundless
and in a forcible manner asseverated that had he been Robinson
Crusoe and Miss Betty the only inhabitant of the island with him, be
would have lived and died in celibacy rather than have contracted
dearer ties.

Miss Betty, to give her the name by which she was best known,
was no miracle of either tact or amiability, but she had certain
qualities that could not be disparaged. She was a strict Catholic,
charitable, in her own peculiar and imperious way, to the poor, very
desu'ous to be strictly just and honest, and such a sure foe to every-
thing that she thought pretension or humbug of any kind— which
meant anything that did not square with her own habits — that she
was perfectly intolerable to all who did not accept herself and her
own mode of life as a model and an example.

Thus, a stout-bodied copper urn on the tea-table, a very uncouth
jaunting-car, driven by an old man, whose only livery was a cockade,
some very muddy port as a dinner wine, and whisky-punch afterwards
on the brown mahogany, were so many articles of belief with her, to
dissent from any of which was a downright heresy.

Thus, after Nina arrived at the Castle, the appearance of napkins
palpably affected her constitution : with the advent of finger-glasses
she ceased her visits, and bluntly declined all invitations to dinner.
That cofi"ee and some indescribable liberties would follow, as post-
prandial excesses, she secretly imparted to Kate Kearney, in a note,


•whicli concluded with the assurance that when the day of these
enormities arrived, 0" Shea's Bam would be open to her as a refuge
and a sanctuary ; " but not," added she, " with your cousin, for I'll
not let the hussy cross my doors."

For mouths now this strict quarantine had lasted, and except for
the interchange of some brief and very uninteresting notes, all intimacy
had ceased between the two houses — a circumstance, I am loth to
own, which was most uugallantly recorded every day after dinner by
old Kearney, who drank " Miss Betty's health, and long absence to
her." It was then with no small astonishment Kate was overtaken
in the avenue by Miss Betty on her old chestnut mare Judy, a small
bog-boy mounted on the croop behind, to act as groom : for in this
way Paddy Walshe was accustomed to travel without the slightest
consciousness that he was not in strict conformity with the ways of
Rotten Row and the " Bois."

That there was nothing " stuck-up " or pretentious about this
mode of being accompanied by one's groom — a proposition scarcely
assailable — was Miss Betty's declaration, delivered in a sort of
challenge to the world. Indeed, certain ticklesome tendencies in
Judy, particularly when touched with the heel, seemed to oflfer the
strongest protest against the practice : for whenever pushed to any
increase of speed or admonished in any way, the beast usually
responded by a hoist of the haunches, which invariably compelled
Paddy to clasp his mistress round the waist for safety — a situatiou
which, however repugnant to maiden bashfulness, time, and perhaps
necessity, had reconciled her to. At all events, poor Paddy's terror
would have been the amplest refutation of scandal, while the stern
immobility of Miss Betty during the embrace would have silenced
even malevolence.

On the present occasion, a sharp canter of several miles had
reduced Judy to a very quiet and decorous pace, so that Paddy and
his mistress sat almost back to back — a combination that only long
habit enabled Kate to witness without laughing.

" Are you alone up at the Castle, dear ? " asked Miss Betty, as
she rode along at her side ; "or have you the house full of what the
papers call ' distinguished company ' ? "

" We are quite alone, godmother. My brother is with us, but
we have no strangers."

"I am glad of it. I've come over to ' have it out' with your
father, and it's pleasant to know we shall be to ourselves."

Now, as this announcement of having " it out " conveyed to Kate's
mind nothing short of an o^wn declaration of war, a day of reckoning
on which Miss O'Shca would come prepared with a full indictment,


and a resolution to in-osecuto to conviction, the poor girl sbudcleretl
at a jH'Osiicct so certain to end in calamity.

" Papa is very far from well, godmother," said she, in a mild way.

** So they tell me in the town," said the other snappishly. " His
brother magistrates said that the day he came in, about that supposed
attack — the memorable search for arms "

" Supposed attack ! but, godmother, pray don't imagine we had
invented all that. I think you know me well enough and long enough
to know "

" To know that you would not have had a young scamp of a Castle
aide-de-camp on a visit during your father's absence, not to say
anything about amusing your English visitor by shooting down your
own tenantry."

" Will you listen to me for five minutes ? "

" No, not for thi-ee."

" Two, then — one even — one minute, godmother, will convince
you how you wrong me."

" I won't give you that. I didn't come over about you nor your
aflfiiirs. When the fixther makes a fool of himself, why wouldn't the
daughter ? The whole country is laughing at him. His lordship
indeed ! a ruined estate and a tenantiy in rags ; and the only remedy,
as Peter Gill tells me, raising the rents, — raising the rents where
every one is a pauper."

" What would you have him do. Miss O'Shea ? " said Kate, almost

" I'll tell you what I'd have him do. I'd have him rise of a
morning before nine o'clock, and be out with his labourers at daybreak.
I'd have him reform a whole lazy household of blackguards, good for
nothing but waste and wickedness. I'd have him apprentice your
brother to a decent trade or a light business. I'd have him declare
he'd kick the first man that called him * My lord ; ' and for yourself,
well, it's no matter "

" Yes, but it is, godmother, a great matter to me at least. What
about myself? "

" Well, I don't wish to speak of it, but it just dropped out of my
lips by accident ; and perhaps, though not pleasant to talk about, it's
as well it was said and done with. I meant to tell your father that
it must be all over between you and my nephew, Gorman ; that I
won't have him back here on leave as I intended. I know it didn't
go far, dear. There was none of what they call love in the case.
You would probably have liked one another well enough at last ; but
I won't have it, and it's better we came to the right understanding at


" Your curb-chaiu is loose, godmother," saitl the girl; who now,
pale as death and trembling all over, advanced to fasten the link.

" I declare to the Lord, he's asleep ! " said Miss Betty, as tho
wearied head of her page dropped heavily on her shoulder. " Take
the curb off, dear, or I may lose it. Put it in your pocket for me,
Kate ; that is, if you wear a pocket."

*' Of course I do, godmother. I carry very stout keys in it, too.
Look at these."

" Ay, ay. I liked all that, once on a time, well enough, and used
to think you'd be a good thrifty wife for a poor man ; but with the
Viscount your father, and the young Princess your first cousin, and
the devil knows what of your fine brother, I believe the sooner we
part good friends the better. Not but if you like my plan for you, I'll
be just as ready as ever to aid you."

" I have not heard the plan yet," said Kate, faintly.

" Just a nunnery, then — no more nor less than that. The ' Sacred
Heart ' at Namur, or the Sisters of Mercy here at home in Bagot
Street, I believe, if you like better — eh ? "

" It is soon to bo able to make up one's mind on such a point.
I want a little time for this, godmother."

*' You would not want time if your heart were in a holy work,
Kate Kearney. It's little time you'd be asking if I said will you
have Gorman O'Shea for a husband ? "

*' There is such a thing as insult. Miss O'Shea, and no amount of
long intimacy can license that."

" I ask your pardon, godchild. I wish you could know how sorry
I feel."

" Say no more, godmother, say no more, I beseech you," cried
Kate, and her tears now gushed forth, and relieved her almost bursting
heart. " I'll take this short path through the shrubbery, and be at
the door before you," cried she, rushing away; while Miss Betty,
with a sharp touch of the spur, provoked such a plunge as effectually
awoke Paddy, and apprised him that his duties as groom were soon
to be in request.

"While earnestly assuring him that some changes in his diet
should be speedily adopted against somnolency, Miss Betty rotle
briskly on, and reached the hall-door.

" I told you I should be first, godmother," said the girl ; and the
pleasant ring of her voice showed she had regained her spirits, or at
least such self-control as enabled her to suppress her sorrow.

( 121 )



It is a not infrequent distress in small liousekolds, especially when
some miles from a market town, to make adequate preparation for an
unexpected guest at dinner ; but even this is a very infei'ior difficulty
to that experienced by those who have to order the repast in conformity
with certain rigid notions of a guest who will criticize the smallest
deviation from the most humble standard, and actually rebuke the
slightest pretension to delicacy of food or elegance of table equipage.

No sooner, then, had Kate learned that Miss O'Shea was to
remain for dinner, than she immediately set herself to think over all
the possible reductions that might be made in the fare, and all the
plainness and simplicity that could be imparted to the service of the

Napkins had not been the sole reform suggested by the Greek
cousin. She had introduced flowers on the table, and so artfully had
she decked out the board with fruit and ornamental plants, that she
had succeeded in effecting by artifice M'hat would have been an
egregious failure if more openly attempted — the service of the dishes
one by one to the guests without any being placed on the table.
These, with finger-glasses, she had already achieved, nor had she in
the recesses of her heart given up the hope of seeing the day that her
uncle would rise from the table as she did, give her his arm to the
drawing-room, and bow profoundly as he left her. Of the inestimable
advantages, social, intellectual, and moral, of this system, she had
indeed been cautious to hold forth ; for, like a great reformer, she
was satisfied to leave her improvements to the slow test of time,
" educating her public," as a great authority has called it, while she
bided the result in patience.

Indeed, as poor Mathew Kearney was not to be indulged with
the luxury of whisky-punch during his dinner, it was not easy to
reply to his question, " When am I to have my tumbler ?" as though
he evidently believed the aforesaid " tumbler" was an institution that
could not be abrogated or omitted altogether.

Coffee in the drawing-room was only a half success so long as the
gentlemen sat over their wine ; and as for the daily cigarette Nina
smoked with it, Kate, in her simplicity, believed it was only done as
a sort of protest at being deserted by those unnatural protectors who
preferred poteen to ladies.


It was therefore in no small perturbation of mind that Kate
rushed to her cousin's room -nith the awful tidings that Miss Betty
had arrived and intended to remain for dinner.

" Do you mean the odious woman with the hoy and bandbox
behind her on horseback ?" asked Nina, superciliously.

"Yes, she always travels in that fashion; she is odd and
eccentric in scores of things, but a fine-hearted, honest woman,
generous to the poor, and true to her friends."

" I don't care for her moral qualities, but I do bargain for a little
outward decency, and some respect for the world's opinion."

" You will like her, Nina, when you know her."

" I shall profit by the warning. I'll take care not to know her."

" She is one of the oldest, I believe the oldest, friend our family
has in the world."

"What a sad confession, child; but I have always deplored

" Don't be supercilious or sarcastic, Nina, but help me with your
own good sense and wise advice. She has not come over in the best
of humours. She has, or fancies she has, some difierence to settle
with papa. They seldom meet without a quarrel, and I fear this
occasion is to be no exception ; so, do aid me to get things over
pleasantly if it be possible."

" She snubbed me the only time I met her. I tried to help her
off with her bonnet, and, unfortunately, I displaced, if I did not
actually remove, her wig, and she muttered something ' about a rope-
dancer not being a dexterous lady's-maid.' "

" Oh, Nina, surely you do not mean "

" Not that I was exactly a rope-dancer, Kate, but I had on a
Greek jacket that morning of blue velvet and gold, and a white skirt,
and perhaps these had some memories of the circus for the old lady."

" You are only jesting now, Nina."

" Don't you know me well enough to know that I never jest when
I think, or even suspect, I am injured ?"

" Injured ! "

" It's not the word I wanted, but it will do; I used it in its
French sense."

" You bear no malice, I'm sure ?" said the other, caressingly.

" No !" replied she, with a shrug that seemed to deprecate even
having a thought about her.

" She will stay for dinner, and we must, as far as possible,
receive her in the way she has been used to here, a very homely
dinner, served as she has always seen it — no fruit or flowers on the
table, no claret-cup, no finger-glasses."


" I hope no tableclotli; couldn't we have a tray on a corner table,
and every one help himself as he strolled about the room ?"

" Dear Nina, be reasonable just for this once."

" I'll come down just as I am, or better still, I'll take down my
hair and cram it into a net ; I'd oblige her with dirty hands, if I
only knew how to do it."

"I see j'OU only say these things in jest ; you really do mean to
help me through this difficulty."

"But why a difficulty? what reason can you offer for all this
absurd submission to the whims of a very tiresome old woman ? Is
she very rich, and do you expect an heritage ?"

" No, no ; nothing of the kind."

*' Does she load you with valuable presents ? Is she ever ready
to commemorate birthdays and family festivals ?"


" Has she any especial quality or gift beyond riding double and a
bad temper ? Oh, I was forgetting ; she is the aunt of her nephew,
isn't she ? — the dashing lancer that was to spend his summer over

" You were indeed forgetting when you said this," said Kate,
proudly, and her face grew scarlet as she spoke.

" Tell me that you like him or that he likes you ; tell me that
there is something, anything, between you, child, and I'll be discreet
and mannerly, too ; and more, I'll behave to the old lady with every
regard to one who holds such dear interests in her keeping. But don't
bandage my eyes, and tell me at the same time to look out and see."

" I have no confidences to make you," said Kate, coldly. "I
came here to ask a favour — a very small favour, after all — and you
might have accorded it, without question or ridicule."

" But which you never need have asked, Kate," said the other,
gravely. "You are the mistress here; I am but a very humble
guest. Your orders are obeyed, as they ought to be ; my suggestions
may be adopted now and then — partly in caprice, part compliment —
but I know they have no permanence, no more take root here than —
than myself."

" Do not say that, my dearest Nina," said Kate, as she tlu-ew
herself on her neck, and kissed her afiectionately again and again.
" You are one of us, and we are all proud of it. Come along with
me, now, and tell me all that you advise. You know what I wish,
and you will forgive me even in my stupidity."

" Where's your brother? " asked Nina, hastily.

" Gone out with his gun. He'll not be back till he is certain
Miss Betty has taken her departure."


" Why did he not oflfer to take me with him ? "

" Over the bog, do you mean ? "

" Anywhere ; I'd not cavil about the road. Don't you know
that I have days when ' don't care ' masters me. When I'd do

anything, go anywhere "

" " Marry any one ? " said the other, laughing.

" Yes ; marry any one, as irresponsibly as if I was dealing with
the destiny of some other that did not regard me. On these days I
do not belong to myself, and this is one of them."

*' I know nothing of such humours, Nina ; nor do I believe it a
healthy mind that has them."

" I did not boast of my mind's health, nor tell you to trust to it.
Come, let us go down to the dinner-room, and talk that pleasant
leg-of-mutton talk you know you are fond of."

" And best fitted for, say that," said Kate, laughing merrily.

The other did not seem to have heard her words, for she moved
slowly away, calling on Kate to follow her.



It is sad to have to record that all Kate's persuasions with her
cousin, all her own earnest attempts at conciliation, and her ably-
planned schemes to escape a difficulty, were only so much labour
lost. A stern message from her father commanded her to make no
change either in the house or the service of the dinner — an inter-
ference with domestic cares so novel on his part as to show that he
had prepared himself for hostilities, and was resolved to meet his
enemy boldly.

"It's no use, all I have been telling you, Nina," said Kate, as
she re-entered her room, later in the day. " Papa orders me to have
everything as usual, and won't even let me give Miss Betty an early
dinner, though he knows she has nine miles of a ride to reach home."

" That explains somewhat a message he has sent myself," replied
Nina, " to wear my very prettiest toilette and my Greek cap, which
he admired so much the other day."

" I am almost glad tliat ;//// wardrobe has nothing attractive,"
said Kate, half sadly. "I certainly shall never be rebuked for my


" And do you mean to say tliat the old woman would be rudo
enough to extend her comments to mc ? "

" I have known her do things quite as hardy, though I hope on
the present occasion the other novelties may shelter you."

" Why isn't j'our brother here ? I should insist on his coming
down in discreet black, with a white tie and that look of imposing
solemnity young Englishmen assume for dinner."

Dick guessed what was coming, and would not encounter it.

" And yet you tell me you submit to all this for no earthly
reason. She can leave you no legacy, contribute in no way to your
benefit. She has neither family, fortune, nor connections ; and,
except her atrocious manners and her indomitable temper, there is
not a trait of her that claims to be recorded."

" Oh, yes ; she rides capitally to hounds, and hunts her own
harriers to perfection."

" I am glad she has one quality that deserves your favour."

" She has others, too, which I like better than what they call
accomplishments. She is very kind to the poor, never deterred by
any sickness from visiting them, and has the same stout-hearted
courage for every casualty in life."

" A commendable gift for a Squaw, but what does a Gentlewoman
want with this same courage ? "

" Look out of the window, Nina, and see where you are living !
Throw your eyes over that great expanse of dark bog, vast as one of
the great campagnas you have often described to us, and bethink
you how mere loneliness — desolation — needs a stout heart to bear it ;
how the simple fact that for the long hours of a summer's day, or
the longer hours of a winter's night, a lone woman has to watch and
think of all the possible casualties lives of hardship and'misery may
impel men to. Do you imagine that she does not mark the growing
discontent of the people ? see their care-worn looks, dashed with a
sullen determination, and hear in their voices the rising of a hoarse
defiance that was never heard before ? Does she not well know
that every kindness she has bestowed, every merciful act she has
ministered, would weigh for nothing in the balance on the day that
she will be arraigned as a lando^vnei' — the receiver of the poor man's
rent! And will you tell me after this she can dispense with
courage ? "

" Bel paese davvero !" muttered the other.

" So it is," cried Kate ; " with all it's faults I'd not exchange
it for the brightest land that ever glittered in a southem sun. But
why should I tell you how jarred and disconcerted we are by laws
that have no reference to our ways, — conferring rights where we were


once couteuted with trustfulness, and teaching men to do everything
by contract, and nothing by affection, nothing by good-will."

" No, no, tell me none of all these; but tell me shall I come down
in my Suliote jacket of yellow cloth, for I know it becomes me ?"

" And if we women had not courage," went on Kate, not heeding
the question, " what would our men do ? Should we see them lead
lives of bolder daring than the stoutest wanderer in Africa ? "

" And my jacket, and my Theban belt ? "

" Wear them all. Be as beautiful as you like, but don't be late
for dinner." And Kate hurried away before the other could speak.

When Miss O'Shea, arrayed in a scarlet poplin and a yellow
gauze turban — the month being August — arrived in the drawing-room
before dinner, she found no one there, — a circumstance that chagrined
her so far that she had hurried her toilette and torn one of her gloves
in her haste. " When they say six for the dinner-hour they might
surely be in the drawing-room by that hour," was Miss Betty's
reflection as she turned over some of the magazines and circulating-
library books which since Nina's arrival had found their way to
Kilgobbin. The contemptuous manner in which she treated Black-
trood and Macmillan, and the indignant dash with which she flung
TroUope's last novel down, showed that she had not been yet
corrupted by the light reading of the age. An unopened country
newspaper, addressed to the Viscount Kilgobbin, had however
absorbed all her attention, and she was more than half disposed to
possess herself of the envelope when Mr. Kearney entered.

His bright blue coat and white waistcoat, a profusion of shirt-
frill, and a voluminous cravat proclaimed dinner dress, and a certain
pomposity of manner showed how an unusual costume had imposed
on himself, and suggested an important event.

" I hope I sec Miss O'Shea in good health ? " said he, advancing.

"•How are you, Mathew?" replied she, drily. " When I heard
that big bell thundering away, I was so afraid to be late that I came
down with one bracelet, and I have torn my glove too.'

" It was only the first bell — the dressing bell," he said.

"Humph! That's something new since I was here last," said
Bhe, tartly.

"You remind mc of how long it is since you dined with us,"
Miss O'Shea."

" Well, indeed, Mathew, I meant to be longer, if I must tell the
ti'uth. I saw enough the last day I lunched here to show me
Kilgobbin was not what it used to be. You were all of you what
my poor father — who was always thinking of the dogs — used to call
* on your bind legs,' walking about very stately and very miserable.


There were three or four covered dishes on the table that nobody
tasted ; and an old man, in red breeches, ran about in half distraction,
and said, ' Sherry, my lord, or Madeira.' Many's the time I laughed
over it since." And, as though to vouch for the truth of the mirth-
fulness, she lay back in her chair, and shook with hearty laughter.

Before Kearney could reply — for something like a passing
apoplexy had arrested his words — the girls entered, and made their

"If I had the honour of knowing you longer, Miss Costigan,"
said Miss O'Shea — for it was thus she translated the name Kostalergi
— " I'd ask you why you couldn't dress like your cousin Kate. It
may be all very well in the house, and it's safe enough here, there's
no denying it ; but my name's not Betty if you'd walk down Kilbeggin
without a crowd yelling after you and calling names too, that a

Online LibraryCharles James LeverLord Kilgobbin : a tale of Ireland in our own time → online text (page 13 of 48)