Charles James Lever.

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

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respectable young woman wouldn't bargain for ; eh, Mathew, is that
true ? "

" There's the dinner-bell now," said Mathew; " may I offer my
arm?"

" It's thin enough that arm is getting, Mathew Kearney," said
she, as he walked along at her side. " Not but it's time, too. You
were born in the September of 1809, though your mother used to
deny it ; and you're now a year older than your father was when he
died."

"Will you take this place?" said Kearney, placing her chair
for her. " We're a small party to-day. I see Dick does not dine
with us."

*' Maybe I hunted him away. The young gentlemen of the present
day are frank enough to say what they think of old maids. That's
very elegant, and I'm sure it's refined," said she, pointing to the
mass of fruit and flowers so tastefully arranged before her. " But I
was bom in a time when people liked to see what they were going to
eat, Mathew Kearney, and as I don't intend to break my fast on a
stock-gilly-flower, or make a repast of raisins, I prefer the old way.
Fill up my glass whenever it's empty," said she to the servant, " and
don't bother me with the name of it. As long as I know the King's
County, and that's more than fifty years, we've been calling Cape
Madeira, Sherry! "

" If we know what we are drinking, Miss O'Shea, I don't suppose
it matters much."

" Nothing at all, Mathew. Calling you the Viscount Kilgobbin,
as I read a while ago, won't confuse me about an old neighbour."

" Won't you try a cutlet, godmother ? " asked Kate, hurriecHy.

" Indeed, I will, my dear. I don't know why I was sending the



128 LORD KILGOBBIX.

man aivay. I never saw this way of dining before, except at the
Pooriiouse, where each poor creature has his plateful given him, and
pockets what he can't eat." And here she laughed long and heartily
at the conceit.

Kearney's good-humour relished the absurdity, and he joined in
the laugh, while Xiua stared at the old woman as an object of dread
and terror.

"And that boy that wouldn't dine with us. How is he turning
out, Mathew ? They tell me he's a bit of a scamp."

"He's no such thing, godmother. Dick is as good a fellow and
as right-minded as ever lived, and you yourself would be the first to
say it, if you saw him," cried Kate, angrily.

" So would the young lady yonder, if I might judge from her
blushes," said Miss Betty, looking at Nina. " Not indeed but it's
only now I'm remembering that you're not a boy. That little red
cap and that thing you wear round your throat deceived me."

" It is not the lot of every one to be so fortunate in a head-dress
as Miss O'Shea," said Nina, very calmly.

" If it's my wig you are envying me, my dear," replied she,
quietly, " there's nothing easier than to have the own brother of it.
It was made by Crimp, of Nassau Street, and box and all cost four'
pound twelve."

"Upon my life. Miss Betty," broke in Kearney, "you are
tempting me to an extravagance." And he passed his hand over his
sparsely-covered head as he spoke.

"And I would not, if I was you, Mathew Kearney," said she,
resolutely. " They tell me that in that House of Lords you are
going, to, more than half of them are bald."

There was no possible doubt that she meant by this speech to
deliver a challenge, and Kate's look, at once imploring and sorrowful,
appealed to her for mercy.

" No, thank you," said Miss Betty, to the servant who presented
a dish, " though indeed, maybe, I'm wrong, for I don't know what's
coming."

" This-is the * menu,' " said Nina, handing a card to her.

" The bill of fare, godmother," said Kate, hastily.

" Well, indeed, it's a kindness to tell mo, and if there is any
more novelties to follow, perhaps you'll be kind enough to inform me,
for I never dined in the Greek fashion before."

" The Russian, I believe, madam, not the Greek," said Nina.

" With all my heart, my dear. It's about the same, for whatever
may happen to Mathew Kearney or myself, I don't suspect either of
us will go to live at Moscow."



A SMALL DINNER-PARTY. 129

" You'll uot refuse a glass of port with your cheese ? " said Kearney.
"Indeed I will, then, if there's any beer in the house, though
perhaps it's too vulgar a liquor to ask for."

While the beer was being brought, a solemn silence ensued, and
a less comfortable party could not easily be imagined.

When the interval had been so far prolonged that Kearney himself
saw the necessity to do something, he placed his napkin on the table,
leaned forward with a half motion of rising, and, addressing Miss
Betty, said, " Shall we adjourn to the drawing-room and take our
coffee ? "

" I'd rather stay where I am, Mathew Kearney, and have that
glass of port you offered me a while ago, for the beer was flat. Not
that I'll detain the young people, nor keep yourself away fi-om them
very long."

When the two girls withdrew, Nina's look of insolent triumph at
Kate betrayed the tone she was soon to take in treating of the old
lady's good manners.

" You had a veiy sorry dinner, Miss Betty, but I can promise
you an honest glass of wine," said Kearney, filling her glass.

"It's very nice," said she, sipping it, "though, maybe, like
myself, it's just a trifle too old."

" A good fault, Miss Betty, a good fault."

" For the wine, perhaps," said she, drily, "but maybe it would
taste better if I had not bought it so dearly."

" I don't think I understand you."

" I was about to say that I have forfeited that young lady's esteem
by the way I obtained it. She'll never forgive me, instead of retiring
for my coffee, sitting here like a man — and a man of that old hard-
drinking school, Mathew, that has brought all the ruin on Ireland,"

" Here's to their memory, any way," said Kearney, drinking off
his glass.

" I'll drink no toasts nor sentiments, Mathew Kearney, and
there's no artifice or roguery will make me forget I'm a woman and
an O'Shea."

"Faix, you'll not catch me forgetting either," said Mathew, with
a droll twinkle of his eye, which it was just as fortunate escaped her
notice.

" I doubted for a long time, Mathew Kearney, whether I'd come
over myself, or whether I'd write you a letter ; not that I'm good at
writing, but, somehow, one can put their ideas more cleai", and say
things in a way that will fix them more in the mind ; but at last I
determined I'd come, though it's more than likely it's the last time
Kilgobbin will see me here."

9



130 LORD KILGOBBIN.

" I sincerely trust you are mistaken, so far."

" Well, Mathcw, I'm not often mistaken ! Tiie woman that has
managed an estate for more than i3rty years, been her own land-
steward and her own law-ageut, doesn't make a great many blunders ;
and, as I said before, if Mathew has no friend to tell him the
truth among the men of his acquaintance, it's well that there is a
woman to the fore, who has courage and good sense to go up and
do it."

She looked fixedly at him, as though expecting some concurrence
in the remark, if not some intimation to proceed ; but neither came,
and she continued.

"I suppose you don't read the Dublin newspapers? " said she,
civilly.

" I do, and every day the post brings them."

" You see, therefore, without my telling you, what the world is
saying about you. You see how they treat ' the search for arms,' as
they head it, and ' the maid of Saragossa ! ' Oh, Mathew Kearney !
Mathew Kearney ! whatever happened the old stock of the laud, they
never made themselves ridiculous."

" Have you done, Miss Betty ? " asked he, with assumed calm.

"Done! Why, it's only beginning, I am," cried she. "Not
but I'd bear a deal of blackguarding from the press, as the old woman
said when the soldier threatened to run his bayonet through her :
' Devil thank you, it's only your trade.' But when we come to see
the head of an old family making ducks and drakes of his family
property, threatening the old tenants that have been on the land as
long as his own people, raising the rent here, evicting there, distressing
the people's minds when they've just as much as they can to bear up
with — then, it's time for an old friend and neighbour to give a timely
warning, and cry ' stop.'

" Have you done, Miss Betty ? " And now his voice was more
stern than before.

" I have not, nor near done, Mathew Kearney. I've said nothing
of the way you're bringing up your family — that son, in particular —
to make him think himself a young man of fortune, when you know,
in your heart, you'll leave him little more than the mortgages on the
estate. I have not told you that it's one of the jokes of the capital
to call him the Honourable Dick Kearney, and to ask him after his
father the viscount."

"You haven't done yet. Miss O'Shca ? " said he, now with a
thickened voice.

" No, not yet," replied she, calmly; " not yet ; for I'd like to
remind you of the way you're behaving to the best of the whole of you



A SMALL DINNER-PARTY. 131

— the only one, indeed, that's worth much in the family — your
daughter Kate."

" Well, what have I done to wrong her? " said he, carried beyond
his prudence by so astounding a charge.

" The very worst you could do, Mathew Kearney ; tlic only
mischief it was in your power, maybe. Look at the companion you
have given her ! Look at the respectable young lady you've brought
home to live with your decent child ! "

" You'll not stop ? " cried he, almost choking with passion.

" Not till I've told you why I came here, Mathew Kearney ; for
I'd beg you to understand it was no interest about yourself or your
doings brought me. I came to tell you that I mean to be free about
an old contract we once made — that I revoke it all. I was fool
enough to believe that an alliance between our families would have
made me entirely happy, and my nephew Gorman O'Shea was brought
up to think the same. I have lived to know better, Mathew Kearney :
I have lived to see that we don't suit each other at all, and I have
come here to declare to you formally that it's all off. No nephew of
mine shall come here for a wife. The heir to Shea's Barn sha'n't
bring the mistress of it out of Kilgobbin Castle."

•' Trust me for that, old lady," cried he, forgetting all his good
manners in his violent passion.

" You'll be all the freer to catch a young aide-de-camp from the
Castle," said she, sneeringly : " or maybe, indeed, a young lord — a
rank equal to your own."

" Haven't you said enough ? " screamed he, wild with rage.

" No, nor half, or you wouldn't be standing there, wringing your
hands with passion, and your hair bristling like a porcupine. You'd
be at my feet, Mathew Kearney — ay, at my feet."

" So I would. Miss Betty," chimed he in, with a malicious grin,
*' if I was only sure you'd be as cruel as the last time I knelt there.
Oh dear ! oh dear ! and to think that I once wanted to marry that
woman ! "

" That you did ! You'd have put your hand in the fire to win her."

"By my conscience, I'd have put myself altogether there, if I
had won her."

" You understand now, sir," said she, haughtily, " that there's no
more between us."

" Thank God for the same ! " ejaculated he, fervently.

"And that no nephew of mine comes courting a daughter of



yours



" For his own sake, he'd better not."

" It's for his own sake I intend it, Mathew Kearney. It's of



132 LOED KILGOBBIN.

himself I'm thinkiug. And now thanking you for the pleasant evening
I've passed, and your charming society, I'll take my leave."

" I hope you'll not rob us of your company till you take a dish of
tea," said he, with well-feigned politeness.

"It's hard to tear one's self away, Mr. Kearney; but it's late
already."

" Couldn't we induce you to stop the night. Miss Betty ? " asked
he, in a tone of insinuation. " Well, at least you'll let me ring to
order your horse ? "

" You may do that, if it amuses you, Mathcw Kearney ; but,
meanwhile, I'll just do what I've always done in the same place — ■
I'll just go look for my own beast and see her saddled myself; and
as Peter Gill is leaving you to-morrow, I'll take him back with me
to-night."

" Is he going to you ? " cried he, passionately.

" He's going to me, Mr. Kearney, with your leave, or without it,
I don't know which I like best." And with this she swept out of the
room, while Kearney closed his eyes and lay back in his chair, stunned
and almost stupefied.



CHAPTER XXII.

A CONFIDENTIAL TALK.

Dick Kearney walked the bog from early morning till dark w^ithout
firing a shot. The snipe rose almost at his feet, and, wheeling in
circles through the air, dipped again into some dark crevice of the
waste, unnoticed by him ! One thought only possessed, and never
left him, as he went. He had overheard Nina's words to his siste^
as he made his escape over the fence, and learned how she promised
to " spare him ; " and that if not worried about him, or asked to
pledge herself, she should bo " merciful," and not entangle the boy
in a hopeless passion.

He would have liked to have scoffed at the Insolence of this speech,
and treated it as a trait of overweening vanity : he would have gladly
accepted her pity as a sort of challenge, and said, " Be it so ; let us
see who will come safest out of this encounter," and yet he felt in his
heart he could not.

First of all, her beauty had really dazzled him, and the thousand
graces of a manner of which he had known nothing, captivated and
almost bewildered him. He could not reply to her in the same tone



A CONFIDENTIAL TALK. 133

he used to any other. If he fetched her a book or a chair, he gave
it with a sort of deference that actually reacted on himself, and made
him more gentle and more courteous, for the time. " What would
this influence end in making me ? " was his question to himself.
" Should I gain in sentiment or feeling ? Should I have higher and
nobler aims '? Should I be anything of that she herself described so
glowingly, or should I only sink to a weak desire to be her slave, and
ask for nothing better than some slight recognition of my devotion ?
I take it, that she would say the choice lay with her, and that I
should be the one or the other as she willed it, and though I would
give much to believe her Avi'ong, my heart tells me that I cannot. I
came down here resolved to resist any influence she might attempt to
have over me. Her likeness showed me how beautiful she w'as, but
it could not tell me the dangerous fascination of her low liquid voice,
her half-playful, half-melancholy smile, and that bewitching walk,
with all its stately grace, so that every fold as she moves sends its
own thrill of ecstasy. And now that I know all these, see and feel
them, I am told that to me they can bring no hope ! That I am too
poor, too ignoble, too undistinguislied, to raise my eyes to such
attraction. I am nothing, and must live and die nothing.

" She is candid enough, at all events. There is no rhapsody
about her when she talks of poverty. She chronicles every stage of
the misery, as though she had felt them all ; and how unlike it she
looks ! There is an almost insolent well-being about her that puzzles
me. She will not heed this, or sufier that, because it looks mean.
Is this the subtle worship she oflers Wealth, and is it thus she offers
up her prayer to Fortune '?

"But why should she assume I must be her slave?'' cried he
aloud, in a sort of defiance. " I have shown her no such preference,
nor made any advances that would show I want to win her favour.
Without denying that she is beautiful, is it so certain it is the kind
of beauty I admire ? She has scores of fascinations — I do not deny
it ; but should I say that I trust her ? And if I should trust her
and love her too, where must it all end in ? I do not believe in her
theory that love will transform a fellow of my mould into a hero, not to
say that I have my own doubt if she herself believes it. I wonder if
Kate reads her more clearly ? Girls so often understand each other
by traits we have no clue to ; and it was Kate who asked her, almost
in tone of entreaty, ' to spare me,' to save me fi'om a hopeless
passion, just as though I were some peasant-boy who had set his
aflection on a princess. Is that the way, then, the world would read
our respective conditions ? The son of a ruined house or the guest
of a beggared family leaves little to choose between I Kate — the



134 LORD KILGOBBIX.

world — -would call my lot the better of the two. The man's chance
is not irretrievable, at least such is the theory. Those half-dozen
fellows, who in a century or so contrive to work theii- way u]) to
something, make a sort of precedent, and tell the others what they
might be if they but knew how.

"I'm not vain enough to suppose I am one of these, and it is
quite plain that she docs not think me so." He pondered long over
this thought, and then suddenly cried aloud, "Is it possible she may
read Joe Atlee in this fashion ? is that the stuff out of which she
hopes to make a hero ? " There was more bitterness in this thought
than he had first imagined, and there was that of jealousy in it too,
that pained him deeply.

Had she preferred either of the two Englishmen to himself, he
could have understood and, in a measure, accepted it. They were,
as he called them, " swells." They might become, he knew not what.
The career of the Saxon in fortune was a thing incommensurable by
Irish ideas ; but Joe was like himself, or in reality less than himself,
in worldly advantages.

This pang of jealousy was very bitter; but still it served to
stimulate him and rouse him from a depression that was gaining fast
upon him. It is true he remembered she had spoken slightingly of
Joe Atlee. Called him noisy, pretentious, even vulgar ; snubbed
him openly on more than one occasion, and seemed to like to turn
the laugh against him ; but with all that she had sung duets with
him, corrected some Italian verses he wrote, and actually made a
little sketch in his note-book for him as a souvenir. A souvenir ! and
of what ? Not of the ridicule she had turned upon him ! not the jest
she had made upon his boastfulness. Now which of these two did
this argue ; was this levity, or was it falsehood ? Was she so little
mindful of honesty that she would show these signs of favour to one
she held most cheaply, or was it that her distaste to this man was
mere pretence, and only assumed to deceive others.

After all, Joe Atlee was a nobody ; flattery might call him an
adventurer, but he was not even so much. Amongst the men of
the dangerous party he mixed with he was careful never to com-
promise himself. He might write the songs of rebellion, but he was
little likely to tamper with treason itself. So much he would tell
her when he got back. Not angrily, nor passionately, for that would
betray him and disclose his jealousy, but in the tone of a man
revealing something ho regretted — confessing to the blemish of one
he would have liked better to speak well of. There was not, he
thought, anything unfair in this. He was but warning her against a
man who was unworthy of her. Unworthy of her ! What words



A CONFIDENTIAL TALK. 135

could cxi)rcss the disparity between tliera ? Not but if she liked bim — ■
and this he said with a certain bitterness — or thought she liked him,
the disproportion already ceased to exist.

Hour after hour of that long summer day he walked, revolving
such thoughts as these ; all his conclusions tending to the one
point, that he was not the easy victim she thought him, and that,
come what might, he should not be offered up as a sacrifice to her
worship of Joe Atlee.

" There is nothing would gratify the fellow's vanity," thought he,
" like a successful rivalry of him ! Tell him he was preferred to me,
and he would be ready to fall down and worship whoever had made
the choice."

By dwelling on all the possible and impossible issues of such an
attachment he had at length convinced himself of its existence, and
even more, persuaded himself to fancy it was something to be regretted
and grieved over for worldly considerations, but not in any way
regarded as personally unpleasant.

As he came in sight of home and saw a light in the small tower
where Kate's bedroom lay, he determined he would go up to his
sister and tell her so much of his mind as he believed was finally
settled, and in such a way as would certainly lead her to repeat it to
Nina.

"Kate shall tell her that if I have left her suddenly and gone
back to Trinity to keep my term, I have not fled the field in a
moment of faiut-heartedness. I do not deny her beauty. I do not
disparage one of her attractions, and she has scores of them. I will
not even say that when I have sat beside her, heard her low soft
voice, and watched the tremor of that lovely mouth vibrating with
wit, or tremulous with feeling, I have been all indifference ; but
this I will say, she shall not number me amongst the victims of her
fascinations ; and when she counts the trinkets on her wrist that
record the hearts she has broken — a pastime I once witnessed — not
one of them shall record the initial of Dick Kearney."

With these brave words he mounted the narrow stair and knocked
at his sister's door. No answer coming, he knocked again, and after
waiting a few seconds, he slowly opened the door and saw that Kate,
still dressed, had thrown herself on her bed, and was sound asleep.
The table was covered with account-books and papers : tax receipts,
law notices, and tenants' letters lay littered about, showing what had
been the task she was last engaged on ; and her heavy breathing told
the exhaustion which it had left behind it.

"I wish I could help her with her work," muttered he to
himself, as a pang of self-reproach shot through him. This certainly



136 LORD KILGOBBIN.

should have heen his own task rather than hers ; the question was,
however, Could he have done it ? And this doubt increased as he
looked over the long column of tenants' names, whose holdings varied
in every imaginable quantity of acres, roods, and perches. Besides
these there were innumerable small details of allowances for this and
compensation for that. This one had given so many days' horse-
and-car hire at the bog; that other had got advances "in seed-
potatoes;" such a one had a claim for reduced rent, because
the mill-race had overflowed and deluged his wheat- crop ; such
another had fed two pigs of " the lord's " and fattened them, while
himself and his own were nigh starving.

Through an entire column there was not one case without its
complication, either in the shape of argument for increased liability,
or claim for compensation. It was makeshift everywhere, and Dick
could not but ask himself whether any tenant on the estate really
knew how far he was hopelessly in debt or a solvent man ? It only
needed Peter Gill's peculiar mode of collecting the monej's due, and
recording the payment by the notched stick, to make the compli-
cation perfect ; and there, indeed, upon the table, amid accounts, and
bills, and sale warrants, lay the memorable bits of wood themselves,
as that worthy steward had deposited them before quitting his master's
service.

Peter's character, too, written out in Kate's hand, and only
awaiting her father's signature, was on the table — the first intimation
Dick Kearney had that old Gill had quitted his post.

" All this must have occurred to-day," thought Dick : " there were
no evidences of these changes when I left this morning ! AVas it the
backwater of my disgrace, I wonder, that has overwhelmed poor
Gill ? " thought he, " or can I detect Miss Betty's fine Roman hand
in this incident? "

In proportion to the little love he bore Miss O'Sliea, were his
convictions the stronger that she was the cause of all mischief. She
was one of those who took very " utilitarian " notions of his own
career, and he bore her small gratitude for the solicitude. There
were short sentences in pencil along the margin of the chief book in
Kate's handwriting which could not fail to strike him as he i*ead
them, indicating as they did her difficulty, if not utter incapacity, to
deal with the condition of the estate. Thus :

"There is no warranty for this concession. It cannot bo con-
tinued." — " The notice in this case was duly served, and Gill knows
that it was to papa's generosity they were indebted for remaining." —
" These arrears have never been paid, on that point I am positive ! " —
" Malone's holding was not fairly measured, he has a just claim to



A CONFIDENTIAL TALK. 137

compensation, and shall have it." — " Hannigan's light to tenancy
must not be dis2)utecl, but cannot be used as a precedent by others on
the same part of the estate, and I will state why." — " More of Peter



Online LibraryCharles James LeverLord Kilgobbin : a tale of Ireland in our own time → online text (page 14 of 48)