Charles James Lever.

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

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first, it would be more convenient to each of us. I mean whether I
were fit for the situation."

" Well, perhaps so," said the other, carelessly : " it is not at all
impossible, it may be one of the things you would acquit yourself well


in. It is a sort of exercise for tact and discretion — an occasion in
which that light hand of yours would have a field for employment,
and that acute skill in which I know you pride yourself as regards
reading character "

" You have certainly piqued my curiosity," said Atlee.

" I don't know that I ought to have said so much : for, after all,
it remains to be seen whether Lord Daneshury would estimate these
gifts of yours as highly as I do. What I think of doing is this : I
shall send you over to his Excellency in your capacity as my own
private secretary, to explain how unfit I am in my present disabled
condition to undertake a journey. I shall tell my lord how useful I
have found your services with regard to L-eland, how much you know
of the country and the people, and how worthy of trust I have found
your information and your opinions ; and I shall hint — but only hint,
remember — that, for the mission he speaks of, he might possibly do
worse than fix upon yourself. As, of course, it rests with him to be
likeminded with me or not upon this matter — to take, in fact, his
own estimate of Mr. Atlee from his own experiences of him, you are
not to know anything whatever of this project till his Excellency
thinks proper to open it to you. You understand that ? "

" Thoroughly."

" Your mission will be to explain — when asked to explain —
certain difficulties of Irish life and habits, and if his lordship should
direct conversation to topics of the East, to be careful to know
nothing of the subject whatever — mind that."

"I shall be careful. I have read the Arabian Nights — but
that's all."

" And of that tendency to small joking and weak epigram I
would also caution you to beware ; they will have no success in the
quarter to which you are going, and they will only damage other
qualities which you might possibly rely on."

Atlee bowed a submissive acquiescence.

" I don't know that you'll see Lady Maude Bickerstafi'e, his
lordship's niece." (He stopped as if he had unwittingly uttered an
awkwardness, and then added) — " I mean she has not been well, and
may not appear while you are at the castle ; but if you should — and
if, which is not at all likely, but still possible — you should be led to
talk of Ivilgobbin and the incident that has got into the papers, you
must be very guarded in all you say. It is a county family of station
and repute. We were there as visitors. The ladies — I don't know
that I'd say very much of the ladies."

" Except that they were exceedingly plain in looks, and somewhat
jaassees besides," added Atlee, gravely.


"I don't see why you should say that, sir," replied the other
stiffly. " If you are not bent on compromising me by an indiscretion,
I don't perceive the necessity of involving me in a falsehood."
" You shall be perfectly safe in my hands," said Atlee.
" And that I may be so, say as little about me as you can. I
know the injunction has its difficulties, Mr. Atlee, but pray try and
observe it."

The conversation had now arrived at a point in which one angry
word more must have produced a rupture between them ; and though
Atlee took in the whole situation and its consequences at a glance,
there was nothing in the easy jauntiness of his manner that gave any
clue to a sense of anxiety or discomfort.

" Is it likely," asked he, at length, " that his Excellency will
advert to the idea of recognizing or rewarding these people for their
brave defence ? "

" I am coming to that, if you will spare me a little patience ;
Saxon slowness is a blemish you'll have to grow accustomed to. If
Lord Danesbury should know that you are an acquaintance of the
Kilgobbin family, and ask you what would be a suitable mode of
showing how their conduct has been appreciated in a high quarter,
you should be prepared with an answer."

Atlee 's eyes twinkled with a malicious drollery, and he had to
bite his lips to repress an impertinence that seemed almost to master
his prudence, and at last he said carelessly —
" Dick Kearney might get something."
" I suppose you know that his qualifications will be tested. You

bear that in mind, I hope "

" Yes. I was just turning it over in my head, and I thought the
best thing to do would be to make him a Civil Service Commissioner.
They are the only people taken on trust."

" You are severe, Mr. Atlee. Have these gentlemen earned this
dislike on your part ? "

" Do you mean by having rejected me ? No, that they have
not. I believe I could have survived that ; and if, however, they
had come to the point of telling me that they were content with my
acquirements, and what is called ' passed me,' I fervently believe I
should have been seized with an apoplexy."

" Mr. Atlee's opinion of himself is not a mean one," said Walpole,
■with a cold smile.

" On the contrary, sir, I have occasion to feel pretty often in
eveij twenty-four hours, what an ignominious part a man plays in
life who has to affect to be taught what he knows already — to be
asking the road where he has travelled every step of the way — and


to feel that a threadbare coat and broken boots take more from the
value of bis opinions tban if he were a knave or a blackleg."

" I don't see the humility of all this."

" I feel the shame of it, though," said Atlee ; and as he arose
and walked out upon the terrace, the veins in his forehead were
swelled and knotted, and his lips trembled with suppressed passion.

In a tone that showed how thoroughly indifferent he felt to the
other's irritation, Walpole went on to say; " You will then make it
your business, Mr, Atlee, to ascertain in what way most acceptable
to those people at Ivilgobbin, his Excellency may be able to show
them some mark of royal favour — bearing in mind not to commit
yourself to anything that may raise great expectations. In fact, a
recognition is what is intended, not a reward."

Atlee's eyes fell upon the opal ring, which he always wore since
the day Walpole had given it to him, and there was something so
significant in the glance that the other flushed as he caught it.

" I believe I appreciate the distinction," said Atlee, quietly. " It
is to be something in which the generosity of the donor is more
commemorated than the merits of the person rewarded, and, conse-
quently a most appropriate recognition of the Celt by the Saxon. Do
you think I ought to go down to Kilgobbin Castle, sir ? "

" I am not quite sure about that ; I'll turn it over in my mind.
Meanwhile I'll telegraph to my lord that, if he approves, I shall gend
you over to Wales ; and you had better make what arrangements
you have to make, to be ready to start at a moment."

" Unfortunately, sir, I have none. I am in the full enjoyment
of such complete destitution, that I am always ready to go anywhere."

Walpole did not notice the words, but arose and walked over to
a writing-table, to compose his message for the telegraph.

" There," said he, as he folded it, " have the kindness to despatch
this at once, and do not be out of the way about five, or half-past,
when I shall expect an answer."

" Am I free to go into town meanwhile ? " asked Atlee.

Walpole nodded assent without speaking.

" I wonder if this sort of flunkeydom be good for a man,"
muttered Atlee to himself as he sprang down the stairs. " I begin
to doubt it. At all events I understand now the secret of the first
lieutenant's being a tyrant : he has once been a middy. And so I
say, let me only reach the ward-room, and heaven help the cockpit ! "



atlee's embarrassments.

When Atlee returned to dress for dinner, he was sent for hurriedly
by Walpole, who told him that Lord Danesbury's answer had arrived
■with the order, " Send him over at once, and write fully at the same

" There is an eleven o'clock packet, Atlee, to-night," said he :
" you must manage to start by that. You'll reach Holyhead by four
or thereabouts, and can easily get to the castle by mid-day."

" I wish I had had a little more time," muttered the other. " If
I am to present myself before his Excellency in such a ' rig ' as
this "

" I have thought of that. We are nearly of the same size and
build ; you are, perhaps, a trifle taller, but nothing to signify. Now
Buckmaster has just sent me a mass of things of all sorts from town ;
they are in my dressing-room, not yet unpacked. Go up and look
at them after dinner : take what suits you — as much — all, if you
like — but don't delay now. It only wants a few minutes of seven

Atlee muttered his thanks hastily, and went his way. If there
was a thoughtfulness in the generosity of this action, — the mode in
which it was performed — the measured coldness of the words — the
look of impassive examination that accompanied them, and the
abstention from anything that savoured of apology for a liberty —
were ail deeply felt by the other.

It jwas tiTie, Walpole had often heard him tell of the freedom
with which he had treated Dick Kearney's wardrobe, and how poor
Dick was scarcely sure he could call an article of dress his own,
whenever Joe had been the first to go out into the town. The
innumerable straits to which he reduced that unlucky chum, who
had actually to deposit a dinner suit at a hotel to save it from Atlee's
rapacity, had amused Walpole : but then these things were all done
in the spirit of the honest familiarity that prevailed between them —
the tie of true camaraderie that neither suggested a thought of
obligation on one side, nor of painful inferiority on the other. Here
it was totally different. These men did not live together with that
daily interchange of liberties which, with all their passing contentions,
so accustom people to each other's humours as to establish the
soundest and strongest of all friendships. Walpole had adopted
Atlee because he found him useful in a variety of ways. He was

atlee's embarrassments. 151

adroit, ready-witted, and intelligeut ; a Iialf-explauatiou sufficed with
him on anything — a mere hint was enough to give him for au
interview or a reply. He read people readily, and rarely failed to
profit by the knowledge. Strange as it may seem, the great blemish
of his manner — his snobbery — Walpole rather liked, than disliked it.
It was a sort of qualifying element that satisfied him, as though it
said, " With all that fellow's cleverness, he is not ' one of us.' He
might make a wittier reply, or write a smarter note ; but society has
its little tests, — not one of which he could respond to." And this was
an inferiority Walpole loved to cherish and was pleased to think over.

Atlee felt that Walpole might, with very little exercise of courtesy,
have dealt more considerately by him.

" I'm not exactly a valet," muttered he to himself, " to whom a
man flings a waistcoat as he chucks a shilling to a porter, I am
more than Mr. Walpole's equal in many things, which are not
accidents of fortune."

He knew scores of things he could do better than him ; indeed,
there were very few he could not.

Poor Joe was not, however, aware that it was in the " not doing "
lay Walpole's secret of superiority ; that the inborn sense of absten-
tion is the great distinguishing element of the class Walpole belonged
to ; and he might harass himself for ever, and yet never guess where
it was that the distinction evaded him.

Atlee's manner at dinner was unusually cold and silent. He
habitually made the chief eflbrts of conversation, now he spoke little
and seldom. When Walpole talked, it was in that careless discursive
way it was his wont to discuss matters with a familiar. He often
put questions, and as often went on without waiting for the answers.

As they sat over the dessert and were alone, he adverted to the
other's mission, throwing out little hints, and cautions as to manner,
which Atlee listened to in perfect silence, and without the slightest
sign that could indicate the feeling they produced.

" You are going into a new country, Atlee," said he, at last,
" and I am sure you will not be sorry to learn something of the

" Though it may mar a little of the adventure," said the other,

" Ah, that's exactly what I want to warn you against. With us
in England, there are none of those social vicissitudes you are used
to here. The game of life is played gravely, quietly, and calmly.
There are no brilliant successes of bold talkers, no coups-de-thedtre
of amusing raconteurs : no one tries to push himself into any position
of eminence."


A half movement of impatience, as Atlee pushed his wineglass
before him, arrested tke speaker,

" I perceive," said he, stiffly, " you regard my counsels as

" Not that, sir, so much as hopeless," rejoined the other, coldly.

" His Excellency will ask you, probably some questions about this
countiy : let me warn you not to give him Irish answers."

" I don't think I understand you, sir."

"I mean, don't deal in any exaggerations, avoid extravagance,
and never be slap-dash."

" Oh, these are Irish, then? "

Without deigning reply to this, AValpole went on.

" Of course you have your remedy for all the evils of Ireland. I
never met an Irishman who had not. But I beg you spare his
lordship your theory, whatever it is, and simply answer the questions
he will ask you."

" I will try, sir," was the meek reply.

"Above all things, let me warn you against a favourite blunder
of your countrymen. Don't endeavour to explain peculiarities of
action in this country by singularities of race or origin ; don't try to
make out that there are special points of view held that are unknown
on the other side of the channel, or that there are other differences
between the two peoples, except such as more rags and greater
wi'etchedness produce. We have got over that very venerable and
time-honoured blunder, and do not endeavour to revive it."

" Indeed ! "

" Fact, I assure you. It is possible in some remote country-
house to chance upon some antiquated Tory, who still cherishes these
notions ; but you'll not find them amongst men of mind or intelligence,
nor amongst any class 'of our people."

It was on Atlee's lip to ask, " Who were our people ? " but he
forbore by a mighty effort, and was silent.

" I don't know if I have any other cautions to give you. Do you ? "

"No, sir. I could not even have reminded you of these, if you
had not yourself remembered them."

" Oh, I had almost forgotten it. If his Excellency should give
you anything to write out, or to copy, don't smoke while you are over
it ; he abhors tobacco. I should have given you a warning to be
equally careful as regards Lady Maude's scnsibiUties ; but, ou the
whole, I suspect you'll scarcely see her."

" Is that all, sir ? " said the other, rising.

" Well, I think so. I shall be curious to hear how you acquit
yourself — how you get on with his Excellency, and how ho takes you ;

atlee's embakrassmekts. 153

and you must write it all to mc. Aiu't you raucla too early ; it's
scarcely ten o'clock."

" A quarter past ten ; and I have some miles to drive to Kings-

"And not yet packed, perhaps ? " said the other, listlessly.

"No, sir; nothing ready."

" Oh ! you'll be in ampie time ; I'll vouch for it. You are one
of the rough-and-ready order, who are never late. Not but in this
same flurry of yours you have made me forget something I know I
had to say ; and you tell me you can't remember it ? "

" No, SU-."

" And yet," said the other, sententiously, "the crowning merit
of a private secretary is exactly that sort of memory. Your intellects,
if properly trained, should be the complement of your chief's. The
infinite number of things that are too small and too iusigniGcant for
him, are to have their place, duly docketed and dated, in your
brain ; and the very expression of his face should be an indication to
you of what he is looking for and yet cannot remember. Do you
mark me '? "

" Half-past ten," cried Atlee, as the clock chimed on the mantel-
piece ; and he hurried away without another word.

It was only as he saw the pitiable penury of his own scanty
wardrobe that he could persuade himself to accept of Walpole's offer.

" After all," he said, " the loan of a dress-coat may be the turning-
point of a whole destiny. Junot sold all he had to buy a sword, to
make his first campaign ; all I have is my shame, and here it goes
for a suit of clothes ! " And, with these M'ords, he rushed down to
Walpole's dressing-room, and, not taking time to inspect and select
the contents, carried off the box, as it was, with him. " I'll tell him
all when I write," muttered he, as he drove away.


DICK Kearney's chambers.

When Dick Kearney quitted Kilgobbin Castle for Dublin, he was
very far from having any projects in his head, excepting to show his
cousin Nina that he could live without her.

" I believe," muttered he to himself, "she counts upon me as
another ' victim.' These coquettish damsels have a theory that the
* whole di'ama of life ' is the game of their fascinations and the


consequences that come of them, anti that we men make it our highest
amhition to win them, and suhortlinate all we do in life to their
favour. I should like to show her that one man at least refuses to
yield this allegiance, and that whatever her hlandishments do with
others, with him they arc powerless."

These thoughts were his travelling-companions for nigh fifty miles
of travel, and, like most travelling-companions, grew to be tiresome
enough towards the end of the journey.

When he arrived in Dublin he was in no hun'y to repair to his
quarters in Trinity ; they were not particularly cheery in tke best of
times, and now it was long vacation, with few men in town and
everything sad and spiritless ; besides this, he was in no mood to
meet Atlee, whose free-and-easy jocularity he knew he would not
endure, even with his ordinaiy patience. Joe had never condescended
to wi'ite one line since he had left Kilgobbin, and Dick, who felt that
in presenting him to his family he had done him immense honour,
was proportionately indignant at this show of indiiference. But, by
the same easy formula with which he could account for anything iu
Nina's conduct, by her " coquetry," he was able to explain eveiy
deviation from decorum of Joe Atlee's, by his " snobbery." And it
is astonishing how comfortable the thought made him, that this man,
in all his smartness and ready wit, iu his prompt power to acquire,
and his still greater quickness to apply knowledge, was after all a
most consummate snob.

He had no taste for a dinner at commons, so he ate his mutton-
chop at a tavern, and went to the play. Inefiably bored, he sauntered
along the almost deserted streets of the city, and just as midnight
was striking, he turned under the arched portal of the College.
Secretly hoping that Atlee might be absent, he inserted the key and
entered his quarters.

The grim old coal-bunker in the passage, the silent corridor, and
the dreary room at the end of it, never looked more dismal than as he
suiTcycd them now by the light of a little wax match he had lighted
to guide his way. There stood the massive old table iu the middle,
with its litter of books and papers — memories of many a headache ;
and there was the paper of coarse Cavendish, against which he had so
often protested, as well as a pewter-pot — a new infraction against
propriety since he had been away. Worse, however, than all assaults
on decency, were a pair of coarse highlows, which had been placed
■within the fender, and had evidently enjoyed the fire so long as it
lingered in the gi\ate.

" So like the fellow ! so like him ! " was all that Dick could
mutter, and he turned away in disgust.

DICK Kearney's chambers. 155

As Atlce never went to bed till daybreak, it was quite clear that
be was from borne, and as tbe College gates could not reopen till
morning, Dick was not soriy to feel tbat be was safe from all intrusion
for some bom'S. With tbis consolation, be betook bim to bis bedroom,
and proceeded to undress. Scarcely, bowever, bad be thrown oS' his
coat than a heavy, long-drawn respiration startled bim. He stopped
and listened : it came again, and from the bed. He drew nigh, and
there, to bis amazement, on bis own pillow, lay a massive head of a
coarse-looking, vulgar man, of about thirty, with a silk handkerchief
fastened over it as nightcap. A brawny arm lay outside the bed-
clothes, with an enormous hand of very questionable cleanness,
though one of the fingers wore a heavy gold ring.

Wishing to gain what knowledge he might of bis guest before
awaking him, Dick turned to inspect his clothes, which, in a wild
disorder, lay scattered through the room. They were of the very
poorest ; but such still as might have belonged to a very humble clerk,
or a messenger in a counting-bouse. A large black leather pocket-
book fell fi'om a pocket of the coat, and, in rej)Iacing it, Dick
perceived it was filled with letters. On one of these, as be closed tbe
clasp, be read the name "Mr. Daniel Donogan, Dartmouth Gaol."

" What! " cried be, "is this the great head-centre, Donogan, I
have read so much of? and how is be here ? "

Though Dick Kearney was not usually quick of apprehension, be
was not long here in guessing what tbe situation meant ; it was clear
enough that Donogan, being a friend of Joe Atlee, bad been harboured
here as a safe refuge. Of all places in tbe capital, none were so
secure from the visits of the police as the College ; indeed it would
have been no small hazard for the public force to have invaded these
precincts. Calculating therefore that Kearney was little likely to
leave Kjlgobbin at present, Atlee bad installed bis friend in Dick's
quarters. The indiscretion was a grave one ; in fact, there was
nothing — even to expulsion itself — might not have followed on

" So like him ! so like him ! " was all be could mutter, as he arose
and walked about the room.

While he thus mused, he turned into Atlee's bedroom, and at
once it appeared why Mr. Donogan had been accommodated in his
room. Atlee's was perfectly destitute of everything : bed, chest of
drawers, dressing-table, chair, and bath were all gone. Tbe sole
object in the chamber was a coarse print of a well-known informer of
tbe year '98, "Jemmy O'Brien," under whose portrait was written,
in Atlee's band, "Bought in at fourpence-halfpenny, at tbe general
sale, in affectionate remembrance of bis virtues, by one who feels



himself to be a relative. — J. A." Kearney tore clown the picture in
passion, and stamped upon it ; indeed, his indignation with his chum
had now passed all bounds of restraint.

"So like him in everything!" again burst from him in utter

Having thus satisfied himself that he had read the incident aright,
he returned to the sitting-room, and at once decided that he would
leave Donogan to his rest till morning.

" It will be time enough then to decide what is to be done,"
thought he.

He then proceeded to relight the fire, and, drawing a sofa near,
he wrapped himself in a railway-rug, and lay down to sleep. For a
long time he could not compose himself to slumber ; he thought of
Nina and her wiles — ay, they were wiles : he saw them plainly
enough. It was true he was no prize — no " catch," as they call it —
to angle for ; and such a girl as she was could easily look higher ;
but still he might swell the list of those followers she seemed to like
to behold at her feet ofi^ering up every homage to her beauty, even to
their actual despair. And he thought of his own condition — very
hopeless and purposeless as it was.

" What a journey to bo sure was life, without a goal to strive
for. Kilgobbin would be his one day ; but by that time would it
be able to pay off the mortgages that were raised upon it ? It
was true Atlee was uo richer, but Atlee was a shifty, artful fellow,
with scores of contrivances to go windward of fortune in even the
very worst of weather. Atlee would do many a thing he would not
stoop to."

And as Kearney said this to himself, he was cautious in the use
of his verb, and never said "could," but always "would" do;
and oh dear ! is it not in this fiishion that so many of us keep up our

Online LibraryCharles James LeverLord Kilgobbin : a tale of Ireland in our own time → online text (page 16 of 48)