Charles James Lever.

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

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to make a very pretty girl with twelve thousand pounds an every-day
chance. She had numerous offers of marriage, and with the usual
luck in such cases, there were commonplace unattractive men with
good means, and there were clever and agi'eeable fellows without a
sixpence, all alike ineligible. Matty had that infusion of romance
in her nature that few, if any, Irish girls are free from, and which
made her desire that the man of her choice should be something out
of the common. She would have liked a soldier who had won dis-
tinction in the field. The idea of military fame was very dear to her
Irish heart, and she fancied with what pride she would hang upon
the arm of one, whose gay trappings and gold embroidery emblem-
atized the career he followed. If not a soldier, she would have liked
a great orator, some leader in debate that men would rush down to
hear, and whose glowing words would bo gathered up and repeated as
though inspirations : after that a poet, and perliaps — not a painter —
a sculptor, she thought, might do.

With such aspii*ations as these, it is not surprising that she
rejected the offers of those comfortable fellows in Meath, or Louth,


whose militaiy glories were militia drills, and whose eloquence was
confined to the bench of magistrates.

At threc-aud-twenty she was in the full blaze of her beauty ; at
three-aud-thirty she was still unmarried ; her looks on the wane, but
her romance stronger than ever, not uutinged perhaps with a little
bitterness towards that sex which had not aflbrded one man of merit
enough to woe and win her. Partly out of pique with a land so
barren of all that could minister to imagination, partly in anger with
her brother who had been urging her to a match she disliked, she
went abroad to travel, wandered about for a year or two, and at last
found herself one winter at Naples.

There was at that time, as secretary to the Greek legation, a
young fellow whom repute called the handsomest man in Europe ; he
was a certain Spiridion Kostalergi, whose title was Prince of Delos,
though whether there was such a principality, or that he was its
representative, society was not fully agreed upon. At all events,
Miss Kearney met him at a court ball, when he wore his national
costume, looking, it must be owned, so splendidly handsome that all
thought of his princely rank was forgotten in presence of a face and
figure that recalled the highest triumphs of ancient art. It was
Antinous come to life in an embroidered cap and a gold worked jacket,
and it was Antinous with a voice like Mario, and who waltzed to
perfection. This splendid creature, a modern Alcibiades in gifts of
mind and graces, soon heard, amongst his other triumphs, how a rich
and handsome Irish girl had fallen in love with him at first sight.
He had himself been struck by her good looks and her stylish air,
and learning that there could be no doubt about her fortune, he lost
no time in making his advances. Before the end of the first week
of their acquaintance he proposed. She referred him to her brother
before she could consent ; and though, when Kostalergi inquired
amongst her English friends, none had ever heard of a Lord Kilgobbin,
the fact of his being Irish explained their ignorance, not to say, that
Kearney's reply being a positive refusal of consent, so fully satisfied
the Greek that it was " a good thing," he pressed his suit with a
most passionate ardour : threatened to kill himself if she persisted
in rejecting him, and so worked upon her heart by his devotion, or
on her pride by the thought of his position, that she yielded, and
within three weeks from the day they first met, she became the
Princess of Delos.

When a Greek, holding any public employ, marries money, his
Government is usually prudent enough to promote him. It is a
recognition of the merit that others have discovered, and a wise
administration marches with the inventions of the age it lives in.


Kostalergi's chief was consequeutly recalletl, suffered to fall back
upon his previous obscurity — he had beeu a commission-ageut for a
house in the Greek trade — and the Prince of Delos gazetted as
Minister Plenipotentiary of Greece, with the first class of St. Salvador,
in recognition of his services to the state ; no one being indiscreet
enough to add that the aforesaid services were comprised in marrying
an Irishwoman with a dowry of — to quote the Athenian Hemera —
" three hundred and fifty thousand drachmas."

For a while — it was a very brief while — the romantic mind of the
Irish girl was raised to a sort of transport of enjoyment. Here was
everything — more than everything — her most glowing imagination
had ever conceived. Love, ambition, station, all gratified, though,
to be sure, she had quarrelled with her brother, who had returned
her last letters unopened. Mathew, she thought, was too good-
hearted to bear a long grudge ; he would see her happiness, he would
hear what a devoted and good husband her dear Spiridion had proved
himself, and he would forgive her at last.

Though, as was well known, the Greek Envoy received but a
very moderate salary from his Government, and even that not paid
with a strict punctuality, the legation was maintained with a splendour
that rivalled, if not surpassed, those of France, England, or Russia.
The Prince of Delos led the fashion in equipage, as did the Princess
in toilette ; their dinners, their balls, their fetes, attracted the
curiosity of even the highest to witness them ; and to such a degree
of notoriety had the Greek hospitality attained, that Naples at last
admitted that without the Palazzo Kostalergi there would be nothing
to attract strangers to the capital.

Play, so invariably excluded from the habits of an Embassy, was
carried on at this legation to such an excess that the clubs were
completely deserted, and all the young men of gambling tastes flocked
here each night, sure to find lansquenet or faro, and for stakes which
no public table could possibly supply. It was not alone that this life
of a gambler estranged Kostalergi from his wife, but that the scandal
of his infidelities had reached her also, just at the time when some
vague glimmering suspicions of his utter worthlessness were breaking
on her mind. The birth of a little girl did not seem in the slightest
degree to renew the ties between them ; on the contrary, the em-
barrassment of a baby and the cost it must entail, were the only
considerations he would entertain, and it was a constant question of
his — uttered, too, with a tone of sarcasm that cut her to the heart : —
" Would not her brother — the Lord Irlandais — like to have that
baby ? Would she not write and ask him ? " Unpleasant stories
had long been life about the play at the Greek legation, when a young


Russian secretary, of high family and influence, lost an immense
sum under circumstances which determined him to refuse payment.
Kostalergi, who had heen the chief winner, refused everything like
inquiry or examination ; in fact, he made investigation impossible,
for the cards, which the Russian had declared to he marked, the
Greek gathered up slowly from the table and threw into the fire,
pressing his foot upon them in the flames, and then calmly returning
to where the other stood, he struck him across the face with his open
hand, saying, as he did it : " Here is another debt to repudiate, and
before the same witnesses also ! "

The outrage did not admit of delay. The arrangements were
made in an instant, and within half-au-hour — merely time enough to
send for a surgeon — they met at the end of the garden of the legation.
The Russian fired first, and, though a consummate pistol-shot,
agitation at the insult so unnerved him that he missed ; his ball cut
the knot of Kostalergi's cravat. The Greek took a calm and
deliberate aim, and sent his bullet through the other's forehead. He
fell without a word, stone dead.

Though the duel had been a fair one, and the proces verbal drawn
np and agreed on both sides showed that all had been done loyally,
the friends of the young Russian had influence to make the Greek
Government not only recall the Envoy, but abolish the mission itself.
For some years the Kostalergis lived in retirement at Palermo,
not knowing, nor known to any one. Their means were now so re-
duced that they had barely sufficient for daily life, and, though the
Greek Prince — as he was called — constantly appeared on the public
promenade well dressed, and in all the pride of his handsome figure,
it was currently said that his wife was literally dying of want.

It was only after long and agonizing sutiering that she ventured
to write to her brother, and appeal to him for advice and assistance.
But at last she did so, and a correspondence grew up which, in a
measure, restored the affection between them. When Kostalergi
discovered the source from which his wretched wife now drew her
consolation and her courage, he forbade her to write more, and him-
self addressed a letter to Kearney so insulting and oiFensive — charging
him even with causing the discord of his home, and showing the
letter to his wife before sending it — that the poor woman, long fail-
ing in health and broken-down, sank soon after, and died so destitute,
that the very funeral was paid for by a subscription amongst her
countrymen. Kostalergi had left her some days before her death,
carrying the girl along with him, nor was his whereabouts learned
for a considerable time.

When next he emerged into the world it was at Rome, where he


gave lessons in music and modem languages, in many of which he
was a proficient. His splendid appearance, his captivating address,
his thorough familiarity with the modes of society, gave him the entree
to many houses where his talents amply requited the hospitality he
received. He possessed, amongst his other gifts, an immense amount
of plausibility, and people found it, hesides, very difficult to believe
ill of that well-bred, somewhat retiring, man, who, in circumstances
of the very narrowest fortunes, not only looked and dressed like a
gentleman, but actually brought up a daughter with a degree of care
and an amount of regard to her education that made him appear a
model parent.

Nina Kostalergi was then about seventeen, though she looked at
least thi'ee years older. She was a tall, slight, pale girl, with
perfectly regular features — so classic in the mould, and so devoid of
any expression, that she recalled the face one sees on a cameo. Her
hair was of wondrous beaut}' — that rich gold colour which has
" reflets " through it, as the light falls full or faint, and of an abund-
ance that taxed her ingenuity to dress it. They gave her the
sobriquet of the Titian Girl at Rome whenever she appeared abroad.

In the only letter Kearney had received from his brother-in-law
after his sister's death was an insolent demand for a sum of money,
which he alleged that Kearney was unjustly withholding, and which
he now threatened to enforce by law. " I am well aware," wrote he,
" what measure of honour or honesty I am to expect from a man
whose very name and designation are a deceit. But probably
prudence will suggest how much better it would be on this occasion
to simulate rectitude than risk the shame of an open exposure."

To this gross insult Kearney never deigned any reply ; and nov7
more than two years passed without any tidings of his disreputable
relation, when there came one morning a letter with the Roman post-
mark, and addressed, "a Monsieur le Yicomte de Kilgobbin, a son
Chateau de Kilgobbin, en Irlande." To the honour of the officials
in the Irish post-office, it was forwarded to Kilgobbin with the words,
" Try Mathew Kearney, Esq.," in the corner.

A glance at the writing showed it was not in Kostalergi's hand,
and, after a moment or two of hesitation, Kearney opened it. He
turned at once for the writer's name, and read the words, " Nina
Kostalergi," — his sister's child! " Poor Matty," was all he could
say for some minutes. He remembered the letter in which she told
him of her little girl's birth, and implored his forgiveness for herself
and his love for her bah}'. " I want both, my dear brother," wrote
she ; " for though the bonds we make for ourselves by our pas-
sions " And the rest of the sentence was erased — she evidently


thinking she had delineated all that could give a clue to a despondent

The present letter was written in English, but in that quaint
peculiar hand Italians often write in. It begun by asking forgiveness
for daring lo write to him, and recalling the details of the relationship
between them, as though he could not have remembered it. "I am,
then, in my right," wrote she, " when I address you as my dear, dear
uncle, of whom I have heai'd so much, and whose name was in my
prayers ere I knew why I knelt to pray."

Then followed a piteous appeal — it was actually a cry for pro-
tection. Her father, she said, had determined to devote her to the
stage, and already had taken steps to sell her — she said she used the
word advisedly — for so many years to the impresario of the Fenice at
Venice, her voice and musical skill being such as to give hope of her
becoming a prima donna. She had, she said, frequently sung at
private parties at Rome, but only knew within the last few days that
she had been, not a guest, but a paid performer. Overwhelmed with
the shame and indignity of this false position, she implored her mother's
brother to compassionate her. " If I could not become a governess,
I could be your servant, dearest uncle," she wrote. " I only ask a
roof to shelter me, and a refuge. May I go to you ? I would beg
my way on foot if I only knew that at the last your heart and your
door would be open to me, and as I fell at your feet, knew that I was

Until a few days ago, she said, she had by her some little trinkets
her mother had left her, and on which she counted as a means of
escape, but her father had discovered them and taken them from her.

" If you answer this — and oh ! let me not doubt you will — write
to me to the care of the Signori Cayani and Battistella, bankers,
Rome. Do not delay, but remember that I am friendless, and but
for this chance hopeless.

" Your niece, Nina Kostalergi."

While Kearney gave this letter to his daughter to read, he
walked up and down the room with his head bent and his hands deep
in his pockets.

" I think I know the answer you'll send to this, papa," said the
girl, looking up at him with a glow of pride and afl'ection in her face.
*' I do not need that you should say it."

" It will take fiftj- — no, not fifty, but five-and-thirty pounds to
bring her over hero, and how is she to come all alone '? "

Kate made no reply ; she knew the danger sometimes of inter-
rupting his own solution of a difficulty.


" She's a big girl, I suppose, by this — fourteen or fifteen ? "

" Over nineteen, papa."

" So she is, I was forgetting. That scoundrel, her father, might
come after her ; he'd have the right if he wished to enforce it, and
what a scandal he'd bring upon us all ! "

" But would he care to do it ? Is he not more likely to be glad
to be disembarrassed of her charge ? "

"Not if he was going to sell her — not if he could convert her
into money."

" He has never been in England ; he may not know how far the
law would give him any power over her,"

" Don't trust that, Kate ; a blackguard always can find out how
much is in his favour everywhere. If he doesn't know it now, he'd
know it the day after he landed." He paused an instant, and then
said : " There will be the devil to pay with old Peter Gill, for he'll
want all the cash I can scrape together for Loughrea fair. He counts
on having eighty sheep down there at the long crofts, and a cow or
two besides. That's money's worth, girl ! "

Another silence followed, after which he said; "and I think
worse of the Greek scoundrel than all the cost."

" Somehow, I have no fear that he'll come here ?"

" You'll have to talk over Peter, Kitty," — he always said Kitty
when he meant to coax her. " He'll mind you, and at all events you
don't care about his grumbling. Tell him it's a sudden call on me
for railroad shares, or," — and here he winked knowingly — " say, it's
going to Rome the money is, and for the Pope ! "

" That's an escellent thought, papa," said she laughing ; "I'll
certainly tell him the money is going to Rome, and you'll write soon
— ^}'ou see with what anxiety she expects your answer."

" I'll write to-night when the house is quiet, and there's no racket
nor disturbance about me." Now though Kearney said this with a
perfect conviction of its truth and reasonableness, it would have been
very difficult for any one to say, in what that racket he spoke of con-
sisted, or wherein the quietude of even midnight was greater than
that which prevailed there at noonday. Never, perhaps, were lives
more completely still or monotonous than theirs. People who derive
no interests from the outer world, who know nothing of what goes on
in life, gradually subside into a condition in which reflection takes
the place of conversation, and lose all zest and all necessity for that
small-talk which serves, like the changes of a game, to while away
time, and by the aid of which, if we do no more, we often delude the
cares and worries of existence.

A kind good morning when tliey met, and a few words during ihe


day — some mention of this or that event of the farm or the labourers,
and rare enough too — some little incident that happened amongst
the tenants, made all the materials of their intercourse, and filled
up lives which either -would very freely have owned were far from

Dick, indeed, when he came home and was weather-bound for a
day, did lament his sad destiny, and mutter half intelligible nonsense
of what he would not rather do than descend to such a melancholy
existence ; but in all his complainings he never made Kate discon-
tented with her lot, or desire anything beyond it.

"It's all very well," he would say, "till you know something

" But I want no better ?"

" Do you mean you'd like to go through life in this fashion ?"

" I can't pretend to say what I may feel as I grow older ; but if
I could be sure to be as I am now, I could ask nothing better."

" I must say, it's a very inglorious life ?" said he, with a sneer.

" So it is, but how many, may I ask, are there who lead glorious
lives ? Is there any glory in dining out, in dancing, visiting and
picnicking ? Where is the great glory of the billiard-table, or the
croquet-lawn ? No, no, my dear Dick, the only glory that falls to
the share of such humble folks as we are, is to have something to do,
and to do it."

Such were the sort of passages which would now and then occur
between them, little contests, be it said, in which she usually came
off the conqueror.

If she were to have a wish gratified, it would have been a few
more books — something besides those odd volumes of Scott's novels,
Zeluco by Doctor Moore, and Florence McCarthy, which comprised
her whole library, and which she read over and over unceasingly.
She was now in her usual place — a deep window- seat — intently
occupied with Amy Robsart's sorrows, when her father came to read
what he had written in answer to Nina. If it was very brief it was
very aifectionate. It told her in a few words that she had no need
to recall the ties of their relationship ; that his heart never ceased
to remind him of them ; that his home was a very dull one, but that
her cousin Kate would try and make it a happy one to her ; entreated
her to confer with the banker, to whom ho remitted forty pounds, in
what way she could make the journey, since he was too broken in
health himsL^lf to go and fetch her. " It is a bold step I am coun-
selling you to take. It is no light thing to quit a father's home, and
I have my misgivings how far I am a wise adviser in recommending
it. There is, however, a present peril, and I must try, if I can, to


save you from it. Perhaps, in my old-world notions, I attach to the

thought of the gtage ideas that you would only smile at; but none

of our race, so far as I know, fell to that condition — nor must you

while I have a roof to shelter you.

" If you would write and say about what time I might expect

you, I would try to meet you on your landing in England at Dover.
"Kate sends you her warmest love, and longs to see you."
This was the whole of it. But a brief line to the bankers said

that any expense they judged needful to her safe convoy across

Europe would be gratefully repaid by him.

" Is it all right, dear ? Have I forgotten anything ?" asked he,

as Kate read it over.

" It's everything, papa, — everything. And I do long to see her."
"I hope she's like Matty — if she's only like her poor mother, it

will make my heart young again to look at her."


"the chums."

In that old square of Trinity College, Dublin, one side of which fronts
the Park, and in chambers on the ground floor, an oak door bore the
names of " Kearney and Atlee."

Kearney was the son of Lord Kilgobbin ; Atlee, his chum, the
son of a Presbyterian minister in the north of Ireland, had been four
years in the university, but was still in his freshman period, not
from any deficiency of scholarlike ability to push on, but that, as
the poet of the Scasoiift lay in bed, because he " had no motive for
rising." Joe Atlee felt that there need be no urgency about taking
a degree which, when he had got, he should be sorely puzzled to
know what to do with. He was a clever, ready-witted, but capricious
fellow, fond of pleasure, and self-indulgent to a degree that ill suited
his very smallest of fortunes, for his father was a poor man, with a
large family, and had already embarrassed himself heavily by the
cost of sending his eldest son to the university. Joe's changes of
purpose — for he had in succession abandoned law for medicine,
medicine for theology, and theology for civil engineering, and,
finally, gave them all up — had so outraged his father that he declared
he would not continue any allowance to him beyond the present year ;
to which Joe replied by the same post, sending back the twenty
pounds enclosed him, and saying : " The only amendment I would

" THE CHUMS." 17

make to 3'our motion is — as to the date — -let it begin from to-clay. I
suppose I shall have to swim without corks some time, I may as well
try now as later on."

The first experience of his " swimming without corks " was to
lie in heel two days and smoke ; the next was to rise at daybreak
and set out on a long walk into the country, from which he returned
late at night, wearied and exhausted, having eaten but once during
the day,

Kearney, dressed fpx an evening-party, resplendent with jewellery,
essenced and curled, was about to issue forth when Atlee, dusty, and
way-worn, entered and threw himself into a chair.

" What lark have you been on, master Joe ? " he said. " I have
not seen you for three days, if not four ! "

"No; I've begun to train," said he gravely. " I want to see
how long a fellow could hold on to life on three pipes of Cavendish
per diem. I take it that the absorbents won't be more cruel than a
man's creditors, and will not issue a distraint where there are no
assets, so that probably by the time I shall have brought myself
down to, let us say, seven stone weight, I shall have reached the goal."

This speech he delivered slowly and calmly, as though enunciating
a very grave proposition.

"What new nonsense is this? don't you think health worth
something ?"

" Next to life, unquestionably ; but one condition of health is to
be alive, and I don't see how to manage that. Look here, Dick, I
have just had a quarrel with my father ; he is an excellent man and
an impressive preacher, but he fails in the imaginative qualities.
Nature has been a niggard to him in inventiveness. He is the minister
of a little parish called Aghadoe, in the North, where they give him
two hundred and ten pounds per annum. There are eight in family,
and he actually does not see his way to allow me one hundred and
fifty out of it. That's the way they neglect arithmetic in our modern
schools !"

" Has he reduced your allowance ? "

" He has done more, he has extinguished it."

" Have you provoked him to this ? "

Online LibraryCharles James LeverLord Kilgobbin : a tale of Ireland in our own time → online text (page 2 of 48)