Charles James Lever.

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

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Though he extended two fingers of his hand on entering, and
begged him to be seated, Walpole did not take a chair himself, but
stood with his back to the fire — the showy sku'ts of a very gorgeous
dressing-gown displayed over his arms — where he looked like some
enormous bird exulting in the full effulgence of his bright plumage.

" You got my note, Mr. Kearney ? " began he, almost before the
other had sat down, with the air of a man whose time was too
precious for mere politeness.

" It is the reason of my present visit," said Dick, drily.

"Just so. His Excellency instructed me to ascertain in what
shape most acceptable to your family he might show the sense
entertained by the Government of that gallant defence of Kilgobbin ;
and believing that the best way to meet a man's wishes is first of all
to learn what the wishes are, I wi'ote you the few lines of yesterday."

" I suspect there must be a mistake somewhere," began Kearney,
with difficulty. "At least, I intimated to Atlee the shape in which
the Viceroy's favour would be most agreeable to us, and I came
here prepared to find you equally informed on the matter."

"Ah, indeed! I know nothing — positively nothing. Atlee
telegraphed me, * See Kearney, and hear what he has to say. I
write by post. — Atlee.' There's the whole of it."

"And the letter "

" The letter is there. It came by the late mail, and I have not
opened it."

" Would it not be better to glance over it now ? " said Dick, mildly.

" Not if you can give me the substance by word of mouth. Time,
they tell us, is money, and as I have got very little of either, I am
obliged to be parsimonious. What is it you want ? I mean the
sort of thing we could help you to obtain. I see," said he, smiling,
" you had rather I should read Atlce's letter. Well, here goes." He
broke the envelope, and began : —

" ' My dear Mr. Walpole, — I hoped by this time to have had a
report to make you of what I had done, heard, seen, and imagined


since my arrival, and yet liere I am now towards the close of my
second week, and I have nothing to tell ; and beyond a sort of
confused sense of being immensely delighted with my mode of life, I
am totally unconscious of the flight of time.

'' ' His Excellency received me once for ten minutes, and later on,
after some days, for half-an-hour : for he is confined to bed with
gout, and forbidden by his doctor all mental labour. He was kind
and courteous to a degree, hoped I should endeavour to make myself
at home, — giving orders at the same time that my dinner should be
served at my own hour, and the stables placed at my disposal for
riding or driving. For occupation, he suggested I should see what
the newspapers were saying, and make a note or two if anything
struck me as remarkable.

" ' Lady Maude is charming, — and I use the epithet in all the
significance of its sorcery. She conveys to me each morning his
Excellency's instructions for my day's work ; and it is only by a
mighty efibrt I can tear myself from the magic thrill of her voice,
and the captivation of her manner, to follow what I have to reply to,
investigate, and remark on.

" ' I meet her each day at luncheon, and she says she will join
me " some day at dinner." When that glorious occasion arrives, I
shall call it the event of my life, for her mere presence stimulates me
to such efibrt in conversation that I feel in the very lassitude
afterwards what a strain my faculties have undergone.' "

*' What an insufierable coxcomb, and an idiot, to boot ! " cried
Walpole. " I could not do him a more spiteful turn than to tell my
cousin of her conquest. There is another page, I see, of the same
sort. But here you are — this is all about you : I'll read it. ' In re
Kearney. The Irish are always logical ; and as Miss Kearney once
shot some of her countrymen, when on a mission they deemed
national, her brother opines that he ought to represent the principles
thus involved in Parliament.' "

" Is this the way in which he states my claims ! " broke in Dick,
with ill-suppressed passion.

" Bear in mind, Mr. Kearney, this jest, and a very poor one it
is, was meant for me alone. The communication is essentially
private, and it is only through my indiscretion you know anything of
it "whatever."

" I am not aware that any confidence should entitle him to write
such an impertinence."

" In that case, I shall read no more," said Walpole, as he slowly
re-folded the letter. " The fault is all on my side, Mr. Kearney,"


lie continued.; " but I own I thought you knew your friend so
thoroughly that extravagance on his part could have neither astonished
nor provoked you."

" You are perfectly right, Mr. Walpole ; I apologize for my
impatience. It was, perhaps, in hearing his words read aloud by
another that I forgot myself, and if you will kindly continue the
reading, I will promise to behave more suitably in future,"

Walpole re-opened the letter, but, whether indisposed to trust
the pledge thus given, or to prolong the interview, ran his eyes over
one side and then turned to the last page. " I see," said he, " he
augurs ill as to your chances of success ; he opines that you have
not well calculated the great cost of the venture, and that in all
probability it has been suggested by some friend of questionable
discretion. * At all events,' " and here he read aloud, — ' " at all
events, his Excellency says, " We should like to mark the Kilgobbin
affair by some show of approbation ; and though supporting young K.
in a contest for his county is a ' higher figure ' than we meant to pay,
see him, and hear what he has to say of his prospects — what he can
do to obtain a seat, and what' he will do if he gets one. We need
not caution him against"' — "hum, hum, hum," muttered he,
slurring over the woi-ds, and endeavouring to pass on to something

" May I ask against what I am supposed to be so secure ? "

" Oh, nothing, nothing. A very small impertinence, but which
Mr. Atlee found irresistible."

" Pray let me hear it. It shall not irritate me."

*' He says, ' There will be no more a fear of bribery in your case
than of a debauch at Father Mathew's.' "

" He is right there," said Kearney, with great temper. " The
only difference is that our forbearance will be founded on something
strouger.-than a pledge."

Walpole looked at the speaker, and was evidently struck by the
calm command he had displayed of his passion.

" If we could forget Joe Atlee for a few minutes, Mr. Walpole,
we might possibly gain something. I, at least, would be glad to
know how far I might count on the Government aid in my project."

" Ha, you want to in fact, you would like that we should

give you something like a regular eh ? — that is to say, that you

could declare to certain people naturally enough, I admit ; but

here is how wc are, Kearney. Of course what I say now is literally
between oui'selves, and strictly confidential."

" I shall so understand it," said the other, gravely.

"•Well, now, here it is. The Irish vote, as the Yankees would


call it, is of undoubted value to us, but it is confoundedly dear !
With Paul CuUen on one side and Fenianism on the other, we have
no peace. Time was when you all pulled the one way, and a sop to
the Pope pleased you all. Now that will suffice no longer. The
* Sovereign Pontiff dodge ' is the surest of all ways to offend the
nationals ; so that, in reality, what we want in the House is a number
of liberal Irishmen who will trust the Government to do as much for
the Catholic Church as English bigotry will permit, and as much for
the Irish peasant as will not endanger the rights of property over the

" There's a wide field there certainly," said Dick, smiling.

" Is there not ?" cried the other, exultingly. " Not only does it
bowl over the Established Church and Protestant ascendancy, but it
inverts the position of landlord and tenant. To unsettle everything
in Ireland, so that anybody might hope to be anything, or to own
heaven knows what — to legalize gambling for existence to a people
who delight in high play, and yet not involve us in a civil war, — was
a grand policy, Kearney, a very grand policy. Not that I expect a
young, ardent spirit like yourself, fresh from college ambitions and
high-flown hopes will take this view."

Dick only smiled and shook his head.

" Just so," resumed Walpole. " I could not expect you to like
this progi'amme, and I know already all that you allege against it ;
but, as B, says, Kearney, the man who rules Ireland must know how
to take command of a ship in a state of mutiny, and yet never
suppress the revolt. There's the problem, — as much discipline as
you can, as much indiscipline as you can bear. The brutal old
Tories used to master the crew, and hang the ringleaders ; and for
that matter, they might have hanged the whole ship's company. We
know better, Kearney ; and we have so confused and addled them by
our policy, that, if a fellow were to strike his captain, he would
never be quite sure whether he was to be strung up at the gangway,
or made a petty officer. Do you see it now ? "

" I can scarcely say that I do see it — I mean, that I see it as
you do."

'* I scarcely could hope that you should, or, at least, that you
should do so at once ; but now, as to this seat for King's County, I
believe we have already found our man. I'll not be sure, nor will I
ask you to regard the matter as fixed on, but I suspect we are in
relations — you know what I mean — with an old supporter, who has
been beaten half-a-dozen times in our interest, but is coming up once
more. I'll ascertain about this positively, and let you know. And
then " — here he drew breath freely and talked more at case — "if we


should find our hands free, and that we see our way clearly to support
you, what assurance could you give us that you would go through
with the contest, and fight the battle out ? "

" I believe, if I engage in the struggle, I shall continue to the
end," said Dick, half- doggedly.

" Your personal pluck and determination I do not question for a
moment. Now, let us see" — here he seemed to ruminate for some
seconds, and looked like one debating a matter with himself. •' Yes,"
cried he at last, " I believe that will be the best way. I am sure it
will. When do you go back, Mr. Kearney, — to Ivilgobbin I mean ? "

" My intention was to go down the day after to-morrow."

" That will be Friday. Let us see, what is Friday ? Friday is
the 15th, is it not?"


" Friday " — muttered the other — " Friday ? There's the Educa-
tion Board, and the Harbour Commissioners, and something else

at to be sure, a visit to the Popish schools with Dean O'Mahony.

You couldn't make it Saturday, could you ?"

" Not conveniently. " I had already arranged a plan for Saturday.
But why should I delay here — to what end ? "

" Only that, if you could say Saturday, I would like to go dovra
with you."

From the mode in which he said these words, it was clear that
he looked for an almost rapturous acceptance of his gracious proposal ;
but Dick did not regard the project in that light, nor was he over-
joyed in the least at the proposal.

"I mean," said Walpole, hastening to reheve the awkwardness
of silence — "I mean that I could talk over this afi'air with your
father in a practical business fashion, that you could scarcely enter
into. Still, if Saturday could not be managed, I'll try if I could not
run down with you on Friday. Only for a day, remember. I must
return by the evening train. We shall arrive by what hour ? "

" By breakfast-time," said Dick, but still not over-graciously.

*' Nothing could be better; that will give us a long day, and I
should like a full discussion with your father. You'll manage to send
me on to — what's the name ? "

" Moale."

" Moate. Yes ; that's the place. The up-train leaves at mid-
night, I remember. Now that's all settled. You'll take me up then
here on Friday morning, Kearney, on your way to the station, and,
meanwhile, I'll set to work, and put off these deputations and circulars
till Saturday, when, I remember, I have a dinner with the Provost.
Is there anything more to be thought of? "


" I believo not," muttered Dick, still sullenly.

" By-by, then, till Friday morning," said he, as he turned
towards his desk, and began arranging a mass of papers before him.

" Here's a jolly mess with a vengeance," muttered Kearney as he
descended the stair. " The Viceroy's private secretary to be domesti-
cated with a * head-centre ' and an escaped convict. There's not
even the doubtful comfort of being able to make my family assist me
through the difficulty."



Among the articles of that wardrobe of Cecil Walpole's of which
Atlee had possessed himself so unceremoniously, there was a very
gorgeous blue dress-coat, with the royal button and a lining of sky-
blue silk, which formed the appropriate costume of the gentlemen of
the viceregal household. This, with a waistcoat to match, Atlee had
carried off with him in the indiscriminating haste of a last moment,
and although thoroughly understanding that he could not avail himself
of a costume so distinctively the mark of a condition, yet, by one of
the contrarieties of his strange nature, in which the desire for an
assumption of any kind was a passion — he had tried on that coat fully
a dozen times, and while admii'ing how well it became him, and how
perfectly it seemed to suit his face and figure, he had dramatized
to himself the part of an aide-de-camp in waiting, rehearsing the
little speeches in which he presented this or that imaginary person to
his Excellency, and coining the small money of epigram in which he
related the news of the day.

" How I should cut out those di-eary subalterns with their mess-
room drolleries, how I should shame those tiresome cornets, whose
only glitter is on their sabretaches," muttered he, as he surveyed
himself in his courtly attire. "It is all nonsense to say that the
dress a man wears can only impress the surrounders. It is on
himself, on his own nature and temper, his mind, his faculties, his
very ambition — there is a transfoimation effected ; and I, Joe Atlee,
feel myself, as I move about in this costume, a very different man
from that humble creature in grey tweed, whose very coat reminds
him he is a ' cad,' and who has but to look in the glass to read his

On the morning that he learned that Lady Maude would join him


that day at dinner, Atlee conceived the idea of ai^pearing in this
costume. It was not only that she knew nothing of the Irish court
and its habits, but she made an almost ostentatious show of her
indifference to all about it, and in the few questions she asked, the
tone of interrogation might have suited Africa as much as Ireland.
It was true, she was evidently puzzled to know what place or con-
dition Atlee occupied ; his name was not familiar to her, and yet he
seemed to know everything and everybody, enjoyed a large share of
his Excellency's confidence, and appeared conversant with every
detail placed before him.

That she would not dii'ectly ask him what place he occupied in
the household he well knew, and he felt at the same time what a
standing and position that costume would give him, what self-
confidence and ease it would also confer, and how for once in his life,
free fi'om the necessity of asserting a station, he could devote all his
energies to the exercise of agreeability and those resources of small-
talk in which he knew he was a master.

Besides all this, it was to be his last day at the Castle — he was
to start the next morning for Constantinople, with all instructions
regarding the spy Speridionides, and he desired to make a favourable
impression on Lady Maude before he left. Though intensely — even
absurdly vain — Atlee was one of those men who are so eager for
success in life that they are ever on the watch lest any weakness of
disposition or temper should serve to compromise their chances, and
in this way he was led to distrust what he would in his puppyism
have liked to have thought a favourable effect produced by him on
her ladyship. She was intensely cold in manner, and yet he had
made her more than once listen to him with interest. She rarely
smiled, and he had made her actually laugh. Her apathy appeared
complete, and yet he had so piqued her curiosity that she could not
forbear a question.

Acting as her uncle's secretary, and in constant communication
with him, it was her affectation to imagine herself a political character,
and she did not scruple to avow the hearty contempt she felt for the
usual occupation of women's lives. Atlee's knowledge therefore
actually amazed her; his hardihood, which never forsook him,
enabled him to give her the most positive assurances on anything he
spoke ; and as he had already fathomed the chief prejudices of his
Excellency, and knew exactly where and to what his political wishes
tended, she heard nothing from her uncle but expressions of admira-
tion for the just views, the clear and definite ideas, .and the consummate
skill with which that " young fellow " distinguished himself.

'■'We shall have him in the House one of these days," he would


say ; " aud I am much mistaken if he will not make a remarkable
figure there."

When Lady Maude sailed proudly into the library before dinner,
Atlee was actually stunned by amazement at her beauty. Though
not in actual evening dress, her costume was that sort of demi-toilette
comiwomise which occasionally is most becoming ; and the tasteful
lappet of Brussels lace, which, interwoven with her hair, fell down on
either side so as to frame her face, softened its expression to a degree
of loveliness he was not prepared for.

It was her pleasure — her caprice perhaps — to bo on this occasion
unusually amiable and agreeable. Except by a sort of quiet dignity,
there was no coldness, and she spoke of her uncle's health and hopes
just as she might have discussed them with an old friend of the

When the butler flung wide the folding-doors into the dining-room
and announced dinner, she was about to move on, when she suddenly
stopped, aud said with a faint smile, " Will you give me your arm ?"
Very simple words, and commonplace too, but enough to throw Atlee's
whole nature into a convulsion of delight. And as he walked at her
side it was in the very ecstasy of pride and exultation.

Dinner passed ofl' with the decor'ous solemnity of that meal, at
which the most emphatic utterances were the butler's " Marco-
brunner," or " Johannisberg." The guests, indeed, spoke little, and
the strangeness of their situation rather disposed to thought than

" You are going to Constantinople to-morrow, Mr. Atlee, my
uncle tells me," said she, after a longer silence than usual.

" Yes : his Excellency has charged me with a message, of which
I hope to acquit myself well, though I own to my misgivings about
it now."

"You are too diffident, perhaps, of your powers," said she; aud
there was a faint curl of the lip that made the words sound

" I do not know if great modesty be amongst my failings," said
he, laughingly. " My friends would say not."

" You mean, perhaps, that you are not without ambitions ?"

" That is true. I confess to very bold ones." And as he spoke
he stole a glance towards her ; but her pale face never changed.

'' I wish, before you had gone, that you had settled that stupid
muddle about the attack on — I forget the place."


" Yes, Kil-gobbin — horrid name ! for the Premier still persists
in thinking there was something in it, aud M'orrying my uncle for



explanations ; and ag somebody is to ask something when Parliament
meets, it would be as well to have a letter to read to the House."

" In what sense, pray ? " asked Atlee, mildly.

"Disavowing all : stating the story had no foundation : that there
was no attack — no resistance — no member of the viceregal household
present at any time."

" That would be going too far ; for then we should next have to
deny AValpole's broken arm and his long confinement to house."

" You may serve coffee in a quarter of an hour, Marcom," said
she, dismissing the butler; and then, as he left the room, — " And
you tell me seriously there was a broken arm in this case ? "

" I can hide nothing from you, though I have taken an oath to
silence," said he, with an energy that seemed to defy repression.
" I will tell you everything, though it's little short of a perjury, only
premising this much, that I know nothing from Walpole himself."

With this much of preface, he went on to describe Walpole's visit
to Kilgobbin as cue of those adventurous exploits which young
Englishmen fancy they have a sort of right to perform in the less
civilized country. " He imagined, I have no doubt," said he, " that
he was studying the condition of Ireland, and investigating the land
question, when he carried on a fierce flirtation with a pretty Irish

" And there was a flirtation ?"

" Yes, but nothing more. Nothing really serious at any time.
So far he behaved frankly and well, for even at the outset of the affair
he owned to — a what shall I call it ? — an entanglement was, I believe,
his own word — an entanglement in England "

" Did he not state more of this entanglement, with whom it was,
or how, or where ? "

" I should think not. At all events they who told me knew
nothing of these details. They only knew, as he said, that he was
iu a certain souse tied up, and that till fate unbound him he was a

" Poor fellow ; it ivas hard."

"So he said, and so they believed him. Not that I myself
believe he was ever seriously in love with the Irish girl."

" And why not ?"

" I may be wi-onjsr, ia cj reading of him ; but my impression is
that he regards marriage as one of those solemn events which should
contribute to a man's worldly fortune. Now an L'ish connection
eould scarcely be the road to this."

" What an ungallaut admission," said she, with a smile. " I
«pe Mr. Walpole is not of your mind." After a pause she said,


** And how was it that in j'our intimacy he told you nothing of
this ? "

He shook his head in dissent.
" Not even of the * entanglement ? ' "

" Not even of that. He would speak freely enough of his ' egregious
blunder,' as he called it, in quitting his career and coming to Ireland ;
that it was a gross mistake for any man to take up Irish politics as a
line in life ; that they were puzzles in the present and lead to nothing
in the future, and, in fact, that he wished himself back again in Italy
every day he lived."

" Was there any ' entanglement ' there also ? "
" I cannot say. On these he made me no confidences."
" Coffee, my lady ! " said the butler, entering at this moment.
Nor was Atlee grieved at the interruption.

" I am enough of a Turk," said she, laughingly, " to like that
muddy, strong coffee they give you in the East, and where the very
smallness of the cups suggests its strength. You, I know, are
impatient for your cigarette, Mr. Atlee, and I am about to liberate
you." While Atlee was muttering his assurances of how much he
prized her presence, she broke in, "Besides, I promised my uncle a
visit before tea-time, and as I shall not see you again, I will wish you
now a pleasant journey and a safe return."

" Wish me success in my expedition," said he, eagerly.
" Yes, I will wish that also. One word more. I am very short-
sighted, as you may see, but you wear a ring of great beauty. May
I look at it ? "

" It is pretty, certainly. It was a present Walpole made me.
I am not sure that there is not a story attached to it, though I don't
know it."

" Perhaps it may be linked with the ' entanglement,' " said she,
laughing softly.

" For aught I know, so it may. Do you admire it ? "
" Immensely," said she as she held it to the light.
"You can add immensely to its value if you will," said he,

" In what way ? "

" By keeping it. Lady Maude," said he ; and for once his cheek
coloured with the shame of his own boldness.

" May I purchase it with one of my own ? Will you have this,
or this ? " said she, humedly.

" Anything that once was yours," said he, in a mere whisper.
" Good-by, Mr. Atlee."

Online LibraryCharles James LeverLord Kilgobbin : a tale of Ireland in our own time → online text (page 20 of 48)