Charles James Lever.

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

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how necessarily successful; and now for Maude herself."

Of Lady Maude Bickerstaffe Walpole had seen next to nothing
since his return ; his own ill health had confined him to his room,
and her inquiries after him had been cold and formal ; and though he
wrote a tender little note and asked for books, slyly hinting what
measure of bUss a five minutes' visit would confer on him, the books
he begged for were sent, but not a line of answer accompanied them.
On the whole, he did not dislike this little show of resentment.
What he really dreaded was indiflerence. So long as a woman is piqued
with you, something can always be done ; it is only when she becomes
careless and unmindful of what you do or say, or look or think, that
the game looks hopeless. Therefore it was that he regarded this
demonstration of anger as rather favourable than otherwise.

"Atlee has told her of the Greek! Atlee has stirred up her
jealousy of the Titian girl. Atlee has drawn a long indictment
against me, and the fellow has done me good service in giving me
something to plead to. Let me have a charge to meet and I have no
misgivings. What really unmans me is the distrust that will not
even utter an allegation, and the indifi'erence that does not want

He learned that her ladyship was in the garden, and he hastened
down to meet her. In his own small way Walpole was a clever
tactician ; and he counted much on the ardour with which he should
open his case, and the amount of impetuosity that v/ould give her
very little time for reflection.

" I shall at once assume that her fate is irrevocably knitted to
my own, and I shall act as though the tie was indissoluble. After
all, if she puts me to the proof I have her letters — cold and guarded
enough, it is true. No fervour, no gush of any kind, but calm
dissertations on a future that must come, and a certain dignified
acceptance of her own part in it. Not the kind of letters that a Q.C.
could read with much rapture before a crowded court, and ask the
assembled grocers, • What happiness has life to ofi"er to the man
robbed of those precious pledges of aflection — how was he to face
the world, stripped of every attribute that cherished hope and fed
ambition ? ' "

He was walking slowly towards her when he first saw her, and he
had some seconds to prepare himself ere they met.


" I came down after you, Maude," said he in a voice iugeniouBlv
modulated between the tone of old intimacy and a slight suspicion of
emotion. " I came down to tell you my news " — he waited, and
then added — " my fate ! "

Still she was silent, the changed word exciting no more interest
than its predecessor.

" Feeling as I do," he went on, " and how we stand towards each
other, I cannot but know that my destiny has nothing good or evil in
it, except as it contributes to your happiness." He stole a glance at
her, but there was nothing in that cold calm fice that could guide
him. With a bold effort, however, he went on : "My own fortune
in life has but one test — is my existence to be shared with you or
not ? With your hand in mine, Maude," — and he gi'asped the marble-
cold fingers as he spoke — " poverty, exile, hardships, and the world's
neglect, have no terrors for me. With your love, every ambition of
my heart is gratified. Without it "

** Well, without it — what ?" said she, with a faint smile.

" You would not torture me by such a doubt ? Would you rack
my soul by a misery I have not words to speak of?"

" I thought you were going to say what it might be, when I stopped

" Oh, drop this cold and bantering tone, deai'est Maude. —
Eemember the question is now of my very life itself. If you cannot
be affectionate, at least be reasonable ! "

" I shall try," said she calmly.

Stung to the quick by a composure which he could not imitate, he
was able, however, to repress every show of anger, and with a manner
cold and measured as her own, he went on : *' My lord advises that
I should go back to diplomacy, and has asked the IMinistcrs to give
me Guatemala. It is nothing very splendid. It is far away in a
remote part of the world ; not over-well paid, but at least I s'hall bo
Charge-d'Affaircs, and by three years, — four, at most, of this banish-
ment — I shall have a claim for something better."

"I hope you may, I'm sure," said she, as he seemed to expect
something like a remark.

"That's not enough, Maude, if the hope be not a wish — and a
wish that includes self-interest."

" I am so dull, Cecil : tell me what you mean ? "

" Simply this, then: does your heart tell you that you could
share this fortune, and brave these hardships : in one word, w-lll you
say what will make me regard this fate as the happiest of my
existence ? will you give me this dear hand as my own, — my own ? "
and he pressed his lips upon it rapturously as ho spoke.

"a defeat." 337

She made no effort to release her hautl ; nor for a second or two
did she say one word. At last, in a very measured tone she said : — ■
" I should like to have hack my letters."

"Your letters? Do you mean, Maude, that — that you would
break with me ?"

"I mean certainly that I should not go to this horrid
place "

" Then I shall refuse it," broke he in impetuously.

*' Not that only, Cecil," said she, for the first time faltering ;
*' but except being very good friends, I do not desire that there
should be more between us."

" No engagement ?"

" No, no engagement. I do not believe there ever was an actual
promise, at least on my part. Other people had no right to promise
for either of us — and — and, in fiict, the present is a good opportunity
to end it."

" To end it," echoed he, in intense bitterness ; "to end it ? "

" And I should like to have my letters," said she calmly, while
she took some freshly plucked flowers from a basket on her arm, and
appeared to seek for something at the bottom of the basket.

"I thought you would come down here, Cecil," said she, " when
you had spoken to my uncle. Indeed, I was sure you would, and so
I brought these with me." And she drew forth a somewhat thick
bundle of notes and letters tied with a narrow ribbon. " These are
yours," said she, handing them.

Far more piqued by her cold self-possession than really wounded
in feeling, he took the packet without a word ; at last he said : " This
is your own wish — your own, unprompted by others ? "

She stared almost insolently at him for answer.

" I mean, Maude, — oh, forgive me if I utter that dear name once
more — I mean there has been no influence used to make you treat me
thus ? "

" You have known me to very little purpose all these years, Cecil
Walpole, to ask me such a question."

" I am not sure of that. I know too well what misrepresentation
and calumny can do anywhere ; and I have been involved in certain
difficulties which, if not explained away, might be made accusations —
grave accusations."

" I make none — I listen to none."

" I have become an object of complete indifference, then ? You
feel no interest in me either way. If I dared, Maude, I should like
to ask the date of this change — when it began ? "

*' I don't well know what vou mean. There was not, so far as I



am aware, anvthing between us, except a certain esteem and respect,
of which convenience was to make something more. Xow convenience
has broken faith with us, but we are not the less very good friends —
excellent friends if you like."

" Excellent friends ! I could swear to the friendship ! " said he,
with a malicious energy.

" So at least I mean to be," said she calmly.

'* I hope it is not I shall fail in the compact. And now will my
quality of friend entitle me to ask one question, Maude ?"

" I am not sure till I hear it."

"I might have hoped a better opinion of my discretion; at all
events I will risk my question. What I would ask is, how far
Joseph Atlee is mixed up with your judgment of me ? Will you tell
me this ?"

" I will only tell you, sir, that you are over- vain of that discretion
you believe you possess."

" Then I am right," cried he, almost insolently. " I have hit
the blot."

A glance, a mere glance of haughty disdain, was the only reply
she made.

"I am shocked, Maude," said he at last. "I am ashamed that
we should spend in this way perhaps the verj' last few minutes we
shall ever pass together. Heart-broken as I am, I should desire to
carry away one memory at least of her whose love was the load-star
of my existence."

" I want my letters, Cecil," said she, coldly.

" So that you came down here with mine, prepared for this
rupture, Maude ? It was all pre-aiTanged in your mind."

" More discretion, more discretion, or good taste — which is it ? "

"I ask pardon, most humbly I ask it ; your rebuke was quite
just. I was presuming upon a past which has no relation to the
present. I shall not offend any more. And now, what was it you
said ? "

" I want my letters."

" They are here," said he, drawing a thick envelope fuliv
crammed with letters from his pocket and placing it in her hand.
" Scarcely as carefully or as nicely kept as mine, for they have been
read over too many times ; and with what rapture, Maude. How
pressed to my heart and to my lips, how treasured ! Shall I tell you ? "

There was that of exaggerated passion — almost rant — in these
last words, that certainly did not impress them with reality : and either
Lady Maude was right in doubting their sincerity, or cruelly unjust :
for fche smiled faintly as she heard them.

"a defeat." 339

" No, don't tell me," said she, faintly. " I am akeady so much
flattered by a courteous anticipation of my wishes that I ask for
nothing more."

He bowed his head lowly ; but his smile was one of triumph, as
he thought how, this time at least, he had wounded her.

*' There are some trinkets, Cecil," said she, coldly, " which I
have made into a packet, and you will find them on your dressing-
table. And — it may save you some discomfort if I say that you
need not give yourself trouble to recover the little ring ^vith an opal
I once gave you, for I have it now."

"May I dare?"

" You may not dare. Good-by."

And she gave her hand ; he bent over it for a moment, scarcely
touched it with his lips, and turned away.



Of all the discomfitures in life there was one which Cecil Walpole
did not believe could possibly befall him. Indeed, if it could have
been made a matter of betting, he would have wagered all he had in
the world that no woman should ever be able to say she refused his
offer of maniage.

He had canvassed the matter very often with himself, and always
arrived at the same conclusion — that if a man were not a mere
coxcomb, blinded by vanity and self-esteem, he could always know
how a woman really felt towards him ; and that where the question
admitted of a doubt — where, indeed, there was even a flaw in the
absolute certainty — no man with a due sense of what was owing to
himself would risk his dignity by the possibility of a refusal. It was
a part of his peculiar ethics that a man thus rejected was damaged,
pretty much as a bill that has been denied acceptance. It was the
same wound to credit, the same outrage on character. Considering,
therefore, that nothing obliged a man to make an ofler of his hand
till he had assured himself of success, it was to his thinking a mere
gratuitous pursuit of insult to be refused. That no especial delicacy
kept these things secret, that women talked of them freely — ay,
triumphantly — that they made the staple of conversation at afternoon
tea and the club, with all the flippant comments that dear friends
know how to contribute as to your vanity and presumption, he was


•well aware. Incleecl, be had been long an eloquent contribntor to
that scandal literature which amuses the leisure of fashion and helps
on the tedium of an ordinary dinner. How Lady Maude would report
the late scene in the garden to the Countess of Mccherscroft, who
would tell it to her company at her country-house ! — How the Lady
Georgiuas w^ould discuss it over luncheon, and the Lord Georges talk
of it out shooting ! what a host of pleasant anecdotes would be told
of his inordinate puppyism and self-esteem ! How even the dullest
fellows would dare to throw a stone at him ! What a target for a while
he would be for eveiy marksman at any range to shoot at ! All these
his quick-witted ingenuity pictured at once before him.

" I see it all," cried he, as he paced his room in self-examination.
'* I have suffered myself to be carried away by a burst of momentary
impulse. I brought up all my reserves, and have failed utterly.
Nothing can save me now, but a ' change of front.' It is the last
bit of generalship remaining — a change of front — a change of front ! "
And he repeated the words over and over, as though hoping they
might light up his ingenuity. " I might go and tell her that all I
had been saying was mere jest — that I could never have dreamed of
asking her to follow me into barbarism : that to go to Guatemala w-as
equivalent to accepting a yellow fever — it was courting disease,
perhaps death ; that my insistance was a mere mockery, in the worst
possible taste ; but that I had already agreed with Lord Danesbuiy,
our engagement should be cancelled ; that his lordship's memory of
our conversation would corroborate me in saying I had no intention to
propose such a sacrifice to her ; and indeed I had but provoked her to
say the very things, and use the very arguments I had already employed
to myself as a sort of aid to my own heartfelt convictions. Here would
be a ' change of front ' with a vengeance.

" She will already have written off the whole interview : the
despatch is finished," cried he, after a moment. " It is a change of
front the day after the battle. The people will read of my manoeuvre
with the bulletin of victory before them.

" Poor Frank Touchet used to say," cried he aloud, " ' Whenever
they refuse my cheques at the Bank, I always transfer my account ; '
and fortunately the world is big enough for these tactics for several
years. That's a change of front too, if I knew how to adapt it. I
must marry another woman — there's nothing else for it. It is the
only escape ; and the question is, who shall she be ? " The more ho
meditated over this change of front the more he saw that his destiny
pointed to the Greek. If he could see clearly before him to a high
career in diplomacy, the Greek girl, in everything but fortune, would
guit him well. Her marvellous beauty, her grace of manner, her

A "change of front, " 341

social t.act and readiuess, her skill in languages, were all the very
qualities most iu request. Such a woman would make the full com-
plement, hy her fascinations, of all that her husband could accomplish
by his abilities. The little indiscretions of old men — especially old
men — with these women, the lapses of confidence they made them —
the dropping admissions of this or that intention, made up what
Walpole knew to be high diplomacy.

" Nothing worth hearing is ever got by a man," was an adage he
treasured as deep wisdom. Why kings resort to that watering-place,
and accidentally meet certain Ministers going somewhere else ; why
Kaisers affect to review troops here, that they may be able to talk
statecraft there ; how princely compacts and contracts of marriage
are made at sulphur springs ; all these and such like leaked out as
small-talk with a young and pretty woman, whose frivolity of manner
went bail for the safety of the confidence, and went far to persuade
Walpole, that though Bank stock might be a surer investment, there
were paying qualities in certain women, that in the end promised
larger returns than mere money and higher rewards than mere wealth.
"Yes," cried he to himself, "this is the real change of front — this
has all in its favour."

Nor yet all. Strong as Walpole's self-esteem was, and high his
estimate of his own capacity, he had — he could not conceal it — a
certain misgiving as to whether he really understood that girl or not.
" I have watched many a bolt from her bow," said he, " and think I
know their range. But now and then she has shot an arrow into the
clear sky, and far beyond my sight to follow it."

That scene in the wood too. Absurd enough that it should
obtrude itself at such a moment — but it was the sort of indication
that meant much more to a man like Walpole than to men of other
experiences. Was she flirting with this young Austrian soldier ? No
great harm if she were ; but still there had been passages between
himself and her, which should have bound her over to more circum-
spection. Was there not a shadowy sort of engagement between
them ? Lawyers deem a mere promise to grant a lease as equivalent
to a contract. It would be a curious question in morals to inquire
how far the licensed perjuries of courtship are statutory ofleuccs.
Perhaps a sly consciousness on his own part that he was not playing
perfectly fair, made him, as it might do, more than usually tenacious
that his adversary should be honest. AVhat chance the innocent
public would have with two people who were so adroit with each
other, was his next thought ; and he actually laughed aloud as it
occurred to him. " I only wish my lord would invite us here before
we sail. If I could but show her to Maude, half-an-hour of thcso


women together would be the heaviest vengcaucc I could ask her ! I
wonder how could that be managed ? "

" A despatch, sir, his lordship begs you to read," said a servant,.
entering. It was an open envelope, and contained these words on a
slip of paper : —

" W. shall have Guatemala. He must go out by the mail of
November 15. Send him here for instructions." Some words in
cypher followed, and an under- secretary's initials.

" Now then for the ' change of front.' I'll write to Nina by this
post. I'll ask my lord to let me tear off this portion of the telegram,
and I shall enclose it."

The letter was not so easily written as he thought — at least he
made more than one draft — and was at last in great doubt whether a
long statement or a few and very decided lines might be better.
How he ultimately determined, and what he said, cannot be given
here : for unhappily, the conditions of my narrative require I should
ask my reader to accompany me to a very distant spot and other
interests which were just then occupying the attention of an almost
forgotten acquaintance of ours, the redoubted Joseph Atlee.



Joseph Atlee had a very busy morning of it on a certain November
day at Pera, when the post brought him tidings that Lord Danesbury
had resigned the Irish Viceroyalty, and had been once more named
to his old post as Ambassador at Constantinople.

" My uncle desires me," WTote Lady Maude, " to impress you
with the now all-important necessity of obtaining the papers you know
of, and, so far as you are able, to secure that no authorised copies of
them are extant. Kulbash Pasha will, my lord says, be very tract-
able when once assured that our return to Turkey is a certainty ; but
should you detect signs of hesitation or distrust in the Grand Vizier's
conduct, you will hint that the investigation as to the issue of the
Galatz shares — 'preference shares' — may be re-opened at any
moment, and that the Ottoman Bank agent, Schaflfer, has drawn up
a memoir which my uncle now holds. I copy my lord's words for all
this, and sincerely hope yon will understand it, which, I confess, I
do not at all. My lord cautioned me not to occupy your time or
attention Ijv any reference to Irish questions, but leave you perfectly


free to deal with those larger interests of the East that should now
engage you. I forbear, therefore, to do more than mark with a pencil
the part in the debates which might interest you especially, and
merely add the fact, otherwise, perhaps, not very credible, that Mr.
Walpole did write the famous letter imputed to him — did promise
the amnesty, or whatever be the name of it, and did pledge the honour
of the Government to a transaction with these Fenian leaders. With
what success to his own prospects, the Gazette will speak that
announces his appointment to Guatemala.

" I am myself very far from sorry at our change of destination.
I prefer the Bosphorus to the Bay of Dublin, and like Pera better
than the Phoenix. It is not alone that the interests are greater, the
questions larger, and the consequences more important to the world
at large, but that, as my uncle has just said, you are spared the
peddling impertinence of Parliament interfering at every moment,
and questioning your conduct, from an invitation to Cardinal CuUen
to the dismissal of a chief constable. Happily, the gentlemen at
Westminster know nothing about Turkey, and have the prudence not
to ventilate their ignorance, except in secret committee. I am sorry
to have to tell you that my lord sees great difficulty in Avhat you
propose as to yourself. F. 0., he says, would not easily consent
to your being named even a third secretary without your going
through the established grade of attache, AH the unquestionable
merits he knows you to possess would count for nothing against an
of&cial regulation. The course my lord would suggest is this : To
enter now as mere attache, to continue in this position some three or
four months, come over here for the general election in February,
get into ' the House,' and after some few sessions, one or two, rejoin
diplomacy, to which you might be appointed as a secretary of legation.
My uncle named to me three, if not four cases of this kind — one,
indeed, stepped at once into a mission and became a minister ; and
though of course the Opposition made a fuss, they failed in their
attempt to break the appointment, and the man will probably be soon
an ambassador. I accept the little yataghan, but sincerely wish the
present had been of less value. There is one enormous emerald in
the handle which I am much tempted to transfer to a ring. Perhaps
I ought, in decency, to have your permission for the change. The
burnous is very beautiful, but I could not accept it — an article of
dress is in the categoiy of things impossible. Have you no Irish
sisters, or even cousins ? Pray give me a destination to address it
to in your next.

" My uncle desires me to say that, all invaluable as your services
have become where you are, he needs you greatly here, and would


bear M-itli pleasure that you were about to return. He is curious to
know who wrote ' L'Oricut et Lord D.' in the last Revue de Deux
Mondes. The savagery of the attack implies a personal rancour. ,
Find out the author, and reply to him in the Edii'tbuiyJi. My lord
suspects he may have had access to the papers he has already alluded
to, and is the more eager to repossess them."

A telegraphic despatch in cypher was put into his hands as he
was reading. It was from Lord Dancsbury, and said : " Come back
as soon as you can, but not before making K. Pasha know his fate is
in my hands."

As the Grand Vizier had already learned from the Ottoman
Ambassador at London the news that Lord Danesbury was about to
resume his former post at Constantinople, his Turkish impassiveness
was in no way imperilled by Atlee's abrupt announcement. It is
true he would have been pleased had the English Government sent
out some one new to the East and a stranger to all Oriental questions.
He would have liked one of those veterans of diplomacy versed in the
old-fashioned ways and knaveries of German courts, and whose
shrewdest ideas of a subtle policy are centred in a few social spies
and a " Cabinet Noir." The Pasha had no desire to see there a man
who knew all the secret machinery of a Turkish administration, what
corruption could do, and where to look for the men who could
employ it.

The thing was done, however, and with that philosophy of resigna-
tion to a fact in which no nation can rival his own, he muttered his
polite congratulations on the event, and declared that the dearest
wish of his heart was now accomplished.

" We had half begun to believe you had abandoned us, Mr. Atlee,"
said he. " When England commits her interests to inferior men,
she usually means to imply that they are worth nothing better. I
am rejoiced to see that we are, at last, awakened from this delusion.
With his Excellency Lord Danesbury here, we shall be soon once
more where we have been."

Online LibraryCharles James LeverLord Kilgobbin : a tale of Ireland in our own time → online text (page 35 of 48)