Charles James Lever.

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

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" The antecedents of the men who serve this country are not to
be measured by the artificial habits of a people who regulate condition
by money. Your statesmen have no need to be journalists, teachers,
tutors ; Frenchmen and Italians are all these, and on the Lower
Danube and in Greece we are these and something more. — Nor are
we less politicians that we are more men of the Avorld. — Tlie little of
jitatecralt that French Emperor ever knew, ho picked up in his days
of exile." All this he blurted out in short and passionate bursts,
like an angry man who was trying to be logical in his anger, and to
make an effort of reason subdue his wrath.

" If I had not understood these things as you yourself understand
them, I should not have been so indiscreet as to offer you that Icttor ,"
and once more he proffered it.


This time the Greek took it, tore oi^cu the envelope, aud read it

"It is from Lord Danesbury," said he at length. " When wo
parted last I was, in a certain sense, my lord's subordinate — that is,
there were things none of his staff of secretaries or attaches or
dragomen could do, and I could do them. Times are changed, aud
if we are to meet again, it will be as colleagues. It is true, Mr. Atlee,
the Ambassador of England and the Envoy of Greece are not exactly
of the same rank. I do not permit myself many illusions, and this
is not one of them ; but remember, if Great Britain be a first-rate
Power, Greece is a volcano. It is for us to say when there shall be
an eruption."

It was evident, from the rambling tenor of this speech, he was
speaking rather to conceal his thoughts and give himself time for
reflection, than to enunciate any definite opinion ; and so Atlee, with
native acuteness, read him, as he simply bowed a cold assent.

" Why should I give him back his letters ? " burst out the Greek
warmly. " What does he offer me in exchange for them ? Money !
mere money ! By what presumption does he assume that I must be
in such want of money, that the only question should be the sum ?
May not the lime come when I shall be questioned in our chamber as
to certain matters of policy, and my only vindication be the documents
of this same English ambassador, written in his own hand, aud signed
with his name ? Will yoa tell me that the triumphant assertion of a
man's honour is not more to him than bank-notes ? "

Though the heroic spirit of this speech went but a short way to
deceive Atlee, who only read it as a plea for a higher price, it was his
policy to seem to believe every word of it, and he looked a perfect
picture of quiet conviction.

" You little suspect what these letters are ? " said the Greek.

" I believe I know : I rather think I have a catalogue of them
and their contents," mildly hinted the other.

" Ah ! indeed, and are you prepared to vouch for the accuracy
and completeness of your list ? "

" You must be aware it is only my lord himself can answer that

" Is there — in your enumeration — is there the letter about Crete ?
and the false news that deceived the Baron de Baude ? Is there the
note of my instructions to the Khedive ? Is there — I'm sure there
is not — any mention of the negotiation with Stephanotis Bey ? "

"I have seen Stephanotis myself; I have just come from him,"
6a?/d Atlee, grasping at the escape the name offered.

"Ah, you know the old Palikao ? "


*' Intimately ; wo arc, I hope, close friouds ; lie was at Kulbash
Pasha's while I was there, and we had much talk together."

"And from him it was j'ou learned that Spiridiouides was
Spiridiou Kostalergi ? " said the Greek slowly.

" Surely this is not meant as a question, or, at least, a question
to be answered ? " said Atlee, smiling.

"No, no, of course not," replied the other politely. "We are
chatting together, if not like old friends, like men who have ever}-
element to hecome dear friends. We see life pretty much from the
same point of view, Mr. Atlee, is it not so ? "

" It would he a great flattery to me to think it." And Joe's eyes
sparkled as he spoke.

" One has to make his choice somewhat early in the world, whether
he will hunt or be hunted : I believe that is about the case."

" I suspect so."

" I did not take long to decide ; I took my place with the wolves ! "
Nothing could be more quietly uttered than these words ; but there
was a savage ferocity in his look as he said them that held Atlee
almost spell-bound. "And you, Mr. Atlee? and you? I need
scarcely ask where your choice fell ! "

It was so palpable that the words meant a compliment, Atlee had
only to smile a polite acceptance of them.

" These letters," said the Greek, resuming, and like one who had
not mentally lapsed from the theme — " these letters are all that my
lord deems them. They are the very stuff that, in your country of
publicity and fi-ee discussion, would make or mar the very best
reputations amongst you. And," added he, after a pause, " there
are none of them destroyed, none ! "

" He is aware of that."

" No, he is not aware of it to the extent I speak of, for many
of the documents that he behcvcd he saw burned in his own presence,
on bis own hearth, are here, here in the room we sit in ! So
that I am in the proud position of being able to vindicate his
policy, in many cases where his memory might prove weak or

" Although I know Lord Danesbury's value for these papers does
not bear out your own, I will not suffer myself to discuss the point.
I return at once to what I have come for. Shall I make you an offer
in money for them. Monsieur Kostalergi ? "

" What is the amount you propose ? "

" I was to negotiate for a thousand pounds first. I was to give
two thousand at the last resort. I will begin at the last resort ami-
pay you two."


" "Whj^ not piastres, Mr. Atlee ? I am sure your instructions must
have said piastres."

Quite uumovcd bj' the sarcasm, Atlce took out his pocket-book
and read from a memorandum : — " Should M. Kostalergi refuse your
oflor, or think it insufficient, ou no account let the negotiation take
any turn of acrimony or recrimination. He has rendered me great
services in past times, and it will be for himself to determine whether
lie should do or cay what should in any way bar our future relations

" This is not a menace ? " said the Greek, smiling superciliously.

" No. It is simply an instruction," said the other, after a slight

"The men who make a trade of diplomacy," said the Greek,
haughtily, " reserve it for their dealings with Cabinets. In home or
familiar intercourse they are straightforward and simple. Without
these papers your noble master cannot return to Turkey as ambas-
sador. Do not interrupt me. He cannot come back as ambassador
to the Porte ! It is for him to say how he estimates the post. An
ambitious man, with ample reason for his ambition, an able man with
a thorough conviction of his ability, a patriotic man, who understood
and saw the services he could render to his country, would not bargain
at the price the place should cost him, nor say ten thousand pounds
too much to pay for it."

"Ten thousand pounds!" exclaimed Atlee, but in real and
unfeigned astonishment.

" I have said ten thousand, and I will not say nine — nor nine
thousand nine hundred."

Atlee slowly arose and took his hat.

" I have too much respect for yourself and for your time,
M. Kostalergi, to impose any longer on j'our leisure. I have no
need to say that your proposal is totally unacceptable."

" You have not heard it all, sir. The money is but a part of
what I insist on. I shall demand besides, that the British Ambassador
at Constantinople shall formally sujiport my claim to be received as
Envoy from Greece, and that the whole might of England be pledged
to the ratification of my appointment."

A very cold but not uncourteous smile was all Atlee's acknowledg-
ment of this speech.

" There are small details which regard my title and the rank that
I lay claim to. With these I do not trouble you, I will merely say
I reserve them if we should discuss this in future."

" Of that there is little prospect. Indeed, I see none whatever.
I may say this much, however. Prince, that I shall most willingly


Tiiidertalie to place your claims to be received as Minister for Greece
at the Porte under Lord Dancsbury's notice, and, I have every hope,
for favourable consideration. Wc arc not likely to meet again : may
I assume that we part friends ? "

" You only anticipate my own sincere desire."

As they passed slowly through the garden, Atlee stopped and
said : " Had I been able to tell my lord, ' The Prince is just named
special envoy at Constantinople. The Turks are offended at some-
thing he has done in Crete or Thcssaly. Without certain pressure
on the Divan they will not receive him. Will your lordship empower
me to say that you will undertake this, and, moreover, enable me to
assure him that all the cost and expenditure of his outfit shall be met
in a suitable form.' If, iu lixct, you give me your permission to
submit such a basis as this, I should leave Athens far happier than I
feel now."

" The Chamber has already voted the outfit. It is very modest,
but it is enough. Our national resources are at a low ebb. You
might, indeed — that is if you still wished to plead my cause — you
might tell my lord that I had destined this sum as the fortune of my
daughter. I have a daughter, Mr. Atlee, and at present sojourning
in 3'Our own country. And though at one time I was minded to recall
her, and take her with me to Turkey, I have grown to doubt whether
it would be a wise policy. Our Greek contingencies are too many and
too sudden to let us project very far in life."

" Strange enough," said Atlee, thoughtfully, " you have just — as
it were by mere hazard — struck the one chord in the English uatui'e,
that will always respond to the appeal of a home affection. Were I
to say, ' Do you know why Kostalergi makes so hard a bargain ? It
is to endow a daughter. It is the sole provision he stipulates to
make her, — Greek statesmen can amass no fortunes, — this hazard
will secure the girl's future ! ' On my life, I cannot think of one
argument that would have equal weight."

Kostalergi smiled faintly, but did not speak.

" Lord Danesbury never married, but I know with what interest
and affection he follows the fortunes of men who live to secure the
happiness of their children. It is the one plea he could not resist ;
to be sure he might say, ' Kostalergi told you this, and perhaps at the
time he himself believed it ; but how can a man who likes the world
and its very costliest pleasures, guard himself against his own habits ?
AVho is to pledge his honour, that the girl will ever be the owner of
this sum ?' "

"I shall place that beyond a cavil or a question ; he shall bo
himself her guardian. The money shall not leave his hands till sho


marries. You liavo your own laws, by whicli a mau can charge his
estate with the payment of a certain amount. My lord, if he assents
to this, will know how it may be done. I repeat, I do not desire to
touch a drachma of the sum."

" You interest me immensely. I cannot tell you how intensely I
feel interested in all this. In fact, I shall own to you frankly, that
you have at last employed an argument, I do not know how, even if I
wished, — to answer. Am I at liberty to state this pretty much as you
have told it ? "

" Every word of it."

"Will you go further — will you give me a little line, a memo-
randum in your own hand, to show that I do not mistate nor mistake
you — that I have your meaning correctly, and without even a chance
of error ? ' '

"I will write it formally and deliberately."

The bell of the outer door rang at the moment. It was a tele-
graphic message to Atlee, to say that the steamer had perfected her
repairs and would sail that evening.

*' You mean to sail with her ? " asked the Greek. " Well, within
an hour, you shall have my packet. Good-by. I have no doubt we
shall hear of each other again."

" I think I could venture to bet on it," were Atlee's last words as
he turned awaj'.


"in town."

Lord Danesbttey had arrived at Bruton Street to confer with certain
members of the Cabinet who remained in town after the session,
chiefly to consult with him. He was accompanied by his niece. Lady
Maude, and by Walpole, the latter continuing to reside under his
roof, rather from old habit than from any strong wish on either

Walpole had obtained a short extension of his leave, and
employed the time in endeavouring to make up his mind about a
certain letter to Nina Kostalergi, which he had written nearly fifty
times in difl'erent versions and destroyed. Neither his lordship nor
his niece ever saw him. They knew he had a room or two somewhere,
a servant was occasionally encountered on the way to him with a
breakfast-tray and an urn ; his letters were seen on the hall-table ;
but, except these, he gave no signs of life — never appeared at luncheon


or at diuuer — and as much dropped out of all mernoiy or interest as
though he had ceased to he.

It was one evening, 3-ct early — scarcely eleven o'clock — as Lord
Daneshury's little party of four Cahiuet chiefs had just departed, that
he sat at the drawiug-i"oom fire with Lady Maude, chatting over the
events of the evening's conversation, and discussing, as men will do,
at times, the characters of their guests.

'* It has heen nearly as tiresome as a Cahinct Council, Maude ! "
said he, with a sigh, " and not unlike it in one thing — it was almost
always the men who knew least of any matter who discussed it most

"I conclude you know what you are going out to do, my lord,
and do not care to hear the desultory notions of people who know

" Just so. What could a First Lord tell me ahout those Russian
intrigues in Albania, or is it likely that a Home Secretary is aware
of what is preparing in Montenegro ? They get hold of some crochet
in the Ee'vue de Deux Mondcs, and, assuming it all to be true, they
ask defiantly, * How are you going to deal with that ? Why did you
not foresee the other ? ' and such like. How little they know, as that
fellow Atlee says, that a man evolves his Turkey out of the necessities
of his pocket, and captures his Constantinople to pay for a dinner at
the ' Fr6res.' What fleets of Russian gunboats have I seen
launched to procure a few bottles of champagne ! I remember a
chasse of Kersch, with the caf6, costing a whole battery of lii'upp's

" Are our own journals more correct ? "

" They are more cautious, Maude — far more cautious. Nine
days' wonders with us would be too costly. Nothing must be risked
that can affect the funds. The share-list is too solemn a thing for

" The Premier was very silent to-night," said she, after a pause.

" He generally is in company : he looks like a man bored at being
obliged to listen to people saying the things that he knows as well,
and could tell better, than they do."

" How completely ho appears to have forgiven or forgotten the
Irish yfrtsco."

" Of course he has. An extra blunder in the conduct of Irish
aflairs is only like an additional mask in a fancy ball — the whole
thing is motley : and asking for consistency would be like requesting
the company to behave like archdeacons."

" And so the mischief has blown over ? "

" In a measure it has. The Opposition quarrelled amongst

" IN TOWN." 361

themselves ; aud sucli as were not ready to take ofFicc if we wero
beaten, declined to press the motion. The irresponsibles went on,
as they always do, to their own destruction. They became violent,
and, of course, our people appealed against the violence, and with
such temperate language and good breeding that we carried the House
with us."

" I see there was quite a sensation about the word ' villain.' "

"No; miscreant. It was miscreant — a word very popular in
O'Connell's day, but rather obsolete now. When the Speaker called
on the member for an apology we had won the day ! These rash
utterances in debate are the explosive balls that no one must use in
battle ; and if we only discover one in a fellow's pouch we discredit
the whole army."

" I forget ; did they press for a division ? "

"No; we stopped them. We agreed to give them a 'special
committee to inquire.' Of all devices for secrecy invented, I know
of none like a ' special committee of inquiry.' Whatever people have
known beforehand, their faith will now be shaken in, aud every
possible or accidental contingency assume a shape, a size, and a
stability beyond all belief. They have got their committee, and I
wish them luck of it ! The only men who could tell them anything
will take care not to criminate themselves, and the report will bo a
plaintive ci-y over a country where so few people can be persuaded to
tell the truth, and nobody should seem any worse in consequence."

" Cecil certainly did it," said she, with a certain bitterness.

" I suppose he did. These young players are always thinking
of scoring eight or ten on a single hazard : one should never back
them ! "

" Mr. Atlee said there was some female influence at work. He
would not tell me what nor whom. Possibly he did not know."

" I rather suspect he did know. They were people, if I mistake
not, belonging to that Irish castle — Kil — Kil-somebody, or Ivil-

" Was Walpole flirting there ? was he going to marry one of
them ? "

" Flirting, I take it, must have been the extent of the folly. Cecil
often said he could not marry Irish. I have known men do it ! You
are aware, Maude," and here he looked with uncommon gravity, " the
penal laws have all been repealed."

" I was speaking of society, my lord, not the statutes," said she,
resentfully, and half suspicious of a sly jest.

" Had slie money ?" asked he, curtly.

"I cannot tell; I know nothing of these people v.hatcver ! I


remember something — it ■was a newspaper story- — of a girl that saved
Cecil's life by throwing herself before him — a very pretty incident it
was ; but these things make no figure in a settlement ; and a woman
may be as bold as Joan of Arc, and not have sixpence. Atlee says
you can always settle the courage on the younger children."

" Atlee's an arrant scamp," said my lord, laughing. " lie should
have written some days since."

"I suppose he is too late for the borough ; the Cradford election
comes on next week ? " Though there could not be anything
more languidly indifferent than her voice in this question, a faint
pinkish tinge llitted across her cheek, and left it colourless as before.

" Yes, he has his address out, and there is a sort of committee —
certain licensed victualler people — to whom he has been promising
some especial Sabbath-breaking that they yearn after. I have not
read it."

" I have ; and it is cleverly written, and there is little more
radical in it than we heard this very day at dinner. He tells the
electors, ' You are no more bound to the support of an army or a
navy, if you do not wish to fight, than to maintain the College of
Surgeons or Physicians, if you object to take physic' He says, ' To
tell me that I, with eight shillings a week, have an equal interest in
resisting invasion as your Lord Dido, with eighty thousand per
annum, is simply nonsense. If you,' cries he to one of his supporters,
* were to be ofiered your life by a highwayman on surrendering some
few pence or halfpence you carried in your pocket, you do not mean
to dictate what my Lord Marquis might do, who has got a gold
watch and a pocketful of notes in his. And so I say once more,
let the rich pay for the defence of what they value. You and I
have nothing worth fighting for, and we will not fight. Then as to
religion "

" Oh, spare mo his theology ! I can almost imagine it, Maude.
I had no conception he was such a radical."

"He is not really, my lord ; but he tells me that wo must all go
through this stage. It is, as he says, like a course of those waters
whose benefit is exactly in proportion to the way they disagree with
you at first. He even said, one evening before he went away, ' Take
my word for it, Lady Maude, we shall be burning these apostles of
ballot and universal suflrage in effigy one day ; but I intend to go
beyond every one else in the meanwhile, else the rebound back will
lose half its excellence.' "

" What is this ?" cried he, as the servant entered with a telegram.
" This is from Athens, Maude, and in cypher, too. How are we to
make it out ?"

"in town." 363

" Cecil has tbo key, my lord. It is the diplomatic cypher."

"Do you think you could find it in his room, Maude? It is
possible this might be imminent."

" I shall see if he is at home," said she, rising to ring the bell.
The servant sent to inquire, returned, saying that Mr. Walpole had
dined abroad, and not returned since dinner.

" I'm sure you could find the book, Maude, and it is a small,
square-shaped volume, bound in dark Russia leather, marked with
F. 0. on the cover."

" I know the look of it well enough ; but I do not fancy ransacking
Cecil's chamber."

" I do not know that I should like to await his return to read my
despatch. I can just make out that it comes from Atlee."

" I suppose I had better go, then," said she, reluctantly, as she
rose and left the room.

Ordering the butler to precede and show her the way, Lady
Maude ascended to a story above that she usually inhabited, and
found herself in a very spacious chamber, with an alcove, into which
a bed fitted, the remaining space being arranged like an ordinary
sitting-room. There were numerous chairs and sofas of comfortable
form, a well- cushioned ottoman, smelling, indeed, villanously of
tobacco, and a neat wi'iting-table, with a most luxurious arrangement
of shaded wax-lights above it.

A singularly well executed photograph of a young and very lovely
woman, with masses of loose hair flowing over her neck and shoulders,
stood on a little easel on the desk, and it was, strange enough, mth
a sense of actual relief, Maude read the word Titian on the frame.
It was a copy of the great master's i)icture in the Dresden Gallery,
and of which there is a replica in the Barberini Palace at Rome ; but
still the portrait had another memory for Lady Maude, who quickly
recalled the girl she had once seen in a crowded assembly, passing
through a murmur of admiration that no conventionality could repress,
and whose marvellous beauty seemed to glow with the homage it

Scraps of poetry, copies of verses, changed and blotted couplets,
were scrawled on loose sheets of paper on the desk ; but Maude
minded none of these, as she pushed them away to rest her arm on
the table, while she sat gazing on the picture.

The face had so completely absorbed her attention — so, to say,
fascinated her — that when the servant, who had found the volume he
was in search of, and presented it to her, she merely said, " Take it
to my lord," and sat still, with her head resting on her hands, and
her eyes fixed on ihe portrait.


"There may be some resemblance, there may be, at least, what
might remiud people of * the Laura ' — so was it called ; but who will
pretend that she carried her head with that swing of lofty pride, or
that her look could rival the blended majesty and womanhood we see
here ! I do not — I cannot believe it ! "

" What is it, Maude, that you will not or cannot believe ?" said
a low voice, and she saw Walpolo standing beside her.

"Let me first excuse myself for being here," said she, blushing.
"I came in search of that little cypher-book to interpret a despatch
that has just come. When Feutou found it I was so engrossed by
this pretty face that I have done nothing but gaze at it."

"And what was it that seemed so incredible as I came in ? "

" Simply this, then, that any one should be so beautiful."

" Titian seems to have solved that point ; at least, Vasari tells
us this was a portrait of a lady of the Guicciardini family."

" I know — I know that," said she, impatiently ; " and we do see
faces in which Titian or Velasquez have stamped nobility and birth
as palpably as they have printed loveliness and expression. And
such were these women, daughters in a long line of the proud Patricians
who once ruled Eome."

" And yet," said he, slowly, " that portrait has its living counter-

Online LibraryCharles James LeverLord Kilgobbin : a tale of Ireland in our own time → online text (page 37 of 48)