Charles James Lever.

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

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mean,' said she, I'm right, but he's very nice for all that ! ' If I tell
you this, Dick, it is just because I cannot get it out of my head, and
I will keep saying over and over to myself — ' If Joe Atlee be what
she suspect, why does she call him very nice for all that ? ' I said
you intended to ask him down here next vacation, and she gave the
drollest little laugh in the world, and does she not look lovely when
she shows those small pearly teeth ? Heaven help you, poor Dick,
when you see her ! but if I were you, I should leave Master Joe
behind me, for she smiles as she looks at his likeness in a way that
would certainly make me jealous, if I were only Joe's friend, and not

" We sat up in Nina's room till nigh morning, and to-day I have
scarcely seen her, for she wants to be let sleep, after that long and
tiresome journey, and I take the opportunity to write you this very
rambling epistle : for you may feel sure I shall be less of a corre-
spondent now than when I was without companionship, and I counsel
you to be very grateful if you hear from me soon again.

" Papa wants to take Duggan's farm from him, and Lanty Moore's
meadows, and throw them into the lawn; but I hope he won't persist
in the plan ; not alone because it is a mere extravagance ; but that
the county is very unsettled just now about land-tenure, and thj
people are hoping all sorts of things from Parliament, and any inter-
ference with them at this time would be ill taken. Father Cody was
here yesterday, and told me confidentially, to prevent papa, — not so
easy a thing as he thinks, particularly if he should come to suspect
that any intimidation was intended, — and Miss O'Shea unfortunately
said something the other day that papa cannot get out of his head,
and keeps on repeating. ' So then it's our turn now,' the fellows
say ; ' the landlords have had five hundred years of it ; it's time we
should come in.' And this he says over and over with a little laugh,


and I wish to my heart Miss Betty had kept it to herself. By the
way, her nephew is to come on leave, and pass two months with her ;
and she says she hopes you will be here at the same time, to keep
him company ; but I have a notion that another playfellow may prove
a dangerous rival to the Hungarian hussar ; perhaps, however, you
would hand over Joe Atlcc to him.

" Be sure you bring us some new books, and some music, when
you come, or send them, if you don't come soon. I am terrified lest
Nina should think the place dreary, and I don't know how she is to
live here if she does not take to the vulgar drudgeries that fill my
own life. AVheu she abruptly asked me, ' What do you do here ? ' I
was sorely puzzled to know what to answer, and then she added
quickly, — ' For my own part, it's no great matter, for I can always
dream. I'm a great dreamer ! ' Is it not lucky for her, Dick ?
She'll have ample time for it here.

" I suppose I never wrote so long a letter as this in my life ;
indeed I never had a subject that had such a fascination for myself.
Do you know, Dick, that though I promised to let her sleep on till nigh
dinner time, I find myself every now and then creeping up gently to
her door, and only bethink me of my pledge when my hand is on the
lock ; and sometimes I even doubt if she is here at all, and I am half
crazy, at fearing it may be all a dream.

" One word for yourself, and I have done. Why have you not
told us of _ the examination ? It was to have been on the tenth, and
we are now at the eighteenth. Have you got — whatever it was ? the
prize, or the medal, or — the reward, in short, we were so anxiously
hoping for ? It would be such cheery tidings for poor papa, who is
very low and depressed of late, and I see him always reading with
such attention any notice of the College he can find in the news-
paper. My dear, dear brother, how you would work hard if you only
knew what a prize success in life might give you. Little as I have
seen of her, I could guess that she will never bestow a thought on an
undistinguished man. Come down for one day, and tell me if ever,
in all your ambition, you had such a goal before you as this ?

" The hoggets I sent in to Tullamore fair were not sold ; but I
believe Miss Betty's steward will take them ; and, if so, I will send
you ten pounds next week. I never knew the market so dull, and
the English dealers now are only eager about horses, and I'm sure I
couldn't part with any if I had them. With all my love, I am
" Your ever affectionate sister,

" IvATE Kearney.

" I have just stepped into Nina's room and stolen the photo I

AT *' TRINITY." 29

send you. I suppose the dress must have been for some fancy ball ;
but she is a hundred million times more beautiful. I don't know if I
shall have the courage to confess my theft to her."

" Is that your sister, Dick ? " said Joe Atlee, as young Kearney
withdrew the carte from the letter, and placed it face downwards on
the breakfast-table.

'N:," replied he, bluntly, and continued to read on; while the
other, in the spirit of that freedom that prevailed between them,
stretched out his hand and took up the portrait.

" Who is this '? " cried he, after some seconds. " She's an
actress. That's something like what the girl wears in Don Cccsar
deBazan. To be sure, she is Maritana. She's stunningly beautiful.
Do you mean to tell me, Dick, that there's a girl like that on your
provincial boards ? "

" I never said so any more than I gave you leave to examine the
contents of my letters," said the other, haughtily.

" Egad, I'd have smashed the seal any day to have caught a
glimpse of such a face as that. I'll wager her eyes are blue grey.
Will you have a bet on it ? "

" When you have done with your raptures, I'll thank you to hand
the likeness to me."

" But who is she ? what is she ? where is she ? Is she the

" When a fellow can help himself so coolly to his information as
you do, I scarcely think he deserves much aid from others ; but, I
may tell you, she is not Maritana, nor a provincial actress, nor any
actress at all, but a young lady of good blood and birth, and my own
first cousin."

" On my oath, it's the best thing I ever knew of you."

Kearney laughed out at this moment at something in the letter,
and did not hear the other's remark.

"It seems, Master Joe, that the young lady did not reciprocate
the rapturous delight you feel, at sight of your picture. My sister
says — I'll read you her very words — ' she does not like the portrait
of your friend Atlee ; he may be clever and amusing, she says, but
he is undeniably false.' Mind that — undeniably false."

" That's all the fault of the artist. The stupid dog would place
me in so strong a light that I kept blinking."

*' No, no. She reads you like a book," said the other.

" I wish to heaven she would, if she would hold me like one."

"And the nice way she qualifies your cleverness, by calling you


" She could certainly spare that reproach to her cousin Dick,"
said he, laughing ; " but no more of this sparring. When do you
mean to take me down to the country with you ? The term will be
up on Tuesday."

" That will demand a little consideration now. In the fall of the
year, perhaps. When the sun is less powerful the light will be more
favourable to your features."

" My poor Dick, I cram you with good advice everyday; but
one counsel I never cease repeating, ' Never try to be witty.' A dull
fellow only cuts his finger with a joke, he never catches it by the
handle. Hand me over that letter of your sister's ; I like the way
she writes. All that about the pigs and the poultry is as good as
the Farmer s Chronicle."

The other made no other reply than by coolly folding up the letter
and placing it in his pocket ; and then, after a pause, he said, —

" I shall tell Miss Kearney the favourable impression her epistolary
powers have produced on my very clever and accomplished chum,
Mr. Atlee."

" Do so ; and say, if she'd take me for a correspondent instead
of you, she'd be * exchanging with a difference.' On my oath," said
he, seriously, "I believe a most finished education might be effected
in letter-writing. I'd engage to take a clever girl through a whole
course of Latin and Greek, and a fair share of mathematics and logic,
in a series of letters, and her replies would be the fairest test of her

" Shall I propose this to my sister ? "

"Do so, or to your cousin. I suspect Maritana would be an
apter pupil."

" The bell has stopped. We shall be late in the hall," said
Kearney, throwing on his gown hurriedly and hastening away ; while
Atlec, taking some proof-sheets from the chimney-piece, proceeded
to correct them, a slight flicker of a smile still lingering over his dark
but handsome face.

Though such little jarring passages as that v,'e have recorded
were nothing uncommon between these two youug men, they were
very good friends on the whole, the very dissimilarity that provoked
their squabbles saving them from any more serious rivalry. In
reality, no two people could be less alike : Kearney being a slow,
plodding, self-satisfied, dull man, of very ordinary faculties ; while
the other was an indolent, discursive, sharp-witted fellow, mastering
v.hatever he addressed himself to with case, but so enamoured of
novelty that he rarely went beyond a smattering of anything. He
carried away college honours apparently at will, and might, many

AT " TraNITY." 81

thought, have won a fellowship with little effort ; but his passion was
for change. Whatever bore upon the rogueries of letters, the frauds
of literature, had an irresistible charm for him ; and he once declared
that he would almost rather have been Ireland than Shakspeare ;
and then it was his delight to write Greek versions of a poem that
might attach the mark of plagiarism to Tennyson, or show, by a
Scandinavian lyric, how the laureate had been poaching from the
Northmen. Now it was a mock pastoral in most ecclesiastical Latin
that set the whole church in arms ; now, a mock despatch of Baron
Beust that actually deceived the Revue des Deux Mondes and caused
quite a panic at the Tuileries. He had established such relations
with foreign journals that he could at any moment command insertion
for a paper, now in the Memorial Diplomatique^ now in the Goloss of
St. Petei'sburg, or the AUgemeine Zeitung ; while the comment, written
also by himself, would appear in the Kreutz Zeitung or The Times;
and the mystification became such that the shrewdest and keenest
heads were constantly misled, to which side to incline in a contro-
versy where all the wires were pulled by one hand. Many a discussion
on the authenticity of a document, or the veracity of a conversation
would take place between the two young men : Kearney not having
the vaguest suspicion that the author of the point in debate was then
sitting opposite to him, sometimes seeming to share the very doubts
and difiiculties that were then puzzhng himself.

While Atlee knew Kearney in every fold and fibre of his nature,
Kearney had not the very vaguest conception of him with whom he
sat every day at meals, and communed through almost every hour of his
life. He treated Joe, indeed, with a sort of proud protection, thinking
him a sharp, clever, idle fellow, who would never come to anything
higher than a bookseller's hack or an "occasional correspondent."
He liked his ready speech, and his fun, but he would not consent to
see in either evidences of anything beyond the amusing qualities of
a very light intelligence. On the whole, he looked down upon him,
as very properly the slow and ponderous people in life do look down
upon their more volatile brethren, and vote them triflers. Long may
it be so. There would be more sunstrokes in the world, if it were
not that the shadows of dull men made such nice cool places for the
others to walk in !




The life of that quaint old couutry-house was something very strange
and odd to Nina Kostalergi, It was not merely its quiet monotony,
its unbroken sameness of topics as of events, and its small economies,
always appearing on the surface ; but that a young girl like Kate,
full of life and spirits, gay, handsome, and high-hearted — that she
should go her mill-round of these tiresome daily cares, listening to
the same complaints, remedying the same evils, meeting the same
difficulties, and yet never seem to resent an existence so ignoble and
unworthy ! This was, indeed, scarce credible.

As for Nina herself — like one saved from shipwreck — her first
sense of security was full of gratitude. It was only as this wore off
that she began to see the desolation of the rock on which she had
clambered. Not that her former life had been rose-tinted. It had
been of all things the most harassing and wearying — a life of dreary
necessitude — a perpetual struggle with debt. Except play, her father
had scarcely any i-esource for a livelihood. He affected, indeed, to
give lessons in Italian and French to young Englishmen ; but he
was so fastidious as to the rank and condition of his pupils, so un-
accommodating as to his hours, and so uupunctual, that it was evident
that the whole was a mere pretence of industry, to avoid the reproach
of being utterly dependent on the play-table ; besides this, in his
capacity as a teacher, he obtained access to houses, and acceptance
with families where he would have found entrance impossible under
other circumstances.

He was polished and good-looking. All his habits bespoke fomi-
liarity with society ; and he knew to the nicest fraction the amount
of intimacy he might venture on with any one. Some did not like
him — the man of a questionable position, the reduced gentleman,
has terrible prejudices to combat. He must always be suspected —
heaven knows of what, but of some covert design against the religion,
or the pocket, or the influence of those who admit him. Some thought
him dangerous, because his manners were insinuating, and his address
studiously directed to captivate. Others did not fancy his passion
for mixing in the world, and frequenting society to which his straitened
means appeared to deny him rightful access ; but when ho had suc-
ceeded in introducing his daughter to the world, and people began
to say, " See how admirably M. Kostalergi has brought up that girl 1


how nicely-mannered she is, how lady-like, how well hred, what a
lingnist, what a musician ! " a complete revulsion took place in public
opinion, and many who had hut half trusted, or less than liked him
before, became now his stauuchest friends and adherents. Nina had
been a great success in society, and she reaped the fall benefit of it.
Sufficiently well born to be admitted, without any special condescension
into good houses, she was in manner and style the equal of any ;
and though her dress was ever of the cheapest and plainest, her fresh
toilette was often commented on with praise by those who did not
fully remember what added grace and elegance the wearer had lent it.

From the wealthy nobles to whom her musical genius had strongly
recommended her, numerous and sometimes costly presents were sent
in acknowledgment of her charming gifts ; and these, as invariably,
were converted into money by her father, who, after a while, gave it
to be understood that the recompence would be always more welcome
in that form.

Nina, however, for a long time knew nothing of this ; she saw
herself sought after and flattered in society, selected for peculiar
attention wherever she went, complimented on her acquirements, and
made much of to an extent that not unfrequently excited the envy
and jealousy of girls much more favourably placed by fortune than
herself. If her long mornings and afternoons were passed amidst
solitude and poverty, vulgar cares, and harassing importunities,
when night came, she emerged into the blaze of lighted lustres and
gilded salons, to move in an atmosphere of splendour and sweet
sounds, with all that could captivate the senses and exalt imagination.
This twofold life of meanness and magnificence so wrought upon her
nature as to develop almost two individualities. The one hard, stern,
realistic, even to grudgingness ; the other gay, buoyant, enthusiastic,
and ardent ; and they who only saw her of an evening in all the
exultation of her flattered beauty, followed about by a train of admiring
worshippei-s, addressed in all that exaggeration of language Italy
sanctions, pampered by caresses, and honoured by homage on every
side, little knew by what di'eary toi-por of heart and mind that joyous
ecstasy they witnessed had been preceded, nor by what a bound her
emotions had sprung from the depths of brooding melancholy to this
paroxysm of delight; nor could the worn-out and wearied followers
of pleasure comprehend the intense enjoyment produced by sights
and sounds which in their case no fancy idealized, no soaring imagi-
nation had lifted to the heaven of bliss.

Kostalergi seemed for a while to content himself with the secret
resources of his daughter's successes, but at length he launched out
into heavy play once more, and lost largely. It was in this strait



that he bethought him of negotiating with a theatrical mauager for
Nina's appearance ou the stage. These contracts take the precise
form of a sale, where the victim, in consideration of being educated,
and maintained, and paid a certain amount, is bound, legally bound,
to devote her services to a master for a given time. The impresario
of the Fenice had often heard from travellers of that wonderful
mezzo-soprano voice which was captivating all Home, where the
beauty and grace of the singer were extolled not less loudly. The
great skill of these astute providers for the v/orld's pleasure is
evidenced in nothing more remarkably than the instinctive quickness
with which they pounce upon the indications of dramatic genius, and
hasten away — half across the globe if need be — to secure it. Signor
Lanari was not slow to procure a letter of introduction to Kostalergi,
and very soon acquainted him with his object.

Under the pretence that he was an old friend and former
schoolfellow, Kostalergi asked him to share their humble dinner,
and there, in that meanly-furnished room, and with the accom-
paniment of a wretched and jangling instrument, Nina so astonished
and charmed him by her performance, that all the habitual reserve of
the cautious bargainer gave way, and he burst out into exclamations of
enthusiastic delight, ending with, — " She is mine ! she is mine ! I
tell you, since Persiani, there has been nothing like her ! "

Nothing remained now, but to reveal the plan to herself, and
though certainly neither the Greek nor his guest were deficient in
descriptive power, or failed to paint in glowing colours the gorgeous
processions of triumphs that await stage success, she listened with
little pleasure to it all. She had already walked the boards of what
she thought a higher arena. She had tasted flatteries unalloyed with
any sense of decided inferiority ; she had moved amongst dukes and
duchesses with a recognized station, and received their compliments
with ease and dignity. Was all this reality of condition to be
exchanged for a mock splendour, and a feigned greatness ? was she
to be subjected to the licensed stare and criticism and coarse com-
ment, it may be, of hundreds she never knew, nor would stoop to
know ? and was the adulation she now lived in to be bartered for the
vulgar applause of those who, if dissatisfied could testify the feeling
as openly and unsparingly ? She said very little of what she felt in
her heart, but no sooner alone in her room at night, than she wrote
that letter to her uncle entreating his protection.

It had been arranged with Lanari that she should make one
appearance at a small provincial theatre so soon as she could master
any easy part, and Kostalergi, having some acquaintance with the
manager at Orvieto, hastened off there to obtain his permission for


her appearance. It was of this hrief ahsence she profited to fly
from Rome, the banker conveying her as far as Civita Vecchia, whenco
she sailed direct for Marseilles. And now we see her, as she found
herself in that dreary old mansion, sad, silent, and neglected, won-
dering whether the past was all a dream, or if the unbroken calm in
which she now lived was not a sleep.

Conceding her perfect liberty to pass her time how she liked,
they exacted from her no appearance at meals, nor any conformity
with the ways of others, and she never came to breakfast, and only
entered the drawing-room a short time before dinner. Kate, who
had counted on her companionship and society, and hoped to see her
sharing with her the little cares and duties of her life, and taking
interest in her pursuits, was sorely grieved at her estrangement, but
continued to believe it would wear off with time and familiarity with
the place. Kearney himself, in secret, resented the freedom with
which she disregarded the discipline of his house, and grumbled at
times over foreign ways and habits that he had no fancy to see under
his roof. When she did appear, however, her winning manners, her
grace, and a certain half-caressing coquetry she could practise to
perfection, so soothed and amused him that he soon forgot any
momentary displeasure, and more than once gave up his evening
visit to the club at Moate to listen to her as she sang, or hear her
sketch off some trait of that Roman society in which British pretension
and eccentricity often figured so amusingly.

Like a faithful son ©f the Church, too, he never wearied hearing
of the Pope and of the Cardinals, of glorious ceremonials of the
Church, and festivals observed with all the pomp and state that
■pealing organs, and incense, and gorgeous dress could confer. The
contrast between tha sufferance under which his Church existed at
home and the honours and homage rendered to it abroad, were a
fruitful stimulant to that disaffection he felt towards England, and
would not unfrequently lead him away to long diatribes about penal
laws and the many disabilities which had enslaved Ireland, and
reduced himself, the descendant of a princely race, to the condition
of a ruined gentleman.

To Kate these complainings were ever distasteful ; she had but
one philosophy, which was " to bear up well," and when not that,
" as well as you could." She saw scores of things around her to be
remedied, or, at least, bettered, by a little exertion, and not one
which could be helped by a vain regret. For the loss of that old
barbaric splendour and profuse luxury which her father mourned
over, she had no regrets. She knew that these wasteful and profli-
gate livers had done nothing for the people either in act or in


example ; that they were a selfish, worthless, self-indulgent race,
caring for nothing but their pleasures, and making all their patriotism
consist in a hate towards England.

These were not Nina's thoughts. She liked all these stories of a
time of power and might, when the Kearneys were great chieftains,
and the old castle the scene of revelry and feasting.

She drew prettily, and it amused her to illustrate the curious
tales the old man told her of rays and forays, the wild old life of
savage chieftains and the scarce less savage conquerors. On one of
these, — she called it " The Return of O'Cahamey," — she bestowed
such labour and study, that her uncle would sit for hours watching
the work, not knowing if his heart were more stirred by the claim of
his ancestor's greatness, or by the marvellous skill that realized the
whole scene before him. The head of the young chieftain was to be
filled in when Dick came home. Meanwhile great persuasions were
being used to induce Peter Gill to sit for a kera who had shared the
exile of his masters, but had afterwards betrayed them to the
English ; and whether Gill had heard some di'opping word of the part
he was meant to fill, or that his own suspicion had taken alarm from
certain directions the young lady gave as to the expression he was to
assume, certain is it nothing could induce him to comply, and go down
to posterity with the immortality of crime.

The little long-neglected drawing-room where Nina had set up
her easel became now the usual morning lounge of the old man, who
loved to sit and watch her as she worked, and, what amused him
even more, listen while she talked. It seemed to him like a revival

Online LibraryCharles James LeverLord Kilgobbin : a tale of Ireland in our own time → online text (page 4 of 48)