Charles James Lever.

The O'Donoghue: Tale of Ireland Fifty Years Ago online

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"What do you mean, boy?"

"I mean what I say. The girl educated in the midst of luxury, pampered
and flattered - we heard that from the Abbé - what a favourite she was
there, and how naturally she assumed airs of command and superiority
over the girls of her own age - truly, if penance were the object, the
notion is not a bad one."

"I say it again - this is her home. I grieve it should be so rude a
one - but, I'll never refuse to let her share it."

"Nor would I," muttered Mark, gloomily, "if it suited either her habits,
or her tastes. Let her come, however; a week's experience will do more
to undeceive her than if we wrote letters for a twelvemonth."

"You must write to her, Mark; you must tell her, that matters have not
gone so well with us latterly - that she'll see many changes here; but
mind, you say how happy we are to receive her."

"She can have her choice of blue bed-rooms, too - shall I say that?" said
Mark, almost savagely. "The damp has given them the proper tinge for her
fancy; and as to the view she speaks of, assuredly there is nothing
to baulk it: the window has fallen out many a day ago, that looked on
Keim-an-eigh."

"How can you torture me this way, boy?" said the old man, with a look
of imploring, to which his white hairs and aged features gave a most
painful expression. But Mark turned away, and made no answer.

"My uncle," said he, after a pause, "must answer this epistle.
Letter-writing is no burthen to him. In fact, I believe, he rather likes
it; so here goes to do him a favour. It is seldom the occasion presents
itself."

It was not often that Mark O'Donoghue paid a visit to Sir Archibald in
his chamber; and the old man received him as he entered with all the
show of courtesy he would have extended to a stranger - a piece of
attention which was very far, indeed, from relieving Mark of any portion
of his former embarrassment.

"I have brought you a letter, sir," said he, almost ere he took his
seat - "a letter which my father would thank you to reply to. It is from
my cousin Kate, who is about to return to Ireland, and take up her abode
here."

"Ye dinna mean she's coming here, to Carrig-na-curra?"

"It is even so! though I don't wonder at your finding it hard of
belief."

"It's mair than that - it's far mair - it's downright incredible."

"I thought so, too; but my father cannot agree with me. He will not
believe that this old barrack is not a baronial castle; and persists in
falling back on what is past, rather than look on the present, not to
speak of the future."

"But she canna live here, Mark," said Sir Archy, his mind ever dwelling
on the great question at issue. "There's no'a spot in the whole house
she could inhabit. I ken something of these French damsels, and their
ways; and the strangers that go there for education are a' worse than
the natives. I mind the time I was in Paris with his Royal - - - " Sir
Archy coughed, and reddened up, and let fall his snuff-box, spilling all
the contents on the floor.

"Gude save us, here's a calamity! It was real macabaw, and cost twa
shillings an ounce. I maun even see if I canna scrape it up wi' a piece
of paper;" and so, he set himself diligently to glean up the scattered
dust, muttering, all the time, maledictions on his bad luck.

Mark never moved nor spoke the entire time; but sat with the open letter
in his hand, patiently awaiting the resumption of the discussion.

"Weel, weel," exclaimed Sir Archy, as he resumed his seat once more;
"let us see the epistle, and perhaps we may find some clue to put her
off."

"My father insists on her coming," said Mark, sternly.

"So he may, lad," replied Sir Archy; "but she may ha'e her ain reasons
for declining - dinna ye see that? This place is a ruin. Wha's to say it
is no' undergoing a repair - that the roof is off, and will not be on
for sax months to come. The country, too, is in a vara disturbed state.
Folks are talking in a suspicious way."

Mark thought of the midnight march he had witnessed; but said nothing.

"There's a fever, besides, in the house, and wha can tell the next to
tak' it. The Lord be mercifu' to us!" added he gravely, as if the latter
thought approached somewhat too close on a temptation of Providence.

"If she's like what I remember her as a child," replied Mark, "your plan
would be a bad one for its object. Tell her the place is a ruin, and
she'd give the world to see it for bare curiosity; say, there was a
likelihood of a rebellion, and she would risk her life to be near it;
and as for a fever, we never were able to keep her out of the cabins
when there was sickness going. Faith, I believe it was the danger, and
not the benevolence, of the act charmed her."

"You are no' far wrang. I mind her weel - she was a saucy cutty; and I
canna forget the morning she gave me a bunch o' thistles on my birth
day, and ca'ed it a 'Scotch bouquey.'"

"You had better read the letter in any case," said Mark, as he presented
the epistle. Sir Archy took it, and perused it from end to end without a
word; then laying it open on his knee, he said -

"The lassie's heart is no' far wrang, Mark, depend upon it. Few call up
the simple memories o' childish days, if they have no' retained some of
the guileless spirit that animated them. I wad like to see her mysel',"
said he, after a pause. "But what have we here in the postscript?" - and
he read aloud the following lines: -

"I have too good a recollection of a Carrig-na-curra household, to make
any apology for adding one to the number below stairs, in the person of
my maid, Mademoiselle Hortense, from whose surprise and astonishment at
our Irish mountains I anticipate a rich treat. She is a true Parisian,
who cannot believe in any thing outside the Boulevards. What will she
think of Mrs. Branagan and Kerry O'Leary? - and what will they think of
her?"

"Lord save us, Mark, this is an awfu' business; a French waiting woman
here! Why, she might as weel bring a Bengal tiger! I protest I'd rather
see the one than the other."

"She'll not stay long; make your mind easy about her; nor will Kate
either, if she need such an attendant."

"True enough, Mark, we maun let the malady cure itsel'; and so, I
suppose, the lassie must even see the nakedness o' the land wi' her ain
eyes, though I'd just as soon we could 'put the cover on the parritch,'
as the laird said, 'and make the fules think it brose.' It's no ower
pleasant to expose one's poverty."

"Then you'll write the letter," said Mark, rising, "and we must do what
we can, in the way of preparation. The time is short enough too, for
that letter was written almost a month ago - she might arrive this very
week."

As he spoke, the shuffling sounds of feet were heard in the corridor
outside; the young man sprung to the door, and looked out, and just
caught sight of Kerry O'Leary, with a pair of boots under his arm,
descending the stairs.

"That fellow, Kerry - listening as usual," said Mark. "I heard him at my
door about a fortnight since, when I was talking to Herbert, and I sent
a bullet through the pannel - I thought it might cure him."

"I wonder it did na kill him!" exclaimed M'Nab in horror.

"No, no, my hand is too steady for that. I aimed at least two inches
above his head - it might have grazed his hair."

"By my word, I'll no' play the eaves-dropper wi' you, Mark; or, at
least, I'd like to draw the charge o' your pistols first."

"She can have my room," said Mark, not heeding the speech. "I'll
take that old tower they call the guard-room; I fancy I shall not be
dispossessed for a considerable time," - and the youth left the chamber
to look after the arrangements he spoke of.

"'Tis what I tould you," said Kerry, as he drew his stool beside the
kitchen fire; "I was right enough, she's coming back again to live
here - I was listening at the door, and heerd it all."

"And she's laving the blessed nunnery!" exclaimed Mrs. Branagan, with a
holy horror in her countenance - "desarting the elegant place, with the
priests, and monks, and friars, to come here again, in the middle of
every wickedness and divilment - ochone! ochone!"

"What wickedness and what divilment are you spaking about?" said Kerry,
indignantly, at the aspersion thus cast on the habits of the house.

Mrs. Branagan actually started at the bare idea of a contradiction, and
turned on him a look of fiery wrath, as she said: -

"Be my conscience you're bould to talk that way to me! - What wickedness!
Isn't horse-racing, card-playing, raffling, wickedness? Isn't drinking
and swearin' wickedness? Isn't it wickedness to kill three sheep a week,
and a cow a fortnight, to feed a set of dirty spalpeens of grooms and
stable chaps? Isn't it wickedness - botheration to you - but I wouldn't be
losing my time talking to you! When was one of ye at his duties? Answer
me that. How much did one of ye pay at Ayster or Christmas, these ten
years? Signs on it, Father Luke hasn't a word for ye when he comes
here - he trates ye with contimpt."

Kerry was abashed and terrified. He little knew when he pulled up the
sluice-gate, the torrent that would flow down; and now, would have made
any "amende," to establish a truce again; but Mrs. Branagan was a woman,
and, having seen the subjugation of her adversary, her last thought was
mercy.

"Wickedness, indeed! It's fifty years out of purgatory, sorra less, to
live ten years here, and see what goes on."

"Divil a lie in it," chimed in Kerry, meekly; "there's no denying a word
you say."

"I'd like to see who'd dare deny it - and, sign's on it, there's a curse
on the place - nothing thrives in it."

"Faix, then, ye mustn't say that, any how," said Kerry, insinuatingly:
"_you_ have no rayson to spake again it. 'Twas Tuesday week last I heerd
Father Luke say - it was to myself he said it - 'How is Mrs. Branagan,
Kerry?' says he. 'She's well and hearty, your reverence,' says I. 'I'll
tell you what she is, Kerry,' says he, 'she's looking just as I knew her
five-and-thirty years ago; and a comelier, dacenter woman wasn't in the
three baronies. I remember well,' says he, 'I seen her at the fair of
Killarney, and she had a cap with red ribbons.' Hadn't ye a cap with red
ribbons in it?" A nod was the response.

"True for him, ye see he didn't forget it; and says he, 'She took the
shine out of the fair; she could give seven pounds, and half a distance,
to ere a girl there, and beat her after by a neck.'"

"What's that ye're saying?" said Mrs. Branagan, who didn't comprehend
the figurative language of the turf, particularly when coming from
Father Luke's lips.

"I'm saying ye were the purtiest woman that walked the fair-green," said
Kerry, correcting his phraseology.

"Father Luke was a smart little man then himself, and had a nate leg and
foot."

"Killarney was a fine place I'm tould," said Kerry, with a dexterous
shift to change the topic. "I wasn't often there myself, but I heerd it
was the iligant fair entirely."

"So it was," said Mrs. Branagan; "there never was the kind of sport and
divarsion wasn't there. It begun on a Monday and went through the week;
and short enough the time was. There was dancing, and fighting, and
singing, and 'stations,' up to Aghadoe and down again on the bare knees,
and a pilgrimage to the holy well - three times round that, maybe after
a jig two hours long; and there was a dwarf that tould fortunes, and
a friar that sould gospels agin fever, and fallin' sickness, and
ballad-singers, and play-actors. Musha, there never was the like of it;"
and in this strain did, she pour forth a flood of impassioned eloquence
on the recollection of those carnal pleasures and enjoyments which, but
a few minutes before, she had condemned so rigidly in others, nor was it
till at the very close of her speech that she suddenly perceived how she
had wandered from her text; then with a heavy groan she muttered - "Ayeh!
we're sinful craytures, the best of us."

Kerry responded to the sentiment with a fac-simile sigh, and the peace
was ratified.

"You wouldn't believe now what Miss Kate is bringing over with
her - faix, you wouldn't believe it."

"Maybe a monkey," said Mrs. Branagan, who had a vague notion that France
lay somewhere within the tropics.

"Worse nor that."

"Is it a bear?" asked she again.

"No, but a French maid, to dress her hair, and powder her, and put
patches on her face."

"Whisht, I tell you," cried Mrs. Branagan, "and don't be talking that
way. Miss Kate was never the one to turn to the likes of them things."

"'Tis truth I'm telling ye then; I heerd it all between the master and
Master Mark, and afterwards with ould Sir Archy, and the three of them
is in a raal fright about the maid; they say she'll be the divil for
impidence."

"Will she then!" said Mrs. Branagan, with an eye glistening in
anticipation of battle.

"The never a day's peace or ease we're to have again, when she's
here - 'tis what the master says. 'I pity poor Mrs. Branagan,' says he;
'she's a quiet crayture that wont take her own part, and - - '"

"Won't I? Be my conscience, we'll soon see that."

"Them's his words - 'and if Kerry and she don't lay their heads together
to make the place too hot for her, she'll bully the pair of them.'"

"Lave it to myself - lave it to me alone, Kerry O'Leary."

"I was thinking that same, ma'am," said Kerry, with a droll leer as he
spoke; "I'd take the odds on you any day, and never ask the name of the
other horse."

"I'll lay the mark of my fingers on her av she says 'pays,'" said Mrs.
Branagan, with an energy that looked like truth.

Meanwhile, Kerry, perceiving that her temper was up, spared nothing to
aggravate her passion, retailing every possible and impossible affront
the new visitor might pass off on her, and expressing the master's
sorrows at the calamities awaiting her.

"If she isn't frightened out of the country at once, there's no help for
it," said he at last. "I have a notion myself, but sure maybe it's a bad
one."

"What is it then? - spake it out free."

"'Tis just to wait for the chaise - she'll come in a chaise, it's
likely."

But what was Kerry's plan, neither Mrs. Branagan nor the reader are
destined to hear, for at that moment a loud summons at the hall
door - a very unusual sound - announced the arrival of a stranger; Kerry,
therefore, had barely time for a hasty toilet with a pocket-comb,
before a small fragment of looking-glass he carried in his pocket, as he
hastened to receive the visitor.




CHAPTER XVII. KATE O'DONOGHUE

Before Kerry O'Leary had reached the hall, the object around whose
coming all his schemes revolved, was already in her uncle's arms.

"My dear, dear Kate!" said the old man, as he embraced her again and
again, while she, overcome by a world of conflicting emotions, concealed
her face upon his shoulder.

"This is Mark, my dearest girl - cousin Mark."

The girl looked up, and fixed her large full eyes upon the countenance
of the young man, as, in an attitude of bashful hesitation, he stood,
uncertain how far the friendship of former days warranted his advances.
She, too, seemed equally confused; and when she held out her hand, and
he took it half coldly, the meeting augured but poorly for warmth of
heart on either side.

"And Herbert - where is he?" cried she eagerly, hoping to cover the
chilling reception by the inquiry - "and my uncle Archy - - "

"Is here to answer for himsel'," said M'Nab, quietly, as he came rapidly
forward and kissed her on either cheek; and, with an arm leaning on each
of the old men, she walked forward to the drawing-room.

"And are you alone, my dear child - have you come alone?" said the
O'Donoghue.

"Even so, papa; - my attached and faithful Hortense left me at Bristol.
Sea sickness became stronger than affection. She had a dream, besides,
that she was lost, devoured, or carried off by a merman - I forget what.
And the end was, she refused to go further, and did her best to persuade
me to the same opinion. She didn't remember that I had sent on my
effects, and that my heart was here already."

"My own dearest child!" said O'Donoghue, as he pressed her hand
fervently between his own.

"But how have ye journeyed by yoursel'?" said Sir Archy, as he gazed on
the slight and delicate figure before him.

"Wonderfully well, uncle. During the voyage every one was most polite
and attentive to me. There was a handsome young Guardsman who would have
been more, had he not been gentleman enough to know that I was a lady.
And, once at Cork, I met, the very moment of landing, with a kind old
friend, Father Luke, who took care of me hither. He only parted with
me at the gate, not wishing to interfere, as he said, with our first
greetings. But I don't see Herbert - where is he?"

"Poor Herbert has been dangerously ill, my dear," said the father, "I
scarcely think it safe for him to see you."

"No, no," interposed Sir Archy, feelingly. "If the sight of her can stir
the seared heart of an auld carle like mysel', it wad na be the surest
way to calm the frenzied blood of a youth."

Perhaps Sir Archy was not far wrong. Kate O'Donoghue was, indeed, a girl
of no common attraction. Her figure, rather below than above the middle
size, was yet so perfectly moulded, that for very symmetry and grace it
seemed as if such should have been the standard of womanly beauty, while
her countenance had a character of loveliness, even more striking
than beautiful; her eyes were large, full, and of a liquid blue that
resembled black; her hair, a rich brown, through which a golden tinge
was seen to run, almost the colour of an autumn sun-set, giving a
brilliancy to her complexion which, in its transparent beauty, needed no
such aid; but her mouth was the feature whose expression, more than any
other, possessed a peculiar charm. In speaking, the rounded lips moved
with a graceful undulation, more expressive than mere sound, while,
as she listened, the slightest tremble of the lip harmonizing with the
brilliant glance of her eyes, gave a character of rapid intelligence to
her face, well befitting the vivid temper of her nature. She looked her
very self - a noble-hearted, high-spirited girl, without a thought save
for what was honourable and lofty; one who accepted no compromise with
a doubtful line of policy, but eagerly grasped at the right, and stood
firmly by the consequence. Although educated within the walls of a
convent, she had mixed, her extreme youth considered, much in the
world of the city she lived in, and was thus as accomplished in all the
"usage," and conventional habits of society, as she was cultivated in
those gifts and graces which give it all its ornament. To a mere passing
observer there might seem somewhat of coquetry in her manner; but very
little observation would show, that such unerring gracefulness cannot be
the result of mere practice, and that, innate character had assumed that
garb which best suited it, and not one to be merely worn for a
season. Her accent, too, when she spoke English, had enough of foreign
intonation about it to lay the ground for a charge of affectation; but
he should have been a sturdy critic who could have persisted in the
accusation. The fear was rather, that one leaned to the very fault of
pronunciation as an excellence, so much of piquancy did it occasionally
lend to expressions, which, from other lips, had seemed tame and
common-place. To any one who has seen the graceful coquetry of French
manner engrafted on the more meaning eloquence of Irish beauty, my
effort at a portrait will appear a very meagre and barren outline; and
I feel how poorly I have endeavoured to convey any idea of one, whose
Spanish origin had left a legacy of gracefulness and elegance, to be
warmed into life by the fervid character of the Celt, and tempered again
by the consummate attraction of French manner.

The ease and kindliness of spirit with which she sat between the two old
men, listening in turn to each, or answering with graceful alacrity the
questions they proffered - the playful delicacy with which she evaded the
allusions they made from time to time to the disappointment the ruined
house must have occasioned her - and the laughing gaiety with which
she spoke of the new life about to open before her, were actually
contagious. They already forgot the fears her anticipated coming had
inspired; and gazed on her with the warm affection that should wait on a
welcome. Oh! what a gift is beauty, and how powerful its influence, when
strengthened by the rich eloquence of a spotless nature, beaming from
beneath long-lashed lids, when two men like these, seared and hardened
by the world's ills - broken on the wheel of fortune - should feel a glow
of long-forgotten gladness in their chilled hearts as they looked upon
her? None could have guessed, however, what an effort that seeming
light-heartedness cost her. Poor girl! Scarcely was she alone, and had
closed the door of her room behind her, when she fell upon the bed in
a torrent of tears, and sobbed as if her heart was breaking. All that
Father Luke had said as they came along - and the kind old man had
done his utmost to break the shock of the altered state of her uncle's
fortunes - was far from preparing her for the cold reality she witnessed.
It was not the ruined walls, the treeless mountain, the desolate and
dreary look of all around, that smote upon her heart; sad as these signs
were, her grief had a higher source: it was the sight of that old man
she called father, tottering feebly to the grave, surrounded by images
of poverty and misfortune. It was the aspect of Mark, the cousin,
she had pictured to her mind as an accomplished gentleman in look and
demeanour; the descendant of a house more than noble - the heir of a vast
property; and now she saw him, scarce in gesture and manner above the
peasant - in dress, as slovenly and uncared for. She was prepared for a
life of monotonous retirement and isolation. She was ready to face the
long winter of dreary solitude - but not in such company as this. That
she never calculated on. Her worst anticipations had never conjured up
more than an unchequered existence, with little to vary or relieve it;
and now, she foresaw a life to be passed amid the miserable straits and
shifts of poverty, with all its petty incidents and lowering accidents,
to lessen her esteem for those she wished to look up to and love. And
this was Carrig-na-curra, the proud castle she had so often boasted of
to her school companions, the baronial seat she had loved to exalt
above the antique chateaux of France and Flanders; and these the haughty
relatives, whose pride she mentioned as disdaining the alliance of the
Saxon, and spurning all admixture of blood with a race less noble than
their own. The very chamber she sat in, how did it contradict her own
animated descriptions of its once comforts and luxuries! Alas! it seemed
to be like duplicity and falsehood, that she had so spoken of these
things. More than once she asked herself - "Were they always thus?"
Poor child! she knew not that poverty can bring sickness, and sorrow
and premature old age. It can devastate the fields, and desolate the
affections, and make cold both heart and home together!

If want stopped short at privation, men need not to tremble at its
approach. It is in the debasing and degrading influence of poverty its
real terror lies. It is in the plastic facility with which the poor man
shifts to meet the coming evil, that the high principle of rectitude is
sacrificed, and the unflinching course of honour deviated from. When the
proud three decker, in all the majesty of her might, may sail along
her course unaltered, the humble craft, in the same sea, must tack,
and beat, and watch for every casualty of the gale to gain her port in
safety. These are the trials of the poor, but proud man. It is not the
want of liveried lacqueys, of plate, of equipage, and all the glittering
emblems of wealth, that smite his heart, and break his spirit. It is the
petty subterfuge he is reduced to, that galls him - it is the sense of
struggle between his circumstances and his conscience - between what he
does, and what he feels.

It is true, Kate knew not these things, but yet she had before her the
results of them too palpably to be mistaken. Sir Archibald was the
only one on whom reverse of fortune had not brought carelessness and
coarseness of manner. He seemed, both in dress and demeanour, little
changed from what she remembered him years before; nor had time,
apparently, fallen on him with heavier impress in other respects. What
was Herbert like? was the question ever rising to her mind, but with
little hope that the answer would prove satisfactory.



Online LibraryCharles James LeverThe O'Donoghue: Tale of Ireland Fifty Years Ago → online text (page 14 of 41)