Charles James Lever.

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

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While Kate O'Donoghue was thus pondering over the characters of those
with whom she was now to live, they, on the other hand, were exerting
themselves to the utmost to restore some semblance of its ancient
comfort to the long-neglected dwelling. A blazing fire of bog deal was
lighted in the old hall, whose mellow glare glanced along the dark oak
wainscot, and threw a rich glow along the corridor itself, to the very
door of the tower. In the great chamber, where they sat, many articles
of furniture, long disused and half forgotten, were now collected,
giving, even by their number, a look of increased comfort to the
roomy apartment. Nor were such articles of ornament as they possessed
forgotten. The few pictures which had escaped the wreck of damp and time
were placed upon the walls, and a small miniature of Kate, as a child - a
poor performance enough - was hung up over the chimney, as it were
to honour her, whose presence these humble preparations were made
to celebrate. Sir Archy, too, as eager in these arrangements as Mark
himself, had brought several books and illustrated volumes from his
chamber to scatter upon the tables; while, as if for a shrine for the
deity of the place, a little table of most elaborate marquetrie, and
a richly-carved chair beside the fire, designated the place Kate was to
occupy as her own, and to mark which, he had culled the very gems of his
collection.

It is scarcely possible to conceive, how completely even a few trifling
objects like these can change the "morale" of a chamber - how that,
which before seemed cumbrous, sad, and dispiriting, becomes at once
lightsome and pleasant-looking. But so it is: the things which speak of
human thought and feeling appeal to a very different sense from those
which merely minister to material comfort; and we accept the presence of
a single book, a print, or drawing, as an evidence that mental aliment
has not been forgotten.

If the changes here spoken of gave a very different air and seeming
to the old tower, Kate's own presence there completed the magic of the
transformation. Dressed in black silk, and wearing a profusion of lace
of the same colour - for her costume had been adapted to a very different
sphere - she took her place in the family circle, diffusing around her
a look of refinement and elegance, and making of that sombre chamber
a spacious "salon." Her guitar, her embroidery, her old-fashioned
writing-desk, inlaid with silver, caught the eye as it wandered about
the room, and told of womanly graces and accomplishments, so foreign to
the rude emblems of the chase and the field, henceforth to be banished
to the old entrance hall.

The O'Donoghue himself felt the influence of the young girl's presence,
and evidenced, in his altered dress and demeanour, the respect he
desired to show; while Mark took from his scanty wardrobe the only
garment he possessed above the rank of a shooting jacket, and entered
the room with a half-bashful, half-sullen air, as though angry and
ashamed with himself for even so much compliance with the world's
usages.

Although Kate was quick-sighted enough to see that these changes were
caused on her account, her native tact prevented her from showing
that knowledge, and made her receive their attentions with that happy
blending of courtesy and familiarity, so fascinating from a young and
pretty woman. The dinner - and it was a "chef-d'oeuvre" on the part
of Mrs. Branagan - passed off most pleasantly. The fear her coming had
excited now gave way to the delight her presence conferred. They felt
as if they had done her an injustice in their judgment, and hastened to
make every "amende" for their unfair opinion. Never, for years long, had
the O'Donoghue been so happy. The cold and cheerless chamber was once
more warmed into a home. The fire beside which he had so often brooded
in sadness, was now the pleasant hearth, surrounded by cheery faces.
Memories of the past, soothing through all their sorrow, flowed in upon
his mind, as he sat and gazed at her in tranquil ecstacy. Sir Archibald,
too, felt a return to his former self, in the tone of good breeding
her presence diffused, and evinced, by the attentive politeness of his
manner, how happy he was to recur once more to the observances which he
remembered with so much affection, associated, as they were, with the
brightest period of his life.

As for Mark, although less an actor than the others in the scene, the
effect upon him was not less striking. All his assumed apathy gave way
as he listened to her descriptions of foreign society, and the habits
of those she had lived amongst. The ringing melody of her voice,
the brilliant sparkle of her dark eyes, the graceful elegance of
gesture - the French woman's prerogative - threw over him their charm, a
fascination never experienced before; and although a dark dread would
now and then steal across his mind, How was a creature, beautiful and
gifted like this, to lead the life of dreariness and gloom their days
were passed in? - the tender feeling of affection she shewed his father,
the fondness with which she dwelt on every little incident of her
childhood - every little detail of the mountain scenery - showed a spirit
which well might harmonise with a home, even humble as theirs, and
pleasures as uncostly and as simple. "Oh! if she grow not weary of us!"
was the heart-uttered sentence each moment as he listened; and, in the
very anxiety of the doubt, the ecstacy of enjoyment was heightened. To
purchase this boon, there was nothing he would not dare. To think that
as he trod the glens, or followed the wild deer along some cragged and
broken mountain gorge, a home like this ever awaited him, was a picture
of happiness too bright and dazzling to look upon.

"Now, then, 'ma belle.'" said Sir Archibald, as he rose from his seat,
and, with an air of gallantry that might have done credit to Versailles
of old, threw the ribbon of her guitar over her neck - "now for your
promise - that little romance ye spoke of."

"Willingly, dear uncle," replied she, striking the chords as a kind of
prelude. "Shall I sing you one of our convent hymns? - or will you have
the romance?"

"It is no' fair to tempt-one in a choice," said M'Nab, slyly; "but sin'
ye say so, I must hear baith before I decide."

"Your own favourite, the first," said she, smiling, and began the little
chanson of the "Garde Ecossaise," the song of the exiled nobles in the
service of France, so dear to every Scotchman's heart.

While the melody described the gathering of the clans in the mountains,
to take leave of their departing kinsmen, the measured tramp of the
music, and the wild ringing of the pibroch, the old chieftain's face lit
up, and his eye glared with the fierce fire of native pride; but
when the moment of leave-taking arrived, and the heart-rending cry of
"Farewell!" broke from his deserted, the eye became glazed and filmy,
and with a hand tremulous from emotion, he stopped the singer.

"Na, na, Kate; I canna bear that, the noo. Ye ha'e smote the rock too
suddenly, lassie;" and the tears rolled heavily down his seared cheeks.

"You must let me finish uncle," said she, disengaging her hand; and at
the instant, sweeping the chord with a bold and vigorous finger, she
broke into a splendid and chivalrous description of the Scottish
valour in the service of France, every line swelling with their proud
achievements, as foremost they marched to battle. To this succeeded
the crash and turmoil of the fray, the ringing cheers of the plaided
warriors mingling with the war-cries of the Gaul, till, in a burst of
triumph and victory, the song concluded. Then, the old man sprang from
his chair, and threw his arms around her in a transport, as he cried -

"It's a mercifu' thing, lassie, ye did na' live fifty years ago: by my
saul, there's nae saying how many a brave fellow the like o' that had
laid low!"

"If that be one of the hymns you spoke of, Kate," said the O'Donoghue,
smiling, "I fancy Mark would have no objection to be a nun; but where is
he? - he has left the room."

"I hope there was nothing in my song he disliked?" asked she, timidly;
but before there was time for an answer the door opened, and Mark
appeared with Herbert in his arms.

"There!" said he, laying him gently on the sofa; "if cousin Kate
will only sing that once more, I'll answer for it, it will save you a
fortnight in your recovery."

Kate knelt down beside the sick boy, and kissed him tenderly; while he,
poor fellow, scarce daring to believe in the reality of all before him,
played with the long tangles of her silky hair, and gazed on her in
silence.

"We maun be cautious, Mark," whispered M'Nab, carefully; but Mark had no
ears nor eyes save for her who now sat beside his brother, and in a low
soft voice breathed her affectionate greetings to him.

In this way passed the first evening of her coming - a night whose
fascination dwelt deep in every heart, and made each dreamer blest.




CHAPTER XVIII. A HASTY PLEDGE

While these things were happening within the ruined castle of the
O'Donoghue, a guest, equally unexpected as theirs, had arrived at "the
Lodge." Frederick Travers, delayed in Bristol by contrary winds, had
come over in the same packet with Kate; but without being able either to
learn her name, or whither she was going. His unlooked for appearance
at "the Lodge," was a most welcome surprise both to Sir Marmaduke and
Sybella; and as he did not desire to avow the real object of his coming,
it was regarded by them as the most signal proof of affection. They well
knew how much London life engrossed him - how completely its peculiar
habits and haunts possessed attractions for him - and with what a
depreciating estimate he looked down on every part of the globe, save
that consecrated to the fashionable follies and amusements of his own
set.

He was not, in reality, insensible to other and better influences; his
affection for his father and sister was unbounded; he had a bold, manly
spirit, unalloyed with any thing mean or sordid; a generous, candid
nature, and straightforward earnestness of purpose, that often carried
him farther by impulse, than he was followed by his convictions. Still a
conventional cant, a tone of disparaging, half-contemptuous indifference
to every thing which characterized his associates, had already infected
him; and he felt ashamed to confess to those sentiments and opinions, to
possess and to act upon which should have been his dearest pride.

"Well, Fred," said Sybella, as they drew around the fire after dinner,
in that happy home circle so suggestive of enjoyment, "let us hear what
you thought of the scenery. Is not Glenflesk fine?"

"Matlock on a larger scale," said he coolly. "Less timber and more
rocks.."

"Matlock! dear friend. You might as well compare Keim-an-eigh with
Holborn - you are only jesting."

"Compare what? Repeat that droll name, I beg of you."

"Keim-an-eigh. It is a mountain pass quite close to us here."

"Admirably done! Why, Sybella dear, I shall not be surprised to see you
take to the red petticoat and bare-feet soon. You have indoctrinated
yourself wonderfully since your arrival."

"I like the people with all my heart, Fred," said she artlessly;
"and if I could imitate many of their traits of forbearance and
long-suffering patience by following their costume, I promise you I'd
don the scarlet."

"Ay, Fred," said Sir Marmaduke, with a sententious gravity, "they don't
know these Irish at all at our side of the water. They mistake
them totally. They only want teaching, a little example - a little
encouragement - that's all: and they are as docile and tractable as
possible. I'll show you to-morrow what improvements a few months have
effected. I'll bring you over a part of the estate, where there was not
a hovel fit for a dog, and you shall see what comfortable dwellings they
have. We hear nothing in England but the old songs about popery, and
superstition, and all that. Why, my dear Fred, these people don't care a
straw for the priest - they'd be any thing I asked them."

"Devilish high principled that, any way," said Fred, drily.

"I didn't exactly mean that; at least in the sense you take it. I was
about to say, that such is their confidence, such their gratitude to the
landlord, that - tha - - "

"That in short they'd become Turks, for an abatement in the rent. Well,
Sybella dear, is this one of the traits you are so anxious to imitate?"

"Why will you misunderstand, Fred?" said Sybella imploringly. "Cannot
you see that gratitude may lead an uninstructed people far beyond the
limits of reason - my father is so good to them."

"With all my heart - I have not the slightest objection in life; indeed
I'm not sure, if all the estate be like what I passed through this
afternoon, if _my_ generosity wouldn't go farther, and, instead of
reducing the rent, make them an honest present of the fee simple."

"Foolish boy!" said Sir Marmaduke, half angrily. "There are forty
thousand acres of reclaimable land - - "

"Which might bear crops, Anno Domini 3095."

"There are mines of inexhaustible wealth."

"And would cost such to work them, sir, no doubt. Come, come,
father - Hemsworth has passed a life among these people. He knows more
than we do, or ever shall.

"I tell you, sir," said Sir Marmaduke, nettled by such a sarcasm on his
powers of observation, "I know them perfectly - I can read them like a
book. They are a guileless, simple-minded, confiding people - you may
see every thought they have in their countenances. They only need the
commonest offices of kindness to attach them; and, as for political or
religious leanings, I have questioned them pretty closely, and, without
a single exception, have heard nothing but sentiments of loyalty and
attachment to the church."

"Well, I only hope you don't mean to prolong your stay here. I'm sure
you have done enough for any ordinary call of conscience, and, if
you have not, set about it in right earnest - convert the tens into
hundreds - make them all as comfortable as possible - and then, in
heaven's name, get back again to England. There is no earthly reason why
you should pass your time here; and as for Sybella - - "

"Don't include me, Fred, in your reasons for departure. I never was so
happy in my life."

"There, boy - there's an example for you; and if you need another, here
am I, ready to confess the same thing. I don't mean that there are not
little dampers and difficulties. There's that fool about the mill-wheel,
and that fellow that persists in dragging the river with a net;" and
so he muttered on for some minutes beneath his teeth, to the evident
enjoyment of Fred, whose quivering lip and laughing eye told how he
appreciated the conflicting evidence memory was eliciting.

Thus, for some time, the conversation continued, until Miss Travers
retired for the night. Then, Sir Marmaduke drew his chair closer to
his son's, and, in an earnest manner, related the whole circumstance
of Sybella's escape from the mountain torrent - dwelling with grateful
eloquence on the young O'Donoghue's heroism in coming to her rescue.
"The youth has narrowly escaped with his life. The doctor, who left this
but a few hours ago, said 'he never witnessed a more dangerous case than
the symptoms at one time presented.' He is well, however, now - the risk
is past - and I want your aid, Fred, to devise some suitable mode of
evincing our gratitude.'

"These O'Donoghues are your tenants - are they not?" asked the young man.

"Yes, they are tenants; but on that score we must not say much in their
favour. Wylie tells me that they have been at feud with Hems-worth for
years past - they neither pay rent, nor will they surrender possession.
The whole thing is a difficult matter to understand; first of all, there
is a mortgage - - "

"There, there, my dear father, don't puzzle my brain and your own with
a statement we'll never get to the end of. The point I want to learn is,
they are your tenants - - "

"Yes, at least for part of the land they occupy. There is a
dispute about another portion; but I believe Hemsworth has got the
Attorney-General's opinion, that their case cannot stand."

"Tush - never mind the Attorney-General. Give up the question at issue;
send him, or his father, or whoever it is, the receipt for the rent due,
and take care Hemsworth does not molest him in future."

"But you don't see, boy, what we are doing. We hope to obtain the whole
of the Ballyvourney property - that is part of our plan; the tenants
there are in a state of absolute misery and starvation."

"Then, in God's name, give them plenty to eat; it doesn't signify much,
I suppose, whose tenantry they are, when they're hungry."

The old gentleman was scarcely prepared for such an extended basis for
his philanthropy, and, for a moment or two, seemed quite dumbfounded
by his son's proposition, while Fred continued - "If I understand the
matter, it lies thus: you owe a debt of gratitude which you are desirous
to acquit - you don't care to pay highly."

"On the contrary, I am quite willing," interposed Sir Marmaduke; "but
let the price be one, which shall realize a benefit equivalent to its
amount. If I assure these people in the possession of their land,
what security have I, that they will not continue, as of old, the same
useless, wasteful, spendthrift set they ever were - presenting the worst
possible example to the other tenants, and marring the whole force of
the lesson I am endeavouring to inculcate?"

"That, I take it, is more _their_ affair than _yours_, after all,"
said Fred; "you are not to confer the boon, and allocate its advantages
afterwards - but come, what kind of people are they?"

"Oh! a species of half-gentry, half-farmer set, I believe - proud as they
are poor - deeming themselves, as O'Donoghues, at least our equals; but
living, as I believe, in every kind of privation."

"Very well; sit down there, and let me have a check on your banker for
five hundred pounds, and leave the affair to me."

"But you mistake, Fred, they are as haughty as Lucifer."

"Just leave it to me, sir: I fancy I know something of the world by this
time. It may require more money, but the result I will answer for."

Sir Marmaduke's confidence in his son's tact and worldly skill was one
of the articles of his faith, and he sat down at the table and wrote the
order on the bank at once. "Here Fred," said he; "I only beg of you to
remember, that the way to express the grateful sense I entertain of this
boy's conduct is not by wounding the susceptibilities of his feelings;
and if they be above the class of farmers, which I really cannot
ascertain, your steps must demand all your caution."

"I hope, sir," said Fred with some vanity in the tone, "that I have
never made you blush for my awkwardness, and I don't intend to do so
now. I promise for the success of my negociation; but I must not say a
word more of how I mean to obtain it."

Sir Marmaduke was very far from feeling satisfied with himself for
having even so far encouraged a plan, that his own blind confidence
in his son's cleverness had for a moment entrapped him into; he would
gladly have withdrawn his consent, but old experience taught him
that Fred was never completely convinced he was right, until he met
opposition to his opinion. So he parted with him for the night, hoping
that sleep might suggest a wiser counsel and a clearer head; and
that being left free to act, he might possibly feel a doubt as to the
correctness of his own judgment.

As for Fred, no sooner was he alone than he began to regret the pledge
his precipitancy had carried him into. What were the nature of the
advances he was to make - how to open the negociation, in a quarter the
habits and prejudices of which he was utterly ignorant of, he had not
the most vague conception; and, as he sought his chamber, he had half
persuaded himself to the conviction, that the safest, and the most
honest course, after all, would be to avow in the morning that he had
overstated his diplomatic abilities, and fairly abandon a task, to which
he saw himself inadequate. These were his last sleeping thoughts; for
his waking resolves, we must enter upon another chapter.




CHAPTER XIX. A DIPLOMATIST DEFEATED

If Frederick Travers went to sleep at night with very considerable
doubts, as to the practicability of his plans regarding the O'Donoghues,
his waking thoughts were very far from re-assuring him, and he heartily
wished he had never engaged in the enterprize. Now, however, his honour
was in a manner pledged; he had spoken so confidently of success, there
was nothing for it but to go forward, and endeavour, as as well he
might, to redeem his promise.

At the time we speak of, military men never for a moment divested
themselves of the emblems of their career; the uniform and the sword,
the plumed hat and the high boot, formed a costume not to be worn at
certain periods and laid aside at others, but was their daily dress,
varying merely in the degree of full or half dress, as the occasion
warranted. There was no affectation of the happy freedom of "Mufti" - no
pretended enjoyment of the incognito of a black coat and round hat; on
the contrary, the king's livery was borne with a pride which, erring
on the opposite side, suggested a degree of assumption and conscious
importance in the wearer, which more or less separated the soldier from
the civilian in bearing, and gradually originated a feeling of soreness
on the part of the more humbly clad citizen towards the more favoured
order.

A certain haughty, overbearing tone of manner, was then popular in the
army, and particularly in those regiments which boasted of an unalloyed
nobility among the officers. If they assumed an air of superiority to
the rest of the service, so much the more did they look down upon the
mere civilian, whom they considered as belonging to a very subordinate
class and order of mankind. To mark the sense of this difference of
condition in a hundred little ways, and by a hundred petty observances,
was part of a military education, and became a more unerring test of the
soldier in society, than even the cockade and the cross-belt. To suppose
that such a line of conduct should not have inspired those against whom
it was directed with a feeling of counter hatred, would be to disbelieve
in human nature. The civilian, indeed, reciprocated with dislike the
soldier's insolence, and, in their estrangement from each other, the
breach grew gradually wider - the dominant tyranny of the one, and the
base-born vulgarity of the other, being themes each loved to dilate upon
without ceasing.

Now, this consciousness of superiority, so far from relieving Frederick
Travers of any portion of the difficulty of his task, increased it
tenfold. He knew and felt he was stooping to a most unwarrantable piece
of condescension in seeking these people at all; and although he trusted
firmly that his aristocratic friends were very unlikely to hear of
proceedings in a quarter so remote and unvisited, yet how he should
answer to his own heart for such a course, was another and a far more
puzzling matter. He resolved, then, in the true spirit of his order, to
give his conduct all the parade of a most condescending act, to let them
see plainly, how immeasurably low he had voluntarily descended to meet
them; and to this end he attired himself in his full field uniform, and
with as scrupulous a care as though the occasion were a review before
his Majesty. His costume of scarlet coat, with blue velvet facings,
separating at the breast, so as to show a vest of white kerseymere,
trimmed with a gold border - his breeches of the same colour and
material, met at the knee by the high and polished boot, needed but the
addition of his cocked hat, fringed with an edging of ostrich feathers,
to set off a figure of singular elegance and symmetry. The young men of
the day were just beginning to dispense with hair powder, and Fred wore
his rich brown locks, long and floating, in the new mode - a fashion
which well became him, and served to soften down the somewhat haughty
carriage of his head. There was an air of freedom, an absence of
restraint, in the military costume of the period, which certainly
contributed to increase the advantages of a naturally good-looking man,
in the same way as the present stiff, Prussian mode of dress, will,
assuredly, conceal many defects in mould and form among less-favoured
individuals. The loosely-falling flaps of the waistcoat - the deep
hanging cuffs of the coat - the easy folds of the long skirt - gave a
character of courtliness to uniform which, to our eye, it at present is



Online LibraryCharles James LeverThe O'Donoghue: Tale of Ireland Fifty Years Ago → online text (page 15 of 41)