Charles James Lever.

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

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him feel his present position so painfully, and, as the future head of
the house, grieve over a state so unbecoming to its former fortunes.

"The poor fellow," said he, "is too high-spirited to be a guest to those
he cannot be a host. Noble boy! the old blood flows strongly in _your_
veins, at least."

How to combat this evil, now became his sole thought. He mused over
it by day - he dreamed of it by night. Hour by hour he endured the
harassing tortures of a poverty, whose struggles were all abortive, and
whose repulses came without ceasing. Each plan he thought of, was met by
obstacles innumerable; and when, worn out with unprofitable schemes,
he had resolved on abandoning the subject for ever, the sight of Mark's
wasted cheek and sunken eye rallied him again to an effort, which, each
time, he vowed should be the last.

The old, and often successful remedies to rally him from his low
spirits, his father possessed no longer - the indulgence of some caprice,
some momentary fancy for a horse or a hound - a boat or a fishing-rod.

He felt, besides, that his grief, whatever it was, lay too deep for such
surface measures as these, and he pondered long and anxiously over the
matter. Nor had he one to share his sorrow, or assist him with advice.
Sir Archibald he ever regarded as being prejudiced against Mark, and
invariably more disposed to exaggerate, than extenuate his faults. To
have opened his heart to him, would be to expose himself to some very
plausible, but, as he would deem them, very impracticable remarks,
on frugality and order - the necessity of submitting to altered
fortunes - and, if need be, of undertaking some humble but honest
occupation as a livelihood. These, and such like, had more than once
been obtruded upon him; but to seek and court them, to invite their
presence, was not to be thought of.

Kerry O'Leary was, then, the only one who remained; and they who know
the intimacy to which old servants, long conversant with the fortunes of
the family, and deemed faithful, because, from utter inutility, they
are attached to the house that shelters them, are admitted in Irish
households, will not be surprised at the choice of the confidant. He, I
say, was the O'Donoghue's last resource; and from him he still hoped to
gain some clue, at least, to the secret of this mystery. Scarcely had
the O'Donoghue retired to his room at night, when Kerry was summoned to
his presence, and after a few preliminaries, was asked if he knew where,
how, or with whom his young master latterly spent his time.

"Faix, and 'tis that same does be puzzling myself," said Kerry, to whom
the matter had already been one of considerable curiosity. "Sometimes I
think one thing, and then I think another - but it beats me entirely."

"What were your thoughts, then, Kerry?"

"'Twas Tuesday last I suspected Joe Lenahan's daughter - the fair-haired
girl, above at the three meadows; then, I took into my head, it might
be a badger he was after - for he was for ever going along by the bank
of the river; but, twice in the week, I was sure I had him - and faix, I
think, maybe I have."

"How is that, Kerry? Tell me at once, man!"

"It's a fine brown beast Lanty Lawler has - a strapping four-year-old, as
likely a weight-carrier as ever I seen - that's what he's after - sorra he
in it. I obsarved him, on Friday, taking him over the big fences beyant
the whin-field - and I measured his tracks - and, may I never die in sin,
if he didn't stride nineteen feet over the yallow ditch."

"Do you know what he's asking for him, Kerry?" cried the old man,
eagerly.

"His weight in goold, I heerd say; for the captain, up at 'the Lodge,'
will give him his own price for any beast will make a charger - and
three hundred guineas Lanty expects for the same horse. Ayeh! he's a
play-actor, is Lanty - and knows how to rub the gentlemen down with a
damp wisp."

"And you think that's it, Kerry?"

"I'll take the vestment it's not far off it. I never heerd Master Mark
give a cheer out of him going over a fence, that he hadn't a conceit
out of the beast under him. 'Whoop!' says he, throwing up his whip hand,
'this way.' 'Your heart's in him,' says I, 'and 'tis a murther he isn't
your own.'"

"You may leave me, Kerry," said the old man, sighing heavily, "'tis
getting near twelve o'clock."

"Good night, sir, and a safe rest to you."

"Wait a moment - stay a few minutes. Are they in the drawing-room still?"

"Yes, sir; I heerd Miss Kate singing as I came up the stairs."

"Well, Kerry, I want you to wait till she is leaving the room, and just
whisper to her - mind now, for your life, that nobody sees nor hears
you - just say that I wish to see her up here for a few seconds to-night.
Do you understand me?"

"Never fear, sir, I'll do it, and sorra one the wiser."

Kerry left the apartment as he spoke, nor was his master long doomed
to suspense, for immediately after a gentle tap at the door announced
Kate's presence there.

"Sit down there, my darling Kate," cried the O'Donoghue, placing a chair
beside his own, "and let me have five minutes' talk with you."

The young girl obeyed with a smile, and returned the pressure of her
uncle's hand with warmth.

"Kate, my child," said he - speaking with evident difficulty and
embarrassment, and fixing his eyes, not on her, but towards the fire,
as he spoke - "Kate you have come to a sad and cheerless home, with few
comforts, with no pleasure for one so young and so lovely as you are."

"My dear uncle, how can you speak thus to me? Can you separate me
in your heart from your other children? Mark and Herbert make no
complaint - do you think that I could do so?"

"They are very different from you, my sweet child. The moss rose will
not bear the storms of winter, that the wild thorn can brave without
danger. To you this dreary house must be a prison. I know it - I feel
it."

"Nay, nay, uncle. If you think thus, it must be my fault - some piece of
wilfulness of mine could alone have made you suppose me discontented;
but I am not so - far from it. I love dear old Sir Archy and my cousins
dearly; yes, and my uncle Miles too, though he seems anxious to get rid
of me."

The old man pressed her fingers to his lips, and turned away his head.

"Come, Kate," said he, after a brief pause, "it was with no intention of
that kind I spoke. We could none of us live without you now. My thoughts
had a very different object."

"And that was - - "

"Simply this" - and here he made a great effort, and spoke rapidly, as
if fearing to dwell on the words. "Law-suits and knavish attorneys have
wasted three-fourths of my estate: the remainder I scarcely know if I be
its master or not; on that portion, however, the old house stands, and
the few acres that survive the wreck. At this moment heavy proceedings
are pending in the courts, if successful in which, I shall be left in
possession of the home of my father, and not turned adrift upon the
world, a beggar. There - don't look so pale, child - the story is an
old one now, and has few terrors for us as long as it remains merely
anticipated evil. This is a sad tale for your ears. I know it," said he,
wiping away a tear that would come in spite of him.

Both were now silent. The old man paused, uncertain how he should
proceed further. Kate spoke not; for as yet she could neither see the
drift of the communication, or, if it were in any way addressed to her,
what part she was expected to take in the matter.

"Are you aware, my dear," resumed he, after a considerable delay, "that
your father was married to your mother when she was but sixteen?"

"I have often heard she was scarcely more than a child," said Kate,
timidly - for she had no recollection of having seen either of her
parents.

"A child in years, love, she was; but a woman in grace, good sense,
and accomplishments - in fact, so fortunate was my poor brother in his
choice, he ever regarded the youthfulness of his wife as one of the
reasons of that amiability of temper she possessed. Often have we talked
of this together, and nothing could convince him to the contrary, as if,
had the soil been unfruitful, the tares and the thistles had not been
as abundant a crop as the good fruit really was. He acted on his
conviction, however, Kate; for he determined, if ever he had a daughter,
she should be of age at sixteen - the period of life her mother was
married at. I endeavoured to dissuade him. I did my best to expose the
dangers and difficulties of such a plan. Perhaps, dearest, I should have
been less obstinate in argument, had I been prophetic enough to know
what my niece would be; but it was all in vain. The idea had become a
dominant one with him, and I was obliged to yield; and now, Kate, after
the long lapse of years - for the conversation I allude to took place a
great while ago - it is my lot to say, that my brother was right and
I was wrong - that he foresaw, with a truer spirit, the events of the
future than was permitted to me. You were of age two months since."

The young girl listened with eager curiosity to every word that fell
from her uncle's lips, and seemed disappointed when he ceased to speak.
To have gone thus far and no farther, did not satisfy her mind, and she
waited with impatience for him to continue.

"I see my child," said he gently, "you are not aware of the proceedings
of coming of age; you have not heard, perhaps, that as your guardian, I
hold in my hands the fortune your father bequeathed to you; it was his
portion as a younger son, for, poor fellow, he had the family failing,
and never could live within his income. Your ten thousand - he always
called it yours - he never encroached upon - and that sum, at least, is
secured to you."

Although Kate knew that her uncle was her guardian, and had heard that
some property would revert to her, what its amount was she had not the
most remote idea of, nor that her power over it should commence so soon.

"I see uncle - I understand all you say," said she, hurriedly; "I am of
age, and the owner of ten thousand pounds."

The tone of decision she employed, half terrified the O'Donoghue for
the prudence of his communication, and he almost hesitated to answer her
directly - "Yes, my child, it is a rent-charge - a - - "

"I care not for the name, sir; does it represent the value?"

"Unquestionably it does."

"Take it, then, dearest uncle," said she, flinging herself upon
his neck, "take it and use it, so that it may bring some comfort to
yourself, some ease of mind at least, and make your home a happier one.
What need to think of the boys - Mark and Herbert are not of the mould
that need fear failure, whatever path they follow; and, as for me, when
you grow weary of me, the Sacré Cour will gladly take me back; indeed,
they feel their work of conversion of me but very imperfectly executed,"
added she, smiling, "and the dear nuns would be well pleased to finish
their task."

"Kate, my child, my own darling," cried the old man, clasping her to his
heart, "this may not, this cannot be."

"It must, and it shall be, uncle," said she, resolutely. "If my dear
father's will be not a nullity, I have power over my fortune."

"But not to effect your ruin, Kate."

"No, sir, nor shall I. Will my dear uncle love me less for the
consciousness in my own heart, that I am doing right? Will he have a
smile the less for me, that I can return it with an affection warmer
from very happiness? I cannot believe this; nor can I think that you
would render your brother's daughter unworthy of her father. You would
not refuse _him_." Her lip trembled, and her eyes grew full, as she
uttered the last few words in a voice, every word of which went to the
old man's heart.

"There is but one way, Kate."

"What need of more, uncle; do we want a choice of roads, if we see a
straight path before us?"

"Yes, dearest - but it will be said I should not have suffered you to do
this - that in accepting a loan."

"A loan!" uttered she, reproachfully.

"As that, or nothing, can I ever touch a farthing of it," replied the
O'Donoghue. "No, no! Distress and hardship have been a weary load this
many a year; but all sense of honour is not yet obliterated in this poor
heart."

"Be it as you please, my dear, dear uncle," said the affectionate girl;
"only let it not cost you another painful thought, to rob me of so many
happy ones. There now, we must never speak of this any more;" and, so
saying, she kissed him twice, and rose from her chair. "We are going
to the 'Lodge' to-morrow, to spend the day; Herbert is so well that he
comes with us."

"And Mark - what of him, dearest?"

"Mark will be none of us, sir. We are either too gay, or too frivolous,
or too silly, or too something or other, for his solemn humour, and he
only frowns and stares at us; but all that will pass away soon; I shall
find out the key to his temper yet, and then, make him pay for all his
arrears of sulkiness."

"It is our changed condition, my love, that has made him thus," said the
father, anxious to excuse the young man's morose habits.

"The poorer courage his, then," replied the high-spirited girl, "I have
no patience for a man who acts but the looking-glass to fortune - frowns
when she frowns, and smiles when she smiles. No! Give me the temper that
can enjoy the sunshine, and brave the storm - take all the good the world
affords, and show a bold heart to resist the evil."

"My own brother, my poor dear Mark, spoke there," cried the old man, in
an ecstacy, as, springing up, he flung his arms about her; "and that's
your philosophy, sweet Kate?"

"Even so; the stout heart to the stae brae, as Sir Archy would call it,
and as he mutters every evening he has to climb the steep stair towards
his bed-room. And now, good night, dear uncle - good night."

With an affectionate greeting, the old man took his leave of her for the
night, and sat down, in a frame of mingled happiness and shame, to think
over what had passed.

The O'Donoghue was very far from feeling satisfied with himself for
what he had done. Had Kate been at all difficult of persuasion - had she
yielded to his arguments, or been convinced by any explanation of his
views, he would soon have reconciled himself to the act, as one in which
both parties concurred. Far from this - he saw that her only motive was
affection; that she would listen to nothing save the promptings of her
own warm heart; she would not let him even exculpate himself from the
charge of his own conscience; and, although acquitted by her, he felt
the guilt still upon him.

There was a time when he would not have stooped to such a course;
but then he was rich - rich in the world's wealth, and the honour such
affluence suggests; for, alas! humbling as the avowal may seem, the
noble traits so often admired in prosperity, are but the promptings of a
spirit revelling in its own enjoyment - open-handed and generous, because
these qualities are luxuries; free to give, because the giving involves
gratitude; and gratitude is the incense of weakness to power - of
poverty to wealth. How often are the warm affections, nurtured by
happy circumstances, mistaken for the evidence of right principles! How
frequently are the pleasurable impulses of the heart confounded with the
well-directed judgments of the mind? This man was less changed than he
knew of - the world of his circumstances was, indeed, different, but he
was little altered; the same selfishness that once made him munificent,
now made him mean; but, whether conferring or accepting favours, the
spirit was one.

Besides, how ingenious is the mind in suggesting plausible reasons for
its indulgences! - how naturally easy did it seem to borrow and repay!
The very words satisfied his scruples on that score; but if he were
indeed so contented with himself, why did he fear lest any one should
ever learn the circumstance? Why cower with shame before himself, to
think of his brother-in-law, or even Mark hearing of it? Were these
the signs of conscious rectitude, or were they the evidence of a spirit
seeking rest in casuistry and self-deception. In this conflict of
alternate approval and condemnation, he passed the greater part of the
night - sometimes, a struggling sense of honour, urging him to regret a
course so fraught with humiliations of every kind; and again, a thrill
of delight would run through his heart to think of all the pleasure he
could confer upon his favourite boy - the indulgences he could once more
shower upon him. He fancied the happiness of emancipation from pressing
difficulties, and how instinctively Mark's buoyant temper would take the
tone of their altered fortunes; and he, once again, become the gay and
reckless youth he loved to see him.

"He must have that brown horse Kerry speaks of," muttered he to himself.
"Sir Marmaduke shall not outbid us there, and we'll see which of the two
best becomes his saddle. I'll back my own boy against his scarlet-coated
fop, for a thousand. They've got some couples of dogs too, Kerry was
telling me, up the mountains - We must enquire about them; with eight or
ten couple, Mark could have good sport in the glen. Then there's those
bills of Callaghan's - but he'll not press hard when he sees we've money.
Cassidy must get his £800, and so he shall; and that scoundrel, Swaby,
will be sending in his bill of costs; but a couple of hundred pounds
ought to stop his mouth. Archy, too - by Jove, I forget how much I owe
him now; but he doesn't, I'll warrant him. Well, well - if it won't stop
the leak, it will, at least, give us time to work the pumps - ay, time,
time!" He asked for no more; he only sought to reach the haven himself,
and cared nothing what happened the craft, nor the crew, afterwards.

His next thought was how to effect all the legal arrangements in these
complicated matters, without the knowledge of Mark or Sir Archy; and on
this difficult point he spent till nigh morning deliberating. The only
mode he could think of was, by writing to Swaby himself, and making him
aware of the whole proceeding. That of course would be attended by its
own penalties, as Swaby would take care that his own costs were among
the first things to be liquidated; but yet it seemed the sole course
open to him, and with the resolve to do this on the morrow, he turned on
his pillow, and fell asleep.

The morning broke, with happiness to the uncle and the niece; but it was
a happiness of a very different order. To him, the relief of mind,
for the long harrassing cares of debt and difficulty, was a boon of
inestimable price - life and liberty at once to the imprisoned spirit of
his proud heart. To her, the higher and nobler sense of gratification,
which flows from having acted well, sent a thrill of ecstasy through her
bosom, such as only gentle and generous youth can ever feel. And thus,
while the O'Donoghue mused over, the enjoyments and pleasures his new
accession of wealth might place at his disposal, she revelled in the
delight of having ministered to the happiness of one she had always
regarded as a father, and even felt grateful to him for the emotions of
her own heart.

The O'Donoghue's first thought on awaking was to employ this large
sum to liquidate some of his most pressing debts, and to make such
arrangements as might enable them to live economically but comfortably,
paying off those creditors whose exorbitant interest was consuming all
the remnant of his income, and entering into contracts with others for
the gradual repayment of the loans. The more he reflected on these good
intentions, the less pleasure did they yield him. He had, for years
past, taught himself to regard a creditor as an implacable enemy. The
very idea of succumbing smacked of defeat. He had defied the law so
long, it looked like cowardice to surrender now; besides the very
complication of his affairs offered an excuse, which he was not slow
to catch at. How could he pay Cassidy in full, and only give Hickson a
part? Would not the mere rumour of his paying off his debts bring down
a host of demands that had almost shimbered themselves out of existence.
He had often heard that his grandfather "muddled away his fortune paying
small debts." It could not be supposed he would reject the traditions of
his own house - nor did he.

He judged wisely, if not well, that new habits of expenditure would
do more to silence the complaints of duns than the most accurately
calculated system of liquidation. That entertainments and equipages, a
stable full of horses, and a house crammed with guests, are a receipt
in full for solvency, which, however some may distrust, none are bold
enough to question openly.

If the plan had fewer excellencies, it, at least, suited him better; and
he certainly opened the campaign with vigour. No sooner had he decided
on his line of acting, than he despatched Kerry O'Leary to Cork with
a letter for Swaby, his attorney, requiring his immediate presence at
Carrig-na-curra, and adding, "that if he brought a couple of hundred
pounds over with him at the same time, he might include them with the
costs, and get a check for the whole together."

As the old man sealed his epistle, he chuckled over the thoughts of
Swaby's astonishment, and fancied the many guesses the crafty attorney
would frame to account for such unexpected prosperity. The little
remaining sorrow he felt for his share in the transaction gave way to
the vulgar pleasure of this surprize; for so is it, the conflict with
poverty can debase the mind, and make the very straits and stratagems of
want seem straits of cleverness and ability.

It was a day of pleasure almost to all. Sir Archy, dressed in a suit
which had not seen daylight for many a previous year, gave his arm
to Kate, and, accompanied by Herbert, set out to pass the day at "The
Lodge." Mark alone had no participation in the general joy; he stood,
with folded arms, at the window of the old tower, and gazed on the group
that moved along the road. Although he never thought of accompanying
them, there was a sense of desertion in his position of which he could
not divest himself. With the idea of the pleasure their visit would
afford them came the reflection that he was debarred from his share of
such enjoyment, and the galling feeling of inferiority sent the blood,
with a throbbing current, through his temples, and covered his face
with a deep flush. He retorted his own isolation against those he had so
strenuously avoided, and accused them of the very fault of which he was
himself guilty. "My uncle is more distant to me than ever," muttered he,
"and even Herbert, too; Herbert that used to look up to and rely on
me, even he shuns me." He did not utter his cousin's name, but a single
tear, that rolled heavily down his cheek, and seemed to make it tremble
as it passed, showed that another and a deeper spring of sorrow was
opened in his heart. With a sudden gesture of impatience he roused
himself from his musing, and hastily descending the stair, he crossed
the old court-yard, and, without any fixed resolve as to his course,
walked down the road; nor was it until after proceeding some distance,
that he perceived he was rapidly gaining on the little party on their
way to the Lodge; then he quitted the high road, and soon lost himself
in one of the mountain glens.

As for the others, it was indeed a day of unaccustomed pleasure, and
such as rarely presented itself in that solitary valley. All that
kindness and hospitality could suggest was done by the family at the
Lodge, to make their visit agreeable; and while Sir Marmaduke vied with
his son and daughter in courteous attentions to his guests, they, on
their part, displayed the happy consciousness of these civilities by
efforts to please not less successful.

Sir Archy - albeit the faculty had long lain in disuse - was possessed of
conversational powers of a high order, and could blend his observation
of passing events with the wisdom derived from reflection, and the
experience of long intercourse with the world; while, as if to relieve
the sombre colouring of his thoughts, Kate's lively sallies and
sparkling repartees lit up the picture, and gave it both brilliancy and
action. The conversation ranged freely over the topics which form the
staple of polite intercourse in the world of the cultivated and the
fashionable; and, although Sir Archy had long been removed from such
companionship, it was easy to perceive how naturally he could revert to
a class of subjects, with which he had once been familiar.

It was thus alternating remarks of the past, with allusions to the
present - mingling grave and gay, with that happy blending which springs
from the social intercourse of different ages - they sat, after dinner,



Online LibraryCharles James LeverThe O'Donoghue: Tale of Ireland Fifty Years Ago → online text (page 19 of 41)