Justin H. (Justin Huntly) McCarthy.

The fair Irish maid online

. (page 15 of 20)
Online LibraryJustin H. (Justin Huntly) McCarthyThe fair Irish maid → online text (page 15 of 20)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

that Dennis faltered in the least in his allegiance to
Grania. But, to be truthful, he was a little abashed


by the appearance of this unfamiliar Grania, this
Grania of silks and ribbons, this Grania glittering
with jewels, whom he had last seen as a barelegged
girl on a Kerry hillside. He resented the fact that
he should feel such abashment, and the resentment
throve under the benignity of Bacchus. Grania
habited like a great lady, carrying herself like a
great lady, swaying easily the destinies of a great
house, was a Grania that mystified him.

To him in this temper the genial familiarity of
Lady Doubble was amazingly refreshing and in-
spiriting. He had never met, rather should it be
said that he had never guessed, at the existence of
a woman like Lady Doubble before. In his Dublin
days he had been too seriously inclined to seek the
society of the venal fair, and though during the
days of his degradation in London he had plied his
fiddle in places where low women danced foul
dances and sang foul songs, he thought of them
as low women to whom vile thoughts and vile
words came as part of their wretched inheritance,
and whom, while he loathed, he pitied. But the
blithe, undisguised salacity of the fine lady, the
briskness with which she skipped from innuendo
to a staggering frankness, the patent admiration
with which she favored him and the nakedness of
its nature, if it disturbed him at first, did not over-
awe him and ended by alluring. The wine and her
smiles allying, Dennis fell readily under Lady
Doubble' s flagrant spell, and found himself facing


her boldness with boldness and bandying freedom
with alacrity. It was not a pleasant game, but it
had its fascination for a raw youth, to whom it was
wholly unfamiliar, and he slipped swiftly deeper
and deeper into its snare. He was yearning to play
the game again as he reeled up the staircase, and
he knew that the woman would be waiting for him
and willing to renew, and it was with surprise and
even disappointment that his intentions were stayed
by Grania with her news of the presence of Mr.
Heritage and of Mr. Heritage's desire to speak
with him.

The surprise had the advantage of shocking him
into a more sober mood. His muddled mind
clarified a little; his titubating reason regained its
equilibrium: mentally and physically he stiffened
himself upon unsteady legs. Murmuring some
words expressive of his gratification, Dennis suffered
Grania to lead him to where Mr. Heritage was
seated. Fortunately the distance was not far, and
Dennis, desperately determined to recapture his
self-control, accomplished the journey without
disaster. Mr. Heritage rose as the pair approached,
and after Grania had presented Dennis he ex-
tended a cordial hand to the poet.

"Sir," he said, expansively, "permit me to con-
gratulate you upon a very admirable piece of work."

Dennis blushed boyishly. The sweetness of such
praise from the great manager helped to strengthen
him in his struggle to recover self-control. "You


have read my play ?" he murmured, and halted,
stammering, uncertain what to say next.

Mr. Heritage saw that he was under the influence
of liquor so he expressed Dennis's condition to
himself but he was not surprised. "I have read
'The Buried City,'" he said, "and I cordially ap-
plaud it and you. I can assure you that it is sel-
dom indeed that we poor managers receive from
outside a work of such sterling quality. It recalls
the past, sir, believe me, it recalls our golden past."

Dennis, to use a familiar phrase, could scarcely
believe his ears. It was to him, Dennis Tirowen,
that Mr. Heritage was speaking. It was about him
and about his cherished work, "The Buried City,"
that Mr. Heritage was uttering such honeyed words.
He knew not what to say.

"I am indeed delighted," he faltered. "I do not
know how to express myself "

He paused, and Mr. Heritage took him up briskly.

"Your modesty," he protested, "is no less
creditable than your ability. True genius, my dear
sir, is ever so."

"True genius!" The words rung in Dennis's
brain, kindling delicious madness. He was alone
with Mr. Heritage now, for Grania had left the two
men together after the introduction and was occupy-
ing herself with finding amusement for her other
guests. Various friends were arriving to whom
Grania had sent polite notes that evening after
Mr. Fenny had taken his departure with Mr. Dennis


Tirowen under his wing. Those polite notes had
requested their recipients' call at Ashford House
after dinner if their engagements permitted and
drink a dish of tea or coffee with her and make the
acquaintance of a young fellow-countryman of hers
whose ability was likely to provide town with a new
sensation. An invitation of any kind to Ashford
House, as has been said, was scarcely less welcome
to the elect than a royal command, and when
coupled with the promise of a new sensation was
indeed irresistible. So the select few whom Grania
had chosen to summon as being most likely to serve
her turn in serving the interests of Dennis Tirowen
gladly came at her summons, and, as Mr. Redacre
dryly comments in his memoirs, they certainly got
their sensation. Mr. Redacre, it is to be gathered,
was one of those guests. He was one of those in-
dividuals of relatively obscure origin who occa-
sionally, for some mysterious reason, wield a great
influence in society and have an almost pontifical
power of awarding honors to newcomers.



GRANIA, thus occupied in stemming the tide
of her small stream of visitors and dispersing
it in different directions over the stately reception-
rooms of Ashford House, Dennis was left free to
snuff voluptuously the incense that Mr. Heritage
cunningly burned before him. The words "man
of genius" were still dinning exquisitely in Dennis's
captivated ears, and he shaped vainly inarticulate
phrases of grateful appreciation. But Mr. Heritage,
ever a business man, even with a poet in his cups,
slid from the altitude of compliment to the level
of affairs and talked practical and technical talk to
a bewildered, enraptured listener.

True to his agreement with Grania, Mr. Heritage,
while revealing no hint of the fact that he was a
subsidized agent, made Mr. Tirowen offers for the
privilege of producing "The Buried City" which
would have seemed surprising to any one less vain
and less inexperienced than Dennis. Mr. Heritage,
in acting thus, was quite in his element and quite
at his ease. It was always a joy to him whenever
it was possible to play the part of the munificent art


patron, and to play it under conditions where money
another's money was no object and where he
could promise extravagantly with the certainty that
another would fulfil his promises, sufficed to exalt
Mr. Heritage to the apex of the pyramid of pat-

Dennis listened with greedy ears while Mr.
Heritage rolled out the rotund sentences which,
as it were, placed the laurels on his head with one
hand and filled his pockets with the other. Mr.
Heritage's terms were as generous as his praises,
and poor, perturbed, flustered, flattered, wine-
bedraggled Dennis found it hard to decide which
of the two favors he found the most to his liking.
Avidly he swallowed the compliments, eagerly he
agreed to the golden terms, cheerfully he consented
to wait upon Mr. Heritage on the following day and
receive the ample sum that was to secure the bar-
gain. Mr. Tirowen, dizzy with joy, wrung Mr.
Heritage by the hand and looked rather wildly about
him, hot to let others know and applaud his good

While these eccentric negotiations were proceed-
ing with so much satisfaction to both parties in the
transaction for Mr. Heritage did admire "The
Buried City" very sincerely Grania was devoting
herself to the welfare of her guests. Some settled
themselves to card-tables, others drifted to the
music-room and listened to the string-band that
existed to discourse sweet music in Ashford House.


Others of an austere humor sipped tea or coffee,
and livelier spirits interested themselves in absorb-
ing great goblets of an amazing punch of which
Captain Curtius held the secret recipe.

In the course of her divagation she came across
Captain Curtius, and he stayed her with a smile.
He had been drinking far more than poor Dennis,
but he carried his bottles well. His color was good,
his insolent eyes were bright, his speech was sure
and his gait steady. He made a pleasant picture to
look at, a picture of handsome youthful manhood
and soldierhood. He made Grania a courtly bow.

"Your young countryman is a merry fellow," he
said. "I must congratulate myself upon making
his acquaintance."

He spoke very easily, as if he meant what he said,
and Grania believed him.

"I am glad you like him," she replied. "I
should wish you to be friends."

Captain Curtius smiled sweetly. "Any friend
of yours," he protested, "is a friend of mine." He
made a little pause, and then continued in the same
even voice. "He is a great friend of yours, is he
not ?"

There was nothing in the way the words were
spoken for Grania to dislike, but they sounded like
a challenge.

"Mr. Tirowen is a very great friend of mine,"
she answered, simply. Captain Curtius raised his
eyebrows ever so little.

18 261


"Upon my honor," he said, "the young gentle-
man is much to be congratulated." He suddenly
modulated his voice to a softer note as he asked,
"Is he as great a friend as I am ?"

Grania smiled enigmatically. "I have known
him longer," she answered. Captain Curtius looked
over his shoulder to where in the distance he could
see Dennis engaged in conversation with Mr. Heri-
tage. He would have said something, but at that
moment Mr. Rubie came up and addressed himself
to Grania. Good Mr. Rubie had been held in talk
since the ascent from dinner by Lady Doubble, who
had secured him to cover her vexation at the diver-
sion of Dennis. He had been trying to talk to her, or,
rather, she had been trying to talk to him, for while
she was clever enough to conceal her desire for the
society of Dennis, Mr. Rubie was not artful enough
to control his emotions. He was longing to talk to
Grania, and he was very grateful when the approach
of Mr. Redacre enabled him to surrender Lady
Doubble to his care and to start in pursuit of Grania.

Captain Curtius saw the eagerness on Mr. Rubie's
honest face, and he stepped aside with an amused
smile. It was not the disciple of Mr. Burke and
Mr. Fox of whom the gallant captain had any fear
that evening. He saw without alarm that Mr.
Rubie persuaded Grania to withdraw in his com-
pany to a little side room where they could speak
alone. Captain Curtius turned to a servant and
gave him certain instructions. Then he drifted


easily from one person to another, talking easy talk,
but always keeping his watchful eyes upon that
alcove where Mr. Rubie conversed with Grania.
He did not in the least care what Mr. Rubie said,
though he believed that he could guess its tenor well
enough. But he was waiting for the time when Mr.
Rubie should make an end of speaking and give
him his chance.

He did not have long to wait. As soon as Mr.
Rubie found himself alone with Grania he began to
say what he had resolved to say with the directness
of one that aspired one day to be a minister of the
crown. With true parliamentary instinct, he began
with a question, and so great is the force of habit
that in spite of the purpose he had in view he came
within an ace of addressing Grania as his right
honorable friend. Luckily he checked this impulse
in time.

"Miss O'Hara," he began, "have I your per-
mission to speak quite frankly ?" Grania stared at
him for a moment, taken by surprise.

When Mr. Rubie had drawn her apart she was
too much occupied by her own happy thoughts to
do other than accede indifferently to his wish. Now,
listening to him, she suddenly guessed what was
coming and struggled to look demure. Familiarity
with such scenes had led her to regard them as
matter for mirth, but she knew Mr. Rubie's serious
disposition, and she liked him, and wished him



"Of course," she said, "you can speak frankly
if you really feel a need to be frank to-night."

"I do feel that need," Mr. Rubie responded,
"and I feel it to-night. You cannot be unaware,
Miss O'Hara, that I entertain a very profound ad-
miration for you an admiration which I feel it is
scarcely necessary to add is entirely unalloyed by
any consideration of the fortune it has pleased
Heaven to place in your hands. I am, as you may
possibly know, myself a man of considerable wealth."

Grania did know so much, and she inclined her
head to signify her knowledge. She did not speak,
for Mr. Rubie had not said yet what he must say.
Now he said it. His manner was formal, his
language precise, but Grania could detect a little
tremor in the habitually steady voice, and felt both
grieved and grateful.

"Miss O'Hara, I have the honor to ask you to be
my wife." Mr. Rubie was looking very steadfastly
and strangely at her as he spoke, and for the first
time since Grania had found wooers she felt in-
clined to cry. She shook her head; for a moment
she could not speak; then with an effort she found

" I thank you, Mr. Rubie, but I cannot do what
you wish. It is impossible, quite impossible."

Mr. Rubie seemed to recognize and accept the

finality in her voice. He was never the man to

argue with fate or to take defeat bitterly. He was

paler than his wont, but his manner was dignified



and composed as he bowed his acknowledgment of
Crania's speech.

"May I ask you," he said," if the presence in Lon-
don of the young gentleman whom I met once before
in your company in Ireland has any influence upon
your decision ?"

Grania colored a little at the question, but she
answered it quite honestly. "Yes," she said and
said no more. Mr. Rubie rose, made her a profound
bow, and quitted the room in silence.



MR. RUBIE, outwardly calm, inwardly volcanic,
had not quitted the little room above a minute,
and Grania had not had nearly time to recover her
breath after the only one of the many declarations
that had caused her the least pleasure or the least
pain, when Captain Curtius poked his handsome
face through the open doorway. As Grania, con-
scious of his presence, looked up, the Captain's
suave voice solicited a permission to enter, which
the Captain's insouciance immediately took for
granted. Crossing the floor, Curtius seated himself
by Crania's side on the very seat which Mr. Rubie
had just vacated, and smiled with an expression of
intelligent good-fellowship at the girl. Once again
that evening, on regarding him, she was compelled
to recognize how well he looked, how gallantly he
carried himself, how dexterously he mingled defer-
ence with impertinence in his manner of valiant
homage. He certainly made an amazing contrast
to Mr. Rubie. Mr. Rubie was a dozen times, a
hundred times, the better man, but very certainly
Captain Curtius was the better company. Which


of the pair would make the better husband was a
problem Grania did not feel herself called upon to

Mr. Loveless was in the thick of his theme in an
instant. "I will not," he said, "make a wager with
you to the tune of a thousand pounds, for I could not
afford to pay if I lost and it would be no more than
a flea-bite to you if I won, but I will bet you a dozen
of Hungary Water against the glove that you are
now wearing on your heart-hand that I know the
pith and marrow of what our excellent party-man
has just been saying to you."

Grania could not choose but smile at the gaiety
with which Mr. Captain Curtius aired his mind. " I
protest I will not take you," she answered, looking
as she spoke at her left hand, and thinking for a
moment of its soft casing being worn next to Captain
Curtius's heart and carried into action maybe if
ever war should break out again, which seemed un-
likely in that hour of universal peace. "I know well
enough what Mr. Rubie and I were talking about,
and I know that Mr. Rubie's views of the political
situation are as sound as sound, but I have no desire
to hear them over again from your lips I do not
care for politics."

Captain Curtius nodded sagaciously. "Politics
be damned," he said, sententiously. "But you
know, and I know, and you know that I know, that
there was never a word of politics in old Rubie's
talk to-night. The old Whig asked you to marry


him and you gave him his congee. Am I not
right ?"

"The matter," said Grania, gravely, "is not one
that I propose to discuss with you or with anyone."
She did not speak angrily, for she really could not
feel angry with Curtius Loveless as he sat there
looking so debonair and amiable.

Captain Loveless only laughed. "Why should
we discuss it," he asked, gaily, "when we have
other things, and much more important things, to
discuss ? You will not marry Mr. Rubie, that goes
without saying. The much more important ques-
tion is, will you marry me ?"

He neither raised nor lowered his voice as he
spoke; he did not alter in the smallest particular
his manner of gay and easy self-possession, yet he
managed to convey through all his gaiety and all
his ease a suggestion of quiet earnestness and of
restrained passion which was calculated to disturb
and which succeeded in disturbing his hearer.
Grania made as if to speak, but Captain Curtius
lifted a hand as if to entreat her patience, and
Grania accepted the suggestion, and was silent.
She had taken Captain Curtius so much for granted;
she had so readily made him her friend ; he had been
so insidiously careful never to affect the lover, ever
to affect the comrade, that he had gained a certain
vantage ground in her mind, which made his pres-
ent attack the more effective, and might have made
it very effective indeed if there had never been a


certain poet and fiddler in Kerry. As it was,
Grania listened to what Captain Loveless had to
say, and she found a kind of pleasure in listening,
but she was so sure of her heart that she knew that
he wasted pains.

"It is very likely," Captain Loveless went on
calmly, as dispassionately, to outward seeming, as if
he were speaking of some one else, or for some one
else, "that you have heard a great deal to my dis-

As a matter of fact, a good many people had
spoken against Captain Curtius to Grania, chiefly
young gentlemen who resembled him in his vices,
or who desired to resemble him in his vices. But
as all that they could think of alleging to the Cap-
tain's discredit was that he drank too much, played
too much, and loved too much, and as none of these
things were necessarily other than what were known
in her surroundings as a good man's faults, they
had not succeeded in prejudicing Grania very much
against Mr. Curtius. In the society in which she
now moved these were the common frailties. Mr.
Rubie, indeed, was exempt from them; but then
Mr. Rubie was not exactly amusing. Mr. Curtius
might be guilty of many peccadilloes, but he was
certainly a brave soldier, certainly a comely animal,
certainly a diverting companion. Wherefore Grania
had not been turned from her sentiments of friend-
ship for Captain Loveless by any of his backbiters.
But Captain Curtius as a declared suitor was un-


doubtedly a very different matter from Captain
Loveless the familiar friend.

Captain Curtius, trying to read Crania's thoughts
on her countenance, and quite unable to do so, con-
tinued his little personal discourse. " I am perfectly
willing to admit," he said, cheerfully, "that I have
my defects. I dare say that I drink more than is
good for me, though I have never been able to find
aught amiss with me after the wettest night that
ever I spent. I dare say I play a bit deeper than I
should, but I assure you that I generally balance
up to the good at the end of the year." He stopped
speaking for a second, and looked at Grania with a
look half knowing and half appealing of a well-
calculated frankness. "I have no doubt that you
have heard that I am a bit of a lady's man. Well,
it's perfectly true. I am. I've always liked women
ever since I can remember anything worth remem-
bering, and ever since I can remember women have
liked me. Upon my honor, I believe that is all
that can be said against me. As to what can be
said for me, why, I think I must throw myself upon
your mercy, for if I have any good qualities I should
be the last man to brag about them. But there is
one merit to which I must confess, one virtue of
which I am amazingly proud, the redeeming merit,
the exhonorating virtue of loving you."

Grania listening to him and feeling as if she
were listening to a voice in a dream, was compelled
to admit that Captain Curtius had a certain felicity


in love-making. Almost she could have wished
that another and dearer had something of this
soldier's complaisant grace. Grania knew that
she ought to listen no longer, that she should not
have listened so long, but she was intoxicated by
the events of that astonishing day, and she absolved
herself from any folly with that plea. Captain
Curtius continued his harangue.

"Of course there is this enormous fortune of
yours. I should have spoken before, long ago, if
only you had not been so damnably rich. Please
do not think for a moment that I do not like money,
for I do; I like it enormously. But I don't want to
marry any woman for her money, and, most of all, I
don't want to marry you for your money. I know
that I must seem a pauper compared with you, but
I've got enough for all my wants, thanks to a blessed
old aunt of mine, and need only seek to marry ac-
cording to the dictates of my heart. There, I have
talked too much about myself, yet I had to say so
much to set myself right in your eyes. I love you.
I do not think that I am altogether unworthy to
tell you so much. I am proud that I love you, that
long usage of the world has not so dulled my mind
or blunted my emotions as to make me insensible of
your worth or of your beauty. I shall always be
proud to have loved you. It is something for a
poor sinful fellow to have been granted so much

Captain Curtius was certainly a cunning pleader,


for Grania found herself listening with pleasure to
his appeal. Her senses seemed to be swayed by
some subtle influences that lulled her as the hand-
some young soldier paid his addresses with such en-
gaging frankness. She struggled against the strange
sensations that invaded her; she compelled herself
to speak.

"Captain Loveless," she said, "I ought not to
have listened to you for so long, and would not
indeed if I could have interrupted you with any
show of courtesy. I cannot but be grateful for the
compliment you have paid me" here Captain
Curtius made her a grave little bow that was effec-
tive in its quiet dignity "but I am not a free

If Captain Curtius was wounded or surprised
by Crania's words he showed neither hurt nor
wonder. Only he asked a question, following
unawares the example set him so short a time before
by Mr. Rubie.

" Is it Mr. Tirowen ?" he asked, and asked no

Grania nodded.

Mr. Loveless rose to his feet. "I am sorry," he
said, with a great air of frankness. "It would not
become me to utter a word of disparagement of any
one whom it had pleased you to favor, but upon
my honor and without vainglory, as between Mr.
Tirowen and myself, I believe myself to be the
better man. That is all I have to say," he went on,


for he saw that Grania was about to- speak. "Per-
haps I ought not to have said as much. Very cer-
tainly I shall not say as much again. May I have
the honor of escorting you to the drawing-room ?"
He offered her his arm with excellent grace.
There was nothing in his voice or bearing of the
disappointed man, of the baffled suitor. He was
quite at his ease, quite self-possessed, quite suf-
ficiently blithe. He played his part very well.
Grania, taking his arm in silence, reflected in a
whirl of confused thoughts that she had received
within the last few minutes the only offers of mar-

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 15 17 18 19 20

Online LibraryJustin H. (Justin Huntly) McCarthyThe fair Irish maid → online text (page 15 of 20)