Justin H. (Justin Huntly) McCarthy.

The fair Irish maid online

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to the meanest observer could not possibly be said
to err on the side of lightness. The floor was cov-
ered with the thickest of thick carpets, a rich velvet
pile of a vivid ruby color which would make an
imaginative person fancy that he was walking on
a crimson moss. This carpet deadened all foot-
falls and insured to Mr. Heritage that soothing
sense of quiet so agreeable to the nerves of a man
who feels that he has little less than imperial cares
upon his shoulders. When he, paced, as he often
did pace in moments of grave reflection, up and
down the extent of his room he found that the rich
resilience of that texture had a soothing effect
both mental and physical which served to transport
him, like the flying carpet in the fairy tale, into
undreamed-of realms of thought.

Above, a flamboyant painted ceiling represented
the muses and the graces, all amiably disarrayed,
doing homage to a stout, bald gentleman, awk-
wardly foreshortened, whose air of preoccupation
and whose attitude one hand pressing a reflective
finger to a spacious brow and one hand poising a
quill over the pages of an open book left no doubt
on the mind of any intelligent spectator that he
was intended for a representation of Mr. William
Shakespeare, of Stratford-on-Avon. Paintings of
famous players of the day stared from the splendor
20 293


of heavy gold frames with expressions of unbridled
ferocity or unquenchable scorn upon the man who
had helped to make them famous. Marble busts
on marble pedestals were ranged about the room,
being stony witness to Mr. Heritage's familiarity
with the masters of the past. The great Grecians
were there and the great Romans and the great
Frenchmen. Mr. Heritage could fix his gaze as he
pleased upon the countenance of Sophocles or the
countenance of Seneca or the countenance of
Racine. The stranger in those classic shades on
finding himself confronted with the portentous
portraits might have feared for a moment that he
had made his way by mistake into the Royal
Academy, and on discovering the busts to have
imagined himself dreaming a bad dream amid the
Townley marbles. But the pictures and busts
pleased Mr. Heritage, and so long as a thing pleased
him he cared precious little for other people's
opinion of it.

A curious characteristic of the room was that it
was furnished with what seemed to be a dispropor-
tionate number of doors. There were, in the first
place, the two double doors facing the windows.
The huge, heavy mahogany portals, with their
heavily gilded ornamentation, communicated with
a small private foyer in connection with the royal
box. A door in the wall to the right of this opened
on to a small staircase which led to the front of the
house. A similar door in the opposite wall served as


a means of communication with the stage-door.
But there was yet another door in the room, though
this was one that seemed to exist in order to supply
an answer to the time-honored question, when is a
door not a door. It did not look like a door, be-
cause it looked like a massively framed, life-sized
portrait in oils of Monsieur Talma, the eminent
French actor, in one of his favorite classical roles.
But it was a door, nevertheless, and it would be
opened by the pressing of a spring in quite the
approved melodramatic fashion. When it was thus
opened it revealed a small passage with a door at
the end, and this door also opened by the pressing
of a spring. If you pressed this spring the door
opened and you found yourself to your surprise
if you had never been that way before in a room
in a house directly adjoining the theater in the
street where the stage-door was. The secret door
of this room seemed, like the one in Mr. Heritage's
room, to be no more than a massive picture, though
this time its subject was a portrait of Mademoiselle
Mars. The house that could be thus mysteriously
entered was occupied by an old housekeeper of Mr.
Heritage's. The device of the picture and the
secret passage was his, and he had found it very use-
ful many times and in many ways. Mr. Heritage
was so histrionic in his spirit that he never employed
this means of disappearing from or entering into
his private room at the theater without experiencing
such a thrill as an emotional audience may be ex-


pected to feel when the employment of a secret panel
allows the heroine to escape or delivers the villain
to unexpected judgment. Very few people knew
of that secret door, only people who were privileged
to be very deep indeed in Mr. Heritage's confidence.



IN a corner of Mr. Heritage's room there stood
a great mahogany table, so placed as to gain the
greatest advantage of light from the windows when
it was daytime. This was the table at which Mr.
Heritage was wont to sit when he was engaged
about his correspondence or the study of some newly
submitted play. It was a spacious table, and Mr.
Heritage liked spacious things and to be at his ease
in his furniture. At the particular moment of a
particular evening some certain number of days
after the events which have just been narrated Mr.
Heritage was not in his room. The room was
brightly illuminated by many candelabra; the cur-
tains of crimson velvet were snugly drawn; a sea-
coal fire glowed comfortably upon the hearth; there
was a generous display of decanters and glasses
upon a sideboard; everything about the disposition
of the room suggested that it was swept and gar-
nished for its master's delectation. But Mr. Heri-
tage was not there. The magnificent frame lacked
its essential canvas.

Nevertheless the room was not unoccupied. At


Mr. Heritage's table, though not indeed in Mr.
Heritage's own august chair, there sat a middle-
aged man, whose commonplace clothes seemed to be
most aptly devised to match his commonplace body
and his commonplace face. Yet for all his apparent
insignificance the individual was by no means either
an insignificant or an unimportant factor in the
social economy of his hour. For the mean-looking
little man, whose countenance rivaled in intelligence
the expression of the average rabbit, was none other
than the notorious Mr. Bowley, of The Scourge, the
ferocious censor of contemporary manners and
morals, who could always be relied upon to bludgeon
unmercifully wherever he had failed to blackmail.
His business was, metaphorically, the letting of
blood, and whether he accomplished his purpose by
the slash of the assassin or the suction of the leech,
at least he was determined to accomplish it.

It was not, indeed, quite all one to him how he
accomplished it. He dearly loved to slander in
print, to trip the heels of flighty women, to pillory
dubious reputations, and to hint filthy innuendoes
about reputations yet unshamed. He loved to
malign, to slander, to menace, to snarl, to snap;
there was no currish trick, no mongrel indecency,
which it did not delight him to practise. But if
he loved to void his spleen in the vomitorium of his
ruffian journal, he also dearly loved to be persuaded,
by the copious eloquence of gold, from publishing
some richly garnished libel that had been carefully


prepared to tickle the appetites of the ghouls for
whom he cooked his mess of garbage. Of course
what he liked best of all was to concoct some ob-
scene lampoon, bring it judiciously under the notice
of his victim or his victim's kin, receive for the
price of his silence the utmost blood money that he
could screw from their fears, and then insidiously
spread the poison of his invective through the
channel of some other journal as foul-smelling as his
own, and so sting the fools he had already swindled.

This double delight had its risks and had to be
enjoyed infrequently and with a judicious care;
but the single delight of being a cruel bully, a
cunning liar, a listener at keyholes, a suborner of
servants, this could be tasted and was tasted by
Mr. Bowley on every day of the year. It kept him
alive, it served him with that reason for existing
which other minds find in ambition, in duty, in the
honorable desire to see the day's good work well
done and the way paved for the good work of
to-morrow. Mr. Bowley thoroughly liked his work.

Unlike the pig who roots for tubers that he may
not taste, Mr. Bowley' s nasal excavations in the
rank earth of scandal afforded him a physical
gratification and a pecuniary advantage, for Provi-
dence, that in its wisdom permitted Mr. Bowley
to publish and print The Scourge, also permitted a
considerable number of the public that were sealed
of the tribe of Mr. Bowley to eat the dirt he offered
them and to take pleasure in its taste.


Mr. Bowley at the moment when we make his
acquaintance was seated at one end of Mr. Heri-
tage's table, and very busy writing hard in a very
fat note-book with a very short pencil. What he
wrote appeared to afford him entertainment, for
his normally unattractive features were quickened
into a quite remarkable repulsiveness by the con-
tortion of a malignant grin. He was so taken up
with writing and with grinning at what he had
written that it is probable that he would not have
heard the opening of the great double doors behind
him which prefaced the entry of another man into
the room were it not for an attendant circumstance.
The man who had entered the room had entered
very quietly, making as little noise as possible in
his gingerly sundering of the great doors. It was
his way always thus to open doors gingerly, thus
to creep into rooms quietly. That was the plan to
take people unawares, to surprise them, perhaps,
at an awkward moment, to overhear priceless frag-
ments of conversation, to glean golden secrets.
On this occasion he had divided the mahogany
panels with his familiar, silent dexterity and had
glided through the aperture with his wonted quiet.
But in the moments, and they were very few mo-
ments, in which he had to keep the doors apart in
order to permit of his entrance he let in with himself
a body of sound that had the instant effect of
attracting the attention of Mr. Bowley. It was a
very peculiar volume of sound. It would have


suggested to those ignorant of its true nature that
Mr. Heritage amused himself by keeping a private
menagerie, and that the moment had just arrived
when the wild beasts were to be fed. The desert
bellowings of lions, the jungle-shaking growls of
tigers, the whining of wolves, the grumbling of bears,
the grunting of camels, and the trumpeting of ele-
phants seemed to unite in a common clamor com-
mixed with which could seemingly be discerned at
intervals the croakings of carrion-birds and the
screechings of an uncountable multitude of par-
rots and macaws.

Mr. Bowley, diverted from his note-book by the
amazing clamor looked up with no surprise on his
face, but with a distorted and hideously displeasing
grimace,which he intended to be a welcoming smile,
for he expected that the new-comer must be Mr.
Heritage. The smile faded for a moment as he
saw that the new-comer was not Mr. Heritage and
recognized who the new-comer actually was. It
then reappeared as a somewhat perfunctory grin.
The new-comer did not appear to be any more de-
lighted to receive this sign of recognition than Mr.
Bowley did to accord it, but he returned it by a curt
nod as he crossed the room, and, taking a seat at the
opposite end of the table to Mr. Bowley, produced
his note-book and his pencil and prepared to write.

So, shall we say, might two gladiators approach
each other in the anteroom of arenas, warily saluting
each other, who would soon be seeking as warily to


destroy each other. So might two augurs of some
brand-new creed favor each other with that realizing
scowl which admitted that they had at least this
much of sympathy between them, that they belonged
to the fellowship of the gullers and not to the com-
pany of the gullible and the gulled.

The new-comer was a taller, leaner man than
Mr. Bowley, with a face more markedly sinister,
and, in so far as it was markedly anything, by so
much less repulsive than Mr. Bowley's. He wore a
rusty black suit that afforded glimpses of rusty
linen, and his angular jaws and lank cheeks were
rusty from at least two days' lack of shaving. He
looked like many things. He might have been a
very low-class attorney long since stricken off the
rolls but earning a subterranean livelihood by
vending contraband advice. He might have been
an undertaker in a small way of business, con-
demned to reside in an especially salubrious suburb.
He might have been one of the queer hangers-on of
Bow Street, a very subordinate thief taker. Also
he might have been a very subordinate thief. As
a matter of fact, he was a colleague, a very dis-
tinguished colleague, and a rival, a very formidable
rival, of Mr. Bowley.

For the new-comer was none other than Mr.
Shadd, Mr. Abner Shadd, the eminent editor of that
eminent and creditable journal The Whistle. Pub-
lic opinion differed very markedly in its estimate
of the merits of Mr. Bowley and Mr. Shadd.


There were those who maintained that Mr. Bowley
was the greater blackguard and baser knave of the
pair, but those that held this view were the un-
fortunate individuals who happened, by the visita-
tion of God, to have some personal knowledge of
the editor of The Scourge. Others who championed
Mr. Shadd's claims to recognized pre-eminence in
blackguardism and knavery were those that were
privileged to boast some degree of intimacy with
the character of Mr. Shadd. Mr. Shadd did in
The Whistle what Mr. Bowley did in The Scourge.
He blew on his instrument for the same reason that
Mr. Bowley wielded his. His ostensible purpose,
like Mr. Bowley's, was to reform society; his real
purpose, running level with Mr. Bowley's real pur-
pose, was to fill his own pockets by pandering to
the meanest and filthiest instincts of the Yahoos
that exist like ticks in all civilization. Mr. Shadd
was, perhaps, a finer spirit than Mr. Bowley. At
least he thought that he was and said that he was;
he claimed to be more of the true satirist. Bowley,
he insisted, was no better than a cudgel-player,
while he, Shadd, pinked his men and his women,
especially his women, with a small sword. Such
were the pair, par nobile fratrum, that faced each
other across the length of Mr. Heritage's mahogany.



THEY are still going it, Mr. Shadd ?" Bowley in-
quired with a jerk of his stumpy pencil in the
direction of the door through which the editor of The
Whistle had just entered. He was alluding to those
mysterious noises which had, as it were, gushed
into the apartment with the opening of the portals,
but which with their closing had been lulled into
almost complete inaudibility. It is true that any
fine ear already aware of those distant and occult
thunderings might when the doors were closed still
detect a faint, a twittering susurration. But Mr.
Heritage's doors were so nicely calculated to shut
out all disturbance from his sacred chamber that
only a fine ear primed, if it may so be said, with
previous experience would be pricked.

Mr. Shadd smiled a malignant smile which might
in so far be said to light up his countenance as it
availed to accentuate the rusty, dusty shadows
about his chin and cheeks. "They are still going
it, Mr. Bowley/' he answered, with an unlovely
chuckle. Any stranger, hearing that chuckle must
have surmised that whatever caused it was some-


thing of a very unlovely nature indeed. Mr.
Bowley leaned back and rubbed his clumsy, vulgar
hands in malevolent satisfaction.

"It is amazing," he ejaculated, "simply amaz-
ing. This is the fifth night of it, and it is as lively
as ever."

Mr. Shadd leaned his meager body across the
table and prodded the air in the direction of Mr.
Bowley with a dirty finger barbed with a still dirtier

"It is livelier than ever, Mr. Bowley," he asserted
in emphatic correction. Mr. Bowley scratched his
head persistently with his stump of pencil.

" I had not the time to look in," he confessed. "I
was delayed in the city looking after that business
of Alderman Mulkin, and when I got here I came
straight to this room that Heritage has given us
the run of to get my notes in order."

Mr. Shadd made a contemptuous gesture, made
a contemptuous grimace. "The Mulkin business,"
he said, disdainfully; "there is nothing in the
Mulkin business. This is the only thing worth
troubling about in London just now, this, of course,
with its attendant trimmings. You make a mis-
take, if I may venture to say so, my dear Bowley,
in pursuing too many interests. If you have got a
good thing stick to it, say I, and this is the best
thing we have had for many a long day. Really,
we gentlemen of the press have much to be thank-
ful for. Just think that in a year like this, a devil


of a year, when everything seems settled for good
and all, Bonaparte snuffed out, America friendly,
everything as dull as ditch water, we have got the
Rotundo Theater to keep us going."

He rose after this somewhat lengthy address to his
colleague, and going to the sideboard, filled himself
out a glass of sherry. " May I ?" he questioned,
politely, with a glance at Mr. Bowley. Mr. Bowley
nodded, and rising in his turn, accepted a glass of
sherry from Mr. Shadd's extended fingers. It was
fortunate for Mr. Bowley that he was not a man of a
queasy stomach, or the sight of those fingers around
the stem of that wine-glass would have instantly
killed his appetite for liquor. Mr. Shadd held up
his glass and eyed its golden contents affectionately.
"Here's to 'The Buried City,'" he said, with a
wicked grin, and tossed off his drink with astonishing
briskness. Mr. Bowley repeated the toast and the
action, and suggested another glass. Mr. Shadd
complying, the two men faced each other with full
glasses. This time, according to all the rules of
decorous drinking, it was Mr. Bowley's turn to
propose a sentiment. Mr. Bowley rose to the oc-
casion. "Mr. Shadd, sir," he said, with a villainous
twist of the features, "I give you 'The Fair Irish

Both men, shrieking in eldrich laughter before

they emptied their glasses, continued to shriek after

they had done so and set them down, continued to

shriek even after they had returned to the table and



their note-books, as if that toast of "The Fair Irish
Maid" were the most mirth-provocative subject in
the world. And indeed it was to Mr. Bowley and to
Mr. Shadd. What they didn't know of the scandal,
or, at least, such was their published opinion,
was not worth knowing. They could tell and they
did tell every reader of The Whistle and The Scourge
the ignominious chapter in the hitherto triumphant
history of "The Fair Irish Maid," with all the essen-
tial preliminaries and all the more or less specu-
lative sequels. They knew all about Crania's enter-
tainment of a ragged fiddler from the snowy streets.
Here Mr. Bowley had reason to be grateful to John,
and Mr. Shadd had reason to be grateful to Thomas,
or vice versa. They knew all about the legend that
this same beggarly fiddler was an old flame of Miss
O'Hara's far away in savage Kerry in the days when
she hadn't a penny and lived on potatoes and went
about almost naked. They knew all about the be-
dizenment of the fiddler in the fine clothes of Mr.
Fenny. There were too many in that secret to keep
the matter long from the claws of the Bowleys and
the Shadds even if Grania had not told the faithful
Peregrine that there w r as no mystery about the
matter and no need for concealment.

They knew all about the banquet at Ashford
House, where the family portraits stared and sneered
at the jackdaw in its borrowed plumes. They knew
the names of all the guests. They knew of Lady
Doubble's desperate dead set at the sham gentleman


from Kerry. They knew of that same sham
gentleman's foolish and facile descent down the hill
of intoxication. They knew all about Dennis
Tirowen's drunken announcement to the assembled
company of Mr. Heritage's acceptance of his play.
They knew all about Crania's declaration of her
engagement to Dennis Tirowen, and Dennis Tirow-
en's brutal and stupid repudiation of her gracious-

There was nothing which happened at Ashford
House on that eventful evening which was hidden
from the malice of Mr. Bowley and Mr. Shadd. In-
deed, it would be difficult to hide anything that hap-
pened in Ashford House or any other great house at
any time from the malice of Mr. Bowley and Mr.
Shadd so long as the house supported a staff of
servants. The methods of Messrs. Bowley and
Shadd were subterranean, but they were elaborate
and satisfactory to Messrs. Bowley and Shadd.
The Whistle blew with such a Jericho-devastating
shriek, The Scourge fell with such ferocity and in-
flicted such lancinating weals, because the lips of
Mr. Shadd and the fingers of Mr. Bowley were in-
spired by the magnetic current of the servants'

Also the scavenger birds knew of the sequel, the
series of sequels, to the strange scene at Ashford
House which broke up the party, as Mr. Bowley
had happily quoted, in such "admired disorder."
They knew all about Lady Doubble's well-nigh


forcible abduction of the intoxicated poet, and they
knew all about the disastrous failure of that amaz-
ing rape, with its staggering slap metaphorically
in Lady Doubble's amorous face. Messrs. Shadd
and Bowley were both on intimate terms with Lady
Doubble's coachman, so, though what they knew
was surprising enough, it was not at all surprising
that they should know it.

They could picture easily enough Lady Doubble's
coach with its double load of passionate femininity
and inebriated masculinity staggering through the
darkness of the February night. They could imag-
ine, with much gloating, the blandishments of the
lady and the initial passiveness of the man. It was
fairly certain that there came a moment when the
advances of the dame had a wrong effect upon their
object, for it seemed that before the carriage had
nearly arrived at Lady Doubble's residence, to
which her ladyship had directed her coachman to
drive, a window was pulled down and a man's head
popping through the aperture bawled at the coach-
man to stop. The coachman incontinently stop-
ping, the carriage-door was opened, and Mr. Dennis
Tirowen, very flustered and angry and quarrelsome,
tumbled out into the slushy rawness of the night.
According to the information received, Mr. Tirowen
was still drunk, but not so drunk as he had been
when he was bundled into the carriage at Ashford
House. From the darkness of the carriage came
the voice of Lady Doubble pleading with her protege
21 309


to return to the fold the metaphor was Mr.
Bowley's but all her pleadings were in vain, for
the gentleman only grunted out some words of
surly refusal and went shambling and staggering
off into the darkness, a resolute devotee of conti-
nence and solitude. He made his way, it seems,
lighted by the kindly star that sometimes illumines
the footsteps of the drunk, to Mr. Penny's lodgings
in Jermyn Street. There he spent his uneasy night,
while Lady Doubble went her lonely way aban-
doned and infuriated. Of course spretce injuria
fornuz appeared in Mr. Shadd's malevolent com-

The information of Mr. Bowley, the information
of Mr. Shadd, did not end here. If they had noth-
ing more of moment to record for that particular
evening, the succeeding days were fruitful of inci-
dents. There was, to begin with, the duel between
Captain Curtius Loveless and Mr. Tirowen, which
was risible enough to divert the most cynical
of Londoners. Undoubtedly after the blow aimed
at Captain Curtius by Mr. Tirowen nothing but
the arbitrament of arms could be expected.
At the same time that blow was the consequence,
the direct consequence, of certain words addressed
by Captain Loveless to Mr. Tirowen which no
gentleman of spirit could be expected to hear without
felling or attempting to fell the speaker to the
earth. It might be a question for a court of
honor to decide which was the actual aggressor,


which the direct provoker, to the field. But there
could be no question as to the necessity for a meet-
ing unless the parties concerned were willing to
wipe the slate of contention clean by withdrawing

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Online LibraryJustin H. (Justin Huntly) McCarthyThe fair Irish maid → online text (page 17 of 20)