“So it’s a boycotted farm ye’s are craving to see!” exclaimed a shrill female voice, and there was a distinct note of defiance in the question. “An’ will ye tell me, what would we be doing with a boycotted farm in this peaceable neighbourhood?”
Here Katty Shea turned about, and faced her companion with a hard, inflexible eye.
The pair who lounged at their ease over a field gate that fine autumn afternoon were assuredly as oddly matched a couple as could be found within the Isle of Saints. Their very profiles, standing out in sharp relief against a hard blue sky, were so ludicrously different that their owners might reasonably have belonged to a separate period and race. Mrs. Shea’s aggressive “nez retrousse,” wide, excitable-looking nostrils, and loose, shapeless mouth, afforded a violent contrast to Mr. Money’s modelled nose and chin, his fine brow—broad and low—and the perfect outline of his head and throat; in short, he was a singularly handsome young man, whose classical features might have served as a model for Adonis; while those of his questioner would have made an admirable study for a good-humoured mediaeval gargoyle. Mrs. Shea was a squat, sturdily-built matron, wearing a scanty black skirt and a voluminous pilot coat; her bare feet were firmly planted on her native soil, and her large, leathery hands grasped the gate with an air of grim possession (although it was no more her property than the land on which she stood). A blue checked handkerchief—not recently from the wash—was carelessly knotted over her frizzy grey hair, and the bowl of a little clay pipe peeped slyly from her breast pocket; her cheeks were ruddy, and her small, keen eyes shone with a mixture of malice and intelligence. So much for Catherine Shea, widow, tenant of a cottage, and the grass of three cows. On the other hand, Denis Money was about six-and-twenty; he had a slight, well-knit figure, set off to the utmost advantage by an admirable tailor—indeed, his whole get-up, from the toe cap of his shooting boot to the tweed cap on his head, was studiously correct; and as he held a half-smoked cigarette between his fingers, and surveyed Mrs. Shea with an air of lazy amusement, the pair might have posed as the two extreme types of the masses and the classes.
Young Mr. Money was thoroughly “fin de siècle” in one respect, and deeply interested in any new sensation or novel aspect of humanity, and this battered old Irishwoman, with her pipe and her brogue, promised to afford him a rare experience. In the great drama of life, he had never as yet filled any role but that of a mere walking gentleman. To tell the truth, he greatly preferred the place of spectator, and, figuratively, to lounge at his ease in a stage box, while his friends, foes, acquaintances—or even strangers—played their little parts in tragedies, comedies, pieces of strong domestic interest, or slight drawing-room sketches.
Denis Lorraine Money (to give him his full name) had been duly educated at Eton and Oxford, where he had chiefly—nay, entirely—distinguished himself on the river or in the cricket field. If it was a lamentable truth that he gained no honours, he had made many friends—friends for life; these, nevertheless, although they deeply sympathized, did not share his intense surprise when idle Denis was “spun” for the army. Yes, the “result of all play and no work” rendered Denis for a time a bitterly disappointed, remorseful young man. Although debarred from the delights and excitements of “foreign service,” he was determined to see foreign countries, and roamed far afield, literally from China to Peru—adopting, like many another wealthy youth, the part of sportsman and sightseer in lieu of career or profession. He had twice sailed the inland sea of Japan, yet this was the first time this enterprising traveler had crossed St. George’s Channel. But then Japan is remote and fashionable, while the beauties of Ireland are, alas! only appreciated by her own children. Despite the fact that Denis Money had seen many gorgeous and sunny lands, he was now gazing with gravely admiring eyes upon the scene before him; for once his expectations were surpassed, though in the present instance they had not been exorbitant. It was a critical spectator, heir of a wealthy father, a society favourite and undeniable “parti” who rested his elbows on the top bar of the gate in close proximity to the formidable arms of old widow Shea.
“I was told that there was a boycotted farm at this side of the hill,” he observed in a clear pleasant voice (an excellent thing in a man), and I am anxious to see the most remarkable features of the country, as I am a stranger.”
“The Lord knows ye are a stranger!” acquiesced the other emphatically. “Gentlemen with such elegant clothes—and boots,” glancing at the latter enviously, “doesn’t belong to these parts.”
“Then I suppose I have had my walk for nothing, and I gave a little beggar a shilling to point out the way, and he has sold me!”
“Faix then it looks like it,” was the discouraging response. “Are ye from the Barracks in Ballybawl?”
“No, I am not. Do you live near this?”
“Troth an’ I do, and where else? There just acrost the road.”
The young man turned deliberately, and, leaning his back against the gate, gravely surveyed her residence—a stone and mud-thatched cabin, with two crooked windows, one at either side of the door. In front lay a pool of dark greenish water, in which a party of not too fastidious ducks were disporting themselves.
“Do you really live there?” he asked, after an expressive silence.
“Begorra I do! I came there a young married woman, and I’ve never stirred a toe out of that lone, desolate, island of a place this forty year. ’Tis there I reared five fine childer, ’tis there I lost my man. ’Tis there I’ll die, and likely soon, for I’m enjoying but poor health these times.”
“You look uncommonly fit,” was the unsympathetic rejoinder, “as hard as nails.”
“Glory! ’tis little ye know! I’ve not a pick on me bones. If I was to rip off my jacket,” putting a ready hand to her throat, “you’ll soon see.”
“Oh, never mind. No, I beg you won’t,” with a nervous gesture of dissent. “I’m perfectly satisfied to take your word for it, ma’am.”
“I am cruelly hard set,” she pursued, “just dying on me feet, a poor, lone, delicate widow woman. May be your honour would assist me, and give me the price of a cup of tay?” and she eyed him narrowly.
His honour put a leisurely hand into his pocket, and slowly extracted half-a-crown.
“Oh, then may ye have stores in heaven!” she cried, with glittering eyes. “And ’tis yourself is the real handsome young gentleman, and the right soort. May be ’tis your lordship I ought to be saying,” she added, with a wheedling grin.
He shook his head with a touch of impatience.
“And are ye nothing but just a common gentleman? I’m thinking yer an officer at laste, by yer clipped head. I’ve a nephew myself, in the Connaught Rangers.”
“Sorry to disappoint you a second time, but I’m not even in the army. I suppose you rarely see a red coat in this part of the world?”
“Not nearer than Ballybawl, but we had a few Highlanders down on furlough last year. On account of their petticoats, they made a variety and got great persecution.”
The young man smiled, as he threw away the end of his cigarette, which was instantly bolted by an impulsive white duck.
“Now, can I do anything for ye, dear?” inquired Mrs. Shea, “for I’d be proud to oblige ye in any small way.”
“Yes; tell me something about the neighbourhood round here,” waving his hand toward the wide spreading scene which lay beneath them.
The prospect was not supremely beautiful like far-famed Kerry, Donegal, or Wicklow. No noble forest-clad hills, deep purple mountains, silver lakes, or wild Atlantic-born seas; no brown strip of bog-land, or rushing salmon river, lay beneath them; but a rich, deep valley, covered with wide stretches of pasture, and brightened here and there by yellow stubble and gorgeous autumn tints. The low sloping hills were heavily clothed in woods, from among which there occasionally peeped a spire, a turret, or a great mansion. The rising ground on which the couple stood was the spur of a long range, barren, unreclaimed, but gay with furze and heather, and possessed of a certain wild inexplicable charm of its own; and over all the landscape lay a vague shadowy softness—a dreamy golden haze, peculiar to autumn, and to Ireland.
At some distance to the right of Mrs. Shea’s cabin were several cottages, and beyond them again the remains of an ancient castle or mansion—a grim, weather-beaten skeleton, aged, stripped, abandoned, yet not lacking in a certain personal if rugged dignity, although its empty casements resembled eyeless sockets through which the wind (even on that silent warm October day) passed with a fretful whimper. The more modern portion was almost but not entirely roofless, and appeared to be crumbling away piecemeal; faint traces of dilapidated garden walls, overgrown shrubs, and ruined stabling, were dimly visible; but the venerable square keep, hundreds of years older than this tottering mansion, still held its grey head haughtily to the stars—a landmark for many miles.
“I suppose there is pretty fair hunting,” remarked the young man. “It looks a good sort of country.”
“Is it fair hunting?” she repeated indignantly. “Sure an’ isn’t it the finest in all Ireland, or the world? In the saison there does be a power of sport. Two packs, no less, and of an odd time the stag hounds. See, there, below the castle, is the best cover of all; they knock a fox out of it at every draw, and bad luck to them same foxes, rearing families on my hens!”
“And who live in the big places I see here and there; for instance, the white house with a tower?”
“Oh, just common low shopkeepers,” with inexpressible scorn. “Their name is Scanlan; they have plenty of lucre and impidence. Sure, all the rale ould gentry has gone out of the country.”
“I suppose they had no choice—it was go or starve?”
“And how do ye make that out?” turning on him fiercely.
“If all your money was sunk in land, and you got no rent—where would you be?”
“In the law courts, av course,” was the ready answer.
“Or, if your flock of ducks was not paid for, how would you like that?”
“No fear!” scornfully. “Mrs. Murphy, of Ballybawl, pays me a shilling apiece all round, and I take mighty good care not to lave me money after me; but as for rents and payments, what does a lovely English gentleman know of the like? Listen to me, darlin’. The land is for the people,” and she thumped her fist upon the top bar, “and should be had for the tax, and that’s heavy enough—what with poor rate at three and four pence, and county cess very high, ’tis more than plenty, without talking of rent at all! Come here to me now. Don’t be getting land and politics into your head; ye have to be reared and hand-fed on the Irish question, and you’d be bald, and blind, before you could understand it.”
“No doubt you are right,” admitted her listener, with ironical humility.
“As for the old stock, we have a few of them yet. There’s the Hares of Wilde Park—faix, there’s not much park now; and Sir Dermot French—terribly pinched, no hunters whatever—he attends the meets on his ten toes, and her ladyship goes to church behind an ass—they say as asses is coming into fashion.”
“Possibly, in Ireland!” he acquiesced rather dryly.
“Then the two old Miss Dwyers are shockingly badly off, they never see a sign of butcher’s mate from Christmas to Christmas, an’ they are that proud no one dar’ offer them a trout or a jack snipe; but the grandest come down of all is the O’Biernes, of Carrig, who owned the castle there and the whole side of the country. The last male heir—’tis the truth I’m telling ye—is a little slip of a girl, without a second shift to her back, and living, I may say, on horses—”
“On horses?” he repeated. “Nonsense!”
“Sure, don’t I know it well!—when me own sister is cook?” she retorted, with considerable heat.
“I don’t understand,” he said.
“Begorra, it would be hard for ye! and ’tis a long story entirely. The O’Biernes were mighty people in the time of the Danes, and went to terrible wars, and built forts and castles, and even ships, and some had their heads cut off, and more was hanged, and all went well till about a hundred years back, or, maybe, a hundred and twenty. They had no hand in the Union—God bless them!—but they took to racing, and gambling, and every sort of divilment, and deserted ould Carrig there,” pointing to the ruin. “It was a great place wance, now the crows is flying through it! Some say they left their luck on its hearthstone! The new house soaked up many an acre; still there’s a power of spending the thirty mile of country!” and she paused, and stared impressively at her listener.
“Yes, if the rents are paid,” was the cool reply.
“Oh, bedad, you are getting too crabbed entirely! However, between borrowing and cutting trees, they held on well, but the last old man, Brian, was a fright for spending! He ran clean and cliver through the timber, and the farms, and poured out money like water. Och, when Mr. Gerald was born, the tierces of porter, the bonfires, the fiddling and dancing, and roast cattle, will never be forgotten. The O’Bierne Brian was a splendid gentleman, near seven foot high, and his teeth the finest ivory! He gave great employment, kep’ hounds, and racehorses, and a coach-and-four and outriders, and God knows what, but it was the building destroyed him. He put a new pair of wings to the house, and ’twas them and the hot-water pipes finished him! He borrowed here and he borrowed there, he borrowed from wan to pay another, and he had an easy-going notion that everything would shake itself out in the long run; but for all that the mortgagees fell upon him at last and sold him out of house and home, and he died a broken-hearted old man in one of the keepers’ cottages.”
Here Mrs. Shea paused to take breath, and contribute a hurried sigh to the memory of departed greatness. Then resumed with redoubled vigour.
“The next O’Bierne, Mr. Gerald, his son, made an offer to straighten things out, but it was no manner of use. He had married a little English girl, for all the world like a wax doll; she hadn’t a copper; she was reared poor, and she thought she had heaven by the neck when she married the heir of Carrig. Saints! but she made the money fly! Even old Brian himself was took aback! After he died, Mr. Gerald did his big best to pull up, but it was no good whativer He was killed out hunting—accidental—on purpose—some said; and he left behind him a baby and a wife. Oh, he was a nate and lovely young man! How did she ever live after him at all—at all?” and Mrs. Shea again paused, and gazed at Mr. Money with an air of tragic interrogation.
“She married again, of course,” he answered placidly.
“Ye’ve said it!” she exclaimed excitedly. “Folks made out that he took the family destruction so cruelly to heart that he had not the spirit to struggle, and he,” lowering her voice, “just made away with himself when he saw receivers over the property, and the old jewels and silver going every way. It’s not rightly believed, for the O’Biernes were terribly bould riders, and would face a horse at the gate of hell itself; but anyhow Mr. Gerald was killed jumping a churchyard wall, and faix his widow made a real show of herself, and let herself down altogether; after being married to the O’Bierne of Carrig, Prince of Inagh—though he hadn’t a copper—to go to take up with a low, mane scutt, a common rapscallion, like Matty Scully, the horse dealer!” Here Mrs. Shea paused once more to swallow her rising wrath.
“’Tis true he kep’ her in comfort, silks and satins, a carriage and a buttons, no less; but she lost herself foriver, out of all society; but what could ye expect when she was English.”
“Thank you,” returned her auditor, with somewhat angry emphasis.
“She had no pride,” continued Mrs. Shea, totally unabashed. “No, nor no dacency whatever; a good fire to warm her shins at, and a good dinner was more in her eyes than nations of dead and buried O’Biernes.”
“To tell you the truth, I think she showed her sense,” observed Money, as he deliberately lighted another cigarette. “A live dog, you know, is better than a dead lion.”
Mrs. Shea looked at him for a moment with an expression of perplexed inquiry, and then replied with severe dignity.
“I don’t know much about live lions, glory be to God! but I can answer for it that she got a rale cur. She died about six years back, shunned by all the quality, though I believe she made great offers to be visited. Some say she died of annoyance, others that it was the lungs. Howsomever she had a lovely funeral! Scully buried her alongside of Mr. Gerald, and among all the ould O’Biernes; av course she had no call there, I needn’t tell ye—crowdin’ up her betters, and the vaults nigh full. When old Brian was put in, they brought out, and buried, a whole stack of the grandest bones such as ye never see now. The splendid bones of them old O’Biernes, who was seemingly giants—” and as she spoke her eyes actually blazed with pride.
“I see that you think a great deal of the O’Biernes.”
“Ay, I do so, though they are ruinated, and other folks lives in their home, and sits on their chairs, and ates at their tables, and looks at their pictures, and shoots their game. Oh, but Carrig is a mortial splendid place, ye can see the woods there to your right, stretching themselves out over the whole country. Ay, and it’s gone from the O’Biernes forever. It was bought by the mortgagees as had the strongest grip on it—an insurance company; faix, they had fine assurance to lay a hand on Carrig,” and at the mere thought her face glowed with anger. “They let it every year for sport and style to English folk. The people that’s in it now are not quality at all! Just the purest dirt, that old Brian would not clane his boots on. Their name is Money, and it’s nothing but their filthy lucre that has set them up, in their bethers’ elegant fine place.”
Denis Money’s brows knit, a momentary and angry light sprang into his eyes. After all, what was the use in flying out, he asked himself philosophically; a new and original opinion of themselves did no one any harm. His slight start and change of countenance was completely lost on Mrs. Shea, who was being rapidly borne along on the current of her own eloquence—careless alike of rocks or shoals.
“And they have lashens of their namesake, and, bedad, they’d want it. Twelve mile of avenues to mind, and the house burns two ton of coal a day, so you may judge of the style and size! However, these Britishers can’t be expecting to stand in the shoes of the kings of Ireland—for nothing!”
“Do you live in this place all alone?” inquired Money, irrelevantly.
“Well, then, I do not, yer honour. I’ve two little boys in regular work, and a little boy and a little girl in America, and I buried me poor Johnny—he was in service in New York, but he fell into a decline, and he came home unexpected. I was in the market one day, and when I got back I saw just outside the door a new shining box, and there was Mary and Johnny—God! but he was awful bad, it’s a most deceiving disease, that consumption. The doctor he come, and he said, says he, ‘Give him plenty of eggs, and cream, and new milk.’
“‘Glory, is that all ye can do for him, doctor, jewel?’ says I. ‘I’m sorry to say it is,’ says he. Well, Johnny lay a good while, but one day he took a notion of getting up, and he asks for his shirt, and he calls for his pants, and he strove to walk; but it was no use, it was just the restlessness before death, and he fell back calling for me—an’ sure it was all I could do for him—let him die in me arms. Oh, Johnny, Johnny!” And suddenly she laid her head down upon her horny hands, and broke into loud, violent sobs that shook the very gate.
Denis Money abhorred emotional scenes; there was nothing droll or uncommon about this sort of thing, he felt excessively uncomfortable, and undecided what to do—to tender another half-a-crown was much easier than to offer sympathy. As he stood pondering the position, Mrs. Shea gradually recovered herself, straightened her back, dried her eyes with her headgear, and, turning brusquely to her companion, said:
“Come here to me now! Ye was asking about a boycotted farm; it’s there, that house beyant, living by itself; ye can see it if ye will give yerself the trouble to turn your head.”
He instantly complied, and noticed a solitary cottage with smokeless chimneys, that appeared half buried in furze.
“I didn’t let on at fust,” she resumed, “till I just made out what sort ye were, and now there it is for ye,” speaking precisely as if she were making him a gift of the title deeds upon the spot.
“And can you tell me anything about it?”
“Is it me tell you?” in a key of querulous protest. “An’ who better? but come away inside, an’ I’ll explain the whole affair to ye, proper and complate.”
The “Britisher,” who was eagerly absorbing many new ideas, accepted Mrs. Shea’s polite invitation with alacrity, and followed her into her residence—a low, smoky cabin, with an uneven mud floor.
He looked about him curiously, and was immediately sensible of a certain air of easy squalor and musty comfort. There were numerous fat flitches hanging from the rafters, a bright turf fire glowed on the hearth (with its inseparable companion, a brown teapot), a profusion of gaudy crockery adorned the dresser, there was a roomy settee, two chairs, a hatching hen, a naked-looking white pig, and a little mottled sheep dog, with a wall eye, who barked vigorously.
“There’s no fear of the dog,” explained Katty. “She’s of the old Carrig breed, and wouldn’t touch a gentleman. Go to bed, Worry, ye divil! She’s a cross little baste with strangers. There was a man round here yesterday, playing the concertina, and faix she nearly ate the legs from under him,” As she spoke, Mrs. Shea hustled Worry into “the room,” and next proceeded to offer hospitality to her visitor, who, having declined in turn milk, porter, tea, and, finally, raw whisky in a mug, accepted one of the two chairs, and, lighting a cigarette to tone down the atmosphere, prepared to give his undivided attention to the story of the boycotted farm.
“’Tis ten years and more since it happened, though it seems to me like yesterday,” began Mrs. Shea. “There was always a sort of jealousy about the land, poor as it looks; Kelly wanted it, but Foggarty had it, and consequently it bred a kind of stiffness between them. Howsomever, time passed on, and barring a few batings here and there, everything was quiet in these parts till one evening in October, as it might be this time of year. I was sitting at the fire there, when I heard a dull tramp, tramp, agoing up the road, a slow, heavy march, as never bodes no good, and always gives me a coldness in the bones. Well, I peeped out, and I saw about twelve or more men with masks on their faces, and green baize jackets. They went straight on, and I got a sort of wakeness, for I knew as something not right was going to surely happen. Then Bridgie Whelan came running in like a hare, to tell me that the boys had been round looking for arms, and was gone up to Foggarty’s. Next morning about six o’clock, we heard as how Thady Foggarty, God rest him,” crossing herself, “was dead, and the whole thing came out.
“First and foremost, the chaps went to Riordan’s, who trated them well, then to Kelly’s, who trated them still better, lashens of whisky no less; from that they went to Foggarty’s. He and his wife and childer were sitting round the fire, when in came the boys, with masks and guns, a whole houseful. Mrs. Foggarty uprose and offered them chairs, and milk, and every sort of nourishment, but she had no spirits—and Thady being a man of no distinction, never suspicioned as they would hurt him; and he sat and he talked over the weather, and the saison, and the fairs; at long last they made a move to go, and a little chap with a squeaky voice, as he got to the door turns and says:
“‘Number Wan, do your duty!’
“But Number Wan never stirred. ‘Number Two,’ he bawls, and with that Number Two ups with his gun and blazes straight into Thady, where he was standing and smiling on the hearth. He fell down with a terrible groan, and they all walked out. Thady was shot mortally, about the body—awfully mangled with slugs and old nails; but his wife dare not go for help, or for the priest, so she put him on a chair, and happed an old shawl about him, and there he just bled to death—with seven small children crying around him.”
“By Jove!” ejaculated Money, in a shocked voice.
“’Tis God’s truth I’m telling ye, and ye can see for yourself the mark of the blood on the hearth to this day,” continued Mrs. Shea grimly. “No one ever found out who done it, but this I say—that it wasn’t over the farm he was shot—but the poaching! He was under keeper, ye see, and had caught a couple of boys shooting and snaring, and why not?” she demanded with heat. “Didn’t God Almighty put birds in the air, and fish in the sea, and rabbits on the land, for the poor more nor for the rich? Will ye tell me what the rich wants with them at all? Aren’t they ours?”
Her visitor made no reply. He had his own opinion about poaching, which, under the circumstances, he prudently reserved.
“Well,” pursued Mrs. Shea (graciously accepting silence for consent), “the wife was very bitter over it, and showed terrible ill will, and lived under police protection, and strove hard and did her big best to have a couple of the chaps hanged. She left the country years ago, and Kelly, begor! he got a fine slice of the land—the good land. Some thought as he gave the boys whisky a-purpose to hearten them up for the shootin’, but no one knows the truth, and more folks does be very shy of the Kellys still. Howsomever, it would never do to be black out with them, and so I just pass them the time of day; for the rest, all we can do is to lave them to God—and the police!” And having enunciated this pious sentiment, Mrs. Shea pulled out her pipe, and began to smoke.
Money now consulted his watch, and, finding that it was getting late, rose and said, “Do you think I could see the place?”
“And what would hinder you, darlin’? I’ll put you on the road meself, and set ye past the farm; troth and there’s not much to see. Ye can go by the door, but sorra a soul takes that way after dark, though it’s a grand short cut; they do be saying as Foggarty walks.”
“Walks!” repeated her guest.
“Hants it!” she explained impatiently. “Isn’t it all wan? In an old shawl, with his face white and twisted, an awful terrifying specter! Old Tim Ratigan nearly died over it, though some say it was another sort of spirrit as was at Tim.”
“Very likely Mr. Jameson’s spirit.”
“No, dear;” and behind her hand she added, “Potheen, at first cost, too, for he run it himself. He’s dead now, heaven be his bed.”
Meanwhile the couple had left the cabin, and were leisurely descending the grassy boreen, between two high banks, clothed with furze and foxgloves. As they strolled along side by side in peaceful silence they smoked—one enjoying her little dudheen, the other his Turkish cigarette.
“There it is, where you see the stone gap,” she explained. “Go straight on past the house, and keep over the hill till ye strike the coach road again; it’s yer shortest way. There’s that black cow of Ryan’s on the hill. If ye meet her, begorra, ye may as well hide; and there’s Paddy Pinafore, he is wan of the Foggartys, and lost his raison when his father lost his life. He’s a cute enough madman, but he won’t harm ye; ’tis more like he’ll take a fancy to ye, like meself,” and she laughed complacently. “All the land ye see was wance the O’Biernes’, some say since the Flood, more say its enchanted and under a spell, and that the owners does be ranging round on horseback still, taking stock of the property. All I say to ye is this, if ye meet wan of them, whip off your hat, and pass no remark!”
“All right, I’ll remember your advice. I suppose this is the gap?” inquired Money as they suddenly came to a standstill.
“It is so. Well, good-by, yer honour, and safe home, and if iver ye are round here again ye will give me a look in, and have a cup of tay, won’t ye?”
“Thanks,” was his cautious and non-committal reply.
“It’s many a day since I come across yer match in being such grand company; it’s easy seen as ye are rale quality—English though ye be; and now will ye tell me yer name, me darlin’ young gentleman?”
“Money—Denis Money,” looking her straight in the face.
“Oh Lord,” with a little stagger, “may I never sin this day, but this bates all. There’ll be no tay-drinking or visiting with me after that, I’m thinking. Well, what’s said is said,” shaking her head solemnly.
“And I must say good-by for the present. Don’t be too down on the Moneys,” and, with a smiling nod, he sprang over the gap, and left Mrs. Shea, for once in her life, totally at a loss for words!
Denis Money crossed a barren field half covered with whin bushes, and following a faint footpath came to a gate leading into a small inclosure. The inclosure was a mixture of yard and garden, and in the middle of it stood a forlorn-looking cottage. The door was shut fast, grass and weeds grew against it, an eruption of greenish lichens had broken out over its face, a venerable fuchsia straggled wildly at one side. He peeped through a broken pane, and saw a dark, damp kitchen, with a sooty crook still suspended from the open chimney; there were even ashes on the hearth. The air of the place was that of a vault, a low complaining wind crept round the house—a wind that would fain weep. Certainly it was a most desolate spot, said Denis to himself as he turned away with a chill at his heart. He looked at the fields choked with furze bushes and weeds, the roofless cart-shed and pigsty (these denoting that the Foggarty family were of a higher social status than Mrs. Shea, with her mere flocks of ducks). There were the remains of the potato garden, and a queer little wattled summer-house, unquestionably the work of children. Two ancient goats, still tethered together, were now the sole surviving tenants of the boycotted farm.
Warned by the lengthening shadows, Denis set forth at a brisk pace, for four long Irish miles intervened between him and Carrig. As he walked he endeavoured to straighten out some ideas which had been rudely presented to him by Mrs. Shea. This lawless old poacher woman—who claimed alike land and game; told tales of murder, so to speak, illustrated on the spot, and talked with a serious face of enchanted estates; who, in spite of her detestable Socialist ideas, was a stern aristocrat at heart, found it impossible to pardon the late Mrs. O’Bierne for her mésalliance, and boasted vaingloriously of the very bones of the old family—was an entirely new study. The bones of the Moneys, where were they? Grandfather, grandmother, and mother were buried in Lancashire in a specially built new vault. There was no crowding; in fact, so far they were the sole occupants. Had he no ancestors? Of course he had. His mother’s people were the Lorraines of Lorme; and there was an impression that his grandfather, a wealthy Liverpool merchant, had good old Irish blood in his veins, even although he was what was called “a self-made man.” If he had begun life on very little, he had concluded his existence the owner of a substantial fortune, which his son Anthony had largely increased. Denis might have known what it was to lack those ancestors which seemed so important to Mrs. Shea, but he had never in all his life experienced what it was to want money. And what are ancestors, after all? They can be bought; a pedigree costs a mere bagatelle! But who can purchase money?
This was, as already mentioned, his first visit to Ireland; it was but forty-eight hours since he had landed on Kingstown pier, and, sad to relate, so far he had not been favourably impressed by the country. It is true that the first view of the Green Isle from the deck of the mail boat had filled him with a mixture of surprise and admiration. He was unprepared for the exquisite scene, which, with every revolution of the engines, became more distinct.
The grand sweep of Dublin Bay, the chain of blue mountains, the delicate white spires and terraces which were studded along the coast—Was this Ireland? Turbulent, troublesome, unfashionable Ireland? Ten minutes later he was standing on the jetty watching with indulgent eyes the overpowering greetings of impulsive Hibernians, and purchasing the Dublin evening paper from long-haired Davy.
Three hours by rail and an hour in the station brougham brought him to Carrig—“a splendid manorial and sporting estate,” vide the advertisements—which his father had recently leased for a term of years. By a yellow autumn moon he noted the impressive grand entrance, the far-stretching demesne, the thick laurel cover for cock occasionally bounding the mile-long avenue. The house itself looked sufficiently majestic, and threw enormous black shadows on the cold white gravel sweep. The entrance hall was unquestionably “manorial,” with lofty domed roof, marble floor, rusty banners, suits of armour, stands of arms, and a brave show of pikes and pictures. Denis glanced round and noted various gloomy inhospitable-looking portraits, the formidable horns of the Irish elk, and an Irish harp hanging disconsolate above the mantel-piece. He felt himself not exactly awe-struck—that was a sensation which it was impossible for him to experience—but unexpectedly impressed. However, the familiar face of his father’s English butler, and the announcement that “supper was served in the little library, and that there was hot water in his room” soon turned his attention into other channels.
The house party, so far, merely consisted of his father, his stepmother, and himself.
Daylight exhibited a truly magnificent place, where there was no sign whatever of want of money or decay. His father, who was extremely proud of the property, showed him the great stable-yard, large enough to accommodate a troop of cavalry, the orangery, and palm houses, the shady grounds, which covered at least forty acres, and were full of winding paths, lovers’ walks, arbors, statues, sun-dials, and planted with rare and costly shrubs, now shedding their leaves.
“Splendid cock shooting, lots of pheasants,” said Mr. Money, senior, “The last owner was a strict preserver of game, and planted most of the covers. These old Irish families just poured out money like water. We are, so to speak, standing on gold, and I got the place cheap.”
“Did you, sir? Well it is not cheap and nasty!”
“No, indeed, and the status it gives in the county thrown in gratis. Carrig, like Windsor Castle, confers position, and I get the benefit of a long line of other people’s ancestors.”
“What’s the good of that? We don’d want them,” remarked young Money rather loftily. “The shooting is far more to the purpose.”
“They come in very useful, as you’ll see, my boy; all the elite of the county call here.”
“I suppose the hunting is good.”
“Yes, the cubbing will be in full swing next week. You’ll want horses, Denis.”
“Yes, I shall—and I shall want wind.”
“If you are not in condition, a couple of good long stretches will set that all right.”
It was in consequence of this advice that young Money found himself at the present moment so far from home and duty; viz., the duty of being punctual to the moment at an eight o’clock dinner.
He had hoped (and more than half expected) to come across some of the natives; to meet a pretty girl, to hear a witty speech; but up to the present the nearest approach to wit or beauty that the poor young man had encountered had been embodied in Mrs. Shea.
By this time he had nearly forgotten Mrs. Shea, and had covered two miles of rough track, the boreen now running over a wild unreclaimed bit of mountain, his thoughts running on hunters and hunting, his weight, the chances of an open winter, the number of horses he would require, the number of days he would get per week—these items were being gravely weighed in his mind, when all at once he noticed a remarkable object coming rapidly down the mountain in his direction. A female, followed by a train of animals. She passed through an open gap and stepped boldly out into the lane, about twenty yards in front of him.
On closer inspection, the figure proved not to be that of a woman after all, but a powerful, long-armed, bareheaded, barefooted man. He wore a ragged tweed coat, corduroy knee-breeches, and an immense canvas bib, carried a heavy stick in his hand, and was accompanied by two dogs (a setter and collie), three goats, a pig, and a one-eyed turkey.
This modern embodiment of Robinson Crusoe halted deliberately in front of the stranger, and for about twenty seconds they stood surveying one another with the deepest solemnity. Robinson Crusoe’s hair and brows were almost lint white, his deep-set cunning little eyes were of a dull turquoise blue, his features were heavy, and the shape of his head left much to be desired. He seemed to be about twenty years of age, and an unmistakable lunatic.
“This is my hill,” he called out in a gruff voice. “Do ye know that—what are ye doin’ on it after sundown?”
“I was not aware that I was trespassing,” replied Money in a mild, apologetic tone.
“Well, now ye know it—and that it’s as much as your life is worth to be hereabout at this hour—”
“Why?” moving two steps forward as he spoke.
“Is it why?” raising simultaneously his stick and his voice. “Bekase, for wan raisin, it’s Murphy’s land—that is in the daytime—and for another, it’s enchanted ground. Do ye suspicion who I am?” suddenly approaching his face so close to Money’s that their noses almost touched.
“Yes,” instinctively recoiling, “you must be Paddy Pinafore.”
Paddy’s countenance instantly underwent a hideous transformation, his eyes became almost white, his face a deep blackish purple, as, with a savage scream of rage, he lifted his stick to strike; but, to his undoubted surprise, the blackthorn was wrenched from his grasp with apparent ease, and vigorously shaken in front of him. It was then his turn to recoil.
“How dar ye call me out of me name?” he stuttered breathlessly. “How soon ye larned to copy them other blaygards—bad end to them. I’m Paddy Foggarty, Mr. Murphy’s herd—at six shillings a week—and turf.”
“Oh, you’re Mr. Murphy’s herd, at six shillings a week and turf, are you? Then just sheer off a bit, Paddy Foggarty, will you, and take your company with you” (for the dogs and pig were inclined to be demonstrative).
“There’s no fear of them—Sun and Moon, kape to heel—they wouldn’t harm ye,” now plodding alongside Money, who was once more steadily heading for home.
“Why have you this string of animals at your heels?” he asked.
“They’d be lonely without me up beyant, and they are me friends. I’ll take you on as a friend, too, for I fancy the looks of ye, and better be me friend than me enemy,” with a wild, mad laugh. “Ye have a fine, strong, understanding eye in your head, like me own”; and on the strength of this piece of delicate flattery he added, “An’ now will ye hand me me stick, av ye plase?”
“We’ll see about that by-and-by, Paddy,” swinging it vigorously as he spoke.
“Can’t ye give me back me stick, me darlin’ blackthorn, that was cut off the hangman’s tree; ’tis the loveliest bit of wood in the world for bating out a man’s brains!”
The present owner of this truly precious article walked on in silence. He was wondering what any of the men at his club would say were they to meet him, accompanied by this lunatic and his escort of assorted animals.
“I’d no call to raise me hand to ye,” whined Paddy; “but when any wan calls me that name I feel just blazing—sure ye wouldn’t like to be called it yourself, and moidered with the bawls of them childer along the road—give me me stick.”
“You shall have it when we are out on the turnpike,” replied Money cautiously. (Mistrust is the parent of safety; the dusk was falling, and to surrender the weapon in this lonely spot, to one who boasted of its capabilities for “bating out a man’s brains” would possibly be to invite the experiment.)
As Money and his companions descended a grassy slope the former was surprised to hear the sound of furious galloping; something passed like a flash at the end of the lane, and he had a glimpse of horse and rider going at racing pace.
He paused for a second, and listened to the thundering of hoofs dying away in the distance.
“Ah, sure ’tis only wan of the O’Biernes,” explained Paddy carelessly. “This is their land. They does be as fond of riding as ever, and cruel hard on horseflesh. Sometimes they has their own, more times they hasn’t; and they take and knock twenty pounds off the price of a colt in wan night.”
“How do they manage that?” inquired Money. “What do you mean?”
“I mane, ’tis many a job they’ve given me,” stooping to carry the turkey, for whom the present pace was somewhat severe. “I mane, as Denneen Conlan, at the back of the hill here, has his heart scalded with them! Ye see he rears and sells young colts for hunters, but he never handles them at all, and now and then, in the stable of a morning, he will find wan of his best long tails, as never was broke, trembling all over, with the wet print of a saddle on his back, scarce a leg under him, and dripping with sweat—signs on it he had been galloped half round Ireland during the night. Ye see, the O’Biernes were terrible fine riders in their day, and can’t give over—even where they are!”
“Where they are!” echoed Money in amazement. “Where are they?”
“Faix,” with a queer cracked laugh, “that is more nor I could tell ye. They are not above ground by rights; but when they were, there never was seen such a slashing, open-handed, splendid, royal family.”
“By the way, Paddy, this is a curious sort of road; it seems to have no end. We passed that broken gate ten minutes ago.”
“May be ye did,” indifferently. “It’s wan thing to get on this hill, another to get off,” replied Paddy, with a snigger.
“Now, look here,” said Money, “no nonsense; show me the road at once. I’m not disposed to walk about here all night.”
“Ye’re not!” in a key of surprise, giving the turkey a hitch. “Many’s the night I put in that way. Where are ye goin’?”
“Carrig House!” surveying him with sullen, wary eyes. “Then you’re wan of the lodgers, I suspicion. ’Tis let, I’m aware. May the divil sweep them old mortgagees! Well, ye took the wrong turn a while ago, but I’ll show ye where ye can strike the road, within the bawl of an ass,” and he diverged into a narrow path, crossed two fields (casually knocking down loose stone gaps for the convenience of his “friends”), and, within five minutes, stepped out triumphantly upon the turnpike.
“Well, here is your stick, Paddy,” said the stranger; “promise me you won’t make a bad use of it.”
“I promise,” seizing it. “I’ll swear anything at all to plase ye! I’ll swear by the sowls of the old O’Biernes—unaisy though they be—that I’ll never raise it but on their orders. Go on round the hip of the hill, and there ye are,” and, without another syllable, he vanished.
As Money turned away to follow the road he distinctly heard a sound of muffled galloping through the soft autumn air. The phantom who was so nobly mounted on a borrowed steed, and rode thus recklessly in the dusk, had probably seen many a quick thing with Herne the Hunter, and at the mere thought young Money laughed aloud as he hurried on at a brisk rate—no longer hampered by the pace of pig or turkey. Over “the hip of the hill” the lights of Carrig came into view, blinking out among its dense black woods and shrubberies. Since he had quitted Carrig that afternoon he had tasted several new experiences: had stood on the scene of a murder, been nearly brained by Paddy Pinafore, had trodden enchanted ground, and heard with his own ears the frantic riding of its former proprietors. In short, the only experience that had been spared to him was an interview with Ryan’s black cow!
This is the history and pedigree of the Money family. Their fortunes were founded by one Peter, who came to Liverpool as a lad, with the clothes he stood in, a handsome face, and a fierce determination “to make his mark in the world!” Peter was sharp, industrious, and self-denying; and, although of Irish birth—a fact he studiously concealed—neither impressionable nor impulsive, but shrewd, silent, and secretive.
He made his way slowly, but surely, from office messenger to clerk, and subsequently up all the well-known rungs of the ladder of commercial success. In time he amassed a considerable sum of money—the result of daring speculations on the Stock Exchange—became junior partner in the house, and finally amalgamated the entire business by marrying the sole child and heiress of the head of the concern. He was forty years of age at the time, a tall, upright, dignified man, with a long, dark beard, and stern, melancholy eyes. His handsome person, iron will, and reserved, almost saturnine, disposition impressed most of his associates; while those of his own household held him in profound awe.
Money, and the power which money gives, had been Peter’s god. To it he had sacrificed country, religion, love, joy, youth, and family affection. He was a great mercantile potentate, a town councillor, a patron of art, a merchant prince. None had ever heard him speak of his own country or people, no one had ever been affectionately claimed by him as compatriot or schoolfellow; and not the most daring spirit had ever ventured to probe his past. He made no secret of the fact that he was “a self-made man,” for the excellent reason that this item of his history was public property. But beyond that there figuratively stood a blank stone wall defying all penetration. A cold, austere, undemonstrative husband and father, as years passed over Peter Money’s head and changed it from black to white, his rigidity unbent, his icy silence thawed. He spoke of Ireland, of his boyhood, and his dark eyes actually flamed as he described a run with the foxhounds, a magnificent demesne with red deer, a noble mansion full of superb heirlooms, stables thronged with blood horses, kingly hospitality for rich and poor! The whereabout of this splendid estate he never divulged, but his eager listeners snatched at these sketches, and filled in the picture to their hearts’ content. Their father was Irish, the scion of a distinguished family, who had cut him off as a lad for some boyish scrape, and he had risen entirely by his own exertions from an office boy to his present eminent position of wealth and importance; ever too proud, whether poor or rich, to seek for reconciliation—for this was his nature. His children felt a delicious glow of satisfaction in deeming themselves to be well-born, not merely the heirs of a wealthy and even famous citizen, but the descendants of an ancient and noble race. They, however, were never suffered to read those early pages of their father’s life, but undoubtedly he himself frequently turned over the leaves of that first volume, as he sat alone in his sanctum in the dusk, with his head bowed down upon his breast. It was thus that he was found dead; and the only clue to his early life and later thoughts was a shabby old scapular and beads, which were firmly clasped in his cold stiff hand.
Thus Peter Money was gathered to his (unknown) forefathers “He had died and made no sign,” and the lad who had come across the sea, in a Dublin cattle boat, with five shillings in his pocket, breathed his last in a palatial mansion at Blundell Sands—full of years, honour, and riches.
The saturnine, impenetrable millionaire died, and was buried (in a brand-new vault), and Anthony, his only son, reigned in his stead. He had received a first-class education, had traveled to please his father, taken a conspicuous part in the business (Money & Son, shipowners and ship brokers) to please his father, and married—to please himself!
By the time Anthony was thirty years of age, he was a widower with one son, his pretty, well-born, penniless young wife, having, alas! been killed in a carriage accident. Fifteen years later, he married for a second time a handsome, middle-aged, strong-willed woman, with a large income accruing from a patent sauce. She was as persuasive as she was strong-willed, and, after a time, prevailed upon Anthony to relinquish the shipping trade and to retire from business.
“What,” she asked, “was the use of all his wealth, if he did nothing but go to office daily, attend meetings and boards, and slave like a colliery pony, as chairman-director and head of a firm? Why not enjoy life, when he was comparatively young, before he became fixed into one groove and—there fossilized?” Thus urged and exhorted, Anthony, who was accustomed to be ruled from his infancy, disposed of his shares, his establishment, his steamers, and retired from the busy hum of Water Street to a fine country seat near the Dee. Here his energetic wife introduced him to many new pleasures. Hunting and shooting he had always (moderately) enjoyed, but golf and bicycling were novelties. However, although once a shipowner, he sturdily declined to yacht—or to keep a yacht. He was no sailor.
His only son and heir, Denis Money, had, as already mentioned, failed for the army, having found rowing, dancing, and cricket far more to his taste than military law, topography, or even tactics. His tutor spoke of him as a smart fellow, with plenty of brains, but incorrigibly idle; his contemporaries, as “a rare good sort”; his married lady friends, as “a dear boy”; and his father—who was excessively proud of him—as “a lazy, extravagant young dog.” He traveled, he shot, and hunted, in due season, and now he had at last arrived to spend the winter at his parents’ much vaunted “place in Ireland.”
This “place in Ireland” had been Mrs. Money’s grand idea and special discovery, and had proved an unqualified success. Although the rent was high, it was nevertheless, so she averred, “great show for the money.” As for Anthony, he was a thoroughly happy man. Something in the air, and life, and scenery, seemed strangely familiar to his taste. In his heart a hitherto silent chord awoke, and responded to the beauty of a land that inthralls all her sons. Stranger, alien as he was, he already loved Ireland. This somewhat narrow-minded, unimaginative little Englishman, with the spirit of trade in his veins, had more than once found an unaccountable mist rising in his eyes as he gazed upon her deep green valleys, glittering lakes, and dark melancholy mountains. What was it that tuned his heart to receive thus the influence of his surroundings? Why did the soft humid air exhilarate his spirit like old wine?
Anthony Money was secretly intoxicated with the grand position of feudal chief—a position the tenant of Carrig was invariably called upon to assume. He had no sentimental objection to wearing the shoes of dead men, and, as he filled them to the best of his knowledge, already he and the “Mistress” were well liked.
How had they discovered Carrig, for it lay far out of the faintly-beaten tourists’ track? Mrs. Money was told of it by a certain Miss Hare from Ireland, as they sat basking together in a hotel veranda at Mentone, inhaling the scent of carnations and orange flowers. The perfumed air, whispering to Kathleen Hare, reminded her of the orangery at Carrig, and aloud she ardently wished—
“That some nice, rich, popular English people would take the dear old place, and lead the county.”
“To lead the county!” What a delicious idea. Mrs. Money figuratively seized upon it on the spot, and searchingly cross-examined the blooming, impetuous, shabby Irish girl—who was only too pleased to be called upon to describe her own neighbourhood. She drew the residents, especially the nobility (oh, artful Kathleen, had your Irish simplicity seen through your wealthy questioner?) in glowing colours. Every one was delightful, she declared, but alas! every one was poor; there were half a dozen fine old places, all adjoining; you could drive miles and miles beside demesne walls, but most of the houses were not kept up. They were far too expensive to maintain in these days, but Carrig was always in perfect order, and was let every year. So eloquent was Miss Hare that on their return home Mr. and Mrs. Money went over to Ireland on a little tour of cautious inspection. Carrig spoke for itself. They secured it at once, and their place in Cheshire (where they had not led the county) was immediately advertised to be let or sold. Cheshire had been too near home, the big social magnates were clannish and haughty, and Mrs. Money had constantly assured her husband that they were thrown away in their vicinity, and urged him to seek fresh fields and pastures, where they would both be properly appreciated.
It was quite true, as Miss Hare had distantly hinted, that Carrig conferred social status upon all its inmates—even, to the scullery-maid, who graciously condescended to the upper servants of a lesser establishment. Yes, the most exclusive were compelled to open their arms to whosoever reigned at Carrig, for it was a well-known circumstance that no one could rule there in comfort whose income was less than twenty thousand a year.
For six months Mr. and Mrs. Money had dispensed hospitality, charity, patronage. The county approved of them and their efforts to win their goodwill; also of the fact that they had one son, grown up, presentable, and—unmarried. Even those of the former regime, accustomed to the old order of things, were good enough to admit that the new English tenants of Carrig “might have been worse.” Although now a grand seigneur, one or two business habits still clung to Anthony Money—he was most painfully punctual, and expected his household to keep pace with this virtue. He was orderly to a fault, and nearly drove his valet mad. His books and papers were arranged as by rule, he kept an exhaustive diary, and no one ever applied to him for pin, match, pencil, knife, or hour, in vain. His punctuality and neatness were occasionally sorely tried by his son Denis, as, for instance, at the present moment, when he stood before the fire, with the tail of his coat in one hand and his watch in the other, impatiently awaiting his arrival!
As he stands, Anthony Money shall be sketched. About fifty-four years of age, a short, spare, active man, wearing evening dress, and a neatly curtailed black beard, freely sprinkled with grey. He has small, well-shaped hands and feet (of which he is aware), an abrupt, impetuous manner (of which he is not aware), a pair of truly kind brown eyes, and a heart to correspond.
“What the dickens has become of Denis?” he demanded of his wife, who, in a gorgeous tea gown, reclined in a sofa corner devouring a society paper. “It’s on the stroke of eight.”
“I expect he has lost his way,” she calmly replied.
“Why did he go out alone? I could have taken him on the car.”
“He wanted exercise to get into trim for hunting, and went for a tramp of ten or twelve miles. Oh, hunting always rouses him.”
“Yes, I expect my bankers’ account will suffer, and the prices will rouse me.”
“Lady Bundoran called to-day,” observed Mrs. Money, in a tone of ladylike exultation.
“Did she? Time for her,” rejoined her husband, pulling his beard, and secretly well pleased, for the Countess of Bundoran, the “Grande Dame par excellence,” who resided but fitfully in Ireland, had hitherto not deigned to bend the light of her gracious countenance upon the new arrivals. However, so many people with handles to their names had sought the acquaintance of Mr. and Mrs. Money that he, whose visiting list in Cheshire had not even included a baronet, was now, we perceive, becoming quite saucy, and simply stroked his beard at the mention of the countess’s visit, and scornfully exclaimed, “Time for her! Were you in?” he added, a little anxiously.
“No. I wish I had been; the Marchioness of Salthill was with her—her aunt, you know. You remember her at the hunt ball at Chester?”
“Yes. Rude old harridan!” suddenly flushing at some disagreeable reminiscence, “pretended I was a waiter. What brought her?”
“Oh, here we are grandees,” waving her paper airily at the lofty walls. “There we were—retired merchants, suburban—snobs—scum!”
“She was the snob. What can have brought her?” he repeated.
“Lady Bundoran has three daughters. The eldest is decidedly passée. She has done, season after season, Ascot, Cowes, Scotland, and all that—”
“But what in heaven’s name are you driving at? What has Lady Bundoran’s daughter to say to us?”
“We—have—a—son,” she explained expressively.
“Oh, by George, yes, and here he is!” as at that moment Denis, the recreant, strolled in, slowly unfolding a scented handkerchief, and looking right well groomed, and right well pleased with himself.
“Oh, Denis at last!” cried his stepmother. “We were thinking of sending down to the police station to make inquiries, and having the dinner gong beaten on the roads. Where have you been, my dear boy?”
“Lost, lost, lost! I wonder I ever arrived at all. I’ve been wandering over the hills and far away. I’ve been in another planet. I’ve been in Fairyland!”
“There, there,” cried his father irritably. “Your adventures will keep! The soup cannot wait. Come along to dinner. Next time you are late you had better arrange to dine in Fairyland!”
And Mr. Money gave his arm to his magnificent wife and led her in to dinner. They dined in an immense hall, as imposing as it was spacious, furnished and wainscoted with oak, and hung with several huge battle pieces, and not a few family portraits, who seemed to glower down with sour disdain upon the three interlopers, who sat at a round table (a mere island in the vast expanse), loaded with silver, flowers, and shaded candles, and were waited on by four men. Mrs. Money was ostentatious, and as fond of pomp and display as the great Napoleon himself—to whom she bore a curious personal resemblance. Her pale olive complexion, bold clear profile, with its resolute mouth and square jaw, stood out cameo-like from the dark oak background, and might have belonged to the sister, or cousin, of the celebrated son of a Corsican advocate. Her hair was black, her eyes dark and searching, her figure a little thick; she wore a crimson velvet tea gown, with white satin petticoat, embroidered with gold paillettes; it only lacked the golden bees to be a royal robe of the First Empire. In a faint, feminine, contracted form, Mrs. Money’s resemblance to Napoleon the Great did not conclude with her profile.
She was boundlessly ambitious, strong willed, arbitrary, and, figuratively, marched over all obstacles to her strategical point—unmoved by pity, remorse, or fear. Luckily for all, her aims were harmless, her campaigns bloodless. Carrig had been her Austerlitz. Here she had carried the battle of position and social acknowledgment. In good time her life’s object, the summit of her desire, would be crowned, when Denis, her dear stepson, her hope, her pride, married into the peerage, and she called the daughter of a duke by her pet name! She could manage Anthony, for he had never asserted himself, either as a son or husband. Would Denis be as amenable? Denis was different, and had his own ideas; she had to reckon with his mother’s race—an unknown quantity. Their good and bad points, their hereditary virtues and failings, were but dimly guessed at through giddy, mercurial Denis. Denis, who was the centre not merely of her ambition but of her affections.
Denis was light-hearted, kind-hearted, fond of seeing the world, fond of sport, not averse to flirting, nor indeed to any amusement that was thrown in his way, naturally simple in his tastes—a mere boy in many respects; but nevertheless Mrs. Money had once or twice caught a glimpse of his son—the man.
Although she prided herself on her gift of penetration, she was not sure that she quite understood Denis. Underneath that gay, sunny aspect there might lurk a depth that she could not fathom; for instance, a rocky will. However, she had not sounded that as yet. Denis was a puzzling boy, grave about trivial things, trivial about grave things. Of one thing she was certain; he had never been in love. Possibly he might be spared the experience. He was too merry, too lively, too full of the “joie de vivre”—in short, too restless to enable the little god to take effectual aim.
Nevertheless he must soon marry. “There is a tide in the affairs of men,” and the tide that would float Denis Money into the “matrimonial” dock was rolling in with long, slow, but irresistible billows.
Mrs. Money had a small, if we may call it so, “preserve” of eligible and choice young lady friends, chiefly picked up at watering-places, hotels, and on the Continent—portionless young plants, matchless sprigs of nobility and beauty. This fair “garden of girls” she assiduously cultivated by correspondence, invitations, solicitude, and kindness. She trained, pruned, transplanted, forced. And it was out of this rare collection that she intended to select a daughter-in-law—a wife for Denis.
These exquisite specimens were to be exhibited one at a time, and she was resolved to entertain a series of brilliant house parties all through the winter. Mrs. Money was an excellent hostess, a kind, considerate mistress. She gathered, as far as was possible, the former employees of the estate about the garden and stables—ay, the maimed, the halt, the old—and even within doors the first footman, a grave young man of thirty, with shaven face and impassive manners, was the son of an ancient retainer. His father had been chief seneschal and butler, and had spent his best years at Carrig. Mrs. Money possessed a purse ever open to the call of charity, a pleasant manner, a handsome presence. What wonder that the new mistress of the “big place” had won her way to the goodwill of both rich and poor?
“How did you enjoy yourself, Denis?” inquired his father, when his heart had been warmed by excellent soup and sherry.
“Capitally, thank you! I went over the hill—or is it a mountain?—at the back, and got into another parish, if not another world,” and he proceeded to give a brief sketch of his adventures.
“Ghosts, murderers, enchantments, lunatics, and spells,” exclaimed Mrs. Money, with a comma between each word. “Oh, you lucky boy. Why, I have been here six months, and never come across anything thrilling.”
“Who would believe that we were within a few hours of the roaring ’buses of Piccadilly, much less that we had a telephone in the house? It sounds as if we had dropped back into the Middle Ages.”
“Not at all,” put in his father. “You merely dropped down into the wild side of the country, where the people are another race.”
“And speak another language,” said Denis. “I called out to an old man in a field to ask my way, and he jabbered back at me for five minutes in an unknown lingo—I thought he was mad.”
“No, indeed, the poor fellow was merely addressing you in his native tongue.”
“I suppose one can get along without it over here; English is understood?” he asked with a smile.
“English is understood—but not the English people,” rejoined his father emphatically.
“1 admire the Irish language,” said Julia, “it sounds like Spanish; I am sorry it is dying out. The people—real natives of the soil—are rather interesting, and so delightfully courteous.”
“I wonder if you would consider Paddy Pinafore interesting and courteous. If he is not mad, my mind must be giving way.”
“Oh, Paddy is our local lunatic,” explained Mr. Money. “He has marvellous power over animals, and some wonderful cures for cattle. He is a combination of vet., herd, earth-stopper, and fairy doctor. Folks go to him for miles around, bringing sick or unruly beasts. Animals are not the least afraid of Paddy—which is more than can be said of his own species. There is a little mystery about him—no one knows where he lives—and mystery breeds awe. However, as far as I can judge, he is as harmless as a fly, and I must confess that he made a wonderful cure of one of the carriage horses.”
“How was that?” inquired Denis.
“The brute seemed to go suddenly crazy in the stable, the vet. could do nothing; and some one suggested Paddy—the fairy doctor. You will laugh to hear that I called him in. However, he did not condescend to appear, but sent, with instructions, three bottles by messenger. The contents of one to be rubbed all over the beast, of number two to be poured into its ears, number three emptied down its throat.”
“And the result?”
“A complete cure. She fetched you from the station yesterday.”
“I shall certainly employ Paddy,” said Denis. “He will be invaluable in the hunting season, when one has given a horse a gruelling or a sore back. I noticed that there are several large places about, and I suppose some good covers?”
“Well, yes. The covers are a sure draw, but one or two houses are empty or practically so—the owners played out, or extinct. There’s Creeshe, a beautiful spot, dropping to pieces. I believe the two Miss Dwyers live there—on potatoes and porridge, sooner than part with their heirlooms. They speed their day polishing and dusting their old silver—a famous collection. I don’t believe they have a penny in the world beyond what they make by letting the lawn, rearing turkeys, and doing needlework, yet they possess two or three thousand ounces of silver, worth twenty shillings an ounce. They would starve rather part with a spoon!”
“Is it a good neighbourhood, Ju?” asked Denis, turning to his stepmother.
“Yes, not bad. We lunch with the Scariffs to-morrow, and you will see some of the people. Lady Scariff was once a celebrated beauty. She is very energetic; she hustles the whole country.”
“Are there any pretty girls?”
“Yes, we have one or two belles—such complexions, like peaches, like milk and roses or strawberries and cream!”
“You are making my mouth water, Ju. When shall I see them—to-morrow?”
“Look here, Denis, my boy,” put in his father, “none of your philandering, platonic love-making, note-writing, hand-squeezing humbug over here. People in Ireland don’t understand that sort of thing. You are either in love, or you are not. There is no intermediate state, nothing,” now joining his square finger-tips together and speaking very deliberately, “between a soul devouring flame and icy cold indifference. If you play any tricks with the simple affections of any of our beauties you will surely get the worst of it! You will find the Irish parent a terribly emphatic personage. Take my advice and leave Irish girls alone.”
Denis, who was smoking, looked gravely at his father’s solemn face and wagging beard. What a preacher he would have made; he only wanted a surplice.
“How do you know that they will leave me alone?” he asked with a lazy smile, as he knocked the ashes off his cigarette.
Mr. Money contemplated his flippant offspring with a pair of stern dark eyes. Well, he must admit that he was a deuced good-looking fellow. Just the sort to interest a girl, and steal the first affections of a simple little country maiden.
“Of course, I’m only joking, sir. I’ve come over here to hunt, not to play the fool. Take notice that I give my heart over into Ju’s keeping. Ju, mind you lock it up in your jewel safe.”
“An empty offer, my dear Denis.”
“Because you haven’t got any heart for me to keep. It has been all chipped away till nothing remains. You gave your last bit to Florry Carson.”
“Granted. But perhaps I shall grow a new one over here in this funny country, where people are said to be all heart—it’s catching.”
“I don’t think it is at all likely. There must be a predisposition to take infection.”
“What about your horses, Denis?” asked Mr. Money, suddenly. “You’d better see about them at once. I suppose you will limit seven days a fortnight.”
“I shall want a couple myself, the armchair, elderly gentleman style. There’s a dealer who lives about three miles away—between this and Scariff, an ill-conditioned ruffian, but a well-known man for keeping the best of cattle. You might look over his stud to-morrow afternoon.”
“The sooner the better, sir.”
“Ride over from Scariff after lunch. Ulick Doyne will take you. The hunters are said to be well bred and broken. A girl, a mere child, his daughter, trains them—a marvellously plucky rider.”
“Pretty, of course!”
“No, ugly,” with elaborate emphasis. “A white-faced, determined looking little devil.”
“Oh, Anthony, what a description,” cried his wife. “I’ve seen her in church—a meek, harmless little creature.”
“She ought to be at school instead of schooling horses. She has the most wonderful hands on a bridle, they say—and can hardly hold a pen.”
“Who knows but that maybe a boon and a blessing to her, poor creature,” remarked Mrs. Money, standing up as she spoke. “Come along, you have smoked quite enough; Denis, you and I must have our usual game of piquet,” and she trailed away in her magnificent tea-gown followed by the two obedient men.
The arrival of wealthy Mr. Money’s only son (and heir) had not been lost upon the neighbourhood. Lady Bundoran organized a dinner in his honour, while Lady Scariff postponed a luncheon party in order that he might be present. She had two nieces on a visit with her—and eligible young men, alas! were rare.
Even Kathleen Hare had spent three whole days in composing and sewing a bright green velveteen blouse for the occasion—first impressions were so important. Poor Kathleen! He remembered the blouse when he had forgotten you, so frightful did he esteem it.
The Hares of Wilde Park had descended in the world—but only a few steps so far. They had not come down with one ruinous crash like the O’Biernes of Carrig, nor fallen into miserable poverty like the Dwyers of Creeshe, much less abandoned their old home in despair, like the Connells of Cion Lara, now known as Racehill.
Mr. Hare served on the grand jury; he was a J.P. and Deputy-Lieutenant, his son was in the army, and his daughter—it is the women of the family who generally feel the first pinch! Kathleen made most of her own dresses, wore cheap gloves, no longer subscribed to a library, traveled third-class (when far from home), and had seen the last of maid and saddle horse.
She was a bright, clever girl, full of spirit, aye, and family pride. She showed a bold front to the world, was a capital manager, there was no sign of shabbiness or stinginess about the house and gardens at Wilde Park, and people little guessed how hard the young mistress worked early and late to bring about such satisfactory results. Her father talked incessantly of “bad times,” of curtailed income, of poverty, precisely as if he was within a step of the workhouse; but he had still his usual little comforts, his club, his “Times,” his excellent tailor, his season ticket on the railway, good cook, and incessant cigar.
He was a trim, meek (looking) little man, a diffuse “raconteur,” a shameless gossip, with a pair of twinkling eyes that noted all the holes in every coat save his own.
By half-past one o’clock the luncheon party at Scariff Castle was in full swing.
We observe Lady Scariff, a petite, vivacious woman with snow-white hair, beautifully dressed, and brilliant dark eyes, clever, energetic, intriguante, an eager manager of other people’s affairs. Lord Scariff, silent and learned, with a long head and melancholy nose. He was much more interested in ancient Egypt than in modern Ireland, and was hungering at the present moment, not for more roast pheasant, but for the last volume of the “Mission Archeologique du Caire.” Mr. Hare, Mrs. Vance (Mr. Hare’s niece), a dashing, full-sized young lady in a perfectly cut gown and a smart French toque (which exhibited almost every known colour and yet seemed quiet and ladylike: the combination had cost ten guineas, and poor Mr. Vance was only a struggling tea planter in Mysore. Oh, fie! Mrs. Vance). There was Lady Marion Beleek, Lord Bundoran’s eldest “girl” (who had bicycled over), rapid, reckless, bonne enfant, in a neat Norfolk jacket and skirt, sailor hat, and pince-nez. Two Miss De Braynes, Lady Scariff’s recent importations, bien coiffée, bien corsetée, conventional, critical, and prepared to be either amused or shocked, according to their company. Already they and the Hare ladies had taken a most inveterate dislike to one another, although they had not exchanged a single word—merely glances. Mr. and Mrs. Money, the latter more imperial than ever in velvet and sables, her eyes and her diamond rings seemed to illuminate the whole table. Denis Money, an officer from the Barracks, Captain Montague, and Major Montfort (who was at home on leave staying for a few days with the Hares, his cousins); last, but not least, Ulick Doyne, Lord Scariff’s son and heir.
There was a loud buzz of sustained conversation, from which we gather such remarks as: “Land at prairie value”; “Immense chiné silk sleeves”; “Confirmed wind sucker”; “and ordered back to the Curragh,” before sitting down to listen in a business-like manner.
“Well, Mr. Money, and what do you think of Ireland?” inquired Mr. Hare, who was making an excellent dinner.
“Don’t you think it’s rather soon to offer an opinion as I’ve only been three days in the country?”
“What about first impressions—eh? Well, I’ll not press you; we Irish gentry are a dying out race, and you are only looking on at our last struggle.”
“And what is the cause of this general collapse?” inquired Denis.
“Oh, every one you ask will give you a different answer; but, as far as I know, there are a hundred reasons for the one result. Eh, my lord?” now appealing to his host, and, indeed, recalling him from that ancient land—the meeting-place of East and West.
Lord Scariff looked up and nodded his head impatiently. He knew as little about the question, perhaps less, than his keen-faced butler, who was offering him potatoes. But then he was well up on Egypt, and could speak with authority on Coptic inscriptions, the conditions of the grain trade in the days of the Pharaohs, and the excursions of Herodotus.
“Reckless imprudence, insane extravagance and display” (it was truly delicious to hear these expressions from “thriftless Tommy”), “speculations, misfortunes, and the great famine. The change began then; thousands of rich lost their income, and thousands of poor their lives; heavy family charges have ‘water-logged’ many estates; it was ‘after me, the deluge,’ with a vengeance. Absenteeism has much to answer for, and the Union, which gave Irish gentry a call to London and a taste for London life; steam had a hand in it, too, people got away all over the world, and found other countries more to their liking, more life, more fun, more employment—went away and never came back.”
“A good country to live out of,” said Denis, helping himself to sauce. “So I’ve heard—only heard; mind you!”
“Oh, many’s the lie you will hear about poor Ireland. Agriculture is at a very low ebb. How can we compete with foreign wheat and frozen cattle? We represent, so to speak, one great farm, we have little or no manufactures, no coal or iron. The root of our poverty is foreign competition, and, I say it boldly, free trade; yes, and I say more; let Irishmen combine, and sink their differences, and let them not tamely stand by and see the bread taken out of their mouths by Americans and Germans.” He paused, looked across at Miss De Brayne for applause, swallowed a mouthful of Burgundy, and continued. “ Wages and wants have increased, the whole aspects, requirements, and characteristics of the country have altered since society was based on the potato!” (Denis had considered his father a loss to the pulpit or platform, but he was nothing to this man.)
“Paddy in knee breeches, the comic Paddy—if he ever existed—dancing jigs, faction fighting, and driving pigs, is no more. His son is a solemn person, who travels, wears a tweed suit, a Waterbury watch, and reads a daily paper—not forgetting the betting lists and the Stock Exchange. Instead of being driven, the pig now drives. I saw one coming from the fair yesterday, cuddled up in a cart alongside of a pretty girl, as comfortable as a ‘bug in a rug!’”
At the last sentence Miss Agatha de Brayne, who had been a scornful listener, stiffened with disapproval, and positively glared upon Mr. Hare, who, serenely unconscious, continued.
“Ah, yes, old Ireland is changed; we have reformed for the worse!”
“I am sincerely sorry to hear it,” exclaimed Money, “for I have always understood that Ireland was the land of pretty girls, witty men, and famous horses.”
“Oh, as for the horses, they are in the country, and I daresay we could show you a pretty girl or two still, and while as to the wit”—he paused and smiled with coy complacency—he was thinking of himself.
“I’ve not heard one joke since I arrived.”
“Only three days ago; my dear young man, you must give us time.”
“Maybe Mr. Money is one of those unfortunate wretches we hear about that can’t see a joke,” put in Mrs. Vance, with a flash of her matchless teeth and eyes. She was seated next to Major Montfort, and, judging by his low “ha, ha’s,” had kept him well entertained.
“As for horses,” continued Mr. Hare, “wait till you see what Matt Scully can show you. I say no more.” (His daughter Kathleen, who was placed on Denis Money’s right hand, most ardently wished that this would be the case.) “He keeps nothing but the best; a finer judge never stood; though he is a holy show in the saddle, he goes about with his eyes open—no one ever got to the blind side of him in a bargain! He picks up good-looking long tails at about twenty pounds, puts them in hard condition, breaks them—faith! he has the finest breaker in the whole world, and one that does not cost him a halfpenny—and then, bedad! sir, he sells them as made hunters, for two or three hundred guineas. He got four hundred for a horse at the show last August; I know it for a fact.”
“He must be a rich man.”
“He ought to be; a fair farmer, a grand horse dealer, but he dabbles on the turf and the Stock Exchange, and I am inclined to think that he has been badly hit once or twice.”
“We can all sympathize,” put in Ulick Doyne. “We have all been there.”
“Speak for yourself, Ulick—and more shame for you.”
“And you can speak for me too,” said Lady Mary. “I came a regular howler at Leopardstown. “
“Anyhow Scully has a pack of low connections, jockeys, and blacklegs,” pursued Mr. Hare. “I’m not saying a word, mind you, against jocks as a class. I know half a dozen with beautiful hands and clean ones; but Bully Scully is in with a different lot.”
“Bully—is that his name?” asked Denis.
“Yes, and well deserved. As sweet as new milk to you or me; a terrible fellow at home, or in the stable yard. A dog whip, an empty decanter, or even a pitchfork, comes ready to his hand!”
“My dear daddy,” protested Kathleen, who had long been chafing at seeing him entirely monopolize her partner, “do let us have a pleasanter topic than Matty Scully; he is a horror, Mr. Money, and his womankind are to match. I really do think that a little of his dog whip would do Tilly Scully no harm.”
“Ah, now, Kathleen, women are always down on their own sex, and you are only joking. Talking of jokes, Mr. Money,” continued her irrepressible parent, “you’re saying you never heard a witty speech yet puts me in mind of a story I heard the other day.” Here poor Kathleen almost stamped under the table; never again would she sit near her father at a luncheon party. “It was our parish priest. He saw a parishioner going into the public-house at Ballybawl, a car driver, and he calls out to him, ‘Paddy, where are ye going?’ ‘Into the house for a drink, yer reverence.’ ‘Then if you do, mind this—the devil is going in along with you!’ ‘Troth and if he is,’ said Paddy, unmoved, ‘he must pay for himself—for I’ve only the price of wan glass about me.’”
“That was Paddy Mooney, of course,” said Mrs. Vance, eagerly, leaning across, as she spoke. “Wait till I tell you about him. The other evening I came home late from the station and took a cover car. It was pouring cats and dogs, and when I got to the door at Wilde Park I said, ‘Now, Paddy, which will you have, a pint of porter, or a glass of punch?’ ‘Well,’ said he, ‘since you are so pressing, miss, I’ll just be amusing myself with the porter while ye are making me the dandy of punch.’”
“Doatie,” said Mr. Hare, “did you hear that Mr. Money finds that the Irish girls beat all description?” (an invention on the spot.)
“How nice of him. Did you come by Cork, Mr. Money? I’m afraid you must have been kissing the Blarney stone,” making this accusation with twinkling eyes.
“Ah, sure you know very well if he had,” said her uncle, “he would never be so simple, or so nice,” with a side wink at the young man. “Don’t let Matt Scully find that out,” he added impressively. “He is a sly old fox. You are going over there after lunch with Ulick, I understand.”
Lady Scariff caught the last words, and said:
“Evelyn and Agatha, run away, my dears, and get on your habits; it’s past two o’clock. You can ride part of the way with Ulick and Mr. Money. Lady Mary, I hear that you and Captain Montague are going to bike back together, and, Mrs. Money, I know that you have a long round of visits to pay. Kathleen and Doatie, I can drop you at the gate as I pass.” And having thus arranged every one’s programme, she rose and swept gracefully out of the room, driving all the other ladies before her.
“How shockingly Aunt Gussie arranged the table,” grumbled Agatha to her sister, as they mounted the stairs together. “You and I sat on one side, divided by that idiot Ulick, and that fearful Vance woman had Major Montfort, and the bogtrotter girl in green young Money.”
“She did not have much of young Money,” retorted the other with a sneer. “Her gabbling old parent absorbed all his attention; she never got in a word. Thank heaven, such fathers are not known in our set.” And having offered her this morsel of consolation, she closed her bedroom door.
In half an hour the luncheon party had been dispersed by their active hostess—she invariably managed everything in her own agreeable, arbitrary fashion. The Moneys had driven off in their victoria, Lady Mary on a white bike had flashed gracefully away, her landau was waiting, and she had just dispatched Agatha and Eveline, escorted by three cavaliers, and followed by a couple of grooms. Her nieces were admirably mounted; their saddles exhibited the latest improvements, their habits were the newest thing out, and included the last invention in patent skirts; their hats were just right; collars, gloves and hair corresponded, and they looked like a pair of tailor’s fashion-plates as they moved slowly and stiffly from the door. Oh, unhappy fashion-plates! They only rode because it was the correct thing—the fashion. Mild canters in the Row, accompanying strong flirtations—that was their idea of equestrian exercise; and then these Irish horses were so terribly excitable, and Ulick’s cob was all over the place—or did he do it on purpose? Ulick was wildly implored by his cousin Agatha to ride behind—not to come near her; she, with shaken nerves, kept confidingly close to Mr. Denis Money, and made no secret of her fears; she thought that he looked as if he admired a “womanly” woman. If so, his looks bewrayed him, for his one passion was riding, and he hated cowards. Even his companion’s unimpeachable turnout, her creaseless coat and perfect tie failed to temper his scorn, though it was stifled. What on earth did the girl mean by getting on horseback, if when her horse plunged a little she looked as if she was going to cry, and assumed the colour of a suet dumpling? However, by-and-by Miss Agatha found her voice. She alluded to an approaching ball, to the pleasures of biking, and to his neighbour at lunch.
“What a man! Oh, what a tongue!”
“Yes, his name isn’t Brook, is it?”
“Because he goes on forever. But I liked him all the same.”
“I did not, I hate an elderly chatterbox,” she added, quite viciously. Then they proceeded to discuss last season in town, Henley, Hurlingham, the popular plays, and pictures; and so the time and distance passed quickly enough until they found themselves at a large white wooden gate.
“Is this it?” asked Denis Money, as the lady drew up with a sigh of relief.
“Yes. They say it is painted white that Mr. Scully may know it when he comes home intoxicated. This is Racehill, as the place is now called, because there is not a racecourse within twenty miles.”
“Oh, and are you not coming in to see the horses?” inquired the young man. “Won’t you give us the benefit of your opinion, Miss De Brayne?”
Miss De Brayne knew as much about the points of a horse as she did of the composition of the fixed stars.
“I should enjoy it of all things—I am so devoted to horses.” She hated the species, and looked forward with joy to the days of motor cars and their utter extinction. “But you see Aunt Augusta would not approve. Mr. Scully is not quite a common man, and he has belongings who are such pushing creatures that if we only rode into the yard they would declare it was a ‘call,’” with a hard little laugh, “and there are all kinds of disreputable, horrible people about—jockies and bookies.”
“In fact quite a den of thieves,” he said chaffingly. “I wonder if I had better leave my watch and money with you?”
“No, no. But, joking apart, pray be careful. You may lose more than a watch,” with an ill-assumed air of banter. “Do ride over to lunch to-morrow or next day, and show us your new purchase. Major Montfort wants a hunter too, but he says he is too heavy, and too hard up. He is riding the Hares’ carriage horse—poor man.”
Major Montfort and her sister now joined them, and after a few moments—during which the men were secretly impatient of the delay, and the girls secretly anxious to remain—the latter reluctantly trotted off, followed by a groom, and the former proceeded up the avenue to Racehill. Major Montfort was a tall, broad-shouldered man of five-and-thirty, a distant connection of the Hares, a distinguished soldier, unmarried, poor, nevertheless popular. He attended merely in the character of a looker-on and adviser, riding a brougham horse—an animal with a will corresponding to Lady Scariff’s, and a mouth like a drinking fountain. Ulick Doyne had been at Eton with Denis, and was the gay, irresponsible heir to the shrunken Scariff estates. However, his clever mother had his interests at heart, and intended to marry him to wealth and beauty. The trio rode between neat wire palings, and a series of flat, well-farmed tillage fields, and finally arrived at a heavy stone archway, on which was carved an imposing but time-worn coat of arms, with the motto so defaced that the only word legible was “Morte.” This gate led into an immense yard. The establishment appeared to be in apple-pie order, and on a much larger scale than Mr. Money had anticipated. There were long rows of neatly painted stable doors, with the orthodox horseshoe over each, a number of loose boxes, out of which protruded one or two lean inquisitive heads; there was a forge in full swing, and the whole place was encompassed by large rick yards and substantial hay stacks, save on the north side, where stood a straggling, dilapidated grey house, commanding the entire premises, and where, from one particular upper window, Scully, half-dressed and unshorn, might every morning be seen and heard, bawling, between threats and curses, his orders for the day.
As Money swung back the heavy iron gate a wiry little man, in a long-sleeved waistcoat, ran out of a harness-room, with a polishing steel in his hand.
“Hullo, Garry,” cried Ulick Doyne. “Is Mr. Scully in?”
“He is not, sir; but he might be about the place. Peter,” to a helper, “have ye seen himself?”
“No; I belave he’s gone to the town with Casey Walshe.”
“See that now!” exclaimed Garry, turning to the visitors; “but if it’s about a horse, maybe I could tell ye as many lies as another.”
“Garry here is the head man,” explained Doyne to his companions. “Well, Garry, we rather wanted to see if you had anything to suit this gentleman,” indicating Money—“something about five years old, fifteen two to sixteen hands, sound, a stone over his weight, clever across country, a fine, bold jumper, with a turn of speed—you know the sort.”
“To be sure I do,” emphatically; “as handsome as paint, as well-bred as Orme, to carry a lady, draw a bicycle, to play on the Jew’s-harp, price moderate; ain’t we asked for that pattern every day of the week and Sunday, but we only sell them in large quantities, and thirteen to the dozen.”
Money looked fixedly at the groom, an undersized man of fifty, with a hatchet face and mobile mouth; his eyes, as he met the customer’s steady gaze, were as totally devoid of expression as a blank wall.
“I should not think that you were the means of disposing of many of Mr. Scully’s horses,” remarked the former pointedly.
“Well, maybe not; that part of the business is in better hands,” replied the other with the utmost composure, “and by jigs and reels, here’s himself, so you’re all right,” as at this moment two men clattered under the archway into the yard.
The elder was presumably Mr. Scully—a stout individual, with a large, red, clean-shaven face glowing between a grey felt hat and a white neckerchief. He wore a shooting coat, very serviceable breeches and gaiters, and was riding a superb brown cob—fit to carry an archbishop. His companion was a remarkably lean person, who somehow reminded one of a weazel; his cunning little reddish brown eyes were sunk in an undeniably bloated countenance, he was got up in irreproachable riding-gear, and mounted on a powerful-looking bay, who wore blue bandages on his forelegs, and was, in fact, that well-known veteran steeplechaser, hero of many unexpected victories, and still more mysterious defeats, known as “Pet Fox.” Pet Fox himself had a fine bold eye and an honest face (which was more than any one could say of the gentleman who bestrode him).
“Can I do anything for you?” asked Scully, in a loud, affable voice. “Oh, Mr. Doyne,” taking off his hat. “Oh, I beg your pardon, sir; proud and happy to see you. Come to look round the hunters? Most welcome, and your friends as well. We are rather low at present. I sent three to England, and sold six at the Show; but I have still some very nice workmanlike nags that you might care to see and try.”
“This is Major Montfort and Mr. Money—Mr. Denis Money, Mr. Scully,” explained Doyne. “He wants something to carry him pleasantly and well; you must do your best for him, as he is a friend of mine.”
“Certainly, Mr. Doyne. Don’t I always do my best for every one? Here Dan, Peter, Garry, bring out Cherry and the Squire, and the Minx—yes, and the black colt—maybe,” suddenly dismounting with a heavy lurch, “you’ll like to go over the stables and take your pick first;” to which suggestion the visitors agreed with great alacrity. The stables displayed all the latest inventions in the way of sanitation and ventilation, and were really a picture, and appropriately filled.
“You’d like to see them moving, I’d lay a fiver,” cried the proprietor, “and maybe throw your leg over one or two of them; for example, that brown over there, with the grand quarters—the Squire.”
“Yes,” answered Money, “I must say I should.”
“And I should not,” confessed Doyne; “I loathe and abhor strange animals. In me you behold a valuable curiosity: an Irishman who cannot ride.”
“Ah, now, Mr. Doyne, be aisy; sure ye can ride as well as the best in it when you like. We have first-class galloping ground and several made-up leps,” continued Scully, addressing himself particularly to Money. “Where’s Miss Jerry?” turning sharply to Garry. “Now, what the—oh, begor—talk of the divil.”
For at this moment a shrill young voice called out: “Garry, ye omadthawn, can’t ye open the gate?”
“Hullo, Jerry,” cried Scully, “what’s up now?” as in another instant a girl of sixteen, on an uncommonly hot, excited-looking thoroughbred, dashed into the yard.
“I can’t do anything with her at all on this bit,” she answered. “Garry, look here.”
“This is Mr. Doyne and Mr. Money and a friend come to have a look round,” explained Scully, as he scrambled back into his saddle. “So, whenever your bridle is quite to your liking we will go back with you, my dear.”
His “dear” merely nodded, and gravely took in the three visitors, or rather customers, with a glance of very cool inquiry.
“Miss Jerry” was not ugly—far from it, was Denis Money’s instant verdict, and looked as thoroughbred as the magnificent animal she rode.
Her features were most delicately cut—the nose straight, the chin rather square, the upper lip short and scornful, the mouth a pleasure to contemplate, but at this moment severely compressed.
Hers were the real true and only Irish eyes. Deep blue, gazing out beneath long sweeping lashes, and firmly penciled, even black brows. Her hair was extremely dark, fine as silk, and twisted up into a tight coil, as thick as a “suggawn” (hay-rope). Her complexion left much to be desired. Impossible to guess at its natural condition, for it was as tanned as a boy’s from exposure to all weathers. It was chiefly to her eyes, her wonderful eyes, that Miss Jerry owed the individuality, expression, and beauty that were to be seen in her otherwise rather thin and colourless face. Her figure was slight, almost childish, but every line of her body seemed alive; her hands looked tiny (even in white woollen gloves); the wrists, however, were bony, ugly, and unusually developed. She wore a very short blue habit (the skirt much patched), and a rusty sailor hat, but she sat her horse like some royal personage, and her attitude, her air of superb self-possession, actually confounded young Money.
He could do nothing but stare, and stare, and stare; while the fidgety mare struggled violently with Garry, and flung her head about, tossing great flakes of foam around as she sidled and backed here and there. Meanwhile her rider remained immovable, as serenely composed as if she were occupying some well-stuffed armchair.
“Well, young one, are ye settled to yer liking now? Then right about,” cried Scully. “Garry and Peter, bring on them horses.” So saying, he led the way out of the yard, and began pounding down a muddy lane overhung with ash trees, whose falling leaves rained a heavy shower upon the troop of riders; viz., Scully, Jerry, the three gentlemen, Garry, the stableman, and Mr. Doyne’s spick and span English groom.
Through a gate on the right they turned into a large pasture, the first of a succession of fields, which exhibited a number of safe, well-made jumps—nothing to frighten man or horse. There were hurdles, doubles, banks, and a couple of loose stone walls.
“Give us a lead, Garry,” bellowed his master, as they filed through the open gate; and Garry, still coatless, riding the Squire, bustled forward and put his animal into motion. The handsome, self-possessed brown negotiated the fences as rapidly and neatly as if he had been a new species of large mechanical toy. He was eagerly followed by Money, on the Minx—a fine but flighty performer. Meanwhile, Major Montfort on the brougham horse, and Ulick Doyne on his cob, remained spectators; also the old steeplechaser, who, as well as his rider, superintended the business with solemn interest and the air of a professional critic.
“Casey,” cried Mr. Scully, suddenly turning in his saddle, “will you have a shot?”
But Casey merely shook his head, with a smile of scornful amusement, as much as to say, “Imagine asking me to join in such child’s play,” although Pet Fox tossed his head impatiently, blew loudly through his nostrils, and would have been glad enough to share the fun.
“Well, now then, Jerry,” said Scully, authoritatively, “away you go.”
“I don’t think I ever saw a handsomer mare,” remarked Money to Garry, as the chestnut sprang forward. “If she is half as good as she looks I shall buy her.”
“And what use would she be to you?” asked the groom, with chilling contempt. “Sure ye could never ride her.”
“The young lady—” began Money.
“Augh!” impatiently. “If ye think ye can ride like her, ye have a fine consate of yourself.”
Meanwhile Jerry, with the chestnut well in hand, had taken the jumps at steeplechasing pace, and was now once more ranged up alongside the dealer.
“It’s as easy as kiss me hand, you see,” lie exclaimed complacently. “Bedad, too easy entirely. We will just jog into the far field, and show you some real fences. That filly,” pointing to the chestnut, “is a wonder. She jumped twenty-two feet of a double yesterday, and never put an iron astray. Now, Mr. Money, I see the Minx is too meek and demure for you; change her with Peter, and ride Black Pat, and then you’ll know what flying in the air means. He is only four, and a bit raw still, but very eager and kind.”
Young Money, nothing loth, now exchanged the Minx for a rather leggy, black colt of over sixteen hands.
“He is not a bad shaped one,” remarked Casey condescendingly. “But he has too much daylight under him, governor, to please me.”
“Arrah, will ye get out, Casey, and not be crabbing me horses,” cried the other, with a kind of playful ferocity. “Mr. Money, let me present you to Mr. Casey Walshe, one of the finest gentleman riders in the kingdom.” Money nodded, and Walshe raised one finger to his cap with an air of the deepest gravity. “Rode the winner in the Sefton Handicap at Aintree, won the Coningham Cup twice at Punchestown, rode—”
“Come, now, governor, spare my blushes,” he remonstrated, with a forced laugh. To tell the truth, his appeal was superfluous, his complexion being always one huge blush. An excellent rider in his day—a day now passed by several years—he had experienced more narrow escapes than most men, not so much from dangerous mounts and awkward corners as from the stewards. They had had him under surveillance for a long period, had more than suspected him on several occasions, but he had invariably escaped. It was a common saying on the Turf that “there was no better man to break a stirrup leather, be left at the post, or ride a punishing race—as it suited him—than Casey Walshe.”
Latterly Mr. Walshe had, unfortunately, yielded to an unquenchable thirst for cold water and whisky—say a glass of cold water in a tumbler of spirits—and was often drunk when the starter’s flag fell. He had completely lost his nerve—a fact which but few suspected, for he talked and bragged a good deal of the first-class mounts he had refused owing to bad health, and the imploring and piteous appeals he received by wire or post from this or that notable owner. But it was really a man with a shattered constitution, and an absolutely quaking coward, who sat the old steeplechaser, and scornfully superintended the “lepping.”
“Before we go we must have a shy at the yellow ditch,” said Scully, who spoke exactly as if he personally took part in these feats of horsemanship. “You lead the way, Garry. Give him a bit of a round first. Casey, of course, it’s only a potato furrow to you, but just clap your pride in your pocket for once, and oblige me by putting the old one over it to show them all how it ought to be done.”
“Thanks, no, governor,” with impassive dignity. “The Fox and I are quite satisfied to umpire the performance.”
“Your animal seems very hot and fidgety,” observed Money to the girl, whose mare was again tearing and snatching at her bit, and moving round and round, and up and down, as if the cool, short grass were hot bricks.
“She’s put out, that’s all,” returned her rider, carelessly arranging a stray lock on the fiery creature’s mane. “She did not like her bit, and being brought out a second time, and she is always wild when she gets among a lot of horses.”
The Squire now passed, at an easy swinging canter, his ears pricked, his hind legs well under him, and, sailing up to the yellow ditch and bank, he topped the latter with scarcely an effort. As Scully slapped his leg approvingly, Casey remarked:
“Yes, and he gallops in good form; but to my eyes, governor, he stands over a bit. Sell him soon.”
“That’s the animal for me!” shouted Ulick Doyne, with great enthusiasm. “A confidential, easy-going gentleman! What’s his figure, Matt?”
“Two hundred. Now, Mr. Money, let us see what sort of a hand you’ll make of it.”
Money wheeled sharply about, he and his steed being equally keen on going, gave the black a smart, unnecessary cut, and the pair went thundering down the field at a headlong gallop.
“Too fast, too fast, man alive!” roared the hoarse, husky voice of Mr. Scully. “Thunder and turf, faith, ye nearly did it then.”
The black, who had been too hurried to pull himself together, had given one wild leap forward like a stag. Luckily for him, the top of the ditch was on a level with the next field, and he merely blundered on to his nose, and recovered with a flounder.
“‘Nearly’ never killed a man!” cried Money, who was in boyish spirits, thanks to the keen autumn air, the young blood racing in his veins, and the young thoroughbred under him.
“Who’s next? Come on, Doyne; don’t be an ass, it’s not as big as it looks. Then Montfort, you can ride,” to the other who kept far aloof. “Bring along old Julius Caesar,” alluding to his animal’s profile. “A man can die but once. Make room for the lady! Out of the road for ‘Dancing Girl’!” screamed Scully, as at this instant the chestnut came tearing up, her rider sitting squarely, her hands well down.
“What a determined little face,” thought Money, who confronted her across the obstacle.
Quick as lightning the treacherous mare stopped dead short, and slewed round on the very brink of the ditch—which was wide and full to the brim of yellowish water.
“Ah, ha! Is that the way with her?” roared her owner, while Jerry trotted her back into the middle of the field, and then once more put her at the fence, at a fast gallop. Even so, the ill-tempered and supple “Dancing Girl” again turned on the very brink, with extraordinary agility, and it seemed a miracle to Money that her rider did not go over her head, but retained her seat and balance.
“It’s a first-class thrashing she wants,” bawled the dealer, whose purple face was nearly black with rage. “She has been working for it this whole week.” As he spoke he slowly produced from the pocket of his riding coat a truly formidable dog whip—which he uncoiled with a vicious shake.
“No, no, no! Oh, you know she won’t stand it,” pleaded the girl excitedly. “Only let me try her just once more; I know she will take it. Please, please give her time.”
“Time, indeed! damn you and your time! Do ye want to destroy her? I’ll teach her who is master here. I’ll cut her into ribbons,” edging nearer and nearer. “I’ll flay her alive!”
“That’s right, governor,” screamed Casey, approvingly. “That’s right, lay into her well, whale her.”
“Please, please,” urged a clear, piteous, girlish voice. “Don’t just this once—I’m—”
“Afraid, are ye!” roared Scully, making a sudden rush, and bringing down the whip with a savage lash upon the chestnut’s shining flank.
She stood stock-still, and trembled for two seconds, as if she could not realize the indignity; then reared straight on end, in a manner that was horrible to witness, twisted herself round, and bolted.
She went away up the field, like some demented creature, the wind whistling past her ears, and made a dash for the open gate.
“My God, she’ll be killed!” cried Money, while he watched the maddened brute approach this critical point. Would she do it? Would she clear the stone piers? He caught his breath. Yes, marvellous to relate, she just shaved through, nearly lost her legs in turning, and with a clatter of frantic hoofs tore on to the stable-yard.
“Begor, he has done it this time,” gasped Garry. “He has flogged a horse once too often; she’s a dead girl if the iron gate is fast.” Money suddenly remembered a certain gate with spikes—and shuddered. “If not, the mare will brain the child in the stable.”
Garry’s face was colourless, and rigid as the face of a corpse. He thrust the Squire back over the ditch at a stand, followed by the sprawling black, and this conversation took place as the two men raced neck and neck across the forty acres.
“There’s no fear,” puffed Scully, who nevertheless was scouring behind them with a somewhat faded complexion. Also Major Montfort, galloping ventre à terre on the astounded brougham horse.
Casey alone brought up the rear, holding his lean sides with suppressed laughter; but on this particular occasion he had the joke entirely to himself.
“No fear, no fear,” panted the dealer breathlessly, as he scuttled up the lane. “She’s well used to these little adventures—naught was never in danger.”
“I thought you’d a lesson, Matt Scully,” cried Garry, turning on him with a dangerous gleam in his eyes, “that time, not long back, when Lunatic fell on her, and broke her arm! and, by the vestment, if harm—” he paused.
They were now in sight of the iron gate which separated the lane from the fodder yard. No! no still, limp heap lay near it; no horrid spectacle of lifeless girl or struggling horse met their view.
“Golly! If that chestnut devil ’asn’t cleared it,” cried Scully, as Garry dashed it open. “An’ there, didn’t I tell ye?” he added triumphantly, as they passed through and caught sight of a groom leading the runaway out of a stable. Jerry, white, but composed, still sat her, apparently unhurt, with her straw hat pulled far down over her wonderful eyes.
“Deah grasthias,” exclaimed Garry, removing his cap. “Are ye any the worse, acushla oge machree?” It was not once in five years that he was moved to utter his mother tongue.
She shook her head impatiently, and looked hard at Matt Scully. There was something defiant and warlike in the slim, little, well-poised figure and sternly-set lips.
“That’s a nice trick she played you!” remarked the dealer, as he mopped his face with a huge red handkerchief. “Why didn’t ye keep a better hold of her head?” he demanded, in a bantering tone. “What good are ye to let a little mare like that make such a holy show of ye?”
“You know very well that she has too much spirit to stand to be thrashed like a donkey,” rejoined the girl, with a sort of blue flame in her eyes. “If you want to get rid of us say so, and shoot us, but never do that again.”
“No, not till the next time, me darlin!” with a hoarse chuckle.
Money glanced instinctively at Garry, the groom, whose gaze was fixed upon his master; and he was positively startled by the pallid malignity of his features, as he listened to this conversation.
“Well, now,” exclaimed Scully, briskly, “that you have taken the fire edge off the mare, and rubbed the conceit off yourself, we will go down to the fences beyond the white bog, and do the leps out of the well field and the Holy Meadow, for these gentlemen must not be taking away too bad an opinion of my horses.” And in spite of Money’s ironical protest that they had “seen quite sufficient,” he jogged off at a sort of obstinate plodding trot, closely attended by Casey Walshe, and followed by Garry, Miss O’Bierne, and a couple of grooms.
Major Montfort, who with difficulty restrained Julius Caesar from dashing after the party (this was far better fun than trotting between shafts), said:
“Well, I’ve had enough of it. I’m only a looker-on, but, on the whole, I’d rather see a bull fight than a bullied girl. I shouldn’t patronize Scully if I were you, you chaps. What are you staying for?”
“I’m staying on in the interests of the Societies for Prevention of Cruelty to Children and Animals,” was Money’s prompt reply.
“Don’t mind him, Monty,” protested his friend, “he is merely staying on to have a deal. What does he care for children and animals?”
“Oh, I’m just waiting to look after Denis, and see that he is not robbed!”
“Well, I hope both of you will look after that unhappy little girl, and if you want any assistance, I shall be only too delighted to come and give Scully three dozen with his own dog whip.”
So saying, he turned about the head of his sorely disappointed steed, and rode quickly out of the yard.
The two young men glanced significantly at one another, nodded, and then trotted after Mr. Scully in dead silence.
The fences beyond the white bog were large, but sound, and the horses, Minx, Squire, Black Pat, and Dancing Girl, acquitted themselves well—especially the latter, who now faced everything indiscriminately and jumped like a deer.
“She cannot bear being left behind when she wants to go,” explained her rider, apologetically. “I had hard work to keep her back several times.”
Yes, he remembered, and on his account, when, foolhardy and impatient, Black Pat had rushed headlong before her.
“I’m glad you are none the worse for that very nasty runaway,” he said. “I was sure you would come to grief at the gate.”
“Yes, it was rather a narrow shave; but I’m used to all kinds of marvellous escapes. They come off at least once a week; it’s all in the day’s work.”
“How do your nerves stand it?”
“Nerves!” with a faint smile. “I don’t know what they are.”
“Have you ever had a bad accident?”
“No. I have broken my collarbone several times, and one of my fingers, and,” after thought, “yes, and my arm.”
“And still you ride as hard as—as ever, and are afraid of nothing?”
“I’m not afraid of horses, at any rate,” she answered, as she once more set Dancing Girl going, and flew a big double just in front of him.
“As easy as kiss my hand,” he quoted, with a laugh, as he landed almost instantly beside her. They took a round of several fences side by side, and at last returned to the dealer, and the base of operations, with their horses somewhat blown.
“Well, now, Mr. Money, I suppose you’ve had enough?” said Scully. “You’ve given Pat there a terrible bucketing, and done every fence except the Barony boundary, and that’s only fit for a kangaroo or a steeplechaser.”
“I’m sure Casey will be delighted to oblige you,” suggested the girl, with a significant glance at Mr. Walshe.
“Ah! the poor old Fox!” he groaned. “Have you no respect for his forelegs?”
“No, none whatever,” riding boldly up to him. “If you are feeling ill, just let me put him over—I should love it,” and she ranged alongside, calling out, “Garry, come here.”
“Mind your own business, you young cat,” he muttered savagely, reining back several paces as if he was afraid that this audacious creature would seize forcibly upon his steed, and thrust him from his saddle.
“Well, if you like to try the mare over it you can,” said Scully, with the air of one conferring an immense favour.
“Ah! now don’t, Miss Jerry,” protested Garry, in a sharp key. “The mare is done to flittergigs; she couldn’t do it.”
The only notice Miss Jerry vouchsafed to this anxious remonstrance was to put the animal into a stretching gallop, and head her for the boundary.
The boundary was a fairly high and very strong wooden paling, beyond which lay a wide ditch full of water; the taking-off was sound, springy pasture, but the landing was more or less boggy. The sight of a horse—much more horses—going over fences, is a spell that irresistibly attracts the Irish. From some mysterious source, even in that lonely spot, twenty people had collected as if summoned by a magic wand. There were men, women, children (including two infants in arms); most of these were perched about in trees like large crows, or posted on the railings, or any coign of vantage, shouting remarks—encouragement, praise, and blame—precisely as if the whole performance had been organized for their amusement.
Jerry settled her reins, squared herself; yes, she meant business. Was it possible, thought Money, as he also took hold of the horse’s head, that this girl, a mere child, was to show them all the way, and not a man—rapidly counting with his eye—out of six, dared to face the boundary? Were they all to be shamed by this chit? Not he, for one; he would follow her over, even if he broke his neck—a not impossible contingency.
“What!” bawled Scully. “You’re not thinking of it.”
“Oh, yes, but I am. We cannot leave the young lady to do it alone; I’ll be her escort.”
“An’ will you listen to that?” screamed a man from the fork of a tree; “escort to the lady, no less! Mind yourself then, me bould young man; sure she’ll break every bone in your skin. She’d ride the head off of the old wan himself; sorra wan in these parts as much as sees the way she goes. Shure, she’s the divil intirely. Isn’t she, Galloping Jerry?”
“Mind you, Mr. Money, you are going over that fence on your own responsibility,” roared Scully, “and if ye kill the horse, you’ll have to pay his full price.”
“Done with you. If I kill him, I pay, and I—”
“Oh, by the powers of Moll Kelly! here she comes,” interrupted a watcher from a low ash tree.
The chestnut approached the boundary at a steady, sensible canter, gradually increased her pace, rose like a bird, soared over the rails and ditch of water, and landed like a feather amid a storm of shouts of “O’Bierne a boo” (O’Bierne forever), and screams, whoopings, and uproarious enthusiasm, from the spectators in the trees. It was now the black’s turn. He faced the rails willingly enough, devouring the ground with his long black legs, flew the rail, jumped short, and landed with a heavy flop and his hind legs under water, sending Money far over his head.
“No harm done,” shouted his late rider, as he picked himself up, and the black, with a shame-faced air, scrambled to his feet.
“Troth, then,” called out a Milesian voice, “ye wor the only man in it of them all. Forby Miss Jerry, and she’s a great girl entirely, and a credit to the ould country—if that Turk, bully Scully, doesn’t kill her.”
The unfortunate fiasco on the part of Black Pat concluded the performance. Money, having remounted, rode up, and cordially congratulated Miss Jerry, and she, in her turn, showed him how they could go round without further incident and rejoin the rest of the party.
“Oh, so here you are,” cried Doyne, accosting his friend, “and covered with mud and glory. I would not have faced that blessed boundary in cold blood under one thousand pounds. Those fellows in the trees were highly delighted—with you, eh, Miss Jerry?”
“Poor creatures, they don’t have much amusement, and as far as I’m concerned they are very welcome,” was her only reply as she and he trotted along side by side; for Mr. Money had attached himself to the dealer, who sold him Black Pat for eighty-five pounds, subject to a vet.’s opinion, and a luck penny.
“He is a fine up-standing, good-natured slob,” said Scully, “and I know he will give you satisfaction. I’m selling him at half-price, as he is not liked in the yard, and they are anxious to get shut of him.”
“Why?” was the not unnatural query.
“Well, they are a superstitious crew, and they say he is not right. Some one forgot to say ‘Bless the baste’ when he was foaled, and they think the fairies got him. Anyhow, he has no call to be that colour—black without a single white hair; in fact, he is a fairy horse. But if he hasn’t a white hair, you’ll find he has generally a spare leg, and will carry you all day, every day, and the next day as well.”
Once more in the yard, Money dismounted to change horses, and Scully said:
“Now, sir, you must come in and wet the deal. I won’t take ‘No.’ Eh, Mr. Doyne, isn’t it the custom over here?”
“I’m a tea drinker at this hour,” protested Money, with nervous haste.
“Ah, go along! Well, then, Miss Scully will give you a cup of tea and welcome. In with you, and you, Casey, faix,” with a wheezy laugh, “you’re no tea drinker!”
“No. I’m not one of your milk and water chaps,” with an insolent stare at Money.
“The Dancing Girl is very warm,” remarked Doyne, patting her on her damp neck.
“Ay, she has a hot temper,” said Scully. “I like a horse that has a bit of the devil in her; yes, and a girl too,” and he nodded up expressively at Jerry.
“I think this is your daughter’s,” said Money, stooping to pick up a little silver brooch shaped like a horseshoe. “It looks like Miss Scully’s property?”
Scully grinned as he took it, and replied, “You mean my stepdaughter. She,” with a jerk of his thumb, “is not Miss Scully.”
“Jerry, my girl, do you hear that?” cried Casey, with odious familiarity. “Let me introduce you properly to this gentleman. Mr. Money, here is a young lady,” pointing his whip at her, “with the blood of all the royal families of Ireland in her veins—little as you would think it.”
“Better nor some, that haven’t the blood of a hen,” interrupted a savage voice.
“Hold your jaw, Garry. A princess in her own right, and divil a lie in it, whose ancestors owned the half of Munster, and whose last descendant does not own half-a-crown. Isn’t that the way with you, Jerry, my girl?”
The girl’s pale grave face suddenly leaped into light and colour; the red blood raced to her very brow, her dark eyes blazed, and the jockey, noting Money’s expression of angry interrogation, hastened to add—
“Mr. Money, let me present you to Miss O’Bierne of Carrig; Miss O’Bierne, this is Mr. Money,” a significant pause, “of Carrig.”
Money doffed his cap, but the young lady did not deign to notice the introduction save by an odd and presumably involuntary trembling of her lips.
With the name of O’Bierne the old woman’s tale came back to Money in one flash. The scene at the gate, the history of the ancient family—the last of the line was this grave-eyed little girl, who lived indeed by horses, and, as far as he could judge, was likely to die by them too.
How were the mighty fallen! Here was the sole representative of the great O’Biernes, who had built ships and castles, had made war, and held princely state—the butt of a coarse jockey, the unpaid rough rider of a detestable bully. A sudden and inexplicable impulse seized him. He went round and offered to assist her to dismount, with as much deference as if she had been a royal princess.
For a second she looked down at him with questioning eyes. No, he was not making fun of her, not “taking a rise out of her,” so she put a timid little hand on his proffered arm, and jumped lightly to the ground.
“Hullo, Jerry,” cried Scully, “that’s something new. Can’t ye get off your horse without help? Come along, gentlemen, follow—follow me, and we will see if Miss Scully, my niece, will stand us tea!”
And as he spoke he led the way through a side wicket into a wide gravel sweep, in front of a rambling dilapidated mansion. As he walked up the steps to the tumble-down glass porch, he pointed exultantly to rows of built-up windows overgrown with ivy.
“The billiard room,” he announced; “the other side, the ball room. It was a great place in its day, but we are only small people, and live in the corner of it. I put the stable into grand repair, and it’s my boast that old Matt Scully houses his horses ten times better than he does himself.”
The first thing the party encountered in the hall was an overpowering odour of boiled cabbage, diluted with mackintoshes and stale tobacco. The second experience was a hasty glimpse of a buxom, black-eyed slattern, who, exclaiming “Oh, Holy Fly,” promptly disappeared.
The entrance itself was of sufficiently imposing appearance, lofty, spacious, and flagged with white and black marble; several tall solid mahogany doors (the bases of these much scratched by sociable dogs) opened in various directions. Under an ancient carved table were the remains of two dogs’ dinners; the fastidious creatures had left the greens and potatoes, but the neighbourhood of the plates was strewn with the splinters of bones. The majestic but grimy walls were hung with cheap sporting prints, hats, whips, coats; a heap of car cushions and two carriage lamps were carelessly piled in one corner on the floor; a large oil painting of a plain young woman, with thick simpering lips, powdered hair, magnificent pearl stomacher and necklace, hung in a conspicuous place; and the general impression conveyed a mixture of former splendour and present squalor.
“Walk in, walk in,” urged the host, in a loud, hearty voice, and as he opened one of the great mahogany doors he added, “Tilly, here are some gentlemen come to ask you for a cup of tea.”
There was a sound of a sudden mighty rush, as they followed the dealer into his drawing-room (caused, in fact, by Miss Scully, who with marvellous sleight of hand had tossed an old petticoat she was renovating behind the piano). As Money filed in close to Doyne, he saw a rather good-looking woman spring up from a low seat and confront him; she had bright red cheeks, bright brown eyes, a wonderfully-frizzled black fringe; her mouth was large, but exhibited good teeth and a radiant smile. Miss Scully appeared to be about twenty-eight years of age, and wore a shabby plaid skirt, a soiled red blouse, a pair of old tennis shoes, and an air of the utmost affability. Though intensely gratified by this unexpected invasion, she was secretly storming at her bad luck in not having had on her best blue frock and her new gilt bangles.
“Mr. Doyne and Mr. Money, let me present you to my niece, Miss Scully. Now, haven’t I done that in proper style?” inquired the dealer, looking about him for commendation.
Tilly shook hands (her hands were cold and red), and expressed her overwhelming joy.
“Delighted to see any one in this benighted place,” sinking into a chair, with an easy nod to Casey Walshe.
“Well, Tilly,” he cried, as he threw himself at full length on the sofa; “how do you find yourself? Going strong, eh?”
Tilly merely showed her teeth as far back as the molars, and said, “Jerry, ring the bell and order tea.” Jerry obeyed, though Mr. Money had sprung up to anticipate her.
Miss Scully, who was sincerely pleased to make the acquaintance of the Honourable Ulick Doyne, figuratively fastened upon him, and engaged him in lively badinage, to which Matt Scully contributed what he deemed capital jokes, and Casey Walshe from his corner various rude personal remarks. Young Money, who found himself a little beyond the orbit of this brilliant mental circle, fell back, so to speak, upon the company of Miss O’Bierne, and endeavoured to cultivate her acquaintance.
“You will be glad of your tea, I am sure,” he remarked, as they seated themselves. While he spoke his quick roving eye noted the great bare room with three lofty windows overlooking a melancholy pleasure ground. It was a nobly proportioned apartment, the walls and ceilings marvels of old stucco work, the floor of polished oak, half-covered by a gaudy carpet; two long spotted mirrors (fixtures in the walls) proclaimed themselves the remnants of better days, and were kept in countenance by a magnificent white marble chimney-piece. The rest was cheap vulgarity. What had been in former times Lady Bryda Conqell’s white saloon was now Miss Tilly Scully’s tawdry drawing-room—and a very tasty retreat in her own opinion. Had she not lavished “her pocket-money” on a gay screen, a pair of pink paper lamp shades, yellow muslin art curtains, and several sight-destroying chromos? The piano back was draped with the late Mrs. Scully’s opera cloak; there was, moreover, a chiffonniere, a sofa, half a dozen bulging, untidy basket chairs, and a large round table. On the latter Money noticed several penny novelettes, a paper of peppermint bull’s-eyes, a brass thimble, a vase of faded flowers, and a pair of curling tongs.
“Are you fond of reading, Miss O’Bierne?” he asked, rather suddenly. This girl, so full of life on horseback, was surprisingly grave and silent now.
“Yes,” following his glance; “but not those. They belong to Miss Scully.”
“What sort, may I ask? These?” and he put his hand on a neatly-arranged pile of volumes in quaint old calf bindings.
“Those are borrowed. I am just about to return them.”
“May I look?” Scarcely waiting for permission, he turned them over and glibly read aloud the titles.
“‘Evenings at Home,’ by Mrs. Barbauld.
“‘Moral and Literary Dissertation on Truth and Faithfulness.’ I should not think that was particularly lively.
“‘Hervey’s Meditations. Date 1810.’ Rather stale now, eh?
“‘True Stories and Anecdotes of Young Persons, designed, through the medium of example, to inculcate principles of piety and virtue!’ Good Lord, do you mean to tell me you’ve read this?”
“Yes,” with an unexpected smile. “And don’t you hope that it will do me good?”
“I’m certain it would have precisely the opposite effect on me’” taking up, as he spoke, another ancient tome.
“‘Lessons for Young Persons in Humble Life, calculated to promote their improvement in the art of reading, in virtue and piety, and the knowledge of the duties peculiar to their station.’ Pouff! Why, I’m quite out of breath; the title alone is the length of an ordinary short story. Price four and sixpence—very dear at the money, I should say. May I ask what was your object in reading this work, Miss O’Bierne?”
“I thought it might be amusing!”
“Amusing! Where do you get hold of such gay literature?”
“The Miss Dwyers lend me any books I care to take; they have quantities at Creeshe.”
“They are not your playfellows, at any rate?”
“Playfellows! No, Miss Narcissa is my godmother, and I believe she and my grandfather used to play together. She is eighty years of age!”
Young Money as she spoke was contemptuously turning over the yellows leaves.
“‘Be good and you’ll be happy,’” he read. “I’m not so sure of that!
“‘A lie is troublesome, and often needs a great many more to prevent its being found out.’ Ahem! that’s a fact; I can speak from experience,” was his shameless confession. “The proverb ‘as easy as lying’ is a cruel fraud.”
Miss O’Bierne, who was facing him with her back to the light, made no remark, but her eyes expressed austere incredulity.
What an odd sort of girl she was! She sat so intensely still, and her face wore a curious look, a look of pinched pallor. Was she sick? Was she sulky? Was she shy? Taking up another book, a small volume bound in green silk, he said, “What is this?—‘The Carcanet. Select passages from the most distinguished writers.’ Poetry, I declare! And some of it marked and re-marked. Oh, Miss O’Bierne, I would never have suspected it!” mischievously.
“It has not been marked by me, but by Miss Narcissa,” she replied hastily.
“I see that it was presented to Miss Narcissa Dwyer by her true friend, Brian O’Bierne, 1835. Your grandfather, I presume?”
“Yes,” and she half extended her hand to take the book, but her timid effort was totally lost upon Mr. Money, who was now deeply engrossed in its contents.
“’Courtship consists in a number of quiet attentions,’” he read aloud with slow emphasis, “‘not so pointed as to alarm, nor so vague as not to be understood.—Sterne.’” And he looked up with a curious half-quizzical smile. “That selection is underlined, I see. And here is a pretty little faded flower pressed between the leaves; it has been a forget-me-not, I believe,” and he held it out between two careless, unsympathetic fingers.
“Please put it back,” rather sharply.
“Certainly. I find yet another extract with three strokes of blue pencil, so it is sure to be choice:
“‘But it is ever thus with happiness,
It is the gay to-morrow of the mind
That never comes.’
Alas, poor Miss Narcissa!” he ejaculated, shaking his head. “Next we have a verse to Disappointment, beginning ‘Come, Disappointment, come.’ It’s Miss Narcissa’s love story, I declare! I can read between the lines, and piece it all together.”
“No, no, you shall not!” interrupted the girl brusquely and half rising from her seat. Her face was in a flame, her glance indignant, not to say imperious, as she added, “You must not read any more. You drag things into light that I should never have discovered. It is not fair, it is like eavesdropping, it’s not honourable.”
Denis Money laughed, the delighted laugh of a mischievous boy. How his unexpected find had roused his hitherto pale and reserved companion! How she had flared up!
“I assure you most solemnly that, it is all right,” he answered. “The old lady is eighty years of age. If she did get ‘chucked’ once upon a time, you may be certain that she had forgotten the whole affair half a century ago. She lent you this ‘Carcanet,’” keeping tight hold of it as he spoke, “with no more sentiment than if it was a cookery book. Well, just look here,” in answer to an outstretched authoritative hand, “allow me to read one bit more, one little bit,” he pleaded in a coaxing key. “It has no less than six pencil lines at either side, and must be a really valuable article. You have never dipped into these treasures, I can see! And supposing that Miss Narcissa were to put you through a stiff examination in the marked passages!” As the hand was still extended across the table, he began to read in a hurried voice:
“‘The most lasting families have only their season, more or less, their spring and summer glare, their wane, decline, and death. They flourish and shine perhaps for ages; at last they sicken, their light grows pale, and at a crisis, when the offsets are withered, and the old stock is blasted, the whole tribe disappears,’” as did also the outstretched hand, which had now been slowly withdrawn. Denis Money came to a dead stop. Here was a hideous pitfall!
“Go on, pray,” said a low, abrupt voice.
The young man of the world felt for once in his life a ridiculous fool, and, overwhelmed with misery and confusion, he coloured, and stammered out:
“It does not seem very—so very—”
“Amusing,” suggested the girl with frigid composure; and, finally reaching out her hand, she took stern possession of the little green volume. “Miss Narcissa has experienced the truth of that passage, at any rate,” she said, with a slight curl of her lip.
“I am very sorry,” he faltered.
“So am I—very sorry,” and she sighed a little strangled sigh.
Sorry for herself, or for Miss Narcissa—which? he wondered. How was he to extricate himself from this desperate quagmire? He had laughed at Miss Jerry; now she could, and she would, turn the tables on him. What a humiliating experience to find himself actually forcing this last of the O’Biernes to listen to a reading on the subject of ruined families! After an interval of what is known as a heavy silence, he plucked up courage and said:
“I should like to lend you one or two sporting novels by Smee—such as ‘Handley Cross,’ ‘Jorrocks,’ or some of Whyte Melville’s, if I may. I’m sure you would find them interesting.” What possessed him to make this impulsive offer, he angrily asked himself, as he finished speaking. He had not a book in Ireland to his name.
“Thank you, I shall be very glad,” she answered, as she carefully rearranged the old volumes, “if it will not be giving you too much trouble.”
The words “too much trouble” fell upon Tilly’s ears, at the conclusion of one of her wild screams of laughter, and she called out in a tone of strained jocularity:
“She is always giving trouble, Mr. Money, and, I see, is stuck in books as usual; that’s the way to her heart—through a book.”
“And yours, through a gaudy hat, or a bottle of champagne, eh, Tilly?” put in Casey, with a jeering laugh.
“Now, Jerry, stir yourself, and get the teacloth, it’s in the backgammon box,” said Tilly irritably.
Geraldine rose to obey, and as she did so the door was opened with a kick, and the buxom servant, in a clean apron, tramped in, carrying a tray before her. She was so absorbed in staring at the grand company that she lost her way and steered blindly for the piano.
“Jerry, the wicker table here, just in front of me—quick, quick, quick!” As she stooped to place it close to Miss Scully the latter half rose, with a little affected scream, saying:
“Goody sakes, child, what have you been doing to yourself?”
“What do you mean?” inquired the other gravely, as she stepped back to make room for the tray and its bearer.
“I mean that the whole side of your head is covered with blood—take off your hat.”
“Why should I take off my hat? Don’t be silly!”
“Take off your hat,” repeated Miss Scully dramatically, “or I will take it off for you. I know your little tricks, Miss Galloping Jerry; you’ve been having a fall.”
“I have not,” returned the girl impatiently, and removing her hat with slow reluctance.
“Well, what is it?” she asked.
It was an immense bruise over the left temple, and a very deep cut above the ear, stanched by a mass of thick dark hair. And this plucky girl was standing up in the middle of them all, hat in hand, and asking, “What is it?”
“You’ve only cut your head, and got a dreadful bruise, Jerry, next door to a black eye; how did it happen?”
“I suppose it’s the knock I got against the stable door when the mare bolted. I did not think it showed.”
(This, then, was the reason why she had pulled her hat over her eyes.)
“Well, never mind, Jerry, me darlin’,” drawled Casey from the sofa. “You’ll be well before you are twice married.”
“You will certainly be killed some day,” added Tilly, with a giggle. “Go off at once, and get Bridget to bathe it.”
“It’s nothing to make such a fuss about,” protested Scully’s victim, moving away.
“Well, it’s awful to look at. I do wish you would go away,” she added peevishly. “You know very well that I can’t abide horrid sights.”
“It’s a very nasty blow,” remarked Money, as he joined Miss O’Bierne before a long, spotted mirror, in which she was critically surveying herself. As they stood thus side by side, each had an excellent opportunity of studying the other. Miss O’Bierne was much taller than Denis Money had supposed from her figure on horseback; her head was well above his shoulder, and he was six foot, and she was more than fifteen years of age—disfigured, shabby, but oh what an aristocrat! An eaglet in a crow’s nest. In her wonderful deep blue eyes he saw a great melancholy. A look borrowed from the whole of dumb, inarticulate nature—something of the infinite sadness that glimmers upon the face of a still mountain lough.
Involuntarily she turned her glance on him and smiled—a timid smile, that died out instantly.
This young tenant of Carrig had a face like an old picture at Creeshe (the portrait of a celebrated cavalier); he had kind eyes; he had treated her as an equal.
The owner of these same kind eyes had at that instant made up his mind to be very good to “Galloping Jerry.”
“Well, you had a narrow squeak to-day,” broke in Tilly’s vulgar brogue (there are brogues and brogues).
“Bosh!” returned a contemptuous bass from the sofa. “Jerry has as many lives as three cats! She’ll bury us all.”
“I sincerely hope you may bury him,” muttered Money, sotto voce.
“I must confess that I never saw such a Spartan girl as Miss Jerry,” observed Ulick Doyne admiringly.
“Sportin’ girl,” echoed Walshe. “Yes, she’s all that. There’s a two-year-old filly called after her, Galloping Jerry, entered for the—Why, she’s gone!”
“Miss O’Bierne looked uncommonly shaky,” volunteered young Money. “She was as white as a sheet.”
“That’s her usual colour,” responded Tilly shortly, as she made a clatter among the cups and saucers, and proceeded to pour out the tea.
“But, Miss Scully,” as he received his cup from her hands, “pray don’t stand on ceremony with us. I’m sure you want to go and see after Miss O’Bierne. I think that blow on her head is rather a serious business, and it was the effect of the worst runaway I ever saw.”
“Oh! then you should see some of the scenes we have here!” she answered carelessly, as she proffered a plate of hot cakes. “The way some of the colts have been like raging wild beasts, and dashed about, and lashed about, and reared, and bolted, I’m quite hardened, I can tell you; and Jerry has nine lives. Do have a cake,” she added coaxingly.
“But don’t you think you ought to get advice?” continued Money, with cool persistence. “My horse is here; I can fetch a doctor.”
“Oh, nonsense! and we have the yard full.”
“No, thank goodness! I assure you Jerry is all right.”
“But indeed, Miss Scully, if you want to take her up tea—”
“She’ll get that in the kitchen,” she interrupted impatiently.
“Or find out how she is getting on, don’t make strangers of us, please,” urged Ulick Doyne.
Was Tilly Scully likely to abandon (even for five minutes) two “swell beaux,” as she mentally called them, in order to minister to Jerry, whose numerous escapes had made her perfectly callous? She had no more intention of stirring than she had of “making strangers” of these distinguished guests.
No, no; the Hon. Ulick Doyne and young Money of Carrig should not so likely break their thrall. This was quite a red letter day for her, and she meant to enjoy it, despite the hateful consciousness of her old tennis shoes and greasy skirt.
“My dear Mr. Doyne,” she cried, stretching out her hand in a most dramatic fashion, “you don’t know Jerry! She hates to be fussed about; she will bathe her face, stick on a piece of plaster, change her frock, and be down here in ten minutes. Meanwhile, let me give you another cake!”
Mr. Scully had left the room shortly after the appearance of tea, muttering the words “Bran Mash,” for which read “Whisky.”
Tilly was in her element, administering tea to two young men, chattering incessantly, and according, if anything, a shade more attention to the Hon. Ulick Doyne, in spite of the fact that his relations, to quote her own elegant expression, “treated her as the dirt under their feet.” She rolled her bold black eyes to and fro, she giggled, she gushed, she screamed, she fished for compliments, while Casey lay at full length on the sofa with two cushions under his head, and Denis Money kept his eyes constantly fixed on the door.
“I’ve been lost in admiration of Miss O’Bierne’s riding,” he said, during a slight pause in the gladiatorial combat between the tongues of Doyne and Tilly.
“Miss O’Bierne! who’s she? Oh, you mean Jerry! Yes, she can ride, and it’s about all she can do; she’d make her fortune in a circus, poor thing.”
“Do you ride yourself?”
“No, my uncle does not care about seeing me on horseback.” (No indeed! a wretched whimpering coward, who invariably gave the animal a girth gall or a sore back.) “You met Mrs. Vance to-day? Now do tell me what you think of her?” gazing up at him with her daring dark eyes.
“Oh,” glancing at Doyne, “you mean the lady in blue and white and the many-coloured hat—capital fun I should think—very cheery.”
“Uncle Matt calls her the ‘Dasher’; she’s staying at the Hares’, she’s a wonderful dresser. He admires her, and I rather like the looks of her myself; she does not seem a bit stiff, like the rest of the people; but I can’t very well go and call, as the Hares never called on me; ‘poor and proud’ is their motto. However, we being connected with the O’Biernes, can afford to look down on every one. They are old enough family anyway!”
Mr. Doyne glanced at Money with a twinkle in his eye, and gravely replied: “Yes, there is no question of that—the oldest family, dead or alive, in the province.”
“After all, Mrs. Vance’s husband is in trade—tea—and there’s not much difference between tea and horses, is there?”
“No, particularly when sometimes a horse turns out to be a plant!”
“Come, come, none of that, Doyne,” expostulated his companion. “I can’t stand these jokes on serious subjects.”
Meanwhile Mr. Scully had returned, paper in hand, and had suddenly burst into an angry oration on the subject of the weights for the Cambridgeshire. This struck the right note, as far as Mr. Doyne and Casey were concerned, and a hot argument instantly ensued. The discussion raged vociferously, Casey and Scully both trying to shout one another down, while Doyne, who was excitable, threw in an occasional incendiary remark,
At last it became evident to Mr. Money that Miss O’Bierne was not coming back; it was getting quite dark, the fat servant had brought in an evil-smelling lamp, and, finding all signals thrown away upon Doyne, he got up, with ruthless determination, breaking as he did so into the middle of one of Tilly’s confidential outpourings, said a resolute good-by, and with many handshakes, gushing regrets, and imperative commands “to be sure and call again soon” Miss Tilly suffered the two young men to escape, while Casey hurried out, eager to speed their departure.
“Now what do you think of that ménage?” asked Doyne, as they jogged up the avenue.
“That it is a very curious one, and that I am glad I don’t form a part of it.”
“Old Matt sells good horses, but beyond business I’d advise you to have nothing to say to him. He has a lot of low ruffians hanging round and flattering him, and he leads his own people the devil’s life. Hare could tell you fine stories. He remembers him driving a car in Dublin, he says. The niece manages the old man, I believe, but the other has a dog’s life.”
“So I could see.”
“They say when Scully discovered that she could stick to a horse he took her away from an English school and set her to school hunters; he put her on the back of anything, good or bad, and then he’d flog the pair across country. She broke in brutes that he sold for two or three hundred as made hunters; and any quantity of flighty thoroughbreds suitable to fliers in the Shires. God help some of those that bought a mount because it was constantly ridden by a lady.”
At this pious invocation Money leaned back in his saddle and laughed a good long hearty laugh.
“I think,” pursued Doyne, “that you have got a sound thing in the black, though he is a fairy horse; he struck me as suspiciously cheap. You’ll have a vet.’s opinion, of course.”
“Yes, and I think the Squire will suit my father; and there are others I fancied, but I say, Doyne, about Miss O’Bierne? It’s horrible to see her living among that crew. Will none of her own relations come forward to her rescue?”
“I don’t fancy she would like it if they did—they are all dead. If it was any place but Scully’s, people would take her up, and visit her, and ask her out; for when all is said and done, she is Miss O’Bierne, a daughter of the O’Bierne—the best born in the land; but you see she is never to be met except with Tilly. Where she goes Tilly goes, or would go, and she is a young woman with a past—you ask Hare; and Matt and his lot have a shocking bad name for drinking and cheating and every sort of villainy; and Jerry is constantly associated with these blacklegs and jocks. Poor girl! I suppose she will marry one of them some day; it will be her only chance of escape from her present lot. Either that—or breaking her neck.”
“I sincerely hope that neither of your pleasant prophecies will come true,” said Money, “though she was nearly killed to-day, How she loathes that fellow Walshe, and what a funk she is in of Scully. Brute! she seems to shiver when he speaks to her.”
“No wonder, if he has brought her up with that whip whistling behind her.”
“I pity her more than any one I know.”
“Yes, we all do that; but we had better not display it, for she looks the sort of girl to whom pity would be poison. Well, here our roads part. I suppose you’ll come out cubbing on the black next week ? Mind how you cross running water!”
With which injunction, Mr. Doyne trotted off laughing.
“Upon my word, Denis, you have a wonderful appetite for adventure, and opportunities to correspond!” said his stepmother, as she poured out coffee at breakfast, “or—perhaps you have a more vivid imagination than nous autres?”
“Is that a delicate way of telling me that my geese are swans? At any rate, there is a great deal more of the swan than the goose about Miss O’Bierne, and we nearly had her swan song yesterday.”
“I have never seen her on horseback, but only on the road, returning from church. She looked just an ordinary, slight, shabby girl, with great big eyes and a pale face.”
“Merely pale by contrast, if she was walking between Mr. and Miss Scully,” said Denis, with a smile.
“Scully is a brute!” exclaimed Mr. Money, knocking the top off his egg with vicious energy. “I believe that little girl supports the whole rascally pack, and is kept hard at work from daylight till dark, training and handling horses. She gets nothing but ill usage and abuse. She is only a mere child; it is scandalous. Could not you do something for her, Ju?”
“I! My dear man!” setting down the sugar bowl aghast. “Fancy my interfering with the Scully ménage, I’m certainly a member of the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, but what could I possibly do?”
“You might call on Miss O’Bierne,” was his bold suggestion. “You could ask her here,” he added, with still greater intrepidity.
“Call at Racehill! Ask her here! My darling boy, you don’t in the least know what you are talking about. I should be cut by the whole county!”
“Can you not do something, Ju? You are so clever in expedients, so awfully good in helping people.”
“Ah, yes, but people of quite another class—the poor—”
“She is poor—I am sure she is a distressed Irish lady, if ever there was one. If you knew her you would be sorry for her, and as anxious to rescue her from that crew as I am myself.”
“As anxious as you are yourself,” repeated Mrs. Money in a constrained voice, then with a little unpleasant laugh, “My dear, romantic Denis, if we were to try and rescue every girl whose mother had married beneath her, where should we be? Where would it all end? Why did the woman give her daughter such a stepfather as Scully?”
“Why, indeed? Please ask me something easier.”
“The sins of the fathers are always visited on the children,” continued the lady, sententiously.
“And the sins of the grandfathers, and grandmothers as well in this case,” added her stepson, emphatically.
“I am really surprised that none of the residents—who, of course, know all the circumstances of her family—have not thrown their wing over the girl. Now, that would be quite as it should be. But for me, a complete outsider, to cultivate her, would be a most fatal experiment. Besides, we should not have one single idea in common.”
“I thought you were so fond of girls; you have often said so,” remarked Denis, persistently.
Mrs. Money reddened with irritation. What had come to the boy?
“You are expecting a girl here to-day?”
“Yes, and I am quite devoted to my own young friends, well bred, cultivated, refined, charming. But this weather-beaten, brow-beaten horse-breaker! She and I would be more antagonistic than otherwise. I hate horses, I am horribly afraid of them, as you know. I could not discuss splints, spavins, runs, and kills, and I am supremely ignorant of the jargon of grooms. “
Denis glanced at his stepmother. There was a metallic hardness in her eyes; her mouth, naturally firm in expression, had compressed itself into one thin line. He recognized the mood. The more he urged, the more she would oppose. He had made a mull of the whole business!
Yes, he had been far too outspoken in his sympathy.
“Of course,” answering his look, “I am extremely sorry for Miss O’Bierne’s unfortunate position, but she is not surrounded with any halo of romance in my eyes. She is a fine horsewoman, that is enough for you; but I am convinced that otherwise she is a most commonplace, ignorant young person, not as well-mannered as my own maid, and that her garments positively reek of the stable. If money—”
“No,” in a tone of laconic severity that was entirely new to her ears. It was now Mrs. Money’s turn to survey Denis with a look of keen surprise. After a long, reflective silence, she said in a quite pleasant key:
“Well, then, in that case, dear, let us talk of something else. What day shall we ask the Scariffs? We are overwhelmed with engagements, and there is the Bundorans’ dinner on Wednesday. Oh, you grumpy boy! Pray don’t look so solemn—and you shall drive me to meet Lady Flora at the station.”
Mrs. Money had risen as she spoke, holding a large packet of letters in one hand; with the other she patted him affectionately on the head. “I shall start at three o’clock sharp.”
“I don’t want to meet Lady Flora,” moving his head with a touch of impatience.
“Oh, yes, dear, you do, and I’m so nervous with those chestnut horses at the train when Cooper is driving, but quite courageous when you are my charioteer.”
“Why not take the greys?”
“Denis, how can you be so ungracious, and all because I won’t go and call upon a horse dealer’s daughter?” She spoke more in sorrow than in anger. “You must come, dear,” and, to her husband, “Tony, I suppose Thursday week will do for the Scariffs’ dinner?”
“Yes,” he grunted from behind his paper. “I hope that new cook of yours won’t do for them.”
“You shocking man! Why, I got him from Lady Victoria Jones, and I’m paying him fabulous wages. Well, I’ll write the invitations at once—eighteen,” and so saying, she sailed away—with her own way.
“Extraordinary, how hard the best of women are to one another?” remarked Mr. Money, as if speaking to himself. His son made no answer, but, reaching for the “Field,” was soon plunged in its contents.
In ten minutes’ time Geraldine O’Bierne and her misfortunes were completely forgotten, not only by Mrs. but by Mr. Money; as for Denis—that his thoughts dwelt far more frequently upon the absent Geraldine than the present Flora, a pretty little flaxen-haired Scotch girl, with delightfully confiding, clinging sort of ways, and an incessant flow of society chatter. Constant as was his occupation, numerous his engagements, rapid his pace, young Mr. Money never forgot to look down the avenue as he passed Racehill; but, so far, he had not once caught a glimpse of the particular figure for which his eyes searched.
The truth was, that the blow she had received on her head had proved more serious than Miss O’Bierne would admit. She had fainted under old Biddy’s hands, much to that excellent woman’s alarm, and while Denis Money, with sympathetic intentions, was anxiously watching for her return, and Tilly was garrulously declaring that “she had nine lives,” Geraldine was lying back in a kitchen chair, in a dead faint; and for a week she kept her room. Geraldine’s room was isolated by her own choice; a swing door, a staircase, and lobby cut her off completely from the other inmates; she had, in fact, a whole story (reputed to be haunted) to herself; and of this she had selected a large attic with a cheerful aspect (not overlooking the stable-yard), and had arranged it to her liking. It was her room, and her castle. Yes, you may enter and look round, for she lies fast asleep in her narrow little bed, her long, black lashes sweeping her pale, and, indeed, hollow cheeks, her hand open and outstretched, from which a heavy book has dropped upon the floor.
It is the room of an inmate of refined instincts, warm affections, a shallow purse, and, some might be inclined to add, a room full of rubbish and lumber. The boards are bare, save in the middle of the apartment, where they are covered by a worsted carpet, now faded and always hideous, but every stitch of which was put in by the elegant and industrious fingers of Geraldine’s two great grand-aunts. Each corner displays what appears to be a monstrous black crab, but it is an honestly intended representation of a galloping horse, the crest of the O’Biernes. In one window stands a decrepit writing-table, furnished with some photographs in frames, a few chrysanthemums, and a desk. The toilet-table’s infirmities are gracefully concealed in muslin draperies; it exhibits an oval swing mirror (much spotted), a large leathern jewel case (much scratched), a watch (turnip) on stand, some quaint scent bottles and japanned boxes. The mantel-piece is covered with pretty knick-knacks, of no value save one or two bits of good china; above it is suspended a half-length oil painting of Brian O’Bierne—a handsome, imperious-looking man, in a scarlet hunting coat. The walls at either side are almost hidden with pictures, shabby old coloured prints in shabby frames, and an ancient guitar in a case, and a battered tin bath, lean sociably together against a wall.
There is a venerable Dutch bureau, with a portly figure and elaborate gilt handles to its numerous drawers, and above it is a glass bookcase, containing quite a goodly show of volumes, all stamped with the O’Bierne coat of arms. These include Scott’s novels, Moore, Goldsmith, the “Spectator,” “Rambler,” “Tatler,” “Racine,” an aged encyclopaedia, some old numbers of the “Mirror,” and a full set of “Blair’s Sermons”—flotsam from Carrig. Several feeble armchairs and a large round table, with tarnished gilt legs, are, doubtless, refugees from the same place. We notice drawing materials, a work basket choked with work, a reading lamp, a spirit lamp, a tea set; all of which testify to the fact that Miss O’Bierne spends many hours in her retreat—a mere garret, furnished with the lumber from her grandfather’s old home. We discern no fine feathers; two shabby dresses hang limply behind the door. If Miss O’Bierne indulges in any extravagance, apparently it is in the matter of “shoeing”; we observe no less than four pair of neat boots and shoes on trees, and two dainty little suede silk-lined slippers are lying by the dressing table. Everything is exquisitely neat, everything is in its place, everything is spotless (save the mirror). Could Anthony Money have inspected the apartment, his heart would have warmed to its tenant. But what would Anthony have thought of Miss Scully’s bower two stories below? Her dressing table represented a kind of mash, of veils, ties, gloves, powder-puffs, artificial flowers, hair brushes, hair pads, and even jugs and shoes. The chairs were piled with ragged finely, the drawers were dragged out, the long-suffering wooden press had burst its hinges—the result from being choked with rubbish—the carpet was covered with litter, there were ashes in the grate, and dust everywhere; a pack of greasy playing cards and a dirty fortune-telling book shared with a tin candlestick a chair beside Miss Scully’s bed. Indeed, all the house, save the kitchen and attics, was frowsy, neglected, and untidy; slowly creeping dry rot, coupled with corroding indolence and indifference, rendered the interior of Racehill a melancholy contrast to its surroundings. There the stables, yards, gates—nay, the very ladders and buckets—put to shame the old mansion with its peeling walls, grimy windows, and general air of decay. The inhabitants of the stable, too, were much better bred, more gentlemanly and refined, than some of their neighbours in the hall. The Squire, for example, was a bold, generous, forgiving creature, totally different to his master; and that willing, innocent Black Pat, with his big heart, eager legs, and wild desire to please, was a much nicer person than Casey Walshe.
Matt Scully was, like Mr. Peter Money, a “self-made man,” and, in many respects, he had made himself badly. He was almost without education, but possessed of a shrewd nature and a hard, unfaltering faculty to push; gifted with “a good eye for a horse,” and a knack of holding his tongue, he had “got on,” and he stood upon the apex of his fortunes (in his own opinion) when he married the widow of the O’Bierne. In some mysterious manner, he had been mixed up in her late husband’s most intricate money affairs; there had been one or two tearful personal interviews, then interviews not so tearful, finally, smiles. Matt in those days was a fresh-looking, personable man; he was wealthy, he was pressing. Mrs. O’Bierne was too indolent, too shiftless, to put her shoulder to the wheel. How could she support herself and a child on fifty pounds a year? she asked her friends querulously; was ever any one left like her? And her friends and the county were alike thunderstruck to hear that Mrs. Gerald O’Bierne had thrown herself and all her responsibilities into the arms of Matt Scully the horse dealer. The happy couple were married quietly in Dublin, and subsequently spent the honeymoon in London. However, if Mrs. Matthew Scully entertained any foolish idea that she would be received among her former acquaintances, that idea was promptly and ruthlessly dispelled. It was in vain that she wrote scores of piteous little notes, explaining that “she had made the great sacrifice solely for darling Geraldine’s sake. How was the child to be brought up and educated?” It was in vain that, beautifully dressed, she drove about the country in a smart victoria, seeking recognition and finding none. Lady Scariff had looked her straight between the eyes, and cut her dead; and every one had followed her virtuous example; even the Miss Dwyers—yet Narcissa Dwyer was Jerry’s godmother. No one would have anything to say to Mrs. Scully, while Mrs. O’Bierne on a pound a week would have enjoyed the goodwill and sympathy of rich and poor. Geraldine was dispatched to school at the tender age of five, and the neighbourhood once more held up their hands in horror. But Mr. Scully did not care for children (neither did his wife), and she had always felt that Geraldine had done her an unpardonable injury in not being a boy. For a boy she might have struggled, and fought, and snatched at a few acres and trees, but it was useless to bother about a girl. Honestly, she had no love for the child. The child had a hatefully persistent way of sitting and gazing at her with a pair of the great O’Bierne eyes—eyes questioning, reproachful, tragic—otherwise, she was a meek and affectionate little creature.
Mrs. Scully possessed a boudoir, a new piano, quantities of dresses, and fine feathers, but she soon grew tired of them all, soon grew weary of driving about the roads, of having no one to visit, no one to bow to (the very beggars snubbed her), tired of dressing for no one to see; she gradually fell into a state of invalidism—“a decline” in every sense of the word. She spent most of her days on the sofa, reading, grumbling, and experimenting on new patent medicines. Matt, strange to record, was extremely proud of his useless, expensive, lady-wife, particularly of her delicacy, and bragged abroad of her ailments, many prescriptions, and many doctors’ fees. It was true that she had not bettered his social position—far from it. Still no one could dispute the fact that his wife was the widow of the O’Bierne of Carrig!
After several years of calling “Wolf, wolf,” the wolf, in the shape of death, really appeared, and carried off Mrs. Scully, who was subsequently interred with great pomp in the sepulchre of the Princes of Inagh. By will, she left everything that she had in her power to her dear husband, including the sole guardianship of her daughter Geraldine, and Tilly, niece of Matthew, reigned in her stead.
Tilly, uneducated, self-indulgent, and unprincipled, held the reins with a slack hand, and under her management matters went hopelessly to the bad. She was naturally easy-going and indolent. Though nominally mistress of the house, she left the chief burden to Jerry; she turned away an excellent servant, and established in her place a friend of her own, the fat, laughing, impudent Hannah, who was as idle as herself; but Hannah carried notes, told her all the news, flattered her extravagantly, and brought her her breakfast in bed. Tilly was a born intriguante and flirt, and had absolutely nothing in common with the hardy, resolute, and self-reliant Geraldine. She detested outdoor life, she hated employment, she hated improving her mind; her chief friend was a girl in a cigar shop in Ballybawl, and her chief occupation cobbling up tawdry finery and devouring penny novelettes.
Old Bridget Shea, the cook, was the real backbone of the establishment, and as erect as a grenadier. She had a bitter tongue, a rancorous dislike of Tilly, her ways and her handmaid; but she kept things together, and punctually served up breakfasts, dinners, and teas, and never allowed Casey Walshe to set foot in her kitchen, though she actually accorded the entrée to Paddy Pinafore.
Casey honoured Racehill with most of his time, and was the guide, counsellor, and friend of its master. At first, his visits had been fitful and not prolonged, but gradually he had become an established member of the family, had his own especial room and chair, and even a particular corner in the dining-room, where he kept his slippers. It was whispered that he had Matt Scully in his power, through some nefarious racing transaction (which had greatly benefited the trainer’s pocket), and that, as an acknowledgment, he had been suffered to “hang up his hat” at Racehill, where he and his confederate spent many an evening, talking over past and future events, discussing horses, stables, weights, and Turf morality over their whisky and water.
Geraldine detested Casey, but he and Tilly were excellent friends; she “kept her hand in,” as she frankly expressed it, bandying vulgar witticisms and repartees with the jockey, who, on his part, presented her with cheap gloves and scents. Occasionally on wet days, and in moments of extreme depression, Tilly told herself that “if the worst came to the worst” she would marry Casey Walshe—-which would becoming to the very worst indeed. The inmates of Racehill might be divided into three pairs of allied powers.
Geraldine O’Bierne and Bridget Shea, who were, at any rate, active, honest, and self-respecting. Tilly and the slovenly Hannah were birds of a feather, screened one another’s faults, and shared one another’s joys and anxieties. Scully and Casey made the third couple, an offensive and defensive alliance. Casey knew too many of old Matt’s secrets; and in his very heart of hearts (and sober morning hours) Matt longed to cast out—ay, to kick out—his sneering Old Man of the Sea, but alas! the jockey had too firm a seat upon his shoulders, and he was not at all nervous when he had merely to deal with a fellow-creature who was in his power.
What Bridget Shea was in the house, Garry, the head groom, was in the stable-yard. He had been reared on Carrig (he and the late Gerald O’Bierne were foster brothers), and was a devout adorer of the old family. This partiality did not, however, extend to their Wives and widows, and Garry had spoken such blighting plain truths to the late Mrs. Scully, and presented her with such a terrible “piece of his mind” that she had been thrown into violent hysterics, and had subsequently implored “her dear, dear Matt, to send Garry about his business, and out of the place at once.”
But Matt knew his business, and his own interests, far too well to carry out her tearful wishes. Garry was universally respected, a first-rate horseman and groom. His honest face had sold many a hunter. No, no, he could not spare Garry, and he knew perfectly well that Garry would never leave his service (even if he worked without wages) as long as the apple of his eye, the last of the O’Biernes, remained under Racehill roof.
Perhaps it was a little to his own astonishment that Denis Money found himself riding down Racehill Avenue, with a purpose in his mind, and a book in his pocket. The latter he had procured expressly from Dublin, and, as it was handed to him publicly from the post bag, he had parried Ju’s searching glance and question with a reply so abrupt that she had thrust the parcel hastily into his hand, colouring with shame, believing it to be some abominable French publication.
The volume was the “Brooks of Bridlemere”; his purpose, to see what he mentally termed “the little Spartan girl.” Her memory haunted him; she had interested him so much on the only occasion on which he had come across her that he was anxious to meet her again, in order to discover if his geese were swans—if the first thrilling impression would be increased or dispelled.
In order to carry out this expedition, he had absented himself from a neighbouring afternoon dance, in spite of the bitter cry that “men were scarce,” that “he must go”; in spite of Lady Flora’s pretty, coaxing, and beseeching pale blue eyes. No, no, no. He had rapidly proffered a series of elaborate and mendacious excuses, and had ridden out of the yard at a gallop, in order to evade Julia’s sharp eyes—ay, and her sharp tongue. Denis had been doing his utmost to please her and her guests for the last ten days; he was tired of the Miss De Braynes’ airs, of manly Lady Mary Blewitt; even that sweet little parasite Lady Flora had begun to oppress him. He was going to please himself to-day, and to choose his own company (company at Racehill) for a change.
As he rode under the great archway he looked about him eagerly; but, look as he might, he only descried helpers, grooms, and Garry. Suddenly the side door burst open, and, as it were, discharged into the yard Miss Tilly Scully, a truly brilliant apparition in a red cloak and a Tam O’Shanter. She appeared to be sincerely glad to see him, her face was actually rippling with smiles. Here, indeed, was “an eye that marked his coming, and looked brighter when be came.”
Hurrying breathlessly up to him, she said, “Oh, Mr. Money, this is, indeed, an unexpected treat. When I heard the horse I thought it was my uncle. Do you want him, or,” looking up in his face coquettishly, “will I do instead?”
“Well, I did rather want a talk with him about a couple of horses,” was the visitor’s matter-of-fact reply.
“He is out just now, but may be back at any moment.” (He had gone to a fair and was not expected until the next evening.) “Do come in, won’t you,” she pleaded. “Garry, here, take the gentleman’s horse.”
“I hope he is giving yer honour satisfaction?” said Garry, touching his cap, while the black neighed a greeting to his stable friends.
“Yes, I’ve not had him out with the hounds yet, but he is a nice hack.”
“Oh, by jigs and reels, he is good at everything; ye might clap him in harness, if ye had a mind; and there’s no finer lepper in the country; signs on it, they does be making out that he has a terrible lot of practice by moonlight,” he added with a grin, “but I don’t hold with such nonsense.”
“As schooling horses by moonlight? I should be surprised if you did,” exclaimed Money, as he dismounted.
“Ye don’t take me, sir, I see. ’Tis a family banshee as exercises him by all accounts, and he was seen sailing over the demesne wall there below at Carrig one night last week.”
“Demesne wall! How high is it?”
“In or about twenty-four feet at its lowest part,” without moving a muscle of his face; “took it as kind as I would a glass o’ whisky.”
“Oh, now, Mr. Money, don’t be losing your time humbugging with Garry,” protested Tilly, impatiently. “Sure, you’re too sensible for fairy tales, and he is a teetotaller, though you mightn’t think it. Come into the house along with me,” and she led the way toward the wicket and the mansion.
In the hall, they found a reminiscence of the fragrant and succulent onion; in the drawing-room, a blazing turf fire, as well as some feeble attempts at decoration and dusting. Tilly had half expected some one, and when from a lofty window she had espied young Money her expectations had been most nobly fulfilled.
“And who is the book for?” she asked, as she threw off her cloak and revealed a neatly-fitting crimson body. “I’m passionately fond of reading.” (Yes, and this young man was the image of the Earl of Rosewater—the hero of her latest novelette.)
“It is for Miss O’Bierne.”
“Oh,” rather blankly. “She doesn’t care for stories, you’d better lend it to me.”
“Certainly, with pleasure; but I promised it first to Miss O’Bierne.”
“Miss O’Bierne, Miss O’Bierne,” she repeated impatiently. “How grand we are! Can’t ye call her Jerry, like every one else?”
“I shouldn’t think of taking such a liberty,” rather stiffly.
“Liberty! This is Liberty Hall. Why, every one calls us Tilly and Jerry. We like it, you know,” and she flashed a look at him sidewise.
“Is Miss O’Bierne at home?” he asked, serenely ignoring the innuendo.
“Jerry? No, but I think she is about the place. You did not come to see her, surely. It’s me as always entertains the visitors,” with a self-conscious giggle. “I hear you are very gay, always at parties,” she continued glibly. “Now, tell me, what do you think of all the young ladies about here?”
“That is rather a wide question, is it not? Who do you mean?”
“Well, Katie Hare! There’s a fine lump of a girl for you! But they are awfully poor.”
“May I look at this coloured print,” he asked irrelevantly, rising as he spoke, and glad of any excuse that removed him from the unpleasant scrutiny of her great, bold eyes.
“Indeed you may,” rather snappishly, “if it’s to your taste and you see nothing better worth looking at! I think it hideous; it’s some old rubbish Mrs. Scully brought from Carrig. Jerry has her room all hung round with such like dismal-looking trash.”
On examination the picture proved to be a Ward, after Morland.
“Is it any good, any value, I mean?” demanded Tilly, who had risen, and now stood beside him.
“Yes; I am not a judge, but I daresay it is worth ten to fifteen pounds.”
“Ten to fifteen pounds! Oh, then I shall sell it,” clapping her hands, “and turn it into a sealskin cape. Where would be a good place to send it?”
“I really cannot say; but is it not Miss O’Bierne’s property?”
“Oh, dear no, everything belongs to Uncle Matt, and what’s his is mine,” and she giggled.
“All that Jerry owns in the wide world is fifty pounds a year and the family emeralds. It’s my belief they are just pure green glass! However, there was some old deed that could not be broken that kept them in the O’Bierne family as long as one of the direct descent was alive. I suppose if Jerry died they’d come to me.”
The visitor received this surprising statement with a slight elevation of his brows.
“Yes, they say they are worth a lot of money and no use at all to Jerry, for she can neither wear them nor sell them; she won’t even lend them,” in an aggrieved tone.
Seeing that the gentleman still remained standing (for a tête-à-tête with Tilly was not an exhilarating prospect), she said:
“Maybe you’d like to go out, and take a turn in the garden, while the tea is being made.”
To this suggestion Money most joyfully assented; “about the place” might possibly include the garden. And soon he and Miss Tilly were wending their way down a damp, dark path, to what had once been the pleasant companion of Racehill in its palmy days—a magnificent walled, real old Irish garden. The rusty iron gate which admitted them gave a vista of one long central walk with a gentle rise in the middle. It was edged with great neglected borders, choked with dead leaves, and venerable but rampant fruit trees. Among the tangle a number of red-hot pokers reared their spiked heads and gave colour to the scene; the background was a dense jungle of cabbages, potatoes, weeds, and box; here and there was an outline of a summer seat, or a ruined fountain, and the whole air was filled with the pungent odour of rotting leaves. Yet another great, so to speak, “lost garden” loomed through an archway on one hand, and on the other was a long line of dilapidated and neglected greenhouses; their tiny panes of glass, their quaint old brass door handles, testifying to their extreme age.
“Come in,” said Tilly in her gayest manner, leading the way into a decrepit structure.
Money hesitated, casting one long lingering glance around the garden in search of Jerry.
“Come, I’m going to pick you such a beautiful button-hole,” urged Tilly, as she contemplated a collection of dead and blackened plants. “Oh, I know where to find the very thing,” and she hurried him on into a small conservatory at the end of the range, which exhibited some pretence at care and cultivation.
Here there were flowers; the rickety stands displayed rows of neat, well-cared for plants, and a hoary Gloire de Dijon trained over the wall.
“Ah, I see a lovely bud, just the very thing,” exclaimed Tilly, as she seized a pair of scissors that along with a trowel lay in a little basket.
“It’s almost a pity to cut it,” he objected, ungratefully.
“Oh, not at all; it’s far better in your coat than stuck here where no one sees it! This house, you notice, faces south, so the roses last on wonderfully. Now isn’t this nice?” suddenly thrusting one up to his nose. “Wait and I’ll put it in for you,” hunting for a pin.
“No, no, never mind,” said her victim, who could scarcely restrain his impatience. “Oh, please don’t trouble,” stepping back a pace.
“The trouble is a pleasure,” seizing, as she spoke, the lapel of his coat, and fastening in the rose—a lengthy operation. “Now, what are you going to give me for that?” looking up with a challenging smile.
“My best thanks,” determined to throw away the flower the instant he could effect his escape. “I suppose you are fond of gardening?” he remarked, in a wild desire to say something. “One can see that a lady works here,” and he glanced at a small pair of gardening gloves hanging on a nail, and mentally compared the bright show of chrysanthemums to the dreary range of houses through which they had reached it.
“Oh, laws, no! I hate grubbing. This is Jerry’s own particular greenhouse. She would be wild if she knew I came in here and cut that rose,” and she burst into a laugh that shook the frail structure in a manner that was positively dangerous. “Now don’t take it out,” seeing him put up his hand, “or I’ll never speak to you again.” (What a bribe, did she but know it.) “Yes,” returning through the dreary hothouses, “Uncle Matt gets a wonderful lot of grapes and peaches out of these old houses; they pay well, as long as they’ll stand, He has a man and a boy in to keep up fires, but no gardener at all. Jerry has a little bit there, near the sun-dial, and when she has time she works like a black.”
“But surely hasn’t she plenty of idle hours?”
“Not she! Most of the horses pass through her hands. She’s got a wonderful way with them, and she’s generally out from daylight to dark. Just comes in for her dinner at one o’clock, like the grooms. Garry does the dumb jockey business and some training, but it’s really Jerry that breaks them, makes them, and shows them off. Sometimes she has as many as six or eight on hand.”
“She must be invaluable to your uncle.”
“Oh,” as if the idea was presented to her for the first time. “Maybe she is, but she likes open-air work, and she gets good value out of the horses, the best of hunting, and there’s not a lady so well turned out, as far as her horse, saddle, and habit go, in the whole of Ireland. Uncle Matt is awfully particular about her hunting rig and gets it all from London.” (N.B.—It was simply a business investment.)
“Yes, a new habit every year, and she meets lots of people out, and she is crazy about hunting, and so, although I have seen her fit to drop—she was so tired, and her hands quite raw, without a bit of skin—yet it’s all made up to her, and she has a very good time, far better than I have,” she concluded, in a lachrymose tone. Her companion had grave doubts on the subject, and, at any rate, he was not enjoying at all “a good time,” and had no desire to linger in this damp old garden, in the distasteful society of Miss Tilly Scully; and in spite of her anxious inquiries as to “Where’s your hurry?” he got himself away into the yard, and on to the back of Black Pat, with amazing dispatch.
As Denis Money rode slowly up the avenue his steed gave a sudden shrill neigh, and, oh, joy! there to the left he caught sight of a bay flank, and the flutter of a blue habit.
It proved to be Miss Jerry exercising a young one. Denis Money drew up, and waited, while Pat, who was still a mere boy, and had no control over his feelings, whinnied an imperative summons to his stable companion, and his stable companion and rider presently came galloping up to the rails.
Miss O’Bierne was looking her best; she had a colour in her cheek and a light in her eyes. How royally she held her slender figure, what a look of simple maidenly dignity sat upon those firm but perfectly cut lips. What a contrast to his late associate, with her bold black eyes and embarrassing advances.
“So glad to meet you,” he exclaimed, as he swept off his cap. “I have been down to the house to inquire for your injuries.”
(Oh, Denis Money!)
“You mean my black eye. It has been a blue and a green and a purple eye, but it is quite well, I thank you.”
“I brought you over the book I promised. I hope you will like it. I left it with your cousin.”
“Thank you so much; but Miss Scully is not my cousin,” rather haughtily. “She is no more related to me than,” with a little careless nod, “you are.”
“Oh, I did not know. I hope you will like the book. You must let me hear what you think of it.” Then, seeing that her eyes were fixed upon his button-hole, he added, “I can guess what is in your mind now. You are thinking that I am a thief, but Miss Scully is the guilty party.” (Oh, true son of Adam!)
“Then you acknowledge that you are a receiver of stolen goods?” she exclaimed, with a merry glance.
“Yes; but when I am found out I restore the stolen goods to their rightful owners. Here is your rose.”
“No, no, on no account,” putting up a deprecating hand. But even as the words left her lips he tossed it across the paling, and she caught it neatly.
Luckily for the flower, it was none the worse for its hasty journey; and she held it up to her lips, and smiled with her long-lashed eyes.
“Her beautiful eyes, how rarely they smiled, and how well a smile became them!” mentally remarked young Money. He was thinking what an interesting personality was hers; never before had he met any one the least like her. She was thinking, “How furious Tilly would be!”
“Is virtue to be its own reward?” he asked, moving his horse still closer to the paling, where he and his schoolfellow amiably exchanged news and rubbed noses.
“I don’t know what you mean.”
He pointed dramatically to his now vacant button-hole.
“Do you wish to have it back?” she asked, with a look of quiet wonder on her face.
“Yes, if you will confer that honour upon me.”
“Then here it is—the order of the rose,” and she threw it over, with a careless girlish laugh.
But Garry, who passed on foot, totally unnoticed, had witnessed this “rose play,” as he inwardly dubbed it, and, to quote from “Aylmer’s Field,” “neither liked, nor loved, the thing he saw.”
Poor Garry! Your disapproval is tardy and unavailing; that rose has been a special messenger, and the torch of love is lighted.
Moments of memorable emotion stand up as milestones on life’s road; the gliding years catch us and hurry us from them, but we cannot resist looking back. Denis Money may travel till he is old, wayworn and weary, but as long as he has the faculty of recollection one landmark will never fade from his mental sight—the picture of a beautiful, dark-eyed girl on horseback throwing him a yellow rose.
“When are you coming out with the hounds?” asked Denis, as he carefully replaced the flower.
“As soon as the hunting begins in real earnest,” was her reply. “What do you think of this young one—Morning Star, rising four?”
“I think she is A1 as far as looks go, and fit to carry a—a—a queen!” and he surveyed her rider with eyes full of admiration.
“Queens don’t follow the hounds,” she retorted, “except the Empress of Austria. I shall always feel fond of her. She brought over her horses, and hunted in Ireland.”
“If that is a pass to your affections you ought to be fond of hundreds of people, including myself.”
“No,” she said, curtly. “I care for very few. In fact I could count them on the fingers of one hand—and leave out the thumb.”
“Then please reserve the thumb for me—some day,” was his bold request.
Miss O’Bierne looked quickly over her shoulder.
Was she offended, was she alarmed? Was she going off? He hastened to stammer in an anxious key:
“Are you not coming out cubbing on Tuesday?”
“No,” confronting him gravely, “I am not. Mr. Scully despises cubbing, and even scorns the harriers.”
“You don’t say so?” with mock solemnity.
“Yes, he only cares for the fox hounds, a big meet, and a clipping run, to show off his hunters.”
“Oh, then he hunts!”
“Not he,” with great scorn. “He hunts on wheels with Miss Scully, as you will see, and watches the performance of Garry and myself at a distance—sometimes through a field-glass.”
“And too far for him to use his knout—too far for flogging, eh?”
The girl’s bright face suddenly underwent a complete change. She coloured deeply, as she surveyed the questioner with a pair of proud and austere eyes. No, there was no merry twinkle in them now.
After a long and embarrassed pause, she exclaimed, “What a wonderful memory for little things! Well, I must not keep Morning Star standing—good-afternoon,” and, with a slight inclination of her head, he was dismissed. Yes, dismissed by Galloping Jerry, with as much hauteur as if she had been an archduchess and he some lackey who had had the misfortune to fall under her imperial displeasure.
His allusion to the flogging had evidently offended her, and she had figuratively bowed him out. Poor Geraldine! He never dreamed how it galled her pride to remember that he had been a witness of that humiliating scene, when she had been sworn at like a horse, and her horse had been lashed like a dog. She blushed to recall it. Strange that she did not resent Ulick Doyne’s presence, only that of the English stranger, with his chivalrous air and haunting eyes.
And little did Money guess, as he rode away snubbed, crestfallen, but not disillusioned, how after a few turns, which gradually became shorter and shorter, Miss O’Bierne had suddenly galloped home, in order to seize upon her precious book, while the donor, in another direction, was slowly walking his horse along the road, the reins upon its neck, a wild new emotion surging in his heart. A floodgate had been opened. He had found his ideal! How he longed to return, just for one word of forgiveness, only one, but dared not.
The “Brooks of Bridlemere” had already been annexed by Tilly, who stormed in scarlet and screamed in fury that it was her property; and it was only after a heated and protracted altercation that she yielded it up to its rightful owner, Geraldine, who had maintained her temper throughout, and calmly pointed to the paper in which it had been wrapped. On this was written, in bold and legible characters:
With Mr. D. Money’s compliments.”
“What in the name of goodness does he want lending books to you?” shrieked Tilly, in her shrillest key.
Geraldine made no reply, but smoothed out the paper, folded it carefully, and tied it with its piece of string. This did not surprise the other in the least—Jerry was as neat as an old maid—but she undoubtedly would have been amazed had she seen Jerry, in the privacy of her own attic, lock away that very piece of brown paper among her scanty treasures.
No later than the following day found Mr. Money again at Racehill. He was determined to see more of Miss O’Bierne; though ostensibly he had come to consult Scully about a slight swelling on the Squire’s off fore-fetlock. He was well served for his hypocrisy; for he discovered not only Scully, but Casey Walshe, in the stables. The former insisted on bringing out several new purchases, while Casey stood by picking his teeth, and conducting himself with such an air of critical condescension that it was all Money could do to restrain himself from belabouring him there and then. He caught continuous flashes of a scarlet cloak at doors and windows, but not one single glimpse of a dark blue skirt, nor did he again see that same blue skirt until the hunting season had opened.
However, he saw Miss O’Bierne in her walking dress in church on Sunday. Denis was not a regular attendant at public worship, and it must be confessed that he constantly endeavoured to shirk family prayers. As Carrig was at the present moment full of guests, his father had said after breakfast, in a rather pointed way:
“Of course you are coming to church, Denis? We are all going in the char-a-banc. You and Lady Flora can have the cart or walk; it’s,” turning to the lady, “only a mile across the demesne, an avenue the whole way.”
“Oh, I’d far rather walk.” she said. “Wouldn’t you?” appealing to Denis. “It will be so much nicer.” And thus the matter was settled without reference to him.
The church, or Carrig Abbey, as it was called, was a venerable edifice of the fourteenth century, partly restored. A great portion was still in ruins, but the chancel had been roofed in one hundred years previously, and accommodated a sufficiently large congregation. It boasted stained glass windows, an organ, and the family pews of the Dwyers, Hares, and O’Biernes. The Hares still occupied theirs, also the Dwyers. It was almost all that remained to them, the outward and visible sign of their former great estate. The O’Biernes were not so fortunate—they had passed—they lay in the vast vaults in the nave, and their place knew them no more. The family pew was let with the house, and never had Mrs. Anthony Money felt so devout, or so truly and piously thankful for all the mercies vouchsafed to her, as when she knelt upon its worn velvet hassocks, and raised her eyes to the crowd of marble monuments above her head.
Lady Flora and her escort were early; the bell was still tolling, and the farmer congregation stood about in groups in the graveyard, discussing land bills, markets—and their absent friends.
“It is not time to go in yet, the others have not arrived, you see,” she said. “Do let us explore these most interesting old ruins.” Most of the monuments were so timeworn as to be illegible, many were in Latin, some in Irish. The name of O’Bierne and the motto “O’Bierne a Boo” (O’Bierne forever) was noticeable on many a grey and weather-beaten stone that lined the walls and paved the ruined roofless nave.
“O’Bierne forever!” What withering irony in those few words, faintly traced upon the graves of a forgotten and almost extinct race! In the centre of the churchyard stood a solid and majestic erection, covered with inscriptions and heraldic bearings; a flight of stone steps led down to a massive door below the level of the ground. Though much worn by time and decay, broken, weather-stained and neglected, nevertheless it still possessed a sufficiently imposing appearance to command a stranger’s first attention.
“What tomb is that?” inquired Lady Flora, touching it with her smart umbrella.
“I don’t know, I am sure,” responded her companion. “Looks like a royal mausoleum.”
“Then I can tell you, me lady,” volunteered a respectable old farmer, approaching as he spoke. “’Tis the entrance to the great vaults of the O’Biernes. This solid construction is their monument.”
“Is it, indeed! It looks most imposing.”
“An’ there ye can see the family arms, the horse, and the motto above the door. Faix, what with racing and breaking their necks, they had a good right to have horses on their tomb.”
“Are there many of the family buried here?”
“There is a power of them below, but with this terrible weight of marble they will be hard set to get out at the Day of Judgment—and, faix,” with a knowing nod, “maybe they are as well where they are!”
“Have you the privilege of being buried here?” asked Lady Flora, turning to Denis with laughing eyes. “Does it go with the shooting?”
“Not at all,” broke in the farmer, indignantly. “That’s just the wan home of the O’Biernes that never can be sold, let, or mortgaged; it is reserved for the family; and wance the little girlie beyant goes in the door will be closed till the end of the world. No, faix, there’s no admittance for strangers—money or no money.” Then, recollecting himself, “Meaning no offence, yer honour,” touching his hat to Denis.
“And no offence is taken, Maguire. It’s a good step from your place to church.”
“Yes, it is. I’ve come to hear the Dane.”
“Dane?” repeated Lady Flora.
“The Dane of Kilgroo. He’s a great fellow. A terribly boisterous preacher, that rouses the blood. Bedad, the last time he was here he knocked the big Bible out of the pulpit, and as to the cushion there was hardly a tatther of it together.”
“I hope we are at a safe distance,” exclaimed Lady Flora, with pretended alarm.
“Oh, yes, well out of the way. Have you seen any woodcock in your part, Maguire?”
“No, sir, the winter is too open yet;” then, with a sly smile, “but they do be telling me as yer honour is not very eager about shooting.”
“Nonsense,” with a laugh. “What poacher told you that? Well, tell me one thing, what is all this that has been scratched up here?” pointing to a recently cut inscription just above the door of the tomb.
“Great powers! The liberties of some, though maybe they mean no harm. Will yer honour spell it off, as yer a fine height, and I’m no great scholar, though I can read most print?”
“Yes, do read it if you can,” urged Lady Flora. “I am too short,” standing on tiptoe. “It looks like poetry.”
Thus requested, Denis raised himself on a projecting stone, and slowly read aloud:
“‘In a quiet, watered land—a land of roses—’”
“Oh, begad, I know it,” interrupted the farmer, slapping his leg excitedly.
“‘In a quiet, watered land—a land of roses,’”
repeated Money, with deliberate utterance,
“‘Stands St. Kieran’s city fair,
And the warriors of Erin, in their famous generations,
Many and many a son of Con, the Hundred fighter,
In the Red Earth lies at Rest,
Many a blue-eye of Clan Colman—the turf covers,
Many a swan white breast.’”
There ensued a momentary silence; and then Lady Flora exclaimed, with a little scornful titter:
“Dear me, how truly funny.”
“I think it beautiful,” said Denis, gravely. “Yes, and most appropriate too, on the tombs of these dead Irish chieftains.”
“Begor, they were great in their day, and had their soldiers, and their harpers, and their castles, and fought bloody battles, and ruled the country, and died for it, too. And who remembers them now, or cares a hate about them?” demanded the farmer somewhat fiercely.
“Where are the lines from?” asked Denis.
“From the dead of Clon-Macnoise.”
“And what, or where, is Clon-Macnoise?”
“I believe it’s down the Shannon, sir, a great ruined city, where all the old Irish kings had churches and buried their dead; no matter how hard they fought agin one another when they were living they were all laid together after death. Yes, them’s fine lines, but I a’most wonder it didn’t bring old Brian out, strangers scrawling over the family monument. He never allowed no liberties when he was alive. Faix, it was him could give an impident spalpeen a flaking wid a dog whip. Musha, but he was the grand-looking gentleman, and poor Mr. Gerald the very spit av him—Isn’t that the bell that’s afther stopping?” and with a hasty salutation he hurried away.
“How all these Irish do stick up for their old families. They are even more clannish than we Scotch,” said Lady Flora, as they followed the farmer. “And how very firmly he was resolved that there should be no intruders in the vaults of the O’Biernes.”
“Yes, I’m sure I have no desire to trespass.”
“Pray, who is the little girlie for whom alone they are to be opened?”
“What! not the girl who rides?” she asked in a sharp key; but just then Denis removed his hat, and motioned her to precede him; they were inside the church, or at least they were inside the porch, and the door was wide open.
In this porch, with the rope in his hand (still tolling), stood the sexton, who combined the duties of pew-opener and bell-ringer, and the bell tolled but fitfully, and gave many false alarms, for when the ringer was showing strangers into seats he was compelled to relinquish his rope. There was a curious barn-like modern aisle, lighted by pointed windows with red blinds; its whitewashed walls connected the porch with the chancel. The chancel was extremely ancient, and contained monuments, brasses, carvings, and great family pews. Here were already seated the large and fashionable contingent from Carrig. The Carrig pew was a square inclosure, capable of accommodating twenty people, was furnished with a fireplace, a table, and numerous luxurious if somewhat shabby chairs, and for a considerable distance above, and at either side, the wall was covered with brasses, tablets, and solid marble monuments, erected to the dearly beloved memory of numerous dead and gone O’Biernes. They ranged from the almost obliterated name of Nial Garo, chief of the O’Biernes, Prince of Inagh, who died of his wounds after the battle of Athenry, 1317, and Ivar O’Bierne, who, with many clansmen, fell at the battle of Bealach Buidhe (the yellow pass), fighting against the English, 1599, down to Gerald, who was killed in the hunting-field, January, 1872.
For an Irish parish, the congregation was considerable, and by the time the psalms were chanted the church was full. Denis noted the two old Miss Dwyers, white, frail, bloodless-looking women, in black, who occupied an imposing seat beneath the names of a cloud of distinguished ancestors—and yet these two poor ladies had walked to church, and would probably dine on bread and milk. There, in the body of the aisle, in a line with the Carrig servants, were ranged the family from Racehill. Scully, in a very tight, dark coat, sitting by the door, devout, in spectacles; next came Casey Walshe, his hair highly greased, his tie half concealed by a sporting pin, looking about and fidgeting incessantly; Tilly, wearing a wonderful red velvet hat and white feather boa, staring hard at him; and Miss O’Bierne, rather aloof at the top of the pew, absorbed in an immense old-fashioned silver clasped Bible. Her eyes never strayed, as did his own. The singing was unexpectedly good, the organ had a fine mellow tone; it had been presented to the parish by Brian O’Bierne; and Brian’s granddaughter was sitting in what had been the pew of his upper servants.
The “Dane” preached; he gave an eloquent, rousing discourse, in a rich, sonorous brogue; there were no casualties, and an unusually liberal collection.
When the service was over every one poured from church. People paused outside to talk to their friends, like with like. The Hares and Mrs. Vance accosted Mrs. Money; and her large party (a dozen) was soon the centre of a great gathering. As Denis stood at the gate he noticed Scully strutting down the path; some of the farmers said “Morning, Matt; fine day, Mr. Scully.” Casey and a suitable-looking friend walked by, conversing in eager whispers. Lastly, Miss O’Bierne alone. Tilly had met an acquaintance. He observed that she was severely ostracized by all the gentlefolk. No, not one of them took the smallest notice of her. But he also observed that the very men who had said “Morning, Matt,” touched their hats to his stepdaughter with an air of profound respect.
“How do you do?” he said, eagerly holding out his hand.
She looked somewhat surprised, as she took it for a second. Then, seeing Lady Flora tripping down on them, she turned abruptly away and joined Matt Scully.
“You and I are to drive home,” proclaimed Lady Flora from afar. “I shall drive; I love it. There’s the cart, and the pony is digging up the road, impatient to be off. Come along, come along.”
In another moment he had handed his companion in and seated himself beside her, and they started at a rattling pace. They passed Miss O’Bierne, walking sadly between Scully and Casey Walshe. How different she appeared on foot, how skimpy and meagre her serge jacket and skirt, what a cheap, unbecoming hat! She looked so slight, so childish—altogether another person from the bold and bewitching horsewoman he had been carrying in his mind’s eye. What a desperate contrast to the young lady beside him, dressed by a court milliner, turned out cap à pie by a smart maid, her furs, her waved hair, her toque of white satin, her tinkling enamel bangles, all embodying the latest fashion, absolutely le dernier cri, and she was so full of go, and chaff, and chatter, and self-importance.
“Is that the girl?” she asked, with a quick glance as they tore past; “The one who has the sole right to bury in the O’Bierne vault? Dear me! What a shabby, paltry-looking creature! I should say that if she were to join the rest of her relatives it would not affect any one very seriously. Ah, there is the doctor’s car ahead; wait till you see how I shall overtake him.”
In five minutes’ time Lady Flora had left the doctor out of sight, as well as poor shabby Geraldine, who was tramping along the muddy road between her two most uncongenial companions.
The hunting season opened with a large meet, just outside the main entrance to Lord Scariff’s demesne. The long, straight road was choked with carriages as far as the eye could reach. There were Lady Scariff and party in a yellow landau, the Ladies Beleek in a high dogcart, Mrs. Money and Lady Flora in a victoria, Mrs. Vance driving a smart piebald cob in a village cart, accompanied by her uncle, and Kathleen mounted on the brougham horse—yet happy. Matt Scully presided over a pair of fine bays in a wagonette; beside him sat Tilly, wearing a fearful and wonderful green cape, trimmed with cocks’ feathers, with hat to correspond, and beaming affably on all the world. Casey had the body of the conveyance to himself, and was in sole charge of the sandwiches and flask.
Mr. Money was riding the Squire, his son Black Pat, and there were more than a hundred other horsemen and women present—some in society, some beyond its pale.
Notable among the latter was Miss O’Bierne, splendidly mounted, and wearing a new Busvine habit (but not the sacred hunt button); in fact, such was her appearance that several men (strangers) were astounded to learn, in answer to inquiries, that she was “only Matt Scully’s little riding girl.” She and her attendant, Garry—he smartly turned out as hunting groom—held themselves severely aloof from all. Denis Money glanced at her repeatedly; she was the picture of a horsewoman, her hunter the picture of a horse. There was not a girl or a woman present to touch her, so distinguished was her air, so proud her mien. Why did she keep so far away? Was she influenced by humility or pride? For his own part, he was excessively anxious to get near her; but so great was the block that it was impossible to do so. He made several thrusting efforts, but was invariably shut in by the carriages and foiled.
“Ah, ha, my fine fellow, I know what you are up to,” remarked Mr. Hare, who was alongside of him in the cart. “You’ll see plenty of her, at least of her back, by-and-by, when the hounds are running. It’s wonderful the taste that family have always had for trying to break their necks.”
“Oh, do just look at Tilly Scully,” exclaimed Mrs. Vance. “How can she make such an awful show of herself? She has stripped the whole poultry yard.”
“So she has, poor things! Well, I suppose she knows no better, or maybe it’s for a bet,” suggested Mr. Hare. “Hullo, hullo, Money, she kissed her hand to you. Did you see? I had no idea that you were such a friend as all that.”
“Friend!” raising his hat about an inch. “I’ve only spoken to her twice in my life.”
“I’d advise you to rest content with that. Tilly has a ‘kick in her gallop.’ Oh, I could tell you stories about the Scullys, and that set—”
“Nothing about Jerry O’Bierne, at any rate,” hastily interrupted Mrs. Vance. “That is so certain that I’ll bet my best toque against Tilly’s crazy hat.”
“No, no. Certainly not, my dear. Her story has yet to be told, and will be, unless I am much mistaken, something quite out of the common.”
“What do you mean, Uncle Tom?”
“Time will tell, and, while I think of it, I may as well relate a little anecdote about her mother.”
“What was she like?” asked Mrs. Vance, eagerly.
“A pretty, useless, lackadaisical, fine madam!”
“And her daughter is the very opposite!”
“She is. She is an O’Bierne—a capable, courageous, spirited, fine madam, unless I’m mistaken. Well, Mrs. Scully made a great struggle to be received after her second marriage, but no one would see her. When she called they were always out. They tell this story of the Sullivans—once her most intimate friends; she went there, and when the man said ‘Not at home,’ she disconcerted him greatly by walking past with a remark that she ‘would just write a note in the drawing-room’; and when she sailed in, what do you think she beheld? but the two Sullivans and their great fat mother, lying stretched out upon the floor! The drawing-room is overlooked and commanded by the drive, and they were, as they fondly believed, hiding till she drove away.”
“What did she say or do?” asked Mrs. Vance, breathlessly.
“She said, ‘I know I’ve come down in the world, but I’ve never fallen so low as this,’ and marched out with the honours of war.”
“She certainly scored there,” said Money, with a boyish laugh. “Ah, here come the hounds at last, and time for them.”
The Carrick cover was a sure find, and soon a stout old dog fox was on foot, and the meet scattered far and wide. The people on wheels went in one direction, the riders who made for short cuts and open gates another, while those who really meant business (in all a numerous company) sailed away at the tail of the pack. None more forward than Miss O’Bierne, riding quietly—no thrusting, no flurry, but with great judgment and determination. Strive as he would, and he strove hard, Denis Money could not get within half a field of her—then a whole field lay between them—apparently, it was not the hounds he was pursuing, but the girl on the bay thoroughbred.
It proved a long and exhausting run, the day was muggy and close for November, the going bad, the fences enormous. Black Pat had had enough of it by the first check, and as his rider had broken a stirrup leather, neither he nor his master, nor, indeed, but few of the pursuers, saw the end of the run. Mr. Money, senior, on the Squire, was among the happy and select number that were up at the finish. With a good start and a good mount, Anthony Money was occasionally a hard man to hounds, and on the strength of their mutual acquaintance, the Squire, he ventured to present himself to Miss O’Bierne. Whatever she was elsewhere, she was undeniably the queen of the hunting field. His rather slow, elderly blood took fire as he watched the slender, audacious figure ever before him, ruling her wild thoroughbred as if by some magic influence, now soaring over a gate, now springing deer-like on an “on and off” double, now stretching away over the field’s at racing speed.
The brush was Miss O’Bierne’s well won prize; and as they jogged home side by side along the dim lanes, she being guide to the party, Mr. Money was amazed to discover that she was quite a lady! No swearing, no slang, no horsey talk, and not even one cigarette. She was a little distant in her manner; was it shyness, was she penetrated with a sense of her own insignificance, or could it be pride?
As the pair rode along side by side (Racehill was on the road to Carrig) Mr. Money was enjoying himself vastly. What with the exhilaration of the late run, the stimulating society of this charming companion, and the innocent witchery of her presence, he began to feel as if the last twenty years had slipped off his back. They discussed hunting, horses (the Squire, of course), they talked of scenery, of Ireland, and of the Irish people.
“My father’s people were Irish, and though I never was in the country till a few months ago, yet I cannot tell you how my heart warms to it,” confessed Mr. Money.
“And you don’t think us all barbarians?”
“No, indeed, no barbarous nation could possess such beautiful and pathetic music—and such kind hearts.”
“What part of Ireland did your father come from?”
“I am not very clear about that; he was always extremely close about his past, and never mentioned any particulars as to where he was born, or who were his people.”
Could it really be Anthony Money who was thus jogging home in the dusk so happily beside Jerry O’Bierne, talking so unrestrainedly, and telling her all his family history? What would his wife have said?
“We always had an impression that he belonged to some great family, for he spoke with deep affection and pride of a beautiful place, the most splendid in the world in his opinion, which was evidently associated with his youth. He described a deer forest, a pack of hounds, acres of gardens, miles of avenues, but I never heard him mention the precise locality, though I’ve some recollection of the name Clorane. Did you ever hear of such an estate?”
“No, no, except—yes, there’s a miserable little village at the back of the Horse Leap Mountain of that name; it is on the Carrig property.”
“Ah, well, I daresay I shall never know,” and he sighed profoundly.
“It is quite a romantic story,” observed the young lady. “Probably your father came from one of the big places out far West.”
“Most likely—the family, his family, were pure Irish, lords of the soil for centuries, warriors who had fought fiercely against the Normans in the West and Essex in the South. Well, no estate, North, South, East, or West, can surpass Carrig, in my opinion. I hope you won’t mind my saying so, Miss O’Bierne?” What was there about this girl that impelled him to address her with such deference? Lady Flora, no, not even Lady Bundoran herself, had ever filled him with so much involuntary respect. “Perhaps I should not mention the place to you under the circumstances,” he added rather lamely.
“Why not? Since some one must live there, I am very glad it is in your hands, for you appreciate it and like it.”
“And you, Miss O’Bierne?”
“All O’Biernes like Carrig, and I love it; and although it indirectly killed my grandfather, and broke my father’s heart, yet the first thing I do every morning, when I get up, is to look over at the woods at Carrig; it is my Mecca.”
“I hope you will come and stay there some day, Miss O’Bierne.” And through the twilight he looked up at the beautiful proud face turned toward him. (Oh, Anthony Money, if your wife could but hear you! She, of course, would be insensible to the fascination of this dark-eyed witch, who had thrown the sedate elderly brain of her husband completely off its balance.)
“I am much obliged to you, Mr. Money, but I am afraid that could not be—and now there is Racehill gate. I wonder if you would be greatly offended if I offered you this?” and she touched the brush which dangled at the off-side of her saddle. “I have hunted so long that I have ceased to keep them, and you were up just as soon as I was. It is your first day on the dear old Squire, and I should like him to carry home the brush.”
Was Mr. Money elated? Was he flattered? Was he proud? Yes, and this was such a delicate way of putting it that, after some half-hearted protestation (in which he might have been a bashful girl and she a pressing young man), he accepted it, with many thanks, saying, “I shall take it, and have it set up in the best manner in memory of my first day on the Squire, and of the pleasantest ride I ever had in my life.”
(How would Mrs. Money have liked this?) And then he ventured to hold out his hand—yes, venture was the word. (What was the meaning of this suddenly roused feeling of personal subordination?) Miss O’Bierne took it, and, having pressed it warmly, Mr. Money turned about, and set off homeward in the highest spirits. He had quite lost his heart to little Miss O’Bierne! He would tell Denis all about it—when they were by themselves after dinner. She was one of the old régime, and yet she was so sweet, so simple, so unaffected. What a horsewoman! What glorious eyes! (Mr. Money, I am sure your wife would not be at all pleased if she could read your thoughts—and we are coming to that soon.)
It was those eyes that dragged words from his lips when they smiled and put a drag upon his tongue when they looked grave. What a day he had had altogether. As for the brush, what a crow over Denis!
Resolved by Mr. Money and his son, that it would be necessary to buy some more hunters immediately; what were eight between two men? Within the next few days Denis had purchased four new horses from Mr. Scully (who, to quote from Casey Walshe, “Stuck it on well”), and was haunted during the transaction by Tilly in her red cloak; she seemed to lie in wait for him, and, at last, he began to dread the colour scarlet as much as any fox—and to be nearly as cunning in evading it.
At meets he made his way boldly up to Miss O’Bierne; he was proud of knowing her, and flaunted his advantages in the eyes of numerous envious young men, who would have liked to accost her, but dared not. In the first place, the eyes of the county—i.e., lady entertainers—were upon them, and in the second place, “Scully’s little girl” was as unapproachable in her way as Monte Rosa.
Denis Money, of course, went here and there among the ladies in carriages, and had a word with most people; he was a young man who was a general favourite, and many eyes followed him with fond expectation. The Miss De Braynes were well aware that, no matter how pleasant he might be to them, all this attention was discounted by the miles he would ride home in December’s dusk by the side of that horrid, black-haired, little Irish girl. They declared that “he was making himself quite conspicuous, and every one knew that she was a jockey in petticoats, and a most disreputable, scheming creature.”
One day, as Money and Miss O’Bierne were trotting side by side from cover to cover, he remarked:
“That was a splendid burst; there is nothing like hunting, is there?”
“No,” with a smileless face, “I suppose not.”
“You suppose not! I should have thought you would have been even a greater enthusiast than I am myself, if possible.”
“I would be, if I were like you; but you see, you hunt for pleasure and excitement, I ride merely to sell. This horse is sold. Mr. Scully sold him ten minutes ago to Colonel Lane, of the Grey Hussars. I’ve known Lancer here from a foal. I’ve a foolish way of getting fond of horses, but I always feel that the better a horse carries me the sooner we must part. Lancer and I are old comrades, and now he is going to England, and we shall never, never meet again; this is my last ride on him. Oh, Lancer, why, why did you jump so well to-day? Well, at any rate, you’ve fetched two hundred guineas—that’s some comfort.”
“Mr. Scully ought to give you half,” declared her companion.
“Give me half!” with an amused smile. “No, indeed, he gives me a home, and allows me twenty pounds a year for dress and pocket money.”
“Twenty pounds! Why, my stepmother spends more than that on a cotton frock.”
“A cotton frock! She couldn’t, surely. I made one myself last summer, and it cost me six shillings, buttons and all.”
“Oh, yes, but hers was rather swagger, and had a lot of silk somewhere and lace. She always gets her clothes in Paris.” Then he found himself wondering how “Ju” would look in a six shilling cotton costume, made by herself, and Miss O’Bierne in a French gown?
“Don’t you ever bring out Dancing Girl?” he asked, after a pause.
“No, not often; you see, riding her is not business, she is supposed to be my very own. I don’t think Mr. Scully would sell her, but if he saw her going well he might be tempted.”
“But if she is your very own—”
“They only call her that in the yard; for when she was two months old, her mother broke her leg, and had to be shot, and they were going to kill the foal, but I begged for her and reared her on milk. After a very struggling childhood, she throve, then she was turned into the horse park, then she was trained, and has become what you see.”
At this moment they were passed by Lady Scariff’s landau and party—Mr. Hare was on the box. They smiled radiantly at Money, gazed stonily at his companion, and he noticed that the eager little gossip looked back over his shoulder, and then leaned down, and said something to one of the Miss De Braynes, at which they all laughed.
On St. Stephen’s Day the staghounds met within eight miles of Racehill, and although Scully did not much care for “calf-hunting,” as he profanely termed it, yet he drove Geraldine and Garry over in the wagonette—having sent their horses on. The meet was at Bundoran Park, and, it being a general holiday, the lawn and approach were black with pedestrians; many carriages were present, and a large and assorted crowd of horsemen (among which a man with a bag might be seen going about collecting half-crowns), a party of “wreckers”—a trade peculiar to stag hunting—were also in waiting, prepared to run with the pack, and to earn a day’s work at the first fence.
Mr. Scully’s wagonette was the centre of an animated group while Geraldine and Garry were mounting their hunters—Dancing Girl and a big grey, a notorious kicker, who flaunted a red ribbon bow on his tail.
“A fine, raking horse, Matt,” said a bystander. “I saw him out last week, a terrible bould lepper, but, begor, I’d sooner be in front of him than behind him. He gallops in good form, too.”
“He’ll need to gallop all he knows to-day,” remarked another, “for it’s Faugh a-Ballagh is the deer; he goes away clean out of sight like the very wind.”
“And isn’t he in the right of it?” asked a third. “Sure where’s his fun, in being down in a narrow ditch with, maybe, twenty heavy dogs on the top of him, tearing him to pieces? I wonder what side he’ll take.”
“If it’s the Borra country, I pity ye,” exclaimed the first speaker. “Begob, the man that follows that line needs to be a good swimmer! Garry, me darlin’, can ye take the wather?”
“Yes, I can,” growled Garry, “and widout whisky,” with a significant glance that raised a loud laugh at his questioner’s expense.
It was now one o’clock, and every one eagerly awaited the uncarting of the deer. It proved to be a magnificent red stag, the hero of several notable runs. As soon as he was enlarged he gave the spectators a touch of his quality by jumping into the garden over a solid stone wall eight feet high, which performance drew forth wild screams of applause and hoarse deafening cheers from the multitude on the lawn. He started off on his journey, as fine an animal as ever crossed a pasture, toward the much dreaded Borra districts, but luckily turned sharply to the left, the hounds wheeling and working out the line, and here the field came up—about sixty determined pursuers—including, among others, Miss O’Bierne, Kathleen Hare (on a borrowed horse), the two Moneys, and Lord Bundoran, for once oblivious of old Egypt. However, the famous double at Kildangan emptied about a dozen saddles (and now the “wreckers,” who ran with the deer, had an admirable opportunity of using their spades and ropes, and reaped a grand harvest), those who got over never stopping to make inquiries, as the hounds were flying. They crossed a road, through a back gate into a great park, the pack streaming before them, the deer a distant speck. This was galloping! this was life! Then the course suddenly lay through big grass fields and over formidable fences—one of these yawners swallowed Mr. Money and the Squire. Here country people were running and halloaing, road riders came storming up, mixing with the thundering of wheels, excited carriage horses, and sporting coachmen. Up to this, there was not a single check. However, the deer now got among cattle, and at last came a much-needed rest. Presently the hounds crossed a tillage farm, a wood, and again began to race. Close big banks and tenants’ holdings pumped out not a few hunters, and Garry and the first whip were no more seen. The few survivors still galloped on doggedly, and the deer, who seemed utterly fearless, now cleared a great stone and mortar wall nearly nine feet high. The huntsman having whipped off the hounds, after a considerable delay laid them on again. At this time there were only six people riding with the pack—the Master, Mr. Louth, an officer from Ballybawl, Mr. Denis Money, the huntsman, Miss O’Bierne, and a rough rider on a young one. The country gradually grew wilder and wilder, and exhibited barren, stony fields, grass-grown lanes, and rush-fringed watercourses. There was no sign of life, beyond curlew and plover, and a few half-starved mountain cattle. Dusk was falling, they were in a totally unknown district, but the gallant little band still held on, though it was evident that none of them could last much longer. Dancing Girl’s heart was thumping fast under her blue girths, Black Pat’s long legs were beginning to fail him. At length the stag, who possibly thought he had come far enough, made boldly for an open cabin, where he was taken, seemingly as fresh as paint, on the top of an old woman’s bed.
“Two hours and forty minutes, including checks,” said the Master, pulling out his watch, and leaving the reins on the neck of his panting weight-carrier. “And now, perhaps, some one will kindly tell me where we are?” and he looked round for a reply.
“Begor, I know,” answered the trainer, jumping off his exhausted animal. “We are at the back of God’s Speed, an’ I’m five-and-twenty miles from home this blessed minute—and I see no way of getting this mare back, unless I carry her!”
“But where are we, man alive?” repeated Mr. Louth.
“Near the mountains, as ye may judge. Tinade is our nearest telegraph, but there’s a sort of a small town or village called Oola, about half a mile off, where, maybe, we will get a sup of meal and water for the horses and a mouthful of something stronger ourselves—ay, and tay for the lady. Mor-ya!” suddenly taking off his cap and addressing Geraldine, “but your riding bates everything, miss—and the mare there is the divil’s sister.”
“Can you show us the way?” she asked.
“Well, I’ll make an offer, anyhow, unless the garron here dies under me,” but, looking complacently around the steaming circle, he added, “We’re all pretty well done, and small blame.”
“That is indeed a wonderful mare of yours,” remarked the Master to Jerry, as she rode down hill between him and Money. “What does Mr. Scully want for her?”
“She is not for sale,” said Miss O’Bierne, as she threw back her head rather haughtily.
“Not for sale!” incredulously.
“No, she belongs to me.”
“Then I must congratulate you with all my heart. She is an animal worthy to carry you.”
Jerry made no reply. This sort of compliment was as familiar as it was contemptible.
“We will have the horses rubbed down in this village,” pointing to a long street. “There is sure to be some sort of inn or shebeen, where we can at least get tea and whisky.”
As they rode up the street, behind the hounds, enthusiastic crowds poured out of cottages and swarmed around men and horses, exchanging vociferous greetings with the huntsmen and rough-rider.
“Begorra, it was thirty mile if it was a yard,” cried one excited admirer. “Sure didn’t they come through Cool-na-Bawn, and that’s five from Fleske, and ye know very well where that is.”
“And will ye look at the lady,” screeched another. “Will ye look at the little girlie that rode so stout, and swam the Bawn river. Faix, it takes me back to wan of the O’Biernes, that lepped the canal at the forty-ninth lock.”
“Sure an’ isn’t she an O’Bierne?” announced another, in an angry scream. “The last of the ould stock; see how the raal old blood tells in the long run.”
“An’ it was a damned long run,” remarked a man; and at this there was a ready laugh.
At the door of the O’Bierne Arms (the only two-storied slated house in the village), Geraldine, having dismounted, was received with the deepest respect and solemnly conducted indoors by the proprietor, hat in hand.
“What did it all mean?” Money asked himself. It simply meant that the host’s father had been born and bred on Carrig estate, and that she was the daughter of the O’Bierne.
“Oh, then, Miss O’Bierne, me darlin’ young lady,” he said, and his voice trembled, “’tis I and mine that are the proud to see ye enter my humble doors, and to know that ye are a raal successor of the great race. God be with the good old times when your grandfather, rest his soul, hunted the country, and made a show of the best, as you did to-day—on old Susette!” As he spoke he hurried her into the sitting-room, for a number of people were pushing and pressing into the passage, and there was an immense crowd outside the door, all eager to get “just wan weenchie look at Miss O’Bierne. Just a sight of old Brian’s granddaughter.” No one took the smallest notice of the three men (not even of the M.F.H.), there was no crush in their vicinity, and they were afforded ample leisure in which to study the real old feudal spirit blazing into life again. They were nobodies—not even regarded as customers. This girl, with her ancestors, her riding, and her thoroughbred, absorbed every one’s attention, not to say adoration.
When the tumult had slightly subsided, the three insignificant strangers were suffered to wash their hands in the kitchen, turn about, in a yellow bowl; their horses were well looked after, and presently a hasty meal was served in the sitting-room. A sitting-room with shiny black horse-hair furniture, and a remarkable collection of cheap and gaudy pictures. The repast included eggs and bacon, cold potatoes, hot bread, butter, tea, buttermilk, and whisky (the best potheen). Miss O’Bierne was ushered to the seat of honour at the head of the table, the host and his wife themselves standing behind her, and waiting on her with painful assiduity. A great expanse of tablecloth was fixed between this distinguished guest and the gentlemen; they were placed, so to speak, below the salt, and a wild-eyed, barefooted servant girl fitfully attended to their wants.
Money glanced frequently at Miss O’Bierne and smiled whenever he caught her eye.
“It is very plain,” he said’ at last, “that certain individuals are not considered worthy to be associated with a lady I know.”
The answer, to his amazement, came in French—fluent French—and was to the effect that the positions would presently be reversed, and that he must say nothing to hurt the feelings of these poor foolish kind people.
“What! do you speak French, Miss O’Bierne,” exclaimed Mr. Louth, who had been greatly startled, almost as much as if one of his horses had opened his mouth and addressed him. His wide, dilated eyes eagerly, nay, imperatively, demanded further particulars.
“Oh, yes. It is the first language I ever learned,” she answered, carelessly. “I had a French nurse when I was a small child. I believe I spoke quite broken English.”
“And you speak Irish,” said Mr. Louth.
“Yes, but not very well.”
“Oh, Miss O’Bierne, darlin’,” broke in Riordan, the host. “It’s like yourself not to be denying the Irish, as so many young people does nowadays. Sure, is it not your native tongue, avilish, and if young ladies of rank like your honour would bring it out, it would be wance more the fashion, and we would all be talking in our own language.”
“And you are no longer in Carrig this many years? A suillish machree?” said his wife.
“No, not this many years,” she answered gravely.
“And may I make so bold to ask your ladyship who does live there?”
“That gentleman opposite, in the black coat,” she replied, “Mr. Money.”
Mrs. Riordan turned about, and bent an exceedingly black look upon the wearer of the black coat. One would almost suppose, from her expression, that he had sacked and pillaged the place, and put the residents to the sword.
“Well, miss, if they took the grand place from you, there’s wan thing they could not rob ye of—and that is your good and honoured name,” said Mrs. Riordan, with fierce emphasis.
“I see the moon up now,” interrupted Mr. Louth, walking to the window and raising the blind. “Lord! what a crowd outside. One would think there had been a murder, or a wedding, here at last. An election was nothing to it. Well, Riordan, we must be making a start; I’ll thank you to order the horses.”
By half-past six o’clock the little party were ready to set off, minus the trainer, who had secured a bed in the village. They forced their way with great difficulty through the densely-packed mass, which actually seethed round the door “just to see little Miss O’Bierne, and give her good luck,” and who, as she mounted her horse, indiscriminately, in English and Irish, called down devout blessings on her head for all the noble and charitable deeds of her great forefathers.
“May God bless you, Miss O’Bierne,” was murmured by many lips; “send you back your own, mavourneen aheelish,”
“God send you a good husband,” screamed an aged matron.
“May you live long, and die happy, achushla. Sure, aren’t we always praying for ye, an’ don’t we know from hear-telling as you’re wan of the raal sort.” An eager and enthusiastic mob, chiefly composed of women, pushed and pressed closely about her, kissing her foot, her horse’s neck, and the very hem of her habit; her arm was stiff, her fingers were numb with shaking hands. From this emotional gathering she extricated her mare and herself with difficulty. The overwhelming reception lasted for about ten minutes. But at last she was reluctantly suffered to depart from this scene of strange excitement, the crowd raising a loud, wild cheer as she rode off. Although the horses disliked the demonstration, their riders were much impressed, and the young English officer resolved to write a full, true, and particular account of this most uncommon experience for the hungry columns of his regimental paper.
In reply to Mr. Louth’s not unnatural inquiries—for he was new to the country—Geraldine replied:
“This townland and village of Oola were once part of the O’Bierne estates. The people around were very poor, as you may judge by the land—half mountain and bog. My grandfather helped them as much as he could, especially in the awful year of the famine, and they have not forgotten him yet, you see.”
“No, indeed, and the famine—why, it was close on fifty years ago.” And he forthwith fell into a contemplative silence.
By-and-by, from riding four abreast, Geraldine and young Money gradually dropped behind.
“I suppose you’ll scarcely know me after that royal reception?” he said. “I thought they were going to crown you. They nearly dragged you off the horse.”
“They meant very kindly. Are you jealous because you were not dragged off yours?” she asked, with a gay laugh.
“No; insignificance has its compensations. I am most thankful that I was spared. Can you tell me, by the bye, what ‘a suillish machree’ means? I like the sound of it. I shall go about saying it to every one—A suillish machree, a suillish machree.”
“I should not advise you to say it to too many,” she answered demurely, “for it means ‘light of my heart.’”
“Indeed. No; I suppose it would not do if I said it to three or four girls—I might get into trouble. If I said it to a man he might think I was taking a rise out of him, and knock me down. Mrs. Riordan never saw either of us before to-day, did she?”
“No; at any rate, she never saw me.”
“And I can swear that she never saw me either; yet she immediately called you the light of her heart, and she looked as if she would gladly give me a cup of cold poison. What did it mean?”
“It means that you live at Carrig, and I do not. You must not mind her; she is an ignorant, poor woman, and she does not understand. She thinks, because the O’Biernes lived there once, they should live there always. That is impossible. You recollect the extract you read 55 me—”
“Oh, Miss O’Bierne,” he broke in; “don’t—spare me; it has lain like a sin on my conscience ever since. Can you ever forgive me?”
“There was nothing to forgive,” she replied carelessly.
“And we are friends?”
“At least we are friendly,” was her guarded reply.
Why was there always a certain suggestion of distance in her attitude? However, an eighteen mile ride tête-à-tête by moonlight affords conspicuous opportunities for cementing a friendship between two young people, and, as mile after mile passed but too quickly, they also passed gradually, and imperceptibly, into “the self-revelation, exchange of confidences” stage, and Denis was hopeful that he had at last stormed and carried the outworks of Geraldine O’Bierne’s reserve.
Mr. Money escorted Geraldine into the yard at Racehill. It was close on ten o’clock as they clattered under the arch.
“What’s all this?” cried Scully, who was standing in the kitchen door, with a strong light behind his burly figure. “What sort of an hour do ye call this, to be coming back?”
“We have had a wonderful run,” explained Money, dismounting. “We ran the stag to Oola in the next county. When he was taken there were only six up, including Miss O’Bierne and myself. You have reason to be proud of Miss O’Bierne—she got a great ovation—and proud of the horses—two from your own stable. “
Yes; this was a feather in his cap. Casey should send an account to the papers. It meant prestige, customers, money. He cooled at once.
“Peter, take this mare and give her a hot mash, with a dash of whisky. Mr. Money, sir, come in and have a drink. I sold ye that black at a ridiculous figure. He is worth every penny of three hundred pounds. Jerry, girl, go in. Casey”—accosting the jockey, who had joined him—“did ye hear that they had a great run to Oola in the next county?”
“Augh! these wonderful runs,” straddling his legs, and turning a toothpick in his mouth. “Don’t we have them twice a week—and haven’t I been in dozens of them myself? How far did ye say?” addressing Money.
“Ah! blatherskin,” with a rude laugh. “Ye may halve that.”
But young Money was not disposed to abate one foot of the distance; and, with a hasty nod to the dealer, he gave his horse his head, and trotted sharply out of the yard.
Undoubtedly Geraldine O’Bierne led a sunless life, a different life to other girls of her age (eighteen); she had none of the ties in which affections live and grow—no father, mother, sister, brother; naturally reticent and self-contained, she could never lavish (supposing it were in demand) her love among a crowd; but she was sincerely attached to Garry, to old Bridget, and the two Miss Dwyers of Creeshe, and returned their warm feelings with interest.
People wondered—and, indeed, had actually gone so far as to ask—why these two aged ladies had not offered Geraldine a home on the death of her mother. Narcissa was her godmother, they were old friends of the family, and it was an open secret that Brian O’Bierne and Narcissa Dwyer had been boy and girl lovers; but that the susceptible Brian, when on a visit to Dublin, had been ensnared and caught by a smart society damsel, who had promptly married him and returned to Carrig, where she had set up semi-regal state, started schemes of reckless extravagance, and lived long enough to undermine the fortunes of the house, ere she died a comparatively young woman. It was whispered that after her death Brian had once more been a suitor for the hand of his first love, but that she would have none of him. However, she had always remained his faithful friend and counsellor; and there was another whisper, to the effect that the resources of Creeshe had been secretly taxed to prop the tottering credit of its neighbouring estate.
Miss Dwyer loved Brian’s granddaughter with a deep affection, born of sentiment, tenderness, and of pity for the desolate child; and so did her sister Lucy—a seemingly frail, drooping old lady, who had never had any romance in life—perhaps in consequence of an uncertainty, or cast, in her left eye.
After Mrs. Scully’s death, the Miss Dwyers had sought an interview with Matt and offered to adopt her orphan daughter; an offer which Matt had brusquely declined. Her mother had left him sole guardian to Geraldine, and guardian he intended to remain, until she was of full age.
It afforded him a kind of morose satisfaction to disappoint old Narcissa, whom he detested. Old Narcissa, who invariably addressed him as “Scully,” and who had cut Mrs. Scully, his wife, dead on all occasions. “No,” was his brusque answer to the stern-faced inquirer. “Jerry’s home was at Racehill with him and his, and he intended to carry out his wife’s wishes to the letter.” The full value of his wife’s bequest was not known to him then, but as time went on even he admitted to himself, and occasionally to Casey, that the girl Jerry was worth her weight in gold.
After some rather stormy and unpleasant scenes, the trainer had reluctantly yielded to Jerry’s desire to visit the Miss Dwyers, and she generally contrived to spend some hours with them at least once a week. Creeshe was five miles from Racehill by road, but only two by a short cut through Carrig—a public footpath that ran by the river—and this was her invariable route.
The end of January had brought with it a severe frost—a black frost; the ground was like iron, all hunting was at an end, and for once Geraldine enjoyed a holiday. She therefore set out about two o’clock one afternoon to walk to Creeshe.
Creeshe was a beautiful old place, as dignified in its decay as its mistresses in their poverty. It was, alas! true, that the best timber had been cut—the oaks, and walnuts, and elms—that the avenue was grass-grown, and deeply scored with the ruts from continual carting; but the gravel sweep was neatly raked, and the house in its solemn silence, its prim, chill neatness, more resembled some venerated place of worship than an ancient county seat. There was a great bare entrance hall, panelled with oak; it opened en suite to a vast library, a ghastly white drawing-room, and, finally, into a small boudoir, where there were two lone old women, cowering together over a scanty turf fire.
These ladies were delighted to welcome Geraldine; she was the one ray of light in their dismal existence. To Miss Narcissa she was even more; she represented in her person the means that was to raise Carrig to its former great estate.
Country people will talk—yes, certainly they will—and it had come to Miss Dwyer’s ears that young Money “was always making up to Miss Jerry” at the hunts; that he was often over at Racehill, and that he was paying her marked attention. This is the palatable form in which the intelligence was presented to Miss Narcissa. The various disappointed mothers and daughters declaring elsewhere “That it was really too bad of Denis Money to make such an utter fool of the poor little trainer, and that her friends had better look after her, as she had a nice example in Tilly Scully; indeed, for all that they knew, she might be just as bad. Still waters ran deep, and it was scarcely to be expected that a girl brought up in a stable-yard, among blacklegs and drunkards, would have any morals at all.”
Miss Narcissa, as she kissed Geraldine on both her cold cheeks, looked into her face from a new point of view. Yes, she was growing the image of her great-grandaunt, “Shining Sall,” a celebrated beauty and toast. She had far more colour than formerly, a deeper gentian blue in her eyes, but dear, dear, dear, how shabby her hat was, and what a thin old jacket and scraggy old boa!
“What became of all your mother’s fine furs and fallals, child?” she asked abruptly.
“I’m sure I don’t know,” removing hat and boa. “I fancy Mr. Scully gave them to Tilly, and that she sold them.”
“Have you nothing?” in a tone of despair.
“I have the old miniatures, the emeralds, the watches, and seals.”
“Pish, child, have you no lace or silks?”
“No, none; but,” breaking into a laugh, “how funny of you to think of them now. Just as if I should ever want them. Why do you ask?”
Why, indeed? It was not Miss Narcissa’s intention to give any information on this point, and she merely replied:
“So I hear you had a wonderful run with the staghounds—all the way to Oola. I know the country well.”
“Yes, I thought we were never going to stop. We were not home till ten o’clock.”
“We? Who do you mean by we?” she asked sharply.
“Mr. Louth, an officer whose name I don’t know, Mr. Money and myself.”
“Gracious, child, and did they all come round miles out of their way to leave you at home?”
“Oh, no. Only Mr. Denis Money.”
“Indeed!” a little complacent cough. “And tell me, child, what is he like? I saw him in church, and we thought him rather a personable young man.”
“He rides well.”
“I hear,” piped in Lucy, “that his father is greatly taken with Carrig; he has only rented it for three years, but he is thinking of buying it all out from the mortgagees, and turning it into a family place.”
“A family place!” echoed Narcissa, with withering emphasis. “How can people of no family have a place? Unless, like cuckoos—in other birds’ nests. Lucy, I’m really surprised to hear ye.”
“Well, indeed, sister, Carrig might fall into worse hands. And why should you say they are of no family?”
“Because, in these days, old family is quite out of fashion, and birth and money don’t often keep company.”
“Oh, they do sometimes. Mr. Money is rich; he and his wife are very charitable, I know, and you see there are no O’Biernes left.”
“And what do you call Geraldine here?”
“I call her a poor, unlucky girl, and one that has as much chance of ever owning Carrig as—Paddy Mooney.”
“That’s true for you, Lucy,” shaking her head in sorrowful acquiescence; yet all the time this hypocritical old lady lent an ear to Hope’s flattering tale. “We visited there the other day, Geraldine, though it went sadly against the grain. We went over in Mooney’s cover car. Thank God he was sober for once. The place looks very splendid, and we were shown in by no less than three servants; but when we did get up to Mrs. Money she was no great shakes after all.”
“Now, Narcissa, you know you said yourself she was a handsome woman, and she made a lot of you, and was mighty sweet and pleasant,” protested her sister; peevishly.
“Well, and I suppose I am bitter! I think of old days. I can’t stomach seeing her in your grandmother’s place, Jerry; ay, sitting in her very chair.”
“You were none too fond of the same lady, Narcissa, when she did sit there.”
“Lucy! Upon my word, I can’t think what’s come over you this day. I never heard such rubbish as you are talking. Ah! here is Susan with the tea,” as a tall, strong woman stalked in, and laid down a splendid silver tray and tea equipage. Her stout arms were bare to the elbow; and she wore a coarse blue checked apron.
“For the Lord’s sake, Susan, will you pull down your sleeves and put on your cap?” said her mistress.
“Sure, you are not feeling visitors on the road to-day, Miss Dwyer?” asked Susan, in a gruff voice.
“I am so, Susan. I see you have made a few hot cakes. Is there no butter?”
“Sorra a scrape.”
“Then we will just do without it. Butter is bad for the complexion. Geraldine, you can make the tea.”
Geraldine rose at once, rearranged the cups, and began—her usual office—to pour out “the best family mixture at eighteen-pence a pound.” But it might have been Souchong or Caravan tea, so much did the two old ladies enjoy it.
“And you brought back Corinne, I see,” said Miss Narcissa. “I’ve got another old French book for you. After that, you shall have Thackeray’s ‘Esmond.’”
“I have just read it, thank you.”
“Read it? Who lent it to you, childie?”
“Young Mr. Money or his father?” rather eagerly.
“Young Mr. Money,” and she coloured. “He has lent me several books.”
“Humph! I hope he makes a discreet selection.”
“Yes, I think he does.”
“He is a handsome young man,” remarked Lucy, as she turned her cup round with a peculiar twist. Cup-tossing was her accomplishment and her vanity. “But by all accounts he is no great reader; ‘his only books are woman’s looks.’”
“Now, where did you get hold of that?” inquired her sister irritably.
“From Doatie Vance, when she was here yesterday.”
“Dear, dear; none of that family ever kept a close mouth and a wise head.”
“She says ‘he has a rag on every bush,’ and plays out of every one’s hand, and is a mighty favourite in London with—-the married ladies,” pursued Miss Lucy, still peering into her teacup, instead of boldly facing her sister.
“Oh, fie, Lucy, how can you listen to such loose talk; and you should not be saying such things before the child.”
(If the child’s face was any guide to her feelings she certainly should not.)
“Mrs. Vance isn’t above a bit of flirtation herself. I—I see a ring in this cup,” she added suddenly.
“Oh, then, I wonder how many rings that is you see every day?” scoffed her elder sister.
“A ring and two coffins,” she pursued deliberately.
“Well, those are ours, and it’s about time we were in them,” remarked Miss Narcissa. “I suppose you are hard at work, Jerry, training horses? Dear heart, I wish you could give it up. I wish you could come here, dear; but, sure, we have none of us a penny, and it’s hard for an empty sack to stand upright. How many horses has Scully now?”
“Oh, a large number. I never ride less than six a day. As fast as some are sold others come on, He has done very well indeed this winter.”
“You have done very well, you mean. Dear me, child, how I wish you could have a little pleasure.” She gave a long sigh.
“And isn’t riding with a handsome young man a—pleasure?” demanded her sister, still peering into her teacup.
“Bless me, Lucy! Will you hold your tongue? I hear the Moneys are going to have a houseful of company, and to give a great ball at Carrig before long. You’ve never been inside it to know it, have you, Geraldine?”
“Would you like to go to the dance?”
“The dance! I cannot dance.”
“They’ll likely ask her to the servants’ ball,” put in Lucy, who was certainly very trying today, “along with Scully and Tilly.”
“Now, didn’t I tell you I felt visitors on the road? There’s the bell;” exclaimed Miss Narcissa, rising hastily to shake the crumbs off her lap into the fireplace.
“And I must be off,” said Geraldine, also rising, and putting the tray aside and straightening the chairs; “and indeed it will be dark before I get home. I’ll come over again as soon as possible. Perhaps, if the frost bolds, tomorrow.” And, kissing the two withered faces, she hurried away.
“How stiff she is. She never will stop to meet a soul here. Not that she has a chance of meeting many,” grumbled Miss Lucy; “but she could have known the Hares, and the Hogans, and the Whites.”
“And what sort of knowing would it be?” asked Miss Dwyer tartly, “when they would look the other side of the road if they met her with Scully or that villain of a Tilly. Now, who is this, I wonder?” as sounds of echoing footsteps approached through the long empty rooms.
The visitors proved to be Mr. and Mrs. Money. The latter rustled gracefully into the boudoir, wearing her most cordial manner and her most charming smile. “My husband,” she said, introducing him. “He has heard so much of Creeshe that he insisted on accompanying me. He also,” happy after-thought, “was most anxious to make your acquaintance,” and with this explanation she and her sables subsided into Geraldine’s seat.
“Oh, indeed. Ichabod is what Creeshe should be called now, Mrs. Money,” said Narcissa. “Our glory, such as it was, has long departed, and I don’t know which is going down hill the faster—ourselves or Creeshe.”
Mrs. Money glanced round and caught sight of the splendid old tea service, the Sheraton furniture, satinwood bureaus, the fine pictures on the walls, quite a museum of ancient traditions, then at the two shabby old women. She sniffed (ugh! how their dresses smelled of dye), sitting over a tiny turf fire, and the whole atmosphere of the house was arctic. What an anomaly! What a shocking contrast between the owners and their surroundings. They would be far better off in some charitable institution—some genteel almshouse.
“We met Miss O’Bierne on the steps,” observed Mr. Money, pleasantly. “And she and I had a word or two about the hunting.”
“I did not know she knew you; I thought it was your son,” said the inevitable Miss Lucy.
Mrs. Money’s thin-lipped mouth took a severe expression and her eyes a startled look.
“Oh, yes, I have the pleasure of her acquaintance too. It seems quite strange to see her on foot.”
“Indeed, yes, poor child. She gets enough of horse-riding,” continued Lucy, confidentially—“horse-riding and horse-breaking.”
“She is a nice girl, and quite a lady,” continued Mr. Money, with a faint suspicion of condescension in his manner.
“I never heard of an O’Bierne who was not,” remarked Miss Dwyer, with paralyzing hauteur. “She is my god-daughter, perhaps you were not aware—”
“It seems a great pity,” began Mr. Money, then he paused—“the county” was full of social quicksands.
“I know what you are about to say,” supplemented Miss Narcissa, eagerly. “It is more—it was a crime. Her home—Geraldine’s, I mean—should, of course, be here; but she is under age, and that man was left sole guardian. And it’s another great pity that there is no asylum for poor irresponsible creatures like Mrs. Scully, that only come into the world to do harm. Their mistakes don’t die with them.”
“No, indeed,” agreed her visitor, with an air of bland gravity, and a furtive eye upon the teapot. Did he but know the pitiless truth, this magnificent article had been drained quite empty—the leaves had been thrice watered.
“We are having a ball on the 25th,” said Mrs. Money. “We have arranged for a special train, and for Liddell. The moon, I am sorry to say, cannot oblige us.”
“Indeed, it will be like old times to hear of a grand ball at Carrig,” observed Miss Dwyer, rather wistfully.
“I hope you will do more than hear, Miss Dwyer. I hope you will also see,” replied Mrs. Money, graciously. “I shall be very pleased if you and your sister will honour us with your company.” (Mrs. Money was anxious to secure these miserable old creatures in their shabby dresses; for the Miss Dwyers of Creeshe still added a lustre to any entertainment.)
“Bless me, Mrs. Money! You are vastly flattering; but I must tell you that we don’t go into company now—and we don’t dance.”
Her husband’s next words nearly turned her into stone.
“You don’t dance yourselves, but you can provide a substitute! I shall be very pleased indeed, and so will my wife, if you will bring Miss O’Bierne.” Then suddenly catching his wife’s expressive glance, “Who has a better right to be asked, and to dance in her ancestral halls, as they call them?”
“I am sure you are exceedingly kind,” began Miss Narcissa, with a little dry cough. “Circumstances I need not allude to have cut her off from her own class; but I don’t think myself that Miss O’Bierne could make a better entrance into society than through the doors of Carrig. We will chaperon her, with the greatest satisfaction.”
Mrs. Money bit her lips, and pinched her fingers in her muff. It would be Tilly next! With a hunting husband and son, in some ways the poor woman was powerless. She felt like a hen when her ducklings have left her on the edge of a pond. Hunting afforded them dangerous opportunities of making undesirable acquaintances. However, when her husband wore that expression there was nothing for it but submission—temporary, of course.
“I’m sure I shall be most happy,” she murmured, “and I shall put her name on your card of invitation.”
“If it would make no difference, a card to herself would be better,” said Miss Narcissa, ceremoniously.
Mrs. Money bowed her head, and mentally shuddered. The card would be put in a post of honour at Racehill, and thumbed by every blackleg in the province.
“I’ll see to that,” cried Mr. Money, who did nothing by halves. “I’ll write it with my own hand, and I’ll engage Miss O’Bierne for a dance.”
“She does not dance except square dances,” rejoined Miss Narcissa. “But I’m confident she will be happy to be your partner in a quadrille.”
“I’m surprised that she can dance at all,” remarked Mrs. Money, very sourly.
“Oh, are you? She was at a first-rate school until she was twelve, and is, I daresay, a great deal better educated than half the people who look upon her as an ignoramus. She is a good French scholar, and has just finished reading ‘Corinne.’ I am sorry to say that our literature is as old-fashioned as ourselves; but I understand that your son has obligingly supplied her with some recent publications.”
“Oh, really,” with frigid dignity. “I was not aware—” Mrs. Money looked hard at her husband, and then remarked, “My dear, I am afraid we must not keep the horses any longer in that biting wind. Duchess has got a cough,” and, rising, and tendering two very rigid fingers to each shabby old lady, Mrs. Money placed her hands back in her muff and rustled majestically away.
“I think,” she said as they drove off and she planted her feet on the foot-warmer, “that it was the greatest possible mistake to ask that girl.”
“Why?” he snapped.
“You don’t know what it may lead to.”
“If you are thinking of Denis, his attentions are invariably platonic. One girl is the same to him as another. You need not be afraid that he is going to what is called ‘fall in love.’”
“Well, it is a fatal mistake for us newcomers to endeavour to thrust the girl down the throat of the county. You may be sure they have their own reasons for ostracizing her.”
“Which are no reasons at all.”
“And simply because she rides well, and flatters you out hunting, and gave you a brush, you are her champion. All men are alike; and there’s no fool like an old one.”
(By which remarks it will be seen that Mrs. Money was not always quite as sweet as she looked.)
“I know”—repenting a little, as there ensued a somewhat constrained silence—“that I am rather cross.”
“Yes, I think we will agree about that,” rejoined Mr. Money, with considerable emphasis.
“After all, we agree about most things,” she said, and her voice was actually humble and conciliatory.
At this moment they passed Racehill gate. She gave a violent start, and exclaimed, “Tony, did you see them?”
“No; whom do you mean?”
“Why, Denis and that girl. They were standing hand in hand;” and she gave a little exclamation of disgust.
“But I thought he had gone to tea at Wilde Park?”
“So did I.” A long, expressive silence, and then Mrs. Money said, “Tony, you would not approve of that. You know what I mean.”
“You mean Miss O’Bierne. You need not alarm yourself, my dear. There is nothing in it.”
“Maybe so; but if there should be, Tony, I want you to promise me one thing,” and she laid her hand coaxingly on his.
“Yes, my dear.”
“That you will never give your consent.”
“Why not? Personally, I like her.”
“Just because you think her handsome.”
“She is a lady,” he urged; “a lady born and bred.”
“A lady, brought up and educated by Scully, the horse-dealer?”
“No, more likely by those Miss Dwyers.”
“Nonsense. Those two poor, half-starved old mummies see very little of Jerry O’Bierne. Since her childhood she has been living in a most degraded and immoral atmosphere.”
“It does not follow that she is degraded. On the contrary, the life she has led has had a very bracing effect on her character, and she is of good birth—of very old family.”
“Old family!” and she smiled a little commiserating smile. “An old family that has gone under does not count. If three generations make a gentleman or a lady, one generation can unmake them. Bad up-bringing, custom, example, squalor, poverty soon choke all fine instincts.”
“I don’t agree with you at all,” he answered, doggedly.
“Then, my dear Tony, we must agree to differ. But it is a pity we should quarrel over Jerry O’Bierne, the horse-breaker, or differ on a point on which we are really most warmly agreed.”
“What is that—for I should be glad to know it?”
“The best interests, the true happiness of Denis,” holding out her muff with a dramatic gesture.
“Denis is very capable of taking care of his own interests and choosing his personal idea of happiness.”
“I do not agree with you.”
“I should be surprised if you did. You cannot agree with me on any single subject to-day.”
“I am as fond of Denis as if he was my own son; you know that,” she urged, with tears in her voice. “All my aspirations and ambitions are entirely for him. I have left him every penny I possess. I am longing to see him married. “
“And I am not. Let the poor fellow enjoy his liberty.”
“I want him to give me a daughter that will be congenial to me—a real daughter, whom I can love. She may be poor—penniless, for that matter—but I could never tolerate an insignificant young person, with infamous connections, horsey proclivities, who does not even know how to get out of a carriage.”
Here Mrs. Money descended from her own conveyance with graceful indignation, ascended the steps, and entered the door of Carrig, taking with her that important weapon known as “the last word.”
The short cut from Creeshe to Racehill ran by the local river. It was an old private road, made in former days, when the families of Creeshe, Carrig, and Racehill were not merely on visiting terms, but were connected by ties of blood and friendship. The people for whose benefit the Lovers’ Walk had been laid out, and who often paced it, were almost all dead. However, the path was a great convenience to the public during the daytime, but at night a locked gate closed the thoroughfare.
It was a hard frost, and Denis Money had taken the river path en route to tea with the sprightly Mrs. Vance. As he walked, he presently became aware of voices a little way ahead of him—voices that sounded in the sharp, clear air like those of two people who were quarrelling. The man’s voice said:
“You will not stir out of this, you proud little devil, till you give me a kiss. I’ve come to meet you on purpose, so you need not try to bolt.”
Then a girl’s answer, which he could not catch.
Next a sound of scuffling, and a stifled scream (the affection was undoubtedly all on one side), and Money began to run. Just round a bend, by an old thatched summer house, he came in sight of Miss O’Bierne, struggling in the arms of Casey Walshe.
In half a second he tore up the steps, seized Casey by the collar, and shook him like a rat.
“Kill him!” cried the girl, with blazing eyes, as she stamped her foot and gasped for breath, evidently beside herself with fury. Casey, meanwhile, had wrenched himself out of his coat and stood free as air. It was impossible, however, to maintain a dignified attitude, when conscious of a flannel shirt, a pair of dirty linen cuffs, and a dickey.
“What the hell brings you here, I’d like to know,” he screamed, “interfering between me and my intended! Keep your own side of the course, or you’ll get a nasty cropper.”
“Your intended,” echoed Denis, with a white, incredulous face.
“Oh, don’t believe him!” broke in the girl, passionately. “He is nothing, he is detestable to me, I hate him!” leaning her hands on the table and turning on Casey Walshe a look of pale repulsion and disdain.
“It’s all put on for your benefit,” sneered Casey. “A little bit of hedging, but I’m the favourite. I’ve the race and a stone in hand.”
“You know that I abhor you,” she said, confronting him fiercely. “You persecute me, you make my life a burden to me, you complain of me to Mr. Scully, and tell him horrible falsehoods; you lay in wait for me here to-day, thinking I was sure to be defenceless and alone. Oh you craven!—who only venture to frighten girls—who dare not mount a strange horse. You think people do not see through your excuses of bad health. They all know as well as I do that you are a miserable, trembling, abject coward!”
Before Money could interfere, Casey had rushed at the girl in a transport of murderous fury and struck her on the mouth. For this enormity the other man seized upon him, and caned him soundly over head and shoulders, Casey screaming between each cut, in a piercing falsetto, “I’ll have the law! I’ll summons you! I’ll bring you into court!”
Money then flung him scornfully down the steps, and said, as he threw his coat after him, “Let that be a lesson to you not to strike a woman, you brute. And if you ever raise your hand to Miss O’Bierne again, as far as I’m concerned, it will not be a case for the court, but for the coroner!” Now that he was roused the white fierce passion of this young Englishman far exceeded that of the two Celts. His face was livid, his eyes blazed—his voice shook. Gay, debonaire Denis was a raging human animal. During this scene (which had taken place in the space of two minutes), Geraldine O’Bierne had leaned against the wall—shivering, speechless, and pitiless.
Casey picked himself up very slowly, also his coat, which he drew on cautiously, surveying the pair as he did so with a demoniacal expression upon his evil countenance. He stood and contemplated them for several seconds with the sullenness of irresolute ferocity, and then without one word—silence occasionally conveys a more terrible threat than speech—turned, hobbled stiffly away, and was presently out of sight.
“Your mouth is bleeding. He has cut your lip rather badly,” said Money, with anxious solicitude.
“Oh, that is nothing,” impatiently, and stanching it with her handkerchief.
“Well, I think it is a great deal,” rejoined her champion, Quickly. “I’m sorry I let him off so cheaply. However, I don’t fancy he will trouble you again.”
“He may not trouble me immediately,” she answered, looking steadily at Denis. “But be will certainly trouble me again.”
“Why?” he asked, sharply.
“Because he is my evil genius. In some mysterious way he has Mr. Scully in his power, and I”—and in her eyes there was an expression of stern inarticulate despair—“am in Mr. Scully’s power.”
“What do you mean? Do you mind telling me?”
“You know he is my stepfather—-my guardian. He has cut me off from all friends. I have no relations—not one—no money. I am his slave, and he is the slave of Casey Walshe. Casey hates me, and yet wants to marry me.”
“To marry you!” he repeated, fiercely.
“Yes. I believe he has some idea of starting a horse-dealing business like Mr. Scully. I would be useful, and he knows that Garry would go wherever I went, and he is worth a fortune. But, oh, the thought of Casey Walshe, the sight of him, even the sound of his voice in the distance, makes me shudder,” and as she spoke her trembling hands were pressed hard upon the table.
It was perfectly true that Casey wished to marry the little riding-girl, although his feelings embodied an extraordinary mixture of admiration and detestation. He secretly admired her blue blood, her cool self-possession; he appreciated with the eye of a connoisseur her fine horsemanship; he envied her her youth and her iron nerve. On the other hand, he loathed her haughty airs, her jeers, her stinging tongue, and for the fact that she alone knew his secret, he abhorred and feared her. Once his wife, her mouth would be shut and she would fear him. He had hitherto paid his court in a manner peculiar to himself; it consisted of jokes, practical and otherwise, rude personal remarks, blunt criticisms of her appearance. Once he had offered her a dog, and, seeing that she hesitated to accept it, had killed it before her eyes. Of all his ill deeds that was the blackest. Geraldine loved dogs, and her heart had gone out to the trembling little creature, with its eloquent eyes looking so wistfully into hers; but a gift from Casey—how could she accept it? After this episode she had not opened her lips to him for many weeks. How an acute and wary man like Casey Walshe could for a moment suppose that he had the smallest hope of being accepted by the young lady was indeed a marvel. But he had the whole of Scully’s influence—this was a considerable item; he had large savings, well-invested spoil. He considered himself good-looking, young (forty), and when he figuratively surveyed the neighbourhood, and noted the lack of men, the multitude of single women, the extraordinary suitors which some of these spinsters accepted, his hopes were high. He had taken an extra glass of whisky to steady his nerves, and followed Geraldine in order to press his suit. They had met in front of the old summer-house, and had an immediate difference of opinion. One sharp word led to another. Casey had lost his self-control, his temper, his head, and had received in exchange a very painful castigation from an unexpectedly strong-armed young man. As Casey slunk home he paused once, shook his fist in the air, and said to a passing crow:
“I’ll pay out that black-tongued little cat. I’ll make them both rue the day they were ever born. Yes, if I have to swing for it.”
He left Racehill early the next morning, and, although he was absent for a whole week, no one missed him in the least—no, not even Matt Scully.
In the meanwhile Money remained with Miss O’Bierne, and brought water from the river in his hands, in order that she might bathe her lip. She was very white, trembling, and excited as she said:
“Do you know that I’ve always had a curious feeling that I will be the death of Casey Walshe, or he will be the death of me; and I now wish, extraordinary as it sounds, that you had not beaten him.”
“And I wish he had not struck you,” retorted her companion.
“I provoked him. I was mad with rage. Now I have cooled, I feel—and I know you will think me a superstitious idiot—that this adventure bodes misfortune to both you and me—to me, at any rate. To-day I met a hare on the path running straight toward me,” and she looked at him with scared eyes.
“Oh, Miss O’Bierne! come, come. This is the end of the nineteenth century.”
“If it was the end of the twenty-ninth century, to meet a hare is a certain sign of sorrow to an O’Bierne.”
“And do you really believe in those sort of things?” he asked, gazing at her with an air of critical wonder.
“In some we all do. Every old Irish family has its warning,” she answered, gravely.
“And a hare is yours?”
“No; not the warning for death, only trouble. The other is the driving up to Carrig of a coach and four horses with black plumes on their heads. It always appears previous to the death of an O’Bierne. It was seen the night before my father was killed. It has only to call once more.”
“Once more?” he repeated.
“Yes,” rising as she spoke and turning on him a pale, wistful face; “for me,” and, twisting her scraggy boa tightly round her neck, she ran down the steps.
But in an instant he was beside her, saying in a pleasant, but peremptory tone, “You don’t suppose that I am going to allow you to walk home alone?”
“But really I am not a bit afraid,” she protested. “I come by this path quite late in the evening, and I thought you were going to tea with Mrs. Vance.”
“That is a pleasure which may be deferred.”
“For what you consider to be a duty?” and she threw back her head, and confronted him haughtily.
“No,” he answered, in a lower tone and with unexpected humility, “a privilege.”
The frost still “held”—to quote the local term—the whole country in a strong, relentless grip. Hockey parties, skating, curling, dancing, brought the neighbourhood together, and the climax of all entertainments, the ball at Carrig, was to take place within a week.
Denis Money had been dining with the Royal Skirmishers at their barracks in Ballybawl, and at twelve o’clock he started off to walk home. The road was as dry as the proverbial bone, and as hard as iron, the moon shining with a sort of grim, white stare. The way was long and undeniably lonely.
Denis glanced instinctively at the high, hairy-looking hedges on either hand, and endeavoured to recall tales of shootings and sudden death; not that he was a coward, nor did he accelerate his pace by one inch. After all, the yearly statistics of murders were far higher in England; but then England was much more densely populated. What was that sound?—a footstep—a steady and determined footstep coming up behind him. Should he allow it to pass, or would he take chance of its company? The step came nearer—nearer, and then a voice called out:
“By jigs and reels, it’s Mr. Money. I beg your pardon, sir; I’m Garry, the groom. Would you kindly oblige me with a match?”
“Here you are,” now striking one, which exhibited by a timid flicker Garry’s shrewd, middle-aged countenance.
“Going home, Garry, I suppose?”
“Yes, your honour,” as they fell into step.
“Walking must come strange to you?”
“Well, an’ it do; but owing to this shocking hard frost Miss O’Bierne and I are getting a grand holiday. I hope them horses are giving your honour satisfaction—them last ye bought?”
“Yes, they carry me well. That was a great run we had with the stag.”
“By jigs and reels, it was—too great for most of us.”
“Miss O’Bierne went well.”
“She did.” A pause, and then he cleared his throat and said abruptly:
“See here now, Mr. Money, I’ll be glad of a couple of words with you—man to man, not groom to gentleman.”
“Yes, certainly; say on whatever you want to say.” (It was, no doubt, some thievery about the horses.)
“I’ve known ye now nigh three months, hunting,” continued the other, “hunting and walking, and going about—a nice, dacent, well-living boy, with no more pride about you than an ass—may I spake?”
“Yes, of course you may.”
“It’s about the little girl above . . . . Miss O’Bierne,” and his voice actually trembled. “Ye see yourself how she’s situated. Her mother, God help her! was a born fool. I say no more nor that—and left her in the hands of that rogue, Matt Scully—that wouldn’t have been axed to take a sate in the servants’ hall at Carrig. And he has all authority over her till her twenty-first birthday. No one, av coorse, will look at the same side of the road wid her—and she Miss O’Bierne of Carrig. And she has not a mortal soul in this wide world to spake up for her, unless myself. ’Tis truth I’m telling ye. Her father and me was foster brothers, and me and mine was reared on Carrig, for hundreds of years. I was a gorsoon there myself. It was me as helped to carry home Mr. Gerald—God rest his soul!—ay, and to put him in his coffin; and by jigs and reels”—here his voice became loud and hoarse—“I stand between his child and harm.”
“Good Lord! You don’t suppose that I am likely to harm her?” exclaimed the young man, coming to a dead stop.
“No—no—no,” waving his hand impatiently. “I’ve seen many come with their chaff and their jokes, and their Jerry this and that—making her out something between a servant-girl and a steeplechase jock. Now you are the only one that ever treated her like a lady. I noticed it the very first day when you picked up her brooch in the yard. I’ve seen ye riding up to her before the whole world at the hunt, and when all the rest gives her the go-by, and you taking off your hat as if she was a duchess.”
“And why not?”
“Av coorse, I know,” swallowing a lump in his throat, “there’s a terrible feeling against all as come out of Racehill, what with Scully himself, and Tilly streelin’ round, a bad lot, egg and bird—oh, a villain of a girl! We are low enough without having Casey Walshe tacked on to us, and people misdoubts but we are all tarred with the same brush—which God forbid! And He knows that if ever there was a pure and honourable soul in this wide world it lives in the body of the last of the O’Bierne young ladies.”
“I am certain of that, Garry,” said Money. “I can see that for myself.”
“So much the better, sir,” with emphasis, “Well, now, you’ve given her books as she sets great store by—ye ride with her by the mile—ye trate her as she ought to be trated, with honour and respect, and you’ve half killed Casey Walshe on her account. All these things is not thrown away on a young girl, and my last word to you is this. If ye mane nothing, don’t let the child get fond of you.”
Money was totally unprepared for this summing up. The last thing in the world he would have expected was to have his “intentions” called in question by this elderly Irish groom. He was so astonished, so momentarily confused, that for fully the length of fifty yards’ brisk walking he made no answer, and Garry again began in a sharper key.
“Maybe you’ve traveled too far, and are too experienced in every way, for an ignorant man like me to have any chance with—but at laste I have made myself plain.”
“Yes, Garry, you have, and I’ll be plain with you.” (Nevertheless, he was not going to reveal his intentions.) “I take what you say exactly as it is meant. I mean nothing but goodwill and friendship with regard to Miss O’Bierne. I admire her for her spirit, her good breeding, her pluck. I look upon her as a mere child.”
“Then kape looking on her as a mere child, Mr. Money,” interrupted Garry, with considerable vehemence. “You understand me, and I understand you.”
“There is just one thing that I do not understand, Garry, and that is, how you came to know that I horsewhipped Casey Walshe. Is it possible that he told you?”
“Not he, beyond sending for a lotion and plaster. But everything is known here in these parts; the very trees have ears.”
“Yes—but it was tongue that told you. Surely not Miss O’Bierne?”
“No. It shows ye little know her, to ask. It was Miss O’Bierne’s shadow. You may have heard of Paddy Pinafore?”
“I have seen him.”
“He has a sort of madness; the head of him is not right. He seen ye—he couldn’t kape the news to himself, no how. He was that proud of the lathering ye gave Casey. He hates Casey like the devil, for he laughs at him, and calls him names, and rides off beyond the rache of a clip of a stone, and since he hanged a dog on him Paddy would do anything to him, and anything for you after the other day’s work. But wan word, sorr. Beware of Casey—a peevish, malicious, cunning weasel. He will do ye a dirty turn if he can.”
“If he can,” derisively. “I daresay.”
“Well, now, sorr, ye are warned in two ways, and I’ll be all the better for putting that other little matter ye know of off me mind. Here is the white gate, and I’ll wish you good-night.”
“Good-night, Garry,” was the cheery answer. And Denis Money continued his walk. (He had still two miles further to go.) As he tramped along in utter solitude, he kept repeating over and over to himself—“If ye mane nothing, don’t let the child get fond of you.”
This latter part of Garry’s injunction was ridiculously superfluous. The child was supremely indifferent to him—she meant nothing—she was absolutely unique in his experience of women. He had read somewhere that “there are no people whose characters are so anomalous as those of the Irish, and consequently difficult to understand.” She was an instance in point. Cold as an icicle, fiery as a flame, daring as a devil, shy as a novice, stately as a queen.
“If you mean nothing, don’t let the child get fond of you.” Alas! the boot was on the other boot; he was fond of the child; he had no concealments from himself. He was very fond of the child, and she meant nothing.
She never gave him the slightest chance of explaining his feelings, or discovering hers. “Don’t let the child get fond of you”—indeed! he exclaimed half aloud, as he let himself into the hall at Carrig, and looked up at one of her bearded ancestors, “I only wish she was!”
“What’s this big square envelope, Jerry?” demanded Miss Scully, who, for reasons of her own, always unlocked and emptied the post-bag. “It’s too late for a Christmas card; not that you were troubled with many.”
After a moment’s silence, during which Jerry opened the letter and examined its contents, she replied, in a tone of undisguised amazement:
“It’s a card of invitation.”
Tilly stared at her incredulously over the big Britannia metal teapot.
Yes, Jerry had evidently received something out of the common, for the colour had mounted to her face. “Give it here,” said Miss Scully, snatching it as she spoke. Her eyes became round and fixed as she read:
Mr. and Mrs. Money
Request the Honour of
Miss O’Bierne’s company
At Carrig, on the 25th inst., at 10 o’clock.
She read it over three times. Yes, she might believe the evidence of her own eyes. Those eyes flashed in a face that was now crimson, the result of the tumultuous awakening of fury, disappointment, jealousy, envy, and spite.
“Well, upon my word!” she gasped at last. Then turned it over. “What next? Governor,” with a hysterical laugh, “did you see this?” and she threw the card across at him, narrowly missing a dish of eggs and bacon.
“What is it?” he asked crossly. “Not an offer of marriage for you, is it, eh?”
“No, but an invitation to a ball at Carrig for Jerry,” in a choked voice.
“So I see.”
“But there is no mention of you or me.”
“No. I’d look well at a ball now, wouldn’t I?”
“I think they might have had the manners to ask us. Anyhow, paid the compliment. Of course, Jerry can’t go.”
“No?” rather doubtfully. “I can’t think what put it into their heads to ask you,” and he looked over his glasses at his step-daughter.
“His head, you mean. Jerry doesn’t know Mr. and Mrs. Money no more than I do. What’s your other letter, Jerry? Show it here,” stretching out her hand.
Geraldine reluctantly tendered a note, written in a thin, pointed hand in faded brown ink:
“My dear Geraldine,
This post will probably deliver to you a card of invitation to a dance at Carrig. Mr. and Mrs. Money, who were calling here on Thursday, mentioned that they hoped you would accompany us on the occasion, but said they would send you a formal card.
“Present my compliments to Mr. Scully” (this message had cost the old lady two hours’ violent struggle with her pride, but she was prepared to descend to any depths to carry out her aims), “and say that I shall feel obliged if he will permit you to come to us from the 24th to the 27th, and that I will undertake your dress for the occasion. Let me have an answer at once. Perhaps you could bring it in person.
“I am, your attached godmother,
“Mighty polite, indeed,” scoffed Tilly, passing it on with a gesture of scorn.
“Well, then, it is mighty polite,” echoed Scully. “The old lady has got down off her high horse for once. She finds there’s no use in trying to ride rough-shod over Matt Scully; but if you take him the right way—”
“Why, you don’t mean to say that you will let her go?” interrupted Tilly, her face scarlet. “Let her go, and rub skirts with quality, that have been snubbing us for years?”
“I must consider it. Now, don’t you be getting into one of your tantrums;” and as he opened another of his own letters a nice long slip of green and white paper fluttered out. It was a check for one hundred and twenty pounds.
He had picked up the animal at the end of last season. Jerry had made him. He cast a long, scrutinizing glance at her.
“Would you like to go to the flare-up, Jerry?”
“If you mean the ball, I would.”
The Moneys were capital customers. Eleven hundred and twenty pounds had they paid him, and he was secretly pleased that Jerry should get into society. It would be all the better for business. Moreover, the ball would not cost him anything.
“Well, then, I’ll give you leave. You can have the brown mare frosted, and ride over to Creeshe, and present my compliments to Miss Dwyer, and say that you accept, with much delight.”
“Thank you,” colouring with surprise and delight.
“And a nice figure you’ll be, dressed by them old Dwyers, that haven’t had a new tack this ten years,” put in Tilly, hysterically. “An’ considering that you don’t know Mrs. Money, I’m sure old Narcissa asked for the card for you. If it were me, I’d have too much pride to go.” Geraldine looked at her meditatively. It was the first time she had ever heard of Tilly’s pride.
“Now, there’s not a bit of good in putting on the grand air with me,” cried Miss Scully, furiously.
“I’m quite sure Miss Dwyer did not ask for an invitation for me. If she did, I should not dream of going.”
“Then I don’t know who else but the Dwyers would put you into their head,” glaring at her with hungry malice.
“You forget the young man, Tilly,” suggested Scully facetiously. “I was thinking myself he has rather a notion of our Jerry.”
This was too much for “our Jerry.” She violently pushed back her chair, and rose from the table.
“Here, here, take your precious invitation with you!” screamed Tilly; “you’d better have it framed.”
“Begob, she’s a queer creature,” exclaimed the trainer, as she left the room.
“She’s getting mighty uppish, and if you let her go to this dance, governor, there will be no standing her at all—and so I warn you.”
“Come, now, Tilly, you know you’d go hopping if you were asked, yourself.”
“Not I,” with a toss of her head. “I’m none of your toadies and dirt-eaters; I’ve far too much self-respect. No purse-proud minion shall ever trample on me.” (Quoting the heroine of her last novelette, to whom she secretly, believed she bore a strong resemblance.)
“Jerry has worked very hard this winter.”
“At her own pleasure,” snapped Tilly.
“No, there’s not much pleasure in exercising a raw three-year-old filly, on a bitter winter morning, and you lying till twelve o’clock snug in your warm bed. Give the devil his due. Jerry stands a lot of knocking about, and says nothing.”
Tilly thrust away her plate, put her elbows on the table; she was about to descend into the arena of high words.
“Now, look here,” blustered Scully, “you need not barge, and you needn’t try to get round me. You shall have your bit of fun, but Jerry shall go to this ball.”
“And it will be poor enough fun for her. Not a soul will speak to her. Isn’t every one talking of her and young Money?” cried Tilly, whose fury was so boundless that she had invented this fiction on the spot.
“Talking of her and young Money, are they?” cried Scully, and his hand seemed instinctively to seek his dog whip. “They’d better not let me hear them.”
“Of course you’re the last to hear any scandal about this place,” which was a merciful fact, as far as she was concerned; but such was her blind rage she was reckless.
Finding words were unavailing, Miss Scully had recourse to tears; but even these were wasted in vain—in vain she asked, in a lachrymose whimper, why her dear uncle was so unkind to her? At the end of a quarter of an hour’s bemoaning, and coaxing, punctuated with kisses and sobs, Tilly had been told to “order herself a sealskin cape”; but, for once, she could not shake her uncle’s stubborn resolve, nor induce him to recall his promise to Jerry.
Tilly, foiled and furious, stood in the landing window and watched Jerry ride quickly out of the yard on a very excited-looking brown hunter. Involuntarily, she shook her fist. Jerry was cutting her out with Uncle Matt, cutting her out with young Money, and actually getting into county society! Altogether, it was more than she could endure; and, turning about, she hastily descended into the drawing-room, and, ringing the bell, was presently sobbing out all her sorrows and grievances upon the capacious and sympathetic shoulder of fat Hannah.
Miss Narcissa was radiant when she saw Geraldine enter the boudoir. “Ah, my dear,” she cried, “I see you are coming to the ball; your face is enough. Well, Scully is not so bad as I thought him, and I hadn’t to degrade myself for nothing after all.”
“I’m half afraid that Tilly may yet talk him over. She doesn’t wish me to go,” replied Geraldine, as she removed her hat and gloves.
“No, I suppose not. She wants to go herself, and” (under her breath) “well, even a kitchen-maid must have a character. Whatever happens, I won’t allow Matt Scully to withdraw his consent, though I do wish I had it in writing. Now, about your dress, my heart.”
“Yes, indeed. What am I to wear?” and she looked from one to the other of the old ladies. “I have two pounds fifteen.”
“Come upstairs,” replied Miss Lucy, “and you shall see what we think would be suitable. The two pounds fifteen will do for shoes and gloves.” It was as extraordinary to hear penniless Miss Lucy talking thus extravagantly as it was to realize that she herself was going to the great ball at Carrig. In a kind of day-dream she followed the two frail old figures up the great, shallow staircase, and into the best spare room. The house was exquisitely clean, but smelled of mould and dry rot. How many years had elapsed since the best spare room had enjoyed a fire? Miss Narcissa briskly unlocked an ancient wardrobe, and, after a moment’s search, brought out a long parcel, wrapped in blue calico.
“This,” clearing her throat and looking significantly at Lucy, “is a piece of satin that I happen to have by me,” and she carried it over to the window, and unfolded it with almost reverential care. “It was bought—ahem—it was bought for—a—particular occasion.” (It was really her own wedding dress, purchased for her marriage to this very girl’s perfidious grandfather.)
“A particular occasion,” echoed Lucy, with a nod that told half the story to Geraldine.
“And,” added her sister very hastily, “never happened to be required. But it’s beautiful stuff, you see,” holding it between her wasted fingers; “just feel that for thickness and quality, my dear.”
Yes, indeed, it could almost stand alone. The colour was, however, no longer white, but pale cream.
“It will be sixty years old next May.” (May was ever an unlucky month for weddings.) “And beautiful still, you see.”
“Beautiful indeed,” agreed the girl, emphatically.
“It’s for you, my heart,” continued Miss Narcissa, with a little tremor in her voice. “I’m glad some one will wear it at last. It has waited, you see, half a century to be made up.”
“Oh, Miss Narcissa, you are far too kind,” said Geraldine, kissing her shrivelled cheek with her warm, young lips. “It’s a great deal too grand for me.”
“Not a bit, and it will be a great pleasure to me to see you in it, my love.”
“But I really don’t like to take it.”
“Why not? I’m your godmother, am I not? Almost the same as your grandmother, and who has a better right to it? Am I ever likely to want a white satin gown?” she demanded, with a grim smile. “And now about the trimming.”
“Yes, that’s my business,” announced Miss Lucy, who had been busy rummaging in a drawer in the wardrobe. “Now, Geraldine, what do you say to this?” and as she spoke she unpinned several yards of matchless old Brussels lace.
“Although I had no lover,” she observed, looking over at her sister, “I had an aunt. She left me this in her will.”
“Who is talking of lovers?” demanded Narcissa, with a pink tinge in her faded cheek and a sharp note in her voice.
“Well, my day is over. I never had the makings of a wedding gown; but maybe, if I’m spared, I’ll see this lace on a wedding dress.”
“And maybe ye won’t,” snapped her sister. “Brussels has gone out.”
“It’s going out, anyway, on the 25th—eh, Jerry?” said her sister, facetiously.
“Oh, Miss Lucy, is it for my dress?”
“And what else, dearie?”
“You are both too—too good.”
“And who else is there that is good to us, doatie?” patting her hand affectionately.
“This lace is like a cobweb.”
“Well, now about the making-up,” said Miss Narcissa, assuming a business-like manner.
“Yes, indeed, what is to be done?” asked Jerry. “I can sew very neatly, and I might be able to do the skirt myself, but I should really be afraid to touch the body—and that lace.”
“I can well believe it, though I saw you coming here on a horse that looked just cracked crazy. Now I’ll tell you something. By the greatest good luck in the world Nan—that’s Pat Mooney’s daughter—is at home for a little change. She is a body hand in Dublin at a dressmaker’s, and she is going to do the whole turnout. I killed two birds with one stone, for I bespoke her and ordered the covered car at the same time.”
“The dress will look beautiful,” exclaimed the girl.
“Yes, come over here to the glass and see it.”
“And will become you well,” observed Miss Narcissa, as she held a length of satin against Geraldine’s slim figure.
“Ay, and this too,” added Lucy, flinging a piece of lace over it. “We will trim the body with this, and have the skirt quite plain. You’ll not know yourself, Jerry, my good girl!” and her old face wrinkled with glee.
Geraldine laughed, a gay girlish laugh, as she looked into the long mirror, which reflected not only her smiling self but two anxious old faces, who were heaping upon her yards of exquisite satin and lace.
“You will wear the O’Bierne emeralds, of course,” continued Miss Narcissa.
“Shall I? Am I not too young?”
“When will you ever get such a chance of showing them? And a ball at Carrig is no ball without the family jewels,” said Miss Narcissa, emphatically.
“I thought, perhaps, that I might be too young,” repeated Geraldine.
“Young!” cried Miss Lucy. “You were eighteen your last birthday, and my grandmother had two fine children by the time she was that age.”
“Lucy,” ejaculated her sister, who was carefully rolling up the satin, “I must say that you forget yourself, and that, although you are my own twin sister, you are sometimes very coarse.”
“One can be too refined and particular in their ideas, Narcissa, as you know to your cost. Only for your dainty picking and choosing and—Well, well,” in answer to a really angry glance, “I say no more! at least I only say one word: Jerry, be sure you come early on the 24th.”
“I’ll come as soon as it’s daylight, and I shall work hard from daylight till dark. I’ll work like—”
“Like this,” said Lucy, suddenly holding up a needle-scarred hand as an example.
It was well known that these two poor old ladies worked hours and hours by day, and hours by night, at art needlework, blinding their already dim eyes, bending their aching backs, in order to earn a few shillings weekly. Really Miss Narcissa’s fingers were enough to draw tears from the eyes of a Jew pawnbroker.
“We intend to have Nannie on the 20th in the house, and a machine at a shilling a day. You shall pay for that,” said Miss Narcissa, playfully. “Of course she could not work at that satin at home. It would be a nice sight, and she will put lace and style on our black brocades; they are quite good still.”
“Miss Narcissa,” said Jerry suddenly, “you did not ask for an invitation for me, did you?”
“My goodness gracious, Jerry! What do you take me for? A Dwyer to go and ask for an invitation for an O’Bierne! No, no, you were invited in proper form. It was Mr. and Mrs. Money’s own thought and wish entirely. I must confess that I am as pleased as Punch. Dear, dear, dear,” taking her arm as she went slowly downstairs, “the first ball I ever went to was at Carrig, and I danced with your grandfather; he was a most elegant young man,” and as she said this she heaved a sudden, sharp sigh.
However, what was one sigh to a whole series of smiles that rippled over her old face as she discussed the 25th with Geraldine and her sister. Four hundred invitations, Liddell’s band from Dublin, and the supper, fountains, awnings, palms, everything of the choicest. “Mr. Hare says that Lady Scariff has sent to London for her gown, and for a new white wig, and that the Moneys have hired in thirty new servants for a week; all to be turned out in the Money livery,” remarked Miss Narcissa with an air of childish delight.
“What is the Money livery?” inquired Geraldine.
“I’m sure I don’t know, child;” then she gave a little cackle as she added, “unless it is cloth of gold! Not bad for a woman of eighty, eh?—Here is lunch! God bless me, Susan, can you do no better than bread and jam and milk?”
It was certainly cold fare for a winter’s day, but the three who partook of it were too happy and elated to know what was set before them, though Miss Narcissa, as she helped Jerry to skim-milk, said:
“There is one thing I feel in my very heart, dearie—it’s having nothing to offer people when they come here. In my father’s time, it was dinner and lunch, and the best of wine and good living; even twenty years ago I never allowed any one to stir without a good meal. Then it came down to cake and wine, then tea and cake. I can’t even give that now. I gave the Hares melon and buttermilk last summer, and by my faith, it was near being their last meal on earth. I thought anything was better than nothing; but it seems that I was wrong. Well, so you’re off! Yes. You see we have nothing for your horse, dear, and you’d better be going. A horse from Racehill would look twice at our musty hay. Give my compliments to Scully, and don’t let him back out of his promise. Be sure you make up a nice little speech for Lucy and me, and good-by. God bless you.”
The two old ladies stood together and watched her mount her impatient hunter and ride away, and as she became a mere speck in the distance Lucy turned round and said:
“There’s one thing I’d like to know, Cissy, and that is, why a proud woman like yourself, as might have been an O’Bierne, is so civil to these Moneys, and why you are so desperate set on taking Jerry to the ball at Carrig?”
“Lucy,” drawing a long breath and looking fixedly at her sister, “between ourselves, I never gave you credit for much brains or wit, but if you can’t guess that riddle I give you up for good.”
And she walked out of the room, leaving Miss Lucy to put the puzzle together.
Mrs. Money considered herself a wise woman in her generation. She filled her house with a crowd of lively, amusing, and fashionable acquaintances, and she made no further mention of Miss O’Bierne and her invitation. No, not a word to Denis; it would be making the matter far too important. She would suffer (in two senses) the girl to come in the ordinary course, among, ordinary guests. She and the two shabby old Dwyers would never be noticed. They would just pass in the crowd; she would make no fuss. These matters, such as young men’s fancies, were frequently fanned into flame by the mere breath of opposition. She would retain a masterly inactivity, and Denis would soon see the girl—supposing he did see her—in her true light. Contrasted with her present smart inmates, who “biked,” and waltzed, and acted, and knew how to talk and dress and hold themselves, what a pitiful figure the poor little horse-breaker would cut. Yes, she was wise in her generation; she would not whisper one syllable, or lift one finger. These were her tactics. Her husband’s were entirely different.
“I say, Denis,” he remarked one day when, by a rare chance, they found themselves alone, “I’m making up my mind to purchase Carrig.”
“Are you indeed, sir?”
“For ready money down, I shall get it cheap—very cheap in comparison to the money that has been sunk in it.”
“Yes, I believe several fortunes were wasted here.”
“Now the question is, would you like me to buy the estate? In the long run it will be your concern, Denis, my boy.”
“Yes; since you ask me, I must honestly confess that I should feel proud to know that Carrig was ours. It is a curious property. I am beginning to believe”—with a boyish laugh—“that it is, as they say, enchanted, and that Carrig casts a spell on whoever lives here.”
“Very well, then, what you say settles it. I am about to become”—and he smiled—“a resident Irish landlord. I shall write again to my solicitors to-morrow.”
“Won’t you miss London, and your club?”
“No, I can run over there. I am not in banishment. I am not a political prisoner. I shall spend at least eight months of the year here.”
“And you might spend it in a worse place. But what about Julia?”
“Julia is under the impression that she was born to be the mistress of Carrig—the Lady Bountiful and entertainer of the county. That reminds me. This dance is going to be a very big thing, Denis. There are three hundred and eighty-seven acceptances. You would wonder where they all came from.”
“I’m afraid you must have gone out into the highways and hedges, and compelled them to come in.”
“I don’t know about that. But, at any rate, we have asked one outsider—little Miss O’Bierne.”
“Miss O’Bierne!” throwing his cigarette into the grate, sitting up, and looking hard at his father. “Well, I’m delighted to hear it. You did not include any of the rest of the party, I hope?”
“No; she is coming with the old Dwyers. She is fit to be received anywhere”—in an apologetic key.
“Especially in the home that once belonged to her family,” agreed Denis, forcibly.
“She is a nice girl,” announced Mr. Money, with more confidence. “I like her immensely.”
“And so do I,” echoed his son, with heartfelt truth.
“But Ju does not. She is desperately nervous about you, Denis. She is afraid there is something between you and this girl. That would never do. There is no fear of that, is there?” rather anxiously.
“No fear,” suddenly standing up with his back to the fire, and looking down upon his father with a steady glance. “But if there were, why should it not do? I am not fit to tie Miss O’Bierne’s shoes. What is there against her?”
“Her bringing up, her surroundings, public opinion. Ju thinks she is doing a terribly risky thing in inviting her here at all.”
“Ju may make her mind quite easy. Here Miss O’Bierne should be more at home than herself.”
“Yes,” looking round, “that is true. These books, pictures, carvings, and the very tables we sit at, were once the property of her folk. Well, whatever any one else may do, I shall treat her as an honoured guest.”
“Of course you will, my dear father; it is not in your nature to do otherwise.”
“And—but look here, Denis, your attentions must not be conspicuous. My civilities will be those of an old married—twice married—man; yours might be misinterpreted. However, you relieve my mind greatly when you tell me that they mean nothing.”
“If I implied that, let me undeceive you at once. It is not I who mean nothing. I mean everything.”
“Good heavens, Denis,” struggling to get out of his chair.
“Wait,” spreading out a cool hand. “Hear me out. Miss O’Bierne it is who means nothing, as far as I am concerned. She will never consent to be the wife of any one who is not, like herself, descended from the kings of Ireland.”
Here the door opened, and admitted several searching, smiling young ladies, and all private conversation was at an end.
On the night of the ball, a whole mile of torches lighted the guests along the avenue to Carrig, and as for the house itself, it was a blaze of illumination. The company arrived with provincial punctuality; they were not compelled to show themselves at two or three more crushes; this festivity was their sole engagement, and an exceedingly agreeable function it promised to be.
The entrance hall was displayed to the utmost advantage by means of electric light. This modern discovery vividly exhibited the ancient trophies and portraits, and threw out with surprising distinctness the great family arms of the former owners, and their bold motto “O’Bierne a Boo.” So much was this the case that numbers of people now observed it for the first time. Whenever they raised their eyes, this “O’Bierne forever” seemed to flaunt itself right in the face of Mrs. Money’s guests. Yet it was merely Mr. Money’s latest outlay that had summoned from the shade these heraldic emblazonments, which the pride of the O’Biernes had placed above their stands of arms and armour. The grand corridor was hedged with immense palms and exotic plants, and at the door of the library Mrs. Money, wearing a smart, severely laced French gown, and superb diamonds, received her guests with effusion.
In the ball-room (or yellow drawing-room) faint sounds of stringed instruments could be heard, above a kind of subdued society roar; but most of the company were assembled in the library, which had been specially dedicated to sitters-out and chaperons.
We notice Lord and Lady Scariff and a large party, a number of officers from Ballybawl—ay, and Limerick, Cork, Ballincollig; Mr. and Miss Hare; in short, all the county to a woman, and almost to a man; they are only waiting for the arrival of the Earl and Countess of Bundoran, to start the opening dances.
And here comes the countess at last, looking wonderfully youthful (what a shame that her age should be publicly recorded in the peerage), tall, talkative, apologetic, wearing the Bundoran “fender” (i.e., tiara), and a gown which had done yeoman’s service during the London season, and which, were it not worn by a countess, we should not hesitate to stigmatize as a rag.
Her ladyship was closely followed by a train of smart girls, all eager for the dance, and by half a dozen smooth-faced, self-possessed young men. There was a buzz of greeting, then a pause, before the general move to the ball-room. During this momentary silence, the footman’s voice, which was getting somewhat hoarse, shouted “The Miss Dwyers.”
Enter two old ladies side by side; thin, white, erect, suitably clad in black brocade and priceless lace, among which glittered some fine diamonds.
People turned, looked, gaped.
“Where had they procured the rose point, and rose diamonds?” whispered one. “Heirlooms,” breathed another. “But they are so poor they don’t even take a newspaper,” added a third.
These mutterings only lasted a few seconds. Ere they had ceased, the footman, in a stentorian voice, announced yet another guest—the last arrival.
Whether it was something in his tone, whether there was an echo, or whether it was in the listeners’ own ears, the name “Miss O’Bierne” seemed to ring with a peculiar emphasis, to rise, and to die away reluctantly among the lofty oaken rafters. It was a name that had not been announced in that house for many years; a name that stirred the hearts of the middle-aged, and called up many memories; a name that awoke a strange confused feeling in the minds of most of the company.
Miss O’Bierne’s appearance was totally unexpected, in every sense of the word. She walked alone, a tall, graceful, stately figure, despite her nineteen years, wearing a rich white satin gown veiled in lace, and a magnificent necklace of emeralds. The arrangement of her hair was as fashionable as her dress, and she carried in her hand a large fan of eagle’s feathers.
Miss O’Bierne, on whom every eye was riveted, did not appear to be the least shy, conscious, or embarrassed. She looked like the beautiful enchanted figure of some ancient ballad, re-entering the home of her ancestors.
“Ay, observe how the good old blood tells. I’m a firm believer in race,” exclaimed a man to his companion. “She is the picture of a well-born, well-bred girl.”
“Bah,” retorted his lady listener, peevishly, “she has no end of side on, and looks the very spirit of pride, and as if the whole place belonged to her.”
“And so it ought.”
“Nonsense! Why, the last O’Bierne died a beggar. You can’t eat your loaf and have it.”
“By all accounts, Miss O’Bierne has never had any loaf to eat,” retorted her champion, who was now intently staring at her. “But, at any rate, she takes the cake.”
In the meanwhile the last arrival was administering a disagreeable shock to her hostess, who could hardly find fitting words in which to greet Matt Scully’s riding-girl, so boundless was her surprise.
This young lady would never be overlooked in a crowd. There was nothing insignificant about her; on the contrary, she would be distinguished anywhere, and in any company. Mrs. Money’s keen black eyes noted the splendid cabochon emeralds encircling her long white throat, the rare old lace, the costly satin gown. She, however, rallied sufficiently to tender two stiff fingers, and said, with a forced smile:
“So glad to see you. The first time you have ever been at Carrig?” and there was an unpleasant double meaning in both lips and eyes.
“Oh, no,” replied her guest, looking into her face with a keen proud glance, and speaking in a low but penetrating voice (a voice that was audible in every corner of the room).
“No?” repeated Mrs. Money, raising her eyebrows with somewhat insolent incredulity.
“I suppose you have not heard,” answered the girl, with a faint smile, “but, I was born here.”
No; Mrs. Money had not heard, and she stood staring in common, dumb, vulgar amazement. In her little passage-at-arms with this young patrician beauty she had been most shamefully routed—figuratively, put to the sword. She grew by degrees of a deeper and deeper shade of crimson—crimson through all her “perle de riz”; for she felt as if she had just had her ears boxed—and that, before the whole county.
“Born here! So you were, my dear,” exclaimed Lady Bundoran, suddenly turning round and offering both her hands. “I was in the country at the time. It is just—let me see—nineteen years ago. I remember the bonfires on the Horseleap Mountain as if it was yesterday.” (Yes, positively the last flicker, before the fortunes of Carrig had expired.)
Mrs. Borlase, who was staying in the house—the intimate friend and confidante of Julia—looked on from afar at this little scene. Mrs. Borlase, made up, curled, bejewelled, smart to the tips of her fingers, was both amused and sorry—sorry for poor old Ju. Ju had met more than her match. She had marked the looks and whispers, the sensation the entrance of Miss O’Bierne had created; and what a different class of girl to what she had been led to expect! Miss O’Bierne carried herself with a mixture of simplicity and dignity, and was of the true Irish type, with her dark hair, her wonderful blue eyes, and her splendid emblematical emeralds. No wonder Denis admired her! She positively dared not trust herself to glance at Denis’s stepmother, who had poured many midnight confidences respecting Denis and his “low tastes” into her sleepy ears. There was the tall young lady, now being accosted with much cordiality by Mr. Money and his heir.
“Well, wonders will never cease,” exclaimed Mrs. Vance, who was gorgeous in black and crimson. “Upon my word, quite the ‘grande dame’ or a ‘grande demoiselle’ she looks, and even better in an evening dress than on horseback. Where did she get such a lovely gown, and such emeralds?”
“Oh, those are the celebrated O’Bierne emeralds,” was Mr. Hare’s prompt answer, “and only a part of them. They have been in the family since the time of Charles the Second—don’t ask how they got them—and were all Mrs. Scully had to bequeath.”
“Yes, Major Montfort, this is our dance,” said Mrs. Vance, taking his arm and moving with the crowd toward the ball-room. “I suppose you have noticed Miss O’Bierne?”
“I could not well do otherwise. She made a sort of state entrée. We only wanted the guns and the red carpet. Last, but by no means least, I can see that she is a beautiful girl; and I hear that she is an Irish princess.”
“She is. You have seen her before, of course?”
“Yes; and I once saw her nearly killed. She had the narrowest shave in the world. I never was so frightened in my life.”
“Poor Jerry, I have no doubt she risks her neck every day in the week without honour, glory, or thanks.”
“And every one will take her up now, I presume?”
“Only as long as she is at Creeshe,” responded Mrs. Vance expressively. “Once back at Racehill, she is beyond the pale. However, I am going to get introduced to her as soon as possible.”
“To drop her to-morrow! Is it worth while?”
“Nonsense! I am not that sort. See; she is going to dance with Lord Scariff. Does she not look much more like a young lady who would drop me? But I shall not submit to that. I mean to stick to her like a burr.”
There is always a wonderful amount of life and go in these country balls. On the present occasion the dance was speeding with unflagging spirit. Everything had been superbly done; refreshments, flowers, music, lighting. The former traditions of Carrig were not merely equaled, but surpassed. Even the two Miss Dwyers secretly admitted this to themselves, as they sat among the fringe of chaperons, enjoying the scene vastly in their own way, and greedily drinking in every encomium respecting Geraldine, on whom, when occasion offered, they feasted their faded old eyes. She was the belle of the ball, she “took the cake,” as her champion had expressed it, not so much for beauty (though her beauty was undeniable) as for her air of breeding and supreme distinction. When she had been introduced to Mrs. Vance and Katie Hare, the latter said, with rather red embarrassment, “I’ve always felt that I ought to know Miss O’Bierne, and that, in a way, I did know you.”
“By sight,” put in her cousin, with a ruthless laugh and a nudge.
“But I’m sure you understand why I could never call at Racehill, much as I would have liked to have done so,” continued Kathleen, almost piteously. “But I hope you will allow me to be friends with you all the same?”
“I shall be only too glad.”
“And you will come and see me?”’
“I don’t know. I must hear what Mr. Scully says.”
“If he says a word against it, I’ll punch his head,” said Mr. Hare valiantly. “Your father and I were old chums, Miss O’Bierne, and you are very like him.”
Nothing succeeds like success. It is an indispensable stepping-stone to the good graces of most people. Mr. Hare subsequently went about the whole evening, retailing stories of the grand days of the O’Biernes, and pointing out (as if she was his own brilliant discovery) their last descendant, as “a real chip of the old block.”
Was this because Cinderella was beautifully dressed, greatly admired, and the recipient of unbounded attention?
The host himself danced a quadrille with her, and placed her at the top of the room. Lord Bundoran escorted her to have an ice (sternly recalling his mind for the occasion from the store city of Pithon) and soon found himself deep in an animated discussion with the last and handsomest of the O’Biernes. Lady Scariff was voluble in her praise, and a regiment of young men clamoured for introductions. Mr. Money paid the most marked attention to the Miss Dwyers. He conducted Miss Narcissa to the refreshment room, afterward promenaded her round the rooms on his arm, and listened respectfully to her old-fashioned prattle.
“It is all vastly fine, and a most elegant entertainment,” she said. “What a boon to all the young people; and Mrs. Money can give them this pleasure, without the least fatigue or anxiety.” She paused, and they contemplated, from the doorway, the dancers in the ball-room, a remarkably brilliant assembly.
“Miss O’Bierne looks splendid,” remarked Mr. Money, glancing at where Geraldine and Lord Bundoran stood against the opposite wall.
“Yes, my dear god-daughter; she has the heart of a lion and the face of a flower, as well as the grace and air of good breeding—which no evil surroundings can extinguish.” Then she sighed as she added, “I have a hundred good wishes for her, but no power to carry them out.”
As they turned into a corridor lined with pictures, he said: “You know this place of old, and all the family?”
“Well, I know it and them, since I was carried there in my nurse’s arms. Now, my contemporaries are all gone—every one. It is the doom of advancing years to see friend after friend depart.” Then, in a brisker key, “I hope you like Ireland, Mr. Money, and find yourself at home here.”
“I do, indeed, Miss Dwyer. I feel as if I have lived in Ireland in a former life. I could almost believe in the transmigration of souls, there is something so familiar, so surprisingly familiar, in my surroundings; and I actually have discovered myself warmly in sympathy with some traits of Irish character.”
“I’m sure we ought to feel vastly flattered.”
(Was this ironical or was it in good faith?)
He hastened to add—“I have Irish blood in my veins. My father was Irish, though he left the country as a boy.”
“Indeed! Money is not an Irish name, nor indeed very common in Ireland in any sense,” with a feeble little laugh. “You see, over here the locality of a family can be fixed at once. Connells of Clonlara, O’Biernes of Carrig, Dwyers of Creeshe, and all of the County Killesher. To every family their own county; and when they are found elsewhere, they are mostly interlopers or nobodies.”
“I’ve never heard my father allude to his birthplace. But I have known him speak of Clorane. I fancy we are Moneys of Clorane,” observed Mr. Money, with considerable dignity.
“Clorane!” with a sudden change of voice, and slowly dropping his arm. “Well—to be sure!”
“Do you know anything of the estate or the family?” asked Mr. Money, eagerly.
“Was your father’s name Peter?”
“Yes, it was,” now actually beaming upon his venerable guest.
She came gradually to a standstill, paused, and contemplated her host with an indescribable expression, as she straightened her stiff old shoulders.
“Can you tell me anything about his family?” repeated her companion.
“No, Mr. Money. No, I really cannot,” with a faint, commiserating smile. “No, nothing at all.” As she spoke, her eyes seemed to look through and through him.
Mr. Money’s face fell. So this old Miss Dwyer had merely raised his hopes to dash them to the ground.
“I’m a little fatigued,” she continued, “and I will be glad to find a seat,” looking round and suddenly placing herself in a high backed armchair. “Please don’t let me detain you from your other guests. I’m only an old woman; I have my own thoughts for company. . . Pray go, pray go,” and she abruptly waved him away, with somewhat chilling dignity.
Thus dismissed, Mr. Money hurried off down the corridor, for he had many urgent claims upon his attention. Had he happened to glance back he would have been surprised. He would have seen the old lady sitting rigidly erect in her stiff armchair, gazing after him, with a face which was not merely white, but scared.
Denis was struggling conscientiously through a series of duty dances, but he had put two private marks on his card, which marks represented his reward and solace. These signified that he was to conduct Miss O’Bierne in to supper and to sit out the supper dances in her company. Meanwhile, he was working hard—introducing partners, dancing incessantly, and inspiring other men by his vigorous example.
Lady Bundoran waltzed admirably and untiringly (and she had waltzed her great tiara into a rakish position).
“She, the mother of a grown-up family!” exclaimed the two scandalized Miss Dwyers. “It’s most unseemly. Why, Lucy,” said Miss Narcissa, who had recovered her composure, “she must be fifty-six. I call it undignified; most indecorous. Just look at her!”
“Oh, my dear, what was unseemly in our day is quite proper now. You and I are old fossils, and times are changed.”
“Yes, indeed; only think, young Money came and asked me to stand up with him for a quadrille. He meant it as a compliment. He was quite in earnest.” It was evident that Miss Narcissa was still susceptible to a little attention and secretly delighted.
“Then it was a French compliment,” sneered Miss Lucy, slightingly. “Of course, he knew that a woman of eighty would not dance—unless she was in her second childhood!”
It was undeniably hard upon poor Miss Lucy, that even now, after a lapse of sixty years, the scenes of her youth should be repeated, and that her elder sister should still continue to eclipse her in a ball-room.
Geraldine O’Bierne contented herself with looking on (never alone), and when at last the “Roast Beef of Old England” sounded she was joined by Denis Money, who, thanks to his exertions, was almost breathless, and could only just manage to gasp out, “This is our supper.”
There is, however, many a slip between the cup and the lip, and Mrs. Money happened to be the cause of the slip on this occasion. As Denis was triumphantly leading Miss O’Bierne toward the dining-room—she herself being conducted by Lord Bundoran—his stepmother tapped him quickly with her fan, and said:
“My dear boy, there is Mrs. Melton-Mowbray, Lady Scariff’s sister, left alone sitting fuming in the library. You must go at once and take her in to supper. Miss—a—O’Bierne,” as if she recollected her name with a great mental effort, “will, I am sure, excuse you,” and she marched on.
“What a nuisance!” exclaimed this society martyr.
“Of course you must go,” said Geraldine. “Please don’t think of me. I really don’t want any supper.”
“What nonsense! I say, look here,” hastily accosting Ulick Doyne, “will you look after Miss O’Bierne, and take her into supper?”
“Only too much honoured,” with a deep bow.
“Get a small table, and keep two places at it, and I’ll join you in five minutes,” and he vanished.
“I call this great luck for me, Miss O’Bierne. It has been as hard to get near you to-night as it is out hunting,” said Denis’s substitute, as they walked together into the dining-room. The great room was brilliantly lighted up. Supper was served at small tables, and two hundred people were seated round them. Ulick Doyne made his way to a table laid for six, and at which Mrs. Vance and Major Montfort were already comfortably established. “Quite a cozy corner!” exclaimed Doyne, “and where we can command the whole room.”
“Yes; that’s why I chose it,” rejoined Mrs. Vance. “I like to see all the people—what they wear, what they eat, and how they behave.”
“Ah! and you have placed yourself where no one can overlook you. I’m to keep two seats here for Denis and his young lady. Soup, Miss O’Bierne?”
“Here is Mr. Money coming now,” remarked Mrs. Vance, “and I shouldn’t call the lady he is bringing in young.”
Nor was she—a well-preserved woman of sixty-five, dressed to look thirty, wearing a light auburn wig, a diamond tiara, a very high black aigrette, and a very low pink dress.
The Hon. Mrs. Melton-Mowbray was a widow, unencumbered, with so large a balance at her banker’s that she considered that she could do what she liked and say whatever she pleased. She particularly prided herself on the latter latitude, and was rather spoiled by a certain London set, who enjoyed her toothsome little dinners and her lively and exciting card parties, where the stakes were not “love.” Mrs. Melton-Mowbray patronized the Turf, had a book on most of the big events, and was a familiar figure at Newmarket.
This was the lady who was now bearing down upon the little table in the corner. When she had seated herself, spread out her skirts, arranged her fan and serviette, and taken in her companions, she said: “Soup, yes; it’s sustaining if it’s good.” Then, putting up her long-handled eyeglass and looking round, “Dear me; quite palatial. I’m so glad I happened to be over. I’ve never been to a ball in Ireland before. No sign of rags and tatters here, eh? Everything thoroughly well done.”
Denis smiled, as he poured her out a glass of champagne, which she quickly emptied, exclaiming as she did so:
“Oh, I forgot; this is your show, and you are English.”
“But the house is Irish,” put in Mrs. Vance rather pointedly.
Mrs. Mowbray slowly turned her glasses on her, and, examining her critically, drawled:
“Oh, I suppose it is. And all these portraits—these people in armour and powder and wigs—purely not your forefathers, Mr. Money?” elevating her painted eyebrows with indescribable surprise.
“No,” with a good-humoured laugh, “I wish they were.”
“Upon my word, quite an imposing-looking collection. And, pray, whose ancestors are they?”
“They are the ancestors of Miss O’Bierne. Miss O’Bierne—Mrs. Melton-Mowbray.”
Miss O’Bierne bowed; the elder lady merely stared, and then, addressing her, said, “I like that funny old gentleman over the chimney-piece, with the red cloak and the sword. How wicked he looks! Who is he?”
“I really do not know.”
“What! Not know your own ancestors by sight? Dear me, how exceedingly fin de siècle!” and she swallowed a mouthful of pheasant.
“Miss O’Bierne,” said Mrs. Vance, leaning forward, “let me introduce you to Sir Gerald O’Bierne; perhaps you know him now?”
“Yes, thank you,” with a sedate little smile, “my great-grandfather,” and she examined him gravely.
“And you are like him,” remarked Mrs. Mowbray, who ate surprisingly fast. “And still more like that lady with the greyhound—as like, that is to say, as a very handsome woman can resemble a very plain one.”
Geraldine coloured deeply; Mrs. Vance tittered. There was an awkward silence. Mrs. Mowbray, who was staring at Geraldine’s lace and emeralds through her eyeglass, noticed her discomposure, and said, “I see an Irish girl can blush. My young friends have quite got out of the way of it. I’m sure it’s not the first time you have been told that you are handsome, my dear?”
“Really, Mrs. Mowbray, Irish women are not accustomed to such barefaced, highly coloured compliments,” protested Mrs. Vance, and she looked significantly at that lady’s brilliant complexion.
“I think I’ll have some plovers’ eggs,” was Mrs. Mowbray’s sole reply; and while she was discussing them the other people began to discuss the frost, the meets, their fellow-guests, and odds and ends of local news.
“Is it true that you are going back to India in April, Mrs. Vance?” asked Ulick Doyne, with a doleful glance.
“In April? No, indeed; and arrive out there for the best of the hot weather? I am a very devoted wife, but I am not disposed to offer myself up as a burnt sacrifice as yet.”
“Oh, no, we could never allow that,” he responded, expressively. “Suttee has been abolished, and Ireland cannot spare you.”
“By the way, Ulick, I got my letters just before dinner,” broke in Mrs. Mowbray—“a budget from Lady Bitterpille. Little Mrs. Tallboys has bolted at last with young Flowerdew, and Cora Flashe, of the Impropriety, has sent his letters. Well! What is it? What are you frowning at me for? Oh,” with an expansive smile, “I forgot. I am in Ireland, where every one is so very proper and painfully strait-laced. Well, I suppose there is no harm in telling you that Brenhilda Pierrepont is engaged. The man proposed after dinner, and thought better of it next morning; but already her wily mother had wired the news to all the papers—sent off the intelligence by daybreak, and the poor wretch was an hour too late! Ha! ha! ha!”
“Lady Bundoran is as keen to dance as if she was twenty, and looks wonderfully well, doesn’t she, Aunt Jane?”
“Yes,” unconsciously patting her own thick, expensive fringe. “Keep young as long as you can. That’s my motto. She is over fifty.”
“Forty they say is the old age of youth, and fifty the youth of old age,” remarked Major Montfort.
“And pray what is sixty?” demanded Mrs. Vance, looking fixedly at Mrs. Melton-Mowbray.
“Some are still in their prime at sixty,” was his diplomatic reply.
“It’s all a matter of constitution. If we ate nothing but apples and nuts, some declare we should live till well over a hundred,” observed Denis Money.
Mrs. Melton-Mowbray shuddered. “Nuts and apples! Monkey fare! I’d much prefer to take my chance on truffles and plovers’ eggs.”
Denis had been constantly administering dainties to his partner, in the hopes that a rapid supply would accelerate her departure and set him at liberty. But no; she kept on eating and drinking and talking, and constantly glancing over at Geraldine O’Bierne. She admired her immensely—her fine features, thoughtful expression, beautifully set-on head—and what lace!
“Pray, do you know the latest odds on the Manchester Cup?” she suddenly demanded of her companion.
“No, I can’t say that I do.”
“Then you are not a racing man? How dull!”
“No, I’m only a hunting man.”
“Do you hunt, Miss O’Bierne?” to Geraldine.
“Oh, yes. Three or four days a week.”
“Miss O’Bierne is a celebrated horsewoman, and cuts us all down. I’m never within three fields of her,” said Ulick Doyne.
“Pray do you ever hunt in couples over here?” smiling over her wineglass.
“No, no, Aunt Jane,” answered her nephew. “Here it’s every one for himself, and the devil take the hindmost.”
“Do you know that you interest me very much, young lady?” continued Mrs. Mowbray, addressing Geraldine. “A young lady who cuts down the field, and who cuts her ancestors! Are you staying in the neighbourhood?”
“Yes, I live near this,” she answered, with a distant air.
“Then I hope I shall see you again. I’m going to the Castle next week. Shall you be at the first drawing-room?”
“No, nor any,” with a little amused smile.
“Well, when you are in London next season mind you come and look me up. Maria will give you my address.”
The band was now playing “Beauty’s Eyes” waltz (the second supper dance). Denis stood up, glanced expressively at her empty plate, and said, “Very sorry, Mrs. Mowbray, but I’m engaged for this; may I take you back?”
“Oh, yes, certainly,” now rising and sweeping up fan and gloves. “But I so much wanted to have a talk with that charming girl; she has an individuality so marked, so rare. She is so uncommon—a typical Irish beauty—dark, a little grave, a little distant, and wearing so appropriately the gem of the Emerald Isle. You admire, of course?” looking at him quickly.
“Of course; we all do.”
“It’s quite refreshing to meet a new type, in this artificial, machine-made age. Ah!” with a profound sigh, “what would I not give to be her—with all my good days before me!” Then, with a complete change of tone, “By the way, do you think you could get hold of the evening paper? I want to have one peep at the Manchester betting.”
“I’ll have a try, but everything has been pretty well routed out of this library.”
“I’ve got such a heavy book on. And, wait a second, if you come across that girl do bring her to me. I like looking at her.”
Having placed Mrs. Melton-Mowbray in a chair beside Miss Narcissa (who contemplated her with profound amazement), Denis effected his escape, in order to devote himself to the very girl who interested this lady so much; but ere he reached the door she had summoned him back. “Look here, I’m dying for a smoke! Is there anywhere that I could have a cigarette—anywhere short of the kitchen?”
Miss Narcissa—who had been a notable woman to hounds, and need not have been so shocked—instantly rose with an indignant shake of her stiff brocade skirt, and rustled away, with much dignity, to a more congenial and correct neighbourhood.
“Well, thank goodness, I have got rid of Mrs. Melton-Mowbray at last,” exclaimed young Money to Geraldine. “She is extremely anxious to improve her acquaintance with you.”
“I think she had much better improve her manners,” rejoined the girl, as they walked slowly into the entrance hall and looked about them.
“The electric light shows off the carving and banners, does it not, and all the real old armour? No Wardour Street here.”
“Everything is new to me,” replied his companion. “Whose armour is that?” pointing with her fan.
“That armour is the suit that was worn by Hardress O’Bierne at the battle of Cullens wood, near Dublin. He was lucky to have it, for his clan fought in their linen coats.”
“And that?” indicating another.
“That is the casque and lance of Nial O’Bierne, who fought against Essex. This standard an ancestor of yours took at Fontenoy.”
“From the English?” with a significant smile.
“Yes. He was one of the young Kerry ‘Wild Geese’ that were recruited for the French and Austrian armies. That handsome fellow with the green sash was one of Clare’s Dragoons, killed at Ramillies. Which side would you fight on now, Miss O’Bierne?”
“Better not ask me,” with a laugh, and a quick elevation of her chin.
“I believe you are a little rebel! All the same, many of your forefathers have fought for England. Do you see that long, prim-faced boy, with a high stock and scarlet coat? That is a portrait of your grand-uncle Dermot, a cornet in the Scots Greys, who charged and fell at Waterloo, aged twenty. Now, shall we go upstairs to the tapestry corridor, and find a seat?”
As they moved away several pairs of eyes followed them with keen interest, That would be an ideal match! It would restore the old family once more to the old place.
Mr. Denis Money and the daughter of the house were soon ensconced in either corner of a comfortable chesterfield sofa, from whence they could just hear faint sounds of the band and a subdued hum of Voices.
“It is a beautiful old house, is it not?” he asked, leaning back, and gazing up at the painted ceiling.
“It is, indeed. I am glad to have seen it,” she responded.
“It ought to be your home,” bringing down his head with a jerk and looking at her gravely. “I ought to be the visitor. We are in the wrong places. It is a monstrous thing that I, an interloper, should live here, and be showing you round your family gods, and introducing you to your ancestors.”
She made no reply, merely continued to fan herself mechanically.
“I suppose Carrig is very old?” he resumed.
“Not nearly as venerable as you might suppose; but it is full of old things brought from old Carrig—that is, the real and original family place; they say that the O’Biernes left all their luck there when they abandoned it.”
“Where is old Carrig. I have never heard of it?”
“It is on a hill, about four miles from here, the Horseleap Mountain.”
“I remember perfectly. Strange to say, my first walk was over there, and I came across such extraordinary people.” (Yes, Mrs. Shea, who had told him of this selfsame little girl, who lived by horses.) “Paddy Pinafore, for instance, who declared that the hill is enchanted, and that dead and gone O’Biernes gallop there still of a night.”
“I gallop there often; there is capital going along those old grassy roads—Roman or Danish remains, they say—and I constantly go up the hill, to see some pensioner, and visit old Carrig.”
“Do you really. May I accompany you the next time you go?”
“I cannot tell when that will be,” was the evasive reply.
“Oh, Denis,” exclaimed Mrs. Borlase, suddenly standing before him. “Your mother was looking for you everywhere two hours ago, before supper. Has she not found you yet?”
“Alas! she found me, indeed, and before supper. I am now enjoying a well-deserved holiday.”
“So I see,” glancing at Miss O’Bierne with swift scrutiny. As she looked at the small, proud face that was slowly raised above the fan of eagles’ feathers, she told herself that this dark-haired Irish beauty was one of the handsomest girls she had ever seen. And she was Denis Money’s fate. Denis—the gay, the unimpressionable, the flirt—was desperately in love, caught in earnest. He meant to marry this girl—that is to say, if she would accept him.
With a gay little nod of her head, Mrs. Borlase swept on—the match had her consent.
“Thank goodness, she has departed, and now we can have our talk out,” said Denis. “What were we saying? Oh, I know—about old Carrig. I want to see it, I should like to go over it.”
“You had better not attempt that, I warn you,” she answered with a smile. “In the first place, it is all tumbling to pieces; and, in the second, that part of the estate is said to be enchanted and under a spell.”
“I cannot be worse than I am.”
“Do you mean that you are tumbling to pieces?” and she gave a little, mocking laugh.
“You are much too clever for me. You know perfectly well what I mean.”
“Well, if you were trying to pay me a clumsy compliment, please don’t,” with a jerk of her chin.
“I’m not a flyer at paying compliments, and I meant no harm, upon my word. Don’t crush me, I implore you; but tell me some more about the fairies.”
“Did you notice a sort of fort, or great mound, on the hill?” she asked, sitting up in her corner.
“Yes, I believe I did; but I had so much to notice the day I was there.”
“The country people declare quite solemnly that one of my ancestors—I don’t think he is in the dining-room—an Irish chieftain, and all his warriors, lie there asleep under a spell.”
“I say, this is something like! Do tell me the whole story,” edging a little nearer to her.
“The story is this: That a countryman coming home from a fair one summer’s night, and leading his horse, met another man, who accosted him and offered him double for his bargain. He agreed—naturally. The other then took him inside the Rath, and there, to his surprise, he saw rows of saddled horses, and by each horse lay an armed man asleep. He was assured he would be all right, if he did not touch man or beast; but, unfortunately, he stumbled over a soldier, who awoke, started up, and called out, ‘Wuil anam inh?’ which means ‘Is it time yet?’ To which the horse-dealer answered, “Tha niel gho dhee collhow areesht.’ ‘No, lie down and sleep.’”
“I do like to hear you speaking Irish,” interrupted Denis.
“Yes, but don’t you want to hear the end of the story? The man found himself by daylight on the hillside, alone—the Rath was empty,” waving her fan with a wide swoop.
“Of course,” acquiesced young Money, with a broad smile.
“The horse was gone.”
“Of course,” repeated her companion, still more emphatically.
“How very tiresome you are! There was a purse of money beside him—heavy as it was, he never touched it, but threw it down a well, for it was fairy gold.”
“And so he lost the price of his horse. That would never answer in everyday life, would it?”
“No. Just fancy Mr. Scully throwing the price of a horse down a well.”
“By the way, Pat is a fairy horse; I ought not to have paid for him.”
“I think you will find him a good fairy.”
“So I do. I’m very fond of Pat. Pat Dhu—Black Pat. Miss O’Bierne, I wish you would give me a few lessons in Irish; it would come in so useful in the shooting season.”
“Yes; people will do more for you when you speak to them in their own tongue, however badly.”
“Then just tell me what does ‘Agra, achushla machree alannah asthore colleen dhu’ mean.”
“One at a time, please,” she protested. “Agra, darling; achushla machree, pulse of my heart; colleen dhu, dark girl.”
“I heard a priest saying yesterday that seventy thousand people still speak Irish only, and that it’s the finest language in the wide world to express sorrow or love. How I wish that I could learn it! But I am an awful duffer at foreign tongues. I can just talk enough French to make myself disagreeable.”
“Oh, then, you could never learn Irish,” she replied, as she threw back her head with a smile. “Besides, you are too old. One has to pick it up when one is in pinafores.”
There was a moment’s pause, then he turned round, faced her, and said abruptly:
“Miss O’Bierne, you have ‘come out’ at Carrig, which is right and fitting.”
“It is very kind of you to say so,” waving her fan very gently, and raising her eyes to his face with a glance of slow pride.
“You love Carrig?”
“Yes, indeed, I do—every stone, every tree, and every blade of grass.”
“Then how would you like to live here”—his voice suddenly became husky and tremulous—“with me? You love Carrig; I love you.”
“Mr. Money”—sitting very erect and eying him over her fan with astonishing composure—“fairy tales are over for this evening.”
“But it is no fairy tale that I am trying to tell you,” he protested, vehemently.
“I think it is. You had much better leave such stories to an Irish tongue. Ah, here are the two Miss Dwyers coming to take me home”—for the two old ladies were already upon them.
What Denis Money mentally exclaimed need not be here recorded, but he rose most reluctantly from his seat as Miss Narcissa rustled up to them.
“I’m really very sorry, Geraldine, but it’s two o’clock and we must go, or Pat Mooney won’t be able to see the road at all.”
“Yes, Miss Narcissa, I am quite ready,” rising as she spoke.
“This is a splendid ball,” remarked the old lady to Denis, as he walked beside her. He really was a most personable young man; he had looked very much in earnest in what he was saying to Jerry. Please Heaven, they had not come at the wrong moment.
“I am glad you think it has gone off well.”
“Indeed, we have enjoyed ourselves greatly,” said Miss Dwyer. “It was like old times—the good old times.”
“I’ve often heard of you from Miss O’Bierne, and the books you kindly lend her.”
“Yes, we endeavour to improve her mind with the English classics” (was Mrs. Trimmer an English classic?). “And you may notice how well and distinctly she expresses herself,” she added, as they followed Geraldine and Miss Lucy down the stairs.
Yes, she expressed her thoughts too distinctly sometimes, and yet would not suffer him to make himself seriously understood.
“May I call your carriage?” he asked, as they reached the hall.
“Indeed, then, it’s a cover car—Pat Mooney’s. And the Lord send he is sober! We will just go and get our wraps,” and they filed into the ladies’ room.
The shabby cover car was already in waiting, and Denis handed in first Miss Dwyer, then Miss Lucy.
“Stop,” cried the later, nervously, with her foot upon the step. “Find out if Paddy is safe. William Driscoll, ask him to breathe on ye. Do ye hear me?”
“He’s pretty well, Miss Dwyer,” said the footman, “and will drive you all right, as long as you don’t spake to him, or fluster him.”
Meanwhile Denis snatched a last word with Geraldine in the hall.
“Did you like it?” he asked, as he held her hand tightly in his.
“Yes, very much indeed, thank you,” she answered, earnestly.
“We will finish that fairy tale another time,” and, as he led her down the steps, he pressed her fingers and whispered: “Good-night, ma colleen dhu, a shuillish machree.”
The cover car immediately started at a rapid pace, and when it had vanished, Denis returned indoors and took an active part in promoting the remainder of the flying hours. The last guests took their departure about six o’clock in the morning; and the great ball at Carrig has had no rival in the country to the present day.
The cover car, in which were the Miss Dwyers and Geraldine, tore over the grass, bumping, pitching, and swaying like a ship at sea. It is to be hoped that few may ever experience what it is to be driven down hill by a drunken driver at a break-neck gallop in a crazy conveyance—through a demesne full of rabbit holes and trees.
Miss Narcissa remained dumb and motionless, she was a woman of great nerve; but Lucy was always timid, she lifted up her cracked old voice and screeched—“Police, murder, fire!” Meanwhile Geraldine pulled down the little front window and addressed Pat.
“What are you about, Pat Mooney? Do you want to kill us? Keep on the avenue at once; do you hear me?”
“Sure, he is coming along after me. And didn’t I see him on his big horse at the corner—old Brian himself?”
“Pull up, Paddy, I order you! Paddy Mooney, do you hear me?” But they were already through the big gates, which fortunately stood wide, and galloping along the road. The distance was but a mile, the horse was a sober, sensible beast, and after a most exciting and adventurous journey the cover car discharged the three ladies safely at Creeshe hall door, though Miss Dwyer was almost speechless with rage, and Miss Lucy was in a state of mild hysterics.
“Take him round and put him somewhere—the pigsty for the night, and unyoke his horse, Susan,” commanded her mistress, “or he’ll kill some people going home. It was only by the grace of the Almighty we are spared and standing here alive.”
And Susan—a powerful, determined woman—who knew Paddy of old, led the vehicle round to the yard, unyoked the car, and stabled both horse and driver comfortably for the night, the former in a stall, the latter in a loose box.
The next morning Paddy presented himself in the hall, a whip in one hand, hat in the other, and a broad bold smile upon his face.
“Well, Miss Narcissa,” he exclaimed, with a complacent grin. “Ye see what the drink done on me!”
“Paddy, you are shameless, a hopeless rascal,” she answered sternly. “Do you know that you nearly killed us last night? For us old women, maybe no matter, but you risked the life of Miss O’Bierne. Do you know that you galloped through the Carrig demesne in the dark?”
“Did I now?” in a tone of intense surprise. “Faix, then, ’twas all Miss O’Bierne’s own fault. Whin I seen her going into Carrig, looking so terribly queen-like, and so grand, I thought the ould times was back, and I lost me head entirely and teetotally, and I never knew rightly what I was doing, till I found myself asleep in Creeshe stable this morning, and, bedad,” with twinkling eye, “at first I thought it was the fairies as had me!”
“Oh, you unfortunate creature!” with withering scorn. “You are never short of an excuse for everything—if it was a murder, it would be the same.”
“Bedad, then, it’s the only thing I’m not short of. Will ye pay me now, me darlin’ Miss Dwyer, six shilling?” in a coaxing voice, and with his head on one side.
“No, I will not, for you’d go straight into Mahony’s and drink it. I’ll give Nannie the money. But you may go downstairs, and have a bit to eat—-if you can eat.”
“Thank ye, Miss Narcissa, ye were always the lady, and may ye be twenty years in heaven before the devil knows you’re dead!”
With which extraordinary valediction, and a broad and graceless grin, Mr. Pat Mooney withdrew to the lower regions.
A few days after the ball, when Geraldine had descended from her high estate, and returned, like Cinderella, to every-day life, she rode over to old Carrig to escape from the domestic atmosphere, which was oppressive, not to say sulphurous. Casey had reappeared, extremely glum and “black in himself.” He took no notice whatever of Geraldine, nor did he allude in any manner to their last merry (?) meeting. He and Tilly were now on cordial terms, and agreed most warmly that Mr. Scully’s rash permission to Jerry to be present at the recent dance was little less than an act of madness.
Yes, Geraldine was thankful to get away into the fresh air, and gallop upon the short grass and the breezy hillside, that fine February afternoon. Just at the bottom of the lane she was overtaken by some one riding. It was Denis Money, who had been on the lookout for this meeting for two days, but who, nevertheless, accosted her as if it were a matter of the purest accident.
“None the worse for the ball, Miss O’Bierne?” he asked, cheerily.
“No, although we were nearly upset going home, by Paddy Mooney.”
“Then you must have spoken to him?”
“Spoken to him! We, or at least Miss Lucy Dwyer, not only spoke, but screamed. He galloped right across the demesne. Luckily, the old horse was sober, and avoided the trees. I am going up to see Paddy’s uncle now.”
“And may I come with you?”
“Yes; but I’m afraid you will find it rather dull.”
“Not the least. And we will call on my friend, Mrs. Shea, and have tea with her. She invited me next time I was this way.”
“Did she, really? What an honour. Katty is exclusive, and her favourites are few. See, there is the Rath,” pointing with her whip. “It is very large—one of the largest in the country—and extremely well preserved. No one would dare to put a spade in it. It is called the ‘fort of the windy gap.’ Shall we ride up?”
“Yes, provided you promise me a safe conduct, Miss O’Bierne. No fear, I hope, of awakening your cavalry regiment? If they were aroused it might be rather awkward for me, as I don’t as yet speak Irish.”
“I guarantee your safety on the hill,” she answered, ascending it beside him. “You may laugh and scoff as much as you like, but these Raths are treated as sacred places everywhere in Ireland; and in the remote parts, people speak of the Danes as if they were here a few years ago, and might again descend upon the coast at any minute. Most of the people in this barony believe firmly in the Danes and the fairies, and I’m sure you will think them more than half pagan.”
As she said this they had reached the summit of the ascent, and she rode out upon the ramparts—a truly beautiful equestrian figure, sharply defined against a clear blue sky.
“Now you can see the ‘whole side of the country,’ as they call it. There below is old Carrig. The keep has stood two sieges and is very ancient, but the other part was only built in the reign of Elizabeth. It won’t last much longer.”
“Can we not go nearer to it?” he asked.
“Yes, of course; but I have a few visits that I must pay first—only two or three; I have not time for more this afternoon. Some of the former retainers of Carrig live about here, and they like me to go and see them.” And as she spoke she turned sharply about, and rode by some narrow footpaths and through several stone gaps, over a fence, to where there was a cluster of low-thatched cabins.
Here they found Paddy Pinafore in waiting, merely accompanied by two dogs and a goat.
“Oh, then, Miss O’Bierne,” he cried, “I saw you coming, and I ran down to be ready to give a hand with the horses,” instantly standing at the head of Dancing Girl. “And so this is Pat Dhu, the fairy! and a great horse entirely. I’m real proud to see your honour on the hill,” he said, turning to Denis, and surveying him with a radiant visage and glowing eyes.
Denis dismounted with a nod—-well he knew the true reason of this warm welcome—and, throwing the reins to Pat, followed Geraldine into a low cabin, where a delicate-looking young woman was sitting by the fire, in company with two or three children, and no less a person than Mrs. Shea.
“Whethen, Miss O’Bierne, it’s yourself is the sight for sore eyes,” cried Mrs. Shea, rising to her feet. “And you, sir, I noticed you riding up and down an hour back, and was wondering what you were looking for. I’m raal proud to see ye.”
“And how do you find yourself, Mary?” asked Geraldine, sitting down by the sick woman and taking her thin hand in hers.
“Well, miss, me chest is better, and I thank you, but the childer wor bad with the chin cough a while back, but I passed them three times under a she ass, and they are finely now, glory be to God.”
“1 wish I could see you looking better, Mary. You take no care of yourself,” said her visitor, reproachfully.
“Faix, I take as much as I’m worth, Miss Geraldine.”
“And is Mike in work now?”
“He is, praise be; he gets regular employment in the avenues at Carrig. Is that the young gentleman?” rising and making a feeble courtesy to Denis. “The Lord spare you yer health, sir.”
“Have you no land to this cabin?” he asked, abruptly.
“No, sir, barrin’ the potaty field forenenst the door.”
“Och, land indeed!” snorted Mrs. Shea.
“Bad cess to it for land. Sure, ’tis where the old gander broke his neck, striving to pull a blade of grass.”
“I’ve brought you this, Mary,” said Geraldine, unfolding a jacket. “I knitted it with my own bands.”
“To think of that now, Miss O’Bierne!”
“And think of this, too: that if you don’t wear it, and put it on Maggie or Joyce, I shall never forgive you. You are to wear it all day and every day till the warm weather comes, and that won’t be till June next.”
“And wear it I will, and a thousand million thanks to you, Miss O’Bierne, for the honour.”
“Sure, none of her people ever forgot the poor,” broke in Mrs. Shea, indignantly. “And the poor don’t forget them.”
Meanwhile Denis Money sat on the meal chest, switching his long riding boots, as he looked and listened.
“Don’t talk of honour, Mary Rogan, when you know it is a great pleasure to me to work for you; and here are four pair of little socks for Maggie and Mike that I knitted, as I know you are not able to do much yourself now, and I hope they’ll fit. Come here to me, Maggie, till I see?”
Maggie, not a bit shy, ran over and climbed upon her lap, while Geraldine measured the sturdy little bare foot against the woollen sock.
“They are just right,” she said, complacently.
“And what about the shoes?” asked Denis, who had now risen and gravely superintended the proceeding.
“Well, then, your honour, the shoes is no great shakes, but not too bad; we are saving them up a bit now, for the snow took a heavy turn out of them,” said Mrs. Rogan.
“I think those smart socks deserve new shoes,” and he reached down and put a sovereign into Geraldine’s hand.
Geraldine reddened as she glanced at it, but at once exclaimed, “Look, Mary! see what Mr. Money has given you!” And she held it toward her.
“Oh, sir!” and a colour born of surprise and pleasure crept into her wan face, two tears shone in her eyes, for a moment she was speechless; then at last she said, “Well, may every hair in your honour’s head be a candle to light you to glory! Why, this will put boots on himself as well—and badly he wants them. ’Tis too good of your honour entirely.”
“And so Nora Driscoll has got that place, Miss O’Bierne,” broke in Mrs. Shea, “and thanks to you. She’s a nice, tight, clane-skinned girl, and will do ye credit.”
“Yes, I am just going over to see her now, Katty,” rejoined Geraldine, rising. “And, as it is getting late, we must wish you all good-day.”
The next visit was to a cottage where a remarkably pretty girl stood at the door, evidently awaiting them.
“How are you, Nora?” asked the young lady. “I thought you were in a place.”
“No, Miss O’Bierne,” she whispered, dropping a timid courtesy, “not yet.”
A smart little woman now came to the thresh-hold, and said:
“I’m greatly beholden to you for the elegant dress you sent up by Katty Shea, miss. It’s the making of her,” nodding at her daughter. “And she’s going to her situation on Monday, if we can borrow the Mooneys’ ass and car.”
“I hope it will be a good place, and you will let me know how you are getting on, Nora. But it will never do for you to be so shy—will it, Mrs. Driscoll?”
“Faix, a scullery-maid in a great house has soon the shyness scraped av of her, as I well know; and Nora would have plenty to say to ye, miss, dear, only she’s a bit backward in herself before your young gentleman,” and Mrs. Driscoll glanced at Money expressively.
“This is Mr. Money who lives at Carrig, and happened to be on the hill,” explained her visitor. “No, thank you, I won’t go in now, for the evenings are short, and I want to go to see old Tim Mooney.”
“Whisha, then, poor Tim is greatly failed, miss. He has made several offers to die, but he has not managed it yet, and when he goes there will be some dry eyes after him, God help him! Well, then, Miss O’Bierne, good-day, and the Lord prosper you wherever you go.” And, sped with many courtesies, Miss O’Bierne and her companion walked on to a long whitewashed cabin at some distance, followed by Paddy leading the horses.
“I’ve been losin’ me eyesight, watching for you, miss,” cried a bunchy old woman, who looked as if she wore twenty petticoats and had a nutcracker nose and chin.
“How are you, Mrs. Mooney?” said her visitor.
“Well, then, I’m nearly destroyed with a wicked heartburn that’s just killing me. Won’t you step inside?”
“Yes, in a moment. I’ve something here for Tim,” and she went to her saddle to unstrap a little parcel. As Denis stood beside her she said in a low voice, “She is a horrid old woman. There’s nothing the matter with her or her niece, but poor old Tim is in a bad way. This is some tobacco for him. He has slaved hard as a car-driver and carter all his life, and has kept his house together, and even saved a few pounds; and now, these heartless wretches grudge him every moment he lives, and every morsel he eats.” And she turned once more to the cabin, carrying her little gift.
“And how is Tim?” she asked as she stepped inside and saw an old man’s long bent back, stooping over the fire, in a hopeless attitude.
“Oh, then, I wish I was as well, miss, dear! Tim, here is Miss O’Bierne come to see you.”
Tim raised his head and looked slowly round. A feeble smile struggled into his wrinkled face and lighted up his blue eyes.
“Then ye are welcome, Miss O’Bierne. Mo colleen dhas dhu” (beautiful brown girl).
“But how are you, Tim?” drawing her chair near him.
“Oh, faix, he is well enough. He ates as much as all the children put together, the poor cratures. ’Tis all he’s good for now,” responded Mrs. Mooney, seating herself with an ill-used air.
The old man glanced up at Geraldine with a wistful smile, and shook his head as he muttered, “I’m in the way, mavourneen, I’m in the way. I’m in the way.”
“Troth and he wouldn’t be in the way a step,” said a younger woman, who had just hurried in, “if he’d just rouse himself and work he’d be well. ’Tis idleness as ails him.”
“I’m past work, Miss O’Bierne,” addressing himself direct to Geraldine. “My work, and God knows it was hard enough, is done.”
Any one looking into the poor old man’s face could see that he had had a stroke of paralysis. “But you are looking beautiful yourself, Miss O’Bierne; there’s nothing like a fair-skinned girl; them women as comes from England is mostly yaller divils—and I drove a power of them in my time.”
“He was car-driver at a Killarney hotel,” explained Mrs. Mooney to Denis, rather pompously.
“But I can’t allow you to call my countrywomen yellow divils, Tim,” protested Money, with a pleasant smile. “We pride ourselves upon the complexions of our ladies. I’m English, you know.”
“Well, maybe they were not English, but from other parts, sir, for I would not wish to hurt your feelings. ‘‘
“Tim, that’s a very uncomfortable chair you have there,” exclaimed Geraldine suddenly.
“’Tis hard, indeed; but, sure, it’s the best we can do, and it might be worse.”
“It could not be worse. I’m sure your back must ache. I wish I had a nice comfortable one to send you.”
“Indeed, miss, I know well, if ye had, ’tis meself would be sitting in it this blessed minute. Don’t I owe the roof over me, and the chair under me, to the O’Biernes? Ay, and I’ve a nephew of me own somewhere, rowling in gold and carriages, that never giv’ me the laste assistance.”
“Augh, quit that sort of talk,” said his wife, sharply. “What’s the good of it? Sure, miss, ’tis only an old fairy tale he has made up about his brother, who went to England seventy years ago and more, and turned his coat, bad luck to him.”
“And what’s the best news with you, mavourneen asthore?” ventured the brow-beaten old man, in a timid key.
“Ah, don’t be losin’ your breath wid the likes of him,” expostulated his wife; who, with her niece and three fat, open-mouthed children, filled up the best part of the kitchen, and grudged all conversation not especially addressed to themselves.
“It was Tim I came to see, Mrs. Mooney,” said Geraldine, with a cold dignity that became her well in Denis Money’s eyes. “He is one of the old Carrig people, and I have a great regard for him. Have I not, Tim?” And she looked into his face with a tender glance, for which Money would have given his right hand. “How old are you, Tim?”
“I’m too old entirely, asthore. I believe I’m in or about eighty-seven years of age. When I was a gorsoon I was a helper in the stables in Carrig; and oh! but your grandfather was a splendid young gentleman, and so free and so pleasant. Many’s the morning I brought round his hunter. Ay, and we were boys together, and many’s a night we stole out dark fowlin’. Your granddada and I were about the wan age, Miss Geraldine. It seems only the other day when Mr. Gerald was born, an’ yourself as it were ere yesterday. Well,” with a long sigh, “Mr. Brian had a hard life, like meself, and put nothing by for a sore foot” (a rainy day).
“It’s like yer imperence, man, dear, to be spaking of yourself in the wan breath with the O’Bierne of Carrig,” protested his wife with loud indignation.
“I hear the people that’s in it now are very good to the poor,” continued Tim, “and gives great employment.”
“This gentleman is Mr. Money, who lives there,” exclaimed Geraldine, precipitately.
“God bless you, sir,” and he looked very hard at him. “I know I’m takin’ a liberty, and herself there will say it’s more greater impidence; but you have the two very eyes of me brother Peter standing in yer head; augh! but he was the handsome boy, when he went down the hill.”
“Now, Tim,” broke in his lady visitor, seeing a thunderstorm in Mrs. Mooney’s expression, “I’ve brought you some tobacco and a wooden pipe, for I know you are always breaking and losing your little old dhudeens.” And she placed her gift in his hand.
Tim’s wrinkled visage was instantly illuminated. A whole pound of tobacco. His dim eyes glistened with pleasure.
“Thank you kindly, miss; it’s many a day since I had a smoke,” he faltered, in a broken voice.
“Well, that will keep him quiet for a good bit anyhow,” grumbled Mrs. Mooney, adding something under her breath about “better spend the money on a pound of tay.”
“Sure, he is full of his fancies these times, miss,” chimed in Bridget, the niece. “He has ugly drames, he says, and when he lies awake of a night he declares that he hears a sort of wail going round and round the hills, as it wor the cry of a great grief, and that it’s the Banshee.”
“The Lord presarve us, Bridget!” exclaimed her aunt, crossing herself devoutly. “An’ will ye not be saying such things, and before Miss O’Bierne of all people in the wide world!”
“Oh, you need not mind me, Mrs. Mooney, I am not superstitious.”
“What about that hare,” suggested Denis Money in a low voice, “and the coach and four black horses?”
“Oh, now, don’t be talking of the death coach, sir, av you plase,” said Mrs. Mooney, severely. “Well, I suppose we will be losing you some day, somehow,” she continued, looking over at Geraldine.
“I think there is no doubt of that, Mrs. Mooney. We must all die sooner or later.”
“Oh, Miss O’Bierne asthore, sure ye know very well it was not that I meant! I mean that in course some young gentleman will be taking you from us,” and she gave Money a quick wink.
“I must be going, Tim,” she said—ignoring this suggestion—rising and standing beside him, “and I must try and buy, borrow, or steal a chair for you.”
“Is your sight good?” asked Denis, as he rose to his feet.
“Very good, yer honour, glory be to God.”
“Then I will send you up some papers and books. I’m sure you find the days long, sitting here.”
“Ah, sure, Tim can’t read, sir,” put in Mrs. Mooney, with an air of great contempt. “He never had no larning; but me and me niece here will be thankful to you for story books and papers.”
“Then, at any rate,” totally ignoring this delicate hint, “I can send you an armchair, Tim; there are lots to spare in Carrig. It shall be here the very first thing to-morrow.”
“Oh, sir, it’s too much for a stranger like yourself to be giving the likes of me.”
“It won’t be strange to you, coming from Carrig,” returned the young man, promptly.
“Sir, when ye have that smile in yer eyes I declare to God you might be Peter, the time he was courting Judy Shea.”
Mrs. Mooney glanced at the young man, and again winked and tapped her forehead significantly.
“I see yer all laughing at me,” said Tim, “and I suppose I’m getting a bit wake in the head; and I humbly ax your pardon, sir, for spaking of Peter so free like.”
“There is nothing to pardon, Tim. On the contrary, you have paid me a great compliment.”
“Now I must really go, I’m afraid,” said Geraldine. “Good-by, Tim; take care of yourself.”
Tim struggled to his feet, the shattered wreck of a fine, tall man; tears stood in his sad old eyes as she took his hand, and he exclaimed, “God knows if I’ll ever see ye again. I’m in the way here,” and lowering his voice, he added, “They are talking of sending me into the house—but plase God I hope I’ll die afore that.”
“The house! Never, Tim, as long as I’m alive,” casting a blazing glance on the two women. “I can promise you that—at least.”
“An’ will ye promise me another thing to the back of it?” speaking very eagerly. “Will ye promise me that when I’m going the long—journey—ye’ll come and say good-by to me? I’d feel aisier if I had one of the family to see me off. I was with yer granddada.”
“Yes. I promise that, Tim. I will not fail you.”
“Well, then, good-by, Miss O’Bierne, darlin’; may God bless you, and the Queen of Heaven have you in her holy keeping,” and he tottered after her to the door.
“Paddy,” said the girl to her self-constituted groom, “we are going down to the Castle now; you can come along and bring the horses. Do you notice,” she remarked to Denis Money, “how tame and subdued they are with him, just like a pair of old sheep. I really believe that he has some kind of Pistrogue!”
“And what may a Pistrogue be?”
“A charm that subdues animals. At any rate, Paddy has some wonderful power over them.”
“The power of kindness, most likely. Talking of kindness, what a couple of truly devoted, tender-hearted women we have just left!”
“Wretches!” exclaimed the girl, indignantly. “They are counting the hours till the old man dies, and look upon him as a burden and expense.”
“Poor old fellow, his days are numbered, that is very plain. They won’t have long to wait.”
“You must not suppose that Mrs. Mooney and Bridget are specimens of their class,” she continued, gravely. “The whole hill is ashamed of them. The Irish peasantry have strong family affections, far more so than other nations—far more than you cold-blooded English people.”
“I say, I say, Miss O’Bierne, how do you know that we are cold-blooded?”
(She was thinking of her own mother, who had rarely shown her the smallest demonstration of tenderness.)
“And if an Irishman prospers he shares his good fortune with all his kin,” she pursued. “When young men and women go away from here to America, they never forget their own, but send for them as soon as they can afford it; in that respect, I am sure, they have no equal.”
“And pray what about Tim Mooney’s rich nephew, that is rowling in gold and carriages?” asked Denis with a smile of sly triumph. “What has he done for his worthy old uncle, who is standing, so to speak, between the poorhouse and the grave? What sort of a specimen do you call him?”
She coloured somewhat deeply as she answered:
“I call him the exception that proves the rule—-if he exists; but sometimes I fancy that poor old Tim is not very clear in his mind.”
“And this rich nephew is a fairy tale! What a neighbourhood for fairies!” ejaculated young Money, as he ran down the hill beside her. “We have fairy horses, fairy gold, fairy soldiers, and fairy kin.”
The Castle still presented a sufficiently imposing exterior from a distance. Old Carrig was an ancient, square keep, which had been united to an ornate, battlemented, and more modern mansion, and the entire building loomed deceptively spacious and habitable as it was approached along a rarely-used, grassy road, bordered with loose stone walls. Nearer the house one entered upon a region of solitary ragged yews and forlorn laurel bushes, while high borders of straggling box and a hoary sun-dial hinted at the remains of a pleasure ground. From the pleasure ground the building, stripped of the glamour lent by distance, stood forth in its true colours. It no longer exhibited the dumb pathos of a deserted home—an appearance it had contrived to sustain for years—it was an absolute ruin! Several tall chimney stacks had fallen, and lay scattered on the grass, the windows were either boarded up or open to all the winds of heaven, and their shutters and sashes had provided many a comfortable blaze for the people on the hill. Glancing through one of these young Money caught a lamentable view of a great room with a fine carved chimneypiece; but the walls were green with damp, and the flooring had been stripped away, leaving a carpet of stones, rafters, rank nettles, and dead leaves. He turned about just in time to see Miss O’Bierne run lightly up the hall door steps, pull a great bush out of the entrance, and make him a mock courtesy as she said, “Mr. Money, let me welcome you to old Carrig!”
The interior was a complete wreck, the whole centre of the house a mere shell. As they stood side by side they gazed upward upon a series of doorways, fireplaces, and windows. Not a single floor interrupted their view of the rotten and dilapidated rafters.
“The front stairs are gone, as you see.” remarked the girl. “They were quite a God-send to Clorane, the hard winter before last; but the back ones are of stone, and perfectly safe,” And as she spoke, she took hold of her habit and rapidly piloted him toward a spiral staircase, which eventually brought them out upon a wide landing—a landing which displayed horrid chasms in its tremulous floor.
“You need not be the least nervous. I know all the good bits,” she called out. “Just keep straight on after me.” And she went past several closed doors into a small turret room flagged with stone and possessing a fireplace and spacious window seats.
“This is my boudoir,” she announced. “I often come here and sit in this corner. I can walk over from Racehill in half an hour by the fields. I call this home.”
“I notice that your home is most beautifully swept,” observed young Money, as he removed his cap, and seated himself beside her.
“No dust, no cobwebs—the work of the fairies, of course!”
“No. Paddy Pinafore is my housemaid.”
“A pretty housemaid.”
“He is jack-of-all trades, you see,” now looking down on Paddy, who was gravely walking the horses to and fro before the ruined hall door.
“What a farce!” and she burst out laughing.
“You sit in this particular window because it commands a fine view of Carrig?”
“Yes. How clever of you to guess that.” A moment’s silence, and then he continued:
“Have you thought of what I said to you the other night about Carrig?”
“Do you mean the fairy tale?” with a little shrug. “It is too early for fairy tales.”
“And the other evening it was too late! Miss O’Bierne, can you be serious for five minutes?”
“Am I not always serious? I know that I am perpetually scolded for looking so grave and solemn, otherwise grumpy and sulky.”
He made a little impatient gesture as he said: “Then at least give me your attention for one moment.”
She looked at him smilingly and nodded her head.
“Do you see Mrs. Shea’s cottage up there?” was his totally unexpected question.
“Yes,” slightly raising her brows, “I see it.”
“And the gate in front of it?”
“And the gate in front of it,” she repeated, with exaggerated emphasis.
“It was leaning over that self-same gate that I first heard of you.”
“How romantic!” she exclaimed. “Was it the irrepressible little bird who mentioned me?” In spite of her mocking air she was trembling, and her heart seemed to be actually beating in her throat.
“You are making it very hard for me to tell you what I wish to say, Miss O’Bierne,” he rejoined, suddenly rising to his feet. “But I mean to say it all the same. It was Mrs. Shea who spoke of you. I had then been but two days in the country. Now I have been four months in Ireland, and I love both the country—and you. When Mrs. Shea talked of the young girl who made her living by horses little did I anticipate how desperately anxious I should be to call that girl my wife!”
Geraldine leaned her head still further back against the wall and looked up at him steadily. The corners of her sensitive mouth quivered a little, her face was very white.
“Now, I want to know,” he continued slowly, “if you care for me—at all? Sometimes I hope you do, at others I am absolutely certain that you do not. You are so cold, so reserved, so impassive, so totally different to any girl I have ever come across. Geraldine, answer me.”
His face was also colourless, his finely-cut features were set with an expression of strong resolution. She was not looking at him now, her eyes were fixed on Carrig with a wistful, abstracted gaze.
“You are not even listening to me!” he exclaimed reproachfully. “If you only loved me as you love a stick or stone of Carrig how thankful I should be.”
“Mr. Money,” she said, as she turned to him quickly, and he saw that her eyes were dim with tears, “the other evening I would not listen to you because I thought you were but half in earnest; that perhaps you wished to ‘break a country heart for pastime ere you went to town.’ I have been warned that you are a flirt—that you make love and ride away.”
“I not in earnest? I a flirt?” he repeated, towering over her in his wrathful indignation. “I never was so much in earnest about anything in all my life. As for flirting, it takes two to flirt. But you do not care a straw about me; that is what you wish to convey.”
“No,” now rising as she spoke. “No one has ever wanted me to care for them ever since I was born—not one—except the old Miss Dwyers and the poor—no, not one soul! You have.” Then with a little catch in her breath and sudden drop in her voice she whispered, “I do care for you even more than for Carrig. Is that sufficient? Stay”—putting up her hand—“I do not show my feelings, but they are there all the same. I cannot gush or be demonstrative like others. It would overwhelm me with shame, ay, and stinging self-torture. Even as a little child my kisses were scornfully repulsed. The atmosphere of Racehill has nearly frozen my heart. But listen, please,” as he was about to interrupt, “to what I have to say. You are very rich; I am very poor. Your people are influential, popular, respected. I need not describe my connections. Your father and mother will never consent to an engagement between us.”
“They will, they will,” he reiterated vehemently. “They will be only too glad. My father admires you immensely, and I know that he likes you. He has said as much.”
“Yes, as an acquaintance, perhaps, but not as a daughter-in-law. Remember how provincial—how Irish I am; how little I have seen of the world. How I have lived in one obscure corner of it for years, and that my chief friends are two penniless old ladies, a groom, and a cook. My ideas are prim, narrow, and old-fashioned—-I know they are—and I am not amusing; I am not even smart, and socially I am beyond the pale. Oh, it would never, never, never do.”
“But it will ever, ever, ever do,” he answered impetuously. “And you shall never, never, never regret it,” and he took her hand eagerly in his and would have drawn her toward him, but he was held back at full arms-length, overawed by a pair of dark grave Irish eyes.
“But you love me. Geraldine. I’ve heard it from your own lips. And God knows I love you. Then what is it—what stands between us?” he demanded.
“Your father and mother for one thing; and my pride for another. It is,” with a melancholy smile, “almost the only thing I have inherited. I have often and often struggled and fought with it, but it is always stronger than I am. Many a sacrifice it has cost me. Many a pleasure it has snatched from me.”
“But how can it trouble you now?”
“It forbids me to enter any family where I am not gladly welcomed. It tells me distinctly that there can be nothing between us—nothing, nothing—unless your father and mother receive me as a daughter.”
“My father and mother and your family pride seem to have it all their own way. Pray where do I come in?” he asked, rather sharply.
“First, of course,” now giving him her hand of her own accord. “First now and always, whatever may happen. But I will never be anything nearer to you than I am now against your people’s wishes. I have no one to speak to for me”—(what about Garry?)—“so I have to tell you myself, that, though I would die for you, I will never be your wife unless as Miss O’Bierne of Carrig—of Old Carrig if needs be—not as Matt Scully’s little riding girl.”
“You are imagining all sorts of ridiculous impediments that you will never encounter, Geraldine. You honour me by accepting me.”
“I have not accepted you yet,” she interrupted quickly.
“No; but I trust you will, though I am not fit to tie your shoestrings. You will be as welcome in our family as the sunshine itself. My father is about to buy Carrig; it will be his in a few days. You cannot refuse to return to your own home—the house where you were born.”
And he suddenly stooped his head and kissed her hand, which he had never yet released. Paddy Pinafore, who was gaping up at the wide so-called window, witnessed this fervent kiss and burst into a wild peal of mad laughter.
“My mother shall go herself,” continued :
Denis, “and fetch you away forever from hateful Racehill.”
“Oh, do you really—really think so?” and she looked up at him with a smile trembling on her lips.
“Of course I do, or I would not say so, my colleen dhu.”
At this moment there was a tremendous crash within the ruins—a long, loud, ripping sort of sound—which startled the horses so much that they nearly broke away from Paddy.
“What is it?” asked Denis, when the noise and its echoes had died away.
“Only one of the old floors above,” was the calm reply. “Two or three of them are loose and hanging and flap in that horrible way. I am quite accustomed to them.”
“So I see!” with a smile. “And now, Geraldine, can you not give me a definite answer without demur, and allow me to say that I took my future bride from Old Carrig?”
Geraldine shook her head emphatically, and then added, “My answer will be found in Carrig itself. It rests with your own people. Now I am afraid I shall have to go. I must be back at Racehill before dark, as you know, and it is dreadfully late.” And before he could remonstrate or detain her she was half-way downstairs. At the foot she paused, and, opening a door, called to him, “Look up, and see what alarmed you.”
He raised his eyes, and beheld the floor of a great room hanging loosely from one wall—having broken away from three others. The pale wall-paper still fluttered in dreary strips, as the wind swept through the window frames, and the boards gave a weird accompanying creak, as Geraldine closed the door, saying, “It will be down in the next storm—there are terrible storms in this part of the world—and that is why the Rath is called ‘the Fort of the windy gap.’ And when the floor falls all the country people will come and burn it.”
“How long is it since any one lived here?” he asked, as they stood for a moment on the thresh-hold of what had been the great dining-room.
“It is a hundred and fifty years since the family moved, but this house was used as a dower house, and then keepers lived here till about twenty-five years ago. My grandfather was going to pull it all down, but it costs nearly as much to pull down as to build up.”
“And you say that the O’Biernes left their luck at Old Carrig. Well, I have found mine here.”
“I hope so,” glancing at him with a shy smile. “But you know that it is for your people to decide.”
“Then the matter is practically settled, but your scruples shall be respected and your pride shall have its way.”
“It seems absurd for me to talk of pride,” she exclaimed, pointing with her whip to the ruins among which they stood. “Why should I be proud? Why should I make conditions? Why should I not be humble and meek? I cannot, I dare not, say yes. Everything about the O’Biernes has passed away from them, or fallen into decay, as you see. The only thing that still survives and flourishes as robustly as ever is their family pride.
“Here, Paddy,” suddenly calling to the idiot.
“Bring up the horses.”
In another moment she was in the saddle, but Denis, ere he mounted his most impatient steed, paused to place half-a-crown in Paddy’s horny palm.
To his amazement, Paddy hastily ascended the steps, waved his long arms wildly above his head, and said, “A word wid you, Miss O’Bierne and sor. I know it,” and he blinked his eyes with extraordinary rapidity and tossed back his lint locks. “I know it, and I’m agreeable. I give ye both me goodwill—and consint. ’Twas Money lost the place Carrig to the O’Biernes, ’tis Money will give it back to them. I’m just as proud this minute as if I was a crowned king—as proud as I was of the fine bating yer honour give Casey Walshe, ay, and prouder; and I’ll drink every sup of this half-crown to your long reign and good luck.”
“Paddy, you are not to get foolish notions into your head,” said Geraldine austerely. “And be careful how you spend that half-crown.”
“Oh, I’ll spend it in grand style, Miss O’Bierne, and I’ve a very good notion as—as”—and he glanced up significantly at the turret with a cunning grin—“as some will be biting their nails, and as there will be a wedding at Carrig before long.”
No sane person ever attempted to pursue an argument with Paddy Pinafore—it was a proverbial waste of time and breath. So Geraldine sharply turned about the head of her fretting, impatient mare and rode away down the grass-grown avenue.
“That fellow Paddy,” said Denis, as he cantered up alongside, “is not half as great a fool as he looks. It seems to me that he can see through a stone wall as well as most people.”
As the pair rode by Mrs. Shea’s cabin that worthy woman, who had evidently been expecting them, with an imperious wave of her apron summoned them to halt. “Look, there, Miss O’Bierne and Mr. Money,” she screamed. “Come here to me, now. What do ye call this sort of work? You’ve never come next or nigh me, and me”—turning to him indignantly—“that ye knew before ever ye got sight or light of her. Come in and have a cup of tay; ’tis drawed this twenty minutes an’ more.”
“I must go back to Racehill, Katty. I have to be in in time to have the horse made up. You know it as well as I do myself. Only for that, of course, I should stop.”
“Oh, musha! indeed I know very well as Scully is a terror, especially afther his dinner. So I won’t kape ye, but the next time ye are on the hill, alannah, ye must not go next or nigh any wan but meself; for poor Katty Shea is not to be overlooked.”
“Very well, Katty, that is a promise.”
“And the young gentleman can come too, av he has a mind.”
The young gentleman nodded his acceptance, and with a farewell wave of her hand to Katty, Geraldine gave Dancing Girl her head and galloped down the boreen.
“My dear Ju, I want to speak to you most particularly,” said Mr. Money, coming suddenly into the morning-room, and looking unusually excited and perturbed.
“I know!” she ejaculated, laying down her pen, with a gesture of quiet despair. “You need not tell me—it’s about Denis. He has proposed for that girl. Well, you must never hope for my consent.”
“Why—why not? I like Miss O’Bierne.”
“Simply because she gave you a nasty little bit of fur and flattered you; oh, you silly Anthony!” And she leaned back in her chair and contemplated him compassionately.
“She is handsome, well mannered, of very good family—her ancestors lived here,” he urged, almost eagerly.
“I’m perfectly sick of her ancestors! I was going to say I wished they were dead. We have, at any rate you have, quite as long a line, no doubt; and she does not carry her pedigree round her neck.”
“No, she carries it in her face; high descent is written there.”
“My dear Anthony, I declare you are becoming quite smart. Well, it is a proud, haughty, scornful face, in my opinion.”
“Never mind your opinion,” rejoined her husband, recklessly. “No, nor mine either. What about Denis’s opinion? He is nearly seven-and-twenty, why should he not please himself?”
“He must please us,” she answered, inflexibly. “He must please all his friends. He must please himself, in the long run. These romantic fancies burn up like straw, and go out as quickly. You remember Vincent Palliser, and how wildly he was in love with the pretty barmaid, and how thankful he now is to his mother for coming down and taking him away.”
“Julia!” exclaimed Mr. Money—when he called her “Julia” the domestic storm-signal was hoisted—“I will not sit here and listen to you speaking of Miss O’Bierne in such a manner—is she a barmaid?”
“No, no,” with a soothing gesture, “nor ever likely to be; and a very bad one she would make. Her stand-off manners would soon scatter her customers. You are about to buy Carrig, are you not, my dear?”
“Yes, I am; in fact, it is practically mine now.”
“And I believe you wish Denis and his wife to make their home here? We should be lost in this great house.”
“Yes, we should.”
“Well, if Denis brings home Miss O’Bierne here, I give you due notice that I shall quit,” speaking in an angry and excited tone. “You will have to find other accommodation for her or me. The same house could not contain us. I would do much for you, Tony, and for Denis, too; but really you must not expect me to do that.”
“You are infernally prejudiced,” he exclaimed.
“Perhaps I am. By-and-by you may have reason to call me something else. Take my advice, get rid of the girl somehow. Why not offer to educate her? To send her to Germany? Otherwise, she will always be a sort of Mordecai at our gates. Whatever you do, do not allow your own silly partiality to blind you to the true interests of Denis. Denis must marry into a family that is going up, not one that has gone down. And really, Anthony, if he would only see it, one pretty, slim, dark-haired girl is much the same as another. My dear, susceptible, softhearted Anthony, you must set your face against Jerry O’Bierne.”
“But I have nothing against her.”
“What! Not her bringing up—her hideous moral atmosphere and surroundings, her not being received into decent society?” she demanded, crimson with wrath and vehemence.
“She will be welcomed with open arms once she shakes off Scully. You forget the ovation she received at your ball.”
“Simply because she was a surprise, a momentary amazement. And do you suppose for one second that the Scullys will ever allow her to drop them? Why, you will have Matt dining here twice a week; either that, or shooting you from behind a hedge. Take your choice. If Denis must marry, let him marry Lady Flora. I know she would accept him.”
“You are going ahead too fast, Ju, much too fast.”
“Pray, when did you hear this detestable news?”
“Just now. Denis spoke to me after breakfast, and asked me to tell you, and to talk it over with you.”
“Then you must have given your consent!” she exclaimed, turning on him fiercely.
“No, no. I merely said that I would talk it over with you and let him know,” he answered, rather timidly.
“Well, now you have learned my opinion on the subject.”
“What the dickens am I to say,” he demanded, querulously.
“Say nothing unpleasant. Compromise, temporize; a young man’s fancy when balked in one direction turns to another. And, above all, do not act the stern parent of story books, be sympathetic.”
“Sympathetic!” he echoed, with great scorn.
“Yes, and practical. Say you cannot give your consent at present; let him have lots of rope. Say that you had expected another class of daughter-in-law; but that if he is in the same mind in two years’ time—”
“Two years’ time,” broke in Mr. Money, and he gave a long whistle.
“That you will consider the matter seriously. Meanwhile a trip to Monte Carlo, I don’t mind taking him there myself, and a season in town will soon drive this Irish girl out of his head. Absence does not make the heart grow fonder. In these days, people are in too great a hurry to enjoy the present to spare a second for dwelling on the past. I should not advise correspondence in the young lady’s interests,” she concluded, rising as she spoke. “And you may as well mention that I am entirely of your opinion, Tony, and be sure you stick to two years’ probation, and are as firm as I am,” she concluded, in a tone of easy command.
“But the girl—it’s deuced hard on the girl,” protested Mr. Money, who was walking up and down the room with his hands in his pockets.
“Not at all. We are acting with the truest kindness. We are giving Denis time to really know his own mind. He would tire of her in six months. She is not in the least the sort of wife to suit him. They have no friends, no associations, no taste but hunting in common. I suppose you will allow that it is better for him to weary of her before than after marriage.”
And with this unanswerable remark, Mrs. Money retired to her own apartment, having done all in her power to “talk over” her husband.
The meet of the foxhounds had been at a distant part of the county; the sport poor—merely a few short bursts, succeeded by wearisome road riding from cover to cover. Consequently Jerry and Garry were not home till after six o’clock; and it was nearly seven by the time the former joined the family in the dining-room., Tea was over—at least nearly over. Tilly (with a candle all to herself) was devouring hot buttered cake, sandwiched with her novelette. Scully and Casey sat with a large square spirit decanter and a jug of hot water between their tumblers. In front of Geraldine’s vacant place was a plate with two or three slices of ham, which represented her luncheon, dinner, and tea.
“How late you are!” exclaimed Tilly, vexed to be disturbed in the midst of a most exciting chapter. “This tea,” handing a slopping cup, “is stone cold.”
“Well, what sort of sport, Jerry?” asked Scully (whose face was almost the colour of the best Christmas beef).
“Very poor indeed; scent catchy, no run to speak of, and it’s freezing again.”
“Bad luck to it! And how did the little bay carry you?”
“Very well, very temperate; but I think he is rather tender on his near fore—anyway on landing—”
“Gracious me!” interrupted Tilly irritably, “must we always have this horrid stable at meal times?” She was reading about a magnificent and aristocratic family, who lived in a palace in Park Lane and dined off gold plate.
There was a silence—a rather unusual sort of silence. Jerry felt that Scully and his partner were looking at her furtively. An ominous and malicious grin lurked about Casey’s mouth. Undoubtedly there was something “up,” as they would have described it.
“I went to see Dancing Girl,” she said, “and Peter told me that you had changed her stable. Where have you put her? Where is she now?”
Casey nudged his host and gave a scream of laughter, while Scully answered in his most truculent key:
“Where is she now? Eh, as well as I can guess, she’s half-way to England.”
“To England?” she repeated.
“Yes, my pet. I’ve sold your pet for a tiptop price. Colonel Chandos always fancied her, and he tempted me with three hundred guineas.”
“And you have sold her,” suddenly pushing back her chair; “sold Dancing Girl?”
“And to be sure I have. Come, now, none of your row,” thumping the table with his fist. “Not a word out of you—not one word.”
His stentorian bellow was nearly drowned in Casey’s shrill peals of laughter. “Wasn’t she mine; didn’t I keep her and feed her, the same as I do you; and aren’t you mine, too? Don’t say one word.”
Meanwhile Casey and Tilly looked on with keen enjoyment. The scene surpassed the attractions of the novelette or the tumbler of punch (which were both disregarded), while they gloated over their common enemy. Jerry was as white as a sheet and surprisingly silent.
After quite an unexpected pause she said:
“Very well, Mr. Scully, you have given me deeds, and you will, I hope, allow me to say one or two words.”
“Go on then; hurry up,” he answered savagely.
“You have sold my mare, the only creature of my own—my pet, as you truly called her. Since you have done this without any reference to me—and by whose advice,” looking fixedly at Casey, “I know—I declare before you all that I will never again ride another horse of yours. You know that I have not much to keep, and I always keep my promise.”
“Bravo! Encore! Encore!” screeched Casey, hammering violently on the table.
“What?” shouted Scully. “Do ye hear her, Casey, my boy? Do ye hear that for chat? There’s a nice daughter for you! You will just do as I order you, you young cat. You are under my charge and authority, and, by the Book, I’ll find means to make you obey me. Yes,” in answer to a look of cool defiance, “you may look and you may sneer. I’ll put a bit in that mouth of yours that a chain Pelham was a joke to. You’ll ride Rocket to-morrow or I’ll know the reason why.”
“I will never ride another of your horses,” she replied, now at white heat. “Never, as long as I live.”
“Yes, you will, if you are strapped into a straight waistcoat and lashed on to the saddle. I’ll make you come on your knees begging and crying for a mount. I’ll starve your infernal pride,” he roared in reply to her glance of scorn. “I’ll massacre you, you beggar, you!”
“For goodness’ sake, governor, don’t make such a noise,” cried Tilly, “you’ll be heard in the kitchen.”
“There’s a lot of drink been taken in there to-night,” remarked Bridget to Garry, who, along with Paddy Pinafore, was sitting over the fire. “Two bottles; no less. It’s awful. Will ye listen to the yells of Scully, like a mad pig.” At this Paddy gave a low, wicked laugh.
“Maybe it was to put heart in him to tell her he had sold the mare to England,” said Garry, gloomily.
“Sold Miss O’Bierne’s mare? Is it the chestnut as she and I reared? Ay, and she paid for every sup of milk it swallowed. Ah! yer not in earnest?”
“Yes, I am. She was sent off this morning as soon as we left the yard and they had our backs turned.”
“May I never!” clasping her hands.
“And he is telling her now. Do ye hear the shouts out of him?”
“It was Casey put it into his head and urged him and tempted him and made the bargain,” said Garry bitterly.
“May he die at the back of a ditch wid his tongue hanging out like a dog,” cried Paddy, whose face was white and contorted with passion. “’Tis always that black divil as has a hand in every bad action,” and, suddenly seizing his stick, he got up, and, without another word, hurried out of the kitchen.
“That chap will do Casey some sort of queer turn yet,” observed Bridget, as she stood and looked after him. “Oh, but me heart is sore for that poor child. There, I hear her going up to her room now. Goodness help her.”
“Faix, she will want a good deal of pity these times,” said Garry. “Where are ye off to?” seeing her tying on her bonnet.
“Well, then, since ye must know, I’m going to confession below at the chapel. Father McCarthy is there to-night, and I’ll say a ‘Hail Mary’ or two, for God knows we are badly in want of a few prayers here. And when ye go out, Garry, lave the door on the latch.”
Geraldine for once found no comfort in her own retreat. She felt that she must go forth where she could walk and think. The garden? No, she hated the long, damp, dismal walks and the weird, suggestive shadows thrown by the moon. Her spirit was roused; her heart was sore; her cup was full. She would endure no more. She would at least go where she could walk far and fast, clear her mind from these hateful surroundings, and come to some final resolve.
In a few moments she had put on her hat, jacket, and boots, taken her gloves, and hurried down to the kitchen. Bridget was not there—only Hannah, crouched over the fire. She glanced up at Geraldine. But she had no mind to talk to Hannah, who was not her confidante, and as she passed quickly out into the yard Hannah said to herself, “It’s just one of Miss Jerry’s queer starts; what is she up to now?”
From the landing window a patient watcher, Casey, descried her. He had been waiting there eagerly for some time, for he had felt certain, from her expression of pale rebellion, that Jerry would take an unusual step. She would possibly run away, and to whom? He stole downstairs, followed her up the avenue at a respectful distance, ay, and out upon the road. Yes, as he expected, she was going to Creeshe, and at ten o’clock at night.
As Geraldine walked on rapidly, in a kind of mental fever, with a heart ready to burst, she had told herself that for once she would act. She would go to Creeshe. It was but two miles; the night was fine, there was a full moon; it would rise presently, there was its rim peeping cautiously over the hill; she need have no fear, Casey was at home. (Was he?)
Miss Dwyer would advise her. She could not return to Racehill. No, life there was horrible; death could hold no greater terrors. And Denis? If Denis’s mother came to fetch her—it would be from Creeshe. If not—if that happy dream was never to be realized—Miss Narcissa would get her a situation; she would be no burden to them, she would earn her bread. Was she not earning it now? Her bitter bread, watered with tears. Somewhere she had heard that at eighteen a girl is of legal age. She would be nineteen in a month. If Scully did hunt her down, surely some one would protect her, and save her from him and Casey.
She had walked a mile—an Irish mile; the moon had now risen, and if she had turned her head she could not have failed to have seen Casey following her stealthily, creeping along on the grass behind her in order to deaden the sound of his footsteps. Suddenly there was a sound, distinctly audible, on the freezing road, the sharp trot of a horse, the rumble of wheels. A high dog-cart went by, and then abruptly stopped.
In it was Denis Money—alone. He was driving Black Pat, all flecked with foam, and looking like a piebald.
“Geraldine,” he exclaimed, reining up with difficulty. “What in the world brings you out on the road at this hour?”
And as he spoke he jumped down, still holding the reins, and leading Black Pat as he walked beside her.
“Trouble,” she answered, looking at him steadily. “And you?”
“Trouble, also, I am sorry to say. I could not rest indoors; riding is lonely work; I wanted a bit of excitement, and I told them to put Pat in harness. Not one of the grooms would come with me. His rearings and rushes at first terrified them; besides, he is a fairy horse; to have him out at night is fatal. He is going as quietly as a lamb now, but here I am alone.”
“I can guess your trouble, Denis,” she said. “I’m afraid it’s about me; in fact, I’m sure it is about me,” keeping her voice steady by a mighty effort.
He nodded his head in slow affirmation as he answered—
“I spoke to my father this morning, and told him what I wished and what you said. He was very kind, and declared that he liked you immensely and all that, but before there was any engagement, I must wait two years. He thinks I don’t know my own mind.”
“And do you not?” and she looked up at him gravely.
“Geraldine, can you ask? I never dreamed of his not saying yes at once. He thinks I am too young to settle down—too unstable.”
“No, no. It is scarcely that, Denis. It is I who am the obstacle to his consent. Now, I withdraw mine.”
“Nonsense! It will all come right; however, we will talk this over presently. But first tell me what is your trouble?” putting his hand upon her arm.
In a few fierce, forcible words, the sale of “Dancing Girl,” the recent scene with Scully, his threats, were placed vividly before him.
“What a scoundrel!” he ejaculated.
“And I am going over to Creeshe now. I cannot—cannot endure him any longer.” As she concluded she drew a long, low breath.
“I’ve often wondered why you did not live at Creeshe—run away from him years ago.”
“Simply because the two old ladies can scarcely exist as it is, without taking me in. If I could have had the use of my small income it would have been another matter, and quite an addition to theirs; but you see Mr. Scully keeps it. I have nothing. I cannot earn money except by needlework, and, at the most, that would bring in but a few shillings a week. I would live on bread and milk, and be thankful to have it; but the Miss Dwyers would hate to see it—would pinch themselves. No, I’ve often been sorely tempted, and have never yielded, but to-night was the last straw.”
“Geraldine, listen to me. I have some money of my own, about five hundred a year. Let us get married at once. Say next week, from Creeshe. I am sure Miss Dwyer will back me up.”
“No, Denis. I would do anything for you, but not that. I am, as I have told you, very proud—prouder than your father and mother. I shall never marry you until they ask me to be your wife.”
“And so they shall; but, I say, look here, the short cut to Creeshe is closed and the gate locked.”
“Yes, so I see,” in genuine dismay.
“It is six miles by road from here. I dare not drive you round; but I’ll tell you what I will do, take you back to Racehill, only for tonight. It’s but a mile. You can get in, I. know, through the kitchen, and early to-morrow I will have another interview with my father, and if he still talks of two years when he hears of the sort of interval you will be compelled to spend—we shall be married at once.”
“No. We shall never be married at all!”
“And it’s just as well, Geraldine,” coolly ignoring her reply, “that I overtook you when I did. I saw a man dogging you all the way down the road. I was driving too fast to recognize him; but he was something the cut of Casey Walshe.”
“Oh, impossible,” with a little shudder. “I left him in the dining-room at Racehill.”
“Now get in. Pat is behaving wonderfully well, is he not? And only twice had the harness on him. Something compelled me to come out to-night, and how glad I am that I yielded to the impulse.”
“Yes, although we had nothing to exchange but bad news.”
“When things come to the worst they mend, ‘a shuillish machree,’” he said, as he seated himself beside her. “It was a great piece of good—” As the words left his lips, there was a flash and a loud report from behind a tree. The bullet grazed Black Pat’s neck, who, with a shrill scream of pain, wheeled sharply about, all but capsizing the dog-cart, and then bolted, like a creature possessed.
While Casey Walshe turned his head to follow the desperate runaway, he said aloud:
“A pleasant drive to ye both. I think that will about settle yer hash.”
“And this will settle yours,” shouted Paddy Pinafore, bringing down the full weight of his loaded stick upon the back of Casey’s skull.
Casey Walshe’s amiable object to wound and terrify the horse was carried out with a success that does not often crown far more virtuous intentions.
Black Pat, frantic with fear and pain, nearly thoroughbred, in first-rate hard condition, with a light cart at his heels, literally raced through the country like the fairy horse he was supposed to be. Denis Money was a capital whip and a man of the coolest pluck. He was not terrified for himself, but Geraldine. However, self-control was the habit of her life, and she remained perfectly still, her feet against the footboard, her hands tightly clasped. The crash might come at any moment. No; they still flew along the white moonlit road, with not a sound to be heard but the rapid hoof-strokes and the crowing of some misguided cock. (In Ireland it is considered a most unlucky sign when a cock crows before midnight.) Denis made no foolish attempt to pull in the frenzied animal; he was beyond that. He simply concentrated all his energies and all his skill in steering him round corners. Oh, what sickening shaves! Down hills the cart swept, bumping high off the road, or rocking violently from side to side. The very ground seemed to shake. Familiar places flew past, a few cottages, a chapel, a forge. Some men standing outside a public-house saw the black horse flash by and crossed themselves devoutly.
For about four miles Pat kept up this truly headlong pace, and then he slackened a thought. Denis spoke to him gently and endeavoured to get a pull at him, the muscles in his strong arms standing out like iron bands. The gallop gradually, gradually subsided to a canter, the canter to a trot.
“Thank God!” exclaimed Denis, when he had once more got him in hand. “That was a narrow escape. Were you frightened?”
“In a way I was. I felt certain we should be killed. But I would not have been afraid to die with you, Denis.”
“Many, many long years, darling, may we live to spend together.”
“That was Casey Walshe’s doing,” she observed, after a silence. “I saw him distinctly as the horse plunged round. The moon shone full upon his face. It wore such a malicious grin. He thought we would both be killed.”
“Two birds with one stone; and what a disappointment for him, the murderous, sneaking rascal!” As he spoke they were now trotting rapidly back toward Racehill. “I should like to summon him, and get him tried for attempted murder.”
“I don’t think he meant to hit us, only the horse.”
“Only the horse! It nearly answered as well.”
“He hates us both; you, if anything, the most.”
“I really feel quite honoured. How I should like him to get a couple of years’ hard labor. But it can’t be done.”
“Because of all the explanations we would have to make—why were we driving together at eleven o’clock at night.”
“Yes, of course; and I never thought of that; why, indeed?”
“Because we are going to be married, and are settling our affairs. Hullo! Hullo!” as Pat made a violent shy and was about to start off again. “What ails the brute? Is he there still? Isn’t that the very tree?”
“Oh, Denis, there’s something lying close to the road, in the grass,” she said. “It looks—it looks like a dead body,” she added, in a scared whisper.
“Nonsense!” pulling up. “You don’t mean to say—” he paused. She was trembling excessively. “Never mind, it’s all right, only a drunken man, most likely. I’ll get down; but what shall I do with Pat? I am afraid to leave him.”
“I can hold him,” putting her hands on the reins.
“No, on no account; he would be safe to bolt again. Here’s a strap. I’ll lead him on, and fasten him up to this gate.”
In a very short time Pat was firmly secured to the gate post, and Denis ran back along the road about thirty yards. Sure enough a man was lying there prone on his face, his arms stretched out, his hat off, his head beaten in—a shocking spectacle.
“Don’t come here, Geraldine, don’t!” he shouted peremptorily. “Keep away. Keep back.” And even in the moonlight his face looked white and startled.
No; it was no sight for a woman. He turned the body over very gently; it was quite warm. Nay, the man was still alive, and the savagely battered face was that of Casey Walshe. He groaned as he was disturbed, and slowly opened his eyes. Stooping over him in the moonlight he instantly recognized his enemy. A frightful expression contorted his features, a flash of expiring life shone in his glance, as, with an oath, he made one frantic effort and snatched Money’s white silk scarf from his neck. It was the last movement. He fell back with it grasped in his fierce dead clutch. A cap and revolver lay near him. Apparently both they and he had been flung with equal scorn over the low hedge by Casey’s strong-armed foe.
What was to be done? Denis considered for a moment. The police station was about half a mile the other side of Racehill gate. He would drive Casey there and then go for a doctor. There might be life in him yet.
But Geraldine must not come near that truly hideous sight—a sight that he felt would rise before him in his dreams, and even haunt his waking hours.
He joined her hastily and said, “Geraldine, would you very much mind walking back alone from here?”
“No,” rather doubtfully. “No, I think not.”
“Because I’m going to drive Casey Walshe to the nearest house—the police barracks at the crossroads. I’ll see you to-morrow morning. I shall come down to Racehill immediately after I have had a good talk with my father.”
“Can I not help you in some way? At least I can hold Black Pat.”
“No, no. I can manage all by myself. I’d much rather you did not wait. I can easily lift Casey. He is not heavy.”
“Do you think he has been murdered? Is he dead?” she asked, in an awestruck key.
“Yes, I’m afraid he is, or at any rate dying.”
“How fearful! Can I not do something for him?”
“Yes—do not delay here. You must hurry home. I shall keep you in sight to the gate. I’ll drive very slowly.”
Geraldine started off, almost running. Once she ventured to look back, and shuddered as she looked. The dog-cart was following at a funereal pace, and there was something in it beside Denis—some vague object, with its back propped against the seat, covered up with a fur rug. Then she ran in earnest.
The kitchen door, luckily for Geraldine, was not yet locked. Old Bridget was up late ironing. It was nearly twelve o’clock when Miss O’Bierne raised the latch and entered, gasping for breath.
“Save us and send us! What’s this? Where have you been to, Miss Jerry, and looking own sister to a ghost?”
“I’ve been for a—a—walk,” she panted hysterically.
“A pretty hour to be taking the air! What ails ye, child? Ye look so pinched and perished with cold. Sit down, then, alannah, till I get you a sup of hot milk. ’Tis small blame ye went out after tay. The Lord knows this is no house for your father’s daughter. There’s Scully dead drunk—I never saw him worse; and Tilly sitting up in the drawing-room with a telegraph clerk from the station.” Receiving no reply, she added, “I know all about everything, and I can see the tongue is just frozen in your head. Go up to bed now, and I’ll be afther ye directly with a cup of warm milk. I suppose ye saw nothing of Casey,” she continued.
No answer beyond a look of pale horror.
“Well, if he isn’t here soon he may sleep out.”
It was hours before Geraldine could sleep; her recent experience was ever before her, an irresistible horrible nightmare. What events had been compressed into one evening! Her quarrel with Scully, the runaway, the murder. When she recalled that prone figure on the grass her heart beat so fast that it almost choked her. Her thoughts were so feverish they would not suffer her to rest.
At eight o’clock in the morning Biddy opened the door and peeped in. “The child was fast—well, she would let her sleep it out for wance,” she said to herself, as she withdrew to prepare breakfast.
It was eleven o’clock before Geraldine awoke, with a start, and found Bridget standing in her room.
“Miss Geraldine, dear. Here’s an awful thing has happened,” setting down a great can of water as she spoke. “Young Mr. Money, yer know—”
“Yes,” now quite wide awake and springing up in bed.
“He is afther murdering Casey Walshe.”
“Nonsense, Bridget,” she exclaimed, turning very pale as the hideous memory of the previous night came back to her.
“’Tis no nonsense, but gospel truth—as sure as I am standing here.”
“What do you mean? Don’t talk riddles,” said the girl, now tossing back her two heavy plaits and jumping out of bed.
“I mean this, that he took him to the polis himself as bold as brass—took the man there stone dead, with his head just battered to a pulp. There was a nerve for ye! But young Money had no rale cuteness nor wisdom whatever; for sure wasn’t his own silk muffler in the grip of the corpse, and sorra wan of them able to stir it.”
“Yes,” seizing a dressing gown and dragging it on. “What else?”
“What else! I hear as old Mr. Money and his wife is just tearing wild, but the polis have the young one snug; sure every wan knows there was always bad blood between him and Casey, it’s not the first battering he give that blackguard. But I’m sorry for his own sake as he killed him all out; for, bedad, he is bound to give his own good life in exchange for a rare bad wan.”
“Where is Mr. Money?” asked Geraldine.
“Don’t I tell ye the polis has him tight and fast in the barracks at the cross. He will be brought up before Lord Scariff and Mr. Hare when the coroner comes. The inquest is to be held there bey ant, at three o’clock.”
“He is as innocent as you are, Bridget,” said Geraldine, steadily.
“The Lord send it. All the same, Miss Jerry, it looks as black as a bag, and Thady Curran is letting out now, as he overheard him threatening Casey by the river, and saying, ‘Next time I catch you it will be a case for the coroner’—and, begor, so it is, ye see!”
“I was driving with him last night.”
“Oh, Miss Jerry, ye wor not.”
“Yes, I was going away to Creeshe; if you had been in the kitchen I would have told you. Mr. Money overtook me on the road. He was driving Black Pat, and he gave me a lift.”
“There ye are, ye see! How well I knew that baste would work a spell on some wan yet. And what call had ye to be driving out with a fairy horse and a young man at them hours of the night? Sure, if it was to be known, your character would be no better nor Tilly’s. What ailed ye at all, at all.”
“I had had a quarrel with Mr. Scully. I was wretched. I was going away—going for good. Mr. Money persuaded me to return because it was so late and the iron gate was locked. Some one fired at us from behind a tree and the horse bolted. He went miles. Coming back afterward, we saw a body lying just at the very place where the shot was fired. Mr. Money got down to look. It was Casey, murdered by some one, or nearly murdered. He lifted him into the cart to take him to the nearest house, which was the police barracks, and I ran home, and that is all.”
“All! I tell you young Money will be hanged, every wan says so. Sure wasn’t his gloves covered with the man’s blood. How is he to clear himself?”
“I will clear him, of course. I can swear that he did not do it. I can prove his innocence.”
“And a nice innocent name you will get for your trouble. Every wan will say you are a piece with Tilly. Oh, my heart,” clapping her hands together, “it’s just his life against your good name.”
“And I needn’t tell you that it shall be his life,” looking steadily at Bridget. After a dead silence she said, “I know nothing about inquests.”
“No, nor won’t go near one if I can stand in your way.”
“Where is Mr. Scully?”
“He has got a very heavy turn and is in bed, and likely to stay there for a while.”
“And Tilly? Where is Tilly all this time?”
“Oh, she went off an hour ago to the town in the tax cart, awfully upset, crying and bawling and carrying on; for she was mortal sure they’d bring the body here for the laying out and funeral. She’s gone to Miss Wegg, the tobacconist, and sorra a foot she’ll put inside the place till it’s all over. The country is in an uproar, I can tell ye, an’ people swarming over the roads and round the barracks like bees.”
“Well, Bridget, I want to send a note to the Miss Dwyers. Will you get a messenger, and go away, for I am about to dress?”
Bridget descended heavily, talking all the time to herself. “The like of that now! Well, the Miss Dwyers will hold her back from making herself the talk of the world, and maybe getting put in the papers. Arra, there was always ill-luck with that Casey! And he couldn’t even die in his bed, like anny wan else, but must bring out this terrible trouble and exposure. I’ll get wan of Peter’s boys, and he’ll run to Creeshe as fast as the light. The sooner they know the better.”
Meanwhile Miss Jerry dressed quickly. As she twisted up the thick coils of her hair she surveyed her white face, her great eyes, with dark circles round them. Even to herself, she looked so strange that she was struck by her reflection in the glass.
Her courage however, rose with occasion; her lips were firmly set, her mind fully resolved. She would consult Garry, and get all particulars from him, and she would attend as witness at the inquest, accompanied by Bridget. She must write a line to Denis and a letter to the Miss Dwyers.
In half an hour’s time she was downstairs with the two notes in her hand. It was a miserable day, raining occasionally, with a high wind that lashed the old trees in the pleasure ground wildly to and fro, and shook the frail window-sashes. She opened the door of the dining-room. Yes, her breakfast was laid there—one solitary cup. Since the last meal how the household had been dispersed! What a smell of tobacco and whisky! How dismal—how funereal the dart flock paper looked! There was Tilly’s novelette tossed down; there were Casey’s green carpet slippers standing in their special corner. She shuddered. No, she could never, never eat another morsel in that horrible room. She closed the door and went into the kitchen, where she found Bridget and a ragged messenger awaiting her.
“Here is the note, Micky,” she said, “and you are to run the whole way like a good boy and bring me an answer from Miss Dwyer as quickly as ever you can, and here’s your sixpence. Bridget, give him a farl of bread—and be off,” and she herself took him to the back door, and watched his little bare legs scudding away up the yard through the rain.
“Garry,” she called out authoritatively.
Garry came running. He looked unusually serious, and was wearing his Sunday clothes.
“Garry,” she said, “I was with Mr. Money last night.”
“Indeed, so I hear, miss,” very stiffly; “and the Lord stand between you and harm.”
“Here is a note for him. The police may read it, if they wish. It’s to say that I will give evidence.”
“Yes, miss. Ye will have to do that, av course,” glancing contemptuously at Bridget. “Women has no sense; and she’d sooner see that fine young man hanged than for you to put your foot inside a court. But it’s a terribly nasty business all round. There’s no denying that.”
“And there’s no suspicion of any one else.”
“Sorra a hate.”
“Bridget will come with me, and we will be there at the barracks at whatever hour they fix. Take a horse, Garry, take Rocket, and gallop—gallop fast.”
“Well, faix, Miss Jerry, this is new come to ye,” cried Bridget, “commanding every wan here and there, as imparious as your grandfather; ordering Garry out on the best horse galloping; ordering foot-messengers to run like the wind; ordering me up to the court. I never could do it, and face the judge and the jury and the cap.”
“See there, woman, don’t be talking nonsense. It’ll be only held in the room beyant. Just a couple of magistrates, the clerk, the doctor, the coroner, and a jury of the neighbours, and Mr. Money’s friends in course; and of course they bid to know Miss O’Bierne can clear him, and she bid to spake, there’s no option whatsomever,” and he walked away, calling out to Peter to “hurry with that horse.”
“And now ye must have your breakfast, Miss Geraldine, or more betoken it’s nearer yer dinner.”
“Yes, but not in the dining-room, Bridgy; anywhere but there.”
“Faix, an’ I don’t wonder. You must ate something to put the spirit in ye, though indeed I can’t say as that was ever wake wid you, or wanting in any O’Bierne.”
The inquest was held in a room in the police barracks. Lord Scariff, Mr. Hare, the doctor, coroner, and a solicitor were present. At the same wooden table the prisoner Denis also sat, with two burly constables behind him. The approach was crowded, although it was a miserable day; a cold rain and high wind searched keenly for the thinly clad. There was a sudden move among the throng, a sensation, and a prolonged murmur as Miss O’Bierne appeared, closely followed by old Biddy Shea, who looked as if she was going to capital punishment, and had guilt and terror depicted in every line of her white face.
Miss O’Bierne, though pale, carried herself with an air of great composure. Her arrival was somewhat tardy, and every eye was fastened on her, as she threaded her way through the crowd, who respectfully fell back and made room for her to pass; and it was whispered from one to another that “she had come to clear him,” while one or two, as venturesome as they were imaginative, added that “her testimony was to be the price of Carrig.” The ordeal was not nearly as trying as Geraldine had anticipated.
Lord Scariff, Mr. Hare, and the coroner (a hard man to hounds) were no strangers. She was duly sworn, and gave her evidence with astonishing coolness and self-possession.
Yes, she had been with Mr. Money the previous night. Between the hours of ten and twelve? Yes. When the body had been found it was she who first had noticed it and drawn Mr. Money’s attention to it. She understood that Casey Walshe was not then dead; but Mr. Money had requested her not to—to approach.
“Faix, and no wonder,” muttered a gruff voice from among the jurors.
In brief, Miss O’Bierne’s evidence was so conclusive and distinct that Mr. Denis Money was immediately acquitted, and a verdict brought in of “Murder against some person or persons unknown.”
Geraldine made great haste to escape from the room. There seemed to her excited brain something in its atmosphere that savoured of tragedy and sudden death. She had studiously kept her eyes averted from the prisoner as she gave her evidence; she could not endure to see him sitting there between two constables; but ere she left she looked full at Denis—a look that perhaps told a tale.
The instant she had quitted the court she was caught by the sergeant’s wife, who said, “Miss, dear, there’s Mrs. Money within in my room, taking on awful, and she bid me bring you at wance. She wants to spake to ye.”
There, indeed, in Mrs. Conlan’s little bedroom, sitting on a rush chair, in floods of tears, was Mrs. Money. Nothing Napoleonic here; all ambition, all dignity, all objection to Geraldine completely extinguished, and her face buried in a patchwork quilt. As they entered, she rose up, with a fresh burst of tears, and sobbed out, “Miss O’Bierne—Geraldine, only for you—only for you,” and she sat down again, choking with emotion.
This woman, who had led what is called the “sheltered life,” had been overwhelmed at being seized, as it were, suddenly by some grim figure, and shown what was meant by the terrors of the law, brought within measurable distance of a hideous murder, a family disgrace, an ignominious death. The ready hand of her own imagination had painted in the picture. Twelve hours had added years to her life; her face looked worn, wrinkled, weak; her hair was disheveled, her eyes red with weeping, her usually trim toilet was slovenly. And this girl had lifted the load—dispersed the horror.
“My dear,” she gasped, “how can we ever thank you?”
“It was a mere accident my being with him—a fortunate accident as it has happened.”
“And why were you with him?”
“I did not go out to meet him, Mrs. Money, you may be sure,” she answered haughtily.
“Yes, my dear, I am sure,” she responded, very meekly. “But tell me more—tell me all.” And, thus adjured, Geraldine told her all.
“I shall never forget what I suffered last night when the constable came and told us of the murder; the hours—it seemed years—of anguish I spent, for things looked so black, and Denis has such a hasty temper, and I knew he could not endure that man. I have been greatly to blame, and I hope you will forgive me, Geraldine. It was I who was against Denis and you, not Mr. Money. I always wanted Denis to marry another girl; I don’t now. Forgive me, dear, and let me take you home; it will be a proof that you will be friends with, me, I hope, always. Yes, come with me now, at once, to what will be your home, won’t you?” And she drew her down to her and kissed her. “You cannot refuse, can you?”
“No, Mrs. Money, you are very kind.”
“Miss O’Bierne, here’s some one axing to see you,” and Mrs. Conlan, without further preamble, ushered in Katty Shea. She was wet, and wore her pilot jacket turned up over her ears and a little red handkerchief tied over her head. In her hand she carried a venerable cotton umbrella, which she was vainly endeavouring to close.
“There, bad scran to ye!” she exclaimed angrily. “You’ve been inside out three times in five minutes. The wind is raging like a lion. Oh, Miss O’Bierne, dear!”—not taking the slightest notice of her companion—“I hear as you have got him off. The darlin’ young gentleman. But you bid to come along wid me this very blessed minute to old Tim Mooney up the hill.”
“Impossible, my good woman,” expostulated Mrs. Money. “How could you ask the young lady in such weather? I really wonder at you!”
“The young lady will come, ma’am,” replied Katty, with great determination. “Miss, dear, the old man is just on the last, and his breath won’t lave him till he sees you. He has been calling for ye this whole day; and, what with the tearing of the storm, and the news of the murder, not wan of them had the spunk to come and fetch ye except meself, and, faix, I was nearly blown to tatthers coming down the long boreen, and I’ll not decave ye, the whin bushes is flat, and sticks flying, and the air strong enough to carry a stone wall.”
“You won’t think of going,” said Mrs. Money impressively.
“Oh, yes, I must. I’ve known this old man since I was a small child, and he thinks a great deal of me.”
“And sure, every wan does that,” broke in Katty.
“Then couldn’t you take the brougham,” urged Mrs. Money.
A loud, shrill laugh from Katty. “The brougham! The brougham would look well upon the side of Clorane Hill. Why, it would be blown into the next parish. And sure there’s no road—an ass’s car has the divil’s own work to get there at any time—forby to-day.”
“We can go across the fields,” said Geraldine. Then turning to Katty, “I am quite ready to start now. Come along.”
“And when are you coming to us? When am I to fetch you? What am I to say to Denis?” demanded Mrs. Money, with breathless anxiety. Seeing the girl hesitate, she said:
“Remember that you belong to us now. I look on this expedition as sheer madness. And, pray, what will Denis say?”
“I am very sorry, Mrs. Money; but you must please let me go. Denis will tell you that I am going to keep a promise. He knows all about it; he was with me when I made it. One of the old people on the hill is dying—he was a friend of my grandfather’s.”
“And when will you return?”
“I shall try and be back at Racehill before dark.”
“Shall I come for you?”
“No. I must pack my things and collect all my belongings. I would rather do it all at once than ever have to return. I am not very fond of Racehill.”
“Then I shall come over to-morrow—at what hour? About two o’clock?”
“I shall be quite ready then.”
“Ah, then, Miss O’Bierne!” cried Katty, impatiently. “Can’t ye not be blathering here when the old man is dying. Come aff at wance if yer coming at all,” and Geraldine obeyed her immediately.
As they made their way out to the road, Geraldine exchanged a few eager words with Denis, who joined her, looking somewhat grave and pale, but otherwise none the worse for his incarceration; and, in spite of Mrs. Shea’s clamour and protestations, he accompanied her a part of the way on her errand of mercy.
“Must you really go?” he remonstrated. “It is a frightful day, and my mother wants to take you home with her. She says this expedition is sheer madness.”
“’Tis Tim Mooney, sir. The breath of him won’t lave his body till he sees her. He’s just holding on to his sowl till he bids her good-by,” explained Katty. “Sure, you wouldn’t grudge a few moments to the ould man, when ye have fifty years before ye.”
“I must go, indeed, Denis. You remember my promise. I’m not afraid of bad weather. It would always be on my conscience if I refused poor old Tim’s last wish, and you know he has had such a hard life.”
“Of course, if it’s old Tim, you must go. A promise is a promise, whether to him or to me. I am coming with you, but I don’t fancy your being out in this high wind.”
“Indeed, Denis, you must not think of it,” she rejoined emphatically. “You won’t be offended, I know, but they expect me alone. You see, you are a stranger to the Mooney’s.”
“Then, at least, I may come and meet you,” he urged. “It is now,” looking at his watch, “three o’clock.”
“No, no. I may be kept till dusk, or longer—I shall stay till the end”—she added, lowering her voice. “But come over to Racehill very early to-morrow—about half-past ten or eleven.”
“I don’t call that very early,” he grumbled. “Well, at any rate, you are coming home tomorrow,” and he paused and took both her hands in his and looked straight into her eyes, utterly regardless of Mrs. Shea.
“Ah, see now, this sort of work and delay won’t do at all, Miss Geraldine,” burst out Katty. “Ye bid to hurry, to hurry, to hurry, when ye know very well as every breath is drawing old Tim nearer the next world.”
They were now at the style leading to the path across the fields, and she added, authoritatively, “Come no further, sir, av ye plase; you are only holding her back from a pious work; and won’t ye have her all to yourself from this out forever and ever, Amen?” As she spoke Mrs. Shea climbed over the obstacle with surprising agility, and began to breast the hill.
“Yes, Denis, and your father and mother have scarcely had a word with you yet. We must not be selfish. Do not come any further now. We shall have all to-morrow,” and she looked at him, her face radiant with happiness, then laid her hand on his arm for a moment with a shy caress, said “Good-by, dear,” stepped quickly over the style, and ran after Katty, who was struggling desperately with the combined forces of a high hill and a high wind.
Denis remained motionless, still gazing after them. Their progress was but slow. For an instant Geraldine turned back; the storm had given her a bright colour and blown adrift a strand of her long dark hair. With one hand she held her hat, with the other she waved him a playful adieu.
The beautiful, brilliant face, the slender, nymph-like figure, thrown out into relief against the hillside, made an exquisite picture for an artist—or a lover. The latter removed his cap and held it up in answer to her signals, and the wild west wind brought down to him on its sweeping wings one thrilling little word, the word “To-morrow.”
It was barely ten o’clock, and Denis Money, booted and spurred, was waiting for his horse when he descried a familiar cover car lumbering up the avenue. Instantly recognizing two old white faces who were peering out, he ran down the steps to receive them and conduct them indoors.
Mr. and Mrs. Money were sitting in the library discussing matters domestic and financial, when Denis suddenly ushered in “the Miss Dwyers.”
“I hope you will excuse our coming at this unceremonious hour, Mrs. Money?” said Narcissa, advancing, with a black satin bag over her arm, and looking unusually pale and grim.
“Oh, certainly. Delighted to see you at any time. Miss Dwyer. Won’t you come near the fire?” said the hostess, who had by no means recovered her habitual serenity nor her experience of the feverish miseries of the previous day.
“No, thank you,” seating herself bolt upright, “I’ve come on an important, and, ahem! rather unpleasant, and, probably, thankless errand,” here she frowned at Lucy, who was about to speak. “I wish to have an interview with you and Mr. Money respecting my goddaughter, Geraldine O’Bierne.”
“Yes. Indeed, we felt most deeply, deeply grateful to her for her testimony,” said Mrs. Money, whose tone was pitched in a very subdued key.
“I’m not here to discuss that. What I am here to discuss is this,” and out of her embroidered bag she produced Geraldine’s note. “I should have received this yesterday afternoon, but it only reached me late last night. It is the apology for my very early visit.”
“That will do, Narcissa, that will do,” interrupted Lucy, in a shrill high voice.
Mrs. Money attempted to speak, but Miss Dwyer silenced her with a peremptory wave of the hand, and Denis, who had hitherto been standing, suddenly dropped into a deep armchair, and gave his whole attention to his fiancee’s letter.
“‘My dear God-mother’ (read Miss Narcissa)
“‘I have been in great trouble since I saw you; indeed, in many, within a few hours. Last evening I had a quarrel with Mr. Scully. He has sold Dancing Girl, and he threatened me in such a way that I felt I could no longer remain at Racehill. I would sooner, far, take a situation, or even beg. Perhaps I ought to have stayed indoors and slept on my anger, but I could not. I determined, as there was a moon, to walk to Creeshe, and lay my troubles before you.
“‘And now I must tell you what I ought to have placed first. Mr. Denis Money has asked me to marry him. He loves me and I love him. But I told him I would never be his wife without the full consent of his father and mother. He overtook me driving and got out and walked. I told him that I was leaving Racehill, I could no longer endure it, and was going to ask you for shelter. He persuaded me to turn back for one night, and he informed me that his father would not consent to an engagement between us, not, at any rate, for two years. I can understand this perfectly. I am not well educated, I am poor—in short, it means that he disapproves—it means that there is an end to our wishes. I am too proud, as you know, to enter a family where I am not wanted, much and truly as I love Denis. He drove me back, and before you read this you will have heard of the murder of Casey Walshe, and how we found him on the road. Denis Money has been arrested and kept at the police barrack, where I shall appear as witness. If this should be in time, dear, dear Miss Narcissa, come and stand by me. I have no one to look to but old Biddy, who greatly disapproves. When the inquest is over, and I have done my duty, may I go to Creeshe and stay with you until you find me some humble situation? Racehill is more than I can bear. Mr. Scully is ill, Tilly has run away, Casey is dead. I shall await your answer with anxiety. Excuse great haste, and this hideous scrawl.
“Now, Mr. Money, is it true that your son has offered for Geraldine O’Bierne and that you objected?” asked Miss Narcissa, addressing him precisely as if she were on the bench and Mr. Money in the dock.
“Yes, it is quite true, but—”
“If it’s her want of education, she is as well-informed as most. The want of money I don’t deny. Her undesirable associations—well, is that her fault? And, mind you, they are only associations, not relations, ahem! Her blood is as good as the queen’s. Now, with respect to yourself, Mr. Money, it’s altogether another matter. Do you know who you are?”
“Does he know who he is?” put in Mrs. Money, with an air of hopeless bewilderment.
“Do I know who I am? Well, yes, ma’am, I do. I am Anthony Money.”
“Not a bit of it,” rejoined the old lady, who was undoubtedly quite mad—raving mad. “You are Anthony Mooney, old Dan Mooney’s grandson. You are Mooney of Clorane—Clorane—a dirty little village at the back of the hill; and your grandfather was born in the end house—the one with the two crooked windows. God! To think of his grandson living in Carrig!” piously casting up her eyes.
“You need not ‘Madam’ me. And I got the story all from yourself. You told me your grandfather was Irish, and went over to England—the offshoot of some great family from a place called Clorane. Ha, ha! That he was poor. Indeed he was—no poorer; but Peter was always a long-headed chap, saving of his coppers.”
“Miss Dwyer—Miss Dwyer,” broke in Mr. Money, “you must allow me to speak.”
“You shall have your turn presently. Your father got on; he wrote and sent home money. He was in an office, drawing good pay—a hundred a year—and educating himself. Then the old people died, and there was no more. But just bits of stories came over that. Peter was doing well, and then they faded away. Why? Because he had dropped the ‘o’—the figure ought—out of the name, and called himself after what he liked best in the whole wide world—and that was Money. He married money—you married money; and I suppose this young man here,” turning sharply on Denis, “will have to marry money. Only he seems more disposed for love. Lord! if old Brian O’Bierne could only come out of the family vault and hear that a grandson of old Dan Mooney’s was too fine to marry his granddaughter,” and she went off into a scream of derisive laughter.
“Miss Dwyer,” burst in Mrs. Money, “you are labouring under some monstrous mistake.”
“No, sir, I am not,” speaking directly to her husband. “I can prove every word I say,” she continued inflexibly, “and can bring the whole country to bear me out. Why, it’s in your face, man alive! Are you not sitting there and looking at me with the very eyes of old Dan himself? There’s no shame in it at all, only I am that fixed in old notions that I cannot say I like to see you lolling there, master of all the O’Bierne belongings, living in their ancestral home, while your own home by rights is a tumble-down two-roomed cabin. Yes, and with Mooney living in it now,” she pursued, pitiless in her recollections. “Your Uncle Mike has still the breath in him, and ’tis your own cousin Paddy—a byword for drink—that’s driving our cover car this minute. It was a great pity, when you were anxious to get into grand society, that you came so near home.”
“Have you done, ma’am?” rising to his feet.
“No, I have not, but I soon will be.”
“What proof have you for this outrageous rigmarole? How can you corroborate this monstrous tale?”
“By your own words. Clorane, that gave me a start—and your Irish ways and traits; you have Irish eyes.”
“Is that all?” with a gesture of angry impatience.
“No; I have letters,” rummaging in her bag and producing several. “Here is one, ahem! I’ll just read it,” and, clearing her throat, she began at once:
“‘May 22, 1834.
“‘Stanhope St., L’pool.
“‘Dear Father—I am doing very well and in good health, and I hope this finds you all the same, as it leaves me. I inclose Bank Order for ten pounds; it will pay your rent or buy a couple of yearling heifers, or a few boneens. I am getting well used to this big town, but I often wish for a sniff of the hill air, the air of a turf fire, and a bit of bacon. I hope the family at Carrig is well. Give my humble respects to the young master and say I am getting on finely.
“‘Your son, P. Mooney.’
“‘P.S.—Has Judy Shea gone to Ameriky?’
“Here is one fifteen years later,” continued Miss Narcissa:
“‘Dear Brother Timothy—
“‘I’m about getting married to a young lady. It was well I never thought of coming back for Judy Shea. The young lady’s name is Corder, she has a large fortune, and her father is going to take me into partnership, and I have saved some money, which is well invested. I intend leaving this part of Liverpool and going more out into the country; but it’s all sea and sand, and different to the green hills and woods of Carrig. I am sorry to hear that my father is so failed, and that the cow died. I would like to see you all again, but I do not know how it could be managed. My intended wife has no fancy for Ireland, or the Irish. I inclose forty pounds to make the place tight. Is Joe Kelly still thatching? I never have time to see even the sights of Liverpool. I am in my office all day long, or else at the docks, or on ’Change. You can still address to me here. My letters will be forwarded.
“‘I am your affect, brother,
“‘P.S.—Be sure you put Esquire. I’m not Mr. Mooney now.’
“Now what do you say to that?” handing him both letters, with a smile that was not altogether benevolent.
Mr. Money put on his glasses, and examined them gravely.
“Well,” looking up after a very long silence, “my mother’s name was Corder, and this is my father’s handwriting. I believe what you have told me is perfectly true.”
“It’s a sad come down,” broke in Miss Lucy.
“It is some vile joke,” gasped Mrs. Money, breathlessly.
“No, my dear; Miss Dwyer has pieced my pedigree together, and it seems that I am of a very obscure origin,” said her husband, with surprising dignity and fortitude.
“Well, at any rate, you were always respectable,” observed Miss Dwyer, consolingly. “The Mooneys were never Terry Alts, or White Boys, or thieves.”
“And do you mean to say,” said Mrs. Money, putting her hands up to her temples, “that Mr. Money’s father was just a labouring man, that his uncle is alive, and lives in a cabin?”
“Yes, on about four shillings a week.”
“And when this is known—when it is the joke of the country—”
“It will never be known, but just within these, walls, excepting by the parish priest—who knows everything.”
“And what do you want me to do, Miss Dwyer?” inquired Anthony, somewhat grimly.
“I want you to give back the lands to the O’Biernes. It’s a great and godly chance for a Mooney! The O’Biernes were always good to you and yours, and never pressed you for rent. One of the Mooneys was in the stables here for years and years.”
Mr. Money stood up; he put his hand over his eyes, then took it away again. He looked pale, dazed and confused.
“You fancy Carrig,” pursued the old lady eagerly. “You are drawn to the place by your very heartstrings. No wonder, when your people were tenants on the land for generations! You have plenty of money, Mr. Mooney; pay off the mortgages; let your son—a very personable, well-living, well-liked young man—bring the last of the O’Biernes under the old roof, and take the name. Your descendants will be O’Biernes of Carrig—think of that! Of course, she need never know—and, indeed, never must know—what I’ve told you; for, to be plain with you, I doubt if Geraldine would marry a Mooney!”
And, having at last come to an end of what she had to say, Miss Dwyer crossed her hands upon her bag, sniffed several times, and glanced over at Mrs. Money, as much as to intimate that she was now welcome to speak—if she could.
After a long and expressive pause Mrs. Money found her tongue.
“What you have taken so much trouble to discover, and have expressed so cleverly, Miss Dwyer, is, I have no hesitation in saying, a most painful blow to me. No, and, I am not ashamed to own it, a keen disappointment. I have always respected, revered, good family; but after yesterday,” glancing at Denis, “I believe I can bear anything. After seeing our dear boy brought in between two policemen and arraigned as a murderer I can stand any shock. Miss O’Bierne behaved in a most noble manner. Any reluctance we, I, may have felt to the engagement is gone. So, in one way, Miss Dwyer, you might have spared yourself the trouble.”
“I am glad to hear it,” very shortly.
“The carriage is ordered, and I am going to Racehill myself to fetch her at two o’clock.”
“That’s odd, as odd as letters crossing; for it was just what Lucy and I were about to do on our way from this.”
“I was anxious to bring her yesterday, only she was sent for to attend the death-bed of some old man—and, now that I think of it, his name was Mooney. Anthony!” turning quickly to her husband, “you need never ask me to put the ‘o’ back into the name.”
“Well, the Mooneys are nearly extinct, if that’s any comfort,” remarked Miss Dwyer impressively; “and, of course, not one soul but our five selves knows anything, and all will be exactly the same as ever.”
“One other person shall know,” said Denis, standing up, “and that is Miss O’Bierne. Not that it will make the least difference to her.”
“And, at any rate, you, Denis, have noble blood in your veins, on your mother’s side—the Lorraines,” said Mrs. Money, rather piteously.
“The world seems all topsy-turvy,” exclaimed Anthony. “It will take me some time to shake my mind into a new shape, and to order myself lowly and reverently to all my betters,” he added, with a faint smile.
“Why should you mind, father?” said his son, putting his hand on his shoulder affectionately. “For my part, I am proud of my grandfather, who, without guide or friend, went out into the world to seek his fortune, and who made ours. I can only say that I am greatly obliged to him, and that I, for one, am not the least ashamed of him.”
“Denis Money,” said Miss Dwyer, rising, walking over to him, and taking his hand, “you are a gentleman.”
“Thank you, Miss Dwyer,” with a grave bow.
“Yes, you are, and I cannot say more, and I do not care who your grandfather was” (which was an immense concession from Miss Narcissa).
“And now, Miss Dwyer, I hope you will excuse me, for I’m just off to Racehill,” and, with a significant smile, he added, “and I suppose you know my errand?”
“Yes, I suppose you are going as an outrider, and will bring Geraldine back with you. Well, good luck go with you; but I need not throw my slipper after you to-day,” and she beamed upon him almost as if he was her own lover.
“I hope, Miss Dwyer, that you and your sister will stay to lunch?” said Mrs. Money, with unexpected hospitality—the result of a glance from her stepson. “Pray do—we shall lunch early.”
“Yes. We will take no refusal, Miss Dwyer,” added her husband cordially. “You must both remain here this afternoon and welcome Geraldine O’Bierne home.”
When Denis Money rode off to Racehill—to pay what he hoped would be his final visit to the trainer’s home—he was unquestionably one of the happiest young men on whom the sun had risen that day. He was about to claim his love and to bring her to the home of her own people. Even the recent announcement of his pedigree had not had the smallest sobering effect upon his high spirits; indeed, as far as looks and bearing went, Denis might have had the blood of all the Howards in his veins; and as he and Black Pat sped across the demesne they made a truly gallant pair.
Miss Narcissa Dwyer gazed after him from the library window with shining eyes and a faint, unaccustomed colour in either pale cheek. She was in a state of feverish excitement; her heart was beating once more as it had throbbed when she was seventeen. She was full of exultation, expectation, and deep thankfulness.
To think that the Almighty had spared her to see her dreams realized—to see Brian’s granddaughter, the sole representative of the O’Biernes, enter Carrig as its future mistress. She could scarcely contain herself, so eager and restless was her condition. She fidgeted incessantly, she got up, she sat down again, took off her gloves, resumed them, and all the time her eyes kept wandering to the clock. It was an immense relief when Mr. Money volunteered to show her improvements in the orangery, and she accepted his invitation with great alacrity.
He himself was not insensible to the situation; he had had his aspirations, which included a secret weakness for a title, and would have welcomed Lady Flora theoretically, though personally he did not admire her. Lady Flora was silly, vapid, shallow, but a duke’s daughter, and he had always been more or less under the spell of the dark-haired, bewitching Irish girl—his son’s choice. She would be a distinguished addition to his family. His family! Well, at any rate, his future daughter-in-law was as well born as she was beautiful, and he would welcome her gladly to Carrig. He and Denis had always been capital friends, and the glow of Denis’s happiness cast a pleasant reflection on himself. But the Mooneys of Clorane! No, this was not a pleasant subject to contemplate. Miss Dwyer’s recent revelations had violently dislocated many fixed ideas. And Carrig was the great place his father had so eloquently painted. Well, he was the owner of Carrig now, and all the lands on which his forefathers had laboured. Why should not Denis assume the name and arms of the O’Biernes? And then all the ancient crests and emblazonments would not appear so incongruous. Denis, and not Geraldine, should change his name on his marriage. Denis O’Bierne—yes, it sounded better far than Denis Mooney. These ideas were seething in his brain and taking form and life as Anthony paced the marble flags of the orangery, and kept up a fitful conversation with Miss Narcissa Dwyer.
She had her own thoughts (also concealed by speech), and, to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth, was speculating gravely upon her companion’s age and wondering how many years would elapse before her darling child would actually enjoy her own.
“We shall be wanting some of these orange flowers soon,” she complacently remarked, as she touched a spray.
“Yes, I suppose so. Happy is the wooing that is not long a-doing.”
“This is the end of February,” said Miss Narcissa. “What do you say to April? May is out of the question.”
“My dear Miss Dwyer, you don’t imagine that I shall be allowed to fix the day? All I can say is the sooner the better.”
“To which I say Amen,” she returned emphatically. “I’m getting very old, Mr. Money, my time may reasonably be numbered by weeks—by days;” then her voice broke as she added, “I cannot tell you what this is to me—this marriage. Carrig and Creeshe have stood by one another for generations—what has touched one has touched the other—and I need scarcely say that this is a day of heartfelt joy and thanksgiving for Creeshe.”
“I’m sure it is, and I hope that in future we shall see a great deal of you and your sister; you stand, in a way, as loco parentis to Miss O’Bierne.”
“Why don’t you call her Geraldine?”
“Geraldine, then. T have always liked her from the very first.”
“And yet you held back.”
“I was persuaded—well, well, we will say no more about it.”
“No. I see you have quantities of white flowers, lilies, azaleas, tulips, no need to wait for April. Why not have the wedding next month?”
“I am agreeable to anything, Miss Dwyer, you had better talk to Geraldine and Denis; perhaps you would like to see the hothouses?”
Miss Lucy had, in the meanwhile, remained in the library with Mrs. Money. They were both rather silent, and Miss Lucy was evidently depressed, and very far from sharing her sister’s joy and exultation; she was tremulous, shaky, almost tearful, and rather stiffly repelled Mrs. Money’s kind solicitude, assuring her that “nothing ailed her but a little lightness of the head, the effects of an early breakfast and the cover car.”
Mrs. Money had her own reflections. Some of her little household family gods had been ruthlessly shattered; her mind could scarcely grasp the situation, nor take in the fact that her husband’s uncle was a superannuated old servant, his nephew a drunken car-driver, his ancestral halls a cabin on the Horseleap Hills! Well, at any rate, this girl, Denis’s bride, would bring dignity and long descent as her dower, and bridge the hideous chasm in the family pedigree.
By half-past one o’clock Denis had returned, with his horse in a lather; dismay and anxiety were depicted on his face as he burst into the dining-room where Mr. and Mrs. Money and the Miss Dwyers sat at lunch.
“She is not at Racehill,” he announced, abruptly, “Geraldine is not there.”
“Nonsense, my dear,” exclaimed Mrs. Money.
“No, I saw the old cook, and she has never been home all night. They believed she was at Creeshe,” fixing his eyes on Miss Dwyer.
“She is not at Creeshe,” rejoined Miss Dwyer, laying down a very tremulous fork, and sensible of a strange creeping fear.
“Oh, Miss Dwyer, where is she?” demanded the distracted young man. “Where is she? You must know.”
“Wait, my boy, don’t meet trouble half way,” said his father. “Now, let us think it over quietly. At three o’clock yesterday she went up the hill; she was to return to Racehill before dark.”
“Yes, I walked a part of the way with her myself; she was with Katty Shea, who had come to fetch her.”
“I have it,” exclaimed Miss Dwyer, triumphantly. “She has stopped on the hill all night. They would not let her face the weather.”
“Beg pardon, sir,” said a footman, entering suddenly, with a scared white face, and evidently under the influence of some overwhelming emotion, “but they are saying that”—he paused as if he was unable to articulate.
“Man, what are they saying?” demanded Denis, with a stamp of his foot. “Quick, quick, quick!”
“That the gale, that Miss O’Bierne—Ob, sir, that I should live to tell it,” and he choked again. “That old Carrig came down last night in the great storm, and that—that Miss O’Bierne lies buried under it!”
Before he bad ceased speaking every one was on their feet, except Miss Lucy, who had fainted.
“It is not true, William Driscoll,” cried Miss Dwyer, in a strange hoarse key. “It is impossible”—impossible that at the very moment of realization the hope of her old age should be extinguished.
“Oh, Miss Dwyer, do you think I would make up such an awful piece of news?” asked the man, with tears steadily rolling down his cheeks. “A boy brought the word this minute. The whole castle fell in last night, and they were getting the stones off av her—he came for a pick.”
As for Denis Money, he had not waited to hear more particulars. He was like a man who had lost his senses, and was already galloping to Carrig. As he drew near the hill, urging his horse at headlong speed up the long boreen, he caught sight of the keep, and saw that the old mansion had indeed fallen in. As he approached, at racing speed, over the fields and loose stone walls, he was aware that a large concourse of people were gathered round the ruin. He noticed a sudden stir among the crowd, and one of them broke away from the rest, and came running to meet him—a handsome, eager-eyed youth, with the wind blowing back his curly hair, his face, radiant. He leaped a stone wall with the agility of a deer, shouting out as he ran, “She’s all right, your honour. She is safe.”
Well he and the whole hill knew that this pale horseman, whose name might have been Death, was Miss O’Bierne’s young gentleman, and one touch of nature makes the whole world kin.
“’Tis true, your honour. Glory be to God, and not a hair of her head the worse.”
The sudden revulsion of feeling was so overwhelming that Denis Money could not speak. The whole world seemed to reel round him. The messenger of good news had a sweetheart of his own—pretty Nora Driscoll—and he had a fellow-feeling for this Englishman, who sat looking at him with a face as set and white as that of a corpse, and whose trembling hands could scarcely hold the reins or trembling lips articulate a word.
“Where is she?” he stammered out at last.
“There above, at Katty Shea’s, your honour.”
“What happened?” turning the head of his panting horse toward Mrs. Shea’s cabin, the other keeping pace on foot.
“Ye mind the terrible storm last evening. Miss O’Bierne was on the hill, over at Tim Mooney’s. He died—may he rest in glory!—above five o’clock; and she set off home when the dusk was falling and the wind awful, but she would not be said nor led; she just bid to go, for she was never afraid of anything.”
“Yes, yes, I know.”
“Well, then, just after dark there was a frightful sound, like the bursting of a hundred cannon, and we all knew then as ould Carrig was down at last. This morning about twelve o’clock, when people were home for their dinner, pokin’ round, never suspicioning any wan was hurted, they noticed two dogs prowling about, and they saw a bit of dark stuff sticking out through the stones, and when with that they found Miss O’Bierne’s hat the news spread like oil—as bad news does—an’ all the boys as were collecting for to wake Tim Mooney came running around, ready to tear up the place with their bare hands, and when, after sweating and striving and working like black niggers, what did they come upon at long last but Paddy Pinafore as dead as a herring, and may be just as well, for the stick he had with him—a blackthorn—told a queer old tale, being coated with blood and hair; and what between that and the bare footmarks, the polis has no manner of doubt now as to who done away with Casey Walshe.”
“Yes, yes. But, first of all, I want to hear about Miss O’Bierne.”
“Well, then, yer honour, it appears as the storm being beyond anything and her not able to kape her feet, she ran into the castle for shelter, and Paddy was going to warn her seemingly when the place fell and nailed him on the doorstep. She was inside, and caught by one of the floors, between that and the main wall, and the whole smash passed clean over her. She was not a hate the worse, barrin’ the fright and the cold and maybe a few scratches. It was Paddy’s dogs found her. We saw them hunting and scratching, and, begad, sure enough there was some one behind the old floor safe and sound. May she live long years!”
“I want you to do something more for me. I know your face, but not your name,” said Denis.
“I’m Pierce Sullivan, yer honour, and sure don’t I work in the grounds at Carrig?”
“Well, Pierce, will you run your very best to Carrig and tell them the good news—the sooner they know it the better—while I go on to Mrs. Shea’s. I’ll never forget you, or your name, as long as I live,” and he looked down at Pierce with an expression in his eyes that said far more than mere words. Pierce, with an eager nod, turned about, and started off at a long swinging trot, while Denis spurred Black Pat up to Katty Shea’s door. Katty herself ran out to receive him, saying:
“Oh! but me knees is still trimbling under me, and didn’t I nearly lose me life wid the fright I got this day! She’s not a hair the worse, sir, only nearly froze to death. I have her in at the fires, and Nora Driscoll waiting on her; hand and foot, making her a sup of warm tay, and haven’t I vowed four candles to St. Brigid and four to the Blessed Virgin, for sure, only for the curiosity of them dogs of Paddy’s, she might be in under the floor till next Christmas twelvemonth.”
“Can I see her?” dismounting as he spoke. In one day he seemed to have aged ten years.
“An’ to be sure ye can. Here, give me a hoult of the baste,” taking Black Pat rudely by the head. “Come here to me now. Troth I see he doesn’t like ladies,” as Pat threw up his head and snorted. “Miss O’Bierne, here is Mr. Money for ye,” she announced, as she thrust open the cabin door with her foot. Geraldine, with her beautiful long hair flowing loosely over her shoulders, and wrapped in Nora’s best blue “cape” cloak, was seated before the fire. She looked pale and haggard, but otherwise none the worse for her recent experience. Nora was standing by her—pretty, blushing Nora, Pierce Sullivan’s sweetheart; and, whether prompted by a fellow-feeling or overwhelmed with shyness, she hastily withdrew with a muttered excuse into Mrs. Shea’s “room,” leaving Denis and Geraldine alone.
In what seemed to them an extraordinarily short time—surely not five minutes—Mr. and Mrs. Money arrived. They had come on a jaunting car as far as practicable, and had climbed the rest. Poor Mrs. Money, she had not walked so far or so fast for years. Purple and panting, she arrived to take Geraldine away, to fetch her home from Katty’s Shea’s cabin. Katty was beaming with pride and joy and unsurpassed importance. Her little kitchen was “choked up with quality,” as she subsequently expressed it, and, being a shrewd old woman, she was fully alive to the fact that her humble home was the scene of a great event; it was from under her thatched roof that Mr. Money had come to fetch the O’Bierne’s daughter home to Carrig. The outside car had gallantly struggled up the hill. The two ladies were to venture down upon it, and as they seated themselves a sympathetic crowd assembled around to witness their departure, and half a dozen hands busied themselves in arranging Nora’s blue cloak over Miss O’Bierne’s knees. Denis and his father were to follow on foot. “Who would believe that there were so many people on this hill,” said the latter, as he looked about him. “What is the name of it? I’ve never been up here before. “
“It’s Clorane, your honour,” said Katty promptly, “but not a quarter of them lives here, sure this is the poorest and wretchedest corner of the whole estate; the neighbours is come from all parts to attend the wake of old Tim Mooney, who died yesterday highly respected, and is being waked now.”
Denis looked significantly at his father. The same thought evidently struck them both, for, to the inexpressible surprise of Katty and her friend, side by side they set off toward the Mooneys’ long ill-thatched cabin, the home of their ancestors. The amazed mourners fell back and made way for the two gentlemen as they entered. This was, indeed, the most unexpected honour—the owner of Carrig to come in person, no less, to see the last of one of the labourers on the estate. It argued well for the future. The Englishman had a kind and feeling heart.
Denis and his father removed their hats and looked about them. As they stood inside the door of the dim and crowded cabin many a pair of keen eyes stole questioning and mistrustful glances at the visitors. What had brought them? They were Britishers born and bred. They were not even members of the old faith. They were not looking for votes, nor for evidence. Certainly the strangers seemed out of place in that smoky, squalid kitchen. Mr. Money, spare, gentlemanly, and upright, in his costly fur-trimmed coat, his son, with his handsome open face and independent bearing, might well be some young lord. Little, little, did the gaping crowd guess that they were gazing upon the late Timothy Mooney’s next-of-kin.
The coffin was on a long table, and within it lay the old man, clothed in a coarse white flannel “habit.” His knotted, toil-worn hands were crossed upon his breast, his venerable features looked surprisingly dignified and refined, and his expression was that of one who had at last entered upon rest and peace.
At the foot of the corpse was placed a blue delft plate, already almost covered with shillings and half-crowns, subscriptions from the assembled company toward masses for the repose of old Tim’s soul (as well as the expenses of the refreshments attending his obsequies).
The neighbours were seated round the apartment in rows two and three deep. Pipes, porter, whisky, and tea had been liberally dispensed. Also cake. Each barony—nay, parish—has its own particular and rigid etiquette respecting wakes; a gigantic currant cake was the indispensable adjunct to ceremonies at Clorane. Without it a wake would have been a poor, miserable, and informal affair. On this occasion the cake was present in all its glory—solid, stodgy, and conspicuous. Also conspicuous on the very same chair which Denis had provided for her late husband sat the widow Mooney enthroned, wearing a dress and face suitable to the occasion, and supported on either hand by several women, wearing bonnets, and evidently her most important acquaintances. There had been a sudden lull in the babel of sounds as the two unexpected guests entered the kitchen. Mr. Money looked around, and noted through the dim atmosphere the narrow windows, the uneven mud floor, the blackened rafters; and this cabin had been the birthplace of his father! However, this was no time for contemplation or meditation. He turned to address a few kind words to Mrs. Mooney, to whom Denis had introduced him—yes, Mrs. Mooney, his aunt by marriage! She stood up, rolling the hem of her apron nervously in her fingers, and almost incoherent from the combined effects of this grand “showoff” to her acquaintance, the importance of her present position as “a lone widow”—and treble X-porter.
“Faix, I don’t wonder as yer honour did not make me out for the widder not at first,” she exclaimed, “as I’m many years younger than Tim. I need not tell ye, yes, he was a good husband, though he had his failings. I’m sure he would be a proud man if he could see your honour at his wake. He always had a terrible opinion of anything out of Carrig—if it was only an ass itself.”
Then as Mr. Money laid a clean five-pound note on the blue plate her emotion altogether overcame her. She struggled heroically for a second, and finally burst into hysterical tears.
“I won’t disturb you further, Mrs. Mooney,” he said. “I merely came to say that I propose to defray all the funeral expenses.”
“Oh, sir,” she gasped, “I know as the Carrig folk always had a wish for the Mooneys, but they never went so far as to bury them afore. It’s—it’s too much—too much entirely.”
“No, I feel a particular interest in your husband, and I am extremely sorry that I never saw him alive. Let him be interred with every respect.”
“Then, I suppose, I may go—to a hearse—and feathers—and a headstone—and crape mourning?” she asked between her sobs.
“Certainly”—now lowering his voice; “and what are your own plans, Mrs. Mooney?”
“I’m going to Ameriky—me and me niece has that long laid out, for most of my people are in it; and, as for Tim, he hadn’t a sowl belonging to him barrin’ Paddy the driver—that drunken blaggard sitting over there in the window. Them Mooneys has died out, an’ no great loss.”
“Well, Mrs. Mooney, I will go now,” said Anthony, “but I should like to see you again shortly. Give me a call any morning before twelve o’clock, and let me know if there is anything I can do for you.” And then he and Denis made their way toward the door amid an expressive silence, and were not sorry to find themselves once more out in the crisp, cold air of a February evening.
For a few seconds after their departure there was a breathless pause, succeeded by a loud and excited buzz. A landlord! Ay, and a Protestant landlord, who had come to a wake. Did any one ever know the like? ’Tis true he was on the hills; and maybe Miss O’Bierne put him up to it; and he had given orders for a funeral, with a hearse, and had told Mrs. Mooney to give him a call. What did he mean? Mr. Money’s meaning proved to be a conundrum that baffled the whole company, and after some vigorous discussion and not a few wild guesses they unanimously gave it up.
As Anthony and his son descended the hill, and had almost reached its base, the wind carried down after them a sort of mournful lament—-a cry conveying a poignancy of anguish peculiar to the country, and once heard never forgotten.
“What is that?” asked Denis, suddenly halting to listen. “The Banshee?”
“Can you not guess?” returned his father, who had also come to a standstill. “I have never heard it, but I seem to know it well. It is the old Celtic death wail, or Irish keen.”
“And so I am only a Mooney after all!” said Denis, “though Mrs. Mooney of Clorane, for whom my father has provided, assured him that there was not a Mooney left in Ireland. That venerable man whom you took me to visit was my grand-uncle; and the poor old chap could neither read nor write. How can you ever get over all this and marry me, Miss Geraldine O’Bierne?”
Geraldine laughed, a clear girlish laugh. It was her only answer.
“Where is your pride?” he continued, gayly. “The stiff, implacable pride of the O’Biernes. Miss Narcissa declared to me that she did not believe you would ever condescend to a Mooney. A Mooney! hideous name. Just reflect.”
“I am reflecting. That Garry is very late with the horses.”
“Your ancestors were among the most powerful chiefs of the Irishy. I’ve been reading all about them in this library. They carried fire and sword into the Pale—if you have ever heard of it? They filled high commands abroad. One of them married a king’s daughter; one was with a Geraldine at the Field of the Cloth of Gold. They fought for the Desmond in the great war in Munster, and were despoiled of many possessions, scattered, and even sold into slavery. They are known in Irish history as princes, patriots, warriors, and I am descended from their humblest dependents—their kernes, ‘their serfs.’”
“Possibly, on your father’s side, but your mother had the blood of John of Gaunt in her veins, and my mother was of very low origin. So you see we are quits, that is, if it mattered one straw, which it does not; and, Denis, if you ever talk to me of my condescension again I shall—” she paused.
“Not speak to you for a whole week.”
“That is a safe promise, an empty threat, which you would never carry out.” This conversation took place in the library at Carrig, as the pair stood in one of the deep windows waiting for their horses to be brought round.
“Look, look, Denis!” exclaimed the girl, excitedly. “Look at that beautiful chestnut that Garry is leading; she seems to drift beside him like a feather. Would you not almost take her for Dancing Girl?”
“Why not take her for Dancing Girl?” he asked, composedly.
“Oh, is it? It is, it is!” clapping her hands like a child. “Oh, you dear, good Denis! what made you think of it? I am too, too happy. How did you find her?”
“She was among the stud at the fairy Rath, stabled, as you know, upon the Horseleap Mountain, fourth from the left as you entered. I sent Black Pat up to fetch her. She arrived last night just after the moon rose.”
“Do be serious and talk sensibly, you silly Denis.”
“Well, then, I wrote to Colonel Chandos and bought her, that is the simple and prosaic truth. She is looking very fit, none the worse for her little voyage, as you may see, and I will sell her to you for—a kiss!”
For once in his life Mr. Hare had actually more news in his budget than he could deal with, so many events had recently come crowding on one another’s heels. Mrs. Money’s grand ball was of itself a topic which would have lasted him handsomely for weeks, but it had been scarcely discussed—the guests, supper, successes, failures but primarily dissected—when it was wholly set aside by the murder of Casey Walshe, and now came the fall of the old castle, the miraculous escape of Geraldine O’Bierne, and, climax of all intelligence, the announcement of her engagement to the great catch of the country—the heir of Carrig.
This piece of news took the whole neighbourhood by surprise, and after the first shock of amazement had abated, it received their most enthusiastic approval.
Young Money was to assume the name and arms of the O’Biernes, and the glories of the ancient race would be once more rekindled.
Old people looked gravely into one another’s face, and recalled an ancient prophecy which said, “When Carrig falls, Carrig shall rise.” Had not this saying been fulfilled? Who could describe the various emotions of various people—of Tilly Scully, of Garry, of the Miss Dwyers? Narcissa openly proclaimed the fact that “she had taken a new lease of life”; also that the wedding was to be from Creeshe. Yes, at last Creeshe should give a bride to Carrig. She vehemently overpowered all Mr. Money’s arguments. Even Mrs. Money could not prevail against her. Geraldine might remain as a guest at Carrig, but the bride and bridegroom must not come from the same house on the wedding day. Such a thing was unheard of and outrageous. Geraldine would be married from Creeshe; she would take her goddaughter to the church, and subsequently give her away in person.
As for such an immaterial detail as the expense, this, she eagerly assured Mrs. Money, was all arranged for. She had an ample untouched found in store. To spend it on the present occasion would be to enjoy the great happiness of her whole life.
The announcement about the “store” was a compromise with her own conscience. In one sense Miss Narcissa’s rose diamond brooch and earrings and necklace were a “store.” She packed them neatly up in their old red morocco cases and dispatched them to a jeweller in Dublin, who sent in return a registered letter, containing a very handsome check.
“You see, my heart,” she said, as she sat over the fire in the boudoir with Geraldine and her sister, “it is really you who are giving yourself the wedding. The money it costs would have gone to you, being my goddaughter—and it’s my own to do as I like with—and you have a use for it now, and won’t want it later, thanks be to the Almighty!”
“But why should I not have a quiet wedding, Miss Narcissa, and just drive to church with you, and be married in my traveling dress?”
“Because it would be a terrible disappointment to rich and poor—a mean, shabby show like that—and because I choose to have my own way! All in this place, such as it is—jewels, plate, books, house, and lands—I keep untouched and in trust for our heir—a second cousin, in the Bombay Staff Corps, that I’ve never seen and don’t want to see. But he shall never say that old Narcissa or Lucy laid a finger on the Dwyer heirlooms. Everything is in its place, even to my great-grandmother’s scratchback. What I have here”—and out of her black satin bag she produced a plump roll of notes—“is my own and yours.”
“But, Miss Narcissa, I cannot and will not take it,” protested Geraldine, whose mind recalled the years and years of poverty at Creeshe, the scanty fires and food, the shabby clothes, the severe privations of the two old ladies.
“Do you want to offend me mortally?” demanded Miss Dwyer in an angry key.
“No, Miss Narcissa.”
“Do you want to disappoint me cruelly?”
“Oh, no, I hope not,” she answered meekly.
“Do you want to rob me of the only bit of joy that has come in my way for fifty years?”
“I don’t intend to rob you of anything.”
“Very well, then; hold your tongue, and do as I desire you,” she concluded, with energy. “I wrote to Scully, and he has sent restitution to the tune of one hundred pounds. That will be for your wedding clothes. I’m thinking from this that he is either going to die, or that he has some sort of a conscience. Anyhow, I hear he is very tame in himself and talking of giving up Racehill, now that you are out of it and Garry has taken on again at Carrig. Indeed, he may as well go first as last, for it was the pair of you that kept the roof over his head, and we can make a struggle to spare him and Tilly. You’ll be married in white satin, of course,” she concluded authoritatively, “and Lucy wants you to wear her lace.”
“Yes, Miss Lucy, and I will take the money Mr. Scully sends. But the wedding expenses—No, I—”
Here Miss Narcissa leaned over and put a hand across her mouth, saying:
“Did I ever know such a girl! Listen now. All these years I have kept my diamonds, meaning them for you, Jerry. It’s true that they would have been buckles upon brogues, as they say, on a horse-trainer, but I always felt they were yours. I never attempted to sell them; though I won’t deny that I went and looked at them two or three times that winter Lucy was laid up with the influenza. However, they are gone now,” and she patted her bag. “You will have plenty of diamonds from the Moneys, and the price of mine will give us the wedding in handsome style.”
“Be quiet; it is best in every way. I shall enjoy the value of the diamonds myself, whereas if you got them by my will, I’d be past all worldly pleasures. Now don’t say one word, or I declare I’ll turn Denis from the door when he comes over to tea.”
Miss Dwyer had her own way, and the wedding of Geraldine, which had been spoken of by Mr. Hare as likely to be a poor and very shabby affair, proved to be quite the reverse. The church was beautifully decorated by the ladies of the parish, headed by MissHare and Mrs. Vance. Even the old monuments of the O’Biernes were wreathed in flowers, the chancel was gay with palms and plants (the contents of the neighbouring conservatories), the churchyard and approaches were thronged with spectators in their best Sunday clothes, many of whom had walked miles that bright April morning to see the last of the O’Biernes made the bride of the heir of Carrig. Geraldine was accompanied to the church by the two Miss Dwyers—(oh, not in the cover car, but a smart brougham, drawn by fine grey horses). She looked beautiful in white satin, Miss Lucy’s lace, and the Money orange blossoms as she was led to the altar by Lord Bundoran. There were no bridesmaids—no, nor even a page.
The bride was given away by her proud and radiant godmother, who was surprisingly magnificent in brocade and furs. The church was packed. All the élite of the country, all the tenants of Carrig, all the members of the hunt, and numbers of Mrs. Money’s smart acquaintances were present, while the churchyard was thronged with hundreds of well-wishers belonging to the old faith.
The company subsequently assembled at Creeshe to speed the happy pair, and the great suite of rooms was transformed into its former state. With all the ancient family plate displayed in the dining-room, there was good cheer, after Miss Narcissa’s own hospitable heart, and a throng of happy guests circulating among the long-deserted reception rooms.
Mr. Money entertained the tenants of Carrig right royally at a dinner on the same occasion. Bonfires blazed on the mountains, and the wedding of “Galloping Jerry” was an event that had no parallel in the county for upward of twenty years.
Creeshe and Carrig are as closely knitted together as they were in old days, and the private road is again well worn. Miss Narcissa has too much humanity and good feeling to allude to the Mooneys of Clorane, while Anthony Money, on his part, has set his clear, practical brain to work upon the Dwyer money matters; and extricated, not merely order from chaos, but a comfortable little annual income. Mr. Scully has disposed of the goodwill of Racehill, and, “owing to declining health,” see advertisement, gone to reside in Dublin. There he attends local race meetings and sales of hunters, and shares a squalid house in the suburbs with Tilly and her satellites. Occasionally, when he is what is called “happy,” he brags in glowing language of “me daughter, Mrs. O’Bierne, of Carrig,” for Denis had assumed the name and arms of the O’Biernes.
The double ménage answered surprisingly well (the two ladies had their separate sitting-rooms and carriages), and Geraldine in every way effaced herself and deferred in all points to her mother-in-law. But, after a time, Mrs. Money wearied of her position. She had the power, but not the name, and she was in a country where in answer to “What’s in a name?” the reply is “Every thing.”
Geraldine was Mrs. O’Bierne, while she was merely Mrs. Money. It was Mrs. O’Bierne to whom the poor people, the tenants, ay, and the county instinctively looked, despite the studied humility of that popular young lady.
By gradual, imperceptible degrees Mrs. Money passed more and more of her time in London, and Denis and Geraldine practically have Carrig to themselves. Mr. Money pays prolonged visits, and discourses affectionately of his place in Ireland, and loves it, and spends as much of the year there as is possible; but the old feudal spirit, which is beyond the reach of Money, in every sense of the word, has, in a polite, good-humoured, but irresistible way, dethroned and banished his wife.
At Carrig Garry is installed as head groom, and Biddy Shea is head nurse. Nora is married to Pierce Sullivan, who is under-keeper, and lives in a pretty rose-covered cottage at one of the entrance gates. As for the ancestral home of the Mooneys, it is now the cow byre of the O’Driscolls, Mrs. Mooney and suite having emigrated to America. Pat, the Jarvey, enjoyed the extraordinary favour of Mr. Money, and held at a nominal rental a snug farm for a couple of years. He relinquished car-driving, but no other habit, and alas! one dark night he mistook his way and was swallowed by a sullen, black bog-hole. After her father’s tragic and untimely death Nannie married a warrant officer—it was considered a grand match for her—until it leaked out that the bride had a fortune of five hundred pounds, no less! Where had it come from? Pat Mooney had never saved a copper. The parish has long exhausted itself in vain speculation, for Nannie (who kept her mouth closed) is now in Hong Kong. If you were to inquire of the neighbours, you would be assured that there is not one of the family now left in the country. But we know better; and that Denis Mooney of Clorane is at the present moment, by right of his wife Geraldine, The O’Bierne of Carrig.