Charles and the good-natured Father Tiernay wandered out across the old courtyard, towards the stables — a pile of buildings in the same style as the house, which lay back towards the hill. The moon was full, although obscured by clouds, and the whole courtyard was bathed in a soft mellow light. They both paused for a moment to look at the fine old building, standing silent for a time; and then Charles startled the contemplative priest by breaking into a harsh scornful laugh, as unlike his own cheery Ha! Ha! as it was possible to be.
“What are you disturbing a gentleman’s meditations in that way for?” said the Father. “Is them your Oxford manners? Give me ye’r cigar-case, ye haythen, if ye can’t appreciate the beauties of nature and art combined — laughing like that at the cradle of your ancestors too.”
Charles gave him the cigar-case, and trolled out in a rich bass voice —
“The old falcon’s nest
Was built up on the crest
Of the cliff that hangs over the sea;
And the jackdaws and crows,
As every one knows,
Were confounded respectful to he, to he — e — e.”
“Howld yer impudence, ye young heretic doggrel-writer; can’t I see what ye are driving at?”
“But the falcon grew old,
And the nest it grew cold,
And the carrion birds they grew bolder;
So the jackdaws and crows,
Underneath his own nose,
Gave both the young falcons cold shoulder.”
“Bedad,” said the good-natured Irishman, “some one got hot shoulder today. Aren’t ye ashamed of yourself, singing such ribaldry, and all the servants hearing e?”
“Capital song, Father; only one verse more.”
“The elder was quelled,
But the younger rebelled;
So he spread his wide wings and fled over the sea.
Said the jackdaws and crows,
‘ He’ll be hanged I suppose,
But what in the deuce does that matter to we?’ ”
There was something in the wild, bitter tone in which he sang the last verse that made Father Tiernay smoke his cigar in silence as they sauntered across the yard, till Charles began again.
“Not a word of applause for my poor impromptu song? Hang it, I’d have applauded anything you sang.”
“Don’t be so reckless and bitter. Mr. Ravenshoe,” said Tiernay, laying his Land on his shoulder. “I can feel for you, though there is so little in common between us. You might lead a happy, peaceful life if you were to come over to us; which you will do, if I know anything of my trade, in the same day that the sun turns pea-green. Allons, as we used to say over the water; let us continue our travels.”
“Reckless! I am not reckless. The jolly old world is very wide, and I am young and strong. There will be a wrench when the tooth comes out; but it will soon be over, and the toothache will be cured.”
Tiernay remained silent a moment, and then in an absent manner sang this line, in a sweet low voice —
“For the girl of my heart that I’ll never see more.”
“She must cast in her lot with me,” said Charles. “Ay, and she will do it, too. She will follow me to the world’s end, sir. Are you a judge of horses? What a question to ask of an Irishman! here are the stables.”
The lads were bedding down, and all the great building was alive with the clattering of busy feet and the neighing of horses. The great Ravenshoe Stud was being tucked up for the night; and over that two thousand pounds’ worth of horseflesh at least six thousand pounds’ worth of fuss was being made, under the superintendence of the stud groom, Mr. Dickson.
The physical appearance of Mr. Dickson was as hough you had taken an aged Newmarket jockey and put a barrel of oysters, barrel and all, inside his waistcoat. His face was thin; his thighs were hollow; calves to his legs he had none. He was all stomach. Many years had elapsed since he had been brought to the verge of dissolution by severe training; and since then all that he had eaten, or drunk, or done, had flown to his stomach, producing a tympanitic action in that organ, astounding to behold. In speech he was, towards his superiors, courteous and polite; towards his equals, dictatorial; towards his subordinates, abusive, not to say blasphemous. To this gentleman Charles addressed himself, inquiring if he had seen William: and he, with a lofty, though courteous, sense of injury, inquired, in a loud tone of voice, of the stable-men generally, if any one had seen Mr. Charles’s pad-groom.
In a dead silence which ensued, one of the lads was ill-advised enough to say that he didn’t exactly know where he was; which caused Mr. Dickson to remark that, if that was all he had to say, he had better go on with his work, and not make a fool of himself — which the man did, growling out something about always putting his foot in it,
“Your groom comes and goes pretty much as he likes, sir,” said Mr. Dickson. “I don’t consider him as under my orders. Had he been so, I should have felt it my duty to make complaint on more than one occasion; he is a little too much of the gentleman for my stable, sir.”
“Of course, my good Dickson,” interrupted Charles, “the fact of his being my favourite makes you madly jealous of him; that is not the question now. If you don’t know where he is, be so good as to hold your tongue.”
Charles was only now and then insolent and abrupt with servants, and they liked him the better for it. It was one of Cuthbert’s rules to be coldly, evenly polite, and, as he thought, considerate to the whole household; and yet they did not like him half so well as Charles, who would sometimes, when anything went wrong, “kick up,” what an intelligent young Irish footman used to call “the diwle’s own shindy.” Cuthbert, they knew, had no sympathy for them, but treated them, as he treated himself, as mere machines; while Charles had that infinite capacity of goodwill which none are more quick to recognise than servants and labouring people. And on this occasion, though Mr. Dickson might have sworn a little more than usual after Charles’s departure, yet his feeling, on the whole, was, that he was sorry for having vexed the young gentleman by sneering at his favourite.
But Charles, having rescued the enraptured Father Tiernay from the stable, and having listened somewhat inattentively to a long description of the Curragh of Kildare, led the worthy priest round the back of the stables, up a short path through the wood, and knocked at the door of a long, low keeper’s lodge, which stood within a stone’s throw of the other buildings, in an pen, grassy glade, through which flowed a musical, slender stream of water. In one instant, night was hideous with rattling chains and barking dogs, who made as though they would tear the intruders to pieces; all except one foolish pointer pup, who was loose, and who, instead of doing his duty by barking, came feebly up, and cast himself on his back at their feet, as though they were the car of Juggernaut, and he was a candidate for paradise. Finding that he was not destroyed, he made a humiliating feint of being glad to see them, and nearly overthrew the priest by getting between his legs. But Charles, finding that his second summons was unanswered, lifted the latch, and went into the house.
The room they entered was dark, or nearly so, and at the first moment appeared empty; but, at the second glance, they made out that a figure was kneeling before the dying embers of a fire, and trying to kindle a match by blowing on the coals.
“Hullo!” said Charles.
“William, my boy,” said a voice which made the priest start, “where have you been, lad?”
At the same moment a match was lit, and then a candle; as the light blazed up, it fell on the features of a greyheaded old man, who was peering through, the darkness at them, and the priest cried, “Good God! Mr. Ravenshoe!”
The likeness for one moment was very extraordinary; but, as the eye grew accustomed to the light, one saw hat the face was the face of a taller man than Densil, and one, too, who wore the dress of a gamekeeper. Charles laughed at the priest, and said —
“Yon were struck, as many have been, by the likeness. He has been so long with my father that he has the very trick of his voice, and the look of the eye. “Where have you been tonight, James?” he added affectionately. “Why do you go out so late alone? If any of those mining rascals were to be round poaching, you might be killed.”
“I can take care of myself yet, Master Charles,” said the old man, laughing; and, to do him justice, he certainly looked as if he could.
“Where is Nora?”
“Gone down to young James Holby’s wife; she is lying-in.”
“Pretty early, too. Where’s Ellen?”
“Gone up to the house.”
“See, Father, I shall be disappointed in showing you the belle of Ravenshoe; and now you will go back to Ireland, fancying you can compete with us.”
Father Tiernay was beginning a story about five Miss Moriartys, who were supposed to rival in charms and accomplishments any five young ladies in the world, when his eye was attracted by a stuffed hare in a glass case, of unusual size and very dark colour.
“That, sir,” said James, the keeper, in a bland, polite, explanatory tone of voice, coming and leaning over him, is old Mrs. Jewel, that lived in the last cottage on the ight hand side, under the cliff. I always thought it had been Mrs. Simpson, but it was not. I shot this hare on the Monday, not three hundred yards from Mrs. Jewel’s house; and on the Wednesday the neighbours noticed the shutters hadn’t been down for two days, and broke the door open; and there she was, sure enough, dead in her bed. I had shot her as she was (Coming home from some of her devilries. A quiet old .soul she was, though. No, I never thought it had been she.”
It would be totally impossible to describe the changes through which the broad, sunny face of Father Tiernay went, during the above astounding narration; horror, astonishment, inquiry, and humour were so strangely blended. He looked into the face of the old gamekeeper, and met the expression of a man who had mentioned an interesting fact, and had contributed to the scientific experience of the listener. He looked at Charles, and met no expression whatever; but the latter said —
“Our witches in these parts, Father, take the form of some inferior animal when attending their Sabbath or general meetings, which I believe are presided over by an undoubted gentleman, who is not generally named in polite society. In this case, the old woman was -caught sneaking home under the form of a hare, and promptly rolled over by James; and here she is.”
Father Tiernay said, “Oh, indeed!” but looked as if he thought the more.
“And there’s another of them out now, sir,” said the eeper; “and, Master Charles dear, if you’re going to take the greyhounds out tomorrow, do have a turn at that big black hare under Birch Tor — ”
“A black hare!” said Father Tiernay, aghast.
“Nearly coal-black, your reverence,” said James. “She’s a witch, your reverence, and who she is the blessed saints only know. I’ve seen her three or four times. If the master was on terms with Squire Humby to Hele, we might have the harriers over and run her down. But that can’t be, in course. If you take Blue-ruin and Lightning out tomorrow, Master Charles, and turn her out of the brambles under the rocks, and leave the Master and Miss Mary against the corner of the stone wall to turn her down the gully, you must have her.”
The look of astonishment had gradually faded from Father Tiernay’s face. It is said, that one of the great elements of power in the Roman Catholic priesthood, is that they can lend themselves to any little bit of — well, of mild deception — which happens to be going. Father Tiernay was up to the situation. He looked from the keeper to Charles with a bland and stolid expression of face, and said —
“If she is a witch, mark my words, the dogs will never touch her. The way would be to bite up a crooked sixpence and fire at her with that. I shall be there to see the sport. I never hunted a witch yet.”
“Has your reverence ever seen a white polecat?” said the keeper.
“No, never,” said the priest; “I have heard of them hough. My friend, Mr. Moriarty, of Castledown (not Mountdown Castle, ye understand; tliat is the sate of my lord Mountdown, whose blessed mother was a Mi >riarty, the heavens he her bed), claimed to have seen one; but, bedad, no one else ever saw it, and he said it turned brown again as the season came round. May the — may the saints have my sowl, if I believe a word of it.”
“I have one, your reverence; and it is a rarity, I allow. Stoats turn white often in hard winters, but polecats rarely. If your reverence and your honour will excuse me a moment, I will fetch it. It was shot by my Lord Welter when he was staying here last winter. A fine shot is my lord, your reverence, for so young a mam”
He left the room, and the priest and Charles were left alone together.
“Does he believe all this rubbish about witches?” said Father Tiernay.
“As firmly as you do the liquefaction of the blood of —”
“There, there; we don’t want all that. Do you believe in it?”
“Of course I don’t,” said Charles; “but why should I tell him so?”
“Why do you lend yourself to such a humbug?”
“Why do you?”
“Begorra, I don’t know. I am always lending. I lent a low-browed, hang-jawed spalpeen of a Belgian riest two pound the other day, and sorra a halfpenny of it will me mother’s son ever see again. Hark!”
There were voices approaching the lodge — the voices of two uneducated persons quarrelling; one that of a man, and the other of a woman. They both made so much out in a moment. Charles recognised the voices, and would have distracted the priest’s attention, and given those without warning that there were strangers within; but, in his anxiety to catch, what was said, he was not ready enough, and they both heard this.
The man’s voice said fiercely, “You did.”
The woman’s voice said, after a wild sob, “I did not.”
“You did. I saw you. You are a liar as well as — ”
“I swear I didn’t. Strike me dead, Bill, if there’s been anything wrong.”
“No. If I thought there had, I’d cut his throat first and yours after.”
“If it had been Mm, Bill, you wouldn’t have used me like this.”
“Never you mind that.”
“You want to drive me mad. You do. You hate me. Master Charles hates me. Oh, I wish I was mad.”
“I’d sooner see you chained by the waist in the straw, than see what I saw tonight.” Then followed an oath.
The door was rudely opened, and there entered first of all our old friend, Charles’s groom, William, who seemed beside himself with passion, and after him a figure which struck the good Irishman dumb with amazement and admiration — a girl as beautiful as the summer morning, with her bright brown hair tangled over her forehead, and an expression of wild terror and wrath on her face, such as one may conceive the old sculptor wished to express, when he tried, and failed, to carve the face of the Gorgon.
She glared on them both in her magnificent beauty only one moment. Yet that look, as of a lost soul out of another world, mad, hopeless, defiant, has never past from the memory of either of them.
She was gone, in an instant, into an inner room, and William was standing looking savagely at the priest. In another moment his eyes had wandered to Charles, and then his face grew smooth and quiet, and he said —
“We’ve been quarrelling, sir; don’t you and this good gentleman say anything about it. Master Charles, dear, she drives me mad sometimes. Things are not going right with her.”
Charles and the priest walked thoughtfully home together.
“Allow me to say, Ravenshoe,” said the priest, “that, as an Irishman, I consider myself a judge of remarkable establishments. I must say honestly that I have seldom or never met with a great house with so many queer “laments about it as yours. You are all remarkable people. And, on my honour, I think that our friend Mackworth is the most remarkable man of the lot.”
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:56