On the next morning after breakfast Neville was taken into his uncle’s chamber, but there was an understanding that there was to be no conversation on disagreeable subjects on this occasion. His aunt remained in the room while he was there, and the conversation was almost confined to the expression of thanks on the part of the Earl to his nephew for coming, and of hopes on the part of the nephew that his uncle might soon be well. One matter was mooted as to which no doubt much would be said before Neville could get away. “I thought it better to make arrangements to stay a fortnight,” said Fred — as though a fortnight were a very long time indeed.
“A fortnight!” said the Earl.
“We won’t talk of his going yet,” replied Lady Scroope.
“Supposing I had died, he could not have gone back in a fortnight,” said the Earl in a low moaning voice.
“My dear uncle, I hope that I may live to see you in your own place here at Scroope for many years to come.” The Earl shook his head, but nothing more was then said on that subject. Fred, however, had carried out his purpose. He had been determined to let them understand that he would not hold himself bound to remain long at Scroope Manor.
Then he wrote a letter to his own Kate. It was the first time he had addressed her in this fashion, and though he was somewhat of a gallant gay Lothario, the writing of the letter was an excitement to him. If so, what must the receipt of it have been to Kate O’Hara! He had promised her that he would write to her, and from the moment that he was gone she was anxious to send in to the post-office at Ennistimon for the treasure which the mail car might bring to her. When she did get it, it was indeed a treasure. To a girl who really loves, the first love letter is a thing as holy as the recollection of the first kiss. “May I see it, Kate?” said Mrs. O’Hara, as her daughter sat poring over the scrap of paper by the window.
“Yes, mamma — if you please.” Then she paused a moment. “But I think that I had rather you did not. Perhaps he did not mean me to shew it.” The mother did not urge her request, but contented herself with coming up behind her child and kissing her. The reader, however, shall have the privilege which was denied to Mrs. O’Hara.
I got here all alive yesterday at four. I came on as fast as ever I could travel, and hardly got a mouthful to eat after I left Limerick. I never saw such beastliness as they have at the stations. My uncle is much better — so much so that I shan’t remain here very long. I can’t tell you any particular news — except this, that that old cat down at Castle Quin — the one with the crisp-curled wig — must have the nose of a dog and the ears of a cat and the eyes of a bird, and she sends word to Scroope of everything that she smells and hears and sees. It makes not the slightest difference to me — nor to you I should think. Only I hate such interference. The truth is old maids have nothing else to do. If I were you I wouldn’t be an old maid.
I can’t quite say how long it will be before I am back at Ardkill, but not a day longer than I can help. Address to Scroope, Dorsetshire — that will be enough; — to F. Neville, Esq. Give my love to your mother. — As for yourself, dear Kate, if you care for my love, you may weigh mine for your own dear self with your own weights and measures. Indeed you have all my heart.
Your own F. N.
There is a young lady here whom it is intended that I shall marry. She is the pink of propriety and really very pretty; — but you need not be a bit jealous. The joke is that my brother is furiously in love with her, and that I fancy she would be just as much in love with him only that she’s told not to. — A thousand kisses.
It was not much of a love letter, but there were a few words in it which sufficed altogether for Kate’s happiness. She was told that she had all his heart — and she believed it. She was told that she need not be jealous of the proper young lady, and she believed that too. He sent her a thousand kisses; and she, thinking that he might have kissed the paper, pressed it to her lips. At any rate his hand had rested on it. She would have been quite willing to shew to her mother all these expressions of her lover’s love; but she felt that it would not be fair to him to expose his allusions to the “beastliness” at the stations. He might say what he liked to her; but she understood that she was not at liberty to shew to others words which had been addressed to her in the freedom of perfect intimacy.
“Does he say anything of the old man?” asked Mrs. O’Hara.
“He says that his uncle is better.”
“Threatened folks live long. Does Neville tell you when he will be back?”
“Not exactly; but he says that he will not stay long. He does not like Scroope at all. I knew that. He always says that — that —”
“Says what, dear?”
“When we are married he will go away somewhere — to Italy or Greece or somewhere. Scroope he says is so gloomy.”
“And where shall I go?”
“Oh, mother; — you shall be with us, always.”
“No, dear, you must not dream of that. When you have him you will not want me.”
“Dear mother. I shall want you always.”
“He will not want me. We have no right to expect too much from him, Kate. That he shall make you his wife we have a right to expect. If he were false to you —”
“He is not false. Why should you think him false?”
“I do not think it; but if he were —! Never mind. If he be true to you, I will not burden him. If I can see you happy, Kate, I will bear all the rest.” That which she would have to bear would be utter solitude for life. She could look forward and see how black and tedious would be her days; but all that would be nothing to her if her child were lifted up on high.
It was now the beginning of April, which for sportsmen in England is of all seasons the most desperate. Hunting is over. There is literally nothing to shoot. And fishing — even if there were fishing in England worth a man’s time — has not begun. A gentleman of enterprise driven very hard in this respect used to declare that there was no remedy for April but to go and fly hawks in Holland. Fred Neville could not fly hawks at Scroope, and found that there was nothing for him to do. Miss Mellerby suggested — books. “I like books better than anything,” said Fred. “I always have a lot of novels down at our quarters. But a fellow can’t be reading all day, and there isn’t a novel in the house except Walter Scott’s and a lot of old rubbish. By-the-bye have you read ‘All Isn’t Gold That Glitters?’” Miss Mellerby had not read the tale named. “That’s what I call a good novel.”
Day passed after day and it seemed as though he was expected to remain at Scroope without any definite purpose, and, worse still, without any fixed limit to his visit. At his aunt’s instigation he rode about the property and asked questions as to the tenants. It was all to be his own, and in the course of nature must be his own very soon. There could not but be an interest for him in every cottage and every field. But yet there was present to him all the time a schoolboy feeling that he was doing a task; and the occupation was not pleasant to him because it was a task. The steward was with him as a kind of pedagogue, and continued to instruct him during the whole ride. This man only paid so much a year, and the rent ought to be so much more; but there were circumstances. And “My Lord” had been peculiarly good. This farm was supposed to be the best on the estate, and that other the worst. Oh yes, there were plenty of foxes. “My Lord” had always insisted that the foxes should be preserved. Some of the hunting gentry no doubt had made complaints, but it was a great shame. Foxes had been seen, two or three at a time, the very day after the coverts had been drawn blank. As for game, a head of game could be got up very soon, as there was plenty of corn and the woods were large; but “My Lord” had never cared for game. The farmers all shot the rabbits on their own land. Rents were paid to the day. There was never any mistake about that. Of course the land would require to be revalued, but “My Lord” wouldn’t hear of such a thing being done in his time. The Manor wood wanted thinning very badly. The wood had been a good deal neglected. “My Lord” had never liked to hear the axe going. That was Grumby Green and the boundary of the estate in that direction. The next farm was college property, and was rented five shillings an acre dearer than “My Lord’s” land. If Mr. Neville wished it the steward would show him the limit of the estate on the other side tomorrow. No doubt there was a plan of the estate. It was in “My Lord’s” own room, and would shew every farm with its acreage and bounds. Fred thought that he would study this plan on the next day instead of riding about with the steward.
He could not escape from the feeling that he was being taught his lesson like a school-boy, and he did not like it. He longed for the freedom of his boat on the Irish coast, and longed for the devotedness of Kate O’Hara. He was sure that he loved her so thoroughly that life without her was not to be regarded as possible. But certain vague ideas very injurious to the Kate he so dearly loved crossed his brain. Under the constant teaching of his aunt he did recognize it as a fact that he owed a high duty to his family. For many days after that first night at Scroope not a word was said to him about Kate O’Hara. He saw his uncle daily — probably twice a day; but the Earl never alluded to his Irish love. Lady Scroope spoke constantly of the greatness of the position which the heir was called upon to fill and of all that was due to the honour of the family. Fred, as he heard her, would shake his head impatiently, but would acknowledge the truth of what she said. He was induced even to repeat the promise which he had made to his uncle, and to assure his aunt that he would do nothing to mar or lessen the dignity of the name of Neville. He did become, within his own mind, indoctrinated with the idea that he would injure the position of the earldom which was to be his were he to marry Kate O’Hara. Arguments which had appeared to him to be absurd when treated with ridicule by Father Marty, and which in regard to his own conduct he had determined to treat as old women’s tales, seemed to him at Scroope to be true and binding. The atmosphere of the place, the companionship of Miss Mellerby, the reverence with which he himself was treated by the domestics, the signs of high nobility which surrounded him on all sides, had their effect upon him. Noblesse oblige. He felt that it was so. Then there crossed his brain visions of a future life which were injurious to the girl he loved.
Let his brother Jack come and live at Scroope and marry Sophie Mellerby. As long as he lived Jack could not be the Earl, but in regard to money he would willingly make such arrangements as would enable his brother to maintain the dignity and state of the house. They would divide the income. And then he would so arrange his matters with Kate O’Hara that his brother’s son should be heir to the Earldom. He had some glimmering of an idea that as Kate was a Roman Catholic a marriage ceremony might be contrived of which this would become the necessary result. There should be no deceit. Kate should know it all, and everything should be done to make her happy. He would live abroad, and would not call himself by his title. They would be Mr. and Mrs. Neville. As to the property, that must of course hereafter go with the title, but in giving up so much to his brother, he could of course arrange as to the provision necessary for any children of his own. No doubt his Kate would like to be the Countess Scroope — would prefer that a future son of her own should be the future Earl. But as he was ready to abandon so much, surely she would be ready to abandon something. He must explain to her — and to her mother — that under no other circumstances could he marry her. He must tell her of pledges made to his uncle before he knew her, of the duty which he owed to his family, and of his own great dislike to the kind of life which would await him as acting head of the family. No doubt there would be scenes — and his heart quailed as he remembered certain glances which had flashed upon him from the eyes of Mrs. O’Hara. But was he not offering to give up everything for his love? His Kate should be his wife after some Roman Catholic fashion in some Roman Catholic country. Of course there would be difficulties — the least of which would not be those glances from the angry mother; but it would be his business to overcome difficulties. There were always difficulties in the way of any man who chose to leave the common grooves of life and to make a separate way for himself. There were always difficulties in the way of adventures. Dear Kate! He would never desert his Kate. But his Kate must do as much as this for him. Did he not intend that, whatever good things the world might have in store for him, his Kate should share them all?
His ideas were very hazy, and he knew himself that he was ignorant of the laws respecting marriage. It occurred to him, therefore, that he had better consult his brother, and confide everything to him. That Jack was wiser than he, he was always willing to allow; and although he did in some sort look down upon Jack as a plodding fellow, who shot no seals and cared nothing for adventure, still he felt it to be almost a pity that Jack should not be the future Earl. So he told his aunt that he proposed to ask his brother to come to Scroope for a day or two before he returned to Ireland. Had his aunt, or would his uncle have, any objection? Lady Scroope did not dare to object. She by no means wished that her younger nephew should again be brought within the influence of Miss Mellerby’s charms; but it would not suit her purpose to give offence to the heir by refusing so reasonable request. He would have been off to join his brother at Woolwich immediately. So the invitation was sent, and Jack Neville promised that he would come.
Fred knew nothing of the offer that had been made to Miss Mellerby, though he had been sharp enough to discern his brother’s feelings. “My brother is coming here tomorrow,” he said one morning to Miss Mellerby when they were alone together.
“So Lady Scroope has told me. I don’t wonder that you should wish to see him.”
“I hope everybody will be glad to see him. Jack is just about the very best fellow in the world; — and he’s one of the cleverest too.”
“It is so nice to hear one brother speak in that way of another.”
“I swear by Jack. He ought to have been the elder brother; — that’s the truth. Don’t you like him?”
“Who; — I. Oh, yes, indeed. What I saw of him I liked very much.”
“Isn’t it a pity that he shouldn’t have been the elder?”
“I can’t say that, Mr. Neville.”
“No. It wouldn’t be just civil to me. But I can say it. When we were here last winter I thought that my brother was —”
“Was what, Mr Neville?”
“Was getting to be very fond of you. Perhaps I ought not to say so.”
“I don’t think that much good is ever done by saying that kind of thing,” said Miss Mellerby gravely.
“It cannot at any rate do any harm in this case. I wish with all my heart that he was fond of you and you of him.”
“That is all nonsense. Indeed it is.”
“I am not saying it without an object. I don’t see why you and I should not understand one another. If I tell you a secret will you keep it?”
“Do not tell me any secret that I must keep from Lady Scroope.”
“But that is just what you must do.”
“But then suppose I don’t do it,” said Miss Mellerby.
But Fred was determined to tell his secret. “The truth is that both my uncle and my aunt want me to fall in love with you.”
“How very kind of them,” said she with a little forced laugh.
“I don’t for a moment think that, had I tried it on ever so, I could have succeeded. I am not at all the sort of man to be conceited in that way. Wishing to do the best they could for me, they picked you out. It isn’t that I don’t think as well of you as they do, but —”
“Really, Mr. Neville, this is the oddest conversation.”
“Quite true. It is odd. But the fact is you are here, and there is nobody else I can talk to. And I want you to know the exact truth. I’m engaged to — somebody else.”
“I ought to break my heart; — oughtn’t I?”
“I don’t in the least mind your laughing at me. I should have minded it very much if I had asked you to marry me, and you had refused me.”
“You haven’t given me the chance, you see.”
“I didn’t mean. What was the good?”
“Certainly not, Mr. Neville, if you are engaged to some one else. I shouldn’t like to be Number Two.”
“I’m in a peck of troubles; — that’s the truth. I would change places with my brother tomorrow if I could. I daresay you don’t believe that, but I would. I will not vex my uncle if I can help it, but I certainly shall not throw over the girl who loves me. If it wasn’t for the title, I’d give up Scroope to my brother tomorrow, and go and live in some place where I could get lots of shooting, and where I should never have to put on a white choker.”
“You’ll think better of all that.”
“Well! — I’ve just told you everything because I like to be on the square. I wish you knew Kate O’Hara. I’m sure you would not wonder that a fellow should love her. I had rather you didn’t tell my aunt what I have told you; but if you choose to do so, I can’t help it.”
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14