Neville had been forced to get his leave of absence renewed on the score of his uncle’s health, and had promised to prolong his absence till the end of April. When doing so he had declared his intention of returning to Ennis in the beginning of May; but no agreement to that had as yet been expressed by his uncle or aunt. Towards the end of the month his brother came to Scroope, and up to that time not a word further had been said to him respecting Kate O’Hara.
He had received an answer from Kate to his letter, prepared in a fashion very different from that of his own. He had seated himself at a table and in compliance with the pledge given by him, had scrawled off his epistle as fast as he could write it. She had taken a whole morning to think of hers, and had recopied it after composing it, and had then read it with the utmost care, confessing to herself, almost with tears, that it was altogether unworthy of him to whom it was to be sent. It was the first love letter she had ever written — probably the first letter she had ever written to a man, except those short notes which she would occasionally scrawl to Father Marty in compliance with her mother’s directions. The letter to Fred was as follows; —
ARDKILL COTTAGE, 10th April, 18 —.
MY DEAREST FRED,
I received your dear letter three or four days ago, and it made me so happy. We were sorry that you should have such an uncomfortable journey; but all that would be over and soon forgotten when you found yourself in your comfortable home and among your own friends. I am very glad to hear that your uncle is better. The thought of finding him so ill must have made your journey very sad. As he is so much better, I suppose you will come back soon to your poor little Kate.
There is no news at all to send you from Liscannor. Father Marty was up here yesterday and says that your boat is all safe at Lahinch. He says that Barney Morony is an idle fellow, but as he has nothing to do he can’t help being idle. You should come back and not let him be idle any more. I think the sea gulls know that you are away, because they are wheeling and screaming about louder and bolder than ever.
Mother sends her best love. She is very well. We have had nothing to eat since you went because it has been Lent. So, if you had been here, you would not have been able to get a bit of luncheon. I dare say you have been a great deal better off at Scroope. Father Marty says that you Protestants will have to keep your Lent hereafter — eighty days at a time instead of forty; and that we Catholics will be allowed to eat just what we like, while you Protestants will have to look on at us. If so, I think I’ll manage to give you a little bit.
Do come back to your own Kate as soon as you can. I need not tell you that I love you better than all the world because you know it already. I am not a bit jealous of the proper young lady, and I hope that she will fall in love with your brother. Then some day we shall be sisters; — shan’t we? I should like to have a proper young lady for my sister so much. Only, perhaps she would despise me. Do come back soon. Everything is so dull while you are away! You would come back to your own Kate if you knew how great a joy it is to her when she sees you coming along the cliff.
Dearest, dearest love, I am always your own, own
Neville thought of showing Kate’s letter to Miss Mellerby, but when he read it a second time he made up his mind that he would keep it to himself. The letter was all very well, and, as regarded the expressions towards himself, just what it should be. But he felt that it was not such a letter as Miss Mellerby would have written herself, and he was a little ashamed of all that was said about the priest. Neither was he proud of the pretty, finished, French hand-writing, over every letter of which his love had taken so much pains. In truth, Kate O’Hara was better educated than himself, and perhaps knew as much as Sophie Mellerby. She could have written her letter quite as well in French as in English, and she did understand something of the formation of her sentences. Fred Neville had been at an excellent school, but it may be doubted whether he could have explained his own written language. Nevertheless he was a little ashamed of his Kate, and thought that Miss Mellerby might perceive her ignorance if he shewed her letter.
He had sent for his brother in order that he might explain his scheme and get his brother’s advice; — but he found it very difficult to explain his scheme to Jack Neville. Jack, indeed, from the very first would not allow that the scheme was in any way practicable. “I don’t quite understand, Fred, what you mean. You don’t intend to deceive her by a false marriage?”
“Most assuredly not. I do not intend to deceive her at all.”
“You must make her your wife, or not make her your wife.”
“Undoubtedly she will be my wife. I am quite determined about that. She has my word — and over and above that, she is dearer to me than anything else.”
“If you marry her, her eldest son must of course be the heir to the title.”
“I am not at all so sure of that. All manner of queer things may be arranged by marriages with Roman Catholics.”
“Put that out of your head,” said Jack Neville. “In the first place you would certainly find yourself in a mess, and in the next place the attempt itself would be dishonest. I dare say men have crept out of marriages because they have been illegal; but a man who arranges a marriage with the intention of creeping out of it is a scoundrel.”
“You needn’t bully about it, Jack. You know very well that I don’t mean to creep out of anything.”
“I’m sure you don’t. But as you ask me I must tell you what I think. You are in a sort of dilemma between this girl and Uncle Scroope.”
“I’m not in any dilemma at all.”
“You seem to think you have made some promise to him which will be broken if you marry her; — and I suppose you certainly have made her a promise.”
“Which I certainly mean to keep,” said Fred.
“All right. Then you must break your promise to Uncle Scroope.”
“It was a sort of half and half promise. I could not bear to see him making himself unhappy about it.”
“Just so. I suppose Miss O’Hara can wait.”
Fred Neville scratched his head. “Oh yes; — she can wait. There’s nothing to bind me to a day or a month. But my uncle may live for the next ten years now.”
“My advice to you is to let Miss O’Hara understand clearly that you will make no other engagement, but that you cannot marry her as long as your uncle lives. Of course I say this on the supposition that the affair cannot be broken off.”
“Certainly not,” said Fred with a decision that was magnanimous.
“I cannot think the engagement a fortunate one for you in your position. Like should marry like. I’m quite sure of that. You would wish your wife to be easily intimate with the sort of people among whom she would naturally be thrown as Lady Scroope — among the wives and daughters of other Earls and such like.”
“No; I shouldn’t.”
“I don’t see how she would be comfortable in any other way.”
“I should never live among other Earls, as you call them. I hate that kind of thing. I hate London. I should never live here.”
“What would you do?”
“I should have a yacht, and live chiefly in that. I should go about a good deal, and get into all manner of queer places. I don’t say but what I might spend a winter now and then in Leicestershire or Northamptonshire, for I am fond of hunting. But I should have no regular home. According to my scheme you should have this place — and sufficient of the income to maintain it of course.”
“That wouldn’t do, Fred,” said Jack, shaking his head — “though I know how generous you are.”
“Why wouldn’t it do?”
“You are the heir, and you must take the duties with the privileges. You can have your yacht if you like a yacht — but you’ll soon get tired of that kind of life. I take it that a yacht is a bad place for a nursery, and inconvenient for one’s old boots. When a man has a home fixed for him by circumstances — as you will have — he gravitates towards it, let his own supposed predilections be what they may. Circumstances are stronger than predilections.”
“You’re a philosopher.”
“I was always more sober than you, Fred.”
“I wish you had been the elder — on the condition of the younger brother having a tidy slice out of the property to make himself comfortable.”
“But I am not the elder, and you must take the position with all the encumbrances. I see nothing for it but to ask Miss O’Hara to wait. If my uncle lives long the probability is that one or the other of you will change your minds, and that the affair will never come off.”
When the younger and wiser brother gave this advice he did not think it all likely that Miss O’Hara would change her mind. Penniless young ladies don’t often change their minds when they are engaged to the heirs of Earls. It was not at all probable that she should repent the bargain that she had made. But Jack Neville did think it very probable that his brother might do so; — and, indeed, felt sure that he would do so if years were allowed to intervene. His residence in County Clare would not be perpetual, and with him in his circumstances it might well be that the young lady, being out of sight, should be out of mind. Jack could not exactly declare his opinion on this head. His brother at present was full of his promise, full of his love, full of his honour. Nor would Jack have absolutely counselled him to break his word to the young lady. But he thought it probable that in the event of delay poor Miss O’Hara might go to the wall; — and he also thought that for the general interests of the Scroope family it would be better that she should do so.
“And what are you going to do yourself?” asked Fred.
“In respect of what?”
“In respect of Miss Mellerby?”
“In respect of Miss Mellerby I am not going to do anything,” said Jack as he walked away.
In all that the younger brother said to the elder as to poor Kate O’Hara he was no doubt wise and prudent; but in what he said about himself he did not tell the truth. But then the question asked was one which a man is hardly bound to answer, even to a brother. Jack Neville was much less likely to talk about his love affairs than Fred, but not on that account less likely to think about them. Sophie Mellerby had refused him once, but young ladies have been known to marry gentlemen after refusing them more than once. He at any rate was determined to persevere, having in himself and in his affairs that silent faith of which the possessor is so often unconscious, but which so generally leads to success. He found Miss Mellerby to be very courteous to him if not gracious; and he had the advantage of not being afraid of her. It did not strike him that because she was the granddaughter of a duke, and because he was a younger son, that therefore he ought not to dare to look at her. He understood very well that she was brought there that Fred might marry her; — but Fred was intent on marrying some one else, and Sophie Mellerby was not a girl to throw her heart away upon a man who did not want it. He had come to Scroope for only three days, but, in spite of some watchfulness on the part of the Countess, he found his opportunity for speaking before he left the house. “Miss Mellerby,” he said, “I don’t know whether I ought to thank Fortune or to upbraid her for having again brought me face to face with you.”
“I hope the evil is not so oppressive as to make you very loud in your upbraidings.”
“They shall not at any rate be heard. I don’t know whether there was any spice of malice about my brother when he asked me to come here, and told me in the same letter that you were at Scroope.”
“He must have meant it for malice, I should think,” said the young lady, endeavouring, but not quite successfully, to imitate the manner of the man who loved her.
“Of course I came.”
“Not on my behalf, I hope, Mr. Neville.”
“Altogether on your behalf. Fred’s need to see me was not very great, and, as my uncle had not asked me, and as my aunt, I fancy, does not altogether approve of me, I certainly should not have come — were it not that I might find it difficult to get any other opportunity of seeing you.”
“That is hardly fair to Lady Scroope, Mr. Neville.”
“Quite fair, I think. I did not come clandestinely. I am not ashamed of what I am doing — or of what I am going to do. I may be ashamed of this — that I should feel my chance of success to be so small. When I was here before I asked you to — allow me to love you. I now ask you again.”
“Allow you!” she said.
“Yes; — allow me. I should be too bold were I to ask you to return my love at once. I only ask you to know that because I was repulsed once, I have not given up the pursuit.”
“Mr. Neville, I am sure that my father and mother would not permit it.”
“May I ask your father, Miss Mellerby?”
“Certainly not — with my permission.”
“Nevertheless you will not forget that I am suitor for your love?”
“I will make no promise of anything, Mr. Neville.” Then, fearing that she had encouraged him, she spoke again. “I think you ought to take my answer as final.”
“Miss Mellerby, I shall take no answer as final that is not favourable. Should I indeed hear that you were to be married to another man, that would be final; but that I shall not hear from your own lips. You will say good-bye to me,” and he offered her his hand.
She gave him her hand; — and he raised it to his lips and kissed it, as men were wont to do in the olden days.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:55