“It’s quite a sthranger you are, these days,” said the priest, as soon as they had turned their backs upon the ladies.
“Well; yes. We haven’t managed to meet since I came back; — have we?”
“I’ve been pretty constant at home, too. But you like them cliffs up there, better than the village no doubt.”
“Metal more attractive, Father Marty,” said Fred laughing; —“not meaning however any slight upon Liscannor or the Cork whisky.”
“The Cork whisky is always to the fore, Mr. Neville. And how did you lave matters with your noble uncle?”
Neville at the present moment was anxious rather to speak of Kate’s ignoble father than of his own noble uncle. He had declared his intention of making inquiry of Father Marty, and he thought that he should do so with something of a high hand. He still had that scheme in his head, and he might perhaps be better prepared to discuss it with the priest if he could first make this friend of the O’Hara family understand how much he, Neville, was personally injured by this “turning up” of a disreputable father. But, should he allow the priest at once to run away to Scroope and his noble uncle, the result of such conversation would simply be renewed promises on his part in reference to his future conduct to Kate O’Hara.
“Lord Scroope wasn’t very well when I left him. By the bye, Father Marty, I’ve been particularly anxious to see you.”
“‘Deed thin I was aisy found, Mr. Neville.”
“What is this I hear about — Captain O’Hara?”
“What is it that you have heard, Mr. Neville?” Fred looked into the priest’s face and found that he, at least, did not blush. It may be that all power of blushing had departed from Father Marty.
“In the first place I hear that there is such a man.”
“Ony way there was once.”
“You think he’s dead then?”
“I don’t say that. It’s a matter of — faith, thin, it’s a matter of nigh twenty years since I saw the Captain. And when I did see him I didn’t like him. I can tell you that, Mr. Neville.”
“I suppose not.”
“That lass up there was not born when I saw him. He was a handsome man too, and might have been a gentleman av’ he would.”
“But he wasn’t.”
“It’s a hard thing to say what is a gentleman, Mr. Neville. I don’t know a much harder thing. Them folk at Castle Quin, now, wouldn’t scruple to say that I’m no gentleman, just because I’m a Popish priest. I say that Captain O’Hara was no gentleman because — he ill-treated a woman.” Father Marty as he said this stopped a moment on the road, turning round and looking Neville full in the face. Fred bore the look fairly well. Perhaps at the moment he did not understand its application. It may be that he still had a clear conscience in that matter, and thought that he was resolved to treat Kate O’Hara after a fashion that would in no way detract from his own character as a gentleman. “As it was,” continued the priest, “he was a low blag-guard.”
“He hadn’t any money, I suppose?”
“‘Deed and I don’t think he was iver throubled much in respect of money. But money doesn’t matter, Mr. Neville.”
“Not in the least,” said Fred.
“Thim ladies up there are as poor as Job, but anybody that should say that they weren’t ladies would just be shewing that he didn’t know the difference. The Captain was well born, Mr. Neville, av’ that makes ony odds.”
“Birth does go for something, Father Marty.”
“Thin let the Captain have the advantage. Them O’Haras of Kildare weren’t proud of him I’m thinking, but he was a chip of that block; and some one belonging to him had seen the errors of the family ways, in respect of making him a Papist. ‘Deed and I must say, Mr. Neville, when they send us any offsets from a Prothestant family it isn’t the best that they give us.”
“I suppose not, Father Marty.”
“We can make something of a bit of wood that won’t take ony shape at all, at all along wid them. But there wasn’t much to boast of along of the Captain.”
“But is he alive, Father Marty; — or is he dead? I think I’ve a right to be told.”
“I am glad to hear you ask it as a right, Mr. Neville. You have a right if that young lady up there is to be your wife.” Fred made no answer here, though the priest paused for a moment, hoping that he would do so. But the question could be asked again, and Father Marty went on to tell all that he knew, and all that he had heard of Captain O’Hara. He was alive. Mrs. O’Hara had received a letter purporting to be from her husband, giving an address in London, and asking for money. He, Father Marty, had seen the letter; and he thought that there might perhaps be a doubt whether it was written by the man of whom they were speaking. Mrs. O’Hara had declared that if it were so written the handwriting was much altered. But then in twelve years the writing of a man who drank hard will change. It was twelve years since she had last received a letter from him.
“And what do you believe?”
“I think he lives, and that he wrote it, Mr. Neville. I’ll tell you God’s truth about it as I believe it, because as I said before, I think you are entitled to know the truth.”
“And what was done?”
“I sent off to London — to a friend I have.”
“And what did your friend say?”
“He says there is a man calling himself Captain O’Hara.”
“And is that all?”
“She got a second letter. She got it the very last day you was down here. Pat Cleary took it up to her when you was out wid Miss Kate.”
“He wants money, I suppose.”
“Just that, Mr. Neville.”
“It makes a difference; — doesn’t it?”
“How does it make a difference?”
“Well; it does. I wonder you don’t see it. You must see it.” From that moment Father Marty said in his heart that Kate O’Hara had lost her husband. Not that he admitted for a moment that Captain O’Hara’s return, if he had returned, would justify the lover in deserting the girl; but that he perceived that Neville had already allowed himself to entertain the plea. The whole affair had in the priest’s estimation been full of peril; but then the prize to be won was very great! From the first he had liked the young man, and had not doubted — did not now doubt — but that if once married he would do justice to his wife. Even though Kate should fail and should come out of the contest with a scorched heart — and that he had thought more than probable — still the prize was very high and the girl he thought was one who could survive such a blow. Latterly, in that respect he had changed his opinion. Kate had shewn herself to be capable of so deep a passion that he was now sure that she would be more than scorched should the fire be one to injure and not to cherish her. But the man’s promises had been so firm, so often reiterated, were so clearly written, that the priest had almost dared to hope that the thing was assured. Now, alas, he perceived that the embryo English lord was already looking for a means of escape, and already thought that he had found it in this unfortunate return of the father. The whole extent of the sorrow even the priest did not know. But he was determined to fight the battle to the very last. The man should make the girl his wife, or he, Father Marty, parish priest of Liscannor, would know the reason why. He was a man who was wont to desire to know the reason why, as to matters which he had taken in hand. But when he heard the words which Neville spoke and marked the tone in which they were uttered he felt that the young man was preparing for himself a way of escape.
“I don’t see that it should make any difference,” he said shortly.
“If the man be disreputable — ”
“The daughter is not therefore disreputable. Her position is not changed.”
“I have to think of my friends.”
“You should have thought of that before you declared yourself to her, Mr. Neville.” How true this was now, the young man knew better than the priest, but that, as yet, was his own secret. “You do not mean to tell me that because the father is not all that he should be, she is therefore to be thrown over. That cannot be your idea of honour. Have you not promised that you would make her your wife?” The priest stopped for an answer, but the young man made him none. “Of course you have promised her.”
“I suppose she has told you so.”
“To whom should she tell her story? To whom should she go for advice? But it was you who told me so, yourself.”
“Did you not swear to me that you would not injure her? And why should there have been any talk with you and me about her, but that I saw what was coming? When a young man like you chooses to spend his hours day after day and week after week with such a one as she is, with a beautiful young girl, a sweet innocent young lady, so sweet as to make even an ould priest like me feel that the very atmosphere she breathes is perfumed and hallowed, must it not mean one of two things; — that he desires to make her his wife or else — or else something so vile that I will not name it in connection with Kate O’Hara? Then as her mother’s friend, and as hers — as their only friend near them, I spoke out plainly to you, and you swore to me that you intended no harm to her.”
“I would not harm her for the world.”
“When you said that, you told me as plainly as you could spake that she should be your wife. With her own mouth she never told me. Her mother has told me. Daily Mrs. O’Hara has spoken to me of her hopes and fears. By the Lord above me whom I worship, and by His Son in whom I rest all my hopes, I would not stand in your shoes if you intend to tell that woman that after all that has passed you mean to desert her child.”
“Who has talked of deserting?” asked Neville angrily.
“Say that you will be true to her, that you will make her your wife before God and man, and I will humbly ask your pardon.”
“All that I say is that this Captain O’Hara’s coming is a nuisance.”
“If that be all, there is an end of it. It is a nuisance. Not that I suppose he ever will come. If he persists she must send him a little money. There shall be no difficulty about that. She will never ask you to supply the means of keeping her husband.”
“It isn’t the money. I think you hardly understand my position, Father Marty.” It seemed to Neville that if it was ever his intention to open out his scheme to the priest, now was his time for doing so. They had come to the cross roads at which one way led down to the village and to Father Marty’s house, and the other to the spot on the beach where the boat would be waiting. “I can’t very well go on to Liscannor,” said Neville.
“Give me your word before we part that you will keep your promise to Miss O’Hara,” said the priest.
“If you will step on a few yards with me I will tell you just how I am situated.” Then the priest assented, and they both went on towards the beach, walking very slowly. “If I alone were concerned, I would give up everything for Miss O’Hara. I am willing to give up everything as regards myself. I love her so dearly that she is more to me than all the honours and wealth that are to come to me when my uncle dies.”
“What is to hinder but that you should have the girl you love and your uncle’s honours and wealth into the bargain?”
“That is just it.”
“By the life of me I don’t see any difficulty. You’re your own masther. The ould Earl can’t disinherit you if he would.”
“But I am bound down.”
“How bound? Who can bind you?”
“I am bound not to make Miss O’Hara Countess of Scroope.”
“What binds you? You are bound by a hundred promises to make her your wife.”
“I have taken an oath that no Roman Catholic shall become Countess Scroope as my wife.”
“Then, Mr. Neville, let me tell you that you must break your oath.”
“Would you have me perjure myself?”
“Faith I would. Perjure yourself one way you certainly must, av’ you’ve taken such an oath as that, for you’ve sworn many oaths that you would make this Catholic lady your wife. Not make a Roman Catholic Countess of Scroope! It’s the impudence of some of you Prothestants that kills me entirely. As though we couldn’t count Countesses against you and beat you by chalks! I ain’t the man to call hard names, Mr. Neville; but if one of us is upstarts, it’s aisy seeing which. Your uncle’s an ould man, and I’m told nigh to his latter end. I’m not saying but what you should respect even his wakeness. But you’ll not look me in the face and tell me that afther what’s come and gone that young lady is to be cast on one side like a plucked rose, because an ould man has spoken a foolish word, or because a young man has made a wicked promise.”
They were now standing again, and Fred raised his hat and rubbed his forehead as he endeavoured to arrange the words in which he could best propose his scheme to the priest. He had not yet escaped from the idea that because Father Marty was a Roman Catholic priest, living in a village in the extreme west of Ireland, listening night and day to the roll of the Atlantic and drinking whisky punch, therefore he would be found to be romantic, semi-barbarous, and perhaps more than semi-lawless in his views of life. Irish priests have been made by chroniclers of Irish story to do marvellous things; and Fred Neville thought that this priest, if only the matter could be properly introduced, might be persuaded to do for him something romantic, something marvellous, perhaps something almost lawless. In truth it might have been difficult to find a man more practical or more honest than Mr. Marty. And then the difficulty of introducing the subject was very great. Neville stood with his face a little averted, rubbing his forehead as he raised his sailor’s hat. “If you could only read my heart,” he said, “you’d know that I am as true as steel.”
“I’d be lothe to doubt it, Mr. Neville.”
“I’d give up everything to call Kate my own.”
“But you need give up nothing, and yet have her all your own.”
“You say that because you don’t completely understand. It may as well be taken for granted at once that she can never be Countess of Scroope.”
“Taken for granted!” said the old man as the fire flashed out of his eyes.
“Just listen to me for one moment. I will marry her tomorrow, or at any time you may fix, if a marriage can be so arranged that she shall never be more than Mrs. Neville.”
“And what would you be?”
“And what would her son be?”
“Oh; — just the same — when he grew up. Perhaps there wouldn’t be a son.”
“God forbid that there should on those terms. You intend that your children and her children shall be-bastards. That’s about it, Mr. Neville.” The romance seemed to vanish when the matter was submitted to him in this very prosaic manner. “As to what you might choose to call yourself, that would be nothing to me and not very much I should say, to her. I believe a man needn’t be a lord unless he likes to be a lord; — and needn’t call his wife a countess. But, Mr. Neville, when you have married Miss O’Hara, and when your uncle shall have died, there can be no other Countess of Scroope, and her child must be the heir to your uncle’s title.”
“All that I could give her except that, she should have.”
“But she must have that. She must be your wife before God and man, and her children must be the children of honour and not of disgrace.” Ah — if the priest had known it all!
“I would live abroad with her, and her mother should live with us.”
“You mean that you would take Kate O’Hara as your misthress! And you make this as a proposal to me! Upon my word, Mr. Neville, I don’t think that I quite understand what it is that you’re maning to say to me. Is she to be your wife?”
“Yes,” said Neville, urged by the perturbation of his spirit to give a stronger assurance than he had intended.
“Then must her son if she have one be the future Earl of Scroope. He may be Protesthant — or what you will?”
“You don’t understand me, Father Marty.”
“Faith, and that’s thrue. But we are at the baich, Mr. Neville, and I’ve two miles along the coast to Liscannor.”
“Shall I make Barney take you round in the canoe?”
“I believe I may as well walk it. Good-bye, Mr. Neville. I’m glad at any rate to hear you say so distinctly that you are resolved at all hazards to make that dear girl your wife.” This he said, almost in a whisper, standing close to the boat, with his hand on Neville’s shoulder. He paused a moment as though to give special strength to his words, and Neville did not dare or was not able to protest against the assertion. Father Marty himself was certainly not romantic in his manner of managing such an affair as this in which they were now both concerned.
Neville went back to Ennis much depressed, turning the matter over in his mind almost hopelessly. This was what had come from his adventures! No doubt he might marry the girl — postponing his marriage till after his uncle’s death. For aught he knew as yet that might still be possible. But were he to do so, he would disgrace his family, and disgrace himself by breaking the solemn promise he had made. And in such case he would be encumbered, and possibly be put beyond the pale of that sort of life which should be his as Earl of Scroope, by having Captain O’Hara as his father-in-law. He was aware now that he would be held by all his natural friends to have ruined himself by such a marriage.
On the other hand he could, no doubt, throw the girl over. They could not make him marry her though they could probably make him pay very dearly for not doing so. If he could only harden his heart sufficiently he could escape in that way. But he was not hard, and he did feel that so escaping, he would have a load on his breast which would make his life unendurable. Already he was beginning to hate the coast of Ireland, and to think that the gloom of Scroope Manor was preferable to it.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:55