Neville sat in his room alone, without moving, for a couple of hours after Mrs. O’Hara had left him. In what way should he escape from the misery and ruin which seemed to surround him? An idea did cross his mind that it would be better for him to fly and write the truth from the comparatively safe distance of his London club. But there would be a meanness in such conduct which would make it impossible that he should ever again hold up his head. The girl had trusted to him, and by trusting to him had brought herself to this miserable pass. He could not desert her. It would be better that he should go and endure all the vials of their wrath than that. To her he would still be tenderly loving, if she would accept his love without the name which he could not give her. His whole life he would sacrifice to her. Every luxury which money could purchase he would lavish on her. He must go and make his offer. The vials of wrath which would doubtless be poured out upon his head would not come from her. In his heart of hearts he feared both the priest and the mother. But there are moments in which a man feels himself obliged to encounter all that he most fears; — and the man who does not do so in such moments is a coward.
He quite made up his mind to start early on the following morning; but the intermediate hours were very sad and heavy, and his whole outlook into life was troublesome to him. How infinitely better would it have been for him had he allowed himself to be taught a twelvemonth since that his duty required him to give up the army at once! But he had made his bed, and now he must lie upon it. There was no escape from this journey to Ardkill. Even though he should be stunned by their wrath he must endure it.
He breakfasted early the next day, and got into his gig before nine. He must face the enemy, and the earlier that he did it the better. His difficulty now lay in arranging the proposition that he would make and the words that he should speak. Every difficulty would be smoothed and every danger dispelled if he would only say that he would marry the girl as quickly as the legal forms would allow. Father Marty, he knew, would see to all that, and the marriage might be done effectually. He had quite come to understand that Father Marty was practical rather than romantic. But there would be cowardice in this as mean as that other cowardice. He believed himself to be bound by his duty to his family. Were he now to renew his promise of marriage, such renewal would be caused by fear and not by duty, and would be mean. They should tear him piecemeal rather than get from him such a promise. Then he thought of the Captain, and perceived that he must make all possible use of the Captain’s character. Would anybody conceive that he, the heir of the Scroope family, was bound to marry the daughter of a convict returned from the galleys? And was it not true that such promise as he had made had been obtained under false pretences? Why had he not been told of the Captain’s position when he first made himself intimate with the mother and daughter?
Instead of going as was his custom to Lahinch, and then rowing across the bay and round the point, he drove his gig to the village of Liscannor. He was sick of Barney Morony and the canoe, and never desired to see either of them again. He was sick indeed, of everything Irish, and thought that the whole island was a mistake. He drove however boldly through Liscannor and up to Father Marty’s yard, and, not finding the priest at home, there left his horse and gig. He had determined that he would first go to the priest and boldly declare that nothing should induce him to marry the daughter of a convict. But Father Marty was not at home. The old woman who kept his house believed that he had gone into Ennistown. He was away with his horse, and would not be back till dinner time. Then Neville, having seen his own nag taken from the gig, started on his walk up to Ardkill.
How ugly the country was to his eyes as he now saw it. Here and there stood a mud cabin, and the small, half-cultivated fields, or rather patches of land, in which the thin oat crops were beginning to be green, were surrounded by low loose ramshackle walls, which were little more than heaps of stone, so carelessly had they been built and so negligently preserved. A few cocks and hens with here and there a miserable, starved pig seemed to be the stock of the country. Not a tree, not a shrub, not a flower was there to be seen. The road was narrow, rough, and unused. The burial ground which he passed was the liveliest sign of humanity about the place. Then the country became still wilder, and there was no road. The oats also ceased, and the walls. But he could hear the melancholy moan of the waves, which he had once thought to be musical and had often sworn that he loved. Now the place with all its attributes was hideous to him, distasteful, and abominable. At last the cottage was in view, and his heart sank very low. Poor Kate! He loved her dearly through it all. He endeavoured to take comfort by assuring himself that his heart was true to her. Not for worlds would he injure her; — that is, not for worlds, had any worlds been exclusively his own. On account of the Scroope world — which was a world general rather than particular — no doubt he must injure her most horribly. But still she was his dear Kate, his own Kate, his Kate whom he would never desert.
When he came up to the cottage the little gate was open, and he knew that somebody was there besides the usual inmates. His heart at once told him that it was the priest. His fate had brought him face to face with his two enemies at once! His breath almost left him, but he knew that he could not run away. However bitter might be the vials of wrath he must encounter them. So he knocked at the outer door and, after his custom, walked into the passage. Then he knocked again at the door of the one sitting-room — the door which hitherto he had always passed with the conviction that he should bring delight — and for a moment there was no answer. He heard no voice and he knocked again. The door was opened for him, and as he entered he met Father Marty. But he at once saw that there was another man in the room, seated in an arm chair near the window. Kate, his Kate, was not there, but Mrs. O’Hara was standing at the head of the sofa, far away from the window and close to the door. “It is Mr. Neville,” said the priest. “It is as well that he should come in.”
“Mr. Neville,” said the man rising from his chair, “I am informed that you are a suitor for the hand of my daughter. Your prospects in life are sufficient, sir, and I give my consent.”
The man was a thing horrible to look at, tall, thin, cadaverous, ill-clothed, with his wretched and all but ragged overcoat buttoned close up to his chin, with long straggling thin grizzled hair, red-nosed, with a drunkard’s eyes, and thin lips drawn down at the corners of the mouth. This was Captain O’Hara; and if any man ever looked like a convict returned from work in chains, such was the appearance of this man. This was the father of Fred’s Kate; — the man whom it was expected that he, Frederic Neville, the future Earl of Scroope, should take as his father-in-law! “This is Captain O’Hara,” said the priest. But even Father Marty, bold as he was, could not assume the voice with which he had rebuked Neville as he walked with him, now nearly a month ago, down to the beach.
Neville did feel that the abomination of the man’s appearance strengthened his position. He stood looking from one to another, while Mrs. O’Hara remained silent in the corner. “Perhaps,” said he, “I had better not be here. I am intruding.”
“It is right that you should know it all,” said the priest. “As regards the young lady it cannot now alter your position. This gentleman must be-arranged for.”
“Oh, certainly,” said the Captain. “I must be-arranged for, and that so soon as possible.” The man spoke with a slightly foreign accent and in a tone, as Fred thought, which savoured altogether of the galleys. “You have done me the honour, I am informed, to make my daughter all your own. These estimable people assure me that you hasten to make her your wife on the instant. I consent. The O’Haras, who are of the very oldest blood in Europe, have always connected themselves highly. Your uncle is a most excellent nobleman whose hand I shall be proud to grasp.” As he thus spoke he stalked across the room to Fred, intending at once to commence the work of grasping the Neville family.
“Get back,” said Fred, retreating to the door.
“Is it that you fail to believe that I am your bride’s father?”
“I know not whose father you may be. Get back.”
“He is what he says he is,” said the priest. “You should bear with him for a while.”
“Where is Kate?” demanded Fred. It seemed as though, for the moment, he were full of courage. He looked round at Mrs. O’Hara, but nobody answered him. She was still standing with her eyes fixed upon the man, almost as though she thought that she could dart out upon him and destroy him. “Where is Kate?” he asked again. “Is she well?”
“Well enough to hide herself from her old father,” said the Captain, brushing a tear from his eye with the back of his hand.
“You shall see her presently, Mr. Neville,” said the priest.
Then Neville whispered a word into the priest’s ear. “What is it that the man wants?”
“You need not regard that,” said Father Marty.
“Mr. Marty,” said the Captain, “you concern yourself too closely in my affairs. I prefer to open my thoughts and desires to my son-in-law. He has taken measures which give him a right to interfere in the family. Ha, ha, ha.”
“If you talk like that I’ll stab you to the heart,” said Mrs. O’Hara, jumping forward. Then Fred Neville perceived that the woman had a dagger in her hand which she had hitherto concealed from him as she stood up against the wall behind the head of the sofa. He learnt afterwards that the priest, having heard in Liscannor of the man’s arrival, had hurried up to the cottage, reaching it almost at the same moment with the Captain. Kate had luckily at the moment been in her room and had not seen her father. She was still in her bed and was ill; — but during the scene that occurred afterwards she roused herself. But Mrs. O’Hara, even in the priest’s presence, had at once seized the weapon from the drawer — showing that she was prepared even for murder, had murder been found necessary by her for her relief. The man had immediately asked as to the condition of his daughter, and the mother had learned that her child’s secret was known to all Liscannor. The priest now laid his hand upon her and stopped her, but he did it in all gentleness. “You’ll have a fierce pig of a mother-in-law, Mr. Neville,” said the Captain, “but your wife’s father — you’ll find him always gentle and open to reason. You were asking what I wanted.”
“Had I not better give him money?” suggested Neville.
“No,” said the priest shaking his head.
“Certainly,” said Captain O’Hara.
“If you will leave this place at once,” said Neville, “and come to me tomorrow morning at the Ennis barracks, I will give you money.”
“Give him none,” said Mrs. O’Hara.
“My beloved is unreasonable. You would not be rid of me even were he to be so hard. I should not die. Have I not proved to you that I am one whom it is hard to destroy by privation. The family has been under a cloud. A day of sunshine has come with this gallant young nobleman. Let me partake the warmth. I will visit you, Mr. Neville, certainly; — but what shall be the figure?”
“That will be as I shall find you then.”
“I will trust you. I will come. The journey hence to Ennis is long for one old as I am, and would be lightened by so small a trifle as — shall I say a bank note of the meanest value.” Upon this Neville handed him two bank notes for £1 each, and Captain O’Hara walked forth out of his wife’s house.
“He will never leave you now,” said the priest.
“He cannot hurt me. I will arrange with some man of business to pay him a stipend as long as he never troubles our friend here. Though all the world should know it, will it not be better so?”
Great and terrible is the power of money. When this easy way out of their immediate difficulties had been made by the rich man, even Mrs. O’Hara with all her spirit was subdued for the moment, and the reproaches of the priest were silenced for that hour. The young man had seemed to behave well, had stood up as the friend of the suffering women, and had been at any rate ready with his money. “And now,” he said, “where is Kate?” Then Mrs. O’Hara took him by the hand and led him into the bedroom in which the poor girl had buried herself from her father’s embrace. “Is he gone?” she asked before even she would throw herself into her lover’s arms.
“Neville has paid him money,” said the mother.
“Yes, he has gone,” said Fred; “and I think — I think that he will trouble you no more.”
“Oh, Fred, oh, my darling, oh, my own one. At last, at last you have come to me. Why have you stayed away? You will not stay away again? Oh, Fred, you do love me? Say that you love me.”
“Better than all the world,” he said pressing her to his bosom.
He remained with her for a couple of hours, during which hardly a word was said to him about his marriage. So great had been the effect upon them all of the sudden presence of the Captain, and so excellent had been the service rendered them by the trust which the Captain had placed in the young man’s wealth, that for this day both priest and mother were incapacitated from making their claim with the vigour and intensity of purpose which they would have shewn had Captain O’Hara not presented himself at the cottage. The priest left them soon — but not till it had been arranged that Neville should go back to Ennis to prepare for his reception of the Captain, and return to the cottage on the day after that interview was over. He assumed on a sudden the practical views of a man of business. He would take care to have an Ennis attorney with him when speaking to the Captain, and would be quite prepared to go to the extent of two hundred a year for the Captain’s life, if the Captain could be safely purchased for that money. “A quarter of it would do,” said Mrs. O’Hara. The priest thought £2 a week would be ample. “I’ll be as good as my word,” said Fred. Kate sat looking into his face thinking that he was still a god.
“And you will certainly be here by noon on Sunday?” said Kate, clinging to him when he rose to go.
“Dear, dear Fred.” And so he walked down the hill to the priest’s house almost triumphantly. He thought himself fortunate in not finding the priest who had ridden off from Ardkill to some distant part of the parish; — and then drove himself back to Ennis.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:55