Neville was intent upon business, and had not been back in Ennis from the cottage half an hour before he obtained an introduction to an attorney. He procured it through the sergeant-major of the troop. The sergeant-major was intimate with the innkeeper, and the innkeeper was able to say that Mr. Thaddeus Crowe was an honest, intelligent, and peculiarly successful lawyer. Before he sat down to dinner Fred Neville was closeted at the barracks with Mr. Crowe.
He began by explaining to Mr. Crowe who he was. This he did in order that the attorney might know that he had the means of carrying out his purpose. Mr. Crowe bowed, and assured his client that on that score he had no doubts whatever. Nevertheless Mr. Crowe’s first resolve, when he heard of the earldom and of the golden prospects, was to be very careful not to pay any money out of his own pocket on behalf of the young officer, till he made himself quite sure that it would be returned to him with interest. As the interview progressed, however, Mr. Crowe began to see his way, and to understand that the golden prospects were not pleaded because the owner of them was himself short of cash. Mr. Crowe soon understood the whole story. He had heard of Captain O’Hara, and believed the man to be as thorough a blackguard as ever lived. When Neville told the attorney of the two ladies, and of the anxiety which he felt to screen them from the terrible annoyance of the Captain’s visits, Mr. Crowe smiled, but made no remark. “It will be enough for you to know that I am in earnest about it,” said the future Earl, resenting even the smile. Mr. Crowe bowed, and asked his client to finish the story. “The man is to be with me tomorrow, here, at twelve, and I wish you to be present. Mr. Crowe, my intention is to give him two hundred pounds a year as long as he lives.”
“Two hundred a year!” said the Ennis attorney, to whom such an annuity seemed to be exorbitant as the purchase-money for a returned convict.
“Yes; — I have already mentioned that sum to his wife, though not to him.”
“I should reconsider it, Mr. Neville.”
“Thank you; — but I have made up my mind. The payments will be made of course only on condition that he troubles neither of the ladies either personally or by letter. It might be provided that it shall be paid to him weekly in France, but will not be paid should he leave that country. You will think of all this, and will make suggestions tomorrow. I shall be glad to have the whole thing left in your hands, so that I need simply remit the cheques to you. Perhaps I shall have the pleasure of seeing you tomorrow at twelve.” Mr. Crowe promised to turn the matter over in his mind and to be present at the hour named. Neville carried himself very well through the interview, assuming with perfect ease the manners of the great and rich man who had only to give his orders with a certainty that they would be obeyed. Mr. Crowe, when he went out from the young man’s presence, had no longer any doubt on his mind as to his client’s pecuniary capability.
On the following day at twelve o’clock, Captain O’Hara, punctual to the minute, was at the barracks; and there also sitting in Neville’s room, was the attorney. But Neville himself was not there, and the Captain immediately felt that he had been grossly imposed upon and swindled. “And who may I have the honour of addressing, when I speak to you, sir?” demanded the Captain.
“I am a lawyer.”
“And Mr. Neville — my own son-in-law — has played me that trick!”
Mr. Crowe explained that no trick had been played, but did so in language which was no doubt less courteous than would have been used had Mr. Neville been present. As, however, the cause of our hero’s absence is more important to us than the Captain’s prospects that must be first explained.
As soon as the attorney left him Neville had sat down to dinner with his two brother officers, but was not by any means an agreeable companion. When they attempted to joke with him as to the young lady on the cliffs, he showed very plainly that he did not like it; and when Cornet Simpkinson after dinner raised his glass to drink a health to Miss O’Hara, Mr. Neville told him that he was an impertinent ass. It was then somewhat past nine, and it did not seem probable that the evening would go off pleasantly. Cornet Simpkinson lit his cigar, and tried to wink at the Captain. Neville stretched out his legs and pretended to go to sleep. At this moment it was a matter of intense regret to him that he had ever seen the West of Ireland.
At a little before ten Captain Johnstone retired, and the Cornet attempted an apology. He had not meant to say anything that Neville would not like. “It doesn’t signify, my dear boy; only as a rule, never mention women’s names,” said Neville, speaking as though he were fully fitted by his experience to lay down the law on a matter so delicate. “Perhaps one hadn’t better,” said the Cornet — and then that little difficulty was over. Cornet Simpkinson however thought of it all afterwards, and felt that that evening and that hour had been more important than any other evening or any other hour in his life.
At half-past ten, when Neville was beginning to think that he would take himself to bed, and was still cursing the evil star which had brought him to County Clare, there arose a clatter at the outside gate of the small barrack-yard. A man had posted all the way down from Limerick and desired to see Mr. Neville at once. The man had indeed come direct from Scroope — by rail from Dublin to Limerick, and thence without delay on to Ennis. The Earl of Scroope was dead, and Frederic Neville was Earl of Scroope. The man brought a letter from Miss Mellerby, telling him the sad news and conjuring him in his aunt’s name to come at once to the Manor. Of course he must start at once for the Manor. Of course he must attend as first mourner at his uncle’s grave before he could assume his uncle’s name and fortune.
In that first hour of his greatness the shock to him was not so great but that he at once thought of the O’Haras. He would leave Ennis the following morning at six, so as to catch the day mail train out of Limerick for Dublin. That was a necessity; but though so very short a span of time was left to him, he must still make arrangements about the O’Haras. He had hardly heard the news half an hour before he himself was knocking at the door of Mr. Crowe the attorney. He was admitted, and Mr. Crowe descended to him in a pair of slippers and a very old dressing-gown. Mr. Crowe, as he held his tallow candle up to his client’s face, looked as if he didn’t like it. “I know I must apologize,” said Neville, “but I have this moment received news of my uncle’s death.”
“And I have now the honour of — speaking to the Earl of Scroope.”
“Never mind that. I must start for England almost immediately. I haven’t above an hour or two. You must see that man, O’Hara, without me.”
“Certainly, my lord.”
“You shouldn’t speak to me in that way yet,” said Neville angrily. “You will be good enough to understand that the terms are fixed; — two hundred a year as long, as he remains in France and never molests anyone either by his presence or by letter. Thank you. I shall be so much obliged to you! I shall be back here after the funeral, and will arrange about payments. Good-night.”
So it happened that Captain O’Hara had no opportunity on that occasion of seeing his proposed son-in-law. Mr. Crowe, fully crediting the power confided to him, did as he was bidden. He was very harsh to the poor Captain; but in such a condition a man can hardly expect that people should not be harsh to him. The Captain endeavoured to hold up his head, and to swagger, and to assume an air of pinchbeck respectability. But the attorney would not permit it. He required that the man should own himself to be penniless, a scoundrel, only anxious to be bought; and the Captain at last admitted the facts. The figure was the one thing important to him — the figure and the nature of the assurance. Mr. Crowe had made his calculations, and put the matter very plainly. A certain number of francs — a hundred francs — would be paid to him weekly at any town in France he might select — which however would be forfeited by any letter written either to Mrs. O’Hara, to Miss O’Hara, or to the Earl.
“The Earl!” ejaculated the Captain.
Mr. Crowe had been unable to refrain his tongue from the delicious title, but now corrected himself. “Nor Mr. Neville, I mean. No one will be bound to give you a farthing, and any letter asking for anything more will forfeit the allowance altogether.” The Captain vainly endeavoured to make better terms, and of course accepted those proposed to him. He would live in Paris — dear Paris. He took five pounds for his journey, and named an agent for the transmission of his money.
And so Fred Neville was the Earl of Scroope. He had still one other task to perform before he could make his journey home. He had to send tidings in some shape to Ardkill of what had happened. As he returned to the barracks from Mr. Crowe’s residence he thought wholly of this. That other matter was now arranged. As one item of the cost of his adventure in County Clare he must pay two hundred a year to that reprobate, the Captain, as long as the reprobate chose to live — and must also pay Mr. Crowe’s bill for his assistance. This was a small matter to him as his wealth was now great, and he was not a man by nature much prone to think of money. Nevertheless it was a bad beginning of his life. Though he had declared himself to be quite indifferent on that head, he did feel that the arrangement was not altogether reputable — that it was one which he could not explain to his own man of business without annoyance, and which might perhaps give him future trouble. Now he must prepare his message for the ladies at Ardkill — especially to the lady whom on his last visit to the cottage he had found armed with a dagger for the reception of her husband. And as he returned back to the barracks it occurred to him that a messenger might be better than a letter. “Simpkinson,” he said, going at once into the young man’s bed-room, “have you heard what has happened to me?” Simpkinson had heard all about it, and expressed himself as “deucedly sorry” for the old man’s death, but seemed to think that there might be consolation for that sorrow. “I must go to Scroope immediately,” said Neville. “I have explained it all to Johnstone, and shall start almost at once. I shall first lie down and get an hour’s sleep. I want you to do something for me.” Simpkinson was devoted. Simpkinson would do anything. “I cut up a little rough just now when you mentioned Miss O’Hara’s name.” Simpkinson declared that he did not mind it in the least, and would never pronounce the name again as long as he lived. “But I want you to go and see her tomorrow,” said Neville. Then Simpkinson sat bolt upright in bed.
Of course the youthful warrior undertook the commission. What youthful warrior would not go any distance to see a beautiful young lady on a cliff, and what youthful warrior would not undertake any journey to oblige a brother officer who was an Earl? Full instructions were at once given to him. He had better ask to see Mrs. O’Hara — in describing whom Neville made no allusion to the dagger. He was told how to knock at the door, and send in word by the servant to say that he had called on behalf of Mr. Neville. He was to drive as far as Liscannor, and then get some boy to accompany him on foot as a guide. He would not perhaps mind walking two or three miles. Simpkinson declared that were it ten he would not mind it. He was then to tell Mrs. O’Hara — just the truth. He was to say that a messenger had come from Scroope announcing the death of the Earl, and that Neville had been obliged to start at once for England.
“But you will be back?” said Simpkinson.
Neville paused a moment. “Yes, I shall be back, but don’t say anything of that to either of the ladies.”
“Must I say I don’t know? They’ll be sure to ask, I should say.”
“Of course they’ll ask. Just tell them that the whole thing has been arranged so quickly that nothing has been settled, but that they shall hear from me at once. You can say that you suppose I shall be back, but that I promised that I would write. Indeed that will be the exact truth, as I don’t at all know what I may do. Be as civil to them as possible.”
“That’s of course.”
“They are ladies, you know.”
“I supposed that.”
“And I am most desirous to do all in my power to oblige them. You can say that I have arranged that other matter satisfactorily.”
“That other matter?”
“They’ll understand. The mother will at least, and you’d better say that to her. You’ll go early.”
“I’ll start at seven if you like.”
“Eight or nine will do. Thank you, Simpkinson. I’m so much obliged to you. I hope I shall see you over in England some day when things are a little settled.” With this Simpkinson was delighted — as he was also with the commission entrusted to him.
And so Fred Neville was the Earl of Scroope. Not that he owned even to himself that the title and all belonging to it were as yet in his own possession. Till the body of the old man should be placed in the family vault he would still be simply Fred Neville, a lieutenant in Her Majesty’s 20th Hussars. As he travelled home to Scroope, to the old gloomy mansion which was now in truth not only his home, but his own house, to do just as he pleased with it, he had much to fill his mind. He was himself astonished to find with how great a weight his new dignities sat upon his shoulders, now that they were his own. But a few months since he had thought and even spoken of shifting them from himself to another, so that he might lightly enjoy a portion of the wealth which would belong to him without burdening himself with the duties of his position. He would take his yacht, and the girl he loved, and live abroad, with no present record of the coronet which would have descended to him, and with no assumption of the title. But already that feeling had died away within him. A few words spoken to him by the priest and a few serious thoughts within his own bosom had sufficed to explain to him that he must be the Earl of Scroope. The family honours had come to him, and he must support them — either well or ill as his strength and principles might govern him. And he did understand that it was much to be a peer, an hereditary legislator, one who by the chance of his birth had a right to look for deferential respect even from his elders. It was much to be the lord of wide acres, the ruler of a large domain, the landlord of many tenants who would at any rate regard themselves as dependent on his goodness. It was much to be so placed that no consideration of money need be a bar to any wish — that the considerations which should bar his pleasures need be only those of dignity, character, and propriety. His uncle had told him more than once how much a peer of England owed to his country and to his order; — how such a one is bound by no ordinary bonds to a life of high resolves, and good endeavours. “Sans reproche” was the motto of his house, and was emblazoned on the wall of the hall that was now his own. If it might be possible to him he would live up to it and neither degrade his order nor betray his country.
But as he thought of all this, he thought also of Kate O’Hara. With what difficulties had he surrounded the commencement of this life which he purposed to lead! How was he to escape from the mess of trouble which he had prepared for himself by his adventures in Ireland. An idea floated across his mind that very many men who stand in their natural manhood high in the world’s esteem, have in their early youth formed ties such as that which now bound him to Kate O’Hara — that they have been silly as he had been, and had then escaped from the effects of their folly without grievous damage. But yet he did not see his mode of escape. If money could do it for him he would make almost any sacrifice. If wealth and luxury could make his Kate happy, she should be happy as a Princess. But he did not believe either of her or of her mother that any money would be accepted as a sufficient atonement. And he hated himself for suggesting to himself that it might be possible. The girl was good, and had trusted him altogether. The mother was self-denying, devoted, and high-spirited. He knew that money would not suffice.
He need not return to Ireland unless he pleased. He could send over some agent to arrange his affairs, and allow the two women to break their hearts in their solitude upon the cliffs. Were he to do so he did not believe that they would follow him. They would write doubtless, but personally he might, probably, be quit of them in this fashion. But in this there would be a cowardice and a meanness which would make it impossible that he should ever again respect himself.
And thus he again entered Scroope, the lord and owner of all that he saw around him — with by no means a happy heart or a light bosom.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01