When Fred Neville first came to the Manor, the old Earl trembled when called upon to receive him. Of the lad he had heard almost nothing — of his appearance literally nothing. It might be that his heir would be meanly visaged, a youth of whom he would have cause to be ashamed, one from whose countenance no sign of high blood would shine out; or, almost worse, he also might have that look, half of vanity, and half of vice, of which the father had gradually become aware in his own son, and which in him had degraded the Neville beauty. But Fred, to look at, was a gallant fellow — such a youth as women love to see about a house — well-made, active, quick, self-asserting, fair-haired, blue-eyed, short-lipped, with small whiskers, thinking but little of his own personal advantages, but thinking much of his own way. As far as the appearance of the young man went the Earl could not but be satisfied. And to him, at any rate in this, the beginning of their connexion, Fred Neville was modest and submissive. “You are welcome to Scroope,” said the old man, receiving him with stately urbanity in the middle of the hall. “I am so much obliged to you, uncle,” he said. “You are come to me as a son, my boy — as a son. It will be your own fault if you are not a son to us in everything.” Then in lieu of further words there shone a tear in each of the young man’s eyes, much more eloquent to the Earl than could have been any words. He put his arm over his nephew’s shoulders, and in this guise walked with him into the room in which Lady Scroope was awaiting them. “Mary,” he said to his wife, “here is our heir. Let him be a son to us.” Then Lady Scroope took the young man in her arms and kissed him. Thus auspiciously was commenced this new connexion.
The arrival was in September, and the game-keeper, with the under gamekeeper, had for the last month been told to be on his mettle. Young Mr. Neville was no doubt a sportsman. And the old groom had been warned that hunters might be wanted in the stables next winter. Mrs. Bunce was made to understand that liberties would probably be taken with the house, such as had not yet been perpetrated in her time; — for the late heir had never made the Manor his home from the time of his leaving school. It was felt by all that great changes were to be effected — and it was felt also that the young man on whose behalf all this was to be permitted, could not but be elated by his position. Of such elation, however, there were not many signs. To his uncle, Fred Neville was, as has been said, modest and submissive; to his aunt he was gentle but not submissive. The rest of the household he treated civilly, but with none of that awe which was perhaps expected from him. As for shooting, he had come direct from his friend Carnaby’s moor. Carnaby had forest as well as moor, and Fred thought but little of partridges — little of such old-fashioned partridge-shooting as was prepared for him at Scroope — after grouse and deer. As for hunting in Dorsetshire, if his uncle wished it — why in that case he would think of it. According to his ideas, Dorsetshire was not the best county in England for hunting. Last year his regiment had been at Bristol and he had ridden with the Duke’s hounds. This winter he was to be stationed in Ireland, and he had an idea that Irish hunting was good. If he found that his uncle made a point of it, he would bring his horses to Scroope for a month at Christmas. Thus he spoke to the head groom — and thus he spoke also to his aunt, who felt some surprise when he talked of Scotland and his horses. She had thought that only men of large fortunes shot deer and kept studs — and perhaps conceived that the officers of the 20th Hussars were generally engaged in looking after the affairs of their regiment, and in preparation for meeting the enemy.
Fred now remained a month at Scroope, and during that time there was but little personal intercourse between him and his uncle in spite of the affectionate greeting with which their acquaintance had been commenced. The old man’s habits of life were so confirmed that he could not bring himself to alter them. Throughout the entire morning he would sit in his own room alone. He would then be visited by his steward, his groom, and his butler; — and would think that he gave his orders, submitting, however, in almost every thing to them. His wife would sometimes sit with him for half an hour, holding his hand, in moments of tenderness unseen and unsuspected by all the world around them. Sometimes the clergyman of the parish would come to him, so that he might know the wants of the people. He would have the newspaper in his hands for a while, and would daily read the Bible for an hour. Then he would slowly write some letter, almost measuring every point which his pen made — thinking that thus he was performing his duty as a man of business. Few men perhaps did less — but what he did do was good; and of self-indulgence there was surely none. Between such a one and the young man who had now come to his house there could be but little real connexion.
Between Fred Neville and Lady Scroope there arose a much closer intimacy. A woman can get nearer to a young man than can any old man; — can learn more of his ways, and better understand his wishes. From the very first there arose between them a matter of difference, as to which there was no quarrel, but very much of argument. In that argument Lady Scroope was unable to prevail. She was very anxious that the heir should at once abandon his profession and sell out of the army. Of what use could it be to him now to run after his regiment to Ireland, seeing that undoubtedly the great duties of his life all centred at Scroope? There were many discussions on the subject, but Fred would not give way in regard to the next year. He would have this year, he said, to himself; — and after that he would come and settle himself at Scroope. Yes; no doubt he would marry as soon as he could find a fitting wife. Of course it would be right that he should marry. He fully understood the responsibilities of his position; — so he said, in answer to his aunt’s eager, scrutinising, beseeching questions. But as he had joined his regiment, he thought it would be good for him to remain with it one year longer. He particularly desired to see something of Ireland, and if he did not do so now, he would never have the opportunity. Lady Scroope, understanding well that he was pleading for a year of grace from the dulness of the Manor, explained to him that his uncle would by no means expect that he should remain always at Scroope. If he would marry, the old London house should be prepared for him and his bride. He might travel — not, however, going very far afield. He might get into Parliament; as to which, if such were his ambition, his uncle would give him every aid. He might have his friends at Scroope Manor — Carnaby and all the rest of them. Every allurement was offered to him. But he had commenced by claiming a year of grace, and to that claim he adhered.
Could his uncle have brought himself to make the request in person, at first, he might probably have succeeded; — and had he succeeded, there would have been no story for us as to the fortunes of Scroope Manor. But the Earl was too proud and perhaps too diffident to make the attempt. From his wife he heard all that took place; and though he was grieved, he expressed no anger. He could not feel himself justified in expressing anger because his nephew chose to remain for yet a year attached to his profession. “Who knows what may happen to him?” said the Countess.
“Ah, indeed! But we are all in the hands of the Almighty.” And the Earl bowed his head. Lady Scroope, fully recognizing the truth of her husband’s pious ejaculation, nevertheless thought that human care might advantageously be added to the divine interposition for which, as she well knew, her lord prayed fervently as soon as the words were out of his mouth.
“But it would be so great a thing if he could be settled. Sophia Mellerby has promised to come here for a couple of months in the winter. He could not possibly do better than that.”
“The Mellerbys are very good people,” said the Earl. “Her grandmother, the duchess, is one of the very best women in England. Her mother, Lady Sophia, is an excellent creature — religious, and with the soundest principles. Mr. Mellerby, as a commoner, stands as high as any man in England.”
“They have held the same property since the wars of the roses. And then I suppose the money should count for something,” added the lady.
Lord Scroope would not admit the importance of the money, but was quite willing to acknowledge that were his heir to make Sophia Mellerby the future Lady Scroope he would be content. But he could not interfere. He did not think it wise to speak to young men on such a subject. He thought that by doing so a young man might be rather diverted from than attracted to the object in view. Nor would he press his wishes upon his nephew as to next year. “Were I to ask it,” he said, “and were he to refuse me, I should be hurt. I am bound therefore to ask nothing that is unreasonable.” Lady Scroope did not quite agree with her husband in this. She thought that as every thing was to be done for the young man; as money almost without stint was to be placed at his command; as hunting, parliament, and a house in London were offered to him; — as the treatment due to a dear and only son was shown to him, he ought to give something in return; but she herself, could say no more than she had said, and she knew already that in those few matters in which her husband had a decided will, he was not to be turned from it.
It was arranged, therefore, that Fred Neville should join his regiment at Limerick in October, and that he should come home to Scroope for a fortnight or three weeks at Christmas. Sophia Mellerby was to be Lady Scroope’s guest at that time, and at last it was decided that Mrs. Neville, who had never been seen by the Earl, should be asked to come and bring with her her younger son, John Neville, who had been successful in obtaining a commission in the Engineers. Other guests should be invited, and an attempt should be made to remove the mantle of gloom from Scroope Manor — with the sole object of ingratiating the heir.
Early in October Fred went to Limerick, and from thence with a detached troop of his regiment he was sent to the cavalry barracks at Ennis, the assize town of the neighbouring County Clare. This was at first held to be a misfortune by him, as Limerick is in all respects a better town than Ennis, and in County Limerick the hunting is far from being bad, whereas Clare is hardly a country for a Nimrod. But a young man, with money at command, need not regard distances; and the Limerick balls and the Limerick coverts were found to be equally within reach. From Ennis also he could attend some of the Galway meets — and then with no other superior than a captain hardly older than himself to interfere with his movements, he could indulge in that wild district the spirit of adventure which was strong within him. When young men are anxious to indulge the spirit of adventure, they generally do so by falling in love with young women of whom their fathers and mothers would not approve. In these days a spirit of adventure hardly goes further than this, unless it take a young man to a German gambling table.
When Fred left Scroope it was understood that he was to correspond with his aunt. The Earl would have been utterly lost had he attempted to write a letter to his nephew without having something special to communicate to him. But Lady Scroope was more facile with her pen, and it was rightly thought that the heir would hardly bring himself to look upon Scroope as his home, unless some link were maintained between himself and the place. Lady Scroope therefore wrote once a week — telling everything that there was to be told of the horses, the game, and even of the tenants. She studied her letters, endeavouring to make them light and agreeable — such as a young man of large prospects would like to receive from his own mother. He was “Dearest Fred,” and in one of those earliest written she expressed a hope that should any trouble ever fall upon him he would come to her as to his dearest friend. Fred was not a bad correspondent, and answered about every other letter. His replies were short, but that was a matter of course. He was “as jolly as a sandboy,” “right as a trivet;” had had “one or two very good things,” and thought that upon the whole he liked Ennis better than Limerick. “Johnstone is such a deuced good fellow!” Johnstone was the captain of the 20th Hussars who happened to be stationed with him at Limerick. Lady Scroope did not quite like the epithet, but she knew that she had to learn to hear things to which she had hitherto not been accustomed.
This was all very well; — but Lady Scroope, having a friend in Co. Clare, thought that she might receive tidings of the adopted one which would be useful, and with this object she opened a correspondence with Lady Mary Quin. Lady Mary Quin was a daughter of the Earl of Kilfenora, and was well acquainted with all County Clare. She was almost sure to hear of the doings of any officers stationed at Ennis, and would do so certainly in regard to an officer that was specially introduced to her. Fred Neville was invited to stay at Castle Quin as long as he pleased, and actually did pass one night under its roof. But, unfortunately for him, that spirit of adventure which he was determined to indulge led him into the neighbourhood of Castle Quin when it was far from his intention to interfere with the Earl or with Lady Mary, and thus led to the following letter which Lady Scroope received about the middle of December — just a week before Fred’s return to the Manor.
QUIN CASTLE, ENNISTIMON, 14 December, 18 —.
MY DEAR LADY SCROOPE,
Since I wrote to you before, Mr. Neville has been here once, and we all liked him very much. My father was quite taken with him. He is always fond of the young officers, and is not the less inclined to be so of one who is so dear and near to you. I wish he would have stayed longer, and hope that he shall come again. We have not much to offer in the way of amusement, but in January and February there is good snipe shooting.
I find that Mr. Neville is very fond of shooting — so much so that before we knew anything of him except his name we had heard that he had been on our coast after seals and sea birds. We have very high cliffs near here — some people say the highest in the world, and there is one called the Hag’s Head from which men get down and shoot sea-gulls. He has been different times in our village of Liscannor, and I think he has a boat there or at Lahinch. I believe he has already killed ever so many seals.
I tell you all this for a reason. I hope that it may come to nothing, but I think that you ought to know. There is a widow lady living not very far from Liscannor, but nearer up to the cliffs. Her cottage is on papa’s property, but I think she holds it from somebody else. I don’t like to say anything to papa about it. Her name is Mrs. O’Hara, and she has a daughter.
When Lady Scroope had read so far, she almost let the paper drop from her hand. Of course she knew what it all meant. An Irish Miss O’Hara! And Fred Neville was spending his time in pursuit of this girl! Lady Scroope had known what it would be when the young man was allowed to return to his regiment in spite of the manifold duties which should have bound him to Scroope Manor.
I have seen this young lady,
continued Lady Mary,
and she is certainly very pretty. But nobody knows anything about them; and I cannot even learn whether they belong to the real O’Haras. I should think not, as they are Roman Catholics. At any rate Miss O’Hara can hardly be a fitting companion for Lord Scroope’s heir. I believe they are ladies, but I don’t think that any one knows them here, except the priest of Kilmacrenny. We never could make out quite why they came here — only that Father Marty knows something about them. He is the priest of Kilmacrenny. She is a very pretty girl, and I never heard a word against her; — but I don’t know whether that does not make it worse, because a young man is so likely to get entangled.
I daresay nothing shall come of it, and I’m sure I hope that nothing may. But I thought it best to tell you. Pray do not let him know that you have heard from me. Young men are so very particular about things, and I don’t know what he might say of me if he knew that I had written home to you about his private affairs. All the same if I can be of any service to you, pray let me know. Excuse haste. And believe me to be,
Yours most sincerely,
A Roman Catholic; — one whom no one knew but the priest; — a girl who perhaps never had a father! All this was terrible to Lady Scroope. Roman Catholics — and especially Irish Roman Catholics — were people whom, as she thought, every one should fear in this world, and for whom everything was to be feared in the next. How would it be with the Earl if this heir also were to tell him some day that he was married? Would not his grey hairs be brought to the grave with a double load of sorrow? However, for the present she thought it better to say not a word to the Earl.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14