Sharp eyes had watched for the young lord’s approach. As he came near to the cottage the door was opened and Kate O’Hara rushed out to meet him. Though his mind was turned against her — was turned against her as hard and fast as all his false reasonings had been able to make it — he could not but accord to her the reception of a lover. She was in his arms and he could not but press her close to his bosom. Her face was held up to his, and of course he covered it with kisses. She murmured to him sweet warm words of passionate love, and he could not but answer with endearing names. “I am your own — am I not?” she said as she still clung to him. “All my own,” he whispered as he tightened his arm round her waist.
Then he asked after Mrs. O’Hara. “Yes; mother is there. She will be almost as glad to see you as I am. Nobody can be quite so glad. Oh Fred — my darling Fred — am I still to call you Fred?”
“What else, my pet?”
“I was thinking whether I would call you — my Lord.”
“For heaven’s sake do not.”
“No. You shall be Fred — my Fred; Fred to me, though all the world besides may call you grand names.” Then again she held up her face to him and pressed the hand that was round her waist closer to her girdle. To have him once more with her — this was to taste all the joys of heaven while she was still on earth.
They entered the sitting-room together and met Mrs. O’Hara close to the door. “My Lord,” she said, “you are very welcome back to us. Indeed we need you much. I will not upbraid you as you come to make atonement for your fault. If you will let me I will love you as a son.” As she spoke she held his right hand in both of hers, and then she lifted up her face and kissed his cheek.
He could not stay her words, nor could he refuse the kiss. And yet to him the kiss was as the kiss of Judas, and the words were false words, plotted words, prearranged, so that after hearing them there should be no escape for him. But he would escape. He resolved again, even then, that he would escape; but he could not answer her words at the moment. Though Mrs. O’Hara held him by the hand, Kate still hung to his other arm. He could not thrust her away from him. She still clung to him when he released his right hand, and almost lay upon his breast when he seated himself on the sofa. She looked into his eyes for tenderness, and he could not refrain himself from bestowing upon her the happiness. “Oh, mother,” she said, “he is so brown; — but he is handsomer than ever.” But though he smiled on her, giving back into her eyes her own soft look of love, yet he must tell his tale.
He was still minded that she should have all but the one thing — all if she would take it. She should not be Countess of Scroope; but in any other respect he would pay what penalty might be required for his transgression. But in what words should he explain this to those two women? Mrs. O’Hara had called him by his title and had claimed him as her son. No doubt she had all the right to do so which promises made by himself could give her. He had sworn that he would marry the girl, and in point of time had only limited his promise by the old Earl’s life. The old Earl was dead, and he stood pledged to the immediate performance of his vow — doubly pledged if he were at all solicitous for the honour of his future bride. But in spite of all promises she should never be Countess of Scroope!
Some tinkling false-tongued phrase as to lover’s oaths had once passed across his memory and had then sufficed to give him a grain of comfort. There was no comfort to be found in it now. He began to tell himself, in spite of his manhood, that it might have been better for him and for them that he should have broken this matter to them by a well-chosen messenger. But it was too late for that now. He had faced the priest and had escaped from him with the degradation of a few tears. Now he was in the presence of the lioness and her young. The lioness had claimed him as a denizen of the forest; and, would he yield to her, she no doubt would be very tender to him. But, as he was resolved not to yield, he began to find that he had been wrong to enter her den. As he looked at her, knowing that she was at this moment softened by false hopes, he could nevertheless see in her eye the wrath of the wild animal. How was he to begin to make his purpose known to them.
“And now you must tell us everything,” said Kate, still encircled by his arm.
“What must I tell you?”
“You will give up the regiment at once?”
“I have done so already.”
“But you must not give up Ardkill; — must he, mother?”
“He may give it up when he takes you from it, Kate.”
“But he will take you too, mother?”
The lioness at any rate wanted nothing for herself. “No, love. I shall remain here among my rocks, and shall be happy if I hear that you are happy.”
“But you won’t part us altogether — will you, Fred?”
“I knew he wouldn’t. And mother may come to your grand house and creep into some pretty little corner there, where I can go and visit her, and tell her that she shall always be my own, own, own darling mother.”
He felt that he must put a stop to this in some way, though the doing of it would be very dreadful. Indeed in the doing of it the whole of his task would consist. But still he shirked it, and used his wit in contriving an answer which might still deceive without being false in words. “I think,” said he, “that I shall never live at any grand house, as you call it.”
“Not live at Scroope?” asked Mrs. O’Hara.
“I think not. It will hardly suit me.”
“I shall not regret it,” said Kate. “I care nothing for a grand house. I should only be afraid of it. I know it is dark and sombre, for you have said so. Oh, Fred, any place will be Paradise to me, if I am there with you.”
He felt that every moment of existence so continued was a renewed lie. She was lying in his arms, in her mother’s presence, almost as his acknowledged wife. And she was speaking of her future home as being certainly his also. But what could he do? How could he begin to tell the truth? His home should be her home, if she would come to him — not as his wife. That idea of some half-valid morganatic marriage had again been dissipated by the rough reproaches of the priest, and could only be used as a prelude to his viler proposal. And, though he loved the girl after his fashion, he desired to wound her by no such vile proposal. He did not wish to live a life of sin, if such life might be avoided. If he made his proposal, it would be but for her sake; or rather that he might show her that he did not wish to cast her aside. It was by asserting to himself that for her sake he would relinquish his own rank, were that possible, that he attempted to relieve his own conscience. But, in the mean time, she was in his arms talking about their joint future home! “Where do you think of living?” asked Mrs. O’Hara in a tone which shewed plainly the anxiety with which she asked the question.
“Probably abroad,” he said.
“But mother may go with us?” The girl felt that the tension of his arm was relaxed, and she knew that all was not well with him. And if there was ought amiss with him, how much more must it be amiss with her? “What is it, Fred?” she said. “There is some secret. Will you not tell it to me?” Then she whispered into his ear words intended for him alone, though her mother heard them. “If there be a secret you should tell it me now. Think how it is with me. Your words are life and death to me now.” He still held her with loosened arms but did not answer her. He sat, looking out into the middle of the room with fixed eyes, and he felt that drops of perspiration were on his brow. And he knew that the other woman was glaring at him with the eyes of an injured lioness, though he did not dare to turn his own to her face. “Fred, tell me; tell me.” And Kate rose up, with her knees upon the sofa, bending over him, gazing into his countenance and imploring him.
“There must be disappointment,” he said; and he did not know the sound of his own voice.
“What disappointment? Speak to me. What disappointment?”
“Disappointment!” shrieked the mother. “How disappointment? There shall be no disappointment.” Rising from her chair, she hurried across the room, and took her girl from his arms. “Lord Scroope, tell us what you mean. I say there shall be no disappointment. Sit away from him, Kate, till he has told us what it is.” Then they heard the sound of a horse’s foot passing close to the window, and they all knew that it was the priest. “There is Father Marty,” said Mrs. O’Hara. “He shall make you tell it.”
“I have already told him.” Lord Scroope as he said this rose and moved towards the door; but he himself was almost unconscious of the movement. Some idea probably crossed his mind that he would meet the priest, but Mrs. O’Hara thought that he intended to escape from them.
She rushed between him and the door and held him with both her hands. “No; no; you do not leave us in that way, though you were twice an Earl.”
“I am not thinking of leaving you.”
“Mother, you shall not hurt him; you shall not insult him,” said the girl. “He does not mean to harm me. He is my own, and no one shall touch him.”
“Certainly I will not harm you. Here is Father Marty. Mrs. O’Hara you had better be tranquil. You should remember that you have heard nothing yet of what I would say to you.”
“Whose fault is that? Why do you not speak? Father Marty, what does he mean when he tells my girl that there must be disappointment for her? Does he dare to tell me that he hesitates to make her his wife?”
The priest took the mother by the hand and placed her on the chair in which she usually sat. Then, almost without a word, he led Kate from the room to her own chamber, and bade her wait a minute till he should come back to her. Then he returned to the sitting-room and at once addressed himself to Lord Scroope. “Have you dared,” he said, “to tell them what you hardly dared to tell to me?”
“He has dared to tell us nothing,” said Mrs. O’Hara.
“I do not wonder at it. I do not think that any man could say to her that which he told me that he would do.”
“Mrs. O’Hara,” said the young lord, with some return of courage now that the girl had left them, “that which I told Mr. Marty this morning, I will now tell to you. For your daughter I will do anything that you and she and he may wish — but one thing. I cannot make her Countess of Scroope.”
“You must make her your wife,” said the woman, shouting at him.
“I will do so tomorrow if a way can be found by which she shall not become Countess of Scroope.”
“That is, he will marry her without making her his wife,” said the priest. “He will jump over a broomstick with her and will ask me to help him — so that your feelings and hers may be spared for a week or so. Mrs. O’Hara, he is a villain — a vile, heartless, cowardly reprobate, so low in the scale of humanity that I degrade myself by spaking to him. He calls himself an English peer! Peer to what? Certainly to no one worthy to be called a man!” So speaking, the priest addressed himself to Mrs. O’Hara, but as he spoke his eyes were fixed full on the face of the young lord.
“I will have his heart out of his body,” exclaimed Mrs. O’Hara.
“Heart; — he has no heart. You may touch his pocket; — or his pride, what he calls his pride, a damnable devilish inhuman vanity; or his name — that bugbear of a title by which he trusts to cover his baseness; or his skin, for he is a coward. Do you see his cheek now? But as for his heart — you cannot get at that.”
“I will get at his life,” said the woman.
“Mr. Marty, you allow yourself a liberty of speech which even your priesthood will not warrant.”
“Lay a hand upon me if you can. There is not blood enough about you to do it. Were it not that the poor child has been wake and too trusting, I would bid her spit on you rather than take you for her husband.” Then he paused, but only for a moment. “Sir, you must marry her, and there must be an end of it. In no other way can you be allowed to live.”
“Would you murder me?”
“I would crush you like an insect beneath my nail. Murder you! Have you thought what murder is; — that there are more ways of murder than one? Have you thought of the life of that young girl who now bears in her womb the fruit of your body? Would you murder her — because she loved you, and trusted you, and gave you all simply because you asked her; and then think of your own life? As the God of Heaven is above me, and sees me now, and the Saviour in whose blood I trust, I would lay down my life this instant, if I could save her from your heartlessness.” So saying he too turned away his face and wept like a child.
After this the priest was gentler in his manner to the young man, and it almost seemed as though the Earl was driven from his decision. He ceased, at any rate, to assert that Kate should never be Countess of Scroope, and allowed both the mother and Father Marty to fall into a state of doubt as to what his last resolve might be. It was decided that he should go down to Ennistimon and sleep upon it. On the morrow he would come up again, and in the meantime he would see Father Marty at the inn. There were many prayers addressed to him both by the mother and the priest, and such arguments used that he had been almost shaken. “But you will come tomorrow?” said the mother, looking at the priest as she spoke.
“I will certainly come tomorrow.”
“No doubt he will come tomorrow,” said Father Marty — who intended to imply that if Lord Scroope escaped out of Ennistimon without his knowledge, he would be very much surprised.
“Shall I not say a word to Kate?” the Earl asked as he was going.
“Not till you are prepared to tell her that she shall be your wife,” said the priest.
But this was a matter as to which Kate herself had a word to say. When they were in the passage she came out from her room, and again rushed into her lover’s arms. “Oh, Fred, let me told — let me told. I will go with you anywhere if you will take me.”
“He is to come up tomorrow, Kate,” said her mother.
“He will be here early tomorrow, and everything shall be settled then,” said the priest, trying to assume a happy and contented tone.
“Dearest Kate, I will be here by noon,” said Lord Scroope, returning the girl’s caresses.
“And you will not desert me?”
“No, darling, no.” And then he went, leaving the priest behind him at the cottage.
Father Marty was to be with him at the inn by eight, and then the whole matter must be again discussed. He felt that he had been very weak, that he had made no use — almost no use at all — of the damning fact of the Captain’s existence. He had allowed the priest to talk him down in every argument, and had been actually awed by the girl’s mother, and yet he was determined that he would not yield. He felt more strongly than ever, now that he had again seen Kate O’Hara, that it would not be right that such a one as she should be made Countess of Scroope. Not only would she disgrace the place, but she would be unhappy in it, and would shame him. After all the promises that he had made he could not, and he would not, take her to Scroope as his wife. How could she hold up her head before such women as Sophie Mellerby and others like her? It would be known by all his friends that he had been taken in and swindled by low people in the County Clare, and he would be regarded by all around him as one who had absolutely ruined himself. He had positively resolved that she should not be Countess of Scroope, and to that resolution he would adhere. The foul-mouthed priest had called him a coward, but he would be no coward. The mother had said that she would have his life. If there were danger in that respect he must encounter it. As he returned to Ennistimon he again determined that Kate O’Hara should never become Countess of Scroope.
For three hours Father Marty remained with him that night, but did not shake him. He had now become accustomed to the priest’s wrath and could endure it. And he thought also that he could now endure the mother. The tears of the girl and her reproaches he still did fear.
“I will do anything that you can dictate short of that,” he said again to Father Marty.
“Anything but the one thing that you have sworn to do?”
“Anything but the one thing that I have sworn not to do.” For he had told the priest of the promises he had made both to his uncle and to his uncle’s widow.
“Then,” said the priest, as he crammed his hat on his head, and shook the dust off his feet, “if I were you I would not go to Ardkill tomorrow if I valued my life.” Nevertheless Father Marty slept at Ennistimon that night, and was prepared to bar the way if any attempt at escape were made.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14