John is a very respectable name; — perhaps there is no name more respectable in the English language. Sir John, as the head of a family, is certainly as respectable as any name can be. For an old family coachman it beats all names. Mr. John Smith would be sure to have a larger balance at his banker’s than Charles Smith or Orlando Smith — or perhaps than any other Smith whatever. The Rev. Frederic Walker might be a wet parson, but the Rev. John Walker would assuredly be a good clergyman at all points, though perhaps a little dull in his sermons. Yet almost all Johns have been Jacks, and Jack, in point of respectability, is the very reverse of John. How it is, or when it is, that the Jacks become reJohned, and go back to the original and excellent name given to them by their godfathers and godmothers, nobody ever knows. Jack Neville, probably through some foolish fondness on his mother’s part, had never been reJohned — and consequently the Earl, when he made up his mind to receive his sister-in-law, was at first unwilling to invite his younger nephew. “But he is in the Engineers,” said Lady Scroope. The argument had its weight, and Jack Neville was invited. But even that argument failed to obliterate the idea which had taken hold of the Earl’s mind. There had never yet been a Jack among the Scroopes.
When Jack came he was found to be very unlike the Nevilles in appearance. In the first place he was dark, and in the next place he was ugly. He was a tall, well-made fellow, taller than his brother, and probably stronger; and he had very different eyes — very dark brown eyes, deeply set in his head, with large dark eyebrows. He wore his black hair very short, and had no beard whatever. His features were hard, and on one cheek he had a cicatrice, the remains of some misfortune that had happened to him in his boyhood. But in spite of his ugliness — for he was ugly, there was much about him in his gait and manner that claimed attention. Lord Scroope, the moment that he saw him, felt that he ought not to be called Jack. Indeed the Earl was almost afraid of him, and so after a time was the Countess. “Jack ought to have been the eldest,” Fred had said to his aunt.
“Why should he have been the eldest?”
“Because he is so much the cleverest. I could never have got into the Engineers.”
“That seems to be a reason why he should be the youngest,” said Lady Scroope.
Two or three other people arrived, and the house became much less dull than was its wont. Jack Neville occasionally rode his brother’s horses, and the Earl was forced to acknowledge another mistake. The mother was very silent, but she was a lady. The young Engineer was not only a gentleman — but for his age a very well educated gentleman, and Lord Scroope was almost proud of his relatives. For the first week the affair between Fred Neville and Miss Mellerby really seemed to make progress. She was not a girl given to flirting — not prone to outward demonstrations of partiality for a young man; but she never withdrew herself from her intended husband, and Fred seemed quite willing to be attentive. Not a word was said to hurry the young people, and Lady Scroope’s hopes were high. Of course no allusion had been made to those horrid Irish people, but it did not seem to Lady Scroope that the heir had left his heart behind him in Co. Clare.
Fred had told his aunt in one of his letters that he would stay three weeks at Scroope, but she had not supposed that he would limit himself exactly to that period. No absolute limit had been fixed for the visit of Mrs. Neville and her younger son, but it was taken for granted that they would not remain should Fred depart. As to Sophie Mellerby, her visit was elastic. She was there for a purpose, and might remain all the winter if the purpose could be so served. For the first fortnight Lady Scroope thought that the affair was progressing well. Fred hunted three days a week, and was occasionally away from home — going to dine with a regiment at Dorchester, and once making a dash up to London; but his manner to Miss Mellerby was very nice, and there could be no doubt but that Sophie liked him. When, on a sudden, the heir said a word to his aunt which was almost equal to firing a pistol at her head. “I think Master Jack is making it all square with Sophie Mellerby.”
If there was anything that Lady Scroope hated almost as much as improper marriages it was slang. She professed that she did not understand it; and in carrying out her profession always stopped the conversation to have any word explained to her which she thought had been used in an improper sense. The idea of a young man making it “all square” with a young woman was repulsive, but the idea of this young man making it “all square” with this young woman was so much more repulsive, and the misery to her was so intensely heightened by the unconcern displayed by the heir in so speaking of the girl with whom he ought to have been making it “all square” himself, that she could hardly allow herself to be arrested by that stumbling block. “Impossible!” she exclaimed — “that is if you mean — if you mean — if you mean anything at all.”
“I do mean a good deal.”
“Then I don’t believe a word of it. It’s quite out of the question. It’s impossible. I’m quite sure your brother understands his position as a gentleman too thoroughly to dream of such a thing.”
This was Greek to Fred Neville. Why his brother should not fall in love with a pretty girl, and why a pretty girl should not return the feeling, without any disgrace to his brother, Fred could not understand. His brother was a Neville, and was moreover an uncommonly clever fellow. “Why shouldn’t he dream of it?”
“In the first place —. Well! I did think, Fred, that you yourself seemed to be — seemed to be taken with Miss Mellerby.”
“Who? I? Oh, dear no. She’s a very nice girl and all that, and I like her amazingly. If she were Jack’s wife, I never saw a girl I should so much like for a sister.”
“It is quite out of the question. I wonder that you can speak in such a way. What right can your brother have to think of such a girl as Miss Mellerby? He has no position; — no means.”
“He is my brother,” said Fred, with a little touch of anger — already discounting his future earldom on his brother’s behalf.
“Yes; — he is your brother; but you don’t suppose that Mr. Mellerby would give his daughter to an officer in the Engineers who has, as far as I know, no private means whatever.”
“He will have — when my mother dies. Of course I can’t speak of doing anything for anybody at present. I may die before my uncle. Nothing is more likely. But then, if I do, Jack would be my uncle’s heir.”
“I don’t believe there’s anything in it at all,” said Lady Scroope in great dudgeon.
“I dare say not. If there is, they haven’t told me. It’s not likely they would. But I thought I saw something coming up, and as it seemed to be the most natural thing in the world, I mentioned it. As for me — Miss Mellerby doesn’t care a straw for me. You may be sure of that.”
“She would — if you’d ask her.”
“But I never shall ask her. What’s the use of beating about the bush, aunt? I never shall ask her; and if I did, she wouldn’t have me. If you want to make Sophie Mellerby your niece, Jack’s your game.”
Lady Scroope was ineffably disgusted. To be told that “Jack was her game” was in itself a terrible annoyance to her. But to be so told in reference to such a subject was painful in the extreme. Of course she could not make this young man marry as she wished. She had acknowledged to herself from the first that there could be no cause of anger against him should he not fall into the silken net which was spread for him. Lady Scroope was not an unreasonable woman, and understood well the power which young people have over old people. She knew that she couldn’t quarrel with Fred Neville, even if she would. He was the heir, and in a very few years would be the owner of everything. In order to keep him straight, to save him from debts, to protect him from money-lenders, and to secure the family standing and property till he should have made things stable by having a wife and heir of his own, all manner of indulgence must be shown him. She quite understood that such a horse must be ridden with a very light hand. She must put up with slang from him, though she would resent it from any other human being. He must be allowed to smoke in his bed-room, to be late at dinner, to shirk morning prayers — making her only too happy if he would not shirk Sunday church also. Of course he must choose a bride for himself — only not a Roman Catholic wild Irish bride of whom nobody knew anything!
As to that other matter concerning Jack and Sophie Mellerby, she could not bring herself to believe it. She had certainly seen that they were good friends — as would have been quite fit had Fred been engaged to her; but she had not conceived the possibility of any mistake on such a subject. Surely Sophie herself knew better what she was about! How would she — she, Lady Scroope — answer it to Lady Sophia, if Sophie should go back to Mellerby from her house, engaged to a younger brother who had nothing but a commission in the Engineers? Sophie had been sent to Scroope on purpose to be fallen in love with by the heir; and how would it be with Lady Scroope if, in lieu of this, she should not only have been fallen in love with by the heir’s younger brother, but have responded favourably to so base an affection?
That same afternoon Fred told his uncle that he was going back to Ireland on the day but one following, thus curtailing his promised three weeks by two days. “I am sorry that you are so much hurried, Fred,” said the old man.
“So am I, my lord — but Johnstone has to go to London on business, and I promised when I got leave that I wouldn’t throw him over. You see — when one has a profession one must attend to it — more or less.”
“But you hardly need the profession.”
“Thank you, uncle; — it is very kind of you to say so. And as you wish me to leave it, I will when the year is over. I have told the fellows that I shall stay till next October, and I shouldn’t like to change now.” The Earl hadn’t another word to say.
But on the day before Fred’s departure there came a short note from Lady Mary Quin which made poor Lady Scroope more unhappy than ever. Tidings had reached her in a mysterious way that the O’Haras were eagerly expecting the return of Mr. Neville. Lady Mary thought that if Mr. Neville’s quarters could be moved from Ennis, it would be very expedient for many reasons. She knew that enquiries had been made for him and that he was engaged to dine on a certain day with Father Marty the priest. Father Marty would no doubt go any lengths to serve his friends the O’Haras. Then Lady Mary was very anxious that not a word should be said to Mr. Neville which might lead him to suppose that reports respecting him were being sent from Quin Castle to Scroope.
The Countess in her agony thought it best to tell the whole story to the Earl. “But what can I do?” said the old man. “Young men will form these acquaintances.” His fears were evidently as yet less dark than those of his wife.
“It would be very bad if we were to hear that he was married to a girl of whom we only know that she is a Roman Catholic and friendless.”
The Earl’s brow became very black. “I don’t think that he would treat me in that way.”
“Not meaning it, perhaps; — but if he should become entangled and make a promise!”
Then the Earl did speak to his nephew. “Fred,” he said, “I have been thinking a great deal about you. I have little else to think of now. I should take it as a mark of affection from you if you would give up the army — at once.”
“And not join my regiment again at all?”
“It is absurd that you should do so in your present position. You should be here, and learn the circumstances of the property before it becomes your own. There can hardly be more than a year or two left for the lesson.”
The Earl’s manner was very impressive. He looked into his nephew’s face as he spoke, and stood with his hand upon the young man’s shoulder. But Fred Neville was a Neville all over — and the Nevilles had always chosen to have their own way. He had not the power of intellect nor the finished manliness which his brother possessed; but he could be as obstinate as any Neville — as obstinate as his father had been, or his uncle. And in this matter he had arguments which his uncle could hardly answer on the spur of the moment. No doubt he could sell out in proper course, but at the present moment he was as much bound by military law to return as would be any common soldier at the expiration of his furlough. He must go back. That at any rate was certain. And if his uncle did not much mind it, he would prefer to remain with his regiment till October.
Lord Scroope could not condescend to repeat his request, or even again to allude to it. His whole manner altered as he took his hand away from his nephew’s shoulder. But still he was determined that there should be no quarrel. As yet there was no ground for quarrelling — and by any quarrel the injury to him would be much greater than any that could befall the heir. He stood for a moment and then he spoke again in a tone very different from that he had used before. “I hope,” he said — and then he paused again; “I hope you know how very much depends on your marrying in a manner suitable to your position.”
“Quite so; — I think.”
“It is the one hope left to me to see you properly settled in life.”
“Marriage is a very serious thing, uncle. Suppose I were not to marry at all! Sometimes I think my brother is much more like marrying than I am.”
“You are bound to marry,” said the Earl solemnly. “And you are specially bound by every duty to God and man to make no marriage that will be disgraceful to the position which you are called upon to fill.”
“At any rate I will not do that,” said Fred Neville proudly. From this the Earl took some comfort, and then the interview was over.
On the day appointed by himself Fred left the Manor, and his mother and brother went on the following day. But after he was gone, on that same afternoon, Jack Neville asked Sophie Mellerby to be his wife. She refused him — with all the courtesy she knew how to use, but also with all the certainty. And as soon as he had left the house she told Lady Scroope what had happened.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14