Such was the philosophy, or, perhaps, it may be better said such was the humanity of Father Marty! But in encouraging Mrs. O’Hara to receive this dangerous visitor he had by no means spoken without consideration. In one respect we must abandon Father Marty to the judgment and censure of fathers and mothers. The whole matter looked at from Lady Scroope’s point of view was no doubt very injurious to the priest’s character. He regarded a stranger among them, such as was Fred Neville, as fair spoil, as a Philistine to seize whom and capture him for life on behalf of any Irish girl would be a great triumph; — a spoiling of the Egyptian to the accomplishment of which he would not hesitate to lend his priestly assistance, the end to be accomplished, of course, being marriage. For Lord Scroope and his family and his blood and his religious fanaticism he could entertain no compassion whatever. Father Marty was no great politician, and desired no rebellion against England. Even in the days of O’Connell and repeal he had been but luke-warm. But justice for Ireland in the guise of wealthy English husbands for pretty Irish girls he desired with all his heart. He was true to his own faith, to the backbone, but he entertained no prejudice against a good looking Protestant youth when a fortunate marriage was in question. So little had been given to the Irish in these days, that they were bound to take what they could get. Lord Scroope and the Countess, had they known the priest’s views on this matter, would have regarded him as an unscrupulous intriguing ruffian, prepared to destroy the happiness of a noble family by a wicked scheme. But his views of life, as judged from the other side, admitted of some excuse. As for a girl breaking her heart, he did not, perhaps, much believe in such a catastrophe. Of a sore heart a girl must run the chance — as also must a man. That young men do go about promising marriage and not keeping their promise, he knew well. None could know that better than he did, for he was the repository of half the love secrets in his parish. But all that was part of the evil coming from the fall of Adam, and must be endured till — till the Pope should have his own again, and be able to set all things right. In the meantime young women must do the best they could to keep their lovers; — and should one lover break away, then must the deserted one use her experience towards getting a second. But how was a girl to have a lover at all, if she were never allowed to see a man? He had been bred a priest from his youth upwards, and knew nothing of love; but nevertheless it was a pain to him to see a young girl, good-looking, healthy, fit to be the mother of children, pine away, unsought for, uncoupled — as it would be a pain to see a fruit grow ripe upon the tree, and then fall and perish for the want of plucking. His philosophy was perhaps at fault, and it may be that his humanity was unrefined. But he was human to the core — and, at any rate, unselfish. That there might be another danger was a fact that he looked full in the face. But what victory can be won without danger? And he thought that he knew this girl, who three times a year would open her whole heart to him in confession. He was sure that she was not only innocent, but good. And of the man, too, he was prone to believe good; — though who on such a question ever trusts a man’s goodness? There might be danger and there must be discretion; but surely it would not be wise, because evil was possible, that such a one as Kate O’Hara should be kept from all that intercourse without which a woman is only half a woman! He had considered it all, though the reader may perhaps think that as a minister of the gospel he had come to a strange conclusion. He himself, in his own defence, would have said that having served many years in the ministry he had learned to know the nature of men and women.
Mrs. O’Hara said not a word to Kate of the doctrines which the priest had preached, but she found herself encouraged to mention their new friend’s name to the girl. During Fred’s absence hardly a word had been spoken concerning him in the cottage. Mrs. O’Hara had feared the subject, and Kate had thought of him much too often to allow his name to be on her tongue. But now as they sat after dinner over their peat fire the mother began the subject. “Mr. Neville is to dine with Father Marty on Thursday.”
“Is he, mother?”
“Barney Morony was telling me that he was back at Ennis. Barney had to go in and see him about the boat.”
“He won’t go boating such weather as this, mother?”
“It seems that he means it. The winds are not so high now as they were in October, and the men understand well when the sea will be high.”
“It is frightful to think of anybody being in one of those little boats now.” Kate ever since she had lived in these parts had seen the canoes from Liscannor and Lahinch about in the bay, summer and winter, and had never found anything dreadful in it before.
“I suppose he’ll come up here again,” said the mother; but to this Kate made no answer. “He is to sleep at Father Marty’s I fancy, and he can hardly do that without paying us a visit.”
“The days are short and he’ll want all his time for the boating,” said Kate with a little pout.
“He’ll find half-an-hour, I don’t doubt. Shall you be glad to see him, Kate?”
“I don’t know, mother. One is glad almost to see any one up here. It’s as good as a treat when old Corcoran comes up with the turf.”
“But Mr. Neville is not like old Corcoran, Kate.”
“Not in the least, mother. I do like Mr. Neville better than Corcoran, because you see with Corcoran the excitement is very soon over. And Corcoran hasn’t very much to say for himself.”
“And Mr. Neville has?”
“He says a great deal more to you than he does to me, mother.”
“I like him very much. I should like him very much indeed if there were no danger in his coming.”
“That he should steal your heart away, my own, my darling, my child.” Then Kate, instead of answering, got up and threw herself at her mother’s knees, and buried her face in her mother’s lap, and Mrs. O’Hara knew that that act of larceny had already been perpetrated.
And how should it have been otherwise? But of such stealing it is always better that no mention should be made till the theft has been sanctified by free gift. Till the loss has been spoken of and acknowledged, it may in most cases be recovered. Had Neville never returned from Scroope, and his name never been mentioned by the mother to her daughter, it may be that Kate O’Hara would not have known that she had loved him. For a while she would have been sad. For a month or two, as she lay wakeful in her bed she would have thought of her dreams. But she would have thought of them as only dreams. She would have been sure that she could have loved him had any fair ending been possible for such love; but she would have assured herself that she had been on her guard, and that she was safe in spite of her dreams. But now the flame in her heart had been confessed and in some degree sanctioned, and she would foster it rather than quench it. Even should such a love be capable of no good fortune, would it not be better to have a few weeks of happy dreaming than a whole life that should be passionless? What could she do with her own heart there, living in solitude, with none but the sea gulls to look at her? Was it not infinitely better that she should give it away to such a young god as this than let it feed upon itself miserably? Yes, she would give it away; — but might it not be that the young god would not take the gift?
On the third day after his arrival at Ennis, Neville was at Liscannor with the priest. He little dreamed that the fact of his dining and sleeping at Father Marty’s house would be known to the ladies at Castle Quin, and communicated from them to his aunt at Scroope Manor. Not that he would have been deterred from accepting the priest’s hospitality or frightened into accepting that of the noble owner of the castle, had he known precisely all that would be written about it. He would not have altered his conduct in a matter in which he considered himself entitled to regulate it, in obedience to any remonstrances from Scroope Manor. Objections to the society of a Roman Catholic priest because of his religion he would have regarded as old-fashioned fanaticism. As for Earls and their daughters he would no doubt have enough of them in his future life, and this special Earl and his daughters had not fascinated him. He had chosen to come to Ireland with his regiment for this year instead of at once assuming the magnificence of his position in England, in order that he might indulge the spirit of adventure before he assumed the duties of life. And it seemed to him that in dining and sleeping at an Irish priest’s house on the shores of the Atlantic, with the prospect of seal shooting and seeing a very pretty girl on the following morning, he was indulging that spirit properly. But Lady Mary Quin thought that he was misbehaving himself and taking to very bad courses. When she heard that he was to sleep at the priest’s house, she was quite sure that he would visit Mrs. O’Hara on the next day.
The dinner at the priest’s was very jovial. There was a bottle of sherry and there was a bottle of port, procured, chiefly for the sake of appearance, from a grocer’s shop at Ennistimon; — but the whiskey had come from Cork and had been in the priest’s keeping for the last dozen years. He good-humouredly acknowledged that the wine was nothing, but expressed an opinion that Mr. Neville might find it difficult to beat the “sperrits.” “It’s thrue for you, Father Marty,” said the rival priest from Milltown Malbay, “and it’s you that should know good sperrits from bad if ony man in Ireland does.”
“‘Deed thin,” replied the priest of Liscannor, “barring the famine years, I’ve mixed two tumblers of punch for meself every day these forty years, and if it was all together it’d be about enough to give Mr. Neville a day’s sale-shooting on in his canoe.” Immediately after dinner Neville was invited to light his cigar, and everything was easy, comfortable, and to a certain degree adventurous. There were the two priests, and a young Mr. Finucane from Ennistimon — who however was not quite so much to Fred’s taste as the elder men. Mr. Finucane wore various rings, and talked rather largely about his father’s demesne. But the whole thing was new, and by no means dull. As Neville had not left Ennis till late in the day — after what he called a hard day’s work in the warrior line — they did not sit down till past eight o’clock; nor did any one talk of moving till past midnight. Fred certainly made for himself more than two glasses of punch, and he would have sworn that the priest had done so also. Father Marty, however, was said by those who knew him best to be very rigid in this matter, and to have the faculty of making his drink go a long way. Young Mr. Finucane took three or four — perhaps five or six — and then volunteered to join Fred Neville in a day’s shooting under the rocks. But Fred had not been four years in a cavalry regiment without knowing how to protect himself in such a difficulty as this. “The canoe will only hold myself and the man,” said Fred, with perfect simplicity. Mr. Finucane drew himself up haughtily and did not utter another word for the next five minutes. Nevertheless he took a most affectionate leave of the young officer when half an hour after midnight he was told by Father Marty that it was time for him to go home. Father Creech also took his leave, and then Fred and the priest of Liscannor were left sitting together over the embers of the turf fire. “You’ll be going up to see our friends at Ardkill tomorrow,” said the priest.
“Likely enough, Father Marty.”
“In course you will. Sorrow a doubt of that.” Then the priest paused.
“And why shouldn’t I?” asked Neville.
“I’m not saying that you shouldn’t, Mr. Neville. It wouldn’t be civil nor yet nathural after knowing them as you have done. If you didn’t go they’d be thinking there was a rason for your staying away, and that’d be worse than all. But, Mr. Neville —”
“Out with it, Father Marty.” Fred knew what was coming fairly well, and he also had thought a good deal upon the matter.
“Them two ladies, Mr. Neville, live up there all alone, with sorrow a human being in the world to protect them — barring myself.”
“Why should they want protection?”
“Just because they’re lone women, and because one of them is very young and very beautiful.”
“They are both beautiful,” said Neville.
“‘Deed and they are — both of ’em. The mother can look afther herself, and after a fashion, too, she can look afther her daughter. I shouldn’t like to be the man to come in her way when he’d once decaived her child. You’re a young man, Mr. Neville.”
“That’s my misfortune.”
“And one who stands very high in the world. They tell me you’re to be a great lord some day.”
“Either that or a little one,” said Neville, laughing.
“Anyways you’ll be a rich man with a handle to your name. To me, living here in this out of the way parish, a lord doesn’t matter that.” And Father Marty gave a fillip with his fingers. “The only lord that matters me is me bishop. But with them women yonder, the title and the money and all the grandeur goes a long way. It has been so since the world began. In riding a race against you they carry weight from the very awe which the name of an English Earl brings with it.”
“Why should they ride a race against me?”
“Why indeed — unless you ride a race against them! You wouldn’t wish to injure that young thing as isn’t yet out of her teens?”
“God forbid that I should injure her.”
“I don’t think that you’re the man to do it with your eyes open, Mr. Neville. If you can’t spake her fair in the way of making her your wife, don’t spake her fair at all. That’s the long and the short of it, Mr. Neville. You see what they are. They’re ladies, if there is a lady living in the Queen’s dominions. That young thing is as beautiful as Habe, as innocent as a sleeping child, as soft as wax to take impression. What armour has she got against such a one as you?”
“She shall not need armour.”
“If you’re a gentleman, Mr. Neville — as I know you are — you will not give her occasion to find out her own wakeness. Well, if it isn’t past one I’m a sinner. It’s Friday morning and I mus’n’t ate a morsel myself, poor papist that I am; but I’ll get you a bit of cold mate and a drop of grog in a moment if you’ll take it.” Neville, however, refused the hospitable offer.
“Father Marty,” he said, speaking with a zeal which perhaps owed something of its warmth to the punch, “you shall find that I am a gentleman.”
“I’m shure of it, my boy.”
“If I can do no good to your friend, at any rate I will do no harm to her.”
“That is spoken like a Christian, Mr. Neville — which I take to be a higher name even than gentleman.”
“There’s my hand upon it,” said Fred, enthusiastically. After that he went to bed.
On the following morning the priest was very jolly at breakfast, and in speaking of the ladies at Ardkill made no allusion whatever to the conversation of the previous evening. “Ah no,” he said, when Neville proposed that they should walk up together to the cottage before he went down to his boat. “What’s the good of an ould man like me going bothering? And, signs on, I’m going into Ennistimon to see Pat O’Leary about the milk he’s sending to our Union. The thief of the world — it’s wathering it he is before he sends it. Nothing kills me, Mr. Neville, but when I hear of all them English vices being brought over to this poor suffering innocent counthry.”
Neville had decided on the advice of Barney Morony, that he would on this morning go down southward along the coast to Drumdeirg rock, in the direction away from the Hag’s Head and from Mrs. O’Hara’s cottage; and he therefore postponed his expedition till after his visit. When Father Marty started to Ennistimon to look after that sinner O’Leary, Fred Neville, all alone, turned the other way to Ardkill.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:55