Mrs. O’Hara had known that he would come, and Kate had known it; and, though it would be unfair to say that they were waiting for him, it is no more than true to say that they were ready for him. “We are so glad to see you again,” said Mrs. O’Hara.
“Not more glad than I am to find myself here once more.”
“So you dined and slept at Father Marty’s last night. What will the grand people say at the Castle?”
“As I sha’n’t hear what they say, it won’t matter much! Life is not long enough, Mrs. O’Hara, for putting up with disagreeable people.”
“Was it pleasant last night?”
“Very pleasant. I don’t think Father Creech is half as good as Father Marty, you know.”
“Oh no,” exclaimed Kate.
“But he’s a jolly sort of fellow, too. And there was a Mr. Finucane there — a very grand fellow.”
“We know no one about here but the priests,” said Mrs. O’Hara, laughing. “Anybody might think that the cottage was a little convent.”
“Then I oughtn’t to come.”
“Well, no, I suppose not. Only foreigners are admitted to see convents sometimes. You’re going after the poor seals again?”
“Barney says the tide is too high for the seals now. We’re going to Drumdeirg.”
“What — to those little rocks?” asked Kate.
“Yes — to the rocks. I wish you’d both come with me.”
“I wouldn’t go in one of those canoes all out there for the world,” said Kate.
“What can be the use of it?” asked Mrs. O’Hara.
“I’ve got to get the feathers for Father Marty’s bed, you know. I haven’t shot as many yet as would make a pillow for a cradle.”
“The poor innocent gulls!”
“The poor innocent chickens and ducks, if you come to that, Miss O’Hara.”
“But they’re of use.”
“And so will Father Marty’s feather bed be of use. Good-bye, Mrs. O’Hara. Good-bye, Miss O’Hara. I shall be down again next week, and we’ll have that other seal.”
There was nothing in this. So far, at any rate, he had not broken his word to the priest. He had not spoken a word to Kate O’Hara that might not and would not have been said had the priest been present. But how lovely she was; and what a thrill ran through his arm as he held her hand in his for a moment. Where should he find a girl like that in England with such colour, such eyes, such hair, such innocence — and then with so sweet a voice?
As he hurried down the hill to the beach at Coolroone, where Morony was to meet him with the boat, he could not keep himself from comparisons between Kate O’Hara and Sophie Mellerby. No doubt his comparisons were made very incorrectly — and unfairly; but they were all in favour of the girl who lived out of the world in solitude on the cliffs of Moher. And why should he not be free to seek a wife where he pleased? In such an affair as that — an affair of love in which the heart and the heart alone should be consulted, what right could any man have to dictate to him? Certain ideas occurred to him which his friends in England would have called wild, democratic, revolutionary and damnable, but which, owing perhaps to the Irish air and the Irish whiskey and the spirit of adventure fostered by the vicinity of rocks and ocean, appeared to him at the moment to be not only charming but reasonable also. No doubt he was born to high state and great rank, but nothing that his rank and state could give him was so sweet as his liberty. To be free to choose for himself in all things, was the highest privilege of man. What pleasure could he have in a love which should be selected for him by such a woman as his aunt? Then he gave the reins to some confused notion of an Irish bride, a wife who should be half a wife and half not — whom he would love and cherish tenderly but of whose existence no English friend should be aware. How could he more charmingly indulge his spirit of adventure than by some such arrangement as this?
He knew that he had given a pledge to his uncle to contract no marriage that would be derogatory to his position. He knew also that he had given a pledge to the priest that he would do no harm to Kate O’Hara. He felt that he was bound to keep each pledge. As for that sweet, darling girl, would he not sooner lose his life than harm her? But he was aware that an adventurous life was always a life of difficulties, and that for such as live adventurous lives the duty of overcoming difficulties was of all duties the chief. Then he got into his canoe, and, having succeeded in killing two gulls on the Drumdeirg rocks, thought that for that day he had carried out his purpose as a man of adventure very well.
During February and March he was often on the coast, and hardly one visit did he make which was not followed by a letter from Castle Quin to Scroope Manor. No direct accusation of any special fault was made against him in consequence. No charge was brought of an improper hankering after any special female, because Lady Scroope found herself bound in conscience not to commit her correspondent; but very heavy injunctions were laid upon him as to his general conduct, and he was eagerly entreated to remember his great duty and to come home and settle himself in England. In the mean time the ties which bound him to the coast of Clare were becoming stronger and stronger every day. He had ceased now to care much about seeing Father Marty, and would come, when the tide was low, direct from Lahinch to the strand beneath the cliffs, from whence there was a path through the rocks up to Ardkill. And there he would remain for hours — having his gun with him, but caring little for his gun. He told himself that he loved the rocks and the wildness of the scenery, and the noise of the ocean, and the whirring of the birds above and below him. It was certainly true that he loved Kate O’Hara.
“Neville, you must answer me a question,” said the mother to him one morning when they were out together, looking down upon the Atlantic when the wind had lulled after a gale.
“Ask it then,” said he.
“What is the meaning of all this? What is Kate to believe?”
“Of course she believes that I love her better than all the world besides — that she is more to me than all the world can give or take. I have told her at least, so often, that if she does not believe it she is little better than a Jew.”
“You must not joke with me now. If you knew what it was to have one child and only that you would not joke with me.”
“I am quite in earnest. I am not joking.”
“And what is to be the end of it?”
“The end of it! How can I say? My uncle is an old man — very old, very infirm, very good, very prejudiced, and broken-hearted because his own son, who died, married against his will.”
“You would not liken my Kate to such as that woman was?”
“Your Kate! She is my Kate as much as yours. Such a thought as that would be an injury to me as deep as to you. You know that to me my Kate, our Kate, is all excellence — as pure and good as she is bright and beautiful. As God is above us she shall be my wife — but I cannot take her to Scroope Manor as my wife while my uncle lives.”
“Why should any one be ashamed of her at Scroope Manor?”
“Because they are fools. But I cannot cure them of their folly. My uncle thinks that I should marry one of my own class.”
“Class; — what class? He is a gentleman, I presume, and she is a lady.”
“That is very true; — so true that I myself shall act upon the truth. But I will not make his last years wretched. He is a Protestant, and you are Catholics.”
“What is that? Are not ever so many of your lords Catholics? Were they not all Catholics before Protestants were ever thought of?”
“Mrs. O’Hara, I have told you that to me she is as high and good and noble as though she were a Princess. And I have told you that she shall be my wife. If that does not content you, I cannot help it. It contents her. I owe much to her.”
“Indeed you do; — everything.”
“But I owe much to him also. I do not think that you can gain anything by quarrelling with me.”
She paused for a while before she answered him, looking into his face the while with something of the ferocity of a tigress. So intent was her gaze that his eyes quailed beneath it. “By the living God,” she said, “if you injure my child I will have the very blood from your heart.”
Nevertheless she allowed him to return alone to the house, where she knew that he would find her girl. “Kate,” he said, going into the parlour in which she was sitting idle at the window — “dear Kate.”
“You are always — off, as you call it.”
“Well — yes. But I’m not on and off, as the saying is.”
“Why should you go away now?”
“Do you suppose a soldier has got nothing to do? You never calculate, I think, that Ennis is about three-and-twenty miles from here. Come, Kate, be nice with me before I go.”
“How can I be nice when you are going? I always think when I see you go that you will never come back to me again. I don’t know why you should come back to such a place as this?”
“Because, as it happens, the place holds what I love best in all the world.” Then he lifted her from her chair, and put his arm round her waist. “Do you not know that I love you better than all that the world holds?”
“How can I know it?”
“Because I swear it to you.”
“I think that you like me — a little. Oh Fred, if you were to go and never to come back I should die. Do you remember Mariana? ‘My life is dreary. He cometh not,’ she said. She said, ‘I am aweary, aweary; I would that I were dead!’ Do you remember that? What has mother been saying to you?”
“She has been bidding me to do you no harm. It was not necessary. I would sooner pluck out my eye than hurt you. My uncle is an old man — a very old man. She cannot understand that it is better that we should wait, than that I should have to think hereafter that I had killed him by my unkindness.”
“But he wants you to love some other girl.”
“He cannot make me do that. All the world cannot change my heart, Kate. If you can not trust me for that, then you do not love me as I love you.”
“Oh, Fred, you know I love you. I do trust you. Of course I can wait, if I only know that you will come back to me. I only want to see you.” He was now leaning over her, and her cheek was pressed close to his. Though she was talking of Mariana, and pretending to fear future misery, all this was Elysium to her — the very joy of Paradise. She could sit and think of him now from morning to night, and never find the day an hour too long. She could remember the words in which he made his oaths to her, and cherish the sweet feeling of his arm round her body. To have her cheek close to his was godlike. And then when he would kiss her, though she would rebuke him, it was as though all heaven were in the embrace.
“And now good-bye. One kiss, darling.”
“Not a kiss when I am going?”
“I don’t want you to go. Oh, Fred! Well; — there. Good-bye, my own, own, own beloved one. You’ll be here on Monday?”
“Yes — on Monday.”
“And be in the boat four hours, and here four minutes. Don’t I know you?” But he went without answering this last accusation.
“What shall we do, Kate, if he deceives us?” said the mother that evening.
“Die. But I am sure he will not deceive us.”
Neville, as he made his way down to Liscannor, where his gig was waiting for him, did ask himself some serious questions about his adventure. What must be the end of it? And had he not been imprudent? It may be declared on his behalf that no idea of treachery to the girl ever crossed his mind. He loved her too thoroughly for that. He did love her — not perhaps as she loved him. He had many things in the world to occupy his mind, and she had but one. He was almost a god to her. She to him was simply the sweetest girl that he had ever as yet seen, and one who had that peculiar merit that she was all his own. No other man had ever pressed her hand, or drank her sweet breath. Was not such a love a thousand times sweeter than that of some girl who had been hurried from drawing-room to drawing-room, and perhaps from one vow of constancy to another for half-a-dozen years? The adventure was very sweet. But how was it to end? His uncle might live these ten years, and he had not the heart — nor yet the courage — to present her to his uncle as his bride.
When he reached Ennis that evening there was a despatch marked “Immediate,” from his aunt Lady Scroope. “Your uncle is very ill; — dangerously ill, we fear. His great desire is to see you once again. Pray come without losing an hour.”
Early on the following morning he started for Dublin, but before he went to bed that night he not only wrote to Kate O’Hara, but enclosed the note from his aunt. He could understand that though the tidings of his uncle’s danger was a shock to him there would be something in the tidings which would cause joy to the two inmates of Ardkill Cottage. When he sent that letter with his own, he was of course determined that he would marry Kate O’Hara as soon as he was a free man.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14