About two o’clock on the following morning, Lord Ballindine set off for Grey Abbey, on horseback, dressed with something more than ordinary care, and with a considerable palpitation about his heart. He hardly knew, himself, what or whom he feared, but he knew that he was afraid of something. He had a cold, sinking sensation within him, and he felt absolutely certain that he should be signally defeated in his present mission. He had plenty of what is usually called courage; had his friend recommended him instantly to call out Lord Kilcullen and shoot him, and afterwards any number of other young men who might express a thought in opposition to his claim on Miss Wyndham’s hand, he would have set about it with the greatest readiness and aptitude; but he knew he could not baffle the appalling solemnity of Lord Cashel, in his own study. Frank was not so very weak a man as he would appear to be when in the society of Blake. He unfortunately allowed Blake to think for him in many things, and he found a convenience in having some one to tell him what to do; but he was, in most respects, a better, and in some, even a wiser man than his friend. He often felt that the kind of life he was leading contracting debts which he could not pay, and spending his time in pursuits which were not really congenial to him, was unsatisfactory and discreditable: and it was this very feeling, and the inability to defend that which he knew to be wrong sand foolish, which made him so certain that he would not be able successfully to persist in his claim to Miss Wyndham’s hand in opposition to the trite and well-weighed objections, which he knew her guardian would put forward. He consoled himself, however, with thinking that, at any rate, they could not prevent his seeing her; and he was quite sanguine as to her forgiveness, if he but got a fair opportunity of asking it. And when that was obtained, why should the care for any one? Fanny would be of age, and her own mistress, in a few days, and all the solemn earls in England, and Ireland too, could not then prevent her marrying whom and when she liked.
He thought a great deal on all his friend had said to his future poverty; but then, his ideas and Blake’s were very different about life. Blake’s idea of happiness was, the concentrating of every thing into a focus for his own enjoyment; whereas he, Frank had only had recourse to dissipation and extravagance, because he had nothing to make home pleasant to him. If he once had Fanny Wyndham installed as Lady Ballindine, at Kelly’s Court, he was sure he could do his duty as a country gentleman, and live on his income, be it what it might, not only without grumbling, but without wishing for anything more. He was fond of his country, his name, and his countrymen: he was fully convinced of his folly in buying race-horses, and in allowing himself to be dragged on the turf: he would sell Brien Boru, and the other two Irish chieftains, for what they would fetch, and show Fanny and her guardian that he was in earnest in his intention of reforming. Blake might laugh at him if he liked; but he would not stay to be laughed at. He felt that Handicap Lodge was no place for him; and besides, why should he bear Dot’s disagreeable sarcasms? It was not the part of a real friend to say such cutting things as he continually did. After all, Lord Cashel would be a safer friend, or, at any rate, adviser; and, instead of trying to defeat him by coolness or insolence, he would at once tell him of all his intentions, explain to him exactly how matters stood, and prove his good resolutions by offering to take whatever steps the earl might recommend about the horses. This final determination made him easier in this mind, and, as he entered the gates of Grey Abbey Park, he was tolerably comfortable, trusting to his own good resolutions, and the effect which he felt certain the expression of them must have on Lord Cashel.
Grey Abbey is one of the largest but by no means one of the most picturesque demesnes in Ireland. It is situated in the county of Kildare, about two miles from the little town of Kilcullen, in a flat, uninteresting, and not very fertile country. The park itself is extensive and tolerably well wooded, but it wants water and undulation, and is deficient of any object of attraction, except that of size and not very magnificent timber. I suppose, years ago, there was an Abbey here, or near the spot, but there is now no vestige of it remaining. In a corner of the demesne there are standing the remains of one of those strong, square, ugly castles, which, two centuries since, were the real habitations of the landed proprietors of the country, and many of which have been inhabited even to a much later date. They now afford the strongest record of the apparently miserable state of life which even the favoured of the land then endured, and of the numberless domestic comforts which years and skill have given us, apt as we are to look back with fond regret to the happy, by-gone days of past periods.
This old castle, now used as a cow-shed, is the only record of antiquity at Grey Abbey; and yet the ancient family of the Greys have lived there for centuries. The first of them who possessed property in Ireland, obtained in the reign of Henry Il, grants of immense tracts of land, stretching through Wicklow, Kildare, and the Queen’s and King’s Counties; and, although his descendants have been unable to retain, through the various successive convulsions which have taken place in the interior of Ireland since that time, anything like an eighth of what the family once pretended to claim, the Earl of Cashel, their present representative, has enough left to enable him to consider himself a very great man. The present mansion, built on the site of that in which the family had lived till about seventy years since, is, like the grounds, large, commodious, and uninteresting. It is built of stone, which appears as if it had been plastered over, is three stories high, and the windows are all of the same size, and at regular intervals. The body of the house looks like a huge, square, Dutch old lady, and the two wings might be taken for her two equally fat, square, Dutch daughters. Inside, the furniture is good, strong, and plain. There are plenty of drawing-rooms, sitting-rooms, bed-rooms, and offices; a small gallery of very indifferent paintings, and a kitchen, with an excellent kitchen-range, and patent boilers of every shape.
Considering the nature of the attractions, it is somewhat strange that Lord Cashel should have considered it necessary to make it generally known that the park might be seen any day between the hours of nine and six, and the house, on Tuesdays and Fridays between the hours of eleven and four. Yet such is the case, and the strangeness of this proceeding on his part is a good deal diminished by the fact that persons, either induced by Lord Cashel’s good nature, or thinking that any big house must be worth seeing, very frequently pay half-a-crown to the housekeeper for the privilege of being dragged through every room in the mansion.
There is a bed there, in which the Regent slept when in Ireland, and a room which was tenanted by Lord Normanby, when Lord Lieutenant. There is, moreover, a satin counterpane, which was made by the lord’s aunt, and a snuff-box which was given to the lord’s grandfather by Frederick the Great. These are the lions of the place, and the gratification experienced by those who see them is, no doubt, great; but I doubt if it equals the annoyance and misery to which they are subjected in being obliged to pass one unopened door that of the private room of Lady Selina, the only daughter of the earl at present unmarried.
It contains only a bed, and the usual instruments of a lady’s toilet; but Lady Selina does not choose to have it shown, and it has become invested, in the eyes of the visitors, with no ordinary mystery. Many a petitionary whisper is addressed to the housekeeper on the subject, but in vain; and, consequently, the public too often leave Grey Abbey dissatisfied.
As Lord Ballindine rode through the gates, and up the long approach to the house, he was so satisfied of the wisdom of his own final resolution, and of the successful termination of his embassy under such circumstances, that he felt relieved of the uncomfortable sensation of fear which had oppressed him; and it was only when the six-foot high, powdered servant told him, with a very solemn face, that the earl was alone in the book-room the odious room he hated so much that he began again to feel a little misgiving. However, there was nothing left for him now, so he gave up his horse to the groom, and followed the sober-faced servant into the book-room.
Lord Cashel was a man about sixty-three, with considerable external dignity of appearance, though without any personal advantage, either in face, figure, or manner. He had been an earl, with a large income, for thirty years; and in that time he had learned to look collected, even when his ideas were confused; to keep his eye steady, and to make a few words go a long way. He had never been intemperate, and was, therefore, strong and hale for his years, he had not done many glaringly foolish things, and, therefore, had a character for wisdom and judgment. He had run away with no man’s wife, and, since his marriage, had seduced no man’s daughter; he was, therefore, considered a moral man. He was not so deeply in debt as to have his affairs known to every one; and hence was thought prudent. And, as he lived in his own house, with his own wife, paid his servants and labourers their wages regularly, and nodded in church for two hours every Sunday, he was thought a good man. Such were his virtues; and by these negative qualities this vis inertiae, he had acquired, and maintained, a considerable influence in the country.
When Lord Ballindine’s name was announced, he slowly rose, and, just touching the tip of Frank’s fingers, by way of shaking hands with him, hoped he had the pleasure of seeing him well.
The viscount hoped the same of the earl and of the ladies. This included the countess and Lady Selina, as well as Fanny, and was, therefore, not a particular question; but, having hoped this, and the earl remaining silent, he got confused, turned red, hummed and hawed a little, sat down, and then, endeavouring to drown his confusion in volubility, began talking quickly about his anxiety to make final arrangements concerning matters, which, of course, he had most deeply at heart; and, at last, ran himself fairly aground, from not knowing whether, under the present circumstances, he ought to speak of his affianced to her guardian as ‘Fanny’, or ‘Miss Wyndham’.
When he had quite done, and was dead silent, and had paused sufficiently long to assure the earl that he was going to say nothing further just at present, the great man commenced his answer.
‘This is a painful subject, my lord most peculiarly painful at the present time; but, surely, after all that has passed but especially after what has not passed’ Lord Cashel thought this was a dead hit ‘you cannot consider your engagement with Miss Wyndham to be still in force?’
‘Good gracious! and why not, my lord? I am ready to do anything her friends in fact I came solely, this morning, to consult yourself, about I’m sure Fanny herself can’t conceive the engagement to be broken off. Of course, if Miss Wyndham wishes it but I can’t believe I can’t believe if it’s about the horses, Lord Cashel, upon my word, I’m ready to sell them today.’
This was not very dignified in poor Frank, and to tell the truth, he was completely bothered. Lord Cashel looked so more than ordinarily glum; had he been going to put on a black cap and pass sentence of death, or disinherit his eldest son, he could not have looked more stern or more important. Frank’s lack of dignity added to his, and made him feel immeasurably superior to any little difficulty which another person might have felt in making the communication he was going to make. He was really quite in a solemn good humour. Lord Ballindine’s confusion was so .flattering.
‘I can assure you, my lord, Miss Wyndham calls for no such sacrifice, nor do I. There was a time when, as her guardian, I ventured to hint and I own I was taking a liberty, a fruitless liberty, in doing so that I thought your remaining on the turf was hardly prudent. But I can assure you, with all kindly feeling with no approach to animosity that I will not offend in a similar way again. I hear, by mere rumour, that you have extended your operations to the other kingdom. I hope I have not been the means of inducing you to do so; but, advice, if not complied with, often gives a bias in an opposite direction. With regard to Miss Wyndham, I must express and I really had thought it was unnecessary to do so, though it was certainly my intention, as it was Miss Wyndham’s wish, that I should have written to you formally on the subject but your own conduct excuse me, Lord Ballindine your own evident indifference, and continued, I fear I must call it, dissipation and your, as I considered, unfortunate selection of acquaintance, combined with the necessary diminution of that attachment which I presume Miss Wyndham once felt for you necessary, inasmuch as it was, as far as I understand, never of a sufficiently ardent nature to outlive the slights indeed, my lord, I don’t wish to offend you, or hurt your feelings but, I must say, the slights which it encountered.’ Here the earl felt that his sentence was a little confused, but the viscount looked more so; and, therefore, not at all abashed by the want of a finish to his original proposition, he continued glibly enough:
‘In short, in considering all the features of the case, I thought the proposed marriage a most imprudent one; and, on questioning Miss Wyndham as to her feelings, I was, I must own, gratified to learn that she agreed with me; indeed, she conceived that your conduct gave ample proof, my lord, of your readiness to be absolved from your engagement; pardon me a moment, my lord as I said before, I still deemed it incumbent on me, and on my ward, that I, as her guardian, should give you an absolute and written explanation of her feelings that would have been done yesterday, and this most unpleasant meeting would have been spared to both of us, but for the unexpected Did you hear of the occurrence which has happened in Miss Wyndham’s family, my lord?’
‘Occurrence? No, Lord Cashel; I did not hear of any especial occurrence.’
There had been a peculiarly solemn air about Lord Cashel during the whole of the interview, which deepened into quite funereal gloom as he asked the last question; but he was so uniformly solemn, that this had not struck Lord Ballindine. Besides, an appearance of solemnity agreed so well with Lord Cashel’s cast of features and tone of voice, that a visage more lengthened, and a speech somewhat slower than usual, served only to show him off as so much the more clearly identified by his own characteristics. Thus a man who always wears a green coat does not become remarkable by a new green coat; he is only so much the more than ever, the man in the green coat.
Lord Ballindine, therefore, answered the question without the appearance of that surprise which Lord Cashel expected he would feel, if he had really not yet heard of the occurrence about to be related to him. The earl, therefore, made up his mind, as indeed he had nearly done before, that Frank knew well what was going to be told him, though it suited his purpose to conceal his knowledge. He could not, however, give his young brother nobleman the lie; and he was, therefore, constrained to tell his tale, as if to one to whom it was unknown. He was determined, however, though he could not speak out plainly, to let Frank see that he was not deceived by his hypocrisy, and that he, Lord Cashel, was well aware, not only that the event about to be told had been known at Handicap Lodge, but that the viscount’s present visit to Grey Abbey had arisen out of that knowledge.
Lord Ballindine, up to this moment, was perfectly ignorant of this event, and it is only doing justice to him to say that, had he heard of it, it would at least have induced him to postpone his visit for some time. Lord Cashel paused for a few moments, looking at Frank in a most diplomatic manner, and then proceeded to unfold his budget.
‘I am much surprised that you should not have heard of it. The distressing news reached Grey Abbey yesterday, and must have been well known in different circles in Dublin yesterday morning. Considering the great intercourse between Dublin and the Curragh, I wonder you can have been left so long in ignorance of a circumstance so likely to be widely discussed, and which at one time might have so strongly affected your own interests.’ Lord Cashel again paused, and looked hard at Frank. He flattered himself that he was reading his thoughts; but he looked as if he had detected a spot on the other’s collar, and wanted to see whether it was ink or soot.
Lord Ballindine was, however, confounded. When the earl spoke of ‘a circumstance so likely to be widely discussed’, Mat Tierney’s conversation recurred to him, and Lord Kilcullen’s public declaration that Fanny Wyndham’s match was off. It was certainly odd for Lord Cashel to call this an occurrence in Miss Wyndham’s family, but then, he had a round-about way of saying everything.
‘I say,’ continued the earl, after a short pause, ‘that I cannot but be surprised that an event of so much importance, of so painful a nature, and, doubtless, already so publicly known, should not before this have reached the ears of one to whom, I presume, Miss Wyndham’s name was not always wholly indifferent. But, as you have not heard it, my lord, I will communicate it to you,’ and again he paused, as though expecting another assurance of Lord Ballindine’s ignorance.
‘Why, my lord,’ said Frank, ‘I did hear a rumour, which surprised me very much, but I could not suppose it to be true. To tell the truth, it was very much in consequence of what I heard that I came to Grey Abbey today.’
It was now Lord Cashel’s turn to be confounded. First, to deny that he had heard anything about it and then immediately to own that he had heard it, and had been induced to renew his visits to Grey Abbey in consequence! Just what he, in his wisdom, had suspected was the case. But how could Lord Ballindine have the face to own it?
I must, however, tell the reader the event of which Frank was ignorant, and which, it appears, Lord Cashel is determined not to communicate to him.
Fanny Wyndham’s father had held a governorship, or some golden appointment in the golden days of India, and consequently had died rich. He left eighty thousand pounds to his son, who was younger than Fanny, and twenty to his daughter. His son had lately been put into the Guards, but he was not long spared to enjoy his sword and his uniform. He died, and his death had put his sister in possession of his money; and Lord Cashel thought that, though Frank might slight twenty thousand pounds, he would be too glad to be allowed to remain the accepted admirer of a hundred thousand.
‘I thought you must have heard it, my lord,’ resumed the senior, as soon as be had collected his shreds of dignity, which Frank’s open avowal had somewhat scattered, ‘I felt certain you must have heard it, and you will, I am sure, perceive that this is no time for you excuse me if I use a word which may appear harsh it is no time for any one, not intimately connected with Miss Wyndham by ties of family, to intrude upon her sorrow.’
Frank was completely bothered. He thought that if she were so sorrowful, if she grieved so deeply at the match being broken off, that was just the reason why he should see her. After all, it was rather flattering to himself to hear of her sorrows; dear Fanny! was she so grieved that she was forced to part from him?
‘But, Lord Cashel,’ he said, ‘I am ready to do whatever you please. I’ll take any steps you’ll advise. But I really cannot see why I’m to be told that the engagement between me and Miss Wyndham is off, without hearing any reason from herself. I’ll make any sacrifice you please, or she requires; I’m sure she was attached to me, and she cannot have overcome that affection so soon.’
‘I have already said that we require Miss Wyndham requires no sacrifice from you. The time for sacrifice is past; and I do not think her affection was of such a nature as will long prey on her spirits.’
‘My affection for her is, I can assure you ’
‘Pray excuse me but I think this is hardly the time either to talk of, or to show, your affection. Had it been proved to be of a lasting, I fear I must say, a sincere nature, it would now have been most valued. I will leave yourself to say whether this was the case.’
‘And so you mean to say, Lord Cashel, that I cannot see Miss Wyndham?’
‘Assuredly, Lord Ballindine. And I must own, that I hardly appreciate your delicacy in asking to do so at the present moment.’
There was something very hard in this. The match was to be broken off without any notice to him; and when he requested, at any rate, to hear this decision from the mouth of the only person competent to make it, he was told that it was indelicate for him to wish to do so. This put his back up.
‘Well, my lord,’ he said with some spirit, Miss Wyndham is at present your ward, and in your house, and I am obliged to postpone the exercise of the right, to which, at least, I am entitled, of hearing her decision from her own mouth. I cannot think that she expects I should be satisfied with such an answer as I have now received. I shall write to her this evening, and shall expect at any rate the courtesy of an answer from herself.’
‘My advice to my ward will be, not to write to you; at any rate for the present. I presume, my lord, you cannot doubt my word that Miss Wyndham chooses to be released from an engagement, which I must say your own conduct renders it highly inexpedient for her to keep.’
‘I don’t doubt your word, of course, Lord Cashel; but such being the case, I think Miss Wyndham might at least tell me so herself.’
‘I should have thought, Lord Ballindine, that you would have felt that the sudden news of a dearly loved brother’s death, was more than sufficient to excuse Miss Wyndham from undergoing an interview which, even under ordinary circumstances, would be of very doubtful expediency.’
‘Her brother’s death! Good gracious! Is Harry Wyndham dead!’
Frank was so truly surprised so effectually startled by the news, which he now for the first time heard, that, had his companion possessed any real knowledge of human nature, he would at once have seen that his astonishment was not affected. But he had none, and, therefore, went on blundering in his own pompous manner.
‘Yes, my lord, he is dead. I understood you to say that you had already heard it; and, unless my ears deceived me, you explained that his demise was the immediate cause of your present visit. I cannot, however, go so far as to say that I think you have exercised a sound discretion in the matter. In expressing such an opinion, however, I am far from wishing to utter anything which may be irritating or offensive to your feelings.’
‘Upon my word then, I never heard a word about it till this moment! Poor Harry! And is Fanny much cut up?’
‘Miss Wyndham is much afflicted.’
‘I wouldn’t for worlds annoy her, or press on her at such a moment. Pray tell her, Lord Cashel, how deeply I feel her sorrows: pray tell her this, with my kindest best compliments.’ This termination was very cold but so was Lord Cashel’s face. His lordship had also risen from his chair; and Frank saw it was intended that the interview should end. But he would now have been glad to stay. He wanted to ask a hundred questions how the poor lad had died? whether he had been long ill? whether it had been expected? But he saw that he must go; so he rose and putting out his hand which Lord Cashel just touched, he said,
‘Good bye, my lord. I trust, after a few months are gone by, you may see reason to alter the opinion you have expressed respecting your ward. Should I not hear from you before then, I shall again do myself the honour of calling at Grey Abbey; but will write to Miss Wyndham before I do so.’
Lord Cashel had the honour of wishing Lord Ballindine a very good morning, and of bowing him to the door; and so the interview ended.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14