Two days after the hunt in which poor Goneaway was killed by Barry’s horse, Ballindine received the following letter from his friend Dot Blake.
Limmer’s Hotel, 27th March, 1844.
I and Brien, and Bottom, crossed over last Friday night, and, thanks to the God of storms, were allowed to get quietly through it. The young chieftain didn’t like being boxed on the quay a bit too well; the rattling of the chains upset him, and the fellows there are so infernally noisy and awkward, that I wonder he was ever got on board. It’s difficult to make an Irishman handy, but it’s the very devil to make him quiet. There were four at his head, and three at his tail, two at the wheel, turning, and one up aloft, hallooing like a demon in the air; and when Master Brien showed a little aversion to this comic performance, they were going to drag him into the box bon gr‚, mal gr‚, till Bottom interposed and saved the men and the horse from destroying each other.
We got safe to Middleham on Saturday night, the greatest part of the way by rail. Scott has a splendid string of horses. These English fellows do their work in tiptop style, only they think more of spending money than they do of making it. I waited to see him out on Monday, when he’d got a trot, and he was as bright as though he’d never left the Curragh. Scott says he’s a little too fine; but you know of course he must find some fault. To give Igoe his due, he could not be in better condition, and Scott was obliged to own that, considering where he came from, he was very well. I came on here on Tuesday, and have taken thirteen wherever I could get it, and thought the money safe. I have got a good deal on, and won’t budge till I do it at six to one; and I’m sure I’ll bring him to that. I think he’ll rise quickly, as he wants so little training, and as his qualities must be at once known now he’s in Scott’s stables; so if you mean to put any more on you had better do it at once.
So much for the stables. I left the other two at home, but have one of my own string here, as maybe I’ll pick up a match: and now I wish to let you know a report that I heard this morning at least a secret, which bids fair to become a report. It is said that Kilcullen is to marry F— W — and that he has already paid Heaven only knows how many thousand pounds of debt with her money; that the old earl has arranged it all, and that the beautiful heiress has reluctantly agreed to be made a viscountess. I’m very far from saying that I believe this; but it may suit you to know that I heard the arrangement mentioned before two other persons, one of whom was Morris strange enough this, as he was one of the set at Handicap Lodge when you told them that the match with yourself was still on. I have no doubt the plan would suit father and son; you best know how far the lady may have been likely to accede. At any rate, my dear Frank, if you’ll take my advice, you’ll not sit quiet till she does marry some one. You can’t expect she’ll wear the willow for you very long, if you do nothing yourself. Write to her by post, and write to the earl by the same post, saying you have done so. Tell her in the sweetest way you can, that you cannot live without seeing her, and getting your cong‚, if cong‚ it is to be, from her own dear lips; and tell him, in as few words, as you please, that you mean to do yourself the honour of knocking at his door on such and such a day and do it.
By the bye, Kilcullen certainly returns to Ireland immediately. There’s been the devil’s own smash among him and the Jews. He has certainly been dividing money among them; but not near enough, by all accounts, to satisfy the half of them. For the sake of your reputation, if not of your pocket, don’t let him walk off with the hundred and thirty thousand pounds. They say it’s not a penny less.
Very faithfully yours,
Shall I do anything for you here about Brien? I think I might still get you eleven to one, but let me hear at once.
As Frank read the first portion of this epistle, his affection for his poor dear favourite nag returned in full force, and he felt all the pangs of remorse for having parted with him; but when he came to the latter part, to Lord Kilcullen’s name, and the initials by which his own Fanny was designated, he forgot all about horse and owner; became totally regardless of thirteen, eleven, and six to one, and read on hastily to the end; read it all again then closed the letter, and put it in his pocket, and remained for a considerable time in silent contemplation, trying to make up his mind what he would do.
Nobody was with him as he opened his post-bag, which he took from the messenger as the boy was coming up to the house; he therefore read his letter alone, on the lawn, and he continued pacing up and down before the house with a most perturbed air, for half an hour.
Kilcullen going to marry Fanny Wyndham! So, that was the cause of Lord Cashel’s singular behaviour his incivility, and refusal to allow Frank to see his ward. ‘What! to have arranged it all in twenty-four hours,’ thought Frank to himself; ‘to have made over his ward’s money to his son, before her brother, from whom she inherited it, was in his grave: to determine at once to reject an accepted suitor for the sake of closing on the poor girl’s money and without the slightest regard for her happiness, without a thought for her welfare! And then, such lies,’ said the viscount, aloud, striking his heel into the grass in his angry impetuosity; ‘such base, cruel lies! to say that she had authorised him, when he couldn’t have dared to make such a proposal to her, and her brother but two days dead. Well; I took him for a stiff-necked pompous fool, but I never thought him such an avaricious knave.’ And Fanny, too could Fanny have agreed, so soon, to give her hand to another? She could not have transferred her heart. His own dear, fond Fanny! A short time ago they had been all in all to each other; and now so completely estranged as they were! However, Dot was right; up to this time Fanny might be quite true to him; indeed, there was not ground even for doubting her, for it was evident that no reliance was to be placed in Lord Cashel’s asseverations. But still he could not expect that she should continue to consider herself engaged, if she remained totally neglected by her lover. He must do something, and that at once; but there was very great difficulty in deciding what that something was to be. It was easy enough for Dot to say, first write, and then go. If he were to write, what security was there that his letter would be allowed to reach Fanny? and, if he went, how much less chance was there that he would be allowed to see her. And then, again to be turned out of the house! again informed, by that pompous scheming earl, that his visits there were not desired. Or, worse still, not to be admitted; to be driven from the door by a footman who would well know for what he came! No; come what come might, he would never again go to Grey Abbey; at least not unless he was specially and courteously invited thither by the owner; and then it should only be to marry his ward, and take her from the odious place, never to return again.
‘The impudent impostor!’ continued Frank to himself; ‘to pretend to suspect me, when he was himself hatching his dirty, mercenary, heartless schemes!’
But still the same question recurred what was to be done? Venting his wrath on Lord Cashel would not get him out of the difficulty: going was out of the question; writing was of little use. Could he not send somebody else? Some one who could not be refused admittance to Fanny, and who might at any rate learn what her wishes and feelings were? He did not like making love by deputy; but still, in his present dilemma, he could think of nothing better. But whom was he to send? Bingham Blake was a man of character, and would not make a fool of himself; but he was too young; he would not be able to make his way to Fanny. No a young unmarried man would not do. Mat Tierney? he was afraid of no one, and always cool and collected; but then, Mat was in London; besides, he was a sort of friend of Kilcullen’s. General Bourke? No one could refuse an entr‚e to his venerable grey hairs, and polished manner; besides, his standing in the world was so good, so unexceptionable; but then the chances were he would not go on such an errand; he was too old to be asked to take such a troublesome service; and besides, if asked, it was very probable he would say that he considered Lord Cashel entitled to his ward’s obedience. The rector the Rev. Joseph Armstrong? He must be the man: there was, at any rate, respectability in his profession; and he had sufficient worldly tact not easily to be thrust aside from his object: the difficulty would be, whether he had a coat sufficiently decent to appear in at Grey Abbey.
After mature consideration he made up his mind that the parson should be his ambassador. He would sooner have confided in Bingham Blake, but an unmarried man would not do. No; the parson must be the man. Frank was, unfortunately, but little disposed to act in any case without advice, and in his anxiety to consult some one as to consulting the parson, returned into the house, to make a clear breast of it to his mother. He found her in the breakfast-room with the two girls, and the three were holding council deep.
‘Oh, here’s Frank,’ said Sophy; ‘we’d better tell him all about it at once and he’ll tell us which she’d like best.’
‘We didn’t mean to tell you,’ said Guss; ‘but I and Sophy are going to work two sofas for the drawing-room in Berlin wool, you know: they’ll be very handsome everybody has them now, you know; they have a splendid pair at Ballyhaunis which Nora and her cousin worked.’
‘But we want to know what pattern would suit Fanny’s taste,’ said Sophy.
‘Well; you can’t know that,’ said Frank rather pettishly, ‘so you’d better please yourselves.’
‘Oh, but you must know what she likes,’ continued Guss; ‘I’m for this,’ and she, displayed a pattern showing forth two gorgeous macaws each with plumage of the brightest colours. ‘The colours are so bright, and the feathers will work in so well.’
‘I don’t like anything in worsted-work but flowers,’ said Sophy; ‘Nora Dillon says she saw two most beautiful wreaths at that shop in Grafton Street, both hanging from bars, you know; and that would be so much prettier. I’m sure Fanny would like flowers best; wouldn’t she now, Frank? Mamma thinks the common cross-bar patterns are nicer for furniture.’
‘Indeed I do, my dear,’ said Mrs O’Kelly; ‘and you see them much more common now in well-furnished drawing-rooms. But still I’d much sooner have them just what Fanny would like best. Surely, Frank, you must have heard her speak about worsted-work?’
All this completely disconcerted Frank, and made him very much out of love with his own plan of consulting his mother. He gave the trio some not very encouraging answer as to their good-natured intentions towards his drawing-room, and again left them alone. ‘Well; there’s nothing for it but to send the parson; I don’t think he’ll make a fool of himself, but then I know he’ll look so shabby. However, here goes,’ and he mounted his nag, and rode off to Ballindine glebe.
The glebe-house was about a couple of miles from Kelly’s Court, and it was about half-past four when Lord Ballindine got there. He knocked at the door, which was wide open, though it was yet only the last day of March, and was told by a remarkably slatternly maid-servant, that her master was ‘jist afther dinner; that he was stepped out,’ but was about the place, and could be ‘fetched in at oncet’; and would his honour walk in? And so Lord Ballindine was shown into the rectory drawing-room on one side of the passage (alias hall), while the attendant of all work went to announce his arrival in the rectory dining-room on the other side. Here Mrs Armstrong was sitting among her numerous progeny, securing the d‚bris of the dinner from their rapacious paws, and endeavouring to make two very unruly boys consume the portions of fat which had been supplied to them with, as they loudly declared, an unfairly insufficient quantum of lean. As the girl was good-natured enough to leave both doors wide open, Frank had the full advantage of the conversation.
‘Now, Greg,’ said the mother, ‘if you leave your meat that way I’ll have it put by for you, and you shall have nothing but potatoes till it’s ate.’
‘Why, mother, it’s nothing but tallow; look here; you gave me all the outside part.’
‘I’ll tell your dada, and see what he’ll say, if you call the meat tallow; and you’re just as bad, Joe; worse if anything gracious me, here’s waste! well, I’ll lock it up for you, and you shall both of you eat it tomorrow, before you have a bit of anything else.’
Then followed a desperate fit of coughing.
‘My poor Minny!’ said the mother, ‘you’re just as bad as ever. Why would you go out on the wet grass? Is there none of the black currant jam left?’
‘No, mother,’ coughed Minny, ‘not a bit.’
‘Greg ate it all,’ peached Sarah, an elder sister; ‘I told him not, but he would.’
‘Greg, I’ll have you flogged, and you never shall come from school again. What’s that you’re saying, Mary?’
‘There’s a jintleman in the drawing-room as is axing afther masther.’
‘Gentleman what gentleman?’ asked the lady.
‘Sorrow a know I know, ma’am!’ said Mary, who was a new importation ‘only, he’s a dark, sightly jintleman, as come on a horse.’
‘And did you send for the master?’
‘I did, ma’am; I was out in the yard, and bad Patsy go look for him.’
‘It’s Nicholas Dillon, I’ll bet twopence,’ said Greg, jumping up to rush into the other room: ‘he’s come about the black colt, I know.’
‘Stay where you are, Greg; and don’t go in there with your dirty face and fingers; and, after speculating a little longer, the lady went into the drawing-room herself; though, to tell the truth, her own face and fingers were hardly in a state suitable for receiving company. Mrs Armstrong marched into the drawing-room with something of a stately air, to meet the strange gentleman, and there she found her old friend Lord Ballindine. Whoever called at the rectory, and at whatever hour the visit might be made, poor Mrs Armstrong was sure to apologise for the confusion in which she was found. She had always just got rid of a servant, and could not get another that suited her; or there was some other commonplace reason for her being discovered en d‚shabille. However, she managed to talk to Frank for a minute or two with tolerable volubility, till her eyes happening to dwell on her own hands, which were certainly not as white as a lady’s should be, she became a little uncomfortable and embarrassed tried to hide them in her drapery then remembered that she had on her morning slippers, which were rather the worse for wear; and, feeling too much ashamed of her tout ensemble to remain, hurried out of the room, saying that she would go and see where Armstrong could possibly have got himself to. She did not appear again to Lord Ballindine.
Poor Mrs Armstrong! though she looked so little like one, she had been brought up as a lady, carefully and delicately; and her lot was the more miserable, for she knew how lamentable were her present deficiencies. When she married a poor curate, having, herself, only a few hundred pounds’ fortune, she had made up her mind to a life of comparative poverty; but she had meant even in her poverty to be decent, respectable, and lady-like. Weak health, nine children, an improvident husband, and an income so lamentably ill-suited to her wants, had however been too much for her, and she had degenerated into a slatternly, idle scold.
In a short time the parson came in from his farm, rusty and muddy rusty, from his clerical dress; muddy from his farming occupations; and Lord Ballindine went into the business of his embassy. He remembered, however, how plainly he had heard the threats about the uneaten fat, and not wishing the household to hear all he had to say respecting Fanny Wyndham, he took the parson out into the road before the house, and, walking up and down, unfolded his proposal.
Mr Armstrong expressed extreme surprise at the nature of the mission on which he was to be sent; secondly at the necessity of such a mission at all; and thirdly, lastly, and chiefly, at the enormous amount of the heiress’s fortune, to lose which he declared would be an unpardonable sin on Lord Ballindine’s part. He seemed to be not at all surprised that Lord Cashel should wish to secure so much money in his own family; nor did he at all participate in the unmeasured reprobation with which Frank loaded the worthy earl’s name. One hundred and thirty thousand pounds would justify anything, and he thought of his nine poor children, his poor wife, his poor home, his poor two hundred a-year, and his poor self. He calculated that so very rich a lady would most probably have some interest in the Church, which she could not but exercise in his favour, if he were instrumental in getting her married; and he determined to go. Then the, difficult question as to the wardrobe occurred to him. Besides, he had no money for the road. Those, however, were minor evils to be got over, and he expressed himself willing to undertake the embassy.
‘But, my dear Ballindine; what is it I’m to do?’ said he. ‘Of course you know, I’d do anything for you, as of course I ought anything that ought to be done; but what is it exactly you wish me to say?’
‘You see, Armstrong, that pettifogging schemer told me he didn’t wish me to come to his house again, and I wouldn’t, even for Fanny Wyndham, force myself into any man’s house. He would not let me see her when I was there, and I could not press it, because her brother was only just dead; so I’m obliged to take her refusal second hand. Now I don’t believe she ever sent the message he gave me. I think he has made her believe that I’m deserting and ill-treating her; and in this way she may be piqued and tormented into marrying Kilcullen.’
‘I see it now: upon my word then Lord Cashel knows how to play his cards! But if I go to Grey Abbey I can’t see her without seeing him.’
‘Of course not but I’m coming to that. You see, I have no reason to doubt Fanny’s love; she has assured me of it a thousand times. I wouldn’t say so to you even, as it looks like boasting, only it’s so necessary you should know how the land lies; besides, everybody knew it; all the world knew we were engaged.’
‘Oh, boasting it’s no boasting at all: it would be very little good my going to Grey Abbey, if she had not told you so.’
‘Well, I think that if you were to see Lord Cashel and tell him, in your own quiet way, who you are; that you are rector of Ballindine, and my especial friend; and that you had come all the way from County Mayo especially to see Miss Wyndham, that you might hear from herself whatever message she had to send to me if you were to do this, I don’t think he would dare to prevent you from seeing her.’
‘If he did, of course I would put it to him that you, who were so long received as Miss Wyndham’s accepted swain, were at least entitled to so much consideration at her hands; and that I must demand so much on your behalf, wouldn’t that be it, eh?’
‘Exactly. I see you understand it, as if you’d been at it all your life; only don’t call me her swain.’
‘Well, I’ll think of another word her beau.’
‘For Heaven’s sake, no! that’s ten times worse.’
‘Well, her lover?’
‘That’s at any rate English: but say, her accepted husband that’ll be true and plain: if you do that I think you will manage to see her, and then ’
‘Well, then for that’ll be the difficult part.’
‘Oh, when you see her, one simple word will do: Fanny Wyndham loves plain dealing. Merely tell her that Lord Ballindine has not changed his mind; and that he wishes to know from herself, by the mouth of a friend whom he can trust, whether she has changed hers. If she tells you that she has, I would not follow her farther though she were twice as rich as Croesus. I’m not hunting her for her money; but I am determined that Lord Cashel shall not make us both miserable by forcing her into a marriage with his rou‚ of a son.’
‘Well, Ballindine, I’ll go; but mind, you must not blame me if I fail. I’ll do the best I can for you.’
‘Of course I won’t. When will you be able to start?’
‘Why, I suppose there’s no immediate hurry? said the parson, remembering that the new suit of clothes must be procured.
‘Oh, but there is. Kilcullen will be there at once; and considering how long it is since I saw Fanny three months, I believe no time should be lost.’
‘How long is her brother dead?’
‘Oh, a month or very near it.’
‘Well, I’ll go Monday fortnight; that’ll do, won’t it?’
It was at last agreed that the parson was to start for Grey Abbey on the Monday week following; that he was to mention to no one where he was going; that he was to tell his wife that he was going on business he was not allowed to talk about she would be a very meek woman if she rested satisfied with that! and that he was to present himself at Grey Abbey on the following Wednesday.
‘And now,’ said the parson, with some little hesitation, ‘my difficulty commences. We country rectors are never rich; but when we’ve nine children, Ballindine, it’s rare to find us with money in our pockets. You must advance me a little cash for the emergencies of the road.’
‘My dear fellow! Of course the expense must be my own. I’ll send you down a note between this and then; I haven’t enough about me now. Or, stay I’ll give you a cheque,’ and he turned into the house, and wrote him a cheque for twenty pounds.
That’ll get the coat into the bargain, thought the rector, as he rather uncomfortably shuffled the bit of paper into his pocket. He had still a gentleman’s dislike to be paid for his services. But then, Necessity how stern she is! He literally could not have gone without it.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01