LOVE OF BROTHERS
Author of "The Middle Years," "The Years of the Shadows," "The West Wind," "Miss Gascoigne," etc., etc.
CONSTABLE & COMPANY LTD.
I O'GARAS OF CASTLE TALBOT II PATSY REMEMBERS III A TEA PARTY IV FROM THE PAST V THE HAVEN VI STELLA VII BRADY'S BULL VIII SIR SHAWN SEES A GHOST IX THE LETTER X MRS. WADE XI THE ONLY PRETTY RING-TIME XII MOTHER-LOVE XIII THE OLD LOVE XIV STELLA GOES VISITING XV THE SHADOW XVI THE DEAD HAND XVII MISS BRENNAN XVIII THE DAUGHTER XIX ANGER CRUEL AS DEATH XX SIR SHAWN HAS A VISITOR XXI STELLA IS SICK XXII A SUDDEN BLOW XXIII THE HOME-COMING XXIV THE SICK WATCHERS XXV IN WHICH TERRY FINDS A DEAD MAN XXVI MOTHER AND DAUGHTER XXVII THE STORY IS TOLD XXVIII THE VIGIL XXIX THE LAKH OF RUPEES
It was a night of bright moonlight that made for pitchy shadows under wall or tree.
Patsy Kenny was looking for the goat, she having broken her tether. He had been driven forth by his fierce old grandfather with threats of the most awful nature if he should return without the goat.
The tears were not yet dry on Patsy's small face. He had kneaded them in with his knuckles, but the smears caused by the process were not visible in the moonlight, even if there had been any one to see them. It was not only the hardship of being driven out when the meal of hot potatoes was on the table, to search for that "ould divil" of a goat, and his sense of the injustice which had put the blame of the goat's straying on to his narrow shoulders. The old, in Patsy's knowledge of them, were crabbed and unjust. That was something for the young to take in the day's work. It was Patsy's fears of the supernatural that kept him creeping along in the shadow of the hedge, now and again stopping to weep a little over his troubles, or to listen fearfully like a frightened hare before going on again.
Why, close to the road by which he must go to seek the goat there was the tomb in which Captain Hercules O'Hart lay buried. People about Killesky did not take that road if they could help it. The tomb was a terror to all those who must pass the road by night, and to their horses if they were riding or driving. It was well known that no horse would pass by the tomb without endeavouring to avoid it, and if forced or cajoled into accomplishing the passage, would emerge trembling and sweating. Some unimaginative person had suggested that the terror of the horses was due to the thunder of the invisible waterfall where the river tumbled over its weir, just below the Mount on which old Hercules had chosen to be buried. The horses knew better than that. Nothing natural said the people would make a horse behave in such a way. The dumb beast knew what it saw and that was nothing good.
The anguish of Patsy's thoughts caused him suddenly to "bawl" as he would have put it himself.
"Isn't it an awful thing?" he asked, addressing the quiet bog-world under the moon, "to think of a little lad like me havin' to be out in the night facin' all them ghosts and that ould heart-scald of a man burnin' his knees at home be the fire? What'll I do at all if that tormint of a goat is up strayin' on the Mount? It would be like what the divil 'ud do to climb up there, unless it was to be the churchyard below, and all them ould bones stickin' up through the clay.
"There isn't wan out this night but meself," he went on. "It's awful to think of every wan inside their houses an' me wanderin' about be me lone. It isn't wan ghost but twinty I might meet betune this an' the cross-roads, let alone fairies and pookas. Won't I just welt the divil out o' the oul' goat when I ketch her?"
A little whinny close to him made him look round with a fearful hope. He saw neither pooka nor fairy, but the long horns of the animal he was in search of.
He snatched joyfully at her chain, forgetting all his anger. Indeed none knew better than the goat Patsy's gentleness with all living creatures. Her mouth was full of grass. He remembered his grandfather's speech as he tethered the little goat on the bare hillside above the house.
"My poor girl," he had said, "you've got little enough to ate, but then you've a beautiful view."
"Sure she strayed," said Patsy in extenuation, "because she was hungry, the creature."
So he had not had to leave the brightly lit bog-road for that black tunnel of trees just beyond which led to old Hercules' tomb, and the well where the woman fell in and the fields where old Michael Halloran, who had been steward and general overseer to the O'Harts, was reputed to be seen night after night—hedging and fencing the lands and he years dead.
"You was a good little goat," said Patsy in his great relief. "Come home now and I'll milk you: and maybe that cross ould man would let me have a sup o' tay for my supper."
He had pulled the goat down the bank into the dry ditch. It was a good thing he had stopped to "bawl," else maybe he'd have missed the goat who had been having her fill of Mrs. McEnroe's after-grass. Still he wondered now at his temerity since the bawlin' might have brought them upon him disturbin' their sleep that way.
He suddenly caught the sound of horses' feet coming along the bog-road towards him. He stopped and listened, holding firmly on to the goat. The bog-road was light as day. Two people were walking their horses side by side, a dog at their heels. "It'll be Mr. Terence Comerford, an' Sir Shawn O'Gara, comin' home together," Patsy said to himself. "What at all would be keepin' them out till this hour of the night, unless it was to be talkin' to Bridyeen Sweeney? Quare ways young gentlemen has that they'd be talkin' to a poor girl an' maybe turnin' her head, let alone settin' the neighbours to talkin' about her. God help her."
In this musing, be it said, Patsy was but repeating the talk of his elders, although he was naturally what is called an old-fashioned child.
He crouched low in the ditch while the horses came on at a walking pace. The riders were talking, one in a low voice, so low that Patsy could not make out what he said. This one was slender and young. The other, young also, but big and burly, was riding a horse which apparently did not like the walking pace. She—it was a mare—curveted and caracoled in the road, which was one reason why Patsy could not hear what was being said. The boy peered out, with fear in his heart. The knowledge of horses was born in him. His father had been stud-groom to Mr. Comerford of Inch. By and by Patsy meant to escape from his old tyrant and become a stable-boy at Inch or at Castle Talbot. Perhaps in time he might come to be stud-groom, though that was a dizzy height towards which as yet his imagination hardly carried him.
"Mr. Terence has drink taken," said Patsy, in his own mind. "He's not steady in the saddle. An', glory be to goodness, it's Spitfire he's ridin'." Patsy was at home in many stables where the grooms and stable-helpers condescended to accept his willing aid in running messages or the like. "What would the Misthress or Miss Mary say if they was to see him now? Look well to him, Sir Shawn, look well to him, or it's killin' himself he'll be!"
This apostrophe was unspoken. Mr. Terence Comerford had brought Spitfire under control and she walked more soberly. The talk had ceased for moment. It broke out again. As the riders went on their way Sir Shawn's voice sounded as though he was pleading hard with his friend. They had always been the most attached and devoted friends from boyhood.
Terence Comerford's laugh came back borne upon a little wind.
"It'll be," said Patsy in his thoughts, "that Sir Shawn'll be biddin' Mr. Terence to have sinse. A quare thing it is, and he all but promised to Miss Mary that he'd be down at Dowd's every night since she and the Misthress went to Dublin, talking to poor Bridyeen. 'Tis sorrow the crathur'll have, no less, if she goes listenin' to Mr. Terence. 'Tis a wonder Sir Shawn wouldn't be givin' him better advice. Unless it was to be—there's some do be sayin' he's fond of Miss Mary too."
All gossip of his elders, told round the turf-fire at night when Patsy was supposed to be fast asleep in the settle bed, instead of "cockin' his ears" for grown people's talk.
He peered out with wide eyes in the direction the riders had taken. His small bullet head and narrow shoulders threw a shadow on the moonlit road.
"Sir Shawn 'ud have a right to be seein' Mr. Terence home to Inch itself," he thought. "It isn't alone ould Hercules an' the river tumblin' over the weir an' the terrible dark road, but there's ould Halloran's ghost on the long avenue to Inch, and there's the ghost of the minister's wife by the churchyard. And Spitfire, that would take fright at a pinkeen much less a ghost, under him, and Mr. Terence be the way of him none too steady."
Mr. Terence's laughter came back on the wind, and was caught up and repeated by something that lurked in the Wood of the Echoes, as the people called it, which grew on a spit of solid land that reached out into the bog. Those echoes were difficult to explain. Why should a little wood of slender trees within a low wall catch and fling back human voices?
The echo repeating that mocking laughter, out there in the bog, was a new element of terror to Patsy. He had better be getting away from this queer unlucky place before the riders were out of hearing. The little old grandfather, with his blazing eyes of wrath and the stick concealed somewhere behind his coat-tails, his most familiar aspect to Patsy, was better than this solitude, with that old Echo across the bog there cackling in that unchancy way. Soon, very soon, the lower road, overhung with trees, pitch-black, where one had to pass by old Hercules' tomb, just above the fall of the river over its weir, would swallow Mr. Terence, while Sir Shawn's way would wind upwards towards the mountains. Unless indeed Sir Shawn was to go home to Inch with Mr. Terence, seeing he was riding Spitfire and so many perils to be passed, and him not too steady by the look of him.
Patsy trotted along in the wake of the riders, his bare feet making a soft padding noise in the dust of the road. His way was Sir Shawn's way. The wealth of the world would not have induced Patsy to go down under the black shade of the trees into the assemblage of all the ghosts.
The little goat followed with docility at his heels, uttering now and again a plaintive bleat of protest at the pace.
Suddenly there came a sound which, filling Patsy's heart with a concrete terror, banished all the shadowy terrors. It was the sharp slash of a whip, followed by the sound of a horse in mad flight.
"It's Spitfire, it's Spitfire!" cried Patsy to the moon and the stars. "She'll kill Mr. Terence. The world knows she'd never take the whip."
It seemed to him as though there were two horses in the headlong flight, but he could not be sure. He stumbled along, sobbing in his haste and calling out inarticulate appeals to Heaven, to Sir Shawn, to save Mr. Terence, while the clatter of the horses' feet died in the distance. He even forgot his terror of the dark road which closed about him as he followed on Spitfire's track. It might be that Sir Shawn was catching up with the runaway horse, ready to snatch at the bridle if only he could be in time.
Suddenly Patsy, sobbing and shaking, cannoned into some one, something, in the darkness of the trees. A man's voice cursed him low and deep,—no ghostly voice, nor that of the countryside, an unfamiliar voice and speech to Patsy. His slender little body was caught in a fierce grip. He was lifted and dashed on to the road. If it had been a stony road, instead of the yielding bog, there would have been an end of Patsy's story. As it was he lay very quietly, while the little goat went home without him.
O'GARAS OF CASTLE TALBOT
Patsy Kenny, stud-groom to Sir Shawn O'Gara, a quiet man, devoted to his horses and having a wonderful way with them, sometimes allowed his mind to wander back to the night Mr. Terence Comerford was killed and the days that followed.
He could recall the inquest on poor Mr. Terence, himself, with a bandaged head, keeping the one eye he had available fixed on the gentleman who asked him questions. He knew that Sir Shawn O'Gara was present, his face marble pale and his eyes full of a strange anguish. Well, that was not to be wondered at. The gentleman who asked the questions made sympathetic references to the unusual friendship between Sir Shawn and Mr. Comerford. Patsy had been aware of the nervous tension in Sir Shawn's face, the occasional quiver of a nostril, "Like as if he was a horse, a spirity one, aisy frightened, like Spitfire," Patsy had thought.
He remembered that tense anguish of Sir Shawn's face now, as he sat on the trunk of a fallen tree in the paddock of the foals at Castle Talbot. The foals were running with their mothers, exquisite creatures, of the most delicate slenderness. The paddock was full of the lush grass of June. The mares were contentedly grazing. Now and again one lifted her head and sniffed the air with the wind in her mane, as if at the lightest sound she would take fright.
Patsy had had a hard tussle that morning with an ill-tempered horse he was breaking, and he felt tired out. He had no idea of compelling a horse with a whip. Sir Shawn had bought this horse at a fair a short time before. He was jet-black and they had called him Mustapha. That was Master Terry's name for him, a queer heathenish name to Patsy's mind, but all Master Terry did and all the mistress, Master Terry's mother did, was right in Patsy's eyes, so Mustapha the horse was called.
He was certainly an ill-tempered brute, with a lot of the devil in him, but Patsy Kenny was never angry with a horse; it was an invaluable quality in a stud-groom. Patsy was wont to say that when he found a horse wicked he looked for the man. There was no evidence of the man so far as their record of Mustapha went. He had been bought from a little old man as pink as a baby and with a smiling innocence of aspect, so small that when Mustapha tossed his head the little man, hanging on by the rope-bridle, was lifted in the air and dropped again.
"That crathur," said Patsy to himself, "would never have done the horse a wrong. I wonder where he got him from an' who had the rearin' of him. I'm surprised the master cared to handle him. He's as like as two pins to Spitfire. Where was it they said Spitfire went? Some mountainy man bought her for a five-pound note I've heard tell."
He pulled out a fine red handkerchief and mopped his forehead with it. He'd had two hours of it trying to "insinse some rayson" into Mustapha's head. He had not made much progress. Mustapha was still kicking and squealing in his loose-box. The sounds reached Patsy Kenny where he sat on his log and made him sad. Gentle as he was he thought he had an understanding of even Mustapha. The ears back, the whites of the eyes showing, the wild nostrils, the tense muscles under the skin of black satin, were something of an unhappiness in his mind. Some time or other Mustapha must have been ill-treated.
He put his head down on his hand. He was really tired out. So he was unaware of the approach over the grass towards him of two people till their shadows fell upon him and he looked up.
"That brute has taken it out of you, Patsy," said the elder man, who had a curious elegance of face and figure. Years had not coarsened Sir Shawn O'Gara. He was still slight and active. His white hair was in almost startling contrast with the darkly foreign face, the small black moustache, the dark eyes, almost too large and soft and heavily lashed for a man's eyes.
The boy who was with him was very unlike his father. He had taken after his mother, who had once been Mary Creagh, of whom some one had said she had the colour of the foxes. The boy had his mother's reddish brown eyes and hair, something of the same colour underlying his fair skin as it did hers. He had the white, even teeth, the flashing and radiant smile. Mary Creagh had been a beautiful girl, with a look of motherliness even in her immature girlhood. As a wife and mother that aspect of her beauty had developed. Many a strange confidence had been brought to Mary Creagh, and later to Lady O'Gara. She had a way of opening hearts and lips with that soft, steadfast glance of hers. Her full bosom looked as though it were made for a child's head or a man's to rest upon.
"He'll come round, he'll come round," said Patsy. "He'll have been hurted some time or another. Whin he gets to know me he'll be biddable enough."
"Oh, I know your theories," Sir Shawn said, a smile breaking over the melancholy of his face. "You'll never give in that a horse could be cursed with a natural ill-temper. But there are ill-tempered people: why not ill-tempered horses?"
"Bedad, I dunno!" said Patsy, scratching his head thoughtfully. He stood up with a jerk. It had occurred to him suddenly that he was sitting while the gentlemen were standing. "I never could see inside a human. I don't know how it is at all that I can see the mind of a horse."
"You're a wonderful man, Patsy," said the boy gaily. "You are wasted as our stud-groom. The scientific beggars would like to get hold of a man who could see into the mind of a horse. Only we couldn't spare you. I'm afraid Mustapha would only listen to reason from you, and I've set my heart on riding him this Autumn."
"You won't do that, Master Terry, till I've had a good many more talks with the horse. I'd be sorry to see you ridin' him yet, sir."
Terry O'Gara, brilliant in white flannels,—he had been playing tennis with his mother's distant young cousin, Eileen Creagh—seemed to draw the afternoon sun on to his spotlessness. Patsy Kenny, a little dazed with fatigue, blinked at his whiteness against the green grass.
A mare came trotting up to them with her foal. The mare allowed herself to be fondled, but the little foal was very wild and cantered away when they tried to stroke him.
The big paddock was a pleasant sight with the mares and their foals wandering over the young grass. The trees surrounding the paddock had not yet lost their first fresh green: and the white red-roofed stabling, newly built to accommodate the racing stud, made a vivid high light against the coppices.
The three wandered on from one mare and foal to another. Patsy, chewing a straw, offered the opinion that Magda's foal was the best of the lot. Magda belonged to her Ladyship.
"There won't be a foal in it like that little wan," said Patsy, looking at a tall chestnut foal, the slender legs of which seemed as though they might break with a little pressure, so delicate were they. "The filly won't be in it, Master Terry, wid your Mamma's horse. I've never seen a better foal. He'll win the Derby yet. Woa, Magda, woa, my beauty."
He was trying to get close to the mare, she being restive. Suddenly she uttered a joyous whinny and started off down the field, the little foal at her heels, the long manes of both flying in the wind.
"She knows her Ladyship has sugar for her. An' there's Miss Eileen. I never knew a young lady as much afraid of a horse as Miss Eileen. You should tache her better, Master Terry."
They stood by a gate to look at the horses which at a little distance beyond a small enclosure hung their long sleek noses across a five-foot paling. The points of the horses had to be discussed. Patsy had quite forgotten his fatigue. He opened the gate and they crossed the narrow strip between that and the paling. A second gate was opened and they passed through.
While they were looking at the horses they were joined by Lady O'Gara and Miss Creagh, the latter, a delicately fair girl with a mass of fine golden hair caught up with many hairpins a-top of her small head, keeping close to Lady O'Gara.
Lady O'Gara was laughing. Her husband sometimes called her the Laughing Goddess. She had two aspects to her beauty—one when she was soft and motherly, the other when she rallied those she loved and sparkled with merriment. Her still beautiful copper-coloured hair had hardly a white thread in it. She was very charming to look at in her matronly beauty.
"I've had to defend poor Eileen from the mares," she said. "They were impudent, crowding around me for sugar and sticking their noses in my pocket. Magda and Brunette nearly came to blows. I had to push them off with my whip. Poor Eileen!"
"I'm so sorry you were frightened," Terry O'Gara said, drawing a little nearer to the girl and looking into her blue eyes.
The others had gone on.
"You won't be afraid with me," said the boy, who had just passed out of Sandhurst; and was feeling immensely proud of his commission and his sword and all they betokened, although he talked lazily about "cutlery" and the pleasure of getting into mufti, making his mother's eyes dance.
"If you like, we will keep behind," he said. "If you are not accustomed to it, it is rather alarming to be caught into a herd of horses. My mother is so used to them that she cannot imagine any one being afraid."
The horses were coming in a long string from the other end of the paddock, whinnying and neighing, shaking the ground as they came. The girl drew back towards the hedge.
"It's only rough love," the boy said. "Patsy Kenny can do anything with the horses. They quarrel if he takes more notice of one than another."
"They won't hurt your mother?" the girl said anxiously. "There she is in the midst of them. Is it safe?"
"Quite safe. Nothing will happen to Mother while Father and Patsy Kenny are there. What a frightened child you are!"
Miss Creagh's soft red mouth widened into a smile which had amusement in it. She was six years older than the boy who called her a frightened child. The smile was gone before he could see it.
"I'm afraid I'm rather a coward," she said meekly. "Father has always said that it was absurd for a soldier's daughter to be alarmed of so many things."
Terry O'Gara thought at the moment that it was the most beautiful and appealing thing in the world for a girl to be frightened of many things, when the girl happened to be as pretty as Eileen Creagh, and he was the valiant youth who was to protect her from her terrors. Although he liked the feeling of protecting her he fell in with her suggestion that they should go back and talk to the foals. Miss Creagh was certainly a coward, for she cried out when a horse showed any evidence of friendliness; but when Terry suggested that they should go to the garden and look for strawberries she did not fall in with the suggestion.
"Let us wait for your mother here," she said, having gained the safe shelter of the space between the palings and the gate. "You are sure she is quite safe? Just look at her among those wild horses! There couldn't be ... an accident?"
He laughed at her terrors.
"Mother was born in a stable, so to speak," he said. "She has a way with the horses. But how fond you are of her! I am so grateful to you for appreciating my mother as she deserves."
"She is an angel," said the girl fervently.
"Well, I think so." He laughed rather shyly. "It would not be easy for a boy to have better parents. Father is quite unlike Mother, of course ... but ... I have a tremendous admiration for him, all the same. I'll tell you a secret. I believe up to this time I have wanted more than anything else to please my father. When I had to work for exams. I hated, or any stunt of that kind, when I—oh, I oughtn't to be talking about myself. It isn't that I love Mother less, but Mother is so happy. She would always find something good in my failures. But—to see Father's face light up...!"
"He looks rather sad," Miss Creagh said wistfully.
"Yes, though he can be uncommonly jolly. We have had such rags together in London. Why, here is Shot." He stooped to fondle the head of a beautiful red setter. "He must have got shut up in the garden. What I can't understand about Shot is his indifference to you."
"He knows that in my secret heart I'm afraid of dogs,—a dreadful admission, isn't it? I think it was our old nurse. I can always remember her driving a dog out of the nursery. 'Nasty thing!' she used to say. 'You shall not come near my baby.' I suppose I got the idea quite in babyhood that a dog was something noxious. Not that the others minded. The house was always full of dogs."
"Oh, you'll get over that. Won't she, Shot? Do you think his hair and eyes are like my Mother's?"
"Like?" Miss Creagh was puzzled. "Oh, surely not! How could a dog's hair and eyes be like a person's. Your beautiful mother! It seems such an odd comparison."
"Oh, well—Shot is beautiful too."
Despite his infatuation Terry felt a little disappointed in Miss Creagh.
Sir Shawn and Lady O'Gara had gone on into the next paddock, which belonged to the young mares. There was a momentary excitement. One of the horses had got through after them and was racing up and down between the hurdles whinnying loudly. By the time he was secured and put back in his proper quarters the young people were out of sight.
"Shot's a good dog," Patsy Kenny was wont to observe in his slow way, "an' his father before him was a good dog. Yet I wouldn't be sayin' but what ould Shot, the grandfather, wasn't the pick o' the basket."
Old Shot had lived for five years after Sir Shawn O'Gara's marriage to Mary Creagh, which had sorely offended and alienated Mrs. Comerford, who had brought up the girl from childhood and loved her like a daughter. When he had died it was by Lady O'Gara's wish that the dog was buried in the grass-plot just outside the drawing-room window. She could see the mound from the window recess, where she sat to write her letters, in which she kept her work-table, the book she was reading, and various other belongings; she had screened it off so that the deep recess was like a little room to itself.
"When I look up and see the mound instead of Shot it always hurts me," she had said in early days. "But then I feel that he likes to be near."
"He was so fond of you, Mary," her husband often said, "fonder even, I believe, than he was of me."
"Oh, no, Shawn, not that. No one could take your place with Shot. But he accepted me, dear old dog, and I am very proud of it."
That was before Shot's son had aspired to take his father's place, while he was still indeed one of a likely litter of puppies in the stable-yard, just beginning to be cast off by Judy who had other things to do in a sporting Autumn besides looking after a lot of sprawling, big-pawed puppies, who were quite independent of her and becoming rather unmanageable.
It was also before old Shot had begun to return to his friends as nothing more tangible than a padding of soft paws on the stairs, a movement under the dining-table, where he had been accustomed to lie in life, a sound of a dog lying down with a sigh, or getting up from the hearthrug before the billiard-room fire.
These manifestations had sometimes perturbed visitors to Castle Talbot; but intimates at the house had come to accept as its owners did these sounds of a presence that was never seen. No one was any longer incommoded by it except young Shot, who would get up uncomfortably and lie at a distance, his nose on his paws, regarding with a wistful melancholy the place from which he had been driven forth.
"Meself an' ould Shot'll never lave the Master till we have to," Patsy Kenny had said to Lady O'Gara, to whom he was as much attached as old Shot had been.
"Me an' Shot'll stick by the Master," he had often said in his own mind, and sometimes aloud, when he was out in the paddocks with the horses and there was no human ear to listen to him. Then he would have a vision of a young man in a grey suit, slender and elegant, face downward on the grass and he calling out to some one to forgive him. "Sure God help him, he has suffered," he would add as the memory came to him.
Patsy, who had been taking a short cut by the wood to the stable-yard when he had come upon that sight,—it was long ago—had gone away terrified and aching with pity for the misery he had surprised. Sir Shawn O'Gara had interfered once to save little Patsy from a beating and had been rewarded disproportionately by a silent ardent devotion, at which no one,—he himself least of all,—had ever guessed. Patsy had liked Mr. Terence Comerford too. He was handsomer, the people thought, than Sir Shawn, being golden-haired, blue-eyed and ruddy, and very big and broad-shouldered, with a jolly greeting for every one. Many a time he had let Patsy hold his horse and flung him a sixpence for it. The peasants had no eye for the beauty and distinction of Sir Shawn O'Gara's looks, his elegant slenderness, the somewhat mournful depths of his eyes which were of so dark a grey that they were almost black. Too foreign looking, the people pronounced him, their idea of foreigners being bounded by their knowledge of a greatly-daring Italian organ-grinder who had once come over the mountains to Killesky with a little red-coated monkey sitting a-top of the organ, to the great joy of the children. That had been a record rainy season, and the organ-grinder and the monkey had both sickened for the sun, and would have died if old Lady O'Gara, who was half-Italian herself, had not heard the tale and sent the man back to his own country.
"He'd be askin' Mr. Terence to forgive him because maybe he was vexed wid him about poor Bridyeen," Patsy had often thought since. "An' maybe because Miss Mary Creagh had always liked him better than Mr. Terence, though she was too much afraid of Mrs. Comerford, to say it. Or maybe 'twas that he couldn't save him from Spitfire. Not but what she was kind enough, the crathur, if he hadn't took to floggin' her."
Very rarely Patsy thought on the man who had cursed him in the ditch that night long ago. He was only an accidental terror of the night crowded with terrors, from which Patsy had reached his grandfather's door and tumbled in "about the flure" in a fainting condition. He had queer hazy memories that the old man was kind, that the two little eyes which had often blazed fury at him, were dim with tears. He did not know if he dreamt it or not that he had heard his grandfather telling the other old men around the turf fire that he, Patsy, was a good little lad, but that he had to be strict with him to keep him good.
When he had got about again he had heard that Sir Shawn O'Gara had been very ill, that the shock of his friend's death had been too much for him. Then one day the old Lady O'Gara had come to the cottage on the edge of the bog to ask for him. It had got out that Patsy had seen something of the terrible happening of that night, and she had been very gentle and friendly with him, and had asked him if he would not like to go to school; and afterwards what he would like to do.
He could see her delicate profile now if he closed his eyes, the olive skin, the deep velvety eyes, the red lips. Even the country people did not deny Lady O'Gara beauty, of a foreign sort. Though they would never admire her as they admired Miss Mary Creagh.
Soon after Patsy had gone to school Lady O'Gara died, and a year later Sir Shawn and Miss Mary Creagh were married. By this time Patsy had become a favourite pupil with Mr. O'Connell, at the National Schools, who thought that in time he might qualify for a "vit," seeing his love for animals; but perhaps Mr. O'Connell's liking for Patsy was only because he found in him an equal mind with his own about animals, Mr. O'Connell's attachment to his dog, Sambo, being a cause of laughter to most of his pupils. Patsy had a happy time with Mr. O'Connell; but the necessary education for the veterinary profession in the matter of mere book-learning he seemed either unable or unwilling to acquire, so he went in time to the stables at Castle Talbot to qualify as he had coveted for the hereditary position of stud-groom. Sir Shawn, since he had married Miss Creagh, had taken to keeping racehorses; and Patsy Kenny had a way with horses. He was a natural solitary as regarded his kind. Many a pretty girl had looked Patsy's way invitingly, seeing in him a steady, sober boy who might be trusted not to spend his wages in drink, whose dreamy eyes and soft slow voice promised gentleness with a woman; but Patsy never thought of the girls apparently. He was very fond of his master, but his great devotion was for Lady O'Gara who, as Miss Mary Creagh, had dazzled him when she came and went at Castle Talbot, not forgetting if she met Patsy to stop and speak with him. That devotion to Miss Mary, continued to Lady O'Gara, had perhaps spoilt Patsy's chances of being happy after the manner of other men. He would have said himself, perhaps, that with the horses to think of he had no time to think about getting married. Certainly he did not seem to find his bachelor state amiss. His little house, in the new block of stabling, white walled, red-roofed, painted with cross beams to its pointed gable, was kept with meticulous care. Patsy did his own work. Lady O'Gara was right perhaps when she called him a natural celibate.
Long, long ago old Judy Dowd and her granddaughter, Bridyeen, had left Killesky,—for America. They had not gone away with the drafts of boys and girls who went week after week during the Spring weather, leaving Beragh station on their way to Liverpool with a great send-off from friends and relatives, ending, as the train went, with cries of lamentation that brought the other passengers to their carriage windows, curious or sympathetic, according to their natures.
No: Judy Dowd and Bridyeen had gone off in an underhand manner, leaving Mr. Casey, the solicitor, to dispose of the public-house and effects. The neighbours had been rather indignant about it, and had made up their minds as to the reason of this unsportsmanlike flitting. But by the time they were saying to each other that Judy Dowd had a right not to be spoiling her grand-daughter, making her pretty for the eyes of gentlemen; that what could a girl want more than Barney Killeen, who had a farm and an outside car, if he was sixty itself? that there was no use humouring the fancies of girls: that they'd always known how it would end: finally that it was well Bridyeen should be taken away before she made a scandal in the parish—by that time the Dowds were no more than a name and a memory.
Few people now remembered the old unhappy far-off things. Judy Dowd's public-house in Killesky, which had been a very small affair, had made way for Conneely's Hotel. There was not much hotel about it, but there was quite a thriving shop, divided into two parts—one, general store, the other public. If you were a person of importance and called at Conneely's for refreshment you had it in "the drawing-room" upstairs, where the Misses Conneely's drawings in chalk hung on the walls, and their photographs adorned the chimney-piece, while their school prizes were arranged neatly on the round table in the middle of the room, flanking the wax flowers under a glass shade which made the centre piece.
The Miss Conneelys had done well in the Intermediate. Their elder brother was a priest. Father Tom's photograph was in the centre of the chimney-piece a-top of the clock. They could play the piano and violin and had fortunes when the time came for them to marry. Their mother would never have permitted them to serve in the bar nor even behind the drapery counter. They were black-haired, rosy, buxom girls, who set the fashions in Killesky. There had been a sensation when Nora Conneely came back from Dublin with a walking-stick, but after an amazed pause Killesky—the young ladies of it,—broke out in walking-sticks.
There was enough positive about the Conneelys, the priest, the prosperous self-satisfied girls, the managing capable mother, to make people feel that there had always been Conneely's Hotel in Killesky. If the old people remembered Julia Dowd's little public-house with its thatched roof, the low ceiling and the fire of turf to which you could draw a chair while you had your drink, the little parlour beyond which was reserved for customers of a superior station, they did not talk about it.
Inch too was shut up. Mrs. Comerford had gone away after Mary Creagh's engagement to Sir Shawn O'Gara. She had taken it very ill,—as a slur to her dead son's memory. She had always been an austere, somewhat severe woman, but she had taken Mary Creagh from her dying mother's arms, a child of a few weeks old, had reared her as her own and been tender to her, with the surprising precious tenderness of a reserved, apparently cold nature. Mrs. Comerford had gone to Italy and had never since returned. Perhaps she would never come now, although the place was kept from going to rack and ruin by James Clinch, the butler, and Mrs. Clinch, who had been cook and had married the butler after Mrs. Comerford had gone away.
All these things came back to Patsy Kenny in his solitary hours. He was very fond of sitting on a log or a stone between his strenuous working times, going over old days in his mind.
This June afternoon, rather wearied still by his struggle with Mustapha, he was sitting on a block in front of his little house in the stable-yard. Judy, a half-bred setter—the names of the animals at Castle Talbot were hereditary—was lying at his feet. The pigeons were pecking about him daintily. Only Judy's watchful, jealous eye prevented their flying on to his knee or his shoulder.
The memories unfolded themselves like the scenes of a cinematograph, slipping past his mind. He remembered Bridyeen Sweeney, whose delicate beauty used to draw the gentlemen to Dowd's long ago. He contrasted her in his mind with Nora Conneely whom he had met that morning as he went to the post-office, wearing what he had heard called a Merry Widow hat, and a tight skirt, displaying open-work stockings and high-heeled shoes, a string of pearls about a neck generously displayed by the low blouse she was wearing, her right hand twirling the famous walking-stick.
"I dunno what at all came to Bridyeen," he murmured to himself. "She was as pretty as a picture,—like a little rose she was, and so modest in all her ways. Even my grandfather used to say there was nothing against Bridyeen. I wouldn't have thought it of Mr. Terence either that he'd be tryin' to turn the little girl's head and he the Mistress's cousin an' they as good as promised. I only hope Master Terence had time to repent, if the stories were true itself that the people told. Sure maybe there was nothin' in it."
He had perhaps dozed off. He came awake suddenly to Judy's snarling. Judy never gave the alarm for nothing. A man had come into the stable-yard, quite obviously a tramp. Behind him came a woman and a child of the same fraternity. The woman stood humbly in the wake of the man, and the boy kept close to her. The man was a bad-looking fellow, Patsy said to himself. Half-consciously he noticed the man's hands, wicked-looking hands, covered with hair, the nails stubby and broken. The long arms were like the arms of a monkey. His tattered coat was velveteen. Patsy remembered to have seen the material on the game-keepers of a big estate in the next county.
"'Ullo, matey," said this uninviting person, with an attempt at jocularity. "'Ave you anythink to give a poor man out of a job?"
The truculent voice, with its attempt at oiliness, the small red eyes under the shock of hair, the thick purple lips, had an extraordinary effect on Patsy. He hated the tramp, yet he felt a queer sick fear of him. Once, when Sir Shawn had taken him to England for a big race, he had seen a dog destroy an adder, with the same mixture of half-terrified rage and loathing he was feeling now.
"There's nothing for you here," he said gruffly. "You don't look as if you had much taste for work."
Then he looked beyond the tramp to the woman and child. She was decent, the poor creature, he thought. Her poor rags were clean and mended. She had a shrinking, suffering air. The boy, who was about nine years old, seemed to cling to her as though in terror of the burly ruffian. He was pale and thin and even on this beautiful June day he looked cold.
Patsy was suddenly gentle. He saw the glare in the tramp's eyes.
"Here's a shillin' for you," he said. "I've no job you'd care about. But the woman and the child might like a cup of tay."
"All right," said the tramp, placated. "Tea's not in my way. I'll be back in 'arf a mo'. Don't you be makin' love to my ol' woman."
He flicked his thumb and finger at the woman with an ugly jocularity: then went, with the tramp's shambling trot, out of the stable-yard the way he had come, down the back avenue which opened on to the road to Killesky.
A TEA PARTY
"I've seen that man of yours before," said Patsy, turning round and gazing at the woman.
He felt the most extraordinary pity for her. She must have been a pretty girl once, he thought, noticing the small pure outlines of the face. The child was like her, not like the ruffian who had just set off in the direction of Conneely's Hotel. A pretty boy, with soft, pale silken hair and blue eyes that looked scared. Patsy remembered his own childhood with the terrible old grandfather, and his heart was soft with compassion.
"I don't think so, sir," said the woman. She was English by her voice. "He hasn't been in these parts before."
Patsy noticed with the same sharp pity which seemed to hurt him, that she trembled. She was tired and hungry, perhaps; not cold, surely, in this glorious June sunshine.
"Sit down," he said, "sit down." He indicated a stone seat by the open door of the house. "You are tired, my poor girl. I've put the kettle on. It'll be boilin' by this time. I'll wet the cup of tay and it'll do you good."
There was no one in the stable-yard to observe the strange sight of the stud-groom giving a meal to the tramping woman and her child. He brought out a little cloth and spread it on the stone seat. Then he fetched the cups and saucers, one by one.
"Let me help you, sir," said the woman. "I was a servant in a good house before I had the misfortune to marry."
There had been some strange delicacy in Patsy's mind which had induced him to have the outdoor tea rather than a less troublesome arrangement within doors. Perhaps he had an instinctive knowledge of what the woman's husband might be capable of in the way of thought or speech.
"Sit down there, Georgie," said the woman to the child, with a kind of passionate tenderness. "He's too little, so he is," she addressed Patsy Kenny, "for the load o' cans and pots he has to carry. His bones are but soft yet."
"Cans and pots?"
"There, beyond the gate. We sell them as we go along. When they're sold we buy more. We had a donkey-cart, but ... we had to sell it. We only take now what Georgie and me can carry."
"And your husband?"
"He carries nought. He doesn't hold with a man carrying things."
Patsy said nothing. What was the matter with him that he felt such a pain of pity and such a rage of anger? He had felt the like before for an ill-treated animal. Ill-treated humans had not often entered his experience, since he lived so much to himself.
He went to the gate leading to the back avenue and looked out. Hidden by the gate-post were a number of pots and pans and bright glittering new cans. A little away lay another heap. He stooped. There was a contrivance, something like a yoke for the shoulders, to which the cans were attached. He had seen, also in England, gipsy carts covered with such wares. He had not known that human shoulders could be adapted to this burden.
"God help ye," he said, coming back. "'Tis too much for you, let alone the child. The polis should see to it."
"He takes the load from the boy before we come to a village," she said, nodding her head the way the man had gone.
It was wonderful to see how quickly and deftly the woman set out the tea-things, made the tea, using much less than Patsy's liberal allowance, and cut bread and butter. Patsy found a few new-laid eggs and put them on to boil. The child sat in the shade: Patsy had found him a chair, made of ropes of straw, to rest on instead of the cold stone. He sat in a relaxed way as though all his muscles were limp, taking no heed of the dog that sniffed about him. Dead-tired, Patsy thought, and loathed the muscular ruffian who went free while a child and a woman bore the burdens.
It was pretty to see the woman coaxing the child to eat, forgetting herself. Patsy looked about the familiar place and saw it strange with an appearance of domesticity. The creature was very gentle, he said to himself, and she was decent. Her poor clothes were tidy, and the boy's likewise. Their boots caused a queer pang in Patsy's heart. They were disgraceful boots, bulging at the sides, broken: he had noticed that the boy shuffled as he walked.
The woman sat holding her tea-cup in her hand, looking around the yard. Patsy's house had a little yard to itself off the stable-yard proper. In the middle was a bed in which there was a rose-tree with pinks and pansies growing about its roots, Patsy's garden, of which he was very proud.
"It's a nice little spot you have here," she said, with a sigh. The canary, which hung by the door in a cage, sent out a hard bright runlet of song. The dog lay on her side with one brown eye fixed on her master. One of the big cats, which kept the stables free of rats and made company for the horses in winter, came delicately and rubbed himself against Patsy's blue hand-knitted stockings. Her eyes roved enviously about, taking in the quiet peacefulness of the scene.
"I'll be washin' up for you before I go," she said.
"Sure I'm used to doin' for myself," returned Patsy.
"You've no wife?" she said; and looked down at the boy where he lay back wearily in the straw chair.
"I'm a bachelor boy," said Patsy.
Her eye considered her host in a way that caused Patsy a curious internal shyness, not altogether unpleasant.
"A pity," said she. "It would be a nice little place for a woman and a child."
Then she straightened herself and stood up. She had made a very good meal.
"I saw where the basin was in the scullery," she said. "Don't you trouble. It's a woman's work, not a man's. You stay here and talk to Georgie."
He carried in the tray when she had piled it with cups and saucers. Otherwise he obeyed her. Better if that ruffian came back he should find him talking to Georgie rather than helping the woman to wash up.
But Georgie was very uncommunicative. He seemed too tired to talk. He too had not done so badly with the meal once he had begun. After a while his head fell a little to one side and he slept.
Patsy sat where he was. He could hear the noise of water flowing inside the house and the chink of cups and saucers in process of washing up. Not for worlds would he have entered the house. He was thinking strange thoughts. For the first time he was touched by a woman, this poor, ill-clad, tramping woman, the wife of an evident scoundrel, touched to the heart for her and her child. The happy, pretty girls who had looked shy invitation at him had not appealed. They had, one by one, put him down as a dry old bachelor and taken their charms elsewhere. Patsy had never missed wife or child. He would have said himself that he had enough to think of, with her Ladyship and the Master and Mr. Terry, enough to fill his heart.
Not that he felt anything beyond an immense compassion for these poor victims of man's cruelty. Perhaps with such a person as Patsy Kenny compassion would serve for love always. "The creatures!" he said to himself, "the creatures! Sure it isn't the hard ways of the world they're fit for at all."
The woman emerged from the cottage, moving with a gentle softness. There was nothing of the tramp about her beyond the broken boots, the hat which had obviously been under the weather, the poor clothes. She sat down beside Patsy Kenny and spoke in a low voice for fear of waking the sleeping child.
"It is a hard road he has to travel for one so young," she said, and he noticed that she looked quickly towards the gate.
"It is," said Patsy Kenny. "Too hard. He had no right to be carryin' all that tinker's stuff. That man of yours, my girl, oughtn't to be let do it."
A little colour came to the woman's cheek.
"We've run away from him over and over," she said. "He's always tracked us down. Time and time again I was doin' well and Georgie at school, but he always found us: I used to say my prayers to be delivered from him, but I never was: I don't suppose I ever will be now. I can't hide from him. I wouldn't mind for myself, if it wasn't for Georgie. He'll kill Georgie."
"How long have you been at it?" Patsy Kenny asked quietly.
"This sort of life? He found us in Leicestershire three months ago. I was in a place with one lady. She was kind and let me have Georgie. She always said she'd never have known there was a child in the house. Georgie went to school and came home of afternoons. It was a quiet, peaceful spot. Baker found me again. It wasn't the first time by many he dragged us out on the road. He sold all my clothes as well as takin' my savin's. He said there was money for him over here. I don't see no sign of it. The life will kill Georgie. We tramped from Dublin: with the last of my money Baker bought the tins to keep us goin' on the road. It was bad in the cold, wet weather last month."
"Have you no one at all belongin' to you?" Patsy asked in a low voice.
"Sisters and brothers, all respectable. My parents are dead. When I took Baker I turned my back on them all."
Patsy's mind was working hard. There must be some help for the woman's case. It could not be law that this ruffian should have the power to drag his wife and child after him, loading them with burdens they were not fit to carry. The creature knew no better than to yield to him. The Master was a magistrate and a kindly one. He was always settling disputes of one kind or another. Patsy thought of bidding her wait where she was till the Master could be found.
He looked up from his thoughts and saw that Mr. Baker had come back. His face was very red and shiny. He wore a truculent look.
"'Ullo!" he said thickly. "'Ere's quite a family party. 'Ope you've been enjoyin' of yourselves as I 'ave, subjec' to restrictions. A bob don't go fur in liquor now-a-days. You might ha' made it two."
"One seems to have been quite enough for you," said Patsy, with a light of battle in eyes no longer dreamy.
"I don't deny as I 'ad a bob myself to spend," said the ruffian. "'Ere, you, Georgie! You wake up, you lazy young devil! 'Tis time we was on the road."
Patsy stepped between the man and the child who had come out of his sleep with a cry of fear. He put a open hand on Mr. Baker's chest and pushed him backward. Somewhat contrary to his expectations the man did not resent his action, beyond remarking that no one had the right to interfere between a man and his kid.
"Now it comes to that," he said, with a sudden change to jocularity, "if so be as you've a fancy for 'er I'd sell her for five quid an' throw in the kid. It's no catch draggin' 'em round an' me 'avin' to carry the cans 'arf the time because o' your blasted coppers."
The full enormity of the speech seemed to reveal itself only gradually to Patsy's mind. He turned red and then pale. The poor woman was quivering as though a lash had struck her.
"You're a bad brute," said Patsy quietly. "The woman's too good for you."
"You can 'ave her for nothink if you like. She never was much good to me."
He sat down suddenly in the chair Georgie had left empty.
"I want to see your boss," he said: and his tone was bullying.
"I was thinkin' about that myself," said Patsy.
"You go along the road an' wait for me," he said with a sudden ferocity which made the woman start. "Off with ye now. I'll come up with ye: unless this gentleman 'ud make it a matter of a five-pun' note."
"Hold your dirty tongue," said Patsy, and landed Mr. Baker one in the chest.
The man rushed at him with his head down, a shower of foul words coming from his lips. Before anything could happen some one intervened,—Terry O'Gara, dazzlingly clean as he always looked.
"Here, you keep quiet, you ruffian!" he said, delivering a very neat blow just under the man's chin. "What is it all about, Patsy? Hadn't I better send for the police?"
Mr. Baker had fallen back against the stone bench and subsided on to it, feeling his jaw bone.
"I'll make you pay for this yere conduck to an 'armless man wot was doin' nothink," he growled.
Something floated into Patsy's mind, vague, terrible. Before he could grasp it another person joined the group,—Sir Shawn O'Gara.
"What's the matter?" he asked. "Who is this person?"
His face changed. Patsy Kenny, who was watching him, saw the change. He had grown livid, his lips blue. Was he ill? Was he going to fall?
Before Patsy could do anything he recovered himself and spoke.
"You have business with me?" he said to the tramp.
"Yes, sir." Mr. Baker was suddenly cringingly respectful. "I came 'ere to talk business an' was set upon by this yere man o' yourn somethink crool. I'd sack him if I was you. Your 'orses wouldn't be safe with 'im, 'im bein' so 'ot-tempered."
Sir Shawn still looked very ill. Patsy had once seen a person in a bad heart-seizure. Was Sir Shawn's heart affected? Small mottled patches of a purple colour had come out on the smooth darkness of his skin. Angina. That was what the doctor called it in the case of that other person. Had that mysterious, terrible disease laid hold on the Master? He had not looked well for many a day. Patsy had wondered that the Mistress did not see it, was not disturbed by it, seeing how fond a wife she was. His heart sank with fear for the Master.
"Let me deal with him, father," said Terry, looking like a young god in contrast with the unpleasant Mr. Baker.
"I know this man," Sir Shawn said, quietly. "He once rendered me a service."
"When I were gamekeeper over to Ashbridge 'All," said Mr. Baker eagerly, "you'd a bin shot but for me. Some gents will never learn 'ow 'to 'old their guns. I knocked the barrel up just in the nick. That Mr. Lascelles, 'e weren't safe."
Ashbridge! Oh—so the man had been employed at Ashbridge Hall, Lord Trentham's place, some thirty miles away on the edge of Lough Aske. How long ago? Patsy kept asking himself the question. He looked after Sir Shawn and Mr. Baker as they went away in the direction of the house. Sir Shawn had an official room with a door opening out on to the grounds, so that the many people who came to consult him on one business or another need not enter through the house.
"That fellow's face would hang him anywhere," said Terry O'Gara. "I wonder what amount of villainy lies between a gamekeeper's place at Ashbridge and the brute he is to-day?"
"God help them that are in his power," Patsy Kenny said fervently. Then he went to the gate and looked out. The pots and pans and cans had disappeared. Down the long straight road there was no one in sight. The woman and child had vanished.
Oddly enough he was disturbed by the noise Mustapha was still making in his box-stall.
"I shouldn't be surprised now if he was to be a foal of Spitfire," he said. "I did hear she was bought by a man somewhere about Lewy mountain. The little man we bought him from was a mountainy man, if he wasn't a fairy."
FROM THE PAST
The morning after these happenings Lady O'Gara, turning over the pile of letters on the breakfast table, changed colour at the sight of one which bore an Italian postmark. It was addressed in a large firm handwriting in which only very keen observation could have discovered any sign of weakening. After that momentary glance she laid away the letter with the superscription turned downwards while she read the rest of her correspondence.
When she had finished breakfast she followed her husband into his office, as that special room was called. The windows had not been opened—they were French windows and they served as a door out on to the gravel sweep which ran around the house—and she thought she detected a faint disagreeable smell, as of drugs. She unbolted a window and flung it wide and the warm June air came flowing in, banishing the unpleasant sharp odour.
"You haven't been taking anything, Shawn?" she asked, looking at him a little anxiously. "I thought I smelt something peculiar. You are not looking well."
"I am very well, Mary," he answered. "Perhaps it was the person I had here yesterday evening. I believe I closed the window after he went out. He had been drinking. There was a horrible smell."
"I came to the door while you were talking to him and I heard you say, 'What do you mean by coming here?' Who was he, Shawn?"
Again Sir Shawn was suddenly pale. She was looking down at the letter she had extracted from the pile, and he turned his back to the window, so that when she looked at him again with her frank ingenuous gaze, his face was in shadow.
"He was a man who saved my life, or thinks he did, at a shooting-party at Ashbridge. There was a fellow there who had never handled a gun before. He would have put a whole charge of shot into me if this chap, Baker, hadn't knocked up his gun in time. I don't think it would have killed me, although it might have been rather unpleasant. Baker likes to think, for his own purposes,"—he spoke with a weary air,—"that he saved my life. He may have saved my beauty. He considers himself my pensioner."
"Ah!" Lady O'Gara was satisfied with the explanation. "What a pity he should drink! Can we do nothing for him?"
"I'm afraid not. He would like to be my game-keeper, but that is out of the question. He had not much character when he left Ashbridge. He has had more than one job in England since then, and has lost them all. He has come down very much in the world even since I saw him last."
"A pity," said Lady O'Gara, "since he rendered you a service."
"I gave him some money and got rid of him: it was the only thing to do."
Once again Lady O'Gara's frank eyes turned upon her husband.
"I don't think you ever told me about that thing before," she said. "I should have remembered if you had told me."
"No," he said with an averted face. "It happened—the winter you were in Florence. I came home and was met by the news that you were away. The sun dropped out of my skies."
She blushed suddenly and brightly. Her husband had turned from his gloomy contemplation of the lawn outside, on which a tiny Kerry cow was feeding. He said to himself that she was more beautiful in her mature womanhood than the day he married her. She had been soft and flowing even in her girlhood, with a promise of matronly beauty. Now, with a greater amplitude, she was not less but more gracious. Her bronze hair which had the faintest dust upon it went back from her temples and ears in lovely waves which no art could have produced. It was live hair, full of lights and shadows. Her husband had said that it was like a brown Venetian glass with powdered gold inside its brownness. There were a few brown freckles on the milk-white neck. Her eyes were kind and faithful and set widely apart: her nose straight and short: and she had a delightful smile.
She came now and put her arms about his neck. They were in curious contrast, she so soft, fair and motherly: he slender and dark, with weary eyes and a look as though he had suffered.
"Shawn!" she said, "Shawn!" and there was a passionate tenderness in her voice, as she pressed his head against her heart.
Then she let her arms fall and turned away, looking as though some sadness had clouded her joy.
"Poor Terence!" she said.
There was the same thought between them, but they left it unspoken. She had chosen Shawn O'Gara in her own heart even while she was expected to marry Terence Comerford.
"Why do you talk of Terence now?" he asked.
"I have had a letter from Aunt Grace after all these years." She held the letter towards him.
"She has forgiven you?" he asked, making no movement to take the letter.
"She is coming back to Inch. She writes that Stella, her adopted daughter, is growing up. She has forgiven us. She is pleased that we named our son after poor Terence. You remember you were rather opposed to it, Shawn."
"I did not wish to be reminded of the loss of my friend at every moment," he said. "The tragedy was too new."
Still he showed no indication of taking the letter from her hand.
"Read it to me," he said, in his weary voice. "I wonder how Stella will like Inch after Italy. There is so much rain and cloud. One has to be born to it to like it."
"When I was in Italy I simply longed for a day of Irish rain," Mary O'Gara said: "it is good for us. We need it. We grow parched in the dry climates."
"It has held the secret of perpetual youth and beauty for you, Mary," her husband said, looking at her with loving admiration.
She laughed and blushed. She was not beyond blushing at a compliment even from her husband.
"We must make things as gay for the child as possible," she said. Then she added:
"I wonder if Aunt Grace realizes that Terry is now a young man. He seems epris with Eileen, so I suppose he will not fall in love with Stella?"
Sir Shawn looked startled.
"I hope not," he said. "Eileen seems to have him very securely in her chains."
Lady O'Gara frowned ever so slightly. "I wish our children did not grow away from us so soon," she said. "Terry might have continued a little longer being in love only with his mother."
Sir Shawn lifted his eyebrows in a manner which accentuated his foreign look.
"Jealous, Mary?" he asked.
"Not of Eileen. She allures him, but, I come first."
"You would always have your place. You are of the women who are adored by their sons. You would not care for Eileen for a daughter-in-law, though she has been almost your adopted daughter these ten years back?"
"She would not suit Terry."
"She is very fond of you."
"Yes, I think she is fond of me." Her voice was cold.
"I hardly know you, Mary, in this mood towards Eileen. You are usually so sweetly reasonable."
"It is the privilege of a woman to be unreasonable sometimes."
The sunshine came back to her face, laughed in the depths of her eyes and brought a dimple to either cheek.
"I suppose I am a little jealous of Terry," she said. "You see he is very like you, Shawn. And I am fond of Eileen, really. Only, I suppose all mothers are critical of the girls their sons fall in love with, especially if it is an only son. It is odd how it has come suddenly to Terry that Eileen is a pretty girl. Of course he has only seen her in her vacations. Sit down now, Shawn, and I will read you Aunt Grace's letter."
He sat down obediently in the revolving chair in front of his desk and she came and stood by him. Her voice was a little disturbed as she read the letter.
"MY DEAR MARY,—You will be surprised to hear that I am coming back again to Inch. The years bring their dust, as some poet says: they certainly soften griefs and asperities. When I left Inch I was broken-hearted for my one boy. It was a poisoning of the grief at that time to know that you and Shawn O'Gara were going to be married. I felt that you had forgotten my beautiful boy, that his friend had forgotten him: but that I acknowledge now to have been a morbid and unreasonable way of looking at things. My boy never thought of any girl but you, yet I could not expect you to go unmarried for his sake: indeed I would not have wished it. You and Shawn must forgive that old unreasonable bitterness of mine, the bitterness of a mother distraught by grief.
"I have left you alone all these years, but I have not been without knowledge of you. I know that your son is called Terence after my son. I appreciate that fact, which indicates to me that you keep him in loving remembrance.
"After all these years I am suddenly weary for home, so weary that I wonder now how I could have kept away so long. Whether I shall end my days at Inch depends on Stella. My wild experiment of adopting this child, as some of my friends thought it at the time, has turned out very well. Stella is a dear child. I send you a photograph which hardly does her justice. As she is entirely mine she goes by my name, although her father was French. I should like to say to you that though I shall provide for Stella it will not be to your detriment. I have a sense of justice towards my kin.
"I trust to you to receive Stella and me in a manner which will prove that you have blotted out any memories of the past that are otherwise than happy.
"Your affectionate cousin-aunt, "GRACE COMERFORD.
"PS.—Stella has something of your colouring."
"Here is the photograph," said Lady O'Gara, handing it to her husband. "Stella is very pretty, is she not?"
He twisted his chair so that the light from the window might fall on the photograph. The face was in profile. It was tilted delicately upwards. There was a little straight nose, a round chin, a mouth softly opened, one of those mouths which do not quite close. The large eyes looked upward; the hair was short and curled in little rings.
He looked at it and said nothing, but his eyes were tragic in the shadow.
"The profile is quite French," said Lady O'Gara. "I remember the young man who I think must have been Stella's father. He was a lieutenant of Chasseurs. He was killed in Algiers—afterwards. I saw it in a newspaper about four years after our marriage. He was going to be married when he came to Inch. His mother, who was as poor as a church mouse, had written a bitter complaint to Aunt Grace that Gaston was about to marry a poor Irish girl, a governess, whose part he had taken when he thought her unfairly treated. I think Stella must be Gaston de St. Maur's child."
"Odd, not leaving the child her own name," Sir Shawn said, handing back the photograph.
"Aunt Grace would want her so entirely for her own. She always had a fierce way of loving. If she had loved me more reasonably and less jealously she would not have quarrelled with me as she did. She was always rather terrible in anger."
She gathered together a bundle of letters which she had laid down on the table.
"I must go and write to Aunt Grace," she said. "She must not wait for a letter telling her how glad I shall be to see her back at Inch, how glad we shall all be. She was very good to me, Shawn." She sent a wistful look towards her husband who sat with his back to her. "If she had been the aunt she called herself, instead of a somewhat remote cousin, she could not have been kinder. She treated us very generously, despite her anger at our marriage."
"You brought me too much," said Shawn O'Gara, not turning his head, "and it has prospered. You should have brought me nothing but yourself. You were a rich gift enough for any man."
Lady O'Gara looked well-pleased as she came and kissed the top of her husband's head, dusted over its darkness with an effect of powder as contrasted with the dark moustache and dark eyes.
"I am glad for Terry's sake I did not," she said; and went out of the room.
"Mr. Kenny wishes to see your Ladyship," said a servant, meeting her in the hall. Patsy, perhaps by reason of his friendly aloofness, had come to be treated with unusual respect by the other servants. "He is at the hall-door. He would not come inside."
She found Patsy, playing with Shot's son and daughter—they were the fourth generation from "Ould Shot" on the gravel sweep.
"Come in, Patsy," she said, and led the way into an octagonal room, lit by a skylight overhead and walled around with ancient books which were very seldom taken from their shelves.
"Sit down," she said, "and tell me what is troubling you."
Patsy sat down on the extreme edge of one of the chairs, which were upholstered in scarlet damask. He looked up at her with blinking eyes of worship, like the eyes of the dogs. The room, painted white above the bookshelves, was full of light. He turned his cap about in his hands. Obviously there was something more here than the business on which he usually consulted Lady O'Gara.
"'Tis," he began, "a little bit of a woman, an' a child, no bigger nor a robin an' as wake as a wran...."
With this opening he began the story of the woman and child, who had come with the disreputable person the afternoon before. It appeared that Mr. Baker had deserted his wife and son, flinging them the pots and pans with a scornful generosity. He had apparently arrived at the possession of money some way or other, and overtaking them on the road at some considerable distance away he had bidden them, with threats, to take themselves out of his sight, since he had no further use for them.
"He was full of drink," Patsy said, looking down. "Your Ladyship, his tratement of them was something onnatural. She said she'd run away from him often, but he'd always found her when she was doin' well an' earnin' for herself an' the child. The people she lived with were often kind and ready to stand by her, but sure, as she says, the kindest will get tired out. He'd broken the spirit in her, maybe, for she showed me his marks on the poor child. She said nothin' about herself, but I could guess, the poor girl! The man that could lay his heavy hand on a woman or a child is a black villain. I wouldn't be comparin' him to the dumb bastes, for they've nature in them. The poor little woman, she's dacent. It would break your heart to see how thin she is an' how fretted-lookin' an' the little lad wid the scare in his eyes."
"Has the woman come back?"
"Wasn't that what I was tellin' your Ladyship? Lasteways, she didn't come back exactly. I found her on the road an' she not knowin' where to turn to, in a strange country. There they were, when I found them, hugging aich other an' cryin'. And the cans beside them in the ditch."
"Wasn't I tellin' your Ladyship—the pots and pans and the few little bright cans among them, and not a penny betune the two poor souls, nor they knowing where to turn to!"
"Where are they now?" Lady O'Gara asked quietly.
"They're in my house, your Ladyship. I brought them back there last night an' I gev it up to them. I slep' in the loft over the stables myself."
"Oh, but, Patsy, they can't stay in your house! The people would talk."
"Sure I know they'd talk—if it was an angel in Heaven. That's why I kem to your Ladyship."
"I'll come and see the woman, Patsy, and we'll decide what is best to be done."
Patsy's face cleared amazingly.
"I knew you'd come," he said. "It'll be all right when your Ladyship sees them, God help them."
Lady O'Gara came in by way of a little-used gate a few days later. She had been to Inch, where the house was being turned out of doors and everything aired and swept and dusted and repolished, for a home-coming so long delayed that people had forgotten to look for it. Castle Talbot had six entrance gates, each with its lodge: and this one was rarely used.
Susan—as Mrs. Baker preferred to be called, Susan Horridge: she seemed to wish to drop the "Mrs. Baker"—came out with a key to open the gate, which was padlocked.
Such a different Susan! The old Susan might have been dropped with "Mrs. Baker." She had been just ten days at the South lodge, and now, in her neat print dress, her silken hair braided tidily, her small face filling out, she looked as she dropped a curtsey just as might the Susan Horridge of a score years earlier.
"You keep the gate padlocked, Susan?" Lady O'Gara asked, with a little surprise. "This is a quiet, honest place. I hardly think you need fear any disagreeable visitors."
"Oh, but, m'lady, you never know." Susan had admitted her by this time. "A lone woman and a little boy, and him that nervous through being frightened!" She hurried on as though she did not wish to make any reference to the cause of Georgie's fright. "I heard men singin' along the road the night before last it was. It fair gave me the jumps. Glad I was to have that gate between me and them and the strong padlock on it."
"This lodge is perhaps a little lonely for you. It's a very quiet road. The people don't use it much. It runs down to a road where they think there's a ghost. You're not afraid of ghosts?"
"No, m'lady. If but they'd keep the people from the road."
"Ah! you will find the people friendly and kindly after a time. You're new to the place."
"Maybe so, m'lady. I always was one for keeping myself to myself. My Granny brought me up strict. I wish I hadn't lost her when I did." She heaved a deep sigh. "We had a sweet little place at home in Warwickshire. Such a pretty cottage, and an orchard, and the roses climbin' about my window."
What matter that she said "winder"! Her eyes, the pale large eyes, had light in them as though she beheld a vision.
"'Twere all peace with my Granny and me," she went on. "And her Ladyship at the Court,—Mr. Neville was our Squire and her Ladyship was Lady Frances Neville—used to drop in to see Granny, and she used to say what a good girl I was, always busy with my needle and my book. And our Rector's wife, Mrs. Farmiloe, she gave me a silver thimble when I was nine—a prize for needlework. Lady Frances used to say, 'Don't you keep her too close to work, Mrs. Horridge. A child must play with other children.' But my Granny she'd up and say: 'She's all I have, and I'd rather bury her than see her trapesin' about with boys like some I know.' And there was Miss Sylvia peepin' at me from behind her Ladyship and me peepin' at her from behind my Granny. I went to the Court at sixteen as sewing maid, and at twenty I was Miss Sylvia's own maid. She married Lord Southwater, and I'd have gone with her only I couldn't leave my Granny. She was failin', poor old soul!"
She paused and again she heaved the deepest of sighs.
"Beggin' your pardon, m'lady, for talkin' so much. You'd maybe take a look at the little place?" she said.
Lady O'Gara turned aside. She was in no great hurry home and she was interested in Susan. Susan had padlocked the gate again and held the key swinging from her finger, while she looked up at Lady O'Gara as though her saying "yes" or "no" meant a great deal to her.
"I wonder what would happen if we wanted to get in or out by that gate at night time," Lady O'Gara said. "We don't use it much. Still we might want to and you might be in bed."
"I'd get up at any hour, m'lady," Susan said eagerly. "I'm a light sleeper: and it would only be to throw on something in a hurry."
She looked scared, as though her peace of mind was threatened, and Lady O'Gara felt a pity for such manifest nervousness. Susan would forget her terror presently as she got further and further away from the bad days. Obviously she was very nervous. Her eyes dilated and her breath came and went as she gazed imploringly at Lady O'Gara.
"Don't look like that, Susan," Lady O'Gara said, almost sharply. "You look as though I were judge and executioner. You shall keep your padlocked gate. After all it is a bad road, I don't think Sir Shawn will want to take it, though it is the shortest way to Inch. You did not find the gate padlocked when you came?"
"No, m'lady. 'Twas Mr. Kenny. He guessed I'd be frightened, so he brought the padlock and put it on himself."
The finest little line showed itself in Lady O'Gara's smooth forehead. Her skin was extraordinarily unfretted for her forty-five years of life. But now the little crease came, deepened and extended itself to a line, where its presence had been unsuspected.
"Patsy is very kind," she said, with a penetrating glance at Susan. What a pretty girl Susan must have been, so soft and pale and appealing, a little human wood-anemone! She would be very pretty again when she had got over the scared look and the thinness which was almost emaciation. And how well that print suited her! Lady O'Gara had sent down a bundle of things to the South lodge, so that Susan might not appear as a scarecrow to the people. The print had pale green leaves sprinkled over a white surface. It suggested a snowdrop, perished by the winter, as a comparison for Susan rather than the wood-anemone one.
"Indeed he's very kind," said Susan; and dropped a curtsey. "The clothes fitted Georgie as though they were made for him. I'll be able to use all you sent, m'lady, I'm such a good needlewoman. I hope I may mend your Ladyship's lace or any fine embroideries. Once we're settled—with Georgie away at school all day—I'll have a deal o' time on my hands. I'd like to do something for you, m'lady."
"So you shall, Susan. Margaret McKeon, who has been with me since I was a child, is no longer able for work that tries the eyes. I promise I'll keep you busy as soon as you get settled in here."
"Oh, m'lady! Thank you, m'lady!" said Susan, colouring as though Lady O'Gara had promised her something very delightful. "I do love fine needle-work, m'lady. Any fine damask cloths or the like I'll darn so you'd hardly know. I'm never happier than when I'm sewin' an' my Georgie reads a bit to me. He's a good scholar, is my Georgie, although he's but nine."
"You've made a pretty place of it," Lady O'Gara said, looking round the lodge with satisfaction. "I was afraid it was going to be a grimy place for you, for it had been empty since old Mrs. Veldon died. You see we didn't know you were coming. You've had it whitewashed."
"Yes, m'lady. Mr. Kenny came and whitewashed it. He was very good, better than ever I can repay. He cleaned out the little place for me. The pots and pans turned in well. And he lent me a few things till,—maybe—I could earn a bit, washin' or mendin' or sewin'; I'm a good dressmaker. Maybe I could get work that way."
"There hasn't been a dressmaker in the village since the last one went to America. I'll ask the parish priest and the nuns to tell the women you can dressmake. You'll have your hands full."
Again Susan flushed delicately.
"I'm never so happy as when I've no time for thinkin'," she said. "Any work pleases me, but fine work best of all. I can do lovely work tuckin' and veinin'. When I'm at it I'm happy. 'Tis like what drink is to some people; it makes me forget."
The lodge was indeed altered from what Lady O'Gara remembered it, when Mrs. Veldon lived there. Mrs. Veldon had been so piteously sure than any washing or whitewashing would kill her with rheumatism that she had been left to her murky gloom. Now, with a few gaily coloured pictures of the Saints and Irish patriots on the walls, the dresser filled with bright crockery, including a whole shelf of lustre jugs, the pots and pans set out to advantage, to say nothing of the cans, a clean scrubbed table, a few chairs, a strip of matting in front of the fireplace, flowers in a jug on the table which also bore Susan's few implements of sewing and a pile of white stuff, the place was homelike and pretty.
Lady O'Gara decided that Susan was one of the women who have the gift of creating a home wherever they may be. So much the worse, she added in her own mind, not particularizing what it was that was so much the worse. Round Susan, standing meekly by the table while her Ladyship sat, floated the mysterious aura which draws men and children as to a warm hearth-fire.
So much the worse, thought Lady O'Gara, and commented to herself that Patsy must have stripped his own house bare. Those jugs were his, the gay crockery, and the pictures of the Saints and patriots—she wondered what appeal these might have for Susan—and that shelf of books in the corner. Patsy had a taste, laughed at by his fellows, for book-buying, whenever the occasion arose. He was well-known at auctions round about the country, where he bought miscellaneous lots of books, with some few ornaments as well. She could see the backs of two books Patsy had a great admiration for, "Fardarougha the Miser" and "Charles O'Malley"; and, on the chimney-piece, there were two large pink shells and a weather house which she had often seen on Patsy's chimney-piece. The more solid pieces of furniture and some of the plain crockery had been sent down from Castle Talbot.
"I see Patsy's been lending you his treasures," she said.
"Yes, indeed, m'lady. I asked him not to, but he wouldn't take any notice of me. He said he'd no use for the things. He's stripped himself bare, m'lady. I didn't know men were like that. Small wonder the dumb beasts love him. I wonder he has anything left to give."
She spoke with such fervour that Lady O'Gara was touched.
"You've had a sad experience of men, my poor Susan," she said. "But you are quite right about Patsy. There are few men as gentle as he is. We all look on Patsy as a dear and valued friend. I must find him some other things to keep him from missing these. Not books—I know his house is piled with books. He won't miss those, though he has given you the ones he like best. I wonder whether I could find pictures like those. I think I have seen that Robert Emmet, or something like it, in a shop-window in Galway."
"I don't know who the gentlemen are," Susan said, looking from one patriot to another, "and I didn't want to have them taken from his walls. I expect they've left a mark on the wall-paper where they were taken down, for he said he'd got to do some papering for himself."
It was on Lady O'Gara's tongue to utter a gentle warning that Patsy must not be too much about the South lodge, but the warning remained unspoken.
"He's the best man I ever knew," said Susan, "I didn't know there was his like in the world. It's a strange thing, m'lady, that men can be so different. Listen, m'lady,—if Baker was to come back—you wouldn't let him claim me? The Master wouldn't let him claim me? I'd drown myself and the child before we'd go back to him. He did knock us about something cruel. And my Georgie, so gentle that he'd move a heart of stone. I frightened Baker from laying a hand on Georgie; I told him I'd kill him if I was to be hanged for it."
The woman's eyes, no longer gentle, blazed at Lady O'Gara.
"Hush! Hush!" she said. "He shall not trouble you. If he should come back..."
"He's found us out no matter where we've been. Even good Christians got tired at last of Baker comin' and askin' for his wife and son and makin' a row and the police fetched, and it gettin' in the papers. They give us up. Oh, Lord, if they knew what they was givin' us up to! They'd better have shot us."
"If he comes back he will be prosecuted for deserting you. We shall not give you up to him. You may be sure of that. Here is my hand on it."
She held out a firm white hand which showed a couple of beautiful rings. Susan looked at it for a moment in amazement before she took it. The colour flooded back into her face. Her eyes became quieter. Then she took the hand and kissed it, hard.
"Thank you, m'lady," she said. "I trust you."
Lady O'Gara walked to the door and paused to ask for news of Georgie, who was already at school. He was doing very well. It was so easy for him to reach the school by this gate, and he was beginning to get on well with the boys; and Mr. McGroarty, Mr. O'Connell's successor, gave a very favourable report of him.
"We feel so safe inside the big wall, me and Georgie," said Susan Horridge. "It isn't likely he'd come on us from the Park." She looked a little apprehensively over the beautiful prospect of trees in their early Summer beauty, and the shining greensward; with the hills beyond. Through an opening in the trees there was a glimpse of a deer feeding.
"No one here associates you with that man. Patsy and I have taken care of that," Lady O'Gara assured her. "If he came back looking for you no one could tell him where you were. Would you like a dog for company? There is a litter of puppies of Shot's breed in the stable-yard. You shall have one, if you like it."
"Is it like it?" asked Susan, her face lighting up,—"I should be very pleased to have it. So would Georgie. That boy's fair gone on animals."
"Those dogs make very good watch-dogs, though they are so gentle. You should see how Shot keeps walking before and behind me if he thinks he sees a suspicious character when we are out walking! I shall send down a puppy, then."
Susan Horridge stood in her doorway shading her eyes with her hand, as she looked after Lady O'Gara. There were tears in her eyes. "The Lord didn't forget us," she said to herself.
"I shall have to speak to Patsy," Lady O'Gara was thinking as she hurried along. She was a little late for lunch. "Poor Patsy! It would be a thousand pities if his heart should open to that poor creature for the first time."
Mrs. Comerford and Stella arrived unexpectedly. They found Lady O'Gara at Inch. She had gone over, taking Susan with her, to give the finishing touch to the preparations. There was a new staff of servants under Clinch and Mrs. Clinch. There were things the new servants might have forgotten: and Mrs. Clinch was old and rheumatic now—not equal to much climbing of stairs. Lady O'Gara remembered many things which most people would have forgotten, little things about the arrangement of rooms and furniture, the choice of flowers, the way Mrs. Comerford had liked the blinds drawn, all the trifling things which mean so much to certain orderly minds.
She was in the bedroom which had been Mrs. Comerford's, was to be hers again. The room which had been Mary Creagh's was prepared for Stella. The pink curtains which she remembered as faded had been laid away and new pink curtains hung up. The old ones were riddled with holes. She hoped Aunt Grace—she went back to the familiar name—would not miss them, would be satisfied with the room, which looked so fresh with its clean white paper and the pink carpet and cushions and curtains. She was filling bowls and vases with red and white roses, setting them where the tired eyes of the travellers might rest upon them when they came. Probably they would arrive about ten o'clock.
The room looked over the lawns and paddocks at the back of the house. She had not heard any sounds of arrival,—but—the bedroom door opened suddenly and Mrs. Comerford came in.
"Clinch told me I should find you here, Mary," she said: and the two who had loved each other and parted, with cold resentment on one side, tears on the other, were looking into each other's eyes.