E. OE. SOMERVILLE and MARTIN ROSS
Authors of The Real Charlotte, Some Experiences of an Irish R.M., All on the Irish Shore, etc., etc.
By the same Authors
Some Experiences of An Irish R.M. Further Experiences of An Irish R.M. In Mr. Knox's Country All On The Irish Shore Some Irish Yesterdays An Irish Cousin The Real Charlotte The Silver Fox Irish Memories
This book was planned some years ago by Martin Ross and myself. A few portions of it were written, and it was then put aside for other work.
Without her help and inspiration, it would not have been begun, and could not have been completed. I feel, therefore, that to join her name with mine on the title-page is my duty, as well as my pleasure.
E. OE. SOMERVILLE.
"Christian, dost them see them?" sang an elder brother, small enough to be brutal, large enough to hurt, while he twisted Christian's arm as though it were indeed the rope that it so much resembled.
"I won't say I saw them, because I didn't!" replied Christian, who had ceased to struggle, but was as far as ever from submission; "but if I had, you might twist my arm till it was like an old pig's tail and I wouldn't give in!"
Possibly John realised the truth of this defiance. He administered a final thump on what he believed to be Christian's biceps, and released her.
"Pretty rotten to spoil the game, and then tell lies," he said, with severity.
"I don't tell lies," said Christian, flitting like a gnat to the open window of the schoolroom. "You sang the wrong verse! It ought to have been 'hear them,' and I do!"
Having thus secured the last word, Miss Christian Talbot-Lowry, aged nine in years, and ninety in spirit, sprang upon the window-sill, leapt lightly into a flower-bed, and betook herself to the resort most favoured by her, the kennels of her father's hounds.
What person is there who, having attained to such maturity as is required for legible record, shall presume to reconstruct, either from memory or from observation, the mind of a child? Certain mental attitudes may be recalled, certain actions predicated in certain circumstances, but the stream of the mind, with its wayward currents, its secret eddies, flows underground, and its course can only be guessed at by tokens of speech and of action, that are like the rushes, and the yellow king-cups, and the emerald of the grass, that show where hidden waters run. Nothing more presumptuous than the gathering of a few of these tokens will here be attempted, and of these, only such as may help to explain the time when these children, emerging from childhood, began to play their parts in the scene destined to be theirs.
This history opens at a moment for Christian and her brethren when, possibly for the last time in their several careers, they asked nothing more of life. This was the beginning of the summer holidays; the sky was unclouded by a governess, the sunny air untainted by the whiff of a thought of a return to school. Anything might happen in seven weeks. The end of the world, for instance, might mercifully intervene, and, as this was Ireland, there was always a hope of a "rising," in which case it would be the boys' pleasing duty to stay at home and fight.
"Well, and Judith and I would fight, too," Christian would say, thinking darkly of the Indian knife that she had stolen from the smoking-room, for use in emergencies. She varied in her arrangements as to the emergency. Sometimes the foe was to be the Land Leaguers, who were much in the foreground at this time; sometimes she decided upon the English oppressors of a down-trodden Ireland, to whose slaughter, on the whole, her fancy most inclined. But whatever the occasion, she was quite determined she was not going to be outdone by the boys.
At nine years old, Christian was a little rag of a girl; a rag, but imbued with the spirit of the rag that is nailed to the mast, and flaunts, unconquered, until it is shot away. She had a small head, round and brown as a hazel-nut, and a thick mop of fine, bright hair, rebellious like herself, of the sort that goes with an ardent personality, waved and curled over her little poll, and generally ended the day in a tangle only less intricate than can be achieved by a skein of silk. Of her small oval face, people were accustomed to say it was all eyes, an unoriginal summarising, but one that forced itself inevitably upon those who met Christian's eyes, clear and shining, of the pale brown that the sun knows how to waken in a shallow pool in a hill-stream, set in a dark fringe of lashes that were like the rushes round the pool. Before she could speak, it was told of her eyes that they would quietly follow some visitor, invisible to others, but obvious to her. Occasionally, after the mysterious power of speech—that is almost as mysterious as the power of reading—had come to her, she had scared the nursery by broken conversation with viewless confederates, defined by the nursery-maid as "quare turns that'd take her, the Lord save us!" and by her mother, as "something that she will outgrow, and the less said about it the better, darlings. Remember, she is the youngest, and you must all be very wise and kind—" (a formula that took no heed of punctuation, and was practically invariable).
But as Christian grew older the confederates withdrew, either that, or the protecting shell of reserve that guards the growth of individuality, interposed, and her dealings with things unseen ceased to attract the attention of her elders. It was John, her senior by two years, who preserved an interest, of an inquisitorial sort, in what he had decided to call the Troops of Midian. There was a sacerdotal turn about John. He had early decided upon the Church as his vocation, and only hesitated between the roles of Primate of Ireland and Pope of Rome. He had something of the poet and enthusiast about him, and something also of the bully, and it was quite possible that he might do creditably in either position, but at this stage of his development his ecclesiastical proclivities chiefly displayed themselves in a dramatic study, founded upon that well-known Lenten hymn that puts a succession of searching enquiries, of a personal character, to a typical Christian. A missionary lecture on West Africa had supplied some useful hints as to the treatment of witches, and Christian's name, and the occult powers with which she was credited, had indicated her as heroine of the piece.
On this particular afternoon the game had begun prosperously, with Christian as the Witch of Endor, and John as a blend of the Prophet Samuel and the Head Inquisitor of Spain. A smouldering saucer of sulphur, purloined by the witch herself from the kennels medicine-cupboard, gave a stimulating reality to the scene, even though it had driven the fox terriers, who habitually acted as the Witch's cats, to abandon their parts, and to hurry, sneezing and coughing indignantly, to the kitchen. The twins, Jimmy and Georgy, however, obligingly took their parts, and all was going according to ritual, when one of the sudden and annoying attacks of rebellion to which she was subject, came upon the Witch of Endor. The orthodox conclusion involved a penitential march through the kitchen regions, the Witch swathed in a sheet, and carrying lighted candles, while she was ceremonially flagellated by the Prophet with one of his father's hunting crops. This crowning moment was approaching, Christian had but to reply suitably to the intimidating riddles of the hymn, and the final act would open in all its solemnity. For, as has been said, the spirit of revolt whispered to her, and ingeniously persuaded her that the required recantation committed her to a falsehood.
As she told John, when the formal inquisition had passed through acrid dispute to torture, she didn't tell lies.
In the days when Christian Talbot-Lowry was a little girl, that is to say between the eighties and nineties of the nineteenth century, the class known as Landed Gentry was still pre-eminent in Ireland. Tenants and tradesmen bowed down before them, with love sometimes, sometimes with hatred, never with indifference. The newspapers of their districts recorded their enterprises in marriage, in birth, in death, copiously, and with a servile rapture of detail that, though it is not yet entirely withheld from their survivors, is now bestowed with equal unction on those who, in many instances, have taken their places, geographically, if not their place, socially, in Irish every-day existence. There is little doubt but that after the monsters of the Primal Periods had been practically extinguished, a stray reptile, here and there, escaped the general doom, and, as Mr. Yeats says of his lug-worm, may have-sung with "its grey and muddy mouth" of how "somewhere to North or West or South, there dwelt a gay, exulting, gentle race" of Plesiosauridae, or Pterodactyli. Even thus may this record be regarded; as partial, perhaps, but as founded on the facts of a not wholly to be condemned past.
Christian's father, Richard Talbot-Lowry, was a good-looking, long-legged, long-moustached Major, who, conforming beautifully to type, was a soldier, sportsman, and loyalist, as had been his ancestors before him. He had fought in the Mutiny as a lad of nineteen, and had been wounded in the thigh in a cavalry charge in a subsequent fight on the Afghan Frontier. Dick, like Horatius, "halted upon one knee" for the rest of his life, but since the injury gave him no trouble in the saddle, and did not affect the sit of his trousers, he did not resent it, and possibly enjoyed its occasional exposition to an enquirer. When his father died, he left the Army, and, still true to the family traditions, proceeded to "settle down" at Mount Music, and to take into his own hands the management of the property.
Of the Talbot-Lowrys it may be truly said that the lot had fallen to them in a fair ground. Their ancestor, the Gentleman Adventurer of Queen Elizabeth's time, had had the eye for the country that, in a slightly different sense, had descended to his present representative. Mount Music House stood about midway of a long valley, on a level plateau of the hill from which it took its name, Cnocan an Ceoil Sidhe, which means the Hill of Fairy Music, and may, approximately, be pronounced "Knockawn an K'yole Shee." The hill melted downwards—no other word can express the velvet softness of those mild, grassy slopes—to the shore of the River Broadwater, a slow and lordly stream, that moved mightily down the wide valley, became merged for a space in Lough Kieraun, and thence flowed onwards, broad and brimming, bearded with rushes, passing like a king, cloaked in the splendours of the sunset, to its suicide in the far-away Atlantic. The demesne of Mount Music lay along its banks; in woods often, more often in pastures; with boggy places ringed with willows, lovely, in their seasons, with yellow flags, and meadowsweet, kingcups, ragwort and loosestrife. Its western boundary was the Ownashee, a mountain stream, a tributary of the great river, that came storming down from the hills, and, in times of flood, snatching, like a border-reiver, at sheep, and pigs, and fowl, tossing its spoils in a tumble of racing waves into the wide waters of its chieftain.
Mount Music House was large, intensely solid, practical, sensible, of that special type of old Irish country-house that is entirely remote from the character of the men that originated it, and can only be explained as the expiring cry of the English blood. How many Anglo-Irish great-great-grandfathers have not raised these monuments to their English forbears, and then, recognising their obligations to their Irish mothers' ancestry, have filled them, gloriously, with horses and hounds, and butts of claret, and hungry poor relations unto the fourth and fifth generations? That they were a puissant breed, the history of the Empire, in which they have so staunchly borne their parts, can tell; their own point of view is fairly accurately summed up in Curran's verse:—
"If sadly thinking, with spirits sinking, Could more than drinking my cares compose, A cure for sorrow from sighs I'd borrow, And hope to-morrow would end my woes. But as in wailing there's nought availing, And Death unfailing will strike the blow, Then for that reason, and for a season, Let us be merry before we go."
For Dick Talbot-Lowry, however, and many another like him, the merriment of his great-grandfather was indifferent compensation for the fact that his grandfather's and his father's consequent borrowings were by no means limited to cures for sorrow. Mortgages, charges, younger children (superfluous and abhorrent to the Heaven-selected Head of a Family)—all these had driven wedges deep into the Mount Music estate. But, fortunately, a good-looking, long-legged, ex-Hussar need not rely exclusively on his patrimony, while matrimony is still within the sphere of practical politics. When, at close on forty-one years of age (and looking no more than thirty), Dick left the Army, his next step was to make what was universally conceded to be "a very nice marriage," and on the whole, regarding it from the impartial standpoint of Posterity, the universe may be said to have been justified in its opinion.
Lady Isabel Christian was the daughter of an English Earl, and she brought with her to Mount Music twenty thousand golden sovereigns, which are very nice things, and Lady Isabel herself was indisputably a nice thing too. She was tall and fair, and quite pretty enough (as Dick's female relatives said, non-committally). She was sufficiently musical to play the organ in church (which is also a statement provided with an ample margin); she was a docile and devoted wife, a futile and extravagant house-keeper, kindly and unpunctual, prolific without resentment; she regarded with mild surprise the large and strenuous family that rushed past her, as a mountain torrent might rush past an untidy flower garden, and, after nearly fourteen years of maternal experience, she had abandoned the search for a point of contact with their riotous souls, and contented herself with an indiscriminate affection for their very creditable bodies. Lady Isabel had—if the saying may be reversed—"les qualites de ses defauts," and these latter could have no environment less critical and more congenial than that in which it had pleased her mother to place her. It was right and fitting that the wife of the reigning Talbot-Lowry of Mount Music, should inevitably lead the way at local dinner-parties; should, with ladylike inaudibleness, declare that "this Bazaar" or "Village Hall" was open. It was no more than the duty of Major Talbot-Lowry (D.L., and J.P.) to humanity, that his race should multiply and replenish the earth, and Lady Isabel had unrepiningly obliged humanity to the extent of four sons and two daughters. Major Dick's interest in the multiplication was, perhaps, more abstract than hers.
"Yes," he would say, genially, to an enquiring farmer, "I have four ploughmen and two dairymaids!"
Or, to a friend of soldiering days: "Four blackguard boys and only a brace of the Plentiful Sex!"
A disproportion for which, by some singular action of the mind, he took to himself considerable credit.
Miss Frederica Coppinger (who will presently be introduced) was accustomed to scandalise Lady Isabel by the assertion that paternal affection no more existed in men than in tom-cats. An over-statement, no doubt, but one that was quite free from malice or disapproval. Undoubtedly, a father should learn to bear the yoke in his youth, and Dick was old, as fathers go. It cannot be denied that when the Four Blackguards began to clamour for mounts with the hounds, and the representatives of the Plentiful Sex outgrew the donkey, Major Talbot-Lowry had moments of resentment against his offspring, during which his wife, like a wise doe-rabbit, found it safest to sweep her children out of sight, and to sit at the mouth of the burrow, having armed herself with an appealing headache and a better dinner than usual. The children liked him; not very much, but sufficient for general decency and the Fifth Commandment. They loved their mother, but despised her, faintly; (again, not too much for compliance with the Commandment aforesaid). Finally, it may be said that Major Dick and Lady Isabel were sincerely attached to one another, and that she took his part, quite frequently, against the children.
If, accepting the tom-cat standard of paternity, Dick Talbot-Lowry had a preference for one kitten more than another, that kitten was, indisputably, Christian.
"The little devil knows the hounds better than I do!" he would say to a brother M.F.H. at the Puppy Show. "Her mother can't keep her out of the kennels. And the hounds are mad about her. I believe she could take 'em walking-out single-handed!"
To which the brother M.F.H. would probably respond with perfidious warmth: "By Jove!" while, addressing that inner confidant, who always receives the raciest share of any conversation, he would say that he'd be jiggered before he'd let any of his children mess the hounds about with petting and nonsense.
In justice to Lady Isabel, it should be said that she shared the visiting M.F.H.'s view of the position, though regarding it from a different angle.
"Christian, my dearest child," she said, on the day following the Puppy Show that had coincided with Christian's eighth birthday, when, after a long search, she had discovered her youngest daughter, seated, tailor-wise, in one of the kennels, the centre of a mat of hounds. "This is not a not a place for you! You don't know what you may not bring back with you—"
"If you mean fleas, Mother," replied Christian, firmly, "the hounds have none, except what I bring them from Yummie." (Yummie was Lady Isabel's dog, a sickly and much despised spaniel). "The Hounds!" Christian laughed a little; the laugh that is the flower of the root of scorn. Then her eyes softened and glowed. "Darlings!" she murmured, kissing wildly the tan head of the puppy who, but the day before, had been rest from her charge.
There are certain persons who are born heralds and genealogists; there are many more to whom these useful gifts have been denied. With apologies to both classes, to the one for sins of omission, to the other in the reverse sense, I find that an excerpt from the Talbot-Lowry pedigree must be inflicted upon them.
With all brevity, let it be stated that Dick Talbot-Lowry possessed a father, General John Richard, and General John Richard had an only sister, Caroline. Caroline, fair and handsome, like all her family, was "married off," as was the custom of her period, at the age of seventeen, to elderly Anthony Coppinger, chiefly for the reason that he was the owner of Coppinger's Court, with a very comfortable rent-roll, and a large demesne, that marched, as to its eastern boundaries, with that of Mount Music, and was, as it happened, divided from it by no more than the Ownashee, that mountain river of which mention has been made. It was, therefore, exceedingly advisable that the existing friendly relations should be cemented, as far as was practicable, and the fair and handsome Caroline was an obvious and suitable adhesive. To Anthony and Caroline, two children were born; Frederica, of whom more hereafter, and Thomas. By those who lay claim to genealogic skill, it will now be apparent that these were the first cousins of Dick Talbot-Lowry. Thomas went into the Indian Army, and in India met and married a very charming young lady, Theresa Quinton, a member of an ancient Catholic family in the North of England, and an ardent daughter of her Church. In India, a son was born to them, and Colonel Tom, who adored his wife, remarking that these things were out of his line, made no objection to her bringing up the son, St. Lawrence Anthony, in her own religion, and hoped that the matter would end there. Mrs. Coppinger, however, remembering St. Paul's injunctions to believing wives and unbelieving husbands, neither stopped nor stayed her prayers and exhortations, until, just before the birth of a second child, she had succeeded in inducing Tom Coppinger—(just "to please her, and for the sake of a quiet life," as he wrote, apologetically, to his relations and friends, far away in Ireland) to join her Communion. She then died, and her baby followed her. Colonel Tom, a very sad and lonely man, came to England and visited St. Lawrence Anthony at the school selected for him by his mother; then he returned to his regiment in India, and was killed, within a year of his wife's death, in a Frontier expedition. He left Larry in the joint guardianship of his sister, Frederica, and his first cousin, Dick Talbot-Lowry, with the request that the former would live with the boy at Coppinger's Court, and that the latter would look after the property until the boy came of age and could do so himself; he also mentioned that he wished his son's education to continue on the lines laid down by his "beloved wife, Theresa."
It must, with regret, be stated, that the relatives and friends in far-away Ireland, instead of admiring "poor Tom's" fidelity to his wife's wishes, murmured together that it was very unfortunate that "poor Theresa" had not died when Larry was born, as, in that case, this "disastrous change of religion" would not have taken place. Taking into consideration the fact that Larry was to live among his Irish cousins, it is possible that from the point of view of expediency, the relations and friends were in some degree justified.
Ireland, it is almost superfluous to observe, has long since decided to call herself The Island of Saints, an assertion akin to the national challenge of trailing the coat-tails, and believers in hereditary might, perhaps, be justified in assuming a strictly celibate sainthood. Be that as it may, Irish people have ever been prone to extremes, and, in spite of the proverb, there are some extremes that never touch, and chief among them are those that concern religion. Religion, or rather, difference of religion, is a factor in every-day Irish life of infinitely more potency than it is, perhaps, in any other Christian country. The profundity of disagreement is such that in most books treating of Ireland, that are not deliberately sectarian, a system of water-tight compartments in such matters is carefully established. It is, no doubt, possible to write of human beings who live in Ireland, without mentioning their religious views, but to do so means a drastic censoring of an integral feature of nearly all mundane affairs. This it is to live in the Island of Saints.
In this humble account of the late Plesiosauridae and their contemporaries, it is improbable that any saint of any sect will be introduced; one assurance, at least, may be offered without reservation. Those differing Paths, that alike have led many wayfarers to the rest that is promised to the saints, will be treated with an equal reverence and respect. But no rash undertakings can be given as touching the wayfarers, or even their leaders, who may chance to wander through these pages. Neither is any personal responsibility accepted for the views that any of them may express. One does not blame the gramophone if the song is flat, or if the reciter drops his h's.
After this exhaustive exordium it is tranquillising to return to the comparative simplicities of the existence of the young Talbot-Lowrys. Those summer holidays of the year 1894 were made ever memorable for them by the re-inhabiting of Coppinger's Court. Mount Music was a lonely place; it lay on the river, about midway between the towns of Cluhir and Riverstown, either of which meant a five or six mile drive, and to meet such friends and acquaintances as the neighbourhood afforded, was, in winter, a matter confined to the hunting-field, and in summer was restricted, practically, to the incidence of lawn-tennis parties. Possibly the children of Mount Music, thus thrown upon their own resources, developed a habit of amusing themselves that was as advantageous to their caretakers as to their characters. It certainly enhanced very considerably their interest in the advent of Master St. Lawrence Coppinger. He became the subject of frequent and often heated discussions, the opinion most generally held, and stated with a fine simplicity, being that he would prove to be "a rotter."
"India," John said, "had the effect of making people effemeral."
"Effeminate, ass!" corrected Richard, shortly.
"Anyhow," said a Twin, charitably, "we can knock that out of him!"
"Anyhow," said Judith, next to Richard in age and authority, "if he is a rotter, he can go into the Brats' band. You want someone decent," she added, addressing the Twin, whose remark she felt to have savoured of presumption.
This family had, for purposes of combat and of general entertainment, divided itself into two factions, that fought endlessly among the woods and shrubberies. A method had been recently introduced by Richard of utilising the harmless, necessary pocket-handkerchief as a sling for the projection of gravel, and its instant popularity had resulted in the denuding of the avenues of ammunition, and in arousing a great and just fury in the bosom of the laundress. "God knows it isn't me has all the hankershiffs holed this way!" she pointed out. "Thim children is the divil outlawed. Thim'd gallop the woods all the night, like the deer!"
The assortment of the family had been decided rather on the basis of dignity, than on that of a desire to equalise the sides, and thus it befel that Richard, Judith, and John, with the style and title of The Elder Statesmen, were accustomed to drive before them the junior faction of The Brats, consisting of the Twins, Christian, and the dogs, Rinka and Tashpy, with a monotony of triumph that might have been expected to pall, had not variety been imparted by the invention of the punishments that were inflicted upon prisoners. There had been a long and hot July day of notable warfare. The Twins, if small, were swift and wily; even Christian had justified her adoption by a stealthy and successful raid upon the opposition gravel heap. A long and savage series of engagements had ensued, that alternated between flights, and what Christian, blending recollections of nursery doctoring with methods of Indian warfare, designated "stomach-attacks." It was while engaged in one of the latter forms of assault that Christian was captured, and, being abandoned by her comrades, was haled by the captors before Richard, the Eldest Statesmen. A packed Court-martial of enemies speedily found the prisoner guilty, and the delicious determining of the punishment absorbed the attention of the Court. John, with a poet's fancy, suggested that the criminal should be compelled to lick a worm. Judith, more practical, advocated her being sent to the house to steal some jam. "I forgot to," she said.
The Court was held in the Council Chamber, a space between the birches and hazels on the bank of the Ownashee; a fair and green room, ceiled with tremulous leaves, encircled and made secret by high bracken, out of which rose the tarnished-silver stems of the birch trees and the multitudinous hazel-boughs, and furnished with boulders of limestone, planted deep in a green fleece of mingled moss and grass. On one side only was it open to the world, yet on that same side it was most effectively divided from it, by the swift brown stream, speeding down to the big river, singing its shallow summer song as it sped.
Richard, Eldest Statesman, gazed in dark reflection upon the prisoner, meditating her sentence; the prisoner, young enough to tremble in the suspense, old enough to enjoy the nerve-tension and the moment of drama, gazed back at him. Her hair lay in damp rings, and hung in rats'-tails about her forehead. Her small face, with the silver-clear skin, stippled here and there with tiny freckles, was faintly flushed, and moist with the effort of her last great but unavailing run for freedom; her wide eyes were like brown pools scooped from the brown flow of the Ownashee.
"I adjudge," said Richard, in an awful voice, "that the prisoner shall amass three buckets of the best gravel. The same to be taken from the shallow by the seventh stepping-stone."
The prisoner's little brown arm, with a hand thin and brown as a monkey's, went up; the recognised protest.
"Not the seventh, most noble Samurai," she said, anxiously; "Won't it do from the strand?"
"I have spoken," replied the Eldest Statesman, inflexibly.
"Then I won't!" exclaimed Christian; "I—I couldn't! The river giddys me so awfully when I stand still on the stones—"
"Prisoner!" returned Richard, "once the law is uttered, it can't be unuttered! Off you go!"
"Well then, and I will go!" said Christian, with a wriggle so fierce and sudden that it loosed the grip of her guards. It is even possible that the ensuing lightning dart for freedom might have succeeded, but for the unfortunate fidelity of her allies, Rinka and Tashpy. The one sprang at her brief skirt and caught it, the other got between her legs. She fell, and was delivered again into the hands of the enemy.
Richard was not a bully, but Mrs. Sarah Battle was not more scrupulous than he in observing the rigour of the game. Christian was manacled with the belt of her own overall, and was hauled along the golden, but despised, gravel of the river strand, to the spot whence the stepping-stones started.
"I'll do this much for you," said the Eldest Statesman, relaxing a little, "I'll go first and carry the bucket."
He dragged Christian on to the first of the big, flat, old stepping-stones, Judith assisting from the rear, and, with increasing difficulty, two more stones were achieved. Then they paused for breath, and a sudden whirlwind of passion came upon the captive. She began to struggle and dance upon the flat stone, madly endeavouring to free her hands, while she shrieked to the dastard Twins to come to her rescue.
"Cowards! Cowards! I hate you all—"
"Better let her go," whispered Judith, who knew better than her Chief what Christian's storms meant.
Richard hesitated, and, as in a mediaeval romance, at this moment a champion materialised.
Not the Twins, lying like leopards along the higher boughs of a neighbouring alder, deeply enjoying the spectacle, but a boy, smaller than Richard, who came crashing through the bushes on the Coppinger's Court side of the Ownashee. Arrived, at the ford, he stayed neither his pace nor his stride, and before the Eldest Statesman, much hampered by his prisoner and the bucket, could put up any sort of defence, the unknown rescuer had sprung across the stepping-stones, and, catching him by the shoulders, had, by sheer force of speed and surprise, hurled him into the river.
Thus did Larry Coppinger, informally but effectively, introduce himself to his second-cousins, the Talbot-Lowrys.
A fortnight or so after the moving incidents that have just been recited, Miss Frederica Coppinger, and her nephew, St. Lawrence of that ilk, were spending a long and agreeable Sunday afternoon with their relatives at Mount Music, elders and youngsters being segregated, after their kind, and to their mutual happiness.
Major Talbot-Lowry, very well pleased with himself, very tall and authoritative, was standing, from force of habit, on the rug in front of the fire-place in the Mount Music drawing-room, and was cross-examining Miss Coppinger on her proposed arrangements for herself and her nephew, while he drank his tea in gulps, each succeeded by burnishing processes, with a brilliant silk bandanna handkerchief, such as are necessitated by a long and drooping moustache.
All good-looking people are aware of their good looks, but the gift of enjoying them, that had been lavishly bestowed on Dick, is denied to many; on the other hand, the companion gift, of realising when they are becoming pleasures of memory, had been withheld from him. Dick was of the happy temperament that believes in the exclusive immortality of his own charms, and he was now enjoying his conversation with his cousin none the less for the discovery that Miss Coppinger, who was younger than he, had preserved her youth very much less successfully than he had done.
The cross-examination had moved on to the subject of Larry's religion, and the combative fervour of Major Dick's Protestantism might have edified John Knox.
"But look here, Frederica," he said, putting down his cup and saucer, with a crash, on the high mantelpiece, "you don't mean to tell me that the boy has to go to Mass with the servants—on the cook's lap, I suppose—on the outside car! Good Heeavens! Poor old Tom! Talk about turning in his grave! I should think he was going head over heels in it by this time!"
This referred to the late Colonel Coppinger, the genuineness of whose conversion to his wife's Church had never been accepted by Major Talbot-Lowry.
"My dear Dick!" said Lady Isabel.
Miss Coppinger closed her lips tightly with an air of high self-control.
"That is a matter of opinion!" she said blandly. "Tom was perfectly aware of what changing his religion involved, in this country—though it's probably quite different in India. In any case, the thing is done, and as I believe it to be my Duty to send Larry to his chapel, to his chapel he shall go!"
Unimaginative people, or those of limited vocabulary, affixed to Miss Coppinger the ancient label: "A typical old maid," and considered that no further definition was required; and, since her appearance conformed in some degree with stage traditions, there is something to be said for them. If labels are to be employed, even the least complex of human beings would suggest a much-travelled portmanteau, covered with tags and shreds from hotels and railways. Frederica shall not be labelled; let it suffice to say that she was tall and thin, and nearer fifty than forty (which was a far greater age thirty years ago than it is now), and that she had a sense of fair play that was proof against her zeal as an Irish Church-woman. It is true that she mentioned what she regarded as the disaster of Larry's religion in her prayers, but she did so without heat, leaving the matter, without irreverence, to the common sense of Larry's Creator, who, she felt must surely recognise the disadvantages of the position as it stood.
"I cannot possibly interfere with Larry's religion," pursued Miss Coppinger, with a defiant eye on her cousin, "and as soon as we are a little more settled down I shall ask the priest to lunch. Farther than that I don't feel called upon to go."
"Draw the line at dinner, eh?" said Major Dick, with large and humorous tolerance: "I know very little about the feller—he's newly come to the parish—he mayn't be a bad sort for all I know—I'm bound to say he's got a black-muzzled look about him, but we might go farther and fare worse. I should certainly have him to lunch if I were you. Have a good big joint of roast beef, and don't forget to give him his whack of whisky!"
"I never have whisky in the house," said Miss Coppinger repressively. "Claret, I could give him—?"
Major Talbot-Lowry looked down at his cousin with the condescending amusement that he felt to be the meed of female godliness especially when allied with temperance principles.
"Well, claret might do for once in a way," he conceded, shaking his long legs to take the creases out of his trousers, "and you mightn't find Father Sweeny so anxious to repeat the dose—and that mightn't be any harm either! I daresay you wouldn't object to that, Frederica! Well, good-bye, ladies! I'm going down to the kennels—"
Lady Isabel's and Miss Coppinger's eyes followed him, as he swung, with that light halt in his leisurely stride, down the long drawing-room, trolling in the high baritone, that someone had pleased him by likening to a cavalry trumpet,
"Oh, Father McCann was a beautiful man, But a bit of a rogue, a bit of a rogue! He was full six feet high, he'd a cast in his eye, And an illigant brogue, an illigant brogue!"
In both his wife's and his cousin's faces was the same look, the look that often comes into women's faces when, unperceived, they regard the sovereign creature. Future generations may not know that look, but in the faces of these women, born in the earlier half of the nineteenth century, there was something of awe, and of indulgence, of apprehension, and of pity. Dick was so powerful, so blundering, so childlike. Miss Frederica expressed something of their common thought when she said:
"Dick seems to forget that he is Larry's guardian as well as I. Also that Larry is a Roman Catholic, and it is not only useless but dishonourable to ignore it!"
It has been said that Lady Isabel had les qualities de ses defauts; in Miss Coppinger's case the words may be restored to their rightful sequence. She had the inevitable defauts de ses qualites. The sense of duty was as prominent a feature of her soul as a hump on her long straight back would have been, but toleration was inconspicuous. She ran straight herself, and though she could forgive deviations on the part of others, she could not forget them. She was entirely and implacably Protestant, a typical member of that Church that expects friendship from its votaries, but leaves their course of action to their own consciences. It was a very successful example of the malign humour of Fate that Miss Coppinger's ward should belong to the other Church, that exacts not only obedience, but passion, and it was a master-stroke that Frederica's sense of duty should compel her to enforce her nephew to compliance with its demands.
"Dear Frederica, Dick will leave all religious things to you, I know—" warbled Lady Isabel, in her gentle, musical voice, that suggested something between the tones of a wood pigeon and an ocarina. "And they couldn't be in better hands!"
"But my dear Isabel, that is precisely what I complain of! Dick's solitary suggestion has been that we should send Larry to Winchester, which is perfectly impracticable! I entirely agree with him, but, unfortunately, I know that it is our duty to send him to one of those—" Miss Coppinger hesitated, swallowed several adjectives, and ended with Christian tameness—"one of those special schools for Roman Catholics."
"Well, dear, I daresay it won't make very much difference," consoled Lady Isabel. "I have always heard that Monkshurst was a charming school, and dear Larry will be so well off—I don't suppose his religion will interfere in any way. It seldom does, does it?"
"Not, I admit, unless he wanted a job in this country!" began Miss Coppinger grimly, and again remembered that intolerance was not to be encouraged. "The end of it is that I shall endeavour to do my duty—which is, apparently, to do everything that I most entirely disapprove of—and that on the day Larry is twenty-one, I shall march out of Coppinger's Court, and dance a jig, and then he may have the Pope to stay with him if he likes!"
While Miss Coppinger was thus belabouring and releasing her conscience in the drawing-room, quite another matter was engaging the attention of her ward, and of his entertainers at the school-room tea-table. This was no less a thing than the dissolving of the existing Bands, and the formation of a new society, to be known as "The Companions of Finn."
Larry Coppinger's entrance, literally at a bound, into the Talbot-Lowry family group, had landed him, singularly enough, into the heart of their affection and esteem. He was now the originator of this revolutionary scheme, and having in him that special magnetic force that confers leadership, the scheme was being put through.
"The point is," he said, eagerly, "that when we are split up into two bands, we can do nothing much, but the lot of us together might—might make quite a difference."
"Difference to what?" said Richard, ex-chief of the Elder Statesmen, unsympathetically. Like his father before him, he disliked change.
"Well, hold on!" said Larry, quickly, "wait just one minute, and I'll tell you. I got the notion out of a book I found in the library. I don't expect I'd have thought of it myself—" Larry's transparent sky-blue eyes sought Richard's appealingly. "It's—it's only poems, you know, but it's most frightfully interesting—I brought it with me—"
"Oh—poems!" said Richard, without enthusiasm. "Are they long ones?"
"I don't seem to care so awfully much about poetry," abetted Judith, late Second-in-command.
John looked sapient, and said, neutrally, that some poetry wasn't bad.
The Twins, who were engaged in a silent but bitter struggle for the corpse of a white rabbit, recently born dead, made no comment. Only Christian, her small hands clenched together into a brown knot, her eyes fastened on Larry's flushed face, murmured:
"Go on, Larry!"
Larry went on.
"It's called the Spirit of the Nation," he said. "It's full of splendid stuff about Ireland, and the beastly way England's treated her. It sort of—sort of put the notion into my head that we might start some sort of a Fenian band, and that some day we might—well," he turned very red, and ended with a rush, "we might be able to strike a blow for Ireland!"
"Moy oye!" said Richard, intensifying his favourite invocation in his surprise, "but what's wrong with Ireland?"
The position wanted but the touch of opposition. Larry rather well bet Richard that there was plenty wrong with her! Penal laws! Persecution! Saxon despots grinding their heels into a down-trodden people! Revolution! Liberation! Larry had a tongue that was hung loosely in his head and was a quick servant to his brain.
"Of course I know we're rather young—well, you're nearly fourteen, Richard, and I'm thirteen and three months, that's not so awfully young. Anyway, everything's got to have a beginning—" He glowed upon his audience of six, his fair hair in a shock, his eyes and his cheeks in a blaze, and one, at least, of that audience caught fire.
The Revolutionary or Reformer, who hesitates at becoming a bore, is unworthy of his high office; and Larry, like most of his class, required but little encouragement. He produced a large book, old and shabby, the green and gold of its covers stained and faded, but still of impressive aspect.
"There are heaps of them, and they're all jolly good. It's rather hard to choose—" began the Revolutionary with a shade of nervousness. Then he again met Christian's eyes, shining and compelling, and took heart from them.
"Well, there's 'Fontenoy,' of course that's a ripper—Well, I don't know what you'll all think, but I think this is a jolly good one," he said with a renewal of defiance, and began to read, at first hurriedly, but gathering confidence and excitement as he went on:
"Did they dare, did they dare, to slay Owen Roe O'Neill? Yes, they slew with poison, him they feared to meet with steel. May God wither up their hearts! May their blood cease to flow! May they walk in living death, who poisoned Owen Roe! We thought you would not die—we were sure you would not go, And leave us in our utmost need to Cromwell's cruel blow— Sheep without a shepherd, when the snow shuts out the sky— Oh! Why did you leave us, Owen? Why did you die?"
The Elder Statesmen listened in critical silence, while Larry, not without stumbles, stormed on through the eight verses of the poem. When he had finished it, there was a pause. The audience was impressed, even though they had no intention of admitting the fact. Christian gave a tremendous sigh. The contest for the defunct rabbit, that had been arrested, broke out again, fiercely, but with caution. Then Richard said, dubiously:
"Well, that's all right, Larry—I meant it's jolly sad, and awfully good poetry, I'm sure—but how on earth are you going to work a show out of it? I can't see—"
"Unless," interrupted Judith, thoughtfully, "unless we sort of acted it—?"
John, who loved "dressing up," woke to life; even Richard began to see daylight.
"That's not a bad notion, Judy!" he said briskly: "bags I Cromwell! Larry, you can be Owen what's-his-name."
Larry came down like a shot bird from the sphere of romance to which the poem had borne him.
"I hadn't thought of any scheme," he said, pulling himself together; "I only wanted to give you a kind of notion of the rotten way England's always treated Ireland—"
"But let's!" cried Christian; "let's act the whole book!"
Truisms are of their essence dull, but they must sometimes be submitted to, and the truism as to a book's possible influence on the young and impressionable cannot here be avoided. What it is that decides if the book is to stamp itself on the plastic mind, or if the mind is to assert itself and stamp on the book, is a detail that admits less easily of dogmatism. The Companionage of Finn remained in being for but two periods of holiday. Before the boys had returned to school, it had seen its best days; the scheme for an armed invasion of England had been abandoned, even the more matured project of storming Dublin Castle was set aside; by the end of the Christmas holidays it had been formally dissolved.
It is not easy to understand, it is still harder to explain what it was in those fierce denunciations and complaints, outcome of that time of general revolt, the "Roaring Forties" of the nineteenth century, that made them echo in Larry's heart, nor why the restless, passionate spirit that inspired them should have remained with him, a perturbing influence from which he never wholly escaped. His young soul burned with hatred of England, borrowed from the Bards of "The Nation" Office; he lay awake at nights, stringing rhymes in emulation of their shouts of fury, or picturing rebellions, of which he was to be the leader and hero. Larry's enthusiasms were wont to devour not him only, but also his friends. It is impossible to escape from the conclusion that the career of the Companionage of Finn was abbreviated by Larry's determination to recite to the Companions of the Order, in season and out of season, the poems by which, during his first Irish summer, he was possessed. There came a time when he had, as he believed, put away childish things, that, returning to these venerable trumpet-blasts, he asked himself, in the arrogance of youth, how these stale metaphors, these conventional phrases, these decorations as meretricious as stage jewellry, and metres that cantered along, as he told himself, like solemn old circus-horses, could have had the power to shake his voice and fill his eyes with tears, as he spoke them to Christian, who had so soon become his sole audience.
The strange thing was, as he acknowledged to himself, that while he could mock at them as poetry, he could not ignore their power. The intensity of their hatred, and of their sincerity, made itself felt, as the light of the sun will shine through the crude commonness of a vulgar stained-glass window.
There was one person who viewed the enthusiastic intimacy that had sprung up between the houses of Coppinger and Talbot-Lowry, with a disapproval as deep as it was prejudiced. It was a person whose opinion might, by the thoughtless, be considered unimportant, but in this the thoughtless would greatly err. Robert Evans was the butler at Mount Music. He had held that position since the year 1859, from which statement a brief and unexacting calculation will establish the fact that he had taken office when his present master was no more than twenty-one years old and, it being now 1894, he had so continued for 35 years. Possibly a vision of an adoring and devoted retainer may here present itself. If so, it must be immediately dispelled. In Mr. Evans' opinion, such devotion and adoration as the case demanded, were owed to him by the House on which he had for so long a time bestowed the boon of his presence, and those who were privileged with his acquaintance had no uncertainty in the matter, since his age, his length of service, his fidelity, and the difficulties with which he daily contended, formed the main subjects of his conversation.
In the palmier days of the Irish gentry there were many households in which the religion of the servants was a matter of considerable importance, and those who could afford exclusiveness, were accustomed to employ only Protestants as indoor servants. This may seem like an unwarrantable invasion of the inner fortress of another individual, making his views spiritual responsible for his fortunes temporal. But in Ireland, in the earlier half of the troubled nineteenth century, such differentiation was inspired not by bigotry, but by fear. When a man's foes might be, and often were, those of his own household, that his servants should be of his own religion was almost his only safeguard against espionage. There is somewhat to be said on both sides; it will not be said here, but that there have been times in Ireland when such precautions were required, cannot be ignored.
Robert Evans was a survivor of such a period. Time was when he strutted, autocratic and imperious as a turkey-cock, ruler of a flock of lesser fowl, all of his own superior creed; brave days when he and Mrs. Dixon, the housekeeper, herded and headed, respectively, a bevy of "decent Protestant maids" into Family Prayers every morning, and packed "the full of two covered cars" off to the Knockceoil Parish Church on Sundays. Evans rarely went to church, believing that such disciplines were superfluous for one in a state of grace, but the glory of the House of Talbot-Lowry demanded a full and rustling pew of female domestics, while the coachman, and a footman or a groom, were generally to be relied on to give a masculine stiffening to the party. With Lady Isabel's regime had come a slackening of moral fibre, a culpable setting of attainments, or of convenience, above creed, in the administration of the household. Once had Lady Isabel been actually overheard by Evans, offering to a friend, in excuse for the indifferent show made by her household in the parish church, the offensive explanation that "R.C.'s were so sympathetic, and so easy to find, while Protestants were not only scarce, but were so proud of being Protestants, and expected so much admiration"—here she had perceived the presence of Evans, and had unavailingly begun upon the weather, but Evans' deep-seated suspicions as to the laxity of the English Church had been confirmed.
It is possible that the greatest shock that Evans was capable of sustaining was administered when he heard of the secession to the enemy of Colonel Tom Coppinger. Only second to it was the discovery that Colonel Tom's poisoned offspring was to be received at Mount Music and admitted to the fellowship of its children.
"No!" Evans said to Mrs. Dixon, standing on the hearthrug in the sanctuary of the housekeeper's room, one wet afternoon, shortly after the Coppinger return: "I see changes here, better and worse, good and bad, but I didn't think I'd live to see what I seen to-day—the children of this house consorting with a Papist!"
"Fie!" said Mrs. Dixon, without conviction. She was fat and easy-tempered, and though ever anxious to conciliate him whom she respected and feared as "Mr. Eevans," her powers of dissimulation often failed at a pinch of this kind.
Mr. Evans looked at his table-companion with a contempt to which she had long been resigned. He was a short, thin, bald man, with a sharp nose curved like a reaping-hook, iron-grey whiskers and hair, and fierce pale blue eyes. Later on, Christian, in the pride of her first introduction to Tennyson, had been inspired by his high shoulders and black tailed coat to entitle him "The many-wintered crow," and the name was welcomed by her fellows, and registered in the repository of phrases and nicknames that exists in all well-regulated families.
"'Fie!'" he repeated after Mrs. Dixon, witheringly. "I declare before God, Mrs. Dixon, if I was to tell you the Pope o' Rome was coming to dinner next Sunday, it's all you'd say would be 'Fie!'"
Mrs. Dixon received this supposition of catastrophe with annoying calm, and even reverted to Mr. Evans' earlier statement in a manner that might have bewildered a less experienced disputant than he.
"Well, indeed, Mr. Eevans," she said, appeasingly, "I'd say he was a nice child enough, and the very dead spit of the poor Colonel. I dunno what harm he could do the children at all?"
The Prophet Samuel could scarcely have regarded Saul, when he offered those ill-fated apologies relative to King Agag, with a more sinister disfavour than did Evans view Mrs. Dixon.
"I'll say one thing to you, Mrs. Dixon," he said, moving to the door with that laborious shuffle that had inspired one of the hunted and suffering tribe of his pantry-boys to the ejaculation: "I thank God, there's more in his boots than what's there room for!"—"and I'll say it once, and that's enough! As sure as God made little apples, trouble and disgrace will follow jumpers!"
Mrs. Dixon, no less than Evans, disapproved of those who changed their religion, but this denunciation did not seem to her to apply.
"That poor child's no jumper!" she called after her antagonist; "'twasn't his fault he was born the way he was!"
Evans slammed the door.
Mrs. Dixon dismissed the controversy from her easy mind, looked at the clock, and laid down her knitting.
"Miss Christian'll be looking for her birthday cake!" she said to herself, hoisting her large person from her chair. Even as she did so, there came a rapping, quick and urgent, at the window. "Look at that now!" said Mrs. Dixon. "I wouldn't doubt that child to be wanting the world in her pocket before it was made!"
"Dixie! Dixie! Open the window! Hurry! I want you!"
Christian's face, surmounted by a very old hunting-cap, and decorated with a corked moustache, appeared at the window.
"The Lord save us, child! What have you done to yourself? And what are you doing out there in the wet?" answered Mrs. Dixon, reprovingly; "sure the cake won't be baked for ten minutes yet."
"I don't want the cake. I only want some biscuits, please. Dixie, and hurry! Amazon's bolted, and Cottingham's asked me to catch her! If you had a bone, Dixie, she'd simply—"
Mrs. Dixon was gone. She disapproved exceedingly of Christian's role as kennel-boy, but as, since Christian's first birthday, she had never refused her anything, she was not prepared on her tenth to break so well-established a habit.
"I dunno in the world why Mr. Cottingham should make a young lady like you do his business!" she said, putting the requisition bait into Christian's eager, up-stretched hands, "and if your Mamma could see you—"
"Oh, well done, Dixie! What a lovely bone! Oh, thank you most awfully!" interrupted Christian, snatching at the dainties provided, and flitting away through the grey veils of the rain, a preposterous little figure, clad in a ragged kennel-coat, that had been long since discarded by the huntsman, a pair of couples slung round her neck, and a crop in her hand.
It was a chilly, wet August afternoon. It had rained for the past three days, and was, by all appearances, prepared to continue to do so for three more. Christian ran across the fields to the kennels, regardless of wet overhead or underfoot, and oblivious of the corked moustache, which ran too, almost as fast as she did. She had made a detour to avoid the schoolroom windows. Her birthday party was toward, and charades (accounting for her moustache) were in full swing. But the message from Cottingham, secretly conveyed together with the couples, by the pantry boy, transcended in importance all other human affairs. She had slipped away from her fellows, and having endured the hunting cap and the kennel coat, as the wear suitable to such an occasion, she had not lost a minute in coming to the horn.
Cottingham, Major Talbot-Lowry's First Whip and kennel huntsman, a single-souled little Devonshire man, whose dyed hair was the solitary indication of the age it was intended to conceal, awaited her outside the kennels.
"Well, Missie, I knew you'd come," he said, approvingly. "It's Amazon that's away—that little badger-pye bitch we got last week—I 'ad to give 'er a bit of a 'iding—she tried to run a sheep when we was walkin' out last evening—she's a revengeful sort, she is, and very artful, and when we gets near kennels, her took an' bolted past Jimmy over the 'ill, an' I says to Jimmy, 'Why you fool' I says—"
The tale continued at length, and with those repetitions and recapitulations peculiar to the simple, but by no means short annals of the poor, and especially of the English poor. Yet, Christian, the impatient, the ardent, stood and listened with respectful and absorbed interest. Cottingham might be elderly, egotistic, long-winded, but at this period of her career, Christian's hot heart beat throb for throb with his, and the thought, as he said, of "that pore little bitch stoppin' out, and maybe spoilt, so that there'd be nothin' for us but to shoot her, through learnin' to run sheep," had precisely the same horror for her as for him.
"I couldn't, so to speak, lay me 'and on 'er now; her wouldn't let me go anear 'er, nor she wouldn't let Jimmy neither, but she ain't far away, and she'd 'ave what I might call cawnfidence in you, Missie—" Cottingham had at length concluded: "Her's that sly we mightn't never see 'er again! But you take and go up that 'ill, Missie, that's where I seen 'er last, I'll lay you get 'er if anyone can!"
Christian, "still," as Rossetti says, "with the whole of pleasure," received these instructions reverently, and with the pockets of the kennel-coat further loaded with broken biscuit, "took and went" according to instructions. She climbed the fence behind the kennels, and addressed herself lightly to the ascent of the hill. It was a long hill, that began with pasture fields, that were merged imperceptibly into moorland, heather and furze. There were sheep, and donkeys and goats on it, and a melancholy old kennel-horse or two, all feeding peacefully. Amazon could not be accused in connection with them, so Christian reflected, and prepared herself to rebut any such slander. The rain was lighter, and the soaking mist that had all day filled the valley, was slowly thinning, and revealing the mighty scroll of silver that was the river, while the woods and hillsides came and went, illusive as the grey hints of landscape in a Japanese water-colour. But at the mature age of ten years, Christian cared for none of these things. She saw the smoke from the Mount Music kitchen chimney blending bluely with the mist, and thought with a momentary pang of the birthday cake. She wondered if the Companions of Finn would so far forget honour and fidelity as to devour it without her. She thought of the ten candles that would gutter to their end, untended by the heroine of the celebration; she wondered if Cottingham would tell Papa, and if Papa would tell Mother (thus did this child of the 'eighties speak of her parents, the musical abbreviations of a later day, "Mum," and "Dad," not having penetrated the remoteness in which her home was placed); she also wondered if there would be a row about her getting wet. All these things seemed but too probable, but she was in for it now.
Near a ridge of the hill, in one of the shallow valleys that furrowed, like ploughshares, its long slant, there was a dolmen, three huge stones, with a fourth poised on it. Their grey brows rose over the billows of bracken, and briers, laden with the promise of fruit, made garlands for their ancient heads. Christian's straying advance brought her along the lip of the little valley in which they reposed, and quite suddenly there rose in her the conviction that her quest was nearing success. She was of that mysteriously-gifted company to whom the lairs of things lost are revealed. She "found things"; she was "lucky." She was regarded by the servants as one enfolded in the cloak of St. Anthony, that inestimable saint, whose mission it is to find and protect the lost. It had become a household habit to appeal to Christian when one of every day's most common losses occurred. She would hearken; her little thin body would stiffen, like a dog setting his game, a spark would light in her brown eyes, and—how led who can say?—she would fly like a wireless message to the thing sought for.
So it was now, on the furzy side of Cnocan an Ceoil Sidhe; she knew that the moment had come. She sat down on a ledge of rock, and waited, throbbing with anticipation, and had not long to wait. A brown shadow moved in the bracken near the dolmen, a brown face peered with infinite caution, round a flank of the great stones.
"Yoop! the little bitchie!" said Christian to the horizon. Christian was an apt scholar, and Cottingham's tone and idiom were alike accurately rendered.
The lady thus addressed gazed with a greater intensity, but did not move. Christian took a piece of dog-biscuit from the ragged pocket of the kennel-coat, and, still walking closely in Cottingham's steps, bit it, ate a part of it, and carelessly flung the remainder in the direction of the shadow. This stole forth, and, having snapped up the biscuit, sank back into the covert. Christian did not move.
"Amazon!" she crooned, in tones in which a doting wood-pigeon might apostrophise a sickly fledgling; "Amazon, my darling!"
Another piece of biscuit accompanied the apostrophe, and poor Amazon, who was indeed very lonely and very hungry, capitulated, and came sidling up to the charmer, with propitiatory smiles, and deprecating stern wagging, beneath her, and in advance of her hind legs, instead of above her and behind them.
"'Olding the buckle in the right 'and," said Christian to herself, in faithful quotation from the great ensample, as with a swiftness and decision that were creditable to her training, she put the couples on Amazon.
Then she produced the bone that had been "Dixie's" bright achievement, and it was while, in contentment and friendship, Amazon was crunching it, that Larry Coppinger appeared.
He rose from behind a spur of rock and furze, and came towards Christian.
"Oh, good for you!" he said, admiringly, "I was afraid to show up till you had got her."
Christian was not sure that she was pleased at this intervention.
"How did you know where I was?"
"The servants told me you had gone to the kennels, and Jimmy showed me the hill, and then I spotted your white coat—not that it's so awfully white!—I thought it was rather rotten to let you go alone."
"And why not, pray?" enquired Christian, haughtily. Male assumption of the duties of guardianship was a thing she found highly offensive; "I always go about alone!"
"Well, I wanted to come, anyway," said Larry, with a placating grin. "I say, that is an awful nice dog!"
"You never call foxhounds 'dogs'!" said Christian, still with hauteur; "Larry, you are an owl!"
But she enjoyed the consciousness of knowing more than he did; she even forgave him his superfluousness. She thought it was rather decent of him to have come, and she let him lead Amazon for a part of the way, only reserving to herself the entry into the presence of Cottingham, bringing her sheaf with her.
Are childhood and youth indeed Vanity? When Christian looks back upon her childhood at Mount Music, it seems to her that the World, and Life, and Time, could hardly have bettered it for her, however they might have put their heads together over the job.
All her memories are steeped in sunlight. It was all fun and fights, and strawberries and dogs, and donkey-riding, and hot evenings on the big river, with the hum of flies in her ears, and Larry, hailing her from the farther bank of the Ownashee, across the stepping-stones. And whenever she thought about the schoolroom, it was always warm and rather jolly, especially in the Christmas holidays. They used to have drawing competitions, of which Larry was, of course, the promoter, in the old schoolroom, during the long winter evenings. Larry always had a pencil in his hand, and was renowned as an artist of horses and hounds, and Finn's wolf-dog, Bran, besides wielding a biting pen as a caricaturist. Christian could only compete in architectural designs that demanded neatness and exactness, but Georgy, the elder twin, had some skill in marine subjects, and, since he was going to the "Britannia," arrogated to himself the position of being an authority on shipping; so much so, indeed, that general satisfaction was felt when he was, one evening, worsted by Christian. The subject selected for competition was "A Haunted Ship."
"Where shall I put the ghost?" Georgy debated, chewing the end of his pencil, with his head on one side.
"In the shrouds, of course!" said Christian.
"Funny dog!" sneered Georgy, who considered that his artistic efforts were no fit subject for jesting. "You'd better come and shove in one of your Midianites for me!"
Then Christian, with the disconcerting swiftness of action, mental and physical, that was peculiarly hers, snatched, in a flash, the mug of painted-water from Larry's elbow, and poured its contents over Georgy's fair bullet-head; with which, and with a triumphing cry (learnt from a County Cork kitchenmaid, and very fashionable in the schoolroom) of "A-haadie!" she fled, "lighter-footed than the fox," and equally subtle and daring.
Christian was not easily roused to wrath, but when this occurred, youngest of the party though she was, it was but rarely that victory did not rest with her. Two subjects were marked dangerous among these children, during the combative years of "growing-up," and were therefore specially popular; of these, the one was Christian's reputed occult power, coupled with gibes based on that hymn to which reference has been made; the other was Larry's religion.
To the Talbot-Lowry children, their own religion was largely a matter of fetishes, with fluctuating restrictions as to what might or might not be done on Sundays, but they found Larry's a more stimulating subject. It was impossible for them to refrain from speculations as to what Larry said when he went to confession; equally impossible not to propose to the prospective penitent an assortment of sins to be avowed at his next shriving, even though the suggestions seldom failed to provoke conflict of the intensity usually associated with religious warfare.
Lady Isabel, confronted with these problems, fell back on the manuals of her own youth, with their artless pronouncements on the Righteous, the Wicked, their qualifications, their prospects; and, since the manuals had an indisputable flair for the subjects most likely to seize the attention of the young, Lady Isabel was generally able to divert her offspring's attention from the Errors of Rome, with digested narratives of "Adamaneve" (pronounced as one word) and the Serpent, Balaam's Ass, Jonah's Whale, and similar non-controversial matters.
"Wiser people than you and me, darlings," she would say, with a slight stagger in grammar, but none in orthodoxy, "have explained it all for us—"
"Larry's papa and mamma didn't quite think the same as we do, but we needn't think about that, my pet!"
"But, mother, Evans says that the Pope—" appalling prognostications as to the future of that dignitary would probably follow.
Unfortunate Lady Isabel! But parents and guardians have, at least, the power of the closure.
"We needn't talk about it now," says the hard-pressed mother, "when you're grown up you will understand it all better—"
With Christian, however, this formula was less efficacious than with her elder brothers and sister. Her questioning, analysing, unwearying brain ignored the closure, and evaded poor Lady Isabel's evasions. Her religious life had been singularly vivacious, and the scope and variety of the petitions that she nightly offered caused considerable embarrassment to her mother. What was any good Church of England, or Ireland, mamma to do when an infant of four years implores its Deity:
"Make me to have a good, fat, lively conscience, and even if God curses me, help me not to mind a bit!"
The scandalised mamma decided that extempore prayer must be discouraged, and seeking out in one of the manuals a form of prayer of strictly limited range, repressed all additions and emendations.
Obedient to the traditions of her own youth, Lady Isabel, as her children successively attained the mature age of six years, bestowed Bibles upon them, but it was Christian, alone of the family, that applied herself with any diligence to the study of the Scriptures. She began with the Book of Esther (in which she found a satisfaction that in after life remained something of a bewilderment to her), and thence, but this was a year or two later, for no reason that can be assigned, she passed lightly to the Book of Revelation. With it, it may be said, the artistic side of her, that had leaped to sympathy with Larry's emotion over "Dark Rosaleen" and "The Spirit of the Nation," awakened, and her artistic life began. That glittering, prismatic chapter, that tells of the rainbow round about the Throne, in sight like unto an emerald, and the Sea of glass, like unto crystal, that was before the Throne, and the thunderings and the voices, and the Voice as it were a trumpet talking. Christian read the chapter over and over again, for the sheer glory of the beautiful words. She, also, knew of Voices, and Music, that other people did not seem to hear. She could understand, and could tremble to those strange shouts, and trumpet-blasts, and thunderings.
The Pale Horse that happened after the Fourth Seal was broken!
She would sit as still as if she were frozen, while she thought of the Pale Horse coming crashing through Dharrig Wood, with Death on his back, and Hell following with him—she always thought of him in that black wood of pine trees—
"Wake up, Christian!" Miss Weyman, the governess, would say.
One of the Twins would hiss between his teeth: "Christian, dost thou see them?"
Christian would feel a spiritual bump, as though she had been flung off her chair on to the schoolroom floor, and Miss Weyman (always enviously spoken of by adjacent mammas as "that most sensible little Englishwoman") would say:
"I wonder how much you heard of what I was reading! I wish I could see you learning to have a little more concentration!"
Whereas, did the excellent Miss Weyman only know it, a very little more concentration on Christian's part, and it is possible that she, and Judith, and the Twins, might all have seen the Pale Horse thundering past the schoolroom windows. Stranger things have happened. The Indian rope and basket trick, for instance.
"A most curious child—a perfect passion for animals, and so dreamy, if you know what I mean," Miss Weyman would say to a comrade visitor. "And the things that she seems to have learnt from the huntsman! But really a nice little thing, and clever, too, though a most erratic worker! Now, Judith—" Miss Weyman felt there was some satisfaction in teaching Judith. She could concentrate, if the comrade visitor liked! Nothing was a difficulty to her! And her memory! And her energy—Miss Weyman freely admitted that Judith was three years older than Christian, but still—
In short, Judith was a credit to any sensible little Englishwoman, but Christian had a way of knowing nothing (as touching arithmetic, for example), or too much (as touching Shakespeare and the Book of Revelation), that implied considerable independence as to the instructions of Miss Weyman, and no sensible little Englishwoman could be expected to enjoy that.
It is not peculiar to Irish incomes to fail to develop in response to increasing demands upon them. It was, however, a distinctive feature of the incomes of those who were Irish landlords during the latter years of the Victorian era, to shrink in steady response to the difficulties of English government in Ireland. Only Irish people can understand the complicated processes of erosion to which Dick Talbot-Lowry's resources were subjected, or can realise the tests of fortitude and endurance to a man of spirit, that were involved by the visitations of "Commissioners," with their fore-ordained mission of lowering Dick's rents, rents that, in Dick's opinion, were already philanthropically low. Major Talbot-Lowry, like many of his tribe, though a pessimist in politics, was an optimist in most other matters, and found it impossible to conceive a state of affairs when he would be unable to do—approximately—whatever he had a mind for. At the age of fifty-eight, fortitude and endurance are something of a difficulty for a gentleman unused to the exercise of either of these fine qualities, and after keeping the Broadwater Vale Hounds, for seventeen years, as hounds should be kept, regardless of the caprices of the subscription list, Major-Talbot-Lowry felt that he had deserved better of his country than that he should now have to institute minor economies, such as putting his men into brown breeches, foregoing the yearly renewal of their scarlet coats, and other like humiliations. Farther than details such as these, his sense of right and wrong did not permit him to go.
"There are some things that they can't expect a gentleman to do," he would say to his cousin, Miss Coppinger, "and as long as I keep the hounds—"
"Then, my dear Dick, if you can't afford them, why keep them?" Frederica would rejoin, with unsparing common-sense.
Unmarried ladies of mature age, have, as a rule, learned not only fortitude and endurance, but have also mastered the fact that ways are governed by means. Those processes of erosion, however, to which reference has been made, were, comparatively speaking, slow in operation, and there remained always Lady Isabel's twenty thousand golden sovereigns, as safe and secluded in the hands of trustees (who had a constitutional disbelief in Irishmen), as if they were twenty thousand nuns under the rule of a royal abbess.
Therefore did Major Talbot-Lowry, M.F.H., and the Broadwater Vale Hounds, make a creditable show, brown breeches and last season's pink coats notwithstanding, at the meet at Coppinger's Court, on December 26th of the year 1897. The weather was grey and silver, with a light southeast wind and a rising glass. Sunshine was filtering down, as it were through muslin curtains that might at any moment be withdrawn; some crocuses and snowdrops had appeared in the grass round the wide gravel sweep in front of the house; there was a perplexed primrose or two, deceived by the sun as to the date; the scent of the violets in the bed under the drawing-room windows, came in delicate whiffs round the corner of the house. It would have been impossible to believe that but twenty-four hours ago, Christmas hymns had been shouted, and Christmas presents presented, had not a group of "Wran-boys" offered irrefutable testimony that this was indeed the Feast of Stephen. These, a ragged and tawdry little cluster of mummers, shabby survivors of mediaeval mysteries, were gathered round their ensign holly-bush in front of the hall-door steps. From the holly-bush swung the corpse of the wren, and from the throats of the Wran-Boys came the song that recounts the wicked wren's pursuit and slaughter:
"The Wran, the Wran, the King of all birds, On Stephenses' Day was cot in the furze, And though he is little, his family is great, Rise up, good gentlemen, and give us a thrate—Huzzay!"
Wherever in South Munster two or three boys were gathered together, that song was being sung, and Major Talbot-Lowry and his staff had already met so many of such companies on their way to the Meet, that their horses' indignation at finding a further collection of nightmares at Coppinger's Court was excusable.
On the high flight of hall-door steps, stood Larry and Miss Coppinger, the former pale with excitement, the latter doggedly resigned to the convention that compelled her to offer intoxicating drinks to people who, as she said, had but just swallowed their breakfasts. Larry had learned many things since that day of abysmal ignorance when he had spoken of Amazon as a "nice dog." Among his many enthusiasms he now included a passion for the chase, and all that appertains to its elaborate cult, that complied with Christian's, and even Cottingham's, sense of what was becoming, and, having dedicated a shelf in the library to books on hunting, he had read them all, with the same ardour that, four years earlier, he had brought to bear on The Spirit of the Nation and Irish history.
Major Talbot-Lowry looked down, from the top of his tall, white-faced chestnut, on his young cousin, and accepted the glass of port that Larry reverently offered to him, with a pleased appreciation of the reverence. Cousin Dick was not invariably pleased with his young cousin. He had gathered, hazily, from his wife, such of the tenets of the Companions of Finn as she, instructed by Miss Weyman, had been able to impart, and had not approved of them, nor of Larry's part in introducing them to his young; also it was annoying (especially when he remembered the brown breeches, etc.) to think of a young cub of a boy having more money than he knew what to do with; and, finally, and all the time, there was that almost unconscious, inbred distrust of Larry's religion.
Nevertheless, it has been said that "wise men live in the present, for its bounties suffice them," and Dick, if not very wise, was very good-natured, and was wise enough to realise that the fine weather, and the good horse under him, and even Larry's homage, were bounties sufficient unto the day.
"Got a fox for me, Larry? That's right. Good boy. Where d'ye think we'll find him?"
"He's using the Quarry Wood earth, Cousin Dick," said Larry, breathlessly, with the anxiety of the owner of the coverts alight in his eyes. "I'm certain he's there. I went round with Sullivan myself last night, and we stopped the whole place. I bet he'll not get in anywhere!"
"Good! I'll draw the Quarry Wood first," said Cousin Dick, with royal benignity. "You get away outside at the western end, and keep a look-out for him."
A heavy man, on an enormous grey horse, had approached the Master, having edged his way through the hounds with ostentatious care. He was of a type sufficiently common among southern Irishmen, with thick, strong-growing, black hair, a large, black moustache, and heavy brows, over-shadowing eyes of precisely the same shade of blunted blue as his shaven chin.
"He's a credit to his breeding, Major!" said the heavy man, indicating Larry with a sandwich from which he had taken a bite of the size of one of his horse's hoofs; "I wish we had a few more lads coming on in the country like him!"
"What good are they going to do?" responded the Master, reverting to the pessimistic mood that was daily becoming more frequent with him; "what chance is there for a gentleman in this damned country? You might as well have a mill-stone round your neck as an Irish property these times! What do you suppose will be left to us after the next 'Revision of Rents,' as they call it?"
"Well, deuce a much indeed," returned Doctor Mangan, equably, "but it mightn't be so bad as that altogether! I have my little girl out for the first time to-day, Major. I wonder might I ask your man, that's looking after your young ladies, to have an eye to her, too?"
Doctor Mangan withdrew with the required permission, and with his daughter at his heels, proceeded through the assembling riders and carriages, distributing greetings as he went.
Doctor Francis Aloysius Mangan was one of the leading doctors in the district of which the towns of Cluhir and Riverstown each felt itself to fill the most important place. Ireland grows doctors and clergymen with almost equal success and profusion. There is in the national character a considerable share of the constituents that are valuable in both professions. Power of sympathy, good-nature, intuition, adroitness, discernment of character, and a gift for taking every man in his humour. Qualities that are perhaps beside the specialised requirements, but are equally indispensable.
In what degree these attributes were bestowed upon Doctor Mangan may gradually be ascertained by the patient reader, but in the case of Father David Hogan, P.P., of Riverstown, at this juncture in lively converse with the Misses Talbot-Lowry, the reader may be spared the exercise of that tiresome virtue, and may feel confident that Father Hogan failed in none of the qualities that have been enumerated. Father David was, indeed, the most popular man in the country with all classes and creeds; he was universally known as the Chaplain of the B.V.H., and was accounted one of the chiefest glories of the hunt. Major Talbot-Lowry was accustomed to boast, in places where such as he congregate, that He, in His country, had the best priest in Ireland! A real good man. Kept the farmers civil and friendly. Managed a district for the Fowl Fund. And a topper to ride—always at the top of the hunt!
"Trust a priest to have a good horse!" is the rejoinder prescribed in such cases, and Major Dick's fellows seldom failed to comply with the ritual.
Father David, stout, jolly, and, like his namesake, of a ruddy countenance, mounted upon a black mare as stout and sporting-looking as himself, was, as Doctor Mangan drew near to the Misses Talbot-Lowry, beaming upon these two lambs from another fold, and having congratulated Miss Judith on the appearance of the grey mare that she was riding (reft from Lady Isabel and the victoria), was endearing himself to Miss Christian by tales of the brace of hound puppies that he was walking for the hunt.
The advantage of being the youngest member of a large family is one that takes a considerable time to mature. Christian was thirteen years old before what was left of one of the Hunt horses, after seven strenuous seasons of official work, was placed at her sole disposal. This residue, battered though it was, and a roarer of remarkable power and volume, was incapable of falling, and with anything under eight stone on its piebald back (piebald from incessant and sedulously concealed saddle-galls) could always be trusted to keep within reasonable distance of hounds when they ran. It was fortunate for Christian that Judith, now sixteen, and far from a feather-weight, had renounced her share in "Harry," and had established a right in the grey mare. Judith was a buccaneer. Charles, the coachman, (in connection with the commandeering of the grey mare, which he resented) had said of her to his respected friend, Mr. Evans: "Ah, ah! That's the young lady that'll get her whack out of the world!"