THE GHOST GIRL
BY THE SAME AUTHOR
Sea Plunder $1.30 net The Gold Trail $1.30 net The Pearl Fishers $1.30 net The Presentation $1.30 net The New Optimism $1.00 net Poppyland $2.00 net
The Poems of Francois Villon Translated by H. DE VERE STACPOOLE
Boards $3.00 net Half Morocco $7.50 net
THE GHOST GIRL
BY H. DE VERE STACPOOLE
AUTHOR OF "THE MAN WHO LOST HIMSELF," "SEA PLUNDER," "THE PEARL FISHERS," "THE GOLD TRAIL," ETC.
NEW YORK: JOHN LANE COMPANY LONDON: JOHN LANE, THE BODLEY HEAD TORONTO: S. B GUNDY—MCMXVIII
Copyright, 1918 By JOHN LANE COMPANY
PRESS OF VAIL-BALLOU COMPANY BINGHAMTON, N. Y. U. S. A.
THE GHOST GIRL
It was a warm, grey, moist evening, typical Irish weather, and Miss Berknowles was curled up in a window-seat of the library reading a book. Kilgobbin Park lay outside with the rooks cawing in the trees, miles of park land across which the dusk was coming, blotting out all things from Arranakilty to the Slieve Bloom Mountains.
The turf fire burning on the great hearth threw out a rich steady glow that touched the black oak panelling of the room, the book backs, and the long-nosed face of Sir Nicholas Berknowles "attributed to Lely" and looking down at his last descendant from a dusty canvas on the opposite wall.
The girl made a prettier picture. Red hair when it is of the right colour is lovely, and Phylice Berknowles' hair was of the right red, worn in a tail—she was only fifteen—so long that she could bite the end with ease and comfort when she was in a meditative mood, a habit of perdition that no schoolmistress could break her of.
She was biting her tail now as she read, up to her eyes in the marvellous story of the Gold Bug, and now, unable to read any more by the light from the window, she came to the fire, curled herself on the hearthrug and continued the adventures of the treasure-seekers by the light of the burning turf.
What a pretty face it was, seen by the full warm glow of the turf, and what a perfectly shaped head! It was not the face and head of a Berknowles as you could easily have perceived had you compared it with the portraits in the picture gallery, but of a Mascarene.
Phyl's mother had been a Mascarene, a member of the old, adventurous family that settled in Virginia when Virginia was a wilderness and spread its branches through the Carolinas when the Planter was king of the South. Red hair had run among the Mascarenes, red hair and a wild spirit that brooked no contradiction and knew no fear. Phyl had inherited something of this restless and daring spirit. She had run away from the Rottingdean Academy for the Daughters of the Nobility and Gentry where she had been sent at the age of twelve; making her way back to Ireland like a homing pigeon, she had turned up one morning at breakfast time, quite unshaken by her experiences of travel and with the announcement that she did not like school.
Had her mother been alive the traveller would have been promptly returned, but Phyl's father, good, easy man, was too much taken up with agrarian disputes, hunting, and the affairs of country life to bother much about the small affair of his daughter's future and education. He accepted her rejection of his plans, wrote a letter of apology to the Rottingdean Academy, and hired a governess for her. She wore out three in eighteen months, declared herself dissatisfied with governesses and competent to finish the process of educating and polishing herself.
This she did with the aid of all the books in the library, old Dunn, the rat-catcher of Arranakilty, a man profoundly versed in the habits of rodents and birds, Larry the groom, and sundry others of low estate but high intelligence in matters of sport and woodcraft.
Now it might be imagined from the foregoing that hardihood, self-assertion, and other unpleasant characteristics would be indicated in the manner and personality of this lover of freedom and rebel against restraint. Not at all. She was a most lovable and clinging person, when she could get hold of anything worth clinging to, with a mellifluous Irish voice at once soothing and distracting, a voice with pockets in it but not a trace of a brogue or only the very faintest suspicion. Yet when she spoke she had the Irish turn of words and she used the word "sure" in a manner strange to the English.
She had reached the point in the "Gold Bug" where Jupp is threatening to beat Legrand, when, laying the book down beside her on the hearthrug, she sat with her hands clasping her knees and her eyes fixed on the fire.
The tale had suddenly lost interest. She was thinking of her dead father, the big, hearty man who had gone to America only eight weeks ago and who would never return. He had gone on a visit to some of his wife's people, fallen ill, and died.
Phyl could not understand it at all. She had cried her heart out amongst the ruins of her little world, but she could not understand why it had been ruined, or what her father had done to be killed like that, or what she had done to deserve such misery. The Reverend Peter Graham of Arranakilty could explain nothing about the matter to her understanding. She nearly died and then miraculously recovered. Acute grief often ends like that, suddenly. The mourner may be maimed for life but the sharpness of the pain of that dreadful, dreadful disease is gone.
Phyl found herself one morning discussing rats with old Dunn, asking him how many he had caught in the barn and taking a vague sort of interest in what the old fellow was saying; books began to appeal to her again and the old life to run anew in a crippled sort of way. Then other things happened. Mr. Hennessey, the family lawyer, who had been a crony of her father's and who had known her from infancy, came down to Kilgobbin to arrange matters.
It seemed that Mr. Berknowles before dying had made a will and that the will was being brought over from the States by Mr. Pinckney, his wife's cousin in whose house he had died.
"I'm sure I don't know what the chap wants coming over with it for," said Mr. Hennessey. "He said it was by your father's request he was coming, but it's a long journey for a man to take at this season of the year—and I hope the will is all right."
There was an implied distrust in his tone and an antagonism to Mr. Pinckney that was not without its effect on Phyl.
She disliked Mr. Pinckney. She had never seen him but she disliked him all the same, and she feared him. She felt instinctively that this man was coming to make some alteration in her way of life. She did not want any change, she wanted to go on living just as she was with Mrs. Driscoll the housekeeper to look after her and all the old servants to befriend her and Mr. Hennessey to pay the bills.
Mr. Hennessey was in the house now. He had come down that morning from Dublin to receive Mr. Pinckney, who was due to arrive that night.
Phyl, sitting on the hearthrug, was in the act of picking up her book when the door opened and in came Mr. Hennessey.
He had been out in the grounds overlooking things and he came to the fire to warm his hands, telling Phyl to sit easy and not disturb herself. Then, as he held a big foot to the warmth he talked down at the girl, telling her of what he had been about and the ruination Rafferty was letting the greenhouses go to.
"Half-a-dozen panes of glass out—and 'I've no putty,' says he. 'Putty,' said I to him, 'and what's that head of yours made of?' The stoves are all out of order and there's a hole in one of the flues I could get my thumb in."
"Rafferty's awfully good to the dogs," said Phyl in her mellow voice, so well adapted for intercession. "He may be a bit careless, but he never does forget to feed the animals. He's got the chickens to look after, too, and then there's the beagles, he knows every dog in the pack and every dog knows him—oh, dear, what's the good of it all!"
The thought of the beagles had brought up the vision of their master who would never hunt with them again. Her voice became tinged with melancholy and Hennessey changed the subject, taking his seat in one of the armchairs that stood on either side of the fireplace.
He was a big, loosely-made man, an easy going man with a kind heart who would have come to financial disaster long ago only for his partner, Niven.
"He's almost due to be here by now," said he, taking out his watch and looking at it, "unless the express from Dublin is late."
"What'll he be like, do you think?" said Phyl.
"There's no saying," replied Mr. Hennessey. "He's an American and I've never had much dealings with Americans except by letter. By all accounts they are sharp business men, but I daresay he is all right. The thing that gets me is his coming over. Americans don't go thousands of miles for nothing, but if it's after any hanky-panky business about the property, maybe he'll find Jack Hennessey as sharp as any American."
"He's some sort of a relation of ours," said Phyl. "Father said he was a sort of cousin."
"On your mother's side," said Hennessey.
"Yes," said Phyl. Then, after a moment's pause, "D'you know I've often thought of all those people over there and wondered what they were like and how they lived—my mother's people. Father used to talk of them sometimes. He said they kept slaves."
"That was in the old days," said Hennessey. "The slaves are all gone long ago. They used to have sugar plantations and suchlike, but the war stopped all that."
"It's funny," said Phyl, "to think that my people kept slaves—my mother's people—Oh, if one could only see back, see all the people that have gone before one so long ago— Don't you ever feel like that?"
Mr. Hennessey never had; his forebears had been liquor dealers in Athlone and he was content to let them lie without a too close inquisition into the romances of their lives.
"Mr. Hennessey," said Phyl, after a moment's silence, "suppose Father has left Mr. Pinckney all his money—what will become of me?"
"The Lord only knows," said Hennessey; "but what's been putting such fancies in your head?"
"I don't know," replied the girl. "I was just thinking. Of course he wouldn't do such a thing—It's your talking of the will the last time you were here set me on, I suppose, but I dreamed last night Mr. Pinckney came and he was an American with a beard like Uncle Sam in Punch last week, and he said Father had made a will and left him everything—he'd left him me as well as everything else, and the dogs and all the servants and Kilgobbin—then I woke up."
"Well, you were dreaming nonsense," said the practical Hennessey. "A man can't leave his daughter away from him, though I'm half thinking there's many a man would be willing enough if he could."
Phyl raised her head. Her quick ear had caught a sound from the avenue. Then the crash of wheels on gravel came from outside and her companion, rising hurriedly from his chair, went to the window.
"That's him," said the easy-speaking Hennessey.
He left the room and Phyl, rising from the hearthrug, stood with her hand on the mantelpiece listening.
Hennessey had left the door open and she could hear a confused noise from the hall, the sound of luggage being brought in, the bustle of servants and a murmur of voices.
Then a voice that made her start.
"Thanks, I can carry it myself."
It was the newcomer's voice, he was being conducted to his room by Hennessey. It was a cheerful, youthful voice, not in the least suggestive of Uncle Sam with the goatee beard as depicted by the unimaginative artist of Punch. And it was a voice she had heard before, so she fancied, but where, she could not possibly tell—nor did she bother to think, dismissing the idea as a fancy.
She stood listening, but heard nothing more, only the wind that had risen and was shaking the ivy outside the windows.
Byrne, the old manservant, came in and lit the lamps and then after a few minutes Hennessey entered. He looked cheerful.
"He seems all right and he'll be down in a minute," said the lawyer; "not a bit of harm in him, though I haven't had time to tackle him over money affairs."
"How old is he?" asked the girl.
"Old! Why, he's only a boy, but he's got all a man's ways with him—he's American, they're like that. I've heard say the American children order their own mothers and fathers about and drive their own motor-cars and gamble on the Stock Exchange." He pulled out his watch and looked at it; it pointed to ten minutes past seven; then he lit a cigar and sat smoking and smoking without a word whilst Phyl sat thinking and staring at the fire. They were seated like this when the door opened and Byrne shewed in Mr. Pinckney.
Hennessey had called him a boy. He was not that. He was twenty-two years of age, yet he looked only twenty and you would not have been particularly surprised if you had been told that he was only nineteen. Good-looking, well-groomed and well-dressed, he made a pleasant picture, and as he came across the room to greet Phyl he explained without speaking what Mr. Hennessey meant about "all the manners of a man."
Pinckney's manner was the manner of a man of the world of thirty, easy-going, assured, and decided.
He shook hands with Phyl as Hennessey introduced them, and then stood with his back to the fireplace talking, as she took her seat in the armchair on the right, whilst the lawyer remained standing, hands in pockets and foot on the left corner of the fender.
The newcomer did most of the talking. By a downward glance every now and then he included Phyl in the conversation, but he addressed most of his remarks to Mr. Hennessey.
"And you came over by the Holyhead route?" said the lawyer.
"I did," replied Pinckney.
"And what did you think of Kingstown?"
"Well, upon my word, I saw less of it than of a gentleman with long hair and a bundle of newspapers under his arm who received me like a mother just as I landed, hypnotised me into buying half-a-dozen newspapers and started me off for Dublin with his blessing."
"That was Davy Stevens," said Phyl, speaking for the first time.
Pinckney's entrance had produced upon her the same effect as his voice.
You know the feeling that some places produce on the mind when first seen—
"I have been here before But when or how I cannot tell I know the lights along the shore—"
It seemed to her that she had known Pinckney and had met him in some place, but when or how she could not possibly remember. The feeling had almost worn off now. It had thrilled her, but the thrill had vanished and the concrete personality of the man was dominating her mind—and not very pleasantly.
There was nothing in his manner or his words to give offence; he was quite pleasant and nice but—but—well, it was almost as though she had met some one whom she had known and liked and who had changed.
The little jump of the heart that his voice caused in her had been followed by a chill. His manner displeased her vaguely. He seemed so assured, so every day, so cold.
It seemed to her that not only did he hold his entertainers at a critical distance, but that he was somehow wanting in respectfulness to herself—Lunatic ideas, for the young man could not possibly have been more cordial towards two utter strangers and as for respectfulness, one does not treat a girl in a pigtail exactly as one treats a full-grown woman.
"Oh, Davy Stevens, was it?" said Pinckney, glancing down at Phyl. "Well, I never knew the meaning of peaceful persuasion till he had sold out his stock on me. Now in the States that man would likely have been President by this—Things grow quicker over there."
"And what did you think of Dublin?" asked Hennessey.
"Well," said the young man, "the two things that struck me most about Dublin were the dirt and the want of taxicabs."
A dead silence followed this remark.
Never tell an Irishman that Dublin is dirty.
Hennessey was dumb, and as for Phyl, she knew now that she hated this man.
"Of course," went on the other, "it's a fine old city and I'm not sure that I would alter it or even brush it up. I should think it's pretty much the same to-day as when Lever wrote of it. It's a survival of the past, like Nuremberg. All the same, one doesn't want to live in a survival of the past—does one?"
"I've lived there a good many years," said Hennessey; "and I've managed to survive it. It's not Chicago, of course; it's just Dublin, and it doesn't pretend to be anything else."
"Just so," said Pinckney. He felt that he had put his foot in it; recalling his own lightly spoken words he felt shocked at his want of tact, and he was casting about for something to say about the sacred city of a friendly nature but not too fulsome, when Byrne opened the door and announced that dinner was served.
Phyl led the way and they crossed the hall to the dining-room, a room oak-panelled like the library and warm with the light of fire and candles.
Once upon a time there had been high doings in this sombre room, hunt breakfasts and dinners, rousing songs, laughter, and the toasting of pretty women—now dust and ashes.
Here highly coloured gentlemen had slept the sleep of the just, under the table, whilst the ladies waited in vain for them in the drawing-room, here Colonel Berknowles had drunk a glass of mulled wine on that black morning over a hundred-and-thirty years ago when he went out with Councillor Kinsella and shot him through the lungs by the Round House on the Arranakilty Road. The diminutive Tom Moore had sung his songs here "put standing on the table" by the other guests, and the great Dan had held forth and the wind had dashed the ivy against the windows just as it did to-night with fist-fulls of rain from the Slieve Bloom Mountains. Byrne had put the big silver candlesticks on the table in honour of the guest, and he now appeared bearing in front of him a huge dish with a cover a size too small for it.
He placed the dish before Mr. Hennessey and removed the cover, disclosing a cod's "head and shoulders" whilst a female servant appeared with a dish of potatoes boiled in their jackets and a tureen of oyster sauce.
Now a cod's head and shoulders served up like this in the good old Irish way is, honestly, a ghastly sight. The thing has a countenance and an expression most forbidding and all its own.
The appearance of the old dish cover, clapped on by the cook in a hurry in default of the proper one, had given Phyl a turn and now she was wondering what Mr. Pinckney was thinking of the fish and the manner of its serving.
All at once and as if stimulated into life by the presence of the new guest, all sorts of qualms awoke in her mind. The dining arrangements of the better class Irish are, and always have been, rather primitive, haphazard, and lacking in small refinements. Phyl was conscious of the fact that Byrne had placed several terrible old knives on the table, knives that properly belonged to the kitchen, and when the second course, consisting of a boiled chicken, faced by a piece of bacon reposing on a mat of boiled cabbage, appeared, the fact that one of the dishes was cracked confronted her with the equally obvious fact that the cook in her large-hearted way had sent up the chicken with the black legs unremoved.
It seemed to Phyl's vision—now thoroughly distorted—that the eyes of the stranger were everywhere, cool, critical, and amused; so obsessed was her mind with this idea that it could take no hold upon the conversation. Pinckney was talking of the States; he might just as well have been talking about Timbuctoo for all the impression he made on her with her unfortunate head filled with cracked dishes, chickens' black legs, Byrne's awkwardness and the suddenly remembered crumb-brush.
It was twenty years old and it had lost half of its bristles in the service of the Berknowles who had clung to it with a warm-hearted tenacity purely Irish.
"Sure, that old brush is a disgrace to the table," was the comment Phyl's father had made on it once, just as though he were casually referring to some form of the Inevitable such as the state of the weather.
The disgrace had not been removed and it was coming to the table, now, in the hand of Byrne. Phyl watched the crumbs being swept up, she watched the cloth being taken off and the wine and dessert placed in the good old fashion, on the polished mahogany, then leaving the gentlemen to their wine, she retired upstairs and to her bedroom.
She felt angry with Byrne, with the cook, with Mr. Hennessey and with herself. Plenty of people had been to dinner at Kilgobbin, yet she had never felt ashamed of the menage till now. This stranger from over the water, notwithstanding her dislike for him, had the power to disturb her mind as few other people had disturbed it in the course of her short life. Other people had put her into worse tempers, other people had made her dislike them, but no one else had ever roused her into this feeling of unrest, this criticism of her belongings, this irritation against everything including herself.
Her bedroom was a big room with two windows looking upon the park; it was almost in black darkness, but the windows shewed in dim, grey oblongs and she made her way to one of them, took her place in the window-seat and pressed her forehead against the glass. The rain had ceased and the clouds had risen, but the moon was not yet high enough to pierce them. Phyl could just make out the black masses of the distant woods and the movement of the near fir-trees shaking their tops like hearse plumes to the wind.
The park always fascinated her when it was like that, almost blotted out by night. These shapes in the dark were akin to shapes in the fire in their power over the fancy of the gazer. Phyl as she watched them was thinking: not one word had this stranger said about her dead father.
Mr. Berknowles had died in his house and this man had buried him in Charleston; he had come over here to Ireland on the business of the will and he had come into the dead man's house as unconcernedly as though it were an hotel, and he had laughed and talked about all sorts of things with never a word of Him.
If Phyl had thought over the matter, she might have seen that, perhaps, this silence of Pinckney's was the silence of delicacy, not of indifference, but she was not in the humour to hold things up to the light of reason. She had decided to dislike this man and when the Mascarenes came to a decision of this sort they were hard to be shaken from it.
She had decided to dislike him long before she saw him.
What Phyl really wanted now was perhaps a commonsense female relative to stiffen her mind against fancies and give her a clear-sighted view of the world, but she had none. Philip Berknowles was the last of his race, the few distant connections he had in Ireland lived away in the south and were separated from him by the grand barrier that divides Ireland into two opposing camps—Religion. Berknowles was a Protestant, the others Papists.
Phyl, as she sat watching saw, now, the line of the woods strengthen against the sky; the moon was breaking through the clouds and its light increasing minute by minute shewed the parkland clearly defined, the leafless oaks standing here and there, oaks that of a summer afternoon stood in ponds of shadow, the clumps of hazel, and away to the west the great dip, a little valley haunted by a fern-hidden river, a glen mysterious and secretive, holding in its heart the Druids' altar.
The Druids' altar was the pride of Kilgobbin Park; it consisted of a vast slab of stone supported on four other stones, no man knew its origin, but popular imagination had hung it about with all sorts of gruesome fancies. Victims had been slaughtered there in the old days, a vein of ironstone in the great slab had become the bloodstain of men sacrificed by the Druids; the glen was avoided by day and there were very few of the country people round about who would have entered it by night. Phyl, who had no fear of anything, loved the place; she had known it from childhood and had been accustomed to take her worries and bothers there and bury them.
It was a friend, places can become friends and, sometimes, most terrific enemies.
The girl listening, now, heard voices below stairs. Hennessey and his companion were evidently leaving the dining-room and crossing the hall to the library. Going out on the landing she caught a glimpse of them as they stood for a moment looking at the trophies in the hall, then they went into the library, the door was closed, and Phyl came downstairs.
In the hall she slipped on a pair of goloshes over her thin shoes, put on a cloak and hat and came out of the front door, closing it carefully behind her.
To put it in her own words, she couldn't stand the house any longer. Not till this very evening did she feel the great change that her father's death had brought in her life, not till now did she fully know that her past was dead as well as her father, and not till she had left the house did the feeling come to her that Pinckney was to prove its undertaker.
There was something alike cold and fateful in the impression that this man had made upon her, an extraordinary impression, for it would be impossible to imagine anything further removed from the ideas of Coldness and Fate than the idea of the cheerful and practical Pinckney. However, there it was, her heart was chilled with the thought of him and the instinctive knowledge that he was going to make a great alteration in her life.
She crossed the gravelled drive to the grass sward beyond. The night had altered marvellously; nearly every vestige of cloud had vanished, blown away by the wind. The wind and the moon had the night between them and the air was balmy as the air of summer.
Phyl turned and looked back at the house with all its windows glittering in the moonlight, then she struck across the grass now almost dried by the wind.
Phyl had something of the night bird in her composition. She had often been out long before dawn to pick up night lines in the river and she knew the woods by dark as well as by day. She was out now for nothing but a breath of fresh air, she did not intend to stay more than ten minutes, and she was on the point of returning to the house when a cry from the woods made her pause.
One might have fancied that some human being was crying out in agony, but Phyl knew that it was a fox, a fox caught in a trap. She was confirmed in her knowledge by the barking of its mates; they would be gathered round the trapped one lending all the help they could—with their voices.
The girl did not pause to think; forgetting that she had no weapon with which to put the poor beast out of its misery, and no means of freeing it without being bitten, she started off at a run in the direction of the sound, entering the woods by a path that led through a grove of hazel; leaving this path she struck westward swift as an Indian along the road of the call.
Her mother's people had been used to the wilds, and Phyl had more than a few drops of tracker blood in her veins; better than that, she had a trace of the wood instinct that leads a man about the forest and makes him able to strike a true line to the west or east or north or south without a compass.
The trees were set rather sparsely here and the moonlight shewed vistas of withered fern. The wind had fallen, and in the vast silence of the night this place seemed unreal as a dream. The fox had evidently succeeded in liberating itself from the trap, for its cries had ceased, cut off all of a sudden as though by a closing door.
Phyl paused to listen and look around her. Through all the night from here, from there, came thin traces of sound, threads fretting the silence. The trotting of a horse a mile away on the Arranakilty road, the bark of a dog from near the Round House, the shaky bleat of a sheep from the fold at Ross' farm came distinct yet diminished almost to vanishing point. It was like listening to the country sounds of Lilliput. With these came the vaguest whisper of flowing water, broken now and again by a little shudder of wind in the leafless branches of the trees.
"He's out," said Phyl to herself. She was thinking of the fox. She knew that the trap must be somewhere about and she guessed who had set it. Rafferty, without a doubt, for only the other day he had been complaining of the foxes having raided the chickens, but there was no use in hunting for the thing by this light and without any indication of its exact whereabouts, so she struck on, determined to return to the house by the more open ground leading through the Druids' glen.
She had been here before in the very early morning before sunrise on her way to the river, Rafferty following her with the fish creel, but she had never seen the place like this with the moonlight on it and she paused for a moment to rest and think, taking her seat on a piece of rock by the cromlech.
Phyl, despite her American strain, was very Irish in one particular: though cheerful and healthy and without a trace of morbidness in her composition, she, still, was given to fits of melancholy—not depression, melancholy. It is in the air of Ireland, the moist warm air that feeds the shamrock and fills the glens with soft-throated echoes and it is in the soul of the people.
Phyl, seated in this favourite spot of hers, where she had played as a child on many a warm summer's afternoon, gave herself over to the moonlight and the spirit of Recollection.
She had forgotten Pinckney, and the strange disturbance that he had occasioned in her mind had sunk to rest; she was thinking of her father, of all the pleasant days that were no more—she remembered her dolls, the wax ones with staring eyes, dummies and effigies compared with that mysterious, soulful, sinful, frightful, old rag doll with the inked face, true friend in affliction and companion in joy, and even more, a Ju-ju to be propitiated. That thing had stirred in her a sort of religious sentiment, had caused in her a thrill of worship real, though faint, far more real than the worship of God that had been cultivated in her mind by her teachers. The old Druid stone had affected her child's mind in somewhat the same way, but with a difference. The Ju-ju was a familiar, she had even beaten and punched it when in a temper; the stone had always filled her with respect.
There are some people the doors of whose minds are absolutely closed on the past; we call them material and practical people; there are others in which the doors of division are a wee crack open, or even ajar, so that their lives are more or less haunted by whisperings from that strange land we call yesterday.
In some of the Burmese and Japanese children the doors stand wide open so that they can see themselves as they were before they passed through the change called death, but the Westerners are denied this. In Phyl's mind as a child one might suppose that through the doors ajar some recollections of forgotten gods once worshipped had stolen, and that the power of the Ju-ju and the Druids' stone lay in their power of focussing those vague and wandering threads of remembrance.
To-night this power seemed regained, for she passed from the contemplation of concrete images into a vague and pleasant state, an absolute idleness of the intellect akin to that which people call daydreaming.
With her cloak wrapped round her she sat, elbows on knees and her chin in the palms of her hands giving herself up to Nothing before starting to resume her way to the house.
Sitting like this she suddenly started and turned. Some one had called her:
For a moment she fancied that it was a real voice, and then she knew that it was only a voice in her head, one of those sounds we hear when we are half asleep, one of those hails from dreamland that come now as the ringing of a bell that never has rung, or the call of a person who has never spoken.
She rose up and resumed her way, striking along the glen to the open park, yet still the memory of that call pursued her.
It seemed Mr. Pinckney's voice, it was his voice, she was sure of that now, and she amused herself by wondering why his voice had suddenly popped up in her head. She had been thinking about him more than about any one else that evening and that easily accounted for the matter. Fancy had mimicked him—yet why did Fancy use her name and clothe it in Pinckney's voice?—and it was distinctly a call, the call of a person who wishes to draw another person's attention.
Pinckney had never called her by her name and she felt almost irritated at the impertinence of the phantom voice in doing so.
This same irritation made her laugh when she realised it. Then the idea that Byrne might lock the hall door before she could get back drove every other thought away and she began to run, her shadow running before her over the moonlit grass.
Half way across the sward, which was divided from the grass land proper by a Ha-ha, she heard the stable clock striking eleven.
When Phyl withdrew from the dining-room, Hennessey filled his glass with port, Pinckney, who took no wine, lit a cigarette and the two men drew miles closer to one another in conversation.
They were both relieved by the withdrawal of the girl, Hennessey because he wanted to talk business, Pinckney because her presence had affected him like a wet blanket.
His first impression of Phyl had been delightful, then, little by little, her stiffness and seeming lifelessness had communicated themselves to him. It seemed to him that he had never met a duller or more awkward schoolgirl. His mind was of that quick order which requires to be caught in the uptake rapidly in order to shine. Slowness, coldness, dulness or hesitancy in others depressed him just as dull weather depressed him. He did not at all know with what a burning interest his arrival had been awaited, or the effect that his voice had produced and his first appearance. He did not know how the dull schoolgirl had weighed him in a mysterious balance which she herself did not quite comprehend and had found him slightly wanting. Neither could he tell the extent of the paralyses produced in that same mind of hers by the cracked china, the old dish cover, Byrne's awkwardness, and the deboshed crumb-brush.
He should have kept to his first impression of her, for first impressions are nearly always right; he should have sought for the reason of so much charm proving charmless, so much positive attraction proving so negative in effect. But he did not. He just took her as he found her and was glad she was gone.
"And I believe," said Hennessey, "the South is different now. It used to be all cotton before the war."
"Oh, no," said Pinckney. "Before the war there was a lot of cotton grown but we used to grow other things as well, we used to feed ourselves, the plantation was economically independent. The war broke us. We had to get money, so we grew cotton as cotton was never grown before; the South became a great sheet of cotton. You see, cotton is the only crop you can mortgage, so we grew cotton and mortgaged it. Of course the old-time planter is gone, everything is done now by companies, and that's the devil of it—"
Pinckney was silent for a moment and sat staring before him as though he were looking at the Past.
"Companies, you see, don't grow sunflowers to look at, don't grow trees to shade them, don't make love in a wild and extravagant manner and shoot other companies for crossing them in their affections—don't play the guitar, in short.
"Companies don't breed trotting horses and wear panama hats and put flowers in their buttonholes. The old Planter used to do these things and a lot of others. He was a bit of a patriarch in his way, too—well, he's gone and more's the pity. He's like an old house pulled down. No one can ever build it again as it was. The South's a big industrial region now. Not only cotton—ore and coal and machinery. We supply the North and East with pig-iron, machinery, God knows what. Berknowles was very keen on Southern industries, regularly bitten. He was talking of selling off here and coming to settle in Charleston when the illness took him— and that reminds me."
He took a document from his pocket. "This is the will. I've kept it on my person since I started for here. It's not the thing to trust to a handbag. It's in correct form, I believe. Temperley, our solicitor, made it out for him and it leaves everything to the girl when she's twenty—but just read it and see what you think."
He lit another cigarette whilst Hennessey, putting on his glasses and pushing his dessert plate away, spread the will on the table.
Pinckney watched him as he read it. Hennessey was a new order of being to him. This easy-going, slipshod, garrulous gentleman, fond of his glass of wine, contrasted strangely with the typical lawyer of the States. Flushed and not in his business mood, the man of law cast his eyes over the document before him, reading bits of it here and there and seeming not inclined to bother himself by a concentration of his full energies on the matter.
Then, suddenly, his eyes became fixed on a paragraph which he re-read as though puzzled by the meaning of it. Then he looked up at the other over his glasses.
"Why, what's this?" said he. "He has made you Phyl's guardian. You!"
"Yes, that was the chief thing that brought me over. He has made me her guardian, till she's twenty, and he made me promise to look after her interests and see to all business arrangements. He said he had no near relations in Ireland, and he said that he'd sooner trust the devil than the few relatives he had, that they were Papists—that is to say Roman Catholics—he seemed to fear them like the deuce and their influence on the girl. I couldn't understand him. I've never seen any harm in Roman Catholics; there are loads in the States and they seem to be just as good citizens as the others, better, for they seem to stick tighter by their religion. Anyhow, there you are. Berknowles had them on the brain and nothing would do him but I must come over to look after the business myself."
Hennessey, with his finger on the will, had been staring at Pinckney during this. He looked down now at the document and then up again.
"But you—her guardian—why, it's absurd," said he. "You aren't old enough to be a guardian, why, Lord bless my soul, what'll people be doing next? A young chap like you to be the guardian of a girl like Phyl—why, it's not proper."
"Not only am I to be her guardian," said Pinckney with a twinkle in his eyes, "but she's to come and live under my roof at Charleston. I promised Berknowles that—He was dying, you see, and one can refuse nothing to a dying man."
Hennessey rose up in an abstracted sort of way, went to the sideboard, poured himself out a whisky and soda, took a sip, and sat down again.
"Extraordinary, isn't it?" said Pinckney, tapping the ash off his cigarette. "All the same, you need not be worried at the impropriety of the business; there's none, nothing improper could live in the same house with my aunt, Maria Pinckney. Vernons belongs to her though I live there."
"Vernons," put in the other. "What's that?"
"It's the name of our house in Charleston. It's mine, really, but my father left it to Maria to live in; it comes to me at her death. I don't want that house at all. I want her to keep it forever, but it's such a pleasant old place, I like to live there instead of buying a house of my own. Vernons isn't exactly a house, it's more like a family tree—hollow—with all the ancestors inside instead of hanging on the branches."
"But why on earth didn't Berknowles make your aunt guardian to the girl?" asked Hennessey. "There'd have been some sense in that—a middle-aged woman—"
"I beg your pardon," said Pinckney, "my aunt is not a middle-aged woman, she's not fifteen."
"Not what?" said Hennessey.
"Not fifteen—in years of discretion, though she's over seventy as time goes. She has no knowledge at all of what money is or what money means—she flings it away, doesn't spend it—just flings it away on anything and everything but herself. I don't believe there's a charity in the States that hasn't squeezed her, or a beggar-man in the South that hasn't banked on her. She was sent into the world to grow flowers and look after stray dogs and be robbed by hoboes; she has been nearly seventy years at it and she doesn't know she has ever been robbed. She's not a fool by any manner of means, and she rules the servants at Vernons in the good old patriarchal way, but she's lost where money is concerned. That's why Berknowles wanted me to look after the girl's interests. As for anything else, I guess Maria Pinckney will be the real guardian."
"Well, I don't know," said Hennessey. He was confused by all these new ideas shot into his mind suddenly like this after dinner, he could see that Pinckney was genuine enough, all the same it irritated him to think that Philip Berknowles should have chosen a youth like this to be second father to Phyl. What was the matter with himself, Hennessey? Hadn't he a fine house in Merrion Square and a wife who would have treated the girl like a daughter?
"Well, I don't know," said he. "It's not for me to dispute the wishes of a client, but I've known Phyl since she was born and I've known her father since we were together at Trinity College and I'd have taken it more handsome if he'd left the looking after of her to me."
"I wonder he didn't," said Pinckney. "He spoke of you a good deal to me, spoke of you as his best friend; all the same he seemed set on the idea of us taking care of the girl. He fell in love with Charleston and he cottoned to us; then, of course, there were the family reasons. Phyl's mother was a Mascarene; my mother was her mother's first cousin. Vernons belonged to the Mascarenes, my mother brought it to my father as part of her wedding portion. The Pinckneys' old house was lost to us in the smash up after the war. So, you see, Phyl ought to be as much at home at Vernons as I am. Funny, isn't it, how things get mixed up and old family houses change hands?"
"And when do you want to take her away?" asked Hennessey.
"Upon my word, I've never thought of that," replied the other. "I want to see things settled up here and to go over the accounts with you. Berknowles said the house had better be let—I should think it would be easy to find a good tenant—then I want to go to London on business and get back as quick as possible. She need not come back with me, it would scarcely give her time to get things ready. There's a Mrs. Van Dusen, a friend of ours who lives in New York, she's coming over in a month or so and Phyl might come with her as far as New York. It's all plain sailing after that."
"Well," said Hennessey, folding up the will and putting it in his pocket. "I suppose it's all for the best, but it's hard lines for a man to lose his best friend and see a good old estate like Kilgobbin taken off to the States—Oh, you needn't tell me, if Phyl goes out there she's done for as far as Ireland is concerned. Sure, they never come back, the people that go there, and if she does come back it'll be with an American husband and he master of Kilgobbin. I know what America is, it never lets go of the man or woman it catches hold of."
"You're not far wrong there," said Pinckney. "You see, life is set to a faster pace in America than over here and once you learn to step that pace you feel coming back here as if you were living in a country where people are hobbled. At least that's my experience. Then the air is different. There's somehow a feeling of morning in America that goes through the whole day—almost—here, afternoon begins somewhere about eleven."
Hennessey yawned, and the two men, rising from the table, left the room and crossed the hall to the library.
Here, after a while, Hennessey bade the other good night and departed for bed, whilst Pinckney, leaning back in his armchair, fell into a lazy and contemplative mood, his eyes wandering from point to point.
All this business was very new to him. Pinckney had inherited his father's brains as well as his money. He had discovered that a large fortune requires just as much care and attention as a large garden and that a man can extract just as much interest and amusement and the physical health that comes from both, out of money-tending as out of flower and vegetable growing. Knowing all about cotton and nearly everything about wheat, he managed occasionally to do a bit of speculative dealing without the least danger of burning his fingers. Self-reliant and self-assured, knowing his road and all its turnings, he had moved through life up to this with the ease of a well-oiled and almost frictionless mechanism.
But here was a new thing of which he had never dreamed. Here was another destiny suddenly thrust into his charge and another person's property to be conserved and dealt with. Never, never, did he dream when acceding to Berknowles' request, of the troubles, little difficulties and causes of indecision that were preparing to meet him.
Up till now, one side of his character had been almost unknown to him. He had been quite unaware that he possessed a conscience most painfully sensitive with regard to the interests of others, a conscience that would prick him and poison his peace were he to leave even little things undone in the fulfilment of the trust he had undertaken so lightheartedly.
Possessing a keen eye for men he began to recognise now why Berknowles had not chosen the easy-going Hennessey to look after Phyl and her affairs, and he guessed, just by the little bit he had seen of Kilgobbin and the servants, the slipshoddedness and waste going on behind the scenes in the absence of a master and mistress.
Pinckney loathed waste as he loathed inefficiency and as he loathed dirt. They were all three brothers with Drink in his eyes and as he leaned back in the chair now, his gaze travelling about the room, he could not but perceive little things that would have brought exclamations from the soul of a careful housekeeper. The furniture had been upholstered, or rather re-upholstered in leather some five years ago. There is nothing that cries out so much against neglect as leather, and the chairs and couch in the library of Kilgobbin, without exactly crying out, still told their tale. Some of the buttons were gone, and some of them hung actually by the thread in the last stage of departure. There was a tiny triangular rent in the leather of the armchair wherein Phyl had been sitting and another armchair wanted a castor. The huge Persian rug that covered the centre of the floor shewed marks left by cigar and cigarette ash, and under a Jacobean book-case in the corner were stuffed all sorts of odds and ends, old paper-backed novels, a pair of old shoes, a tennis racquet and a boxing glove—besides other things.
Pinckney rose up, went to the book-case and placed his fingers on top of it, then he looked at his fingers and the bar of dust upon them, brushed his hand clean and came back to his chair by the fire. He heard the stable clock striking eleven. The sound of the wind that had been raging outside all during dinner time had died away and the sounds of the house made themselves manifest, the hundred stealthy accountable and unaccountable little sounds that night evolves from an old house set in the stillness of the country. Just as the night jasmine gives up its perfume to the night, so does an old house its past in the form of murmurs and crackings and memories and suggestions. Notwithstanding Dunn's attentions there were rats alive in the cellars and under the boarding—and mice; the passages leading to the kitchen premises made a whispering gallery where murderers seemed consulting together if the scullery window were forgotten and left open—as it usually was, and boards in the uneven flooring that had been preparing for the act for weeks and months would suddenly "go off with a bang," a noise startling in the dead of night as the crack of a pistol, and produced, heaven knows how, but never by daylight.
Even Pinckney, who did not believe in ghosts, became aware as he sat now by the fire that the old house was feeling for him to make him creep, feeling for him with its old disjointed fingers and all the artfulness of inanimate things.
He was aware that Sir Nicholas Berknowles was looking down at him with the terrible patient gaze of a portrait, and he returned the gaze, trying to imagine what manner of man this might have been and how he had lived and what he had done in those old days that were once real sunlit days filled with people with real voices, hearts, and minds.
A gentle creak as though a light step had pressed upon the flooring of the hall brought his mind back to reality and he was rising from his chair to retire for the night when a sound from outside the window made him sit down again. It was the sound of a step on the gravel path, a step stealthy and light, a real sound and no contraption of the imagination.
The idea of burglars sprang up in his mind, but was dismissed; that was no burglar's footstep—and yet! He listened. The sound had ceased and now came a faint rubbing as of a hand feeling for the window followed by the sharp rapping of a knuckle on the glass.
"Hullo," cried Pinckney, jumping to his feet and approaching the shuttered window. "Who's there?"
"It's me," said a voice. "I'm locked out. Byrne's bolted the front door. Go to the hall door, will you, please, and let me in?"
"Phyl," said Pinckney to himself. "Good heavens!" Then to the other, "I'm coming."
Byrne had left a lamp lighted in the hall and the guest's candlestick waiting for him on the table. The lamp was sufficient to show him the executive side of the big front door that had been nearly battered in in the time of the Fenians and still possessed the ponderous locks and bars of a past day when the tenants of Kilgobbin had fought the pikemen of Arranakilty and Rupert Berknowles had hung seventeen rebels, no less, on the branches of the big oak "be the gates."
Pinckney undid bolt and bar, turned the key in the great lock and flung the door open, disclosing Phyl standing in the moonlight. The contrast between the forbidding and ponderous door and the charming little figure against which it had stood as a barrier might have struck him had his mind been less astonished. As it was he could think of nothing but the strangeness of the business in hand.
"Where on earth have you been?" said he.
"Out in the woods," said Phyl, entering quite unconcerned and removing her cloak. "A fox got trapped in the woods and I went to let it out and couldn't find it, then that old fool Byrne locked the door; lucky you were up. I saw the light in the library shining through a crack in the shutters and knocked."
Pinckney was putting up the bar and sliding the bolts. He said nothing. Had Phyl been another girl, he might have laughed and joked over the matter, but care of Phyl's well-being was now part of his business in life and that consideration just checked his speech. There was nothing at all wrong in the affair, and never for a moment did he dream of making the slightest remonstrance; still, the unwisdom of a young girl wandering about in the woods at night after trapped foxes was a patent fact which disturbed the mind of this guardian unto dumbness.
Phyl, who was as sensitive to impressions as a radiometer to light, noted the silence of the other and resented it as she hung up her old hat and cloak. She knew nothing of the true facts of the case, she looked on Pinckney as a being almost of her own age, and that he should dare to express disapproval of an act of hers not concerning him, even by silence, was an intolerable insult. She knew that she loathed him now.—Prig!
This was the first real meeting of these two and Fate, with the help of Irish temper and the Pinckney conscience, was making a fine fiasco of it.
Phyl, having hung up the hat and coat, turned without a word, marched into the library and finding the book she had been reading that day, put it under her arm.
"Good night," said she as she passed him in the hall.
"Good night," he replied.
He watched her disappearing up the stairs, stood for a moment irresolute, and then went into the library. He knew he had offended her and he knew exactly how he had offended her. There are silences that can be more hurting than speech—yet what could he have said? He rummaged in his mind to find something he might have said and could find nothing more appropriate than a remark about the weather and the fineness of the night. Yet a bald and decrepit remark like that would have been as bad almost as silence, for it would have ignored the main point at issue—the night-wandering of his ward.
He sat down again for a moment in the armchair by the fireplace and began to wrestle with the position in which he found himself. This was a small business, but if Phyl in the future was to do things that he did not approve of it would be his plain duty to remonstrate with her. An odious position for youth to be placed in. How she would loathe and hate him!
Pinckney, though a man of the world in many ways and a good business man, was still at heart a boy just as young as Phyl; even in years he was very little older than she, and the boy side of his mind was in full revolt at the job set before him by fate.
Then he came to a resolution.
"She can do jolly well what she pleases," said he to himself, "without my interference. Aunt Maria can attend to that. My business will be to look after her property and keep sharks off it. I'm not going to set up in business to tell a girl what she ought or oughtn't to do—that's a woman's job."
Satisfied with this seeming solution of the difficulty he went to bed.
Meanwhile, Phyl, having marched off with the book under her arm found, when she reached her room, that she had forgotten a matchbox, and, too proud to return to the hall for one, went to bed in the dark.
She lay awake for an hour, her mind obsessed by thoughts of this man who had suddenly stepped into her life, and who possessed such a strange power to disturb her being and fill it with feelings of unrest, irritation and, strangely enough, a vague attraction.
The attraction one might fancy the iron to feel for the distant magnet, or the floating stick for the far-off whirlpool.
Then she fell asleep and dreamed that they were at dinner and Mr. Hennessey was waiting at table. Her father was there and, before the dream converted itself into something equally fatuous she heard Pinckney's voice, also in the dream; he seemed looking for her in the hall and he was calling to her, "Phyl—Phyl!"
Next morning came with a burst of sunshine and a windy, cloudless sky. Pinckney, dressing with his window open, could see the park with the rooks wheeling and cawing over the trees, whilst the warm wind brought into the room all sorts of winter scents on the very breath of summer.
This rainy land where the snow rarely comes has all sorts of surprises of climate and character. Nothing is truly logical in Ireland, not even winter. That is what makes the place so delightful to some minds and so perplexing to others.
Hennessey was staying for a day or two to go over accounts and explain the working of the estate to Pinckney.
He was in the hall when the latter came down, and gave him good morning.
"Where's your mistress?" said Hennessey to old Byrne, as they took their seats at the breakfast table.
"Faith, she's been out since six," said Byrne. "She came down threatenin' to skin Rafferty alive for layin' fox thraps in the woods, then she had a bite of bread and butter and a cup of tea Norah made for her, and off she went with Rafferty to hunt out the thraps and take them up. It's little she cares for breakfast."
"I was the same way myself when I was her age," said Hennessey to Pinckney. "Up at four in the morning and out fishing in Dublin Bay—it's well to be young."
"Look here," said the young man, as Byrne left the room, "she was out till eleven last night in the woods; she knocked me up as I was sitting in the library and I let her in. I don't see anything wrong in the business, but all the same, it's not a particularly safe proceeding and I suppose a mother or father would have jawed her—I couldn't. I suppose I showed by my manner that I didn't approve of her being out so late, for she seemed in a huff as she went up to bed. My position is a bit difficult, but I'm hanged if I'm going to do the heavy father or careful mother business. If she was only a boy, I could talk to her like a Dutch uncle, but I don't know anything about girls. I wish—"
Pinckney's wish remained forever unexpressed, for at the moment the door opened and in came Phyl.
Her face was glowing with the morning air and she seemed to have forgotten the business of the night before as she greeted Pinckney and the lawyer and took her place at the table.
"Phyl," said the lawyer, half jocularly, "here's Mr. Pinckney been complaining that you were wandering about all night in the woods, knocking him up to let you in at two o'clock in the morning."
Phyl, who was helping herself to bacon, looked up at Pinckney.
"Oh, you cad," said her eyes. Then she spoke:
"I came in at eleven. If I had known, I would have called up Byrne or one of the servants to let me in."
Pinckney could have slain Hennessey.
"Good gracious," he said. "I wasn't complaining. I only just mentioned the fact."
"The fact that I was out till two," said Phyl, with another upward glance of scorn.
"I never said any such thing. I said eleven."
"It was my loose way of speaking; but, sure, what's the good of getting out of temper?" put in Hennessey. "Mr. Pinckney wasn't meaning anything, but you see, Phyl, it's just this way, your father has made him your guardian."
"My what!" cried the girl.
"Oh, Lord!" said Pinckney, in despair at the blundering way of the other. Then finding himself again and the saving vein of humour, without which man is just a leaden figure:
"Yes, that's it. I'm your guardian. You must on no account go out without my permission, or cough or sneeze without a written permit—Oh, Phyl, don't be thinking nonsense of that sort. I am your guardian, it seems, and by your father's special request, but you are absolutely free to do as you like."
"A nice sort of guardian," put in Hennessey with a grin.
"I am only, really, guardian of your money and your interests," went on the other, "and your welfare. When you came in last night late, I was a bit taken aback and I thought—as a matter of fact, I thought it might be dangerous being out alone in this wild part of the country so late at night, but I did not want to interfere; you can understand, can't you? What I want you to get out of your mind is, that I am that odious thing, a meddling person. I'm not."
Phyl was very white. She had risen from the table and was at the window.
Here was her dream come true of the bearded American who had suddenly appeared to claim her and Kilgobbin and the servants and everything.
Pinckney had not a beard, but he was an American and he had come to claim everything. The word guardian carried such a force and weight and was so filled with fantastic possibilities to the mind of Phyl, that she scarcely heard his soft words and excuses.
Phyl had the Irish trick of running away with ideas and embroidering the most palpable truths with fancies. It was an inheritance from her father, and she stood by the window now unable to speak, with the word "Guardian" ringing in her ears and the idea pressing on her mind like an incubus.
Hennessey had risen up. He was the first to break silence.
"There's no use in meeting troubles half way," said he vaguely. "You and Phyl will get along all right when you know each other better. Come out, the two of you, and we'll go round the grounds and you will be able to see for yourself the state of the house and what repairs are wanting."
"One moment," said Pinckney. "I want to tell Phyl something—I'm going to call you Phyl because I'm your guardian—d'you mind?"
"No," said Phyl, "you can call me anything you like, I suppose."
"I'm not going to call you anything I like—just Phyl— Well, then, I want to tell you what we have to do. It's not my wishes I have to carry out but your father's. He wanted to let this house."
"Yes, that is what he said. He wanted to let it to a good tenant who would look after it till you are of age. I think he was right. You see, you could not live here all alone, and if the place was shut up it would deteriorate."
"It would go to wrack and ruin," said Hennessey.
"And the servants?" said Phyl.
"We will look after them," said Pinckney, "the new tenant might take them on; if not, we'll give them time to get new places."
"Byrne's been here before I was born," said the girl, with dry lips, "so has Mrs. Driscoll. They are part of the place; it would ruin their lives to send them away."
"Well," said Pinckney, "I don't want to be the ogre to ruin their lives; you can do anything you like about them. If the new tenant didn't take them, you might pension them. I want you to be perfectly happy in your mind and I want you to feel that though I am, so to speak, the guardian of your money, still, that money is yours."
She was beginning to understand now that not only was he striving to soothe her feelings and propitiate her, but that he was very much in earnest in this business, and crowding through her mind came a great wave of revulsion against herself.
Phyl's nature was such that whilst always ready to fly into wrath and easily moved to bitter resentment, one touch of kindness, one soft word, had the power to disarm her.
One soft word from an antagonist had the power to wound her far more than a dozen words of bitterness.
Filled now with absolutely superfluous self-reproach, she stood for a moment unable to speak. Then she said, raising her eyes to his:
"I am sure you mean to do what is for the best.—It was stupid of me—"
"Not a bit," said the other, cheerfully. "I want to do the things that will make you happy—that's all. I'm a business man and I know the value of money. Money is just worth the amount of happiness it brings."
"Faith, that's true," said Hennessey, who had taken his seat again and was in the act of lighting a cigar.
"When I was a boy," went on the other. "I was always kept hard up by my father. It was like pulling gum teeth to get the price of a fishing rod out of him. When I think of all the fun I might have bought with a few dollars, it makes me wild. You can't buy fun when you get old; you may buy an opera house or a yacht, but you can't buy the real stuff that makes life worth living."
Phyl glanced out of the window at the park, then as though she had found some inspiration there, she turned to Pinckney.
"If you don't mind about the money, then why don't you let me live here instead of letting the place? I can live here by myself and I would be happy here. I won't be happy if I leave it."
"Well," said Pinckney, "there's your father's wish, first of all."
"I'm sure if he knew how I felt, he wouldn't mind," said Phyl mournfully, turning her gaze again to the park.
"On top of that," went on Pinckney, "there's—your age. Phyl, it wouldn't ever do; it's not I that am saying it, it's custom, the world, society."
Phyl, like the hooked salmon that has taken the gaudy fly, felt a check and recognised that a Power had her in hand, recognised in the light-going and fair-speaking Pinckney something of adamant, a will not to be broken or bent.
She felt for a moment a revolt against herself for having fallen to the lure and allowed herself to come to friendly terms with him. Then this feeling faded a bit. The very young are very weak in the face of constituted authority—besides, there was always at the back of Pinckney her father's wish.
"And then again, on top of that," he went on, "there's the question of your coming to live with us; your father wished it."
"In America!" cried Phyl. "Do you mean I am to live in America?"
"Well, we live there; why not? It's not a bad place to live in—and what else are you to do?"
She could not answer him. This time she saw that the bogey man had got her and no mistake. America to her seemed as far as the moon and far less familiar. If Pinckney had declared that it was necessary for her to die, she would have been a great deal more frightened, but the prospect would not have seemed much more desolate and forbidding and final.
He saw at once the trouble in her mind and guessed the cause. He had a rare intuition for reading minds, and it seemed to him he could read Phyl's as easily as though the outside of her head were clear glass—he had cause to modify this cocksure opinion later on.
"Don't worry," he said. "If you don't like America when you see it, you can come back to Ireland. I daresay we can arrange something; anyhow, don't let us meet troubles half way."
"When am I to go?" said Phyl.
"Sure, Phyl, you can stay as long as you like with us," said Mr. Hennessey. "The doors of 10, Merrion Square, are always open to you, and never will they be shut on you except behind your back."
Pinckney laughed; and a servant coming in to clear the breakfast things, Hennessey led the way from the room to show Pinckney the premises.
They crossed the hall, and passing through a green-baize covered door went down a passage that led to the kitchen.
"This is the housekeeper's room," said Hennessey, pointing to a half open door, "and the servants' hall is that door beyond. This is the kitchen."
They paused for a moment in the great old-fashioned kitchen, with an open range capable of roasting a small ox, one might have fancied. Norah, the cook, was busy in the scullery with her sleeves tucked up, and under the table was seated Susie Gallagher, a small and grubby hanger-on engaged in the task of washing potatoes. The potatoes were beside her on the floor and she was washing them in a tin basin of water with the help of an old nail-brush.
There was a horse-shoe hung up, for luck, on the wall over the range, and a pile of dinner plates, from last night's dinner and still unwashed, stood on the dresser, where also stood a half-bottle of Guinness' stout and a tumbler; an old setter bitch lay before the fire and a jackdaw in a wicker cage set up a yell at the sight of the visitors, that brought Norah out of the scullery to receive them, a broad smile on her face and her arms tucked up in her apron.
"He always yells like that at the sight of tramps or stray people about," apologised the cook. "He's better than a watch-dog. Hold your tongue, you baste; don't you know your misthress when you see her?"
"Rafferty caught him in the park," said Phyl, "and cut his tongue with a sixpence so as to make him able to speak."
They left the kitchen and came into the yard. A big tin can of refuse was standing by the kitchen door, and on top of all sorts of rubbish, potato peelings, cabbage stalks and so forth, lay the carcass of a boiled fowl. It was the fowl they had dined off the night before and it lay there just as it had gone from the table, that is to say, minus both wings and the greater part of the breast, but with the legs intact.
Pinckney stared at this sinful sight. Then he pointed to it.
"What's that doing there?" he asked.
"Waitin' to be took away be the stable boy, sor," replied the cook, who had followed them to the door. "All the rubbish is took away in that ould can every mornin'."
"Good God!" said Pinckney under his breath. The expression was shaken out of him, so to speak, and out of a pocket of his character which had never been fully explored, of whose existence, indeed, he was not particularly aware. This Irish expedition was to show him a good many things in life and in himself of which up to this he had been in ignorance. He had never been brought face to face with waste, bald waste without a hat on or covering of any sort, before.
"Haven't you any poor people about here?" he asked.
Pinckney was on the point of saying something more, but he checked himself, remembering that in the eyes of the servants he was here in the position of a guest.
He followed Hennessey across to the stable yard, where Larry, the groom, was washing the carriage that had fetched him from the station the night before.
"The servants won't eat chicken," said Phyl, in an apologetic way. She had noted everything and she guessed his thoughts. "They won't eat game either—and they throw things away if they don't like them—of course, it's wasteful, but they do give things to the poor. Lots of poor people come here, every day nearly, but they don't care for scraps—you see, it is insulting to give a poor person scraps, just as though they were animals. I remember the cook we had before Norah did it when she came first, and all the poor people stopped coming to the house. Said she ought to know better than to offer them the leavings."
"Well, I don't know," said Phyl. "We've done it for hundreds of years."
She closed her mouth in a way she had when she did not wish to pursue a subject further. Despite the fact that she had made friends with Pinckney, she was galled by his attitude of criticism. Guardian or no guardian, he was a stranger; relation or no relation, he was a stranger, and what right had a stranger to dare to come and turn up his nose at the poor people or make remarks—he hadn't said a word—about the wastefulness of the servants?
The redoubtable Rafferty was standing in the yard chewing a straw and watching Larry at work.
Rafferty was a man of genius, who had started as a helper and odd job person, and had risen to the position of factotum. He had ousted the Scotch gardener and insinuated a relation of his own in his place. There was scarcely a servant about the estate that was not a relation of Rafferty's. Philip Berknowles had put up with a lot from Rafferty simply because Rafferty was an invaluable person in his way when not crossed. Everything went smoothly when the factotum was not interfered with. Cross him and there were immediate results ranging from ill-groomed horses to general unrest. He was a dark individual, half groom, half game-keeper in dress, a "wicked-looking divil," according to the description of his enemies, and an exceedingly foxy-looking individual in the eyes of Pinckney.
"Rafferty," said Mr. Hennessey, "I want to show this gentleman round. Let's see the stables."
Rafferty touched his cap and led the way, showing first the stalls and boxes where four or five horses were stabled, and then leading the way through the coach-house to the path from which opened the kitchen gardens.
They were immense and walled in with red brick, capable, one might fancy, of supplying the wants of three or four houses the size of Kilgobbin.
Pinckney noted this fact, also that the home farm to which the kitchen gardens led was apparently a prosperous and going little concern, with its fowls and chickens penned or loose, styes filled with grunting pigs, and turkeys gobbling and spreading their tails in the sun.
"Who looks after all this?" asked Pinckney.
"I do, sor," replied Rafferty.
"What are the takings?"
"I beg your pardon, sor?"
"The profits, I mean. You sell these things, don't you?"
"Kilgobbin isn't a farm, sor, it's a gintleman's estate."
Pinckney, not at all set back by this snub, turned and looked the factotum in the face.
"Just so," said he, "but I've never heard of gentlemen growing pigs to look at; peacocks, maybe, but not pigs. However, we'll have another look at the business later."
He turned and they went on, Rafferty disturbed in his mind and much put about by the manner of the other in whom he began to divine something more than a casual guest, Phyl almost as much put out as Rafferty.
The idea that the factotum might have been robbing her father right and left never occurred to her; even if it had, it would not have softened the fact that a strange hand was at work in her old home turning over things, inspecting them, holding them up for comment.
She managed to drop behind as they left the farm yard for the paddocks, then turning down the yew lane that led back to the house, she ran as though hounds were after her, reached the house, locked herself in her bedroom, and flung herself on the bed in a tempest of weeping, dragging a pillow over her head as if to shield herself from the blows that the world was aiming at her.
Phyl, without mother, brothers or sisters, had centred all her affection on her father and Kilgobbin; the servants, the place itself and all the things and people about it were part and parcel with her life, and the death of her father had intensified her love of the place and the people.
If Pinckney had only known, he might have put the business of the inspection of the property and the dealing with the servants into other hands, but Pinckney was young and full of energy and business ability; he was full of conscientiousness and the determination to protect his ward's interests; he had scented a rogue in Rafferty, and at this very minute returning to the house with Hennessey, he was declaring his intention to make an overhaul of the working of the estate.
Rafferty was to appear before him and produce his accounts and make explanations. Mrs. Driscoll was to be examined as to the expenditure, etc.
He little knew the hornet's nest into which he was about to poke his finger.
The grand inquisition began that evening after dinner—Phyl did not appear at dinner, alleging a headache—and Rafferty, summoned to the library, had to stand whilst Pinckney, seated at the table with a pen in his hand and a sheet of paper before him, went into the business of accounts.
Mark how the unexpected occurs in life. Rafferty, who had been pilfering for years, selling garden produce and keeping the profits, robbing corn from the corn bin in the stable, poaching and selling birds and ground game to a dealer in Arranakilty, receiving illicit commissions and so forth, had on the death of his master shaken off all restraint and prepared for a campaign of open plunder. The very last thing he could have imagined was the sudden appearance of an American business man on the scene, armed with absolute power and possessing the eye of a hawk.
"Your master asked me just before he died to look after this estate," began Pinckney; "in fact, he has appointed me to act as guardian to Miss Berknowles, so I just want to see how things stand. Now, to begin with the horses. I want to know everything about the stables during the last—shall we say—six months. Who supplies the corn and the hay and the straw?"
"I've been gettin' some from Faulkner of Arranakilty, sor, and some from Doyle of Bally-brack."
"Don't you grow any horse food on the estate?"
"We don't grow no corn, sor."
"Well, hay and straw?"
"You can't get straw, sor, widout you grow corn."
"I know that—but how about hay—surely you grow lots of grass?"
"We graze the grass, sor."
"Do you let the grazing?"
"Well, sor, it's this way; the masther was never very shtrict about the grazin'; we puts some of the horses out to grass, ourselves, and we lets poor folk have a bit of grazin' now and then for their cattle, though master was never after makin' money from the estate—"
"Just so. Have you the receipted bills for the fodder during the last six months?"
"Yes, sor. The master always sent me wid the money to pay the bills."
"You have got the receipts?"
"The which, sor?"
"The bills receipted."
"Bills, sure, what's the good of keepin' bills, sor, when the money's paid. I b'lave they're somewhere in an ould crock in the stable, at laste that's where I saw thim last."
"Well," said Pinckney, "you can fetch them for me to-morrow morning, and now let's talk about the garden."
Rafferty, not knowing what Pinckney might discover and so being unable to lie with confidence, had a very bad quarter of an hour over the garden.
Pinckney was not a man to press another unduly, nor was he a man to haggle about halfpence or worry servants over small peccadillos. He knew quite well that grooms are grooms, and will be so as long as men are men. He would never have bothered about little details had Rafferty been an ordinary servant. He recognised in Rafferty, not a servant to be dismissed or corrected, but an antagonist to be fought. It was the case of the dog and badger. Rafferty was Graft and all it implies, Pinckney was Straight Dealing. And Straight Dealing knew quite well that the only way to get Graft by the throat is to ferret out details, no matter how small.
So Rafferty was taken over details. He had to admit that he had "given away" some of the stuff from the garden and sold "a bit," sending it up to Dublin for that purpose; but he was not to be caught.
"And the profits," said Pinckney. "I suppose you handed them over to Mr. Berknowles?"
"No, sor; the master always tould me to keep any bit of money I might draa from anything I planted extra for me perkisites, that was the understandin' I had with him."
"And over the farmyard, I suppose anything you could make by selling any extra animals you planted was your perquisite?"
"Very well, Rafferty, that will do for to-night; get me those receipted bills to-morrow morning. Come here at ten o'clock and we will have another talk."
Rafferty went off, feeling more comfortable in his mind.
The word Perquisites might be made to cover a multitude of sins, but he would not have been so easy if he had known that Mrs. Driscoll had been called up immediately after his departure. Mrs. Driscoll was one of those terrible people who say nothing yet see everything; for the last year and a half she had been watching Rafferty; knowing it to be quite useless to report what she knew to her easy-going master, she had, none the less, kept on watching. As a result, she was now able to bring up a hard fact, a small hard fact more valuable than worlds of ductile evidence. Rafferty had "nicked"—it was the lady's expression—a brand-new lawn mower.
"I declare to God, sir, I don't know what he has took, for me eyes can't be everywhere, but I do know he's took the mower."
"Why did you not tell Miss Phyl?"
"I did, sir, and she only said, 'Oh, there must be a mistake—what would he be doin' with it,' says she. 'Sellin' it,' says I. 'Nonsense,' says she. You see, sir, Rafferty and she has always been hand in glove, what with the fishin' and shootin', and the horses and such like, and she won't hear a word against him."
Mrs. Driscoll had called Rafferty a sly devil—he was.
At eleven o'clock next morning, Phyl, crossing the stable yard with some sugar for the horses, met Rafferty. He was crying.
"Why, what on earth's the matter, Rafferty?" asked the girl.
"I've got the shove, miss," replied Rafferty, "after all me years of service, I'm put out to end me days in a ditch."
"You mean you're discharged!" she cried. "Was it Mr. Pinckney?"
"That's him," replied Rafferty. "Says he's the masther of us all. 'Out you get,' says he, 'or it's I that'll be callin' a p'leeceman to put you,' says he. Flung it in me face that I'd stolen a laan mower. Me that's ben on the estate man and boy for forty year. A laan mower! Sure, Miss Phyl, what would I be doin' with a laan mower?"
Phyl turned from him and ran to the house. Pinckney and Hennessey were seated in the library when the door burst open and in came Phyl. Her eyes were bright and her lips were pale.
"You told me you would keep all the servants," said she. "Rafferty tells me you have dismissed him."
"I should think I had," said Pinckney lightly, and not gauging the mad disturbance of the other, "and it's lucky for him I haven't put him in prison."
The word prison was all that was wanted to fire the mine. Pinckney stood for a moment aghast at the change in the girl.
"I hate you," she cried, coming a step closer to him. "I loathe you—master of us all, are you? Dare to touch any one here and I'll burn the house down with my own hands—you—you—"
She paused for want of breath, her chest heaving and her hands clenched.
Then Pinckney exploded.
The good old fiery Pinckney blood was up. Oh, without any manner of doubt our ancestors are still able to speak, and it was old Roderick Pinckney—"Pepper Pinckney" was his nickname—that blazed out now. It was also the fire of youth answering the fire of youth.
"Damn it!" he cried. "I've come here to do my best—I don't care—keep who you want—be robbed if you like it—I'm off—" He caught up all the sheets of paper he had been covering with figures and tore them across.
"Beast!" cried Phyl.
She rushed from the room and upstairs like a mad creature. The bang of her bedroom door closed the incident.
"Now don't be taking on so," said Hennessey. "You've both of you lost your temper."
"Lost my temper—maybe. I'm going all the same. Right back to the States. I'm off to Dublin by the next train and you'd better come and finish the business there. You'd better have her to stay with you in Dublin. I don't want to see her again. Anyhow, we'll settle all that later."
"Maybe that's the best," said Hennessey. "My wife will look after her till she's ready to go to the States—if she wants to."
"Please God she doesn't," replied the other.
Phyl did not see Pinckney again. He went off to Dublin by the two-ten train with Hennessey, the latter promising to be back on the morrow to arrange things.
Dublin can never have been a cheerful city. Even in the days when the butchers joined in street fights and hung their antagonists when caught on steel hooks—like legs of mutton—the gaiety of Dublin one may fancy to have been more a matter of spirits than of spirit.
Echoes from the days when the Parliament sat in Stephen's Green come down to us through the works of Charles Lever, but the riotous gaiety of the old days when Barrington was a judge of the Admiralty Court, the Hell Fire Club an institution, and Count Considine a figure in society, must be taken with a grain of salt.
Mangan shows you the old Dublin as it was in those glorious times, and in the new Dublin of to-day the shade of Mangan seems still to walk arm in arm with the shade of Mathurin. Gloomy ghosts addicted to melancholy, noting with satisfaction that the streets are as dirty as ever, the old Public Houses still standing, that, despite the tramways—those extraordinary new modern inventions—the tide of life runs pretty much the same as of old. The ghosts of Mangan and Mathurin have never seen a taxi cab.
Dublin at the present day is a splendid city for old ghosts to wander in without having their corns trodden on or their susceptibilities injured. Phyl had come to Dublin to live with the Hennesseys in Merrion Square.
"Never shall my door be shut on you except behind your back," Hennessey had said, and he meant it.
The girl was worth several thousand a year; had she been penniless it would have been just the same.
You may meet many geniuses in your journey through life, many brilliant people, many beautiful people, many fascinating people, but you will not meet many friends. Hennessey belonged to the society of Friends, his wife was a member of the same community, and he would have been ruined only for his partner Niven, who was an ordinary lowdown human creature who believed in no one and kept the business together.
On the day of her arrival at Merrion Square and during her first interview with Mrs. Hennessey in the large, cheerless drawing-room where decalcomanied flower pots lingered like relics of the Palaeolithic age of Art, Phyl kept herself above tears, just as a swimmer keeps his head above water in a choppy sea.
It was all so gloomy, yet so friendly, that the mind could not openly revolt at the gloom; it was all so different from the wind and trees and freedom of Kilgobbin, and Mrs. Hennessey, whom she had only seen once before, was so different, on closer acquaintance, from any of the people she had hitherto met in her little world.
Mrs. Hennessey, with a soul above dust and housekeeping, a faded woman, not very tidy, with an exalted air, pouring out tea from a Britannia metal ware teapot and talking all the time about Willy Yeates, the Irish Players and Lady Gregory's last play, fascinated the girl, who did not know who Willy Yeates was and who had never seen the Irish Players.
Nor could she learn from Mrs. Hennessey. It was impossible to get a word in edgeways with that lady. Sometimes, indeed, during a lull in her mind disturbance, she would remain quiet whilst you answered some question, only to find that she had totally forgotten the question and was not listening to your reply.
Phyl got so used to Mrs. Hennessey after a few days that she did not listen to her questions, and so the two being matched, they got on well together. Young people soon accommodate themselves to their surroundings, and in a month the girl had grown to the colour of her new life, at least, on the outside of her mind. It seemed to her that she had lived years in Merrion Square. Kilgobbin—Hennessey had managed to let the place—seemed a dream of her childhood. She saw no future, and rebellion was impossible; there was nothing to rebel against—except the dulness and greyness of life. No people could have been kinder than the Hennesseys; unfortunately they had numerous friends, and the friends of the Hennesseys did not appeal to Phyl.
A boy in her position would have adapted himself quickly enough, and been hail fellow well met with Mr. Mattram, the dentist of Westland Row, or the young Farrels, whose father owned one of the biggest wine merchants' businesses in the city; but the feminine instinct told Phyl that these were not the sort of people from whose class she had sprung, that their circle was not her circle and that she had stepped down in life in some mysterious way. This fact was brought sharply home to her by a young Farrel, a male of the Farrel brood, a hobbledehoy, good-looking enough but with a Dublin accent and a cheeky manner.
This immature wine merchant at a party given by Mrs. Hennessey had made love to Phyl and had tried to kiss her behind the dining-room door.
The recollection of the smack in the face she had given him soothed her that night as she lay tossing in her bed, and it was on this night and for the first time since she left Kilgobbin that the recollection of Pinckney came before her otherwise than as a shadow. He stood with the Hennessey circle as his background, a bright, good-looking figure and a gentleman to his finger-tips.
Why had she cast aside her own people—even though they were distant relations? What stupidity had caused her to insult Pinckney by telling him she hated him? She found herself asking that question without being able to answer it.
After all that fuss at Kilgobbin and Pinckney's departure, Mr. Hennessey had proved to her that Rafferty was a rogue who deserved no quarter; the man had been dismissed, the whole business was done with and over, and now, looking back in cool blood, she was utterly unable to reconstruct and put together the reasons for the outburst of anger that had severed her from the one kinsman who had put out his hand to help her.
She could no longer conjure up the feeling that Pinckney was an interloper come to break up Kilgobbin and spoil the home she had known from childhood.
Fate had done that. Kilgobbin was gone—let to strangers; Hennessey had taken over her guardianship pro tem, and it was entirely owing to herself that she was in her present position. She had no right to criticise the friends of the Hennesseys; she had deliberately walked into that circle from which she felt she never could escape now.
Just as Pinckney had discovered that guardianship was showing him traits in his character hitherto unknown to him, Phyl was discovering her woman's instinct as regards social matters.
She recognised that once having taken her place amongst the Hennessey set, her position for life was fixed, as far as Ireland was concerned. She was branded.
The Berknowles were an old family, but she was the last of them. The relatives living in the south could be no help to her; they were poor, rabid Catholics and had fallen to little account, owing to unwise marriages and that irresponsible fatuous apathy in affairs which is the dry rot of Ireland and the Irish people. They were proud as Lucifer, but no one was proud of them.
If only Philip Berknowles had been a man to make fast friends amongst his own class, some of those friends might have come to his daughter's rescue now. But Berknowles had lived his own life since the death of his wife, an easy-going country gentleman in a county mostly inhabited by squireens and cottage folk, caring little for the convenances and with no taste for women's society.
Thoughts born of all these facts, some of which were only half understood, filled the mind of the girl as she lay awake with the noise of that raucous party ringing in her ears; and when she fell asleep, it was only to awake with a sense of despondency weighing upon her and the odious Farrel incident waiting to follow her through the day.
About a week later, coming down to breakfast one morning, she found a letter on her plate. A letter with American stamps on it and the address, Miss Phylice Berknowles, Merrion Square, Dublin, Ireland, written in a firm, bold hand.
Mrs. Hennessey was not down and Mr. Hennessey had departed for the office, so Phyl had the breakfast table to herself—and the letter.
She knew at once whom it was from, even before she read the postmark, "Charleston."
Pinckney, the man who had been in her thoughts during the past six or seven days, the man who had left Ireland righteously disgusted with her, the man to whom she had said, "I hate you!"