THE RED HAND OF ULSTER
G. A. BIRMINGHAM
AUTHOR OF "SPANISH GOLD," "THE MAJOR'S NIECE," "PRISCILLA'S SPIES," ETC.
HODDER & STOUGHTON
GEORGE H. DORAN COMPANY
By George H. Doran Company
UNIFORM EDITION of the WORKS of G. A. BIRMINGHAM
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LALAGE'S LOVERS SPANISH GOLD THE SEARCH PARTY THE SIMPKINS PLOT THE MAJOR'S NIECE PRISCILLA'S SPIES THE RED HAND OF ULSTER
GEORGE H. DORAN COMPANY NEW YORK
In a book of this kind some of the characters are necessarily placed in the positions occupied by living men; but no character is in any way copied from life, and no character must be taken as representing any real person. Nor must the opinions of Lord Kilmore of Errigal, the imaginary narrator of the tale, be regarded as those of the Author.
G. A. B.
LORD KILMORE OF ERRIGAL
The events recorded in this chapter and the next did not fall under my own observation. I derived my knowledge of them from various sources, chiefly from conversations with Bob Power, who had, as will appear, first-hand knowledge. In the third chapter I begin my own personal narrative of the events which led up to the final struggle of Ulster against Home Rule and of the struggle itself. Accidents of one kind or another, the accidents of the situation of Kilmore Castle, the accident of Bob Power's connection with my daughter Marion, the accidents of my social position and personal tastes, have placed me in a position to give a very full account of what actually happened. The first two chapters of this book will therefore be written in the impersonal manner of the ordinary history; I myself occupying the position of unseen spectator. The rest of the book is largely founded upon the diary which I actually kept.
THE RED HAND OF ULSTER
It was in 1908 that Joseph Peterson Conroy burst upon London in the full magnificence of his astounding wealth. English society was, and had been for many years, accustomed to the irruption of millionaires, American or South African. Our aristocracy has learnt to pay these potentates the respect which is their due. Well-born men and women trot along Park Lane in obedience to the hooting calls of motor horns. No one considers himself degraded by grovelling before a plutocrat.
It has been for some time difficult to startle London by a display of mere wealth. Men respect more than ever fortunes which are reckoned in millions, though they have become too common to amaze. But Joseph Peterson Conroy, when he came, excited a great deal of interest. In the first place his income was enormous, larger, it was said, than the income of any other living man. In the next place he spent it very splendidly. There were no entertainments given in London during the years 1909, 1910, and 1911, equal in extravagance to those which Conroy gave. He outdid the "freak dinners" of New York. He invented freak dinners of his own. His horses—animals which he bought at enormous prices—won the great races. His yachts flew the white ensign of the Royal Yacht Squadron. His gifts to fashionable charities were princely. English society fell at his feet and worshipped him. The most exclusive clubs were honoured by his desire of membership. Women whose fathers and husbands bore famous names were proud to boast of his friendship.
It cannot be said that Conroy abused either his position or his opportunities. He had won his great wealth honestly—that is to say without robbing any one except other robbers, and only robbing them in ways permitted by American law. He used what he had won honourably enough. He neither bought the favours of the women who thronged his entertainments; nor degraded, more than was necessary, the men who sought benefits from him. For a time, for nearly four years, he thoroughly enjoyed himself, exulting with boyish delight in his own splendour. Then he began to get restless. The things he did, the people he knew, ceased to interest him. It was early in 1911 that the crisis came; and before the season of that year was over Conroy had disappeared from London. His name still appeared occasionally in the columns which the newspapers devote to fashionable intelligence. But the house in Park Lane—the scene of many magnificent entertainments—was sold. The dinner parties, balls and card parties ceased; and Conroy entered upon what must have been the most exciting period of his life.
Bob Power—no one ever called him Robert—belonged to an old and respected Irish family, being a younger son of General Power of Kilfenora. He was educated at Harrow and afterwards at Trinity College. He was called to the Irish bar and might have achieved in time the comfortable mediocrity of a County Court judgeship if he had not become Conroy's private secretary. The post was secured for him by an uncle who had known Conroy in New York in the days before he became a millionaire, while it was still possible for an ordinary man to do him a favour. Bob accepted the post because everybody said he would be a fool to refuse it. He did not much like writing letters. The making out of schemes for the arrangements of Conroy's guests at the more formal dinner parties worried him. The general supervision of the upper servants was no delight to him. But he did all these things fairly well, and his unfailing good spirits carried him safely through periods of very tiresome duty. He became, in spite of the twenty-five years' difference of age between him and his patron, the intimate friend of Joseph Peterson Conroy.
It was to Bob that Conroy confided the fact that he was tired of the life of a leader of English society. The two men were sitting together in the smoking room at one o'clock in the morning after one of Conroy's most magnificent entertainments.
"I'm damned well sick of all this," said Conroy suddenly.
"So am I," said Bob.
Bob Power was a man of adventurous disposition. He had a reputation in Connacht as a singularly bold rider to hounds. The story of his singlehanded cruise round Ireland in a ten tonner will be told among yachtsmen until his son does something more extravagantly idiotic. The London season always bored him. The atmosphere of Conroy's house in Park Lane stifled him.
"Is there any one thing left in this rotten old world," said Conroy, "that's worth doing?"
In Bob's opinion there were several things very well worth doing. He suggested one of them at once.
"Let's get out the Finola," he said, "and go for a cruise. We've never done the South Sea Islands."
The Finola was the largest of Conroy's yachts, a handsome vessel of something over a thousand tons.
"Cruising in the Finola," said Conroy, "is no earthly good to me. What I want is something that will put me into a nervous sweat, the same as I was when I was up against Ikenstein and the railway bosses. My nerves were like damned fiddle strings for a fortnight when I didn't know whether I was going to come out a pauper or the owner of the biggest pile mortal man ever handled."
Bob knew nothing of Ikenstein or the methods by which the pile had been wrested from him and his companions, but he did know the sensations which Conroy described. He, himself, arrived at them by hanging on to a sea anchor in a gale of wind off the Galway coast, or pushing a vicious horse at a nasty jump. Nervous sweat, stretched nerves and complete uncertainty about the immediate future afford the same delight however you get at them. He sympathized with Conroy.
"You might fit out a ship or two and try exploring round the South Pole," Bob said. "They've got the thing itself of course, but there must be lots of places still undiscovered in the neighbourhood. I should think that hummocking along over the ice floes in a dog sledge must be pretty thrilling."
"I'm too fat," he said, "and I'm too darned soft. The kind of life I've led for the last four years isn't good training for camping out on icebergs and feeding on whale's blubber."
Bob smiled. Conroy was a very fat man. A camping party on an iceberg would be likely to end in some whale eating his blubber.
"I didn't mean you to go yourself," said Bob.
"Oh! I see. I'm to fit out the expedition and you are to go in command. I don't quite see where the fun would come in for me. It wouldn't excite me any to hear of your shooting Esquimaux and penguins. I shouldn't care enough whether you lived or were froze to get any excitement out of a show of that kind."
"We'd call it 'The Joseph P. Conroy Expedition,'" said Bob; "and the newspapers—"
"Thanks. But I'm pretty well fed up with newspaper tosh. The press has boosted me ever since I landed in this country, and I'd just as soon they stopped now as started fresh."
Bob relinquished the idea of a Polar expedition with a sigh.
It was Conroy himself who made the next suggestion.
"If politics weren't such a rotten game—"
Bob did not feel attracted to political life; but he was loyal to his patron.
"Clithering," he said, "was talking to me to-night. You know the man I mean, Sir Samuel Clithering. He's not in the Cabinet, but he's what I'd call a pretty intimate hanger on; does odd jobs for the Prime Minister. He said the interest of political life was absorbing."
"I shouldn't care for it," said Conroy. "After all, what would it be worth to me? There's nothing for me to gain, and I don't see how I could lose anything. It would be like playing bridge for counters. They might make me a lord, of course. A title is about the only thing I haven't got, but then I don't want it."
"I quite agree with you," said Bob. "I merely mentioned politics because Clithering said—"
"Besides," said Conroy, "it wouldn't be my politics. England isn't my country."
"It would be rather exciting," said Bob, "to run a revolution somewhere. There are lots of small states, in the Balkans, you know, which could be turned inside out and upside down by a man with the amount of money you have."
"There's something in that notion," said Conroy. "Get a map, will you?"
Bob Power did not want to go wandering round the house at half-past one o'clock in the morning looking for a map of the Balkan States. It seemed to him that the idea—the financing of a revolution was of course a joke—might be worked out with reference to some country nearer at hand, the geographical conditions of which would be sufficiently well known without the aid of a map.
"Why not try Ireland?" he said.
Then a very curious thing happened. Conroy's appearance, not merely his expression but his actual features seemed to change. Instead of the shrewd face of a successful American financier Bob Power saw the face of an Irish peasant. He was perfectly familiar with the type. It was one which he had known all his life. He knew it at its best, expressive of lofty idealisms and fantastic dreams of things beyond this world's experience. He knew it at its worst too, when narrow cunning and unquenchable bitterness transform it. The change passed over Conroy's face and then quickly passed away again.
"By God!" said Conroy, "it's a great notion. To buck against the British Lion!"
Bob remembered the things which he had heard and half heeded about Conroy's ancestry. In 1850 another Conroy, a broken peasant, the victim of evil fate and gross injustice, had left Ireland in an emigrant ship with a ragged wife and four half starved children clinging to him, with an unquenchable hatred of England in his heart. The hate, it appeared, had lived on in his son, had broken out again in a grandson, dominating the cynical cosmopolitanism of the financial magnate. Bob was vaguely uneasy. He did not like the expression he had seen on Conroy's face. He did not like the tone in which he spoke. But it was obviously absurd to suppose that any one could take seriously the idea of financing an Irish revolution.
Then Conroy began to talk about Ireland. He knew, it appeared, a great deal about the history of the country up to a certain point. He had a traditional knowledge of the horrors of the famine period. He was intimately acquainted with the details of the Fenian movement. Either he or his father had been a member of the Clan na Gael. He understood the Parnell struggle for Home Rule. But with the fall of Parnell his knowledge stopped abruptly. Of all that happened after that he knew nothing. He supposed that the later Irish leaders had inherited the traditions of Mitchel, O'Leary, Davitt and the others. Bob laughed at him.
"If you're thinking of buying guns for the Nationalists," he said, "you may save your money. They wouldn't use them if they had arsenals full. They're quite the most loyal men there are nowadays. Why wouldn't they? They've got most of what they want and Clithering told me the Home Rule Bill was going to knit their hearts to the Empire. Awful rot, of course, but his very words."
"What do you mean?" said Conroy.
Bob laughed again. He had all the contempt common in his class for those of his fellow-countrymen who professed to be Nationalists. But he had rather more intelligence than most Irish gentlemen. He quite realized the absurdity of supposing that the Irish Parliamentary party consisted of men who had in them the makings of rebels.
"Read their speeches," he said. "Since this talk of Home Rule began they've been cracking up the glories of the British Empire like—like the Primrose League."
"To-morrow morning," said Conroy, "you'll fetch me along all the books and pamphlets you can lay hands on dealing with the present state of the Irish question."
"I want a small cart," said Bob.
"Get a four-horse waggon, if you like," said Conroy.
For nearly a week Conroy remained shut up in his study. Bob was kept busy. He spent a good deal of time in writing plausible explanations of Conroy's failure to keep his social engagements. He ransacked the shelves of booksellers for works dealing with contemporary Irish politics. He harried the managers of press-cutting companies for newspaper reports of speeches on Home Rule. These were things for which there was little or no demand, and the press-cutting people resented being asked for them. He even interviewed political leaders. These gentlemen received him coldly at first, suspecting from his appearance that he wanted to get a chance of earning L400 a year as a member of Parliament, and hoped to persuade them to find him a constituency. When they discovered that he was the private secretary of a famous millionaire their manner changed and they explained the policies of their various parties in such ways as seemed likely to draw large cheques from Conroy.
Bob reported what they said, summarized the letters of the disappointed hostesses, and piled Conroy's table with books, pamphlets, and newspaper cuttings. The whole business bored and worried him. The idea that Conroy actually contemplated organizing a rebellion in Ireland never crossed his mind. He hoped that the political enthusiasm of his patron would die away as quickly as it had sprung up. It was therefore a surprise to him when, after a few weeks' hard reading, Conroy announced his decision.
"I'm going into this business," he said.
"Politics?" said Bob.
"Politics be damned! What I'm out for is a revolution."
"You can't do it," said Bob. "I told you at the start that those fellows won't fight. They haven't it in them to stand up and be shot at."
"I'm thinking of the other fellows," said Conroy.
"What other fellows?" he asked.
"Belfast," said Conroy.
"But," he said, "but—but—" The extraordinary nature of the idea made him stammer. "But they are Loyalists."
"As I figure it out," said Conroy, "they mean to rebel. That's what they say, anyhow, and I believe they mean it. I don't care a cent whether they call themselves Loyalists or not. It's up to them to twist the British Lion's tail, and I'm with them."
"Do you think they really mean it?" said Bob.
"Well," said Bob, after a slight hesitation, "I do. You see I happen to know one of them pretty well."
Bob showed political discernment. It was the fashion in England and throughout three-quarters of Ireland to laugh at Belfast. Nobody believed that a community of merchants, manufacturers and artisans actually meant to take up arms, shoot off guns and hack at the bodies of their fellow-men with swords and spears. This thing, at the beginning of the twentieth century, seemed incredible. To politicians it was simply unthinkable. For politics are a game played in strict accordance with a set of rules. For several centuries nobody in these islands had broken the rules. It had come to be regarded as impossible that any one could break them. No one expects his opponent at the bridge table to draw a knife from his pocket and run amuck when the cards go against him. Nobody expected that the north of Ireland Protestants would actually fight. To threaten fighting is, of course, well within the rules of the game, a piece of bluff which any one is entitled to try if he thinks he will gain anything by it. Half the politicians in both countries, and half the inhabitants of England, were laughing at the Belfast bluff. The rest of the politicians and the other half of the inhabitants of England were pretending to believe what Belfast said so as to give an air of more terrific verisimilitude to the bluff. Conroy, guided by the instinct for the true meaning of things which had led him to great wealth, believed that the talk was more than bluff. Bob Power, relying on what he knew of the character of one man, came to the same conclusion.
"Who is the man you know?" said Conroy. "Not Babberly, is it?"
"Oh Lord! no," said Bob. "Babberly is—well, Babberly talks a lot."
"That's so," said Conroy. "But if it isn't Babberly, who is it?"
"McNeice," said Bob, "Gideon McNeice."
"H'm. He's something in some university, isn't he?"
Conroy spoke contemptuously. He had a low opinion of the men who win honours in universities. They seemed to him to be unpractical creatures. He had, indeed, himself founded a university before he left America and handsomely endowed several professorial chairs. But he did so in the spirit which led Dean Swift to found a lunatic asylum. He wanted to provide a kind of hospital for a class of men who ought, for the sake of society, to be secluded, lest their theories should come inconveniently athwart the plans of those who are engaged in the real business of life.
"McNeice," said Bob, "is a Fellow of Trinity College, Dublin. He was my tutor."
Then he told Conroy the story of Gideon McNeice's life as far as he knew it at that time. It was a remarkable story, but not yet, as it became afterwards, strikingly singular.
Gideon was the son of Ebenezer McNeice, a riveter in one of the great shipbuilding yards in Belfast. This Ebenezer was an Orangeman and, on the 12th of July, was accustomed to march long distances over dusty roads beating a big drum with untiring vigour. His Protestantism was a religion of the most definite kind. He rarely went to church, but he hated Popery with a profound earnestness. Gideon was taught, as soon as he could speak, to say, "No Pope, no Priest, no Surrender, Hurrah!" That was the first stage in his education. The second was taken at a National school where he learned the multiplication table and the decimal system with unusual ease. The master of a second-rate intermediate school heard of the boy's ability. Being anxious to earn the fees which a generous government gives to the masters of clever boys, this man offered to continue Gideon's education without asking payment from Ebenezer. The speculation turned out well. Gideon did more than was expected of him. He won all the exhibitions, medals and prizes possible under the Irish Intermediate system. At last he won a mathematical sizarship in Trinity College.
Belfast—perhaps because of the religious atmosphere of the city, perhaps because of the interest taken by its inhabitants in money-making—has not given to the world many eminent poets, philosophers or scholars. Nor, curiously enough, has it ever produced an eminent theologian, or even a heretic of any reputation. But it has given birth to several mathematicians of quite respectable standing. Gideon McNeice was one of them. After the sizarship he won a scholarship, and then, at an unusually early age, a fellowship. It is generally believed that the examination for fellowship in Trinity College in Dublin is so severe that no one who is successful in it is ever good for anything afterwards. Having once passed that examination men are said to settle down into a condition of exhausted mediocrity. Gideon McNeice proved to be an exception to the rule. Having won his fellowship and thereby demonstrated to the world that he knew all that there is to know about the science of mathematics, he at once turned to theology. Theology, since he lived in Ireland, led him straight to politics. He became one of the fighting men of the Irish Unionist party. He also, chiefly because of his very bad manners, became very unpopular among the fellows and professors of the College.
It must not be supposed that he had the smallest sympathy with the unfortunate Irish aristocracy, who, having like the Bourbons failed either to learn or to forget, still repeat the watch-words of long-past centuries and are greatly surprised that no one can be found to listen to them. Gideon McNeice's Unionism was of a much more vigorous and militant kind. He respected England and had no objection to singing "God save the King" very much out of tune, so long as England and her King were obviously and blatantly on the side of Protestantism. He was quite prepared to substitute some other form of government for our present Imperial system if either the King, his representative the Lord Lieutenant, or the Parliament of Westminster, showed the smallest inclination to consider the feelings of the Roman Catholic hierarchy.
It was thus that Bob Power, who was by no means a fool, described McNeice's character. Conroy was interested.
"I should like," he said, "to see that man and talk to him. Suppose you go over to Dublin to-morrow and bring him here."
"You won't like him," said Bob. "He's—well, domineering is the only word I can think of."
"For that matter," said Conroy, "I am domineering too."
This was true. Conroy had good manners, unusually good manners for a millionaire, but underneath the manners lay a determination to get his own way in small matters as well as great. Bob, who knew both men, expected that they would become deadly enemies in the course of twenty-four hours. He was mistaken. To say that they became friends would be misleading. They probably disliked each other. But they certainly became allies, planned together and worked together the amazing scheme which ended in the last—we are justified in assuming that it really was the last—rebellion of Irishmen against the power of England.
Conroy supplied the money and a great deal of the brains which went to the carrying through of the plan. He had, as a financier with world-wide interests, a knowledge of European markets and manufactures which was very useful if not absolutely necessary. He had, as his inspiration, an extraordinarily vivid hatred of England. This was partly an inheritance from his Irish ancestors, men who had been bullied for centuries and laid the blame of their sufferings on England. Partly it was the result of the contempt he learned to feel for Englishmen while he held his leading position in London society. With McNeice's violent Protestantism he never can have had the smallest sympathy. His ancestors were probably, almost certainly, Roman Catholics. If he professed any form of Christianity it must have been that of some sect unrepresented in England. No one ever heard of his attaching himself, even temporarily, to either church or chapel. McNeice also supplied brains and enthusiasm. His intelligence was narrower than Conroy's, but more intensely concentrated. He knew the men with whom he intended to deal. By birth and early education he belonged to that north Irish democracy which is probably less imaginative and less reasonable but more virile than any other in the world. He believed, as his fathers had believed before him and his relations believed along with him, that the Belfast man has a natural right to govern the world, and only refrains from doing so because he has more important matters to attend to. He believed, and could give excellent reasons in support of his belief, that the other inhabitants of Ireland were meant by providence to be Gibeonites, hewers of wood and drawers of water for the people of Antrim and Down. He had quite as great a contempt for the Unionist landlords, who occasionally spoke beside him on political platforms, as he had for the Nationalist tenants who were wrestling their estates from them.
Bob Power went to Dublin, and with great difficulty persuaded McNeice to pay Conroy a visit in London. For a fortnight the two men remained together, discussing, planning, devising. Others, among them James Crossan, manager of the Kilmore Co-operative Stores, and Grand Master of the Orangemen of the county, were summoned to the conference.
Then the first steps were taken. McNeice went back to Ireland and began, with the aid of James Crossan, his work of organization. Conroy sold his house in London, realized by degrees a considerable part of his large fortune, placed sums of money to his credit in French and German banks and gave over the command of his yacht, the Finola, to Bob Power. From this time on Conroy disappeared from London society. Stories were told in clubs and drawing-rooms about the sayings and doings of "His Royal Magnificence J. P. C.," but these gradually grew stale and no fresh ones were forthcoming. The newspapers still printed from time to time paragraphs which had plainly been sent to them by Conroy himself, but no one at the time took very much interest in them.
"Mr. J. P. Conroy"—so people read—"has gone for a cruise in Mediterranean waters in his steam yacht, the Finola." It did not seem to matter whether he had or not. "Among his guests are—" Then would follow a list of names; but always those of people more eminent than fashionable. The Prime Minister went for a short cruise with him. The Chancellor of the Exchequer went twice. Several admirals, a judge or two, and three or four well-known generals were on board at different times. Once he had two bishops, an Anglican who was known as a profound theologian, and a Roman Catholic prelate from the west of Ireland. The names of women rarely appeared on the list, but the Countess of Moyne was advertised as having accepted Conroy's hospitality twice. She was well placed among the notable men. She was a young woman of singular beauty and great personal charm. She might have been if she had chosen a leader of the society which lives to amuse itself. Her husband's great wealth and high social position would have secured her any place in that world which she chose to take. Being a woman of brains as well as beauty she chose to work instead of play, and had become a force, real though not formally recognized, in political life.
It is a curious instance of the careful way in which Conroy worked out the details of his plans, that he should have used the Finola in this way. The cruises which he took with his eminent guests were always well advertised and always short. But the Finola was kept continually in commission. Her voyages when there were no great people on board were longer, were never advertised, and were much more exciting. But no one suspected, or could have suspected, that a millionaire's yacht, and it the temporary home of the leading members of the governing classes, could have been engaged in a secret trade, highly dangerous to the peace and security of the nation. It is difficult even now to imagine that after landing the Prime Minister and couple of bishops at Cowes the yacht should have started off to keep a midnight appointment with a disreputable tramp steamer in an unfrequented part of the North Sea; that Bob Power, after making himself agreeable for a fortnight to Lady Moyne, should have sweated like a stevedore at the difficult job of transhipping a cargo in mid-ocean.
I now reach the time when I myself came for the first time in touch with Conroy's plans and had my first meeting with Gideon McNeice.
I am an insignificant Irish peer, far from wealthy, with a taste for literature, and, I think, a moderate amount of benevolent feeling towards those of my fellow-men who do not annoy me in any way. I sold the estate, which had long before ceased to be in any real sense my property, immediately after the passing of the Land Act of 1903. I have lived since then chiefly in Kilmore Castle, a delightfully situated residence built by my grandfather, which suits me very well indeed. I have occupied my time for years back in gathering materials for a history of all the Irish rebellions there have ever been. My daughter Marion used to help me in this work, by filing and classifying the various slips of paper on which I made notes. Now that she has got married and cannot help me any more I have given up the idea of finishing my great work. I am satisfying my evil itch for writing by setting down an account of the short struggle between north-eastern Ulster and the rest of the British Empire.
The 5th of June was the day on which I first met Bob Power, first came into contact with McNeice, and first set eyes on the notorious Finola. It was the day fixed by my nephew Godfrey D'Aubigny for the first, for that year, of the series of garden-parties which I give annually. I detest these festivities, and I have every reason to believe that they must be quite as objectionable to my guests as they are to me. It is Godfrey who insists on their being held. He holds that I am bound to do some entertaining in order to keep up my position in the county. I am not in the least interested in my position in the county; but Godfrey is, and, of course, the matter is of some importance to him. He is heir to my title. I used to think and he used to think that he would ultimately enjoy my income too, securing it by marrying my daughter Marion. I am glad to say he has not succeeded in doing this. Marion has married a much better man.
I was sitting in my study after breakfast, fiddling with my papers, but unable to settle down to work. The prospect of the party in the afternoon depressed and irritated me. Godfrey entered the room suddenly through the window. The fact that he is my heir does not seem to me to entitle him to come upon me like a thief in the night. He ought to go to the door of the house, ring the bell, and ask if I am willing to see him.
"Good morning, Excellency," he said, "glorious day, isn't it?"
Godfrey always addressed me as "Excellency." I cannot imagine why he does so. I have never been and never hope to be a Lord Lieutenant or a Colonial Governor. The title is not one which belongs to the office of a deputy lieutenant of a county, the only post of honour which I hold.
"I expect we'll have a pretty good crowd this afternoon," he said. "Lady Moyne is motoring over. But that's not what I came to say to you. The fact is that something rather important has just happened."
"The people in the gate lodge have burst the new boiler I put in for them, I suppose?" This is the kind of thing Godfrey considers important.
"Not that I know of," he said; "but I'll go down and inquire if you think—"
"I don't think anything about the matter," I said. "If it isn't that, what is it that you've come to tell me?"
"A big steam yacht has just anchored in the bay," he said, "the Finola. She belongs to Conroy, the millionaire."
Godfrey is intensely interested in millionaires. He always hopes that he may be able in some way to secure for himself some of their superfluous cash.
"I think," he said, "you ought to go down and leave a card on him. It would only be civil."
"Very well," I said, "you can go and leave my card, if you like."
This was evidently what Godfrey expected me to say. He seemed grateful.
"Very well, Excellency, I'll go at once. I'll invite him and his party to your menagerie this afternoon. I dare say it will amuse them to see the natives."
Godfrey always calls my parties menageries, and my guests natives. Lady Moyne and her husband, who sometimes comes with her, are not counted as natives. Nor am I. Nor is Marion. Nor is Godfrey himself. This illustrates the working of Godfrey's mind. As a matter of fact the Moynes and my own family are about the only people of social importance in the locality who ought to be called natives. My other guests are all strangers, officials of one kind or another, stipendiary magistrates, police officers, bank managers, doctors, clergymen and others whom an unkind fate has temporarily stranded in our neighbourhood; who all look forward to an escape from their exile and a period of leisure retirement in the suburbs of Dublin.
Godfrey left me, and I went on fidgetting with my papers until luncheon-time.
Marion and I were just finishing luncheon when Godfrey came in again.
"Well," I said, "have you captured your millionaire?"
"He wasn't on board," said Godfrey. "There were two men there, Power, who's Conroy's secretary, and a horrid bounder called McNeice. They were drinking bottled stout in the cabin with Crossan."
"Under those circumstances," I said, "you did not, I suppose, leave my cards."
Godfrey has a standing feud with Crossan, who is not a gentleman and does not pretend to be. Godfrey, judged by any rational standard, is even less of a gentleman; but as the future Lord Kilmore he belongs to the ranks of an aristocracy and therefore has a contempt for Crossan. The two come into very frequent contact and quite as frequent conflict. Crossan manages the co-operative store which I started, and Godfrey regards him as one of my servants. Crossan, who has a fine instinct for business, also manages the commercial side of our local mackerel fishing. Godfrey thinks he would manage this better than Crossan does. Their latest feud was concerned with the service of carts which take the fish from our little harbour to the nearest railway station. Crossan is politically a strong Protestant and an Orangeman of high attainment. Godfrey has no particular religion, and in politics belongs to that old-fashioned school of Conservatives who think that the lower orders ought to be respectful to their betters. Crossan having been taught the Church Catechism in his youth, admits this respect as theoretical duty; but gets out of performing it in practice by denying that Godfrey, or for the matter of that any one else, is his better. Godfrey's constant complaints about Crossan are the thorns which remind me that I must not regard my lot in life as altogether pleasant. I felt justified in assuming that Godfrey had not left my cards on men who degraded themselves so far as to drink bottled stout in company with Crossan.
I was wrong. Godfrey did leave my cards. I can only suppose that his respect for the private secretary of a millionaire was stronger than his dislike of Crossan. He had even, it appeared, invited both Power and McNeice to view my "menagerie." For this he felt it necessary to offer some excuse.
"He is one of the Powers of Kilfenora," he said, "so I thought it would be no harm. By the way, Marion, what are you going to wear? I should say that your blue crepe de chine—"
Godfrey is something of an expert in the matter of woman's clothes. Marion, I know, frequently consults him and values his opinion highly. Unfortunately the subject bores me. I cut him short with a remark which was intended for a snub.
"I hope you have a new suit yourself, Godfrey. The occasion is an important one. If both Lady Moyne and Conroy's private secretary are to be here, you ought to look your best."
But it is almost impossible to snub Godfrey. He answered me with a cheerful friendliness which showed that he appreciated my interest in his appearance.
"I have a new grey suit," he said. "It arrived this morning, and it's a capital fit. That's the advantage of employing really good tailors. You can absolutely trust Nicholson and Blackett."
I have often wondered whether Nicholson and Blackett could absolutely trust Godfrey. I have several times paid his debts, and I do not intend to do so any more. If they were debts of an intelligible kind I should not mind paying them occasionally. But Godfrey has no ostensible vices. I have never heard of his doing anything wild or disreputable. He does not gamble or borrow money in order to give jewels to pretty actresses. He owes bills to shop-keepers for ties and trousers. His next remark showed me that Nicholson and Blackett were becoming uneasy.
"By the way, Excellency," he said, "I'd be glad if you'd be civil to the Pringles this afternoon. Get her tea or something."
Mr. Pringle is the manager of the branch of the bank in which Godfrey keeps his account. I imagine that he and his wife owe their invitations to my garden parties to the fact that Godfrey's account is always overdrawn. This demand that I should be especially civil to the Pringles suggested to me that Godfrey contemplated sending a cheque to Nicholson and Blackett. I have no particular objection to being civil to the Pringles. I have to be civil to some one. I readily promised to get both tea and an ice for Mrs. Pringle; hoping that Godfrey would go away. He did not. He began talking again about Marion's blue dress. It was with the greatest difficulty that I got him out of the house half an hour later by saying that if he did not go home at once he would not have time to dress himself with the care which the new grey suit deserved.
It annoys me very much to think Godfrey is heir to my title. It used to annoy me still more to think that Marion meant to marry him. She assures me now that she never intended to; but she used to take an interest in his talk about clothes and he certainly intended to marry her.
There are some churches in which it is considered desirable to keep the sexes apart. The men are placed on one side of the central aisle, the women on the other. At my garden-parties this separation takes place naturally without the intervention of any authority. The men gather in a group under a certain chestnut-tree and talk to each other gloomily in low tones. The women—there are always more women than men—seat themselves in three distinct rows round the sides of the tennis-court. The short row across the top of the tennis-court is reserved by an unwritten, but apparently very strict law for the ladies of the highest social position. The Dean's wife, for instance, sits in that row. The seats at the other end of the court are occupied by people like the Pringles, those who are just eligible for invitations to my parties, but have, so to speak, no social position to spare. They always remind me of St. Paul's "righteous" who "scarcely are saved." The long side of the tennis-court opposite the chestnut-tree, which forms a kind of male seraglio, is given over to those of middling station, ladies who are, perhaps, in a position to shake hands with Lady Moyne, and who do not, perhaps, call on Mrs. Pringle.
To this strictly observed etiquette there are two exceptions. My nephew Godfrey does not stand under the chestnut-tree, but keeps close to the side of Lady Moyne. The other men make it quite clear that they do not want him. No man whom I have ever met can tolerate Godfrey's company. He follows Lady Moyne about because he believes her to be a lady of political influence, and he hopes she will get him a well-paid post under the government. He is one exception. The other is Lady Moyne herself. She declines to sit in a row. She walks about, sometimes walks away from the rest of the party.
My daughter Marion's duty on these occasions is to drag young men from the shelter of the chestnut-tree and make them play tennis with young women called from one or other of the rows in which their mothers have planted them. Marion finds this a difficult duty, requiring her utmost tact. My own duty, which I fulfil in the most conscientious manner, is to make as many complete journeys round the tennis-court as possible, saying something to every lady in all three rows, and giving a kind of general address of a friendly and encouraging kind to the men under the chestnut-tree.
On this particular afternoon two unusual incidents broke the monotony of my party. Lady Moyne refused to be satisfied with the company of Godfrey. She sat down beside the Dean's wife and made herself extremely agreeable for nearly ten minutes. Then she crossed the corner of the tennis-court, seriously interfering with the game in progress, and "cut out" the Dean from the middle of the group of men under the chestnut-tree. "Cut out" is strictly the right phrase to use. It is applied or used to be applied to the operation of capturing and carrying off ships at anchor under the protecting guns of friendly forts. It requires great dash and gallantry to "cut out" a ship. The whole audience gaped in astonishment at Lady Moyne's daring when she captured the Dean. She walked off with him, when she got him, to the shrubbery at the far end of the lawn. They were a singularly ill-assorted pair. Lady Moyne is invariably exquisite, a small woman with dainty ways and great vivacity. The Dean is an ecclesiastic as different as possible from the suave dignitaries who lead lives of scholarly leisure in cathedral closes. We picture the ideal dean, a slender man, slightly stooped, thin-lipped, with a suggestion of mild asceticism in his face. He steps slowly through the long window of his study. He paces the closely shaven lawn. The crows caw reverently in lofty trees. He holds a calf-bound volume of Plato in his hand. From time to time he glances from the cramped Greek text to the noble, weatherworn towers of his cathedral. His life is delicately scented with a fine mixture of classical culture and Tallis' ferial responses. Our Dean—he is also rector of our parish—is a man of a wholly different kind. He is, for one thing, wholly unconnected with any cathedral and has probably never paced a lawn beneath the shadow of historic towers in all his life. This kind of detached, independent dean is not found, I believe, anywhere except in Ireland. He is tall, cadaverous, rugged, and he can open his eyes so wide that the whites of them show all round the irises. Besides being a dean and the rector of our parish, he is honorary Grand Chaplain to the Black Preceptory of the Orange Order. Crossan, a stern judge of ecclesiastics, has the highest opinion of him. It was surmised by a lady in the second row to whom I happened to be talking at the time, that Lady Moyne wanted to consult with him about the best way of defeating the Home Rule Bill. Lady Moyne is, of course, a strong Unionist.
The second unusual incident of the afternoon followed the arrival of Bob Power. He came late, and Godfrey, driven from the side of Lady Moyne, fastened on to him at once. Bob shook him off and joined Marion. Marion, who had her duties to do and could not allow Bob to take possession of her, introduced him to a humble maiden who sat with her mother in the third row. Bob, it appears, selected the damsel himself after looking all round the tennis-court. To the great scandal of every one present he led her away from the tennis-court, and found his way to the garden. There—I judged by the condition of her gloves when they returned—they picked strawberries. I have every reason to believe that Miss Pringle—the girl was the daughter of Godfrey's banker—enjoyed this garden-party as she had never enjoyed one before. She was actually laughing, and was looking very pretty when Bob brought her back to the refreshment tent for tea.
I felt so pleased with Bob for his audacity that I asked him to dine with us. He refused, saying that he would be busy on the yacht, but he promised to call on us next morning.
The garden-party wore itself to an end as even the dreariest festivities always do. Marion and I dined together in a condition of irritable exhaustion. After dinner we played Patience for an hour in the library. Then Marion took a novel, and I settled down to read The Times. The night was very close and we sat with both windows wide open.
The Times had articles and letters on two subjects, the Home Rule Bill, which was a menace to the Empire and a danger to Irish Loyalists; and the German Navy, which was also a menace to the Empire and a danger to every one in the United Kingdom whether loyal or not. After reading the leading articles I passed on to the letters addressed to the editor. These are always, in my opinion, the most interesting part of any newspaper. The editor and leader writers are no doubt abler men than most of their correspondents; but then they write because they must, and they write in a hurry. The correspondents on the other hand write because they have something in them—something foolish as a rule, but none the less interesting—which is struggling for expression in print. They also—being for the most part retired military officers—have abundant leisure and are able to take days, perhaps weeks, in the preparation of their compositions.
In that particular number of The Times, two retired colonels had written letters. One of them was disquieted by the growth of the German Navy. He was uninteresting. The other—a Colonel Malcolmson, whom I meet occasionally at my club—had delivered himself of a plan of campaign, an actual fighting programme, which he recommended to the Ulstermen, supposing that they meant to declare war against any one who wanted them to govern themselves. This letter interested me very much. Malcolmson offered his lawn as a parade and drill ground for volunteers. He also said that he thoroughly understood modern guns, and was prepared to take command of any artillery which Ulster might happen to possess. I lay back in my chair and tried to form a mental picture of Malcolmson, who is stout and has a bristly white moustache, aiming an immense cannon at an income tax collector. The vision was a pleasant one to linger over, and I added to the scene before my mind the figure of an athletic policeman threatening to smash Malcolmson's cannon with a baton. The Nationalist leaders then appeared in the background waving Union Jack flags, and urging the policeman to fresh exertions in the cause of law and order. I even seemed to hear them denouncing Malcolmson as one of those who march through rapine and bloodshed to the dismemberment of an Empire.
I was aroused from my agreeable reverie by Marion. She was standing at the window looking out across the bay on the far shore of which stands the little town of Kilmore, from which my ancestor, who was a Union peer, took his title.
"I wonder what they're doing in the village to-night," she said. "There are a lot of lights moving about in the harbour and on the quay."
I shook myself free of the vision of Malcolmson's artillery duel with the tax collector, and joined Marion at the window. A half moon lit the scene before me dimly, making patches of silver light here and there on the calm waters of the bay. The Finola, looking very large, lay at anchor, broadside on to us, opposite the pier. On her deck lights moved to and fro, yellow stars in the grey gloom. On the pier were more lights, lanterns evidently, some stationary, others flickering in rapid motion. The night was so still that I could hear distinctly the rattle of oars in rowlocks. Boats were plying between the Finola and the shore.
"Can they be landing anything from the yacht?" said Marion.
"I don't think so," I said. "Yachts do not carry cargoes, and if they did they wouldn't land them in the middle of the night."
I looked at my watch. It was almost twelve o'clock. Then another noise was added to the rattling of oars. A cart, unmistakably a cart, lumbered across the stones at the end of the pier. After a while this cart emerged from the black shadows of the houses and we could see it toiling up the hill which leads out of the town. A very slight southerly breeze was setting across the bay from the town to us. We could hear the driver shouting encouragement to his horse as he breasted the hill. The cart was evidently heavily loaded.
"The boats haven't been out," said Marion. "There cannot have been a catch of mackerel."
When there is a catch of mackerel the fish are packed in boxes on the pier, and carts, laden like the one we watched, climb the hill. There is a regularly organized service of those carts under the control of Crossan.
"It can't be fish," I said, "unless the Finola has been making a catch and has come in here to land them."
Another cart bumped its way off the pier, and in a minute or two we saw it climbing the hill. Then the lights on the Finola's deck went out one by one. The boats ceased plying between the yacht and the shore.
"I don't see why they should land fish in the middle of the night," said Marion.
The activity of the people on the pier increased. More lights appeared there and moved very rapidly to and fro.
"Unless they're landing what they're ashamed of," said Marion, "I don't see why they're doing it at night."
Mysteries always irritate me. I answered Marion impatiently.
"You can't be so foolish as to suppose that Conroy is smuggling. It wouldn't be any temptation to a millionaire to cheat the revenue out of the duty on a few pounds of tobacco."
Several more carts followed each other in a slow procession up the hill. It seemed as if Crossan's entire staff of men and horses was engaged in this midnight transport service.
"Mr. Conroy might not know anything about it," said Marion. "It may be done—"
"I don't suppose Bob Power—"
"There was another man on board," said Marion, "and Godfrey seemed to think that he was—well, not a very nice kind of man."
"The fact that Godfrey called him a cad," I said, "rather goes to show that he is a man with a great deal of good in him. Besides, as it happens, I know all about him. His name is McNeice and he is a Fellow of Trinity College. It's ridiculous to suppose that he's landing a cargo of port wine for consumption in the common room. Fellows of College don't do that kind of thing. Besides, he's a good scholar. I had some correspondence with him when I was writing my article on St. Patrick's birthplace. I mean to ask him to dinner to-morrow."
That disposed of Marion and her smuggling theory. She gave me a dutiful kiss and went to bed.
I stood at the window and watched until the last cart had mounted the hill. The lights on the pier went out. A solitary boat rowed back to the Finola. The town and bay were still again.
I shut the window and went back to my chair. I had some thoughts of working up my vision of Malcolmson and his artillery into a short article of a light kind, slightly humorous, with a vein of satire running through it. I sometimes contribute articles of this kind, under a pseudonym, to a London evening paper. Unfortunately my mind refused to return to the subject. I was worried by the impossibility of finding any explanation of the curious proceedings of the Finola. The more I thought about the matter the less I was able to understand it. Marion's smuggling hypothesis I dismissed as inherently absurd. It is true that the government has withdrawn most of the coastguards from our shores. We used to have twelve of them at Kilmore, and they were pleasant fellows, always ready to chat on topics of current interest with any passer-by. Now, having lingered on for some years with only two, we have none at all. But, as I understand, coastguards are not the real obstacle to smugglers and never were. The safety of the revenue depends upon the perfection of the organization of its inland officers which makes it impossible to dispose of whisky which cannot show a respectable past history.
I was driven back finally on my own theory—inherently very improbable—that the Finola had, in the course of her voyage, netted an immense catch of mackerel and had come into Kilmore harbour to get rid of them.
Bob Power called on me next morning. Marion and I were busy at my history of Irish rebellions when Bob was shown into the library. The sun, I recollect, was shining so brightly outside that I had the blinds pulled down in order to soften the light. Bob's entrance had much the same effect as pulling up the blinds again. He brought the sunshine with him, not in the trying form of heat and glare, but tempered with a sea breeze, and broken, so it seemed to me, into the sparkle of leaping waves. His work, the night before, whatever it was, had not affected his spirits.
As a rule I dislike being interrupted when I am engaged in my literary work. I always absolutely hate it when Godfrey is the interrupter. But I found myself quite pleased when Bob Power said that we ought not to sit indoors on so fine a day. Marion ran off to get her hat and joined us on the lawn. Bob Power led us straight to the garden, and when we got there, made for the strawberry bed. He owned to a pleasant recollection of the feast he had enjoyed the day before.
There is a good deal of the school-boy about Bob Power, and Marion is quite young enough to enjoy gorging herself with ripe strawberries. I, alas! am nearly sixty years of age. A very small number of strawberries satisfies me, and I find that stooping to gather them from beneath their nets tires me after a short time. Bob Power and Marion wandered far into the remoter parts of my strawberry bed. I stayed near the pathway. Their voices reached me and their laughter; but I could not hear what they were saying to each other. I felt suddenly lonely. They were getting on very well without me. I went on by myself and inspected my melon frames. I left them after a while and took a look at my poultry yard.
The rearing of poultry is one of the things which I do in order to benefit my country. Quite ordinary chickens satisfy my personal needs, and the egg of the modest barndoor fowl is all I ask at breakfast-time. But an energetic young lady in a short tweed skirt and thick brown boots explained to me two years ago that Ireland would be a much happier country if everybody in it kept fowls with long pedigrees. She must have been right about this, because the government paid her a small salary to go round the country saying it; and no government, not even ours, would pay people to say what is not true. Her plan for introducing the superior hens into the homes of the people was that I should undertake the care of such birds as she sent me, and give their eggs, under certain conditions, to any one who asked for them. This I agreed to do, and my new fowl yard, arranged exactly as the young lady in thick boots wished, is my latest effort in patriotism.
The hens which inhabited it were very fine-looking birds, and the cock who dominated them was a credit to any government. I watched them with real pleasure for some time. Then it occurred to me as curious that a government which recognized the value of good blood in birds, bulls, boars, horses, and even bees—if bees have blood—should be not only indifferent but actually hostile to our human aristocracy. For years past animals of pedigree have been almost forced upon Ireland. Men of pedigree have as far as possible been discouraged from remaining in this country. This idea struck me as very suitable for one of my light newspaper articles. I was unwilling to lose grip of it and allow it to fade away as Malcolmson and his cannons had faded the night before. I took a sheet of paper and a pencil from my pocket and sat down on a stone to make a rough draft of the article. Before I had written three sentences I heard Marion's voice.
"Oh, there you are, father. We were looking for you everywhere. Mr. Power and I want you to come and play tennis with us."
I rose and stuffed my paper into my pocket. I felt quite glad that they had found me, although I do not care for playing tennis, and, as a rule, enjoy writing articles.
"You will get on much better without me," I said.
"Oh no," said Marion; "Mr. Power is sure to beat me in a single; but I think I'd have a pretty good chance if you are on his side."
I was to act as a handicap. My efforts to help Power were reckoned to be worth one, perhaps two strokes in every game for Marion. This was not complimentary to me; but I dare say my tennis deserves no more respectful treatment. I agreed to be a handicap, and I was a good one. Marion won the first set. I got exceedingly hot, but, up to the middle of the second set, I enjoyed myself. Then Godfrey appeared. He watched my efforts with an air of cold superiority and contemptuous surprise. My heart failed me and I was obliged to ask to be allowed to stop.
Bob Power invited us to lunch on the Finola. Marion accepted the invitation joyfully. Godfrey also accepted, although I do not think Power meant to ask him. But Godfrey is not the kind of man to miss the chance of getting into touch, however remotely, with any one as rich as Conroy. Power eyed him with an expression of frank dislike. Godfrey, it seemed to me, did not much like Power. He was probably annoyed at the way in which Power made himself agreeable to Marion. Godfrey regarded Marion as, in a sense, his property, although there was nothing in the way of an engagement between them.
McNeice, whom I had hoped to meet, was not on the yacht. The steward explained to us that he was spending the day with Crossan. I could see that the thought of any one spending the day with Crossan outraged Godfrey's sense of decency. By way, I suppose, of annoying Power, he asked what had been happening on the Finola at twelve o'clock the night before.
"I was awakened up," he said, "by the noise of carts going along the street and I looked out. I could see lights on the yacht and on the pier. What on earth were you doing at that time of night?"
"Coaling," said Power, shortly.
It was plain to me that he disliked being asked questions. It must have been plain to Godfrey, too, for he immediately asked another.
"How did you get coal in a place like this?"
"Dear me," said Marion, "how very unromantic! I thought you were smuggling!"
Godfrey's face assumed an expression of quite unusual intelligence. He suspected Power of evil practices of some sort. Marion's suggestion of smuggling delighted him.
"But where did you get the coal?" he persisted.
"My dear Godfrey," I said, "for all you or I know there may be hundreds of tons of it piled up in the co-operative store. Crossan has a wonderful business instinct. He may have speculated on a visit from some large steamer and be making a large profit. I am the principal shareholder, and nothing pleases me better than to see the store succeeding."
I knew, as a matter of fact, that Crossan had no coal. I also knew that the Finola was not coaling. The carts were loaded when they were going up the hill. They would have been empty if they had been going to get coal for the Finola. I made my remark in the hope of discouraging Godfrey from asking more questions.
"I wish you would smuggle something," said Marion. "I should love to have some French lace laid at my door in a bale in the middle of the night."
Marion reads novels, and the smugglers in these import French lace. In real life the only people who try to cheat the nation out of its duty on lace are tourist ladies, and they would not share their spoils with Marion.
"But why did you coal in the middle of the night?" said Godfrey.
One of Godfrey's most striking characteristics is his persistent curiosity. There is hardly anything in the world which Godfrey will not find out if he is given time. A secret has the same attraction for him that cheese has for a mouse. Some day, I hope, he will find a trap baited with a seductive mystery.
"We always coal at night," said Power.
"Of course," said Marion, "the dirt shows so much less at night than it would in daylight."
"But," said Godfrey, "I don't understand why you—"
I rose and said that we must go ashore. I invited Power to dinner, and urged him to bring McNeice with him if possible. I made it quite plain that I was not inviting Godfrey. Power accepted the invitation, and sent us off in a boat. I said good-bye firmly to Godfrey at the end of the pier. I was annoyed with him for cross-questioning our host at his own table. Marion and I walked home. Godfrey walked up the hill towards the co-operative store. I am sure he did not want to see Crossan. I cannot suppose that he would venture to catechise McNeice. I expect he meant to prowl round the premises in hopes of discovering casks of smuggled brandy or cases full of tobacco.
McNeice came to dinner, and I am bound to say that I found myself very nearly in agreement with Godfrey's opinion of him. He was a singularly ill-mannered man. Power devoted himself to Marion, and I felt at once that their conversation was not of a kind that was likely to be interesting either to McNeice or me. They were talking about ski-ing and skating in Switzerland. McNeice made no effort to talk at all. He sucked his soup into his mouth with a loud hissing noise, and glared at me when I invited him to admire our scenery. His fish he ate more quietly, and I took the opportunity of reminding him of our correspondence about St. Patrick. The subject roused him.
"There are," he said, "seventeen different theories about the place of that man's birth."
I knew nine myself, my own, of which I was a little proud, being the ninth. I did not expect McNeice to deliver a harangue on the whole seventeen, but that is what he did. Having bolted his fish, he began in a loud, harsh voice to pour contempt on all attempts at investigating the early history of our national saint. He delayed our progress through dinner a good deal, because he would neither refuse nor help himself to the entree which my butler held at his elbow. It was not until he had finished with the whole seventeen theories about the saint that he turned his attention to dinner again. I ventured to suggest that he had not even mentioned my own theory.
"Oh," he said, "you have a theory too, have you?"
My theory, at the time of its first appearance, occupied ten whole pages of the Nineteenth Century, and when republished, with notes, in pamphlet form, was reviewed by two German papers. I felt hurt by his ignorance of it, and reminded him again that we had corresponded about the subject while I was writing the article.
"If you've time to waste on that sort of thing," he said, "why not devote it to living bishops instead of one who has been dead over a thousand years?"
The idea of investigating the origins of our existing bishops was new to me but not in the least attractive.
"Wouldn't it be rather waste of labour," I said, "to build up an hypothesis about the birthplace of a living bishop when—"
"It's certainly waste of labour to build up an hypothesis about a dead one."
"I meant to say," I added, "that if one did want to know such a thing—"
"Nobody does," said McNeice.
"It would," I went on, "be much simpler to write and ask him."
I gathered from the way in which he spoke that McNeice did not like bishops; but I was not prepared for the violence of the speech which he made to me after dinner. Marion and Power were at the piano, which stands in a far-off corner of my rather oversized drawing-room. McNeice settled himself in front of the fire, his long legs straddled far apart, the bow of his white tie twisted under his ear. He is a man of singularly ferocious appearance. He has very bushy eyebrows which meet across the bridge of his nose, shining green eyes, a large jaw heavily underhung, and bright red hair.
He addressed me for more than half an hour on the subject of bishops in general. I should be very sorry to write down the things he said. Some of them were quite untrue. Others were utterly unjust. It is quite wrong, for instance, to impute it as a crime to a whole class of men that their heads are bald. Nobody can help being bald if his hair will not grow any more than he can help being fat if his stomach will swell. Fatness was another of the accusations which McNeice hurled against the bishops. I suppose this violent hatred of an inoffensive class of men was partly the result of McNeice's tremendous Protestantism. The poet Milton, I think, felt in the same way about the prelates of his day. Partly it may have been the expression of his naturally democratic temperament. Bishops like to be called "my lord" by servants and clergymen. McNeice, I imagine, has a quite evangelical dislike of such titles. I dare say that it was the fact of my being a lord which made him so rude to me.
On the afternoon of my garden-party I happened to be standing close beside Lady Moyne when she was saying good-bye to the Dean. Her final remark was addressed quite as much to him as to me.
"What we have got to do," she said, "is to make use of this virile democracy of ours; to mould it into an instrument for the preservation of social order. The introduction of the Home Rule Bill gives us just about the chance we want."
I found myself wondering, while the diatribe against the bishops was in full swing, whether Lady Moyne would succeed in moulding McNeice into a weapon for her hand. It seemed to me more probable at the moment that McNeice would in the end tumble her beautiful head from the block of a guillotine into the basket of sawdust which waited underneath.
Marion and Bob Power were singing songs from Gilbert and Sullivan's operas while McNeice preached to me. They at least were having an enjoyable evening. I dare say McNeice enjoyed himself too. If so, my dinner-party was not given in vain. One cannot reasonably expect more than three out of every four people to be happy at the same time. It was my misfortune that I happened to be the fourth.
The Finola steamed out of our bay next morning. Marion saw her go, and became quite lyrical at breakfast about the beauty of her "lines," a word which, as applied to the appearance of a yacht, she can only have learned from Bob Power. I was not able to share her rapture because the Finola went out at 6 a. m., an hour at which I make it a settled rule to be in bed. Marion is generally in bed at 6 a. m. too. She made an exceptional effort that morning.
For a week I enjoyed almost unbroken peace, and accumulated quite a large sheaf of notes for my work on the Irish Rebellions. Even Godfrey refrained from worrying me. But such happiness was too good to last long. On Saturday morning three things happened, every one of them of a disturbing kind. I received a letter from Lady Moyne in which she invited me to spend three days during the following week at Castle Affey. Castle Affey is Lord Moyne's chief Irish place. He has three others in various parts of the country and one in England. It is about ten miles from my home. Lady Moyne invited Marion too; but this was evidently an after thought, and she discounted the value of the invitation by saying that her party was to consist almost entirely of men and might be dull for Marion. I suspected politics at once, and advised Marion to refuse the invitation. I accepted it. Politics bore me a good deal; but it is interesting to watch politicians at their game. It is also pleasant, very pleasant, to be in the company of Lady Moyne. The prospect of the visit was as I have said disturbing. I prefer monotony. But if things must fall splashing into the pool of my life, I would as soon they took the form of visits to Castle Affey as any other.
The next thing which happened that morning was a deputation. It consisted of six out of the twenty carters whom Crossan has organized in the interests of our fishing industry. They made the modest request that I should drive my nephew Godfrey out of the neighbourhood. I felt the strongest possible sympathy with them. If I were a carter, a fisherman, a shopkeeper, or a farmer, and lived in Kilmore, I should certainly wish Godfrey to live somewhere else. I did not even question the members of the deputation about their special reasons for wanting to get rid of Godfrey. They told me in general terms that he was interfering in business which was "none of his." I wanted no evidence in support of such a statement. Godfrey always interferes in everything. A very freckled young man who seemed to be junior member of the deputation, added that Godfrey "spied" upon them. Of course Godfrey spied on them. He spies on me.
Strong as my sympathy was with the perfectly reasonable request of the deputation, I could not act as I was asked. Godfrey is, of course, in my employment. He collects the head rents still payable to me from some parts of the town which were not sold when I parted with the rest of my estate. For this I pay him L200 a year. I could, I suppose, dismiss him if I chose; but the plain fact is that if I dismissed Godfrey he would immediately starve or go to the workhouse. He is quite unfit to earn his living in any way. Once, after great exertions, I secured for him a kind of minor clerkship in a government office. His duties, so far as I was able to learn, were to put stamps on envelopes, and he was provided with a damp sponge to prevent any injury which might happen to his tongue through licking the stamps. At the end of a year he was dismissed as hopelessly incompetent. He came back to me, beautifully dressed, with a small despatch-box full of tradesmen's bills, and a grievance against the government. It was plain to me after that experiment that Godfrey could never earn his own living. I did not see my way to let him drift into the workhouse. He is, little as I like him, the heir to my title, and, in mere decency, I could not allow the cost of his support to fall on the rates.
This is just one of the ways in which the democratic spirit of independence has affected us all without our knowing it. In the seventeenth century any member of the aristocracy who was afflicted with an heir like Godfrey had him shut up in the Bastille, or the Tower, by means of lettres de cachet or whatever corresponded to such instruments in England. There the objectionable young man ate bread and drank water at the expense of the public funds. Nobody seems to have suffered any discomfort at the thought that the cost of the support of his relative was falling either on the rates or the taxes. (I am not sure which it was but it must have been one or the other.) Nowadays we are horribly self-conscious in such matters. The debilitated labourer began it, objecting, absurdly, to being fed by other people in the workhouse. His spirit spread to the upper classes, and it is now impossible, morally, for me, a peer, to send my heir to the workhouse. Fortunately public opinion is swinging round again. The latest type of working-man has no objection to receiving an Old Age Pension, and likes to hear of his children being given free breakfasts at school. In time this new feeling will soak through to the class to which I belong. Then I shall be able, without a qualm, to send Godfrey to the workhouse. At present, I regret to say, I cannot.
I explained all this carefully to the deputation. It pained me to have to say no to their request, but I said it quite firmly. My decision, I think, was understood. My feelings I fear were not.
Very soon after the deputation left, Godfrey himself arrived. He wanted me to dismiss Crossan. I am not at all sure that I could dismiss Crossan even if I wanted to do so. He is the manager of our co-operative store, and although most of the money which went to the starting of that enterprise was mine there is a considerable number of small shareholders. Crossan also runs the fishing business and our saw mill. I capitalized both these industries, lending money to the men to buy nets and good boats, and buying the various saws which are necessary to the making of planks. This no doubt gives me some hold over Crossan, but not enough to enable me to dismiss him as I might a cook. Besides, I do not want to dismiss Crossan. He is managing these different enterprises in such a way that they earn fair interest on the capital I put into them.
"I've been looking into things a bit, Excellency," said Godfrey.
I quite believed that. The deputation of carters said the same thing in other words.
"And you'll find yourself in an awkward place one of these days if that fellow Crossan is allowed to go on as he's going."
"I hope you're not going to drag up that dispute about the carters, Godfrey. I'm sick of it."
The dispute about the carters is really an unpleasant business. As originally organized there were eight Protestant carters and four Roman Catholics. A year ago Crossan dismissed the four Roman Catholic carters, and one of the Protestants who was suspected of religious indifference. Their places were filled by five Orangemen of the most determined kind. Now the profits of this carting business are considerable. The five men who were dismissed appealed to Godfrey. Godfrey laid their case before me. I gathered that Godfrey had a high opinion of the outcasts who always spoke to him with the respect due to his position. He had a low opinion of the five interlopers who were men of rude speech and democratic independence of manner. I was foolish enough to speak to Crossan about the matter. He met me with a blunt assertion that it was impossible to trust what he called "Papishes." There, as a lover of peace rather than justice, I wanted to let the matter rest; but Godfrey took up the subject again and again in the course of the following year. He persisted, not out of any love for justice though this once he was on the side of justice, but simply out of hatred of Crossan.
"It's not only the dismissal of those carters," said Godfrey. "There's a great deal more behind that. There's something going on which I don't understand."
"If you don't understand it," I said, "you can't expect me to."
"Look here, Excellency, you remember the time that yacht of Conroy's, the Finola, was in here?"
"Of course I do. You went and left my cards on Bob Power."
"I'm very sorry now that I did. There's something fishy about that yacht. What was she doing on the night she was here?"
"Coaling," I said; "I don't see why I should dismiss Crossan because Conroy's yacht came in here for coal."
"She wasn't coaling," said Godfrey.
I knew that, of course; so I said nothing, but left Godfrey to develope his grievance whatever it was.
"Ever since that night," said Godfrey, "there has been something or other going on in the yard behind the stores. Those carters are in it, whatever it is, and a lot more men, fishermen and young farmers. They're up there every night."
"Probably dancing," I said.
"Much more likely to be drinking."
"I wish you wouldn't talk nonsense, Godfrey. You know perfectly well that the store has not got a licence, and there's no drink sold there. Besides Crossan is a fanatical teetotaller."
"That wouldn't stop him," said Godfrey, "if he could sell the stuff cheap and make money on it; if"—here he sank his voice—"if it hadn't paid duty."
Now Crossan is one of those Christians who has added to the original Ten Commandments a Mohammedan prohibition of alcohol in any form. Godfrey, I have no doubt, would break any of the commandments which he recognized, if he saw his way to making a small profit on the sin. But I did not think that even a 25 per cent. dividend would tempt Crossan to disregard his self-imposed prohibition of alcohol.
"That's all nonsense," I said. "In the first place the Finola didn't come in here to land a cargo of smuggled goods."
"Then what did she come for?"
I did not know, so I ignored Godfrey's question.
"And in the second place Crossan wouldn't debauch the whole place by making the men drunk night after night on smuggled spirits. Why, only three weeks ago he spoke to me seriously about the glass of claret I drink at dinner. He did it quite respectfully and entirely for my good. I respected him for it."
"He's up to some mischief," said Godfrey, sulkily, "and it won't be too pleasant for you, Excellency, when the Inland Revenue people find out, and you are let in for a prosecution. I tell you that every night for the last week men have been going up to that store after dark, twenty or thirty of them, truculent, disrespectful blackguards out of the Orange Lodge. I've watched them."
"Did you watch them coming out again?"
"I did, twice," said Godfrey. "They didn't go home till nearly one o'clock in the morning. I couldn't stop up every night, so I only saw them twice."
"Well," I said, "were they drunk?"
"No," said Godfrey, unwillingly, "they were not. They walked quite straight."
"That explodes your theory then. If they had been drinking smuggled spirits for hours and hours, they would have been drunk."
"They were at some mischief," said Godfrey.
"They were probably getting up a concert," I said.
"No, they weren't, for—"
"Look here, Godfrey," I said, "I've listened to you pretty patiently for a long time; but I really cannot spare you the whole morning. If you have anything to do I wish you'd go and do it. If you haven't you'd better go to bed and sleep off your absurd suspicions."
One has to speak very plainly to Godfrey. Hints are simply wasted on him. Even after my last remark he hesitated for a moment. Then he turned and went.
I felt in the mood to write a short story which I have had in my mind for some time. I very often write short stories; but have never yet got an editor who cares to print any of them. The one I had in my mind when Godfrey left me was, however, likely to be particularly good. It was to be the autobiography of a murderer; not an ordinary murderer who slays through desire of gain or in obedience to an inborn criminal instinct. My murderer was to be a highly respectable, God-fearing man, a useful citizen, a good father, a man of blameless life and almost blameless thoughts, generous, high-principled, beloved. He was to slay his victim with one of the fire-irons on his hearth. The murderous impulse was to take possession of him quite suddenly but with absolutely irresistible force. He was to kill a man who had been boring him for hours. My intention was to write the story in such a way as to win public sympathy for my murderer and to make every one feel that the dead man deserved his fate. I meant to model the dead man on my nephew Godfrey.
I still think that a very good short story might be written along those lines, but I doubt whether I shall ever write it. I wrote about two thousand words that morning before I was interrupted by the luncheon gong. I was unable to go on writing after luncheon because the conversation I had with Marion distracted my mind and turned my thoughts to another subject.
"Father," she said, "do you think that Mr. Power could really have been smuggling things in that yacht?"
"No," I said; "he couldn't possibly."
"It's very queer," said Marion.
"Oh, nothing. Only this morning Rose had a new gold brooch, quite a handsome one."
Rose is Marion's maid, a pleasant and I believe efficient girl of agreeable appearance.
"Even if Mr. Power was smuggling," I said, "it's exceedingly unlikely that he'd bring in a cargo of gold brooches to give to the servants in the district."
"Oh, I didn't mean that," said Marion. "In fact Rose told me that her young man gave her the brooch. He's a very nice, steady young fellow with a freckly face and he drives one of the carts for Crossan."
He must, I suspect, be the same young man who accused Godfrey of being a spy. If so he is evidently a judge of character, and his selection of Rose as a sweet-heart is a high compliment to her.
"He promised her a gold bracelet next week," said Marion, "and Rose is very mysterious about where he gets the money."
"As long as he doesn't steal it from me," I said, "I don't care where he gets it."
"It's very queer all the same. Rose says that a lot of the young men in the village have heaps of money lately, and I thought it might have something to do with smuggling."
This is what distracted my mind from the story of the man who murdered Godfrey. I could not help wondering where Rose's young man and the others got their money. They were, I assumed, the same young men who frequented the co-operation store during the midnight hours. It was, of course, possible that they might earn the money there by some form of honest labour. But I could not imagine that Crossan had started one of those ridiculous industries by means of which Government Boards and philanthropic ladies think they will add to the wealth of the Irish peasants. Besides, even if Crossan had suddenly developed symptoms of kindly idiocy, neither wood-carving or lace-making could possibly have made Rose's freckly faced young man rich enough to buy a gold brooch. The thing puzzled me nearly as much as did the Finola's midnight activity.
All competent critics appear to agree that art ought to be kept entirely distinct from moral purposes. A picture meant to urge us on to virtue—and there are such pictures—is bad art. A play or a novel with a purpose stands condemned at once. The same canon of criticism must, I suppose, apply to parties of all kinds, dinner-parties, garden-parties, or house-parties. A good host or hostess ought, like the painter and the novelist, to aim at making her work beautiful in itself; and should not have behind the hospitality a cause of any kind, charitable or political.
I myself dissent, humbly, of course, from this view. Pictures like Time, Death and Judgment—I take it as an example of the kind of picture which is meant to make us good because I once saw it hung up in a church—appeal to me strongly. I do not like novels which aim at a reform of the marriage laws; but that is only because sex problems bore me horribly. I enjoy novels written with any other purpose. I hate parties, such as those which Godfrey instigates me to give, which have no object except that of merely being parties, the bare collection together of human beings in their best clothes. I was, therefore, greatly pleased when I discovered that my original guess was right and that Lady Moyne's party was definitely political. I found this out when I arrived in the drawing-room before dinner. I was a little too early and there was no one in the room except Moyne. He shook hands with me apologetically and this gave me a clue to the nature of the entertainment before me. He dislikes politics greatly, and would be much happier than he is if he were allowed to hunt and fish instead of attending to such business as is carried on in the House of Lords. But a man cannot expect to get all he wants in life. Moyne has a particularly charming and clever wife who enjoys politics immensely. The price he pays for her is the loss of a certain amount of sport and the endurance of long periods of enforced legislative activity.
"I ought to have told you before you came," he said, "that—well, you know that my lady is very strongly opposed to this Home Rule Bill."
Moyne is fifteen years or so older than his wife. He shows his respect for her by the pretty old-fashioned way in which he always speaks of her as "my lady."
"The fact is," he went on, "that the people we have with us at present—"
"Babberly?" I asked.
Moyne nodded sorrowfully. Babberly is the most terrific of all Unionist orators. If his speeches were set to music, the orchestra would necessarily consist entirely of cornets, trumpets and drums. No one could express the spirit of Babberly's oratory on stringed instruments. Flutes would be ridiculous.
"Of course," said Moyne, still apologetically, "it really is rather a crisis you know."
"It always is," I said. "I've lived through seventy or eighty of them."
"But this is much worse than most," he said. "A man called Malcolmson arrived this afternoon, a colonel of some sort. Was in the artillery, I think."
"You read his letter in The Times, I suppose?"
"Yes, I did. But I needn't tell you, Kilmore, that that kind of thing is all talk. My wife—"
"I fancy Lady Moyne would look well as vivandiere," I said, "marching in front of an ambulance waggon with a red cross on it."
Moyne looked pained. He is very fond of Lady Moyne and very proud of her. This is quite natural. I should be proud of her too if she were my wife.
"Her idea," said Lord Moyne, "is—"
Just then our Dean came into the room. His presence emphasised the highly political nature of the party. Unless she had asked Crossan, Lady Moyne could not have got hold of any one of more influence with our north of Ireland Protestant democracy. The Dean cannot possibly be accustomed to the kind of semi-regal state which is kept up at Castle Affey. I should be surprised to hear that he habitually dresses for dinner. It was only natural, therefore, that he should be a little overawed by the immensity of the rooms and the number of footmen who lurk about the halls and passages. When he began explaining to me the extreme iniquity of the recent Vatican legislation about mixed marriages, he spoke in a quite low voice. As a rule this subject moves the Dean to stridency; but the heavy magnificence of Castle Affey crushed him into a kind of whisper. This encouraged me. If the Dean had been in his usual condition of vigour, I should not have ventured to do anything except agree with him heartily. Feeling that I might never catch him in a subdued mood again, I seized a chance of expressing my own views on the mixed marriage question. It seems to me that the whole difficulty about the validity of these unions might be got over by importing a few priests of the Greek Church into Ireland. The Vatican, I believe, recognizes that these Orientals really are priests. The Protestants could not reasonably object to their ministrations since they refuse to acknowledge the jurisdiction of the Pope. A mixed marriage performed by one of them would, therefore, be valid in the opinion of the ecclesiastical advisers of, let us say, the bridegroom. It would be quite unobjectionable to those responsible for the soul of the bride. I put my plan as persuasively as I could; but the Dean did not seem to see any merit in it. Indeed I have never met any one who did. That is the great drawback to trying to help the Irish nation out of its difficulties. No one will ever agree to a reasonable compromise.
I took Lady Moyne in to dinner and enjoyed myself very much. She was—as indeed she always is—beautifully dressed. Although she talked a good deal to Babberly who sat on the other side of her, she left me with the impression that I was the person who really interested her, and that she only turned occasionally to her other neighbour from a sense of duty. Babberly talked about Unionist clubs and the vigorous way in which the members of them were doing dumb bell exercises, so as to be in thoroughly good training when the Home Rule Bill became law. The subject evidently interested him very much. He has a long white beard of the kind described as patriarchal. When he reaches exciting passages in his public speeches, and even when he is saying something emphatic in private life, his beard wags up and down. On this occasion it rose and fell like a foamy wave. That was what convinced me that he was really interested in the activity of the Unionist clubs. Lady Moyne smiled at him in her bewilderingly bewitching way, and then turned round and smiled at me.
"But," I said, "do you actually mean to go out and do battle?"
"It won't be necessary," said Babberly. "Once the English people understand that we mean to die rather than see our lives and liberties—"
"Nowadays," said Lady Moyne, "when the industrial proletariate is breaking free from all control, it is a splendid thing for us to have a cause in which we take the lead, which will bind our working classes to us, and make them loyal to those who are after all their best friends and their natural leaders."
I quite saw Lady Moyne's point. Crossan would not be at all likely to follow her or regard her as his best friend in ordinary matters. He might even resent her interference with his affairs. But on the subject of Home Rule Crossan would certainly follow any one who took his side of the great controversy. If Lady Moyne wore an orange sash over her pretty dresses Crossan would cheer her. While Home Rule remained a real danger he would refrain from asking why Lord Moyne should spend as much on a bottle of champagne for dinner, as would feed the children of a labourer for a week. It did not surprise me to find that Lady Moyne was clever enough to understand Crossan. I wanted to know whether Babberly understood.
"But," I said to him, "suppose that the men you are enrolling take what you say seriously—"
"I assure you, Lord Kilmore," said Babberly, "we are quite serious."
I could hear Malcolmson at the other end of the table explaining to Moyne a scheme for establishing a number of artillery forts on the side of the Cave Hill above Belfast Lough. His idea apparently, was to sink any British warship which was ill-advised enough to anchor there with a view to imposing Home Rule on us. Malcolmson, at all events, was quite serious.
"It will never come to fighting," said Babberly again. "After all, the great heart of the English people is sound. They will never consent to see their brethren and co-religionists handed over—"
Lady Moyne turned to me and smiled again. I am sixty years of age, but her smile gave me so much pleasure that I failed to hear the rest of what Babberly said.
When at the end of dinner Lady Moyne left us, we congregated round the other end of the table, and everybody talked loud; everybody, that is, except Moyne and me. Moyne looked to me very much as if he wanted to go to sleep. He blinked a good deal, and when he got his eyes open seemed to hold them in that state with considerable effort. I did not feel sleepy, and became more and more interested as the conversation round me grew more violent. Babberly talked about a campaign among the English constituencies. He had a curious and quite pathetic faith in the gullibility of the British working-man. Nobody listened much to Babberly. The Dean prosed on about the effects of the Ne Temere decree. We all said that we agreed with him, and then stopped listening. Malcolmson got on to field guns, and had an elaborate plan for training gunners without actual practice. Babberly did not like this talk about artillery. He kept on saying that we should never get as far as that. A Mr. Cahoon, who came from Belfast, and spoke with the same kind of accent as McNeice, prophesied doleful things about the paralyzing of business under a Home Rule Parliament. What interested me was, not the conversation which beat fiercely on my ears, but the personal question, Why had Lady Moyne invited me to this party?
I am constitutionally incapable of becoming excited about politics, and have therefore the reputation, quite undeserved, of being that singular creature, a Liberal peer. Why, being the kind of Gallio I am, I should have been, like a second Daniel, thrown among these lions, I could not understand. They were not the least likely to convert me to their own desperate intensity of feeling. If Lady Moyne wanted to convert me a far better plan would have been to invite me to her house after the politicians had gone away. Circe, I imagine, did not attract new lovers by parading those whom she had already turned into swine. Nor could I suppose that I had been brought to Castle Affey in order to convert people like Malcolmson to pacific ways of thought. In the first place, Lady Moyne did not want him converted. He and his like were a valuable asset to the Conservative party. And even if she had wanted them converted I was not the man to do it. I am mildly reasonable in my outlook upon life. To reason with Malcolmson is much the same as if a man, meaning well, were to offer a Seidlitz powder to an enraged hippopotamus.
It was not until next day that I found a solution of my problem. Moyne buttonholed me after breakfast, and invited me, rather wistfully I thought, to go round the stables with him. He wanted my opinion of a new filly. I went, pursued by the sound of the Dean's voice.
He was telling the story of a famous case of wife desertion brought about by the Ne Temere decree. He was telling it to Cahoon, the Belfast manufacturer, who must, I am sure, have heard it several times before.
I used, long ago, to be a good judge of horses. I still retained my eye for a neat filly. Moyne's latest acquisition was more than neat. I stroked her neck, and patted her flanks with genuine appreciation. Moyne looked quite cheerful and babbled pleasantly about hunting. Then Lady Moyne came through the door of the stable. I was very glad to see her. Her dress, a simple brown tweed, suited her admirably, and her smile, less radiant, perhaps, than it was the night before when set off by her diamonds, was most attractive. Moyne, too, though I knew that he did not want to talk politics, was glad to see her. She came into the horse-box, and fondled the filly. Then she sighed.
"What a lot we have to go through for a good cause!" she said. "Those terrible men!"
"Heavy going," said Moyne, "that kind of thing at breakfast. Let's take out the new car, and go for a spin."
"I should love to," she said, "but I must not. I only ran out to speak to you for a minute, Lord Kilmore."
Her eyes led me to believe at dinner the night before that I was the one man among her guests that she really wanted to talk to. Now her lips said the same thing plainly. I did not believe it, of course; but I felt quite as much gratified as if it had been true.
"Mr. Conroy comes this afternoon," she said.
"That millionaire fellow?" said Moyne, who was evidently not well up in the list of his visitors.
"And I want you to take him in hand," said Lady Moyne to me—not to her husband. "He's very clever, and it's most important to get him interested in our movement."
"You'd much better take him in hand yourself," I said. "If any one could interest him—"
"I shall, of course; but I can't always be with him. I'm dreadfully afraid that if Mr. Babberly talks to him—but you know what Mr. Babberly is. He's splendid in Parliament and on a platform; perfectly splendid. We've nobody like him. But he might not quite suit Mr. Conroy. Then poor dear Colonel Malcolmson does talk such nonsense. Of course it's very good in its way, and I do hope the Liberals will lay to heart what he says about fighting before it's too late—"
"Mr. Conroy is a business man," I said, "and has a reputation for shrewdness."
"That's just it," said Lady Moyne, "and the others—the Dean and that curious Mr. Cahoon. They're dears, perfect dears in the way they stand up for the Union and the Empire, but—" She shrugged her shoulders, and smiled.
"I quite understand," I said; "but, after all, I'm rather an old bore, too."
"You!" said Lady Moyne. "You're a literary man, and that's so rare, you know, in our class. And, besides, you're a Liberal. I don't mean in any offensive sense of the word; only just that you're not a party man. I must run away now; but you will do your best with Mr. Conroy, won't you? We want a big subscription from him."
The Dean caught me a little later in the morning, and, though I told him I had letters to write, he insisted on explaining to me that, as a clergyman, he considered it wrong to take any active part in politics.
"The Church," he said, "cannot allow herself to become attached to any party. She must stand above and beyond party, a witness to divine and eternal righteousness in public affairs."
I am, on the whole, glad that I heard the Dean say this. I should certainly have believed he was taking a side in politics, if he had not solemnly assured me that he was not. I might even have thought, taking at their face value certain resolutions passed by its General Synod, that the Church was, more or less, on the side of the Unionists, if the Dean had not explained to me that she only appeared to be on their side because they happened to be always in the right, but that she would be quite as much on the side of the Liberals if they would only drop their present programme which happened in every respect to be morally wrong. This cleared my mind for me, and I felt quite ready to face Conroy at luncheon, and dispel any difficulties he might feel about the Church and politics.
Mr. Conroy arrived at luncheon-time, and Lady Moyne took him in hand at once. I watched her talking to him during the meal and afterwards when they walked together round the lawn. I came to the conclusion that Lady Moyne would have no difficulty in obtaining any subscription she wanted from the millionaire. They were, of course, intimate with each other. Lady Moyne had been Conroy's guest in the days when his London house was a centre of social life. She had sailed with him on the Finola. But this was the first time she had him at Castle Affey; and therefore the first time he had seen Lady Moyne in her character as hostess. It is not to be wondered at that he yielded to her charm. Like all women of real capacity Lady Moyne was at her best in her own house.
But she was too clever a hostess to devote herself entirely to one guest. She took Babberly for a drive later in the afternoon and I felt that my time had come. I determined to be true to my trust and to make myself agreeable to Conroy. Unfortunately he did not seem to want my company. He went off for a long walk with Malcolmson. This surprised me. I should have supposed beforehand that talk about artillery would have bored Conroy; and Malcolmson, since this Home Rule struggle began, has talked of nothing else.
I spent the afternoon with Mr. Cahoon, and we talked about Home Rule, of course.
"What those fellows want," he said, "is to get their hands into our pockets. But it won't do."
"Those fellows" were, plainly, the Nationalist leaders.
"Taxation?" I said.
"Belfast will be the milch cow of the Dublin Parliament," said Cahoon. "Money will be wanted to feed paupers and pay priests in the south and west. We're the only people who have any money."
I had never before come in contact with a man like Cahoon, and I was very much interested in him. His contempt, not only for our fellow-countrymen in Leinster, Munster and Connacht, but for all the other inhabitants of the British Isles was absolute. He had a way of pronouncing final judgment on all the problems of life which fascinated me.