The Daltons is a web novel created by Charles James Lever.
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Grounsell understood too well the wordy absurdity with which her Ladyship, on the least excitement, was accustomed to launch forth, quite forgetful of all the impertinence into which it betrayed her. He therefore neither interposed a remark, nor seemed in any way conscious of her observation; but coldly waiting till she had concluded, he said, —-
“Some other of your Ladyship’s friends are also expected in this neighborhood,–the Daltons!”
“What–my dear Kate?”
“Yes; Miss Kate Dalton, accompanied by her brother and uncle. I have just been to order apartments for them in the hotel at Kilkenny.”
“But they must come here. I shall insist upon it, doctor. This is a point on which I will accept no refusal.”
“The occasion which calls them to Ireland, madam, and of which you shall hear all, hereafter, would totally preclude such an arrangement.”
“More mystery, sir?” exclaimed she.
“Another side of the same one, madam,” rejoined he, dryly.
“What delightful news, to think I shall see my dearest Kate again! I am dying to know all about Russia, and if the ladies do wear pearls in morning toilette, and whether turquoises are only seen in fans and parasol handles. What splendor she must have seen!”
“Humph!” said Grounsell, with a short shrug of the shoulders.
“Oh, I know you despise all these things, and you hate caviare. Then I want to know about the Prince; why the match was broken off; and from what cause she refused that great settlement,–some thousand roubles.
How much is a rouble, by the way, doctor?”
“I really cannot tell you, madam,” said he, bluntly, who saw that she was once more “wide a-field.”
“She’ll tell me all herself, and everything about Russia. I want to hear about the knout, and the malachite, and that queer habit of gambling before dinner is announced. I ‘m sure I should like St Petersburg. And the brother, what is he like?”
“I only know, madam, that he is a great invalid, not yet recovered from his wounds!”
“How interesting! He was in the patriot army, was he not?”
“He fought for the Emperor, madam; pray make no mistake in that sense.”
“Oh dear! how difficult it is to remember all these things; and yet I knew it perfectly when I was at Florence,–all about the Kaiser-Jagers, and the Crociati, and the Croats, and the rest of them. It was the Crociati, or the Croats–I forget which–eat little children. It ‘s perfectly true; Guardarelli, when he was a prisoner, saw an infant roasting for Radetzky’s own table.”
“I would beg of you, madam, not to mention this fact to the Field-Marshal, Miss Kate Dalton’s uncle.”
“Oh, of course not; and I trust he will not expect that we could provide him with such delicacies here. Now, doctor, how shall we amuse these people? what can we do?”
“Remember, first of all, madam, that their visit to Ireland is not an excursion of pleasure—-“
“Oh, I can perfectly conceive _that!_” interrupted she, with a look of irony.
“I was about to remark that an affair of deep importance was the cause of their journey–“
“More business!” broke she in again. “After all, then, I suppose I am not much more miserable than the rest of the world. Everybody would seem to have what you call ‘affairs of importance.'”
“Upon my word, madam, you have made me totally forget _mine_, then,”
said Grounsell, jumping up from his seat, and looking at his watch. “I came here prepared to make certain explanations, and ask your opinion on certain points. It is now two o’clock, and I have not even opened the matter in hand.”
Lady Hester laughed heartily at his distress, and continued to enjoy her mirth as he packed up his scattered papers, b.u.t.toned his greatcoat, and hurried away, without even the ceremony of a leave-taking.
CHAPTER x.x.xIV. “THE RORE.”
D’Esmonde and his friend Michel sat beside the fire in a small parlor of the wayside public-house called “The Rore.” They were both thoughtful and silent, and in their moody looks might be read the signs of brooding care. As for the Abbe, anxiety seemed to have worn him like sickness; for his jaws were sunk and hollow, while around his eyes deep circles of a dusky purple were strongly marked.
It was not without reason that they were thus moved; since Meekins, who hitherto rarely or never ventured abroad, had, on that morning, gone to the fair of Graigue, a village some few miles away, where he was recognized by a farmer—-an old man named Lenahan–as the steward of the late Mr. G.o.dfrey. It was to no purpose that he a.s.sumed all the airs of a stranger to the country, and asked various questions about the gentry and the people. The old farmer watched him long and closely, and went home fully satisfied that he had seen Black Sam,–the popular name by which he was known on the estate. In his capacity of bailiff, Black Sam had been most unpopular in the country. Many hardships were traced to his counsels; and it was currently believed that Mr. G.o.dfrey would never have proceeded harshly against a tenant except under his advice.
This character, together with his mysterious disappearance after the murder, were quite sufficient, in peasant estimation, to connect him with the crime; and no sooner had Lenahan communicated his discovery to his friends, than they, one and all, counselled him to go up to the doctor–as Grounsell was called on the property–and ask his advice.
The moment Grounsell heard that the suspected man called himself Meekins, he issued a warrant for his arrest; and so promptly was it executed that he was taken on that very evening as he was returning to “The Rore.” The tidings only reached the little inn after nightfall, and it was in gloomy confabulation over them that the two priests were now seated. The countryman who had brought the news was present when the police arrested Sam, and was twice called back into the parlor as D’Esmonde questioned him on the circ.u.mstance.
It was after a long interval of silence that the Abbe for the third time summoned the peasant before him.
“You have not told me under what name they arrested him. Was it Meekins?”
“The Sergeant said, ‘you call yourself Meekins, my good man?’ and the other said, ‘Why not?’ ‘Oh, no reason in life,’ says the Sergeant; ‘but you must come with us,–that ‘s all.’ ‘Have you a warrant for what you ‘re doing?’ says he. ‘Ay,’ says the polis; ‘you broke yer bail—-‘”
“Yes, yes,” broke in D’Esmonde, “You mentioned all that already. And Meekins showed no fear on being taken?”
“No more than your Reverence does this minute. Indeed, I never see a man take it so easy. ‘Mind what you ‘re doing,’ says he; ‘for, though I ‘m a poor man, I have strong friends that won’t see me wronged.’ And then he said something about one ‘Father Matthew;’ but whether it was you, or that other clergyman there, I don’t know.”
“They took him to Thomastown?”
“No, your Reverence,–to Kilkenny.”
“That will do, my good man,” said D’Esmonde, with a nod of his head; and then, as the door closed behind him, added, “You see, Michel, I was right in my fears of this doctor. The evasive terms of his note, too, confirmed my suspicions,–that ‘desire for further time in a matter of such great difficulty.’ We have thrown him on the scent, and he is now in full cry after the game. Shame upon us!–shame! that such as he can foil us at our own weapons. I see his plan clearly enough. He is either in possession of some secret fact of this man’s early life, which can be employed as a menace to extort a confession from him, or he is about to work on him by bribery. Now, as to the former, I am perfectly at ease.
What I, with every agency of the Church, have failed to elicit, I can safely defy the layman’s craft to detect. As to the effect of a bribe, I am far from being so certain.”
“And in either case the result concerns you but little,” said Cahill.
“The fellow has nothing in his power against _you_.”
“Nothing,” said D’Esmonde. “I never left myself in the hands of such as he! It will, of course, be disagreeable to me that our intercourse should be made public. The Orange press will know how to connect our intimacy with a thousand schemes and subtleties that I never dreamed of; and, more offensive still, the a.s.sumed relationship to Mr. G.o.dfrey will afford a fruitful theme for sneer and sarcasm. I foresee it all, my good Michel; and, worst of all, I perceive how this publicity will mar higher and n.o.bler objects. The Sacred College will never make a prince of the Church of one whose name has been sullied by the slang of journalism.
These are the dangers to be averted here. You must contrive to see this man at once,–to a.s.sure him of our interest and protection, if he be but discreet and careful. He may safely deny all knowledge of the circ.u.mstances to which we alluded. We are the only persons to whom he made these revelations. He has only to a.s.sume an ignorance of everything. Impress this upon him, Michel; for if they can involve him in a narrative, be it ever so slight or vague, these lawyers exercise a kind of magic power in what is called cross-examination, and can detect a secret fact by tests as fine as those by which the chemist discovers a grain of poison. Would that I could see him myself! but this might be imprudent.”
“Trust all to me, D’Esmonde; and believe me, that with men like him habit has taught me better how to deal than you, with all your higher skill, could accomplish. I will contrive to see him to-night, or early to-morrow. The under-turnkey was from my own parish, and I can make my visit as if to _him._”
“How humiliating is it,” cried D’Esmonde, rising and pacing the room,–“how humiliating to think that incidents like these are to sway and influence us in our road through life; but so it is, the great faults that men commit are less dangerous than are imprudent intimacies and ill-judged a.s.sociations. It is not on the high bluff or the bold headland that the craft is shipwrecked, but on some small sunken rock,–some miserable reef beneath the waves! Could we but be ‘penny wise’ in morals, Michel, how rich we should be in knowledge of life! I never needed this fellow,–never wanted his aid in any way! The unhappy mention of G.o.dfrey’s name–the spell that in some shape or other has worked on my heart through life–first gave him an interest in my eyes; and so, bit by bit, I have come to be a.s.sociated with him, till–would you believe it?–I cannot separate myself from him. Has it ever occurred to you, Michel, that the Evil One sometimes works his ends by infusing into the nature of some chance intimate that species of temptation by which courageous men are so easily seduced,–I mean that love of hazard, that playing with fire, so intoxicating in its excitement? I am convinced that to _me_ no bait could be so irresistible. Tell me that the earth is mined, and you invest it with a charm that all the verdure of ‘Araby the Blest’ could never give it! I love to handle steel when the lightning is playing; not, mark me, from any contempt of life, far less in any spirit of blasphemous defiance, but simply for the glorious sentiment of peril. Be a.s.sured that when all other excitements pall upon the mind, this one survives in all its plenitude, and, as the poet says of avarice, becomes a good ‘old gentlemanly vice.'”
“You will come along with me, D’Esmonde?” said the other, whose thoughts were concentrated on the business before him.
“Yes, Michel, I am as yet unknown here; and it may be, too, that this Meekins might wish to see me. We must take good care, while we avoid any public notice, that this fellow should not think himself deserted by us.”
“The very point on which I was reflecting, D’Esmonde. We can talk over this as we go along.”
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