The O'Ruddy/Chapter 22
CHORD ambled back, very proud indeed, and still wearing his fatuous smile. He was bursting with a sense of social value, and to everybody he seemed to be saying, "Did you see me?" He was overjoyed to find me waiting for him. He needed a good listener at once. Otherwise he would surely fly to pieces.
"I have been talking to the Countess of Westport and her daughter. Lady Mary Strepp," he said pompously. "The Countess tells that the Earl has been extremely indisposed during their late journey in the West."
He spoke of the Earl's illness with an air of great concern, as if the news had much upset him. He pretended that the day was quite over-gloomed for him. Dear, dear! I doubted if he would be able to eat any supper.
"Have a drop of something, old friend," said I sympathetically. "You can't really go on this way. 'T will ruin your nerves. I am surprised that the Countess did not break the news to you more gently. She was very inconsiderate, I am sure."
"No, no, don't blame the poor lady," cried Chord. "She herself was quite distracted. The moment she saw me she ran to me—did you see her run to me?"
"I did that," said I with emphasis.
"Aye, she ran to me," said the Httle fool, "and says she, 'Oh, my dear Doctor, I must tell you at once the condition of the Earl.' And when I heard everything I was naturally cut up, as you remarked, being an old friend of the family, ahem!—yes, an old friend of the family."
He rattled on with his nonsensical lies, and in the mean time I made up my mind to speak plainly to him, as I intended to make him of great service to me.
"Stop a moment," said I good-naturedly. "I will hear no more of this rubbish from you, you impudent little impostor. You care no more for the Earl of Westport's illness than you do for telling the truth, and I know how much you care for that. Listen to me, and I 'll see if I can't knock some sense into your little addled head. In the first place the Earl of Westport and my father were old friends and companions-in-arms in the service of the French king, and I came over from Ireland especially to take a dying message and a token from my father to the Earl. That is all you need know about that; but I would have you leave off your prate of your friend the Earl of Westport, for I understand full well you could n't distinguish between him and a church door, although 't is scandalously little you know of church doors. So we will stop there on that point. Then I will go on to the next point. The next point is that I am going to marry Lady Mary Strepp."
The little Doctor had been choking and stuttering in a great spasm, but my last point bid fair to flatten him out on the floor. I took the overpowered philosopher and led or carried him to another drink.
"Stap me!" he cried again and again. "The man is mad!"
I surveyed him with a bland smile.
"Let it sink into you," said I soothingly. "Don't snarl and wrangle at it. It is all heaven's truth, and in time you will come to your senses and see what I am telling you."
Well, as soon as he had fully recovered his wind, he fell upon me with thousands of questions; for one may see that he would have plenty of interest in the matter as soon as he was assured that there was much veracity involved in one way or another in my early statement. His questions I answered as it pleased me, but I made clear enough to him that, although Lady Mary was well disposed toward me, neither her father nor her mother would even so much as look at me if I applied for a position as under-footman, I was that low in their estimate.
"However," said I, "I can rearrange all that very easily. And now, my bucko, here is where your fortune meets mine. You are fitted by nature more to attend other people's affairs than to take a strict interest in your own. All kinds of meddling and interference come easily to you. Well, then, here is a chance to exercise your gifts inoffensively, and yet in a way which may make two people happy for life. I will tell you now that I don't even know where is the Earl's town house. There is where your importance appears at once. You must show me the house. That is the first thing. After that we will arrange all the details about ladders and garden walls, and, mayhap, carrier doves. As for your reward, it will appear finally in the shape of a bowing recognition by people of fashion, which is what you most desire in the world, you funny little man."
Again I had stunned him. For a time I could see his brain swimming in a perfect sea of bewilderment. But, as before, sense gradually came to him, and he again volleyed questions at me. But what stuck in his crop was the thought that Lady Mary could prefer me. He tried his best to believe it, but he would always end up by saying: "Well, if Lady Mary cares for you, the affair is not too difficult." Or, "Well, if you are sure Lady Mary loves you——" I could have broken his head a thousand times.
"Bad luck to you, Doctor," I cried. "Don't you know such croaking would spoil the peace of any true lover? Is ever any worthy man able not to be anxious in such matters? 'T is only foppery coxcombs who have great confidence, and they are usually misled, thank the Lord! Be quiet, now, and try to take everything for granted."
Then the spirit of the adventure came upon him, and he was all for it, heels over head. As I told him, this sort of meddling was his proper vocation. He who as a recreation revelled in the mere shadows of the intrigues of people of quality was now really part of one, an actor in it, the repository of its deep secret. I had to curb his enthusiasm. He had such a sense of the importance of my news, and of his distinction in having heard it, that I think he wanted to tell the secret to the entire world.
As soon as the afternoon grew late I suggested a walk to that part of London in which was situated the Earl's town house. I did not see why we should not be moving at once on the campaign. The Doctor assented, and we went forth to look for Paddy and Jem Bottles. We found them at an ale-house which was the resort of the chairmen, footmen, and coachmen of the grand people. The two rogues had evidently passed a pleasant afternoon. Jem Bottles was still making love to a very pretty girl, some part of whose easy affection or interest he had won; and Paddy, it seems, had had a rip-roaring fight with two lackeys, worsted them with despatch, and even pursued them some distance. To my stern interrogation in regard to the pretty girl, Jem Bottles stoutly rejoined that she was his second cousin whom he had not seen for many years. To this I made no reply, for it does no good to disturb the balance of a good liar. If at times he is led to tell the truth, he becomes very puzzling. In all the years Jem Bottles has been in my service I have never reprimanded him for lying. I would confuse matters to no purpose, inasmuch as I understand him perfectly.
"And how," said I to Paddy, "did you come to engage in this disgraceful brawl of a Sunday?"
"Your honour," answered Paddy, "there was two of these men with fat legs came here, and says one, looking hard at me, 'Here 's a furriner,' he says. 'Furriner yourself, you fish-faced ditch-lurker,' says I, and with that he takes up his fists and hits me a knock. There was a little shindy, and afterward they ran away bawling, and I was pursuing them, only I feared to lose my way in these strange parts."
The walk to Lord Westport's house was a long one. It seemed that he had built a great new mansion at a place outside of the old city gates, where other nobles and great brewers had built fine houses, surrounding them all with splendid gardens.
One must not suppose that I had any idea of taking the mansion by storm. My first idea was to dream a lover's dream as I gazed upon the abode of my treasure. This, I believe, is a legitimate proceeding in all careers. Every lover worthy of the name is certain to pilgrimage, muffled in his cloak, to moon over the home of his adored one. Otherwise there can be no real attachment.
In the second place I wished to develop certain plans for gaining speech of Lady Mary. I will not deny that I purposed on a near day to scale the garden wall and hold speech of my sweetheart as she walked alone among the flowers. For my success I depended upon the absolute conventionality of the idea. In all history no lover has even been chased out of a garden by an under-gardener with a hoe.
When we arrived at the house I found that it was indeed a gorgeous mansion. It was surrounded on all sides by high brick walls, but through the elaborate tracery of one of the iron-work gates I saw Lady Mary's home standing among sweeping green lawns.
We reconnoitred all sides, and at the back I found a lonely avenue lined with oaks. Here a small door pierced the wall for the use apparently of the gardeners or grooms. I resolved that here I would make my attack.
As we passed the iron gates on our way back to town, we saw window after window light up with a golden radiance. I wondered which part of that vast edifice hid the form of my Mary.
I had asked Doctor Chord to sup with me at the inn, and on the way thither he proved somewhat loquacious.
"I see in you, sir," said he, "a certain instinct of true romance which is infrequently encountered in this humdrum commercial age. Allow me to express to you, sir, my warm admiration. I did not think that a gallant of this humdrum commercial age could prove such a free spirit. In this humdrum commercial age——"
"I am an Irishman," said I, "and in Ireland we are always humdrum, but we are never commercial, for the reason that we have not the tools."
"Aye," said he, "you must be a great people. Strangely enough, you are the first Irishman I have ever seen, although I have seen many blackamoors. However, I am edified to find you a gentleman of great learning and experience. In this humdrum commercial age——"
"Let go," said I. "I can do very well without your opinion as to my learning and experience. In regard to this being a humdrum commercial age you will find that all ages say the same thing of themselves. I am more interested in the winning of Lady Mary."
"'T was to that subject I was just about to turn the talk," said the Doctor. "I need not express again to you the interest I feel; and if it is true, as you say, that Lady Mary really loves you——"
"May the devil fly away with you," I cried in a great rage. "Are you never to have done? You are an old frog. I asked you to help me, and you do nothing but dispirit me with these doubts. I 'll not put up with it."
"I am very sorry to displease you, sir," answered my friend. " If you examine my intentions with a dispassionate eye, sir, I am convinced you will have found nothing in me which should properly cause these outbursts of disapprobation. When I say, 'If Lady Mary really loves you,' I am referring to the strange mishaps and misconstructions which attend human thought at all times, and when I say——"
"Let go again," I cried. "When I misunderstand you, don't enlighten me; for I find these explanations very hard to bear."
To my surprise the little man answered with great spirit: "I am unable to gain any approval for my deep interest in yor affairs, sir," he cried. "Perchance, it would be better if I could affect a profound indifference. I am certainly at a loss for words when each sentence of mine is made the subject of wrathful objection."
"You are right," said I. "But you will understand how ten thousand emotions beset and haggle a lover, and I believe he always revenges himself upon his dearest friends. Forgive me!"
"With all my heart!" answered the little Doctor, "I am aware, sir, that at the present time you are in many ways like a highly-tightened fiddle, which any breeze frets into murmurings. Now, being absolutely certain of the devotion of your beloved, you naturally——"
"By the ten lame pipers of Ballydehob," I shouted, "let go of that talk. I can't be having it. I warn ye. 'T is either a grave for me, or quiet for you, and I am thinking it is quiet for you."
"Inasmuch," said the Doctor, "as my most judicious speeches seem to inflame your passions, sir, I am of the opinion that a perfect silence on my part becomes almost necessary, and, to further this end, I would recommend that you refrain from making interrogations, or otherwise promulgating opportunities, when an expression of candid opinion seems expected and desired."
"You 've hit it," said I. "We will have no more interrogations. However, I would much like to know how you became so intimate with Lord Westport's family."
Doctor Chord blushed with something of his earlier manner. "'T is a matter which I did not expect to have leap at me out of the darkness in this fashion," he said bashfully. "However, I am convinced of how well you know these people, and I will traffic no more with hollow pretence. As you know, I deal much in chemical knowledge, which I am able to spread to almost every branch of human use and need."
"'T is an ill work," said I slowly. "I doubt if Father Donovan would care to hear you be speaking in this way. He always objected to scientific improvements as things which do harm to the Church."
"In regard to the estimable friend you mention," said the Doctor, "I unhesitatingly state my profound assurances of respect."
"Quite so," I answered. "He will be pleased to hear of it. And now we will return to the other matter."
"I will obediently proceed," said he. "Five years back the Countess of Westport was thrown from her carriage. Physicians rushed to her rescue. I too appeared, being for the time out for a walk. They wished to immediately bleed her, but I waved them aside and, recognizing me as a figure in the street world of science, they fell back abashed. I prescribed a small drink of hot rum. The lady took it. Almost immediately she recovered. She offered me a guinea. I refused curtly. She inquired here and there for my condition. Afterward she apologized to me for not offering me more than a guinea. Since that time we have been warm friends. She knows me as a great scientist who came to her assistance in time of trouble when numerous quacks wished to bleed her, and I overpowered them and gave her a drink of rum. 'T is true that after she reached her own bed the Earl's physician bled her, but she did not seem to appreciate it although he drew twenty-five ounces, I think. But she has remained always grateful for the hot rum."