The O'Ruddy/Chapter 33
ONCE more I went to my bed, but this time with my clothes off, for if there was to be a conference with the Earl and the Countess at the Manor House, not to speak of the chance of seeing Lady Mary herself, I wished to put on the new and gorgeous suit I had bought in London for that occasion, and which had not yet been on my back. I was so excited and so delighted with the thought of seeing Lady Mary that I knew I could not sleep a wink, especially as daylight was upon me, but I had scarcely put my head on the pillow when I was as sound asleep as any of my ancestors, the old Kings of Kinsale. The first thing I knew Paddy was shaking me by the shoulder just a little rougher than a well-trained servant should.
"Beggin' your pardon," says he, "his lordship, the great Earl of Westport, sends word by a messenger that he 'll be pleased to have account with ye, at your early convenience, over at the Manor House beyond."
"Very well, Paddy," said I, "ask the messenger to take my compliments to the Earl and say to him I will do myself the honour of calling on him in an hour's time. Deliver that message to him; then come back and help me on with my new duds."
When Paddy returned I was still yawning, but in the shake of a shillelah he had me inside the new costume, and he stood back against the wall with his hand raised in amazement and admiration at the glory he beheld. He said after that kings would be nothing to him, and indeed the tailor had done his best and had won his guineas with more honesty than you 'd expect from a London tradesman. I was quietly pleased with the result myself.
I noticed with astonishment that it was long after mid-day, so it occurred to me that Lord Strepp must have had a good sleep himself, and sure the poor boy needed it, for it's no pleasure to spend life underground till after you 're dead, and his evening in the tunnel must have been very trying to him, as indeed he admitted to me afterward that it was.
I called on Father Donovan, and he looked me over from head to foot with wonder and joy in his eye.
"My dear lad, you 're a credit to the O'Ruddys," he said, "and to Ireland," he said, "and to the Old Head of Kinsale," he said.
"And to that little tailor in London as well," I replied, turning around so that he might see me the better.
In spite of my chiding him Paddy could not contain his delight, and danced about the room like an overgrown monkey.
"Paddy," said I, "you 're making a fool of yourself."
Then I addressed his Reverence.
"Father Donovan," I began, "this cruel war is over and done with, and no one hurt and no blood shed, so the Earl——"
At this moment there was a crash and an unearthly scream, then a thud that sounded as if it had happened in the middle of the earth. Father Donovan and I looked around in alarm, but Paddy was nowhere to be seen. Toward the wall there was a square black hole, and, rushing up to it, we knew at once what had happened. Paddy had danced a bit too heavy on an old trap-door, and the rusty bolts had broken. It had let him down into a dungeon that had no other entrance; and indeed this was a queer house entirely, with many odd nooks and corners about it, besides the disadvantage of Sir Goddard Oxenbridge tramping through the rooms in two sections.
"For the love of Heaven and all the Saints," I cried down this trap-door, "Paddy, what has happened to you?"
"Sure, sir, the house has fallen on me."
"Nothing of the kind, Paddy. The house is where it always was. Are you hurted?"
"I 'm dead and done for completely this time, sir. Sure I feel I 'm with the angels at last."
"Tut, tut, Paddy, my lad; you 've gone in the wrong direction altogether for them."
"Oh, I 'm dying, and I feel the flutter of their wings," and as he spoke two or three ugly blind bats fluttered up and butted their stupid heads against the wall.
"You 've gone in the right direction for the wrong kind of angels, Paddy; but don't be feared, they 're only bats, like them in my own tower at home, except they 're larger."
I called for Tom Peel, as he knew the place well.
"Many a good cask of brandy has gone down that trap-door," said he, "and the people opposite have searched this house from cellar to garret and never made the discovery Paddy did a moment since."
He got a stout rope and sent a man down, who found Paddy much more frightened than hurt. We hoisted both of them up, and Paddy was a sight to behold.
"Bad luck to ye," says I; "just at the moment I want a presentable lad behind me when I 'm paying my respects to the Earl of Westport, you must go diving into the refuse heap of a house that does n't belong to you, and spoiling the clothes that does. Paddy, if you were in a seven years' war, you would be the first man wounded and the last man killed, with all the trouble for nothing in between. Is there anything broken about ye?"
"Every leg and arm I 've got is broken," he whimpered, but Father Donovan, who was nearly as much of a surgeon as a priest, passed his hand over the trembling lad, then smote him on the back, and said the exercise of falling had done him good.
"Get on with you," said I, "and get off with those clothes. Wash yourself, and put on the suit I was wearing yesterday, and see that you don't fall in the water-jug and drown yourself."
I gave the order for Tom Peel to saddle the four horses and get six of his men with swords and pistols and blunderbusses to act as an escort for me.
"Are you going back to Rye, your honour?" asked Peel.
"I am not. I am going to the Manor House."
"That 's but a step," he cried in surprise.
"It 's a step," said I, "that will be taken with dignity and consequence."
So, with the afternoon sun shining in our faces, we set out from the house of Brede, leaving but few men to guard it. Of course I ran the risk that it might be taken in our absence; but I trusted the word of Lord Strepp as much as I distrusted the designs of his father and mother, and Strepp had been the captain of the expedition against us; but if I had been sure the mansion was lost to me, I would have evaded none of the pomp of my march to the Manor House in the face of such pride as these upstarts of Westports exhibited toward a representative of a really ancient family like the O'Ruddy. So his Reverence and I rode slowly side by side, with Jem and Paddy, also on horseback, a decent interval behind us, and tramping in their wake that giant, Tom Peel, with six men nearly as stalwart as himself, their blunderbusses over their shoulders, following him. It struck panic in the village when they saw this terrible array marching up the hill toward them, with the sun glittering on us as if we were walking jewellery. The villagers, expecting to be torn limb from limb, scuttled away into the forest, leaving the place as empty as a bottle of beer after a wake. Even the guards around the Manor House fled as we approached it, for the fame of our turbulence had spread abroad in the land. Lord Strepp tried to persuade them that nothing would happen to them, for when he saw the style in which we were coming he was anxious to make a show from the Westport side and had drawn up his men in line to receive us. But we rode through a silent village that might have been just sacked by the French. I thought afterward that this desertion had a subduing effect on the old Earl's pride, and made him more easy to deal with. In any case his manner was somewhat abated when he received me. Lord Strepp himself was there at the door, making excuses for the servants, who he said had gone to the fields to pick berries for their supper. So, leaving Paddy to hold one horse and Jem the other, with the seven men drawn up fiercely in front of the Manor House, Father Donovan and myself followed Lord Strepp into a large room, and there, buried in an arm-chair, reclined the aged Earl of Westport, looking none too pleased to meet his visitors. In cases like this it 's as well to be genial at the first, so that you may remove the tension in the beginning.
"The top of the morning—I beg your pardon—the tail of the afternoon to you, sir, and I hope I see you well."
"I am very well," said his lordship, more gruffly than politely.
"Permit me to introduce to your lordship, his Reverence, Father Donovan, who has kindly consented to accompany me that he may yield testimony to the long-standing respectability of the House of O'Ruddy."
"I am pleased to meet your Reverence," said the Earl, although his appearance belied his words. He was n't pleased to meet either of us, if one might judge by his lowering countenance, in spite of my cordiality and my wish to make his surrender as easy for him as possible.
I was disappointed not to see the Countess and Lady Mary in the room, for it seemed a pity that such a costume as mine should be wasted on an old curmudgeon, sitting with his chin in his breast in the depths of an easy-chair, looking daggers though he spoke dumplings.
I was just going to express my regret to Lord Strepp that no ladies were to be present in our assemblage, when the door opened, and who should sail in, like a full-rigged man-o'-war, but the Countess herself, and Lady Mary, like an elegant yacht floating in tow of her. I swept my bonnet to the boards of the floor with a gesture that would have done honour to the Court of France; but her Ladyship tossed her nose higher in the air, as if the man-o'-war had encountered a huge wave. She seated herself with emphasis on a chair, and says I to myself, "It 's lucky for you, you have n't Paddy's trap-door under you, or we 'd see your heels disappear, coming down like that."
Lady Mary very modestly took up her position standing behind her mother's chair, and, after one timid glance at me, dropped her eyes on the floor, and then there were some moments of silence, as if every one was afraid to begin. I saw I was going to have trouble with the Countess, and although I think it will be admitted by my enemies that I 'm as brave a man as ever faced a foe, I was reluctant to throw down the gage of battle to the old lady.
It was young Lord Strepp that began, and he spoke most politely, as was his custom.
"I took the liberty of sending for you, Mr. O'Ruddy, and I thank you for responding so quickly to my invitation. The occurrences of the past day or two, it would be wiser perhaps to ignore——"
At this there was an indignant sniff from the Countess, and I feared she was going to open her batteries, but to my amazement she kept silent, although the effort made her red in the face.
"I have told my father and mother," went on Lord Strepp, "that I had some conversation with you this morning, and that conditions might be arrived at satisfactory to all parties concerned. I have said nothing to my parents regarding the nature of these conditions, but I gained their consent to give consideration to anything you might say, and to any proposal you are good enough to make."
The old gentleman mumbled something incomprehensible in his chair, but the old lady could keep silence no longer.
"This is an outrage," she cried, "the man's action has been scandalous and unlawful. If, instead of bringing those filthy scoundrels against our own house, those cowards that ran away as soon as they heard the sound of a blunderbuss, we had all stayed in London, and you had had the law of him, he would have been in gaol by this time and not standing brazenly there in the Manor House of Brede."
And after saying this she sniffed again, having no appreciation of good manners.
"Your ladyship has been misinformed," I said with extreme deference. "The case is already in the hands of dignified men of law, who are mightily pleased with it."
"Pleased with it, you idiot," she cried. "They are pleased with it simply because they know somebody will pay them for their work, even it 's a beggar from Ireland, who has nothing on him but rags."
"Your ladyship," said I, not loath to call attention to my costume, "I assure you these rags cost golden guineas in London."
"Well, you will not get golden guineas from Brede estate," snapped her ladyship.
"Again your ladyship is misinformed. The papers are so perfect, and so well do they confirm my title to this beautiful domain, that the money-lenders of London simply bothered the life out of me trying to shovel gold on me, and both his lordship and your ladyship know that if a title is defective there is no money to be lent on it."
"You 're a liar," said the Countess genially, although the Earl looked up in alarm when I mentioned that I could draw money on the papers. Again I bowed deeply to her ladyship, and, putting my hands in my pockets, I drew out two handfuls of gold, which I strewed up and down the floor as if I were sowing corn, and each guinea was no more than a grain of it.
"There is the answer to your ladyship's complimentary remark," said I with a flourish of my empty hands; and, seeing Lady Mary's eyes anxiously fixed on me, I dropped her a wink with the side of my face farthest from the Countess, at which Lady Mary's eyelids drooped again. But I might have winked with both eyes for all the Countess, who was staring like one in a dream at the glittering pieces that lay here and there and gleamed all over the place like the little yellow devils they were. She seemed struck dumb, and if anyone thinks gold cannot perform a miracle, there is the proof of it.
"Is it gold?" cried I in a burst of eloquence that charmed even myself, "sure I could sow you acres with it by the crooking of my little finger from the revenues of my estate at the Old Head of Kinsale."
"O'Ruddy, O'Ruddy," said Father Donovan very softly and reprovingly, for no one knew better than him what my ancestral revenues were.
"Ah well, Father," said I, "your reproof is well-timed. A man should not boast, and I 'll say no more of my castles and my acres, though the ships on the sea pay tribute to them. But all good Saints preserve us, Earl of Westport, if you feel proud to own this poor estate of Brede, think how little it weighed with my father, who all his life did not take the trouble to come over and look at it. Need I say more about Kinsale when you hear that? And as for myself, did I attempt to lay hands on this trivial bit of earth because I held the papers? You know I tossed them into your daughter's lap because she was the finest-looking girl I have seen since I landed on these shores."
"Well, well, well, well," growled the Earl, "I admit I have acted rashly and harshly in this matter, and it is likely I have done wrong to an honourable gentleman, therefore I apologize for it. Now, what have you to propose?"
"I have to propose myself as the husband of your daughter. Lady Mary, and as for our dowry, there it is on the floor for the picking up, and I 'm content with that much if I get the lady herself."
His lordship slowly turned his head around and gazed at his daughter, who now was looking full at me with a frown on her brow. Although I knew I had depressed the old people, I had an uneasy feeling that I had displeased Lady Mary herself by my impulsive action and my bragging words. A curious mildness came into the harsh voice of the old Earl, and he said, still looking at his daughter:
"What does Mary say to this?"
The old woman could not keep her eyes from the gold, which somehow held her tongue still, yet I knew she was hearing every word that was said, although she made no comment. Lady Mary shook herself, as if to arouse herself from a trance, then she said in a low voice:
"I can never marry a man I do not love."
"What 's that? what 's that?" shrieked her mother, turning fiercely round upon her, whereat Lady Mary took a step back. "Love, love? What nonsense is this I hear? You say you will not marry this man to save the estate of Brede?"
"I shall marry no man whom I do not love," repeated Lady Mary firmly.
As for me, I stood there, hat in hand, with my jaw dropped, as if Sullivan had given me a stunning blow in the ear; then the old Earl said sternly:
"I cannot force my daughter: this conference is at an end. The law must decide between us."
"The law, you old dotard," cried the Countess, rounding then on him with a suddenness that made him seem to shrink into his shell. "The law! Is a silly wench to run us into danger of losing what is ours? He shall marry her. If you will not force her, then I 'll coerce her;" and with that she turned upon her daughter, grasped her by her two shoulders and shook her as a terrier shakes a rat. At this Lady Mary began to weep, and indeed she had good cause to do so.
"Hold, madam," shouted I, springing toward her. "Leave the girl alone. I agree with his lordship, no woman shall be coerced on account of me."
My intervention turned the Countess from her victim upon me.
"You agree with his lordship, you Irish baboon? Don't think she 'll marry you because of any liking for you, you chattering ape, who resemble a monkey in a show with those trappings upon you. She 'll marry you because I say she 'll marry you, and you 'll give up those papers to me, who have sense enough to take care of them. If I have a doddering husband, who at the same time lost his breeches and his papers, I shall make amends for his folly."
"Madam," said I, "you shall have the papers; and as for the breeches, by the terror you spread around you, I learn they are already in your possession."
I thought she would have torn my eyes out, but I stepped back and saved myself.
"To your room, you huzzy," she cried to her daughter, and Mary fled toward the door. I leaped forward and opened it for her. She paused on the threshold, pretending again to cry, but instead whispered:
"My mother is the danger. Leave things alone," she said quickly. "We can easily get poor father's consent."
With that she was gone. I closed the door and returned to the centre of the room.
"Madam," said I, "I will not have your daughter browbeaten. It is quite evident she refuses to marry me."
"Hold your tongue, and keep to your word, you idiot," she rejoined, hitting me a bewildering slap on the side of the face, after which she flounced out by the way her daughter had departed.
The old Earl said nothing, but gazed gloomily into space from out the depths of his chair. Father Donovan seemed inexpressibly shocked, but my Lord Strepp, accustomed to his mother's tantrums, laughed outright as soon as the door was closed. All through he had not been in the least deceived by his sister's pretended reluctance, and recognized that the only way to get the mother's consent was through opposition. He sprang up and grasped me by the hand and said:
"Well, O'Ruddy, I think your troubles are at an end, or," he cried, laughing again, "just beginning, but you 'll be able to say more on that subject this time next year. Never mind my mother; Mary is, and always will be, the best girl in the world."
"I believe you," said I, returning his handshake as cordially as he had bestowed it.
"Hush!" he cried, jumping back into his seat again. "Let us all look dejected. Hang your head, O'Ruddy!" and again the door opened, this time the Countess leading Lady Mary, her long fingers grasping that slim wrist.
"She gives her consent," snapped the Countess, as if she were pronouncing sentence. I strode forward toward her, but Mary wrenched her wrist free, slipped past me, and dropped at the feet of Father Donovan, who had risen as she came in.
"Your blessing on me, dear Father," she cried, bowing her head, "and pray on my behalf that there may be no more turbulence in my life."
The old father crossed his hands on her shapely head, and for a moment or two it seemed as if he could not command his voice, and I saw the tears fill his eyes. At last he said simply and solemnly:—
"May God bless you and yours, my dear daughter."
We were married by Father Donovan with pomp and ceremony in the chapel of the old house, and in the same house I now pen the last words of these memoirs, which I began at the request of Lady Mary herself, and continued for the pleasure she expressed as they went on. If this recital is disjointed in parts, it must be remembered I was always more used to the sword than to the pen, and that it is difficult to write with Patrick and little Mary and Terence and Kathleen and Michael and Bridget and Donovan playing about me and asking questions, but I would not have the darlings sent from the room for all the writings there is in the world.