One lovely evening towards the end of the month of June, 187-, an outside car jingled into the picturesque little village of Ballynacushla. The sun had set in a flood of golden glory; purple shadows wooed midsummer-night dreams on crested hill and in hooded hollow; a perfumed stillness slept upon the tranquil waters of the Killeries, that wild but beauteous child of the Atlantic, broken only by the shrill note of the curfew seeking its billow-rocked nest, or the tinkle of the sheep-bell on the heather-clad heights of Carrignagolliogue. Lights like truant stars commenced to twinkle in lonely dwellings perched like eyries in the mountain clefts, and night prepared to don her lightest mourning in memory of the departed day.
The rickety vehicle which broke upon the stillness was occupied by two persons -- a handsome, aristocratic-looking young man attired in fashionable tourist costume, and the driver, whose general "get-up" would have won the heart of Mr. Boucicault at a single glance.
"That's a nate-finish, yer honner," he exclaimed, as, bringing a wheel into collision with a huge boulder which lay in the roadway, he decanted the traveller upon the steps of the "Bodkin Arms" at the imminent risk of breaking his neck.
The "Bodkin Arms," conscious of its whitewash and glowing amber thatch, stood proudly isolated. Its proprietor had been "own man" to Lord Clanricarde, and scandal whispered that a portion of the contents of "the lord's" cellar was to be found in Tom Burke's snuggery behind the bottle-bristling bar.
The occupant of the car was flung into the arms of an expectant waiter, who, true to the instincts of that remarkable race, had scented his prey from afar, and calmly awaited its approach. This Ganymede was attired in a cast-off evening dress-coat frescoed in grease; a shirt bearing traces of the despairing grasp of a frantic washerwoman; a necktie of the dimensions of a window-curtain, of faded brocade; and waistcoat with continuations of new corduroy, which wheezed and chirruped with every motion on his lanky frame. His nose and hair vied in richness of ruby, and his eyes mutely implored every object upon which they rested for a sleep -- or a drink.
"You got my note?" said the traveller interrogatively.
"Yes, sir, of course, sir." Of course they had it. The post in the west of Ireland is an eccentric institution, which disgorges letters just as it suits itself, and without any particular scruple as to dates.
"Have you a table d' hote here?"
This was a strange sound, but the waiter was a bold man.
"Yes, sir, of course, sir! Would you like it hot, sir?"
"Yes, sir, of course, sir! With a taste of lemon in it?"
"I said -- Pshaw! Is dinner ready?" said the traveller impatiently.
Yes, sir, of course, sir; it"s on the fire, sir," joyously responded the relieved servitor, although the fowls which were to furnish it were engaged in picking up a precarious subsistence at his feet, and the cabbage to "poultice" the bacon flabbily flourishing in the adjoining garden.
"Get in my traps and rods" -- the car was laden with fishing-tackle of the most elaborate description. "Have you good fishing here?"
"Yes, sir, of course, sir -- the finest in Ireland. Trouts lepping into the fryin'-pan out of the lake foreninst ye. The marquis took twoscore between where yer standing and Fin Ma Coole's Rock last Thursday; and Mr. Blake, of Town Hill -- more power to him! -- hooked six elegant salmon in the pool over, under Kilgobbin Head."
"I want change of a sovereign."
"Yes, sir, of course, sir -- change for a hundred pound, sir. This way, sir. Mind yer head in regard of that flitch of bacon. It gave Captain Burke a black eye on Friday, and the county inspector got a wallop in the jaw that made his teeth ring like the bell in the middle o' Mass." And he led the way into the hotel.
The charioteer, after a prolonged and exciting chase through several interstices in his outer garment, succeeded in fishing up a weather-beaten black pipe, which he proceeded to "ready" with a care and gravity befitting the operation.
"Have ye got a taste o'fire, Lanty Kerrigan?" addressing a diminutive personage, the remains of whose swallow-tailed frieze coat were connected with his frame through the medium of a hay-rope, and whose general appearance bore a stronger resemblance to that of a scarecrow than a man and a brother. "I'm lost intirely for a shough. The forriner [the stranger] wudn't stand smokin', as he sed the tobaccy was infayrior, but never an offer he made me av betther."
"Howld a minnit, an' I'll get ye a hot sod." And in less than the time specified Lanty returned with a glowing sod of turf snatched from a neighboring fire.
"More power, Lanty!" exclaimed the car-driver, proceeding to utilize the buirning brand. "Don't stan' too nigh the baste, avic, or she'll be afther aiting yer waistband and lavin' ye in yer buff."
"What soart av a fare have ye, Misther Malone?" asked Lanty, now at a respectful distance from the mare.
"Wan av th' army -- curse o'Crummle an thim! -- from the barrack beyant Westpoort."
"Is it a good tack?"
"I've me doubts," shaking his head gravely and taking several wicked whiffs of his dhudheen. "He's afther axin' for change, an' that luks like a naygur."
"Thrue for ye, Misther Malone! Did ye rouse him at all?" asked the other in an anxious tone. He expected the return of the "forriner" and was taking soundings.
"Rouse him! Begorra, ye might as well be endeayvotin' to rouse a griddle. I'm heart scalded wud him. I soothered him wud stories av the good people, leprechauns, an' banshees until I was as dhry as a cuckoo."
"Musha, thin, he must be only fit for walkin' whin you cudn't rouse him, Mickey Malone."
"I'd as lieve have a sack o'pitaties on me car as--" He stopped short and plunged the pipe into his pocket, as the object of the discussion suddenly appeared upon the steps.
"Here is a sovereign for the car and a half a sovereign for yourself," exclaimed the young officer, tossing the coins to the expectant Malone.
"Shure you won't forget the little mare, Captain?"
"Forget her? Not likely, or you either, Patsey."
"Ye'll throw her a half a crown for to dhrink yer helth, major?"
"Drink my health? What do you mean?"
"Begorra, she'd take a glass o'sperrits wud a gauger, Curnil; an' if she wudn't I wud. Me an' her is wan, an' I've dacent manners on my side, so I'll drink yer honner's helth an' that ye may never die till yer fit."
"That sentiment is worth the money," laughed the traveller, tossing the half-crown in the air and disappearing into the hotel.
"Well, be the mortal frost, Misther Malone," cried Lanty Kerrigan in an enthusiastic burst of admiration, "but yer the shupayriorest man in Connemara."
Percy Bingham, of the --th Regiment of the Line, found Westport even more dreary than the Curragh of Kildare. From the latter he could run up to Diblin in the evening, and return next morning for parade, even if he had to turn into bed afterwards; from Westport there was nothing to be done but the summit of Croagh patrick or a risky cruise amongst the three hundred little islands dotting Clew Bay. "Lasciate ogni speranza voi ch'entrate" was written upon the entrance to the town. All was dreariness, dulness, and desolation, empty quays, ruined warehouses, and squalid misery. The gentry, with few exceptions, were absentees, and those whom interest or necessity detained in the country spent "the season" in London or Dublin, returning, with weary hearts and empty pockets, to the exile of their homes, there to vegetate until spring and the March rents, wrung from an oppressed tenantry, would enable them to flit citywards once more. To Bingham, to whom London was the capital of the world, and the United Service Club the capital of London, this phase in his military career was a horrid nightmare. Born and bred an Englishman, he had been educated to regard Ireland as little better than a Fiji island, and considerably worse than a West African station; and, filled to the brim with Saxon prejudice, he took up his Irish quarters with mingled feelings of disgust and despair. An ardent disciple of Izaak Walton, he clung to the safety-valve of rod and reel, avenging his exclusion from May Fair and Belgravia by a wicked raid upon every trout-stream within a ten-mile radius of the barracks, and, having obtained a few days' leave of absence, arrived at Ballynacushla for the purpose of "wetting his line" in the saucy little rivers that joyously leap into the placid bosom of the land-locked Killeries.
"So my dinner is ready at last," exclaimed Bingham pettishly, A good digestion had waited two mortal hours on appetite.
"Yes, sir, of course, sir!" replied the waiter. "A little derangement of the cabbage, sir, lost a few minutes, but" cheerily "we"re safe and snug now anyway. There's darling chickens, sir! Look at the lovely bacon, sir! Survey the proportions of the cabbage, sir!" And rubbing his napkin across his perspiring brow, he gazed at the viands, and from the viands to the guest, in alternate glances of admiration and respect.
"Have you a carte?"
"Yes, sir, of course, sir -- two of them; likewise a shay and a covered car."
"A wine carte I mean."
"No, sir; we get the wine from Dublin in hampers."
Percy Bingham forgot that he was not in an English inn where the waiters discuss vintages and prescribe peculiar brands of dry champagne.
"What wines have you?"
"We"ve port wine, sir, and sherry wine, sir, and claret wine, sir, and Mayderial wine, sir," was the reply, run off with the utmost rapidity.
"Get me a bottle of sherry!"
"Yes, sir, of course, sir."
In a few minutes the gory-headed factotum returned with the wine, and, uncorking it with a tremendous flourish of arm, napkin, head, and hair, deliberately poured out an overflowing glassful of the amber-colored fluid, and drained it off.
"What the mischief do you mean?" demanded the young officer angrily.
"I wanted for to make certain that your honner was getting the right wine." And placing the bottle at Percy Bingham's elbow, he somewhat hastily withdrew.
The gallant warrior enjoyed his chicken and bacon and "wisp of cabbage." The waiter had made his peace by concocting with cunning hand a tumbler of whiskey-punch, hot, strong, and sweet, which Bingham proceeded to sip between the whiffs of a Sabean-ordered Lopez. Who fails to build castles upon the creamy smoke, as it fades imperceptibly into space, wafting upwards aspirations, whishes, hopes, dreams -- rare and roseate shadows, begotten of bright-eyed fancy? Not Percy Bingham, surely, seated by the open casement, lulled by the murmuring plash of the toying tide, gazing forth into the silent sadness of the gray-hooded summer night. He had lived a butterfly life, and his thoughts were of gay parterres and brilliant flowers. "Of hair-breadth 'scapes i' the imminent deadly breach" he knew nothing. His game of war was played in the boudoir and drawing-room; his castle was built in May Fair, his chatelaine an ideal. The chain of his meditation was somewhat rudely snapped asunder by an animated dialogue which had commenced in some remote region of the hotel, and which was now being continued beneath the window whereat he reclined. The waiter had evidently been engaged in expostulating with Lanty Kerrigan.
"Don't run yer head against a stone wall, Lanty avic. Be off to Knockshin, and don't let the grass grow under yer feet!"
"Faix, it's little ould Joyce wud think av me feet; it's me back he'd be lukkin for, an' a slip av a stick. Sorra a step I'll go."
"Miss Mary must get her parcel anyhow."
"Let her sind for it, thin, av she's in sich a hurry."
"An' so she did. Get a lind av a horse, Lanty."
"Sorra a horse, there's in the place, barrin' an ass."
"Wirra! wirra! She'll take the tatch off the roof; the blood of the Joyces is cruel hot."
"Hot or cowld, I'm not goin' three mile acrass the bogs --"
"You could coax it into two be manes av a sup, Lanty."
"Sorra a coax, thin. Coax it yerself, since yer so onaisy."
"What's the row?" asked Percy Bingham from the window.
"It's in regard to a percel for Miss Joyce, yer honner," replied Lanty, stepping forward.
"And who is Miss Joyce?" said Percy, intensely amused.
"O mother o'Moses! he doesn't know the beautifullest craythur in the intire cunthry." exclaimed Lanty, hastily adding: "She's the faymale daughther av ould Miles Joyce, of Knockshin beyant, wan av the rale owld anshient families that kep' up Connemara sence the times av Julius Saysar."
"And you have a parcel for her?"
"Troth, thin, I have, bad cess to it! It kem up Lough Corrib, an' round be Cong , insted of takin' the car to Clifden, all the ways from Dublin, in a box as big as a turf creel. It's a gownd -- no less -- for a grate party to-night; an', begorra, while it's lyin' here they're goin' to lay at Frinchpark."
"It's too bad," thought Bingham, "to have the poor girl sold on account of the laziness of this idle rascal. Her heart may be set upon this dress. A new ball-dress is an epoch in a young girl's existance, and a ball dress in this out-of-the way place is a fairy gift. Hinc illae lachrymae! How many hopes cruelly blasted, how many anticipated victories turned into humiliating defeat. If it were not so late -- By Jove! it shall not be." And yielding to a sudden impulse, Percy Bingham ordered Kerrigan to start for Knockshin.
"It's five mile, yer honner, an' --"
"There is sixpence a mile for. Go!" And in another instant the parcel-laden Lanty had taken to the bog like a snipe.
Percy Bingham attacked his breakfast upon the following morning with a gusto hitherto unknown to him. "I wonder did that girl" -- he had forgotten her name -- "get the dress in time? I hope so. How fresh these eggs are! I wonder if she"s as pretty as that ragamuffin described her? These salmon cutlets are perfection. I must have a look at her, at all events. "Pon my life! those kidneys are devilled to a grain of pepper. This ought to be a good trout day. One more rasher. By George! if the colonel saw me perform this breakfast, he'd make me exchange into the heavies."
Lighting a cigar and seating himself upon a granite boulder by the edge of the inlet, the purple mountains shutting him in from the world, he proceeded to assort his flies and to "put up" his casts.
"Musha, but yer honor has the hoight av decoys!" observed Lanty Kerrigan, touching the dilapidated brim of his caubeen, and seating himself beside him. There is a masonry amongst the gentile craft which levels rank, and 'a big fish' will bring peer and peasant cheek by jowl on terms of the most familiar intercourse.
"Yes, that's a good book," said Percy, with a justifiable pride in his tone. The colors of the rainbow, the ornithology of the habitable globe, were represented within its parchment folds. "This ought to be a good day, Lanty."
"Shure enough," looking up at the sky. "More betoken, I seen Finnegan's throut as I came acrass the steppin'-stones there below."
"Finnegan's trout! What sort of a trout is that?" asked the officer.
"Pether Finnegan was a great fisher in these parts, yer honor. Nothin' cud bate him. He'd ketch a fish as shure as he wetted a line, an' no matter how cute of cunnin', he'd hav thim out av the wather before they cud cry murther. But there was wan ould throut of shupayrior knowledge that was well fed on the hoighth av wurrums an' flies, an' he knew Pether Finnegan, an' begorra, Pether knew him. They used to stand foreninst wan another for days an' days, Pether flappin' the wather, an' th' ould throut flappin' his tail. "I'll hav ye, me man," sez Pether. "I'll hav ye,av I was to ketch ye in me arms like a new born babe, sez he. "I never was bet be a man yet," sez he, "an' be the mortial I'm not goin' for to be bet be a fish." So he ups, yer honor, an', puttin' a cupple o'quarts o'whiskey in his pockets for to keep up his heart, he ups an' begins for to fish in airnest an' for the bare life. First he thried flies, an' thin he thried wurrums, an' thin he thried all soarts av combusticles; but th' ould throut turned up his nose at the entirety, an' Pether sen him colloguerin' wud the other throuts, an' puttin' his comether on thim for to take it aisy an' lave pether's decoys alone. Well, sir, Pether Finnegan was a hot man an' aisy riz -- the heavens be his bed! -- an' whin he seen the conspiracy for to defraud him, an' the young throuts laffin' at him, he boiled over like a kittle, an' shoutin', I'll spile yer divarshin', med a dart into the river. His body was got, the bottles was safe in his pockets, but, be the mortial frost, th' ould throut got at the whiskey an' dhrank it every dhrop."
"I must endeavor to catch him," laughed Percy Bingham.
"Ketch him!" exclaimed Lanty indifnantly. "Wisha, you wudn't ketch him, nor all the fusileers an' bombardiers in th' army wudn't ketch him, nor th' ould bot himself -- the Lord be betune us an' harm! -- wudn't ketch him. He's as cute as the say-sarpint of the whale that swallied Juno."
"What do the trout take best here?" asked Bingham, whose preparations were nearly completed, his rod being set up and festoons of casting-lines encircling his white felt hat.
"Wurrums is choice afther a flood; dough is shupayrior whin they're leppin' lively; but av all the baits that ever consaled a hook there's non aiquail to corbait -- it's the choicest decoy goin'. A throut wud make a grab at a corbait av the rattles was in his throat an' a pike grippin' him be the tail."
Lanty Kerrigan was told off as cicerone, guide, philosopher, and friend.
"I suppose I am safe in fishing these rivers. No bailiff or hinderance?" asked Percy Bingham of the landlord of the 'Bodkin Arms.'
"There's no wan to hinder you , sir; so a good take to you," was the reply. "I hope ye won't come across old Miles Joyce, for if ye do there'll be wigs on the green," he added under his breath as he turned into the bar.
"This is Lough Cruagh, yer honor, an' there's the boat; av ye don't ketch the full av her, it's a quare thing." The lake, a pool of dark brown water, lay in the lap of an amphitheatre of verdureless, grim, gaunt-looking mountains. It was a desolate place. No living thing broke upon the solitude, and the silence was as complete as if the barren crags had whispered the single word 'hush' and waited the awful approach of thunder. A road ran by the edge of the lake, but it was grass-grown and showed no sign of traffic, not even the imprint of a horse's foot.
"Now she's aff," cried Lanty, seizing the oars. "Out wud yer flies, an' more power to yer elbow."
The sport was splendid. No sooner had his tail-fly touched the water than an enormous trout plunged at it with a splash like that of a small boy taking a header, and away went the line off the reel as though it were being uncoiled by machinery -- up the lake, down the lake, across the lake; now winding in, now giving the rod until it bent like a whip; now catching a glimpse of the fish, now fearing for the line on the bottom rocks.
"If the gut howlds ye'll bate him, brave as he is," exclaimed Lanty Kerrigan in an ecstasy of apprehension.
The fish was taking it quietly -- il faut reculer pour mieux sauter -- preparing for another effort. Percy Bingham wiped the perspiration from his brow; his work wa cut out for him.
"Now's the time for a dart o'sperrits," said kerrigan, dexterously shipping his oars and unfastening the lid of the hamper. "Ye won't, yer honner?" -- Bingham had expressed dissent. "Well, begorra, here's luck, an' that it may be good," pouring out a dropsied glassful and tossing it off. "That's shupayrior," with a smack; "Its warmin' me stomick like a bonfire! Whisht!" he added in an alarmed whisper, "who the dickens is this is comin'' along the road?"
A mail phaeton, attached to a pair of spanking grays, came swiftly and silently along the grass-grown causeway. An elderly, aristocratic-looking man was driving, and beside him sat a young and beautiful girl. "Be the hokey! we're bet; it's ould Miles Joyce himself," cried Lanty Kerrigan.
"Is that Miss Joyce, the young lady to whom you took the box last night?" asked Percy somewhat eagerly.
"Och wirra! wirra! to be shure it is, an' that same box is our only chance now."
"Pull nearer shore, Lanty," said the young officer, who was very anxious for a stare. "Good style," he muttered. "Tight head, delicious plaits, Regent Street hat -- ma foi! who would think of meting anything like this in a devil's punchbowl? Pull into shore, man," he testily cried.
"Shure I'm pullin' me level best."
"Not that shore, you idiot. Pull for the carriage." Lanty was straining in the opposite direction.
"Are ye mad, sir?" whispered Kerrigan. "I wudn't face ould Joyce this blessed minit for a crock o'goold."
The carriage drew up, and the driver in an authoritative voice shouted: "Bring that boat here."
We're bet; I tould you so," gasped Lanty, reluctantly heading the boat in the direction of the carriage. A few strokes brought them to the beach.
Percy Bingham raked up his eyeglass and gazed ardently at Mary Joyce, who returned the stare with compound interest. Irish gray eyes with black, sweeping lashes, hawthorn-blossoms on her brow, apple-blossoms on her cheeks, rose-buds on her lips, purple blood in her veins, youth and grace and modesty hovering about her like a delicious perfume.
"May I ask by whose authority you are fishing here?" Mr. Joyce was pale, and suppressed anger scintillated in his eyes. There are a great many things to be done with impunity in Connemara, but poaching is the seven deadly sins rolled into one. "Thou shalt not fish" is the eleventh commandment. Bingham felt the awkwardness of his position at a glance, and met it like a gentleman.
"I cannot say that I am here by any person's authority. I am stopping at the "Bodkin Arms" --"
"Och murther! murther! howld your whisht," interposed Lanty in a hoarse whisper.
"Silence, fellow!" cried Bingham. "I am stopping at the "Bodkin Arms," and upon asking the proprietor if there was any hinderance to my fishing, he replied that there was none. I ought, perhaps, to have been more explicit with him."
"Av coorse ye shud," interrupted Lanty. "And I can only say" -- here he stared very hard at Mary Joyce -- "that it mortifies me more than I can possibly express to you to be placed in this extremely painful position."
"Do not say one word about it," said Mr. Jones in a courteous tone. "With the proprietor of the "Bodkin Arms" I know how to deal, and with you too, Lanty Kerrigan." Lanty wriggled in the boat till it rocked again. "But as for you, sir, all I can say is that I regret to have disturbed your fishing, and I wish you very good sport." And he bowed with haughty politeness.
"I thank you very much for your courtesy," bowed Bingham, who had by this time landed from the boat, "but I shall no longer continue an intruder." And seizing his rod, he snapped it thrice across his knee and flung it into the lake.
It was Mary Joyce's bright eyes that led him to this folly -- he wanted to be set right with her.
"Oh! how stupid," she exclaimed, starting to her feet.
"Thrue for ye, miss," added Lanty -- "two-pound tin gone like a dhrink, an' an illigant throut into the bargain."
"A wilful man must have his way," said Mr. Joyce; "but I hope, sir, that you will afford me an opportunity of enabling you to enjoy a day's sport in better waters than these." And lifting his hat, he waved an Adieu as the fiery grays plunged onwards and out of sight.
And Mary Joyce! Yes, that charming little head bent to him, those sweeping lashes lifted themselves that the glory of her gray eyes might be revealed to him, the rosebud lips had dropped three perfumed petals, three insignificant little words, "Oh! how stupid"; and these were the first words in the first chapter of Percy Bingham's first love.
He found the following note awaiting him at the hotel: "Knockshin, June 28. "Mr. Joyce will be happy if Mr. Bingham will take a day on Shauraunthurga -- Monday, if possible -- as Mr. J. intends fishing upon that day. A salmon rod and flies are at Mr. Bingham"s disposal. "------ Bingham, Esq."
Percy Bingham sent a polite acknowledgement and acceptance, and wished for the Monday. It was very late that night when the warrior returned to his quarters. He had been mooning around Mary Joyce's bower at Knockshin.
"What Masses have you here, Foxey?" asked Bingham of the waiter, whose real name was Redmond, but to whom this appellation was gives on account of the color of his hair.
"The last Mass is first Mass now, sir. Father James is sick, and father Luke, a missionary, is doing duty for the whole barony."
"Is Mr. Joyce, of Knockshin, a Catholic?" This in some trepidation.
"Yes, sir, of course, sir -- wan of the ould stock, sir; and Miss Mary, his daughter, sir, plays the harmonicum, sir, elegant."
"What hour does Mass commence?"
"That's the first bell, sir, but they ring two first bells always."
Percy Bingham belonged to a family that had held to the faith when the tide of the reformation was sweeping lands, titles, and honors before it. He fought for the Catholic cause when it became necessary to strike a blow; and as he was the only "popish" officer in the regiment, his good example developed into a duty.
Just as he arrived at the church door the Joyce carriage drew up. Mr. Joyce handed out his daughter. The gray eyes encountered those of the young officer, who lifted his hat. Such a smile! -- a sunbeam on the first primrose of spring.
"I was glad to get your note, Mr. Bingham. Could you manage to come over to breakfast? Military men don't mind a short march." And Mr. Joyce shook hands with him.
"Am I to have the pleasure of hearing Miss Joyce's harmonium to-day?" asked Percy.
"No; Miss Joyce's harmonium has a sore throat."
Poor Bingham struggled hard to say his prayers, to collect his wandering thoughts. He was badly hit; the ruddy archer had sent his arrow home to the very feathers. He humbly waited for a glance as Miss Joyce drove away after Mass, and he got it. He was supremely happy and supremely miserable.
The "missioner," a young Dominican, very tall and very distinguished-looking, crossed the chapel yard, followed by exclamations of praise and admiration from voteens who still knelt about in picturesque attitudes: "God be good to him!" "The heavens open to him!" "May the saints warm him to glory!" while one old woman, who succeeded in catching the hem of his robe, exclaimed enthusiastically:
"Och, thin, but it's yerself that knows how to spake the word o'God; it's yerself that's the darlint fine man. Shure we never knew what sin was till ye come amongst us."
Percy Bingham found Knockshin a square-built, stone mansion, with a "disinheriting countenance" of many windows, surrounded by huge elms containing an unusually uproarious rookery. A huge "free classic" porch surmounted a set of massive steps, supported by granite griffins grasping shields with the Joyce arms quartered thereon. A lily-laden pond, encircled by closely-shaven grass sacred to croquet, stood opposite the house, and a pretentious conservatory of modern construction ran along the greater portion of one wing.
The gallant warrior, regretting certain London-built garments reposing at Westport, arrayed himself in his "Sunday best," and, being somewhat vain of his calves, appeared in all the woolen bravery of Knickerbockers and Highland stockings.
Miss Joyce did the honors of the breakfast-table in white muslin and sunny smiles. Possessing the air of a high-born dame, there was an Irish softness, like the mist on the mountains, that imparted an indescribable charm to all her movements, whilst a slight touch of the brogue only added to the music of a voice ever soft, gentile, and low.
Percy, who could have talked like a sewing-machine to Lady Clara Vere de Vere, found his ideas dry up, and, when violently spurred, merely develop themselves in monosyllables. He had rehearsed several bright little nothings which were to have been laid like bonbons at her feet. Where were they now?
She knew some men in the service -- Mr. Poynter in the rifles. Did he know Mr. Poynter, who danced so well, talked so charmingly, and was so handsome? Yes, he knew Poynter, and hated him from that moment. Did he know Captain Wyberts of the Bays, the Victoria Cross man whom she had met at the Galway hunt Ball? He knew Wyberts, and cursed the luck that placed no decoration upon his tunic but a silken sash.
"By the way, you must be the gentleman who interested himself in my toilet on Friday night. Lanty Kerrigan spoke burning words in your favor, if you are the preux chavlier. Are you?"
"I assure you, Miss Joyce, I didn't know who you were at the time, when the blackguards seemed lazy about your parcel."
"If you had known me, would that have made any difference, Mr. Bingham?" she asked laughingly.
"In what way?"
"I would have thrashed Lanty Kerrigan and have brought the parcel myself." he threw so much earnestness into this that the red blood flushed up to the roots of Mary Joyce's rich brown hair. "I must see to my tackle," she said in a confused way.
"Are you an angler, miss Joyce?"
"Look at my boots" -- a pair of dainty, dumpy little things such as Cinderella must have worn on sloppy days when walking with the prince, with roguish little nails allover the soles crying, "Stamp on us; we like it," and creamy laces fit for tying up bride-cake.
"By Jove!" exclaimed Percy Bingham, and that was all he was able to reach at that particular moment. He thought afterwards of all he could have said and -- didn"t.
A walk of half a mile brought them to the Shauraunthurga, or "Boiling Cauldron," whose seething waters dashed from rock to rock, and boiled in many whirlpools as it rushed madly onwards to the wild Atlantic.
What did Bingham care about the fishing? Not a dump. He stood by her side, set up her cast, sorted her flies, spliced the top joint of her rod, and watched with feverish anxiety the eccentric movement of her gorgeous decoy, as it whirled hither and thither, now on the peat-brown waters, now in the soap-suds-like foam.
"Bravissima! Splendidly struck!" he cried with enthusiastic delight -- he felt inclined to pat her on the back -- as the young Galway girl, with "sweet and cunning" hand, hooked he fish with the aplomb and dexterity of a Highland gillie. "Give him line, plenty of rope, and mind your footing!"
"A long hour by Shrewsbury clock" did Mary Joyce play that salmon. Her gloves were torn to shreds, her hat became a victim to the Shauraunthurga, her sheeny hair fell down her shoulders long below her waist, her boasted boots indicated eruptive tendencies, but the plucky girl still held on. "Let me alone, please," she would cry as her father or Bingham tendered their services; "I'm not half-tired yet." The color in her cheeks, the fire in her eye, the delicate nostril expanded, the undulating form -- the British subaltern saw all this, and almost envied the fish, inasmuch as it was her centre point of interest.
"The landing-net! Quickly! I have him now!"
Percy Bingham darted forward, caught his foot in the gnarled root of a tree, and plunged headforemost into the boiling waters. An expert swimmer, he soon reappeared and swam towards the bank, still grasping the net. Finding his right arm powerless, and having succeeded in gaining footing, he placed the net beneath the fish, which with a bound sprang clear, and, breaking the line that Miss Joyce had slackened in her anxiety for the safety of her guest, was, in an exhausted condition, floundering down the stream, when Percy, by a supreme effort, clasped it fiercely in his left arm and flung himself on to the bank.
"Your fish after all. But you look ill, Mr. Bingham -- dreadfully ill," cried the agitated girl. "Your arm --"
"Is broken." he said.
Assisted by Mr. Joyce and his daughter, and with the fractures limb in a sling constructed of handkerchiefs and fishing-line, poor Bingham returned to the house. He fought bravely against the pain, and attempted one or two mournful jokes upon the subject of is mishap; but every step was mortal anguish, and he expected to feel the serrated edges of the bones sawing out through his coat-sleeve.
"I must insist upon being permitted to return to my hotel, Mr. Joyce," said Percy Bingham when they had arrived.
"I you want every bone in your body broken, you'll repeat that again, Bingham. Here is a room ready for you, and here, in the nick of time, is Doctor Fogarty."
"I cotch him at the crass-roads," panted the breathless messenger whom Mr. Joyce had despatched in quest of the bone-setter.
"A broken arm, pooh hoo! And so it is -- an elegant fracture, pooh hoo! You did it well when you went about it. Lend me your scissors, Miss Mary, and tear up a sheet into bandages. I'll soon set it for him, pooh hoo! Ay, wince away, ma bouchal; roar murdher, and it will do you good, pooh hoo! Some splints now. Fell into the river, pooh hoo! After a salmon. You landed him like a child in arms. I forgive you, pooh hoo! I've room for the fish in me gig, and broiled salmon is -- pooh hoo! That's it; the arm this way, as if ye were goin' to hit me. Well done, pooh hoo! Ars longa est; so is your arm -- an elegant biceps, pooh hoo! Now, sir, tell me if there's a surgeon-major in the whole British army, horse, foot, and dragoon, that could set your arm in less time, pooh hoo?" and the doctor regarded the swathed and bandaged limb with looks of the profoundest admiration.
"I shall want to get to barracks --"
"Ne'er a barracks will ye see this side of Lady Day; so make your mind easy on that score, pooh hoo! Keep in bed till I see you again, pooh hoo! I'll order you something to take about bed-time, but it won't be whiskey-punch, pooh hoo!" And the genial practitioner pooh-hoo'd out of the apartment.
How delightful is convalescence -- that dreamy condition in which the thoughts float upwards and the earthly tenement is all but etherealized! Percy Bingham, as he reclined upon a sofa at an open window, through which the perfume of flowers, the hum of summer, with the murmur of the rolling Shauraunthurga, stole like strains of melody, lay like one entranced, languidly sipping the intoxicating sweets of the hour, forgetful of the past, unmindful of the future. The events of the last few days seemed like a vision. Could it be possible that he would suddenly awake and find himself in the dismal walls of his quarters at Westport, far, far away from chintz and lace and from her? No; this was her book which lay upon his lap; that bouquet was culled by her fair hands; the spirited sketch of a man taking a header spread-eagle fashion was from her pencil and must be sent to Punch. She was in everything, everywhere, and most of all, in the inner sanctuary of his heart.
He had not seen much of her -- a visit in the morning like a gleam of sunlight; a chat in the gloaming, sweet as vesper-bell; occasional badinage from the garden to his window, and that was all. How could he hope to win her, this peerless girl, this heiress of the "Joyce country," whose gray eyes rested upon mead and mountain, lake and valley, her rightful dower? He sickened at the thought. Had she been poor, he would woo, and perhaps -- It was not to be. He had tarried till it was too late; he had cut down the bridge behind him, burned his boats, and he must now ford the river of his lost peace of mind as best he might.
Days flew by, and still the young officer lingered at Knockshin like the fairy prince in the enchanted wood, he could discover no exit. Croquet had developed into short strolls, short strolls into long walks, long walks into excursions. His arm was getting strong again. Mr. Joyce talked "soldier" with him. He had been in the Connaught Rangers, and went through pipe-clay and the orderly book with the freshness of a "sub" of six weeks' standing. Mary -- what did she speak about? Anything, everything, nothing. Latterly she had been eloquently silent, while Percy Bingham, if he did not actually, might have fairly, counted the beatings of his heart as it bumped against his ribs. They spoke more at than to each other, and when their eyes met the glance was withdrawn by both with electrical rapidity. It was the old, old story. Why repeat it here?
"Mary, Jack Bodkin, your old sweetheart, is coming over for a few days fishing," exclaimed Mr. Joyce one morning upon the arrival of the letter-bag.
Miss Joyce blushed scarlet -- a blush that will not be put off; a blush that plunges into the hair, comes out on the eyelids, and sets the ears upon fire -- and Percy Bingham, as she grew red, became deadly white. The knell had rung, the hour had come.
"This is from the colonel," extending a letter as he spoke, the words choking him, "and -- and I must say good-by."
"Sorry for it, Bingham, but duty is duty. No chance of an extension?" asked Joyce.
And she said not a word. There was crushing bitterness in this. Mr. Bodkin's arrival blotted out his departure. Would that he had never seen Knockshin or Mary! No, he could not think that, and, now that he was about to leave her, he felt what that severance would cost him.
The car was waiting with his impedimenta, and he sought her to say farewell. She was not in the conservatory or drawing-room, and as a last chance he tried the library. Entering noiselessly, he found Mary Joyce leaning her head upon her hands, her hands upon the mantel-piece and sobbing as if her heart would break.
"I beg your pardon!" he stammered. "Is -- is -- anything the --"
"A bad toothache," she burst in passionately, without looking up.
What could he do? What could he say?
"I -- I -- do not know how to apologize for -- for -- intruding upon your anguish" -- the words came very slowly, swelling, too, in his throat -- "but I cannot, cannot leave without wishing you good-by and thanking you for the sunniest hours of my life."
"You -- you are g-going, then?" without looking round.
"I go to -- to make room for Mr. Bodkin."
She faced him. Her eyes were red and swollen, but down, down in their liquid depths he beheld -- something that young men find once in a lifetime. He never remembered what he did, he never recollected what he said, but the truth came out as such truths will come out.
"And to think that you first learned of my existence through the medium of a pitiful ball-dress!" she said, glowing with beautiful happiness.
"I shall not require the car," said Percy Bingham an hour later, throwing Lanty Kerrigan a sovereign.
"Bedad, ye needn't have tould me," exclaimed Lanty with a broad grin. "I seen yez coortin' through the windy."
table d' hote - guest table
Lasciate ogni speranza voi ch'entrate - Abandon all hope ye who enter here (in the original Italian from Dante's Inferno)
Hinc illae lachrymae - Hence these tears - Horace (Roman poet 65 BC - 8 BC)
il faut reculer pour mieux sauter - it is necessary to stand back to jump better
preux chavlier - valiant knight