THE O’CONORS OF CASTLE CONOR, COUNTY MAYO

I shall never forget my first introduction to country life in Ireland,
my first day’s hunting there, or the manner in which I passed the
evening afterwards. Nor shall I ever cease to be grateful for the
hospitality which I received from the O’Conors of Castle Conor. My
acquaintance with the family was first made in the following manner. But
before I begin my story, let me inform my reader that my name is
Archibald Green.
I had been for a fortnight in Dublin, and was about to proceed into
county Mayo on business which would occupy me there for some weeks. My
head-quarters would, I found, be at the town of Ballyglass; and I soon
learned that Ballyglass was not a place in which I should find hotel
accommodation of a luxurious kind, or much congenial society indigenous
to the place itself.
“But you are a hunting man, you say,” said old Sir P—- C—-; “and in
that case you will soon know Tom O’Conor. Tom won’t let you be dull. I’d
write you a letter to Tom, only he’ll certainly make you out without my
taking the trouble.”
I did think at the time that the old baronet might have written the
letter for me, as he had been a friend of my father’s in former days;
but he did not, and I started for Ballyglass with no other introduction
to any one in the county than that contained in Sir P—-’s promise
that I should soon know Mr. Thomas O’Conor.
I had already provided myself with a horse, groom, saddle and bridle,
and these I sent down, en avant, that the Ballyglassians might know that
I was somebody. Perhaps, before I arrived, Tom O’Conor might learn that
a hunting man was coming into the neighbourhood, and I might find at the
inn a polite note intimating that a bed was at my service at Castle
Conor. I had heard so much of the free hospitality of the Irish gentry
as to imagine that such a thing might be possible.
But I found nothing of the kind. Hunting gentlemen in those days were
very common in county Mayo, and one horse was no great evidence of a
man’s standing in the world. Men there, as I learnt afterwards, are
sought for themselves quite as much as they are elsewhere; and though my
groom’s top-boots were neat, and my horse a very tidy animal, my entry
into Ballyglass created no sensation whatever.
In about four days after my arrival, when I was already infinitely
disgusted with the little pot-house in which I was forced to stay, and
had made up my mind that the people in county Mayo were a churlish set,
I sent my horse on to a meet of the fox-hounds, and followed after
myself on an open car.
No one but an erratic fox-hunter such as I am,–a fox-hunter, I mean,
whose lot it has been to wander about from one pack of hounds to
another,–can understand the melancholy feeling which a man has when he
first intrudes himself, unknown by any one, among an entirely new set of
sportsmen. When a stranger falls thus as it were out of the moon into a
hunt, it is impossible that men should not stare at him and ask who he
is. And it is so disagreeable to be stared at, and to have such
questions asked! This feeling does not come upon a man in Leicestershire
or Gloucestershire, where the numbers are large, and a stranger or two
will always be overlooked, but in small hunting fields it is so painful
that a man has to pluck up much courage before he encounters it.
We met on the morning in question at Bingham’s Grove. There were not
above twelve or fifteen men out, all of whom, or nearly all, were
cousins to each other. They seemed to be all Toms, and Pats, and Larrys,
and Micks. I was done up very knowingly in pink, and thought that I
looked quite the thing; but for two or three hours nobody noticed me.
I had my eyes about me, however, and soon found out which of them was
Tom O’Conor. He was a fine-looking fellow, thin and tall, but not
largely made, with a piercing gray eye, and a beautiful voice for
speaking to a hound. He had two sons there also, short, slight fellows,
but exquisite horsemen. I already felt that I had a kind of acquaintance
with the father, but I hardly knew on what ground to put in my claim.
We had no sport early in the morning. It was a cold bleak February day,
with occasional storms of sleet. We rode from cover to cover, but all in
vain. “I am sorry, sir, that we are to have such a bad day, as you are
a stranger here,” said one gentleman to me. This was Jack O’Conor, Tom’s
eldest son, my bosom friend for many a year after. Poor Jack! I fear
that the Encumbered Estates Court sent him altogether adrift upon the
world.
“We may still have a run from Poulnaroe, if the gentleman chooses to
come on,” said a voice coming from behind with a sharp trot. It was Tom
O’Conor.
“Wherever the hounds go, I’ll follow,” said I.
“Then come on to Poulnaroe,” said Mr. O’Conor. I trotted on quickly by
his side, and before we reached the cover had managed to slip in
something about Sir P. C.
“What the deuce!” said he. “What! a friend of Sir P—-’s? Why the
deuce didn’t you tell me so? What are you doing down here? Where are you
staying?” &c. &c. &c.
At Poulnaroe we found a fox, but before we did so Mr. O’Conor had asked
me over to Castle Conor. And this he did in such a way that there was no
possibility of refusing him–or, I should rather say, of disobeying him.
For his invitation came quite in the tone of a command.
“You’ll come to us of course when the day is over–and let me see; we’re
near Ballyglass now, but the run will be right away in our direction.
Just send word for them to send your things to Castle Conor.”
“But they’re all about, and unpacked,” said I.
“Never mind. Write a note and say what you want now, and go and get the
rest to-morrow yourself. Here, Patsey!–Patsey! run into Ballyglass for
this gentleman at once. Now don’t be long, for the chances are we shall
find here.” And then, after giving some further hurried instructions he
left me to write a line in pencil to the innkeeper’s wife on the back of
a ditch.
This I accordingly did. “Send my small portmanteau,” I said, “and all my
black dress clothes, and shirts, and socks, and all that, and above all
my dressing things which are on the little table, and the satin
neck-handkerchief, and whatever you do, mind you send my _pumps;_” and I
underscored the latter word; for Jack O’Conor, when his father left me,
went on pressing the invitation. “My sisters are going to get up a
dance,” said he; “and if you are fond of that kind of things perhaps we
can amuse you.” Now in those days I was very fond of dancing–and very
fond of young ladies too, and therefore glad enough to learn that Tom
O’Conor had daughters as well as sons. On this account I was very
particular in underscoring the word pumps.
“And hurry, you young divil,” Jack O’Conor said to Patsey.
“I have told him to take the portmanteau over on a car,” said I.
“All right; then you’ll find it there on our arrival.”
We had an excellent run, in which I may make bold to say that I did not
acquit myself badly. I stuck very close to the hounds, as did the whole
of the O’Conor brood; and when the fellow contrived to earth himself, as
he did, I received those compliments on my horse, which is the most
approved praise which one fox-hunter ever gives to another.
“We’ll buy that fellow of you before we let you go,” said Peter, the
youngest son.
“I advise you to look sharp after your money if you sell him to my
brother,” said Jack.
And then we trotted slowly off to Castle Conor, which, however, was by
no means near to us. “We have ten miles to go;–good Irish miles,” said
the father. “I don’t know that I ever remember a fox from Poulnaroe
taking that line before.”
“He wasn’t a Poulnaroe fox,” said Peter.
“I don’t know that,” said Jack; and then they debated that question
hotly.
Our horses were very tired, and it was late before we reached Mr.
O’Conor’s house. That getting home from hunting with a thoroughly weary
animal, who has no longer sympathy or example to carry him on, is very
tedious work. In the present instance I had company with me; but when a
man is alone, when his horse toes at every ten steps, when the night is
dark and the rain pouring, and there are yet eight miles of road to be
conquered,–at such times a man is almost apt to swear that he will give
up hunting.
At last we were in the Castle Conor stable yard;–for we had approached
the house by some back way; and as we entered the house by a door
leading through a wilderness of back passages, Mr. O’Conor said out
loud, “Now, boys, remember I sit down to dinner in twenty minutes.” And
then turning expressly to me, he laid his hand kindly upon my shoulder
and said, “I hope you will make yourself quite at home at Castle
Conor,–and whatever you do, don’t keep us waiting for dinner. You can
dress in twenty minutes, I suppose?”
“In ten!” said I, glibly.
“That’s well. Jack and Peter will show you your room,” and so he turned
away and left us.
My two young friends made their way into the great hall, and thence
into the drawing-room, and I followed them. We were all dressed in pink,
and had waded deep through bog and mud. I did not exactly know whither I
was being led in this guise, but I soon found myself in the presence of
two young ladies, and of a girl about thirteen years of age.
“My sisters,” said Jack, introducing me very laconically; “Miss O’Conor,
Miss Kate O’Conor, Miss Tizzy O’Conor.”
“My name is not Tizzy,” said the younger; “it’s Eliza. How do you do,
sir? I hope you had a fine hunt! Was papa well up, Jack?”
Jack did not condescend to answer this question, but asked one of the
elder girls whether anything had come, and whether a room had been made
ready for me.
“Oh yes!” said Miss O’Conor; “they came, I know, for I saw them brought
into the house; and I hope Mr. Green will find everything comfortable.”
As she said this I thought I saw a slight smile steal across her
remarkably pretty mouth.
They were both exceedingly pretty girls. Fanny the elder wore long
glossy curls,–for I write, oh reader, of bygone days, as long ago as
that, when ladies wore curls if it pleased them so to do, and gentlemen
danced in pumps, with black handkerchiefs round their necks,–yes, long
black, or nearly black silken curls; and then she had such eyes;–I
never knew whether they were most wicked or most bright; and her face
was all dimples, and each dimple was laden with laughter and laden with
love. Kate was probably the prettier girl of the two, but on the whole
not so attractive. She was fairer than her sister, and wore her hair in
braids; and was also somewhat more demure in her manner.
In spite of the special injunctions of Mr. O’Conor senior, it was
impossible not to loiter for five minutes over the drawing-room fire
talking to these houris–more especially as I seemed to know them
intimately by intuition before half of the five minutes was over. They
were so easy, so pretty, so graceful, so kind, they seemed to take it so
much as a matter of course that I should stand there talking in my red
coat and muddy boots.
“Well; do go and dress yourselves,” at last said Fanny, pretending to
speak to her brothers but looking more especially at me. “You know how
mad papa will be. And remember, Mr. Green, we expect great things from
your dancing to-night. Your coming just at this time is such a Godsend.”
And again that soupçon of a smile passed over her face.
I hurried up to my room, Peter and Jack coming with me to the door. “Is
everything right?” said Peter, looking among the towels and water-jugs.
“They’ve given you a decent fire for a wonder,” said Jack, stirring up
the red hot turf which blazed in the grate. “All right as a trivet,”
said I. “And look alive like a good fellow,” said Jack. We had scowled
at each other in the morning as very young men do when they are
strangers; and now, after a few hours, we were intimate friends.
I immediately turned to my work, and was gratified to find that all my
things were laid out ready for dressing; my portmanteau had of course
come open, as my keys were in my pocket, and therefore some of the
excellent servants of the house had been able to save me all the trouble
of unpacking. There was my shirt hanging before the fire; my black
clothes were spread upon the bed, my socks and collar and handkerchief
beside them; my brushes were on the toilet table, and everything
prepared exactly as though my own man had been there. How nice!
I immediately went to work at getting off my spurs and boots, and then
proceeded to loosen the buttons at my knees. In doing this I sat down in
the arm-chair which had been drawn up for me, opposite the fire. But
what was the object on which my eyes then fell;–the objects I should
rather say!
Immediately in front of my chair was placed, just ready for my feet, an
enormous pair of shooting-boots–half-boots, made to lace up round the
ankles, with thick double leather soles, and each bearing half a stone
of iron in the shape of nails and heel-pieces. I had superintended the
making of these shoes in Burlington Arcade with the greatest diligence.
I was never a good shot; and, like some other sportsmen, intended to
make up for my deficiency in performance by the excellence of my
shooting apparel. “Those nails are not large enough,” I had said; “nor
nearly large enough.” But when the boots came home they struck even me
as being too heavy, too metalsome. “He, he, he,” laughed the boot boy as
he turned them up for me to look at. It may therefore be imagined of
what nature were the articles which were thus set out for the evening’s
dancing.
And then the way in which they were placed! When I saw this the
conviction flew across my mind like a flash of lightning that the
preparation had been made under other eyes than those of the servant.
The heavy big boots were placed so prettily before the chair, and the
strings of each were made to dangle down at the sides, as though just
ready for tying! They seemed to say, the boots did, “Now, make haste.
We at any rate are ready–you cannot say that you were kept waiting for
us.” No mere servant’s hand had ever enabled a pair of boots to laugh at
one so completely.
But what was I to do? I rushed at the small portmanteau, thinking that
my pumps also might be there. The woman surely could not have been such
a fool as to send me those tons of iron for my evening wear! But, alas,
alas! no pumps were there. There was nothing else in the way of covering
for my feet; not even a pair of slippers.
And now what was I to do? The absolute magnitude of my misfortune only
loomed upon me by degrees. The twenty minutes allowed by that stern old
paterfamilias were already gone and I had done nothing towards dressing.
And indeed it was impossible that I should do anything that would be of
avail. I could not go down to dinner in my stocking feet, nor could I
put on my black dress trousers, over a pair of mud-painted top-boots. As
for those iron-soled horrors–; and then I gave one of them a kick with
the side of my bare foot which sent it half way under the bed.
But what was I to do? I began washing myself and brushing my hair with
this horrid weight upon my mind. My first plan was to go to bed, and
send down word that I had been taken suddenly ill in the stomach; then
to rise early in the morning and get away unobserved. But by such a
course of action I should lose all chance of any further acquaintance
with those pretty girls! That they were already aware of the extent of
my predicament, and were now enjoying it–of that I was quite sure.
What if I boldly put on the shooting-boots, and clattered down to dinner
in them? What if I took the bull by the horns, and made, myself, the
most of the joke? This might be very well for the dinner, but it would
be a bad joke for me when the hour for dancing came. And, alas! I felt
that I lacked the courage. It is not every man that can walk down to
dinner, in a strange house full of ladies, wearing such boots as those I
have described.
Should I not attempt to borrow a pair? This, all the world will say,
should have been my first idea. But I have not yet mentioned that I am
myself a large-boned man, and that my feet are especially well
developed. I had never for a moment entertained a hope that I should
find any one in that house whose boot I could wear. But at last I rang
the bell. I would send for Jack, and if everything failed, I would
communicate my grief to him.
I had to ring twice before anybody came. The servants, I well knew, were
putting the dinner on the table. At last a man entered the room, dressed
in rather shabby black, whom I afterwards learned to be the butler.
“What is your name, my friend?” said I, determined to make an ally of
the man.
“My name? Why Larry sure, yer honer. And the masther is out of his
sinses in a hurry, becase yer honer don’t come down.”
“Is he though? Well now, Larry; tell me this; which of all the gentlemen
in the house has got the largest foot?”
“Is it the largest foot, yer honer?” said Larry, altogether surprised by
my question.
“Yes; the largest foot,” and then I proceeded to explain to him my
misfortune. He took up first my top-boot, and then the shooting-boot–in
looking at which he gazed with wonder at the nails;–and then he glanced
at my feet, measuring them with his eye; and after this he pronounced
his opinion.
“Yer honer couldn’t wear a morsel of leather belonging to ere a one of
’em, young or ould. There niver was a foot like that yet among the
O’Conors.”
“But are there no strangers staying here?”
“There’s three or four on ’em come in to dinner; but they’ll be wanting
their own boots I’m thinking. And there’s young Misther Dillon; he’s
come to stay. But Lord love you–” and he again looked at the enormous
extent which lay between the heel and the toe of the shooting apparatus
which he still held in his hand. “I niver see such a foot as that in the
whole barony,” he said, “barring my own.”
Now Larry was a large man, much larger altogether than myself, and as he
said this I looked down involuntarily at his feet; or rather at his
foot, for as he stood I could only see one. And then a sudden hope
filled my heart. On that foot there glittered a shoe–not indeed such as
were my own which were now resting ingloriously at Ballyglass while they
were so sorely needed at Castle Conor; but one which I could wear before
ladies, without shame–and in my present frame of mind with infinite
contentment.
“Let me look at that one of your own,” said I to the man, as though it
were merely a subject for experimental inquiry. Larry, accustomed to
obedience, took off the shoe and handed it to me. My own foot was
immediately in it, and I found that it fitted me like a glove.
“And now the other,” said I–not smiling, for a smile would have put him
on his guard; but somewhat sternly, so that that habit of obedience
should not desert him at this perilous moment. And then I stretched out
my hand.
“But yer honer can’t keep ’em, you know,” said he. “I haven’t the ghost
of another shoe to my feet.” But I only looked more sternly than before,
and still held out my hand. Custom prevailed. Larry stooped down slowly,
looking at me the while, and pulling off the other slipper handed it to
me with much hesitation. Alas! as I put it to my foot I found that it
was old, and worn, and irredeemably down at heel;–that it was in fact
no counterpart at all to that other one which was to do duty as its
fellow. But nevertheless I put my foot into it, and felt that a descent
to the drawing-room was now possible.
“But yer honer will give ’em back to a poor man?” said Larry almost
crying. “The masther’s mad this minute becase the dinner’s not up. Glory
to God, only listhen to that!” And as he spoke a tremendous peal rang
out from some bell down stairs that had evidently been shaken by an
angry hand.
“Larry,” said I–and I endeavoured to assume a look of very grave
importance as I spoke–“I look to you to assist me in this matter.”
“Och–wirra sthrue then, and will you let me go? just listhen to that,”
and another angry peal rang out, loud and repeated.
“If you do as I ask you,” I continued, “you shall be well rewarded. Look
here; look at these boots,” and I held up the shooting-shoes new from
Burlington Arcade. “They cost thirty shillings–thirty shillings! and I
will give them to you for the loan of this pair of slippers.”
“They’d be no use at all to me, yer honer; not the laist use in life.”
“You could do with them very well for to-night, and then you could sell
them. And here are ten shillings besides,” and I held out half a
sovereign which the poor fellow took into his hand.
I waited no further parley but immediately walked out of the room. With
one foot I was sufficiently pleased. As regarded that I felt that I had
overcome my difficulty. But the other was not so satisfactory. Whenever
I attempted to lift it from the ground the horrid slipper would fall
off, or only just hang by the toe. As for dancing, that would be out of
the question.
“Och, murther, murther,” sang out Larry, as he heard me going down
stairs. “What will I do at all? Tare and ’ounds; there, he’s at it agin,
as mad as blazes.” This last exclamation had reference to another peal
which was evidently the work of the master’s hand.
I confess I was not quite comfortable as I walked down stairs. In the
first place I was nearly half an hour late, and I knew from the vigour
of the peals that had sounded that my slowness had already been made the
subject of strong remarks. And then my left shoe went flop, flop, on
every alternate step of the stairs. By no exertion of my foot in the
drawing up of my toe could I induce it to remain permanently fixed upon
my foot. But over and above and worse than all this was the conviction
strong upon my mind that I should become a subject of merriment to the
girls as soon as I entered the room. They would understand the cause of
my distress, and probably at this moment were expecting to hear me
clatter through the stone hall with those odious metal boots.
However, I hurried down and entered the drawing-room, determined to keep
my position near the door, so that I might have as little as possible to
do on entering and as little as possible in going out. But I had other
difficulties in store for me. I had not as yet been introduced to Mrs.
O’Conor; nor to Miss O’Conor, the squire’s unmarried sister.
“Upon my word I thought you were never coming,” said Mr. O’Conor as soon
as he saw me. “It is just one hour since we entered the house. Jack, I
wish you would find out what has come to that fellow Larry,” and again
he rang the bell. He was too angry, or it might be too impatient to go
through the ceremony of introducing me to anybody.
I saw that the two girls looked at me very sharply, but I stood at the
back of an arm-chair so that no one could see my feet. But that little
imp Tizzy walked round deliberately, looked at my heels, and then walked
back again. It was clear that she was in the secret.
There were eight or ten people in the room, but I was too much fluttered
to notice well who they were.
“Mamma,” said Miss O’Conor, “let me introduce Mr. Green to you.”
It luckily happened that Mrs. O’Conor was on the same side of the fire
as myself, and I was able to take the hand which she offered me without
coming round into the middle of the circle. Mrs. O’Conor was a little
woman, apparently not of much importance in the world, but, if one
might judge from first appearance, very good-natured.
“And my aunt Die, Mr. Green,” said Kate, pointing to a very
straight-backed, grim-looking lady, who occupied a corner of a sofa, on
the opposite side of the hearth. I knew that politeness required that I
should walk across the room and make acquaintance with her. But under
the existing circumstances how was I to obey the dictates of politeness?
I was determined therefore to stand my ground, and merely bowed across
the room at Miss O’Conor. In so doing I made an enemy who never deserted
me during the whole of my intercourse with the family. But for her, who
knows who might have been sitting opposite to me as I now write?
“Upon my word, Mr. Green, the ladies will expect much from an Adonis who
takes so long over his toilet,” said Tom O’Conor in that cruel tone of
banter which he knew so well how to use.
“You forget, father, that men in London can’t jump in and out of their
clothes as quick as we wild Irishmen,” said Jack.
“Mr. Green knows that we expect a great deal from him this evening. I
hope you polk well, Mr. Green,” said Kate.
I muttered something about never dancing, but I knew that that which I
said was inaudible.
“I don’t think Mr. Green will dance,” said Tizzy; “at least not much.”
The impudence of that child was, I think, unparalleled by any that I
have ever witnessed.
“But in the name of all that’s holy, why don’t we have dinner?” And Mr.
O’Conor thundered at the door. “Larry, Larry, Larry!” he screamed.
“Yes, yer honer, it’ll be all right in two seconds,” answered Larry,
from some bottomless abyss. “Tare an’ ages; what’ll I do at all,” I
heard him continuing, as he made his way into the hall. Oh what a
clatter he made upon the pavement,–for it was all stone! And how the
drops of perspiration stood upon my brow as I listened to him!
And then there was a pause, for the man had gone into the dining-room. I
could see now that Mr. O’Conor was becoming very angry, and Jack the
eldest son–oh, how often he and I have laughed over all this
since–left the drawing-room for the second time. Immediately afterwards
Larry’s footsteps were again heard, hurrying across the hall, and then
there was a great slither, and an exclamation, and the noise of a
fall–and I could plainly hear poor Larry’s head strike against the
stone floor.
“Ochone, ochone!” he cried at the top of his voice–“I’m murthered with
’em now intirely; and d—- ’em for boots–St. Peter be good to me.”
There was a general rush into the hall, and I was carried with the
stream. The poor fellow who had broken his head would be sure to tell
how I had robbed him of his shoes. The coachman was already helping him
up, and Peter good-naturedly lent a hand.
“What on earth is the matter?” said Mr. O’Conor.
“He must be tipsy,” whispered Miss O’Conor, the maiden sister.
“I aint tipsy at all thin,” said Larry, getting up and rubbing the back
of his head, and sundry other parts of his body. “Tipsy indeed!” And
then he added when he was quite upright, “The dinner is sarved–at
last.”
And he bore it all without telling! “I’ll give that fellow a guinea
to-morrow morning,” said I to myself–“if it’s the last that I have in
the world.”
I shall never forget the countenance of the Miss O’Conors as Larry
scrambled up cursing the unfortunate boots–“What on earth has he got
on?” said Mr. O’Conor.
“Sorrow take ’em for shoes,” ejaculated Larry. But his spirit was good
and he said not a word to betray me.
We all then went in to dinner how we best could. It was useless for us
to go back into the drawing-room, that each might seek his own partner.
Mr. O’Conor “the masther,” not caring much for the girls who were around
him, and being already half beside himself with the confusion and delay,
led the way by himself. I as a stranger should have given my arm to Mrs.
O’Conor; but as it was I took her eldest daughter instead, and contrived
to shuffle along into the dining-room without exciting much attention,
and when there I found myself happily placed between Kate and Fanny.
“I never knew anything so awkward,” said Fanny; “I declare I can’t
conceive what has come to our old servant Larry. He’s generally the most
precise person in the world, and now he is nearly an hour late–and then
he tumbles down in the hall.”
“I am afraid I am responsible for the delay,” said I.
“But not for the tumble I suppose,” said Kate from the other side. I
felt that I blushed up to the eyes, but I did not dare to enter into
explanations.
“Tom,” said Tizzy, addressing her father across the table, “I hope you
had a good run to-day.” It did seem odd to me that a young lady should
call her father Tom, but such was the fact.
“Well; pretty well,” said Mr. O’Conor.
“And I hope you were up with the hounds.”
“You may ask Mr. Green that. He at any rate was with them, and therefore
he can tell you.”
“Oh, he wasn’t before you, I know. No Englishman could get before
you;–I am quite sure of that.”
“Don’t you be impertinent, miss,” said Kate. “You can easily see, Mr.
Green, that papa spoils my sister Eliza.”
“Do you hunt in top-boots, Mr. Green?” said Tizzy.
To this I made no answer. She would have drawn me into a conversation
about my feet in half a minute, and the slightest allusion to the
subject threw me into a fit of perspiration.
“Are you fond of hunting, Miss O’Conor?” asked I, blindly hurrying into
any other subject of conversation.
Miss O’Conor owned that she was fond of hunting–just a little; only
papa would not allow it. When the hounds met anywhere within reach of
Castle Conor, she and Kate would ride out to look at them; and if papa
was not there that day,–an omission of rare occurrence,–they would
ride a few fields with the hounds.
“But he lets Tizzy keep with them the whole day,” said she, whispering.
“And has Tizzy a pony of her own?”
“Oh yes, Tizzy has everything. She’s papa’s pet, you know.”
“And whose pet are you?” I asked.
“Oh–I am nobody’s pet, unless sometimes Jack makes a pet of me when
he’s in a good humour. Do you make pets of your sisters, Mr. Green?”
“I have none. But if I had I should not make pets of them.”
“Not of your own sisters?”
“No. As for myself, I’d sooner make a pet of my friend’s sister; a great
deal.”
“How very unnatural,” said Miss O’Conor, with the prettiest look of
surprise imaginable.
“Not at all unnatural I think,” said I, looking tenderly and lovingly
into her face. Where does one find girls so pretty, so easy, so sweet,
so talkative as the Irish girls? And then with all their talking and all
their ease who ever hears of their misbehaving? They certainly love
flirting as they also love dancing. But they flirt without mischief and
without malice.
I had now quite forgotten my misfortune, and was beginning to think how
well I should like to have Fanny O’Conor for my wife. In this frame of
mind I was bending over towards her as a servant took away a plate from
the other side, when a sepulchral note sounded in my ear. It was like
the memento mori of the old Roman;–as though some one pointed in the
midst of my bliss to the sword hung over my head by a thread. It was the
voice of Larry, whispering in his agony just above, my head–
“They’s disthroying my poor feet intirely, intirely; so they is! I can’t
bear it much longer, yer honer.” I had committed murder like Macbeth;
and now my Banquo had come to disturb me at my feast.
“What is it he says to you?” asked Fanny.
“Oh nothing,” I answered, once more in my misery.
“There seems to be some point of confidence between you and our Larry,”
she remarked.
“Oh no,” said I, quite confused; “not at all.”
“You need not be ashamed of it. Half the gentlemen in the county have
their confidences with Larry;–and some of the ladies too, I can tell
you. He was born in this house, and never lived anywhere else; and I am
sure he has a larger circle of acquaintance than any one else in it.”
I could not recover my self-possession for the next ten minutes.
Whenever Larry was on our side of the table I was afraid he was coming
to me with another agonised whisper. When he was opposite, I could not
but watch him as he hobbled in his misery. It was evident that the boots
were too tight for him, and had they been made throughout of iron they
could not have been less capable of yielding to the feet. I pitied him
from the bottom of my heart. And I pitied myself also, wishing that I
was well in bed upstairs with some feigned malady, so that Larry might
have had his own again.
And then for a moment I missed him from the room. He had doubtless gone
to relieve his tortured feet in the servants’ hall, and as he did so was
cursing my cruelty. But what mattered it? Let him curse. If he would
only stay away and do that, I would appease his wrath when we were alone
together with pecuniary satisfaction.
But there was no such rest in store for me. “Larry, Larry,” shouted Mr.
O’Conor, “where on earth has the fellow gone to?” They were all cousins
at the table except myself, and Mr. O’Conor was not therefore restrained
by any feeling of ceremony. “There is something wrong with that fellow
to-day; what is it, Jack?”
“Upon my word, sir, I don’t know,” said Jack.
“I think he must be tipsy,” whispered Miss O’Conor, the maiden sister,
who always sat at her brother’s left hand. But a whisper though it was,
it was audible all down the table.
“No, ma’am; it aint dhrink at all,” said the coachman. “It is his feet
as does it.”
“His feet!” shouted Tom O’Conor.
“Yes; I know it’s his feet,” said that horrid Tizzy. “He’s got on great
thick nailed shoes. It was that that made him tumble down in the hall.”
I glanced at each side of me, and could see that there was a certain
consciousness expressed in the face of each of my two neighbours;–on
Kate’s mouth there was decidedly a smile, or rather, perhaps, the
slightest possible inclination that way; whereas on Fanny’s part I
thought I saw something like a rising sorrow at my distress. So at least
I flattered myself.
“Send him back into the room immediately,” said Tom, who looked at me as
though he had some consciousness that I had introduced all this
confusion into his household. What should I do? Would it not be best for
me to make a clean breast of it before them all? But alas! I lacked the
courage.
The coachman went out, and we were left for five minutes without any
servant, and Mr. O’Conor the while became more and more savage. I
attempted to say a word to Fanny, but failed. Vox faucibus hæsit.
“I don’t think he has got any others,” said Tizzy–“at least none others
left.”
On the whole I am glad I did not marry into the family, as I could not
have endured that girl to stay in my house as a sister-in-law.
“Where the d—- has that other fellow gone to?” said Tom. “Jack, do go
out and see what is the matter. If anybody is drunk send for me.”
“Oh, there is nobody drunk,” said Tizzy.
Jack went out, and the coachman returned; but what was done and said I
hardly remember. The whole room seemed to swim round and round, and as
far as I can recollect the company sat mute, neither eating nor
drinking. Presently Jack returned.
“It’s all right,” said he. I always liked Jack. At the present moment he
just looked towards me and laughed slightly.
“All right?” said Tom. “But is the fellow coming?”
“We can do with Richard, I suppose,” said Jack.
“No–I can’t do with Richard,” said the father. “And I will know what it
all means. Where is that fellow Larry?”
Larry had been standing just outside the door, and now he entered gently
as a mouse. No sound came from his footfall, nor was there in his face
that look of pain which it had worn for the last fifteen minutes. But he
was not the less abashed, frightened, and unhappy.
“What is all this about, Larry?” said his master, turning to him. “I
insist upon knowing.”
“Och thin, Mr. Green, yer honer, I wouldn’t be afther telling agin yer
honer; indeed I wouldn’t thin, av’ the masther would only let me hould
my tongue.” And he looked across at me, deprecating my anger.
“Mr. Green!” said Mr. O’Conor.
“Yes, yer honer. It’s all along of his honor’s thick shoes;” and Larry,
stepping backwards towards the door, lifted them up from some corner,
and coming well forward, exposed them with the soles uppermost to the
whole table.
“And that’s not all, yer honer; but they’ve squoze the very toes of me
into a jelly.”
There was now a loud laugh, in which Jack and Peter and Fanny and Kate
and Tizzy all joined; as too did Mr. O’Conor–and I also myself after a
while.
“Whose boots are they?” demanded Miss O’Conor senior, with her severest
tone and grimmest accent.
“’Deed then and the divil may have them for me, Miss,” answered Larry.
“They war Mr. Green’s, but the likes of him won’t wear them agin afther
the likes of me–barring he wanted them very particular,” added he,
remembering his own pumps.
I began muttering something, feeling that the time had come when I must
tell the tale. But Jack with great good nature, took up the story and
told it so well, that I hardly suffered in the telling.
“And that’s it,” said Tom O’Conor, laughing till I thought he would have
fallen from his chair. “So you’ve got Larry’s shoes on–”
“And very well he fills them,” said Jack.
“And it’s his honer that’s welcome to ’em,” said Larry, grinning from
ear to ear now that he saw that “the masther” was once more in a good
humour.
“I hope they’ll be nice shoes for dancing,” said Kate.
“Only there’s one down at the heel I know,” said Tizzy.
“The servant’s shoes!” This was an exclamation made by the maiden lady,
and intended apparently only for her brother’s ear. But it was clearly
audible by all the party.
“Better that than no dinner,” said Peter.
“But what are you to do about the dancing?” said Fanny, with an air of
dismay on her face which flattered me with an idea that she did care
whether I danced or no.
In the mean time Larry, now as happy as an emperor, was tripping round
the room without any shoes to encumber him as he withdrew the plates
from the table.
“And it’s his honer that’s welcome to ’em,” said he again, as he pulled
off the table-cloth with a flourish. “And why wouldn’t he, and he able
to folly the hounds betther nor any Englishman that iver war in these
parts before,–anyways so Mick says!”
Now Mick was the huntsman, and this little tale of eulogy from Larry
went far towards easing my grief. I had ridden well to the hounds that
day, and I knew it.
There was nothing more said about the shoes, and I was soon again at my
ease, although Miss O’Conor did say something about the impropriety of
Larry walking about in his stocking feet. The ladies however soon
withdrew,–to my sorrow, for I was getting on swimmingly with Fanny; and
then we gentlemen gathered round the fire and filled our glasses.
In about ten minutes a very light tap was heard, the door was opened to
the extent of three inches, and a female voice which I readily
recognised called to Jack.
Jack went out, and in a second or two put his head back into the room
and called to me–“Green,” he said, “just step here a moment, there’s a
good fellow.” I went out, and there I found Fanny standing with her
brother.
“Here are the girls at their wits’ ends,” said he, “about your dancing.
So Fanny has put a boy upon one of the horses, and proposes that you
should send another line to Mrs. Meehan at Ballyglass. It’s only ten
miles, and he’ll be back in two hours.”
I need hardly say that I acted in conformity with this advice. I went
into Mr. O’Conor’s book room, with Jack and his sister, and there
scribbled a note. It was delightful to feel how intimate I was with
them, and how anxious they were to make me happy.
“And we won’t begin till they come,” said Fanny.
“Oh, Miss O’Conor, pray don’t wait,” said I.
“Oh, but we will,” she answered. “You have your wine to drink, and then
there’s the tea; and then we’ll have a song or two. I’ll spin it out;
see if I don’t.” And so we went to the front door where the boy was
already on his horse–her own nag as I afterwards found.
“And Patsey,” said she, “ride for your life; and Patsey, whatever you
do, don’t come back without Mr. Green’s pumps–his dancing-shoes you
know.”
And in about two hours the pumps did arrive; and I don’t think I ever
spent a pleasanter evening or got more satisfaction out of a pair of
shoes. They had not been two minutes on my feet before Larry was
carrying a tray of negus across the room in those which I had worn at
dinner.
“The Dillon girls are going to stay here,” said Fanny as I wished her
good night at two o’clock. “And we’ll have dancing every evening as long
as you remain.”
“But I shall leave to-morrow,” said I.
“Indeed you won’t. Papa will take care of that.”
And so he did. “You had better go over to Ballyglass yourself
to-morrow,” said he, “and collect your own things. There’s no knowing
else what you may have to borrow of Larry.”
I stayed there three weeks, and in the middle of the third I thought
that everything would be arranged between me and Fanny. But the aunt
interfered; and in about a twelvemonth after my adventures she consented
to make a more fortunate man happy for his life.
JOHN BULL ON THE GUADALQUIVIR.
I am an Englishman, living, as all Englishman should do, in England, and
my wife would not, I think, be well pleased were any one to insinuate
that she were other than an Englishwoman; but in the circumstances of my
marriage I became connected with the south of Spain, and the narrative
which I am to tell requires that I should refer to some of those
details.
The Pomfrets and Daguilars have long been in trade together in this
country, and one of the partners has usually resided at Seville for the
sake of the works which the firm there possesses. My father, James
Pomfret, lived there for ten years before his marriage; and since that
and up to the present period, old Mr. Daguilar has always been on the
spot. He was, I believe, born in Spain, but he came very early to
England; he married an English wife, and his sons had been educated
exclusively in England. His only daughter, Maria Daguilar, did not pass
so large a proportion of her early life in this country, but she came to
us for a visit at the age of seventeen, and when she returned I made up
my mind that I most assuredly would go after her. So I did, and she is
now sitting on the other side of the fireplace with a legion of small
linen habiliments in a huge basket by her side.
I felt, at the first, that there was something lacking to make my cup of
love perfectly delightful. It was very sweet, but there was wanting that
flower of romance which is generally added to the heavenly draught by a
slight admixture of opposition. I feared that the path of my true love
would run too smooth. When Maria came to our house, my mother and elder
sister seemed to be quite willing that I should be continually alone
with her; and she had not been there ten days before my father, by
chance, remarked that there was nothing old Mr. Daguilar valued so
highly as a thorough feeling of intimate alliance between the two
families which had been so long connected in trade. I was never told
that Maria was to be my wife, but I felt that the same thing was done
without words; and when, after six weeks of somewhat elaborate
attendance upon her, I asked her to be Mrs. John Pomfret, I had no more
fear of a refusal, or even of hesitation on her part, than I now have
when I suggest to my partner some commercial transaction of undoubted
advantage.
But Maria, even, at that age, had about her a quiet sustained decision
of character quite unlike anything I had seen in English girls. I used
to hear, and do still hear, how much more flippant is the education of
girls in France and Spain than in England; and I know that this is shown
to be the result of many causes–the Roman Catholic religion being,
perhaps, the chief offender; but, nevertheless, I rarely see in one of
our own young women the same power of a self-sustained demeanour as I
meet on the Continent. It goes no deeper than the demeanour, people say.
I can only answer that I have not found that shallowness in my own wife.
Miss Daguilar replied to me that she was not prepared with an answer;
she had only known me six weeks, and wanted more time to think about it;
besides, there was one in her own country with whom she would wish to
consult. I knew she had no mother; and as for consulting old Mr.
Daguilar on such a subject, that idea, I knew, could not have troubled
her. Besides, as I afterwards learned, Mr. Daguilar had already proposed
the marriage to his partner exactly as he would have proposed a division
of assets. My mother declared that Maria was a foolish chit–in which,
by-the-bye, she showed her entire ignorance of Miss Daguilar’s
character; my eldest sister begged that no constraint might be put on
the young lady’s inclinations–which provoked me to assert that the
young lady’s inclinations were by no means opposed to my own; and my
father, in the coolest manner, suggested that the matter might stand
over for twelve months, and that I might then go to Seville, and see
about it! Stand over for twelve months! Would not Maria, long before
that time, have been snapped up and carried off by one of those
inordinately rich Spanish grandees who are still to be met with
occasionally in Andalucia?
My father’s dictum, however, had gone forth; and Maria, in the calmest
voice, protested that she thought it very wise. I should be less of a
boy by that time, she said, smiling on me, but driving wedges between
every fibre of my body as she spoke. “Be it so,” I said, proudly. “At
any rate, I am not so much of a boy that I shall forget you.” “And,
John, you still have the trade to learn,” she added, with her
deliciously foreign intonation–speaking very slowly, but with perfect
pronunciation. The trade to learn! However, I said not a word, but
stalked out of the room, meaning to see her no more before she went. But
I could not resist attending on her in the hall as she started; and,
when she took leave of us, she put her face up to be kissed by me, as
she did by my father, and seemed to receive as much emotion from one
embrace as from the other. “He’ll go out by the packet of the 1st
April,” said my father, speaking of me as though I were a bale of goods.
“Ah! that will be so nice,” said Maria, settling her dress in the
carriage; “the oranges will be ripe for him then!”
On the 17th April I did sail, and felt still very like a bale of goods.
I had received one letter from her, in which she merely stated that her
papa would have a room ready for me on my arrival; and, in answer to
that, I had sent an epistle somewhat longer, and, as I then thought, a
little more to the purpose. Her turn of mind was more practical than
mine, and I must confess my belief that she did not appreciate my
poetry.
I landed at Cadiz, and was there joined by an old family friend, one of
the very best fellows that ever lived. He was to accompany me up as far
as Seville; and, as he had lived for a year or two at Xeres, was
supposed to be more Spanish almost than a Spaniard. His name was
Johnson, and he was in the wine trade; and whether for travelling or
whether for staying at home–whether for paying you a visit in your own
house, or whether for entertaining you in his–there never was (and I am
prepared to maintain there never will be) a stancher friend, a choicer
companion, or a safer guide than Thomas Johnson. Words cannot produce a
eulogium sufficient for his merits. But, as I have since learned, he was
not quite so Spanish as I had imagined. Three years among the bodegas of
Xeres had taught him, no doubt, to appreciate the exact twang of a good,
dry sherry; but not, as I now conceive, the exactest flavour of the true
Spanish character. I was very lucky, however, in meeting such a friend,
and now reckon him as one of the stanchest allies of the house of
Pomfret, Daguilar, and Pomfret.
He met me at Cadiz, took me about the town, which appeared to me to be
of no very great interest;–though the young ladies were all very well.
But, in this respect, I was then a Stoic, till such time as I might be
able to throw myself at the feet of her whom I was ready to proclaim
the most lovely of all the Dulcineas of Andalucia. He carried me up by
boat and railway to Xeres; gave me a most terrific headache, by dragging
me out into the glare of the sun, after I had tasted some half a dozen
different wines, and went through all the ordinary hospitalities. On the
next day we returned to Puerto, and from thence getting across to St.
Lucar and Bonanza, found ourselves on the banks of the Guadalquivir, and
took our places in the boat for Seville. I need say but little to my
readers respecting that far-famed river. Thirty years ago we in England
generally believed that on its banks was to be found a pure elysium of
pastoral beauty; that picturesque shepherds and lovely maidens here fed
their flocks in fields of asphodel; that the limpid stream ran cool and
crystal over bright stones and beneath perennial shade; and that
everything on the Guadalquivir was as lovely and as poetical as its
name. Now, it is pretty widely known that no uglier river oozes down to
its bourn in the sea through unwholesome banks of low mud. It is brown
and dirty; ungifted by any scenic advantage; margined for miles upon
miles by huge, flat, expansive fields, in which cattle are reared,–the
bulls wanted for the bull-fights among other; and birds of prey sit
constant on the shore, watching for the carcases of such as die. Such
are the charms of the golden Guadalquivir.
At first we were very dull on board that steamer. I never found myself
in a position in which there was less to do. There was a nasty smell
about the little boat which made me almost ill; every turn in the river
was so exactly like the last, that we might have been standing still;
there was no amusement except eating, and that, when once done, was not
of a kind to make an early repetition desirable. Even Johnson was
becoming dull, and I began to doubt whether I was so desirous as I once
had been to travel the length and breadth of all Spain. But about noon a
little incident occurred which did for a time remove some of our tedium.
The boat had stopped to take in passengers on the river; and, among
others, a man had come on board dressed in a fashion that, to my eyes,
was equally strange and picturesque. Indeed, his appearance was so
singular, that I could not but regard him with care, though I felt at
first averse to stare at a fellow-passenger on account of his clothes.
He was a man of about fifty, but as active apparently as though not more
than twenty-five; he was of low stature, but of admirable make; his hair
was just becoming grizzled, but was short and crisp and well cared for;
his face was prepossessing, having a look of good humour added to
courtesy, and there was a pleasant, soft smile round his mouth which
ingratiated one at the first sight. But it was his dress rather than his
person which attracted attention. He wore the ordinary Andalucian
cap–of which such hideous parodies are now making themselves common in
England–but was not contented with the usual ornament of the double
tuft. The cap was small, and jaunty; trimmed with silk velvet–as is
common here with men careful to adorn their persons; but this man’s cap
was finished off with a jewelled button and golden filigree work. He was
dressed in a short jacket with a stand-up collar; and that also was
covered with golden buttons and with golden button-holes. It was all
gilt down the front, and all lace down the back. The rows of buttons
were double; and those of the more backward row hung down in heavy
pendules. His waistcoat was of coloured silk–very pretty to look at;
and ornamented with a small sash, through which gold threads were
worked. All the buttons of his breeches also were of gold; and there
were gold tags to all the button-holes. His stockings were of the finest
silk, and clocked with gold from the knee to the ankle.
Dress any Englishman in such a garb and he will at once give you the
idea of a hog in armour. In the first place he will lack the proper
spirit to carry it off, and in the next place the motion of his limbs
will disgrace the ornaments they bear. “And so best,” most Englishmen
will say. Very likely; and, therefore, let no Englishman try it. But my
Spaniard did not look at all like a hog in armour. He walked slowly down
the plank into the boat, whistling lowly but very clearly a few bars
from an opera tune. It was plain to see that he was master of himself,
of his ornaments, and of his limbs. He had no appearance of thinking
that men were looking at him, or of feeling that he was beauteous in his
attire;–nothing could be more natural than his foot-fall, or the quiet
glance of his cheery gray eye. He walked up to the captain, who held the
helm, and lightly raised his hand to his cap. The captain, taking one
hand from the wheel, did the same, and then the stranger, turning his
back to the stern of the vessel, and fronting down the river with his
face, continued to whistle slowly, clearly, and in excellent time. Grand
as were his clothes they were no burden on his mind.
“What is he?” said I, going up to my friend Johnson, with a whisper.
“Well, I’ve been looking at him,” said Johnson–which was true enough;
“he’s a—-an uncommonly good-looking fellow, isn’t he?”
“Particularly so,” said I; “and got up quite irrespective of expense. Is
he a–a–a gentleman, now, do you think?”
“Well, those things are so different in Spain, that it’s almost
impossible to make an Englishman understand them. One learns to know all
this sort of people by being with them in the country, but one can’t
explain.”
“No; exactly. Are they real gold?”
“Yes, yes; I dare say they are. They sometimes have them silver gilt.”
“It is quite a common thing, then, isn’t it?” asked I.
“Well, not exactly; that—- Ah! yes; I see! of course. He is a torero.”
“A what?”
“A mayo. I will explain it all to you. You will see them about in all
places, and you will get used to them.”
“But I haven’t seen one other as yet.”
“No, and they are not all so gay as this, nor so new in their finery,
you know.”
“And what is a torero?”
“Well, a torero is a man engaged in bull-fighting.”
“Oh! he is a matador, is he?” said I, looking at him with more than all
my eyes.
“No, not exactly that;–not of necessity. He is probably a mayo. A
fellow that dresses himself smart for fairs, and will be seen hanging
about with the bull-fighters. What would be a sporting fellow in
England–only he won’t drink and curse like a low man on the turf there.
Come, shall we go and speak to him?”
“I can’t talk to him,” said I, diffident of my Spanish. I had received
lessons in England from Maria Daguilar; but six weeks is little enough
for making love, let alone the learning of a foreign language.
“Oh! I’ll do the talking. You’ll find the language easy enough before
long. It soon becomes the same as English to you, when you live among
them.” And then Johnson, walking up to the stranger, accosted him with
that good-natured familiarity with which a thoroughly nice fellow always
opens a conversation with his inferior. Of course I could not understand
the words which were exchanged; but it was clear enough that the “mayo”
took the address in good part, and was inclined to be communicative and
social.
“They are all of pure gold,” said Johnson, turning to me after a minute,
making as he spoke a motion with his head to show the importance of the
information.
“Are they indeed?” said I. “Where on earth did a fellow like that get
them?” Whereupon Johnson again returned to his conversation with the
man. After another minute he raised his hand, and began to finger the
button on the shoulder; and to aid him in doing so, the man of the
bull-ring turned a little on one side.
“They are wonderfully well made,” said Johnson, talking to me, and still
fingering the button. “They are manufactured, he says, at Osuna, and he
tells me that they make them better there than anywhere else.”
“I wonder what the whole set would cost?” said I. “An enormous deal of
money for a fellow like him, I should think!”
“Over twelve ounces,” said Johnson, having asked the question; “and that
will be more than forty pounds.”
“What an uncommon ass he must be!” said I.
As Johnson by this time was very closely scrutinising the whole set of
ornaments I thought I might do so also, and going up close to our
friend, I too began to handle the buttons and tags on the other side.
Nothing could have been more good-humoured than he was–so much so that
I was emboldened to hold up his arm that I might see the cut of his
coat, to take off his cap and examine the make, to stuff my finger in
beneath his sash, and at last to kneel down while I persuaded him to
hold up his legs that I might look to the clocking. The fellow was
thoroughly good-natured, and why should I not indulge my curiosity?
“You’ll upset him if you don’t take care,” said Johnson; for I had got
fast hold of him by one ankle, and was determined to finish the survey
completely.
“Oh, no, I shan’t,” said I; “a bull-fighting chap can surely stand on
one leg. But what I wonder at is, how on earth he can afford it!”
Whereupon Johnson again began to interrogate him in Spanish.
“He says he has got no children,” said Johnson, having received a reply,
“and that as he has nobody but himself to look after, he is able to
allow himself such little luxuries.”
“Tell him that I say he would be better with a wife and couple of
babies,” said I–and Johnson interpreted.
“He says that he’ll think of it some of these days, when he finds that
the supply of fools in the world is becoming short,” said Johnson.
We had nearly done with him now; but after regaining my feet, I
addressed myself once more to the heavy pendules, which hung down almost
under his arm. I lifted one of these, meaning to feel its weight
between my fingers; but unfortunately I gave a lurch, probably through
the motion of the boat, and still holding by the button, tore it almost
off from our friend’s coat.
“Oh, I am so sorry,” I said, in broad English.
“It do not matter at all,” he said, bowing, and speaking with equal
plainness. And then, taking a knife from his pocket, he cut the pendule
off, leaving a bit of torn cloth on the side of his jacket.
“Upon my word, I am quite unhappy,” said I; “but I always am so
awkward.” Whereupon he bowed low.
“Couldn’t I make it right?” said I, bringing out my purse.
He lifted his hand, and I saw that it was small and white; he lifted it
and gently put it upon my purse, smiling sweetly as he did so. “Thank
you, no, señor; thank you, no.” And then, bowing to us both, he walked
away down into the cabin.
“Upon my word he is a deuced well-mannered fellow,” said I.
“You shouldn’t have offered him money,” said Johnson; “a Spaniard does
not like it.”
“Why, I thought you could do nothing without money in this country.
Doesn’t every one take bribes?”
“Ah! yes; that is a different thing; but not the price of a button. By
Jove! he understood English, too. Did you see that?”
“Yes; and I called him an ass! I hope he doesn’t mind it.”
“Oh! no; he won’t think anything about it,” said Johnson. “That sort of
fellows don’t. I dare say we shall see him in the bull-ring next Sunday,
and then we’ll make all right with a glass of lemonade.”
And so our adventure ended with the man of the gold ornaments. I was
sorry that I had spoken English before him so heedlessly, and resolved
that I would never be guilty of such gaucherie again. But, then, who
would think that a Spanish bull-fighter would talk a foreign language? I
was sorry, also, that I had torn his coat; it had looked so awkward; and
sorry again that I had offered the man money. Altogether I was a little
ashamed of myself; but I had too much to look forward to at Seville to
allow any heaviness to remain long at my heart; and before I had arrived
at the marvellous city I had forgotten both him and his buttons.
Nothing could be nicer than the way in which I was welcomed at Mr.
Daguilar’s house, or more kind–I may almost say affectionate–than
Maria’s manner to me. But it was too affectionate; and I am not sure
that I should not have liked my reception better had she been more
diffident in her tone, and less inclined to greet me with open warmth.
As it was, she again gave me her cheek to kiss, in her father’s
presence, and called me dear John, and asked me specially after some
rabbits which I had kept at home merely for a younger sister; and then
it seemed as though she were in no way embarrassed by the peculiar
circumstances of our position. Twelve months since I had asked her to be
my wife, and now she was to give me an answer; and yet she was as
assured in her gait, and as serenely joyous in her tone, as though I
were a brother just returned from college. It could not be that she
meant to refuse me, or she would not smile on me and be so loving; but I
could almost have found it in my heart to wish that she would. “It is
quite possible,” said I to myself, “that I may not be found so ready for
this family bargain. A love that is to be had like a bale of goods is
not exactly the love to suit my taste.” But then, when I met her again
in the morning, I could no more have quarrelled with her than I could
have flown.
I was inexpressibly charmed with the whole city, and especially with the
house in which Mr. Daguilar lived. It opened from the corner of a
narrow, unfrequented street–a corner like an elbow–and, as seen from
the exterior, there was nothing prepossessing to recommend it; but the
outer door led by a short hall or passage to an inner door or grille,
made of open ornamental iron-work, and through that we entered a court,
or patio, as they called it. Nothing could be more lovely or deliciously
cool than was this small court. The building on each side was covered by
trellis-work; and beautiful creepers, vines, and parasite flowers, now
in the full magnificence of the early summer, grew up and clustered
round the windows. Every inch of wall was covered, so that none of the
glaring whitewash wounded the eye, In the four corners of the patio were
four large orange-trees, covered with fruit. I would not say a word in
special praise of these, remembering that childish promise she had made
on my behalf. In the middle of the court there was a fountain, and round
about on the marble floor there were chairs, and here and there a small
table, as though the space were really a portion of the house. It was
here that we used to take our cup of coffee and smoke our cigarettes, I
and old Mr. Daguilar, while Maria sat by, not only approving, but
occasionally rolling for me the thin paper round the fragrant weed with
her taper fingers. Beyond the patio was an open passage or gallery,
filled also with flowers in pots; and then, beyond this, one entered the
drawing-room of the house. It was by no means a princely palace or
mansion, fit for the owner of untold wealth. The rooms were not over
large nor very numerous; but the most had been made of a small space,
and everything had been done to relieve the heat of an almost tropical
sun.
“It is pretty, is it not?” she said, as she took me through it.
“Very pretty,” I said. “I wish we could live in such houses.”
“Oh, they would not do at all for dear old fat, cold, cozy England. You
are quite different, you know, in everything from us in the south; more
phlegmatic, but then so much steadier. The men and the houses are all
the same.”
I can hardly tell why, but even this wounded me. It seemed to me as
though she were inclined to put into one and the same category things
English, dull, useful, and solid; and that she was disposed to show a
sufficient appreciation for such necessaries of life, though she herself
had another and inner sense–a sense keenly alive to the poetry of her
own southern clime; and that I, as being English, was to have no
participation in this latter charm. An English husband might do very
well, the interests of the firm might make such an arrangement
desirable, such a mariage de convenance–so I argued to myself–might be
quite compatible with–with heaven only knows what delights of
super-terrestial romance, from which I, as being an English thick-headed
lump of useful coarse mortality, was to be altogether debarred. She had
spoken to me of oranges, and having finished the survey of the house,
she offered me some sweet little cakes. It could not be that of such
things were the thoughts which lay undivulged beneath the clear waters
of those deep black eyes–undivulged to me, though no one else could
have so good a right to read those thoughts! It could not be that that
noble brow gave index of a mind intent on the trade of which she spoke
so often! Words of other sort than any that had been vouchsafed to me
must fall at times from the rich curves of that perfect mouth.
So felt I then, pining for something to make me unhappy. Ah, me! I know
all about it now, and am content. But I wish that some learned pundit
would give us a good definition of romance, would describe in words that
feeling with which our hearts are so pestered when we are young, which
makes us sigh for we know not what, and forbids us to be contented with
what God sends us. We invest female beauty with impossible attributes,
and are angry because our women have not the spiritualised souls of
angels, anxious as we are that they should also be human in the flesh. A
man looks at her he would love as at a distant landscape in a
mountainous land. The peaks are glorious with more than the beauty of
earth and rock and vegetation. He dreams of some mysterious grandeur of
design which tempts him on under the hot sun, and over the sharp rock,
till he has reached the mountain goal which he had set before him. But
when there, he finds that the beauty is well-nigh gone, and as for that
delicious mystery on which his soul had fed, it has vanished for ever.
I know all about it now, and am, as I said, content. Beneath those deep
black eyes there lay a well of love, good, honest, homely love, love of
father and husband and children that were to come–of that love which
loves to see the loved ones prospering in honesty. That noble brow–for
it is noble; I am unchanged in that opinion, and will go unchanged to my
grave–covers thoughts as to the welfare of many, and an intellect
fitted to the management of a household, of servants, namely, and
children, and perchance a husband. That mouth can speak words of wisdom,
of very useful wisdom–though of poetry it has latterly uttered little
that was original. Poetry and romance! They are splendid mountain views
seen in the distance. So let men be content to see them, and not attempt
to tread upon the fallacious heather of the mystic hills.
In the first week of my sojourn in Seville I spoke no word of overt love
to Maria, thinking, as I confess, to induce her thereby to alter her
mode of conduct to myself. “She knows that I have come here to make love
to her–to repeat my offer; and she will at any rate be chagrined if I
am slow to do so.” But it had no effect. At home my mother was rather
particular about her table, and Maria’s greatest efforts seemed to be
used in giving me as nice dinners as we gave her. In those days I did
not care a straw about my dinner, and so I took an opportunity of
telling her. “Dear me,” said she, looking at me almost with grief, “do
you not? What a pity! And do you not like music either?” “Oh, yes, I
adore it,” I replied. I felt sure at the time that had I been born in
her own sunny clime, she would never have talked to me about eating. But
that was my mistake.
I used to walk out with her about the city, seeing all that is there of
beauty and magnificence. And in what city is there more that is worth
the seeing? At first this was very delightful to me, for I felt that I
was blessed with a privilege that would not be granted to any other man.
But its value soon fell in my eyes, for others would accost her, and
walk on the other side, talking to her in Spanish, as though I hardly
existed, or were a servant there for her protection. And I was not
allowed to take her arm, and thus to appropriate her, as I should have
done in England. “No, John,” she said, with the sweetest, prettiest
smile, “we don’t do that here; only when people are married.” And she
made this allusion to married life out, openly, with no slightest tremor
on her tongue.
“Oh, I beg pardon,” said I, drawing back my hand, and feeling angry with
myself for not being fully acquainted with all the customs of a foreign
country.
“You need not beg pardon,” said she; “when we were in England we always
walked so. It is just a custom, you know.” And then I saw her drop her
large dark eyes to the ground, and bow gracefully in answer to some
salute.
I looked round, and saw that we had been joined by a young cavalier,–a
Spanish nobleman, as I saw at once; a man with jet black hair, and a
straight nose, and a black moustache, and patent leather boots, very
slim and very tall, and–though I would not confess it then–uncommonly
handsome. I myself am inclined to be stout, my hair is light, my nose
broad, I have no hair on my upper lip, and my whiskers are rough and
uneven. “I could punch your head though, my fine fellow,” said I to
myself, when I saw that he placed himself at Maria’s side, “and think
very little of the achievement.”
The wretch went on with us round the plaza for some quarter of an hour
talking Spanish with the greatest fluency, and she was every whit as
fluent. Of course I could not understand a word that they said. Of all
positions that a man can occupy, I think that that is about the most
uncomfortable; and I cannot say that, even up to this day, I have quite
forgiven her for that quarter of an hour.
“I shall go in,” said I, unable to bear my feelings, and preparing to
leave her. “The heat is unendurable.”
“Oh dear, John, why did you not speak before?” she answered. “You cannot
leave me here, you know, as I am in your charge; but I will go with you
almost directly.” And then she finished her conversation with the
Spaniard, speaking with an animation she had never displayed in her
conversations with me.
It had been agreed between us for two or three days before this, that we
were to rise early on the following morning for the sake of ascending
the tower of the cathedral, and visiting the Giralda, as the iron
figure is called, which turns upon a pivot on the extreme summit. We had
often wandered together up and down the long dark gloomy aisle of the
stupendous building, and had, together, seen its treasury of art; but as
yet we had not performed the task which has to be achieved by all
visitors to Seville; and in order that we might have a clear view over
the surrounding country, and not be tormented by the heat of an advanced
sun, we had settled that we would ascend the Giralda before breakfast.
And now, as I walked away from the plaza towards Mr. Daguilar’s house,
with Maria by my side, I made up my mind that I would settle my business
during this visit to the cathedral. Yes, and I would so manage the
settlement that there should be no doubt left as to my intentions and my
own ideas. I would not be guilty of shilly-shally conduct; I would tell
her frankly what I felt and what I thought, and would make her
understand that I did not desire her hand if I could not have her heart.
I did not value the kindness of her manner, seeing that that kindness
sprung from indifference rather than passion; and so I would declare to
her. And I would ask her, also, who was this young man with whom she was
intimate–for whom all her volubility and energy of tone seemed to be
employed? She had told me once that it behoved her to consult a friend
in Seville as to the expediency of her marriage with me. Was this the
friend whom she had wished to consult? If so, she need not trouble
herself. Under such circumstances I should decline the connection! And I
resolved that I would find out how this might be. A man who proposes to
take a woman to his bosom as his wife, has a right to ask for
information–ay, and to receive it too. It flashed upon my mind at this
moment that Donna Maria was well enough inclined to come to me as my
wife, but—-. I could hardly define the “buts” to myself, for there
were three or four of them. Why did she always speak to me in a tone of
childish affection, as though I were a schoolboy home for the holidays?
I would have all this out with her on the tower on the following
morning, standing under the Giralda.
On that morning we met together in the patio, soon after five o’clock,
and started for the cathedral. She looked beautiful, with her black
mantilla over her head, and with black gloves on, and her black morning
silk dress–beautiful, composed, and at her ease, as though she were
well satisfied to undertake this early morning walk from feelings of
good nature–sustained, probably, by some under-current of a deeper
sentiment. Well; I would know all about it before I returned to her
father’s house.
There hardly stands, as I think, on the earth, a building more
remarkable than the cathedral of Seville, and hardly one more grand. Its
enormous size; its gloom and darkness; the richness of ornamentation in
the details, contrasted with the severe simplicity of the larger
outlines; the variety of its architecture; the glory of its paintings;
and the wondrous splendour of its metallic decoration, its
altar-friezes, screens, rails, gates, and the like, render it, to my
mind, the first in interest among churches. It has not the coloured
glass of Chartres, or the marble glory of Milan, or such a forest of
aisles as Antwerp, or so perfect a hue in stone as Westminster, nor in
mixed beauty of form and colour does it possess anything equal to the
choir of Cologne; but, for combined magnificence and awe-compelling
grandeur, I regard it as superior to all other ecclesiastical edifices.
It is its deep gloom with which the stranger is so greatly struck on his
first entrance. In a region so hot as the south of Spain, a cool
interior is a main object with the architect, and this it has been
necessary to effect by the exclusion of light; consequently the church
is dark, mysterious, and almost cold. On the morning in question, as we
entered, it seemed to be filled with gloom, and the distant sound of a
slow footstep here and there beyond the transept inspired one almost
with awe. Maria, when she first met me, had begun to talk with her usual
smile, offering me coffee and a biscuit before I started. “I never eat
biscuit,” I said, with almost a severe tone, as I turned from her. That
dark, horrid man of the plaza–would she have offered him a cake had she
been going to walk with him in the gloom of the morning? After that
little had been spoken between us. She walked by my side with her
accustomed smile; but she had, as I flattered myself, begun to learn
that I was not to be won by a meaningless good nature. “We are lucky in
our morning for the view!” that was all she said, speaking with that
peculiarly clear, but slow pronunciation which she had assumed in
learning our language.
We entered the cathedral, and, walking the whole length of the aisle,
left it again at the porter’s porch at the farther end. Here we passed
through a low door on to the stone flight of steps, and at once began to
ascend. “There are a party of your countrymen up before us,” said Maria;
“the porter says that they went through the lodge half an hour since.”
“I hope they will return before we are on the top,” said I, bethinking
myself of the task that was before me. And indeed my heart was hardly
at ease within me, for that which I had to say would require all the
spirit of which I was master.
The ascent to the Giralda is very long and very fatiguing; and we had to
pause on the various landings and in the singular belfry in order that
Miss Daguilar might recruit her strength and breath. As we rested on one
of these occasions, in a gallery which runs round the tower below the
belfry, we heard a great noise of shouting, and a clattering of sticks
among the bells. “It is the party of your countrymen who went up before
us,” said she. “What a pity that Englishmen should always make so much
noise!” And then she spoke in Spanish to the custodian of the bells, who
is usually to be found in a little cabin up there within the tower. “He
says that they went up shouting like demons,” continued Maria; and it
seemed to me that she looked as though I ought to be ashamed of the name
of an Englishman. “They may not be so solemn in their demeanour as
Spaniards,” I answered; “but, for all that, there may be quite as much
in them.”
We then again began to mount, and before we had ascended much farther we
passed my three countrymen. They were young men, with gray coats and
gray trousers, with slouched hats, and without gloves. They had fair
faces and fair hair, and swung big sticks in their hands, with crooked
handles. They laughed and talked loud, and, when we met them, seemed to
be racing with each other; but nevertheless they were gentlemen. No one
who knows by sight what an English gentleman is, could have doubted
that; but I did acknowledge to myself that they should have remembered
that the edifice they were treading was a church, and that the silence
they were invading was the cherished property of a courteous people.
“They are all just the same as big boys,” said Maria. The colour
instantly flew into my face, and I felt that it was my duty to speak up
for my own countrymen. The word “boys” especially wounded my ears. It
was as a boy that she treated me; but, on looking at that befringed
young Spanish Don–who was not, apparently, my elder in age–she had
recognised a man. However, I said nothing further till I reached the
summit. One cannot speak with manly dignity while one is out of breath
on a staircase.
“There, John,” she said, stretching her hands away over the fair plain
of the Guadalquivir, as soon as we stood against the parapet; “is not
that lovely?”
I would not deign to notice this. “Maria,” I said, “I think, that you
are too hard upon my countrymen?”
“Too hard! no; for I love them. They are so good and industrious; and
they come home to their wives, and take care of their children. But why
do they make themselves so–so–what the French call gauche?”
“Good and industrious, and come home to their wives!” thought I. “I
believe you hardly understand us as yet,” I answered. “Our domestic
virtues are not always so very prominent; but, I believe, we know how to
conduct ourselves as gentlemen: at any rate, as well as Spaniards.” I
was very angry–not at the faults, but at the good qualities imputed to
us.
“In affairs of business, yes,” said Maria, with a look of firm
confidence in her own opinion–that look of confidence which she has
never lost, and I pray that she may never lose it while I remain with
her–“but in the little intercourses of the world, no! A Spaniard never
forgets what is personally due either to himself or his neighbours. If
he is eating an onion, he eats it as an onion should be eaten.”
“In such matters as that he is very grand, no doubt,” said I, angrily.
“And why should you not eat an onion properly, John? Now, I heard a
story yesterday from Don —- about two Englishmen, which annoyed me very
much.” I did not exactly catch the name of the Don in question, but I
felt through every nerve in my body that it was the man who had been
talking to her on the plaza.
“And what have they done?” said I. “But it is the same everywhere. We
are always abused; but, nevertheless, no people are so welcome. At any
rate, we pay for the mischief we do.” I was angry with myself the moment
the words were out of my mouth, for, after all, there is no feeling more
mean than that pocket-confidence with which an Englishman sometimes
swaggers.
“There was no mischief done in this case,” she answered. “It was simply
that two men have made themselves ridiculous for ever. The story is all
about Seville, and, of course, it annoys me that they should be
Englishmen.”
“And what did they do?”
“The Marquis D’Almavivas was coming up to Seville in the boat, and they
behaved to him in the most outrageous manner. He is here now, and is
going to give a series of fêtes. Of course he will not ask a single
Englishman.”
“We shall manage to live, even though the Marquis D’Almavivas may frown
upon us,” said I, proudly.
“He is the richest, and also the best of our noblemen,” continued Maria;
“and I never heard of anything so absurd as what they did to him. It
made me blush when Don —- told me.” Don Tomàs, I thought she said.
“If he be the best of your noblemen, how comes it that he is angry
because he has met two vulgar men? It is not to be supposed that every
Englishman is a gentleman.”
“Angry! Oh, no! he was not angry; he enjoyed the joke too much for that.
He got completely the best of them, though they did not know it; poor
fools! How would your Lord John Russell behave if two Spaniards in an
English railway carriage were to pull him about and tear his clothes?”
“He would give them in charge to a policeman, of course,” said I,
speaking of such a matter with the contempt it deserved.
“If that were done here your ambassador would be demanding national
explanations. But Almavivas did much better;–he laughed at them without
letting them know it.”
“But do you mean that they took hold of him violently, without any
provocation? They must have been drunk.”
“Oh, no, they were sober enough. I did not see it, so I do not quite
know exactly how it was, but I understand that they committed themselves
most absurdly, absolutely took hold of his coat and tore it, and–; but
they did such ridiculous things that I cannot tell you.” And yet Don
Tomàs, if that was the man’s name, had been able to tell her, and she
had been able to listen to him.
“What made them take hold of the marquis?” said I.
“Curiosity, I suppose,” she answered. “He dresses somewhat fancifully,
and they could not understand that any one should wear garments
different from their own.” But even then the blow did not strike home
upon me.
“Is it not pretty to look down upon the quiet town?” she said, coming
close up to me, so that the skirt of her dress pressed me, and her elbow
touched my arm. Now was the moment I should have asked her how her heart
stood towards me; but I was sore and uncomfortable, and my destiny was
before me. She was willing enough to let these English faults pass by
without further notice, but I would not allow the subject to drop.
“I will find out who these men were,” said I, “and learn the truth of
it. When did it occur?”
“Last Thursday, I think he said.”
“Why, that was the day we came up in the boat, Johnson and myself.
There was no marquis there then, and we were the only Englishmen on
board.”
“It was on Thursday, certainly, because it was well known in Seville
that he arrived on that day. You must have remarked him because he talks
English perfectly–though, by-the-bye, these men would go on chattering
before him about himself as though it were impossible that a Spaniard
should know their language. They are ignorant of Spanish, and they
cannot bring themselves to believe that any one should be better
educated than themselves.”
Now the blow had fallen, and I straightway appreciated the necessity of
returning immediately to Clapham, where my family resided, and giving up
for ever all idea of Spanish connections. I had resolved to assert the
full strength of my manhood on that tower, and now words had been spoken
which left me weak as a child. I felt that I was shivering, and did not
dare to pronounce the truth which must be made known. As to speaking of
love, and signifying my pleasure that Don Tomàs should for the future be
kept at a distance, any such effort was quite beyond me. Had Don Tomàs
been there, he might have walked off with her from before my face
without a struggle on my part. “Now I remember about it,” she continued,
“I think he must have been in the boat on Thursday.”
“And now that I remember,” I replied, turning away to hide my
embarrassment, “he was there. Your friend down below in the plaza seems
to have made out a grand story. No doubt he is not fond of the English,
There was such a man there, and I did take hold—-”
“Oh, John, was it you?”
“Yes, Donna Maria, it was I; and if Lord John Russell were to dress
himself in the same way—-” But I had no time to complete my
description of what might occur under so extravagantly impossible a
combination of circumstances, for as I was yet speaking, the little door
leading out on to the leads of the tower was opened, and my friend, the
mayo of the boat, still bearing all his gewgaws on his back, stepped up
on to the platform. My eye instantly perceived that the one pendule was
still missing from his jacket. He did not come alone, but three other
gentlemen followed him, who, however, had no peculiarities in their
dress. He saw me at once, and bowed and smiled; and then observing Donna
Maria, he lifted his cap from his head, and addressing himself to her in
Spanish, began to converse with her as though she were an old friend.
“Señor,” said Maria, after the first words of greeting had been spoken
between them; “you must permit me to present to you my father’s most
particular friend, and my own,–Mr. Pomfret; John, this is the Marquis
D’Almavivas.”
I cannot now describe the grace with which this introduction was
effected, or the beauty of her face as she uttered the word. There was a
boldness about her as though she had said, “I know it all–the whole
story. But, in spite of that you must take him on my representation, and
be gracious to him in spite of what he has done. You must be content to
do that; or in quarrelling with him you must quarrel with me also.” And
it was done at the spur of the moment–without delay. She, who not five
minutes since had been loudly condemning the unknown Englishman for his
rudeness, had already pardoned him, now that he was known to be her
friend; and had determined that he should be pardoned by others also or
that she would share his disgrace. I recognised the nobleness of this at
the moment; but, nevertheless, I was so sore that I would almost have
preferred that she should have disowned me.
The marquis immediately lifted his cap with his left hand while he gave
me his right. “I have already had the pleasure of meeting this
gentleman,” he said; “we had some conversation in the boat together.”
“Yes,” said I, pointing to his rent, “and you still bear the marks of
our encounter.”
“Was it not delightful, Donna Maria,” he continued, turning to her;
“your friend’s friend took me for a torero?”
“And it served you properly, señor,” said Donna Maria, laughing; “you
have no right to go about with all those rich ornaments upon you.”
“Oh! quite properly; indeed, I make no complaint; and I must beg your
friend to understand, and his friend also, how grateful I am for their
solicitude as to my pecuniary welfare. They were inclined to be severe
on me for being so extravagant in such trifles. I was obliged to explain
that I had no wife at home kept without her proper allowance of dresses,
in order that I might be gay.”
“They are foreigners, and you should forgive their error,” said she.
“And in token that I do so,” said the marquis, “I shall beg your friend
to accept the little ornament which attracted his attention.” And so
saying, he pulled the identical button out of his pocket, and gracefully
proffered it to me.
“I shall carry it about with me always,” said I, accepting it, “as a
memento of humiliation. When I look at it, I shall ever remember the
folly of an Englishman and the courtesy of a Spaniard;” and as I made
the speech I could not but reflect whether it might, under any
circumstances, be possible that Lord John Russell should be induced to
give a button off his coat to a Spaniard.
There were other civil speeches made, and before we left the tower the
marquis had asked me to his parties, and exacted from me an unwilling
promise that I would attend them. “The señora,” he said, bowing again to
Maria, “would, he was sure, grace them. She had done so on the previous
year; and as I had accepted his little present I was bound to
acknowledge him as my friend.” All this was very pretty, and of course I
said that I would go, but I had not at that time the slightest intention
of doing so. Maria had behaved admirably; she had covered my confusion,
and shown herself not ashamed to own me, delinquent as I was; but, not
the less, had she expressed her opinion, in language terribly strong, of
the awkwardness of which I had been guilty, and had shown almost an
aversion to my English character. I should leave Seville as quickly as I
could, and should certainly not again put myself in the way of the
Marquis D’Almavivas. Indeed, I dreaded the moment that I should be first
alone with her, and should find myself forced to say something
indicative of my feelings–to hear something also indicative of her
feelings. I had come out this morning resolved to demand my rights and
to exercise them–and now my only wish was to run away. I hated the
marquis, and longed to be alone that I might cast his button from me. To
think that a man should be so ruined by such a trifle!
We descended that prodigious flight without a word upon the subject, and
almost without a word at all. She had carried herself well in the
presence of Almavivas, and had been too proud to seem ashamed of her
companion; but now, as I could well see, her feelings of disgust and
contempt had returned. When I begged her not to hurry herself, she would
hardly answer me; and when she did speak, her voice was constrained and
unlike herself. And yet how beautiful she was! Well, my dream of Spanish
love must be over. But I was sure of this; that having known her, and
given her my heart, I could never afterwards share it with another.
We came out at last on the dark, gloomy aisle of the cathedral, and
walked together without a word up along the side of the choir, till we
came to the transept. There was not a soul near us, and not a sound was
to be heard but the distant, low pattering of a mass, then in course of
celebration at some far-off chapel in the cathedral. When we got to the
transept Maria turned a little, as though she was going to the transept
door, and then stopped herself. She stood still; and when I stood also,
she made two steps towards me, and put her hand on my arm. “Oh, John!”
she said.
“Well,” said I; “after all it does not signify. You can make a joke of
it when my back is turned.”
“Dearest John!”–she had never spoken to me in that way before–“you
must not be angry with me. It is better that we should explain to each
other, is it not?
“Oh, much better. I am very glad you heard of it at once. I do not look
at it quite in the same light that you do; but nevertheless—-”
“What do you mean? But I know you are angry with me. And yet you cannot
think that I intended those words for you. Of course I know now that
there was nothing rude in what passed.”
“Oh, but there was.”
“No, I am sure there was not. You could not be rude though you are so
free hearted. I see it all now, and so does the marquis. You will like
him so much when you come to know him. Tell me that you won’t be cross
with me for what I have said. Sometimes I think that I have displeased
you, and yet my whole wish has been to welcome you to Seville, and to
make you comfortable as an old friend. Promise me that you will not be
cross with me.”
Cross with her! I certainly had no intention of being cross, but I had
begun to think that she would not care what my humour might be. “Maria,”
I said, taking hold of her hand.
“No, John, do not do that. It is in the church, you know.”
“Maria, will you answer me a question?”
“Yes,” she said, very slowly, looking down upon the stone slabs beneath
our feet.
“Do you love me?”
“Love you!”
“Yes, do you love me? You were to give me an answer here, in Seville,
and now I ask for it. I have almost taught myself to think that it is
needless to ask; and now this horrid mischance—-”
“What do you mean?” said she, speaking very quickly, “Why this
miserable blunder about the marquis’s button! After that I suppose—-”
“The marquis! Oh, John, is that to make a difference between you and
me?–a little joke like that?”
“But does it not?”
“Make a change between us!–such a thing as that! Oh, John!”
“But tell me, Maria, what am I to hope? If you will say that you can
love me, I shall care nothing for the marquis. In that case I can bear
to be laughed at.”
“Who will dare to laugh at you? Not the marquis, whom I am sure you will
like.”
“Your friend in the plaza, who told you of all this.”
“What, poor Tomàs!”
“I do not know about his being poor. I mean the gentleman who was with
you last night.”
“Yes, Tomàs. You do not know who he is?”
“Not in the least.”
“How droll! He is your own clerk–partly your own, now that you are one
of the firm. And, John, I mean to make you do something for him; he is
such a good fellow; and last year he married a young girl whom I
love–oh, almost like a sister.”
Do something for him! Of course I would. I promised, then and there,
that I would raise his salary to any conceivable amount that a Spanish
clerk could desire; which promise I have since kept, if not absolutely
to the letter, at any rate, to an extent which has been considered
satisfactory by the gentleman’s wife.
“But, Maria–dearest Maria—-”
“Remember, John, we are in the church; and poor papa will be waiting
breakfast.”
I need hardly continue the story further. It will be known to all that
my love-suit throve in spite of my unfortunate raid on the button of the
Marquis D’Almavivas, at whose series of fêtes through that month I was,
I may boast, an honoured guest. I have since that had the pleasure of
entertaining him in my own poor house in England, and one of our boys
bears his Christian name.
From that day in which I ascended the Giralda to this present day in
which I write, I have never once had occasion to complain of a
deficiency of romance either in Maria Daguilar or in Maria Pomfret.