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   Chapter 3 THE PRINCESS

Celt and Saxon -- Complete By George Meredith Characters: 9199

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:03


Dinner, and a little piano-music and a song closed an evening that was not dull to Patrick in spite of prolonged silences. The quiet course of things within the house appeared to him to have a listening ear for big events outside. He dreaded a single step in the wrong direction, and therefore forbore to hang on any of his conjectures; for he might perchance be unjust to the blessedest heroine on the surface of the earth-a truly awful thought! Yet her name would no longer bear the speaking of it to himself. It conjured up a smoky moon under confounding eclipse.

Who was Schinderhannes?

Mr. Adister had said, her Schinderhannes.

Patrick merely wished to be informed who the man was, and whether he had a title, and was much of a knave: and particularly Patrick would have liked to be informed of the fellow's religion. But asking was not easy.

It was not possible. And there was a barrel of powder to lay a fiery head on, for a pillow!

To confess that he had not the courage to inquire was as good as an acknowledgment that he knew too much for an innocent questioner. And what did he know? His brother Philip's fair angel forbade him to open the door upon what he knew. He took a peep through fancy's keyhole, and delighted himself to think that he had seen nothing.

After a turbulent night with Schinderhannes, who let him go no earlier than the opening of a December day, Patrick hied away to one of the dusky nooks by the lake for a bracing plunge. He attributed to his desire for it the strange deadness of the atmosphere, and his incapacity to get an idea out of anything he looked on: he had not a sensation of cold till the stinging element gripped him. It is the finest school for the cure of dreamers; two minutes of stout watery battle, with the enemy close all round, laughing, but not the less inveterate, convinced him that, in winter at least, we have only to jump out of our clothes to feel the reality of things in a trice. The dip was sharpening; he could say that his prescription was good for him; his craving to get an idea ceased with it absolutely, and he stood in far better trim to meet his redoubtable adversary of overnight; but the rascal was a bandit and had robbed him of his purse; that was a positive fact; his vision had gone; he felt himself poor and empty and rejoicing in the keenness of his hunger for breakfast, singularly lean. A youth despoiled of his Vision and made sensible by the activity of his physical state that he is a common machine, is eager for meat, for excess of whatsoever you may offer him; he is on the highroad of recklessness, and had it been the bottle instead of Caroline's coffee-cup, Patrick would soon have received a priming for a delivery of views upon the sex, and upon love, and the fools known as lovers, acrid enough to win the applause of cynics.

Boasting was the best relief that a young man not without modesty could find. Mr. Adister complimented him on the robustness of his habits, and Patrick 'would like to hear of the temptation that could keep him from his morning swim.'

Caroline's needle-thrust was provoked:

'Would not Arctic weather deter you, Mr. O'Donnell?' He hummed, and her eyes filled with the sparkle.

'Short of Arctic,' he had to say. 'But a gallop, after an Arctic bath, would soon spin the blood-upon an Esquimaux dog, of course,' he pursued, to anticipate his critic's remark on the absence of horses, with a bow.

She smiled, accepting the mental alertness he fastened on her.

We must perforce be critics of these tear-away wits; which are, moreover, so threadbare to conceal the character! Caroline led him to vaunt his riding and his shooting, and a certain time passed before she perceived that though he responded naturally to her first sly attacks, his gross exaggerations upon them had not been the triumph of absurdity she supposed herself to have evoked.

Her wish was to divert her uncle. Patrick discerned the intention and aided her.

'As for entertainment,' he said, in answer to Mr. Adister's courteous regrets that he would have to be a prisoner in the house until his legal adviser thought proper to appear, 'I'll be perfectly happy if Miss Caroline will give me as much of her company as she can spare. It 's amusing to be shot at too, by a lady who 's a good marksman! And birds and hares are always willing to wait for us; they keep better alive. I forgot to say that I can sing.'

'Then I was in the presence of a connoisseur last night,' said Caroline. Mr. Adister consulted his watch and the mantelpiece clock for a minute of difference b

etween them, remarking that he was a prisoner indeed, and for the whole day, unless Camminy should decide to come. 'There is the library,' he said, 'if you care for books; the best books on agriculture will be found there. You can make your choice in the stables, if you would like to explore the country. I am detained here by a man who seems to think my business of less importance than his pleasures. And it is not my business; it is very much the reverse but I am compelled to undertake it as my own, when I abhor the business. It is hard for me to speak of it, much more to act a part in it.'

'Perhaps,' Caroline interposed hurriedly, 'Mr. O'Donnell would not be unwilling to begin the day with some duets?'

Patrick eagerly put on his shame-face to accept her invitation, protesting that his boldness was entirely due to his delight in music.

'But I've heard,' said he, 'that the best fortification for the exercise of the a voice is hearty eating, so I 'll pay court again to that game-pie. I'm one with the pigs for truffles.'

His host thanked him for spreading the contagion of good appetite, and followed his example. Robust habits and heartiness were signs with him of a conscience at peace, and he thought the Jesuits particularly forbearing in the amount of harm they had done to this young man. So they were still at table when Mr. Camminy was announced and ushered in.

The man of law murmured an excuse or two; he knew his client's eye, and how to thaw it.

'No, Miss Adister, I have not breakfasted,' he said, taking the chair placed for him. 'I was all day yesterday at Windlemont, engaged in assisting to settle the succession. Where estates are not entailed!'

'The expectations of the family are undisciplined and certain not to be satisfied,' Mr. Adister carried on the broken sentence. 'That house will fall! However, you have lost no time this morning.-Mr. Patrick O'Donnell.'

Mr. Camminy bowed busily somewhere in the direction between Patrick and the sideboard.

'Our lawyers have us inside out, like our physicians,' Mr. Adister resumed, talking to blunt his impatience for a private discussion with his own.

'Surgery's a little in their practice too, we think in Ireland,' said Patrick.

Mr. Camminy assented: 'No doubt.' He was hungry, and enjoyed the look of the table, but the look of his client chilled the prospect, considered in its genial appearance as a feast of stages; having luminous extension; so, to ease his client's mind, he ventured to say: 'I thought it might be urgent.'

'It is urgent,' was the answer.

'Ah: foreign? domestic?'

A frown replied.

Caroline, in haste to have her duties over, that she might escape the dreaded outburst, pressed another cup of tea on Mr. Camminy and groaned to see him fill his plate. She tried to start a topic with Patrick.

'The princess is well, I hope?' Mr. Camminy asked in the voice of discretion. 'It concerns her Highness?'

'It concerns my daughter and her inheritance from her mad grandmother!' Mr. Adister rejoined loudly; and he continued like a retreating thunder: 'A princess with a title as empty as a skull! At best a princess of swamps, and swine that fight for acorns, and men that fight for swine!'

Patrick caught a glance from Caroline, and the pair rose together.

'They did that in our mountains a couple of thousand years ago,' said Mr. Camminy, 'and the cause was not so bad, to judge by this ham. Men must fight: the law is only a quieter field for them.'

'And a fatter for the ravens,' Patrick joined in softly, as if carrying on a song.

'Have at us, Mr. O'Donnell! I'm ashamed of my appetite, Miss Adister, but the morning's drive must be my excuse, and I'm bounden to you for not forcing me to detain you. Yes, I can finish breakfast at my leisure, and talk of business, which is never particularly interesting to ladies-though,' Mr. Camminy turned to her uncle, 'I know Miss Adister has a head for it.'

Patrick hummed a bar or two of an air, to hint of his being fanatico per la musica, as a pretext for their departure.

'If you'll deign to give me a lesson,' said he, as Caroline came away from pressing her lips to her uncle's forehead.

'I may discover that I am about to receive one,' said she.

They quitted the room together.

Mr. Camminy had seen another Miss Adister duetting with a young Irishman and an O'Donnell, with lamentable results to that union of voices, and he permitted himself to be a little astonished at his respected client's defective memory or indifference to the admonition of identical circumstances.

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