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   Chapter 10 INTRODUCING A NEW CHARACTER

Celt and Saxon -- Complete By George Meredith Characters: 15653

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:03


Letters and telegrams and morning journals lay on the breakfast-table, awaiting the members of the household with combustible matter. Bad news from Ireland came upon ominous news from India. Philip had ten words of mandate from his commanding officer, and they signified action, uncertain where. He was the soldier at once, buckled tight and buttoned up over his private sentiments. Vienna shot a line to Mrs. Adister O'Donnell. She communicated it: 'The Princess Nikolas has a son!' Captain Con tossed his newspaper to the floor, crying:

'To-day the city'll be a chimney on fire, with the blacks in everybody's faces; but I must go down. It's hen and chicks with the director of a City Company. I must go.'

Did you say, madam?' Patrick inquired. 'A son,' said Mrs. Adister.

'And the military holloaing for reinforcements,' exclaimed Con. 'Pheu! Phil!'

'That's what it comes to,' was Philip's answer. 'Precautionary measures, eh?'

'You can make them provocative.' 'Will you beg for India?' 'I shall hear in an hour.' 'Have we got men?'

'Always the question with us.'

'What a country!' sighed the captain. 'I'd compose ye a song of old Drowsylid, except that it does no good to be singing it at the only time when you can show her the consequences of her sluggery. A country of compromise goes to pieces at the first cannon-shot of the advance, and while she's fighting on it's her poor business to be putting herself together again: So she makes a mess of the beginning, to a certainty. If it weren't that she had the army of Neptune about her-'

'The worst is she may some day start awake to discover that her protecting deity 's been napping too.-A boy or girl did you say, my dear?'

His wife replied: 'A son.'

'Ah! more births.' The captain appeared to be computing. 'But this one's out of England: and it's a prince I suppose they'll call him: and princes don't count in the population for more than finishing touches, like the crossing of t's and dotting of i's, though true they're the costliest, like some flowers and feathers, and they add to the lump on Barney's back. But who has any compassion for a burdened donkey? unless when you see him standing immortal meek! Well, and a child of some sort must have been expected? Because it's no miracle after marriage: worse luck for the crowded earth!'

'Things may not be expected which are profoundly distasteful,' Mrs. Adister remarked.

'True,' said her sympathetic husband. ' 'Tis like reading the list of the dead after a battle where you've not had the best of it-each name 's a startling new blow. I'd offer to run to Earlsfont, but here's my company you would have me join for the directoring of it, you know, my dear, to ballast me, as you pretty clearly hinted; and all 's in the city to-day like a loaf with bad yeast, thick as lead, and sour to boot. And a howl and growl coming off the wilds of Old Ireland! We're smitten to-day in our hearts and our pockets, and it 's a question where we ought to feel it most, for the sake of our families.'

'Do you not observe that your cousins are not eating?' said his wife, adding, to Patrick: 'I entertain the opinion that a sound breakfast-appetite testifies to the proper vigour of men.'

'Better than a doctor's pass: and to their habits likewise,' Captain Con winked at his guests, begging them to steal ten minutes out of the fray for the inward fortification of them.

Eggs in the shell, and masses of eggs, bacon delicately thin and curling like Apollo's locks at his temples, and cutlets, caviar, anchovies in the state of oil, were pressed with the captain's fervid illustrations upon the brothers, both meditatively nibbling toast and indifferent to the similes he drew and applied to life from the little fish which had their sharpness corrected but not cancelled by the improved liquid they swam in. 'Like an Irishman in clover,' he said to his wife to pay her a compliment and coax an acknowledgement: 'just the flavour of the salt of him.'

Her mind was on her brother Edward, and she could not look sweet-oily, as her husband wooed her to do, with impulse to act the thing he was imagining.

'And there is to-morrow's dinner-party to the Mattocks: I cannot travel to Earlsfont,' she said.

'Patrick is a disengaged young verderer, and knows the route, and has a welcome face there, and he might go, if you're for having it performed by word of mouth. But, trust me, my dear, bad news is best communicated by telegraph, which gives us no stupid articles and particles to quarrel with. "Boy born Vienna doctor smiling nurse laughing." That tells it all, straight to the understanding, without any sickly circumlocutory stuff; and there's nothing more offensive to us when we're hurt at intelligence. For the same reason, Colonel Arthur couldn't go, since you'll want him to meet the Mattocks?'

Captain Con's underlip shone with a roguish thinness.

'Arthur must be here,' said Mrs. Adister. 'I cannot bring myself to write it. I disapprove of telegrams.'

She was asking to be assisted, so her husband said:

'Take Patrick for a secretary. Dictate. He has a bold free hand and'll supply all the fiorituri and arabesques necessary to the occasion running.'

She gazed at Patrick as if to intimate that he might be enlisted, and said: 'It will be to Caroline. She will break it to her uncle.'

'Right, madam, on the part of a lady I 've never known to be wrong! And so, my dear, I must take leave of you, to hurry down to the tormented intestines of that poor racked city, where the winds of panic are violently engaged in occupying the vacuum created by knocking over what the disaster left standing; and it 'll much resemble a colliery accident there, I suspect, and a rescue of dead bodies. Adieu, my dear.' He pressed his lips on her thin fingers.

Patrick placed himself at Mrs. Adister's disposal as her secretary. She nodded a gracious acceptance of him.

'I recommended the telegraph because it's my wife's own style, and comes better from wires,' said the captain, as they were putting on their overcoats in the hall. 'You must know the family. "Deeds not words" would serve for their motto. She hates writing, and doesn't much love talking. Pat 'll lengthen her sentences for her. She's fond of Adiante, and she sympathises with her brother Edward made a grandfather through the instrumentality of that foreign hooknose; and Patrick must turn the two dagger sentiments to a sort of love-knot and there's the task he'll have to work out in his letter to Miss Caroline. It's fun about Colonel Arthur not going. He's to meet the burning Miss Mattock, who has gold on her crown and a lot on her treasury, Phil, my boy! but I'm bound in honour not to propose it. And a nice girl, a prize; afresh healthy girl; and brains: the very girl! But she's jotted down for the Adisters, if Colonel Arthur can look lower than his nose and wag his tongue a bit. She's one to be a mother of stout ones that won't run up big doctors' bills or ask assistance in growing. Her name's plain Jane, and she 's a girl to breed conquerors; and the same you may say of her brother John, who 's a mighty fit man, good at most things, though he counts his fortune in millions, which I've heard is lighter for a beggar to perform than in pounds, but he can count seven, and beat any of us easy by showing them millions! We might do something for them at home with a million or two, Phil. It all came from the wedding of a railway contractor, who sprang from the wedding of a spade and a clod-and probably called himself Mattock at his birth, no shame to him.'

'You're for the city,' said Philip, after they had walked down the street.

'Not I,' said Con. 'Let them play Vesuvius down there. I've got another in me: and I can't stop their eruption, and they wo

uldn't relish mine. I know a little of Dick Martin, who called on the people to resist, and housed the man Liffey after his firing the shot, and I'm off to Peter M'Christy, his brother-in-law. I'll see Distell too. I must know if it signifies the trigger, or I'm agitated about nothing. Dr. Forbery'll be able to tell how far they mean going for a patriotic song.

"For we march in ranks to the laurelled banks,

On the bright horizon shining,

Though the fields between run red on the green,

And many a wife goes pining."

Will you come, Phil?'

'I 'm under orders.'

'You won't engage yourself by coming.'

'I'm in for the pull if I join hands.'

'And why not?-inside the law, of course.'

'While your Barney skirmishes outside!'

'And when the poor fellow's cranium's cracking to fling his cap in the air, and physician and politician are agreed it's good for him to do it, or he'll go mad and be a dangerous lunatic! Phil, it must be a blow now and then for these people over here, else there's no teaching their imaginations you're in earnest; for they've got heads that open only to hard raps, these English; and where injustice rules, and you'd spread a light of justice, a certain lot of us must give up the ghost-naturally on both sides. Law's law, and life's life, so long as you admit that the law is bad; and in that case, it's big misery and chronic disease to let it be and at worst a jump and tumble into the next world, of a score or two of us if we have a wrestle with him. But shake the old villain; hang on him and shake him. Bother his wig, if he calls himself Law. That 's how we dust the corruption out of him for a bite or two in return. Such is humanity, Phil: and you must allow for the roundabout way of moving to get into the straight road at last. And I see what you're for saying: a roundabout eye won't find it! You're wrong where there are dozens of corners. Logic like yours, my boy, would have you go on picking at the Gordian Knot till it became a jackasses' race between you and the rope which was to fall to pieces last.-There 's my old girl at the stall, poor soul! See her!'

Philip had signalled a cabman to stop. He stood facing his cousin with a close-lipped smile that summarised his opinion and made it readable.

'I have no time for an introduction to her this morning,' he said.

'You won't drop in on Distell to hear the latest brewing? And, by the by, Phil, tell us, could you give us a hint for packing five or six hundred rifles and a couple of pieces of cannon?'

Philip stared; he bent a lowering frown on his cousin, with a twitch at his mouth.

'Oh! easy!' Con answered the look; 'it's for another place and harder to get at.'

He was eyed suspiciously and he vowed the military weapons were for another destination entirely, the opposite Pole.

'No, you wouldn't be in for a crazy villainy like that!' said Philip.

'No, nor wink to it,' said Con. 'But it's a question about packing cannon and small arms; and you might be useful in dropping a hint or two. The matter's innocent. It's not even a substitution of one form of Government for another: only a change of despots, I suspect. And here's Mr. John Mattock himself, who'll corroborate me, as far as we can let you into the secret before we've consulted together. And he's an Englishman and a member of Parliament, and a Liberal though a landlord, a thorough stout Briton and bulldog for the national integrity, not likely to play at arms and ammunition where his country's prosperity 's concerned. How d' ye do, Mr. Mattock-and opportunely, since it's my cousin, Captain Philip O'Donnell, aide-de-camp to Sir Charles, fresh from Canada, of whom you've heard, I'd like to make you acquainted with, previous to your meeting at my wife's table tomorrow evening.'

Philip bowed to a man whose notion of the ceremony was to nod.

Con took him two steps aside and did all the talking. Mr. Mattock listened attentively the first half-minute, after which it could be perceived that the orator was besieging a post, or in other words a Saxon's mind made up on a point of common sense. His appearance was redolently marine; his pilot coat, flying necktie and wideish trowsers, a general airiness of style on a solid frame, spoke of the element his blue eyes had dipped their fancy in, from hereditary inclination. The colour of a sandpit was given him by hair and whiskers of yellow-red on a ruddy face. No one could express a negative more emphatically without wording it, though he neither frowned nor gesticulated to that effect.

'Ah!' said Con, abruptly coming to an end after an eloquent appeal. 'And I think I'm of your opinion: and the sea no longer dashes at the rock, but makes itself a mirror to the same. She'll keep her money and nurse her babe, and not be trying risky adventures to turn him into a reigning prince. Only this: you'll have to persuade her the thing is impossible. She'll not take it from any of us. She looks on you as Wisdom in the uniform of a great commander, and if you say a thing can be done it 's done.'

'The reverse too, I hope,' said Mr. Mattock, nodding and passing on his way.

'That I am not so sure of,' Con remarked to himself. 'There's a change in a man through a change in his position! Six months or so back, Phil, that man came from Vienna, the devoted slave of the Princess Nikolas. He'd been there on his father's business about one of the Danube railways, and he was ready to fill the place of the prince at the head of his phantom body of horse and foot and elsewhere. We talked of his selling her estates for the purchase of arms and the enemy-as many as she had money for. We discussed it as a matter of business. She had bewitched him: and would again, I don't doubt, if she were here to repeat the dose. But in the interim his father dies, he inherits; and he enters Parliament, and now, mind you, the man who solemnly calculated her chances and speculates on the transmission of rifled arms of the best manufacture and latest invention by his yacht and with his loads of rails, under the noses of the authorities, like a master rebel, and a chivalrous gentleman to boot, pooh poohs the whole affair. You saw him. Grave as an owl, the dead contrary of his former self!'

'I thought I heard you approve him,' said Philip.

'And I do. But the poor girl has ordered her estates to be sold to cast the die, and I 'm taking the view of her disappointment, for she believes he can do anything; and if I know the witch, her sole comfort lying in the straw is the prospect of a bloody venture for a throne. The truth is, to my thinking, it's the only thing she has to help her to stomach her husband.'

'But it's rank idiocy to suppose she can smuggle cannon!' cried Philip.

'But that man Mattock's not an idiot and he thought she could. And it 's proof he was under a spell. She can work one.'

'The country hasn't a port.'

'Round the Euxine and up the Danube, with the British flag at the stern. I could rather enjoy the adventure. And her prince is called for. He's promised a good reception when he drops down the river, they say. A bit of a scrimmage on the landing-pier may be, and the first field or two, and then he sits himself, and he waits his turn. The people change their sovereigns as rapidly as a London purse. Two pieces of artillery and two or three hundred men and a trumpet alter the face of the land there. Sometimes a trumpet blown by impudence does it alone. They're enthusiastic for any new prince. He's their Weekly Journal or Monthly Magazine. Let them make acquaintance with Adiante Adister, I'd not swear she wouldn't lay fast hold of them.'

Philip signalled to his driver, and Captain Con sang out his dinner-hour for a reminder to punctuality, thoughtful of the feelings of his wife.

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