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   Chapter 16 CROSSING THE RUBICON

Celt and Saxon -- Complete By George Meredith Characters: 25142

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:03


Rough weather on the Irish sea discharged a pallid file of passengers from the boat at Holyhead just as the morning sun struck wave and mountain with one of the sudden sparkling changes which our South-welters have in their folds to tell us after a tumultuous night that we have only been worried by Puck. The scene of frayed waters all rosy-golden, and golden-banded heathery height, with the tinted sand, breaking to flights of blue, was resplendent for those of our recent sea-farers who could lift an eye to enjoy it. Freshness, illumination, then salt air, vivid distances, were a bath for every sense of life. You could believe the breast of the mountain to be heaving, the billows to be kissing fingers to him, the rollers shattered up the cliff to have run to extinction to scale him. He seemed in his clear-edged mass King of this brave new boundless world built in a minute out of the wreck of the old.

An hour back the vessel was labouring through rueful chasms under darkness, and then did the tricksy Southwest administer grisly slaps to right and left, whizzing spray across the starboard beam, and drenching the locks of a young lady who sat cloaked and hooded in frieze to teach her wilfulness a lesson, because she would keep her place on deck from beginning to end of the voyage. Her faith in the capacity of Irish frieze to turn a deluge of the deeps driven by an Atlantic gale was shaken by the time she sighted harbour, especially when she shed showers by flapping a batlike wing of the cloak, and had a slight shudder to find herself trickling within.

'Dear! and I'm wet to the skin,' she confided the fact to herself vocally.

'You would not be advised,' a gentleman beside her said after a delicate pause to let her impulsive naturalism of utterance fly by unwounded.

'And aren't you the same and worse? And not liking it either, I fear, Sir!' she replied, for despite a manful smile his complexion was tell-tale. 'But there 's no harm in salt. But you should have gone down to the cabin with Father Boyle and you would have been sure of not catching cold. But, Oh! the beautiful... look at it! And it's my first view of England. Well, then, I'll say it's a beautiful country.'

Her companion looked up at the lighted sky, and down at the pools in tarpaulin at his feet. He repressed a disposition to shudder, and with the anticipated ecstasy of soon jumping out of wet clothes into dry, he said: 'I should like to be on the top of that hill now.'

The young lady's eyes flew to the top.

'They say he looks on Ireland; I love him; and his name is Caer Gybi; and it was one of our Saints gave him the name, I 've read in books. I'll be there before noon.'

'You want to have a last gaze over to Erin?'

'No, it's to walk and feel the breeze. But I do, though.'

'Won't you require a little rest?'

'Sure and I've had it sitting here all night!' said she.

He laughed: the reason for the variation of exercise was conclusive.

Father Boyle came climbing up the ladder, uncertain of his legs; he rolled and snatched and tottered on his way to them, and accepted the gentleman's help of an arm, saying: 'Thank ye, thank ye, and good morning, Mr. Colesworth. And my poor child! what sort of a night has it been above, Kathleen?'

He said it rather twinkling, and she retorted:

'What sort of a night has it been below, Father Boyle?' Her twinkle was livelier than his, compassionate in archness.

'Purgatory past is good for contemplation, my dear. 'Tis past, and there's the comfort! You did well to be out of that herring-barrel, Mr. Colesworth. I hadn't the courage, or I would have burst from it to take a ducking with felicity. I haven't thrown up my soul; that's the most I can say. I thought myself nigh on it once or twice. And an amazing kind steward it was, or I'd have counted the man for some one else. Surely 'tis a glorious morning?'

Mr. Colesworth responded heartily in praise of the morning. He was beginning to fancy that he felt the warmth of spring sunshine on his back. He flung up his head and sniffed the air, and was very like a horse fretful for the canter; so like as to give Miss Kathleen an idea of the comparison. She could have rallied him; her laughing eyes showed the readiness, but she forbore, she drank the scene. Her face, with the threaded locks about forehead and cheeks, and the dark, the blue, the rosy red of her lips, her eyes, her hair, was just such a south-western sky as April drove above her, the same in colour and quickness; and much of her spirit was the same, enough to stand for a resemblance. But who describes the spirit? No one at the gates of the field of youth. When Time goes reaping he will gather us a sheaf, out of which the picture springs.

'There's our last lurch, glory to the breakwater!' exclaimed Father Boyle, as the boat pitched finally outside the harbour fence, where a soft calm swell received them with the greeting of civilised sea-nymphs. 'The captain'll have a quieter passage across. You may spy him on the pier. We'll be meeting him on the landing.'

'If he's not in bed, from watching the stars all night,' said Miss Kathleen.

'He must have had a fifty-lynx power of sight for that, my dear.'

'They did appear, though, and wonderfully bright,' she said. 'I saw them come out and go in. It's not all cloud when the high wind blows.'

'You talk like a song, Kathleen.'

'Couldn't I rattle a throat if I were at home, Father!'

'Ah! we're in the enemy's country now.'

Miss Kathleen said she would go below to get the handbags from the stewardess.

Mr. Colesworth's brows had a little darkened over the Rev. Gentleman's last remark. He took two or three impatient steps up and down with his head bent. 'Pardon me; I hoped we had come to a better understanding,' he said. 'Is it quite fair to the country and to Miss O'Donnell to impress on her before she knows us that England is the enemy?'

'Habit, Mr. Colesworth, habit! we've got accustomed to the perspective and speak accordingly. There's a breach visible.'

'I thought you agreed with me that good efforts are being made on our side to mend the breach.'

'Sir, you have a noble minority at work, no doubt; and I take you for one of the noblest, as not objecting to stand next to alone.'

'I really thought, judging from our conversation at Mrs. O'Donnell's that evening, that you were going to hold out a hand and lead your flock to the right sort of fellowship with us.'

'To submission to the laws, Mr. Colesworth; 'tis my duty to do it as pastor and citizen.'

'No, to more than that, sir. You spoke with friendly warmth.'

'The atmosphere was genial, if you remember the whisky and the fumes of our tobacco at one o'clock!'

'I shall recollect the evening with the utmost pleasure. You were kind enough to instruct me in a good many things I shall be sure to profit by. I wish I could have spent more time in Ireland. As it is, I like Irishmen so well that if the whole land were in revolt I should never call it the enemy's country.'

'Excellently spoken, Mr. Colesworth,' said the priest. 'We 'll hope your writings may do service to mend the breach. For there is one, as you know, and more 's the pity; there's one, and it's wide and deep. As my friend Captain Con O'Donnell says, it's plain to the naked eye as a pair of particularly fat laundry drawers hung out to dry and ballooned in extension-if mayhap you've ever seen the sight of them in that state:-just held together by a narrow neck of thread or button, and stretching away like a corpulent frog in the act of swimming on the wind. His comparison touches the sentiment of disunion, sir.'

Mr. Colesworth had not ever seen such a pair of laundry drawers inflated to symbolise the breach between Ireland and England; nor probably, if he had, would the sentiment of national disunion have struck his mind: it was difficult to him in the description. He considered his Rev. friend to be something of a slippery fish, while Father Boyle's opinion of him likewise referred him to an elemental substance, of slow movement-earth, in short: for he continued to look argumentative after all had been said.

Or perhaps he threw a coveting eye on sweet Miss Kathleen and had his own idea of mending a stitch of the breach in a quite domestic way. If so, the Holy Father would have a word to say, let alone Kathleen. The maids of his Church do not espouse her foes. For the men it is another matter: that is as the case may be. Temporarily we are in cordial intercourse, Mr. Colesworth.

Miss Kathleen returned to deck carrying her bags. The gentleman had to descend, and subsequently an amiable dissension arose on the part of the young lady and Mr. Colesworth. She, however, yielded one of her bags, and he, though doubly laden, was happy. All very transparent to pastoral observation, but why should they not be left to their chirruping youthfulness? The captain was not in view, and Father Boyle wanted to go to bed for refreshment, and Kathleen was an airy gossamer, with a boy running after it, not by any means likely to catch it, or to keep it if he did. Proceed and trip along, you young ones!

At the hotel they heard that Captain Con O'Donnell was a snug sleeper upstairs. This, the captain himself very soon informed them, had not been the kernel of the truth. He had fancied they would not cross the Channel on so rattlesome a night, or Kathleen would have had an Irish kiss to greet her landing in England. But the cousinly salute was little delayed, news of the family in Ireland and England was exchanged, and then Mr. Colesworth and the captain bowed to an introduction; and the captain, at mention of his name, immediately cried out that Mr. Colesworth might perchance be a relative of the highly intelligent admirable lady who had undertaken the secretaryship, and by her vast ability got the entire management, of Miss Mattock's benevolent institution, and was conducting it with such success that it was fast becoming a grief to the generous heart of the foundress of the same to find it not only self-paying, but on the road to a fortune, inasmuch as it was already an article in the decrees of fashion among the nobility and gentry of both sexes in the metropolis to have their linen and laces washed at the Mattock laundry.

Mr. Colesworth said he was the brother of the lady in question, he had also the pleasure of an acquaintance with Miss Mattock. He was vehemently congratulated on the relationship, which bore witness, the captain armed, to a certain hereditary share of brains greatly to be envied: brother of Miss Colesworth, a title of distinction in itself! He was congratulated not less cordially for his being so fortunate as to know Miss Mattock, one of a million.

Captain Con retained the hand of Father Boyle and squeezed it during his eulogies, at the same time dispensing nods and winks and sunny sparkles upon Kathleen. Mr. Colesworth went upstairs to his room not unflattered. The flattery enveloped him in the pleasant sense of a somehow now established companionship for the day with a pleasant person from whom he did not wish to separate.

'You made the gentleman's acquaintance, my dear...?' said Con.

Kathleen answered: 'He made friends with our Patrick on the Continent, I think it was in Germany, and came to us to study the old country, bearing a letter from Patrick. He means to be one of their writers on the newspapers. He studies everything; he has written books. He called on us coming and called on us going and we came over together,' said Miss Kathleen. 'But tell me: our Philip?'

'Books!' Con exclaimed. 'It's hard to discover a man in these days who hasn't written books. Oh! Philip! Ease your heart about Philip. They're nursing him, round. He was invalided at the right moment for him, no fear. I gave him his chance of the last vacant seat up to the last hour, and now the die is cast and this time I 'm off to it. Poor Philip-yes, yes! we 're sorry to see him flat all his length, we love him; he's a gallant soldier; alive to his duty; and that bludgeon sun of India knocked him down, and that fall from his horse finished the business, and there he lies. But he'll get up, and he might have accepted the seat and spared me my probation: he's not married, I am, I have a wife, and Master Philip divides me against my domestic self, he does. But let that be: I serve duty too. Not a word to our friend up yonder. It's a secret with a time-fuse warranted to explode safe enough when the minutes are up

, and make a powerful row when it does. It is all right over there, Father Boyle, I suppose?'

'A walk over! a pure ceremonial,' said the priest, and he yawned frightfully.

'You're for a nap to recompose you, my dear friend,' remarked the captain.

'But you haven't confided anything of it to Mrs. Adister?'

'Not a syllable; no. That's to come. There's my contest! I had urgent business in Ireland, and she 's a good woman, always willing to let me go. I count on her kindness, there 's no mightier compliment to one's wife. She'll know it when it's history. She's fond of history. Ay, she hates fiction, and so I'm proud to tell her I offer her none. She likes a trifling surprise too, and there she has it. Oh! we can whip up the business to a nice little bowl of froth-flummery. But it's when the Parliamentary voting is on comes the connubial pull. She's a good woman, a dear good soul, but she's a savage patriot; and Philip might have saved his kinsman if he had liked. He had only to say the word: I could have done all the business for him, and no contest to follow by my fireside. He's on his couch-Mars convalescent: a more dreadful attraction to the ladies than in his crimson plumes! If the fellow doesn't let slip his opportunity! with his points of honour and being an Irish Bayard. Why Bayard in the nineteenth century's a Bedlamite, Irish or no. So I tell him. There he is; you'll see him, Kathleen: and one of them as big an heiress as any in England. Philip's no fool, you'll find.'

'Then he's coming all right, is he?' said Kathleen.

'He 's a soldier, and a good one, but he 's nothing more, and as for patriotic inflammation, doesn't know the sensation.'

'Oh! but he's coming round, and you'll go and stroke down mother with that,' Kathleen cried. 'Her heart's been heavy, with Patrick wandering and Philip on his back. I'll soon be dressed for breakfast.'

Away she went.

'She's got an appetite, and looks like a strapped bit of steel after the night's tumbling,' said the captain, seeing her trip aloft. 'I'm young as that too, or not far off it. Stay, I'll order breakfast for four in a quiet corner where we can converse-which, by the way, won't be possible in the presence of that gaping oyster of a fellow, who looks as if he were waiting the return of the tide.'

Father Boyle interposed his hand.

'Not for...' he tried to add 'four.' The attempt at a formation of the word produced a cavernous yawn a volume of the distressful deep to the beholder.

'Of course,' Captain Con assented. He proposed bed and a sedative therein, declaring that his experience overnight could pronounce it good, and that it should be hot. So he led his tired old friend to the bedroom, asked dozens of questions, flurried a withdrawal of them, suggested the answers, talked of his Rubicon, praised his wife, delivered a moan on her behalf, and after assisting to half disrobe the scarce animate figure, which lent itself like an artist's lay-model to the operation, departed on his mission of the sedative.

At the breakfast for three he was able to tell Kathleen that the worthy Father was warm, and on his way to complete restoration.

'Full fathom five the Father lies, in the ocean of sleep, by this time,' said Con. 'And 'tis a curious fact that every man in that condition seems enviable to men on their legs. And similarly with death; we'd rather not, because of a qualm, but the picture of the finish of the leap across is a taking one. These chops are done as if Nature had mellowed their juiciness.'

'They are so nice,' Kathleen said.

'You deserve them, if ever girl in this world!'

'I sat on deck all night, and Mr. Colesworth would keep me company.'

'He could hardly do less, having the chance. But that notwithstanding, I'm under an obligation to your cavalier. And how did you find Ireland, sir? You've made acquaintance with my cousin, young Mr. Patrick O'Donnell, I rejoice to hear.'

'Yes, through his hearing or seeing my name and suspecting I had a sister,' said Mr. Colesworth, who was no longer in the resemblance of a gaping oyster on the borders of the ebb. 'The country is not disturbed.'

'So the doctor thinks his patient is doing favourably! And you cottoned to Patrick? And I don't wonder. Where was it?'

'We met in Trieste. He was about to start by one of the Austrian boats for the East.'

'Not disturbed! no! with a rotten potato inside it paralysing digestion!' exclaimed Con. 'Now Patrick had been having a peep at Vienna, hadn't he?'

'He had; he was fresh from Vienna when I met him. As to Ireland, the harvest was only middling good last year.'

'And that's the bit of luck we depend on. A cloud too much, and it's drowned! Had he seen, do you know, anybody in Vienna?-you were not long together at Trieste?'

Mr. Colesworth had sufficient quickness to perceive that the two questions could be answered as one, and saying: 'He was disappointed,' revealed that he and Patrick had been long enough together to come to terms of intimacy.

'To be sure, he gave you a letter of introduction to his family!' said Con. 'And permit me to add, that Patrick's choice of a friend is mine on trust. The lady he was for seeing, Mr. Colesworth, was just then embarking on an adventure of a romantic character, particularly well suited to her nature, and the end of it was a trifle sanguinary, and she suffered a disappointment also, though not perhaps on that account.'

'I heard of it in England last year,' said Mr. Colesworth. 'Did she come through it safely?'

'Without any personal disfigurement: and is in England now, under her father's roof, meditating fresh adventures.'

Kathleen cried: 'Ye 're talking of the lady who was Miss Adister-I can guess-Ah!' She humped her shoulders and sent a shudder up her neck.

'But she's a grand creature, Mr. Colesworth, and you ought to know her,' said Con. 'That is, if you'd like to have an idea of a young Catherine or a Semiramisminus an army and a country. There's nothing she's not capable of aiming at. And there's pretty well nothing and nobody she wouldn't make use of. She has great notions of the power of the British Press and the British purse-each in turn as a key to the other. Now for an egg, Kathleen.'

'I think I'll eat an egg,' Kathleen replied.

'Bless the honey heart of the girl! Life's in you, my dear, and calls for fuel. I'm glad to see that Mr. Colesworth too can take a sight at the Sea-God after a night of him. It augurs magnificently for a future career. And let me tell you that the Pen demands it of us. The first of the requisites is a stout stomach-before a furnished head! I'd not pass a man to be anything of a writer who couldn't step ashore from a tempest and consume his Titan breakfast.'

'We are qualifying for the literary craft, Miss O'Donnell,' said Mr. Colesworth.

'It's for a walk in the wind up Caer Gybi, and along the coast I mean to go,' said Kathleen.

'This morning?' the captain asked her.

She saw his dilemma in his doubtful look.

'When I've done. While you're discussing matters with Father Boyle. I-know you're burning to. Sure it's yourself knows as well as anybody, Captain Con, that I can walk a day long and take care of my steps. I've walked the better half of Donegal alone, and this morning I'll have a protector.'

Captain Con eyed the protector, approved of him, disapproved of himself, thought of Kathleen as a daughter of Erin-a privileged and inviolate order of woman in the minds of his countrymen-and wriggling internally over a remainder scruple said: 'Mr. Colesworth mayhap has to write a bit in the morning.'

'I'm unattached at present,' the latter said. 'I am neither a correspondent nor a reporter, and if I were, the event would be wanting.'

'That remark, sir, shows you to be eminently a stranger to the official duties,' observed the captain. 'Journalism is a maw, and the journalist has to cram it, and like anything else which perpetually distends for matter, it must be filled, for you can't leave it gaping, so when nature and circumstance won't combine to produce the stuff, we have recourse to the creative arts. 'Tis the necessity of the profession.'

'The profession will not impose that necessity upon me,' remarked the young practitioner.

'Outside the wheels of the machine, sir, we indulge our hallucination of immunity. I've been one in the whirr of them, relating what I hadn't quite heard, and capitulating what I didn't think at all, in spite of the cry of my conscience-a poor infant below the waters, casting up ejaculatory bubbles of protestation. And if it is my reproach that I left it to the perils of drowning, it's my pride that I continued to transmit air enough to carry on the struggle. Not every journalist can say as much. The Press is the voice of the mass, and our private opinion is detected as a discord by the mighty beast, and won't be endured by him.'

'It's better not to think of him quite as a beast,' said Mr. Colesworth.

'Infinitely better: and I like your "guile," sir: But wait and tell me what you think of him after tossing him his meat for a certain number of years. There's Rockney. Do you know Rockney? He's the biggest single gun they've got, and he's mad for this country, but ask him about the public, you'll hear the menagerie-keeper's opinion of the brute that mauled his loins.'

'Rockney,' said Mr. Colesworth, 'has the tone of a man disappointed of the dictatorship.'

'Then you do know Rockney!' shouted Captain Con. 'That's the man in a neat bit of drawing. He's a grand piece of ordnance. But wait for him too, and tell me by and by. If it isn't a woman, you'll find, that primes him, ay, and points him, and what's more, discharges him, I'm not Irish born. Poor fellow! I pity him. He had a sweet Irish lady for his wife, and lost her last year, and has been raging astray politically ever since. I suppose it's hardly the poor creature's fault. None the less, you know, we have to fight him. And now he 's nibbling at a bait-it 's fun: the lady I mentioned, with a turn for adventure and enterprise: it's rare fun: he 's nibbling, he'll be hooked. You must make her acquaintance, Mr. Colesworth, and hold your own against her, if you can. She's a niece of my wife's and I'll introduce you. I shall find her in London, or at our lodgings at a Surrey farm we've taken to nurse my cousin Captain Philip O'Donnell invalided from Indian awful climate!-on my return, when I hope to renew the acquaintance. She has beauty, she has brains. Resist her, and you 'll make a decent stand against Lucifer. And supposing she rolls you up and pitches you over, her noticing you is a pretty compliment to your pen. That 'll be consoling.'

Mr. Colesworth fancied, he said, that he was proof against feminine blandishments in the direction of his writings.

He spoke as one indicating a thread to suggest a cable. The captain applauded the fancy as a pleasing delusion of the young sprigs of Journalism.

Upon this, Mr. Colesworth, with all respect for French intelligence, denied the conclusiveness of French generalisations, which ascribed to women universal occult dominion, and traced all great affairs to small intrigues.

The captain's eyes twinkled on him, thinking how readily he would back smart Miss Kathleen to do the trick, if need were.

He said to her before she started: 'Don't forget he may be a clever fellow with that pen of his, and useful to our party.'

'I'll not forget,' said she.

For the good of his party, then, Captain Con permitted her to take the walk up Caer Gybi alone with Mr. Colesworth: a memorable walk in the recollections of the scribe, because of the wonderful likeness of the young lady to the breezy weather and the sparkles over the deep, the cloud that frowned, the cloud that glowed, the green of the earth greening out from under wings of shadow, the mountain ranges holding hands about an immensity of space. It was one of our giant days to his emotions, and particularly memorable to him through the circumstance that it insisted on a record in verse, and he was unused to the fetters of metre: and although the verse was never seen by man, his attempt at it confused his ideas of his expressive powers. Oddly too, while scourging the lines with criticism, he had a fondness for them: they stamped a radiant day in his mind, beyond the resources of rhetoric to have done it equally.

This was the day of Captain Con's crossing the Rubicon between the secret of his happiness and a Parliamentary career.

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