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   Chapter 7 MOTHER AND DAUGHTER

No Defense, Volume 1_ By Gilbert Parker Characters: 16350

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:02


"I don't believe he's guilty, mother."

The girl's fine eyes shone with feeling-with protest, indignation, anguish. As she spoke, she thrust her head forward with the vigour of a passionate counsel. Sheila Llyn was a champion who would fight to the last gasp for any cause she loved.

A few moments before, she had found her mother, horror-stricken, gazing at a newspaper paragraph sent from Dublin.

Sheila at once thought this to be the cause of her mother's agitation, and she reached out a hand for it. Her mother hesitated, then handed the clipping to her. Fortunately it contained no statement save the bare facts connected with the killing of Erris Boyne, and no reference to the earlier life of the dead man. It said no more than that Dyck Calhoun must take his trial at the sessions.

It also stated that Dyck, though he pleaded "not guilty," declared frankly, through Will McCormick, the lawyer, that he had no memory of aught that happened after he had drunk wine given him by Erris Boyne. He said that he and Boyne had quarrelled, but had become reconciled again, and that the drink was a pledge of their understanding. From the time he had taken the drink until he waked in the hands of the king's constables, he had no memory; but he was sure he had not killed Boyne. The fact that there was no blood on his sword was evidence. Nevertheless, he had been committed for trial.

Mrs. Llyn was sorely troubled. She knew of her daughter's interest in Dyck Calhoun, and of Dyck's regard for Sheila. She had even looked forward to marriage, and she wished for Sheila no better fate, because nearly all she knew of Dyck was to his credit. She was unaware that his life in Dublin had been dissipated.

If Dyck was guilty-though she could not believe it-there would be an end of romance between him and Sheila, and their friendship must be severed for ever. Her daughter did not know that Erris Boyne was her father, and she must not know-in any case not yet; but if Dyck was condemned, it was almost sure he would be hanged.

She wondered about Boyne's widow, whose name did not appear in the paragraph she had seen. She knew that Noreen was beautiful, but that he had married far beneath him socially. She had imagined Erris Boyne living in suburban quiet, not drawing his wife into his social scheme.

That is what had happened. The woman had lived apart from the daily experiences of her husband's life in Dublin; and it had deepened her bitterness against him. When she had learned that Erris Boyne was no more faithful to her than he had been to his previous wife, she had gone mad; and Dyck Calhoun was paying the price of her madness.

Mrs. Llyn did not know this. She was a woman of distinguished bearing, though small, with a wan, sad look in her eyes always, but with a cheerful smile. She was not poor, but well-to-do, and it was not necessary to deny herself or her daughter ordinary comforts, and even many of the luxuries of life.

Her hair was darker than her daughter's, black and wavy, with here and there streaks of grey. These, however, only added dignity to a head beautifully balanced, finely moulded, and, in the language of the day, most genteelly hung. She was slender, buoyant in movement yet composed, and her voice was like her daughter's, clear, gentle, thrilling.

Her mind and heart were given up to Sheila and Sheila's future. That was why a knowledge of the tragedy that had come to Dyck Calhoun troubled her as she had not been troubled since the day she first learned of Erris Boyne's infidelity to herself.

"Let us go to Dublin, mother," said Sheila with a determined air, after reading the clipping.

"Why, my dear?"

The woman's eyes, with their long lashes, looked searchingly into her daughter's face. She felt, as the years went on, that Sheila had gifts granted to few. She realized that the girl had resources which would make her a governing influence in whatever sphere of life she should be set. Quietly, Sheila was taking control of their movements, and indeed of her own daily life. The girl had a dominating skill which came in part from herself, and also to a degree from her father; but her disposition was not her father's-it was her mother's.

Mrs. Llyn had never known Sheila to lie or twist the truth in all her days. No one was more obedient to wise argument; and her mother had a feeling that now, perhaps, the time had come when they two must have a struggle for mastery. There was every reason why they should not go to Dublin. There Sheila might discover that Erris Boyne was her father, and might learn the story of her mother's life.

Sheila had been told by her mother that her father had passed away abroad when she was a little child. She had never seen her father's picture, and her mother had given her the impression that their last days together had not been happy. She had always felt that it was better not to inquire too closely into her father's life.

The years had gone on and then had come the happy visit to Loyland Towers, where she had met Dyck Calhoun. Her life at that moment had been free from troublesome emotions; but since the time she had met Dyck at the top of the hill, a new set of feelings worked in her.

She was as bonny a lass as ever the old world produced-lithe, with a body like that of a boy, strong and pleasant of face, with a haunting beauty in the eyes, a majesty of the neck and chin, and a carriage which had made Michael Clones call her a queen.

She saw Dyck only as, a happy, wild son of the hilltop. To her he was a man of mettle and worth, and irresponsible because he had been given no responsibility. He was a country gentleman of Ireland, with all the interest and peril of the life of a country gentleman.

"Yes, we ought to go to Dublin, mother. We could help him, perhaps,"

Sheila insisted.

The mother shook her head mournfully.

"My child, we could do him no good at all-none whatever. Besides, I can't afford to visit Dublin now. It's an expensive journey, and the repairs we've been doing here have run me close."

A look of indignation, almost of scorn, came into the girl's face.

"Well, if I were being tried for my life, as Dyck Calhoun is going to be, and if I knew that friends of mine were standing off because of a few pounds, shillings, and pence, I think I'd be a real murderer!"

The mother took her daughter's hand. She found it cold.

"My dear," she said, clasping it gently, "you never saw him but three times, and I've never seen him but twice except in the distance; but I would do anything in my power to help him, if I could, for I like him. The thing for us to do-"

"Yes, I know-sit here, twist our thumbs, and do nothing!"

"What more could we do if we went to Dublin, except listen to gossip, read the papers and be jarred every moment? My dear, our best place is here. If the spending of money could be of any use to him, I'd spend it -indeed I would; but since it can't be of any use, we must stay in our own home. Of one thing I'm sure-if Dyck Calhoun killed Erris Boyne, Boyne deserved it. Of one thing I'm certain beyond all else-it was no murder. Mr. Calhoun wasn't a man to murder any one. I don't believe"- her voice became passionate-"he murdered, and I don't believe he will be hanged."

The girl looked at her mother with surprise. "Oh, dearest, dearest!" she said. "I believe you do care for him. Is it because he has no mother, and you have no son."

"It may be so, beloved."

Sheila swept her arms around her mother's neck and drew the fine head to her breast.

At that moment they heard the clatter of hoofs, and presently they saw a horse and rider pass the window.

"It's a government messenger, mother," Sheila said.

As Sheila said, it was a government messenger, bearing a packet to Mrs. Llyn-a letter from her brother in America, whom she had not seen for many years.

The brother, Bryan Llyn, had gone out there as a young man before the Revolutionary War. He had prospered, taking sides against England in the war, and become a man of importance in the schemes of the new republican government. Only occasionally had letters come from

him to his sister, and for nearly eleven years she had not had a single word from him.

When she opened the packet now, she felt it would help to solve-she knew not how-the trouble between herself and her daughter. The letter had been sent to a firm in Dublin with which Bryan Llyn had done business, with instructions that it should be forwarded to his sister. It had reached the hands of a government official, who was a brother of a member of the firm, and he had used the government messenger, who was going upon other business to Limerick, to forward it with a friendly covering note, which ended with the words:

The recent tragedy you have no doubt seen in the papers must have shocked you; but to those who know the inside the end was inevitable, though there are many who do not think Calhoun is guilty. I am one of them. Nevertheless, it will go hard with him, as the evidence is strong against him. He comes from your part of the country, and you will be concerned, of course.

Sheila watched her mother reading, and saw that great emotion possessed her, though the girl could not know the cause. Presently, however, Mrs. Llyn, who had read the letter from her brother, made a joyful exclamation.

"What is it, mother dear?" Sheila asked eagerly. "Tell me!"

The mother made a passionate gesture of astonishment and joy; then she leaned back in her chair and closed her eyes, with the letter-which was closely written, in old-fashioned punctiliousness-in her hands.

"Oh, my dear, my dear!" she said. "How strange it all is! Your Uncle Bryan is immensely rich. He has no children and no family; his health is failing."

She seemed able to get no further.

"Well, what is it, mother?" asked Sheila again.

For an instant Mrs. Llyn hesitated; then she put the letter into Sheila's hands.

"Read it, my child," she said. "It's for you as much as for me-indeed, more for you than for me." Sheila took the letter. It ran as follows:

DEAREST SISTER:

It is eleven years since I wrote to you, and yet, though it may seem strange, there have not been eleven days in all that time in which I have not wished you and Sheila were here. Sheila-why, she is a young woman! She's about the age you were when I left Ireland, and you were one of the most beautiful and charming creatures God ever gave life to. The last picture I have of you was a drawing made soon after your marriage-sad, bad, unhappy incident. I have kept it by me always. It warms my heart in winter; it cools my eyes in summer.

My estate is neither North nor South, but farther South than North. In a sense it is always summer, but winter on my place would be like summer in Norway-just bitingly fresh, happily alert. I'm writing in the summer now. I look out of the window and see hundreds of acres of cotton-fields, with hundreds upon hundreds of negroes at work. I hear the songs they sing, faint echoes of them, even as I write. Yes, my black folk do sing, because they are well treated.

Not that we haven't our troubles here. You can't administer thousands of acres, control hundreds of slaves, and run an estate like a piece of clockwork without creaks in the machinery. I've built it all up out of next to nothing. I landed in this country with my little fortune of two thousand pounds. This estate is worth at least a quarter of a million now. I've an estate in Jamaica, too. I took it for a debt. What it'll be worth in another twenty years I don't know. I shan't be here to see. I'm not the man I was physically, and that's one of the reasons why I'm writing to you to-day. I've often wished to write and say what I'm going to say now; but I've held back, because I wanted you to finish your girl's education before I said it

What I say is this: I want you and Sheila to come here to me, to make my home your home, to take control of my household, and to let me see faces I love about me as the shadows enfold me.

Like your married life, mine was unsuccessful, but not for the same reason. The woman I married did not understand-probably could not understand. She gave me no children. We are born this way, or that. To understand is pain and joy in one; to misconceive is to scatter broken glass for bare feet. Yet when I laid her away, a few years ago, I had terrible pangs of regret, which must come to the heart that has striven in vain. I did my best; I tried to make her understand, but she never did. I used at first to feel angry; then I became patient. But I waked up again, and went smiling along, active, vigorous, getting pleasure out of the infinitely small things, and happy in perfecting my organization.

This place, which I have called Moira, is to be yours-or, rather, Sheila's. So, in any case, you will want to come and see the home I have made this old colonial mansion, with its Corinthian pillars and verandah, high steps, hard-wood floors polished like a pan, every room hung in dimity and chintz, and the smell of fruit and flowers everywhere. You will want to see it all, and you'll want to live here.

There's little rain here, so it's not like Ireland, and the green is not so green; but the flowers are marvellously bright, and the birds sing almost as well as they sing in Ireland, though there's no lark. Strange it is, but true, the only things that draw me back to Ireland in my soul are you, and Sheila, whom I've never seen, and the lark singing as he rises until he becomes a grey-blue speck, and then vanishing in the sky.

Well, you and the lark have sung in my heart these many days, and now you must come to me, because I need you. I have placed to your credit in the Bank of Ireland a thousand pounds. That will be the means of bringing you here-you and Sheila-to my door, to Moira. Let nothing save death prevent your coming. As far as Sheila's eye can see-north, south, east, and west-the land will be hers when I'm gone. Dearest sister, sell all things that are yours, and come to me. You'll not forget Ireland here. Whoever has breathed her air can never forget the hills and dells, the valleys and bogs, the mountains, with their mists of rain, the wild girls, with their bare ankles, their red petticoats, and their beautiful, reckless air. None who has ever breathed the air of Ireland can breathe in another land without memory of the ancient harp of Ireland. But it is as a memory-deep, wonderful, and abiding, yet a memory. I sometimes think I have forgotten, and then I hear coming through this Virginia the notes of some old Irish melody, the song of some wayfarer of Mayo or Connemara, and I know then that Ireland is persuasive and perpetual; but only as a memory, because it speaks in every pulse and beats in every nerve.

Oh, believe me, I speak of what I know! I have been away from Ireland for a long time, and I'm never going back, but I'll bring Ireland to me. Come here, colleen, come to Virginia. Write to me, on the day you get this letter, that you're coming soon. Let it be soon, because I feel the cords binding me to my beloved fields growing thinner. They'll soon crack, but, please God, they won't crack before you come here.

Now with my love to you and Sheila I stretch out my hand to you.

Take it. All that it is has worked for is yours; all that it wants

is you.

Your loving brother,

BRYAN.

As Sheila read, the tears started from her eyes; and at last she could read no longer, so her mother took the letter and read the rest of it aloud. When she had finished, there was silence-a long warm silence; then, at last, Mrs. Llyn rose to her feet.

"Sheila, when shall we go?"

With frightened eyes Sheila sprang up.

"I said we must go to Dublin!" she murmured.

"Yes, we will go to Dublin, Sheila, but it will be on our way to Uncle

Bryan's home."

Sheila caught her mother's hands.

"Mother," she said, after a moment of hesitation, "I must obey you."

"It is the one way, my child-the one thing to do. Some one in prison calls-perhaps; some one far away who loves you, and needs us, calls- that we know. Tell me, am I not right? I ask you, where shall we go?"

"To Virginia, mother."

The girl's head dropped, and her eyes filled with tears.

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