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'Yes, Lady Julia. Are you so impatient to call her wife that you will not remember her as cousin?'
'Call her wife! My dear boy, you're raving. It's Louisa Bellew!'
'What! Is it Miss Bellew you are to marry?'
'To be sure----'
But I could not finish the sentence, as O'Grady fell upon my shoulder, and his strong frame was convulsed with emotion.
In an instant, however, I tore myself away; and calling out, 'Wait for me, O'Grady!' I rushed upstairs, peeped hastily into the drawing-room, and then hurrying along the corridor opened a door at the end. The blinds of the windows were down, and the room so dark that I could scarcely perceive if any one were there had not my steps been guided by a low sob which I heard issue from the end of the sofa.
'Julia,' said I, rushing forward--'Julia, my dearest cousin! this is no time to deceive ourselves. He loves you--loved you from the first hour he met you. Let me have but one word. Can he, dare he hope that you are not indifferent to him? Let him but see you, but speak to you. Believe me, you have bent a heart as proud and haughty as your own; and you will have broken it if you refuse him. There, dearest girl---- Thanks! my heart's thanks for that!'
The slightest pressure of her taper fingers sent a thrill through me, as I sprang up and dashed down the stairs. In an instant I had seized O'Grady's arm, and the next moment whispered in his ear--
'You 've won her!'
CHAPTER LXI. NEW ARRIVALS
Mr. Paul Rooney's secret was destined to be inviolable as regarded his leg of pork; for Madame de Roni, either from chagrin or fatigue, did not leave her room the entire day. Miss Bellew declined joining us; and we sat down, a party of three, each wrapped up in his own happiness in a degree far too great to render us either social or conversational It is true the wine circulated briskly, and we nodded pleasantly now and then to one another; but all our efforts to talk led to so many blunders and cross answers that we scarcely ventured on more than a chance phrase or a good-humoured smile. There were certainly several barriers in the way of our complete happiness, in the innumerable prejudices of my lady-mother, who would be equally averse to O'Grady's project as to my own; but now was not the time to speculate on these, and we wrapped ourselves up in the glorious antic.i.p.ation of our success, and cared little for such sources of opposition as might now arise. Meanwhile, Paul entered into a long and doubtless very accurate statement of the Bellew property, to which, I confess, I paid little attention, save when the name of Louisa occurred, which momentarily aroused me from my dreaminess. All the wily stratagems by which he had gained his points with Galway juries, all the cunning devices by which he had circ.u.mvented opposing lawyers and obtained verdicts in almost hopeless cases, however I might have relished another time, I only now listened to without interest, or heard without understanding.
Towards ten o'clock I received more than one hint from O'Grady that we had promised to take tea at the Place Vendome; while I myself was manoeuvring to find out, if we were to adjourn for coffee, what prospect there might be of seeing Louisa Bellew in the drawing-room.
It was in that dusky twilight we sat, a time which seems so suited to the quiet enjoyment of one's claret with a small and chosen party; where intimacy prevails sufficiently to make conversation more a thing of choice than necessity; where each man can follow out his own path in thought and only let his neighbour have a peep here and there into his dreamings, when some vista opens, or some bold prospect stretches away.
Next to the blazing fire of a winter's hearth, this is the pleasantest thing I know of. Thus was it, when the door opened, and a dusky outline of a figure appeared at the entrance.
'Is Master Phil here?' said a cranky voice there was no mistaking as Mr.
'Yes, Corny. What's wrong? Anything new?'
'Where's the Captain?' said he in the same tone.
'I 'm here, Corny,' said L
'Well, there's them looking for you without,' said he, 'that'll maybe surprise you, pleasant as ye are now.'
A detestable effort at a laugh here brought on a fit of coughing that lasted a couple of minutes.
'Who is it?' said I. 'Where are they?'
A significant gesture with his thumb over his shoulder was the only reply to my question, while he barked out, 'Don't you see me coughing the inside out o' me?'
I started up, and without attending to Paul's suggestion to bring my friends in, or to O'Grady's advice to be cautious if it were Burke, hurried outside, where a servant of the house was in waiting to conduct me.
'Two gentlemen in the drawing-room, sir,' said he, as he preceded me down the corridor.
The next instant the door opened, and I saw my father, accompanied by another person, who being wrapped up in travelling equipment, I could not recognise.
'My dear father I' said I, rushing towards him, when suddenly I stopped short, as I perceived that instead of the affectionate welcome I looked for he had crossed his hands behind his back, and fixed on me a look of stern displeasure.
'What does this mean?' said I, in amazement; 'it was not thus I expected----'
'It was not thus I hoped to have received my son,' said he resolutely, 'after a long and eventful separation. But this is too painful to endure longer. Answer me, and with the same truth I have always found in you--is there a young lady in this house called Miss Bellew?'
'Yes, sir,' said I, and a cold perspiration broke over me, and I could scarcely support myself.
'Did you make her acquaintance in Ireland?'
'Did you at that time use every effort to win her affections, and give her to understand that she had yours?'
'Yes, sir,' said I more faintly than before, for already some horrible doubt was creeping on my mind.
'And have you now, sir,' continued he, in a voice elevated to a higher pitch--'have you now, sir, when a prospect of a richer alliance presents itself, dishonoured yourself and my name, by deserting the girl whose affections you have so gained?'
'No, sir! that is untrue.'
'Stop, young man! I have one at hand this moment who may compel you to retract your words as shamefully as you have boldly said them. Do you know this gentleman?'
'Father Loft us!' said I, starting back with astonishment, as the good priest unfolded a huge comforter from his throat, and stood forth.
'Yes, indeed! no other,' said he, in a voice of great sadness; 'and sorry I am to see you this way.'
'You, surely, my dear friend,' said I--'you cannot believe thus harshly of me?'
'If it wasn't for your handwriting, I'd not have believed the Pope of Rome,' was his reply, as he wiped his eyes. 'But there it is.'
So saying, he handed to me, with trembling fingers, a letter, bearing the Paris postmark.
I tore it open, and found it was written in my own name, and addressed to Father Loftus, informing him of my deep regret that, having discovered the unhappy circ.u.mstance of her mother's conduct, I was obliged to relinquish all thoughts of an alliance with Miss Bellow's family, whose connection with my own had been so productive of heavy misfortune. This also contained an open note, to be handed by the priest to Miss Bellew, in which I was made formally to renounce her hand, for reasons in the possession of Father Loftus.
In a second the truth flashed across me from whom this plot proceeded; and scarcely permitting myself time to read the letter through, I called out--
'This is a forgery! I never wrote it, never saw it before!'
'What!' said my father, starting round, and fixing his eye on the priest.
'You never wrote it?' echoed Father Tom. 'Do you say so? Is that your word as a gentleman?'
'It is,' said I firmly. 'This day, this very day, I have asked Miss Bellew to be my wife, and she has consented.'
Before my father could seize my hand, the good priest had thrown his arms round my neck and given me an embrace a bear might have envied.
The scene that followed I cannot describe. My poor father, quite overpowered, sat down upon a chair, holding my hand within both his; while Father Tom bustled about the room, looking into all the gla.s.s and china ornaments for something to drink, as his mouth, he said, was like a lime-burner's hat. The honest fellow, it appeared, on receiving the letters signed with my name, left his home the same night and travelled with all speed to London, where he found my father just on the eve of leaving for Paris. Very little persuasion was necessary to induce him to continue his journey farther. On their arrival at Paris they had gone to O'Grady's hotel, where, securing Corny*s services, they lost not a moment in tracking me out in the manner I have mentioned.