NO sooner had he entered the castle, where his return had been watched for, than Simmons came to him with the message that his lordship wanted to see him. Then first Donal remembered that he had not brought the papers! Had he not been sent for, he would have gone back at once to fetch them. As it was, he must see the earl first.
He found him in a worse condition than usual. His last drug or combination of drugs had not agreed with him; or he had taken too much, with correspondent reaction: he was in a vile temper. Donal told him he had been to the house, and had found the papers, but had not brought them -- had, in fact, forgotten them.
|A pretty fellow you are!| cried the earl. |What, you left those papers lying about where any rascal may find them and play the deuce with them!|
Donal assured him they were perfectly safe, under the same locks and keys as before.
|You are always going about the bush!| cried the earl. |You never come to the point! How the devil was it you locked them up again? -- To go prying all over the house, I suppose!|
Donal told him as much of the story as he would hear. Almost immediately he saw whither it tended, he began to abuse him for meddling with things he had nothing to do with. What right had he to interfere with lord Forgue's pleasures! Things of the sort were to be regarded as non-existent! The linen had to be washed, but it was not done in the great court! Lord Forgue was a youth of position: why should he be balked of his fancy! It might be at the expense of society!
Donal took advantage of the first pause to ask whether he should not go back and bring the papers: he would run all the way, he said.
|No, damn you!| answered the earl. |Give me the keys -- all the keys -- house-keys and all. I should be a fool myself to trust such a fool again!|
As Donal was laying the last key on the table by his lordship's bedside, Simmons appeared, saying lord Forgue desired to know if his father would see him.
|Oh, yes! send him up!| cried the earl in a fury. |All the devils in hell at once!|
His lordship's rages came up from abysses of misery no man knew but himself.
|You go into the next room, Grant,| he said, |and wait there till I call you.|
Donal obeyed, took a book from the table, and tried to read. He heard the door to the passage open and close again, and then the sounds of voices. By degrees they grew louder, and at length the earl roared out, so that Donal could not help hearing:
|I'll be damned soul and body in hell, but I'll put a stop to this! Why, you son of a snake! I have but to speak the word, and you are -- well, what -- . Yes, I will hold my tongue, but not if he crosses me! -- By God! I have held it too long already! -- letting you grow up the damnablest ungrateful dog that ever snuffed carrion! -- And your poor father periling his soul for you, by God, you rascal!|
|Thank heaven, you cannot take the title from me, my lord!| said Forgue coolly. |The rest you are welcome to give to Davie! It won't be too much, by all accounts!|
|Damn you and your title! A pretty title, ha, ha, ha! -- Why, you infernal fool, you have no more right to the title than the beggarly kitchen-maid you would marry! If you but knew yourself, you would crow in another fashion! Ha, ha, ha!|
At this Donal opened the door.
|I must warn your lordship,| he said, |that if you speak so loud, I shall hear every word.|
|Hear and be damned to you! -- That fellow there -- you see him standing there -- the mushroom that he is! Good God! how I loved his mother! and this is the way he serves me! But there was a Providence in the whole affair! Never will I disbelieve in a Providence again! It all comes out right, perfectly right! Small occasion had I to be breaking heart and conscience over it ever since she left me! Hang the pinchbeck rascal! he's no more Forgue than you are, Grant, and never will be Morven if he live a hundred years! He's not a short straw better than any bastard in the street! His mother was the loveliest woman ever breathed! -- and loved me -- ah, God! it is something after all to have been loved so -- and by such a woman! -- a woman, by God! ready and willing and happy to give up everything for me! Everything, do you hear, you damned rascal! I never married her! Do you hear, Grant? I take you to witness; mark my words: we, that fellow's mother and I, were never married -- by no law, Scotch, or French, or Dutch, or what you will! He's a damned bastard, and may go about his business when he pleases. Oh, yes! pray do! Marry your scullion when you please! You are your own master -- entlrely your own master! -- free as the wind that blows to go where you will and do what you please! I wash my hands of you. You'll do as you please -- will you? Then do, and please me: I desire no better revenge! I only tell you once for all, the moment I know for certain you've married the wench, that moment I publish to the world -- that is, I acquaint certain gossips with the fact, that the next lord Morven will have to be hunted for like a truffle -- ha! ha! ha!|
He burst into a fiendish fit of laughter, and fell back on his pillow, dark with rage and the unutterable fury that made of his being a volcano. The two men had been standing dumb before him, Donal pained for the man on whom this phial of devilish wrath had been emptied, he white and trembling with dismay -- an abject creature, crushed by a cruel parent. When his father ceased, he still stood, still said nothing: power was gone from him. He grew ghastly, uttered a groan, and wavered. Donal supported him to a chair; he dropped into it, and leaned back, with streaming face. It was miserable to think that one capable of such emotion concerning the world's regard, should be so indifferent to what alone can affect a man -- the nature of his actions -- so indifferent to the agony of another as to please himself at all risk to her, although he believed he loved her, and perhaps did love her better than any one else in the world. For Donal did not at all trust him regarding Eppy -- less now than ever. But these thoughts went on in him almost without his thinking them; his attention was engrossed with the passionate creatures before him.
The father too seemed to have lost the power of motion, and lay with his eyes closed, breathing heavily. But by and by he made what Donal took for a sign to ring the bell. He did so, and Simmons came. The moment he entered, and saw the state his master was in, he hastened to a cupboard, took thence a bottle, poured from it something colourless, and gave it to him in water. It brought him to himself. He sat up again, and in a voice hoarse and terrible said: --
|Think of what I have told you, Forgue. Do as I would have you, and the truth is safe; take your way without me, and I will take mine without you. Go.|
Donal went. Forgue did not move.
What was Donal to do or think now? Perplexities gathered upon him. Happily there was time for thought, and for prayer, which is the highest thinking. Here was a secret affecting the youth his enemy, and the boy his friend! affecting society itself -- that society which, largely capable and largely guilty of like sins, yet visits with such unmercy the sins of the fathers upon the children, the sins of the offender upon the offended! But there is another who visits them, and in another fashion! What was he to do? Was he to hold his tongue and leave the thing as not his, or to speak out as he would have done had the case been his own? Ought the chance to be allowed the nameless youth of marrying his cousin? Ought the next heir to the lordship to go without his title? Had they not both a claim upon Donal for the truth? Donal thought little of such things himself, but did that affect his duty in the matter? He might think little of money, but would he therefore look on while a pocket was picked?
On reflection he saw, however, that there was no certainty the earl was speaking the truth; for anything he knew of him, he might be inventing the statement in order to have his way with his son! For in either case he was a double-dyed villian; and if he spoke the truth was none the less capable of lying.