MOUNT TEMPE AND ITS MASTER.
BOB LLOYD'S domicile was close to the bog, and rejoiced in the name of Mount Tempe. Why Mount, it would be hard to tell, for it was in the middle of a flat, dreary tract of country; and why Tempe, was a still greater puzzle. Either taken singly might be accounted for on the "lucus a non" principle; but, joined together they are too much for us. We must content ourselves with the fact that Bob Lloyd's residence was known by the style and title of Mount Tempe.
Bob Lloyd was a bachelor — we cannot add, "by no choice of his own." For if ever mortal man had the enviable privilege to pick and choose among the fair ladies of the neighbourhood, that man was Bob Lloyd, of Mount Tempe. Many and ingenious were the snares laid to catch him, and many and miraculous were his hair-breadth escapes. Mammas manoeuvred for him; papas palavered him; daughters exhausted all their arts and their patience to capture him. But there he was safe and sound, and free as the wind that seemed to recognise in him a congenial spirit, and took a peculiar delight in rushing down the chimneys of Mount Tempe House, or flinging the slates off the roof into the yard behind, and upon the gravel plot, and out on the green lawn in front — and particularly and especially through the roof of what was once a conservatory at the south side, to the terror and misery of an unhappy fox that dragged out a life of wretchedness chained among the empty flower pots. It was in keeping with the genius of incongruity which presided over Bob Lloyd's establishment that the fox should be domiciled, of all places in the world, among the flower-pots. And the odour that assailed the nostrils on approaching the conservatory was, to speak mildly, of a kind for which strangers were unprepared, and was usually greeted with an exclamation indicative of a surprise the reverse of agreeable.
Mr. Lowe, on passing this delectable concern, stopped short and clapped his hand to his nose, as if he had received a violent blow on that feature; but Richard, being prepared for the assault, passed on to the hall-door without wincing.
He knocked loudly, and while waiting for the door to be opened, occupied the time in rubbing his leg, which was fast becoming numbed. No one answered to his knock; and, knowing the ways of the place, instead of knocking a second time, he raised one of the windows and put in his head.
"Morrow, Dick," said the gentleman of the house. "Come in."
Richard laid his hand on the window-sill and vaulted into the parlour.
"I have Mr. Lowe with me," he remarked, as he walked out to the hall to admit that gentleman by the door.
Mr. Lowe looked at the owner of the house and around the large room; and then turned to his friend as if seeking instructions as to how he ought to act, or what was the custom of the country under such circumstances
Mr. Lloyd was stretched on a sofa playing two jews-harps. Richard walked deliberately to a cupboard, and taking a tall, square bottle and a couple of glasses from it, laid them on the table — having first swept a shot-belt, a bridle, a pair of horse girths, and two pairs of boxing gloves off the table to the floor. Having filled the glasses, he tossed off one, and beckoned Mr. Lowe to do likewise; which he did.
The gentleman of the house at length wheeled slowly round, let his feet drop to the floor, and, sitting upright, contemplated his friend with a look of complacent admiration. "'Pon my soul, Dick," he said, very seriously, "you look well."
He put the jews-harp in his left hand to his mouth, and twanged it with the little finger of the same hand. Then putting the jews-harp in his right hand to his mouth, he twanged that too. Mr. Lloyd then put both jews-harps to his mouth, and played a tune, always keeping his eyes fixed on Richard's leg, as if there were some extraordinary fascination about the cap of the knee.
"'Tisn't the latest fashion? The newest style from the city, you know? Eh, Dick?"
"No. I sank in a bog-hole and tore it off with a stump or something. I want to borrow one from you. Of course, I can get it?"
"Ay, faith," said Mr. Lloyd.
"And dry stockings?"
Richard desired Mr. Lowe to sit near the fire, and went in search of the last-named individual.
The musician on the sofa applied himself to his instruments, and the listener began to wonder at the sweetness of the melody.
"Know the name of that tune?" he asked.
"No; I can't say I ever heard it before," was the reply.
"Listen again." And he repeated the tune.
"Know it now?"
"Well, I don't. But it seems a pleasing little air."
Mr. Lloyd extended one hand, and swinging it gracefully in time to the air, sang:
Oh, my breeches full of stitches,
Oh, my breeches buckled on,
Oh, my breeches full of stitches,
Oh, my breeches buckled on."
"This is a character," thought Mr. Lowe, "I suppose," he said aloud. "our friend's mishap has suggested it to you?"
"Dick is a bloody clever fellow," was the not very relevant reply. "He has words at will."
The subject of this flattering remark here came to the door and called to Mr. Lowe to come with him upstairs.
The first thing that struck Mr. Lowe on entering Bob Lloyd's bedroom was, that a faded horse-rug did duty for a counterpane on the bed.
Jer appeared with the dry stockings, with a half-dozen dogs of various kinds at his heels. Over the yellow-striped waistcoat usually worn by servants, he wore a cast-off green coat of his master's, which was sadly out of keeping with his tattered corduroy small clothes and heavy brogues. Jer was a person of importance, particularly in his own estimation, and looked upon himself as a sort of senior partner in the establishment. His influence over his master was such that his good word was deemed indispensable whenever it was sought to make Bob Lloyd a party to any transaction, whether it might be the buying or selling of a horse, the granting of a lease, the paying of a bill, or the bringing about of a matrimonial alliance between the owner of Mount Tempe and any one of the many fair damsels who sighed to make him happy. For it was well known — this in reference to the fair damsels — that, though Bob Lloyd had a genius for never allowing both ends to meet by any chance, his rent-roll showed the receipt of a good eight hundred pounds a year; and it was remarked that there "wasn't a better lot of tenants in Ireland" than his.
"Well, Jer," said Richard, "any chance of a wedding this time?
"We're goin' on wud a couple, sir," replied Jer, "but I don't say they'll come to anything. Everything was settled wud Miss Jane; an', begor, there was no fear at all of the fortune they wor givin' her. She was tryin' on her weddin' dress on Saturday, when I went to tell her he couldn't marry her; an' she tuck on terrible intirely."
Richard laughed, but evinced no surprise.
"The ould mistress an' the young ladies is tryin' to bring it on again. But," added Jer, solemnly, and as if he himself were the principal party concerned, "'twon't do."
Richard explained to his friend that Mrs. Lloyd and her daughters lived in Kilthubber. "Devilish nice girls they are," he added; "particularly the second."
"They're anxious to have him settled," Jer continued with a sigh, as if the settling were a great weight on his mind. "An' sure God knows so is myself. But 'tis so hard to meet a shootable woman. I'm after promisin' Tom Otway," he continued, "that we'll run down to the County Carlow in the course of the week to see his cousin. Himself is for goin' by the coach; but I'm thinkin' 'twould look better to drive tandem. What do you think?" he asked, as if he found it hard to decide.
"Oh, the tandem, by all means," said Richard.
"That's what I think myself," rejoined Jer, as he left the room, followed by his dogs, except two that had got into the bed for a nap.
"Is this all a joke? Mr. Lowe asked.
"No. Bob's wooings are always carried on in this way, and Miss Jane can hardly have been taken by surprise, for she had examples enough to warn her."
"And how does he escape the consequences?
"Do you mean why is he not called out? The idea of such a good-natured fellow as Bob Lloyd shooting anybody or being shot at! But he will tell you 'the heaviest cloutin' match' — to use his own phrase — he ever had, was with young Allcock for refusing to marry his sister, who declared that he had popped the question and been accepted in the most formal manner."
"But the law," said Mr. Lowe. "Have you no such thing as breaches of promise in Ireland?"
"They are not quite unknown, though very rare, down here. But the immunity which Bob enjoys may in some measure be accounted for by the fact that the business is all done through Jer. Bob never writes letters; and, perhaps, as he would say himself, that saves his bacon."
It must not be inferred that writing was not among Mr. Lloyd's accomplishments. He wrote a fair, round hand, and was fond of displaying his calligraphic skill whenever pen, ink and paper chanced to come in his way — particularly, and almost exclusively, in the execution of the words:—
"Command you may your mind from play."
which he was wont to finish off with a flourish, and seemed to derive great pleasure from the performance.
"Can we get a shot without going into that infernal bog again?" Richard asked when they had returned to the parlour.
"Ay, faith," Mr. Lloyd replied. "If I went out to that well beyond ten times a day, I'd be sure to meet a snipe there."
"Get your gun and come with us."
Mr. Lloyd strapped a shot-belt over his shoulder, and was taking up his gun, when the door opened, and a stout, middle-sized man, with a round face, unceremoniously walked in.
"'Morrow, Wat," said Mr. Lloyd.
"'Morrow, kindly," Wat replied, offering him a slip of paper.
"How much is it?"
"Fifteen pounds eleven and sevenpence."
"I'll see about it;" said Mr. Lloyd.
"That'll never do for me," replied Wat.
"There's not a penny under the roof of the house," said Mr. Lloyd.
"The devil a foot I'll stir out of this till I get it," Wat rejoined.
"Have a drop of this," Mr. Lloyd remarked, filling a glass from the square bottle.
"No objection," replied Wat, sententiously.
Mr. Lloyd went to the side-board, and returned, holding a large dish in one hand with as much ease as if it were a small plate, and grasping a loaf of bread with the other.
"Come, Dick," said he, placing them on the table, "let's have a bite."
He cut some slices of bread and meat which Richard converted into sandwiches for himself and Mr. Lowe.
"Wat," said Bob Lloyd, with his mouth full, "I'll see about that,"
"Pay me the money, and let me go for the cow; that's the seein' about I want."
"What cow?" Mr. Lloyd asked.
"A fat cow I'm afther buyin' from your father," said Wat, turning to Richard; "and he won't let me' take her wudout the money. So, shell out," he added, turning to Mr. Lloyd, with a sort of humorous sulkiness of voice and look.
Mr. Lloyd, appearing to pay no attention to this speech, bit a semicircle out of his sandwich, and holding it between him and the light, seemed to admire its regularity.
Wat, drawing an old arm-chair towards the window, thereby disturbing the repose of an old setter that had possession of it, deliberately sat down, and crossed his legs with the air of a man who was bent upon taking his ease, and had nothing on earth to trouble him. Mr. Lloyd advanced in silence, and presented a carving knife at him with a substantial slice of cold meat on the top of it.
Wat took the meat between his finger and thumb, and acknowledged the civility by uncrossing his legs and sitting upright.
Mr. Lloyd then presented a carving fork with the other hand, upon which was a chunk of bread. This Wat also accepted, if not graciously, at least without any show of reluctance. Having emulated his host in the biting line — with the difference that, the bread and meat being each in a different hand, he had to take two bites instead of one — Wat remarked oracularly:
"A pig's head ates very handsome, cowld."
"Kitty," he called out to a servant girl who was flinging her cloak over her shoulders as she passed the window.
The girl stopped and looked at him. Whereupon Wat raised the window and asked was she going to town.
I am," replied Kitty. "Why so?"
"Tell my mother to send me out an ounce of tobaccy," said Wat, in the calmest and most self-satisfied manner imaginable.
"Now, Wat, what are you up to?" Mr. Lloyd asked. "Don't you know if the money was in the house there wouldn't be a second word about it?"
"Well, to do you nothin' but justice," Wat replied, "I do know that. But you see two quarters of that cow are bespoke, and I can't disappoint my customers. Moreover, when wan quarter is for a weddin'."
"Well, what do you want?"
"D—n well you know what I want," replied Wat. "An order on Tom Ryan. That's money any day."
"There's not a pen or a bit of clean paper in the house," said Mr. Lloyd.
"Ketch me!" was Wat's comment upon this objection. "I'm provided against accidents." And he produced an ink bottle with a leather strap attached to the neck, and unfolded half a sheet of paper which was rolled round a well-worn quill pen.
Mr. Lloyd, seeing no way of escape, sat down and wrote the letters I and C. The latter turned out such a model of a capital letter that Mr. Lloyd held it up for the inspection of his friends. He then slowly and carefully wrote out the order, which ran thus
"I Command you to pay Wat Murphy fifteen pounds sterling Money, which I will allow you out of your rent.
"ROBERT ORMSBY LLOYD.
"To Mr. Thomas Ryan."
"All right," said Wat, as he held the document to the fire to dry. After putting it in his pocket, he pointed to the square bottle.
"Would you have any objection?" he asked.
Bob Lloyd held up the square bottle, and, laying his hand along it, carefully measured the depth of liquor remaining. Seeming satisfied that he could afford to act on the very broad hint which Wat's question implied, he filled a glass.
"Healths apiece to ye," said Wat, tossing off the whiskey as he passed the table, without stopping. He was immediately heard whistling to his bull-dog, who, with his back against the wall outside the hall-door, was keeping at bay quite a pack of hounds of various descriptions — but among which there was not a single "mongrel" or "cur of low degree" — by the mere glare of his eye.