HIS MEETING WITH PERCY NEVILLE.
New Zealand Tablet, Rōrahi XXV, Putanga 52, 29 Paengawhāwhā 1898, Page 23
HIS MEETING WITH PERCY NEVILLE.
(By E. Beck, in the Are Maria.) I. There had been no rain for months ; nor could Patrick Nealon, as he looked around on the brown and yellow pampas, and from thence to the sky overhead, discern signs of any. In his heart he was saying that, for him, it did not matter now whether the rain came tomorrow or weeks hence. On the corral wiring outside his mud ranche were the skins of more than half of his sheep ; and the sickly bleats of the survivors, as they strayed over the parched and yellow soil in search of the blades of grass that were not there, reached his ears as he stood by the door of his hut in the full glory of the sunset. Three years before, Patrick Nealon had come to South America in search of fortune. He was the only child of a farm labourer in Ulster ; and as he stood in the midst of the pampa, with not a sound to break the silence but an occasional cough from the flock, or the play of hia horse's teeth over his scanty meal of alfalfa, he thought of bygone eves in Ireland, when he had watched the sun set over the hills of Tyrone. He could almost see against the gold of the western sky the tall tower of the Protestant ohurch of Dungannon, wherein the volunteers met in 1782 ; and the still taller tower of the Catholic church that has sprung up since then. Suddenly he took a letter from his pocket and read it slowly. It was in a girl's handwriting and ran thus : Dear Patrick : — I have obtained leave from my father to send you a few lines just to wish you a merry Christmas. I hope — I do hope — that things are going better with you. My father continues firm in his resolution. If you can show him three hundred pounds of honestly earned money before the Ist of November of next year, he will raise no further objection to our marriage. I trust you may be able to do so ; but if not, Patrick, it will make no change in me. Marry you against my father's will I can not, but I will marry no other man. God bless you and guard you always is the prayer of Mary Moore. The date of the letter was that of the previous December, and its torn edges showed that it had been frequently read. " Three hundred pounds !" Patrick Nealon laughed bitterly. " Alas ! the dry summer destroyed the only hope I had of making that." The last rays of the red sun had faded, and the silence deepened. The horse had finished his meal, and the wretched sheep had strayed farther and farther from the hut. The young man replaced the letter carefully in his pocket. " September and October only remain of the three years James Moore gave me. Ah, what a fool I was to believe I could make a fortune out of sheep ! I might as well have remained in Ireland." He turned as if to go indoors, and hesitated. For some reason or other — probably from the want of human companionship (for Nealon's run lay out of the way of chance visitors), or a constant diet of black tea and camp biscuit — he felt more than usually dispirited. The day had been a wearisome one. It was no easy task to draw water from the well beside the corral for the miserable remnant of his floak, under a broiling sun. His legs and arms ached intolerably ; and the dull, throbbing pain in his temples kept him from having recourse to his evening pipe. With a weary sigh, he threw himself on the door-sill and fell asleep. He slept for some time ; and when he woke the sky was bright with stars, and it was with an effort he recollected where he was. " Heigh-ho ! I ought to be in bed by this time," he said, struggling upwards from his uncomfortable position. He took a rosary — it was Mary Moore's parting gift to him — from his pocket. For once he was strongly tempted to forego his nightly devotion, bat with an effort he knelt down and began the prayers. He hai scarcely finished when a strange sound made him start. He listened for it to be repeated. " Bah !" he muttered. "I am growing as fanciful as an old woman. It was the cough of one of those consumptive animals. Yet Rollo " (Rollo was his dog) " is disturbed." He listened again. The intense silence was suddenly broken by a cry — a child's cry, — and the dog darted forward eagerly. No less eagerly Patrick followed him. Once beyond the corral, he pauoed to listen, and the cry was repeated. Neither he nor Rollo had any doubt as to the direction whence it came, and in less than ten minutes both stood beside a dark heap that lay on the ground. " Thank God !" a man's voice — a faint, broken voice — said, when Patrick spoke. " What is the matter ? Are you badly hurt ?" Patrick asked. "My horse is dead," the man replied, in feeble tones. Patrick found that the animal had fallen upon his rider, and it was some time before the man's leg was drawn from under the dead horee. Meantime the child, evidently not more than three years of age, kept perfectly quiet. " I told Basil to call," the man gasped. " You heard him ?" •' Yes." " My own voice was too faint." " Now to get you to my hut. It is not far off. I can easily carry you on my back," Patrick said. " No. no ! It is impossible," said the stranger. " Besides, lam dying." '■ Not a bit of it !" Patrick answered, cheerfully. " Come now. I am a bit of a surgeon, and once at the hut I can see to your injuries." " But the child ?" " I will return for him ." "No, no! Take him first." And Patrick perforce obeyed
It was a task of no little difficulty to get the injured man to the hut ; and by the time Patrick and he reached it the ohild had fallen asleep on the old poncho on which Patrick "had placed him. In a few minutes the woo 1 fire blazed up brightly, and Patrick tried to find out the extent of his guest's injuries. They were evidently more serious than at first appeared. " My leg is broken," the man said, with, difficulty ; but that is not all. I struck my breast on a «tone in falling. My heart is unsound, and I feel I am dying. Do not waste time iv attending to me, but listen to my story. I have little time to tell it." Patrick turned to a rude cipboard and took a flask from it. He poured some of its contents into a cracked teacup and held it to his guest's lips. " Drink," he said, authoritatively. "It will revive yon." The man obeyed ; and when Patrick had placed him in as comfortable a position as might be, he seated himself by his side. •' Now," he said, '* I will listen." The stranger's voice was somewhat stronger as he began : "My name is Percy Neville. My father is Sir Giles Neville, of Neville Court, near Liton, in England. Can you remember the names ?" Ntalon nodded. " He had often bitter reason to be incensed at my conduct," the man continued, — "often ; yet I never saw him so furiously angry as he was when I told him I was married to Emily Severn. She was an orphan, poor and friendless, and of a lower social standing than we pleased to consider ourselves. My father caet me off utterly, and swore he would leave the estate — it is unentailed — to a nephew. I had some few hundred pounds left me by my mother, and my wife and I decided to emigrate. We came first to Buenos Ayres. Later I took a tract of land near Villa Merced and began farming. I was unsuccessful ; and shortly after the birth of our child, Emily died." The man paused. " I struggled on for a couple of years longer, and then I had to give up. Since I have tried various pursuits, and I have been successful in none. I was not brought up for work of any kind, unfortunately. Some time ago a doctor told me I had heart disease and might die at any time." The man stopped again, and Patrick held the cup to his mouth. "It was then I thought of taking the boy to England. I hoped to live long enough to place him under his grandfather's care. I do not think he would refuse to receive him," — the stranger spoke meditatively. "At any rate, I shall never see England again." " You may," Patrick began. " You — " " No, no !" the stranger interrupted, petulantly. "I am dying, I tell you. Will you bring the boy home for me ?" " //" Patrick ejaculated. " Yes. I had sufficient money for our passages when we set out, but I fell ill before we had journeyed far, and now I have none. The wretched horse on which we rode was borrowed from a kindly Spaniard. He stumbled — indeed he was merely a skeleton — and fell. Thank God he did not break the boy's neck as well as his own. For me it would not have mattered." " But I may not be able to leave this place," Patrick remarked, in answer to the man's question. >l However, as soon as I can, I shall send the boy to your father. You may be assured of that." '• Oh, but it may be too late !" Percy Neville said, passionately. " Did I not say that my father is ill / I saw that in an English newspaper which I chanced to come across. He is ill ; and if he dies without seeing Basil, the estate goes to my cousin ; and my boy — my poor boy — will be quite destitute.' Patrick did not speak. " Will you not do as I ask ? I like your voice : it is a kindly, an honest one. What will a journey to England mean in your lite / Besides, you can tell my father everything. You will find all the papers and certifiicates in my pocket." (The man placed his hand above his heart.) "You will not refuse the request of a dying man ?" the stranger went on, seizing Patrick's hand. " Promise me that you will do what I ask, and mny God bless and reward you !" Very muoh more to the same purpose did Percy Ndville say, and at length Patrick gave the required pledge. When the sun came up red and angry through the haze on the distant horizon the stranger died. In the full vigour of his youth and strength he might, perhaps, have sneered at Patrick Nealon's simple faith and boundless hope. But some one has said the Catholic faith is a good one to die in, and Percy Neville listened to the young Irishman's instructions hurnbJy and hopefully. His voice followed Patrick's through the Lord's Prayer and " Hail Mary," but as tne Creed was all but ended it failed. There was a shai p, short struggle and then death. Perhaps it was a happier one than if he had died in his own home and among his own kindred. That same day Patrick Nealon buried him in the dry, brown earth, with a wooden cross to mark the spot. Little Basil did not realise his loss. For a day or two the child cried for '■ papa," but Patrick and he were soon fast friends. The former lost no time in settling- his affairs, and at the end of a fortnight he and the child embarked for England. 11. It was on a day in early autumn that Patrick Nealon brought Basil Neville to the home of his race ; and as he walked up the avenue holdiug the child by the hand, he gazed admiringly on the red brick structure mellowed by time to a pleasant hue. The giant oaks and beeches in the park were rich in autumnal dyes, and now and then the leaves of pale gold and deep bronze fell silently on the greensward. Patrick had lingered in the one inn of the village that lay just outside the park boundary, to make himself and the child presentable for Sir Giles Neville's eyes. That gentleman was in anything but an amiable mood th:it same afternoon. A carriage accident had kept him a prisoner to the house for some months, and any sudden movement still gave a thrill of torture to his injured foot. Naturally the close confinement had proved irksome to him ; and during the enforced idle
hours he had plenty of time to meditate on his treatment of his eon, and perhaps, in a measure, to regret it. He was a singularly lonely man, too. Percy had been his only child, and between him- Bclf and his brother's children there was little liking. He turned irritably when a servant opened the door of the room and said : " Therp is — a person waiting to see you, sir." "You know perfectly well that I fee no visitors, Samuel." i" But the man says he mutt see you, sir," the Eervant explained, apologetically. " Is he your master or am /?" Sir Giles demanded with indignation. "Tell the man, whoever he may be, that the steward transacts all business." 41 Yes, sir." Samuel replied—" O — h !" The exclamation was caused by the sudden and unceremonious entry of Nealon and the child. The latter advanced fearlessly, and Sir Giles sprang to his feet with a cry. He pointed to Basil. •• Who is that ?" Patrick glanced toward the servant, and Sir Giles said : " A chair, Samuel ; and you may go. In God's name, whose child ia that ? " Sir Giles asked, when the servant had left the room. " Percy Neville's." And then Patrick told the tale of poor Percy's death. Sir Giles listened without interruption. "My boy 1" he said, some minutes after Patrick had concluded '• my poor boy ! I was too hard — too hard." His voice broke ; and Patrick, with that innate delicacy which is characteristic of the Irish race, turned his gaze away. " And that is his child ?" Sir Giles asked at length. " Yes." Patrick took a bundle of papers from his coat pocket and handed them to him. "I will stop in the village till tomorrow," he said. "If there is anything you wish to ask me, you can send for me. '• Good-bye, Basil !" " No, you must not do that," Sir Giles said, with something like his usual manner. " You shall stop here. The child — his name is Basil did you say ? — would fret after you, no doubt." " I thank you, but I would rather not stay, sir. Basil, poor little man, ia very tired. If he were in bed he would soon be asleep." But Basil refused absolutely to leave Patrick's side. By and bye he fell asleep on the young man's knee, and the old housekeeper was quietly summoned to convey him to bed. " Take my grandson to the Blue Room, Mrs. Kerr," Sir Giles ordered ; " and find a reliable person for nurse." Then turning to Patrick, he inquired : " Your name, please ?" " Patrick Nealon." "Nealon," Sir Giles repeated the name. "It seems familiar. By and by, Mr. Nealon, I shall be better able to thank you. And if there is anything I can do " " Thank you, sir, but there is not." And Patrick returned to the village inn, despite Sir Giles' entreaty to make Neville Court his home. On the following day he called again to see Basil. Sir Giles was in the library with a small iron chest by the side of his chair. He held a faded sheet of paper in his hand, which he laid aside as Patrick entered. " You are a native of Ireland ?" he said, after soms time had elapsed and many questions had been answered. " Yes ; I was born in Tyrone." " Near Dungannon ?" Sir Giles asked. " Yes,'" Patrick replied, wonderingly. "Ah ! Well, Mr. Nealon, you Bhall read this manuscript, and then you will see why your name was familiar to me. I chanced to have looked over it recently ; otherwise it is possible I might not have recalled the story, though I often heard it during my father's lifetime." Sir Giles had lifted the sheet of paper he had been perusing on Patrick's entrance, and handed it to him. It ran as follows :—: — '• In the year 1795 I was stationed, with my regiment, not far from Dungannon, which is in the county of Tyrone. It chanced that while there I made the acquaintance of a farmer named Joseph Nealon. He had rendered me some slight service one day, and afterward we were accustomed to exchange a few words when we met — which was rather frequently, as his farm was situated in the townland of Carrickcreave, not half a mile from where the regiment was stationed. The country was in a very dissatisfied state, I remember. " One evening — the 17th of August — Nealon came to our headquarters and asked for me. I went to him at once. He was in a terrible state of agitation, and told me he had heard that a number of ' wreckers ' were to attack his house that night. ' Wreckers,' I should say, was a name given to a body of Protestant miscreants, who went about destroying and pillaging the homesteads of their Catholic neighbours. They were a^o known by the name of ' Peepo'-day boys,' for the early hour at which their wanton outrages were usually committed. From these ' wreckers ' ultimately rose the Orange Society, I believe. I endeavoured to allay Nealon's fears, though I had no doubt but they were well founded. The poor man had a purse of money with him. It contained about four hundred guineas. How he made it I never heard ; but he was indeed a particularly honest, careful person. He asked me to take charge of it for him for a time. Of course I agreed. Afterward I spoke to the commander of the regiment, but he merely laughed at me. I am now aware that the Government tacitly encouraged those vile wretches in their horrible crimes ; for no less than seven thousand of Catholic families had been forced or burned out of the neighbouring county of Armagh, as I am credibly informed. "That very night Nealon's home was burned, and he, poor fellow ! perished in the flames. His wife with their only child escaped. I have endeavoured to find her, but vainly ; and thus it is that lam still in possession of Joseph Nealon's guineas. I hope yet to find the poor woman, or some trace of her ; but, lest I should be culled away from this world suddenly, I set this down here, that my heirs may read it. The guineas are in the iron chest in the library, in a black leathern purse. ♦'Basil Neville."
Patrick glanced over the paper again. •' You think, sir, that I may be this Joseph Nealon's descendant, perhaps ?" he inquired. Sir Giles nodded. " 1 don't know in the least. But many a time I heard my poor father — God rest him — sty that the Orangemen defrauded him of his father's farm in Carrickcreave ; but that is all." " Well, we must see. It was the knowledge he derived in Ireland that made my father, Basil Neville — Percy's boy is named after him — so staunch a supporter of Gatholio Emancipation. Many and many a time I heard him wax eloquent over the terrible penal code that so long oppressed the Irish and disgraced the English." There was little difficulty in proving that Patrick Nealon was a grandson of that Joseph Nealon who had entrusted his savings to the English lieutenant ; and Patrick was thus happily able to satisfy Mr. Moore in the matter of money that same November. He and Mary were married before Advent. With the guineas that had lain so long in Neville Court and his wife's little fortune, Patrick was enabled to repurchase the farm which had been his grandfather's ; and often in the winter nights he tells his neighbours the story of his meeting with poor Percy Neville in South America.