The Jaspers made only a short call, but when they had gone the captain still lingered, caressing little Olive, whom he had coaxed to the seat upon his knee vacated by Perry Golding, talking gayly with Ronald about some of the lighter experiences of their army life—for they had been companions in arms—yet furtively watching Miriam and frequently addressing a remark to her.
“That will be a match, you may depend upon it, Alonzo,” Serena said to her husband, with a wise nod of her pretty head as they drove homeward.
“What will be a match, my dear?” he asked, giving her a roguish look and smile.
“Now, you needn’t pretend that you don’t understand me,” she said; “you know very well what I mean. Captain Charlton is smitten with that handsome Miss Heath, and I saw in a minute that they were made for each other.”
At that moment a horseman came dashing up at a gallop, bowing and lifting his hat as he passed.
“Colonel Bangs,” murmured Serena. “Alonzo, I perfectly detest that man.”
“In which you are by no means peculiar,” replied the doctor; “overbearing and tyrannical to the last degree, and strongly suspected of cowardice in the face of the enemy, he was cordially hated by many of his men.”
“Is he going to Lakeside, do you think?”
The doctor put his head out of the gig and glanced back at the house they had just left.
“Yes,” he said, drawing it in again; “he has reined in at the gate. I suspect the captain is to have a rival.”
“If it’s the colonel, I don’t think he need be alarmed,” returned Serena. “What chance has a homely, disagreeable old bachelor beside a handsome, good-humored young fellow like Captain Charlton?”
“Ah, but the colonel is said to be in very easy circumstances; while Warren, poor fellow, has next to nothing.”
The colonel had now dismounted, fastened his horse, and entered the gate. A middle-aged Irishman, a rough but good-humored-looking fellow, was at work at the flower-beds. He had saluted the doctor and his wife courteously as they passed him; the captain also; but looking up at the sound of Bangs’s entrance, and seeing who it was, he simply scowled and turned to his work again.
“What are you doing here, you—— rascal?” demanded Bangs, in an insolent tone.
“Mindin’ me own business, sor; an’ it’s yersilf that had betther be doin’ that same, an’ not meddlin’ wid an honest man as yees haven’t got no authority over no longer.”
A lightning glance of intense scorn, contempt, and hatred, accompanied by a volley of oaths and curses, not loud but deep; and with that Bangs turned and hurried up the path and around to the side porch, where the family and Captain Charlton were sitting. He was greeted politely, and invited to take a seat among them; but his arrival seemed to act as a damper upon the whole party; conversation flagged, and presently there was dead silence for a moment. It was broken by Bangs.
“This is a lovely spot,” he remarked, sending a sweeping glance around. “I would advise you to have a care whom you employ. These fellows who have been in the army during the war”—and he nodded in the direction of the front garden—“are apt to be lawless, and too ready to help themselves to whatever they can lay their hands on. Got in the way of it, you know, plundering the rebs.”
“I must say, sir, that I consider your remark grossly unjust to our brave boys in blue,” said Captain Charlton, his cheek reddening and his eye flashing; “for though there could not fail to be many bad fellows among the immense numbers in the field, the large majority were loyal, true, and honest, and have gone back to civil life to gain an honest living at their old employments.”
“Yes; and it is so with Barney Nolan, against whom you seem to be warning us, Colonel Bangs,” Miriam said, with spirit. “Norah, his wife, who has been our charwoman for years past, tells me he is leading a sober, industrious life, treating her and his children kindly, and doing his best to provide for them.”
“Humph! What kind of character did he bear before he went into the army?” sneered Bangs.
“He drank a good deal; but army life, it seems, has reformed and improved him. A rather unusual effect, doubtless,” Miriam concluded, with a mischievous twinkle of the eye and a meaning look at her antagonist.
And now Mrs. Heath, the gentle old grandmother, desirous to pour oil upon the troubled waters, put in her soothing word.
“Yes, Barney is behaving very well indeed; and he and Norah are as faithful workers as one could ask for. And I think all the people about here are honest. I’ve never heard of a burglary anywhere in this region of country.”
“You haven’t? Well, I can tell you there was a daring and successful one last night at Walnut Hill, Judge Hall’s place, which, you know, is not many miles up the valley,” returned Bangs, with evident triumph.
The ladies were much startled; Ronald looked troubled and anxious; but Captain Charlton received the news quietly, remarking that he had heard it some hours since, but thought it not worth while to annoy these friends with the story, as it could only rouse their apprehensions without doing any good.
“Have they been caught?” asked the old lady.
“The burglars?” queried Bangs, with a malicious smile. “No, madam; not yet.”
Then he went on to describe the premises visited by Phelim O’Rourke and his confederates, and the valuables they had carried off. He seemed to take pleasure in enlarging upon the ease with which they had effected an entrance, and the fact that they were men evidently accomplished in the art of housebreaking and lock-picking.
Charlton made a movement to go; but an entreating look and word from Ronald led him to resume his seat, and he outstayed the colonel.
When the latter had gone, “What has he against Barney Nolan?” asked the old lady.
“Barney belonged to his regiment,” replied Ronald, “and had to submit to many an act of outrageous tyranny from him.”
“That would account for Barney’s disliking him,” she said, doubtfully.
“And for his dislike to Barney,” added Charlton. “A man hates those he oppresses. Besides, it is quite likely the Irishman has retorted with his tongue, if in no other way, as who would not?”