The suddenness of the demand made for the heir's presence at Scroope was perhaps not owing to the Earl's illness alone. The Earl, indeed, was ill,--so ill that he thought himself that his end was very near; but his illness had been brought about chiefly by the misery to which he had been subjected by the last despatch from Castle Quin to the Countess. "I am most unwilling," she said, "to make mischief or to give unnecessary pain to you or to Lord Scroope; but I think it my duty to let you know that the general opinion about here is that Mr. Neville shall make Miss O'Hara his wife,--if he has not done so already. The most dangerous feature in the whole matter is that it is all managed by the priest of this parish, a most unscrupulous person, who would do anything,--he is so daring. We have known him many many years, and we know to what lengths he would go. The laws have been so altered in favour of the Roman Catholics, and against the Protestants, that a priest can do almost just what he likes.

I do not think that he would scruple for an instant to marry them if he thought it likely that his prey would escape from him. My own opinion is that there has been no marriage as yet, though I know that others think that there has been." The expression of this opinion from "others" which had reached Lady Mary's ears consisted of an assurance from her own Protestant lady's maid that that wicked, guzzling old Father Marty would marry the young couple as soon as look at them, and very likely had done so already. "I cannot say," continued Lady Mary, "that I actually know anything against the character of Miss O'Hara. Of the mother we have very strange stories here. They live in a little cottage with one maid-servant, almost upon the cliffs, and nobody knows anything about them except the priest. If he should be seduced into a marriage, nothing could be more unfortunate." Lady Mary probably intended to insinuate that were young Neville prudently to get out of the adventure, simply leaving the girl behind him blasted, ruined, and destroyed, the matter no doubt would be bad; but in that case the great misfortune would have been avoided. She could not quite say this in plain words; but she felt, no doubt, that Lady Scroope would understand her. Then Lady Mary went on to assure her friend that though she and her father and sisters very greatly regretted that Mr. Neville had not again given them the pleasure of seeing him at Castle Quin, no feeling of injury on that score had induced her to write so strongly as she had done. She had been prompted to do so simply by her desire to prevent a most ruinous alliance.

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