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large pile of papers, which he strove to push into Mr. Barton's hand,
alluding all the while to the losses he had sustained. Two pigs had died
on him, and he had lost a fine mare and foal. His loquacity was,
however, cut short by a sturdy, middle-aged peasant standing next him.

'And I, too, yer honour, am payin' five-and-twenty shillin's for the
same flooded land. Yer honour can come down any day and see it. It is
not worth, to me, more than fifteen shillings an acre at the bare
outside. But it could be drained, for there is a fall into the marin
stream betwixt your honour's property and the Miss Brennans'. It
wouldn't cost more than forty pound, and the Miss Brennans will pay half
if yer honour will pay the other.'

Mr. Barton listened patiently to those peasant-like digressions, while
Mrs. Barton listened patiently to the Captain's fervid declarations of
love. He had begun by telling her of the anguish it had caused him to
have been denied, and three times running, admittance to Brookfield. One
whole night he had lain awake wondering what he had done to offend them.
Mrs. Barton could imagine how he had suffered, for she, he ventured to
say, must have long since guessed what were his feelings for her
daughter.

'We were very sorry to have been out, and it is so unusual that we
should be,' said Mrs. Barton, leaning forward her face insinuatingly.
'But you were speaking of Olive. We say here that there is no one like
_le beau capitaine_, no one so handsome, no one so nice, no one so
gallant, and - and - ' here Mrs. Barton laughed merrily, for she thought
the bitterness of life might be so cunningly wrapped up in sweet
compliments that both could be taken together, like sugared-medicine - in
one child-like gulp. 'There is, of course, no one I should prefer to _le
beau capitaine_ - there is no one to whom I would confide my Olive more
willingly; but, then, one must look to other things; one cannot live
entirely on love, even if it be the love of a _beau capitaine_.'

Nevertheless, the man's face darkened. The eyebrows contracted, the
straight white nose seemed to grow straighter, and he twirled his
moustache angrily.

'I am aware, my dear Mrs. Barton, that I cannot give your daughter the
position I should like to, but I am not as poor as you seem to imagine.
Independent of my pay I have a thousand a year; Miss Barton has, if I be
not mistaken, some money of her own; and, as I shall get my majority
within the next five years, I may say that we shall begin life upon
something more than fifteen hundred a year.'

'It is true that I have led you to believe that Olive has money, but
Irish money can be no longer counted upon. Were Mr. Barton to create a
charge on his property, how would it be possible for him to guarantee
the payment of the interest in such times as the present? We are living
on the brink of a precipice. We do not know what is, and what is not,
our own. The Land League is ruining us, and the Government will not put
it down; this year the tenants may pay at twenty per cent. reduction,
but next year they may refuse to pay at all. Look out there: you see
they are making their own terms with Mr. Barton.'

'I should be delighted to give you thirty per cent. if I could afford
it,' said Mr. Barton, as soon as the question of reduction, that had
been lost sight of in schemes for draining, and discussion concerning
bad seasons, had been re-established; 'but you must remember that I have
to pay charges, and my creditors won't wait any more than yours will. If
you refuse to pay your rents and I get sold out, you will have another
landlord here; you'll ruin me, but you won't do yourselves any good. You
will have some Englishman here who will make you pay your rents.'

'An Englishman here!' exclaimed a peasant. 'Arrah! he'll go back quicker
than he came.'

'Maybe he wouldn't go back at all,' cried another, chuckling. 'We'd make
an Oirishman of him for ever.'

'Begad, we'd make him wear the grane in raal earnest, and, a foine scraw
it would be,' said a third.

The witticism was greeted with a roar of laughter, and upon this
expression of a somewhat verdant patriotism the dispute concerning the
reduction was resumed.

'Give us the land all round at the Government valuation,' said a man in
the middle of the group.

'Why, you are only fifteen per cent. above the valuation,' cried Mr.
Scully.

For a moment this seemed to create a difference of opinion among the
peasants; but the League had drawn them too firmly together to be thus
easily divided. They talked amongst themselves in Irish. Then the old
man said:

'We can't take less than thirty, yer honour. The Lague wouldn't let us.'

'I can't give you more than twenty.'

'Thin let us come on home, thin; no use us wasting our toime here,'
cried a sturdy peasant, who, although he had spoken but seldom, seemed
to exercise an authority over the others. With one accord they followed
him; but, rushing forward, Mr. Scully seized him by the arm, saying:

'Now then, boys, come back, come back; he'll settle with you right
enough if you'll listen to reason.'

From the drawing-room window Mrs. Barton watched the conflict. On one
side she saw her daughter's beautiful white face becoming the prize of a
penniless officer; on the other she saw the pretty furniture, the
luxurious idleness, the very silk dress on her back, being torn from
them, and distributed among a crowd of Irish-speaking, pig-keeping
peasants. She could see that some new and important point was being
argued; and it was with a wrench she detached her thoughts from the
pantomime that was being enacted within her view, and, turning to
Captain Hibbert, said:

'You see - you see what is happening. We are - that is to say, we may
be - ruined at any moment by this wicked agitation. As I have said
before, there is no one I should like so much as yourself; but, in the
face of such a future, how could I consent to give you my
daughter? - that is to say, I could not unless you could settle at least
a thousand a year upon her. She has been brought up in every luxury.'

'That may be, Mrs. Barton. I hope to give her quite as comfortable a
home as any she has been accustomed to. But a thousand a year is
impossible. I haven't got it. But I can settle five hundred on her, and
there's many a peeress of the realm who hasn't that. Of course five
hundred a year is very little. No one feels it more than I. For had I
the riches of the world, I should not consider them sufficient to create
a place worthy of Olive's beauty. But love must be allowed to count for
something, and I think - yes, I can safely say - she will never find - '

'Yes, I know - I am sure; but it cannot be.'

'Then you mean to say that you will sacrifice your daughter's happiness
for the sake of a little wretched pride?'

'Why press the matter further? Why cannot we remain friends?'

'Friends! Yes, I hope we shall remain friends; but I will never consent
to give up Olive. She loves me. I know she does. My life is bound up in
hers. No, I'll never consent to give her up, and I know she won't give
me up.'

'Olive has laughed and flirted with you, but it was only _pour passer le
temps_; and I may as well tell you that you are mistaken when you think
that she loves you.'

'Olive does love me. I know she does; and I'll not believe she does
not - at least, until she tells me so. I consider I am engaged to her;
and I must beg of you, Mrs. Barton, to allow me to see her and hear from
her own lips what she has to say on this matter.'

With the eyes of one about to tempt fortune adventurously, like one
about to play a bold card for a high stake, Mrs. Barton looked on the
tall, handsome man before her; and, impersonal as were her feelings, she
could not but admire, for the space of one swift thought, the pale
aristocratic face now alive with passion. Could she depend upon Olive to
say no to him? The impression of the moment was that no girl would.
Nevertheless, she must risk the interview, and gliding towards the door,
she called; and then, as a cloud that grows bright in the sudden
sunshine, the man's face glowed with delight at the name, and a moment
after, white and drooping like a cut flower, the girl entered. Captain
Hibbert made a movement as if he were going to rush forward to meet her.
She looked as if she would have opened her arms to receive him, but Mrs.
Barton's words fell between them like a sword.

'Olive,' she said, 'I hear you are engaged to Captain Hibbert! Is it
true?'

Startled in the drift of her emotions, and believing her confidence had
been betrayed, the girl's first impulse was to deny the impeachment. No
absolute promise of marriage had she given him, and she said:

'No, mamma, I am not engaged. Did Edward - I mean Captain Hibbert - say I
was engaged to him? I am sure - '

'Didn't you tell me, Olive, that you loved me better than anyone else?
Didn't you even say you could never love anyone else? If I had thought
that - '

'I knew my daughter would not have engaged herself to you, Captain
Hibbert, without telling me of it. As I have told you before, we all
like you very much, but this marriage is impossible; and I will never
consent, at least for the present, to an engagement between you.'

'Olive, have you nothing to say? I will not give you up unless you tell
me yourself that I must do so.'

'Oh, mamma, what shall I do?' said Olive, bursting into a passionate
flood of tears.

'Say what I told you to say,' whispered Mrs. Barton.

'You see, Edward, that mamma won't consent, at least not for the
present, to our engagement.'

This was enough for Mrs. Barton's purpose, and, soothing her daughter
with many words, she led her to the door. Then, confronting Captain
Hibbert, she said:

'There is never any use in forcing on these violent scenes. As I have
told you, there is no one I should prefer to yourself. We always say
here that there is no one like _le beau capitaine_; but, in the face of
these bad times, how can I give you my daughter? And you soldiers forget
so quickly. In a year's time you'll have forgotten all about Olive.'

'That isn't true; I shall never forget her. I cannot forget her; but I
will consent to wait if you will consent to our being engaged.'

'No, Captain Hibbert, I think it is better not. I do not approve of
those long engagements.'

'Then you'll forget what has passed between us, and let us be the same
friends as we were before?'

'I hope we shall always remain friends; but I do not think, for my
daughter's peace of mind, it would be advisable for us to see as much of
each other as we have hitherto done. And I hope you will promise me not
to communicate with my Olive in any way.'

'Why should I enter into promises with you, Mrs. Barton, when you
decline to enter into any with me?'

Mrs. Barton did not look as if she intended to answer this question. The
conversation had fallen, and her thoughts had gone back to the tenants
and the reduction that Mr. Scully was now persuading them to accept. He
talked apart, first with one, then with another. His square bluff figure
in a long coarse ulster stood out in strong relief against the green
grass and the evergreens.

'Thin it is decided yer pay at twinty-foive per cint.,' said Mr. Scully.

'Then, Captain Hibbert,' said Mrs. Barton a little sternly, 'I am very
sorry indeed, that we can't agree; but, after what has passed between us
to-day, I do not think you will be justified in again trying to see my
daughter.'

'Begad, sor, they were all aginst me for agraying to take the
twinty-foive,' whispered the well-to-do tenant who was talking to the
agent.

'I fail to understand,' said Captain Hibbert haughtily, 'that Miss Barton
said anything that would lead me to suppose that she wished me to give
her up. However, I do not see that anything would be gained by
discussing this matter further. Good-morning, Mrs. Barton.'

'Good-morning, Captain Hibbert;' and Mrs. Barton smiled winningly as she
rang the bell for the servant to show him out. When she returned to the
window the tenants were following Mr. Scully into the rent-office, and,
with a feeling of real satisfaction she murmured to herself:

'Well, after all, nothing ever turns out as badly as we expect it.'




XIV


But, although Mrs. Barton had bidden the captain away, Olive's sorrowful
looks haunted the house.

A white weary profile was seen on the staircase, a sigh was heard when
she left the room; and when, after hours of absence, she was sought for,
she was found lying at full length, crying upon her bed.

'My dear, it distresses me to see you in this state. You really must get
up; I cannot allow it. There's nothing that spoils one's good looks like
unhappiness. Instead of being the belle of the season, you'll be a
complete wreck. I must insist on your getting up, and trying to interest
yourself in something.'

'Oh! mamma, don't, don't! I wish I were dead; I am sick of everything!'

'Sick of everything?' said Mrs. Barton, laughing. 'Why, my dear child,
you have tasted nothing yet. Wait until we get to the Castle; you'll see
what a lot of Captain Hibberts there will be after this pretty face;
that's to say if you don't spoil it in the meantime with fretting.'

'But, mamma,' she said, 'how can I help thinking of him? - there's
nothing to do here, one never hears of anything but that horrid Land
League - whether the Government will or will not help the landlords,
whether Paddy So-and-so will or will not pay his rent. I am sick of it.
Milord comes to see you, and Alice likes reading-books, and papa has his
painting; but I have nothing since you sent Captain Hibbert away.'

'Yes, yes, my beautiful Olive flower, it is a little dull for you at
present, and to think that this wicked agitation should have begun the
very season you were coming out! Who could have foreseen such a thing?
But come, my pet, I cannot allow you to ruin your beautiful complexion
with foolish tears; you must get up; unfortunately I can't have you in
the drawing-room, I have to talk business with Milord, but you can go
out for a walk with Alice - it isn't raining to-day.'

'Oh! no; I couldn't go out to walk with Alice, it would bore me to
death. She never talks about anything that interests me.'

Vanished the sweet pastel-like expression of Mrs. Barton's features,
lost in a foreseeing of the trouble this plain girl would be. Partners
would have to be found, and to have her dragging after her all through
the Castle season would be intolerable. And all these airs of virtue,
and injured innocence, how insupportable they were! Alice, as far as
Mrs. Barton could see, was fit for nothing. Even now, instead of helping
to console her sister, and win her thoughts away from Captain Hibbert,
she shut herself up to read books. Such a taste for reading and moping
she had never seen in a girl before - _voilà un type de vieille fille_.
Whom did she take after? Certainly not after her mother, nor yet her
father. But what was the good of thinking of the tiresome girl? There
were plenty of other things far more important to consider, and the
first thing of all was - how to make Olive forget Captain Hibbert? On
this point Mrs. Barton was not quite satisfied with the manner in which
she had played her part. Olive's engagement had been broken off by too
violent means, and nothing was more against her nature than (to use her
own expression) _brusquer les choses_. Early in life Mrs. Barton
discovered that she could amuse men, and since then she had devoted
herself assiduously to the cultivation of this talent, and the divorce
between herself and her own sex was from the first complete. She not
only did not seek to please, but she made no attempt to conceal her
aversion from the society of women, and her preference for those forms
of entertainment where they were found in fewest numbers. Balls were,
therefore, never much to her taste; at the dinner-table she was freer,
but it was on the racecourse that she reigned supreme. From the box-seat
of a drag the white hands were waved, the cajoling laugh was set going;
and fashionably-dressed men, with race-glasses about their shoulders,
came crowding and climbing about her like bees about their queen. Mrs.
Barton had passed from flirtation to flirtation without a violent word.
With a wave of her hands she had called the man she wanted; with a wave
of her hands, and a tinkle of the bell-like laugh, she had dismissed
him. As nothing had cost her a sigh, nothing had been denied her. But
now all was going wrong. Olive was crying and losing her good looks. Mr.
Barton had received a threatening letter, and, in consequence, had for a
week past been unable to tune his guitar; poor Lord Dungory was being
bored to death by policemen and proselytizing daughters. Everything was
going wrong. This phrase recurred in Mrs. Barton's thoughts as she
reviewed the situation, her head leaned in the pose of the most
plaintive of the pastels that Lord Dungory had commissioned his
favourite artist to execute in imitation of the Lady Hamilton portraits.
And now, his finger on his lip, like harlequin glancing after columbine,
the old gentleman, who had entered on tiptoe, exclaimed:

'"_Avez vous vu, dans Barcelone
Une Andalouse au sein bruni?
Pâle comme un beau soir d' Automne;
C'est ma maîtresse, ma lionne!
La Marquesa d' Amalëqui_."'

Instantly the silver laugh was set a-tinkling, and, with delightful
gestures, Milord was led captive to the sofa.

'_C'est l'aurore qui vient pour dissiper les brumes du matin_,' Mrs.
Barton declared as she settled her skirts over her ankles.

'"_Qu'elle est superbe en son désordre
Quand elle tombe. . . ."'

'Hush, hush!' exclaimed Mrs. Barton, bursting with laughter; and,
placing her hand (which was instantly fervently kissed) upon Milord's
mouth, she said: 'I will hear no more of that wicked poetry.'

'What! hear no more of the divine Alfred de Musset?' Milord answered, as
if a little discouraged.

'Hush, hush!'

Alice entered, having come from her room to fetch a book, but seeing the
couple on the sofa she tried to retreat, adding to her embarrassment and
to theirs by some ill-expressed excuses.

'Don't run away like that,' said Mrs. Barton; 'don't behave like a
charity-school girl. Come in. I think you know Lord Dungory.'

'Oh! this is the studious one,' said Milord, as he took Alice
affectionately with both hands, and drew her towards him. 'Now look at
this fair brow; I am sure there is poetry here. I was just speaking to
your mother about Alfred de Musset. He is not quite proper, it is true,
for you girls; but oh, what passion! He is the poet of passion. I
suppose you love Byron?'

'Yes; but not so much as Shelley and Keats,' said Alice
enthusiastically, forgetting for the moment her aversion to the speaker
in the allusion to her favourite pursuit.

'The study of Shelley is the fashion of the day. You know, I suppose,
the little piece entitled _Love's Philosophy_ - "_The fountains mingle
with the river; the river with the ocean_." You know "_Nothing in the
world is single: all things, by a law divine, in one another's being
mingle. Why not I with thine?"'_

'Oh yes, and the _Sensitive Plant_. Is it not lovely?'

'There is your book, my dear; you must run away now. I have to talk with
Milord about important business.'

Milord looked disappointed at being thus interrupted in his quotations;
but he allowed himself to be led back to the sofa. 'I beg your pardon
for a moment,' said Mrs. Barton, whom a sudden thought had struck, and
she followed her daughter out of the room.

'Instead of wasting your time reading all this love-poetry, Alice, it
would be much better if you would devote a little of your time to your
sister; she is left all alone, and you know I don't care that she should
be always in Barnes' society.'

'But what am I to do, mamma? I have often asked Olive to come out with
me, but she says I don't amuse her.'

'I want you to win her thoughts away from Captain Hibbert,' said Mrs.
Barton; 'she is grieving her heart out and will be a wreck before we go
to Dublin. Tell her you heard at Dungory Castle that he was flirting
with other girls, that he is not worth thinking about, and that the
Marquis is in love with her.'

'But that would be scarcely the truth, mamma,' Alice replied
hesitatingly.

Mrs. Barton gave her daughter one quick look, bit her lips, and, without
another word, returned to Milord. Everything was decidedly going wrong;
and to be annoyed by that gawk of a girl in a time like the present was
unbearable. But Mrs. Barton never allowed her temper to master her, and
in two minutes all memory of Alice had passed out of her mind, and she
was talking business with Lord Dungory. Many important questions had to
be decided. It was known that mortgages, jointures, legacies, and debts
of all kinds had reduced the Marquis's income to a minimum, and that he
stood in urgent need of a little ready money. It was known that his
relations looked to an heiress to rehabilitate the family fortune. Mrs.
Barton hoped to dazzle him with Olive's beauty, but it was
characteristic of her to wish to bait the hook on every side, and she
hoped that a little gilding of it would silence the chorus of scorn and
dissent that she knew would be raised against her when once her plans
became known. Four thousand pounds might be raised on the Brookfield
property, but, if this sum could be multiplied by five, Mrs. Barton felt
she would be going into the matrimonial market armed to the teeth, and
prepared to meet all comers. And, seeking the solution of this problem,
Milord and Mrs. Barton sat on the sofa, drawn up close together, their
knees touching; he, although gracious and urbane as was his wont, seemed
more than usually thoughtful. She, although as charmful and cajoling as
ever, in the pauses of the conversation allowed an expression of anxiety
to cloud her bright face. Fifteen thousand pounds requires a good deal
of accounting for, but, after many arguments had been advanced on either
side, it was decided that she had made, within the last seven years,
many successful investments. She had commenced by winning five hundred
pounds at racing, and this money had been put into Mexican railways. The
speculation had proved an excellent one, and then, with a few airy and
casual references to Hudson Bay, Grand Trunks, and shares in steamboats,
it was thought the creation of Olive's fortune could be satisfactorily
explained to a not too exacting society.

Three or four days after, Mrs. Barton surprised the young ladies by
visiting them in the sitting-room. Barnes was working at the machine,
Olive stood drumming her fingers idly against the window-pane.

'Just fancy seeing you, mamma! I was looking out for Milord; he is a
little late to-day, is he not?' said Olive.

'I do not expect him to-day - he is suffering from a bad cold; this
weather is dreadfully trying. But how snug you are in your little room;
and Alice is absolutely doing needlework.'

'I wonder what I am doing wrong now,' thought the girl.

Barnes left the room. Mrs. Barton threw some turf upon the fire, and she
looked round. Her eyes rested on the cardboard boxes - on the bodice left
upon the work-table - on the book that Alice had laid aside, and she
spoke of these things, evidently striving to interest herself in the
girl's occupation. At length she said:

'If the weather clears up I think we might all go for a drive; there is
really no danger. The Land League never has women fired at. We might go
and see the Brennans. What do you think, Olive?'

'I don't care to go off there to see a pack of women,' the girl replied,
still drumming her fingers on the window-pane.

'Now, Olive, don't answer so crossly, but come and sit down here by me;'
and, to make room for her, Mrs. Barton moved nearer to Alice. 'So my
beautiful Olive doesn't care for a pack of women,' said Mrs.
Barton - 'Olive does not like a pack of women; she would prefer a
handsome young lord, or a duke, or an earl.'

Olive turned up her lips contemptuously, for she guessed her mother's
meaning.

'What curious lives those girls do lead, cooped up there by themselves,
with their little periodical trip up to the Shelbourne Hotel. Of course
the two young ones never could have done much; they never open their
lips, but Gladys is a nice girl in her way, and she has some money of
her own, I wonder she wasn't picked up.'

'I should like to know who would care for her?'

'She had a very good chance once; but she wouldn't say yes, and she
wouldn't say no, and she kept him hanging after her until at last off he


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Online LibraryGeorge MooreMuslin → online text (page 10 of 23)