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anything; and fearful of soiling their gloves, they refrained from
touching the breath-misted windows.

Despite the weather the streets were lined with vagrants, patriots,
waifs, idlers of all sorts and kinds. Plenty of girls of sixteen and
eighteen came out to see the 'finery.' Poor little things in battered
bonnets and draggled skirts, who would dream upon ten shillings a week;
a drunken mother striving to hush a child that cries beneath a dripping
shawl; a harlot embittered by feelings of commercial resentment; troops
of labourers; hang-dog faces, thin coats, torn shirts; Irish-Americans,
sinister faced, and broad-brimmed. Never were poverty and wealth brought
into plainer proximity. In the broad glare of the carriage lights the
shape of every feature, even the colour of the eyes, every glance, every
detail of dress, every stain of misery were revealed to the silken
exquisites who, a little frightened, strove to hide themselves within
the scented shadows of their broughams; and in like manner the bloom on
every aristocratic cheek, the glitter of every diamond, the richness of
every plume, were visible to the wondering eyes of those who stood
without in the wet and the cold.

'I wish they wouldn't stare so,' said Mrs. Barton; 'one would think they
were a lot of hungry children looking into a sweetmeat shop. The police
ought really to prevent it.'

'And how wicked those men in the big hats look,' said Olive; 'I'm sure
they would rob us if they only dared.'

At last the order came that the carriages were to move on, and they
rolled on, now blocked under the black rain-dripping archway of the
Castle yard, now delayed as they laboriously made the tour of the
quadrangle. Olive doubted if her turn would ever come; but, by slow
degrees, each carriage discharged its cargo of silk, and at last Mrs.
Barton and her daughters found themselves in the vestibule, taking
numbers for their wraps at the cloak-rooms placed on either side of the
stairway.

The slender figures ascending to tiny naked shoulders, presented a
piquant contrast with the huge, black Assyrian, bull-like policemen, who
guarded the passage, and reduced, by contrast, to almost doll-like
proportions the white creatures who went up the great stairway. Overhead
an artificial plant, some twenty feet wide, spread a decorative
greenness; the walls were lined with rifles, and at regular intervals,
in lieu of pictures, were set stars made out of swords. There were also
three suits of plate armour, and the grinning of the helmets of old-time
contrasted with the bearskin-shrouded faces of the red guardsmen. And
through all this military display the white ware tripped past powdered
and purple-coated footmen, splendid in the splendour of pink calves and
salmon-coloured breeches.

As the white mass of silk pushed along the white-painted corridor, the
sense of ceremony that had till then oppressed it, evaporated in the
fumes of the blazing gas, and something like a battle began in the blue
drawing-room. Heat and fatigue soon put an end to all coquetting between
the sexes. The beautiful silks were hidden by the crowd; only the
shoulders remained, and, to appease their terrible ennui, the men gazed
down the backs of the women's dresses. Shoulders were there, of all
tints and shapes. Indeed, it was like a vast rosary, alive with white,
pink, and cream-coloured flowers; of Maréchal Niels, Souvenir de
Malmaisons, Mademoiselle Eugène Verdiers, Aimée Vibert Scandens. Sweetly
turned, adolescent shoulders, blush-white, smooth and even as the petals
of a Marquise Mortemarle; the strong, commonly turned shoulders,
abundant and free as the fresh rosy pink of the Anna Alinuff; the
drooping white shoulders, full of falling contours as a pale Madame
Lacharme; the chlorotic shoulders, deadly white, of the almost greenish
shade that is found in a Princess Clementine; the pert, the dainty
little shoulders, filled with warm pink shadows, pretty and compact as
Countess Cécile de Chabrillant; the large heavy shoulders full of vulgar
madder tints, coarse, strawberry-colour, enormous as a Paul Neron;
clustering white shoulders, grouped like the blossoms of an Aimée Vibert
Scandens, and, just in front of me, under my eyes, the flowery, the
voluptuous, the statuesque shoulders of a tall blonde woman of thirty,
whose flesh is full of the exquisite peach-like tones of a Mademoiselle
Eugène Verdier, blooming in all its pride of summer loveliness.

To make way for this enormous crowd, the Louis XV. sofas and arm-chairs
had been pushed against the walls, and an hour passed wearily, in all
its natural impudence, in this beautiful drawing-room, the brain aching
with dusty odour of poudre de riz, and the many acidities of evaporating
perfume; the sugary sweetness of the blondes, the salt flavours of the
brunettes, and this allegro movement of odours was interrupted suddenly
by the garlicky andante, deep as the pedal notes of an organ, that the
perspiring armpits of a fat chaperon exhaled slowly.

At last there was a move forwards, and a sigh of relief, a grunt of
satisfaction, broke from the oppressed creatures; but a line of
guardsmen was pressing from behind, and the women were thrown hither and
thither into the arms and on to the backs of soldiers, police officers,
county inspectors, and Castle underlings. Now a lady turns pale, and
whispers to her husband that she is going to faint; now a young girl's
petticoats have become entangled in the moving mass of legs! She cries
aloud for help; her brother expostulates with those around. He is
scarcely heeded. And the struggle grows still more violent when it
becomes evident that the guardsmen are about to bring down the bar; and,
begging a florid-faced attorney to unloose his sword, which had become
entangled in her dress, Mrs. Barton called on her daughter, and,
slipping under the raised arms, they found themselves suddenly in a
square, sombre room, full of a rich, brown twilight. In one corner there
was a bureau, where an attendant served out blank cards; in another the
white plumes nodded against the red glare that came from the
throne-room, whence Liddell's band was heard playing waltz tunes, and
the stentorian tones of the Chamberlain's voice called the ladies'
names.

'Have you got your cards?' said Mrs. Barton.

'I have got mine,' said Olive.

'And I have got mine,' said Alice.

'Well, you know what to do? You give your card to the aide-de-camp, he
passes it on and spreads out your train, and you walk right up to His
Excellency; he kisses you on both cheeks, you curtsy, and, at the far
door, two aides-de-camp pick up your train and place it on your arm.'

The girls continued to advance, experiencing the while the nerve
atrophy, the systolic emotion of communicants, who, when the bell rings,
approach the altar-rails to receive God within their mouths.

The massive, the low-hanging, the opulently twisted gold candelabra, the
smooth lustre of the marble columns are evocative of the persuasive
grandeur of a cathedral; and, deep in the darkness of the pen, a vast
congregation of peeresses and judges watch the ceremony in devout
collectiveness. How symmetrical is the place! A red, a well-trimmed
bouquet of guardsmen has been set in the middle of the Turkey carpet;
around the throne a semicircle of red coats has been drawn, and above it
flow the veils, the tulle, the skirts of the ladies-of-honour - they seem
like white clouds dreaming on a bank of scarlet poppies - and the long
sad legs, clad in maroon-coloured breeches, is the Lord-Lieutenant, the
teeth and the diamonds on his right is Her Excellency. And now a
lingering survival of the terrible Droit de Seigneur - diminished and
attenuated, but still circulating through our modern years - this
ceremony, a pale ghost of its former self, is performed; and, having
received a kiss on either cheek, the _débutantes_ are free to seek their
bridal beds in Patrick's Hall.

'Miss Olive Barton, presented by Mrs. Barton!' shouted the Chamberlain.

Olive abandoned her train to the aides-de-camp; she saw their bent
backs, felt their nimble fingers exhibiting this dress whereon Mrs.
Barton and Mrs. Symond had for days been expending all the poetry of
their natures. What white wonder, what manifold marvel of art! Dress of
snow satin, skirt quite plain in front. Bodice and train of white
poplin; the latter wrought with patterns representing night and morning:
a morning made of silver leaves with silver birds fluttering through
leafy trees, butterflies sporting among them, and over all a sunrise
worked in gold and silver thread; then on the left side the same sun
sank amid rosy clouds, and there butterflies slept with folded wing, and
there birds roosted on bending boughs; veils of silver tissue softened
the edges of the train, silver stars gleamed in the corn-coloured hair,
the long hands, gloved with white undressed kid, carried a silver fan;
she was adorably beautiful and adorably pale, and she floated through
the red glare, along the scarlet line, to the weary-looking man in
maroon breeches, like some wonderful white bird of downy plumage. He
kissed her on both cheeks; and she passed away to the farther door,
where her train was caught up and handed to her by two aides-de-camp. He
had seemed to salute her with deference and warmth; his kiss was more
than ceremonial, and eager looks passed between the ladies-of-honour
standing on the estrade; the great bouquet of red-coats placed in the
middle of the floor, animated by one desire, turned its sixteen heads to
gaze after the wonderful vision of blonde beauty that had come - that had
gone. Mrs. Barton experienced an instant thrill of triumph, and advanced
into the throne.

In the composition of her dress she had given range to her somewhat
florid taste. The front was brocade, laid upon a ground of grey-pink,
shot with orange, and the effect was such as is seen when the sun hangs
behind a lowering grey cloud, tinged with pink. On this were wonderful
soft-coloured flowers, yellow melting into pink, green fading to
madder-like tints. The bodice and the train were of gold-brown velvet
that matched the gold-brown of the hair. Mrs. Barton was transformed
from the usual Romney portrait to one by Sir Peter Lely; and when she
made her curtsy, Her Excellency's face contracted, and the
ladies-of-honour whispered: 'The harm she does her daughters . . . I
wonder . . .'

'Miss Violet Scully, presented by Mrs. Scully,' shouted the Chamberlain.

Now there was an admixture of curiosity in the admiration accorded to
Violet. Hers was not the plain appealing of Olive's Greek statue-like
beauty; it was rather the hectic erethism of painters and sculptors in a
period preceding the apogee of an art. She was a statuette in biscuit
after a design by Andrea Mantegna. But the traces of this exquisite
atavism were now almost concealed in the supreme modernity of her
attire. From the tiny waist trailed yards of white faille, trimmed with
tulle ruchings, frecked as a meadow with faintly-tinted daisies; the
hips were engarlanded with daisies, and the flowers melted and bloomed
amid snows of faille and tulle.

The Lord-Lieutenant leaned forward to kiss her, but at that moment of
his kiss the thunder crashed so loudly that he withdrew from her, and so
abruptly that Her Excellency looked surprised. The incident passed,
however, almost unperceived. So loud was the thunder, everybody was
thinking of dynamite, and it was some time before even the voluptuous
strains of Liddell's band could calm their inquietude. Nevertheless the
Chamberlain continued to shout:

'Lady Sarah Cullen, Lady Jane Cullen, Mrs. Scully, presented by Lady
Sarah Cullen.'

Then came a batch of people whom no one knew, and in the front of these
the aides-de-camp allowed Alice to pass on to His Excellency. She was
prettily dressed, dragging after her a train of white faille trimmed
with sprays of white heather and tulle, the petticoat being beautifully
arranged with folded draperies of crêpe de Chine.

A number of ladies had collected in the farther ante-room, and, in
lines, they stood watching the effluent tide of satin and silk
discharging its volume into the spaces of Patrick's Hall.




XVIII


'I wish Alice would make haste, and not keep us waiting. I suppose she
has got behind a crowd. Here are the Scullys; let's hide, they don't
know a creature, and will hang on us.'

Olive and Mrs. Barton tried to slip out of sight, but they were too
late; and a moment after, looking immense in a train and bodice of Lyons
velvet, Mrs. Scully came up and accosted them.

'And how do you do, Mrs. Barton?' she said, with a desperate effort to
make herself agreeable;

'I must congratulate you. Everyone is admiring your dress; I assure you
your train looked perfectly regal.'

'I am glad you like it,' replied Mrs. Barton; 'but what do you think of
Olive? Do you like her dress?'

'Oh, Olive has no need of my praises. If I were not afraid of making her
too vain I would tell her that all Dublin is talking of her. Indeed, I
heard a gentleman say - a gentleman who, I believe, writes for the
papers - that she will be in the _World_ or _Truth_ next week as the
belle of the season. None of the other young ladies will have a chance
with her.'

'Oh, I don't know about that,' exclaimed Mrs. Barton, laughing merrily;
'haven't you got your Violet? - whom, by the way, you have transformed
into a beautiful daisy. It will be, perhaps, not the Rose nor the Olive
that will carry off the prize, but the daisy.'

Violet glanced sharply at Mrs. Barton, and there was hate in the glance;
for, although her mother did not, she understood well what was meant by
the allusion to the daisy, the humblest of the earth's flowers.

The appearance, however, of Lord Kilcarney brought the conversation to a
close; and, not knowing how to address him, Olive laughed beautifully
from behind her silver fan. They entered Patrick's Hall, where Lord
Dungory, Lord Rosshill, and others were waiting to receive Mrs. Barton,
who sought for a prominent seat, and dealing out pearly laughs and
winsome compliments to her court, she watched Olive, who, according to
orders, had taken Lord Kilcarney to sit on the highest of the series of
benches that lined one side of the room, which she did, and for a moment
Mrs. Barton felt as if she held Dublin under her satin shoe. Alice was
her only trouble. What would she do with this gawk of a girl? But soon
even this difficulty was solved, for Harding came up and asked her if he
might take her to get an ice.

'How absurd we looked dressed up in this way,' said Harding; 'look at
that attorney and the court sword. It would be just as logical to stick
a quill pen behind the ear of a fat pig.'

'Well, the sword - I confess I don't see much meaning in that; but the
rest of the dress is well enough. I don't see why one style of dress
should be more absurd than another, unless it is because it isn't the
fashion.'

'Yes, but that is just the reason; just fancy dressing oneself up in the
costume of a bygone time.'

'And is everything that isn't the fashion ridiculous?'

'Ah, there, I fancy, you have the best of the argument. Waiter, a
strawberry ice. But did you say you would have strawberry?'

'I don't think I did, for I prefer lemon.'

The centre of the ceiling was filled with an oval picture representing
St. Patrick receiving Pagans into the true faith. The walls were white
painted, the panels were gold-listed. There were pillars at both ends of
the room, and in a top gallery, behind a curtain of evergreen plants,
Liddell's orchestra continued to pour an uninterrupted flood of waltz
melody upon the sea of satin, silk, poplin, and velvet that surged
around the buffet, angrily demanding cream ices, champagne, and
claret-cup. Every moment the crowd grew denser, and the red coats of the
Guards and the black corded jackets of the Rifles stained like spots of
ink and blood the pallor of the background. A few young men looked
elegant and shapely in the velvet and stockings of Court dress. One of
these was Fred Scully. He was with May, who, the moment she caught sight
of Alice, made frantic efforts to reach her.

'My dear, did anyone ever look so nice! You are as sweet - well, a little
sweeter - than you generally are! How do you do, Mr. Harding? And tell
me, Alice, what do you think of my dress?'

May was in cream faille with ruchings of tulle. A beautiful piece of
white lilac nestled upon her right breast.

'You are very nice, May, and I think the white sets off your hair to
advantage.'

'Well, good-bye dear, Fred and I are going into the next room; one is so
pushed about here, but there are nice large velvet sofas there where one
can sit and talk. I advise you to come.'

In the reposing shadows of rich velvet and sombre hangings women leaned
over the sofas, talking to men in uniform, while two strange-looking
creatures, in long garments, walked up and down the room - Dons from
Trinity, who argued with Mr. Adair earnestly.

'He is one of the lights of your county, is he not?' said Harding,
indicating Mr. Adair.

'Oh, yes,' replied Alice, 'he took honours and a gold medal at Trinity
College.'

'I know he did, and a capacity for passing competitive examinations is
the best proof of a man's incapacity for everything else.'

'Do you know him?'

'Yes, a little. He wears his University laurels at forty, builds parish
schools, and frightens his neighbours with the liberality of his
opinions and the rectitude of his life.'

'But have you seen his pamphlets on the amalgamation of the poor
houses?' said Alice, astonished at the slight consideration afforded to
the rural genius.

'I have heard of them. It appears he is going in for politics; but his
politics will be on a par with his saw-mill, and his farmyard in
concrete. Mr. Adair is a well-known person. Every county in England,
Ireland, and Scotland, possesses and is proud of its Mr. Adair.'

Alice wondered for some moments in silence; and when suddenly her
thoughts detached themselves, she said: 'We didn't see you in the
ladies' drawing-room.'

'I was very busy all the morning. I had two articles to write for one of
my papers and some books to review.'

'How nice it must be to have a duty to perform every day; to have always
an occupation to which you can turn with pleasure.'

'I don't know that I look upon my ink-bottle as an eternal haven of
bliss. Still, I would sooner contribute articles to daily and weekly
papers than sit in the Kildare Street Club, drinking glasses of sherry.
Having nothing to do must be a terrible occupation, and one difficult to
fulfil with dignity and honour. But,' he added, as if a sudden thought
had struck him, 'you must have a great deal of time on your hands; why
don't you write a novel?'

'Everybody can't write novels.'

'Oh yes, they can.'

'Is that the reason why you advise me to write one?

'Not exactly. Did you ever try to write a story?'

'No, not since I was at school. I used to write stories there, and read
them to the girls, and . . .'

'And what?'

'Oh, nothing; it seems so absurd of me to talk to you about such things;
you will only laugh at me just as you did at Mr. Adair.'

'No, I assure you, I am very loyal to my friends.'

'Friends!'

'I should have thought that friendship was a question of sympathy, and
not one of time: but I will withdraw the word.'

'Oh, no, I didn't mean that - I am sure I am very glad . . .'

'Very well, then, we will be friends; and now tell me what you were
going to say.'

'I have forgotten - what was I saying?'

'You were telling me about something you had written at school.'

'Oh, yes, I remember. I did a little play for the girls to act just
before we left.'

'What was it about - what was it called?'

'It was not original - it was an adaptation of Tennyson's ballad of King
Cophetua. You know Miss Gould - she played the King; and Miss Scully, she
played the beggar-maid. But, of course, the whole thing was very
childish.'

At this moment a figure in knee-breeches and flesh-coloured stockings
was seen waving a wand at the far end of the room. He was the usher
clearing the way for the viceregal procession.

The first to appear were the A.D.C.'s. They were followed by the Medical
Department, by the Private Secretary, the Military Private Secretary,
the Assistant Under Secretaries, by the Gentlemen in Waiting, the Master
of the Horse, the Dean of the Chapel Royal, the Chamberlain, the
Gentleman Usher, the Comptroller, the State Steward, walking with a
wand, like a doge in an opera bouffe; then came another secretary, and
another band of the underlings who flock about this mock court. And then
came a heavy-built, red-bearded man, who carried, as one might a baby, a
huge gilt sword in his fat hands. He was followed by their Excellencies.
The long, maroon-coloured breeches preserved their usual
disconsolateness, the teeth and diamonds retained their splendour, and
the train - many yards of azure blue richest Duchesse satin, embroidered
with large bouquets of silver lily of the valley, and trimmed with
plumes of azure blue ostrich feathers, and bunches of silver coral - was
upheld by two tiny children who tottered beneath its enormous weight.
Then another batch of A.D.C.'s-in-Waiting, the ladies of the viceregal
family: their Excellencies' guests and the ladies in attendance - placed
according to their personal precedence - brought up the rear of the
procession.

'Doesn't real, actual life sometimes appear to you, Miss Barton, more
distorted and unreal than a dream? I know it does to me. The spectacle
we have just witnessed was a part of the ages that believed in the
godhead of Christ and the divine right of Kings; but it seems to me
strange that such barbarities should be permitted to loiter.'

'But what has Christianity to do with the procession that has just
passed?'

'Were it not for faith, do you think a mock court would be allowed to
promenade in that ludicrous fashion?'

'I'm not sure it is faith that enables them to reverence the sword of
State. Is it not rather that love of ceremonial inherent in us all - more
or less?'

'Perhaps you are right.'

The conversation drifted back to literature; they talked for ten
minutes, and then Alice suggested that it was time she should return to
Mrs. Barton. Patrick's Hall was still crowded, and champagne corks
exploded through the babbling of the voices. The squadron of distressed
damsels had not deserted their favourite corner, and they waited about
the pillars like cabs on a stand. At this hour a middle-aged married
doctor would be welcomed; all were desirous of being seen, if only for a
moment, on the arm of a man. Mrs. Barton's triumph was Cæsarean. More
than half-a-dozen old lords and one young man listened to her bewitching
laugh, and were fed on the brown flashing gold of her eyes. Milord and
Rosshill had been pushed aside; and, apart, each sought to convince the
other that he was going to leave town by the evening mail. Well in view
of everyone, Olive had spent an hour with Lord Kilcarney. He had just
brought her back to Mrs. Barton. At a little distance the poor Scullys
stood waiting. They knew no one, even the Bartons had given them a very
cold shoulder. Mrs. Gould, in an old black velvet dress, wondered why
all the nice girls did not get married, and from time to time she
plaintively questioned the passers-by if they had seen May. Violet's
sharp face had grown sharper. She knew she could do something if she
only got a chance. But would she get a chance? The Ladies Cullen, their
plank-like shoulders bound in grey frisé velvet and steel, were talking
to her. Suddenly Lady Sarah bowed to Lord Kilcarney, and the bow said,
'Come hither!' Leaving Olive he approached. A moment after he was
introduced to Violet. Her thin face lit up as if from a light within; a
grey cloud dimmed the light of Mrs. Barton's golden eyes, and when she
saw _Him_ in the vestibule helping the Scullys on with their wraps, she
shuddered as if struck with a blast of icy wind.




XIX


'DUNGORY CASTLE, GORT,
'Co. GALWAY.

'MY DEAREST ALICE,
'I was so delighted to hear from you; it was very good of you to write
to me. I was deeply interested in your description of the Dublin
festivities, and must try and tell you all the news.

'Everybody here is talking of Olive and Lord Kilcarney. It is said that
he proposed to her at the Drawing-Room. Is this true? I hope so, for she
seems to have set her heart on the match. But she is a great deal too


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