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that it isn't counterbalanced by the dreadful faintness and the constant
movement. Isn't it awful to sit here day after day, watching myself, and
knowing the only relief I shall get will be after such terrible pain? I
woke up last night crying with the terror of it. Cervassi says there are
cases on record of painless confinements, and in my best moods I think
mine is to be one of them. I know it is wrong to write all these things
to a good girl like you, but I think talking about it is part of the
complaint, and poor sinner me has no one to talk to. Do you remember my
old black cashmere? I've been altering it till there's hardly a bit of
the original body left; but now the skirt is adding to my troubles by
getting shorter and shorter in front. It is now quite six inches off the
ground, and instead of fastening it I have to pin the placket-hole, and
then it falls nearly right. . . . Only three weeks longer, and then. . .
But there, I won't look forward, because I know I am going to die, and
all the accounting for it, and everything else, will be on your
shoulders. Good-bye, dear; I shan't write again, at least not till
afterwards. And if there is an afterward, I shall never be able to thank
you properly; but still I think it will be a weight off you. Is it so,
dear? Do you wish I were dead? I know you don't. It was unkind to write
that last line; I will scratch it out. You will not be angry, dear. I am
too wretched to know what I am writing, and I want to lie down.
'Always affectionately yours,
'MAY GOULD.'


Outside the air was limpid with sunlight, and the newly mown meadow was
golden in the light of evening. The autumn-coloured foliage of the
chestnuts lay mysteriously rich and still, harmonizing in measured tones
with the ruddy tints of the dim September sunset. The country dozed as
if satiated with summer love. Heavy scents were abroad - the pungent
odours of the aftermath. A high baritone voice broke the languid
silence, and, in embroidered smoking-jacket and cap, Mr. Barton twanged
his guitar. Milord had been thrown down amid the hay; and Mrs. Barton
and Olive were showering it upon him. The old gentleman's legs were in
the air.

Crushing the letter, Alice's hands fell on the table; she burst into
tears. But work was more vital than tears; and, taking up her pen, she
continued her story - penny journal fiction of true love and unending
happiness in the end. A month later she received this note:


'DEAREST,
'Just a line in pencil - I mustn't sit up - to tell you it is all over,
and all I said was "Thank God, thank God!" over and over again, as each
pain went. It is such a relief; but I mustn't write much. It is such a
funny screwed-up-looking baby, and I don't feel any of those maternal
sentiments that you read about - at least not yet. And it always cries
just when I am longing to go to sleep. Thank you again and again for all
you have done for me and been to me. I feel awfully weak.
'Always affectionately yours,
'MAY GOULD.'




XXIV


Then Alice heard that the baby was dead, and that a little money would
be required to bury it. Another effort was made, the money was sent; and
the calm of the succeeding weeks was only disturbed by an uneasy desire
to see May back in Galway, and hear her say that her terrible secret was
over and done with for ever. One day she was startled by a quick
trampling of feet in the corridor, and May rushed into the room. She
threw herself into Alice's arms and kissed her with effusion, with
tears. The girls looked at each other long and nervously. One was pale
and over-worn, her spare figure was buttoned into a faded dress, and her
hair was rolled into a plain knot. The other was superb with health, and
her face was full of rose-bloom. She was handsomely dressed in green
velvet, and her copper hair flamed and flashed beneath a small bonnet
with mauve strings.

'Oh, Alice, how tired and pale you look! You have been working too hard,
and all for me! How can I thank you? I shall never be able to thank
you - I cannot find words to tell you how grateful I am - but I am
grateful, Alice, indeed I am.'

'I am sure you are, dear. I did my best for you, it is true; and thank
heaven I succeeded, and no one knows - I do not think that anyone even
suspects.'

'No, not a soul. We managed it very well, didn't we? And the Reverend
Mother behaved splendidly - she just took the view that you said she
would. She saw that no good would come of telling mamma about me when I
made her understand that if a word were said my misfortune would be
belled all over the country in double-quick time. But, Alice dear, I had
a terrible time of it, two months waiting in that little lodging, afraid
to go out for fear someone would recognize me; it was awful. And often I
hadn't enough to eat, for when you are in that state you can't eat
everything, and I was afraid to spend any money. You did your best to
keep me supplied, dear, good guardian angel that you are.' Then the
impulsive girl flung herself on Alice's shoulders, and kissed her. 'But
there were times when I was hard up - oh, much more hard up than you
thought I was, for I didn't tell you everything; if I had, you would
have worried yourself into your grave. Oh, I had a frightful time of it!
If one is married one is petted and consoled and encouraged; but alone
in a lodging - oh, it was frightful.'

'And what about the poor baby?' said Alice.

'The poor little thing died, as I wrote you, about ten days after it was
born. I nursed it, and I was sorry for it. I really was; but of course
. . . well, it seems a hard thing to say, but I don't know what I should
have done with it if it had lived. Life isn't so happy, is it, even
under the best of circumstances?'

The conversation came to a sudden close. At last the nervous silence
that intervened was broken by May:

'We were speaking about money. I will repay you all I owe you some day,
Alice dear. I will save up all the money I can get out of mother. She is
such a dear old thing, but I cannot understand her. Not a penny did she
send me for the first six weeks, and then she sent me £25; and it was
lucky she did, for the doctor's bill was something tremendous. And I
bought this dress and bonnet with what was left . . . I ought to have
repaid you first thing, but I forgot it until I had ordered the dress.'

'I assure you it does not matter, May; I shall never take the money from
you. If I did, it would take away all the pleasure I have had in serving
you.'

'Oh, but I will insist, Alice dear; I could not think of such a thing.
But there's no use in discussing that point until I get the money. . . .
Tell me, what do you think of my bonnet?'

'I think it very nice indeed, and I never saw you looking better.'

And thus ended May Gould's Dublin adventure. It was scarcely spoken of
again, and when they met at a ball given by the officers stationed in
Galway, Alice was astonished to find that she experienced no antipathy
whatever towards this rich-blooded young person. 'My dear guardian
angel, come and sit with me in this corner; I'd sooner talk to you than
anyone - we won't go down yet a while - we'll make the men wait;' and when
she put her arms round Alice's waist and told her the last news of
Violet and her Marquis, Alice abandoned herself to the caress and heard
that thirty years ago the late Marquis had entered a grocer's shop in
Galway to buy a pound of tea for an importuning beggar: 'And what do you
think, my dear? - It was Mrs. Scully who served it out to him; and do you
know what they are saying? - that it is all your fault that Olive did not
marry Kilcarney.'

'My fault?'

'Your fault, because you gave the part of the beggar-maid to Violet, and
if Olive had played the beggar-maid and hadn't married Kilcarney, the
fault would have been laid at your door just the same.'

The pale cheeks of Lord Rosshill's seven daughters waxed a hectic red;
the Ladies Cullen grew more angular, and smiled and cawed more cruelly;
Mrs. Barton, the Brennans, and Duffys cackled more warmly and
continuously; and Bertha, the terror of the _débutantes_, beat the big
drum more furiously than ever. The postscripts to her letters were
particularly terrible: 'And to think that the grocer's daughter should
come in for all this honour. It is she who will turn up her nose at us
at the Castle next year.' 'Ah, had I known what was going to happen it
is I who would have pulled the fine feathers out of her.' Day after day,
week after week, the agony was protracted, until every heart grew weary
of the strain put upon it and sighed for relief. But it was impossible
to leave off thinking and talking; and the various accounts of
orange-blossoms and the bridesmaids that in an incessant postal stream
were poured during the month of January into Galway seemed to provoke
rather than abate the marriage fever. The subject was inexhaustible, and
little else was spoken of until it was time to pack up trunks and
prepare for the Castle season. The bride, it was stated, would be
present at the second Drawing-Room in March.

Nevertheless Alice noticed that the gladness of last year was gone out
of their hearts; none expected much, and all remembered a little of the
disappointments they had suffered. A little of the book had been read;
the lines of white girls standing about the pillars in Patrick's Hall,
the empty waltz tunes and the long hours passed with their chaperons
were terrible souvenirs to pause upon. Still they must fight on to the
last; there is no going back - there is nothing for them to go back to.
There is no hope in life for them but the vague hope of a husband. So
they keep on to the last, becoming gradually more spiteful and puerile,
their ideas of life and things growing gradually narrower, until, in
their thirty-fifth or fortieth year, they fall into the autumn heaps, to
lie there forgotten, or to be blown hither or thither by every wind that
blows.

Two of Lord Rosshill's daughters had determined to try their luck again,
and a third was undecided; the Ladies Cullen said that they had their
school to attend to and could not leave Galway; poverty compelled the
Brennans and Duffys to remain at home. Alice would willingly have done
the same, but, tempted by the thin chance that she might meet with
Harding, she yielded to her mother's persuasions. Harding did not return
to Dublin, and her second season was more barren of incident than the
first. The same absence of conviction, the same noisy gossiping and
inability to see over the horizon of Merrion Square, the same servile
adoration of officialism, the same meanness committed to secure an
invitation to the Castle, the same sing-song waltz tunes, the same
miserable, mocking, melancholy, muslin hours were endured by the same
white martyrs.

And if the Castle remained unchanged, Mount Street lost nothing of its
original aspect. Experience had apparently taught Mrs. Barton nothing;
she knew but one set of tricks - if they failed she repeated them: she
was guided by the indubitableness of instinct rather than by the more
wandering light that is reason. Mr. Barton, who it was feared might talk
of painting, and so distract the attention from more serious matters,
was left in Galway, and amid eight or nine men collected here, there,
and everywhere out of the hotels and barrack-rooms, the three ladies sat
down to dinner.

Mrs. Barton, who could have talked to twenty men, and have kept them
amused, was severely handicapped by the presence of her daughters.
Olive, at the best of times, could do little more than laugh; and as
Alice never had anything to say to the people she met at her mother's
house, the silences that hung over the Mount Street dinner-table were
funereal in intensity and length. From time to time questions were asked
relating to the Castle, the weather, and the theatre.

Therefore, beyond the fact that neither Lord Kilcarney nor Mr. Harding
was present, the girls passed their second season in the same manner as
their first. _Les deux pièces de résistance_ at Mount Street were a
dissipated young English lord and a gouty old Irish distiller, and Mrs.
Barton was making every effort to secure one of these. A pianist was
ordered to attend regularly at four o'clock. And now if Alice was
relieved of the duty of spelling through the doleful strains of 'Dream
Faces,' she was forced to go round and round with the distiller until an
extra glass of port forced the old gentleman to beg mercy of Mrs.
Barton. At one o'clock in the morning the young lord used to enter the
Kildare Street Club weary. But not much way was made with either, and
when one returned to London and the other to a sick-bed, Olive abandoned
herself to a series of flirtations. At the Castle she danced with all
who asked her, and she sat out dances in the darkest corners of the most
distant rooms with every officer stationed in Dublin. Mrs. Barton never
refused an invitation to any dance, no matter how low, and in all the
obscure 'afternoons' in Mount Street and Pembroke Street Olive's blonde
cameo-like face was seen laughing with every official of Cork Hill and
the gig-men of Kildare Street.

In May the Bartons went abroad, and Olive flirted with foreign
titles - French Counts, Spanish Dukes, Russian Princes, Swedish noblemen
of all kinds, and a goodly number of English refugees with
irreproachable neckties and a taste for baccarat. In the balmy gardens
of Ostend and Boulogne, jubilant with June and the overture of
Masaniello, Milord and Mrs. Barton walked in front, talking and laughing
gracefully. Olive chose him who flattered her the most outrageously; and
Alice strove hard to talk to the least objectionable of the men she was
brought in contact with. Amid these specious talkers there were a few
who reminded her of Mr. Harding, and she hoped later on to be able to
turn her present experiences to account. There was, of course, much
dining at cafés and dining at the casinos, and evening walks along the
dark shore. Alice often feared for her sister, but the girl's vanity and
lightheadedness were her safeguards, and she returned to Galway only a
little wearied by the long chase after amusement.

The soft Irish summer is pleasant after the glare of foreign towns, and
the country, the rickety stone walls and the herds of cattle, the deep
curved lines of the plantations of the domain lands, the long streaks of
brown bog, the flashing tarns of bog-water, and the ruined cottage, lay
dozing in beautiful silvery haze. There was much charm for Alice in
these familiar signs; and, although she did not approve of - although she
would not care ever to meet them again - the people she had met at Ostend
and Dieppe had interested her. She had picked up ideas and had received
impressions, and with these germinating in her, a time of quiet, a time
for reading and thinking, came as a welcome change after the noise of
casinos and the glitter of fireworks. The liberty she had enjoyed, the
sense it had brought with it that she was neither a doll nor a victim,
had rendered her singularly happy. The plot of a new story was singing
in her head, the characters flitted before her eyes, and to think of
them or to tell Cecilia of them was a pleasure sufficient for all her
daily desire. Olive, too, was glad. The sunlight has gone into her
blood, and she romps with her mother and Milord amid the hay, or,
stretched at length, she listens to the green air of the lawn, her
dreams ripple like water along a vessel's side, the white wake of the
past in bubble behind her; and when the life of the landscape is burnt
out, and the day in dying seems to have left its soul behind, she stands
watching, her thoughts curdling gently, the elliptical flight of the
swallows through the gloom, and the flutter of the bats upon the dead
sky.

But the thoughtless brain, fed for many weeks upon noise and glitter,
soon began to miss its accustomed stimulants, and Mrs. Barton was quick
to comprehend sudden twitchings of the face and abrupt movements of the
limbs. And, keenly alive to what was passing in her daughter's mind, she
insisted on Olive's accompanying her to the tennis-parties with which
the county teemed. Sir Charles, Mr. Adair, and even poor Sir Richard
were put forward as the most eligible of men.

'It is impossible to say when the big fish will be caught; it is often
the last try that brings him to land,' murmured Mrs. Barton. But Olive
had lost courage, and could fix her thoughts on no one. And, often when
they returned home, she would retire to her room to have a good cry.

'Leave me alone, Alice; oh, go away. Don't tease me, don't tease me! I
only want to be left alone.'

'But listen, dear; can I do anything for you?'

'You! no, no, indeed you can't. I only want to be left alone. I am so
miserable, so unhappy; I wish I were dead!'

'Dead?'

'Yes, dead; what's the use of living when I know that I shall be an old
maid? We shall all be old maids. What's the use of being pretty, either,
when Violet, though she be but a bag of bones, has got the Marquis? I
have been out two seasons now, and nothing has come of all the trying.
And yet I was the belle of the season, wasn't I, Alice?' And now,
looking more than ever like a cameo Niobe, Olive stared at her sister
piteously. 'Oh yes, Alice, I know I shall be an old maid; and isn't it
dreadful, and I the belle of the season? It makes me so unhappy. No one
ever heard of the belle (and I was the belle not of one, but of two
seasons) remaining an old maid. I can understand a lot of ugly things
not getting married, but I - '

Alice smiled, and half ironically she asked herself if Olive really
suffered. No heart-pang was reflected in those blue mindless eyes; there
was no heart to wound: only a little foolish vanity had been bruised.

'And to think,' cried this whimpering beauty, when Alice had seen her
successfully through a flood of hysterical tears, 'that I was silly
enough to give up dear Edward. I am punished for it now, indeed I am;
and it was very wicked of me - it was a great sin. I broke his heart. But
you know, Alice dear, that it was all mamma's fault; she urged me on;
and you know how I refused, how I resisted her. Didn't I resist - tell
me. You know, and why won't you say that I did resist?'

'You did, indeed, Olive; but you must not distress yourself, or you will
make yourself ill.'

'Yes, perhaps you are right, there's nothing makes one look so ugly as
crying, and if I lost my looks and met Edward he might not care for me.
He'd be disappointed, I mean - but I haven't lost my looks; I am just as
pretty as I was when I came out first. Am I not, Alice?'

'Indeed you are, dear.'

'You don't think I have gone off a bit - now do tell me? and I want to
ask you what you think of my hair in a fringe; Papa says it isn't
classical, but that's nonsense. I wish I knew how Edward would like me
to wear it.'

'But you mustn't think of him, Olive dear; you know mother would never
hear of it.'

'I can't help thinking of him. . . . And now I will tell you something,
Alice, if you promise me on your word of honour not to scold me, and,
above all, not to tell mamma.'

'I promise.'

'Well, the other day I was walking at the end of the lawn feeling so
very miserable. You don't know how miserable I feel; you are never
miserable, for you think of nothing but your books. Well (mind, you have
given me your word not to tell anyone), I saw Captain Hibbert riding
along the road, and when he saw me he stopped his horse and kissed his
hand to me.'

'And what did you do?'

'I don't know what I did. He called me, and then I saw Milord coming
along the road, and fled but, oh, isn't it cruel of mamma to have
forbidden Edward to come and see us? and he loving me as much as ever.'

This was not the moment to advise her sister against clandestine
meetings with Captain Hibbert; she was sobbing violently, and Alice had
to assure her again and again that no one who had been the belle of the
season had ever remained an old maid. But Alice (having well in mind the
fate that had befallen May Gould) grew not a little alarmed when, in the
course of next week, she suddenly noticed that Olive was in the habit of
going out for long walks alone, and that she invariably returned in a
state of high spirits, all the languor and weariness seeming to have
fallen from her.

Alice once thought of following her sister. She watched her open the
wicket and walk across the meadows towards the Lawler domain. There was
a bypath there leading to the highroad, but the delicacy of their
position in relation to the owners prevented the Bartons from ever
making use of it. Nor did Alice fail to notice that about the same time,
Barnes, on the pretence of arranging the room for the evening, would
strive to drive her from her writing-table, and beds were made and
unmade, dresses were taken out of the wardrobe, and importuning
conversations were begun. But, taking no heed of the officious maid,
Alice, her thoughts tense with anxiety, sat at her window watching the
slender figure of the girl growing dim in the dying light. Once she did
not return until it was quite dark, and, reproaching herself for having
remained so long silent, Alice walked across the pleasure-grounds to
meet her.

'What, you here?' cried Olive, surprised at finding her sister waiting
for her at the wicket. She was out of breath; she had evidently been
running.

'Yes, Olive, I was anxious to speak to you - you must know that it is
very wrong to meet Captain Hibbert - and in the secrecy of a wood!'

'Who told you I had been to meet Captain Hibbert? I suppose you have
been following me!'

'No, Olive, I haven't, and you have no right to accuse me of such
meanness. I have not been following you, but I cannot help putting two
and two together. You told me something of this once before, and since
then you have scarcely missed an evening.'

'Well, I don't see any harm in meeting Edward; he is going to marry me.'

'Going to marry you?'

'Yes, going to marry me; is there anything so very extraordinary in
that? Mamma had no right to break off the match, and I am not going to
remain an old maid.'

'And have you told mother about this?'

'No, where's the use, since she won't hear of it?'

'And are you going to run away with Captain Hibbert?'

'Run away with him!' exclaimed Olive, laughing strangely. 'No, of course
I am not.'

'And how are you to marry him if you don't tell mother?'

'I shall tell her when the time comes to tell her. And now, Alice dear,
you will promise not to betray me, won't you? You will not speak about
this to anyone, you promise me? If you did, I know I should go mad or
kill myself.'

'But when will you tell mother of your resolution to marry Captain
Hibbert?'

'Tell her? I'll tell her to-morrow if you like; that is to say, if you
will give me your word of honour not to speak to her about my meeting
Edward in the Lawler Wood.'

Afterwards Alice often wondered at her dullness in not guessing the
truth. But at the time it did not occur to her that Olive might have
made arrangements to elope with Captain Hibbert; and, on the
understanding that all was to be explained on the following day, she
promised to keep her sister's secret.




XXV


Lord Dungory dined at Brookfield that evening. He noticed that Olive was
nervous and restless, and he reminded her of what a French poet had said
on the subject of beauty. But she only turned her fair head impatiently,
and a little later on when her mother spoke to her she burst into tears.
Nor was she as easily consoled as usual, and she did not become calm
until Mrs. Barton suggested that her dear child was ill, and that she
would go upstairs and put her to bed. Then, looking a little alarmed,
Olive declared she was quite well, but she passionately begged to be
left alone. As they left the dining-room she attempted to slip away;
Alice made a movement as if to follow her, but Mrs. Barton said:

'Leave her to herself, Alice; she would rather be left alone. She has
overstrained her nerves, that is all.'

Olive heard these words with a singular satisfaction, and as she
ascended the stairs from the first landing, her heart beat less
violently. On the threshold of her room she paused to listen for the
drawing-room door to shut. Through the silent house the lock sounded
sharply.

'I hope none of them will come upstairs bothering after me,' the girl
murmured to herself. 'If they do I shall go mad;' and standing in the


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Online LibraryGeorge MooreMuslin → online text (page 19 of 23)