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when one is ill that one really begins to see what life is. You have
never been ill, and you don't know how terribly near death seems to have
come - very near. Perhaps I ought to see the priest; it would be just as
well, just in case I should die. Don't you think so?'

'I don't think there is any more danger of your dying now than there was
a month ago, dear, and I am sure you can have nothing on your mind that
demands immediate confession,' she said, her voice trembling a little.

'Oh yes, I have, Alice, and a very great deal; I have been very wicked.'

'Very wicked!'

'Well, I know you aren't pious, Alice, and perhaps you don't believe
there is harm in such things, but I do; and I know it was very wrong,
and perhaps a mortal sin, to try to run away with Edward. But I loved
him so very dearly, and I was so tired of staying at home and being
taken out to parties. And when you are in love with a man you forget
everything. At least I did; and when he asked to kiss me I couldn't
refuse. You won't tell anyone, Alice dear, that I told you this.' Alice
shook her head, and Olive continued, in spite of all that the doctor had
said:

'But you don't know how lonely I feel at home; you never feel lonely, I
dare say, for you only think of your books and papers, and don't realize
what a disgrace it would be if I didn't marry, and after all the trouble
that mamma has taken. But I don't know what will become of me now. I'm
going to be dreadfully ill, and when I get well I shall be pretty no
longer; I am sure I am looking wretchedly. I must see myself - fetch the
glass, Alice, Alice.'

Olive lay whining and calling for her sister, and when Dr. Reed came he
ordered several inches of the pale silky hair to be cut away and a cold
lotion to be applied to the forehead, and some sliced lemons were given
to her to suck.

The clear blue eyes were dull, the breathing quick, the skin dry and
hot; and on the following day four leeches had to be applied to her
ankle. They relieved her somewhat, and, when she had taken her draught,
she sank to sleep. But as the night grew denser, Alice was suddenly
awakened by someone speaking wildly in her ear: 'Take me away, dear! I
am sick of home; I want to get away from all these spiteful girls. I
know they are laughing at me because Violet cut me out with the Marquis.
We shall be married, shan't we, the moment we arrive in Dublin? It's
horrible to be married at the registrar's, but it's better than not
being married at all. But do you think they will catch us up? It would
be dreadful to be taken back home, I couldn't bear it. Oh, do drive on;
we don't seem to be moving. You see that strange tree on the right, we
haven't passed it yet; I don't think we ever shall. Whip up that bay
horse; don't you see he is turning round, wants to go back? I am sure
that this isn't the road; that man at the corner told you a lie. I know
he was mocking at us - I saw it in his eye. . . . Look, look, Edward! Oh,
look - it is papa, or Lord Dungory, I can't tell which, he won't lift his
cloak.' And then the vision would fade, and she would fancy herself in
the wood, arguing once again with Mrs. Lawler. 'No, what you say isn't
true; he never loved you. How could he? You are an old woman. Let me
pass - let me pass. Why do you speak to me? We don't visit, we never did
visit you. No; it was not at our house you met Edward. You were on the
streets; and Edward shall not, he could not, think of running away with
you - will you, darling? Oh, help me, help me out of this dreadful wood.
I want to go home, but I can't walk. That terrible bird is still
watching me, and I dare not pass that tree till you drive it away.'

The two beds, with their white curtains and brass crowns, showed through
the pale obscurity, broken only by the red-glowing basin where a
night-light burnt, and the long tongues of flame that the blazing peat
scattered from time to time across the darkened ceiling. The solitude of
the sleeping house grew momentarily more intense in Alice's brain, and
she trembled as she strove to soothe her sister, and covered the hot
feverish arms over with the bedclothes.

'What sort of night has Olive had?' Mrs. Barton asked when she came in
about eight.

'Not a very quiet one; I am afraid she's a little delirious.'

'Dr. Reed promised to be here early. How do you feel, dear?' Mrs. Barton
asked, leaning over the bed.

'Oh, very ill; I can scarcely breathe, and I have such a pain in my
side.'

'Your lips look very sore, dear; do they hurt you?' - Olive only moaned
dismally - and, looking anxiously at her elder daughter, she said:

'And you, too, Alice, are not looking well. You are tired, and mustn't
sit up another night with your sister. To-night I'll take your place.'

'Oh, mother, no! I assure you it is a pleasure to me to nurse Olive. I
am very well indeed; do not think about me.'

'Indeed, I will think about you, and you must do as I tell you. I'll
look after Olive, and you must try and get a good night's rest We will
take it in turns to nurse her. And now come down to breakfast. Barnes,
you'll not think of leaving Miss Olive until we come back; and, if any
change occurs, ring for me immediately.'

When Dr. Reed arrived, Alice was again sitting by the bedside.

'And how is our patient to-day?'

'I cannot say she is any better; she has a distressing cough, and last
night I am afraid she was a little delirious.'

'Ah, you say the cough is distressing?'

'I am afraid I must call it distressing; is that a very bad sign?'

'Probably there is not much wrong, but it would be better to ascertain
the condition of the patient, and then we may be able to do something to
relieve her.'

The doctor drew a stethoscope from his pocket, and they lifted the
patient into a sitting position.

'I should like to examine her chest;' and his fingers moved to unfasten
her night-gown.

'Don't expose me,' she murmured feebly.

'Now, Olive dear, remember it is only the doctor; let him examine you.'

Olive's eyes were a dull filmy blue, the lips were covered with sores,
and there was a redness over the cheekbones - not the hectic flush of
phthisis, but a dusky redness. And the patient was so weak that during
the stethoscopic examination her head fell from side to side as she was
moved, and when the doctor pressed her right side her moans were
pregnant with pain.

'Now let me see the tongue. Dry and parched.'

'Shall I die, doctor?' the girl asked feebly and plaintively as she sank
amidst the pillows.

'Die! no, not if you take care of yourself and do what you are told.'

'But tell me, Dr. Reed,' Alice asked. 'You can tell me the truth.'

'She'll get well if she takes care of herself. It is impossible to say.
No one can predict the turn pneumonia will take.'

'Pneumonia! What is that?'

'Congestion of the lungs, or rather an advanced stage of it. It is more
common in men than in women, and it is the consequence of long exposure
to wet and cold.'

'Is it very dangerous?'

'Very; and now let me tell you that it is all-important that the
temperature of the room should not be allowed to vary. I attended a case
of it some three or four miles from here, but the damp of the cabin was
so great that it was impossible to combat the disease. The cottage, or
rather hovel, was built on the edge of a soft spongy bog, and so wet was
it that the woman had to sweep the water every morning from the floor,
where it collected in great pools. I am now going to visit an evicted
family, who are living in a partially roofed shed fenced up by the
roadside. The father is down with fever, and lies shivering, with
nothing to drink but cold water. His wife told me that last week it
rained so heavily that she had to get up three times in the night to
wring the sheets out.'

'And why were they evicted?'

'Oh, that is a long story; but it is a singularly characteristic one. In
the first place, he was an idle fellow; he got into difficulties and
owed his landlord three years' rent. Then he got into bad hands, and was
prevented from coming to terms with his landlord. There was a lot of
jobbing going on between the priest and the village grocer, and finally
it was arranged that the latter should pay off the existing debt if the
landlord could be forced into letting him the farm at a "fair rent,"
that is to say, thirty per cent reduction on the old rent. In
recognition of his protecting influence, the priest was to take a third
of the farm off the grocer's hands, and the two were then to conjointly
rack-rent poor Murphy for the remaining third portion, which he would be
allowed to retain for a third of the original rent; but the National
League heard of their little tricks, and now the farm is boycotted, and
Murphy is dying in the ditch for the good of his _counthry_.'

'I thought boycotting was ended, that the League had lost all power.'

'It has and it hasn't. Sometimes a man takes a farm and keeps it in
defiance of his neighbours; sometimes they hunt him out of it. It is
hard to come to a conclusion, for when in one district you hear of rents
being paid and boycotted farms letting freely, in another, only a few
miles away, the landlords are giving reductions, and there are farms
lying waste that no one dare look at. In my opinion the fire is only
smouldering, and when the Coercion Act expires the old organization will
rise up as strong and as triumphant as before. This is a time of respite
for both parties.'

The conversation then came to a sudden pause. Alice felt it would be out
of place for her to speak her sympathies for the Nationalistic cause,
and she knew it would be unfair to lead the doctor to express his. So at
the end of a long silence, during which each divined the other's
thoughts, she said:

'I suppose you see a great deal of the poor and the miseries they
endure?'

'I have had good opportunities of studying them. Before I came here I
spent ten years in the poorest district in Donegal. I am sure there
wasn't a gentleman's house within fifteen miles of me.'

'And didn't you feel very lonely?'

'Yes, I did, but one gets so used to solitude that to return to the
world, after having lived long in the atmosphere of one's own thoughts,
is painful. The repugnance that grows on those who live alone to hearing
their fellow-creatures express their ideas is very remarkable. It must
be felt to be understood; and I have often wondered how it was that I
never met it in a novel.'

'It would be very difficult to write. Do you ever read fiction?'

'Yes, and enjoy it. In my little home amid the northern bogs, I used to
look forward when I had finished writing, to reading a story.'

'What were you writing?'

'A book.'

'A book!' exclaimed Alice, looking suddenly pleased and astonished.

'Yes, but not a work of fiction - I am afraid I am too prosaic an
individual for that - a medical work.'

'And have you finished your book?'

'Yes, it is finished, and I am glad to say it is in the hands of a
London publisher. We have not yet agreed about the price, but I hope and
believe that, directly and indirectly, it will lead to putting me into a
small London practice.'

'And then you will leave us?'

'I am afraid so. There are many friends I shall miss - that I shall be
very sorry to leave, but - '

'Oh, of course it would not do to miss such a chance.'

They fell to discussing the patient, and when the doctor left, Alice
proceeded to carry out his instructions concerning the patient, and,
these being done, she sat down by the bedside and continued her thoughts
of him with a sense of pleasure. She remembered that she had always
liked him. Yes, it was a liking that dated as far back as the spinsters'
ball at Ballinasloe. He was the only man there in whom she had taken the
slightest interest. They were sitting together on the stairs when that
poor fellow was thrown down and had his leg broken. She remembered how
she had enjoyed meeting him at tennis-parties, and how often she had
walked away with him from the players through the shrubberies; and above
all she could not forget - it was a long sweet souvenir - the beautiful
afternoon she had spent with him, sitting on the rock, the day of the
picnic at Kinvarra Castle. She had forgotten, or rather she had never
noticed, that he was a short, thick-set, middle-aged man, that he wore
mutton-chop whiskers, and that his lips were overhung by a long dark
moustache. His manners were those of an unpolished and somewhat
commonplace man. But while she thought of his grey eyes her heart was
thrilled with gladness, and as she dreamed of his lonely life of labour
and his ultimate hopes of success, all her old sorrows and fears seemed
to have evaporated. Then suddenly and with the unexpectedness of an
apparition the question presented itself: Did she like him better than
Harding? Alice shrank from the unpleasantness of the thought, and did
not force herself to answer it, but busied herself with attending to her
sister's wants.

While the dawn of Alice's happiness, Olive lay suffering in all the dire
humility of the flesh. Hourly her breathing grew shorter and more
hurried, her cough more frequent, and the expectoration that accompanied
it darker and thicker in colour. The beautiful eyes were now turgid and
dull, the lids hung heavily over a line of filmy blue, and a thick scaly
layer of bloody tenacious mucus persistently accumulated and covered the
tiny and once almost jewel-like teeth. For three or four days these
symptoms knew no abatement; and it was over this prostrated body,
weakened and humiliated by illness, that Alice and Dr. Reed read love in
each other's eyes, and it was about this poor flesh that their hands
were joined as they lifted Olive out of the recumbent position she had
slipped into, and built up the bowed-in pillows. And as it had once been
all Olive in Brookfield, it was now all Alice; the veil seemed suddenly
to have slipped from all eyes, and the exceeding worth of this plain
girl was at last recognized. Mrs. Barton's presence at the bedside did
not soothe the sufferer; she grew restless and demanded her sister. And
the illness continued, her life in the balance till the eighth day. It
was then that she took a turn for the better; the doctor pronounced her
out of danger, and two days after she lay watching Alice and Dr. Reed
talking in the window. 'Were they talking about her?' she asked herself.
She did not think they were. It seemed to her that each was interested
in the other. 'Laying plans,' the sick girl said to herself, 'for
themselves.' At these words her senses dimmed, and when she awoke she
had some difficulty in remembering what she had seen.




XXVII


'Ah, _ce cher Milord, comme il est beau, comme il est parfait!_'
exclaimed Mrs. Barton, as she led him to his chair and poured out his
glass of sherry.

But there was a gloom on his face which laughter and compliments failed
for a moment to dissipate - at last he said:

'Ah, Mrs. Barton, Mrs. Barton! if I hadn't this little retreat to take
refuge in, to hide myself in, during some hours of the day, I should not
be able to bear up - Brookfield has prolonged my life for - '

'I cannot allow such sad thoughts as these,' said Mrs. Barton laughing,
and waving her white hands. 'Who has been teasing _notre cher_ Milord?
What have dreadful Lady Jane and terrible Lady Sarah been doing to him?'

'I shall never forget this morning, no, not if I lived to a thousand,'
the old gentleman murmured plaintively. 'Oh, the scenes - the scenes I
have been through! Cecilia, as I told you yesterday, has been filling
the house with rosaries and holywater-fonts; Jane and Sarah have been
breaking these, and the result has been tears and upbraidings. Last
night at dinner I don't really know what they didn't say to each other;
and then the two elder ones fell upon me and declared that it was all my
fault, that I ought never to have sent my daughter to a Catholic
convent. I was obliged to shut myself up in the study and lock the door.
Then this morning, when I thought it was all over, it began again worse
than ever; and then in the middle of it all, when Jane asked Cecilia how
many Gods there were in the roll of bread she was eating if the priest
were to bless it - if a Papist wasn't one who couldn't worship God till
somebody had turned Him into a biscuit - a most injudicious observation,
I said so at the time, and I must apologize to you, my dear Mrs. Barton,
for repeating it, but I am really so upset that I scarcely know what I
am saying. Well, Jane had no sooner spoken than Cecilia overthrew the
teacups and said she wasn't going to stay in the house to hear her
religion insulted, and without another word she walked down to the
parish priest and was baptized a Catholic; nor is that all. She returned
with a scapular round her neck, a rosary about her waist, and a Pope's
medal in her hand. I really thought Jane and Sarah would have fainted;
indeed I am sure they would have fainted if Cecilia hadn't declared that
she was going to pack up her things and return at once to St. Leonards
and become a nun. Such an announcement as this was, of course, far
beyond fainting, and . . . but no, I will not attempt to describe it, but
I can assure you I was very anxious to get out of the house.'

'Cecilia going to be a nun; oh, I am so glad!' exclaimed Olive. 'It is
far the best thing she could do, for she couldn't hope to be married.'

'Olive, Olive!' said Mrs. Barton, 'you shouldn't speak so openly. We
should always consider the religious prejudices of others. Of course, as
Catholics we must be glad to hear of anyone joining the true Church, but
we should remember that Milord is going to lose his daughter.'

'I assure you, my dear Mrs. Barton, I have no prejudices. I look upon
all religions as equally good and equally bad, but to be forced to live
in a perpetual discussion in which teacups are broken, concerning
scapulars, bacon and meal shops, and a school which, putting aside the
question of expense, makes me hated in the neighbourhood, I regard as
intolerable; and when I go home this evening, I shall tell Jane that the
school must be put down or carried on in a less aggressive way. I assure
you I have no wish to convert the people; they are paying their rents
very well now, and I think it absurd to upset them; and the fact of
having received Cecilia into the Church might incline the priest very
much towards us.'

'And Cecilia will be so happy in that beautiful convent!' suggested Mrs.
Barton.

'_C'est le génie du Catholicisme de nous débarrasser des filles
laides._'

And upon this expression of goodwill towards the Church of Rome
Cecilia's future life was discussed with much amiability. Mrs. Barton
said she would make a sweet little nun; Olive declared that she would
certainly go to St. Leonard's to see her 'professed'; and Milord's
description of Lady Sarah's and Lady Jane's ill-humour was considered
very amusing, and just as he was about to recount some new incident - one
that had escaped his memory till then - the door opened and the servant
announced Dr. Reed.

'Now, what can he want? Olive is quite well. He looks at her tongue and
feels her pulse. How do you do, Dr. Reed? Here is your patient, whom you
will find in the best health and spirits.'

As he was about to reply, Alice came into the room, and she tried to
carry on the conversation naturally. But the silence of Mrs. Barton and
Milord made this difficult; Dr. Reed was not a ready talker, and this
morning his replies were more than ever awkward and constrained. At last
it dawned on Alice that he wanted to speak to her alone; and in answer
to a remark he had made concerning the fever dens in Gort she said:

'I wanted to ask you a question or two about typhoid fever, Dr. Reed;
one of my heroines is going to die of it, and I should like to avoid
medical impossibilities. May I show you the passage?'

'Certainly, Miss Barton; I shall be delighted to help you - if I can.'

As soon as Alice left the room to fetch her manuscript the doctor
hurriedly bade his patient, Milord, and Mrs. Barton, good-bye.

'Aren't you going to wait to see Alice?' Mrs. Barton asked.

'I have to speak to the boy in charge of my car; I shall see Miss Barton
as she comes downstairs.'

Mrs. Barton looked as if she thought this arrangement not a little
singular, but she said nothing; and when Alice came running downstairs
with a roll of MSS. in her hand, she attempted to explain her difficulty
to the doctor. He made a feeble attempt to listen to the passage she
read aloud to him; and when their eyes met across the paper she saw he
was going to propose to her.

'Will you walk down the drive with me? and we will talk of that as we go
along.'

Her hat was on the hall-table; she took it up, and in silence walked
with him out on the gravel.

'Will I put the harse up, sor?' cried the boy from the outside car.

'No; follow me down the avenue.'

It was a wild autumn evening, full of wind and leaves. The great green
pasture-lands, soaked and soddened with rain, rolled their monotonous
green turf to the verge of the blown beech-trees, about which the rooks
drifted in picturesque confusion. Now they soared like hawks, or on
straightened wings were carried down a furious gust across the
tumultuous waves of upheaved yellow, and past the rift of cold crimson
that is tossed like a banner through the shadows of evening.

'I came here to tell you that I am going away; that I am leaving Ireland
for ever. I've bought the practice I spoke to you of in Notting Hill.'

'Oh, I am so glad!'

'Thank you! But there is another and more important matter on which I
should like to speak to you. For a long time back I had resolved to
leave Ireland a sad or an entirely happy man. Which shall it be? You are
the only woman I ever loved - will you be my wife?'

'Yes, I will.'

'I was afraid to ask you before. But,' he added, sighing, 'I shan't be
able to give you a home like the one you are leaving. We shall have to
be very economical; we shall not have more than three hundred a year to
live upon. Will you be satisfied with that?'

'I hope, indeed - I am sure we shall get on very well. You forget that I
can do something to keep myself,' she added, smiling. 'I have two or
three orders.'

She passed her arm through Dr. Reed's; and as he unfolded his plans to
her, he held her hand warmly and affectionately in his: and as the
twilight drifted it was wrapped like a veil about them. The rooks in
great flitting flocks passed over their heads, the tempestuous crimson
of the sky had been hurled further away, and only the form of the grey
horse, that the boy had allowed to graze, stood out distinctly in the
gloom that descended upon the earth.




XXVIII


On the very first opportunity she could find Alice told her mother that
Dr. Reed had proposed to her, and that she had accepted him. Mrs. Barton
said it was disgraceful, and that she would never hear of such a
marriage; and when the doctor called next day she acquainted him with
her views on the subject. She told him he had very improperly taken
advantage of his position to make love to her daughter; she really
didn't know how he could ever have arrived at the conclusion that a
match was possible, and that for the future his visits must cease at
Brookfield. And when Alice heard what had passed between Dr. Reed and
her mother she wrote, assuring him that her feelings towards him would
remain uninfluenced by anything that anyone might say. All the same, it
might be as well, having regard for what had happened, that the marriage
should take place with the least possible delay.

She took this letter down to the post-office herself, and when she
returned she entered the drawing-room and told Mrs. Barton what she had
done.

'I wish you had shown me the letter before you sent it. There is nothing
we need advice about so much as a letter.'

'Yes, mother,' replied Alice, deceived by the gentleness of Mrs.
Barton's manner; 'but we seemed to hold such widely different views on
this matter that there did not seem to be any use in discussing it.'

'Mother and daughter should never hold different views; my children's
interests are my interests - what interests have I now but theirs?'

'Oh, mother! Then you will consent to this marriage?'

Mrs. Barton's face always changed expression before a direct question.
'My dear, I would consent to anything that would make you happy; but it
seems to me impossible that you could be happy with Dr. Reed. I wonder
how you could like him. You do not know - I mean, you do not realize what
the intimacies of married life are. They are often hard to put up with,


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Online LibraryGeorge MooreMuslin → online text (page 21 of 23)