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sweetness of retrospection, she lingered while Olive ran through the
rosary from the stables and back again, calling to her sister, making
the sunlight ring with her light laughter. She refrained, therefore,
from reminding her that it was here they used to play with Nell, the old
setter, and that it was there they gave bread to the blind beggar; Olive
had no heart for these things, and when she admired the sleek
carriage-horses that had lately been bought to take them to balls and
tennis-parties, Alice thought of the old brown mare that used to take
them for such delightful drives.

Suddenly Mrs. Barton's voice was heard calling. Milord had arrived: they
were to go into the garden and pick a few flowers to make a buttonhole
for him. Olive darted off at once to execute the commission, and soon
returned with a rose set round with stephanotis. The old lord, seated in
the dining-room, in an arm-chair which Mrs. Barton had drawn up to the
window so that he might enjoy the air, sipped his sherry, and Alice, as
she entered the room, heard him say:

'_Quand on aime on est toujours bien portant_.'

She stopped abruptly, and Mrs. Barton, who already suspected her of
secret criticism, whispered, as she glided across the room:

'Now, my dear girl, go and talk to Milord and make yourself agreeable.'

The girl felt she was incapable of this, and it pained her to listen to
her sister's facile hilarity, and her mother's coaxing observations.
Milord did not, however, neglect her; he made suitable remarks
concerning her school successes, and asked appropriate questions anent
her little play of _King Cophetua_. But whatever interest the subject
possessed was found in the fact that Olive had taken the part of the
Princess; and, re-arranging the story a little, Mrs. Barton declared,
with a shower of little laughs, and many waves of the white hands, that
'my lady there had refused a King; a nice beginning, indeed, and a
pleasant future for her chaperon.'

The few books the house possessed lay on the drawing-room table, or were
piled, in dusty confusion, in the bookcase in Mr. Barton's studio; and,
thinking of them, Alice determined she would pay her father a visit in
his studio.

At her knock he ceased singing _Il Balen_, and cried, 'Come in!'

'I beg your pardon, papa; I'm afraid I am interrupting you.'

'Not at all - not at all, I assure you; come in. I will have a cigarette;
there is nothing like reconsidering one's work through the smoke of a
cigarette. The most beautiful pictures I have ever seen I have seen in
the smoke of a cigarette; nothing can beat those, particularly if you
are lying back looking up at a dirty ceiling.'

War and women were the two poles of Arthur's mind. _Cain shielding his
Wife from Wild Beasts_ had often been painted, numberless _Bridals of
Triermain_; and as for the _Rape of the Sabines_, it seemed as if it
could never be sufficiently accomplished. Opposite the door was a huge
design representing Samson and Delilah; opposite the fireplace, _Julius
Caesar overturning the Altars of the Druids_ occupied nearly the entire
wall. Nymphs and tigers were scattered in between; canvases were also
propped against almost every piece of furniture.

At last Alice's eyes were suddenly caught by a picture representing
three women bathing. It was a very rough sketch, but, before she had
time to examine it, Arthur turned it against the wall. Why he hid two
pictures from her she could not help wondering. It could not be for
propriety's sake, for there were nudities on every side of her.

Then, lying upon the sofa, he explained how So-and-so had told him, when
he was a boy in London, that no one since Michael Angelo had been able
to design as he could; how he had modelled a colossal statue of Lucifer
before he was sixteen, how he had painted a picture of the Battle of
Arbela, forty feet by twenty, before he was eighteen; but that was of no
use, the world nowadays only cared for execution, and he could not wait
until he had got the bit of ribbon in Delilah's hair to look exactly
like silk.

Alice listened to her father babbling, her heart and her mind at
variance. A want of knowledge of painting might blind her to the effects
of his pictures (there was in them all a certain crude merit of design),
but it was impossible not to see that they were lacking in something, in
what she could not say, having no knowledge of painting. Nor was she
sure that her father believed in his pictures, though he had just
declared they had all the beauties of Raphael and other beauties
besides. He had a trick of never appearing to thoroughly believe in them
and in himself. She listened interested and amused, not knowing how to
take him. She had been away at school for nearly ten years, coming home
for rare holidays, and was, therefore, without any real knowledge of her
parents. She understood her father even less than her mother; but she
was certain that if he were not a great genius he might have been one,
and she resolved to find out Lord Dungory's opinions on her father. But
the opportunity for five minutes quiet chat behind her mother's back did
not present itself. As soon as he arrived her mother sent her out of the
room on some pretext more or less valid, and at the end of the week the
gowns that had been ordered in Dublin arrived: ecstasy consumed the
house, and she heard him say that he would give a great dinner-party to
show them off.




VI


Arthur, who rarely dined out, handed the ladies into the carriage.

Mrs. Barton was beautifully dressed in black satin; Olive was lost in a
mass of tulle; Alice wore a black silk trimmed with passementerie and
red ribbons. Behind the Clare mountains the pale transitory colours of
the hour faded, and the women, their bodies and their thoughts swayed
together by the motion of the vehicle, listened to the irritating
barking of the cottage-dog. Surlily a peasant, returning from his work,
his frieze coat swung over one shoulder, stepped aside. A bare-legged
woman, surrounded by her half-naked children, leaving the potato she was
peeling in front of her door, gazed, like her husband, after the rolling
vision of elegance that went by her, and her obtuse brain probably
summed up the implacable decrees of Destiny in the phrase:

'Shure there misht be a gathering at the big house this evening.'

'But tell me, mamma,' said Olive, after a long silence, 'how much
champagne ought I to drink at dinner? You know, it is a long time since
I have tasted it. Indeed, I don't remember that I ever did taste it.'

Mrs. Barton laughed softly:

'Well, my dear, I don't think that two glasses could do you any harm;
but I would not advise you to drink any more.'

'And what shall I say to the man who takes me down to dinner? Shall I
have to begin the conversation, or will he?'

'He will be sure to say something; you need not trouble yourself about
that. I think we shall meet some nice men to-night. Captain Hibbert will
be there. He is very handsome and well-connected. I hope he will take
you down. Then there will be the Honourable Mr. Burke. He is a nice
little man, but there's not much in him, and he hasn't a penny. His
brother is Lord Kilcarney, a confirmed bachelor. Then there will be Mr.
Adair; he is very well off. He has at least four thousand a year in the
country; but it would seem that he doesn't care for women. He is very
clever; he writes pamphlets. He used to sympathize with the Land League,
but the outrages went against his conscience. You never know what he
really does think. He admires Gladstone, and Gladstone says he can't do
without him.'

They had now passed the lodge-gates, and were driving through the park.
Herds of fallow deer moved away, but the broad bluff forms of the red
deer gazed steadfastly as lions from the crest of a hill.

'Did you ever meet Lady Dungory, mamma?' asked Alice. 'Is she dead?'

'No, dear, she is not dead; but it would be better, perhaps, if she
were. She behaved very badly. Lord Dungory had to get a separation. No
one ever speaks of her now. Mind, you are warned!'

At this moment the carriage stopped before a modern house, built between
two massive Irish towers entirely covered with huge ivy.

'I am afraid we are a little late,' said Mrs. Barton to the servant, as
he relieved them of their _sorties de bal_.

'Eight o'clock has just struck, ma'am.'

'The two old things will make faces at us, I know,' murmured Mrs.
Barton, as she ascended the steps.

On either side there were cases of stuffed birds; a fox lay in wait for
a pheasant on the right; an otter devoured a trout on the left. These
attested the sporting tastes of a former generation. The white marble
statues of nymphs sleeping in the shadows of the different landings and
the Oriental draperies with which each cabinet was hung suggested the
dilettantism of the present owner.

Mrs. Barton walked on in front; the girls drew together like birds. They
were amazed at the stateliness of the library, and they marvelled at the
richness of the chandeliers and the curiously assorted pictures. The
company was assembled in a small room at the end of the suite.

Two tall, bony, high-nosed women advanced and shook hands menacingly
with Mrs. Barton. They were dressed alike in beautiful gowns of
gold-brown plush.

With a cutting stare and a few cold conventional words, they welcomed
Olive and Alice home to the country again. Lord Dungory whispered
something to Mrs. Barton. Olive passed across the room; the black coats
gave way, and, as a white rose in a blood-coloured glass, her shoulders
rose out of the red tulle. Captain Hibbert twisted his brown-gold
moustache, and, with the critical gaze of the connoisseur, examined the
undulating lines of the arms, the delicate waist, and the sloping hips:
her skirts seemed to fall before his looks.

Immediately after, the roaring of a gong was heard, and the form of the
stately butler was seen approaching. Lord Dungory and Lady Jane
exchanged looks. The former offered his arm to Mrs. Gould; the latter,
her finger on her lips, in a movement expressive of profound meditation,
said:

'Mr. Ryan, will you take down Mrs. Barton; Mr. Scully, will you take
Miss Olive Barton; Mr. Adair, will you take Miss Gould; Mr. Lynch, will
you take Miss Alice Barton; Mr. Burke, will you take my sister?' Then,
smiling at the thought that she had checkmated her father, who had
ordered that Olive Barton should go down with Captain Hibbert, she took
Captain Hibbert's arm, and followed the dinner-party. About the marble
statues and stuffed birds on the staircase flowed a murmur of
amiability, and, during a pause, skirts were settled amid the chairs,
which the powdered footmen drew back ceremoniously to make way for the
guests to pass.

A copy of Murillo's _Madonna presenting the Divine Child to St. Joseph_
hung over the fireplace; between the windows another Madonna stood on a
half-moon, and when Lord Dungory said, 'For what we are going to
receive, the Lord make us truly thankful,' these pictures helped the
company to realize a suitable, although momentary emotion.

Turtle soup was handed round. The soft steaming fragrance mixed with the
fresh perfume of the roses that bloomed in a silver vase beneath the
light of the red-shaded wax candles. A tree covered with azaleas spread
notes of delicate colour over the gold screen that hid the door by which
the servants came and went.

'Oh, Lady Sarah,' exclaimed Mrs. Gould, 'I do not know how you have such
beautiful flowers - and in this wretched climate!'

'Yes, it is very trying; but then we have a great deal of glass.'

'Which do you prefer, roses or azaleas?' asked Mrs. Barton.

'_Les roses sont les fleurs en corsage, mais les azalées sont les fleurs
en peignoir_.'

Lady Sarah and Lady Jane, who had both overheard the remark, levelled
indignant glances at their father, scornful looks at Mrs. Barton, and,
to avoid further amatory allusions, Lady Sarah said:

'I do not think we shall soon have bread, much less flowers, to place on
our tables, if the Government do not step in and put down the revolution
that is going on in this country.'

Everyone, except the young girls, looked questioningly at each other,
and the mutuality of their interests on this point became at once
apparent.

'Ah, Lord Dungory! do you think we shall be able to collect our rents
this year? What reduction do you intend to give?'

Lord Dungory, who had no intention of showing his hand, said:

'The Land League has, I believe, advised the people to pay no more than
Griffith's valuation. I do not know if your lands are let very much
above it?'

'If you have not seen the _Evening Mail_ you have probably not heard of
the last terrible outrage,' said Captain Hibbert; and, amid a profound
silence, he continued: 'I do not know if anybody here is acquainted with
a Mr. Macnamara; he lives in Meath.'

'Oh! you don't say anything has happened to him? I knew his cousin,'
exclaimed Mrs. Gould.

Captain Hibbert looked round with his bland, good-looking stare, and, as
no nearer relative appeared to be present, he resumed his story:

'He was, it seems, sitting smoking after dinner, when suddenly two shots
were fired through the windows.'

At this moment a champagne-cork slipped through the butler's fingers and
went off with a bang.

'Oh, goodness me! what's that?' exclaimed Mrs. Gould; and, to pass off
their own fears, everyone was glad to laugh at the old lady. It was not
until Captain Hibbert told that Mr. Macnamara had been so severely
wounded that his life was despaired of, that the chewing faces became
grave again.

'And I hear that Macnamara had the foinest harses in Mathe,' said Mr.
Ryan; 'I very nearly sold him one last year at the harse show.'

Mr. Ryan was the laughing-stock of the country, and a list of the
grotesque sayings he was supposed, on different occasions, to have been
guilty of, was constantly in progress of development. He lived with his
cousin, Mr. Lynch, and, in conjunction, they farmed large tracts of
land. Mr. Ryan was short and thick; Mr. Lynch was taller and larger, and
a pair of mutton-chop whiskers made his bloated face look bigger still.
On either side of the white tablecloth their dirty hands fumbled at
their shirt-studs, that constantly threatened to fall through the worn
buttonholes. They were, nevertheless, received everywhere, and Pathre,
as Mr. Ryan was called by his friends, was permitted the licences that
are usually granted to the buffoon.

'Arrah!' he said, 'I wouldn't moind the lague being hard on them who
lives out of the counthry, spendin' their cash on liquor and theatres in
London; but what can they have agin us who stops at home, mindin' our
properties and riding our harses?'

This criticism of justice, as administered by the league, did not,
however, seem to meet with the entire approval of those present. Mr.
Adair looked grave; he evidently thought it was based on a superficial
notion of political economy. Mr. Burke, a very young man with a tiny red
moustache and a curious habit of wriggling his long weak neck, feeling
his amusements were being unfairly attacked, broke the silence he had
till then preserved, and said:

'I haven't an acre of land in the world, but if my brother chooses to
live in London, I don't see why he should be deprived of his rents. For
my part, I like the Gaiety Theatre, and so does my brother. Have you
seen the _Forty Thieves_, Lady Jane? Capital piece - I saw it twenty
times.'

'I think what Pathre, me cousin, means to say,' said Mr. Lynch,
declining the venison the servant offered him, 'is that there are many
in the country who don't deserve much consideration. I am alluding to
those who acquired their property in the land courts, and the
Cromwellians, and the - I mean the rack-renters.'

The sudden remembrance that Lord Dungory dated from the time of James so
upset Mr. Lynch that he called back the servant and accepted the
venison, which he failed, however, to eat.

'I do not see,' said Lord Dungory, with the air of a man whose words are
conclusive, 'why we should go back to the time of Cromwell to discuss
the rights of property rather than to that of the early Kings of
Ireland. If there is to be a returning, why not at once put in a claim
on the part of the Irish Elk? No! there must be some finality in human
affairs.' And on this phrase the conversation came to a pause.

But if the opinions of those present were not in accord concerning the
rights of property, their tastes in conversation certainly differed as
widely. Olive's white face twitched from time to time with nervous
annoyance. Alice looked up in a sort of mild despair as she strove to
answer Mr. Lynch's questions; May had fallen into a state of morose
lassitude. If Mr. Adair would only cease to explain to her how
successfully he had employed concrete in the construction of his
farm-buildings! She felt that if he started again on the saw-mill she
must faint, and Olive's senses, too, were swimming, but just as she
thought she was going off Captain Hibbert looked so admiringly at her
that she recovered herself; and at the same time Mr. Scully succeeded in
making May understand that he would infinitely prefer to be near her
than Lady Sarah. In return for this expression of feeling the young lady
determined to risk a remark across the table; but she was cut short by
Mrs. Gould, who pithily summed up the political situation in the words:

'The way I look at it is like this: Will the Government help us to get
our rents, or will it not? Mr. Forster's Act does not seem to be able to
do that. There's May there who has been talking all the morning of
Castle seasons, and London seasons, and I don't know what; really I
don't see how it is to be done if the Land League - '

'And Mr. Parnell's a gentleman, too. I wonder how he can ally himself
with such blackguards,' gently insinuated Mrs. Barton, who saw a husband
lost in the politician.

But the difficulty the Government find themselves in is that the Land
League is apparently a legal organization,' said Lord Dungory in the
midst of a profound silence.

'A society legal, that exists and holds its power through an organized
system of outrage! Mind you, as I have always said, the landlords have
brought all their misfortunes upon themselves; they have often behaved
disgracefully - but I would, nevertheless, put down the outrages; yes, I
would put down the outrages, and at any cost.'

'And what would yer do?' asked Mr. Ryan. 'De yer know that the herds are
being coerced now? we'd get on well enough were it not for that.'

'In the beginning of this year Mr. Forster asked Parliament for special
powers. How has he used those powers? Without trial, five hundred people
have been thrown into prison, and each fresh arrest is answered by a
fresh outrage; and when the warrant is issued, and I suppose it will be
issued sooner or later, for the arrest of Mr. Parnell, I should not be
surprised to hear of a general strike being made against rent. The
consequences of such an event will be terrific; but let these
consequences, I say, rest on Mr. Forster's head. I shall have no word of
pity for him. His government is a disgrace to Liberalism, and I fear he
has done much to prejudice our ideal in the eyes of the world.'

Lord Dungory and Lady Jane exchanged smiles; and poor crotchety Mr.
Adair leaned forward his large, bald brow, obscured by many obscure
ideals. After a pause he continued:

'But I was speaking of Flanders. From the time of Charles the Fifth the
most severe laws were enacted to put down the outrages, but there was an
undercurrent of sympathy with the outrage-monger which kept the system
alive until 1840. Then the Government took the matter in hand, and
treated outrage-mongering as what it is - an act of war; and quartered
troops on the inhabitants and stamped the disease out in a few years. Of
course I could not, and would not, advocate the employment of such
drastic measures in Ireland; but I would put down the outrages with a
firm hand, and I would render them impossible in the future by the
creation of peasant-proprietors.'

Then, amid the juicy odours of cut pineapple, and the tepid flavours of
Burgundy, Mr. Adair warmed to his subject, and proceeded to explain that
absolute property did not exist in land in Ireland before 1600, and,
illustrating his arguments with quotations from Arthur Young, he spoke
of the plantation of Ulster, the leases of the eighteenth century, the
Protestants in the North, the employment of labour; until, at last,
inebriated with theory, he asked the company what was the end of
government?

This was too much, and, seeing the weary faces about him, Lord Dungory
determined to change the subject of conversation:

'The end of government?' he said; 'I am afraid that you would get many
different answers to that question. Ask these young ladies; they will
tell you, probably, that it is to have _des beaux amants et des joyeuses
amours_, and I am not sure that they are not right.'

Mrs. Barton's coaxing laugh was heard, and then reference was made to
the detachment of the Connaught Rangers stationed at Galway, and the
possibility of their giving a dance was eagerly discussed. Mr. Ryan had
a word to say anent the hunting prospect, and, when May Gould declared
she was going to ride straight and not miss a meet, she completed the
conquest of Mr. Scully, and encouraging glances were exchanged between
them until Lady Sarah looked inquiringly round the table - then she
pushed back her chair. All rose, and a moment after, through the
twilight of the drawing-room, colour and nudity were scattered in
picturesque confusion.

Every mind was occupied by one thought - how the pleasure of the
dinner-party had been spoiled by that horrible Land League discussion.
All wondered who had introduced the subject, and the blame was fixed
upon Mr. Adair. Mrs. Gould, in her homely way, came to the point at
once:

'People say he is so clever, but I am sure I can't see it. He has spent
a fortune in building farmyards in concrete, and his saw-mill, I hear,
costs him twenty pounds a month dead loss, and he is always writing
letters to the papers. I never can think much of a man who writes to the
papers.'

'A most superior man,' said Lady Sarah, who, notwithstanding her
thirty-five years, had not entirely given up hope. 'He took honours at
Trinity.'

Then Mr. Burke and Lord Kilcarney were spoken of, and some new anecdotes
were told of Mr. Ryan. The famous one - how he had asked a lady to show
him her docket at the Galway ball, when she told him that she was
engaged for all the dances - excited, as it never failed to do, a good
deal of laughter. Mrs. Barton did not, however, join in the
conversation. She knew, if she did, that the Ladies Cullen would be as
rude as the absence of Milord, and the fact that she was a guest in
their house would allow them to be. Mrs. Barton's mind was now occupied
with one thought, and, leaning back in her chair, she yielded herself
entirely to it. Although the dinner-party had been spoiled by Mr.
Adair's uncontrollable desire to impart information, she had,
nevertheless, noticed that Captain Hibbert had been very much struck
with Olive's beauty. She was aware that her daughter was a beautiful
girl, but whether men would want to marry her Mrs. Barton did not know.
Captain Hibbert's conduct would help her to arrive at a decision. She
certainly dreamed of a title for Olive. Lord Kilcarney was, alas! not to
be thought of. Ah! if Mr. Burke were only Lord Kilcarney! But he was
not. However, Captain Hibbert would be a fairly good match. He was of
excellent family, had two thousand a year, and a place in the country
and in England too. But why snatch up the very first fish that came by?
There was no saying whom they would meet at the Castle. Still, to
encourage a flirtation could be no harm. If they met anything better, it
could be broken off; if they did not, it would be a very nice match
indeed. Besides, there was no denying that Olive was a little too
_naïve_ in her manner. Captain Hibbert's society would brush that off,
and Olive would go up to the Castle with the reputation of having made a
conquest.

Such were Mrs. Barton's thoughts as she sat, her hands laid like china
ornaments on her lap; her feet were tucked under the black-pleated
skirt, and she sometimes raised her Greuze-like eyes and looked at her
daughter.

The girls were grouped around a small table, on which stood a
feather-shaded lamp. In clear voices and clear laughs they were talking
of each other's dresses. May had just stood up to show off her skirt.


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Online LibraryGeorge MooreMuslin → online text (page 4 of 23)