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Catholic?'

'I know he is, dear, and am very glad.'

'If he weren't, he wouldn't be able to meet us at Mass.'




VIII


According to old-established custom, on the arrival of his family Arthur
had turned his nudities to the wall, and now sitting, one leg tucked
under him, on the sofa, throwing back from time to time his long blond
locks, he hummed an Italian air.

'How tired you look, Alice dear! Will you have a cup of tea? It will
freshen you up; you have been walking yourself to death.'

'Thanks, mamma, I will have a cup of tea; Cecilia and I went to see the
Brennans.'

'And are any of them going to be married yet?' said Olive.

'I really don't know; I didn't ask them.'

'Well, they ought to be doing something with themselves; they have been
trying it on long enough. They have been going up to the Shelbourne for
the last ten years. Did they show you the dresses they brought down this
season? They haven't worn them yet - they keep them wrapped up in silver
paper.'

'And how did you hear all that?' she asked.

'Oh, one hears everything! I don't live with my nose buried in a book
like you. That was all very well in the convent.'

'But what have I done that you should speak to me in that way?'

'Now, Alice dear,' said Mrs. Barton coaxingly, 'don't get angry. I
assure you Olive means nothing.'

'No, indeed, I didn't!' Olive exclaimed, and she forced her sister back
into the chair.

Arthur's attention had been too deeply absorbed in the serenade in _Don
Pasquale_ to give heed to the feminine bickering with which his studio
was ringing, until he was startled suddenly from his musical dreaming by
an angry exclamation from his wife.

The picture of the bathers, which Alice had seen begun, had been only
partially turned to the wall, and, after examining it for a few moments,
Mrs. Barton got up and turned the picture round. The two naked creatures
who were taking a dip in the quiet, sunlit pool were Olive and Mrs.
Barton; and so grotesque were the likenesses that Alice could not
refrain from laughing.

'This is monstrous! This is disgraceful, sir! How often have I forbidden
you to paint my face on any of your shameless pictures? And your
daughter, too - and just as she is coming out! Do you want to ruin us? I
should like to know what anyone would think if - ' And, unable to
complete her sentence, either mentally or aloud, Mrs. Barton wheeled the
easel, on which a large picture stood, into the full light of the
window.

If Arthur had wounded the susceptibilities of his family before, he had
outraged them now. The great woman, who had gathered to her bosom one of
the doves her naked son, Cupid, had shot out of the trees with his bow
and arrow, was Olive. The white face and its high nose, beautiful as a
head by Canova is beautiful; the corn-like tresses, piled on the top of
the absurdly small head, were, beyond mistaking, Olive. Mrs. Barton
stammered for words; Olive burst into tears.

'Oh, papa! how could you disgrace me in that way? Oh, I am disgraced!
There's no use in my going to the Drawing-Room now.'

'My dear, my dear, I assure you I can change it with a flick of the
brush. Admiration carried away by idea. I promise you I'll change it.'

'Come away. Olive - come away!' said Mrs. Barton, casting a look of
burning indignation at her husband. 'If you cry like that, Olive, you
won't be fit to be looked at, and Captain Hibbert is coming here
to-night.'

When they had left the room Arthur looked inquiringly at Alice.

'This is very disagreeable,' he said; 'I really didn't think the
likeness was so marked as all that; I assure you I didn't. I must do
something to alter it - I might change the colour of the hair; but no, I
can't do that, the entire scheme of colour depends upon that. It is a
great pity, for it is one of my best things; the features I might alter,
and yet it is very hard to do so, without losing the character. I wonder
if I were to make the nose straighter. Alice, dear, would you mind
turning your head this way?'

'Oh! no, no, no, papa dear! You aren't going to put my face upon it!'
And she ran from the room smothered with laughter.

When this little quarrel was over and done, and Olive had ceased to
consider herself a disgraced girl, the allusion that had been made to
Mass as a means of meeting Captain Hibbert remained like a sting in
Alice's memory. It surprised her at all sorts of odd moments, and often
forced her, under many different impulses of mind, to reconsider the
religious problem more passionately and intensely than she had ever done
before. She asked herself if she had ever believed? Perhaps in very
early youth, in a sort of vague, half-hearted way, she had taken for
granted the usual traditional ideas of heaven and hell, but even then,
she remembered, she used to wonder how it was that time was found for
everything else but God. If He existed, it seemed to her that monks and
nuns, or puritans of the sternest type, were alone in the right. And yet
she couldn't quite feel that they were right. She had always been
intensely conscious of the grotesque contrast between a creed like that
of the Christian, and having dancing and French lessons, and going to
garden-parties - yes, and making wreaths and decorations for churches at
Christmas-time. If one only believed, and had but a shilling, surely the
only logical way of spending it was to give it to the poor, or a
missionary - and yet nobody seemed to think so. Priests and bishops did
not do so, she herself did not want to do so; still, so long as Alice
believed, she was unable to get rid of the idea. Teachers might say what
they pleased, but the creed they taught spoke for itself, and prescribed
an impossible ideal - an unsatisfactory ideal which aspired to no more
than saving oneself after all.

Lies and all kinds of subterfuge were strictly against her character.
But it was impossible for her to do or say anything when by so doing she
knew she might cause suffering or give pain to anyone, even an enemy;
and this defect in her character forced her to live up to what she
deemed a lie. She had longed to tell the truth and thereby be saved the
mummery of attending at Mass; but when she realized the consternation,
the agony of mind, it would cause the nuns she loved, she held back the
word. But since she had left the convent she had begun to feel that her
life must correspond to her ideas and she had determined to speak to her
mother on this (for her) all-important subject - the conformity of her
outer life to her inner life. The power to prevail upon herself to do
what she thought wrong merely because she did not wish to wound other
people's feelings was dying in her. Sooner or later she would have to
break away; and as the hour approached when they should go to Mass to
meet Captain Hibbert, the desire to be allowed to stay away became
almost irresistible; and at the last moment it was only a foolish fear
that such a declaration might interfere with her sister's prospects that
stayed the words as they rose to her lips. She picked up her gloves, and
a moment after found herself in the brougham - packed into it, watching
the expressionless church-going faces of her family.

From afar the clanging of a high-swinging bell was heard, and the harsh
reverberations, travelling over the rocky town-lands, summoned the
cottagers to God. The peasants stepped aside to let the carriage pass.
Peasants and landlords were going to worship in the same chapel, but it
would seem from the proclamations pasted on the gate-posts that the
house of prayer had gone over into the possession of the tenantry.

'Now, Arthur - do you hear? - you mustn't look at those horrid papers!'
Mrs. Barton whispered to her husband. 'We must pretend not to see them.
I wonder how Father Shannon can allow such a thing, making the house of
God into - into I don't know what, for the purpose of preaching robbery
and murder. Just look at the country-people - how sour and wicked they
look! Don't they, Alice?'

'Goodness me!' said Olive, 'who in the world can those people be in our
pew?'

Mrs. Barton trembled a little. Had the peasants seized the religious
possessions of their oppressors? Dismissing the suspicion, she examined
the backs indicated by Olive.

'Why, my dear, it is the Goulds; what can have brought them all this
way?'

The expected boredom of the service was forgotten, and Olive shook hands
warmly with Mrs. Gould and May.

'Why, you must have driven fifteen miles; where are your horses?'

'We took the liberty of sending the carriage on to Brookfield, and we
are coming on to lunch with you - that is to say, if you will let us?'
cried May.

'Of course, of course; but how nice of you!'

'Oh! we have such news; but it was courageous of us to come all this
way. Have you seen those terrible proclamations?'

'Indeed we have. Just fancy a priest allowing his chapel to be turned
into a political - political what shall I call it?'

'Bear-garden,' suggested May.

'And Father Shannon is going to take the chair at the meeting; he
wouldn't get his dues if he didn't.'

'Hush, hush! they may hear you; but you were saying something about
news.'

'Oh! don't ask me,' said Mrs. Gould; 'that's May's affair - such work!'

'Say quickly! what is it, May?'

'Look here, girls, I can't explain everything now; but we are going to
give a ball - that is to say, all the young girls are going to subscribe.
It will only cost us about three pounds apiece - that is to say, if we
can get forty subscribers; we have got twenty already, and we hope you
will join us. It is going to be called the Spinsters' Ball. But there is
such a lot to be done: the supper to be got together, the decorations of
the room - splendid room, the old schoolhouse, you know. We are going to
ask you to let us take Alice away with us.'

The conversation was here interrupted by the appearance of the priest, a
large fat man, whose new, thick-soled boots creaked as he ascended the
steps of the altar. He was preceded by two boys dressed in white and
black surplices, who rang little brass bells furiously; a great
trampling of feet was heard, and the peasants came into the church,
coughing and grunting with monotonous, animal-like voices; and the
sour odour of cabin-smoked frieze arose - it was almost visible in the
great beams of light that poured through the eastern windows; whiffs
of unclean leather, mingled with a smell of a sick child; and Olive
and May, exchanging looks of disgust, drew forth cambric
pocket-handkerchiefs, and in unison the perfumes of white rose and eau
d'opoponax evaporated softly.

Just behind Alice a man groaned and cleared his throat with loud
guffaws; she listened to hear the saliva fall: it splashed on the
earthen floor. Farther away a circle of dried and yellowing faces
bespoke centuries of damp cabins; they moaned and sighed, a prey to the
gross superstition of the moment. One man, bent double, beat a ragged
shirt with a clenched fist; the women of forty, with cloaks drawn over
their foreheads and trailing on the ground in long black folds, crouched
until only the lean, hard-worked hands that held the rosary were seen
over the bench-rail.

The sermon came in the middle of Mass, and was a violent denunciation of
the Ladies Cullen, who, it was stated, had pursued one poor boy until he
took refuge in an empty house, the door of which he was fortunately
enabled to fasten against them; they had sent a sick woman blankets, in
which they had not neglected to enclose some tracts; amateur
shopkeeping, winter clothing, wood, turf, presents of meal, wine, and
potatoes were all vigorously attacked as the wiles of the Evil One to
lead the faithful from the true Church.




IX


As they returned from church, a horseman was seen riding rapidly towards
them. It was Captain Hibbert. The movement of his shoulders, as he
reined in his mettlesome bay, was picturesque, and he was coaxingly and
gushingly upbraided for neglect of his religious duties.

During lunch, curiosity rendered May and Mrs. Gould nearly speechless;
but their carriage had not turned into the highroad, on its way home,
when the latter melted into a shower of laudatory words and phrases:

'What a charming man Captain Hibbert is! No wonder you young ladies like
the military. He is so good-looking - and such good manners. Don't you
think so, Alice dear?'

'I think the Captain a very handsome man - indeed, I believe that there
are not two opinions on the subject.'

'And Olive - I do not remember that I ever saw a more beautiful girl.
Such hair! and her figure so sylph-like! I do not know what the young
ladies will do - she will cut everybody out at the Castle!'

'I don't know about that,' said May jauntily; 'what one man will turn
his nose up at, another will go wild after.'

Mrs. Gould did not answer; but her lips twitched, and Alice guessed she
was annoyed that May could not express herself less emphatically. In a
few moments the conversation was continued:

'At any rate, Captain Hibbert seems to think there is no one like Olive;
and they'd make a handsome couple. What do you think, Alice? Is there
any chance of there being a match?'

'I really can't tell you, Mrs. Gould. Olive, as you say, is a very
beautiful girl, and I suppose Captain Hibbert admires her; but I don't
think that either has, up to the present, thought of the matter more
seriously.'

'You must admit, Alice, that he seems a bit gone on her,' said May, with
a direct determination to annoy her mother.

'May, dear, you shouldn't talk in that slangy way; you never used to;
you have picked it up from Mr. Scully. Do you know Mr. Scully, Alice?
Violet's brother.'

'Yes, I met him the night we dined at Lord Dungory's.'

'Oh, of course you did. Well, I admit I don't like him; but May does.
They go out training horses together. I don't mind that; but I wish she
wouldn't imitate his way of talking. He has been a very wild young man.'

'Now, mother dear, I wish you would leave off abusing Fred. I have
repeatedly told you that I don't like it.'

The acerbity of this remark was softened by May's manner, and, throwing
her arms on her mother's shoulders, she commenced to coax and cajole
her.

The Goulds were of an excellent county family. They had for certainly
three generations lived in comfortable idleness, watching from their big
square house the different collections of hamlets toiling and moiling,
and paying their rents every gale day. It was said that some ancestor,
whose portrait still existed, had gone to India and come back with the
money that had purchased the greater part of the property. But, be this
as it may, in Galway three generations of landlordism are considered
sufficient repentance for shopkeeping in Gort, not to speak of Calcutta.
Since then the family history had been stainless. Father and son had in
turn put their horses out to grass in April, had begun to train them
again in August, had boasted at the Dublin horse-show of having been out
cub-hunting, had ridden and drunk hard from the age of twenty to
seventy. But, by dying at fifty-five, the late squire had deviated
slightly from the regular line, and the son and heir being only twelve,
a pause had come in the hereditary life of the Goulds. In the interim,
however, May had apparently resolved to keep up the traditions so far as
her sex was supposed to allow her.

They lived in one of those box-like mansions, so many of which were
built in Ireland under the Georges. On either side trees had been
planted, and they stretched to the right and left like the wings of a
theatre. In front there was a green lawn; at the back a sloppy
stableyard. The latter was May's especial delight, and when Mr. Scully
was with them, it seemed impossible to induce her to leave it. He
frequently rode over to Beechgrove, and towards the end of the afternoon
it became easy to persuade him to stay to dinner. And, as the night
darkened and the rain began to fall, the inhospitality of turning him
out was insisted on by May, and Mrs. Gould sent up word that a room was
to be prepared for him. Next morning he sent home for a change of
things, and thus it was not infrequent for him to protract his visit to
the extent of three or four days.

His great friend, Mrs. Manly - a lady who had jumped five feet, four
months before the birth of her sixth child - had said that his was a
'wasted life,' and the phrase, summing up what most people thought of
him, gained currency, and was now generally used whenever his conduct
was criticized or impeached. After having been in London, where he spent
some years in certain vague employments, and having contracted as much
debt as his creditors would permit, and more than his father would pay,
he had gone through the Bankruptcy Court, and returned home to drag
through life wearily, through days and weeks so appallingly idle, that
he often feared to get out of bed in the morning. At first his father
had tried to make use of him in his agency business, and it was
principally owing to Mr. Fred's bullying and insolent manners that Mr.
Scully was now unable to leave his house unless accompanied by police.

Fred was about thirty years of age. His legs were long, his hands were
bony, and 'stableyard' was written in capital letters on his face. He
carried a _Sportsman_ under his arm, a penny and a half-crown jingled in
his pocket; and as he walked he lashed the trousers and boot, whose
elegance was an echo of the old Regent Street days, with an ash-plant.

Such was the physiology of this being, and from it the psychology is
easy to surmise: a complete powerlessness to understand that there was
anything in life worth seeking except pleasure - and pleasure to Fred
meant horses and women. Of earthly honour the greatest was to be well
known in an English hunting country; and he was not averse to speaking
of certain ladies of title, with whom he had been on intimate terms, and
with whom, it was said, he corresponded. On occasions he would read or
recite poems, cut from the pages of the Society Journals, to his lady
friends.

May, however, saw nothing but the outside. The already peeling-off
varnish of a few years of London life satisfied her. Given a certain
versatility in turning a complimentary phrase, the abundant ease with
which he explained his tastes, which, although few, were pronounced, add
to these the remnant of fashion that still lingered in his
wardrobe - scarfs from the Burlington Arcade, scent from Bond Street,
cracked patent-leather shoes and mended silk stockings - and it will be
understood how May built something that did duty for an ideal out of
this broken-down swell.

She was a girl of violent blood, and, excited by the air of the
hunting-field, she followed Fred's lead fearlessly; to feel the life of
the horse throbbing underneath her passioned and fevered her flesh until
her mental exaltation reached the rushing of delirium. Then his evening
manners fascinated her, and, as he leaned back smoking in the
dining-room arm-chair, his patent-leather shoes propped up against the
mantelpiece, he showed her glimpses of a wider world than she knew
of - and the girl's eyes softened as she listened to his accounts of the
great life he had led, the county-houses he had visited, and the
legendary runs he had held his own in. She sympathized with him when he
explained how hardly fate had dealt with him in not giving him £5,000 a
year, to be spent in London and Northamptonshire.

He cursed Ireland as the most hideous hole under the sun; he frightened
Mrs. Gould by reiterated assurances that the Land League would leave
them all beggars; and, having established this point, he proceeded to
develop his plan for buying young horses, training them, and disposing
of them in the English market. Eventually he dismissed his audience by
taking up the newspaper and falling asleep with the stump of a
burned-out cigarette between his lips. After breakfast he was seen
slouching through the laurels on his way to the stables. From the
kitchen and the larder - where the girls were immersed in calculations
anent the number of hams, tongues, and sirloins of beef that would be
required - he could be seen passing; and as May stood on no ceremony with
Alice, whistling to her dogs, and sticking both hands into the pockets
of her blue dress, she rushed after him, the mud of the yard oozing
through the loose, broken boots which she insisted on wearing. Behind
the stables there was a small field that had lately been converted into
an exercise-ground, and there the two would stand for hours, watching a
couple of goat-like colts, mounted by country lads - still in corduroy
and hobnails - walking round and round.

Mrs. Gould was clearly troubled by this very plain conduct. Once or
twice she allowed a word of regret to escape her, and Alice could see
that she lived in awe of her daughter. And May, there was no doubt, was
a little lawless when Fred was about her skirts; but when he was gone
she returned to her old, glad, affectionate ways and to her work.

The girls delighted in each other's society, and the arrangements for
their ball were henceforth a continual occupation. The number of letters
that had to be written was endless. Sitting at either end of the table
in the drawing-room, their pens scratched and their tongues rattled
together; and, penetrated with the intimacy of home, all kinds of
stories were told, and the whole country was passed in review.

'And do you know,' said May, raising her eyes from the letter she was
writing, 'when this affair was first started mamma was afraid to go in
for it; she said we'd find it hard to hunt up fifty spinsters in
Galway.'

'I said fifty who would subscribe - a very different thing indeed.'

'Oh no, you didn't, mamma; you said there weren't fifty spinsters in
Galway - a jolly lucky thing it would be if there weren't; wouldn't it,
Alice?'

Alice was busy trying to disentangle a difficult sentence. Her startled
face made May laugh.

'It isn't cheering, is it?'

'I didn't hear what you were saying,' she answered, a little vexed at
being misunderstood. 'But fifty, surely, is a great number. Are there so
many unmarried women in Galway?'

'I should think there are,' replied May, as if glorying in the fact.
'Who are there down your side of the country? Let's count. To begin
with, there are the Brennans - there are three of them, and all three are
out of the running, distanced.'

'Now, May, how can you talk like that?' said Mrs. Gould, and she pulled
up her skirt so that she could roast her fat thick legs more comfortably
before the fire. There being no man present, she undid a button or two
of her dress.

'You said so yourself the other day, mother.'

'No, I didn't, May, and I wish you wouldn't vex me. What I say I stand
by, and I merely wondered why girls with good fortunes like the Brennans
didn't get married.'

'You said the fact was there was no one to marry.'

'May, I will not allow you to contradict me!' exclaimed Mrs. Gould; and
she grew purple to the roots of her white hair. 'I said the Brennans
looked too high, that they wanted gentlemen, eldest sons of county
families; but if they'd been content to marry in their own position of
life they would have been married long ago.'

'Well, mother dear, there's no use being angry about it; let the thing
pass. You know the Brennans, Alice; they are neighbours of yours.'

'Yes, Cecilia and I walked over to see them the other day; we had tea
with them.'

'Their great hunting-ground is the Shelbourne Hotel - they take it in
turns, a couple of them go up every six months.'

'How can you say such things, May? I will not suffer it.'

'I say it! I know nothing about it. I've only just come back from school;
it is you who tell me these things when we are sitting here alone of an
evening.'

Mrs. Gould's face again became purple, and she protested vehemently: 'I
shall leave the room, May. I will not suffer it one moment longer. I
can't think how it is you dare speak to me in that way; and, what is
worse, attribute to me such ill-natured remarks.'

'Now, mother dear, don't bother, perhaps I did exaggerate. I am very
sorry. But, there's a dear, sit down, and we won't say any more about
it.'

'You do annoy one, May, and I believe you do it on purpose. And you know
exactly what will be disagreeable to say, and you say it,' replied Mrs.
Gould; and she raised her skirt so as to let the heat of the fire into
her petticoats.

'Thank God that's over,' May whispered to Alice; 'but what were we
talking about?'

'I think you were making out a list of the Galway spinsters,' said
Alice, who could not help feeling a little amused, though she was sorry


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