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for Mrs. Gould.

'So we were,' cried May; 'we were speaking of the Brennans. Do you know
their friends the Duffys? There are five of them. That's a nice little
covey of love-birds; I don't think they would fly away if they saw a
sportsman coming into the field.'

'I never heard a girl talk like that,' murmured Mrs. Gould, without
raising her face from the fire, 'that wasn't punished for it. Perhaps,
my lady, you will find it hard enough to suit yourself. Wait until you
have done two or three Castle seasons. We'll see how you'll speak then.'

Without paying any attention to these maternal forebodings, May
continued:

'Then there are Lord Rosshill's seven daughters; they are all maidens,
and are likely to remain so.'

'Are they all unmarried?' asked Alice.

'Of course they are!' exclaimed Mrs. Gould; 'how could they be anything
else? Didn't they all want to marry people in their father's position?
And that wasn't possible. There're seven Honourable Miss Gores, and one
Lord Rosshill - so they all remained in single blessedness.'

'Who's making ill-natured remarks now?' exclaimed May triumphantly.

'I am not making ill-natured remarks; I am only saying what's true. My
advice to young girls is that they should be glad to have those who will
take them. If they can't make a good marriage let them make a bad
marriage; for, believe me, it is far better to be minding your own
children than your sister's or your brother's children. And I can assure
you, in these days of competition, it is no easy matter to get settled.'

'It is the same now as ever it was, and there are plenty of nice young
men. It doesn't prove, because a whole lot of old sticks of things can't
get married, that I shan't.'

'I didn't say you wouldn't get married, May; I am sure that any man
would be only too glad to have you; but what I say is that these grand
matches that girls dream of aren't possible nowadays. Nice young men! I
dare say; and plenty of them, I know them; young scamps without a
shilling, who amuse themselves with a girl until they are tired of her,
and then, off they go. Now, then, let's count up the good matches that
are going in the county - '

At this moment the servant was heard at the door bringing in the tea.

'Oh! bother!' exclaimed Mrs. Gould, settling her dress hurriedly. The
interval was full of secret irritation; and the three women watched the
methodical butler place the urn on the table, turn up the lamp that was
burning low, and bring chairs forward from the farthest corners.

'On your side of the county,' said Mrs. Gould, as soon as the door was
closed, 'there is our brace of baronets, as they are called. But poor
Sir Richard - I am afraid he is a bad case - and yet he never took to
drink until he was five-and-thirty; and as for Sir Charles - of course
there are great advantages, he has a very fine property; but still many
girls might - and I can quite understand their not liking to marry him.'

'Why, Mrs. Gould, what is wrong with him?' Alice asked innocently.

'Don't you know?' said May, winking. 'Haven't you heard? But I forgot,
he isn't your side of the county. He's married already; at least, so
they say.'

'It is very sad, very sad, indeed,' murmured Mrs. Gould; 'he'd have been
a great match.'

'And to whom is he married?' said Alice, whose curiosity was awakened by
the air of mystery with which the baronet was surrounded.

'Well, he's not exactly married,' replied May, laughing; 'but he has a
large family.'

'May, I will not allow it; it is very wrong of you, indeed, to talk like
that - '

'Now, mother dear, don't get into a passion; where's the harm? The whole
country knows it; Violet was talking of it to me only the other day.
There isn't a man within a mile of us, so we needn't be on our P's and
Q's.'

'And who is the mother of all these children?' Alice asked.

'A country-woman with whom he lives,' said May. 'Just fancy marrying a
man with a little dirty crowd of illegitimate children running about the
stable-yard!'

'The usual thing in such cases is to emigrate them,' said Mrs. Gould
philosophically; and she again distended herself before the fire.

'Emigrate them!' cried May; 'if he emigrated them to the moon, I
wouldn't marry such a man; would you, Alice?'

'I certainly wouldn't like to,' and her sense of humour being now
tickled by the conversation, she added slyly: 'but you were counting up
the good matches in the county.'

'Ah! so we were,' said the old lady. 'Well, there is Mr. Adair. I am
sure no girl would wish for a better husband.'

'Oh, the old frump! why he must be forty if he's a day. You remember,
Alice, it was he who took me down to dinner at Lord Dungory's. And he
talked all the time of his pamphlet on the Amalgamation of the Unions,
which was then in the hands of the printer; and the other in which he
had pulled Mr. Parnell's ears, _Ireland under the Land League_, and the
series of letters he was thinking of contributing to the _Irish Times_
on high-farming _versus_ peasant proprietors. Just fancy, Alice, living
with such a man as that!'

'Well, I don't know what you girls think,' said Mrs. Gould, whose
opinions were moods of mind rather than convictions, 'but I assure you
he passes for being the cleverest man in the county; and it is said that
Gladstone is only waiting to give him a chance. But as you like; he
won't do, so let him pass. Then there is Mr. Ryan, he ought to be well
off; he farms thousands of acres.'

'One might as well marry a herdsman at once. Did you ever hear what he
once said to a lady at a ball; you know, about the docket?'

Alice said that she had heard the story, and the conversation turned on
Mr. Lynch. Mrs. Gould admitted that he was the worser of the two.

'He smells so dreadfully of whiskey,' said Alice timidly.

'Ah! you see she is coming out of her shell at last,' exclaimed May. 'I
saw you weren't having a very good time of it when he took you down to
dinner at Dungory Castle. I wonder they were asked. Fred told me that he
had never heard of their having been there before.'

'It is very difficult to make up a number sometimes,' suggested Mrs.
Gould; 'but they are certainly very coarse. I hear, when Mr. Ryan and
Mr. Lynch go to fairs, that they sleep with their herdsman, and in Mayo
there is a bachelor's house where they have fine times - whiskey-drinking
and dancing until three o'clock in the morning.'

'And where do the ladies come from, May?' asked Alice, for she now
looked on the girl as an inexhaustible fund of information.

'Plenty of ladies in the village,' replied Mrs. Gould, rubbing her shins
complacently; 'that's what I used to hear of in my day, and I believe
the custom isn't even yet quite extinct.'

'And are there no other beaux in the county? Does that exhaust the
list?'

'Oh! no; but there's something against them all. There are a few
landlords who live away, and of whom nobody knows anything. Then there
are some boys at school; but they are too young; there is Mr. Reed, the
dispensary doctor. Mr. Burke has only two hundred a year; but if his
brother were to die he would be the Marquis of Kilcarney. He'd be a
great match then, in point of position; but I hear the estates are
terribly encumbered.'

'Has the present Marquis no children?' said Alice.

'He's not married,' said Mrs. Gould; 'he's a confirmed old bachelor.
Just fancy, there's twenty years between the brothers. I remember, in
old times, the present Marquis used to be the great beau at the Castle.
I don't believe there was a girl in Dublin who didn't have a try at him.
Then who else is there? I suppose I daren't mention the name of Mr. Fred
Scully, or May will fly at me.'

'No, mother dear, I won't fly at you; but what is the use of abusing
Fred? - we have known him all our lives. If he has spent his money he has
done no worse than a hundred other young men. I know I can't marry him,
and I am not in love with him; but I must amuse myself with something. I
can't sit here all day listening to you lamenting over the Land League;
and, after a certain number of hours, conjecturing whether Mickey Moran
will or will not pay his rent becomes monotonous.'

'Now don't vex me, May; for I won't stand it,' said Mrs. Gould, getting
angry. 'When you ask me for a new dress you don't think of what you are
saying now. It was only the other day you were speaking to me of
refurnishing this room. I should like to know how that's to be done if
there was no one to look after Mickey Moran's rent?'

The girls looked round the large, dull room. Emaciated forms of narrow,
antique sofas were seen dimly in the musty-smelling twilight. Screens
worked in red and green wools stood in the vicinity of the fireplace,
the walls were lined with black pictures, and the floor, hidden in dark
shadow and sunken in places, conveyed an instant idea of damp and
mildew.

'I think that something ought to be done,' said May. 'Just look at these
limp curtains! Did you ever see anything so dreary? Are they brown, or
red, or chocolate?'

'They satisfied your betters,' said Mrs. Gould, as she lighted her
bedroom candle. 'Goodness me!' she added, glancing at the gilt clock
that stood on the high, stucco, white-painted chimney-piece, amid a
profusion of jingling glass candelabra, 'it is really half-past twelve
o'clock!'

'Gracious me! there's another evening wasted; we must really try and be
more industrious. It is too late to do anything further to-night,' said
May. 'Come on, Alice, it is time to go to bed.'




X


During the whole of the next week, until the very night of the ball, the
girls hadn't a moment they could call their own. It was impossible to
say how time went. There were so many things to think of - to remind each
other of. Nobody knew what they had done last, or what they should do
next. The principle on which the ball had been arranged was this: the
forty-five spinsters who had agreed to bear the expense, which it was
guaranteed would not exceed £3 10s. apiece, were supplied each with five
tickets to be distributed among their friends. To save money, the supper
had been provided by the Goulds and Manlys, and day after day the rich
smells of roast beef and the salt vapours of boiling hams trailed along
the passages, and ascended through the banisters of the staircases in
Beech Grove and Manly Park. Fifty chickens had been killed; presents of
woodcock and snipe were received from all sides; salmon had arrived from
Galway; cases of champagne from Dublin. As a wit said, 'Circe has
prepared a banquet and is calling us in.'

After much hesitation, a grammar-school, built by an enterprising
landlord for an inappreciative population that had declined to support
it, was selected as the most suitable location for the festivities. It
lay about a mile from the town, and this was in itself an advantage. To
the decoration of the rooms May and Fred diligently applied themselves.
Away they went every morning, the carriage filled with yards of red
cloth, branches of evergreen, oak and holly, flags and Chinese lanterns.
You see them: Fred mounted on a high ladder, May and the maid striving
to hand him a long garland which is to be hung between the windows. You
see them leaning over the counter of a hardware shop, explaining how
oblong and semicircular pieces of tin are to be provided with places for
candles (the illumination of the room had remained an unsolved problem
until ingenious Fred had hit upon this plan); you see them running up
the narrow staircases, losing themselves in the twisty passages, calling
for the housekeeper; you see them trying to decide which is the
gentlemen's cloakroom, which the ladies', and wondering if they will be
able to hire enough furniture in the town to arrange a sitting-room for
the chaperons.

As May said, 'We shall have them hanging about our heels the whole
evening if we don't try to make them comfortable.'

At last the evening of the ball arrived, and, as the clocks were
striking eight, dressed and ready to start, Alice knocked at May's door.

'What! dressed already?' said May, as she leaned towards the glass,
illuminated on either side with wax candles, and looked into the
whiteness of her bosom. She wore a costume of Prussian-blue velvet and
silk; the bodice (entirely of velvet) was pointed back and front, and a
berthe of moresque lace softened the contrast between it and the cream
tints of the skin. These and the flame-coloured hair were the spirits of
the shadowy bedchamber; whereas Alice, in her white corded-silk, her
clear candid eyes, was the truer Madonna whose ancient and inferior
prototype stood on her bracket in a forgotten corner.

'Oh! how nice you look!' exclaimed May; 'I don't think I ever saw anyone
look so pure.'

Alice smiled; and, interpreting the smile, May said:

'I am afraid you don't think so much of me.'

'I am sure, May, you look very nice indeed, and just as you would like
to look.'

To May's excitable mind it was not difficult to suggest a new train of
thought, and she immediately proceeded to explain why she had chosen her
present dress.

'I knew that you, and Olive, and Violet, and Lord knows how many others
would be in white, and, as we shall all have to wear white at the
Drawing-Room, I thought I'd appear in this. But isn't the whole thing
delightful? I am engaged already for several dances, and I have been
practising the step all day with Fred.' Then, singing to herself, she
waltzed in front of the glass at the immediate risk of falling into the
bath:

'"Five-and-forty spinsters baked in a pie!
When the pie was opened the maids began to sing,
Wasn't that a dainty dish to set before the King!"

'Oh, dear, there's my garter coming down!' and, dropping on to the sofa,
the girl hitched up the treacherous article of dress. 'And tell me what
you think of my legs,' she said, advancing a pair of stately calves.
'Violet says they are too large.'

'They seem to me to be all right; but, May dear, you haven't got a
petticoat on.'

'You can't wear petticoats with these tight dresses; one can't move
one's legs as it is.'

'But don't you think you'll feel cold - catch cold?'

'Not a bit of it; no danger of cold when you have shammy-leather
drawers.'

Then, overcome by her exuberant feelings, May began to sing:
'Five-and-forty spinsters baked in a pie,' etc. 'Five-and-forty,' she
said, breaking off, 'have subscribed. I wonder how many will be married
by this time next year? You know, I shouldn't care to be married all at
once; I'd want to see the world a bit first. Even if I liked a man, I
shouldn't care to marry him now; time enough in about three years' time,
when one is beginning to get tired of flirtations and parties. I have
often wondered what it must be like. Just fancy waking up and seeing a
man's face on the pillow, or for - '

'No, no, May; I will not; you must not. I will not listen to these
improper conversations!'

'Now, don't get angry, there's a dear, nice girl; you're worse than
Violet, 'pon my word you are; but we must be off. It is a good
half-hour's drive, and we shall want to be there before nine. The people
will begin to come in about that time.'

Mrs. Gould was asleep in the drawing-room, and, as they awoke her, the
sound of wheels was heard on the gravel outside. The girls hopped into
the carriage. Mrs. Gould pulled herself in, and, blotted out in a far
corner, thought vaguely of asking May not to dance more than three times
with Fred Scully; May chattered to Alice or looked impatiently through
the misted windows for the familiar signs; the shadow of a tree on the
sky, or the obscure outline of a farm-building that would tell how near
they were to their destination. Suddenly the carriage turned to the
right, and entered a sort of crescent. There were hedges on both sides,
through which vague forms were seen scrambling, but May humorously
explained that as no very unpopular landlord was going to be present, it
was not thought that an attempt would be made to blow up the building;
and, conscious of the beautiful night which hung like a blue mysterious
flower above them, they passed through a narrow doorway draped with
red-striped canvas.

'Now, mother, what do you think of the decorations? Do say a word of
praise.'

'I've always said, May, that you have excellent taste.'

The school-hall and refectory had been transformed into ball and supper
rooms, and the narrow passages intervening were hung with red cloth and
green garlands of oak and holly. On crossing threads Chinese lanterns
were wafted luminously.

'What taste Fred has!' said May, pointing to the huge arrangement that
covered the end wall. 'And haven't my tin candelabra turned out a
success? There will be no grease, and the room couldn't be better
lighted.'

'But look!' said Alice, 'look at all those poor people staring in at the
window. Isn't it dreadful that they, in the dark and cold, should be
watching us dancing in our beautiful dresses, and in our warm bright
room?'

'You don't want to ask them in, do you?'

'Of course not, but it seems very sinister; doesn't it seem so to you?'

'I don't know what you mean by its being sinister; but sinister or not
sinister, it couldn't be helped; for if we had nailed up every window we
should have simply died of heat.'

'I hope you won't think of opening the windows too soon,' said Mrs.
Gould. 'You must think of us poor chaperons, who will be sitting still
all night.'

Then, in the gaping silence, the three ladies listened to the melancholy
harper and the lachrymose fiddlers who, on the _estrade_ in the far
corner, sat tuning their instruments. At last the people began to come
in. The first were a few stray blackcoats, then feminine voices were
heard in the passages, and necks and arms, green toilettes and white
satin shoes, were seen passing and taking seats. Two Miss Duffys, the
fattest of the four, were with their famous sister Bertha. Bertha was
rarely seen in Galway; she lived with an aunt in Dublin, where her
terrible tongue was dreaded by the _débutantes_ at the Castle. In a
yellow dress as loud and as hard as her voice, she stood explaining that
she had come down expressly for the ball. Opposite, the Honourable Miss
Gores made a group of five; and a few men who preferred consideration to
amusement made their way towards them. The Brennans - Gladys and Zoe - as
soon as they saw Alice, asked after Lord Dungory; and all the girls were
anxious to see Violet, who they feared would seem thin in a low dress.

Hers was the charm of an infinite fragility. The bosom, whose curves
were so faint that they were epicene, was set in a bodice of white
_broché_, joining a skirt of white satin, with an overskirt of tulle,
and the only touch of colour was a bunch of pink and white azaleas worn
on the left shoulder. And how irresistibly suggestive of an Indian
carved ivory were the wee foot, the thin arm, the slender cheek!

'How sweet you look, Violet,' said Alice, with frank admiration in her
eyes.

'Thanks for saying so; 'tisn't often we girls pay each other
compliments. But you, you do look ever so nice in that white silk. It
becomes you perfectly.' And then, her thoughts straying suddenly from
Alice's dress, she said:

'Do you see Mr. Burke over there? If his brother died he would be a
marquis. Do you know him?'

'Yes; I met him at dinner at Dungory Castle.'

'Well, introduce him to me if you get a chance.'

'I am afraid you will find him stupid.'

'Oh, that doesn't matter; 'tis good form to be seen dancing with an
Honourable. Do you know many men in the room?'

Alice admitted she knew no one, and, lapsing into silence, the girls
scanned the ranks for possible partners. Poor Sir Richard, already very
drunk, his necktie twisted under his right ear, was vainly attempting to
say something to those whom he knew, or fancied he knew. Sir Charles,
forgetful of the family at home, was flirting with a young girl whose
mother was probably formulating the details of a new emigration scheme.
Dirty Mr. Ryan, his hands thrust deep into the pockets of his baggy
trousers, whispered words of counsel to Mr. Lynch: a rumour had gone
abroad that Captain Hibbert was going to hunt that season in Galway, and
would want a couple of horses. Mr. Adair was making grotesque attempts
to talk to a lady of dancing. On every side voices were heard speaking
of the distances they had achieved: some had driven twenty, some thirty
miles.

Already the first notes of the waltz had been shrieked out by the
cornet, and Mr. Fred Scully, with May's red tresses on his shoulder, was
about to start, when Mrs. Barton and Olive entered. Olive, in white
silk, so tightly drawn back that every line of her supple thighs, and
every plumpness of her superb haunches was seen; and the double garland
of geraniums that encircled the tulle veiling seemed like flowers of
blood scattered on virgin snow. Her beauty imposed admiration; and,
murmuring assent, the dancers involuntarily drew into lines, and this
pale, uncoloured loveliness, her high nose seen, and her silly laugh
heard, by the side of her sharp, brown-eyed mother, passed down the
room. Lord Dungory and Lord Rosshill advanced to meet them; a moment
after Captain Hibbert and Mr. Burke came up to ask for dances; a waltz
was promised to each. A circling crowd of black-coats instantly absorbed
the triumphant picture; the violinist scraped, and the harper twanged
intermittently; a band of fox-hunters arrived; girls had been chosen,
and in the small space of floor that remained the white skirts and red
tail coats passed and repassed, borne along Strauss's indomitable
rhythms.

An hour passed: perspiration had begun to loosen the work of
curling-tongs; dust had thickened the voices, but the joy of exercise
was in every head and limb. A couple would rush off for a cup of tea, or
an ice, and then, pale and breathless, return to the fray. Mrs. Manly
was the gayest. Pushing her children out of her skirts, she called upon
May:

'Now then, May, have you a partner? We are going to have a real romp - we
are going to have Kitchen Lancers. I'll undertake to see everybody
through them.'

A select few, by signs, winks, and natural instinct, were drawn towards
this convivial circle; but, notwithstanding all her efforts to make
herself understood, Mrs. Manly was sadly hampered by the presence of a
tub-like old lady who, with a small boy, was seeking a _vis-à-vis._

'My dear May, we can't have her here, we are going to romp; anyone can
see that. Tell her we are going to dance Kitchen Lancers.'

But the old lady could not be made to understand, and it was with
difficulty that she was disentangled from the sixteen. At that moment
the appearance of a waiter with a telegram caused the dancers to pause.
Mr. Burke's name was whispered in front of the messenger; but he who,
until that evening, had been Mr. Burke, was now the Marquis of
Kilearney. The smiling mouth drooped to an expression of fear as he tore
open the envelope. One glance was enough; he looked about the room like
one dazed. Then, as his eyes fell upon the vague faces seen looking
through the wet November pane, he muttered: 'Oh! you brutes, you brutes!
so you have shot my brother!'

Unchecked, the harper twanged and the fiddler scraped out the tune of
their Lancers. Few really knew what had happened, and the newly-made
marquis had to fight his way through women who, in skin-tight dresses,
danced with wantoning movements of the hips, and threw themselves into
the arms of men, to be, in true kitchen-fashion, whirled round and round
with prodigious violence.

Nevertheless, Lord Dungory and Lord Rosshill could not conceal their
annoyance; both felt keenly that they had compromised themselves by
remaining in the room after the news of so dreadful a catastrophe. But,
as Mrs. Barton was anxious that her daughter's success should not be
interfered with, nothing could be done but to express sympathy in
appropriate words. Nobody, Lord Dungory declared, could regret the
dastardly outrage that had been committed more than he. He had known
Lord Kilcarney many years, and he had always found him a man whom no one
could fail to esteem. The earldom was one of the oldest in Ireland, but
the marquisate did not go back farther than the last few years.
Beaconsfield had given him a step in the peerage; no one knew why. A
very curious man - most retiring - hated society. Then Lord Rosshill
related an anecdote concerning an enormous water-jump that he and Lord
Kilcarney had taken together; and he also spoke of the late Marquis's
aversion to matrimony, and hinted that he had once refused a match which


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