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would have relieved the estates of all debt. But he could not be
persuaded; indeed, he had never been known to pay any woman the
slightest attention.

'It is to be hoped the present Marquis won't prove so difficult to
please,' said Mrs. Gould. The remark was an unfortunate one, and the
chaperons present resented this violation of their secret thoughts. Mrs.
Barton and Mrs. Scully suddenly withdrew their eyes, which till then had
been gently following their daughters through the figures of the dance,
and, forgetting what they foresaw would be the cause of future enmity,
united in condemning Mrs. Gould. Obeying a glance of the Lady Hamilton
eyes, Lord Dungory said:

'_On cherche l'amour dans les boudoirs, non pas dans les cimetières,
madame_.' Then he added (but this time only for the private ear of Mrs.
Barton), '_La mer ne rend pas ses morts, mais la tombe nous donne
souvent les écussons_.'

'Ha! ha! ha!' laughed Mrs. Barton, '_ce Milord, il trouve l'esprit
partout_;' and her light coaxing laugh dissipated this moment of
ball-room gloom.

And Alice? Although conscious of her deficiency in the _trois temps_,
determined not to give in without an effort, she had suffered May to
introduce her to a couple of officers; but to execute the step she knew
theoretically, or to talk to her partner when he had dragged her,
breathless, out of the bumping dances, she found to be difficult, so
ignorant was she of hunting and of London theatres, and having read only
one book of Ouida's, it would be vain for her to hope to interest her
partner in literature. The other girls seemed more at home with their
partners, and while she walked with hers, wondering what she should say
next, she noticed behind screens, under staircases, at the end of dark
passages, girls whom she had known at St. Leonards incapable of
learning, or even understanding the simplest lessons, suddenly
transformed as if by magic into bright, clever, agreeable girls - capable
of fulfilling that only duty which falls to the lot of women: of amusing
men. But she could not do this, and must, therefore, resign herself to
an aimless life of idleness, and be content in a few years to take a
place amid the Miss Brennans, the Ladies Cullen, the Miss Duffys, the
Honourable Miss Gores, those whom she saw sitting round the walls
'waiting to be asked,' as did the women in the old Babylonian Temple.

Such was her criticism of life as she sat wearily answering Mrs. Gould's
tiresome questions, not daring to approach her mother, who was laughing
with Olive, Captain Hibbert, and Lord Dungory. Waltz after waltz had
been played, and her ears reeked with their crying strain. One or two
men had asked her 'if they might have the pleasure'; but she was
determined to try dancing no more, and had refused them. At last, at the
earnest request of Mrs. Gould, she had allowed Dr. Reed to take her in
to supper. He was an earnest-eyed, stout, commonplace man, and looked
some years over thirty. Alice, however, found she could talk to him
better than with her other partners, and when they left the clattering
supper-room, where plates were being broken and champagne was being
drunk by the gallon, sitting on the stairs, he talked to her till voices
were heard calling for his services. A dancer had been thrown and had
broken his leg. Alice saw something carried towards her, and, rushing
towards May, whom she saw in the doorway, she asked for an explanation.

'Oh, nothing, nothing! he slipped down - has broken or sprained his
ankle - that's all. Why aren't you dancing? Greatest fun in the
world - just beginning to get noisy - and we are going it. Come on, Fred;
come on!'

To the rowdy tune of the _Posthorn Polka_ the different couples were
dashing to and fro - all a little drunk with emotion and champagne; and,
as if fascinated, Alice's eyes followed the shoulders of a tall,
florid-faced man. Doing the _deux temps_, he traversed the room in two
or three prodigious jumps. His partner, a tiny creature, looked a
crushed bird within the circle of his terrible arm. Like a collier
labouring in a heavy sea, a county doctor lurched from side to side,
overpowered by the fattest of the Miss Duffys. A thin, trim youth, with
bright eyes glancing hither and thither, executed a complex step, and
glided with surprising dexterity in and out, and through this rushing
mad mass of light toilettes and flying coat-tails. Marks, too, of
conflict were visible. Mr. Ryan had lost some portion of his garment in
an obscure misunderstanding in the supper-room. All Mr. Lynch's studs
had gone, and his shirt was in a precarious state; drunken Sir Richard
had not been carried out of the room before strewing the floor with his
necktie and fragments of his gloves. But these details were forgotten in
the excitement. The harper twanged still more violently at his strings,
the fiddler rasped out the agonizing tune more screechingly than ever;
and as the delirium of the dance fevered this horde of well-bred people
the desire to exercise, their animal force grew irresistible, and they
charged, intent on each other's overthrow. In the onset, the vast
shoulders and the _deux temps_ were especially successful. One couple
had gone down splendidly before him, another had fallen over the
prostrate ones; and in a moment, in positions more or less recumbent,
eight people were on the floor. Fears were expressed for the tight
dresses, and Violet had shown more of her thin ankles than was
desirable; but the climax was not reached until a young man, whose
unsteady legs forbade him this part of the fun, established himself in a
safe corner, and commenced to push the people over as they passed him.
This was the signal for the flight of the chaperons.

'Now come along, Miss Barton,' cried Mrs. Barton, catching sight of
Alice; 'and will you, Lord Dungory, look after Olive?'

Lord Rosshill collected the five Honourable Miss Gores, the Miss
Brennans drew around Mrs. Scully, who, without taking the least notice
of them, steered her way.

And so ended, at least so far as they were concerned, the ball given
by the spinsters of the county of Galway. But the real end? On this
subject much curiosity was evinced.

The secret was kept for a time, but eventually the story leaked out
that, overcome by the recollections of still pleasanter evenings spent
under the hospitable roof of the Mayo bachelor, Mr. Ryan, Mr. Lynch and
Sir Charles had brought in the maid-servants, and that, with jigs for
waltzes, and whiskey for champagne, the gaiety had not been allowed to
die until the day was well begun. Bit by bit and fragment by fragment
the story was pieced together, and, in the secrecy of their bedrooms,
with little smothered fits of laughter, the young ladies told each other
how Sir Charles had danced with the big housemaid, how every time he did
the cross-over he had slapped her on the belly; and then, with more
laughter, they related how she had said: 'Now don't, Sir Charles, I
forbid you to take such liberties.' And it also became part of the story
that, when they were tired of even such pleasures as these, the
gentlemen had gone upstairs to where the poor man with the broken leg
was lying, and had, with whiskey and song, relieved his sufferings until
the Galway train rolled into Ballinasloe.




XI


'Goodness me! Alice; how can you remain up here all alone, and by that
smouldering fire? Why don't you come downstairs? Papa says he is quite
satisfied with the first part of the tune, but the second won't come
right; and, as mamma had a lot to say to Lord Dungory, I and Captain
Hibbert sat out in the passage together. He told me he liked the way I
arrange my hair. Do tell me, dear, if you think it suits me?'

'Very well, indeed; but what else did Captain Hibbert say to you?'

'Well, I'll tell you something,' replied Olive, suddenly turning from
the glass. 'But first promise not to tell anyone. I don't know what I
should do if you did. You promise?'

'Yes, I promise.'

'If you look as serious as that I shall never be able to tell you. It is
very wicked, I know, but I couldn't help myself. He put his arm round my
waist and kissed me. Now don't scold, I won't be scolded,' the girl
said, as she watched the cloud gathering on her sister's face. 'Oh! you
don't know how angry I was. I cried, I assure you I did, and I told him
he had disgraced me. I couldn't say more than that, could I, now? and he
promised never to do it again. It was the first time a man ever kissed
me - I was awfully ashamed. No one ever attempted to kiss you, I suppose;
nor can I fancy their trying, for your cross face would soon frighten
them; but I can't look serious.'

'And did he ask you to marry him?'

'Oh! of course, but I haven't told mamma, for she is always talking to
me about Lord Kilcarney - the little marquis, as she calls him; but I
couldn't have him. Just fancy giving up dear Edward! I assure you I
believe he would kill himself if I did. He has often told me I am the
only thing worth living for.'

Alice looked at her beautiful sister questioningly, her good sense
telling her that, if Olive was not intended for him, it was wrong to
allow her to continue her flirtation. But for the moment the
consideration of her own misfortunes absorbed her. Was there nothing in
life for a girl but marriage, and was marriage no more than a sensual
gratification; did a man seek nothing but a beautiful body that he could
kiss and enjoy? Did a man's desires never turn to mating with one who
could sympathize with his hopes, comfort him in his fears, and united by
that most profound and penetrating of all unions - that of the soul - be
collaborator in life's work? 'Could no man love as she did?' She was
ready to allow that marriage owned a material as well as a spiritual
aspect, and that neither could be overlooked. Some, therefore, though
their souls were as beautiful as the day, were, from purely physical
causes, incapacitated from entering into the marriage state. Cecilia was
such a one.

'Now what are you thinking about, Alice?'

'I do not know, nothing in particular; one doesn't know always of what
one is thinking! Tell me what they are saying downstairs.'

'But I have told you; that Captain Hibbert preferred my hair like this,
and I asked you if you thought he was right, but you hardly looked.'

'Yes, I did, Olive; I think the fashion suits you.'

'You won't tell anybody that I told you he kissed me? Oh, I had
forgotten about Lord Rosshill; he has been fired at. Lord Dungory
returned from Dublin, and he brought the evening paper with him. It is
full of bad news.'

'What news?' Alice asked, with a view to escaping from wearying
questions; and Olive told her a bailiff's house had been broken into by
an armed gang. 'They dragged him out of his bed and shot him in the legs
before his own door. And an attempt has been made to blow up a
landlord's house with dynamite. And in Queen's County shots have been
fired through a dining-room window - now, what else? I am telling you a
lot; I don't often remember what is in the paper. No end of hayricks
were burnt last week, and some cattle have had their tails cut off, and
a great many people have been beaten. Lord Dungory says he doesn't know
how it will all end unless the Government bring in a Coercion Act. What
do you think, Alice?'

Alice dropped some formal remarks, and Olive hoped that the state of the
country would not affect the Castle's season. She didn't know which of
the St. Leonard girls would be married first. She asked Alice to guess.
Alice said she couldn't guess, and fell to thinking that nobody would
ever want to marry her. It was as if some instinct had told her, and she
could not drive the word 'celibacy' out of her ears. It seemed to her
that she was _fichue à jamais_, as that odious Lord Dungory would say.
She did not remember that she had ever been so unhappy before, and it
seemed to her that she would always be unhappy, _fichue à jamais_.

But to her surprise she awoke in a more cheerful mood, and when she came
down to breakfast Mr. Barton raised his head from the newspaper and
asked her if she had heard that Lord Rosshill had been fired at.

'Yes, father. Olive told me so overnight;' and the conversation turned
on her headache, and then on the state of Ireland.

Mrs. Barton asked if this last outrage would prove sufficient to force
the Government to pass a new Coercion Bill.

'I wish they would put me at the head of an army,' Mr. Barton said,
whose thoughts had gone back to his picture - _Julius Caesar overturning
the Altars of the Druids_.

'Papa would look fine leading the landlords against the tenants dressed
in Julius Caesar's big red cloak!' cried Mrs. Barton, turning back as
she glided out of the room, already deep in consideration of what Milord
would like to eat for luncheon and the gown she would wear that
afternoon. Mr. Barton threw the newspaper aside and returned to his
studio; and in the girls' room Olive and Barnes, the bland, soft smiling
maid, began their morning gossip. Whatever subject was started it
generally wound round to Captain Hibbert. Alice had wearied of his name,
but this morning she pricked up her ears. She was surprised to hear her
sister say she had forbidden him ever to visit the Lawlers. At that
moment the dull sound of distant firing broke the stillness of the snow.

'I took good care to make Captain Hibbert promise not to go to this
shooting-party the last time I saw him.'

'And what harm was there in his going to this shooting-party?' said
Alice.

'What harm? I suppose, miss, you have heard what kind of woman Mrs.
Lawler is? Ask Barnes,'

'You shouldn't talk in this way, Olive. We know well enough that Mrs.
Lawler was not a lady before she married; but nothing can be said
against her since.'

'Oh! can't there, indeed? You never heard the story about her and her
steward? Ask Barnes.'

'Oh! don't miss; you shouldn't really!' said the maid. 'What will Miss
Alice think?'

'Never mind what she thinks; you tell her about the steward and all the
officers from Gort.'

And then Mrs. Lawler's flirtations were talked of until the bell rang
for lunch. Milord and Mrs. Barton had just passed into the dining-room,
and Alice noticed that his eyes often wandered in the direction of the
policemen walking up and down the terrace. He returned more frequently
than was necessary to the attempt made on Lord Rosshill's life, and it
was a long time before Mrs. Barton could persuade him to drop a French
epigram. At last, in answer to her allusions to knights of old and _la
galanterie_, the old lord could only say: '_L'amour est comme
l'hirondelle; quand l'heure sonne, en dépit du danger, tous les deux
partent pour les rivages célestes._' A pretty conceit; but Milord was
not _en veine_ that morning. The Land League had thrown its shadow over
him, and it mattered little how joyously a conversation might begin, too
soon a reference was made to Griffith's valuation, or the possibility of
a new Coercion Act.

In the course of the afternoon, however, much to the astonishment of
Milord and Mrs. Barton in the drawing-room and the young ladies who were
sitting upstairs doing a little needlework, a large family carriage,
hung with grey trappings and drawn by two powerful bay horses, drove up
to the hall-door.

A gorgeous footman opened the door, and, with a momentary display of
exquisite ankle, a slim young girl stepped out.

'I wonder,' said Mrs. Barton, 'that Mrs. Scully condescends to come out
with anything less than four horses and outriders.'

'_Elle veut acheter la distinction comme elle vendait du jambon - à
faux poids_,' said Lord Dungory.

'Yes, indeed; and to think that the woman we now receive as an equal
once sold bacon and eggs behind a counter in Galway!'

'No, it was not she; it was her mother.'

'Well, she was hanging on to her mother's apron-strings at the time. You
may depend upon it, this visit is not for nothing; something's in the
wind.'

A moment after, looking more large and stately than ever, Mrs. Scully
sailed into the room. Mrs. Barton was delighted to see her. It was so
good of her to come, and in such weather as this; and, after having
refused lunch and referred to the snow and the horses' feet, Mrs. Scully
consented to lay aside her muff and boa. The young ladies withdrew, when
the conversation turned on the state of the county and Lord Rosshill's
fortunate escape. As they ascended the stairs they stopped to listen to
Mr. Barton, who was singing _A che la morte_.

'The Land League doesn't seem to affect Mr. Barton's spirits,' said
Violet. 'What a beautiful voice he has!'

'Yes, and nobody designs pictures like papa; but he wouldn't study when
he was young, and he says he hasn't time now on account of - '

'Now, Alice, for goodness' sake don't begin. I am sick of that Land
League. From morning till night it is nothing but coercion and
Griffith's valuation.'

Violet and Alice laughed at Olive's petulance, and, opening a door, the
latter said:

'This is our room, and it is the only one in the house where tenants,
land, and rent are never spoken of.'

'That's something to know,' said Violet. 'I agree with Olive. If things
are bad, talking of them won't make them any better.'

Barnes rose from her seat.

'Now don't go, Barnes. Violet, this is Barnes, our maid.'

There was about Barnes a false air of homeliness; but in a few moments
it became apparent that her life had been spent amid muslins,
confidences, and illicit conversations. Now, with motherly care she
removed a tulle skirt from the table, and Violet, with quick, nervous
glances, examined the room. In the middle of the floor stood the large
work-table, covered with a red cloth. There was a stand with shelves,
filled on one side with railway novels, on the other with worsted work,
cardboard-boxes, and rags of all kinds. A canary-cage stood on the top,
and the conversation was frequently interrupted by the piercing trilling
of the little yellow bird.

'You're very comfortable. I should like to come and work here with you.
I am sick of Fred's perpetual talk about horses; and if he isn't talking
of them his conversation is so improper that I can't listen to it.'

'Why, what does he say?' said Olive, glancing at Barnes, who smiled
benignly in the background.

'Oh, I couldn't repeat what he says! it's too dreadful. I have to fly
from him. But he's always at the Goulds' now; he and May are having a
great "case".'

'Oh yes, I know!' said Olive; 'they never left each other at our ball.
Don't you remember?'

'Of course I do. And what a jolly ball that was! I never amused myself
so much in my life. If the balls at the Castle are as good, they will
do. But wasn't it sad, you know, about poor Lord Kilcarney receiving the
news of his brother's murder just at that moment? I can see him now,
rushing out of the room.'

Violet's manner did not betoken in the least that she thought it sad,
and after a pause she said:

'But you haven't shown me your dresses. I loved the one you wore at the
ball.'

'Yes, yes: I must show you my cream-coloured dinner-dress, and my ruby
dress, too. You haven't seen that either,' cried Olive. 'Come along,
Barnes, come along.'

'But I see you use your bedroom, too, as a sitting-room?' she said, as
she glanced at the illustrations in a volume of Dickens and threw down a
volume of Shelley's poetry.

'Oh, that's this lady, here!' cried Olive. 'She says she cannot read in
our room on account of my chattering, so she comes in here to continue
her schooling. I should've thought that she had had enough of it; and
she makes the place in such a mess with bits of paper. Barnes is always
tidying up after her.'

Alice laughed constrainedly, and taking the cream-coloured dress out of
the maid's hands, Olive explained why it suited her. Violet had much to
say concerning the pink trimming, and the maid referred to her late
mistress's wardrobes. The ruby dress, however, drew forth many little
cries of admiration. Then an argument was started concerning the colour
of hair, and, before the glass with hairpins and lithe movements of the
back and loins, the girls explained their favourite coiffures.

'But, Alice, you haven't opened your lips, and you haven't shown me your
dresses.'

'Barnes will show you my dinner-frocks, but I don't think as much about
what I wear as Olive does.'

Violet quickly understood, but, with clever dissimulation, she examined
and praised the black silk trimmed with red ribbons. 'She's angry
because we didn't look at her dresses first,' Olive interjected; and
Violet came to Alice's rescue with a question: 'Had they heard lately of
Lord Kilcarney?' Olive protested that she would sooner die than accept
such a little red-haired thing as that for a husband, and Violet laughed
delightedly.

'Anyway, you haven't those faults to find with a certain officer, now
stationed at Gort, who, if report speaks truly, is constantly seen
riding towards Brookfield.'

'Well, what harm is there in that?' said Olive, for she did not feel
quite sure in her mind if she should resent or accept the gracious
insinuation.

'None whatever; I only wish such luck were mine. What with the weather,
and papa's difficulties with his herdsmen and his tenants, we haven't
seen a soul for the last month. I wish a handsome young officer would
come galloping up our avenue some day.'

Deceived, Olive abandoned herself to the plausive charm of Violet's
manner, and at different times she spoke of her flirtation, and told
many little incidents concerning it - what he had said to her, how she
had answered him, and how, the last time they had met, he had expressed
his sorrow at being unable to call to see her until the end of the week.

'He is shooting to-day at the Lawlers',' said Violet.

'That I'm sure he's not,' said Olive, with a triumphant toss of her fair
head; 'for I forbade him to go there.'

Violet smiled, and Olive insisted on an explanation being given.

'Well,' exclaimed the girl, more bluntly than she had yet spoken,
'because as we were coming here we saw him walking along one of the
covers. There were a lot of gentlemen, and, just fancy, that dreadful
woman, Mrs. Lawler, was with them, marching along, just like a man, and
a gun under her arm.'

'I don't believe you; you only say that to annoy me,' cried Olive,
trembling with passion.

'I am not in the habit of telling lies, and don't know why you should
think I care to annoy you,' Violet replied, a little too definitely;
and, unable to control her feelings any longer, Olive walked out of the
room. Barnes folded up and put away the dresses, and Alice sought for
words that would attenuate the unpleasantness of the scene. But Violet
was the quicker with her tongue, and she poured out her excuses. 'I am
so sorry,' she said, 'but how could I know that she objected to Captain
Hibbert's shooting at the Lawlers', or that he had promised her not to
go there? I am very sorry, indeed.'

'Oh I it doesn't matter,' said Alice hesitatingly. 'You know how
excitable Olive is. I don't think she cares more about Captain Hibbert
than anyone else; she was only a little piqued, you know - the surprise,
and she particularly dislikes the Lawlers. Of course, it is very
unpleasant for us to live so near without being able to visit them.'

'Yes, I understand. I am very sorry. Do you know where she is gone? I
shouldn't like to go away without seeing her.'

'I am afraid she has shut herself up in her room. Next time you meet,
she'll have forgotten all about it.'

Elated, but at the same time a little vexed, Violet followed Alice down
to the drawing-room.

'My dear child, what a time you have been! I thought you were never
coming downstairs again,' said Mrs. Scully. 'Now, my dear Mrs. Barton,
we really must. We shall meet again, if not before, at the Castle.'

Then stout mother and thin daughter took their leave; but the large
carriage, with its sumptuous grey trappings, had not reached the crest
of the hill when, swiftly unlocking her door, Olive rushed to Barnes for
sympathy.

'Oh the spiteful little cat!' she exclaimed. 'I know why she said that;
she's jealous of me. You heard her say she hadn't a lover. I don't
believe she saw Edward at all, but she wanted to annoy me. Don't you
think so, Barnes?'

'I'm sure she wanted to annoy you, miss. I could see it in her eyes. She
has dreadful eyes - those cold, grey, glittering things. I could never
trust them. And she hasn't a bit on her bones. I don't know if you
noticed, miss, that when you were counting your petticoats she was
ashamed of her legs? There isn't a bit on them; and I saw her look at


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Online LibraryGeorge MooreMuslin → online text (page 8 of 23)