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yours, miss.'

'Did you really? She's like a rail; and as spiteful as she's lean. At
school nothing made her so angry as when anyone else was praised; and
you may be sure that jealousy brought her here. She heard how Captain
Hibbert admired me, and so came on purpose to annoy me.'

'You may be sure it was that, miss,' said Barnes, as she bustled about,
shutting and opening a variety of cardboard boxes.

For a moment the quarrel looked as if it were going to end here; but in
Olive's brain thoughts leaped as quickly back as forward, and she
startled Barnes by declaring wildly that, if Edward had broken his
promise to her, she would never speak to him again.

'I don't believe that Violet would have dared to say that she saw him if
it weren't true.'

'Well, miss, a shooting-party's but a shooting-party, and there was a
temptation, you know. A gentleman who is fond of sport - '

'Yes; but it isn't for the shooting he is gone. 'Tis for Mrs. Lawler. I
know it is.'

'Not it, miss. Always admitting that he is there, how could he think of
Mrs. Lawler when he's always thinking of you? And, besides, out in the
snow, too. Now, I wouldn't say anything if the weather was fine - like we
had last June - and they giving each other meetings out in the park - '

'But what did you tell me about the steward, and how Mrs. Lawler fell in
love with all the young men who come to her house? And what did the
housemaid tell you of the walking about the passages at night and into
each other's rooms? Oh, I must know if he's there!'

'I'll find out in the morning, miss. The coachman is sure to know who
was at the shooting-party.'

'In the morning! It will be too late then! I must know this evening!'
exclaimed Olive, as she walked about the room, her light brain now flown
with jealousy and suspicion. 'I'll write him a letter,' she said
suddenly, 'and you must get someone to take it over.'

'But there's nobody about. Why, it is nearly seven o'clock,' said
Barnes, who had begun to realize the disagreeableness and danger of the
adventure she was being rapidly drawn into.

'If you can't, I shall go myself,' cried Olive, as she seized some paper
and a pencil belonging to Alice, and sat down to write a note:


'DEAR CAPTAIN HIBBERT,
'If you have broken your promise to me about not going to the Lawlers'
I shall never be able to forgive you!' (Then, as through her perturbed
mind the thought gleamed that this was perhaps a little definite, she
added): 'Anyhow, I wish to see you. Come at once, and explain that what
I have heard about you is not true. I cannot believe it.
'Yours ever and anxiously,
'OLIVE BARTON.'


'Now somebody must take this over at once to the Lawlers.'

'But, miss, really at this hour of night, too, I don't know of anyone to
send! Just think, miss, what would your ma say?'

'I don't care what mamma says. It would kill me to wait till morning!
Somebody must go. Why can't you go yourself? It isn't more than half a
mile across the fields. You won't refuse me, will you? Put on your hat,
and go at once.'

'And what will the Lawlers say when they hear of it, miss? and I am sure
that if Mrs. Barton ever hears of it she will - '

'No, no, she won't! for I could not do without you, Barnes. You have
only to ask if Captain Hibbert is there, and, if he is there, send the
letter up, and wait for an answer. Now, there's a dear! now do go at
once. If you don't, I shall go mad! Now, say you will go, or give me the
letter. Yes, give it to me, and I'll go myself. Yes, I prefer to go
myself.'




XII


The result of this missive was that next morning the servants whispered
that someone had been about the house on the preceding evening. Olive
and Barnes sat talking for hours; and one day, unable to keep her
counsel any longer, Olive told her sister what had happened. The letter
that Barnes had taken across the field for her had, she declared,
frightened Edward out of his senses; he had come rushing through the
snow, and had spoken with her for full five minutes under her window. He
loved her to distraction; and the next day she had received a long
letter, full of references to his colonel, explaining how entirely
against his will and desire he had been forced to accept the invitation
to go and shoot at the Lawlers'. Alice listened quietly; as if she
doubted whether Captain Hibbert would have died of consumption or
heartache if Olive had acted otherwise, and then advised her sister
quietly; and, convinced that her duty was to tell her mother everything,
she waited for an occasion to speak. Mr. Barton was passing down the
passage to his studio, Olive was racing upstairs to Barnes, Mrs. Barton
had her hand on the drawing-room door; and she looked round surprised
when she saw that her daughter was following her.

'I want to speak to you, mamma.'

'Come in, dear.'

Alice shut the door behind her.

'How bare and untidy the room looks at this season of the year; really
you and Olive ought to go into the conservatory and see if you can't get
some geraniums.'

'Yes, mamma, I will presently; but it was about Olive that I wanted to
speak,' said Alice, in a strained and anxious way.

'What a bore that girl is with her serious face,' thought Mrs. Barton;
but she laughed coaxingly, and said:

'And what has my grave-faced daughter to say - the learned keeper of the
family's wisdom?'

Even more than Olive's - for they were less sincere - Mrs. Barton's
trivialities jarred, and Alice's ideas had already begun to slip from
her, and feeling keenly the inadequacy of her words, she said:

'Well, mamma, I wanted to ask you if Olive is going to marry Captain
Hibbert?'

It was now for Mrs. Barton to look embarrassed.

'Well, really, I don't know; nothing is arranged - I never thought about
the matter. What could have made you think she was going to marry
Captain Hibbert? In my opinion they aren't at all suited to each other.
Why do you ask me?'

'Because I have heard you speak of Lord Kilcarney as a man you would
like Olive to marry, and, if this be so, I thought I had better tell you
about Captain Hibbert. I think she is very much in love with him.'

'Oh! nonsense; it is only to kill time. A girl must amuse herself
somehow.'

It was on Alice's lips to ask her mother if she thought such conduct
quite right, but, checking herself, she said:

'I am afraid people are talking about it, and that surely is not
desirable.'

'But why do you come telling me these stories?' she said.

'Why, mamma, because I thought it right to do so.'

The word 'right' was unpleasant; but, recovering her temper, which for
years before had never failed her, Mrs. Barton returned to her sweet
little flattering manners.

'Of course, of course, my dear girl; but you do not understand me. What
I mean to say is, Have you any definite reason for supposing that Olive
is in love with Captain Hibbert, and that people are talking about it?'

'I think so, mamma,' said the girl, deceived by this expression of
goodwill. 'You remember when the Scullys came here? Well, Violet was up
in our room, and we were showing her our dresses; the conversation
somehow turned on Captain Hibbert, and when Violet said that she had
seen him that day, as they came along in the carriage, shooting with the
Lawlers, Olive burst out crying and rushed out of the room. It was very
awkward. Violet said she was very sorry and all that, but - '

'Yes, yes, dear; but why was Olive angry at hearing that Captain Hibbert
went out shooting with the Lawlers?'

'Because, it appears, she had previously forbidden him to go there, you
know, on account of Mrs. Lawler.'

'And what happened then?'

'Well, that's the worst of it. I don't mean to say it was all Olive's
fault; I think she must have lost her head a little, for she sent Barnes
over that evening to the Lawlers' with a note, telling Captain Hibbert
that he must come at once and explain. It was eleven o'clock at night,
and they had a long talk through the window.'

Mrs. Barton did not speak for some moments. The peat-fire was falling
into masses of white ash, and she thought vaguely of putting on some
more turf; then her attention was caught by the withering ferns in the
flower-glasses, then by the soaking pasture-lands, then by the spiky
branches of the chestnut-trees swinging against the grey, dead sky.

'But tell me, Alice,' she said at last, 'for of course it is important
that I should know - do you think that Olive is really in love with
Captain Hibbert?'

'She told me, as we were going to bed the other night, mamma, that she
never could care for anyone else; and - and'

'And what, dear?'

'I don't like to betray my sister's confidence,' Alice answered, 'but
I'm sure I had better tell you all: she told me that he had kissed her
many times, and no later than yesterday, in the conservatory.'

'Indeed! you did very well to let me know of this,' said Mrs. Barton,
becoming as earnestly inclined as her daughter Alice. 'I am sorry that
Olive was so foolish; I must speak to her about it. This must not occur
again. I think that if you were to tell her to come down here - '

'Oh no, mamma; Olive would know at once that I had been speaking about
her affairs; you must promise me to make only an indirect use of what I
have told you.'

'Of course - of course, my dear Alice; no one shall ever know what has
passed between us. You can depend upon me. I will not speak to Olive
till I get a favourable opportunity. And now I have to go and see after
the servants. Are you going upstairs?'

On Alice, tense with the importance of the explanation, this dismissal
fell not a little chillingly; but she was glad that she had been able to
induce her mother to consider the matter seriously.

A few minutes passed dreamily, almost unconsciously; Mrs. Barton threw
two sods of turf on the fire, and resumed her thinking. Her first
feeling of resentment against her eldest daughter had vanished; and she
now thought solely of the difficulty she was in, and how she could best
extricate herself from it. 'So Olive was foolish enough to allow Captain
Hibbert to kiss her in the conservatory!' Mrs. Barton murmured to
herself. The morality of the question interested her profoundly. She had
never allowed anyone to kiss her before she was married; and she was
full of pity and presentiment for the future of a young girl who could
thus compromise herself. But in Olive's love for Captain Hibbert Mrs.
Barton was concerned only so far as it affected the labour and time that
would have to be expended in persuading her to cease to care for him.
That this was the right thing to do Mrs. Barton did not for a moment
doubt. Her daughter was a beautiful girl, would probably be the belle of
the season; therefore to allow her, at nineteen, to marry a
thousand-a-year captain would be, Mrs. Barton thought, to prove herself
incapable, if not criminal, in the performance of the most important
duty of her life. Mrs. Barton trembled when she thought of the sending
of the letter: if the story were to get wind in Dublin, it might wreck
her hopes of the marquis. Therefore, to tell Barnes to leave the house
would be fatal. Things must be managed gently, very gently. Olive must
be talked to, how far her heart was engaged in the matter must be found
out, and she must be made to see the folly, the madness of risking her
chance of winning a coronet for the sake of a beggarly thousand-a-year
captain. And, good heavens! the chaperons: what would they say of her,
Mrs. Barton, were such a thing to occur? Mrs. Barton turned from the
thought in horror; and then, out of the soul of the old coquette arose,
full-fledged, the chaperon, the satellite whose light and glory is
dependent on that of the fixed star around which she revolves.

At this moment Olive, her hands filled with ferns, bounced into the
room.

'Oh! here you are, mamma! Alice told me you wanted a few ferns and
flowers to brighten up the room.'

'I hope you haven't got your feet wet, my dear; if you have, you had
better go up at once and change.'

Olive was now more than ever like her father. Her shoulders had grown
wider, and the blonde head and scarlet lips had gained a summer
brilliance and beauty.

'No, I am not wet,' she said, looking down at her boots; 'it isn't
raining; but if it were Alice would send me out all the same.'

'Where is she now?'

'Up in her room reading, I suppose; she never stirs out of it. I thought
when we came home from school the last time that we would be better
friends; but, do you know what I think: Alice is a bit sulky. What do
you think, mamma?'

To talk of Alice, to suggest that she was a little jealous, to explain
the difficulty of the position she occupied, to commiserate and lavish
much pity upon her was, no doubt, a fascinating subject of conversation,
it had burned in the brains of mother and daughter for many months; but,
too wise to compromise herself with her children, Mrs. Barton resisted
the temptation to gratify a vindictiveness that rankled in her heart.
She said:

'Alice has not yet found her _beau cavalier_; we shall see when we are
at the Castle if she will remain faithful to her books. I am afraid that
Miss Alice will then prefer some gay, dashing young officer to her
_Marmion_ and her _Lara_.'

'I should think so, indeed. She says that the only man she cares to
speak to in the county is Dr. Reed, that little frumpy fellow with his
medicines. I can't understand her. I couldn't care for anyone but an
officer.'

This was the chance Mrs. Barton required, and she instantly availed
herself of it. 'The red-coat fever!' she exclaimed, waving her hands.
'There is no one like officers _pour faire passer le temps_'

'Yes, ma!' cried Olive, proud of having understood so much French;
'doesn't time pass quickly with them?'

'It flies, my dear, and they fly away, and then we take up with another.
They are all nice; their profession makes them that.'

'But some are nicer than others; for instance, I am sure they are not
all as handsome as Captain Hibbert.'

'Oh! indeed they are,' said Mrs. Barton, laughing; 'wait until we get to
Dublin; you have no idea what charming men we shall meet there. We shall
find a lord or an earl, or perhaps a marquis, who will give a coroneted
carriage to my beautiful girl to drive in.'

Olive tossed her head, and her mother looked at her admiringly, and
there was love in the sweet brown deceit of the melting eyes; a hard,
worldly affection, but a much warmer one than any Mrs. Barton could feel
for Alice, in whom she saw nothing but failure, and in the end spiritual
spinsterhood. After a pause she said:

'What a splendid match Lord Kilcarney would be, and where would he find
a girl like my Olive to do the honours of his house?'

'Oh! mamma, I never could marry him!'

'And why not, my dear girl?'

'I don't know, he's a silly little fool; besides, I like Captain
Hibbert.'

'Yes, you like Captain Hibbert, so do I; but a girl like you could not
throw herself away on a thousand-a-year captain in the army.'

'And why not, mamma?' said Olive, who had already begun to whimper;
'Captain Hibbert loves me, I know, very dearly, and I like him; he is of
very good family, and he has enough to support me.'

The moment was a supreme one, and Mrs. Barton hesitated to strike and
bring the matter to a head. Would it be better, she asked herself, to
let things go by and use her influence for the future in one direction?
After a brief pause she decided on the former course. She said:

'My dear child, neither your father nor myself could ever consent to see
you throw yourself away on Captain Hibbert. I am afraid you have seen
too much of him, and have been led away into caring for him. But take my
word for it, a girl's love is only _à fleur de peau_. When you have been
to a few of the Castle balls you'll soon forget all about him. Remember,
you are not twenty yet; it would be madness.'

'Oh! mamma, I didn't think you were so cruel!' exclaimed Olive, and she
rushed out of the room.

Mrs. Barton made no reply, but her resolve was rapidly gaining strength
in her mind: Olive's flirtation was to be brought at once to a close.
Captain Hibbert she would admit no more, and the girl was in turn to be
wheedled and coerced.

Nor did Mrs. Barton for a moment doubt that she would succeed; she had
never tasted failure; and she stayed only a moment to regret, for she
was too much a woman of the world to waste time in considering her
mistakes. The needs of the moment were ever present to her, and she now
devoted herself entirely to the task of consoling her daughter. Barnes,
too, was well instructed, and henceforth she spoke only of the earls,
dukes, lords, and princes who were waiting for Olive at the Castle.

In the afternoon Mrs. Barton called Olive into the drawing-room, where
woman was represented as a triumphant creature walking over the heads
and hearts of men. '_Le génie de la femme est la beauté_,' declared
Milord, and again: '_Le coeur de l'homme ne peut servir que de piédestal
pour l'idole.'_

'Oh! Milord, Milord!' said Mrs. Barton. 'So in worshipping us you are
idolaters. I'm ashamed of you.'

'Pardon, pardon, madame: _Devant un amour faux on est idolâtre, mais à
l'autel d'un vrai, on est chrétien_.'

And in such lugubrious gaiety the girl grieved. Captain Hibbert had been
refused admission; he had written, but his letters had been intercepted;
and holding them in her hand Mrs. Barton explained she could not consent
to such a marriage, and continued to dazzle the girl with visions of the
honours that awaited the future Marchioness of Kilcarney. 'An engaged
girl is not noticed at the Castle. You don't know what nice men you'll
meet there; have your fun out first,' were the arguments most frequently
put forward; and, in the excitement of breaking off Olive's engagement,
even the Land League was forgotten. Olive hesitated, but at length
allowed herself to be persuaded to at least try to captivate the marquis
before she honoured the captain with her hand. No sooner said than done.
Mrs. Barton lost not a moment in writing to Captain Hibbert, asking him
to come and see them the following day, if possible, between eleven and
twelve. She wanted to speak to him on a matter which had lately come to
her knowledge, and which had occasioned her a good deal of surprise.




XIII


Mr. Barton could think of nothing but the muscles of the strained back
of a dying Briton and a Roman soldier who cut the cords that bound the
white captive to the sacrificial oak; but it would be no use returning
to the studio until these infernal tenants were settled with, and he
loitered about the drawing-room windows looking pale, picturesque, and
lymphatic. His lack of interest in his property irritated Mrs. Barton.
'Darling, you must try to get them to take twenty per cent.' At times
she strove to prompt the arguments that should be used to induce the
tenants to accept the proffered abatement, but she could not detach her
thoughts from the terrible interview she was about to go through with
Captain Hibbert. She expected him to be violent; he would insist on
seeing Olive, and she watched wearily the rain dripping from the wooden
edges of the verandah. The last patches of snow melted, and at last a
car was seen approaching, closely followed by another bearing four
policemen.

'Here's your agent,' exclaimed Mrs. Barton hurriedly. 'Don't bring him
in here; go out and meet him, and when you see Captain Hibbert welcome
him as cordially as you can. But don't speak to him of Olive, and don't
give him time to speak to you; say you are engaged. I don't want Mr.
Scully to know anything about this break-off. It is most unfortunate you
didn't tell me you were going to meet your tenants to-day. However, it
is too late now.'

'Very well, my dear, very well,' said Mr. Barton, trying to find his
hat. 'I would, I assure you, give twenty pounds to be out of the whole
thing. I can't argue with those fellows about their rents. I think the
Government ought to let us fight it out. I should be very glad to take
the command of a flying column of landlords, and make a dash into
Connemara. I have always thought my military genius more allied to that
of Napoleon than to that of Wellington.'

It was always difficult to say how far Mr. Barton believed in the
extravagant remarks he was in the habit of giving utterance to. He
seemed to be aware of their absurdity, without, however, relinquishing
all belief in their truth. And now, as he picked his way across the wet
stones, his pale hair blown about in the wind, he presented a strange
contrast with the short-set man who had just jumped down from the car,
his thick legs encased in gaiters, and a long ulster about them.

'Howd' yer do, Barton?' he exclaimed. 'D'yer know that I think things
are gitting worse instid of bither. There's been another bailiff shot in
Mayo, and we've had a process-server nearly beaten to death down our
side of the counthry. Gad! I was out with the Sub-Sheriff and fifty
police thrying to serve notices on Lord Rosshill's estate, and we had to
come back as we wint. Such blawing of horns you niver heard in yer life.
The howle counthry was up, and they with a trench cut across the road as
wide as a canal.'

'Well, what do you think we had better do with these fellows? Do you
think they will take the twenty per cent.?'

''Tis impossible to say. Gad! the Lague is gittin' stronger ivery day,
Barton. But they ought to take it; twenty per cent. will bring it very
nearly to Griffith's.'

'But if they don't take it?'

'Well, I don't know what we will do, for notices it is impossible to
serve. Gad! I'll never forgit how we were pelted the other day - such
firing of stones, such blawing of horns! I think you'll have to give
them the thirty; but we'll thry them at twinty-foive.'

'And if they won't take it - ?'

'What! the thirty? They'll take that and jumping, you needn't fear. Here
they come.'

Turning, the two men watched the twenty or thirty peasants who, with
heads set against the gusts, advanced steadily up the avenue, making way
for a horseman; and from the drawing-room window Mrs. Barton recognized
the square-set shoulders of Captain Hibbert. After shaking hands and
speaking a few words with Mr. Barton, he trotted round to the stables;
and when he walked back and entered the house, in all the clean-cut
elegance of military boots and trousers, the peasants lifted their hats,
and the interview began.

'Now, boys,' said Mr. Barton, who thought that a little familiarity
would not be inappropriate, 'I've asked you to meet me so that we might
come to some agreement about the rents. We've known each other a long
time, and my family has been on this estate I don't know for how many
generations. Therefore - why, of course, I should be very sorry if we had
any falling out. I don't know much about farming, but I hear everyone
say that this has been a capital year, and . . . I think I cannot do better
than to make you again the same offer as I made you before - that is to
say, of twenty per cent, abatement all round; that will bring your rents
down to Griffith's valuation.'

Mr. Barton had intended to be very impressive, but, feeling that words
were betraying him, he stopped short, and waited anxiously to hear what
answer the peasant who had stepped forward would make. The old man began
by removing a battered tall-hat, out of which fell a red handkerchief.
The handkerchief was quickly thrown back into the crown, and, at an
intimation from Mr. Barton, hat and handkerchief were replaced upon the
white head. He then commenced:

'Now, yer honour, the rints is too high; we cannot pay the present rint,
at least without a reduction. I have been a tinent on the property, and
my fathers before me, for the past fifty years. And it was in
forty-three that the rints was ruz - in the time of your father, the Lord
have mercy on his soul! - but he had an agent who was a hard man, and he
ruz the rints, and since then we have been in poverty, livin' on yaller
mail and praties, and praties that is watery; there is no diet in them,
yer honour. And if yer honour will come down and walk the lands yerself,
yer wi' see I am spaking the truth. We ask nothing better than yer should
walk the lands yerself. There is two acres of my land, yer honour,
flooded for three months of the year, and for that land I am paying
twenty-five shillings an acre. I have my receipts, paid down to the last
gale-day.'

And, still speaking, the old man fumbled in his pockets and produced a


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Online LibraryGeorge MooreMuslin → online text (page 9 of 23)