That pretty cause of all this plotting is not in bed, as Kit had predicted might be the case. She is not even undressed. She has only exchanged her azure gown for a loose white morning robe, long and trailing, and lavishly trimmed at the throat and wrists with some rare old Mechlin lace that Aunt Penelope had given her a week ago, glad in the thought that it may perchance add another charm to the beauty of her darling.
Her hair is rolled up in a small, soft knot behind; her face is a little pale; her eyes, large and luminous, have great heavy shadows lying beneath them, suggestive of fatigue and tiring thought. Altogether, she is looking as lovely as any heart can desire.
"Ah, you have returned!" she says, as Kit enters. "How long you have been! I gave you up. I thought some pixy had become enamoured of you and had carried you off to his kingdom."
"I was in danger of nothing so insignificant as a pixy. It was the great Apollo's self I feared," says Kit, with a sly humorous smile. "And here is your lily: he sent it to you with his love and a kiss."
"Why, yes. Who else could it be at this hour?"
"Yet there is something strange in your manner."
"That is as it should be. On such a night as this, how could one escape a little touch of that 'moonstruck madness' I spoke of a while since? Go out yourself, walk through that moonlit garden just where I walked, to where in that corner over the rays melt into shadow, and try if there be nothing in it to make your heart beat faster."
"I could do it, and return calm as I am now."
"Then you are no true woman."
"What! must a woman be so foolishly romantic as to tremble in the moonlight, to be true?"
"Moonlights differ. There is a witchery abroad to-night. Go, and judge for yourself if there be not truth in my words."
"I can see enough of it from this," says Monica, leaning her bare snowy arms—from which her loose sleeves have fallen—upon the window-ledge, and turning her eyes to the pale sky studded with bright stars, "to bewitch me, if indeed it has the power you ascribe to it."
Foiled in her first effort to send her to Desmond's arms, Kit flings herself upon the ground beside her, and lays her arms upon her lap and looks lovingly but reproachfully into her eyes.
"I think you were a little unkind to that dear Brian this evening," she says.
"That dear Brian will recover from my cruel treatment, I make no doubt," says Monica, with affected lightness, though, in truth, remorse is gnawing at her heartstrings.
"If he does, he will show his very good sense. He loves you: why, then, do you flout and scorn him?"
In the ancient library below, the young ladies in the novels always flouted their lovers. Not having the faintest idea how they perform this arduous task, Kit still adopts the word as having a sonorous sound, and uses it now with—as she hopes—great effect.
"I do not flout him," says Monica, indignantly. "But what am I to do? am I to make Aunt Priscilla wretched, then, because of him, and break her poor heart perhaps?"
"Oh, bother her heart!" says the younger Miss Beresford, with more candor than decency: "think of his poor heart, if you like, wasting and wearing away because of your unkindness. If I had a lover, that is not how I should treat him. I should do anything in the world he asked me. I should defy everybody in the world for him, and think them well lost. I should run away with him at a moment's notice if he asked me. Now!"
"Oh, Kit!" says Monica, aghast at all this energy.
"I should indeed," nothing daunted; "I shouldn't hesitate. And, at all events, I should be civil to him at all times. Why, the way you treated that wretched young man to-day at Clonbree Barracks was, I consider, shameful! And you call yourself, I dare say, soft-hearted. To look at you, one would think you couldn't be unkind if you tried; and yet the barbarity of your conduct to-day, to a person who literally worships the ground you walk on, was——"
"But what did I do?" interrupts poor Monica, trembling before this whirlwind.
"What didn't you do? you mean. You would not even grant him one kind parting glance. I could have cried for him, he looked so sad and forlorn. I think he looked like suicide,—I do, indeed,—and I shouldn't wonder a bit if in the morning we heard——"
"Oh, Kit, don't! don't!" says Monica, in an agony, as this awful insinuation gains force with her.
"Well, I won't then," says the advocate, pretending to surrender her point by adroitly changing her front. A very Jesuit at soul is this small Kit. "After all, I daresay he will grow tired of your incivility, and so—forget you. Some one else will see how dear a fellow he is, and smile upon him, and then he will give you up."
This picture, being in Monica's eyes even more awful than the former, makes great havoc in her face, rendering her eyes large and sorrowful, and, indeed, so suffused with the heart's water that she seems upon the very verge of tears. She turns these wet but lovely orbs upon her tormentor.
"That would be the best thing he could do for himself," she says, so sadly that Kit insensibly creeps closer to her; "and as for me, it doesn't matter about me, of course."
"Monica, you like him, then," says Kit, suddenly, rising on her knees and looking into her sister's averted eyes. "I am sure of it: I know it now. Why did you not confide in me before?"
"Because it seems all so hopeless; even—if I loved him enough to marry him—they would never give in" (meaning, presumably, her aunts): "so why should he or I waste time over so impossible a theory?"
"Why should it be impossible? Why should you not be married?"
"Because the fates are against us. Not," quickly, "that that so much matters: I don't want to marry anybody! But—but," lowering her lids, "I do want him to love me."
"My dear child, talk sense if you talk at all," says the material Kit. "There never yet was a heroine in any novel ever read by me (and I have had a large experience) who didn't want to marry the man of her heart. Now just look at that girl of Rhoda Broughton's, in 'Good-by, Sweetheart!' We can all see she didn't die of any disease, but simply because she couldn't be wedded to the man she loved. There's a girl for you! give me a girl like that. If ever I fall in love with a man, and I find I can't marry him, I shall make a point of dying of grief. It is so graceful; just like what I have heard of Irving and Ellen Terry—I mean, Romeo and Juliet!"
"But I can't bear to deceive Aunt Priscilla," says Monica. "She is so kind, so good."
"Stuff and nonsense!" says Kit promptly. "Do you suppose, when Aunt Priscilla was young, she would have deserted—let us say—Mr. Desmond the elder, at the beck and call of any one? She has too much spirit, to do her credit. Though I must say her spirit is rather out of place now, at times."
"What would you have me do, then?" asks Monica, desperately.
"Oh, nothing," says Kit, airily,—"really nothing. I am too young, of course, to give advice," with a little vicious toss of her small head. "And of course, too, I know nothing of the world's ways," with another toss, that conveys to her auditor the idea that she believes herself thoroughly versed and skilled in society's lore, but that as yet she is misunderstood. "And it is not my place, of course, to dictate to an elder sister." This severely, and evidently intended as a slap at Monica because of some little rebuke delivered by her, the other day, on the subject of age. "But," with concentrated energy, "I would not be brutal, if I were you."
"Yes, brutal, to keep him waiting for you all this time in the shadow near the ivy wall!"
Having discharged this shell, she waits in stony silence for a reply. She waits some time. Then—
"Are you speaking of—of Mr. Desmond?" asks Monica, in a trembling voice.
"Yes. He is standing there now, and has been, for—oh, for hours,—on the bare chance of gaining one word from you."
"Yes. He said he would wait until I had persuaded you to go out. If I had such a lover, I know I should not keep him waiting for me all the evening shivering with cold."
(It is the balmiest of summer nights.)
"Oh! what shall I do?" says Monica, torn in two between her desire to be true to her aunt and yet not unkind to her lover.
"As I said before," says the resolute Kit, turning her small pale face up to her sister, "I know I am not entitled to dictate to any one, but this I know, too, that if I were you, and twenty Aunt Priscillas were at my side, I should still—go to him! There!"
She conquers. Monica rises slowly, and as a first move in the desired direction goes—need I say it?—to the looking-glass. Need I say, also, that she feels dissatisfied with her appearance?
"Then I suppose I had better dress myself all over again," she says, glancing with much discontent at the charming vision the glass returns to her.
"No, no!" says Kit, decidedly. She has now arranged herself as Mistress of the Ceremonies, and quite gives herself airs. "Do not add even a touch to your toilet. You are quite too sweet as you are, and 'time presses'" (another quotation from one of her mouldy volumes).
"But this," says Monica, plucking at her pretty loose gown, that hangs in limp artistic folds round her slight figure and is pranked out with costly laces.
"It is perfect! Have you no eyes for the beautiful? There, go, you silly child; Nature has been so good to you, you now deride her prodigality, and make little of the gifts she has bestowed upon you. Go to——"
"Good gracious!" says Monica, pausing to stare at her aghast. "Where did you learn all that?"
"It is in a book below; I learned it by heart, to say it to you some day, and now I have done it. There, be quick! He will be gone if you don't make haste. His patience by this time must be exhausted. Think what he has been enduring; I only hope he hasn't fainted from sheer fatigue, that's all!"
"Will you stay here till I come back," says Monica, nervously, "or will you come with me?"
"I shall stay here; and don't hurry on my account. I shall be quite happy with this lamp and your Chaucer. There, go now; and tell him I sent you. And," mischievously, "don't be civil to him, you know, but rate him soundly for presuming to disturb your worship at this hour."
"Oh! if any one sees me!" says Monica, quaking.
"You will never get hanged for a big crime," returns Kit, laughing; and then Monica steps out lightly, fearfully, upon the corridor outside, and so, with her heart dying within her, creeps past her aunt's doors, and down the wide staircase, and through the hall, and at last into the silver moonlight!
How Monica with faltering footsteps enters the mysterious moonlight, and how she fares therein.
What a noise the tiny gravel makes beneath her feet, as she hurries rapidly towards the garden! How her heart beats! Oh that she were back again in her pretty safe room, with the naughty Kit to scold! Oh, if Aunt Priscilla were to rise, and, looking out of her bedroom window, catch a glimpse of her, as she hastes to meet the man she has been forbidden to know! A thousand terrors possess her. The soft beauty of the night is unseen, the rushing of sweet brooks in the distance is unheard. She hurries on, a little, lithe, frightened figure, with wide eyes and parted lips, to the rendezvous she has not sought. And what a little way it had seemed in the glad daylight, yet what a journey in the silent, fearsome night! There are real tears, born of sheer nervousness, in her beautiful eyes, as she runs along the garden path, and at last—at last—finds herself face to face with Desmond.
"Ah, you have come!" cries he, gladly, going to meet her while yet she is a long way off.
"Yes." She can say no more, but her fear has departed at sight of him, and once more she grows calm, collected, and mistress of herself. She keeps well away from him, however, and holds out to him—that "white wonder"—her hand, from a very great distance, as it seems to him. Does she distrust him, then? Thinking of this, Brian takes the extended hand, and holds it in a clasp that though tender is light, and refrains with much forbearance from pressing his lips to it.
"To come here, and at this hour! It is madness!" says Monica, hastily.
"A very blessed madness, then, and with method in it: it has enabled me to see you."
"Oh, do not talk like that. You ought not to see me at all. And, now, what is it? Kit said you wanted me sadly."
"And so I do, and not only now but always."
"If," reproachfully, "it is nothing pressing, would not to-morrow have done?"
"To-morrow never comes. There is nothing like to-day; and how could I have lived till to-morrow? I could not sleep, I could not rest, until I had seen you. My heart seemed on fire. Monica, how could you have treated me as you did to-day?"
She is silent. The very fact of her not answering convinces him her coldness at the Barracks was intentional, and his tone takes an additional sadness as he speaks again.
"You meant it then?" he says. "You would not throw me even one poor glance. If you could only look into my heart, and read how cruelly I felt your unkindness, you might——"
"I don't know what you mean," says Monica. "Why should you talk of unkindness? Why should I be kinder to you than to another?"
"Of your grace alone; I know that," says the young man, humbly. He has paid court to many a town-bred damsel before this, and gained their smiles too, and their sighs; yet now he sues to this cold child as he never sued before, and knows his very soul is set on her good will.
"Why must you choose me to love,—me, of all the world?" says Monica, tremulously: "it is wide, there are others—and——"
"Because I must. It is my fate, and I am glad of it. Whom worthier could I love?" says the lover, with fond, passionate reverence.
"Many, no doubt. And why love at all? Let us be friends, then, if it is indeed decreed that our lives meet——"
"There could never be mere friendship between you and me. If your heart sleeps, at least your sense must tell you that."
"Then I could wish myself without sense. I want to know nothing about it. Alas! how sad a thing is love!"
"And how joyous! It is the one emotion to be fed and fostered. 'All others are but vanity.' I will persist in loving you until I die."
"That is a foolish saying; and, even if you do, what will come of it all?" says Monica, with a sigh.
"Marriage, I trust," returns he, right cheerily. "Because, to give you another example of love's endurance, and to quote old Southey to you, I will tell you that he says,—
"'It is indestructable; Its holy flame forever burneth: From heaven it came, to heaven returneth.'
but not yet awhile, I hope."
"You are a special pleader," says she, with a sudden smile.
"For the cause that I plead I would that I were a more eloquent advocate."
"You are eloquent enough," glancing at him for a moment, and then again turning away from him; "too eloquent," she says, with a little sigh.
He is still holding her hands, but now he does not speak or answer her in any wise. A silence falls upon them, calm as the night. In "full orbed glory" the moon above sails through the skies.
"A dewy freshness fills the silent air; No mist obscures, nor cloud, nor speck, nor stain, Breaks the serene of heaven."
"There is one thing I must say, Monica," says the young man at last, lifting her face gently with one hand until her eyes look into his own: "remember, my life is in your hands."
"Do not overburden me," she answers, but in so low a voice that it can scarce be heard. Yet he hears.
"My darling, must I be a burden to you?" he says. "Monica, if this my courtship is hateful to you, or more than you can bear, dismiss me now, and I will go from you, no matter what it costs me."
"You are no true lover, to talk like that," she says, with a shadowy smile.
"I am lover enough to wish you no pain or weariness of spirit."
"I doubt you are too good for me," she answers with a little burst of feeling.
"I must be a paragon indeed if that be so," returns he. "Oh, Monica, if you could only love me!"
"I dare not." Then, as though sorry for these words, she holds out her hands to him, and says, with a quick smile, "Oh, Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo?"
"I wish I knew," returns he sadly. "Yet if I were sure of one thing I should not despair. Monica, tell me you don't like Ryde."
"I can't," says Monica. "He is very kind to me always. I am sure I ought to like him."
"How has he been kind to you?"
"Oh, in many ways."
"He has brought you a cup of somebody else's tea, I suppose, and has probably trotted after you with a camp-stool; is that kindness?"
"If one is hot or tired, yes."
"You are one of the most grateful specimen of your sex. I wish there was anything for which you might be grateful to me. But I am not great at the petits soins business."
"I shouldn't have thought so this afternoon," says Monica, maliciously, "when you were happy with Olga Bohun. But see, the moon has risen quite above the elms. I must go."
"Not yet. There is something else. When am I to see you again?—when?"
"That is as fate wills it."
"You are my fate. Will it, then, and say to-morrow."
"No, no!" exclaims she, releasing her hands from his, "I cannot indeed. I must not. In being here with you now I am doing wrong, and am betraying the two people in the world who are most kind to me. How shall I look into their eyes to-morrow? No; I will not promise to meet you anywhere—ever."
"How tender you are with them, and with me how cruel!"
"You have many joys in your life, but they how few!"
"You are wrong there. The world has grown useless to me since I met you. You are my one joy, and you elude me; therefore pity me too."
"Who made you so gracious a courtier?" asks she, with a little shrug of her rounded shoulders.
"Now you cast scorn upon me," says Desmond, half angrily, and as he says it the thought of Kit's word flout comes to her, and she smiles. It is an idle thought, yet it is with difficulty she cleaves to the less offensive smiles and keeps herself from laughing aloud.
"Why should I do that?" she says, a little saucily. Indeed, she knows this young man to be so utterly in her power—and power is so sweet when first acquired, and so prone to breed tyranny—that she hardly turns aside to meditate upon the pain she may be causing him.
"I don't know," a little sadly; then, "Monica, you like me?"
"Yes, I like you," says Miss Beresford, as she might have answered had she been questioned as to her opinion of an aromatic russet.
Repressing a gesture of impatience, Desmond goes on calmly,—
"Better than Ryde?"
"Than Mr. Ryde?" She stops and glances at the gravel at her feet in a would-be thoughtful fashion, and pushes it to and fro with her pretty Louis Quinze shoe. She pauses purposely, and makes quite an affair of her hesitation.
"Yes, Ryde," says he, impatiently.
"How can I answer that?" she says, at length, with studied deliberation, "when I know so little of either him—or you?"
His indignation increases.
"Knowing us both at least equally well, you must have formed by this time some opinion of us."
"I should indeed," says the young girl, slowly, always with her eyes upon the gravel; "but unfortunately it never occurred to me,—the vital necessity of doing so, I mean."
Though her head is still bent, he can detect the little amused smile that is curving her mobile lips. There can be small doubt but that she is enjoying his discomfiture immensely.
"Certainly there is no reason why you should waste a thought on either him or me," he returns, stiffly.
"No; and yet I do waste one on—you—sometimes," says she, with a gleam of tenderness, and a swift glance from under her long lashes that somehow angers him intensely.
"You are a coquette," he says, quietly. There is contempt both in his look and tone. As she hears it, she suddenly lifts her head, and, without betraying chagrin, regards him steadfastly.
"Is that so?" she says. "Sometimes I have thought it, but——"
The unmistakable hope her pause contains angers him afresh.
"If you covet the unenviable title," he says, bitterly, "be happy. You can lay just claim to it. You are more than worthy of it."
"You flatter me," she says, letting a glance so light rest upon him that it seems but the mere quiver of her eyelids.
"I meant no flattery, believe me."
"I do believe you: I quite understand."
"Not quite, I think," exclaims he, the sudden coldness of her manner frightening him into better behavior. "If—if I have said anything to offend you, I ask your forgiveness."
"There is nothing to forgive, indeed, and you have failed to offend me. But," slowly, "you have made me very sorry for you."
"Yes, for your most unhappy temper. It is quite the worst, I think, I have ever met with. Good-night Mr. Desmond: pray be careful when going through that hedge again; there are some rose-trees growing in it, and thorns do hurt so dreadfully."
So saying, she gathers up her white skirts, and, without a touch of her hand, or even a last glance, flits like a lissome ghost across the moonlit paths of the garden, and so is gone.
How Kit reads between the lines—How the Misses Blake show themselves determined to pursue a dissipated course, and how Monica is led astray by an apt pupil of Machiavelli.
Early next morning Bridget, Monica's maid, enters Kit's room in a somewhat mysterious fashion. Glancing all round the room furtively, as though expecting an enemy lying in ambush behind every chair and table, she says, in a low, cautious tone,—
"A letter for you, miss."
As she says this, she draws a note from beneath her apron, where, in her right hand, it has been carefully hidden,—so carefully, indeed, that she could not have failed to create suspicion in the breast of a babe.
"For me," says Kit, off her guard for once.
"Who brought it?"
"A bit of a gossoon, miss, out there in the yard beyant. An' he wouldn't give me his name; but sure I know him well for a boy of the Maddens', an' one of the Coole people. His father, an' his gran'father before him, were laborers with the ould Squire."
"Ah, indeed!" says Kit. By this time she has recovered her surprise and her composure. "Thank you, Bridget," she says, with quite a grandiloquent air: "put it there, on that table. It is of no consequence, I dare say: you can go."
Bridget—who, like all her countrywomen, dearly likes a love-affair, and is quite aware of young Mr. Desmond's passion for her mistress—is disappointed.
"The gossoon said he was to wait for an answer, miss," she says, insinuatingly. "An' faix," waxing confidential, "I think I caught sight of the coat-tails of Misther Desmond's man outside the yard gate."
"You should never think on such occasions, Bridget; and coat-tails are decidedly low," says the younger Miss Beresford, with scathing reproof.
"They weren't very low, miss. He wore one o' them cutaway coats," says Bridget, in an injured tone.
"You fail to grasp my meaning," says Kit, gravely. "However, let it pass. If this note requires an answer, you can wait in the next room until I write it."
"Very well, miss," says the discomfited Bridget; and Kit, finding herself in another moment alone, approaches the table, and with a beating heart takes up the note. "It is—it must be from Brian!"
The plot thickens; and she has been selected to act a foremost part in it! She is to be the confidante,—the tried and trusted friend; without her aid all the fair edifice Cupid is erecting would crumble into dust.
And is there no danger, too, to be encountered,—perhaps to be met and overcome? If perchance all be discovered,—if Aunt Priscilla should suddenly be apprised of what is now going on beneath her very spectacles,—will not she,—Kit,—in her character of "guide, philosopher, and friend" to the culprits, come in for a double share of censure? Yes, truly there are breakers ahead, and difficulties to be overcome. There is joy and a sense of heroism in this thought; and she throws up her small head defiantly, and puts out one foot with quite a martial air, as it comes to her.
Then she tears open the envelope, and reads as follows:—
"DEAR LITTLE KIT,—Owing you all the love and allegiance in the world for having helped me once, I come to you again. How am I to pass this long day without a glimpse of her? It is a love-sick swain who doth entreat your mercy. Does any happy thought run through your pretty head? If so, my man is waiting for it somewhere; befriend me a second time.
"Ever yours, "BRIAN."
Prompt action is as the breath of her nostrils to Kit. Drawing pen and ink towards her, without a moment's hesitation, she scribbles an answer to Desmond:—
"We are going towards Ballyvoureen this afternoon, to take a pudding to old Biddy Daly: any one chancing to walk there also might meet us. Count upon me always.
This Machiavellian epistle, which she fondly believes to be without its equal in the matter of depth, she folds carefully, and, enclosing it in an envelope void of address or anything (mark the astuteness of that!), calls to Bridget to return to her.
"You will find the boy you mentioned as being by birth a Madden," she says, austerely, "and give him this; and you will refrain from gossiping and idle talking with him, which is not convenient."
It would be impossible to describe the tone in which she says this. Bridget, much disgusted, takes the note silently, and with sufficient nervousness to make itself known. Indeed, she is so plainly impressed by Kit's eloquence that the latter's heart sings aloud for joy.
"Yes, miss," she says, in a very subdued voice, and goes away with indignant haste, to tell cook, as she passes through the kitchen, that "Faix, Miss Kit might be her own gran'mother,—she is so ould an' quare in her ways."
Kit meantime goes in search of Monica, with a mind stored with crafty arguments for the beguiling of that unconscious maiden. Hearing voices in the morning-room, she turns in there, and finds the whole family in conclave.
Miss Priscilla is speaking.
"Yes, I certainly think hospitality of some sort should be shown them," she is saying, with quite an excited flush on her dear old ugly face. "We cannot, of course, do much; but afternoon tea, now, and some pleasant people to meet them,—and strawberries,—and a little stroll round the gardens—eh? And, Penelope, you used to be a great hand at claret-cup in our dear father's time; and then there is tennis. I really think, you know, it might be done."
She quite bridles with pleasure at the bare anticipation. To entertain once more,—again to welcome guests beneath the old roof! For many years a nightly game of patience has been the sole dissipation the Misses Blake have known, and here of late days they have been going hither and thither to dances and garden-parties, and have acknowledged to themselves secretly that the change is sweet. And now they are actually discussing the idea of indulging in wild festivities on their own part! Surely these children from Jerusalem have much to answer for!
"Is there going to be a party here, Aunt Priscilla?" asks Kit with enlarged eyes.
"Well, my dear, we are debating the possibilities of it,—just the pros and cons," says Miss Priscilla, precisely. "Your aunt Penelope agrees with me that some attention is due to those young men in Clonbree Barracks."
"You are going to ask Captain Cobbett and Mr. Ryde here! Oh, what fun!" cries Kit, seating herself, minus invitation, on Miss Priscilla's knee, and twining her arms round her neck. "Do you know, when with mother we didn't dare call our souls our own; but with you we are having real good old times! Aren't we, now?"
"Oh, Kit!—my dear Kit!—you must not speak so of your lost mother," cry the old ladies in a breath, both greatly distressed.
"Well, I shan't if you don't wish it; but it is true, for all that. And so you are really going to ask that big young man and his little captain to come here?"
"Your Aunt Penelope and I both feel that some hospitality should be shown to Her Majesty," says Miss Priscilla, pompously.
"The Queen!" says Kit aghast. "You aren't going to ask her to Moyne are you? Windsor is a long way off, and she is pretty well on now, you know, and I don't believe she'd come."
"Not personally. But we shall pay her the compliment through her trusty servants the marines. Not that we owe her much," says Miss Priscilla, shaking her head. "I cannot think she has behaved quite fairly towards us in many ways. Never coming to see us, I mean, or sending the prince, or having a residence here, or that——"
"Still," breaks in Miss Penelope, coming to Her Majesty's relief, with the evident and kindly desire of showing her up in a more favorable light, "I have always understood that in private life she is a most exemplary woman,—a blameless wife so long as she was allowed to be so, and a most excellent mother."
"And grandmother," chimes in Miss Priscilla, gracefully, as though ashamed of her former acrimonious remarks. "From what I can glean from the papers, she seems quite devoted to those poor little motherless girls of Hesse."
It is quite plain that the Misses Blake regard their sovereign more as Victoria and sister than queen and mistress.
"She has sent these men to Clonbree to protect our lives and properties in these perilous times," goes on Miss Priscilla, in her clear, soft voice, "and so I think we are bound to show them any civility in our power."
"More especially the life and property of old Desmond," says Terry, at this moment, with a noble disregard of consequences. He is sitting at a distant window, tying flies, and makes this unfortunate remark without the faintest appearance of malice prepense. "They say he is running a regular rig with his tenants,—playing old Harry with 'em, in fact," he goes on, debonairly; "but they'll stop his little game for him with a bullet before long, I shouldn't wonder."
As the forbidden name is thus cavalierly thrown into their midst, like a bomb, Monica flushes first a warm crimson and then turns cold with fright.
The old ladies stiffen in their chairs, but never a word say they; they are too much overcome for ordinary rebuke. Kit, however, to whom any excitement is welcome, betrays an open admiration for the bold Terence and waits hopefully for what may come next.
It is even worse than might be expected. Terence, either unaware or careless of the sensation he has produced, closes one eye to examine with pleased scrutiny the gaudy fly he has just completed, after which he says, with a suggestion of jocoseness that under the circumstances is perfectly abominable,—
"I say, Aunt Priscilla, as Cobbett has been sent to look after old Desmond in particular, don't you think, if you entertain him, it will be to old Desmond, and not Her Majesty, you will be paying attention, after all?"
He stops and smiles blandly. If, indeed, I said a grin illuminates his countenance, I might be nearer the truth. It is apparent to everybody that he is jesting on this sacred subject.
"Terry!" says Monica, with a little gasp.
"Well?" says Mr. Beresford, amiably, purposely misunderstanding the horror of her tone, and looking up as though thirsting for the remainder of her speech. It doesn't come. Monica, fearful of provoking him to further monstrosities, forbears from answer of any kind.
"Terence," says Miss Priscilla, with slow solemnity, "I have frequently told you that we object to hearing that detested name mentioned in our presence. It offends both your aunt Penelope and me. I must again beg that for the future we may be spared a repetition of it."
"When I was going to give Tim Daly a sound thrashing for his impertinence yesterday, you stopped me and bade me forgive my enemies," says Terence, calmly, questioningly. "Why don't you forgive old Desmond?"
"Because——That is quite another thing altogether. I mean——I——it seems to me——No matter what it seems now; we can't discuss it," says Miss Priscilla, making a desperate effort to catch the horns of her dilemma and to escape from it.
"Let us discuss our party instead," says Kit, cheerfully, who is really of the greatest use at times. "When is it to be, Aunt Pris?"
"Next week, I suppose," says Miss Penelope, promptly, seeing that Miss Priscilla is still too agitated to reply. "And I think it would be rather nice to have tea in the orchard."
"Oh! how quite too lovely!" says Kit, clasping her hands.
"Quite too utterly consummately, preciously intense?" mutters Terence, sotto voce, regarding Kit sideways, who returns his rapturous glance with one full of ineffable disdain.
"I hope Michael won't object," says Miss Penelope, nervously. Michael is the gardener, and they are all, without exception, afraid of him.
"Nonsense, my dear! why should he?" says Miss Priscilla. "It isn't because he has been here for years that he is to forbid us the use of our own grounds, and of late I consider there is great fault to be found with him. Long service should not generate neglect, and of late there has not been a good lettuce or a respectable dish of asparagus in the garden."
"There wasn't even any thyme last week," says Kit, who maintains an undying feud with Michael. "He had to get some fresh plants from Cahirmore."
"Time was made for slaves," says Terence, meditatively. "You aren't a slave, are you?"
"I should hope not," says Kit, icily.
"Then you can't want time: so don't worry that poor old man in the garden about it. He hasn't a scythe, or a bald head, or a dismal forelock: so he can't know anything about it."
"You are so clever," says the younger Miss Beresford, with unmixed scorn, "that I wonder something dreadful doesn't happen to you."
"So do I," says Terence.
"Well, auntie, and whom shall we ask to meet these men of war?" says Kit, ignoring him,—publicly, to his great delight.
"I suppose Madam O'Connor and all her party, and the Frenches, and Lord Rossmoyne,—who I hear is still in the country,—and——Penelope, my dear, will you sit down and write the invitations now for Friday next, as I must get ready to go to the coast-guard station? That girl of Mitson's is ill, and wants to see me."
Monica rising at this moment to leave the room, Kit follows her.
"It is really too amazing," she says, when they find themselves in the hall. "To think of their blossoming into a real live party! I feel quite overcome."
"So do I," says Monica, laughing.
"There is only one drawback to it," says Kit, softly: "I am so sorry Brian can't be asked."
Monica flushes furiously, and swerves away from her somewhat impatiently; but reply she makes none.
"There are cobwebs in my brain," says Kit, raising her hands languidly to her head, with the oppressed air of one who is bravely struggling with a bad headache. "I think I shall go for a walk to Biddy Daly's to try and rout them. I promised her old mother a pudding the last day I was there, and to-day cook has it ready for me. Will you come with me, Monica? Do."
"Not to-day, I think," says Monica, lazily.
"I wish you would! I do so hate going anywhere by myself. And, somehow, I am half afraid to go alone to-day, I feel—so—so faint. However," with a resigned sigh, "never mind; I dare say if I do drop in a deadly swoon, somebody will pick me up."
"My dear Kit, if you feel like that, don't go," says Monica, naturally alarmed.
"I have promised old Mrs. Daly; I must go," replies Kit, with the determination of a Brutus. "If I am not back in time for dinner, you will understand what has happened."
This is awful! Monica turns quite pale.
"Of course I shall go with you," she says, hurriedly. "Is your head so very bad, darling? How bravely you carried it off in there!" pointing towards the morning-room they have just left. "However, it would be only like you to hide your worries from us, lest they should make us unhappy."
At this, it must be allowed to her credit, Kit feels some strong twinges of remorse,—not enough, however, to compel confession.
"It is really hardly worth talking about," she says, alluding to the headache; and this, at all events, is the strict truth.
How Kit's plot is betrayed, and how a walk that begins gayly ends in gloom.
The road to Mrs. Daly's is full of beauty. On one side of it runs Coole, its trees rich with leafy branches; upon the other stretches a common, green and soft, with a grand glimpse of the ocean far down below it.
"Why walk on the dusty road when those fields are green in there?" says Kit, pointing to Coole; and, after a faint hesitation, Monica follows her over the wall and into the dark recesses of the woods. The grass is knee deep in ferns and trailing verdure; great clumps of honeysuckle, falling from giant limbs of elm, make the air sweet. Some little way to their right—but where they cannot see because of the prodigality of moss and alder and bracken—a little hidden brook runs merrily, making
"Sweet music with th' enamell'd stones, Giving a gentle kiss to every sedge He overtaketh in his pilgrimage."
Some thought belonging to the past night coming to Kit, she turns to Monica with a little laugh.
"How silent you have been about last night's adventure!" she says. "I watched you from your own window until the shadows caught you. You looked like a flitting spirit,—a—a bhoot."
"A boot!" says Monica, very justly surprised.
"Yes," loftily. Kit's educational course, as directed by herself, has been of the erratic order, and has embraced many topics unknown to Monica. From the political economy of the Faroe Isles, it has reached even to the hidden mysteries of Hindostan.
"I must have struck you then as being in my liveliest mood," says Monica, still laughing. "Terry told us yesterday he was as gay as old boots. As I looked like one, I suppose I was at least half as gay as he was. After all, there is nothing like leather, no matter how ancient."
"There's an h in my bhoot," says Kit, with some disgust. "Really, the ignorance of some people—even the nicest—is, surprising."
"Then why don't you take it out?" says Monica, frivolously. "Not that I know in the very least what harm a poor innocent letter could do there."
"You don't understand," says Kit, pitifully.
"I don't indeed," says Monica, unabashed.
"A bhoot is an Indian ghost."
"And you thought I looked like an Indian ghost! with a turban! and an Afghan! and a scimitar! Oh, Kit! Did I really look like the mahogany table beneath the silver moonbeams? and did my eyes glitter?"
"What a goose you are!" says Kit, roaring with laughter. "No, you looked lovely; but I was reading an Indian story yesterday, and it came into my head."
"You read too much," says Monica. "'Much learning will make you mad,' if you don't take care. Remember what Lord Bacon says, 'Reading maketh a full man.' How would you like to be a full woman,—like Madam O'Connor, for example?"
"Francis Bacon never meant it in that sense," says Kit, indignantly. "I really wonder at you Monica." And, having so scolded her idol, she relapses into silence for a considerable time.
"Oh! what lovely dog-roses!" says Monica, presently, pointing to a hanging spray of pink blossoms, satisfying as a happy dream. "I must get them."
She springs up a mossy bank as she speaks, regardless of the blackberry branches that cross her path, barring her way, and catching viciously at her skirts, as though to hinder her progress.
"Oh, take care!" cries Kit, forgetting all about Lord Bacon in her terror lest her pretty sister shall not show to the best advantage in her lover's eyes. "Your gown will be torn. Wait, wait, until I set you free from these dreadful thorns."
"'Alas! how full of briers is this working-day-world,'" quotes Monica, gayly. "There, now I am all right, and I have got my pretty roses into the bargain. Are they not sweet?—sweet?" holding them right under Kit's nose.
"They are, indeed. And, by the by, here we are," pointing to a low farmhouse in the distance.
Reaching it, and finding the door as usual open, they enter what might be the hall in another house, but is here the kitchen. There is no leading up to it. From the moment you cross the threshold the kitchen lies before you.
It is a large room, if it may so be called, with a huge fireplace in which a dozen fires might be stowed away and forgotten. Just now there is a flame somewhere in its blackmost depths that cannot possibly annoy these June visitors, as one has to search for it to find it.
An old woman, infirm and toothless, yet with all the remains of great beauty, sits cowering over this hidden turf fire, mumbling to herself, it may be, of golden days now past and gone, when she had been the fairest colleen at mass or pattern, and had counted her lovers by the score. Yea, those were good old times, when the sky was ever blue and all the earth was young.
Two young women, sitting near her, but farther from the chimney-nook, are gossiping idly, but persistently, in the soft, mellifluous brogue that distinguishes the county Cork.
As the Beresford girls enter, these two latter women rise simultaneously and courtesy with deep respect. The youngest of them, who is so like the handsome old woman in the corner of the fireplace as to be unmistakably of kin to her, comes quickly forward to greet her visitors with the kindly grace and the absence of consciousness that distinguish the Irish peasantry when doing the honors of their own homes. This lack of mauvaise honte arises perhaps from the fact that they are so honestly glad to welcome a guest beneath their roof that they forget to be shy or backward.
She makes a slight effort to pull down her tucked-up sleeves, and then desists, for which any one with a mind artistic should be devoutly grateful, as her arms, brown as they are from exposure to the sun, are at least shaped to perfection. She is dressed in a maroon-colored skirt and body, the skirt so turned up in fishwife fashion (as we wore it some seasons ago) that a dark-blue petticoat beneath, of some coarse description, can be distinctly seen.
Her throat is a little bare, arms, as I have said, quite so, far up above the elbows. She is stout and comely, with a beautiful laughing mouth, and eyes of deepest gray, merry as her lips. Outside, lying about, half naked in the warm sunshine, are three or four boys with the same eyes and mouth, undeniably her children.
"Wisha! 'tis meself's glad to see ye," she says, with a beaming smile. "Good luck to yer faces. 'Tis a long time now, Miss Beresford, since ye came, or Miss Kit there."
"I promised your mother a pudding, and I have brought it," says Kit.
"Look at that, now! 'Tis a trouble we are to ye entirely. Mother, wake up a bit, an' thank Miss Kit for what she's brought ye."
"Ye're too kind, asthore, too kind," mumbles the old woman in the corner, turning eyes that are still full of light upon the child, "to think of an ould 'ooman now in the grave as it might be. Ay, faix! An' the bells a-ringin' too. I can hear 'em sometimes, when the wind's down——"
"Nonsense, mother! the yard (churchyard) will be lonely for ye yet awhile," says Mrs. Daly, junior, cheerfully. "See, now! taste this: 'twill do ye good. An' you'll sit down, Miss Monica, I hope. Take care, honey, till I dust the chair for ye." This is dexterously done with the corner of her apron. "An' ye'll take a dhrop o' tay too, may be; oh, ye will now, if only to plase me, afther yer long walk, an' all to honor the ould woman."
"Ah, there is Mrs. Moloney!" says Kit, addressing the second younger woman, who is a thin little peasant with a somewhat discontented expression. "The sun blinded my eyes so that I could not see you at first. Have you heard from your boy at sea?"
"Yes, miss. Praises be above! He's doin' well, he says; but it's belike I'll never see a sight of his handsome face again."
"Oh, nonsense, now, Mrs. Moloney, me dear! What are ye talkin' like that for?" says young Mrs. Daly, who seems to be the parish consoler. "Sure it's back he'll be wid ye before the new year."
"Oh, yes, I hope so," says Monica, softly.
"'Tis hard to hope, miss, wid the rowling wind o' nights, an' the waves dashin' up on the beach."
"Ye're an ould croaker," says Mrs. Daly, giving her a good-humored shake, "An' now sit down, Miss Monica an' Miss Kit, do, till I get ye the sup o' tay. Mrs. Moloney, me dear, jist give the fire a poke, an' make the kittle sing us a song. 'Tis the music we want most now."
It would have been considered not only a rudeness, but an act hauteur, to refuse this simple hospitality: so the girls seat themselves, and, indeed, to tell the truth, are rather glad than otherwise of this chance of securing their afternoon tea.
"An' how are the old ladies up above?" says Mrs. Daly, meaning the Misses Blake.
"Quite well, thank you," says Monica. "It was only yesterday Aunt Priscilla was saying she should come down and see old Mrs. Daly."
"She's as welcome as the flowers in May whenever she comes," says the daughter-in-law. "D'ye hear that, mother? Miss Priscilla's comin' to see ye, some day soon. Ay, 'tis a good friend she always was to the poor, summer an' winter; an' isn't it wondherful now, Miss Monica, how she's kept her figure all through? Why," raising her hands with an expressive gesture of astonishment, "'twas Friday week I saw her, an' I said to meself, says I, she's the figure o' a young girl, I says. Ye'll take a taste o' this home-made cake, alanna."
She is made happy forever by Kit's unmistakable enjoyment of this last-named luxury.
"Ay, she's an iligant figure even now," says Mrs. Moloney, in her depressing voice. "But time an' throuble is cruel hard on some of us. I had a figure meself when I was young," with a heartrending sigh.
"Ye were always slight, me dear, an' ye're slight now too," says Mrs. Daly, tenderly. "I niver see the like o'ye for keepin' off the flesh. Why, I remember ye well as a slip o' a girl, before yer blessed babby was born, an' ye were a screed, me dear,—a screed."
"Yes, I was always ginteel," says Mrs. Moloney, openly consoled. Still she sighs, and sips her tea with a mournful air. Mrs. Daly is drinking hers with much appreciation out of her saucer, it being considered discourteous to offer anything to a guest without partaking of the same one's self.
At this moment a little cooing sound coming from the other corner of the fireplace makes itself heard. Instantly the old woman stooping over the turf embers rouses herself, and, turning, puts out her withered hand lovingly towards what looks like a box covered with colored stuff of some sort. Young Mrs. Daly rises too, precipitately and, hurrying across the kitchen, bends over the box.
"Ay, she's awake sure enough!" says the old woman, who has quite brightened into life. "See how she looks at ye, Molly! The colleen of the world, she was! asthore machree-sthig."
Many another fond name is muttered, such as "pulse o' my heart," and such like, before Mrs. Daly junior emerges from the supposed box, but not empty-handed.
"Oh! it is the baby!" cry Monica and Kit, in a breath. "Oh! what a darling baby! and what red, red cheeks, just like a June rose!"
It is the only daughter of the house, so the mother is of course inordinately proud of it. She places it, with quite a little flourish of triumph, in Monica's arms, to Kit's terrible but unspoken disappointment.
"She grows prettier every day. She is really the sweetest baby I ever saw in my life!" says Monica, enthusiastically, to whom babies are an endless joy.
The mother is pleased beyond doubt at these compliments, yet a shade of anxiety crosses her brow. To praise a child too much in the superstition of these simple folks, is to "overlook" it; and when a child is "overlooked" it dies. The smiles fades from Mrs. Daly's bonny face, and her mouth grows anxious.
"You should say, 'God bless her,' miss, when ye give her the good word," says Mrs. Moloney, timidly, who is also bending over the beloved bundle, and notes the distress in her neighbor's eyes.
"God bless her!" says Monica with pretty solemnity, after which the mother's face clears, and sunshine is again restored to it.
"I think she knows ye," she says to Monica. "See how she blinks at ye! Arrah! look, now, how she clutches at yer hand! Will ye come to yer mother now, darlin',—will ye? Sure 'tis starvin' ye must be, by this."
"Oh! don't take her yet," says Monica, entreatingly.
A little figure with naked legs and feet, creeping into the doorway at this moment, draws near the baby as if fascinated. It is Paudheen, the eldest son of the house, and baby's nurse,—save the mark!
"Come nearer, Paddy," says Monica, smiling at him with sweet encouragement; but Paddy stops short and regards her doubtfully.
"Come, then, and kiss your little sister," continues Monica, gently; but Paddy is still obdurate, and declines to hearken to the charmer, charm she never so wisely. There is, indeed, a sad lack both of sweetness and light about Paddy.
"An' what d'ye mane be standin' there, an' niver a word out o' ye in answer to the lady, ye ill-mannered caubogue?" cries his mother, deeply incensed. The laughter is all gone from her face, and her eyes are aflame. "What brought ye in at all, ye ugly spalpeen, if ye came without a civil tongue in yer head?"
"I came to see the baby an' to get me dinner," says the boy, with hanging head, his silence arising more from shyness than sullenness. The potatoes have just been lifted from the fire by Mrs. Moloney, and are steaming in a distant corner. Paudheen looks wistfully towards them.
"Dickens a sign or taste ye'll get, then, if only to tache ye better manners. Be off, now, an' don't let me see ye agin."
"I'm hungry," says the boy, tears coming into his eyes.
"Oh, Mrs. Daly!" says Monica, in a distressed tone.
"A deal o' harm it will do him to be hungry, thin!" says the culprit's mother, with an angry voice, but with visible signs of relenting in her handsome eyes. "Be off wid ye now, I tell ye." This is the last burst of the storm. As the urchin creeps crestfallen towards the doorway her rage dies, its death being as sudden as its birth. "Come back here!" she cries, inconsistently. "What d'ye mane be takin' me at me word like that? Come back, I tell ye, an' go an' ate something, ye crathur. How dare ye behave as if I was a bad mother to ye?"
The boy comes back, and, raising his bonny head, smiles at her fondly but audaciously.
"Look at him, now, the blackguard," says the mother, returning the smile in kind. "Was there ever the like of him? Go an' ate yer praties now, and thank yer stars Miss Monica was here to say a good word for ye."
Paddy, glad of his rescue, casts a shy glance at Monica, and then, going over to where his grandmother and the pot of potatoes rest side by side, sits down (close cuddled up to the old dame) to fill his little empty stomach with as many of those esculent roots as he can manage, which, in truth, is the poor child's only dinner from year's end to year's end. And yet it is a remarkable fact that, in spite of this scanty fare, the Irish peasant, when come to man's estate, is ever strong and vigorous and well grown. And who shall say he hasn't done his queen good service, too, on many a battle-field? and even in these latter days, when sad rebellion racks our land, has not his name been worthy of honorable mention on the plains of Tel-el-Kebir?
"I don't think he looks like a bad boy, Mrs. Daly," says Monica, reflectively, gazing at the liberated Paddy.
"Bad, miss, is it?" says the mother, who, having made her eldest born out a villain, is now prepared to maintain he is a veritable saint. "You don't know him, faix. Sure there niver was the like of him yet. He is a raal jewel, that gossoon o' mine, an' the light of his father's eyes. Signs on it, he'd die for Daly! There niver was sich a love betwixt father an' son. He's the joy o' my life, an' the greatest help to me. 'Tis he minds the pig, an' the baby, an' ould granny there, an' everything. I'd be widout my right hand if I lost him."
"But I thought you said——" begins Monica, mystified by this change from righteous wrath to unbounded admiration.
"Arrah, niver mind what I said, acushla," says the younger Mrs. Daly, with an emphatic wink. "Sure 'twas only to keep him in ordher a bit, I said it at all at all! But 'tis young he is yet, the crathur."
"Very young. Oh, Mrs. Daly, look at baby! See how she is trying to get at my hair!" Monica is beginning in a delighted tone,—as though to have one's hair pulled out by the roots is the most enchanting sensation in the world,—when suddenly her voice dies away into silence, and she herself stares with great open violet eyes at something that darkens the doorway and throws a shadow upon the assembled group within.
It is Desmond!
Kit, feeling as guilty as though she were the leading character in some conspiracy, colors crimson, and retires behind Mrs. Moloney. She lowers her eyes, and is as mute as death. But Monica speaks.
"Is it you?" she says. Which, of course, is quite the silliest thing she can say, as he is standing there regarding her with eyes so full of light and love that the cleverest ghost could not copy them. But then she is not sillier than her fellows, for, as a rule, all people, if you remark, say, "Is that you?" or "Have you come?" when they are actually looking into your face and should be able to answer the question for themselves.
"Yes, it is," says Desmond, with such an amount of diffidence (I hope it wasn't assumed) as should have melted the heart of the hardest woman upon earth. Monica is not the hardest woman upon earth.
Still, she makes him no further speech, and Desmond begins to wonder if he is yet forgiven. He is regarding her fixedly; but she, after that first swift glance, has turned her attention upon the baby on her knee, and is seemingly lost in admiration of its little snub nose. Why will she not look at him? What did he say to her last night that is so difficult to forgive? Can wrath be cherished for so long in that gentle bosom? Her face is as calm as an angel's; surely
"There's nothing ill can dwell in such a temple."
"Ah! come in, Misther Desmond," says Mrs. Daly, hospitably. "I'm glad 'tis company I have before you the day. Maybe 'twill coax ye to come again. Where have you been this week an' more? Faix, ye were so long in comin', I thought 'twas angry wid me ye were."
"Nobody is ever angry with a pretty woman like you," says Desmond, saucily.
"Oh, now, hark to him!" says Mrs. Daly laughing heartily. "I wonder ye aren't ashamed of yourself. An' is the ould Squire hearty?"
"He's as well as even you could wish him. How d'ye do, Kit? Won't you come and speak to me?"
He has been afraid to shake hands with Monica up to this, but now she turns suddenly towards him and holds out to him one slender fair hand, the other being twined round the baby. She does this musingly.
He grasps the little snowy hand with almost senile delight, and holds it for—as long as he dares. During this undefined period he tells himself what a perfect picture she is, with her clear, pale, beautiful face, and her nut-brown hair, and the tender sweetness of her attitude, as she bends over the smiling baby. Could any vaunted Madonna be half as lovely? At this moment a growing contempt for all the greatest masterpieces of the greatest masters permeates his being and renders him weak in faith.
"Won't ye sit down, thin?" says Mrs. Daly. Being a woman, she grasps the situation at a glance, and places a chair for him close to Monica. "What's the matther wid ye to-day, Misther Desmond, that ye haven't a word to give us?"
"You ought to know what I'm thinking of," says Desmond, accepting the chair, and drawing it even a degree closer to Monica.
"Faix, thin, I don't," says Mrs. Daly junior, her handsome face full of smiles. A love-affair is as good as a saint's day to an Irish peasant; and here she tells herself, with a glance at Monica, is one ready-made to her hand.
"I'm thinking what a lucky man Daly is," says Desmond, promptly.
"Oh, git along wid ye now, an' yer blarney!" says Mrs. Daly, roaring with laughter; whilst even Mrs. Moloney the dismal, and the old granny in the corner, chime in merrily.
And then the visit comes to a close, and they all rise and bid Mrs. Daly and the others "good-by;" and Monica, mindful of his late affliction, bestows a soft parting word upon the subdued Paddy.
And now they are all in the open air again, and, turning down the boreen that leads to the Daly's homestead, reach the road that leads to Moyne. It is Desmond's way as well as theirs, so he accompanies the girls without remark.
"What brought you to see the Dalys, to-day?" asks Monica, suddenly, without any ulterior meaning beyond the desire of making conversation; but to Kit's guilty soul this question seems fraught with mischief.
"Oh, I often go to see Daly. I want him to come fishing with me to-morrow: he's the best man about here for that, and trudges behind one for miles without complaining."
"Well, I hope you enjoyed your visit to-day," says Kit, blithely, glancing at him mischievously from beneath her broad hat.
"There was a drawback," says Brian, unthinkingly. "I went there full of hope, and, after all, she never offered me any of your pudding!"
Kit's agonized glance and Monica's questioning eyes awake Mr. Desmond to a knowledge of what he has done.
"How did you hear of Kit's pudding?" asks Monica, looking keenly from Brian to Kit, and then back again.
"Oh!—the pudding," stammers Desmond.
"There! don't commit yourself," says Monica, in a tone that trembles. "Oh, Kit!"
Both culprits are afraid to look at her. Does the tremble mean tears, or anger, or what? Perhaps horror at their duplicity, or contempt. Is she hopelessly angered?
Then a suppressed sound reaches their ears, creating a fresh panic in their breasts. Is she positively choking with indignation? Cautiously, anxiously, they glance at her, and find, to their everlasting relief, that she is convulsed with laughter.
"When next you meditate forming a brilliant plot such as this," she says to Kit, "I think I should look out a more trustworthy accomplice if I were you."
"Catch me having a secret with him again," says Kit now her fears are appeased, turning wrathfully upon Desmond.
"I quite forgot all about it, I did, indeed," exclaims he, penitently. "Forgive me this time, and I'll promise never to do it again."
"And I'll promise you you shan't have the chance," says Kit, with fervor.
"Why was I to be deceived?" says Monica. "I think I have been very basely treated. If you, Kit, desired a clandestine meeting with Mr. Desmond, I don't see why I was to be drawn into it. And it was a stupid arrangement, too: two is company, three trumpery. I know, if I had a lover, I should prefer——"
"Monica!" says Kit, indignantly; but Monica only laughs the more.
"It is my turn now, you know," she says.
"Kit had nothing to do with it: it was all my fault," says Desmond, laughing too. "If you must pour out the vials of your wrath on some one, let it be on me."
"Yes, give him a good scolding, Monica," says Kit viciously, but with a lovely smile. "I am going to pick to some ferns for Aunt Pen; when I return I hope I shall find that recreant knight of yours—I mean mine—at the point of death!"
At this she flits away from them, like the good little thing she is, up a sloping bank, and so into the fields beyond, until Desmond and Monica are as much alone as if a whole sphere divided them from their kind. Dear little Kit! When her own time comes may she be as kindly dealt with!
"You are angry with me still,—about last night," says Desmond, softly, "and, I own, with cause. But I was miserable when I called you a coquette, and misery makes a man unjust. I wrote to Kit this morning,—I was afraid to write to you,—and she was very good to me."
"How good?" plucking a leaf from a brier, as she goes slowly, very slowly—down the road.
"She brought me you. Do you know, Monica, I have been as unhappy as a man can be since last I saw you,—a whole night and part of a day? Is it not punishment enough?"
"Too much for your crime," whispers she, softly, turning suddenly towards him and letting her great luminous eyes rest with forgiveness upon his. She smiles sweetly, but with some timidity, because of the ardor of the glance that answers hers. Taking her hand with an impulsive movement impossible to restrain, Desmond presses it rapturously to his lips. Drawing it away from him with shy haste, Monica walks on in silence.
"If I had written to you, and not to her, would you still have been here to-day?" asks he, presently.
"I think not."
"That is a cruel answer, is it not?"
"Would you have me belie my nature?" asks she, with quick agitation; "would you have me grow false, secret, deceitful? My aunts trust me: am I to prove myself unworthy of their confidence?"
"I am less to you, then, than your aunts' displeasure!"
"You are less to me than my conscience; and yet——"
With a violent effort, that betrays how far her thoughts have been travelling in company with his, she brings herself back to the present moment, and a recollection of the many reasons why she must not listen to his wooing. "Why should you believe yourself anything to me?" she asks, in a voice that quivers audibly.
"Ah, why, indeed?" returns he, bitterly. There is such pain in his voice and face that her soul yearns towards him, and she repents of her last words.
"I am wrong. You are something to me," she says, in a tone so low that he can scarcely hear it. But lovers' ears are sharp.
"You mean that, Monica?"
"Yes," still lower.
"Then why cannot I be more to you? Why am I to be denied a chance of forwarding the cause in which all my hopes are centred? Monica, say you will meet me somewhere—soon."
"How can I?" she says, tremulously. Her voice is full of tears. She is altogether different from the coquettish, provoking child of last night. "You forget all I have just now said."
"At least tell me," says he, sadly, "that if you could you would."
There is a pathetic ring in his tone, and tears rise to her eyes. Can anything be so hopeless as this love-affair of hers?
"Yes, I would," she says, almost desperately.
"Oh, darling—darling!" says the young man with passion. He holds her hands closely, and looks into her troubled eyes, and wishes he might dare take her into his arms and, pressing her to his heart, ask her to repeat her words again. But there is something in the calm purity of her beautiful face that repels vehemence of any sort; and as yet—although the dawn is near—her love has not declared itself to her own soul in all its strength.
"I have at least one consolation," he says, at last, calling to mind the quietude that surrounds Moyne and its inhabitants, and the withdrawal from society that has obtained there for many years. "As you are not allowed to see me,—except on such rare occasions as the present when the Fates are kind,—you cannot at least see any one else,—often, that is."
She laughs a little, and then colors.
"Aunt Priscilla has asked him to come to Moyne next Friday," she says, looking at the ground: "she is giving an At Home on that day, for him and Captain Cobbett. She says she feels it is a duty to her queen to show some attention to her servants."
In her tone, as she says this, there is a spice of that mischief that is never very far from any pretty woman.
"He is to be invited to Moyne,—to spend an entire day with you!" says Desmond, thunderstruck by this last piece of news.
"Oh, no! only part of it," says Monica, meekly.
"It is just as bad. It is disgraceful! Your aunts are purposely encouraging him to keep you away from me. Oh, why," wretchedly, "should this unlucky quarrel have arisen between our house and yours?"
"Well, that's your fault," says Monica.
"Your uncle's, then. It is all the same," unjustly.
"I really can't see that," says Mr. Desmond, very righteously aggrieved; "that is visiting the sins of the uncles upon the nephews with a vengeance! Monica, at least promise me you won't be civil to him."
"To your uncle?"
"Nonsense! You know I mean Ryde."
"I can't be rude to him."
"You can. Why not? It will keep him from calling again."
"Oh, I daresay you want him to call again," says Desmond, angrily.
At this moment, the gates of Moyne being in sight, and those of Coole long passed, Kit suddenly appears on the top of a high stone wall, and calls gayly to Desmond to come and help her alight.
"And now go away too," she says: "you are forbidden goods, you know, and we must not be seen talking to you, under pain of death."
"Good-by," says Desmond, with alacrity, who is, in truth, sulky, and undesirous of further parley with his beloved. "Good-by, Miss Beresford."
"Good-by," says Monica, shortly.
"We shall see you again soon, no doubt," says Kit, kindly, in her clear, sweet treble.
"I think it very improbable," returns he, raising his hat gravely and taking his departure.
"Now, what have you been saying to that wretched young man, Monica?" says Kit, severely, standing still in the middle of the road, the better to bring her sister beneath the majesty of her eye.
"Nothing. Nothing that any reasonable being could object to," declares Monica, with such an amount of vigor as startles Kit. "But of all the ill-tempered, bearish, detestable men I ever met in my life, he is the worst."
Which unlooked for explosion from the gentle Monica has the effect of silencing Kit for the remainder of the walk.
How the Misses Blake discover a gigantic fraud—How Terence is again arraigned, and brought before the Court on a charge of duplicity—and how he is nearly committed for contempt.
Reaching home, they find the atmosphere there decidedly clouded. Miss Priscilla, who has returned from her drive just a moment before, is standing in the hall, gazing with a stern countenance upon the old-fashioned eight-day clock, in which two or three people might be safely stowed away. The clock regards her not at all, but ticks on loudly with a sort of exasperating obstinacy, as though determined to remind every one of the flight of time.
"Who has wound this clock?" demands Miss Priscilla, in an awful tone. With a thrill of thankfulness the girls feel they can answer truthfully, "Not I."
"Dear me!" says Miss Penelope, timidly, advancing from the morning-room; "I did. You were so long out, Priscilla, and I feared—I mean, I thought it would save you the trouble."
"Trouble in winding a clock! What trouble could there be in that? And it is never wound until Saturday evening. For twenty years I have wound it on Saturday evening. A good eight-day clock nearly fifty years old can't bear being tampered with. Now, Penelope, why did you do that? You know that I can't endure old rules to be upset."
"But, my dear Priscilla, I only thought as I was passing——"
"You thought, Penelope; but I wish you wouldn't think. There are other things you ought to think about that you often neglect; and——"
"Now, Priscilla, is that just? I think—I hope I seldom neglect my duty; and I must say I didn't expect this from you."
Here Miss Penelope dissolves into tears, to Monica's grief and dismay.
"Oh, Aunt Priscilla, I am sure Aunt Pen only meant to save you trouble," she says, earnestly, putting her arms round Miss Penelope, who sobs audibly on her shoulder.
"And who says I thought anything else?" says poor Miss Priscilla, fiercely, though her voice trembles with emotion: it is terrible to her to see her faithful friend and sister in tears of her causing. "Penelope, I meant nothing, but I have heard something that has grieved and disturbed me: so I must needs come home and avenge my ill-temper on the best creature in the world. Alas! I am a wicked woman."
"Oh, no, no," cries Miss Penelope. "My dear Priscilla, you will break my heart if you talk thus. My good soul, come in here and tell me what has happened to distress you."
In truth it is quite plain now that something has happened during her drive to take Miss Priscilla's well-balanced mind off its hinges.
"Where is Terence?" she asks, looking from one to other of the group in the hall.
"Here," says Terence himself, coming leisurely towards her from a side-passage.
"Come in here with me," says Miss Priscilla; and they all follow her into the morning-room.
Here she turns and faces the unconscious Terence with a pale, reproachful face.
"When I tell you I have just come from Mitson the coast-guard, and that I thanked him for having lent you his gun, you will understand how I have been grieved and pained to-day," she says, a tremor in her voice.
Terence is no longer unconscious; and Monica feels that her heart is beating like a lump of lead.
"Oh! what is it, Priscilla?" asks Miss Penelope, greatly frightened.
"A tale of craft and cunning," says Miss Priscilla in a hollow tone. "Mitson tells me he never lent him that gun. Terence has wilfully deceived us, his poor aunts, who love him and only desire his good. He has, I fear, basely mystified us to accomplish his own ends, and has indeed departed from the precious truth."
"I never said Mitson did lend it to me," says Terence, sullenly: "you yourself suggested the idea, and I let it slide, that was all."
"All! Is not prevarication only a mean lie? Oh, Terence, I am so deeply grieved! I know not what to say to you."
The scene is becoming positively tragical. Already a sense of crime of the blackest and deepest dye is overpowering Terence.
"Whom did you get that gun from, Terence?" asks Miss Priscilla, sternly.
"Now, Terence, be calm," says Miss Penelope. "Sit down now, Terence, and collect yourself, and don't be untruthful again."
"I have told no lie, aunt," says Terence, indignantly.
"Then tell your good Aunt Priscilla who gave you the gun."
"Are we to understand that you won't tell us, Terence?" asks Miss Priscilla, faintly. She is now much the more nervous of the two old maids.
Terence casts a hasty glance at Monica's white face, and then says, stoutly,—
"I don't want to tell, and I won't!"
"Terence!" exclaims the usually mild Miss Penelope, with great indignation, and is going to further relieve her mind, no doubt, when Miss Priscilla, throwing up her hands, checks her.
"Let him alone, Penelope," she says, sadly. "Perhaps he has some good reason: let us not press him too far. Obduracy is better than falsehood. Let us go and pray that heaven may soften his heart and grant him a right understanding."
With this the two old ladies walk slowly and with dignity from the room, leaving the criminal with his sisters.
Monica bursts into tears and flings her arms round his neck. "You did it for me. I know it!—I saw it in your eyes," she says. "Oh, Terence, I feel as if it was all my fault."
"Fiddlesticks!" says Mr. Beresford, who is in a boiling rage. "Did you ever hear anything like her? and all about a paltry thing like that! She couldn't behave worse if I had been convicted of murder. I'm convinced"—viciously—"it was all baffled curiosity that got up her temper. She was dying to know about that gun, and so I was determined I wouldn't gratify her. A regular old cat, if ever there was one."
"Oh, no! don't speak like that; I am sure they love you—and they were disappointed—and——"
"They'll have to get through a good deal of disappointment," says Terence, still fuming. "What right have they to make me out a Sir Galahad in their imaginations? I'd perfectly hate to be a Sir Galahad; and so I tell them." This is not strictly correct as the Misses Blake are out of hearing. "And as for their love, they may keep it, if it only means blowing a fellow up for nothing."
"Aunt Penelope was just as bad," says Kit. "I really"—with dignified contempt—"felt quite ashamed of her!"
* * * * *
Miss Priscilla keeps a diary, in which she most faithfully records all that happens in every one of the three hundred and sixty-five days of every year.
About this time there may be seen in it an entry such as follows:
"Saturday, July 3.—I fear Terence told a LIE! He certainly equivocated! Penelope and I have done our best to discover the real owner of THE gun, but as yet have failed. The secret rests with Terence, and to force his confidence would be unchristian; but it may transpire in time."
After this come sundry other jottings, such as—
"Monday, July 5.—Past four. Fanny Stack called. Penelope in the garden, as usual. All the trouble of entertaining falling upon my hands. Still, I do not repine. Providence is good; and Penelope of course, dear soul, should be allowed the recreation that pertains to her garden. And, indeed, a sweet place she makes of it."
After this again comes a third paragraph:
"Tuesday, July 6.—Terence again most wilful, and Kit somewhat saucy; yet my heart yearns over these children. God grant they be guided by a tender hand along the straight and narrow way!"
* * * * *
It is the next day, July 7, and the two Misses Blake, standing in the dining-room, are discussing Terence again. They have had a great shock, these two old ladies, in the discovery of a duplicity that they in their simplicity have magnified fourfold. How is it possible they should remember how they felt thirty years ago?
"I doubt we must keep a tight hand upon him, Penelope," says Miss Priscilla, sorrowfully. "The rector is very lax. He goes to him day by day, but beyond Greek and Latin seems to imbibe little else. And morals are the groundwork of all, and surely superior to the languages spoken by those who believed in heathen gods. I wonder at the rector, I must say. But we must only make up for his deficiences by keeping a tight hand, as I said before, upon this unhappy boy."
"Yes, but not too tight, Priscilla; that might only create a rebellious feeling and destroy all our chances of success. And we are bent on leading this poor dear boy (poor Katherine's boy, Priscilla) into the way of truth."
"Yes, yes; we must be cautious, most cautious, in our treatment," says Miss Priscilla, nervously, "and very careful of his comings and goings, without appearing to be so! Dear me! dear me! I wonder if the greatness of our cause justifies so much deceit. It sounds jesuitical, my dear Penelope, say what we can."
"The end justifies the means," says Miss Penelope, as solemnly as if this speech emanated from her throat as an original remark.
"Oh, don't! my dear Penelope!" says Miss Priscilla, with a shudder; "that is their principal argument."
"Whose? The children's?" asks Miss Penelope, startled.
"No; the Jesuits,—the Inquisitors,—those dreadful people we read of in 'Westward Ho,'" says Miss Priscilla, protestingly. "Still, I agree with you; secrecy is the part we have to play. We must keep one eye" (as if there was only one between them) "upon him without seeming to do so. And there he is,"—pointing through the window to where Terence may be seen coming slowly towards the window in which they stand in a most unhappy frame of mind.
"I wonder where he can have been for the past half-hour," says Miss Priscilla presently, in a nervous whisper, though Terence is so far off that if she spoke at the top of her lungs he could not have heard her.
"Perhaps if we ask him he may tell us," says Miss Penelope, equally nervous and decidedly with great doubt as to the success of her suggestion.
"Well, you ask him," says Miss Priscilla.
"I am greatly wanting in force on occasions such as these," says Miss Penelope, hurriedly. "No, no, my dear; you ask him. But be gentle with him, my dear Priscilla."
"Why can't you do it?" persists Miss Blake, plainly anxious to shift the obnoxious task from her own shoulders to another's. "You have great influence with the children, I have remarked many times."
"Nothing to yours," says Miss Penelope, with an agitated wave of her hand. "I couldn't do it; indeed I couldn't, my dear Priscilla," openly quaking. "Don't ask me. See, here he comes! Now be firm,—be firm, Priscilla, but lenient, very lenient: he is only a boy, remember, and even the great Luther was strangely wanting in principle when young."
"It is my duty; I suppose I must go through with it," says poor Miss Priscilla, sighing; and then she throws wide the window and calls to Terence to come to her.
"Where have you been, Terence?"
"At the back gate, aunt."
"But, my dear Terence, why at the back gate? Such a nice day for a good long wholesome walk! Why spend it at the back gate?"
"My dear boy, be calm. Wait a moment now, Terence, and don't hurry yourself. There is no occasion for haste."
"I was only going to say, aunt——"
"Pause now, Terence: consider well before you speak. Though, indeed, there should be no need for consideration when only the simple but lovely truth is required. Truth is always lovely, Terence; it is a flower of great beauty. Collect yourself, now." (This is a favorite formula with the Misses Blake.) "Don't tell a lie, Terence!"
"Why should I tell a lie?" says Terence, fiercely, feeling at this moment that death, when compared with nagging, would be sweet.
"Oh, Terence, what a tone! and to your good aunt Penelope, who loves you! Such a tone as that, my dear, is unchristian. Now, we don't want to know what you were doing at the back gate. Why should you be afraid of us? Are we not your greatest friends? But what could you have been doing for half an hour at the back gate, Terence?"
"I went up there with Michael, aunt."
"I didn't ask you that, dear. I am afraid you have no confidence in us, Terence. I didn't ask you who went with you. Can't you say yes or no, Terence? Were you long at the gate?"
"Was any one but Michael with you?"
"Was it Adams?"
"Can't you say anything but yes or no, Terence? Have you no command of the Queen's English, after all the money, too, your poor father wasted on your education,—and now the rector? Speak up, my dear child, and tell us everything honestly and nobly."
"But there is nothing to tell, aunt, except that——"
"No, collect yourself, Terence; take time, my dear. Now, answer me: who was with you, besides Michael?"
The hoary-headed butler being, like Caesar's wife, above suspicion, the Misses Blake are pulled up pretty short,—so short, indeed, that they forget to ask if any one besides the respectable Timothy was at the obnoxious back gate. Perhaps had they known that the smith's son, and two or three other young men, had been there, and that all had been talking the most violent politics, their fears for Terence's morality would have increased rather than diminished.
As it is, they are well pleased.
"But why didn't you say that at once, my dear boy? We are so afraid of your mixing with evil companions."
Terence thinks of the smith's son, and his unqualified opinion that all landlords and aristocrats and sovereigns should be "stamped out," and wonders if he would come under the category of evil companions, but he wisely refrains from speech.
"And," says Miss Penelope, softly, "why didn't you tell us before leaving the house where you were going? I am sure, if you had, both your aunt Priscilla and I would have been delighted to go with you, busy though we were."
This is the climax. Again in Terence's fevered imagination the smith's son arises, wielding his brawny brown arm like a sledge-hammer, as he noisily lays down the laws of extermination: he can see himself, too, joining in the fray, and defying the smith's son's opinion with an eloquence of which he had been only proud. He feels he is deceiving these two old ladies, and is angry with himself for doing it, and still more angry with them for making him do it.
"I am glad we have heard the truth at last, Terence," says Miss Priscilla. "There is nothing so mean or contemptible as a lie."
"You are enough to make any fellow tell a lie," bursts out Terence, with miserable rage, "with your questionings and pryings!"
At this awful speech, the two Misses Blake burst into tears, and Terence dashes in a fury from the room.
How the afternoon at Moyne proves a great success—How Olga Bohun is led into a half confession, and how Monica, growing restless, seeks a dubious solitude.
"It is quite the loveliest old place in the world!" says Mrs. Bohun, in her soft plaintive voice, speaking very enthusiastically. "We ought to be more than grateful to you, dear Miss Blake, for letting us see it."
Miss Priscilla reddens with suppressed satisfaction but says,—
"Tut tut, my dear! It is only a funny old-fashioned spot, after all," in quite an off-hand manner.
It is Friday,—the Friday,—as the Misses Blake have been thinking of it for days, in fear and trembling, as being the date of their first hospitable venture for many years.
All the Aghyohillbeg party, and the men from Clonbree Barracks, and some other neighbors, are strolling through the sweet antiquated gardens of Moyne, hedged with yews fantastically cut. The roses, white and red and yellow, are nodding their heads lazily, bowing and courtesying to the passing breeze. The stocks and mignonette are filling the air with perfume. Tall lilies are smiling from distant corners, and the little merry burn, tumbling over its gray boulders through the garden, is singing a loud and happy song, in which the birds in the trees above join heartily.
The lazy hum of many insects makes one feel even more perceptibly how drowsy-sweet is all the summer air.
Mrs. Bohun has now flitted away with Monica, who in her white gown looks the prettiest flower of all, in this "wilderness of sweets," with the tall, infatuated Ryde and handsome young Ronayne in their train. Mrs. Bohun, who is in one of her most mischievous moods to-day, has taken it into her head to snub Lord Rossmoyne and be all that is of the sweetest to Ulic Ronayne, a proceeding her cousin, Mrs. Herrick, regards with dismay.
Not so, however, does Bella Fitzgerald regard it. She, tall, and with a would-be stately air, walks through the grounds at Lord Rossmoyne's side, to whom she has attached herself, and who, faute de mieux, makes himself as agreeable as he can to her, considering how he is inwardly raging at what he is pleased to term Olga's disgraceful behavior.
Miss Priscilla has now been seized upon by Madam O'Connor and carried off for a private confab.
"And you really must let her come to us for a week, my dear," says Madam O'Connor, in her fine rich brogue. "Yes, now, really I want her. It will be quite a favor. I can't withstand a pretty face, as you well know 'tis a weakness of mine, my dear, and she is really a pearl. Olga Bohun is talking of getting up tableaux or some such nonsense, and she wants your pretty child to help us."
"I should like her to go to you. It is very kind of you," says Miss Priscilla, but with unmistakable hesitation.
"Now, what is it? Out with it, Priscilla!" says Madam O'Connor, bluntly.
Miss Priscilla struggles with herself for yet another minute, and then says, quickly,—
"That young man Desmond,—will he be staying in your house?"
"Not if you object, my dear," says Mrs. O'Connor, kindly; "though I do think it is a pity to thwart that affair. He is as nice and as pleasant a young fellow as I know, and would make a jewel of a husband; and money—say what you like, my dear Priscilla—is always something. It ranks higher than revenge."
"There is no revenge. It is only a just resentment."
"Well, I'll call it by any name you like, my dear, but I must say——"
"I must beg, Gertrude, you will not discuss this unhappy subject," says Miss Priscilla, with some agitation.
"Well, I won't, there. Then let it lie," says Madam O'Connor, good-humoredly. "And tell me, now, if I come over to fetch Monica on Monday, will she be ready for me?"
"Quite ready. But we have not consulted her yet," says Miss Priscilla, clinging to a broken reed.
"Olga is talking to her about it. And, if she's the girl she looks, she'll be glad of a change, and the chance of a sweetheart," says Madam O'Connor, gayly.
* * * * *
"What lovely lilies!" says Mrs. Bohun, standing before a tall white group.
"Oh, don't!" says Owen Kelly, who has joined her and Monica. "Whenever I hear a lily mentioned I think of Oscar Wilde, and it hurts very much."
"I like Oscar Wilde. He is quite nice, and very amusing," says Olga.
"I wonder if I could make my hair grow," says Mr. Kelly, meditatively. "He's been very clever about his; but I suppose somebody taught him."
"Well, I think long hair is dirty," says Mrs. Bohun, with an abstracted glance at Ronayne's lightly-shaven head.
Then, as though tired of her sweet role and of its object (Ronayne) and everything, she turns capriciously aside, and, motioning away the men with her hand and a small frown, sits down at Hermia Herrick's feet and plucks idly at the grasses near her.
"So we are dismissed," says Kelly, shrugging his shoulders. Monica has disappeared long ago with the devoted Ryde. "Your queen has her tempers, Ronayne."
"There are few things so cloying as perfection," says Ronayne, loyally.
"I entirely agree with you,—so much so that I hope Providence will send me an ugly wife. She—I beg your pardon—Mrs. Bohun does pretty much what she likes with you, doesn't she?"
"Altogether what she likes. She's been doing it for so long now that I suppose she'll go on to the end of the chapter. I hope it will be a long one. Do you know," says the young man, with a rather sad little laugh, "it sounds of course rather a poor thing to say, but I really think it makes me happy, being done what she likes with?"
"It is only to oblige a friend that I should seek to understand such a hopelessly involved sentence as that," says Mr. Kelly, wearily. "But I have managed it. You're as bad a case as ever I came across, Ronayne, and I pity you. But, 'pon my soul, I respect you too," with a flash of admiration: "there is nothing like being thoroughly in earnest. And so I wish you luck in your wooing."
"You're a very good fellow, Kelly," says Ronayne gratefully.
In the mean time, Olga, tiring of tearing her grasses to pieces, looks up at Hermia.
"How silent you are!" she says.
"I thought that was what you wanted,—silence. You have been talking all day. And, besides, if I speak at all, it will be only to condemn."
"Nevertheless speak. Anything is better than this ghastly quiet; and, besides, frankly, I need not mind you, you know."
"You are flirting disgracefully with that Ronayne boy."
"What harm, if he is a boy?"
"He is not such a boy as all that comes to; and, if you don't mean it, you are overkind to him."
"He is my baby," says Olga, with a little laugh; "I often tell him so. Why should I not be kind to him?"
"Oh, if you are bent on it."
"I am bent on nothing. You do run away so with things!"
"I think you might do better."
"I'm not going to do anything," says the widow. She throws off her hat, and ruffles up all her pretty pale gold hair with impatient fingers.
"Oh! if you can assure me of that!"
"I don't want to assure you of anything."
"So I thought. That is why I say you might do better."
"I might do worse, too."
"Perhaps. But still I cannot forget there was Wolverhampton last year. A title is not to be despised; and he was devoted to you, and would, I think, have made a good husband."
"I daresay. He was fool enough for anything. And I liked him, rather; but there was something in him—wasn't there, now, Hermia?—something positively enraging at times."
"I suppose, then, your fancy for young Ronayne arises from the fact that there is nothing in him," says Hermia, maliciously: "that's his charm, is it?"
Mrs. Bohun laughs.
"I don't suppose there is very much in him," she says: "that in itself is such a relief. Wolverhampton was so overpowering about those hydraulics. Ulic isn't a savant, certainly, and I don't think he will ever set the Liffey afire, but he is 'pleasant too to think on.' Now, mind you, I don't believe I care a pin about Ulic Ronayne,—he is younger than I am, for one thing,—but still I don't care to hear him abused."
"I am not abusing him," says Hermia. "It was you said he was no savant, and would be unlikely to set the Liffey afire."
"For which we should be devoutly grateful," says Olga, frivolously. "Consider, if he could, what the consequences would be, both to life and property. Poor young man! I really think Government ought to give him a pension because he can't."
"And what about all the other young men?" asks Hermia. And then she yawns.
Here Monica—who has been absent with Mr. Ryde for the best part of an hour—comes up to them, and presently Terence, with the Fitzgeralds, and Miss Priscilla and Lord Rossmoyne.
"I heard a story yesterday I want to tell you," says Terence, gayly, singling out Miss Fitzgerald and Olga, and sinking upon the grass at the former's feet. He is such a handsome merry boy that he is a favorite with all the women. Miss Priscilla stands near him; the others are all conversing together about the coming plays at Aghyohillbeg.
"It is about the curate," says Terence, gleefully. "You know, he is awful spoons on the ugliest French girl, and the other day he wanted to run up to Dublin to get her a ring, or something, but——"
"Now, Terence, dear, surely that is not the way to pronounce that word," says Miss Priscilla, anxiously; "such a vulgar pronounciation—'bu-ut.' How you drawled it! How ugly it sounds—'bu-ut!' Now put your lips together like mine, so, and say 'but,' shortly. Now begin your story again, and tell it nicely."
Terence begins again,—very good humoredly, thinks Olga,—and has almost reached the point, when Miss Priscilla breaks in again:
"Now, not so fast, my dear Terence. I really cannot follow you at all. I don't even understand what you are at. Gently, my dear boy. Now begin it all over again, and be more explicit."
But the fun is all out of Terence by this time, though Olga is so convulsed with laughter that it might have been the best story on record, which somewhat astonishes though it consoles Terence, as when his funny incident is related in a carefully modulated voice, and with a painful precision, it strikes even him as being hopelessly uninteresting. However, Mrs. Bohun certainly enjoys it,—or something else, perhaps: fortunately, it never occurs to Terry to ponder on the "something else."
"Hermia, Olga, come now, my dears. You can't stay here for ever, you know," cries Madam O'Connor's loud but cheery voice. "It is nearly seven. Come, I tell you, or the Misses Blake, our good friends here, will think we mean to take up our residence at Moyne for good."
"Oh, now, Gertrude!" says Miss Priscilla, much shocked. But Madam O'Connor only laughs heartily, and gives her a little smart blow on the shoulder with her fan. Olga laughs too, gayly, and Hermia lets her lips part with one of her rare but perfect smiles. If she likes any one besides Olga and her children, it is bluff and blunt old Gertrude O'Connor.
One by one they all walk away, and presently Moyne is lying in the dying sunshine, in all its usual quietude, with never a sound to disturb the calm of coming eve but the light rustling of the rising breeze among the ivy-leaves that are clambering up its ancient walls.
Kit and Terry are indoors, laughing merrily over the day, and congratulating themselves upon the success it has certainly been.
"Yes. I do think, Penelope, they all enjoyed themselves," says Miss Priscilla, in high glee; "and your claret-cup, my dear, was superb."
But Monica has stolen away from them all. The strange restlessness that has lain upon her all day is asserting itself with cruel vigor, and drives her forth into the shadows of the coming night.
All day long she has struggled bravely against it; but, now that the enforced necessity for liveliness is at an end, she grows dreamy, distraite, and feels an intense longing for solitude and air.
Again she walks through the now deserted garden, where the flowers, "earth's loveliest," are drooping their sweet heads to seek their happy slumbers. Past them she goes with lowered head and thoughts engrossed, and so over the lawn into the wood beyond.
Here Coole and Moyne are connected by a high green bank, that in early spring is studded and diamonded with primroses and now is gay with ferns. Not until she has reached this boundary does she remember how far she has come.
She climbs the bank, and gazes with an ever-growing longing at the cool shade in the forbidden land, at the tall, stately trees, and the foxgloves nodding drowsily.
It is a perfect evening, and as yet the god of day—great Sol—is riding the heavens with triumphant mirth, as though reckless of the death that draweth nigh. Shall he not rise again to-morrow morn in all his awful majesty, and so defy grim Mars? It is, indeed, one of those hours when heaven seems nearest earth, "as when warm sunshine thrills wood-glooms to gold," and "righteousness and peace have kissed each other," and Nature, tender mother, smiles, and all the forest deeps are by "a tender whisper pierced."
Conscience forbidding her, she abstains from entering those coveted woods, and, with a sigh, seats herself upon the top of the green bank.
"Monica!" says a voice close to her, yet not close to her,—mysteriously, far up in mid-air, right over her head. She starts! Is the great wood peopled with satyrs, ouphs, or dryads?
The marvellous history of how Monica finds the green-eyed monster in a beech-tree—and how, single-handed, she attacks and overcomes him.
It is not a tender voice. It is not even a gentle or coldly friendly voice. It is, when all is told, a distinctly angry voice, full of possible reproaches and vehement upbraidings.
Monica, raising her head with extreme nervousness, had just time to see Mr. Desmond in the huge fir-tree above her, before he drops at her feet.
"What on earth were you doing up there?" asks she, thinking it wise to adopt the offensive style, so as to be first in the field, feeling instinctively that a scolding is coming and that she deserves it.
"Watching you," returns he, sternly, nothing dismayed by her assumption of injured innocence, so her little ruse falls through.
"A charming occupation, certainly!" says Miss Beresford, with fine disgust.
"I climbed up into that tree," says Mr. Desmond, savagely, "and from it saw that you had spent your entire day with that idiot, Ryde."
"Do you think," says Miss Beresford, with awful calm, "that it was a gentlemanly thing to climb into that tree, like a horrid schoolboy, and spy upon a person?—do you?"
"I don't," vehemently, "but I was driven to it. I don't care what is gentlemanly. I don't care," furiously, "what you think of me. I only know that my mind is now satisfied about you, and that I know you are the most abominable flirt in the world, and that you ought to be ashamed of yourself."
"Well, I'm not," with great self-possession.
"The more to your discredit! That only means that you are bent on doing it again."
"I shall certainly always talk to any man who talks to me. That is," cuttingly, "any man who knows how to conduct himself with propriety."
"Meaning—I don't, I suppose?"
"Certainly you don't."
"Oh, if it comes to that," says Desmond, in tones of the deepest desperation, and as if nothing is left to expect but the deluge in another moment.
And, in effect, it comes. Not, as one has been taught to expect, in sudden storm, and wind, and lightning, but first in soft light drops, and then in a perfect downpour, that bursts upon them with passionate fury.
As they are standing beneath a magnificent beech, they get but a taste of the shower in reality, though Desmond, seeing some huge drops lying on Monica's thin white gown, feels his heart smite him.
"Here, take this," he says, roughly, taking off his coat and placing it round her shoulders.
"No, thank you," says Miss Beresford, stiffly.
"You must," returns he, and, to his surprise, she makes no further resistance. Perhaps she is cowed by the authority of his manner; perhaps she doesn't like the raindrops.
Encouraged, however, by her submission to a further daring of fortune, he says, presently,—
"You might have given Cobbett a turn, I think, instead of devoting yourself all day to that egregious ass."
"He prefers talking to Hermia. I suppose you don't want me to go up to people and ask them to be civil to me?"
"Some other fellow, then."
"You would be just as jealous of him, whoever he was."
"I am not jealous at all," indignantly. "I only object to your saying one thing to me and another to him."
"What is the one thing I say to you?"
This staggers him.
"You must find me a very monotonous person if I say only one thing to you always."
"I haven't found you so."
"Then it—whatever it is—must be one of the most eloquent and remarkable speeches upon record. Do tell it to me."
"Look here, Monica," says Mr. Desmond, cautiously evading a reply: "what I want to know is—what you see in Ryde. He is tall, certainly, but he is fat and effeminate, with 'a forehead villanous low.'"
"Your own is very low," says Miss Beresford.
"If I thought it was like his, I'd make away with myself. And you listen to all his stories, and believe them every one. I don't believe a single syllable he says: I never met such a bragger. To listen to him, one would think he had killed every tiger in Bengal. In my opinion, he never even saw one."
"'Les absents ont toujours tort,'" quotes she, in a low, significant tone.
This is the finishing stroke.
"Oh! you defend him," he says, as savagely almost as one of those wild beasts he has just mentioned. "In your eyes he is a hero, no doubt. I daresay all women see virtue in a man who 'talks as familiarly of roaring lions as maids of thirteen do of puppy-dogs.'"
"I don't think maids of thirteen, as a rule, talk much of puppy-dogs. I'm sure Kit doesn't," says Monica, provokingly. "And really, to do Mr. Ryde justice too, I never heard him mention a roaring lion. Perhaps you are thinking of Artemus Ward's lion that goes about 'seeking whom he may devour somebody.'" She smiles in a maddening fashion.