"I am thinking of Ryde," says Desmond. "I am thinking, too, how mad I was when I thought you liked me better than him. I did think it, you know; but now I am desillusionnee. It is plain to me you are infatuated about this fellow, who is 'perfumed like a milliner' and hasn't two ideas in his head."
"I can't think where you find all your quotations," says Monica, who is now seriously annoyed; "but I must ask you not to worry me any further about Mr. Ryde."
"You are madly in love with him," says Desmond, choking with rage. Upon which Miss Beresford loses the last remnant of her patience, and very properly turns her back on him.
The rain has ceased, but during its reign has extinguished the dying sun, which has disappeared far below the horizon. A great hush and silence has followed the petulant burst of storm, and a peace unspeakable lies on all the land. There is a little glimpse of the ocean far away beyond the giant firs, and one can see that its waves are calm, and the fishing-boats upon its bosom scarcely rock.
The grass is bending still with the weight of the past rain, and a plaintive dripping from the trees can be heard,—a refreshing sound that lessens the sense of heat. The small birds stir cosily in their nests, and now and then a drowsy note breaks from one or another; a faint mist, white and intangible, rises from the hills, spreading from field to sky, until
"The earth, with heaven mingled, in the shadowy twilight lay, And the white sails seemed like spectres in a cloud-land far away."
"Ah! you don't like me to say that," says Desmond, unappeased by the beauty of the growing night; "but——"
"Do not say another word," says Monica, imperiously. The moon is rising slowly—slowly,—and so, by the by, is her temper. "I forbid you. Here," throwing to him his coat; "I think I have before remarked that the rain is quite over. I am sorry I ever touched anything belonging to you."
Desmond having received the coat, and put himself into it once more, silence ensues. It does, perhaps, strike him as a hopeful sign that she shows no haste to return home and so rid herself of a presence she has inadvertently declared to be hateful to her, because presently he says, simply, if a little warmly,—
"There is no use in our quarreling like this. I won't give you up without a further struggle, to any man. So we may as well have it out now. Do you care for that—for Ryde?"
"If you had asked me that before,—sensibly,—you might have avoided making an exhibition of yourself and saying many rude things. I don't in the least mind telling you," says Miss Beresford, coldly, "that I can't bear him."
"Oh, Monica! is this true?" asks he, in an agony of hope.
"Quite true. But you don't deserve I should say it."
"My darling! My 'one thing bright' in all this hateful world! Oh!" throwing up his head with an impatient gesture, "I have been so wretched all this evening! I have suffered the tortures of the——"
"Now, you musn't say naughty words," interrupts she, with an adorable smile. "You are glad I have forgiven you?"
This is how she puts it, and he is only too content to be friends with her on any terms, to show further fight.
"More than glad."
"And you will promise me never to be jealous again?"
This is a bitter pill, considering his former declaration that jealousy and he had nothing to do with each other; but he swallows it bravely.
"Never. And you—you will never again give me cause, darling, will you?"
"I gave you no cause now," says the darling, shaking her pretty head obstinately. And he doesn't dare contradict her. "You behaved really badly," she goes on, reproachfully, "and at such a time, too,—just when I was dying to tell you such good news."
"Good?—your aunts—" eagerly, "have relented—they——"
"Oh, no! oh, dear, no!" says Miss Beresford. "They are harder than ever against you. Adamant is a sponge in comparison with them. It isn't that; but Madam O'Connor has asked me to go and stay with her next Monday for a week!—there!"
"And me too?"
"N—o. Aunt Priscilla made it a condition with regard to my going that you shouldn't be there."
"The——And Madam O'Connor gave in to such abominable tyranny?"
"Without a murmur."
"I thought she had a soul above that sort of thing," says Mr. Desmond, with disgust. "But they are all alike."
"You mean to tell me I am like Aunt Priscilla and Madam O'Connor?"
"Old women, I mean," with anxious haste, seeing a cloud descending upon the brow of his beloved.
"And, after all, it is good news," says Brian, brightening, "because though I can't stop in the house for the week, still there is nothing to prevent my riding over there every one of the seven days."
"That's just what I thought," says Monica, ingenuously, with a sweet little blush.
"Ah! you wished for me, then?"
She refuses to answer this in any more direct manner than her eyes afford, but says, quickly, doubtfully,—
"It won't be deceiving Aunt Priscilla, your coming there to visit, will it? She must know she cannot compel Madam O'Connor to forbid you the house. And she knows perfectly you are an intimate friend of hers."
"Of course she does. She is a regular old tyrant,—a Bluebeard in petticoats; but——"
"No, no; you must not abuse her," says Monica: so he becomes silent.
She is standing very close to the trunk of the old beech, half leaning against it upon one arm which is slightly raised. She has no gloves, but long white mittens that reach above her elbow to where the sleeves of her gown join them. Through the little holes in the pattern of these kindly mittens her white arms can be seen gleaming like snow beneath the faint rays of the early moon. With one hand she is playing some imaginary air upon the tree's bark.
As she so plays, tiny sparkles from her rings attract his notice.
"Those five little rings," says Desmond, idly, "always remind me of the five little pigs that went to market,—I don't know why."
"They didn't all go to market," demurely. "One of them, I know, stayed at home."
"So he did. I remember now. Somehow it makes me feel like a boy again."
"Then, according to Hood, you must be nearer heaven than you were a moment ago."
"I couldn't," says Desmond, turning, and looking into her beautiful eyes. "My heaven has been near me for the last half-hour." If he had said hour he would have been closer to the truth.
A soft, lovely crimson creeps into her cheeks, and her eyes fall before his for a moment. Then she laughs,—a gay, mirthful laugh, that somehow puts sentiment to flight.
"Go on about your little pigs," she says, glancing at him with coquettish mirth.
"About your rings, you mean. I never look at them that I don't begin this sort of thing." Here, seeing an excellent opportunity for it, he takes her hand in his. "This little turquoise went to market, this little pearl stayed at home, this little emerald got some—er—cheese——"
"No, it wasn't," hastily. "It was roast beef."
"So it was. Better than cheese, any day. How stupid of me! I might have known an emerald—I mean a pig—wouldn't like cheese."
"I don't suppose it would like roast beef a bit better," says Monica; and then her lips part and she bursts into a merry laugh at the absurdity of the thing. She is such a child still that she finds the keenest enjoyment in it.
"Never mind," with dignity, "and permit me to tell you, Miss Beresford, that open ridicule is rude. To continue: this little pearl got none, and this little plain gold ring got—he got—what on earth did the little plain gold pig—I mean, ring—get?"
"Nothing. Just what you ought to get for such a badly-told story. He only cried, 'Wee.'"
"Oh, no, indeed. He shan't cry at all. I won't have tears connected with you in any way."
She glances up at him with eyes half shy, half pleased, and with the prettiest dawning smile upon her lips.
He clasps the slender fingers closer, as though loath to part with them, and yet his tale has come to a climax.
"If I have told my story so badly, perhaps I had better tell it all over again," he says, with a base assumption of virtuous regret.
"No. I would not give you that trouble for the world," she says, mischievously, and then the dawning smile widens, brightens into something indescribable, but perfect.
"Oh, Monica, I do think you are the sweetest thing on earth," says the young man, with sudden fervid passion; and then all at once, and for the first time, he puts out his arms impulsively and draws her to him. She colors,—still smiling, however,—and after a brief hesitation, moves slowly but decidedly back from him.
"You don't hate me to touch you, do you?" asks he, rather hurt.
"Oh, no, indeed!" hurriedly. "Only——"
"Only what, darling?"
"I hardly know what," she answers, looking bewildered. "Perhaps because it is all so strange. Why should you love me better than any one?—and yet you do," anxiously, "don't you?"
The innocently-expressed anxiety makes his heart glad.
"I adore you," he says, fervently; and then, "Did no one ever place his arm round you before, Monica?"
He finds a difficulty in even asking this.
"No, no," with intense surprise at the question, and a soft, quick glance that is almost shamed. "I never had a lover in my life until I met you. No one except you ever told me I was pretty. The first time you said it I went home (when I was out of your sight," reddening, "I ran all the rest of the way) and looked at myself in the glass. Then," naively, "I knew you were right. Still I had my doubts; so I called Kit and told her about it; and she," laughing, "said you were evidently a person of great discrimination, so I suppose she agreed with you."
"She could hardly do otherwise."
"Yet sometimes," says Monica, with hesitation and a downcast face, "I have thought it was all mere fancy with you, and that you don't love me really."
"My sweetheart, what a cruel thing to say to me!"
"But see how you scold me! Only now," nervously plucking little bits of bark from the trunk of the tree, "you accused me of dreadful things. Yes, sometimes I doubt you."
"I wonder where I leave room for doubt? Yet I must convince you. What shall I swear by, then?" he asks, half laughing: "the chaste Diana up above—the lovers' friend—is in full glory to-night; shall I swear by her?"
"'Oh, swear not by the moon, the inconstant moon, lest that thy love prove likewise variable,'" quotes she archly; "and yet," with a sudden change of mood, and a certain sweet gravity, "I do not mistrust you."
She leans slightly towards him, and unasked, gives her hand into his keeping once again. She is full of pretty tender ways and womanly tricks, and as for the best time for displaying them, for this she has a natural talent.
Desmond, clasping her hand, looks at her keenly. His whole heart is in his eyes.
"Tell me that you love me," he says, in a low unsteady voice.
"How can I? I don't know. I am not sure," she says, falteringly; "and," shrinking a little from him, "it is growing very late. See how the moon has risen above the firs. I must go home."
"Tell me you love me first."
"I must not love you; you know that."
"But if you might, you could?"
"Then I defy all difficulties,—aunts, and friends, and lovers. I shall win you in the teeth of all barriers, and in spite of all opposition. And now go home, my heart's delight, my best beloved. I have this assurance from you, that your own lips have given me, and it makes me confident of victory."
"But if you fail," she begins, nervously; but he will not listen to her.
"There is no such word," he says, gayly. "Or, if there is, I never learnt it. Good-night, my love."
"Good-night." A little frightened by his happy vehemence she stands well away from him, and holds out her hands in farewell. Taking them, he opens them gently and presses an impassioned kiss on each little pink-tinged palm. With a courteous reverence for her evident shyness, he then releases her, and, raising his hat, stands motionless until she has sprung down the bank and so reached the Moyne fields again.
Then she turns and waves him a second and last good night. Returning the salute, he replaces his hat on his head, and thrusting his hands deep in his pockets, turns towards Coole—and dinner. He is somewhat late for the latter, but this troubles him little, so set is his mind upon the girl who has just left him.
Surely she is hard to win, and therefore—how desirable! "The women of Ireland," says an ancient chronicler, "are the coyest, the most coquettish, yet withal the coldest and virtuousest women upon earth." Yet, allowing all this, given time and opportunity, they may be safely wooed. What Mr. Desmond complains of bitterly, in his homeward musings to-night, is the fact that to him neither time nor opportunity is afforded.
"She is a woman therefore to be won;" but how is his courtship to be sped, if thorns are to beset his path on every side, and if persistent malice blocks his way to the feet of her whom he adores?
He reaches home in an unenviable frame of mind, and is thoroughly unsociable to Owen Kelly and the old squire all the evening.
Next morning sees him in the same mood; and, indeed, it is about this time he takes to imagining his little love as being a hapless prisoner in the hands of two cruel ogres (I am afraid he really does apply the term "ogres" to the two old ladies of Moyne), and finds a special melancholy pleasure in depicting her as a lonely captive condemned to solitary confinement and dieted upon bread and water.
To regard the Misses Blake in the light either of ogres or witches required some talent; but Mr. Desmond, at this period of his love-affair, managed it.
He would go about, too, singing,—
"Oh, who will o'er the downs so free,"
taking immense comfort out of, and repeating over and over again, such lines as—
"I sought her bower at break of day, 'Twas guarded safe and sure;"
"Her father he has locked the door, Her mother keeps the key; But neither bolt nor bar shall keep My own true love from me,"—
until bars, and bolts, and locks, and keys seemed all real.
How, after much discussion, the devoted, if mistaken, adherents of Thalia gain the day—and how, for once in his life, Owen Kelly feels melancholy that is not assumed.
"I wish you would all attend," says Olga Bohun, just a little impatiently, looking round upon the assembled group, with brows uplifted and the point of a pencil thrust between her rose-red lips.
"Thrice-blessed pencil!" murmurs Mr. Kelly, in a very stage whisper. "Man is the superior being, yet he would not be permitted to occupy so exalted a position. Are you a stone, Ronayne, that you can regard the situation with such an insensate face?" Mr. Ronayne is at this moment gazing at Mrs. Bohun with all his heart in his eyes. He starts and colors. "I cannot help thinking of that dear little song about the innocent daisy," goes on Mr. Kelly, with a rapt expression. "But I'd 'choose to be a pencil, if I might be a flower.'"
"Now do let us decide upon something," says Olga, taking no heed of this sally, and frowning down the smile that is fighting for mastery.
"Yes; now you are all to decide upon something at once," says Mr. Kelly, gloomily. "There is a difficulty about the right way to begin it, but it must be done; Mrs. Bohun says so. There is to be no deception. I shall say one, two, three, and away, and then every one must have decided: the defaulter will be spurned from the gates. Now, one, two——Desmond," sternly "you are not deciding!"
"I am, indeed," says Desmond, most untruthfully. He is lying on the grass at Monica's feet, and is playing idly with her huge white fan.
"You are not doing it properly. I daresay Miss Beresford is making you uncomfortable; and I am sure you are trying to break her fan. Come over here and sit by me, and you will be much happier."
"Penance is good for the soul. I shall stay here," says Desmond.
"If we mean to get up tableaux, we certainly ought to set about them at once," says Herrick, indolently.
"There doesn't seem to be any work in anybody," says Olga, in despair.
"Try me," says Lord Rossmoyne, bending over her chair. He has only just come, and his arrival has been unannounced.
"Ah! thank you!"—with a brilliant smile. "Now you do look like business."
It is Monday, and four o'clock. Aghyohillbeg lying basking in the sunshine is looking its loveliest,—which is saying a great deal. The heat is so intense on this sweet July day that every one has deserted the house and come out to find some air,—a difficulty. They have tried the grass terraces, in vain, and now have congregated beneath a giant fir, and are, comparatively speaking, cool.
Just before luncheon Madam O'Connor brought Monica home in triumph with her from Moyne, to find Desmond, handsome and happy, on her doorstep, waiting with calm certainty an invitation to that meal. He got it, and to dinner likewise.
"We have set our hearts on tableaux, but it is so difficult to think of any scene fresh and unhackneyed," says Olga, gazing plaintively into Lord Rossmoyne's sympathetic face.
"Don't give way," says Mr. Kelly, tenderly. "It must be a poor intellect that couldn't rise superior to such a demand as that. Given one minute, I believe even I could produce an idea as novel as it would be brilliant."
"You shall have your minute," says Olga, pulling out her watch. "Now—begin——"
"Time's up," she says, presently, when sixty seconds have honestly expired.
"You might have said that thirty seconds ago, and I should not have objected," says Mr. Kelly, with an assured smile.
"And your idea."
Need I say that every one is exceedingly angry?
"Ever heard it before?" asks Mr. Kelly, with aggressive insolence; which question, being considered as adding insult to injury, is treated with silent contempt.
"I told you it was not to be done," says Olga, petulantly addressing everybody generally.
"I can't agree with you. I see no reason why it should fall to the ground," says Miss Fitzgerald, warmly, who is determined to show herself off in a gown that has done duty for "Madame Favart," and the "Bohemian Girl," and "Maritana," many a time and oft.
"I have another idea," says Mr. Kelly, at this opportune moment.
"If it is as useful as your first, you may keep it," says Olga, with pardonable indignation.
"I am misunderstood," says Mr. Kelly, mournfully, but with dignity. "I shall write to Miss Montgomery and ask her to make another pathetic tale about me. As you are bent on trampling upon an unknown genius,—poor but proud—I shall not make you acquainted with this last beautiful thought which I have evolved from my inner consciousness."
"Don't say that! do tell it to us," says Monica, eagerly, and in perfect good faith. She knows less of him than the others, and may therefore be excused for still believing in him.
"Thank you, Miss Beresford. You can soar above a mean desire to crush a rising power. You have read, of course, that popular poem by our poet-laureate, called 'Enid.'"
"Yes," says Monica, staring at him.
"I mean the poem in which he has so faithfully depicted the way in which two escaped lunatics would be sure to behave if left to their own devices. Considered as a warning to us to keep bolts and bars on Colney Hatch and Hanwell, it may be regarded as a delicate attention. Dear Tennyson! he certainly is a public benefactor. There is a scene in that remarkable poem which I think might suit us. You remember where, after much wild careering in the foreground, the principal idiots decide upon riding home together, pillion fashion?"
"I—I think so," says Monica, who plainly doesn't, being much confused.
"'Then on his foot she sat her own and climbed,'—and then she threw her arms round him in a most unmaidenly fashion, if I recollect aright; but of course mad people will be vehement, poor souls; they can't help it. Now, supposing we adopted that scene, wouldn't it be effective? One of Madam O'Connor's big carriage-horses, if brought forward,—I mean the one that kicked over the traces, yesterday,—would, I firmly believe, create quite a sensation, and in all probability bring down the house."
"The stage, certainly," says Desmond.
"Ah! you approve of it," says Kelly, with suspicious gratitude. "Then let us arrange it at once. Miss Beresford might throw her arms round Ryde, for example: that would be charming."
Desmond looking at this moment as if he would willingly murder him, Mr. Kelly is apparently satisfied, and sinks to rest with his head upon his arm once more. No one else has heard the suggestion.
"I think you might help me, instead of giving voice to insane propositions," says Olga, reproachfully, turning her eyes upon Mr. Kelly's bowed form,—he is lying prostrate on the grass,—which is shaking in a palsied fashion. "I really did believe in you," she says, whereupon the young man, springing to his feet, flings his arms wide, and appeals in an impassioned manner to an unprejudiced public as to whether he has not been racking his brain in her service for the last half-hour.
"Then I wish you would go and rack it in somebody else's service," says Mrs. Bohun, ungratefully.
"Hear her!" says Mr. Kelly, gazing slowly round him. "She still persists in the unseemly abuse. She is bent on breaking my heart and driving sleep from mine eyelids. It is ungenerous, the more so that she knows I have not the courage to tear myself from her beloved presence. You, Ronayne, and you, Rossmoyne, can sympathize with me:
"'In durance vile here must I wake and weep, And all my frowzy couch in sorrow steep.'
Fancy a frowzy couch saturated with tears! you know," reproachfully to Olga, "you wouldn't like to have to lie on it."
"Oh, do come and sit down here near me, and be silent," says Olga, in desperation.
"Why not have a play?" says Captain Cobbett, who with Mr. Ryde has driven over from Clonbree.
"'The play's the thing,'" says Brian Desmond, lazily; "but when you are about it, make it a farce."
"Oh, no!" says Miss Fitzgerald, with a horrified gesture; "anything but that! Why not let us try one of the good old comedies?—'The School for Scandal,' for example?"
"What!" says Mr. Kelly, very weakly. He is plainly quite overcome by this suggestion.
"Well, why not?" demands the fair Bella, with just a soupcon of asperity in her tone,—as much as she ever allows herself when in the society of men. She makes up for this abstinence by bestowing a liberal share of it upon her maid and her mother.
"It's—it's such a naughty, naughty piece," says Mr. Kelly, bashfully, beating an honorable retreat from his first meaning.
"Nonsense! One can strike out anything distasteful."
"Shades of Farren—and——Who would be Lady Teazle?" says Olga.
"I would," says Bella, modestly.
"That is more than good of you," says Olga, casting a curious glance at her from under her long lashes. "But I thought, perhaps——You, Hermia, would you not undertake it? You know, last season, they said you were——"
"No, dear, thanks. No, indeed," with emphasis.
"Cobbett does Joseph Surface to perfection," breaks in Mr. Ryde, enthusiastically.
"Oh, I say now, Ryde! Come, you know, this is hardly fair," says the little captain, coyly, who is looking particularly pinched and dried to-day, in spite of the hot sun. There is a satisfied smirk upon his pale lips, and a poor attempt at self-depreciation about his whole manner.
"You know you took 'em by storm at Portsmouth, last year,—made 'em laugh like fun. You should see him," persists Ryde, addressing everybody generally.
"Perhaps you mean the part of Charles Surface," says Ronayne, in some surprise.
"No. Joseph: the sly one you know," says Ryde chuckling over some recollection.
"Well, it never occurred to me that Joseph's part might be termed a funny one," says Mr. Kelly, mildly; "but that shows how ignorant all we Irish are. It will be very kind of you, Cobbett, to enlighten us,—to show us something good, in fact."
"Really, you know, you flatter me absurdly," says Cobbett, the self-depreciation fainter, the smirk broader.
Lord Rossmoyne, whose good temper is not his strong point, glances angrily at him, smothers an explosive speech, and walks away with a sneer.
"And Sir Peter,—who will kindly undertake Sir Peter?" asks Olga, with a smile that is faintly sarcastic. "Will you, Owen?" to Mr. Kelly.
"Don't ask me. I could not act with Cobbett and Miss Fitzgerald. I mean, I should only disgrace them," says Kelly, who is a member of a famous dramatic club in Dublin, and who has had two offers from London managers to tread the boards. "I feel I'm not up to it, indeed."
"I suspect you are not," says Hermia Herrick, with a sudden smile that lights up all her cold impassive face. Kelly, catching it, crawls lazily over to her, along the grass, Indian fashion, and finding a fold of her gown lays his arm on it, and his head on his arm, and relapses into silence.
"Ryde has done it," says Captain Cobbett.
"Indeed!" says Olga, raising questioning eyes to the big marine standing behind Monica's chair.
"Ye—es. We—er—do a good deal of that sort of thing in our country," says Ryde, with conscious worth. "I have done Sir Peter once or twice; and people have been good enough not to—" with a little laugh—"hiss me. I have a style of my own; but—er——" with an encouraging glance at the other men, "I daresay there are many here who could do it as I do it."
"Not one, I am convinced," says Desmond, promptly; and Monica laughs softly.
"We must think it over. I don't believe anything so important could be got up without deep deliberation——" Olga is beginning, when Kelly, by a movement of the hand, stops her.
"Do let it go on to its bitter end," he says, in a whisper, with most unusual animation for him. "Mrs. Herrick, help me."
"Why not, Olga?" says Hermia, in a low tone. "The principal characters are willing; we have not had a real laugh for some time: why throw away such a perfect chance?"
"Oh! that——" says Olga.
Here a slight diversion is caused by the appearance of a footman, tea tray, a boy, a gypsy table, a maid, a good deal of fruit, maraschino, brandy, soda, and Madam O'Connor. The latter, to tell the truth, has been having a siesta in the privacy of her own room, and has now come down, like a giant refreshed, to see how her guests are getting on.
"Well, I hope you're all happy," she says, jovially.
"We are mad with perplexity," says Olga.
"What's the matter, then, darling?" says Madam. "Hermia, like a good child, go and pour out the tea."
"I'll tell you all about it," says Brian, who is a special favorite of Madam O'Connor's, coming over to her and stopping behind her chair to whisper into her ear.
Whatever he says makes her laugh immoderately. It is easy to bring smiles to her lips at any time,—her heart having kept at a standstill whilst her body grew old,—but now she seems particularly fetched.
"Yes, yes, my dear Olga, let them have their own way," she says merrily.
"Very good. Let us consider it settled," says Mrs. Bohun. "But I should like some tableaux afterwards, as a wind-up."
"Yes, certainly," says Ronayne. "What do you think, Madam?"
"I have set my mind on them," says his old hostess, gayly. "You are such a handsome boy, Ulic, that I'm bent on seeing you in fancy clothes; and so is somebody else, I daresay. Look at the children, how they steal towards us; were there ever such demure little mice? Come here, Georgie, my son, I have peaches and pretty things for you."
The kind old soul holds out her arms to two beautiful children, a boy and a girl, who are coming slowly, shyly towards her. They are so like Hermia Herrick as to be unmistakably hers. The boy, coming straight to Madame O'Connor, climbs up on her lap and lays his bonny cheek against hers; but the girl, running to her mother, who is busy over the tea-tray, nestles close to her.
"Gently, my soul," say Hermia, in a soft whisper. Though she still calmly pours out the tea, with Kelly beside her, she lets the unoccupied hand fall, to mingle with the golden tresses of the child. As her hand meets the little sunny head, a marvellous sweetness creeps into her face and transfixes it to a heavenly beauty. Kelly, watching her, marks the change.
Going round to the child, he would have taken her in his arms,—as is his habit with most children, being a special favorite in every nursery; but this little dame, drawing back from him, repels him coldly. Then, as though fearing herself ungracious, she slowly extends to him a tiny, friendly hand, which he accepts. The likeness between this grave baby and her graver mother is so remarkable as to be almost ludicrous.
"I think you haven't given Mr. Kelly even one kiss to-day," says her mother, smiling faintly, and pressing the child closer to her. "She is a cold little thing, is she not?"
"I suppose she inherits it," says Owen Kelly, without lifting his eyes from the child's fair face.
Mrs. Herrick colors slightly.
"Will you let me get you some tea, Fay?" says Mr. Kelly, addressing the child almost anxiously.
"No, thank you," says the fairy, sweetly but decidedly. "My mammy will give me half hers. I do not like any other tea."
"I am not in favor to-day," says Kelly, drawing back and shrugging his shoulders slightly, but looking distinctly disappointed. It may be the child sees this, because she comes impulsively forward, and, standing on tiptoe before him, holds her arms upwards towards his neck.
"I want to kiss you now," she says, solemnly, when he has taken her into his embrace. "But no one else. I only want to kiss you sometimes—and always mamma."
"I am content to be second where mamma is first. I am glad you place me with her in your mind. I should like to be always with mamma," says Kelly. He laughs a little, and kisses the child again, and places her gently upon the ground, and then he glances at Hermia. But her face is impassive as usual. No faintest tinge deepens the ordinary pallor of her cheeks. She has the sugar tongs poised in the air, and is apparently sunk in abstruse meditation.
"Now, I wonder who takes sugar and who doesn't," she says, wrinkling up her pretty brows in profound thought. "I have been here a month, yet cannot yet be sure. Mr. Kelly, you must call some one else to our assistance to take round the sugar, as you can't do everything."
"I can do nothing," says Kelly, in a low tone, after which he turns away and calls Brian Desmond to come to him.
How Desmond asserts himself, and shows himself a better man than his rival—And how a bunch of red roses causes a breach, and how a ring heals it.
"Then it is decided," says Olga. "'The School for Scandal' first, and tableaux to follow. Now for them. I suppose four altogether will be quite sufficient. We must not try the patience of our poor audience past endurance."
"It will be past that long before our tableaux begin," says Ulic Ronayne, in a low tone. He is dressed in a tennis suit of white flannel, and is looking particularly handsome.
Olga makes a pretty little moue, but no audible response.
"I have two arranged," she says, "but am distracted about three and four. Will anybody except Mr. Kelly come to my assistance?"
"Oh, you're jealous because you didn't think of 'Enid' and the carriage-horse yourself," returns that young man, with ineffable disdain,—"or that Dolly Varden affair."
"Well, that last might do,—modified a little," says Olga, brightening. "Mr. Ryde is enormous enough for anything. Quite an ideal Hugh."
"Quite," says Ronayne, with a smile.
"Then it has arranged itself; that is, if you agree, dear?" says Olga, turning to Monica.
"It shall be as you wish. I mean, I know nothing about it," gently; "but I shall like to help you if I can."
"I mean you don't object to the subject,—or Mr. Ryde?" says Olga, kindly, unaware that Mr. Ryde has come away from the tea-table and is now close behind her. Monica, however, sees him, and smiles courteously.
"Oh, no," she says, as in duty bound.
And then the fourth is found and grasped, and all trouble is at an end.
"So glad I can now take my tea in peace," says Olga, with a sigh of profound relief. "Who would be stage-manager?"
"Ah! you don't do much of this kind of thing in Ireland, I daresay," says Mr. Ryde.
"What kind of thing?" asks Olga, sweetly, who doesn't like him. "Tea-drinking?"
"I'm afraid I'm quite at sea about the 'that,'" says Olga, shaking her blonde head. "Perhaps we do a good deal of it, perhaps we don't. Explain it to me."
("Awful stoopid people!—not a word of truth about their ready wit," says Mr. Ryde to himself at this juncture.)
"Oh, well—er—let us confine ourselves to the acting," he says, feeling somehow at a loss. "It is new to you here, it seems."
"I certainly have never acted in my life," begins Monica; "but——"
Mrs. Bohun interrupts her.
"We are a hopelessly benighted lot," she says, making Ryde a present of a beautiful smile. "We are sadly behind the world,—rococo"—shrugging her shoulders pathetically—"to the last degree. You, Mr. Ryde, have opened up to us possibilities never dreamt of before; touches of civilization hitherto unknown."
"I should think in your case a very little tuition would be sufficient," says Ryde, with such kindly encouragement in his tone that Ronayne, who is at Olga's feet, collapses, and from being abnormally grave breaks into riotous laughter.
"You must teach us stage effects,—is that the proper term?—and correct us when we betray too crass an ignorance, and—above all things, Mr. Ryde," with an arch glance, "you must promise not to lose your temper over the gaucheries of your Dolly Varden."
"Whose Dolly Varden?" asks Desmond, coming up at this instant laden with cups of tea.
"He is to be Hugh to Miss Beresford's Dolly," says Ronayne.
"Yes, isn't it good of Monica? she has consented to take the part," says Olga, who is really grateful to her for having helped her out of her difficulty.
"Have you?" says Desmond, turning upon Monica with dilated eyes.
"Yes. Is that tea for me?" returns she, calmly, with great self-possession, seeing that sundry eyes are upon her.
"For you, or any one," replies he. Tone can convey far more meaning than words. The words just now are correct enough, but the tone is uncivil to the last degree. Monica, flushing slightly, takes a cup from him, and Olga takes the second.
There is a short silence whilst they stir their tea, during which Madam O'Connor's voice can be distinctly heard,—it generally can above every tumult. She is discoursing enthusiastically about some wonderful tree in her orchard, literally borne down by fruit.
"You never saw such a sight!" she is saying,—"laden down to the ground. The finest show of pears in the country. I was telling Williams he would do well to prop it. But I suppose it will ruin the tree for the next two years to come."
"What, the propping?" says Rossmoyne.
"No, the enormous produce, you silly boy!" says his hostess, with a laugh.
Monica, who is growing restless beneath Desmond's angry regard, turns to her nervously.
"I think I should like to see it," she says, softly.
"Allow me to take you to it," says Ryde, quickly, coming to her side.
"Miss Beresford is coming with me," interposes Desmond. His face is pale, and his eyes flash ominously.
"That is for Miss Beresford to decide."
"She has decided," says Desmond, growing even paler, but never removing his eyes from his rival's. He is playing a dangerous game, but even in the danger is ecstasy. And, as Monica continues silent, a great joy fills his soul.
"But until"—begins the Englishman, doggedly—"I hear——"
"Mrs. Bohun's cup is causing her embarrassment. See to it," interrupts Desmond, unemotionally. And then, turning to Monica, he says, "Come," coldly, but with such passionate entreaty in his eyes that she is borne away by it, and goes with him submissively across the lawn, until she has so far withdrawn herself from her companions that a return would be undignified.
They go as far as the entrance to the orchard, a good quarter of a mile, in silence, and then the storm breaks.
"I won't have that fellow holding you in his arms," says Desmond, pale with grief and rage, standing still and confronting her.
"I thought you said you would never be jealous again," says Monica, who has had time to recover herself, and time, too, to grow angry.
"I also said I hoped you would never give me cause."
"Mrs. Bohun has arranged this tableau."
"Then disarrange it."
"Say you won't act with Ryde."
"You can't expect me to make myself laughable in that way."
"Then I'll do it."
"And so make me laughable in another way. I can't see what right you have to interfere," she breaks out suddenly, standing before him, wilful but lovely. "What are you to me, or I to you, that you should order me about like this?"
"You are all the world to me,—you are my wife," says the young man, in a solemn tone, but with passionately angry eyes. "You can refuse me if you like, but I shall go to my grave with your image only in my heart. As to what I am to you, that is quite another thing,—less than nothing, I should say."
"And no wonder, too, considering your awful temper," says Monica, viciously; but her tone trembles.
At this he seems to lose heart. A very sad look creeps into his dark eyes and lingers there.
"Well, do what you like about these wretched tableaux," he says, so wearily that Monica, though victorious, feels inclined to cry. "If they give you a moment's pleasure, why should I rebel? As you say, I am nothing to you. Come, let us go and look at this famous pear-tree."
But she does not stir. They are inside the orchard, standing in a very secluded spot, with only some green apples and an ivied wall to see them. Her eyes are downcast, and her slender fingers are playing nervously with a ribbon on her gown. Her lips have taken a remorseful curve. Now, as though unable to restrain the impulse, she raises her eyes to his for a brief second, but, brief as it is, he can see that they are full of tears.
"Brian," she says, nervously.
It is the first time she has ever called him by his Christian name, and he turns to her a face still sad indeed, but altogether surprised and pleased.
"Now, that is good of you," he says.
"There is nothing good about me," says Monica, tearfully. "I am as horrid as I well can be, and you are——Brian, I will give up that tableau. I will not be Dolly Varden; no, not if Mr. Ryde went on his knees to me."
"My dear, dear love!" says Mr. Desmond.
"Do you indeed love me," says Monica, softly, "in spite of all I do?"
"I love you because of all you do. What is there not commendable in every action of yours? I love you; I live always in the hope that some day you will be more to me than you are to-day. A presumptuous hope perhaps," with a rather forced smile, "but one I will not stifle. I suppose every one lives in a visionary world at times, where some 'not impossible she' reigns as queen. I dare say you think my queen is impossible, yet you little know what dreams have been my playmates, night and day."
"Am I your queen?" sweetly.
"And you are glad I have given up this tableau?"
"I don't know what I should have done if you hadn't."
"Then, now you will do something for me," says Miss Beresford, promptly.
"Anything," with enthusiasm.
"Then to-morrow you are to come here without the roses I heard you promising Miss Fitzgerald this afternoon."
Her tone is quite composed, but two little brilliant flecks of color have risen hurriedly and are now flaunting themselves on either pretty cheek. She is evidently very seriously in earnest.
"She asked me for them: she will think it so ungenerous, so rude," says Desmond.
"Not ungenerous. She will never think you that, or rude either," says Monica, gauging the truth to a nicety. "Careless if you will, but no more; and—I want you to seem careless where she is concerned."
"But why, my dearest?"
"Because I don't like her; she always treats me as though I were some insignificant little girl still in short petticoats," says Miss Beresford, with rising indignation. "And because—because, too——"
She pauses in some confusion.
"Go on: because what?" with gentle encouragement.
"Well, then, because I know she wants to marry you," says Monica, vehemently, but in a choked voice.
"What an extraordinary idea to come into your head!" says Desmond, in a choked tone also, but from a different emotion.
"What are you laughing at?" severely. "At me?"
"My darling, it seems so absurd, and——"
"I forbid you to laugh," in a tone replete with anger but highly suggestive of tears. "Don't do it."
"I'll never laugh again, my pet, if it offends you so dreadfully."
"But your eyes are laughing; I can see them. I can see a great deal more than you think, and I know that hateful girl has made up her mind to marry you as soon as ever she can."
"That will be never."
"Not if you go on bringing her roses and things."
"What harm can a simple rose do?"
"If you are going to look at it in that light, I shall say no more. But in a very little time you will find she has married you, and then where will you be?"
Her jealousy is too childishly open to be misunderstood. Mr. Desmond's spirits are rising with marvellous rapidity; indeed, for the past two minutes he feels as if he is treading on air.
"As you won't have me, I don't much care where I shall be," he says with the mean hope of reducing her to submission by a threat. In this hope he is doomed to be disappointed, as she meets his base insinuation with an unlowered front.
"Very good, go and marry her," she says, calmly, as if church, parson, and Miss Fitzgerald are all waiting for him, in anxious expectation, round the corner.
"No, I shan't," says Desmond, changing his tactics without a blush. "Catch me at it! As you persist in refusing me, I shall never marry, but remain a bachelor forever, for your sweet sake."
"Then say you will not bring those roses to-morrow. Or, better still, say you will bring them, and"—all women, even the best are cruel—"give them to me before her."
"My darling! what an unreasonable thing to ask me!"
"Oh! I daresay! when people don't love people they always think everything they do unreasonable."
This rather involved sentence seems to cut Mr. Desmond to the heart.
"Of course, if you say that, I must do it," he says.
"Don't do it on my account," with a wilful air.
"No, on my own, of course."
"Well, remember I don't ask you to do it," with the most disgraceful ingratitude. "Do as you wish about it."
"Your wishes are mine," he says, tenderly. "I have had no divided existence since that first day I saw you,—how long ago it seems now——"
"Very long. Only a few weeks in reality, but it seems to myself that I have known and—liked you all my life."
"Yet that day when I saw you on the hay-cart is hardly two months old," says Desmond, dreamily.
As a breath of half-forgotten perfume, or a long-lost chord fresh sounded, brings back the memories of a lifetime, so does this chance remark of his now recall to her a scene almost gone out of mind, yet still fraught with recollections terrible to her self-love.
"Two months,—only two?—oh, it must be more," she says, with a pang. Surely time ought to lessen the feeling of shame that overpowers her whenever she thinks of that fatal day.
"So wearisome a time, my own?" asks he, reproachfully.
"No, it is not that. It is only——. Oh, Brian, that day you speak of, when I was on that horrid hay-cart, did you—I mean—did I—that is—did I look very ungraceful?"
The word she is dying to say is disgraceful, but she dares not.
"Yes. Terry says that when we were passing you that day I was—was," with a desperate rush, "kicking up my heels?"
She is trembling with shame and confusion. Crimson has sprung to her cheeks, tears to her eyes.
"I don't believe a word of it," says Mr. Desmond, comprehending the situation at last. "But, even supposing you were,—and, after all, that is the sort of thing every one does on a bundle of hay,"—as though it is quite the customary thing for people generally to go round the world seated on hay-carts,—"I didn't see you—that is, your heels, I mean; I saw only your face,—the prettiest face in the world. How could I look at anything else when I had once seen that?"
"Brian!" turning to him impetuously, and laying both her hands upon his shoulders, "I do think you are the dearest fellow on earth."
"Oh, Monica! am I the dearest to you?" He has twined his arms round her lissome figure, and is gazing anxiously into her eyes.
"Yes,—yes, certainly." And then, with a naivete indescribable, and with the utmost composure, she says,—
"I think I should like to give you a kiss!"
Is the blue dome still over his head, or has the sky fallen? The thing he has been longing for, with an intensity not to be portrayed, ever since their first meeting, but has not dared to even hint at, is now freely offered him, as though it were a thing of naught.
"Monica!" says her lover, the blood rushing to his face, "do you mean it?" He tightens his clasp round her, yet still refrains from touching the sweet lips so near his own. A feeling of honest manliness makes him hesitate about accepting this great happiness, lest, indeed, he may have misunderstood her. To him it is so great a boon she grants that he hardly dares believe in its reality.
"Of course I do," says Miss Beresford, distinctly offended. "I—at least, I did. I don't now. I always want to kiss people when I feel fond of them; but you don't, evidently, or else, perhaps, you aren't really fond of me at all, in spite of all you have said. Never mind. Don't put yourself out. It was merely a passing fancy on my part."
"Oh, don't let it pass," exclaims her lover, anxiously. "Darling life, don't you know I have been longing, longing to kiss you for weeks past, yet dared not, because something in your eyes forbade me? And now, to have you of your own accord really willing to give my dear desire seems too much."
"Are you sure that it is that, or——"
"My angel, what a question!"
"Yet perhaps you think——Don't kiss me just to oblige me, you know. I don't care so much about it as all that, but——"
She finds it impossible to finish the sentence, because——
* * * * *
Dexterously, but gently, she draws herself away from him, and stands a little apart. Looking at her, he can see she is troubled. He has opened his lips to speak, but by a gesture she restrains him.
"I know it now," she says. This oracular speech is accompanied by a blush, vivid as it is angry, and there are large tears in her eyes. "I should not have asked you to kiss me. That was your part, and you have taught me that I usurped it. Yet I thought only that I was fond of you, that you were my friend, or like Terry, or—" here the grievance gains sound, "you should not have kissed me like that."
"You didn't suppose I was going to kiss you as Terry might?" asks he, with just indignation. "He is your brother; I am—not."
"I don't know anything about it, except this, that it will be a very long time before you have the chance of doing it again. I can't bear being hugged."
"I am very sorry," says Mr. Desmond, stiffly. "Let me assure you, however, that I shall never cause you such offence again until you wish it."
"Then say never at once," says Monica, with a pout.
"Very good," says Desmond. It may now be reasonably supposed that he has met all her requirements, and that she has no further complaints to bring forward; but such is not the case.
"I don't like you when you talk to me like that," she says, aggressively, and with a spoiled-child air, glancing at him from under her sweeping lashes.
"How am I to talk to you, then?" asks he, in despair.
"You know very well how to talk to Miss Fitzgerald," retorts she, provokingly, and with a bold attempt at a frown. Yet there is something about her naughty little face, a hidden, mocking, mischievous, yet withal friendly smile as it were, that disarms her speech of its sting and gives Brian renewed hope and courage.
He takes her hand deliberately and draws it unrepulsed through his arm.
"Let us go up this walk," he says, "and leave all angry words and thoughts behind us."
He makes a movement in the direction indicated, and finds that she moves with him. He finds, too, that her slender fingers have closed involuntarily upon his arm. Plainly, she is as glad to be at peace with him as he with her.
Coming to a turn in the path, shaded by two rugged old apple-trees now growing heavy with their green burden, Desmond stands still, and, putting his right hand in his pocket, draws out something from it. As he does this he colors slightly.
"You wear all your rings on your right hand," he says, with loving awkwardness, "and it seems to me the other poor little fingers always look neglected. I—I wish you would take this and make it a present to your left hand."
"This" is a thick gold band, set with three large diamonds of great brilliancy in gypsy fashion.
"Oh! not for me!" says Monica, recoiling, and clasping her hands behind her back, yet with her eyes firmly fastened upon the beautiful ring.
"Why not for you? Some day I shall give you all I possess; now I can give you only such things as this."
"Indeed I must not take it," says Monica; but even as she utters the half-hearted refusal she creeps unconsciously closer to him, and, laying her hand upon his wrist, looks with childish delight and longing at the glittering stones lying in his palm.
"But I say you must," says Desmond, taking a very superior tone. "It is yours, not mine. I have nothing to do with it. It was never meant for me. See," taking up her hand and slipping the ring on her engaged finger, "how pretty your little white hand makes it look!"
It is always a difficult thing to a woman to bring herself to refuse diamonds, but doubly difficult once she has seen them positively adorning her own person.
Monica looks at the ring, then sighs, then turns it round and round mechanically, and finally glances at Desmond. He returns the glance by passing his arm round her shoulders, after which there is never another word said about the ownership of the ring.
"But it will put my poor little pigs in the shade, won't it?" says Monica, looking at her other hand, and then at him archly. "Oh! it is lovely—lovely!"
"I think I might have chosen you a prettier one, had I run up to Dublin and gone to Waterhouse myself," says Desmond; "but I knew if I went I could not possibly get back until to-morrow evening, and that would mean losing two whole days of our precious seven."
This speech pleases Monica, I think, even more than the ring.
"I am glad you did not go," she says, softly.
"So am I—especially as——" Here he pauses, and then goes on again hurriedly. "If I had gone, Monica, you would not have forgotten me?"
"How could I forget you in two little days?"
"They would have been two very big days to me. But tell me, if I were to go away from you for a far longer time—say for a whole month—would you still be faithful? Should I find you as I left you,—indifferent to others at least, if not wholly mine?"
"Why should I change?"
"Darling, there are so many reasons." He draws his breath quickly, impatiently. "Some day, you may meet some one else—more suited to you, perhaps, and——"
"I shall never do that." She interrupts him slowly, but decidedly.
"You are sure?"
The answer in words perhaps is meagre; but he, looking into the depths of her soft eyes, sees a surer answer there, and is satisfied.
The shadows are growing longer and slower. They do not dance and quiver now in mad glee, as they did an hour agone.
"I think we must go back," says Monica, with unconcealed regret.
"What! you will throw me again into temptation? into the very arms of the fair Bella?" says Desmond, laughing.
"Reflect, I beg of you, before it is too late."
"After all," says Monica, "I don't think I have behaved very nicely about her. I don't think now it would be a—a pretty thing to make you give me the roses before her. No, you must not do that; and you must not manage to forget them, either. You shall bring the handsomest you can find and give them to her,—but publicly Brian, just as if there was nothing in it, you know."
"There is nothing like adhering to the strict truth," says Brian. "There shall be nothing in my roses, I promise you,—except perfume."
How gossip grows rife at Aghyohillbeg—How Hermia parries the question, and how Olga proves unkind.
"She's disgracefully ugly!—I saw her quite close," says Mr. Kelly, in an injured tone. "I wonder what on earth Madam O'Connor means by asking her here, where she can be nothing but a blot upon a perfect landscape; all the rest of us are so lovely."
It is four o'clock, and hopelessly wet. The soft rain patters on the leaves outside, the grass and all the gardens are drowned in Nature's tears. There can be no lounging on sunny terraces, no delicious dreaming under shady beech-trees, this lost afternoon.
Giving in to the inevitable with a cheerful resignation worthy of record, they have all congregated in the grand old hall, one of the chief glories of Aghyohillbeg.
Through a vague but mistaken notion that it will add to their comfort and make them cosier and more forgetful of—or at least more indifferent to—the sunshine of yesterday, they have had an enormous fire of pine logs kindled upon the hearth. When too late, they discover it to be a discomfort; but, with a stoicism worthy a better cause, they decline to acknowledge their error, and stand in groups round the aggressive logs, pretending to enjoy them, but in reality dying of heat.
Meanwhile, the fragrant pieces of pine roar and crackle merrily, throwing shadows up the huge chimney, and casting bright gleams of light upon the exquisite oaken carving of the ancient chimney-piece that reaches almost to the lofty ceiling and is now blackened by age and beautiful beyond description.
Olga, in a sage-green gown, is lying back listlessly in a deep arm-chair; she has placed an elbow on either arm of it, and has brought her fingers so far towards each other that their tips touch. Hermia Herrick, in a gown of copper-red, is knitting languidly a little silk sock for the child nestling silently at her knee.
Monica, in plain white India muslin, is doing nothing, unless smiling now and then at Brian Desmond be anything, who is lying on a bear-skin rug, looking supremely happy and full of life and spirits. He has come over from Coole very early, being generously urged so to do by Madam O'Connor when parting with him last night. Ryde is not on the field, so the day is his own.
Miss Fitzgerald is looking rather handsome, in a dress of the very tiniest check, that is meant for a small woman only, or a child, and so makes her appear several sizes larger than she really is. Ulic Ronayne, standing leaning against the chimney-piece as close to Olga as circumstances will permit, is silent to a fault; and, indeed, every one but Mr. Kelly has succumbed to the damp depression of the air.
They have had only one distraction all day,—the arrival of another guest, a distant cousin of their hostess, who has been lauding her for a week or so. On inspection she proves to be a girl of nineteen, decidedly unprepossessing in appearance,—in fact, as Mr. Murphy, the butler, says to Mrs. Collins, the housekeeper, "as ugly as if she was bespoke."
A tall girl oppressed by freckles and with hair of a deep—well, let us emulate our polite French neighbors and call it blond ardent.
"Who is she?" asks Lord Rossmoyne, who arrived about an hour ago, to Ulic Ronayne's discomfiture.
"She's a fraud!" says Mr. Kelly, indignantly,—"a swindle! Madam assured us, last night, a charming girl was coming, to turn all heads and storm all hearts; and to-day, when we rushed in a body to the window and flattened our noses against the panes to see her, lo! a creature with red hair and pimples——"
"No, no; freckled, my dear Owen," interrupts Olga, indolently.
"It is all the same at a distance! general effect fatal in both cases," says Mr. Kelly, airily. "It makes one positively uncomfortable to look at her. I consider her being thrust upon us like this a deliberate insult. I think if she continues I shall leave."
"Oh, don't," says Desmond, in a tone of agonized entreaty. "How should we manage to get on without you?"
"Badly, badly, I know that," regretfully. "But it is a question of breaking either your hearts or mine. Some of us must go to the wall; it would be unfair to the world to make it me."
"I don't believe you will go far," says Mrs. Herrick, slowly. Kelly glances at her quickly, but she does not lift her eyes from the little sock, and her fingers move rapidly, easily as ever.
"London or Paris," he says,—"the city of fogs or the city of frogs. I don't know which I prefer."
"Better stay where you are," says Brian.
"Well, I really didn't think her so very plain," says Bella Fitzgerald, who thinks it pretty to say the kind thing always. "A large mouth is an affliction, certainly; and as for her complexion—but really, after all, it is better to see it as it is than painted and powdered, as one sees other people."
This is a faint cut at Olga, who is fond of powder, and who has not scrupled to add to her charms by a little touch of rouge now and then when she felt pallor demanded it.
"I think a little artificial aid might improve poor Miss Browne," says Hermia Herrick. Miss Browne is the new arrival.
"I don't. I think it is an abominable thing to cheat the public like that," says Miss Fitzgerald, doggedly: "nobody respectable would do it. The demi-monde paint and powder."
"Do they? how do you know, dear?" asks Olga Bohun, sweetly.
Miss Fitzgerald, feeling she has made a faux-pas, colors violently, tries to get herself out of it, and flounders helplessly. Lord Rossmoyne is looking surprised, Ulic Ronayne and Desmond amused.
"Every one says so," says the fair Bella, at last, in a voice that trembles with anger: "you know very well they do."
"I don't, indeed, my dear Bella. My acquaintance with—er—that sort of person has been limited: I quite envy you your superior knowledge."
Here Olga laughs a little, low, rippling laugh that completes her enemy's defeat. After the laugh there is a dead silence.
"I think somebody ought to remove the poor little child," says Mr. Kelly, in a low, impressive tone, pointing to Mrs. Herrick's little girl. At which everybody laughs heartily, and awkwardness is banished.
"Browne?—I knew an Archibald Browne once: anything to this girl?" asks Lord Rossmoyne, hurriedly, unwilling to let silence settle down on them again.
"Big man with a loose tie?" asks Ulic.
"Ye-es. There was something odd about his neck, now I remember," says Rossmoyne.
"That was her father. He had an idea he was like Lord Byron, and always wore his necktie flying in the wind."
"He couldn't manage it, though," says Mr. Kelly, with as near an attempt at mirth as he ever permits himself. "It always flew the wrong way. Byron's, if you call to mind his many portraits, always flew over his left shoulder; old Browne's wouldn't. By the bye," thoughtfully, "Byron must have had a wind of his own, mustn't he? our ordinary winds don't always blow in the same direction, do they?"
"I would that a wind could arise to blow you in some direction, when you are in such an idle mood as now," says Mrs. Herrick, in a low tone.
"If it would blow me in your direction, I should say amen to that," in a voice as subdued as her own.
"May the Fates avert from me a calamity so great!"
"You will have to entreat them very diligently, if you hope to escape it."
"Are you so very determined, then?"
"Yes. Although I feel I am mocked by the hope within me, still I shall persist."
"You waste your time."
"I am content to waste it in such a cause. Yet I am sorry I am so distasteful to you."
"That is not your fault. I forgive you that."
"What is it, then, you can't forgive in me?"
"Not more than I can't forgive in another. 'God made you all, therefore let you all pass for men.' I don't deal more hardly with you than with the rest, you see. You are only one of many."
"That is the unkindest thing you ever said to me. And that is saying much. Yet I, too, will beseech the Fates in my turn."
"To grant you what?"
"The finding of you in a gentler mind."
The faintest flicker of a smile crosses her lips. She lays her knitting on her knee for an instant, that she may the more readily let her tapered fingers droop until they touch the pale brow of the child at her feet; then she resumes it again, with a face calm and emotionless as usual.
"Old Browne's girl can't owe her father much," Desmond is saying apropos of something both lost and gone before, so far as Kelly and Mrs. Herrick are concerned.
"About a hundred thousand pounds," says Ronayne. "She is quite a catch, you know. No end of money. The old fellow died a year ago."
"No, he didn't; he demised," says Kelly, emerging from obscurity into the light of conversation once more. "At least, so the papers said. There is a tremendous difference, you know. A poor man dies, a rich man demises. One should always bear in mind that important social distinction."
"And the good man! What of him?" says Desmond, looking at his friend. "What does Montgomery say?"
"Yes, that is very mysterious," says Kelly, with bated breath. "According to Montgomery, 'the good man never dies.' Think of that! Never dies. He walks the earth forever, like a superannuated ghost, only awfuller."
"Have you ever seen one?" asks Olga, leaning forward.
"What? a man that never died? Yes, lots of 'em. Here's one," laying his hand upon his breast.
"No. A man that never will die?"
"How can I answer such a question as that? Perhaps Ronayne, there, may be such a one."
"How stupid you are! I mean, did you ever meet a man who couldn't die?"
"Never,—if he went the right way about it."
"Then, according to your showing, you have never seen a good man." She leans back again in her chair, fatigued but satisfied.
"I'm afraid they are few and far between," says Hermia.
"Now and again they have appeared," says Mr. Kelly, with a modest glance. "Perhaps I shall never die."
"Don't make us more unhappy than we need be," says Mrs. Herrick, plaintively.
"How sad that good men should be so scarce!" says Miss Fitzgerald, with a glance she means to be funny, but which is only dull.
"Don't make trite remarks, Bella," says Mrs. Bohun, languidly. "You know if you did meet one he would bore you to death. The orthodox good man, the oppressive being we read about, but never see, is unknown to me or you, for which I, at least, am devoutly grateful."
"To return to old Browne," says Ulic: "he wasn't good, if you like. He was a horrid ill-tempered, common old fellow, thoroughly without education of any kind."
"He went through college, however, as he was fond of boasting whenever he got the chance."
"And when he didn't get it he made it."
"In at one door and out at the other, that's how he went through Trinity," says Mr. Kelly. "Oh, how I hated that dear old man, and how he hated me!"
"You admit, then, the possibility of your being hated?" says Mrs. Herrick.
"I have admitted that ever since—I met—you! But old Browne bore me a special grudge."
"And your sin against him?"
"I never fathomed it. 'The atrocious crime of being a young man,' principally, I think. Once, I certainly locked him up in his own wine-cellar, and left him there for six hours, under the pretence that I believed him to be a burglar, but nothing more. He quite disliked being locked in the cellar, I think. It was very dark, I must admit. But I'm not afraid of the dark."
"That's a good thing," says Madam O'Connor, entering, "because it will soon envelop you. Did any one ever see so dark an evening for the time of year? Well, I do think that fire looks cheerful, though it is warm. Has Mary Browne come down yet?"
"No. Come here, Madam; here's a cosey seat I have been keeping sacred for you for the past hour. Why have you denied us the light of your countenance all this weary time?"
"Get out with you now, and your fine compliments to an old woman!" says Madam, laughing. "If I were your sweetheart, Owen, I'd never believe a word out of your lips."
Mrs. Herrick, laying down her knitting, raises her head, and looks full into Kelly's eyes. As she does so, a smile, lovely as it is unexpected, warms all her statuesque face into perfect beauty.
"And this to me!" says Kelly, addressing his hostess, and pretending to be blind to Mrs. Herrick's glance. "All the afternoon I have been treated by your sex with the most consummate cruelty. With their tongues they have been stabbing me as with so many knives. But yours is the unkindest cut of all. It is, in fact, the—er—carving-knife!"
"Oh! here's the tea," says Olga, in a pleased tone. "Madam, please let me pour it out to-night?"
"Of course, my love, and thank you too."
"And may I to-morrow evening?" asks Monica, with childish eagerness and a quick warm blush.
"You may, indeed, my pretty one; and I hope it won't be long before you pour me out my tea in your own house."
Monica laughs, and kisses her, and Desmond, who is standing near them, stoops over Madam O'Connor and tells her he would like to kiss her too,—first, for her own sake, and secondly, for that sweet hope of hers just uttered.
"Not a bit of it," says she, in return, in a tone as sprightly as it was twenty years ago, though too low for Monica to hear. "Your first and second reasons are all humbug. Say at once you want to kiss me because you think this child's caress still lingers on my lips. Ah ha!—you see I know more than you think, my lad. And hark you, Brian, come here till I whisper a word in your ear; I'm your friend, boy, in the matter, and I wish you luck, though Priscilla Blake kill me for it; that's what I want to say."
"I couldn't desire a better friend," says Brian gratefully.
"And where on earth is Mary Browne?" says Madam O'Connor. "She is such a nice girl, though hardly a Venus. Owen, my dear, I want you to take her down to dinner, and to make yourself charming to her."
"I shall be only too pleased," says Mr. Kelly, faintly; and then he sinks back in his chair and covers his face with his hands.
"We were talking about Miss Browne's father; he was quite a millionaire, wasn't he?" says Lord Rossmoyne, who is standing at the tea-table beside Olga. He is a very rich man himself, and has, therefore, a due regard for riches in others.
"He was,—and the most unpleasant person I ever met in my life, into the bargain," says Madam O'Connor. "I'm sure the life he led that poor Mary!—I never felt more relieved at anything than at the news of his death."
"I feel as if I could weep for Mary," says Mr. Kelly, in an aside to Mrs. Herrick, who takes no notice of him. "I wonder if she has got a little lamb," he goes on, unrebuked.
"What about the lamb?" says Madam, whose ears are young as ever.
"I was only conjecturing as to whether your cousin Mary had a little lamb," says Mr. Kelly, genially. "The old Mary had, you know. A dear little animal with its
'Fleece as white as snow; And everywhere that Mary went The lamb was sure to go.'
You recollect, don't you? What does Miss Browne do with hers? Has she got it upstairs in her room, now? After all,—though the idea is sweetly pretty,—I think there might be certain places into which it would be awkward to have even the whitest lamb trotting after one. Eh?"
"I suppose Miss Browne is rich enough to indulge in any vagaries that may occur to her," says Bella Fitzgerald.
"There's nothing like money," says Olga, with a sigh; at which Lord Rossmoyne looks hopeful, and young Ronayne despondent.
"Like leather, you mean," says Owen Kelly: "that's the real thing to get hold of."
"Some people would do anything for money," says Miss Fitzgerald, with a spiteful glance in Olga's direction. "They would sell themselves for it." Here she turns her cold eyes upon Ronayne, who is standing erect, handsome, but unmistakably miserable.
"They could hardly sell themselves for a more profitable article," says Olga, with a fine shrug of her soft shoulders.
"So they think. Croesus, we know, was, and is, allpowerful."
"Oh, no," says Olga, with a little silvery laugh; "you forget my dear Bella. Read it up again, and you will see that Croesus was once conquered by Cyrus. What became of his power then?"
Her lashes cover her eyes for a moment, and when she lifts them again they are fixed on Ronayne. By some coquettish art she gives him to understand in this single glance that he is Cyrus, Lord Rossmoyne Croesus. He can conquer the rich lord if he will.
"How idle you are, Mr. Ronayne!" she says aloud. "Come here directly and help me. You know I cannot do without your help." There is the most delicate emphasis possible upon the pronoun. Obedient to her command, he comes, as Rossmoyne, armed with the cups, crosses the hall to Hermia and Miss Fitzgerald.
"Did your eyes speak true just now?" he asks, bending over her under pretext of helping her with the cups.
"What is truth?" asks she, in turn, with a swift upward glance. "Who knows aught of her? She lies buried in a deep well, does she not? Who shall drag her forth?"
She smiles, yet in a somewhat constrained fashion, that assorts ill with the inborn self-possession that as a rule characterizes her. She glances at him hurriedly. How young and handsome and earnest he looks! How full of tenderest entreaty! There is, too, a touch of melancholy in his dark eyes that never came to the birth (she is fain to acknowledge to herself with a pang of remorse) until that day when first they look on her.
He loves her,—that she knows; but Rossmoyne loves her too; and though Ronayne's rent-roll is by no means to be despised, still it counts but as a small one beside that of Rossmoyne's.
And Hermia is right! a title is of use in the world; and nothing is so lasting or so satisfactory as a respectable book at one's banker's. A good match (Hermia again) is the one thing to be desired; it covers all sins. Advice such as this coming from Mrs. Herrick is thoroughly disinterested, as the late lamented Mr. Herrick, having behaved to her like a brute during their mercifully short married life, had died in the odor of sanctity, leaving her complete mistress of all his enormous wealth, and quite free to make a second marriage of her own choosing.
With her (Olga), however, the case is widely different; she is indeed without encumbrances so far as children may so be termed, and she has sufficient means to enable her to get her gowns and things from Paris, but there her independence ends.
As she runs over all this hurriedly in her mind, the desire for riches grows upon her. Yes, there is certainly a great deal of good in Rossmoyne, besides his income; and perhaps a solid sternness is preferable to an airy gayety of manner (this with an irrepressible leaning towards the "airy gayety"); and—and—what a pity it is that Rossmoyne is not Ulic!——
"I will," says Ronayne, alluding to her last remark, in a low but determined tone. "Olga, tell me I am more to you than Rossmoyne."
"The boy you are!" says Olga, with an adorable smile that reaches him through the flickering flashes of the firelight. "The baby!" He is bending over her, and with a light caressing touch she brushes back the hair from his temples. "In a year, nay, in a month, once we are separated, you will see some other face, newer, more desirable, and forget you ever cared for mine."
"If I could believe that, I might find peace. Yet, for all that peace could give me, I would not so believe it. I am yours forever, boy though you deem me; and, yet, is one ever a boy again when one has once truly loved?"
"How often have you truly loved?" with an attempt at lightness that is down-trodden by the intensity of her regard.
"As often as I have seen you. Nay, more than that, every moment since I first saw you; because night and day, whether absent or present, I have been yours in heart and soul."
"You have fatigued yourself!—A long two months!" laughingly.
"A short two months."
"There has been no time for fickleness."
"There never will be, so far as I am concerned. So sure am I of that, that I do not mind praying that Cupid's curse may light upon me if ever I prove unfaithful. You know it?"
"I have but small acquaintance with cursing of any sort."
"Then learn this one,—
'They that do change old love for new, Pray gods they change for worse!'
Will you repeat that after me?"
"Wait until I finish my tea; and—unkind as you are—you will give me a little bit of cake, won't you?"
"I would give you everything I possess, if I could."
"You don't possess this cake, you know: it is Madam O'Connor's."
"Oh, Olga, why will you always press me backwards? Am I never to be nearer to you than I am now?"
"I don't see how you could conveniently be very much nearer," says Mrs. Bohun, with a soft laugh.
"After all, I suppose I come under the head of either madman or fool," says Ronayne, sadly. "You are everything to me; I am less than nothing to you."
"Is Lord Rossmoyne to come under the head of 'nothing'? How rude!" says Olga.
"I never thought of him. I was thinking only of how hopelessly I love you."
"Love! How should such a baby as you grasp even the meaning of that word?" says Olga, letting her white lids droop until their long lashes lie upon her cheeks like shadows, while she raises her cup with indolent care to her lips. "Do you really think you know what it means?"
"'The dredeful joy, alway that flit so yerne, All this mene I by Love,'"
quotes he, very gently; after which he turns away, and, going over to the fireplace again, flings himself down dejectedly at Monica's feet.
"Are you tired, Mr. Ronayne?" says Monica, very gently. Something in his beautiful face tells her that matters are not going well with him.
"Tired? no," lifting his eyes to her with a smile that belies his words. "It is good of you to ask, though. I wish," earnestly, "you would not call me 'Mr. Ronayne.' I can't bear it from any one I like. Desmond tell her to call me Ulic."
It strikes both Monica and Brian as peculiar that he should appeal to the latter as to one possessed of a certain influence over the former. It strikes Miss Fitzgerald in the same light too, who has been listening to his impetuous entreaty.
Seeing there is something wrong with him, something that might be termed excitement in his manner, Desmond whispers to Monica to do as he desires.
"He is unhappy about something; let him feel you are his friend," he says, in a low tone.
"Come a little farther from the fire, Ulic,—a little nearer to me," says Monica, in a tone of shy friendliness, "and I think you will be more comfortable."
He is more than grateful, I think, though he says nothing only he moves a good deal closer to her, and lays his head against her knee in a brotherly fashion,—need I say unrebuked?
Something in this little scene sends the blood rushing with impatient fervor through Olga's veins. But that she knows Monica well, and that the girl is dear to her, she could have hated her heartily at this moment, without waiting to analyze the motive for her dislike. As it is, she gives the reins to her angry spirit, and lets it drive her where it will. She laughs quite merrily, and says some pretty playful thing to Lord Rossmoyne that all the world can hear,—and Ronayne, be assured, the first of all.
Desmond, with a subdued touch of surprise in his eyes, turns to look at her. But the night has darkened with sullen haste—tired, perhaps, of the day's ill temper—and standing as he does within the magic circle of the firelight, he finds a difficulty in conquering the gloom beyond. This makes his gaze in her direction the more concentrated; and, indeed, when he has separated her features from the mist of the falling night, he still finds it impossible to pierce the impenetrable veil of indifference that covers her every feature.
His gaze thus necessarily prolonged is distasteful to her.
"Brian, don't keep staring at the teapot in that mean fashion," she says, playfully, yet with a latent sense of impatience in her tone. "It is unworthy of you. Go up to Madam O'Connor nobly, cup in hand, and I daresay—if you ask her prettily—she will grant me permission to give you a cup of tea."
Desmond, recovering from his revery with a start accepts the situation literally.
"Will you, Madam?" he says, meekly. "Do." His tone is of the most abject. There is a perceptible trembling about his knee-joints. "Is this the 'air noble'?" he says to Olga, in an undertone. "Have I caught it?"
"You'll catch it in a minute in real earnest, if you don't mend your manners," says Madam, with a laugh. "Give him his tea, Olga, my dear, though he doesn't deserve it."
"Sugar?" says Olga, laconically.
"Yes, please," mendaciously.
"Then you shan't have even one lump, if only to punish you for all your misconduct."
"I thought as much," says Brian, taking his cup thankfully. "Fact is, I can't bear sugar but I knew you would drop it in, in an unlimited degree, if I said the other thing. Not that I have the vaguest notion as to how I have misconducted myself. If I knew, I might set a watch upon my lips."
"Set it on your eyes," says Olga, with meaning.
At this moment a light footfall is heard, and somebody comes slowly across the hall. A merry tongue of fire, flaming upwards, declares it to be the plain Miss Browne.
Mrs. O'Connor has just passed into an adjoining room. Olga is busy with her tray and with her thoughts. Mrs. Herrick, partly turned aside, and oblivious of the approaching guest, is conversing in low tones with Lord Rossmoyne.
No one, therefore, is ready to give the stranger welcome and put her through the ceremony of introduction. Awkwardness is impending, when Monica comes to the rescue. Her innate sense of kindly courtesy conquering her shyness, she rises from her seat, and going up to Miss Browne, who has come to a standstill, lays her hand softly upon hers.
"Come over here and sit by me," she says, nervously, yet with such a gracious sweetness that the stranger's heart goes out to her on the spot, and Brian Desmond, if it be possible, falls more in love with her than ever.
"Thank you," says Miss Browne, pressing gratefully the little hand that lies on hers; and then every one wakes into life and says something civil to her.
Five minutes later the dressing-bell rings, and the scene is at an end.
How Mrs. Herrick grows worldly-wise and Olga frivolous—How Mr. Kelly tells a little story; and how, beneath the moonlight, many things are made clear.
Dinner has come to an end. The men are still dallying with their wine. The women are assembled in the drawing-room.
Olga, having drawn back the curtains from the central window, is standing in its embrasure, looking out silently upon the glories of the night. For the storm has died away; the wind is gone to sleep; the rain has sobbed itself to death; and now a lovely moon is rising slowly—slowly—from behind a rippled mass of grayest cloud. From out the dark spaces in the vault above a few stars are shining,—the more brilliantly because of the blackness that surrounds them. The air is sultry almost to oppressiveness, and the breath of the roses that have twined themselves around the railings of the balcony renders the calm night full of sweetest fragrance.
Even as she gazes, spellbound, the clouds roll backward, and stars grow and multiply exceedingly, until all
"the floor of heaven Is thick inlaid with patines of bright gold."
Madam O'Connor is talking to Miss Browne of certain family matters interesting to both. Miss Fitzgerald has gone upstairs, either to put on another coating of powder, or else to scold her long-suffering maid. Her mother has fallen into a gentle, somewhat noisy snooze.
A sudden similar thought striking both Monica and Mrs. Herrick at the same moment, they rise, and make a step towards the window where Olga is standing all alone.
Hermia, laying her hand on Monica's arm, entreats her by a gesture to change her purpose; whereon Monica falls back again, and Hermia, going on, parts the curtains, and, stepping in to where Olga is, joins her uninvited.
"Dreaming?" she says, lightly.
"Who would not dream on such a night as this? the more beautiful because of the miserable day to which it is a glorious termination. See, Hermia, how those planets gleam and glitter, as though in mockery of us poor foolish mortals down below."
"I don't feel a bit more foolish than I did this morning," says Hermia. "Do you, dear? You were giving yourself a great deal of credit for your common sense then."
"'Common sense,'—worldly wisdom,—how I hate the sound of all that jargon!" says Olga, petulantly. "Let us forget we must be wise, if only for one night. The beauty of that silent world of flowers beyond has somehow entered into me. Let me enjoy it. 'How sweet the moonlight sleeps upon that bank' down there! Watch it. Can you see how the roses quiver beneath its touch, as though stirred by some happy dream?"
"It is indeed a perfect night!" says Hermia, looking at her in some surprise. There is a suspicion of excitement in Olga's manner—arising, as it were, from the desire to hide one emotion by the betrayal of another—that strikes her listener as strange.
"How softly the air beats upon one's face!" says Mrs. Bohun, leaning a little forward. "The night is, as you say, perfect. Yet I don't know what is the matter with me: the more I feel the loveliness of all around, the sadder my heart seems to grow."
"What!" says Hermia, lifting her brows, "am I to learn now that you—the gayest of all mortals—have at last succumbed to the insufferable dreariness of this merry world?"
"You run too fast. I am a little perplexed, perhaps; but I have not succumbed to anything."
"Or any one, I hope, unless it be to your advantage. You are playing a silly game, Olga."
"The world would be lost unless it had a fool to sport with now and then."
"But why should you be the one to pander to its pleasures?"
"Who more fitting? I am tired of hearing you apply that word 'silly' to me, morning, noon, and night."
"It is too late to believe it possible that you and I should quarrel," says Mrs. Herrick, in a perfectly even tone: "so don't try to get up an imaginary grievance. You know you are dearer to me than anything on earth, after the children."
"Well, don't scold me any more," says Olga, coaxingly.
"I never scold; I only reason."
"Oh! but that is so much worse," says Olga. "It means the scolding, and a lot more besides. Do anything but reason with me, my dear Hermia."
"I will say that I think you are throwing yourself away."
"Where? Over the balcony?"—wilfully. "I assure you, you misjudge me: I am far too great a coward."
"You are not too great a coward to contemplate the committing of a much more serious betise. To-night his attentions were specially marked, and you allowed them."
"I can't think what you mean."
"Will you deny that Mr. Ronayne paid you very marked attention to-night?"
"Marked! Where did he make his impression, then? He didn't pinch me, if you mean that."
"Of course you can follow your own wishes, dearest, and I shall neither gain nor lose; but it does seem a pity, when you might be a countess and have the world at your feet. I know few so altogether fitted to fill the position, and still you reject it. You are pretty, clever, charming,—everything of the most desirable."
"Am I?" She steps into the drawing-room, and brings herself by a swift step or two opposite a huge mirror let into one of the walls. Standing before it, she surveys herself leisurely from head to foot, and then she smiles.
"I don't know about the 'clever,'" she says; "but I am sure I am pretty. In town last season—do you remember?—my hair created quite a furore, it is so peculiarly light. Ever so many people wanted to paint me. Yes, it was all very pleasant."
"Do you think it will be as pleasant to live here all your days, and find no higher ambition than the hope that your ponies may be prettier than Mrs. So-and-so's?"
"Do you remember that fancy ball, and how the prince asked who I was, and all the rest of it? He said one or two very pretty things to me. He, like you, said I was charming. Do you know," naively, "I have never got over the feeling of being obliged to any one who pays me a compliment? I am obliged to you now."
"And to the prince then. But you won't see many princes if you stay in Ireland, I fancy: they don't hanker after the soil."
"Poor Ireland!" says Mrs. Bohun.
"And compliments, I should say, will be almost as scarce."
"Ah! now, there you are wrong: they fly beneath these murky skies. We absolutely revel in them. What true Irishman but has one ripping freely from his mouth on the very smallest chance? And then, my dear Hermia, consider, are we not the proud possessors of the blarney-stone?"
"I wish, dearest, you would bring yourself to think seriously of Rossmoyne."
"I do think seriously of him. It would be impossible to think of him in any other way, he is so dull and pompous."
"He would make an excellent husband!"
"I have had enough of husbands. They are very unsatisfactory people. And besides——"
"Rossmoyne has a temper."
"And forty thousand a year."
"Not good enough."
"If you are waiting for an angel, you will wait forever. All men are——"
"Oh, Hermia! really, I can't listen to such naughty words, you know. I really wonder at you!"
"I wasn't going to say anything of the kind," says Hermia, with great haste, not seeing the laughter lurking in Olga's dark eyes. "I merely meant that——"
"Don't explain!—don't!" says Olga; "I couldn't endure any more of it." And she laughs aloud.
"Rossmoyne is very devoted to you. Is there anything against him, except his temper?"
"Yes, his beard. Nothing would induce me to marry a man with hair all over his face. It isn't clean."
"Give him five minutes and a razor, and he might do away with it."
"Give him five minutes and a razor, and he might do away with himself too," says Olga, provokingly. "Really. I think one thing would please me just as much as the other."
"Oh, then, you are bent on refusing him?" says Hermia, calmly. With very few people does she ever lose her temper; with Olga—never.
"I am not so sure of that, at all," says Olga, airily. "It is quite within the possibilities that I may marry him some time or other,—sooner or later. There is a delightful vagueness about those two dates that gives me the warmest encouragement."
"It is a pity you cannot be serious sometimes," says Mrs. Herrick, mildly.
A little hand upon her gown saves further expostulation. A little face looking up with a certainty of welcome into hers brings again that wonderful softness into Hermia's eyes.
"Is it you, my sweetest?" she says, fondly. "And where have you been? I have watched in vain for you for the last half-hour, my Fay."
"I was in the dining-room. But nurse called me; and now I have come to say good-night," says the child.
"Good-night, then, and God bless you, my chick. But where is my Georgie?"
"I'm here," says Georgie, gleefully, springing upon her in a violent fashion, that one would have believed hateful to the calm Hermia, yet that is evidently most grateful to her. She embraces the boy warmly, and lets her eyes follow him until he is out of sight. Then she turns again to the little maiden at her side.
"I must go with Georgie," says the child.
"So you shall. But first tell me, what have you got in your hand?"
"Something to go to bed with. See, mammy! It is a pretty red plum," opening her delicate pink fist, for her mother's admiration.
"Where did you get it, darling?"
"In the dining-room."
"From Lord Rossmoyne?"
"No. From Mr. Kelly. I would not have the one Lord Rossmoyne gave me."
Olga laughs mischievously, and Mrs. Herrick colors.
"Why?" she says.
"Because I like Mr. Kelly best."
"And what did you give him?"
"Not even a kiss?" says Olga.
"No," somewhat shamefacedly.
"Her mother's own daughter!" says Olga, caressing the child tenderly, but laughing still. "A chilly mortal."
"Good-night, my own," says Hermia, and the child, having kissed them both again, runs away.
Olga follows her with wistful eyes.
"I almost wish I had a baby!" she says.
"You? Why, you can't take care of yourself! You are the least fitted to have a child of any woman that I know. Leave all such charges to staid people like me. Why, you are a baby at heart, yourself, this moment."
"That would be no drawback. It would only have created sympathy between me and my baby. I would have understood all her bad moods and condoned all her crimes."
"If you had been a mother, you would have had a very naughty child."
"I should have had a very happy child, at least." Then she laughs. "Fancy me with a dear little baby!" she says,—"a thing all my own, that would rub its soft cheek against mine and love me better than anything!"
"And rumple all your choicest Parisian gowns, and pull your hair to pieces. I couldn't fancy it at all."
Here the door opens to admit the men, the celestial half-hour after dinner having come to an end. With one consent they all converge towards the window, where Olga and Hermia are standing with Monica, who had joined them to bid good-night to little Fay. Miss Fitzgerald, who had returned to the drawing-room freshly powdered, seeing how the tide runs, crosses the room too, and mingles with the group in the window.
"How long you have been! We feared you dead and buried," she says to Kelly, with elephantine playfulness.
"We have, indeed. I thought the other men would never stir. Why did you not give me the chance of leaving them? The faintest suggestion that you wanted me would have brought me here hours ago."
"If I had been sure of that, I should have sent you a message; it would have saved me a lecture," says Olga, flashing a smile at Hermia.
"I should disdain to send a message," says the proud Bella, "I would not compel any man's presence. 'Come if you will; stay away if you won't,' is my motto; and I cannot help thinking I am right."
"You are, indeed, quite right. Coercion is of small avail in some cases," says Olga, regarding her with the calm dignity of one who plainly considers the person addressed of very inferior quality indeed.
"A woman can scarcely be too jealous of her rights nowadays," says Miss Fitzgerald. "If she has a proper knowledge of her position, she ought to guard it carefully."
"A fine idea finely expressed!" says Kelly, as though smitten into reverence by the grandeur of her manner.
"I wonder what is a man's proper position?" says Olga lazily.
"He will always find it at a woman's feet," says Miss Fitzgerald, grandly, elated by Kelly's apparent subjection.
That young man looks blankly round him. Under tables and chairs and lounges his eyes penetrate, but without the desired result.
"So sorry I can't see a footstool anywhere!" he says, lifting regretful eyes to Miss Fitzgerald; "but for that I should be at your feet from this until you bid me rise."
"Hypocrite!" says Olga in his ear; after which conversation becomes more general; and presently Miss Fitzgerald goes back to the fire under the mistaken impression that probably one of the men will follow her there.
The one—whoever he is—doesn't.
"Do you know," says Mr. Kelly, in a low tone, to the others, "the ugly girl's awfully nice! She is a pleasant deceit. 'She has no winsome looks, no pretty frowning,' I grant you; but she can hold her own, and is so good-humored."