BY THE AUTHOR OF "PHYLLIS," "MOLLY BAWN," "PORTIA," ETC.
"Who set this ancient quarrel new abroach?— Speak, nephew, were you by when it began?
"Here's much to do with hate, but more with love."—
ROMEO AND JULIET.
NEW YORK AND CHICAGO
TROW'S PRINTING AND BOOKBINDING COMPANY, NEW YORK.
How a Dove-cot was fluttered in Rossmoyne.
The old-fashioned clock is ticking loudly, ponderously, as though determined to betray the flight of fickle time and impress upon the happy, careless ones that the end of all things is at hand. The roses knock their fragrant buds against the window-panes, calling attention to their dainty sweetness. The pigeons coo amorously upon the sills outside, and even thrust their pretty heads into the breakfast-room, demanding plaintively their daily crumbs; but no one heeds.
A deadly silence has fallen upon this room at Moyne, albeit life is fully represented here, and two eyes, in which the light of youth is quenched, are looking anxiously into the two other eyes that have also seen the best and the sweetest of their days.
Hopelessly the golden roses scatter their petals. In vain the white and tawny birds entreat backsheesh. To no purpose does the elderly clock count out its numbers. The urn is hissing angrily, the two cups of tea so carefully prepared are growing cold. So are the crisp little hot cakes, so is the——
No! by the bye, it isn't! Honey can't. What a chance I was near giving the reviewers!
One bird, growing annoyed at the prolonged quiet, flies from the open window to the back of Miss Penelope's chair, and settles there with an indignant flutter and a suppressed but angry note. This small suggestion of a living world destroyes the spell that for the last few minutes has been connecting the brain with a dead one.
Miss Penelope, raising her head, gives words to her thoughts.
"Poor, poor Katherine!" she says, gently smoothing out the letter that lies upon her knee. "How her happiness was wrecked and what a sad ending there has been to everything! Her children coming home to us, fatherless—motherless! Dear child! what a life hers has been! It is quite twenty years ago now, and yet it all seems to me as fresh as yesterday."
"She shouldn't have taken things so easily; she should have asserted herself at the time," says Miss Priscilla, whose voice is always a note sharper than her sister's.
"It requires a great deal of thought and—and a great deal of moral courage to assert one's self when a man has behaved abominably to one,—has, in fact, jilted one!" says Miss Penelope, bringing out the awful word with a little shudder and a shake of her gentle head, that sets two pale lavender ribbons on her cap swaying mildly to and fro.
"Why was she so fatally silent about everything, except the one bare fact of his refusal, at the last moment, to marry her, without assigning any cause for his base desertion? Why didn't she open her whole heart to me? I wasn't afraid of the man!" says Miss Priscilla, with such terrible energy and such a warlike front as might well have daunted "the man," or indeed any man, could he have seen her. "She should have unburdened her poor bruised spirit to me, who—if my mother was not hers, and if I was many years her senior—had at least a sister's love for her."
"A true love," says Miss Penelope, with another sigh.
"Instead of which," regretfully, "she hid all her sorrows in her own bosom, and no doubt wept and pined for the miscreant in secret."
"Poor soul!" says Miss Penelope, profoundly affected by this dismal picture. Tears born of tenderness spring to her eyes. "Do you remember, Priscilla, how she refused to show his letter, wishing, I suppose, even then to spare him?"
"I forget nothing!" with some acerbity. "Often, when saying my prayers, I have wished I could forget him, but I can't, so I have to go on being uncharitable and in sin,—if indeed sin it be to harden one's heart against a bad man."
"Do you remember, too, my dear Priscilla, how she refused to go to church the Sunday after she received his cold-blooded missive telling her he wished his engagement at an end? I often wonder in what language he could have couched such a scandalous desire; but she tore the letter up. Dear! dear! it might have happened to-day, it is all so clear to me."
"Too clear," says Miss Priscilla.
"I recollect, too," says Miss Penelope, leaning her elbows on the table, pushing her untasted tea from her, and warming to the dismal memory, "how she would not come down to dinner on that eventful evening, though we had the red-currant tart she was so fond of, and how I took some up myself and knocked at her door and entreated her to open to me and to eat some of it. There was whipped cream on it; and she was very fond of cream, too."
"And she refused to open the door?" asks Miss Priscilla, with the satisfied air of one who has often heard the thrilling recital before, yet was never tired of it.
"Absolutely! so I laid the plate on a little table outside her door. Some hours afterwards, going up to bed, I saw the plate was gone and her door slightly ajar. Stealing into her room on tiptoe, I saw she was sleeping peacefully, and that she had eaten the red-currant tart. I felt so happy then. Poor dear child! how fond she was of that tart."
"She liked everything that had sugar in it," says Miss Priscilla, mournfully.
"It was only natural. 'Sweets to the sweet,'" says Miss Penelope, letting one little white jewelled hand fall slowly, sadly upon the other.
There is a lengthened pause.
Presently, stooping slightly towards her sister, Miss Penelope says in a mysterious whisper,—
"I wonder, my dear Priscilla, why she married James Beresford a month afterwards."
"Who can read the human heart? Perhaps it was pride drove her into that marriage,—a desire to show George Desmond how lightly she treated his desertion of her. And James was a handsome young fellow, whereas George was——"
"Ugly," says Miss Penelope, with quite an amazing amount of vicious satisfaction for her.
"Strikingly so," says Miss Priscilla, acquiescing most agreeably. "But then the Desmond estates mean half the county; and we used to think he was the soul of honor."
"It was our father's expressed desire upon his deathbed that Katherine should marry him."
"Yes, yes; a desire to be held sacred. And Katherine gave her promise to our dying parent. Nothing," says Miss Priscilla, in a solemn tone, "should induce any one to break such an oath. I have often said so to the dear child. But she appeared not only willing, but anxious, to marry George Desmond. His was the traitorous mind."
"I daresay he has had his own punishment," says Miss Penelope, mildly.
"I hope so," says Miss Priscilla, sternly. Then, with a return to sadness, "Twenty years ago it is, and now she has been a twelvemonth dead and in her quiet grave."
"Oh, don't, my dear Priscilla," says Miss Penelope, in a broken voice, burying her face in her pocket-handkerchief.
"Ah! well, well, we had better look to the future; the past has no charms for us," says Miss Priscilla, with a ghastly attempt at cheerfulness. "Let me see," referring through a pair of gold-rimmed spectacles to the letter in her hand: "That the dear children have landed we know, and—h'm—yes, this very—yes, plainly, very respectable person, the captain, writes to say they will be with us to-morrow."
"To-morrow! and that was written yesterday," says Miss Penelope, putting down her handkerchief and starting once more into life. "Why, at that rate, my dear Priscilla, they will be here to-day!"
"Bless me! you don't mean it!" exclaims Miss Priscilla, again applying her glasses to the letter. "Monday, and this is Tuesday: yes, sure enough you are right. What a head you have, my dear Penelope!"
"Oh, not at all," says Miss Penelope, flushing with pleasure at this tribute to her intellect.
"To-day,—in a few hours. Now, what is to be done about the beds?"
"But surely they are aired?"
"Aired?—yes. They have been aired every day regularly for the past two months, ever since I first heard the children were likely to come to us. But still I am uncertain about them. I know they will want hot jars; and then the rooms, they will want flowers and many things—and——"
"Can't I help you?" demands Miss Penelope, eagerly.
"My dear girl, not at all," says Miss Priscilla, with a calmly superior air, arising from the fact that she is quite eighteen months her senior. "You can assist me with your valuable counsel, but I would not have you disturb yourself for worlds. You must be cool and collected, and hold yourself in readiness to receive them when they come. They will be shy, no doubt, coming here all the way from Palestine, and it must be your part to make them feel quite at home."
This to Miss Penelope, who is afraid of strangers in any guise, appears such a fearful mission that she pales, and says, tremblingly,—
"But you too will be present at our first meeting? I must indeed beg you to be present, my dear Priscilla."
"Of course, of course," says Miss Priscilla, encouragingly. Then, doubtfully, "I hope the boy won't take a dislike to us."
"I wonder how we shall get on with children," says Miss Penelope. She is evidently growing extremely nervous. "It seems so strange they should be coming here to the old house."
"Monica cannot be a child now. She must be at least eighteen," says Miss Priscilla, thoughtfully. "It was in 1863 that——"
"1864, I think," interrupts Miss Penelope.
"1863," persists Miss Priscilla.
"You may be right, my dear," says Miss Penelope, mildly but firmly, "you often are,—but I know it was in '64 that——"
"What?" asks Miss Priscilla, sharply.
"The Desmond jilted our Katherine."
"You are wrong, Penelope, utterly wrong. It was in '63."
"I am nearly always wrong," says Miss Penelope, meekly, yet with a latent sense of suppressed power. "But I cannot forget that in the year George Desmond behaved so shamefully to our sweet Katherine, Madam O'Connor's cow had two calves, and that," triumphantly, "was in '64."
"You are right—quite right," says Miss Priscilla, vanquished, but not cast down. "So it was. What a memory you have, my dear Penelope!"
"Nothing when compared with yours," says Miss Penelope, smiling.
At this moment the door opens and an old man enters the room. He is clad in the garb of a servant, though such wonderful habiliments as those in which he has arrayed himself would be difficult to purchase nowadays: whether there are more wrinkles in his forehead or in his trousers is a nice question that could not readily be decided at a moment's notice.
He is quite ten years older than either of his mistresses; and, indeed, both he and his garments belong to a by-gone generation. His knees are bent, so is his back; his face is like a Ribston pippin, his coat is a marvel both in cut and in texture, but his linen is irreproachable, and what hair nature has still left him is most carefully brushed. There is, too, in his small gray Irish eyes a mischievous twinkle, and a fund of honest good humor that goes far to defy the ravages of time. In spite of his seventy years and his quaint attire, he still at times can hold his own with many a younger man.
"Well, Timothy," says Miss Priscilla, looking up as he approaches the table, "we have had news of Miss Katherine's—I mean Mrs. Beresford's—children."
"Rest her sowl!" says Timothy, in a reverential tone, alluding to that part of the late Mrs. Beresford.
"It seems they have landed and will be with us to-day."
"The day, miss?" growing brisk at this unexpected announcement.
"Yes, they have reached England in safety, and are now in Dublin. What a long, long journey it has been for them," with another dreamy glance at the letter, "all the way from Palestine!"
"An' so it has, miss, poor little crathurs!" says Timothy, who knows as much about the whereabouts of Palestine as he does about the man in the moon.
"You mustn't think they are very young, Timothy," says Miss Penelope, hastily. "Miss Priscilla and I have been talking it over, and we believe Miss Beresford must be now seventeen, Master Terence sixteen, and Miss Kate fourteen."
"And so of course they must be, miss. Thrue for ye, ma'am. Dear, dear, though only to think now; it seems only the other day the dear young lady was married to Mister Beresford. But you aren't eating a bit, miss," anxiously; "you haven't tasted a morsel, ma'am. What can I get ye now?"
"Nothing, Timothy. The fact is——"
"There's an iligant ham downstairs, ma'am," says the old man, now really concerned for the mistresses, who still always appear to him as "the young ladies:" "let me bring it up to you."
"No, thank you, Timothy: we are just a little upset by this sudden news. We cannot help wondering how the old house will be with children in it, after all these years of calm and quiet."
"Sure an' a grand change it will be for us all, miss; 'twill indeed, ma'am," says Timothy, cheerfully, though his mind misgives him. "There's nothing like children, when all's told: sure's there's music in every sound of their footsteps."
"I hope they will be good," says Miss Penelope, with a doubtful sigh.
"Faix, what else would they be, miss?" says the old man, with assumed reproach. "'Tis well I mind of poor Miss Katherine herself,—the soft tongue she had in her head, an' never a cross word out of her, save to Nelly Doolin—an' she was the divil herself, savin' your presence, miss, and enough to provoke all the saints—glory be——"
"I trust they will be happy here," goes on Miss Penelope, still wistful.
"An' why not, miss? Sure the counthry is the finest place at all for the young; and where's a finer counthry than ould Ireland?"
"Much can't be said for it of late, Timothy," says Miss Priscilla, sadly: "all it can boast of now is rebellion, sedition, and bloodshed."
"Sure every one must have a kick up sometimes, miss," says Timothy, with youthful lightness; "an', afther all, isn't the ould place only doin' what she can for herself, more power to her?"
"Ryan," says Miss Priscilla, sternly, addressing her butler by his surname,—a thing that is never done except in dire cases,—and fixing upon him an icy glance beneath which he quails, "I regret you should so far forget yourself as to utter such treasonable sentiments in our presence. You ought to be ashamed of yourself."
"So I am miss. I humbly ask yer pardon, ma'am," says Mr. Ryan, promptly. "But all the different opinions one hears addles the brain. 'Twas only last night the Murphys had a meeting, and they do say, miss," lowering his voice confidentially, "that the Squire down there," pointing apparently through the breakfast-room wall, "is in a bad way with the League boys."
"Yes, miss. He's been evictin' again, ma'am, an' there's queer talk about him. But," with a relapse into former thought, "if he's a bad landlord, what can he expect?"
"No, no, Timothy. He is not a bad landlord," says Miss Priscilla, hastily, though this allowance of grace to her enemy causes her a bitter pang. "He has been most patient for years. That I know."
"Well, maybe so, miss," says Ryan, deferentially, but with a reservation in his manner that speaks volumes. "It isn't for the likes of me ma'am, to contradict the likes of you. But did ye hear, miss, that Misther Desmond's nephew has come to stay with him?"
"At the Castle. Yes, miss. Faix 'twas meself was surprised to hear it. But there he is, safe enough, an' another gentleman with him; an' they do say that the old masther is as proud as Punch of him. But his blood's bad, I'll no doubt."
"No doubt," says Priscilla, severely.
Miss Penelope sighs.
How two Old Maids are made acquainted with a very Young One.
Already we have reached the afternoon. In these warm June days, when all the earth is languorous and glad with its own beauty, time slips from us unannounced, and the minutes from morn to eventide, and from the gloaming till nightfall, melt into one another, until all seem one sweet, lengthened hour.
Just now the hot sun is pouring down upon garden and gravelled walks at Moyne; except the hum of the industrious bees, not a sound can be heard; even the streamlet at the end of the long lawn is running sleepily, making sweet music as it goes, indeed, but so drowsily, so heavily, that it hardly reaches the ear; and so, too, with the lap-lapping of the waves upon the shore below, as the tide comes and goes.
Not a breath of air comes to disturb the languid grandeur of the huge elms that stand staring up to heaven just opposite the hall door. The crows swinging in their branches up above are all subdued; hardly have they energy enough to flap their great, broad wings.
Little stationary clouds lie like flecks of silver upon the pale-blue sky; far far away, in the woods of Coole, a cuckoo may be heard at long and yet longer intervals,—last remnant of a vanished spring; but all the other birds have succumbed to the power of the great god of light, and are wrapped in silence.
Certain stray little sunbeams, half wild with glee, rushing hither and thither through the roses, discover Miss Penelope Blake sitting in the drawing-room at Moyne. She is dressed in her very best lavender silk, that would stand alone, and be glad to do it if it was let, but unabashed by her splendor Apollo's saucy babies dance down upon her, and, seizing on her knitting-needles, play hide and seek among them, until the poor lady's eyes are fairly dazzled.
Fortunately, at this instant Miss Priscilla, entering the room, draws down the blind and restores order: after which she seats herself almost directly opposite her sister.
The Misses Blake are not pretty old ladies at all. I don't want to deceive you in this matter. They are, in fact, quite ugly old ladies. Their noses are all wrong, their cheeks are as wrinkled as Timothy's forehead, and their mouths out of all drawing.
Miss Priscilla's eyes are brown,—a deep startling brown, that seems to look you through and through and compels the truth. Her hair is brown, too, and soft, and silky, and pretty, though thickly sprinkled with gray. She has a great deal of this hair, and is secretly very proud of it.
Miss Penelope's eyes are pale blue,—with very little blue,—and but for her long lashes (sole remnants of goodlier days) would be oppressive. Her hair is pale, too, and sandy, and is braided back from her forehead in severe lines.
There is a pensive air about Miss Penelope that might suggest to the casual observer an early and disastrous love-affair. But all such imaginings on his part would be vain. No winged cupid ever hid in Miss Penelope's ear, or played bo-peep in her virgin bosom, or nestled in her sandy locks: she is free from all taint of such wild frivolisms.
"All is ready now," says Miss Priscilla,—who is the Martha at Moyne, while we may regard Miss Penelope as the Mary. "The rooms are prepared, nothing is wanting, and the flowers smell so sweet. I have sent the carriage to meet them, though I know the train cannot be here for quite an hour yet; but I think it wise always to be in time."
"There is nothing like it," says Miss Penelope, placidly.
"Now I shall rest here with you a little while," goes on the elder maiden, complacently, "and think of all that is likely to happen."
"Really," says Miss Penelope, lowering her work and glancing restlessly at her sister, "I feel more nervous than I can say, when I think of their coming. What on earth should we do, dear Priscilla, if they took a dislike to us?"
"I have thought of that myself," says Miss Priscilla, in an awe-struck tone. "We are not attractive, Penelope: beyond a few—a very few—insignificant touches," with an inward glance at her fine hair, "we are absolutely outside the pale of beauty. I wonder if Monica will be like her mother, or if——"
Here something happens that puts a final stop to all conversation. The door is opened, quickly, impetuously; there is a sound as of many footsteps on the threshold without.
The old ladies start in their seats, and sit upright, trembling excessively. What can have happened? Has the sedate Ryan come to loggerheads with Mrs. Reilly the cook? (a state of things often threatened); and are they now standing on the mat meditating further bloodshed?
A moment surcharged with thrilling suspense goes by, and then, not Ryan or the cook, but a much more perplexing vision comes slowly into the room.
It is a very radiant vision, though it is clothed in mourning garments, full of grace and beauty. Very shy, with parted lips, and brilliant frightened eyes, but perfect as an opening flower.
Is it a child or a woman? is the first question that strikes Miss Penelope. As for Miss Priscilla, she is too surprised for thought of any kind, too lost in admiration of the little, gracious uncertain, figure, with its deep-blue eyes glancing up at her with a half-terrified yet trusting expression, to give way to speech of any kind.
She is slight, and slim as a hazel wand. Her hair is nut-brown, with a red gold tinge running through it. Her nose is adorable, if slightly tilted; her mouth is a red, red rose, sad but sweet, and full of purpose. Her eyes are large and expressive, but touched, like her lips, with a suspicion of melancholy that renders them only a degree more sweet and earnest.
There is a spirituality about her, a calm, a peace that shines out of these dark Irish eyes, and rests upon her perfect lips, as it were a lingering breath of the heaven from whence she came.
She stands now, hesitating a little, with her hands loosely clasped,—brown little hands, but beautifully shaped. Indeed, all her skin owes more of its coloring to Phoebus Apollo than nature intended. She draws her breath somewhat quickly, and then, as though anxious to get through the troublous task assigned her, says, nervously, in a low, sweet voice,—
"I am Monica."
As she says this, she glances entreatingly from one old lady to the other, with some trouble in her great eyes, and some tears. Then all at once her lips tremble to a smile, and a soft light breaks upon her face.
"You are Aunt Priscilla," she says, turning to Miss Blake; "I know you by your dark eyes, and by your pretty hair!"
At the sound of her voice the two old ladies wake from their abstraction.
"Yes, yes, it is your aunt Priscilla," says Miss Penelope, eagerly, with a sudden pleased smile. Had the compliment been made to herself she could not possibly have appeared more delighted, and certainly would not have betrayed her satisfaction so openly. "Her hair," she says, "was always beautiful."
As for Miss Priscilla, she is smiling too, but in a shamefaced fashion, and is blushing a warm pretty crimson, such as a girl of seventeen might be guilty of, listening to a first word of love.
She takes Monica's right hand in hers and pats it softly; and Miss Penelope takes her left; and then the two old ladies stoop forward, and, one after the other, kiss the pale, girlish cheek, and with the kiss take her at once and forever into their very hearts.
"But surely, dear child, you did not come alone?" says Miss Priscilla, presently, calling to remembrance the fact that there ought to be two other Beresfords somewhere.
"No; Terence and Katherine are with me."
"But where, my dear?"
"Well, I think they are standing on the mat, just outside the door," says Monica, blushing and laughing; and then she says, rather louder, "Terry and Kit, you may come in now. It is all right."
As to what was evidently supposed not to be "all right" up to this, the Misses Blake have no time to decide upon before a fresh nephew and niece present themselves to their view. They come in quite gayly,—reassured, no doubt, by Monica's tone: Terence, a tall slim lad of about sixteen, and a little girl somewhat like Monica, but more restless in features, and even a degree more pallid.
"My dear children, why didn't you come in before?" said Miss Priscilla, aghast at the inhospitable thought that they had been shivering with needless nervousness in the hall for the last five minutes.
"They said they wouldn't come in until I paved the way for them," says Monica, with a slight shrug of her shoulders that is a trick of hers. "They always put everything upon my shoulders: a little shabby of them I call it."
"I am afraid you must have pictured us as ogres," says Miss Priscilla, which idea strikes the old ladies as such a delicious flight of fancy that they laugh outright, and look at each other with intense enjoyment of their little joke.
"Well, of course we couldn't tell what you would be like," says Monica, gravely. "You might have been people likely to impress one with awe; but, as it is——This is Terry," laying her hand upon her brother's arm; "and this is Kit. She is really Katherine, you know, but no one ever calls her by so long a name. She isn't worth it."
At this the three Beresfords laugh among themselves, as children will, at time-worn fun, knowing no fatigue; after which Katherine and Terence are embraced and made much of by their new-found relatives, and freely commented upon.
But ever and anon the eyes of both old ladies wander thoughtfully, admiringly, to where the lissome Monica stands, like a pale, pensive lily.
* * * * *
"But how have you managed to be here so soon?" asks Miss Priscilla, when the impromptu luncheon, improvised by the startled Timothy, has come to an end. The children were all hungry, and have eaten a great deal, and have talked more. Indeed, though Miss Priscilla has been dying to ask this question for a long time, it has been impossible for her to do so, as there has not been so much as a comma in the conversation for the last hour.
The Beresfords are like so many clocks wound up, and bound to go for a certain time whether they like it or not; and, apparently, they do like it. Now they have run down a little, Terence being exhausted after his last laughing attack, and Kit wrapped in contemplation of an old-fashioned hair brooch that is fastening an equally old-fashioned piece of priceless lace that adorns Miss Penelope's throat.
"Well, I can't think how they do it!" she says, lost in admiration of a little slim hair lady bending over a miniature hair urn in the most lachrymose attitude conceivable. "But they have put her eye in wrongly: she looks as if she is dying with laughter."
Here Miss Priscilla edges in her question, as to how they have contrived to be at Moyne at so early an hour.
"We came by the wrong train," says Terry. "We generally do. Ever since we left the South of France—where we were staying with the Bohuns, you know, on our way here—we have been missing our trains right and left, and turning up at all sorts of unexpected places. Haven't we, Kit?"
"You have," says Kit, with suspicious emphasis. "You have such a pretty trick of rushing into the first train you see, without ever asking any one where it is going. No wonder we always turned up at the wrong end."
"You've a pretty trick of putting everything down on other people's shoulders," says Terence, with open disgust. "Whose fault was it we were always so late at the stations that we hadn't time to make inquiries, I'd like to know? Could you," with fine irony, "tell us?"
"Certainly; it was nurse," replies Kit, with dignity.
"Dear me! and where is your nurse now?" asks Miss Priscilla, anxiously. The query is a fortunate one, in that it turns the conversation into a different channel, and checks the eloquence of Kit and Terry, who are plainly on the brink of an open war.
"When last I saw her," says Terence, "she was sitting on the top of our biggest box, with everything else strewn around her, and her feet resting on two brown-paper parcels.—I wonder," says Mr. Beresford, addressing Monica, "what on earth she had in those brown paper parcels. She has been hugging them night and day ever since she left Jerusalem."
"Dynamite," suggested Monica, lightly; whereupon the two Misses Blake turn pale.
"At that rate, Aunt Priscilla, we needn't trouble about her," says Terence, pleasantly, "as she must be blown up by this. None of those clock-work affairs could be arranged to go on much longer. Poor thing! when in the flesh she wasn't half bad. I forgive her everything,—even her undying hatred to myself."
"If she is in fragments, so are our things," says Kit. "I think she needn't have elected to sit on them at the supreme moment."
"You don't really think," says Miss Penelope, in a somewhat troubled tone, remembering how an innocent baker in Rossmoyne had had some of the explosive matter in question thrown into his kitchen the night before last,—"you don't really think that these parcels you speak of contain infernal machines?—Yes, that is what they call them, my dear Priscilla," turning to her sister, as though anxious to apologize for having used a word calculated to lead the mind to the lower regions.
By this time both Kit and Terence are convulsed with delight at the sensation they have created, and would probably have gone on to declare the innocent Mrs. Mitchell an advanced Nihilist of the most dangerous type, but for Monica's coming to the rescue and explaining matters satisfactorily.
"Still, I cannot understand how you got up here so quickly," says Miss Penelope. "You know Moyne—home I hope you will call it for the future, my dears—" with a little fond pat on Monica's hand, "is quite three miles from the station."
"We should have thought nothing of that," says Terence, "but for Kit; she has had a fever, you know," pointing to the child's closely-cropped, dark little head; "so we said we would just stroll on a little and see what the country was like."
"And lovely it is," puts in Kit, enthusiastically. "We got up on a high hill, and saw the sea lying like a great quiet lake beneath us. There was scarcely a ripple on it, and only a soft sound like a sob." Her eyes, that are almost too big for her small face, glow brilliantly.
"And then there came by a man with a cart filled with hay, and he nodded to us and said, 'Good-morning, sir;' and so I nodded back, and said, 'How d'ye do?' to him and asked him was it far to Moyne House. 'A good step,' he said; 'three miles at the very least.'"
"He didn't; he said laste," says Kit, who is plainly in a litigious mood.
"At that," says Monica, breaking in eagerly, feeling, no doubt, she has been left too long out in the cold, and that it is time her voice were heard, "I suppose I looked rather forlorn, because he said, quite nicely 'Maybe ye'd not be too proud, miss, to get into me cart, an I'll dhrive the lot of ye up to the House, where as luck has it, I'm goin' meself.'" She mimicks the soft Southern brogue very prettily.
"So up we got," says Kit, gayly, "and away we went in the nice sweet hay, jog trot, jog trot, and so comfortable."
The Misses Blake by this time are filled with dismay. In Rossmoyne, where families are few and far between, and indecent scandal unknown, the smallest trifles are seized upon with avidity and manufactured into mountains. "A good appearance," Miss Penelope was taught at school, "is the first step in life," and here have these children been making their appearance for the first time in a common hay-cart.
What will Madam O'Connor say? Madam O'Connor's father having always laid claim to being a direct descendant of one of the old kings of Munster, Madam's veins of course are filled with blood royal, and as such are to be held in reverence. What won't this terrible old woman say, when she hears of the Beresfords' escapade?
The Misses Blake sit shivering, blinking their eyelids, and afraid to say anything.
"We got on splendidly," Terence is saying, "and might indeed have finished our journey respectably, but for Monica. She laid our reputation in the dust."
Monica turns upon him an appealing glance from her large soft eyes that would have melted any heart but that of a brother's.
"Aunt Priscilla," says the adamantine youth, "what is the name of the house with a big gate, about a half a mile from this?"
"Coole Castle," replies she, stiffly, the very fact of having to mention the residence of the detested Desmond making her heart beat violently. But Terry is a person blind to speaking glances and deaf to worded hints. In effect, Terry and tact are two; so he goes on, unheeding his aunt's evident disrelish for the subject,—
"Well, just as we got to Coole, I saw a fellow standing inside the entrance-gate, smoking a cigar. I fancied he looked amused, but would have thought nothing of that, only I heard him laugh aloud, and saw he was staring over my head—I was driving—to where Monica and Kit were, on the top of the hay. It occurred to me then to see what the girls were doing, so I stood up on the shaft, and looked, and——"
Here he pauses, as though slightly overcome.
"What, my dear?" asks Miss Priscilla, anxiously.
"There was Monica lying in an aesthetic attitude,—very aesthetic,—with her chin in her hands, and her eyes on the horse's ears, and her thoughts I presume in heaven, or wherever young ladies keep them, and with her heels——"
"It isn't truth!—it isn't!" interrupts Monica, blushing furiously, and speaking with much indignation. "I don't believe a single word of it!"
"And with her heels——"
"In mid-air. She was kicking them up and down with delight," says Terence, fairly bubbling over with joy at the recollection. "It was the most humiliating sight for a modest brother. I shall never forgive her for it. Besides, the strange young man was——"
"If you say another word," says Monica, white with wrath and tears in her eyes, "I shall never speak to you again, or help you out of any trouble."
This awful threat has the desired effect of reducing Mr. Beresford to subjection. He goes down before the foe, and truckles to her meanly.
"You needn't take it so much to heart," he says soothingly: "there wasn't much in it, after all; and your shoes are very pretty, and so are your feet."
The compliment works wonders; Monica quite brightens up again, but the two old ladies are hopelessly scandalized.
"I feel assured, Terence," says Miss Priscilla, with much dignity, "that under no circumstances could a niece of mine show too much of her——her——"
Here Miss Priscilla blushes, and breaks down.
"Legs?" suggests Terry, politely.
"But who was the strange young man?" asks Miss Penelope, curiously.
"Our friend of the hay-cart said his name was Desmond, and that he was nephew to the master of the house behind the big gates," returns Kit, fluently.
"Desmond!" says Miss Priscilla, greatly agitated. "Let me never hear you mention that name again! It has been our bane! Forget you have ever been so unfortunate as to encounter this young man; and if ill luck should ever drive him across your path again, remember you do not—you never can—know him."
"But I'm certain he will know Monica if he sees her again," says Kit. "He stared at her as if she had seven heads."
"No wonder, considering her equivocal position. And as to knowing Monica, I'm not certain of that, of course, but I'm utterly positive he could swear to her shoes in a crowd," says Terence, with unholy delight. "He was enchanted with them, and with the clocks on her stockings: I think he was taking the pattern of them."
"He was not," says Monica, almost weeping. "He couldn't see them. I was too high up."
"What will you bet he doesn't know the color of them?" asks her tormentor, with a fresh burst of appreciation of the undignified scene. "When I see him again I'll ask him."
"Terence," says Miss Priscilla, growing very pale, "you must never see him again, or, at all events, you must never speak to him. Understand, once for all, that intimacy between us and the inhabitants of Coole is impossible. This feud I hint at touches you even more closely than it touches us, but you cannot feel it more than we do,—perhaps not as much. The honor of our family has suffered at the hands of the Master of Coole. He is the enemy of our house!"
"Priscilla!" murmurs Miss Penelope, in a low and trembling tone.
"Do not try to check me, Penelope. I will speak," says Miss Priscilla, sternly. "This man, years ago, offered one near and dear to us an indignity not to be lightly borne. The world is wide," turning to the astonished children, "you can make friends where you choose; but I would have you recollect that never can a Beresford and a Desmond have aught in common."
"But what have the Desmonds done to us, Aunt Priscilla?" asks Monica, a good deal awed by the old lady's solemnity.
"Some other time you shall know all," says Miss Priscilla in the low tone one might adopt if speaking of the last appalling murder.
"Yes, some other time," echoes Miss Penelope, gently.
How Monica studies the landscape.
"Is it thrue, ma'am, what I hear, that ye'll be wantin' a maid for Miss Monica?" asks Mrs. Reilly, the cook at Moyne, dropping a respectful courtesy just inside the drawing-room door. "Ryan let dhrop a word to me about it, so I made so bould, ma'am, as to come upstairs an' tell ye I think I know a girl as will come in handy to ye."
"And who is she, Reilly?" asks Miss Priscilla anxiously.
"She's a very good girl, ma'am, an' smart, an' nate, an' I think ye'll like her," replies cook, who, like all Irish people, finds a difficulty in giving a direct answer to a direct question. Perhaps, too, there is a little wiliness in her determination not to name the new servant's parentage just at present.
"I daresay; I place great reliance upon your opinion, Reilly. But who is she? Does she come from the village, or from one of the farms? I should prefer the farms."
"She's as tidy as she can be," says Mrs. Reilly, amiably but still evasively, "an' a bit of a scholard into the bargain, an' a very civil tongue in her head. She's seventeen all out, ma'am, and never yet gave her mother a saucy word."
"That is as it should be," says Miss Priscilla, commendingly. "You feel a great interest in this girl, I can see. You know her well?"
"Yes, miss. She is me uncle's wife's sisther's child, an' as good a girl as ever stepped in shoe leather."
"She is then?" asks Miss Priscilla, faintly, puzzled by this startling relationship.
"She's that girl of the Cantys', ma'am, and as likely a colleen as ever ye met, though I say it as shouldn't, she being kin-like," says Mrs. Reilly, boldly, seeing her time is come.
"What! that pretty, blue-eyed child that called to see you yesterday? She is from the village, then?" with manifest distaste.
"An' what's the matther wid the village, ma'am?" By this time Mrs. Reilly has her arms akimbo, and has an evident thirst for knowledge full upon her.
"But I fear she is flighty and wild, and not at all domesticated in any way."
"An' who has the face to say that, ma'am? Give me the names of her dethractors," says Mrs. Reilly, in an awful tone, that seemed to demand the blood of the "dethractors."
"I feel sure, Reilly," says Miss Priscilla, slowly, "that you are not aware of the position your arms have taken. It is most unbecoming." Mrs. Reilly's arms dropped to her sides. "And as for this girl you speak of, I hear she is, as I say, very flighty."
"Don't believe a word of it, ma'am," says cook, with virtuous indignation. "Just because she holds up her head a bit, an' likes a ribbon or two, there's no holdin' the gossips down below," indicating the village by a backward jerk of her thumb. "She's as dacent a little sowl as you'd wish to see, an' has as nate a foot as there is in the county. The Cantys has all a character for purty feet."
"Pretty feet are all very well in their way," says Miss Priscilla, nodding her head. "But can she sew? and is she quiet and tractable, and——"
"Divil a thing she can't do, ma'am, axin' yer pardon," says Mrs. Reilly, rather losing herself in the excitement of the moment. "Just thry her, ma'am, an' if ye don't like her, an' if Miss Monica finds even one fault in her, just send her back to her mother. I can't say fairer nor that."
"No, indeed. Very well, Reilly, let her come up to me to-morrow; and see that her inside clothes are all right, and let her know she must never be out after dark."
"Yes, ma'am," says the triumphant Reilly, beating a hasty retreat.
Half an hour afterwards she encounters Monica upon the avenue.
"Why, where are you going, Mrs. Reilly?" asks Monica, seeing that cook is got up in all her war-paint, regardless of expense.
"To mass first, miss," says Mrs. Reilly.
"Where's that?" asks Monica, with foreign ignorance.
"Law! to the chapel, miss," says Reilly, with an amused smile.
"But it isn't Sunday?"
"No, miss. It's a saint's day—may they be good to us!" crossing herself. "It's different with you, miss, you see; but we poor folks, we must say our prayers when we can, or the Virgin will dhrop us out of her mind."
"Is your chapel pretty?" asks Monica, who has now been a week in the country, and through very weariness feels a mad desire to talk to somebody or anybody.
"Faix, it's lovely, miss, since Father Jerry took it in hand! There's the finest pictures ye ever saw on the walls, an' an altar it 'ud do ye good to look at."
"Would it? Then I'll go some day to see it," says Monica, smiling, not knowing that her aunts would as soon let her enter a pandemonium as a Roman Catholic chapel.
Dear old ladies! frightened by shadows, they have been bred in the belief that the Evil One dwells beneath the shade of the Romish Church, and will therefore surely die in it.
"Do, then, agra!" said Mrs. Reilly, who has, of course, like all the other servants, gone down before Monica: "it's proud we'd be to see ye there."
There is no thought of conversion in the woman's mind, you must remember,—merely a hospitable desire to let her know she will be welcome anywhere.
"By the same token, Miss Monica," says she, "there's something I was near forgettin' to tell ye."
"Yes!" says Monica.
"Ye're goin' to have me uncle's wife's niece for yer own maid, miss."
"Am I? I'm glad of that," says Monica, with a native courtesy. "Is she"—with some hesitation and a faint blush—"is she pretty, Reilly?"
"She's the purtiest girl ye ever set eyes on," says Mrs. Reilly, with enthusiasm.
"I'm glad of that; I can't bear ugly people," says Monica.
"Faix, then, there's a bad time before ye wid the ould ladies," mutters Mrs. Reilly, sotto voce, gathering up her cloak and stepping onwards. She is a remarkably handsome woman herself, and so may safely deplore the want of beauty in her betters.
Monica, turning aside, steps on a high bank and looks down towards the village. Through the trees she can see the spire of the old cathedral rising heavenwards. Though Rossmoyne is but a village, it still can boast its cathedral, an ancient edifice, uncouth and unlovely, but yet one of the oldest places of worship in Ireland.
Most of my readers would no doubt laugh it to scorn, but we who belong to it reverence it, and point out with pride to passers by the few quaint marks and tokens that link it to a bygone age.
There is a nave, broad and deep, comprising more than a third of the whole building, with its old broken stone pavement, and high up, carven upon one of its walls the head of St. Faughnan, its patron saint,—a hideous saint, indeed, if he resembled that ancient carving. How often have I gazed upon his unlovely visage, and wondered in my childish fashion why the grace that comes from so divine an origin had not the power to render his servant's face more beautiful!
In these later years they have improved (?) and modernized the old structure. A stone pulpit, huge and clumsy, erected by subscription to the memory of some elderly inhabitant, stands like a misshapen blot before the altar rails; a window, too broad for its length, and generally out of proportion, throws too much light upon the dinginess within; the general character of the ugly old place has lost something, but assuredly gained nothing, by these innovations. It is hard to put "a piece of new cloth on an old garment" successfully.
The village itself stands upon a high hill; the ocean lies at its feet. From Moyne House one can see the shimmer of the great Atlantic as it dances beneath the sunbeams or lashes itself into furious foam under the touch of the north wind. The coastguard station, too, stands out, brilliant in its whitewash, a gleaming spot upon the landscape.
To the left of the station lies Ounahincha,—a long, deep line of sea-beach that would make its fortune as a bathing place under happier auspices and in some more appreciated clime.
Monica, looking down from her height, takes in all the beauties of the landscape that surround her, and lets the music of the melancholy ocean sink into her very soul.
Then she lets her eyes wander to the right, and rest with pardonable curiosity upon Coole Castle, where dwells the ogre of her house. Above Coole, and about two miles farther on, lies Aghyohillbeg, the residence of Madam O'Connor, that terrible descendant of one of Ireland's kings; whilst below, nestling among its firs and beeches, is Kilmore, where the Halfords—a merry tangle of boys and girls—may be seen at all hours.
Then there is the vicarage, where the rector lives with his family, which is large; and nearer to the village, the house that holds the curate and his family, which, of course, is larger. Besides which, Monica can just see from her vantage-ground the wooded slopes of Durrusbeg that have lately called young Ronayne master,—a distant cousin having died most unexpectedly and left him all his property.
+ + + + +
Six months ago, Ulic Ronayne was spoken of by anxious matrons as a wild lad, with nothing to recommend him save his handsome face and some naughty stories attached to his name. Now he is pronounced charming, and the naughty stories, which indeed never had any foundation, are discovered to have been disgraceful fabrications. Marriageable daughters are kinder to him than words can say, and are allowed by the most cautious mothers to dance with him as often as they choose, and even to sit unlimited hours with him in secluded corners of conservatories unrebuked.
Truly, O Plutus! thou art a god indeed. Thou hast outlived thy greater brethren. Thy shrine is honored as of old!
After a last lingering glance at the distant ocean and the swelling woods that now in Merry June are making their grandest show, Monica jumps down from her bank again and goes slowly—singing as she goes—towards the river that runs at the end of Moyne.
Down by its banks Moyne actually touches the hated lands of Cooles, a slight boundary fence being all that divides one place from the other. The river rushes eagerly past both, on its way to the sea, murmuring merrily on its happy voyage, as though mocking at human weals and woes and petty quarrels.
Through the waving meadows, over the little brook, past the stile, Monica makes her way, plucking here and there the scarlet poppies, and the blue cornflowers and daisies, "those pearled Arcturi of the earth, the constellated flower that never sets."
The sun is tinting all things with its yellow haze, and is burning to brightest gold the reddish tinge in the girl's hair as she moves with dallying steps through the green fields. She is dressed in a white gown, decked with ribbons of sombre tint, and wears upon her head a huge poky bonnet, from which her face peeps out, half earnest, half coquettish, wholly pure.
Her hands are bare and shapely, but a little brown; some old-fashioned rings glisten on them. She has the tail of her gown thrown negligently over her arm, and with her happy lips parted in song, and her eyes serene as early dawn, she looks like that fair thing of Chaucer's, whose
"Berthe was of the womb of morning dew, And her conception of the joyous prime."
And now the sparkling river comes in sight. Near its brink an old boat-house may be seen fast crumbling to decay; and on the river itself lies, swaying to and fro, a small punt in the very last stages of decline. It is a very terrible little boat, quite at death's door, and might have had those lines of Dante's painted upon it without libel:
"Abandon hope, all ye who enter here."
But Monica, in happy ignorance of rotting timbers, thinks only of the joy she felt last evening when the discovery of this demoralized treasure was made. In the mouldering boat-house she had found it, and so had claimed it for her own.
She had told no one of her secret, not even Kit, who is, as a rule, her prime minister, her confidante, and her shadow. She has, indeed, had great difficulty in escaping from "her shadow" just now, but after much diplomatic toil had managed it. To find herself upon the calm and gentle river, to dream there her own sweet thoughts beneath the kindly shade of the pollard willows, to glide with the stream and bask in the sunlight all alone, has been her desire since yester-eve.
To-morrow, if to-day proves successful and her rowing does not fail her, of which she has had some practice during the last two years of her life, she will tell Kit and Terry all about it, and let them share her pleasure. But to-day is her own.
The boat is connected with the shore by a rope tied round the stump of a tree by most unskilful hands. Flinging her flowers into the punt, she strives diligently to undo the knot that she herself had made the night before, but strives in vain. The hard rope wounds her tender hands and vexes her gentle soul.
She is still struggling with it, and already a little pained frown has made a wrinkle on her smooth brow, when another boat shoots from under the willows and gains the little landing-place, with its pebbly beach, that belongs equally to Coole Castle and to Moyne.
This new boat is a tremendous improvement on our heroine's. It is the smartest little affair possible, and as safe as a church,—safer, indeed, as times go now. Not that there is anything very elaborate about it, but it is freshly painted, and there are cushions in it, and all over it a suppressed air of luxury.
Besides the cushions, there is something else in it, too,—a young man of about six and twenty, who steps lightly on to the bank, though it is a miracle he doesn't lose his footing and come ignominiously to the ground, so bent is his gaze on the gracious little figure at the other side of the boundary-fence struggling with the refractory rope.
It doesn't take any time to cross the boundary.
"Will you allow me to do that for you?" says the strange young man, raising his hat politely, and taking the rope out of Monica's hand without waiting for permission.
How Monica makes a most important discovery and, changing suddenly from "lively to severe," is reprehensibly cruel to a most unoffending young man.
"You are very kind," says Monica slowly, feeling not so much embarrassment as surprise at this sudden advent.
Then the young man looses the rope, and, having done so, casts a cursory glance at the boat to which it is attached. As he does so, he lifts his brows.
"Surely you are not dreaming of going on the river in that!" he says, indicating the wretched punt by a contemptuous wave of his hand.
"Yes. Why not?" returns she.
"There isn't a sound bit of timber in her. What can your people be thinking of, to let you trust yourself in such a miserable affair?"
"My people have nothing to do with it," says Monica, somewhat grandly. "I am my own mistress."
She has picked up her flowers again out of the despised punt, and now stands before him with her hands filled with the June blossoms, blue, and white, and red. They show bravely against the pallor of her gown, and seem, indeed, to harmonize altogether with her excessive fairness, for her lips are as red as her poppies, and her cornflowers as blue as her eyes, and her skin puts her drooping daisies all to shame.
"As you are your own mistress," says the young man, with a suspicion of a smile, as he takes in the baby sweetness of her mouth, and each detail of her slight girlish figure, that bespeaks the child rather than the woman, "I entreat you to have mercy upon yourself."
"But what is the matter with it?" asks Monica, peering into the boat. "It looks all right; I can't see a hole in it."
"It's nothing but holes, in my opinion," says the strange young man, peering in his turn. "It's a regular coffin. You will be committing nothing less than suicide if you put your foot in it."
"Dear me," says Monica, blankly, feeling impressed in spite of herself, "I do think I am the most unfortunate person alive. Do you know," lifting her eyes to his, "I didn't sleep a wink last night, thinking of this row on the river to-day, and now it comes to nothing! That is just like my luck always. I was so bent on it; I wanted to get round that corner over there," pointing to it, "to see what was at the other side, and now I can't do it." It seems to the young man looking at her, as though her glance is reproachful, and as if she connects him, innocent as he is, with her disappointment.
"There is no reason why you shouldn't," he is beginning, anxiously, when she contradicts him.
"After all," she says, doubtfully, bending over to look into the clear bed of the river, "I don't believe, if things came to the worst, and I did get swamped, I should be drowned."
"Certainly not, if you could swim, or if there was any one watching over your welfare from the banks that could."
"Well, I can't," confesses Monica, with a sigh; "and unless you," with an irrepressible laugh that shows all her white and even teeth, "will promise to run along the banks of the river all the afternoon to watch over me, I don't think there is much chance of my escaping death."
"I shouldn't mind in the least being on guard in such a cause," says the stranger, politely, with the same carefully suppressed smile upon his lips (which are very handsome) as had moved them a while ago. "Command me if you will; but I would have you remember that, even though I should come to the rescue, it would not save you an unpleasant ducking, and—and your pretty gown," with a glance that is almost affectionate at the white Indian cotton, "would be completely ruined."
"Even that dire idea doesn't daunt me," says Monica, gayly: "you forgot that the more limp I am the more aesthetic I shall look. Well," with a sudden relapse into melancholy, "I suppose I must give it up, and not go round the corner to-day."
"But why not?" exclaims he, eagerly. "My boat is at your service. Do take it. I have quite done with it, I have indeed, and it is lighter than it looks."
"Too heavy for me, I am afraid," says Monica with a sigh.
"Is it? Then," with desperate boldness, "let me row you."
"Oh, no!" returns she, blushing warmly. "You forget," with a swift glance at him, "you are quite a stranger to me."
Yet he is not quite such a stranger as she thinks. She is not such a stranger to him at least, because her face, seen for a minute about a week a go, has haunted him persistently ever since.
"As we live in the same neighborhood, we cannot long continue strangers," he says, gently; "and, in the mean time, why lose this lovely afternoon, and that corner you were speaking of? The view of the sea, when you get round it, is really worth seeing."
"Yes, yes, I daresay," reluctantly turning to leave him. "I shall see it some day."
"Look here," says the young man, very earnestly, following her as she moves. "If you will come with me you will see it now. I will only be your oarsman; I won't say a word to you unless you wish it; I won't even look at you. Think of me as a common boatman you have hired by the hour; or, better still, don't think of me at all. With a little care you might bring yourself to imagine I wasn't there."
"But if we met any one?" says Miss Beresford, visibly relenting.
"Impossible! There is never a soul on this stream save myself. I have been here now every day for ten days, and never yet came upon even the ghost of anything human."
"Very well," says Monica, though still with palpable hesitation. "Now, remember, you have pledged yourself not to speak to me, or to look at me." At this he fixes on her so prolonged a gaze that one may readily understand he means it to be a last one for some time.
Then he turns aside, and, having brought his boat to her side of the fence, holds out to her his hand. As he does this he keeps his eyes bent upon the ground, as though determined to let her know his penance has already begun.
"I am not in the boat yet," says Monica, with a quaint little smile, laying her palm on his. Whereupon he looks at her again; and then, as their eyes meet, they both laugh joyously, as youth will when it meets youth.
Lightly she steps into his boat, and slowly, lazily, he rows her down the little river,—flower-clad on either bank,—letting the boat drift almost at its own sweet will.
The willows, drooping towards the water's edge, woo them as they pass; the foolish weeds would hold them in embrace; the broad flag-flowers would fain entwine them. But they, though loving them, go by them, thinking their own thoughts, and wondering vaguely at the beauty of the
"Starry river-buds among the sedge, And floating water-lilies broad and bright, * * * * * And bulrushes, and reeds of such deep green As soothes the dazzled eye with sober sheen."
So far silence has been scrupulously kept. Not a word has been spoken since they left the bank, not a look exchanged. Monica is letting her little slender fingers trail through the water and the flat leaves of the lilies. He, with his coat off, is pretending to row, but in reality is letting his body grow subservient to his mind. He has even adhered honorably to his promise not to look at her, and is still mentally ambitious about being true to his word in this respect, when an exclamation from her puts an end to all things.
"Oh! look at that lily!" she says, excitedly. "Was there ever such a beauty? If you will row a little more to the right, I am sure I shall be able to get it."
"Don't stir. I'll get it," returns he, grateful to the lily for this break in their programme; and presently the floating prize is secured, and he lays it, wet and dripping, in her outstretched hands.
"After all, you see, you broke your promise," she says, a moment later, most ungratefully, glancing up at him coquettishly from under her long lashes.
"But who made me do it?" asks he, reproachfully, whereupon she laughs and reddens.
"I never confess," she says, shaking her pretty head; "and after all—do you know?—I am rather glad you spoke to me, because, though I like being quite by myself at times, still I hate silence when any one is with me."
"So do I," says her companion, with the utmost cheerfulness.
"I think," leaning towards him with a friendly smile, "I cannot do better than begin our acquaintance by telling you my name. It is Monica Beresford."
"Monica," lingering over it lovingly; "a beautiful name, I think. I think, too, it suits you. Mine is not to be compared to yours; but, such as it is, I give it you!"
He throws a card into her lap.
"I hope it isn't John Smith," says Monica, smiling and picking up the card. But, as she reads what is printed thereon, the smile fades, and an expression of utter dismay overspreads her face.
"'Desmond'—Oh! not Desmond!" she says, imploringly, her lips growing quite pale.
"Yes, it is Desmond," says the young man, half amused, half puzzled. "You really think it ugly, then! Do you know I rather fancy my surname, although my Chris——"
"You are not—you cannot be the Desmond," interrupts she, hastily.
"No; that's my uncle," says the young man, innocently.
"Oh! then you acknowledge the crime?" in deep distress.
"I didn't know that an old Irish title must necessarily be connected with guilt," says her companion, fairly puzzled.
"Eh?" says Monica, puzzled in her turn. "I don't understand you: I only want to know if you are one of the particular Desmonds?"
"I suppose not," he replies, now openly amused, "because I regret to say we have never yet done anything worthy of note, or likely to distinguish us from all the other Desmonds, whose name is legion."
"If you are going to tell me you live at Coole," says Miss Beresford, in a tone that is almost tragic, "I warn you it will be the last straw, and that I shan't be able to bear it."
"I am not going to tell you anything," protests he.
"But you must," declares she, illogically. "I may as well hear the worst at once. Go on," heroically; "tell me the truth. Do you live there?"
"I'm awfully afraid I do," says Mr. Desmond, feeling somehow, without knowing why, distinctly ashamed of his name and residence.
"I knew it! I felt it!" says Monica, with the calmness of despair. "Take me back to the bank at once,—this very instant, please. Oh, what a row I should get into if they only knew!"
Very justly offended at the turn affairs have taken, Mr. Desmond rows her in silence to the landing-place, in silence gives her his hand to alight, in silence makes his boat safe, without so much as a glance at her, although he knows she is standing a little way from him, irresolute, remorseful, and uncertain.
He might, perhaps, have maintained this dignified indifference to the end, but that, unfortunately lifting his eyes, he catches sight of her in this repentant attitude, with her head bent down, and her slim fingers toying nervously with the lilies of his own gathering.
This picture flings dignity to the winds. Going up to her, he says, in a would-be careless but unmistakably offended voice, "May I ask what I have done, that 'they,' whoever they are, should consider you had disgraced yourself by being with me for half an hour?"
"You have done nothing," says Monica, faintly. "It was your uncle."
"My uncle!—George Desmond! Why, what on earth can he have done?" demands he, bewildered.
"I don't know." Feeling this is indeed a lame answer to a most natural question, she goes on hurriedly, "It all happened twenty years ago, and——"
"But what happened?" asks he, with pardonable impatience.
"Something dreadfully wicked," says Monica, solemnly. "Something really very, very bad, because Aunt Priscilla can't hear you spoken of with common patience."
"Not so much you, perhaps, as your name. She hates the very sound of it. There isn't a doubt about that; because, though I have not heard the exact story yet, I know both my aunts grow actually faint with horror when your uncle's name is mentioned."
"Good gracious!" says the horrified nephew of this apparently disreputable old man. He is staring at Monica, but in reality he does not even see her. Before his mind's eye is a picture of a stout old gentleman, irascible, but kindly, with a countenance innocent of guile. Yet how can he doubt this girl's story? Twenty years ago, as it seems, George Desmond had done something too bad to be discussed. After all, how impossible it is to trust to appearances! As a rule, the most seemingly harmless people are those who are guilty of the vilest misdemeanors. And, yet, what on earth could George have done twenty years ago? Visions of forgery, murder, homicide, rise up before him, but, try as he will, he cannot connect Mr. Desmond's face with any of them.
"You don't exactly know yourself what the crime is with which he is charged?" he asks her, with growing diffidence.
"No. But I shall find out, and tell——But that will be impossible!"—with a glance full of liveliest regret. "I cannot tell you, because after to-day I shall never see or speak to you again."
"That is the most insane nonsense I ever heard in my life," says Mr. Desmond.
The girl shakes her head sadly.
"If you won't speak to me I shall speak to you, whether you like it or not," says Desmond, with decision.
"That will be out of your power, as you will never see me."
"Do you mean to tell me I may not call at Moyne?"
"Certainly I do. They wouldn't hear of it. They wouldn't, in fact, receive you."
"But why must they visit my uncle's sins upon my shoulders? I have heard of a father's sins being entailed upon his heir, but never an uncle's."
"It is your name," says Monica. Then she laughs a little, in spite of herself, and quotes, in a low tone, "Oh! Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo?"
But he takes no heed of this frivolous quotation.
"You mean me to understand, then, that I am never to speak to you again?"
"I do, indeed."
"What! Do you know we are to be close neighbors for the future, you and I? This is to be your home. Coole is to be mine. At the most, only a mile of road lies between us, and here not quite a yard. And yet you calmly tell me I am from this day forth to be only a common stranger to you."
"You look as if you were angry with me," says Monica, with sudden tears in her eyes at his injustice. "It isn't my fault; I haven't done anything wicked. Blame your uncle for it all."
"The whole thing is simply absurd," says the young man, taking now the superior tone that is meant to crush the situation by holding it up to ridicule. "You forget, perhaps, that we shall have to meet sometimes. I suppose the people down here give balls occasionally, and tennis-parties, and that; and when I meet you at them, is it your wish that I shall pretend never to have seen you before,—never to have known you?"
"Yes," says Monica, with as much hesitation as lets him know how she hates saying it. "When next you meet me, you are to look right over my head, and pass on!"
"I couldn't do it," returns he, gazing at her steadily. "I couldn't indeed. In fact, I feel it is just the last thing in the world I could do."
"But you must," says Monica, imperiously, terrified to death as she conjures up before her Aunt Priscilla's face as it will surely be if this Philistine dares to address her: "I tell you my aunts would never forgive me if they knew I had interchanged even one syllable with you. From this moment you must forget me. There will really be no difficulty about it, as our acquaintance is but of an hour's growth. You have seen me for the first time to-day, and a chance meeting such as this is easily driven from the mind."
"That is your opinion," says the young man, moodily. "It is not mine. I dare say you will find it very easy to forget. I shan't! And this isn't the first time I have seen you, either. It seems to me as if years have rolled by since last I looked upon your face. I was standing at the gate of Coole, and saw you pass by, the day of your arrival in Rossmoyne. So, you see, we are—in spite of you—almost old friends."
A bombshell flung at her feet could hardly have produced a greater sensation than this apparently harmless speech. All at once there rushes back upon her the recollection of that fatal day when she lay upon a cart-load of hay and (according to Terence) kicked up her heels in the exuberance of her joy. Oh, horror! she grows crimson from her soft throat to her forehead! even her little ears do not escape the tint, but turn a warm and guilty pink.
Never until this unlucky instant did it occur to her that this strange young man must be the detested one who had stood in the gateway and laughed at her undignified position and taken the clocks of her stockings into careful remembrance.
The one absorbing thought that he was nephew to Aunt Priscilla's bugbear has swallowed up all others; but now, as he himself reveals this other truth to her, she feels that her cup is indeed full.
Deeper and deeper grows the crimson tint that dyes her pale, shy face, until her cheeks are all aflame. Something like anger, too, is rendering her sweet eyes brilliant beyond their wont. Delicately but haughtily she gathers up the train of her white gown and casts one expressive glance upon the way she came. This glance says much. Somehow it tells him as distinctly as though she said it aloud that she is sorry she ever came down to this river, and that her sorrow arises from the fact that it was here she encountered him.
While he is still sore perplexed by her sudden change of demeanor, she turns away from him. Then, pausing, she turns again, and bestows upon him so indignant a look as completely finishes this ill used young man.
"I object to hasty friendships," she says, icily. "And," pausing as if to make the effect greater, "if I were you, I think I should seek some better employment than standing idling all day long at your uncle's gate."
With this parting shaft, and before he can recover from his consternation, she goes swiftly away from him, up through the meadows, home.
How Monica is put in possession of a dreadful secret—And how Kit protests against the injustice of the world.
"An invitation from Madam O'Connor," says Miss Priscilla in a pleased tone, glancing at them all, over the top of her spectacles. She has the card in her hand, and slowly reads aloud the information printed upon it, to the effect that Madam O'Connor will be at home on Friday the 15th, from four to six o'clock, etc.
"I am very glad she has asked Terence and Monica," says Miss Penelope. "Excessively attentive I call it."
"Will you go, Aunt Priscilla?" asks Monica, in a sneaky sort of tone. Her young soul hankers after the world, and will not be subdued. Upon Miss Priscilla's "yes" or "no" she waits with an anxiety that surprises even herself.
"Certainly, my dear," says Miss Blake, drawing herself up. "I shall feel it my duty to take you to all such places as will enable you to mix with people in your own rank of life. I am not one of those who think it well for young girls to lead the life of nuns. No, indeed!"
"I quite agree with you, my dear Priscilla," says Miss Penelope, who is an echo of her elder sister. "Yes, we will rouse ourselves, and once more seek the world."
"But I would not have you make yourselves unhappy," says Monica, falteringly.
"Nay, my dear, it will be a pleasure, for your sake."
Not for worlds, even to themselves, would these two old ladies acknowledge that they are right glad of the chance that has come to them of introducing so beautiful a niece to the gay world around them, and of mingling, even in a subdued and decorous fashion, with the amusements that for the last five years they have (most unwillingly, be it said, but on the score of age) declined.
"I wonder who will be there," says Monica, in a fresher tone, striving vainly to drown the hope that is taking possession of her, a hope that connects itself with a certain blue-eyed, dark-haired young man, last seen in boating flannels.
"Everybody," says Miss Priscilla,—"the entire country. Madam O'Connor may not be—is not—there may be certain points about her—that"—floundering hopelessly—"I mean"—with a rush—"there are a few who object to her manner but her birth is undeniable, and she has a large fortune; you must know, my dear, her father was a direct descendant of King O'Toole, and her husband the head of one of the oldest families in Ireland."
"Is that the old woman who called here the day before yesterday?" asked Terence, irreverently. They are all sitting in the drawing-room, Terence being rather on the balcony perhaps.
"Yes—I regret you were not in to receive her. I should have liked you to make her acquaintance, Monica, before going to Aghyohillbeg."
"Oh I saw her," says Terence, contemptuously, "she's got an eye like a lance, and a man's figure. She drove herself, and held the reins like this," throwing himself into position.
"If you are going out, Terence, you may as well go at once," says Miss Priscilla, with dignity, pretending neither to hear nor see him. Whereupon Terence gladly departs.
"Go on, auntie," says Monica, slipping down on a footstool close to Aunt Penelope, and leaning both her arms across the old lady's knee. "Who else will be there?"
"Yes, tell her everything, Priscilla," says Miss Penelope, smoothing the girl's hair softly, and feeling a strange thrill of pleasure in her heart as she notices the little confident gesture with which the girl nestles close to her.
"Well, there will be her own guests, of course, I mean those staying with her, for she always has her house full," says Miss Priscilla, after a slight pause, being still somewhat ruffled by Terry's remarks. "The Fitzgeralds will be there, of course. Bella is considered a very handsome girl, but I don't think you will like her much."
"No, no, she is not at all our Monica's style," says Miss Penelope, stroking the pretty cheek near her with her mittened hand. "Yet she has a fine skin."
"Ay, and a fine temper under it, or I'm a Dutchman," says Miss Priscilla. "And she is more peculiar than handsome; but men admire her, so we say nothing."
"Is she tall?" asks Monica, anxiously, who is a little thing herself, and looks even smaller than she really is because of her slender, girlish figure. She wonders in a vague, uncomfortable fashion whether—whether most men like tall women best.
"Tall? yes, and large in proportion; and as for her manners," says Miss Priscilla, in her severest tone, "in my opinion they are simply unbearable. Modesty in my days was a virtue, nowadays it is as naught. Bella Fitzgerald is never content unless she has every man in the room at her side, and goodness alone knows what it is she says to them. The way she sets her cap at that poor boy Ronayne, just because he has fallen in for that property, is quite revolting."
"And a mere lad, too," says Miss Penelope.
Monica draws a breath of relief. Perhaps if Miss Fitzgerald likes Mr. Ronayne she will not care to practise her fascinations upon——any other man.
"How old is she?" she asks, feeling deeply interested in the conversation.
"She says she is twenty-four," says Miss Priscilla, with an eloquent sniff. "There is nothing easier to say than that. I won't be uncharitable, my dear Penelope,—you needn't look at me like that,—but this I must say, she looks every hour of eight and twenty."
"Her mother ought to know," says Miss Penelope.
"She ought, indeed," grimly. "But, as from the way she dresses we may reasonably conclude she thinks herself nineteen, I suppose she has lost her memory on all points."
"Her father, Otho Fitzgerald, was the same," says Miss Penelope, reflectively. "He never could bear the idea of age. He was one who saw nothing honorable in it. Gray hairs with him were a crime."
"So he used to dye them," says Miss Priscilla, maliciously; "and when he got warm the dye used to melt, and (unknown to him) run all down his cheek."
"Oh, Priscilla, how you remember things? Dear, dear, I think I see him now," says Miss Penelope. And here the two old ladies, overcome by this comical recollection, laugh until the tears run down their faces. Monica joins in from sheer sympathy; but Kit, who is sitting in the embrasure of a distant window and who had been strangely silent ever since the invitation came from Aghyohillbeg, maintains a stern gravity.
"Poor man," says Miss Penelope, wiping her eyes, "I shall never forget the night your sweet mother, my dear Monica, most unintentionally offended him about the diamond—you recollect, Priscilla? Tell Monica of it."
"He always wore a huge diamond ring upon his little finger," says Miss Priscilla, addressing Monica, "of which he was very proud. He was at this time about fifty-three, but used to pose as a man of thirty-nine. One evening showing the ring to your mother, then quite a girl, he said to her, in his stilted way, 'This jewel has been in our family for fifty years.' 'Ah! did you buy it, Mr. Fitzgerald?' asks your mother, in her sweet innocent way. Ha, ha, ha!" laughs Miss Priscilla, "you should have seen his face. It was a picture! and just when he was trying to make himself agreeable to your poor mother, and acting as if he was a youthful beau of twenty-five, or at least as young as the best of us."
"That was so like mother," says Monica, in a low tone. "She always knew where to touch people."
"Oh, no, my dear, not at all like her," says Miss Penelope, hastily. "She didn't mean it, you must understand; she was the very soul of sweetness, and would not willingly affront any one for the world."
For just an instant Monica lifts her eyes and gazes earnestly at her aunt; but the old face is so earnest and sincere that with a faint sigh she lowers her eyes again, and makes no further remark.
"After that he married his cousin's wife, a widow with one child, this girl, Bella," says Miss Priscilla, still full of reminiscences, as old people will be. "A most unpleasant person I thought her, though she was considered quite a belle in those days."
"She always appeared to me such a silly woman," says Miss Penelope.
"She is worse than that now," says Miss Priscilla, who seems specially hard on the Fitzgeralds. "She is a shocking old woman, with a nose like a flower-pot. I won't say she drinks, my dear Penelope, because I know you would object to it; but I hear she does, and certainly her nose is her betrayer."
"Do you remember," says Miss Penelope, "how anxious she once was to marry George Desmond?" This she says in a very low tone.
"Yes, I remember." The bare mention of her enemy's name has sent a flush of crimson into Miss Priscilla's cheeks. "But he never bestowed a thought upon her."
"Oh, no, never," says Miss Penelope, after which both the Misses Blake grow silent and seem to be slowly sinking into the land of revery.
But Monica, having heard the "enemy's name" mentioned, becomes filled with a determination to sift the mystery connected with him, now, to the end.
"Aunt Priscilla," she says, softly, looking at her with grave eyes across Miss Penelope's knees, "tell me, now, why Mr. Desmond is our enemy."
"Oh, not now," says Miss Penelope, nervously.
"Yes, now, please," says Monica, with ever-increasing gravity.
"It may all be said in a few words, Monica," says Miss Priscilla, slowly. "And what I have to say affects you, my dear, even more than us."
"Yes, in that it affects your mother. Twenty years ago George Desmond was her affianced husband. Twenty years ago, wilfully and without cause, he deliberately broke with her his plighted troth."
"He threw her over?" exclaims Monica, aghast at this revelation.
"Well, I never heard be used actual violence to her, my dear," says Miss Penelope, in a distressed tone; "but he certainly broke off his engagement with her, and behaved as no man of honor could possibly behave."
"And mother must have been quite beautiful at that time, must she not?" says Monica, rising to her knees in her excitement, and staring with widely-opened eyes of purest amazement from one aunt to the other.
"'Beautiful as the blushing morn,'" says Miss Priscilla, quoting from some ancient birthday-book. "But, you see, even her beauty was powerless to save her from insult. From what we could learn, he absolutely refused to fulfil his marriage-contract with her. He was false to the oath he had sworn over our father's dying bed."
Nothing can exceed the scorn and solemnity of Miss Priscilla's manner as she says all this.
"And what did mother do?" asks Monica, curiously.
"What could she do, poor child? I have no doubt it went nigh to breaking her heart."
"Her heart?" says Monica.
"She suffered acutely. That we could see, or rather we had to guess it, as for days she kept her own chamber and would see no one, going out only when it was quite dusk for a solitary ramble. Ah! when sorrow afflicts the soul, there is no balm so great as solitude. Your poor mother took the whole affair dreadfully to heart."
"You mean that she really fretted?" asks Monica, still in the same curious way, with her eyes fixed on her aunt. There is, indeed, so much unstudied surprise in her whole manner as might have produced a corresponding amount in the Misses Blake, had they noticed it.
"Yes, my dear, of course. Dear, dear, dear! what a sad thing it all was! Well, now you understand all that it is needful you should, Monica," says Miss Penelope, with a glance at her sister, who really seems quite overcome. "So we will say no more about it. Only you can see for yourself how impossible it is for any of our blood to be on friendly terms with a Desmond."
"They may not all be like that Mr. Desmond," says Monica, timidly, coloring to her brow.
"Yes, yes. Like father, like son; you know the old adage; and a nephew is as close a relation almost. We can know no one at Coole."
"I would almost rather see you dead than intimate with one of the name," says Miss Priscilla, with sudden harshness.
"I don't think we told Monica about the other guests at Aghyohillbeg," says Miss Penelope, hastily, with the kindly intention of changing the conversation. "A very pretty young woman came there about a week before your arrival, child, and is to remain, I believe, for some time. She is a widow, and young, and—by the bye, I wonder if she can be any relation to your friends in the South of France."
"Her name is Bohun, and——"
"Not Olga Bohun?" says Monica, springing to her feet. "A widow, you say, and young. Oh! auntie, if she only might be Olga!"
"Well, certainly she has a heathenish—I mean, a Russian—name like that," says Miss Priscilla. "She is a very little woman, with merry eyes, and she laughs always, and she has the prettiest, the most courteous manners. Quite a relief I found her, after the inanities of Bella Fitzgerald."
"She is even smaller than I am. Yes, and her eyes do laugh!" says Monica, delight making her cheeks warm. "She is the prettiest thing. Ah! how happy I shall be if I may see her sometimes!"
"You shall see her just as often as ever you and she wish," say the two old maids in a breath, glad in the thought that they can make her home at Moyne happy to her.
"I hope you like her," says Monica, glancing from one to the other of them.
"Yes. I thought her quite fascinating," says Miss Penelope. "Some people say she is rather—rather fast, I believe is the word they use nowadays," getting the word out with difficulty, as though afraid it may go off and do somebody an injury. "But for my part I don't believe a word of it. She is quite natural, and most pleasing in manner, especially to those who are older than herself. A great charm in these times, my dear, when age is despised."
Plainly, the little widow at Aghyohillbeg has been playing off her sweetest graces upon the two Misses Blake.
"I dare say Monica will like young Ronayne," says Miss Priscilla. "He is quite nice, that lad. But I hope, Monica, that, even if circumstances should throw you together, you will take no notice of young Mr. Desmond. I myself would not exchange a word with him if a queen's diadem were offered me as a bribe."
"You might speak to him without knowing him," says Monica, blushing again that nervous crimson of a while ago.
"Impossible, my dear. Instinct, sharpened by hatred, would tell me when one of the race was near me."
"Well, as it is your first party here, dear child, I hope you will enjoy it," says Miss Penelope, quickly, as though again anxious to throw oil on the waters by changing the conversation. "It is a charming place, and its mistress, if a little rough, is at least kindly."
At this moment Kit, emerging from the curtains that have hidden her for the past hour, comes slowly to the front. Her face, her very attitude, is martial. She is plainly in battle-array. Pausing before Miss Priscilla, she directs her first fire upon her.
"Am I not asked at all?" she says, in a terrible tone, that contrasts painfully with the ominous silence she has maintained ever since the invitation was brought by Mrs. O'Connor's groom.
"My dear child, you must remember you are only fourteen," says Miss Priscilla, who is sincerely sorry the child has not been included in the invitation, and, in fact, thinks it rather unkind she has been left out.
"I know that, thank you," says the youngest Miss Beresford, uncompromisingly, fixing her aunt with a stony glare. "I know my birthday as well as most people. And so, just because I am a child, I am to be slighted, am I? I call it unfair! I call it beastly mean, that every one here is to be invited out to enjoy themselves except me."
"Young people are seldom asked to grown-up parties," says Miss Priscilla, in her best conciliatory manner. "When you are as old as Monica, of course you will go everywhere. In the meantime you are only a child."
"I am old enough to conduct myself properly, at all events," says Kit, unmoved. "I suppose at fourteen"—as if this is an age replete with wisdom—"I am not likely to do anything very extraordinary, or make myself unpleasant, or be in anybody's way."
"That is not the question, at all: it is merely one of age," says Miss Priscilla.
"Is it? And yet people say a great deal about childhood being the happiest time of one's life," says Kit, almost choking with scornful rage. "I should just like to see the fellow who first said that. Maybe I wouldn't enlighten him, and tell him what a hypocrite he was. Whoever said it, it is a decided untruth, and I know I wish to goodness I was grown up, because then," with withering emphasis, "I should not be trampled upon and insulted!"
This is dreadful. The two old ladies, unaccustomed in their quiet lives to tornadoes and volcanoes of any kind, are almost speechless with fright.
"Dearest," says Monica, going up to her, "how can you look at it in such a light?"
"It's all very well for you," says the indignant Kit: "you're going, you know. I'm to stay at home, like that wretched Cinderella!"
"Katherine, I am sure you are quite unaware of the injustice of your remarks," says Miss Priscilla, at last finding her voice. She is bent on delivering a calm rebuke; but inwardly (as any one can see) she is quaking. "And I have frequently told you before that the expression 'I wish to goodness,' which you used just now, is anything but ladylike. It is not nice; it is not proper."
"I don't care what is proper or improper, when I am treated as I now am," says the rebel, with flashing eyes and undaunted front.
"There is really nothing to complain of," says Miss Priscilla, earnestly, seeing censure has no effect. "Madam O'Connor would not willingly offend any one; she is a very kind woman, and——"
"She is a regular old wretch!" says the youngest Miss Beresford, with considerable spirit.
"My dear Katherine!"
"And it's my belief she has done it on purpose!" with increasing rage.
"Katherine, I must insist——"
"You may insist as you like, but I'll be even with her yet," persists Kit, after which, being quite overcome with wrath, she breaks down, and bursts into a violent fit of weeping.
"My dear child, don't do that," says Miss Penelope, rising precipitately, and going over to the weeping fury. "Priscilla," in a trembling tone, "I fear it is selfish. I think, my dear, I shall stay at home, too, the day you all go to Madam O'Connor's."
This kills the storm at once.
"No, no, indeed, Aunt Penny, you shan't." Kit cries, subdued, but still in tears. She is overcome with remorse, and blames herself cruelly in that her ill temper should have led to this proposal of self-sacrifice. To give in to Kit is the surest and quickest method of gaining your own point. She throws her arms, as she speaks, around Miss Penelope's neck, and nearly strangles that dear old lady in her remorseful agitation, to say nothing of the deadly havoc she makes of her frills and laces.
"But indeed, my Kitten, it will be no privation to me to stay at home with you, and we will be quite happy together, and we will have our tea out in the orchard," says Miss Penelope, soothing her with sweet words; while Miss Priscilla, who is thoroughly frightened by the sobbing, pats the refractory child on the back, with a view to allaying all fear of convulsions.
"You shan't stay at home, Aunt Penny,—you shan't indeed," cries the inconsistent Kitten. "I like being alone, I love it; if you don't go to that place with the long name, and enjoy yourself very much, I shall be miserable all my life, though I love you very, very, very much for wishing to keep me from being lonely. Tell her I mean it, Monica."
"Yes, I am sure she means it," says Monica, earnestly, whereupon peace is once more restored to the breasts of the terrified aunts.
How Monica goes to Aghyohillbeg, and meets there an old friend and a very new one.
Time flies, and no man can reach his hand to stay it. A very good thing, too, thinks Monica, as she stands before her looking-glass putting the last pretty touches to her white toilet.
It is Friday. Madam O'Connor's garden-party lies before her, and, probably, other things. Here she blushes at herself, as she sees that pretty soul in the glass, though, indeed, she has no cause to do so; but possibly the vague thought of those "other things" has something to do with it, and perhaps it is for their sake too that she places with such care the heavy, blood-colored rose beneath her chin.
This is the only suspicion of color about her. Her gown is white; her hat is white; long white silk gloves run up her rounded arms as though bent on joining her sleeves far above the elbow. A white Surat sash is tied round her dainty waist. She is looking "as fair as the moon, as lovely as a rose," and altogether distinctly dangerous.
Perhaps she half recognizes this fact, because she smiles at her own reflection, and—vain little girl that she is—stoops forward and kisses herself in the happy glass that holds her even for so brief a minute; after which she summons her maid from her dressing-room beyond.
"Canty," she says, as the "uncle's wife's sister's child" enters, "I am dressed now; and——"
"Shure, so you are, miss; and lovely ye look, more power to ye."
"Make my room very tidy," says Monica, giving her her directions before starting. "And, Canty, I shall want my blue dress for dinner. You can put it out."
"Yes, miss," whereupon Monica prepares to leave the room; but the new maid stops her.
"If ye please, Miss Monica," she says, hesitating, and applying her apron to her lips.
"I'd be very thankful to ye, miss, if ye wouldn't call me that."
"Call you what?"
"But," astonished, "isn't it your name?"
"No, miss; me name is Bridget."
"But surely Canty is your name, too?"
"Well, it's me father's name, miss, no doubt; but faix I feel just like a boy when ye call me by it, an' ye wouldn't like me to feel like a boy, miss, would ye?" says the village beauty casting an anxious glance at Monica from her dark Irish eyes, and blushing deeply.
"Certainly not," says Monica, laughing a little. "Very well, Bridget; I shall try to forget you ever had a surname."
"Thank ye, miss," says Bridget, with a sigh of profound relief.
Then Monica runs downstairs, where she finds her aunts in the drawing-room, dressed in their very best silk gowns, waiting for the carriage to come round. There is a little delay, which wasted time the two old ladies spend in endeavoring to drill Terence into shape. Something of this sort is going on as Monica enters.
"When I introduce you to Madam O'Connor or Lady Rossmoyne, my dear boy, be sure you make a very low bow. Nothing distinguishes a gentleman so much from the common herd as the manner of his salute. Now make me a bow, that I may judge of your style." Thus Miss Priscilla.
"I couldn't make one to order like that," says Terence; yet he sulkily complies, making a very short, stiff, and uncompromising nod that makes both aunts lift their hands in dismay.
"Oh, no, my dear!—that won't do at all! Most ungraceful, and totally devoid of the dignity that should inspire it. Now look at me. It should be something like this," making him a reverence that might well have created admiration in the court of Queen Anne.
"Ah, yes! that is something like what it should be," chimes in Miss Penelope, paying a tribute to the talent of her sister. "Priscilla has caught the true tone. I wish, Terence, we could see you more like your dear grandfather; he was a man to bow."
Terence, calling to mind the portrait of his "dear grandfather," as represented in the elaborate gilt frame in the dining-room, in a court suit and a periwig, and with an abominable simper, most devoutly thanks his gods that he is not like unto him. He is, indeed (feeling goaded to the last degree), about to break into unseemly language, when, fortunately, the arrival of the ancient equipage that has done duty at Moyne as state carriage for generations is announced.
The coachman, who is considerably older than Timothy, draws up the old horses before the door with a careful manner that impresses the beholder with the belief that he thinks they would run away in a minute if he relaxed a muscle on the reins; and a small boy who acts as footman and looks decidedly depressed, lets down the rickety steps.
Miss Priscilla Blake then enters the carriage. She is followed with much ceremony by Miss Penelope. After which Monica, who is impressed by the proceedings, and Terence, who is consumed with secret mirth, step in and seat themselves. Then the coachman says, "Gee up!" in exactly the tone he has employed for forty years; and the gloomy boy settling down beside him, they are all presently on the fair road to Aghyohillbeg.
The drive is a very pleasant one, though filled with injunctions of the most obsolete from the Misses Blake as to their behavior, etc. The fact is, that the two old maids are so puffed out with pride at the thought that they will presently introduce to the county the handsome lad and beautiful girl opposite them that they have grown fidgety and over-anxious about the niceties of their presentation.
"Surely," say the Misses Blake to themselves and to each other, "not half so pretty a pair could be produced by any family in the south!"
Which is saying a great deal, as in the south of Ireland a pretty face is more the rule than the exception.
Over the dusty road they go, calmly, carefully, the old horses being unaccustomed to fast ways of any sort; slowly, with much care they pick their aged steps, never stumbling, never swerving, but as certainly never giving way to frivolous haste.
Then, all at once, as it seems to Monica, the hillside seems to break in twain, and a great iron gate appears, into which they turn to drive in their solemn fashion down a dark avenue shaded by swaying elms.
It is a perfect place, old as the hills that surround it, and wild in its loveliness. To right and left great trees, gnarled and moss-grown, and dipping tangles of blackberry and fern; patches of sunlight, amidst the gloom, that rests lovingly upon a glowing wilderness of late bluebells, and, beyond all these broad glimpses of the glorious, restless ocean, as it sleeps in its bay below.
Gazing at all this natural beauty, Monica's soft eyes and heart expand, and,—
"Joy rises in her like a summer morn."
And then she sees an old house, low, broad, picturesque, with balconies and terraces, and beyond the house slanting lawns, and at one side tennis-courts, where many gayly-clad figures are moving to and fro. There is a sound of subdued laughter and the perfume of many flowers, and a general air of gayety; it is as though to-day care has utterly forgotten this one favored corner of the earth.
Then they all descend from the time honored chariot, and cross the lawn to where they can see their hostess standing, tall and erect and handsome, in spite of her sixty years.
"Your niece?" says Madam O'Connor, staring hard at Monica's pure little face, the girl looking straight back at her with a certain amount of curiosity in her eyes.—"Well, I wish you no greater fortune than your face, my dear," says the old Irishwoman. "It ought to be a rich one, I'm thinking. You're like your mother, too; but your eyes are honester than hers. You must know I knew Kitty Blake very well at one time."
"I have heard my mother speak of you," says Monica.
"Ay—so? Yet I fear there wasn't much love lost between us."
Then she turns a little aside to greet some one else, and Monica lets her eyes roam round the grounds. Suddenly she starts, and says out loud,—
"Ah! there is Olga?"
"You know Mrs. Bohun, then?" says her hostess, attracted by her exclamation and her pretty vivacious expression.
"So very, very well," says Monica. She has flushed warmly, and her eyes are brilliant. "I want to speak to her; I want to go to her, please."
"Bless me! what a shame to waste that lovely blush on a mere woman!" says Madam O'Connor, with a merry laugh. "Here, Fred," turning to a young man standing close to her with a very discontented expression, "I am going to give you a mission after your own heart. You are to take Miss Beresford over there, to where Mrs. Bohun is dealing death to all those boys.—This is Lord Rossmoyne, Miss Beresford: he will see you safely over your rubicon."