That the step-mother had joy, or indeed anything but gall and wormwood, out of all this is not to be pretended. There lingered along in the recollection of the family some vague memories of her having tried to assert an authority over Celia’s comings and goings at the outset, but they grouped themselves as only parts of the general disorder of moving and settling, which a fort-night or so quite righted. Mrs. Madden still permitted herself a certain license of hostile comment when her step-daughter was not present, and listened with gratification to what the women of her acquaintance ventured upon saying in the same spirit; but actual interference or remonstrance she never offered nowadays. The two rarely met, for that matter, and exchanged only the baldest and curtest forms of speech.
Celia Madden interested all Octavius deeply. This she must have done in any case, if only because she was the only daughter of its richest citizen. But the bold, luxuriant quality of her beauty, the original and piquant freedom of her manners, the stories told in gossip about her lawlessness at home, her intellectual attainments, and artistic vagaries—these were even more exciting. The unlikelihood of her marrying any one—at least any Octavian—was felt to add a certain romantic zest to the image she made on the local perceptions. There was no visible young Irishman at all approaching the social and financial standard of the Maddens; it was taken for granted that a mixed marriage was quite out of the question in this case. She seemed to have more business about the church than even the priest. She was always playing the organ, or drilling the choir, or decorating the altars with flowers, or looking over the robes of the acolytes for rents and stains, or going in or out of the pastorate. Clearly this was not the sort of girl to take a Protestant husband.
The gossip of the town concerning her was, however, exclusively Protestant. The Irish spoke of her, even among themselves, but seldom. There was no occasion for them to pretend to like her: they did not know her, except in the most distant and formal fashion. Even the members of the choir, of both sexes, had the sense of being held away from her at haughty arm’s length. No single parishioner dreamed of calling her friend. But when they referred to her, it was always with a cautious and respectful reticence. For one thing, she was the daughter of their chief man, the man they most esteemed and loved. For another, reservations they may have had in their souls about her touched close upon a delicately sore spot. It could not escape their notice that their Protestant neighbors were watching her with vigilant curiosity, and with a certain tendency to wink when her name came into conversation along with that of Father Forbes. It had never yet got beyond a tendency—the barest fluttering suggestion of a tempted eyelid—but the whole Irish population of the place felt themselves to be waiting, with clenched fists but sinking hearts, for the wink itself.