Sometimes—though this was scarcely a relief—another befuddled gentleman would be left at the uninhabited lodge in his stead. That was chiefly after hunt dinners or card and claret parties, when a new coachman would take a quartet of gentry home, all clouded as to their identities. “Arrah now! they’ve got thimselves mixed! let thim sort thimselves.” And the coachman would grab at the nearest limb, extricate it and its belongings from the tangle, and prop the total mass against the first gate he passed. And so with the rest.
Eileen’s mother, who was as remarkable for her microscopic piety as for the beauty untarnished by a copious maternity, figured in the child’s memories as a stout saint who moved with a rustle of silken skirts and heaved an opulent black silk bosom relieved by a silver cross.
“Who are you?” her spouse would inquire with an oath.
“It’s your wife I am, Bagenal dear,” she would reply cheerfully. For she had grown up in the four-bottle tradition, and intoxication appeared as natural for the superior sex as sleep. Both were temporary phases, and did not prevent men from being the best of husbands and creatures when clear. And when the marketwomen or the beggarwomen respectfully inquired of her, “How is your good provider?” she made her reply with no sense of irony, though she had been long paying the piper herself. And the piper figured literally in the household accounts, as well as the fiddler, for the O’Keeffe was what the mud cabins called a “ginthleman to the backbone.”
Family tradition necessitated that Eileen should at least complete her education at a convent in the outskirts of Paris, and her first communion was delayed till she should “make” it in that more pious atmosphere. The O’Keeffe convoyed her across the two Channels, and took the opportunity of visiting a “variety” theatre in Montmartre, where he was delighted to find John Bull and his inelegant womenkind so faithfully delineated. So exhilarated was he by this excellent take-off and a few bocks on the Boulevard, that he refused to get down from the omnibus at its terminus.
“Jamais je ne descendrai, jamais,” he vociferated. Eileen was, however, spared the sight of this miniature French revolution. She was lying sleepless in the strange new dormitory, watching the nun walking up and down in the dim weird room reading her breviary, now lost in deep shadow with the remoter beds, now lucidly outlined in purple dress with creamy cross as she came under the central night-light. Eileen wondered how she could see to read, and if she were not just posing picturesquely, but from the fervency with which she occasionally kissed the crucifix hanging to the rosary at her side Eileen concluded she must know the office by heart. Her own Irish home seemed on another planet, and her turret-bedroom was already far more shadowy than this: presently both were swallowed up into nothingness.