As the end of her conventual period drew nigh Eileen resolved never to go back to the spotted world, but to ask her father to pay her dowry as Bride to the Church, and she had just placed in Marcelle’s niche the letter informing Lieutenant Doherty of her call to the higher life (and pointing out how apter than ever his confessions would now be) when Marcelle’s signal warned her to look in her own niche. There she found a letter which she could not read till bread-and-chocolate time, but which then took the flavour out of these refreshments. Her lover—he leaped to that verbal position in her thought in this moment of crisis—was ordered off in haste to Afghanistan. The geographical proficiency which had won her so many marks served her only too well, but she hastened to extract her atlas from the fatal niche, and to pore over her geographical misery. She felt she ought to withdraw her own letter for revision, but she could not get at Marcelle or even make her understand. In her perturbation she gave Cabul and Candahar as Kings of Navarre, and Marcelle, implacable as a pillar-box, went away in the evening like a mail-cart.
But the very same night the Superior handed Eileen an opened cablegram which banished Lieutenant Doherty much farther than Afghanistan. Her father was very ill, and called her to his bedside. Things had a way of happening simultaneously to Eileen, these coincidences dogged her life, so that she came to think of them as the rival threads of her life getting tangled at certain points and then going off separately again. After all, if you have several strings to your life, she told herself, it would be more improbable that they should always remain separate than that they should sometimes intertwine.
Eileen reached the Castle through a tossing avenue of villagers, weeping and blessing, and divined from their torment of sympathy that “his honour” was already in his grave. Poor feckless father, how she had loved him spite all his rollicking ways, or perhaps because of them. Through her tears she saw him counting—on his entry into Paradise—the children who had preceded him, and more than ever fuzzled by the flapping of their wings. Oh, poor dearest, how unhomely it would all be to him, this other world where his jovial laugh would shock the nun-like spirits, where there was no more claret, cold, mulled, or buttered, and no sound of horn or tally-ho.
Perhaps it was as well that so many of his brood had gone before him, for with his departure the Castle fell metaphorically about the ears of the survivors. Creditors gave quarter no longer, and Mrs. O’Keeffe found herself reduced to a modest red-gabled farmhouse, with nothing saved from the crash save that part of her dowry which was invested in trustees for the education of her boys. There was no question of Eileen returning to the Convent as a pupil: her desire to take the veil failed at the thought that now she could