“To whom else? You haven’t forgotten he wanted to marry me.”
“No, but he has, I am fearing.”
“What?” It was now Eileen’s turn to open her eyes, and the tears dried on her lashes as she listened. Mrs. O’Keeffe explained, amid the ebb and flow of burning blood, that she had waited in vain for Mr. O’Flanagan to renew his proposal. At first she thought he was waiting for a decent interval to elapse, or for the Castle to be ready for his bride, but gradually she had become convinced by his silence and by the way he avoided her eye when they met and turned his horse down the nearest boreen, that Eileen had been right in calling him half-mounted. He had proposed when he imagined the Squire’s fortunes were as of yore, but now he feared he would have to support the ruined family. Well, he needn’t fear. The family wouldn’t touch him with a forty-foot pole.
“If only your poor father had been alive,” wound up Mrs. O’Keeffe, “the dirty upstart would never have dared to put such an insult on his orphaned daughter, that he wouldn’t, and if Dan O’Leary should hear of it—which the saints forbid—it’s not the jig that his foot would be teaching Mr. O’ Flanagan.”
The bathos of this anti-climax to martyrdom was too grotesque. Eileen burst into a peal of laughter, which was taken by her mother as a tribute to her lively vituperation. Decidedly, life was deliciously odd. Suddenly she remembered her posted letter to Doherty, and she laughed louder.
Should she send another on its heels? No, it would be rather difficult to explain. Besides, it would be so interesting to see how he replied.
Holly Hall—Eileen’s first place—was in the English midlands, towards the North: a sombre stone house looking down on a small manufacturing town, whose very grass seemed dingied with coal-dust. “A dromedary town,” Eileen dubbed it; for it consisted of a long level with two humps, standing in a bleak desert. On one of the humps she found herself perched. Below—between the humps—lay the town proper, with its savour of grime and gain. The Black Hole was Eileen’s name for this quarter; and indeed you might leave your hump, bathed in sunlight, dusty but still sunlight, and as you came down the old wagon-road you would plunge deeper and deeper into the yellowish fog which the poor townspeople mistook for daylight. The streets of the Black Hole bristled with public-houses, banks, factories, and dissenting chapels. The population was given over to dogs and football, and medical men abounded. Arches, blank walls, and hoardings were flamboyant with ugly stage-beauties, melodramatic tableaux, and the advertisements of tailors. After the Irish glens and the Convent garden the Black Hole was not exhilarating.
Mr. Maper, the proprietor of Holly Hall, was a mill-owner, a big-boned, kindly man, who derived his Catholicism from an Irish mother, and had therefore been pleased to find an Irish girl among the candidates for the post of companion to his wife.