“Well, which shall it be?”
“Such a cheque is charming.” And she held out her hand. He put the cheque in it and shook both warmly. They parted, the best of friends.
“Come to me for a character, of course,” he said.
“Don’t you come to me,” replied Eileen, with a roguish smile.
Eileen’s next place was—as if by contrast—with a much more genteel family, and a much poorer, though it flew higher socially. It lived in a house, half in a fashionable London terrace, half in a shabby side street, and its abode was typical of its ambitions and its means. Mrs. Lee Carter drew the line clearly between herself and her governess, which was a blessing, for it meant Eileen’s total exclusion from her social life, and Eileen’s consequent enjoyment of her own evenings at home or abroad, as she wished. This unusual freedom compensated for the hard work of teaching children in various stages of growth and ignorance how to talk French and play the piano. Her salary was small, for Mrs. Lee Carter’s ambition to live beyond her neighbours’ means was only achieved by pinching whomever she could. She was not bad-hearted; she simply could not afford anything but luxuries. Eileen wondered at not being asked sometimes to perform at her parties, till she found that only celebrities ever did anything in that house.
This was a period of much mental activity in Eileen’s life. The tossing ocean of London life, the theatres that played Shakespeare, the world of new books and new thought, her recent perusal of Plato and of man, all produced fermentation. But every night she knelt by her bedside and said her “Ave Maria” with a voluptuous sense of spiritual peace, and every morning she woke with a certain joy in existence and a certain surprise to find herself again existing. Her old convent-thought recurred. “We are worked from without—marionettes who can watch their own performance. And it is very amusing.” Once she read of a British action in Afghanistan against border-tribes, and she wondered if Lieutenant Doherty was in the fighting. Since she had ceased to be his mother-confessor he had become very shadowy; his image now rose substantial from the newspaper lines, and she was surprised to find in herself a little palpitation at his probable perils. “One’s heartstrings, too, are pulled,” she thought. “I don’t like it. Marionettes should move, not feel.” These reflections, however, came to her more often anent her family, and the struggles of her kin for a livelihood touched her more deeply than any love. “We are like bits of the same shattered body,” she thought. “In these cold English families everybody is another body.” She sent most of her salary to Ireland, and her pocket-money came from singing in the choir on Sunday.
The bass chorister was a very amusing man. His voice was sepulchral but his conversation skittish. Eileen’s repartees smote him to almost the only serious respect of his life, and one day he said: “Why, there’s a future in you. Why don’t you go on the stage?”