One day, in a sudden horror of herself, she pleaded illness and hurried back to her mother for a holiday.
The straggling village looked much the same, the same pigs and turkeys rooted and strutted, the same stinging turf-smoke came from the doors and windows (save from one or two cabins unroofed by the Castle tyrant), the same weeds grew in the potato-patches, the same old men in patched brogues pulled their caubeens from their heads and their dudeens from their mouths, as she went past, half-consciously studying the humours for stage reproduction. It was hard for her to remember she wasn’t “the Quality” in London, or that the Half-and-Half existed simultaneously with these beloved woods and waters. In only one particular was the village changed. Golf links had been discovered near it, a club-house had sprung up and the peasants found themselves enriched by the employment of their gossoons as caddies. The O’Keeffes were prospering equally—thanks to her subsidies—although she hadn’t yet bought them back their castle. “All’s for the best in the greenest of isles,” she told herself, as she sat basking in family affection.
And yet the wave of melancholia refused to ebb. Indeed, it swelled and grew blacker. The remedy seemed to intensify the disease; a holiday but gave her time to possess her soul, and brood upon its stains, her childhood’s scene but enabled her to measure the realities of her achievement against the visions of girlhood. Life seemed too hopeless, too absurd. To amuse the gross adult, to instruct the innocent child—what did it all mean to her own life? She was tired of doing, she wanted to be something; something for herself. She was always observing, imitating, caricaturing, but what was she? A nothing, a phantasm, an emptiness.
“Eileen avourneen,” said her mother, suddenly. “I wish you were married.”
Eileen opened her eyes. “Dear heart, is this another offer from the castle?” And she laughed gently.
Mrs. O’Keeffe’s fingers played uneasily with her bosom’s cross. “No, but I should feel happier about you. It—it settles people.”
“It certainly does,” Eileen laughed, and her celebrated ditty, “The Marriage Settlement,” flashed upon her. “Oh, dear,” and her laugh changed to a sigh. “The marriages I see around me!”
“What! Isn’t Mrs. Lee Carter happy?”
Eileen flushed. “I shouldn’t like to be in her shoes,” she said evasively.
“Officers seem to make the best husbands,” said Mrs. O’Keeffe.
“Because they are so much away?” queried Eileen, with a vague memory of her Lieutenant Doherty.