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was in store for me, I should the soft cheek, and the hue of a have greatly preferred it had crimson cherry upon the curved been my mother who died many full lips, and there you have a months before my birth. But, woman equipped for her own alas! babies in the anti-natal destruction, if she have a heart stage are never consulted upon to lose, no brains to speak of, the question of their own in- and only as much knowledge of terest. man, of the world, as a freshborn kitten or a toddling babe.
Molly O'Connell remains upon memory as beauty in a flash. Never since have I seen such a flashing combination of brilliant effects. Oh! such teeth-teeth to dream of, teeth that laughed and smiled, that had a sort of light in them like white sunshine, and were the fullest expression I have ever known of the word radiance! Then her eyes were pools of violet light, where you seemed to see straight down to the bottom of a deep well, violet all the way down to the very end, where you saw yourself reflected. These glorious eyes, like the teeth, smiled and laughed; they caressed, too, looked an unfathomable tenderness and sweetness, shone, irradiated like stars, went through the whole gamut of visual emotion, from the holiest feeling, the effable eloquence of sentiment, to the bewildering obscurities of passion. of passion. They were eyes, I now know, to damn a saint, and heaven help us all in a world so inexplicable as ours!-they performed their fatal mission to the bitter end. Add to these eyes and teeth hair as dark as shadow, as thick as the blackness of night, a scarlet and white face, round and dimpled, of the divinest shape, the rarest and ripest combination of fruit and flower, with deep peach-like bloom upon
Molly was the joy, the light, the glory, the romance of our lives. We worshipped her for her unsurpassable loveliness, which kept rows of young eyes fixed upon her charming visage in round lidded wonder and awe; we adored her for her gaiety, her chatter, her incessant laughter, and we loved her for the conviction that she was as young and innocent and helpless and unlettered as ourselves.
Molly was nineteen, but she was a bigger child than any of us; and now I hold my breath in pain when I remember the nature and quality of her innocence. She had been brought up from infancy in a convent. Had her life lain among the roses, such ignorance as hers might be pardoned in her teachers. But to send out into the world, to earn her living among selfish and indifferent strangers, a young girl of such bewildering exquisiteness, and never once hint to her the kind of perils that would beset her, give her no knowledge of man, nor of herself, nor of nature! This is an iniquity the nuns of Southampton can never be pardoned.
Now that I know the sequel, and understand what the beginning meant, I cannot recall our laughter over Molly's first
experiences without a thrill of horror. The nuns had placed her with titled folk-Lord and Lady E., with whom lived Lady E.'s father, an old earl, a widower. Molly was the most ingenuous and garrulous of creatures. She spent her first vacation some months later with us, and kept us at recreation hour in shouts of laughter and scorn over her adventures. The old earl was the most extraordinary old man, according to her. He was always meeting her alone, here, there, and everywhere. She seemed to think it was a sort of schoolboy's game. Once he showed her in the garden, when no one was by, a splendid diamond bracelet, which he had bought
"O Molly!" we all screamed in joy, "he wants to marry you, and you'll be a grand countess, like the gipsy maiden of the song.
But Molly curled her lips haughtily. Did we know that he was seventy, a queer old gentleman, just fit to be tucked into bed and given gruel? The suspicion of evil design never once entered her innocent head, for the simple reason that she had not the ghost of a suspicion of any kind of evil.
Then Lady E. went up to town, and left this bewitching creature at the mercy of her husband. Molly again regarded it in the light of a capital game. The aged earl and his middle-aged son-in-law appeared to be on strained terms. The poor goose never suspected why. Lord E. insisted on her
sitting in his wife's place at table-and still she suspected nothing.
One night, she told us, shrieking with laughter as at the height of the grotesque, Lord E. mistook her room for the nursery, and entered it in his shirt. Not the faintest feeling of anger or fear on the part of this blind, silly maid. All she did was to go into convulsions of laughter, "because he looked so ugly and so ridiculous." But it was still part of the high old game of life, where everything happens to send one into fits of laughter. That tears, that trouble, that shame and blighting misery lay in wait for her, this radiant, unconscious, ignorant, and foolish innocent could not then suspect.
We, too, thought it a splendid game, laughed heartily at the ridiculous figure she described Lord E. as cutting in his nightshirt, agreed with her that the old earl was a monstrous old fool to go skipping in that absurd way down the park avenues with her, putting his hand upon his heart, sighing and talking in a wild incoherent way about "the loveliest girl on earth," whom Molly, the least vain of creatures, never for one moment suspected was herself. For she was far too busy laughing at people to understand them. You had but to stand solemnly before her, and say, "It's a wet day," and off she was on a ringing cascade. What you said she probably did not understand in the least; but the expression of your eye, the
tone of your voice, made her laugh.
And so the infamous nature of the pursuit of the earl and his son-in-law quite escaped her, and neither the diamond bracelet, nor Lord E. in his shirt at night in her room, awoke the faintest throb of alarm. All this to her and us was part of the eternal joke of nature. And a very, very few years afterwards, I learned, one who had loved her well and sought her far discovered her at night in the vicinity of the Haymarket, with paint upon her cheeks and lips, and the fatal brightness of consumption looking out of her hollow violet eyes.
My remembrance of the rest of my stay at Lysterby fades away upon the heavy perfume of incense in the cold aisles of the cathedral, whither we were conducted by the nuns for the breathlessly interesting offices of Holy Week. It is a long dream of sombre tones and solemn notes, which I followed in a passionate absorption in the "Offices of Holy Week," printed in Latin and English, for which I paid the sum of four shillings. I studied those offices so diligently, followed them so accurately, that afterwards I could detect to a movement, a note, a Latin word, any error or omission in the Lenten services of the procathedral of Dublin, where I must say the rites struck me as shorn of all impressiveness.
But at Lysterby the functions were rigidly correct. The evening office of Tenebræ was
a funereal delight. vices of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday were religious excitements on which to live for months. I shut my eyes, even now in middle age, and I see again the long grey cathedral aisles dim in taper-light, altars hung in black, and the lean aristocratic visage of Father More above the surplice and violet stole, and I hear him chant in his thin, melodious voice, "Oremus, flectamus genua!” and listen again for the response, "Levate!"
I cannot precisely define my sensations in this period. Religion with me was nothing but an intense emotion nourished upon incense, music, taper-lit gloom, and a mysterious sense of the intangible. It was in the fullest meaning of the word sensuous; but while its attraction lasted, nothing I have since known could be compared with it for intensity. While under its spell, you seem to float in the air, to touch the wings of the angels, to be yourself part of the heavenly sphere you aspire to attain. Rapture itself is a mean enough word to define your emotions. And then you come back to earth with a sense of unspeakable deception and surprise. You feel hungry, and loathe yourself for the vulgar need. Your ear is buffeted by loud earthly sounds instead of the roll of the organ and the monotonous solemnity of Gregorian chant.
To realise this is to understand how so many sentimental, virtuous, and sensuous souls
seek oblivion of life in religious excitement. It is a mental and moral mixture of opium and alcohol extremely soothing to the bruised consciousness, a gentle diversion in commonplace cares that poor humanity must not be begrudged; though, as George Eliot has finely said, it is proof of strength to live and do well without this narcotic.
The return to Ireland coincides with the outbreak of the Franco-German war. A mist hangs over those terrible months, but Dublin I remember was French to a man. Every
morning my eldest sister marched us off to mass to pray for the French, and we wept profusely over each tragic telegram. Our hero Edmond was over there, fighting and lying with equal gallantry. Several noble dames had tended his wounds and offered to marry him, and he escaped from prison with the assistance of the jailer's daughter, who loved him despairingly. I recall our awed inspection of several helmets and swords brought back from the war by a quantity of heroic young Irishmen who professed to have laid the Germans low on countless occasions. I do not now know what they did out there, for there is always a great deal of Tartarin, an atmosphere of Tarascon, about the Irishman returned from abroad. But we all went down in a glorified body, dressed in our very best, to assist at the arrival of Marshal M'Mahon and his wife, who came all the way from far off France to
thank us for what they had or had not done.
Here, at the age of twelve, my childhood ends, and youth, troubled youth, begins.
To stand upon the hill-top and cast a glance of retrospection down the long path travelled in all its excess of light and shadow; impenetrable darkness massed against a luminous haze through which rays of blazing glory filter, each one striking upon memory shock of prismatic hues, until the eye reaches as far back as the start from the valley,-how astonished we are at the unevenness of the road! So brilliant, so ineffectual for most of us, is this dear thing called Youth! The uneasy flutter from the nest, the wild throb of pulses, now for ever tamed, at each sharp encounter with fate; the courage, the hope, the passion-alas! how futile and how sad to eyes in middle life that see the inexorable word "failure" written across that splendid tear-blotted page of strife, of yearning, of frailty and endeavour. Seen from the hill - top, how small the big stones are that broke our path! How easy it might have been to skirt the thorn-bushes and brambles, instead of tearing an impulsive way through them, and falling so repeatedly on bleeding face and hands!
Impatience and panting courage have served to carry us through the unequal battle, and now, resting in the equable tones of middle life, how sweet a wonder seem the blackness,
the purple, the golden lights of youth! We sit in the unemotional shade, and slake our thirst for the old joys and sorrows by fondly recalling the ghosts of dead hours and dead dreams, of forgotten faiths and dim remembered faces; and though we may not desire to relive each year with its burden of pains and pangs, surely we may tell ourselves that it is good to have lived those past years, even if tears seem the most prominent part of our inheritance.
Then, however sad the living moment, we still had the consolation of that beautiful and vision-bearing word "To-morrow." In youth, sorrow fells us to to-day, and joy awakes us to-morrow. It is always-Land may be in sight to-morrow!
The night is dark, but hope dances blithely through our veins with the delicious assurance that to-morrow brings the sun. The world is empty, but vague dreams tell us that tomorrow love will cross our path and fill the universe. Hope is the magician that waved us forward and carried us recklessly through briar and bramble, with undaunted confidence in life, in ourselves, and in all things around us. Each fall was ever the last, each pang the precursor of eternal happiness.
And now it is over. Hope's magic wand for us is broken, and she has folded her wings and dropped into slumber that wakens not again; henceforth our best friend is drab - robed content.