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- Celibates - 50/57 -
'Oh, how very dreadful,' said Lady Castlerich, 'Agnes must come to my shootin' party.'
'Father White--the priest you saw here just now--brought her home. Fortunately he took our side, and he told Agnes she must see the world; it would be time enough a year hence to think if she had a vocation.'
'Mother dear, he said six months.'
'What, are you tired of us already, Agnes?'
'No, mother, but--' Agnes hung down her head.
'Agnes must come to my shootin' party, we must find a young man for her, there is Mr. Moulton, or would you like Mr. St. Clare better? I hope, Mr. Moulton, you'll be able to come to Morelands on the twenty- fifth.'
Mr. Moulton said that nothing would give him more pleasure, and feeling that Lady Castlerich intended that his charms should for ever obliterate Agnes' conventual aspiration he leaned towards her and asked her if she knew Yorkshire. Morelands was in Yorkshire. His conversation was, however, interrupted by Lady Castlerich, who said in her clear cracked voice:
'We must put Agnes in the haunted room amid the tapestries.'
'No, no, don't frighten her,' whispered the Major.
'But, father, I am not so easily frightened as that.'
'Who haunts the tapestry-room?'
'A nun, dear, so they say; Morelands was a monastery once--a nunnery, I mean. The monastery was opposite.'
'That was convenient,' giggled Mr. Moulton.
'And why does the nun haunt the tapestries?'
'Ah, my dear, that I can't tell you.'
'Perhaps the nun was a naughty nun,' suggested Mr. Moulton. 'Are there no naughty nuns in your convent?'
'Oh, no, not in my convent, all the sisters are very good, you cannot imagine how good they are,' said Agnes, and she looked out of eyes so pale and so innocent that he almost felt ashamed.
'But what a strange idea that was of yours, Agnes,' said Miss Dare across the table, 'to want to shut yourself up for ever among a lot of women, with nothing else to do but to say prayers.'
'You think like that because you do not know convent life. There is, I assure you, plenty to do, plenty to think about.'
'Fancy, they hardly ever speak, only at certain hours,' said Mrs. Lahens.
'It is the getting up at four o'clock in the morning that seems to me the worst part,' said Miss Dare.
'The monotony,' said St. Clare, 'must be terrible; always the same faces, never seeing anything new, knowing that you will never see anything else.'
Agnes listened to these objections eagerly. 'The nuns are not sad at all,' she said. 'If you saw them playing at ball in the garden you would see that they were quite as happy as those who live in the world. I don't know if you are sad in the world; I don't know the world, but I can assure you that there is no sadness in the convent.'
Agnes paused and looked round. Every one was listening, and it was with difficulty she was induced to speak again.... Then in answer to her mother's questions, she said:
'We have our occupations and our interests. They would seem trivial enough to you, but they interest us and we are happy.'
'There must be,' said Lilian, 'satisfaction in having something definite to do, to know where you are going and what you are striving for. We don't know what we are striving for or where we are going. And the trouble we give ourselves! Say what you will, it is something to be spared all that.'
'Yet if we asked the ordinary man,' said Harding, 'what he'd do if he had ten thousand a year, he would answer that he would do nothing. But he may not. The only man who does nothing is the man who suddenly acquires ten thousand a year; he tries to live on his income; he doesn't, he dies of it.'
'And those who are born rich?' asked Moulton.
'They work hard enough, and their work is the hardest of all, their work is amusement. For by some strange misunderstanding all the most tedious and unsatisfactory means of distraction, are termed amusement, betting, gambling, travelling, dinner-parties, love-making. Whereas the valid and sufficient form of distraction, earning your livelihood by the sweat of your brow, is designated by the unpleasant word Labour.'
'But if you are fortunate in love, you're happy,' said old Lady Castlerich, 'I think I have made my lovers happy.'
Harding laughed. 'Happy! for how long?'
'That depends. Love is not a joy that lasts for ever,' the old lady added with a chuckle.
'But did no woman make you happy, Mr. Harding?' asked Lilian, and she fixed her round, prominent eyes upon him.
'The woman who gives most happiness gives most pain. The man who leaves an adoring mistress at midnight suffers most. A few minutes of distracted happiness as he drives home. He falls asleep thanking God that he will see her at midday. But he awakes dreading a letter putting him off. He listens for the footstep of a messenger boy.'
'If she doesn't disappoint him?'
'She will disappoint him sooner or later.'
'I have never disappointed you,' said Lilian, still looking at Harding.
'But you have not been to see me.'
'No; I've not been to see you,' she replied, and played distractedly with some dried fruit on her plate.
'These are confessions,' said Lady Castlerich, laughing.
'Confessions of missed opportunities,' said Moulton.
'So, then, your creed is that love cannot endure,' said Lord Chadwick.
'The love that endures is the heaviest burden of all,' Harding replied incautiously. A silence fell over the lunch table, and all feared to raise their eyes lest they should look at Mrs. Lahens and Lord Chadwick.
'I suppose you are right,' said Mrs. Lahens. 'It is not well that anything should outlive its day. But sometimes it happens so. But look,' she exclaimed, laughing nervously, 'how Agnes is listening to St. Clare. Those two were made for each other. Celibacy and Work. Which is Celibacy and which is Work?'
'I think, Olive,' said the Major, 'that you are rather hard upon the girl. You forget that she has only just come from school and doesn't understand,'
'My dear Major,' said Mrs. Lahens, and her voice was full of contempt for her husband, 'is it you or I who has to take Agnes into society? As I told you before, Agnes will have to accept society as it is. She won't find her convent in any drawing-room I know, and the sooner she makes up her mind on that point, the better for her and the better for us.'
'Society will listen for five minutes,' said Lilian, 'to tales of conventual innocence.'
'And be interested in them,' said Lord Chadwick, 'as in an account of the last burlesque.'
'With this difference,' said Moulton, 'that society will go to the burlesque, but not to the convent.'
Agnes glanced at her mother, seeing very distinctly the painted, worldly face. That her mother should speak so cruelly to her cut her to the heart: and she longed to rush from the room--from all these cruel, hateful people; another word and she would have been unable to refrain, but in the few seconds which had appeared an eternity to Agnes, the conversation suddenly changed. Lilian Dare had returned to the idea expressed by Harding that he had only found happiness in work, and this was St. Clare's opportunity to speak of the opera he was writing.
'In the first act barbarians are making a raft.'
'What are they making the raft for?' asked Lady Castlerich.
'To get to the other side of a lake. They have no women, and they hope to rob the folk on the other side of theirs.'
St. Clare explained the various motives he was to employ; the motive of aspiration, or the woman motive, was repeated constantly on the horns during the building of the raft. St. Clare sang the motive. It was with this motive that he began the prelude. Then came two variations on the motive, and then the motive of jealousy. St. Clare was eager to explain the combinations of instruments he intended to employ, and the effect of his trumpets at a certain moment, but the servant was handing round coffee and liqueurs, and the story of what happened to the women who were carried off on the raft had to be postponed. St. Clare looked disappointed. But he was in a measure consoled when Lady Castlerich told him that they'd go through the opera together when he came to stay with her for her shooting party.
'Won't you sing something, Lilian?' said Mrs. Lahens, as they went
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