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   Chapter 3 No.3

Muslin By George Augustus Moore Characters: 6302

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


'And to think,' said Alice, 'that this is the very last evening we shall ever pass here!'

'I don't see why you should be so very sorry for that,' replied May; 'I should have thought that you must have had enough of the place. Why, you have been here nearly ten years! I never would have consented to remain so long as that.'

'I didn't mind; we have been very happy here, and to say good-bye, and for ever, to friends we have known so long, and who have been so good to us, seems very sad-at least, it does to me.'

'It is all very well for you,' said Olive; 'I dare say you have been happy here, you have always been the petted and spoilt child of the school. Nothing was ever too good for Alice; no matter who was wrong or what was done, Alice was sure to be right.'

'I never knew anyone so unreasonable,' said Cecilia. 'You grumble at everything, and you are always dying of jealousy of your sister.'

'That's not true, and you haven't much to talk of; after beating your brains out you only just got the prize for composition. Besides, if you like the convent as much as I dare say you do, although you aren't a Catholic, you had better stop here with my sister.'

'Oh, Olive! how can you speak to Cecilia in that horrid way? I am ashamed of you.'

'So you are going to turn against me, Alice; but that's your way. I shan't stay here.'

The retreating figure of the young girl stood out in beautiful distinctness in the pale light; behind her the soft evening swept the sea, effacing with azure the brown sails of the fishing-boats; in front of her the dresses of the girls flitted white through the sombre green of the garden.

'I am sorry,' said Cecilia, 'you spoke to her. She is put out because she didn't get a prize, and Sister Agnes told her that she nearly spoilt the play by the stupid way she played the Princess.'

'She will find that that temper of hers will stand in her way if she doesn't learn to control it,' Violet said; 'but, now she is gone, tell me, Alice, how do you think she played her part? As far as I can judge she didn't seem to put any life into it. You meant the Princess to be a sharp, cunning woman of the world, didn't you?'

'No, not exactly; but I agree with you that Olive didn't put life into it.'

'Well, anyhow, the play was a great success, and you got, dear Alice, the handsomest prize that has ever been given in the school.'

'And how do you think I did the King? Did I make him look like a man? I tried to walk just as Fred Scully does when he goes down to the stables.'

'You did the part very well, May; but I think I should like him to have been more sentimental.'

'I don't think men are sentimental-at least, not as you think they are.

I tried to copy Fred Scully.'

'My part was a mere nothing. You must write me a something, Alice, one of these days-a coquettish girl, you know, who could twist a man round her fingers. A lot of bavardage in it.'

'I suppose you'll never be able to speak English again, now you've got the prize for French conversation.'

'Sour grapes! You would like to have got it yourself. I worked hard for it. I was determined to get

it, for ma says it is of great advantage in society for a girl to speak French well.'

'Jealous! I should like to know why I should be jealous. Of what? I got all I tried for. Besides, the truth about your French prize is that you may consider yourself very fortunate, for if' (she mentioned the name of one of her schoolfellows) 'hadn't been so shy and timid, you'd have come off second best.'

The rudeness of this retort drew a sharp answer from Violet; and then, in turn, but more often simultaneously, the girls discussed the justice of the distribution. The names of an infinite number of girls were mentioned; but when, in the babbling flow of convent-gossip, a favourite nun was spoken of, one of the chatterers would sigh, and for a moment be silent.

The violet waters of the bay had darkened, and, like the separating banners of a homeward-moving procession, the colours of the sky went east and west. The girdle of rubies had melted, had become the pale red lining of a falling mantle; the large spaces of gold grew dim; orange and yellow streamers blended; lilac and blue pennons faded to deep greys; dark hoods and dark veils were drawn closer; purple was gathered like garments about the loins; the night fell, and the sky, now decorated with a crescent moon and a few stars, was filled with stillness and adoration. The day's death was exquisite, even human; and as she gazed on the beautiful corpse lowered amid the fumes of a thousand censers into an under-world, even Violet's egotism began to dream.

'The evening is lovely. I am glad; it is the last we shall pass here,' said the girl pensively, 'and all good-byes are sad.'

'Yes, we have been happy,' said May, 'and I too am sorry to leave; but then we couldn't spend our lives here. There are plenty of things to be done at home; and I suppose we shall all get married one of these days? And there will be balls and parties before we get married. I don't think that I'd care to get married all at once. Would you, Violet?'

'I don't know. Perhaps not, unless it was to someone very grand indeed.'

'Oh, would you do that? I don't think I could marry a man unless I loved him,' said May.

'Yes, but you might love someone who was very grand as well as someone who wasn't.'

'That's true enough; but then-' and May stopped, striving to readjust her ideas, which Violet's remark had suddenly disarranged. After a pause she said:

'But does your mother intend to bring you to Dublin for the season? Are you going to be presented this year?'

'I hope so. Mamma said I should be, last vacation.'

'I shall take good care that I am. The best part of the hunting will be over, and I wouldn't miss the Castle balls for anything. Do you like officers?'

The crudity of the question startled Alice, and it was with difficulty she answered she didn't know-that she had not thought about the matter.

May and Violet continued the conversation; and over the lingering waste of yellow, all that remained to tell where the sun had set, the night fell like a heavy, blinding dust, sadly and regretfully, as the last handful of earth thrown upon a young girl's grave.

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