Read CHAPTER XXII of April's Lady A Novel , free online book, by Margaret Wolfe Hungerford, on ReadCentral.com.

“So over violent, or over civil!”
“A man so various.”

“Dull looking day,” says Dicky Browne, looking up from his broiled kidney to glare indignantly through the window at the gray sky.

“It can’t be always May,” says Beauclerk cheerfully, whose point it is to take ever a lenient view of things. Even to heaven itself he is kind, and holds out a helping hand.

“I expect it is we ourselves who are dull,” says Lady Baltimore, looking round the breakfast table, where now many vacant seats make the edges bare. Yesterday morning Miss Maliphant left. To-day the Clontarfs, and one or two strange men from the barracks in the next town. Desertion indeed seems to be the order of the day. “We grow very small,” says she. “How I miss people when they go away.”

“Do you mean that as a liberal bribe for the getting rid of the rest of us,” says Dicky, who is now devoting himself to the hot scones. “If so, let me tell you it isn’t good enough. I shall stay here until you choose to cross the channel. I don’t want to be missed.”

“That will be next week,” says Lady Baltimore. “I do beseech all here present not to forsake me until then.”

“I must deny your prayer,” says Lady Swansdown. “These tiresome lawyers of mine say they must see me on Thursday at the latest.”

“I shall meet you in town at Christmas, however,” says Lady Baltimore, making the remark a question.

“I hardly think so. I have promised the Barings to join them in Italy about then.”

“Well, here then in February.”

Lady Swansdown smiles at her hostess, but makes no audible reply.

“I suppose we ought to do something to-day,” says Lady Baltimore presently, in a listless tone. It is plain to everybody, however, that in reality she wants to do nothing. “Suggest something, Dicky.”

“Skittles,” says that youth, without hesitation. Very properly, however, no one takes any notice of him.

“I was thinking that if we went to ‘Connor’s Cross,’ it would be a nice drive,” says Lady Baltimore, still struggling with her duties as a hostess. “What do you say, Beatrice?”

“I pray you excuse me,” says Lady Swansdown. “As I leave to-morrow, I must give the afternoon to the answering of several letters, and to other things besides.”

“Connor’s Cross,” says Joyce, idly. “I’ve so often heard of it. Yet, oddly enough, I have never seen it; it is always the way, isn’t it, whenever one lives very close to some celebrated spot.”

“Celebrated or not, it is at least lovely,” says Lady Baltimore. “You really ought to see it.”

“I’ll drive you there this afternoon, Miss Kavanagh,” says Beauclerk, in his friendly way, that in public has never a tincture of tenderness about it. “We might start after luncheon. It is only about ten miles off. Eh?” to Baltimore.

“Ten,” briefly.

“I am right then,” equably; “we might easily do it in a little over an hour.”

“Hour and a half with best horse in the stables. Bad road,” says Baltimore.

“Even so we shall get there and back in excellent time,” says Beauclerk, deaf to his brother-in-law’s gruffness. “Will you come, Miss Kavanagh?”

“I should like it,” says Joyce, in a hesitating sort of way; “but ”

“Then why not go, dear?” says Lady Baltimore kindly. “The Morroghs of Creaghstown live not half a mile from it, and they will give you tea if you feel tired; Norman is a very good whip, and will be sure to have you back here in proper time.”

Dysart lifting his head looks full at Joyce.

“At that rate ” says she, smiling at Beauclerk.

“It is settled then,” says Beauclerk pleasantly. “Thank you ever so much for helping me to get rid of my afternoon in so delightful a fashion.”

“It is going to rain. It will be a wet evening,” says Dysart abruptly.

“Oh, my dear fellow! You can hardly be called a weather prophet,” says Beauclerk banteringly. “You ought to know that a settled gray sky like that seldom means rain.”

No more is said about it then, and no mention is made of it at luncheon. At half-past two precisely, however, a dog cart comes round to the hall door. Joyce running lightly down stairs, habited for a drive, meets Dysart at the foot of the staircase.

“Do not go,” says he abruptly.

“Not gonow,” with a glance at her costume.

“I didn’t believe you would go,” says he vehemently. “I didn’t believe it possibleor I should have spoken sooner. Nevertheless, at this last moment, I entreat you to give it up.”

“Impossible,” says she curtly, annoyed by his tone, which is perhaps, unconsciously, a little dictatorial.

“You refuse me?”

“It is not the question. I have said I would go. I see no reason for not going. I decline to make myself foolish in the eyes of everybody by drawing back at the last moment.”

“You have forgotten everything then.”

“I don’t know,” coldly, “that there is anything to remember.”

“Oh!” bitterly, “not so far as I am concerned. I count for nothing. I allow that. But heI fancied you had at least read him.”

“I think, perhaps, there was nothing to read,” says she, lowering her eyes.

“If you can think that, it is useless my saying anything further.”

He moves to one side as if to let her pass, but she hesitates. Perhaps she would have said something to soften her decisionbuta rare thing with him, he loses his temper. Seeing her standing there before him, so sweet, so lovely, so indifferent, as he tells himself, his despair overcomes him.

“I have a voice in this matter,” says he, frowning heavily. “I forbid you to go with that fellow.”

A sharp change crosses Miss Kavanagh’s face. All the sudden softness dies out of it. She stoops leisurely, and disengaging the end of the black lace round her throat from an envious banister that would have detained her, without further glance or word for Dysart, she goes up the hall and through the open doorway. Beauclerk, who has been waiting for her outside, comes forward. A little spring seats her in the cart. Beauclerk jumps in beside her. Another moment sees them out of sight.

The vagrant sun, that all day long had been coming and going in fitful fashion, has suddenly sunk behind the thunderous gray cloud that, rising from the sea, now spreads itself o’er hill and vale. The light has died out of the sky; dull muttering sounds come rumbling down from the distant mountains. The vast expanse of barren bog upon the left has become almost obscure. Here and there a glint of its watery wastes may be seen, but indistinctly, giving the eye a mournful impression of “lands forlorn.”

A strange hot quiet seems to have fallen upon the trembling earth.

“We often see, against some storm.
A silence in the heavens, the rack stand still,
The bold wind speechless, and the orb below
Is hushed as death.”

Just now that “boding silence reigns.” A sense of fear falls on Joyce, she scarcely knows why, as her companion, with a quick lash of the whip, urges the horse up the steep hill. They are still several miles from their destination, and, though it is only four o’clock, it is no longer day. The heavens are black as ink, the trees are shivering in expectant misery.

“What is it?” says Joyce, and even as she asks the question it is answered. The storm is upon them in all its fury. All at once, without an instant’s warning, a violent downpour of rain comes from the bursting clouds, threatening to deluge them.

“We are in for it,” says Beauclerk in a sharp, short tone, so unlike his usual dulcet accents that even now, in her sudden discomfort, it startles her. The rain is descending in torrents, a wild wind has arisen. The light has faded, and now the day resembles nothing so much as the dull beginning of a winter’s night.

“Have you any idea where we are?” asks Beauclerk presently.

“None. You know I told you I had never been here before. But youyou must have some knowledge of it.”

“How should I? These detestable Irish isolations are as yet unknown paths to me.”

“But I thought you saidyou gave me the impression that you knew Connor’s Cross.”

“I regret it if I did,” shortly. The rain is running down his neck by this time, leaving a cold, drenched collar to add zest to his rising ill temper. “I had heard of Connor’s Cross. I never saw it. I devoutly hope,” with a snarl, “I never shall.”

“I don’t think you are likely to,” says Joyce, whose own temper is beginning to be ruffled.

“Well, this is a sell,” says Beauclerk. He is buttoning up a heavy ulster round his handsome form. He is very particular about the fastening of the last buttonthat one that goes under the chinand having satisfactorily accomplished it, and found, by a careful moving backward and forward of his head, that it is comfortably adjusted, it occurs to him to see if his companion is weather-proof.

“Got wraps enough?” asks he. “No, by Jove! Here, put on this,” dragging a warm cloak of her own from under the seat and offering it to her with all the air of one making a gift. “What is it? Coatcloakulster? One never knows what women’s clothes are meant for.”

“To cover them,” says Joyce calmly.

“Well, put it on. By Jove, how it pours! All right now?” having carelessly flung it round her, without regard for where her arms ought to go through the sleeves. “Think you can manage the rest by yourself? So beastly difficult to do anything in a storm like this, with this brute tugging at the reins and the rain running up one’s sleeve.”

“I can manage it very well myself, thank you,” says Joyce, giving up the finding of the sleeves as a bad job; after a futile effort to discover their whereabouts she buttons the cloak across her chest and sits beside him, silent but shivering. A little swift, wandering thought of Dysart makes her feel even colder. If he had been there! Would she be thus roughly entreated? Nay, rather would she not have been a mark for tenderest care, a precious charge entrusted to his keeping. A thing beloved and therefore to be cherished.

“Look there,” says she, suddenly lifting her head and pointing a little to the right. “Surely, even through this denseness, I see lights. Is it a village?”

“Yesa village, I should say,” grimly. “A hamlet rather. Would you,” ungraciously, “suggest our seeking shelter there?”

“I think it must be the village called ‘Falling,’” says she, too pleased at her discovery to care about his gruffness, “and if so, the owner of the inn there was an old servant of my father’s. She often comes over to see Barbara and the children, and though I have never come here to see her, I know she lives somewhere in this part of the world. A good creature she is. The kindest of women.”

“An inn,” says Beauclerk, deaf to the virtues of the old servant, the innkeeper, but altogether alive to the fact that she keeps an inn. “What a blessed oasis in our wilderness! And it can’t be more than half a mile away. Why,” recovering his usual delightful manner, “we shall find ourselves housed in no time. I do hope, my dear girl, you are comfortable! Wrapped up to the chin, eh? Quite rightquite right. After all, the poor driver has the worst of it. He must face the elements, whatever happens. Now you, with your dear little chin so cosily hidden from the wind and rain, and with hardly a suspicion of the blast I am fighting, make a charming picturereally charming! Ah, you girls! you have the best of it beyond doubt! And why not? It is the law of natureweak woman and strong man! You know those exquisite lines ”

“Can’t that horse go faster?” said Miss Kavanagh, breaking in on this little speech in a rather ruthless manner. “Lapped in luxury, as you evidently believe me, I still assure you I should gladly exchange my present condition for a good wholesome kitchen fire.”

“Always practical. Your charmone of them,” says Mr. Beauclerk. But he takes the hint, nevertheless, and presently they draw up before a small, dingy place of shelter.

Not a man is to be seen. The village, a collection of fifty houses, when all is told, is swept and garnished. A few geese are stalking up the street, uttering creaking noises. Some ducks are swimming in a glad astonishment down the muddy streams running by the edges of the curbstones. Such a delicious wealth of filthy water has not been seen in Falling for the past three dry months.

“The deserted village with a vengeance,” says Beauclerk. He has risen in his seat and placed his whip in the stand with a view of descending and arousing the inhabitants of this Sleepy Hollow, when a shock head is thrust out of the inn ("hotel,” rather, as is painted on a huge sign over the door) and being instantly withdrawn again with a muttered “Och-a-yea,” is followed by a shriek for:

“Mrs. ConnollyMrs. Connolly, ma’am! Sure, ’tis yourself that’s wanted! Come down, I tell ye! There’s ginthry at the door, an’ the rain peltin’ on em like the divil. Come down, I’m tellin’ ye! Or fegs they’ll go on to Paddy Sheehan’s, an’ thin where’ll ye be? Och, murdher! Where are ye, at all, at all? ‘Tis ruined ye’ll be intirely wid the stayin’ of ye!”

“Arrah, hould yer whisht, y’omadhaun o’ the world,” says another voice, and in a second a big, buxom, jolly, hearty-looking woman appears on the threshold, peering a little suspiciously through the gathering gloom at the dog cart outside. First she catches sight of the crest and coronet, and a gleam of pleased intelligence brightens her face. Then, lifting her eyes, she meets those of Joyce, and the sudden pleasure gives way to actual and honest joy.

“It is Mrs. Connolly,” says Joyce, in a voice that is supposed to accompany a smile, but has in reality something of tears in it.

Mrs. Connolly, regardless of the pelting rain and her best cap, takes a step forward.