MISS LLOYD'S FOIBLES.
As we have said so much of Miss Lloyd, we shall glance at one or two more of her peculiarities.
The facility with which Miss Lloyd fell in love with every eligible young man — and occasionally with an eligible old one — that came in her way, was something marvellous, and a source of great anxiety to her family and friends. Her being still in the land of the living was a matter of daily wonderment to her sympathizing sisters — "poor Henrietta" was so often on the point of dying of a broken heart. The defection of a young ensign of nineteen produced such an effect upon her, that she spent twenty-four hours "from one fainting fit into another" — we quote the words of her own mother; and she was known to have taken to her bed for three weeks because of the heartlessness of a widower of sixty-five who had been particular in his attentions on the occasion of his grand-daughter's marriage, Miss Lloyd being one of the bridesmaids. But Miss Henrietta Lloyd's strong point was curiosity — an all-absorbing inquisitiveness about other people and their affairs. The passion — for with her it amounted to a passion — bore down everything before it. All sense of propriety, all fear of consequences vanished like dew, in the intense heat of her desire to know what her neighbours were about. Listening at windows, dropping in uninvited at unseasonable times, stopping servants in the streets, and catechising butchers' boys, were everyday occurrences with Miss Lloyd. She had been known to rush across the street at eleven at night, and knock at Doctor Cusack's door, merely because her maid had remarked that a car had stopped there from which a man with a travelling bag had alighted. The doctor — thinking it was his assistant, whom he had sent with two bread pills to the parson's mother-in-law, who had taken suddenly ill — opened the door; and Miss Lloyd found herself face to face with an elderly gentleman in his night shirt, and was greeted at the same moment with a cheer from three young gentlemen of the Rev. Mr. Labart's academy, who had been making a night of it at the hotel before resuming their studies after vacation.
Miss Lloyd would slip into the kitchen for a confab with the cook during the progress of a dinner-party upstairs, her not being invited to which was meant as a deliberate slight. And we blush to say that even the apartments of single young men had no terrors for Miss Lloyd when her inquisitiveness was aroused, and could only be gratified by bearding the bachelor in his hall.
Yet, strange to say, the lady's fair fame never suffered from these peccadilloes. Her immunity in this respect, however, was partly owing to the fact that she belonged to that class of fair ones into whose "lug" the Scottish poet begged leave to whisper —
"Ye're aiblins nae temptation,"
and partly because she was a very rhinoceros to those shafts which usually wound so deeply, but which are so seldom discharged except when they can wound.
From these glimpses of Miss Lloyd's character the reader must have anticipated that two of her foibles combined to bring her this evening to Ballinaclash.
She had been on thorns during the week to get a look at Mr. Lowe; and when Mrs. Hanly met her in the main street of Kilthubber, and casually remarked that her girls were going to tea to Mr. Kearney's in the evening, Miss Lloyd eagerly offered to accompany her home: This Mrs. Hanly really looked upon as an honour, and thought it a most unfortunate circumstance that she had come to town on the public car and was to return by the same conveyance.
"The girls," she remarked, "were returning one or two visits in the morning, and I thought it would be too late to wait for the carriage. So I took a seat on the mail car."
"Oh, no matter, my dear Mrs. Hanly," returned Miss Lloyd, "it will be quite pleasant. I know the driver of the mail car very well. That was Mr. Labart's new servant from Dublin that was on the car with you. I have not seen her yet; but I'm told she has excellent discharges from her two last places. So, my dear Mrs. Hanly, come up and I'll be ready in a minute."
Mrs. Hanly, in the innocence of her heart, thought it would be necessary to send an apology to Miss Kearney; as, of course, her daughters could not think of leaving so distinguished a visitor as Miss Lloyd alone with herself during the evening. But Miss Lloyd at once removed that difficulty by announcing her intention of going with them.
"To be sure," said she, "I'm not personally acquainted with them, but that makes no difference. I know their brother, the doctor, who is a great friend of Robert's: but I believe he is in Dublin."
"Oh, he is at home," replied Rose Hanly. "We passed him a few hours ago in the bog. I wish you saw him."
And Rose glanced at her sister, who, so far from joining in the laugh, looked quite huffed that her admirer should be made sport of in such a manner.
"He is an elegant young man," Miss Lloyd observed, gravely; "and waltzes admirably. He was at the last race ball. I'll be delighted to meet him."
Miss Lloyd was fastening a bracelet on her wrist in a nervous, fidgety manner, and had several pins in her mouth while she was speaking.
"Oh, I am most unfortunate," she exclaimed, tumbling various small articles out of her bag on the floor. " I fear I have lost my charms."
" 'Pon my word, Miss Lloyd, that is a misfortune; and one that few would suspect you in danger of —
"'Vacuus cantat coram latrone viator.'"
The young lady started, and with a terrified look towards the door, whence the sound proceeded, ran for protection to Kathleen, and grasped her convulsively by the arm.
"Why do you come up here, sir? What business have you in our room?" exclaimed Rose, quite in a shrewish tone.
"To tell you that the car is at the door, and not to keep the pony standing in the cold."
"Oh!" gasped Miss Lloyd, with her hand pressed against her left side, "what a dreadful voice he has!"
"I'm always at him about it," said Rose, "but I can get no good of him. And somehow you never know he's there till he speaks. He startles ourselves now as much as anybody else, as he has been at school for two years without coming home. But he's very clever," she added, evidently proud of the fact. "He took first prizes in classics. I believe that's Greek he's after talking now."
"Oh, I hope he won't talk any more Greek to me," said Miss Lloyd, drawing a long breath. "A few more such shocks would knock me up completely."
"You'll get used to it," said Rose. "In fact, it wouldn't be half so bad if you were prepared for it. But let us hurry, and not leave the poor pony to be frozen to death."
"I can't get any good of it," said Miss Lloyd despairingly.
One side of her hair was so obstinately in curl that she couldn't brush it out, and the other side was so hopelessly out of curl that she couldn't twist it in. With Kathleen's assistance, however, she fixed it somehow, and on hearing Lory rushing up the stairs again, they hurried out of the room.
"We're ready," exclaimed Rose, putting her hand on her brother's mouth, to save Miss Lloyd's nerves from another shock.
And now we find the last-mentioned lady with her elbow resting upon Mary Kearney's piano, and feeling her hair with the tips of her fingers, for the double purpose of displaying her bracelet to the best advantage, and satisfying herself as to how the refractory curl was behaving itself.
She was losing all patience at seeing Mr. Lowe throwing away so much of his time talking to "that pert little thing," while she, Henrietta Lloyd, was there for the express purpose of talking to him.
But when Rose Hanly was asked to sing, and Grace made way for her, Miss Lloyd could no longer conceal her ineffable disgust.
"Oh, really," she exclaimed, "ye are all musically mad." To her great relief, however, the tea-tray appeared just as the song had concluded. And her good humour was quite restored when she saw they were to have tea sitting sociably round the table. Miss Lloyd shone with peculiar brilliancy at the tea table; and she now hastened to take up a position from which she could direct her fire on Mr. Lowe through Mrs. Kearney.
"Where do you get your tea, Mrs. Kearney?" she began. "We get ours at Phelin's," she continued, without waiting for a reply. "Mr. Hemphill recommended us to get it there."
Poor Mr. Lowe was already beginning to feel quite uncomfortable, for the lady never turned her eyes from his face for a moment.
"What strange things people will say, Mrs. Kearney?"
Mr. Lowe looked at her inquiringly, for, from the direct stare with which she regarded him, he expected she was about accusing him of saying strange things. To his great relief, however, she continued:
"It was said in Phelin's shop that we had no fortunes."
Mr. Lowe sought relief in the bottom of his tea-cup, but failed to find it, for he felt the eyes were upon him.
"But, Mrs. Kearney, you may tell any one that asks that we have fortunes. I have two thousand, and my sisters a thousand each."
Mr. Lowe tried balancing his spoon on his finger, but the relief it afforded was only partial and temporary.
"Mr. Hemphill's son is after coming home. I have not seen him yet; but I'm told he is an elegant young man."
Look sharp, Mr. Lowe! Make your hay while the sun shines!
He meditated bolting from the room, but felt as if be couldn't — as if she "held him with her glittering eye," like the Ancient Mariner.
"And Robert tells me," continued Miss Lloyd, "that Mr. Hemphill is extremely intellectual."
The idea that Bob Lloyd had ever used such a phrase as "extremely intellectual" was so good a joke that both Hugh and Richard found it difficult to refrain from laughing.
But it must not be suspected that Miss Lloyd was drawing upon her imagination. She merely had recourse to a euphemism, which was her practice when quoting her brother's observations. In this instance Bob did say, in reply to a question of hers, that young Hemphill was a "bloody clever fellow," and this expression Miss Lloyd merely translated into "extremely intellectual."
"I know his brother," said Lory, from the opposite end of the table.
Miss Lloyd was in the act of putting her cup to her lips, and staring at Mr. Lowe over the brim, when Lory's remark, innocent as it may seem in print, knocked the cup out of her hand as effectually as if he had flung a projectile at it with unerring aim.
The shock was felt more or less by all present; but when they saw Miss Lloyd with her hand in the same position as when the cup flew from it, apparently unable to move, and staring at Lory as if he had knocked the wits out of her too, a laugh that could not be suppressed went round the table. And when the nervous lady at length leant back in her chair and said faintly, "That boy is dreadful," Mr. Lowe blessed Lory in his heart for drawing her eyes upon himself.
Mrs. Kearney took the broken tea-cup in her hand; and the good woman was inconsolable. She had not even the melancholy consolation of telling how her uncle Dan admired the pattern of this particular set; for Richard suggested a dance at the moment, which caused a general movement among the company, and Mrs. Kearney gently laid the broken cup on the tray with a sigh.