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A Prisoner in Fairyland

Chapter 25
And also there's a little star--
So white, a virgin's it must be;--
Perhaps the lamp my love in heaven
Hangs out to light the way for me.
Song, THEOPHILE MARZIALS.
In this corner of Bourcelles the houses lie huddled together with an air of
something shamefaced; they dare not look straight at the mountains or at the
lake; they turn their eyes away even from the orchards at the back. They wear a
mysterious and secret look, and their shoulders have a sly turn, as though they
hid their heads in the daytime and stirred about their business only after dark.
They lie grouped about a cobbled courtyard that has no fountain in it. The fair
white road goes quickly by outside, afraid to look in frankly; and the entrance to
the yard is narrow. Nor does a single tree grow in it. If Bourcelles could have a
slum, this would be it.
Why the old lady had left her cosy quarters in Les Glycines and settled down in
this unpleasant corner of the village was a puzzle to everybody. With a shrug of
the shoulders the problem was generally left unsolved. Madame Jequier
discussed it volubly a year ago when the move took place, then dismissed it as
one of those mysteries of old people no one can understand. To the son-in-law
and the daughter, who got nearer the truth, it was a source of pain and sadness
beyond their means of relief. Mrs. 'Plume'--it was a play in French upon her real
name,--had been four years in the Pension, induced to come from a lonely
existence in Ireland by her daughter and throw in her lot with the family, and at
first had settled down comfortably enough. She was over seventy, and
possessed 80 pounds a year--a dainty, witty, amusing Irish lady, with twinkling
eyes and a pernicketty strong will, and a brogue she transferred deliciously into
her broken French. She loved the children, yet did not win their love in return,
because they stood in awe of her sarcastic criticisms. Life had gone hardly with
her; she had lost her fortune and her children, all but this daughter, with whose
marriage she was keenly disappointed. An aristocrat to the finger-tips, she could
not accept the change of circumstances; distress had soured her; the
transplanting hastened her decline; there was no sweetness left in her. She
turned her heart steadily against the world.
The ostensible cause of this hiding herself away with her sorrow and
disappointment was the presence of Miss Waghorn, with whom she disagreed,
and even quarrelled, from morning till night. They formed a storm-centre that
moved from salon to dining-room, and they squabbled acutely about everything--
the weather, the heating, the opening or shutting of windows, the details of the
food, the arrangement of the furniture, even the character of the cat. Miss
Waghorn loved. The bickerings were incessant. They only had to meet for hot
disagreement to break out. Mrs. Plume, already bent with age, would strike the
floor with the ebony stick she always carried, and glare at the erect, defiant
 
 
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