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Great Short Stories by English and Irish Women
By CANDACE WARD
Dover Publications, Inc.Copyright © 2007 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
THE LIMERICK GLOVES
Maria Edgeworth (c. 1767–1849)
It was Sunday morning, and a fine day in autumn; the bells of Hereford Cathedral rang, and all the world, smartly dressed, were flocking to church.
"Mrs. Hill! Mrs. Hill!—Phoebe! Phoebe! There's the cathedral bell, I say, and neither of you ready for church, and I a verger," cried Mr. Hill, the tanner, as he stood at the bottom of his own staircase. "I'm ready, papa," replied Phoebe; and down she came, looking so clean, so fresh, and so gay, that her stern father's brows unbent, and he could only say to her, as she was drawing on a new pair of gloves, "Child, you ought to have had those gloves on before this time of day."
"Before this time of day!" cried Mrs. Hill, who was now coming downstairs completely equipped—"before this time of day! She should know better, I say, than to put on those gloves at all: more especially when going to the cathedral."
"The gloves are very good gloves, as far as I see," replied Mr. Hill. "But no matter now. It is more fitting that we should be in proper time in our pew, to set an example, as becomes us, than to stand here talking of gloves and nonsense."
He offered his wife and daughter each an arm, and set out for the cathedral; but Phoebe was too busy in drawing on her new gloves, and her mother was too angry at the sight of them, to accept of Mr. Hill's courtesy. "What I say is always nonsense, I know, Mr. Hill," resumed the matron: "but I can see as far into a millstone as other folks. Was it not I that first gave you a hint of what became of the great dog that we lost out of our tan-yard last winter? And was it not I who first took notice to you, Mr. Hill, verger as you are, of the hole under the foundation of the cathedral? Was it not, I ask you, Mr. Hill?"
"But, my dear Mrs. Hill, what has all this to do with Phoebe's gloves?"
"Are you blind, Mr. Hill? Don't you see that they are Limerick gloves?"
"What of that?" said Mr. Hill, still preserving his composure, as it was his custom to do as long as he could, when he saw his wife was ruffled.
"What of that, Mr. Hill! why don't you know that Limerick is in Ireland, Mr. Hill?"
"With all my heart, my dear."
"Yes, and with all your heart, I suppose, Mr, Hill, you would see our cathedral blown up, some fair day or other, and your own daughter married to the person that did it; and you a verger, Mr. Hill."
"God forbid!" cried Mr. Hill; and he stopped short and settled his wig. Presently recovering himself, he added, "But, Mrs. Hill, the cathedral is not yet blown up; and our Phoebe is not yet married."
"No; but what of that, Mr. Hill? Forewarned is forearmed, as I told you before your dog was gone; but you would not believe me, and you see how it turned out in that case; and so it will in this case, you'll see, Mr. Hill."
"But you puzzle and frighten me out of my wits, Mrs. Hill," said the verger, again settling his wig. "In that case and in this case! I can't understand a syllable of what you've been saying to me this half-hour. In plain English, what is there the matter about Phoebe's gloves?"
"In plain English, then, Mr. Hill, since you can understand nothing else, please to ask your daughter Phoebe who gave her those gloves. Phoebe, who gave you those gloves?"
"I wish they were burnt," said the husband, whose patience could endure no longer. "Who gave you those cursed gloves, Phoebe?"
"Papa," answered Phoebe, in a low voice, "they were a present from Mr. Brian O'Neill."
"The Irish glover!" cried Mr. Hill, with a look of terror.
"Yes," resumed the mother; "very true, Mr. Hill, I assure you. Now, you see, I had my reasons."
"Take off the gloves directly: I order you, Phoebe," said her father, in his most peremptory tone. "I took a mortal dislike to that Mr. Brian O'Neill the first time I ever saw him. He's an Irishman, and that's enough, and too much for me. Off with the gloves, Phoebe! When I order a thing, it must be done."
Phoebe seemed to find some difficulty in getting off the gloves, and gently urged that she could not well go into the cathedral without them. This objection was immediately removed by her mother's pulling from her pocket a pair of mittens, which had once been brown, and once been whole, but which were now rent in sundry places; and which, having been long stretched by one who was twice the size of Phoebe, now hung in huge wrinkles upon her well-turned arms.
"But, papa," said Phoebe, "why should we take a dislike to him because he is an Irishman? Cannot an Irishman be a good man?"
The verger made no answer to this question, but a few seconds after it was put to him observed that the cathedral bell had just done ringing; and, as they were now got to the church door, Mrs. Hill, with a significant look at Phoebe, remarked that it was no proper time to talk or think of good men, or bad men, or Irishmen, or any men, especially for a verger's daughter.
We pass over in silence the many conjectures that were made by several of the congregation, concerning the reason why Miss Phoebe Hill should appear in such a shameful shabby pair of gloves on a Sunday. After service was ended, the verger went, with great mystery, to examine the hole under the foundation of the cathedral; and Mrs. Hill repaired, with the grocer's and the stationer's ladies, to take a walk in the Close, where she boasted to all her female acquaintance, whom she called her friends, of her maternal discretion in prevailing upon Mr. Hill to forbid her daughter Phoebe to wear the Limerick gloves.
In the meantime, Phoebe walked pensively homewards; endeavouring to discover why her father should take a mortal dislike to a man at first sight, merely because he was an Irishman; and why her mother had talked so much of the great dog which had been lost last year out of the tan-yard; and of the hole under the foundation of the cathedral! "What has all this to do with my Limerick gloves?" thought she. The more she thought, the less connection she could perceive between these things: for as she had not taken a dislike to Mr. Brian O'Neill at first sight, because he was an Irishman, she could not think it quite reasonable to suspect him of making away with her father's dog, nor yet of a design to blow up Hereford Cathedral. As she was pondering upon these matters, she came within sight of the ruins of a poor woman's house, which a few months before this time had been burnt down. She recollected that her first acquaintance with her lover began at the time of this fire; and she thought that the courage and humanity he showed, in exerting himself to save this unfortunate woman and her children, justified her notion of the possibility that an Irishman might be a good man.
The name of the poor woman whose house had been burnt down was Smith: she was a widow, and she now lived at the extremity of a narrow lane in a wretched habitation. Why Phoebe thought of her with more concern than usual at this instant we need not examine, but she did; and, reproaching herself for having neglected it for some weeks past, she resolved to go directly to see the widow Smith, and to give her a crown which she had long had in her pocket, with which she had intended to have bought play tickets.
It happened that the first person she saw in the poor widow's kitchen was the identical Mr. O'Neill. "I did not expect to see anybody here but you, Mrs. Smith," said Phoebe, blushing.
"So much the greater the pleasure of the meeting; to me, I mean, Miss Hill," said O'Neill, rising, and putting down a little boy, with whom he had been playing. Phoebe went on talking to the poor woman; and, after slipping the crown into her hand, said she would call again. O'Neill, surprised at the change in her manner, followed her when she left the house, and said, "It would be a great misfortune to me to have done anything to offend Miss Hill, especially if I could not conceive how or what it was, which is my case at this present speaking." And as the spruce glover spoke, he fixed his eyes upon Phoebe's ragged gloves. She drew them up in vain; and then said, with her natural simplicity and gentleness, "You have not done any thing to offend me, Mr. O'Neill; but you are some way or other displeasing to my father and mother, and they have forbid me to wear the Limerick gloves."
"And sure Miss Hill would not be after changing her opinion of her humble servant for no reason in life but because her father and mother, who have taken a prejudice against him, are a little contrary."
"No," replied Phoebe; "I should not change my opinion without any reason; but I have not yet had time to fix my opinion of you, Mr. O'Neill."
"To let you know a piece of my mind, then, my dear Miss Hill," resumed he, "the more contrary they are, the more pride and joy it would give me to win and wear you, in spite of 'em all; and if without a farthing in your pocket, so much the more I should rejoice in the opportunity of proving to your dear self, and all else whom it may consarn, that Brian O'Neill is no fortune-hunter, and scorns them that are so narrow-minded as to think that no other kind of cattle but them there fortune-hunters can come out of all Ireland. So, my dear Phoebe, now we understand one another, I hope you will not be paining my eyes any longer with the sight of these odious brown bags, which are not fit to be worn by any Christian arms, to say nothing of Miss Hill's, which are the handsomest, without any compliment, that ever I saw, and, to my mind, would become a pair of Limerick gloves beyond anything: and I expect she'll show her generosity and proper spirit by putting them on immediately."
"You expect, sir!" repeated Miss Hill, with a look of more indignation than her gentle countenance had ever before been seen to assume. "Expect!" "If he had said hope," thought she, "it would have been another thing: but expect! what right has he to expect?"
Now Miss Hill, unfortunately, was not sufficiently acquainted with the Irish idiom to know that to expect, in Ireland, is the same thing as to hope in England; and, when her Irish admirer said I" expect," he meant only in plain English, "I hope." But thus it is that a poor Irishman, often, for want of understanding the niceties of the English language, says the rudest when he means to say the civillest things imaginable.
Miss Hill's feelings were so much hurt by this unlucky "I expect" that the whole of his speech, which had before made some favourable impression upon her, now lost its effect: and she replied with proper spirit, as she thought, "You expect a great deal too much, Mr. O'Neill; and more than ever I gave you reason to do. It would be neither pleasure nor pride to me to be won and worn, as you were pleased to say, in spite of them all; and to be thrown, without a farthing in my pocket, upon the protection of one who expects so much at first setting out.—So I assure you, sir, whatever you may expect, I shall not put on the Limerick gloves."
Mr. O'Neill was not without his share of pride and proper spirit; nay, he had, it must be confessed, in common with some others of his countrymen, an improper share of pride and spirit. Fired by the lady's coldness, he poured forth a volley of reproaches; and ended by wishing, as he said, a good morning, for ever and ever, to one who could change her opinion, point blank, like the weathercock. "I am, miss, your most obedient; and I expect you'll never think no more of poor Brian O'Neill and the Limerick gloves."
If he had not been in too great a passion to observe anything, poor Brian O'Neill would have found out that Phoebe was not a weathercock: but he left her abruptly, and hurried away, imagining all the while that it was Phoebe, and not himself, who was in a rage. Thus, to the horseman who is galloping at full speed, the hedges, trees, and houses, seem rapidly to recede, whilst, in reality, they never move from their places. It is he that flies from them, and not they from him.
On Monday morning Miss Jenny Brown, the perfumer's daughter, came to pay Phoebe a morning visit, with face of busy joy.
"So, my dear!" said she: "fine doings in Hereford! But what makes you look so downcast? To be sure you are invited, as well as the rest of us."
"Invited where?" cried Mrs. Hill, who was present, and who could never endure to hear of an invitation in which she was not included. "Invited where, pray, Miss Jenny?"
"La! have not you heard? Why, we all took it for granted that you and Miss Phoebe would have been the first and foremost to have been asked to Mr. O'Neill's ball."
"Ball!" cried Mrs. Hill; and luckily saved Phoebe, who was in some agitation, the trouble of speaking. "Why, this is a mighty sudden thing: I never heard a tittle of it before."
"Well, this is really extraordinary! And, Phoebe, have you not received a pair of Limerick gloves?"
"Yes, I have," said Phoebe, "but what then? What have my Limerick gloves to do with the ball?"
"A great deal," replied Jenny. "Don't you know that a pair of Limerick gloves is, as one may say, a ticket to this ball? for every lady that has been asked has had a pair sent to her along with the card; and I believe as many as twenty, besides myself, have been asked this morning."
Jenny then produced her new pair of Limerick gloves, and as she tried them on, and showed how well they fitted, she counted up the names of the ladies who, to her knowledge, were to be at this ball. When she had finished the catalogue, she expatiated upon the grand preparations which it was said the widow O'Neill, Mr. O'Neill's mother, was making for the supper, and concluded by condoling with Mrs. Hill for her misfortune in not having been invited. Jenny took her leave to get her dress in readiness: "for," added she, "Mr. O'Neill has engaged me to open the ball in case Phoebe does not go; but I suppose she will cheer up and go, as she has a pair of Limerick gloves as well as the rest of us."
There was a silence for some minutes after Jenny's departure, which was broken by Phoebe, who told her mother that, early in the morning, a note had been brought to her, which she had returned unopened, because she knew, from the handwriting of the direction, that it came from Mr. O'Neill.
We must observe that Phoebe had already told her mother of her meeting with this gentleman at the poor widow's, and of all that had passed between them afterwards. This openness on her part had softened the heart of Mrs. Hill; who was really inclined to be good-natured, provided people would allow that she had more penetration than anyone else in Hereford. She was, moreover, a good deal piqued and alarmed by the idea that the perfumer's daughter might rival and outshine her own. Whilst she had thought herself sure of Mr. O'Neill's attachment to Phoebe, she had looked higher, especially as she was persuaded by the perfumer's lady to think that an Irishman could not be a bad match; but now she began to suspect that the perfumer's lady had changed her opinion of Irishmen, since she did not object to her own Jenny's leading up the ball at Mr. O'Neill's.
All these thoughts passed rapidly in the mother's mind, and, with her fear of losing an admirer for her Phoebe, the value of that admirer suddenly rose in her estimation. Thus, at an auction, if a lot is going to be knocked down to a lady who is the only person that has bid for it, even she feels discontented, and despises that which nobody covets; but if, as the hammer is falling, many voices answer to the question, "Who bids more?" then her anxiety to secure the prize suddenly rises, and, rather than be outbid, she will give far beyond its value.
"Why, child," said Mrs. Hill, "since you have a pair of Limerick gloves; and since certainly that note was an invitation to us to this ball; and since it is much more fitting that you should open the ball than Jenny Brown; and since, after all, it was very handsome and genteel of the young man to say he would take you without a farthing in your pocket, which shows that those were misinformed who talked of him as an Irish adventurer; and since we are not certain 'twas he made away with the dog, although he said its barking was a great nuisance; there is no great reason to suppose he was the person who made the hole under the foundation of the cathedral, or that he could have such a wicked thought as to blow it up; and since he must be in a very good way of business to be able to afford giving away four or five guineas' worth of Limerick gloves, and balls and suppers; and since, after all, it is no fault of his to be an Irishman, I give it as my vote and opinion, my dear, that you put on your Limerick gloves and go to this ball; and I'll go and speak to your father, and bring him round to our opinion, and then I'll pay the morning visit I owe to the widow O'Neill and make up your quarrel with Brian. Love quarrels are easy to make up, you know, and then we shall have things all upon velvet again, and Jenny Brown need not come with her hypocritical condoling face to us anymore."
Excerpted from Great Short Stories by English and Irish Women by CANDACE WARD. Copyright © 2007 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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