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Never Call It Loving
The Immortal Love Story of Kitty O'Shea and Charles Parnell
By Dorothy Eden
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1966 Dorothy Eden
All rights reserved.
When Katharine twice changed her mind about the dress she would wear for dinner that night, Lucy lost her patience and spoke with the familiarity of long service, her voice tart with disapproval.
"Really, Miss Katharine, anyone would think you were entertaining royalty."
"I suppose in a way I am, Lucy. I believe that Mr. Parnell is called the uncrowned king of Ireland."
"Well, if he hasn't yet got his crown he won't object to your old blue silk."
"That's the trouble," Katharine fretted. "It is old. It's quite two years out of fashion."
"You haven't minded before. You've said you don't need new gowns, buried in the country. It's not as if the Captain likes to see his wife getting shabby."
Katharine gave a small shrug, dismissing that argument. Willie hadn't noticed for a long time what she wore, and Lucy knew that well enough, if age hadn't dimmed her faculties too much. But the old creature had always been stubbornly devoted to Willie, and wasn't likely now to admit that there was anything in him to criticise.
"Anyway, from what I've heard," Lucy went on, "you won't care for Mr. Parnell. They say he's a dour sort of a man."
"Where have you heard that, Lucy?" Katharine asked in amusement. "Who have you been gossiping with?"
"I read the newspapers, Miss Katharine. Especially since the Captain went into politics. And a fine lot of braggarts that Irish party seems to be. Always trying to upset poor Mr. Gladstone. It's a good thing they'll have the Captain to teach them manners. Now then, which dress am I to pack?"
"The brown velvet, I think, and I'll wear my topaz brooch. You're quite right, Lucy. I don't want to be dressed up for Mr. Parnell. He works so much with the poor that I don't believe it would be in good taste to look richly dressed."
"But you do pay for dressing, Miss Katharine," Lucy said wistfully.
Katharine smiled, half in amusement, half sadly.
"What, and me over the thirty and with three children! Besides I had enough of that when Willie bought me clothes he couldn't afford. And don't pretend you don't remember."
Lucy chose to ignore that and asked: "Who is to be at this grand dinner party?"
"Only a few friends. Willie and I decided not to have too many on this first occasion. The O'Gorman Mahon, of course. It was his idea. Colonel Colthurst, Colonel Nolan, Justin McCarthy. And Mr. Parnell, if he comes."
Lucy looked up, the half-folded gown in her arms.
"You mean you don't even know for sure if he's coming?"
Katharine fastened the topaz brooch in the lace at her throat, regarding it critically, then took it off and handed it to Lucy to pack.
"Mr. Parnell is an unknown quantity, Lucy, as you yourself seem to know. Perhaps he does need to be taught manners, because he hasn't answered my invitation. But I'm sure that was merely an oversight. He's a very busy man. He'll be there. After all, Willie and I are giving this dinner for him."
Why should she be so anxious to look well for a man she had never met, dressing up her over-thirty charms for him? Especially since she didn't even know if he would come. He was becoming one of the most talked-of men in the Government, and already, although he was so young, was a brilliant Parliamentarian. Yet no one seemed to know what he was like as a man. He was elusive, anti-social, an enigma. Charles Stewart Parnell. Born in Ireland thirty-four years ago; growing up at the same time as she was, he at Avondale in County Wicklow, she at Rivenhall, in Essex.
She slipped into a dream, thinking that now Rivenhall seemed like a place where it had always been summer. The swing under the yew tree, the strutting bad-tempered peacock, the white dresses of herself and her sisters sprouting like mushrooms when they had a picnic on the lawn, Lucy in her immaculately starched cap and apron coming out in the summer dusk to call that it was bedtime, the sky yellow and the trees black and the air full of the scent of roses.
Although summer had stopped the year that Papa had died. The year that Captain O'Shea, the dashing young Irish Captain in the 18th Hussars, had come courting.
He had scarcely waited for her father to be buried before wanting her to marry him. He was good-looking, charming, witty, and the best horseman in his regiment. His mother and his sister Mary were his remaining family. Although the O'Sheas were Catholics, and Katharine's father, Sir John Page Wood, had been an Anglican clergyman and Royal chaplain, none of Katharine's sisters and brothers, or her mother who had also had royal connections—she had been a Lady of the Bedchamber—had thought Captain O'Shea's religion an obstacle. Dear Katharine did not need to embrace the Catholic faith. She merely had to promise to bring up her children in it.
Dazed by her beloved father's death, she was the youngest of thirteen children and her father's favourite, Katharine had been so thankful for Willie's kindness, comfort and generosity that she had failed to distinguish between gratitude and love. She had been very young, only eighteen. But she had soon enough begun to grow older when she had discovered Willie's own immaturity, the recurring financial crises that seemed to be a permanent part of his life, the tendency he shared with a great many of his countrymen to drink too much and rely too much on his charm and wit, and, most trying of all, his quarrelsome nature. She had been completely mature by the time her third baby was born, and when it, too, had been taken by Willie and his mother, a frail old lady wrapped in exquisite Cashmere shawls and piety, to be baptised with great ceremony in the Brompton Oratory. This time she refused even to go inside the church, but stood outside, a lonely woman in her fashionable clothes, watching the pigeons wheeling and strutting, waiting for her children to be returned to her.
She had heard that Charles Parnell was a Protestant. He must be a remarkable man to have succeeded in becoming such a power in a Catholic country.
It was only recently, however, that Katharine had become aware of his existence. Although always interested in political affairs (her father had encouraged her to have a social conscience, and her uncle, Lord Hatherley, who had been made Lord Chancellor now that Mr. Gladstone's Government was back in power, frequently invited Willie and her to dinner parties), she had not followed the Irish question with deep interest until Willie himself had decided to begin a serious career at last and had stood for election at County Clare.
She knew that the Irish party had been leaderless since Mr. Isaac Butt's death, and that Charles Stewart Parnell had recently been elected in his place. Mr. Parnell had been Mr. Butt's protégé, and the old man, who with his amiable affable manners had been as popular as an Irish politician could be with the English, had written of him some years ago, "We have got a splendid recruit, an historic name, young Parnell of Wicklow, and unless I am mistaken the Saxon will find him an ugly customer though he is a good-looking fellow."
Since then young Mr. Parnell had created a new slogan which he called the three "F's", fixity of tenure, fair rents and free sale of the tenants' interests, and had passionately supported Michael Davitt's Land League, an organisation formed to protect tenants against unfair landlords. The English hated the Land League, the Queen who had no patience with her Irish subjects, called it "that monstrous land league", and Willie complained that it was becoming positively dangerous to be a landlord in benighted Ireland. The Land Leaguers were getting out of hand, burning down a landlord's house and asking him questions afterwards, driving off his livestock, setting fire to his haystacks. They did everything, Willie said bitterly, except put poison in the poor fellow's tea.
Anna Parnell, Charles' sister, had made herself notorious by forming a Ladies' Land League, and by writing inflammable seditious articles, but she was an hysterical unbalanced creature. Her brother was another matter altogether.
At least that was what The O'Gorman Mahon had said when he had accompanied Willie to Eltham after Willie's successful campaign in County Clare.
The two of them, flushed with success, filled the house with noise and laughter. Katharine had never seen an Irishman so much larger than life than The O'Gorman Mahon. Tall, white-haired with a handsome craggy scarred face and a torrent of picturesque language, he had been a famous duellist and soldier of fortune, friend of kings and emperors. In his old age he had turned to the comparatively milder amusement of Irish politics.
He and Willie boasted that they had kissed every girl in Clare and drunk with every man.
"And your poor husband, Mrs. O'Shea, detests Irish whisky. But he drank it like a man."
"And admired every baby in every filthy cabin from Clare to Limerick," Willie put in, wrinkling his nose distastefully. "What with the babies and the latest litter of the pig, I couldn't tell which was which."
The O'Gorman Mahon roared with his tempestuous laughter.
"Faith, and they thought Willie too finely dressed to be a true Irishman. But his kisses brought them round."
"I'll strive to bring a little sartorial decency to the Irish party if I do nothing else," said Willie. "And I'll make a bet that that has more effect in the House than all Parnell's eloquence. Let the English know that some of us are civilised."
"Ye'd be more than civilised, if you'd do something for Parnell. They tell me his begging expedition to America has nearly finished him."
"How do you mean?" For the first time Katherine spoke.
"He suffers from a delicate constitution, but never mention it to him. He's an aloof reserved creature and gets hostile if his health's mentioned. He's got no woman to take care of him, poor fellow. That might be something you could do, Mrs. O'Shea."
"For the sake of the party, woman," said Mr. Mahon, drinking deeply, and indicating that he would like his glass refilled. "He's got a powerful following and we just might whip the English with him. Isn't that so, Willie?"
Willie might want to shine in politics, but he had no desire to quarrel with his sophisticated English friends. Ever since his army days, where he had incurred debts amounting to fifteen thousand pounds which had nearly bankrupted his father, he had had a love of social life. He had always sought friends who were influential and rich, although in living up to them he had several times reduced his wife and children to penury.
Katharine had been unhappily aware for a long time that Willie cared more about the cut of his suit, and that she should be expensively gowned as befitted his wife (who was, after all, only an extension of himself), than that they had a permanent home and he some useful position in life. That was why she had been so pleased when he had decided to take up politics.
But already he was in a dilemma because he didn't want to offend his sophisticated English friends by taking up the unpopular and boorish Mr. Parnell. Nevertheless, he didn't want to offend The O'Gorman Mahon either, for with his colourful and overwhelming personality, all doors opened to him.
He compromised by saying that he and Kate would give a dinner party in London and ask Mr. Parnell, but he was quite sure the fellow would not come.
"He has no manners. I hear that he simply ignores invitations."
Katherine was aware of the piercing black eyes of The O'Gorman Mahon on her.
"That's a thing no woman of mettle would allow to happen. Isn't that true, Mrs. O'Shea?"
"How can I stop it happening?"
"Don't ask me. Use your feminine wiles." He looked at her again, thoughtfully and appreciatively. "If I make no mistake, you have plenty of them. You might do your country a service."
"You make a mistake, Mr. Mahon. I am not Irish."
"But you're married to an Irishman. That makes the poor ould country, for better or worse, your own. Don't do her any harm, Mrs. O'Shea."
Katharine had to laugh.
"Does all this come out of a simple dinner party? Ireland's fate?"
"An oak grows from a seed, Ma'am. Anyway, no one ever told me that Charlie Parnell didn't like women. He was reported to be pursuing one in America. But she escaped him, or he escaped her, I don't know the rights of it."
Willie said he objected to his wife being expected to become Parnell's nursemaid. The two men began a slightly drunken wrangle about what could or could not be expected of a politician's wife, then found themselves too comfortable and too tipsy to argue. The O'Gorman Mahon swallowed a half-tumbler of neat whisky, rolled a remarkably bright and lascivious eye, and said slowly and deliberately, "You could get any man at your feet, Mrs. O'Shea. Even that old puritan Gladstone. I'm only asking ye to be a wee bit kind to a tired man. Is that beyond your ability? Say it is and I won't believe you."
She didn't intend to say it was, for she was looking forward, with some curiosity, to meeting Mr. Parnell. She would place him beside her at the dinner table and, if he did prove to be unsociable and difficult, she would do her best to draw him out. Of course it was not beyond her ability. She had helped her father in his parish too much, and talked too much to all kinds of people, both rich and poor, and had too much sympathy with the wretched and the underprivileged, not to be able to find a great deal to say to Mr. Parnell.
Although she had never been to Ireland herself. She had wanted Willie to take her there on their honeymoon, but he had refused. That had been thirteen years ago in the year 1867, and things were pretty wretched, with another famine, and Kate might be upset if she saw a corpse lying in a ditch, or they encountered one of those numerous black-clad processions making its grief-blinded way to the churchyard. It was extremely tiresome the way the Irish were always starving, as if they enjoyed their misery, as if they willed the potato crops to blacken with blight. From the Queen down, the English nation was sick and tired of its awkward quarrelsome vociferous illogical and irrepressible neighbour.
As a landlord himself, even though his estate in Limerick was heavily mortgaged, Willie allied himself with the English against the constantly troublesome peasants.
Of course, if he and Kate had confined their visit to Dublin, and had had invitations to balls or receptions at Dublin Castle, they could have had a fine time. The great reception rooms at Dublin Castle were the setting for some of the finest gowns and jewels in Europe. One didn't need to know anything about the stinking candlelit cellars in the slums where three or more families lived in one room, one could avert one's eyes from the out-thrust skeleton hand of a starving child, or the anonymous bundle of rags lying in eternal stillness in the shadow of an alley.
But could Willie have trusted his new wife, with the tiresome social conscience she had inherited from her father (which she would soon grow out of, he trusted), to dress in her pretty elegant trousseau gowns and ignore the prevailing fashion in Dublin for black threadbare head shawls, frayed skirts and clogs, or, for the children, one ragged garment through which the wind blew, and from which a skinny shoulder or buttock stuck nakedly?
He seemed to doubt if he could. So he had taken her to Paris where they could be as gay and extravagant as they pleased.
From Paris to the racing stables in Hertfordshire which had failed, to the miserable little house in Harrow Road where Katharine's first baby, Gerard, had been born, to the much grander house in Beaufort Gardens, where both Norah and Carmen had been born, and where Willie had indulged in a social life he couldn't afford, to this ugly large Victorian mansion, Wonersh Lodge, in Eltham, which belonged to Katharine's aunt, and by whose courtesy and generosity they lived there ... It had been a journey that had taken thirteen years, and that had become increasingly painful as all her affection (it had never been love, she had long ago realised), for her charming weak untrustworthy self-indulgent vain husband had died.
"Miss Katharine!" That was Lucy's voice prodding her. "You look as if you're miles away."
"I am, Lucy. At least not miles, but years away." Katharine gave herself a shake, bringing herself back to the present. "I was thinking of my wedding day, I don't know why."
Lucy's lined and shrunken face softened. She dearly liked to talk of weddings, and that of dear Miss Katharine, who had been her charge from infancy, most of all.
Excerpted from Never Call It Loving by Dorothy Eden. Copyright © 1966 Dorothy Eden. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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