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- Transcriber's Note: Inconsistent hyphenation in the original document has been preserved. Obvious typographical errors have been corrected. For a complete list, please see the end of this document. -
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AN ISLE IN THE WATER
An Isle in the Water
BY KATHARINE TYNAN (Mrs. H.A. Hinkson)
LONDON: ADAM & CHARLES BLACK NEW YORK: MACMILLAN & CO. 1896
TO JANE BARLOW THESE UNWORTHY PRESENTS
1. THE FIRST WIFE 1
2. THE STORY OF FATHER ANTHONY O'TOOLE 12
3. THE UNLAWFUL MOTHER 28
4. A RICH WOMAN 49
5. HOW MARY CAME HOME 67
6. MAURYEEN 84
7. A WRESTLING 102
8. THE SEA'S DEAD 112
9. KATIE 122
10. THE DEATH SPANCEL 136
11. A SOLITARY 148
12. THE MAN WHO WAS HANGED 168
13. A PRODIGAL SON 184
14. CHANGING THE NURSERIES 201
15. THE FIELDS OF MY CHILDHOOD 209
THE FIRST WIFE
The dead woman had lain six years in her grave, and the new wife had reigned five of them in her stead. Her triumph over her dead rival was well-nigh complete. She had nearly ousted her memory from her husband's heart. She had given him an heir for his name and estate, and, lest the bonny boy should fail, there was a little brother creeping on the nursery floor, and another child stirring beneath her heart. The twisted yew before the door, which was heavily buttressed because the legend ran that when it died the family should die out with it, had taken another lease of life, and sent out one spring green shoots on boughs long barren. The old servants had well-nigh forgotten the pale mistress who reigned one short year; and in the fishing village the lavish benefactions of the reigning lady had quite extinguished the memory of the tender voice and gentle words of the woman whose place she filled. A new era of prosperity had come to the Island and the race that long had ruled it.
Under a high, stately window of the ruined Abbey was the dead wife's grave. In the year of his bereavement, before the beautiful brilliant cousin of his dead Alison came and seized on his life, the widower had spent days and nights of stony despair standing by her grave. She had died to give him an heir to his name, and her sacrifice had been vain, for the boy came into the world dead, and lay on her breast in the coffin. Now for years he had not visited the place: the last wreaths of his mourning for her had been washed into earth and dust long ago, and the grave was neglected. The fisherwives whispered that a despairing widower is soonest comforted; and in that haunted Island of ghosts and omens there were those who said that they had met the dead woman gliding at night along the quay under the Abbey walls, with the shape of a child gathered within her shadowy arms. People avoided the quay at night therefore, and no tale of the ghost ever came to the ears of Alison's husband.
His new wife held him indeed in close keeping. In the first days of his remarriage the servants in the house had whispered that there had been ill blood over the man between the two women, so strenuously did the second wife labour to uproot any trace of the first. The cradle that had been prepared for the young heir was flung to a fishergirl expecting her base-born baby: the small garments into which Alison had sewn her tears with the stitches went the same road. There was many an honest wife might have had the things, but that would not have pleased the grim humour of the second wife towards the woman she had supplanted.
Everything that had been Alison's was destroyed or hidden away. Her rooms were changed out of all memory of her. There was nothing, nothing in the house to recall to her widower her gentleness, or her face as he had last seen it, snow-pale and pure between the long ashen-fair strands of her hair. He never came upon anything that could give him a tender stab with the thought of her. So she was forgotten, and the man was happy with his children and his beautiful passionate wife, and the constant tenderness with which she surrounded every hour of his life.
Little by little she had won over all who had cause to love the dead woman,—all human creatures, that is to say: a dog was more faithful and had resisted her. Alison's dog was a terrier, old, shaggy and blear-eyed: he had been young with his dead mistress, and had seemed to grow old when she died. He had fretted incessantly during that year of her husband's widowhood, whimpering and moaning about the house like a distraught creature, and following the man in a heavy melancholy when he made his pilgrimages to the grave. He continued those pilgrimages after the man had forgotten, but the heavy iron gate of the Abbey clanged in his face, and since he could not reach the grave his visits grew fewer and fewer. But he had not forgotten.
The new mistress had put out all her fascinations to win the dog too, for it seemed that while any living creature clung to the dead woman's memory her triumph was not complete. But the dog, amenable to every one else, was savage to her. All her soft overtures were received with snarling, and an uncovering of the strong white teeth that was dangerous. The woman was not without a heart, except for the dead, and the misery of the dog moved her—his restlessness, his whining, the channels that tears had worn under his faithful eyes. She would have liked to take him up in her arms and comfort him; but once when her pity moved her to attempt it, the dog ran at her ravening. The husband cried out: 'Has he hurt you, my Love?' and was for stringing him up. But some compunction stirred in her, and she saved him from the rope, though she made no more attempts to conciliate him.
After that the dog disappeared from the warm living-rooms, where he had been used to stretch on the rug before the leaping wood-fires. It was a cold and stormy autumn, with many shipwrecks, and mourning in the village for drowned husbands and sons, whose little fishing boats had been sucked into the boiling surges. The roar of the wind and the roar of the waves made a perpetual tumult in the air, and the creaking and lashing of the forest trees aided the wild confusion. There were nights when the crested battalions of the waves stormed the hill-sides and foamed over the Abbey graves, and weltered about the hearthstones of the high-perched fishing village. When there was not storm there was bitter black frost.
The old house had attics in the gables, seldom visited. You went up from the inhabited portions by a corkscrew staircase, steep as a ladder. The servants did not like the attics. There were creaking footsteps on the floors at night, and sometimes the slamming of a door or the stealthy opening of a window. They complained that locked doors up there flew open, and bolted windows were found unbolted. In storm the wind keened like a banshee, and one bright snowy morning a housemaid, who had business there, found a slender wet footprint on the floor as of some one who had come barefoot through the snow;—and fled down shrieking.
In one of the attics stood a great hasped chest, wherein the dead woman's dresses were mouldering. The chest was locked, and was likely to remain so for long, for the new mistress had flung away the key. From the high attic windows there was a glorious view of sea and land, of the red sandstone valleys where the deer were feeding, of the black tossing woods, of the roan bulls grazing quietly in the park, and far beyond, of the sea, and the fishing fleet, and in the distance the smoke of a passing steamer. But none observed that view. There was not a servant in the house who would lean from the casement without expecting the touch of a clay-cold finger on her shoulder. Any whose business brought them to the attic looked in the corners warily, while they stayed, but the servants did not like to go there alone. They said the room smelt strangely of earth, and that the air struck with an insidious chill: and a gamekeeper being in full view of the attic window one night declared that from the window came a faint moving glow, and that a wavering shadow moved in the room.
It was in this cold attic the dog took up his abode. He followed a servant up there one morning, and broke out into an excited whimpering when he came near the chest. After a while of sniffing and rubbing against it he established himself upon it with his nose on his paws. Afterwards he refused to leave it. Finally the servants gave up the attempt to coax him back into the world, and with a compunctious pity they spread an old rug for him on the chest, and fed him faithfully every day. The master never inquired for him: he was glad to have the brute out of his sight: the mistress heard of the fancy which possessed him, and said nothing: she had given up thinking to win him over. So he grew quite old and grizzled, and half blind as summers and winters passed by. It grew a superstition with the servants to take care of him, and with them on their daily visits he was so affectionate and caressing as to recall the days in which some of them remembered him when his mistress lived, and he was a happy dog, as good at fighting and rat-hunting and weasel-catching as any dog in the Island.
But every night as twelve o'clock struck the dog came down the attic stairs. He was suddenly alert and cheerful, and trotted by an invisible gown. Some said you could hear the faint rustle of silk lapping from stair to stair, and the dog would sometimes bark sharply as in his days of puppyhood, and leap up to lick a hand of air. The servants would shut their doors as they heard the patter of the dog's feet coming, and his sudden bark. They were thrilled with a superstitious awe, but they were not afraid the ghost would harm them. They remembered how just, how gentle, how pure the dead woman had been. They whispered that she might well be dreeing this purgatory of returning to her dispossessed house for another's sake, not her own. Husband and wife were nearly always in their own room when she passed. She went everywhere looking to the fastenings of the house, trying every door and window as she had done in the old days, when her husband declared the old place was only precious because it held her. Presently the servants came to look on her guardianship of the house as holy, for one night some careless person had left a light burning where the wind blew the curtains about, and they took fire, and were extinguished, by whom none knew; but in the morning there was the charred curtain, and Molly, the kitchenmaid, confessed with tears how she had forgotten the lighted candle.
The husband was the last of all to hear of these strange doings, for the new wife took care that they should never be about the house at midnight. But one night as he lay in bed he had forgotten something and asked her to fetch it from below. She looked at him with a disdain out of the mists of her black hair, which she was combing to her knee. Perhaps for a minute she resented his unfaithfulness to the dead. 'No,' she said, with deliberation, 'not till that dog and his companion pass.' She flung the door open, and looked half with fear, half with defiance, at the black void outside. There was the patter of the dog's feet coming down the stairs swiftly. The man lifted himself on his elbow and listened. Side by side with the dog's feet came the swish, swish of a silken gown on the stairs. He looked a wild-eyed inquiry at his second wife. She slammed the door to before she answered him. 'It has been so for years,' she said; 'every one knew but you. She has not forgotten as easily as you have.'
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One day the dog died, worn out with age. After that they heard the ghost no longer. Perhaps her purgatory of seeing the second wife in her place was completed, and she was fit for Paradise, or her suffering had sufficed to win another's pardon. From that time the new wife reigned without a rival, living or dead, near her throne.
THE STORY OF FATHER ANTHONY O'TOOLE
On the wall of the Island Chapel there is a tablet which strangers read curiously. The inscription runs:
FATHER ANTHONY O'TOOLE
FOR THIRTY YEARS THE SHEPHERD OF HIS FLOCK
Died 18th December 1812 Aged 80 years.
'He will avenge the blood of his servants, and will be merciful unto his land, and to his people.'
Many a time has a summer visitor asked me the meaning of the Old Testament words on the memorial tablet of a life that in all probability passed so quietly.
Any child in the Island will tell you the story of Father Anthony O'Toole. Here and there an old man or woman will remember to have seen him and will describe him—tall despite his great age, with the frost on his head but never in his heart, stepping down the cobbles of the village street leaning on his gold-headed cane, and greeting his spiritual children with such a courtesy as had once been well in place at Versailles or the Little Trianon. Plainly he never ceased to be the finest of fine gentlemen, though a less inbred courtesy might well rust in the isolation of thirty years. Yet he seems to have been no less the humblest and simplest of priests. Old Peter Devine will tell you his childish memory of the old priest sitting by the turf fire in the fisherman's cottage, listening to the eternal complaint of the winds and waters that had destroyed the fishing and washed the potato-gardens out to sea, and pausing in his words of counsel and sympathy to take delicately a pinch of the finest snuff, snuff that had never bemeaned itself by paying duty to King George.
But that was in the quite peaceful days, when the country over there beyond the shallow water lay in the apathy of exhaustion—helpless and hopeless. That was years after Father Anthony had flashed out as a man of war in the midst of his quiet pastoral days, and like any Old Testament hero had taken the sword and smitten his enemies in the name of the Lord.
Father Anthony was the grandson of one of those Irish soldiers of fortune who, after the downfall of the Jacobite cause in Ireland, had taken service in the French and Austrian armies. In Ireland they called them the Wild Geese. He had risen to high honours in the armies of King Louis, and had been wounded at Malplaquet. The son followed in his father's footsteps and was among the slain at Fontenoy. Father Anthony, too, became a soldier and saw service at Minden, and carried away from it a wound in the thigh which made necessary the use of that gold-headed cane. They said that, soldier as he was, he was a fine courtier in his day. One could well believe it looking at him in his old age. From his father he had inherited the dashing bravery and gay wit of which even yet he carried traces. From his French mother he had the delicate courtesy and finesse which would be well in place in the atmosphere of a court.
However, in full prime of manhood and reputation, Father Anthony, for some reason or other, shook the dust of courts off his feet, and became a humble aspirant after the priesthood at the missionary College of St. Omer. He had always a great desire to be sent to the land of his fathers, the land of faith and hope, of which he had heard from many an Irish refugee, and in due time his desire was fulfilled. He reached the Island one wintry day, flung up out of the teeth of storms, and was in the Island thirty years, till the reveille of his Master called him to the muster of the Heavenly host.
Father Anthony seems to have been innocently ready to talk over his days of fighting. He was not at all averse from fighting his battles over again for these simple children of his who were every day in battle with the elements and death. Peter Devine remembers to have squatted, burning his shins by the turf fire, and watching with fascination the lines in the ashes which represented the entrenchments and the guns, and the troops of King Frederick and the French line, as Father Anthony played the war-game for old Corney Devine, whose grass-grown grave is under the gable of the Island Chapel.
Now and again a fisherman was admitted by special favour to look upon the magnificent clothing which Father Anthony had worn as a colonel of French Horse. The things were laid by in lavender as a bride might keep her wedding-dress. There were the gold-laced coat and the breeches with the sword-slash in them, the sash, the belt, the plumed hat, the high boots, the pistols, and glittering among them all, the sword. That chest of Father Anthony's and its contents were something of a fairy tale to the boys of the Island, and each of them dreamt of a day when he too might behold them. The chest, securely locked and clamped, stood in the sacristy; and Father Anthony would have seen nothing incongruous in its neighbourhood to the sacred vessels and vestments. He generally displayed the things when he had been talking over old fighting days, to the Island men mostly, but occasionally to a French captain, who with a cargo, often contraband, or wines and cigars, would run into the Island harbour for shelter. Then there were courtesies given and exchanged; and Father Anthony's guest at parting would make an offering of light wines, much of which found its way to sick and infirm Island men and women in the days that followed.
Father Anthony had been many placid years on the Island when there began to be rumours of trouble on the mainland. Just at first the United Irish Society had been quite the fashion, and held no more rebellious than the great volunteer movement of a dozen years earlier. But as time went by things became more serious. Moderate and fearful men fell away from the Society, and the union between Northern Protestants and Southern Catholics, which had been a matter of much concern to the Government of the day, was met by a policy of goading the leaders on to rebellion. By and by this and that idol of the populace was flung into prison. Wolfe Tone was in France, praying, storming, commanding, forcing an expedition to act in unison with a rising on Irish soil. Father Anthony was excited in these days. The France of the Republic was not his France, and the stain of the blood of the Lord's Anointed was upon her, but for all that the news of the expedition from Brest set his blood coursing so rapidly and his pulses beating, that he was fain to calm with much praying the old turbulent spirit of war which possessed him.
Many of the young fishermen had left the Island and were on the mainland, drilling in secrecy. There were few left save old men and women and children when the blow fell. The Government, abundantly informed of what went on in the councils of the United Irishmen, knew the moment to strike, and took it. The rebellion broke out in various parts of the country, but already the leaders were in prison. Calamity followed calamity. Heroic courage availed nothing. In a short time Wolfe Tone lay dead in the Provost-Marshal's prison of Dublin; and Lord Edward Fitzgerald was dying of his wounds. In Dublin, dragoonings, hangings, pitch-capping and flogging set up a reign of terror. Out of the first sudden silence terrible tidings came to the Island.
At that time there was no communication with the mainland except by the fishermen's boats or at low water. The Island was very much out of the world; and the echoes of what went on in the world came vaguely as from a distance to the ears of the Island people. They were like enough to be safe, though there was blood and fire and torture on the mainland. They were all old and helpless people, and they might well be safe from the soldiery. There was no yeomanry corps within many miles of the Island, and it was the yeomanry, tales of whose doings made the Islanders' blood run cold. Not the foreign soldiers—oh no, they were often merciful, and found this kind of warfare bitterly distasteful. But it might well be that the yeomanry, being so busy, would never think of the Island.
Father Anthony prayed that it might be so, and the elements conspired to help him. There were many storms and high tides that set the Island riding in safety. Father Anthony went up and down comforting those whose husbands, sons, and brothers were in the Inferno over yonder. The roses in his old cheeks withered, and his blue eyes were faded with many tears for his country and his people. He prayed incessantly that the agony of the land might cease, and that his own most helpless flock might be protected from the butchery that had been the fate of many as innocent and helpless.
The little church of gray stone stands as the vanguard of the village, a little nearer to the mainland, and the spit of sand that runs out towards it. You ascend to it by a hill, and a wide stretch of green sward lies before the door. The gray stone presbytery joins the church and communicates with it. A ragged boreen, or bit of lane, between rough stone walls runs zigzag from the gate, ever open, that leads to the church, and wanders away to the left to the village on the rocks above the sea. Everything is just the same to-day as on that morning when Father Anthony, looking across to the mainland from the high gable window of his bedroom, saw on the sands something that made him dash the tears from his old eyes, and go hastily in search of the telescope which had been a present from one of those wandering sea-captains.
As he set his glass to his eye that morning, the lassitude of age and grief seemed to have left him. For a few minutes he gazed at the objects crossing the sands—for it was low water—in an attitude tense and eager. At last he lowered the glass and closed it. He had seen enough. Four yeomen on their horses were crossing to the island.
He was alone in the house, and as he bustled downstairs and made door and windows fast, he was rejoiced it should be so. Down below the village was calm and quiet. The morning had a touch of spring, and the water was lazily lapping against the sands. The people were within doors,—of that he was pretty well assured—for the Island was in a state of terror and depression. There was no sign of life down there except now and again the barking of a dog or the cackling of a hen. Unconsciously the little homes waited the death and outrage that were coming to them as fast as four strong horses could carry them. 'Strengthen thou mine arm,' cried Father Anthony aloud, 'that the wicked prevail not! Keep thou thy sheep that thou hast confided to my keeping. Lo! the wolves are upon them!' and as he spoke his voice rang out through the silent house. The fire of battle was in his eyes, his nostrils smelt blood, and the man seemed exalted beyond his natural size. Father Anthony went swiftly and barred his church doors, and then turned into the presbytery. He flashed his sword till it caught the light and gleamed and glanced. 'For this, for this hour, friend,' he said, 'I have polished thee and kept thee keen. Hail, sword of the justice of God!'
There came a thundering at the oaken door of the church. 'Open, son of Belial!' cried a coarse voice, and then there followed a shower of blasphemies. The men had lit down from their horses, which they had picketed below, and had come on foot, vomiting oaths, to the church door. Father Anthony took down the fastenings one by one. Before he removed the last he looked towards the little altar. 'Now,' he said, 'defend Thyself, all-powerful!' and saying, he let the bar fall.
The door swung open so suddenly that three of the men fell back. The fourth, who had been calling his blasphemies through the keyhole of the door, remained yet on his knees. In the doorway, where they had looked to find an infirm old man, stood a French colonel in his battle array, the gleaming sword in his hand. The apparition was so sudden, so unexpected, that they stood for the moment terror-stricken. Did they think it something supernatural? as well they might, for to their astonished eyes the splendid martial figure seemed to grow and grow, and fill the doorway. Or perhaps they thought they had fallen in an ambush.
Before they could recover, the sword swung in air, and the head of the fellow kneeling rolled on the threshold of the church. The others turned and fled. One man fell, the others with a curse stumbled over him, recovered themselves, and sped on. Father Anthony, as you might spit a cockroach with a long pin, drove his sword in the fallen man's back and left it quivering. The dying scream rang in his ears as he drew his pistols. He muttered to himself: 'If one be spared he win return with seven worse devils. No! they must die that the innocent may go safe,' and on the track of the flying wretches, he shot one in the head as he ran, and the other he pierced, as he would have dragged himself into the stirrups.
In the broad sunlight, the villagers, alarmed by the sound of shooting, came timidly creeping towards the presbytery to see if harm had befallen the priest, and found Father Anthony standing on the bloody green sward wiping his sword and looking about him at the dead men. The fury of battle had gone out of his face, and he looked gentle as ever, but greatly troubled. 'It had to be,' he said, 'though, God knows, I would have spared them to repent of their sins.'
'Take them,' he said, 'to the Devil's Chimney and drop them down, so that if their comrades come seeking them there may be no trace of them.' The Devil's Chimney is a strange, natural oubliette of the Island, whose depth none has fathomed, though far below you may hear a subterranean waterfall roaring.
One of the dead men's horses set up a frightened whinnying. 'But the poor beasts,' said Father Anthony, who had ever a kindness for animals, 'they must want for nothing. Stable them in M'Ora's Cave till the trouble goes by, and see that they are well fed and watered.'
An hour later, except for some disturbance of the grass, you would have come upon no trace of these happenings. I have never heard that they cast any shade upon Father Anthony's spirit, or that he was less serene and cheerful when peace had come back than he had been before. No hue and cry after the dead yeomen ever came to the Island, and the troubles of '98 spent themselves without crossing again from the mainland. After a time, when peace was restored, the yeomen's horses were used for drawing the Island fish to the market, or for carrying loads of seaweed to the potatoes, and many other purposes for which human labour had hitherto served.
But Father Anthony O'Toole was dead many and many a year before that tablet was set up to his memory. And the strange thing was that Mr. Hill, the rector, who, having no flock to speak of, is pretty free to devote himself to the antiquities of the Island, his favourite study, was a prime mover in this commemoration of Father Anthony O'Toole, and himself selected the text to go upon the tablet.
In a certain Wicklow country-house an O'Toole of this day will display to you, as they display the dead hand of a martyr in a reliquary, the uniform, the sword and pistols, the feathered hat and the riding boots, of Father Anthony O'Toole.
THE UNLAWFUL MOTHER
In the Island the standard of purity is an extraordinarily high one, and it is almost unheard of that a woman should fall away from it. Purity is the unquestioned prerogative of every Island girl or woman, and it only comes to them as a vague far-off horror in an unknown world that there are places under the sun and the stars where such is not the case. The punishment is appalling in the very few cases where sin has lifted its head amongst these austere people. The lepers' hut of old was no such living death of isolation as surrounds an Island girl who has smirched her good name. Henceforth there is an atmosphere about her that never lifts—of horror for some, of tragedy for others, according to their temperament. There she stands lonely for all her days, with the seal set upon her that can never be broken, the consecration of an awful and tragic destiny.
I knew of such an one who was little more than a child when this horror befell her. She has dark blue eyes and thick black lashes, and very white skin. The soft dark hair comes low on her white forehead. With a gaily-coloured shawl covering her head, and drawn across her chin, as they wear it in the Island, she looks, or looked when I last saw her, a hidden, gliding image of modesty. And despite that sin of the past she is modest. It was the ignorant sin of a child, and out of the days of horror and wrath that followed—her purging—she brought only the maternity that burns like a white flame in her. The virtuous were more wroth against her in old days that she carried her maternity so proudly. Why, not the most honourable and cherished of the young Island mothers dandled her child with such pride. No mother of a young earl could have stepped lighter, and held her head higher, than Maggie when she came down the fishing street, spurning the very stones, as it seemed, so lightly she went with the baby wrapped in her shawl. She did not seem to notice that some of the kindly neighbours stepped aside, or that here and there a woman pulled her little daughter within doors, out of the path of the unlawful mother. Those little pink fingers pushed away shame and contempt. The child was her world.
She was the daughter of a fisherman who died of a chest complaint soon after she was born. Her mother still lives, a hard-featured honest old woman, with a network of fine lines about her puckered eyes. Her hair went quite white the year her daughter's child was born, but I remember it dark and abundant with only a silver thread glistening here and there. She has grown taciturn too; she was talkative enough in the old days when I was a child in the Island, and, often and often, came clattering in by the half-door to shelter from a shower, and sat till fine weather on a stool by the turf ashes, gravely discussing the fishing and the prospects of pigs and young fowl that season.
There are three sons, but Jim was married and doing for himself before the trouble befell the family. Tom and Larry were at home, Tom, gentle and slow-spoken, employed about the Hall gardens. Larry, a fisherman like his father before him. Both were deeply attached to their young sister, and had been used to pet and care for her from her cradle.
There is yet a tradition in the island of that terrible time when Maggie's mother realised the disgrace her daughter had brought on an honest name. There had been a horrified whisper in the Island for some time before, a surmise daily growing more certain, an awe-stricken compassion for the honest people who never suspected the ghastly shadow about to cross their threshold. People had been slow to accept this solution of Maggie's pining and weakness. This one had suggested herb-tea, and that one had offered to accompany Maggie to see the dispensary doctor who came over from Breagh every Tuesday. But Maggie accepted none of their offices, only withdrew herself more and more in a sick horror of herself and life, and roamed about the cliffs where but the gulls and the little wild Island cattle looked on at her restless misery.
Her mother was half-fretted and half impatient of her daughter's ailing. She was a very strong woman herself, and except for a pain in the side which had troubled her of late, she had never known a day of megrims. She listened chafing to the neighbours' advice—and every one of them had their nostrum—and heeded none of them. She had an idea herself that the girl's sickness was imaginary and could be thrown off if she willed it. When the neighbours all at once ceased offering her advice and sympathy she felt it a distinct relief. She had not the remotest idea that she was become the centre of an awe-stricken sympathy, that her little world had fallen back and stood gaping at her and hers as they might at one abnormally stricken: if their gabble ceased very suddenly and no more idlers came in for a chat by the fireside she was not the one to fret; she had always plenty to do without idle women hindering her, and, now the girl had her sick fit on her, all the work fell to the mother's share.
The girl's time was upon her before the mother guessed at the blinding and awful truth. She was a proud, stern, old woman, come of a race strong in rectitude, and she would scarcely have believed an angel if one had come to testify to her daughter's dishonour. But the time came when it could no longer be hidden, when the birth-pains were on the wretched girl, and in the quietness of the winter night, her sin stood forth revealed.
Some merciful paralysis stiffened the mother's lips when she would have cursed her daughter. She lifted up her voice indeed to curse, but it went from her; her lips jabbered helplessly; over her face came a bluish-gray shade, and she fell in a chair huddled with one hand pressed against her side.
The two men came in on this ghastly scene. The girl was crouched on the floor with her face hidden, shrinking to the earth from the terrible words she expected to hear. The men lifted the sister to her bed in the little room. They forced some spirit between their mother's lips, and in a few minutes the livid dark shade began to pass from her face. Her lips moved. 'Take her,' she panted, 'take that girl and her shame from my honest house, lest I curse her.'
The two men looked at each other. They turned pale through their hardy brownness, and then flushed darkly red. It flashed on them in an instant. This was the meaning of the girl's sickness, of a thousand hints they had not understood. Tom, with characteristic patience, was the first to bend his back to the burden.
'Whisht, mother,' he said, 'whisht. Don't talk about cursing. If there's one black sin under our roof-tree, we won't open the door to another.' He put his arm round her in a tender way. 'Come, achora,' he said, as if he were humouring a child, 'come and lie down. You're not well, you creature.'
'Oh Tom,' said the mother, softening all at once, 'the black shame's on me, and I'll never be well again in this world.'
She let him lift her to her bed in one of the little rooms that went off the kitchen. Then he came back to where Larry stood, with an acute misery on his young face, looking restlessly from the turf sods he was kicking now and again to the door behind which their young sister lay in agony.
'There's no help for it, Larry,' said Tom, touching him on the shoulder. 'We can't trust her and the mother under one roof. We must take her to the hospital. It's low water to-night, and you can get the ass-cart across the sand. You'll take her, Larry, an' I'll stay an' see to the mother.'
They wrapped the girl in all the bedclothes they could find and lifted her into the little cart full of straw. The Island lay quiet under the moon, all white with snow except where a black patch showed a ravine or cleft in the rocks. In the fishing village the doors were shut and the bits of curtains drawn. It was bitterly cold, and not a night for any one to be abroad. The ass-cart went quietly over the snow. The two men walked by it, never speaking; a low moaning came from the woman in the cart. They did not meet a soul on their way to the shore.
At that point the Island sends out a long tongue of rock and sand towards the mainland. At very low water there is but a shallow pool between the two shores; over this they crossed. Sometimes the ass-cart stuck fast in the sand. Then the men lifted the wheels gently, so as not to jerk the cart, and then encouraging the little ass, they went on again. When they had climbed up the rocky shore to the mainland, and the cart was on the level road, they parted. Before Tom turned his face homewards he bent down to Maggie. 'You're goin' where you'll be taken care of, acushla. Don't fret; Larry'll fetch you home as soon as you can travel,' he said. And then, as if he could scarcely bear the sight of her drawn face in the moonlight, he turned abruptly, and went striding down the rocky shore to the strand.
Because Tom and Larry had forgiven out of their great love, it did not therefore follow that the shame did not lie heavily on them. Tom went with so sad a face and so lagging a step that people's hearts ached for him; while young Larry, who was always bright and merry, avoided all the old friends, and when suddenly accosted turned a deep painful red and refused to meet the eyes that looked their sympathy at him.
A few weeks passed and it was time for the girl to leave the hospital. There had been long and bitter wrangles—bitter at least on one side—between the mother and sons. She had sworn at first that she would never live under the roof with the girl, but the lads returned her always the same answer, 'If she goes we go too.' And by degrees their dogged persistence dulled the old woman's fierce anger. Maggie came home, and the cradle was established beside the hearth. At first the brothers had whispered together of righting her, but when she had answered them a question—a dull welt of shame tingling on their cheeks and hers as though some one had cut them with a whip—they knew it was useless. The man had gone to America some months before, and was beyond the reach of their justice.
But the child throve as if it had the fairest right to be in the world, and was no little nameless waif whose very existence was a shame. He was a beautiful boy, round and tender, with his mother's dark-blue eyes, and the exquisite baby skin which is softer than any rose-leaf. From very early days he crowed and chuckled and was a most cheerful baby. Left alone in his cradle he would be quietly happy for hours; he slept a great deal, and only announced his waking from sleep by a series of delighted chuckles, which brought his mother running to his side to hoist him in her arms.
He must have been about a year old when I first saw him. Maggie intruded him on no one, though people said that if any one admired her baby it made her their lover for life. I happened to be in the Island for a while, and one evening on a solitary ramble round the cliffs I came face to face with Maggie,—Maggie stepping high, and prettier than ever with that rapt glory of maternity in her face which made ordinary prettiness common beside her.
I saw by the way she wisped the shawl round her full white chin that I was welcome to pass her if I would. But I did not pass her. I stopped and spoke a little on indifferent topics, and then I asked for the baby. A radiant glow of pleasure swept over the young mother's healthily pale face. She untwisted the shawl and lifted a fold of it, and stood looking down at the sleeping child with a brooding tenderness, almost divine. He was indeed lovely, with the flush of sleep upon him and one little dimpled hand thrust against her breast. 'What a great boy!' I said. 'But you must be half killed carrying him.' She laughed out joyfully, a sweet ringing laughter like the music of bells. 'Deed then,' she said, ''tis the great load he is entirely, an' any wan but meself 'ud be droppin' under the weight of him. But it 'ud be the quare day I'd complain of my jewel. Sure it's the light heart he gives me makes him lie light in my arms.'
But Maggie's mother remained untouched by the child's beauty and winsomeness. Mother and daughter lived in the same house absolutely without speech of each other. The girl was gentleness and humility itself. For her own part she never forgot she was a sinner, though she would let no one visit it on the child. I have been told that it was most pathetic to see how she strove to win forgiveness from her mother, how she watched and waited on her month after month with never a sign from the old woman, who was not as strong as she had been. The pain in her side took her occasionally, and since any exertion brought it on she was fain at last to sit quietly in the chimney-corner a good deal more than she had been used to. She had seen the doctor, very much against her will, and he had said her heart was affected, but with care and avoiding great excitement, it might last her to a good old age.
Maggie was glad of the hard work put upon her. She washed and swept and scrubbed and polished all day long, with a touching little air of cheerfulness which never ceased to be sad unless when she was crooning love-songs to the baby. She made no effort to take up her old friends again, though she was so grateful when any one stopped and admired the baby. She quite realised that her sin had set her apart, that nothing in all the world could give her back what she had lost, and set her again by the side of those happy companions of her childhood.
As the time passed she never seemed to feel that her mother was hard and unrelenting. She bore her dark looks and her silence with amazing patience. Usually the old woman seemed never to notice the child; but once Maggie came in and saw her gazing at the sleeping face in the cradle with what seemed to her a look of scorn and dislike. She gave a great cry, like the cry of a wounded thing, and snatching the child, ran out with him bareheaded, carrying him away to the high cliffs covered with flowers full of honey, and there she crooned and cried over him till the soothing of the sweet wind and the sunshine eased her heart, and the blighting gaze that had fallen upon her darling had left no shadow.
For her two brothers she felt and displayed a doglike devotion and gratitude. The big fellows were sometimes almost uneasy under the love of her eyes, and the thousand and one offices she was always doing for them to try to make up to them for her past. They had come to take an intense interest, at first half shamefaced, in the baby. But as he grew older and full of winning ways, one could not always remember that he was a child of shame, and he made just as much sunshine as any lawful child makes in a house. More indeed, for in all the Island was never so beautiful a child. The sun seemed to shed all its rays on his head; his eyes were blue as the sea; his limbs were sturdy and beautiful, and from the time he began to take notice he sent out little tendrils that gathered round the hearts of all those who looked upon him. So kind is God sometimes to a little nameless child.
But to see Maggie while her brothers played with the boy, tossing him in their arms, and letting him spring from one to the other, was indeed a pretty sight. You know the proud confidence with which an animal that loves you looks on at your handling of her little ones—her anxiety quite swallowed up in her pride and confidence and her benevolent satisfaction in the pleasure she is giving you. That is how Maggie watched those delightful romps. But the old woman in the chimney-corner turned away her head; and never forgot that Maggie had stolen God's gift, and that the scarlet letter was on the boy's white forehead.
As the years passed and the boy throve and grew tall, I heard of Maggie becoming very devout. 'A true penitent,' said Father Tiernay to me, 'and I believe that in return for the patience and gentleness with which she has striven to expiate her sin God has given her a very unusual degree of sanctity.' In the intervals of her work she was permitted as a great privilege to help about the altar linen, and keep the church clean. She used to carry the boy with her when she went to the church, and I have come upon him fast asleep in a sheltered corner, while his mother was sweeping and dusting, with a radiant and sanctified look on a face that had grown very spiritual.
But still the old mother remained inexorable. I am sure in her own mind she resented as a profanation her daughter's work about the church. She herself had never entered that familiar holy place since her daughter's disgrace. Sunday and holiday all these years she had trudged to Breagh, a long way round by the coast, for mass. All expostulations have been vain, even Father Tiernay's own. Whatever other people may forget, the sin has lost nothing of its scarlet for her.
It was the last time I was on the Island that I was told of Maggie's marriage. Not to an Island man: oh no, no Island man would marry a girl with a stain on her character, not though she came to be as high in God's favour as the blessed Magdalen herself. He was the mate of a Scotch vessel, a grave, steady, strong-faced Highlander. He had come to the Island trading for years, and knew Maggie's story as well as any Islander. But he had seen beyond the mirk of the sin the woman's soul pure as a pearl.
Maggie could not believe that any man, least of all a man like Alister, wanted to marry her. 'I am a wicked woman,' she said with hot blushes, 'and you must marry a good woman.'
'I mean to marry a good woman, my lass,' he said, 'the best woman I know. And that is your bonny self.' Maggie hesitated. He smoothed back her hair with a fond proprietary touch. 'We'll give the boy a name,' he said, 'and before God, none will ever know he's not my own boy.'
That settled it. Jack was a big lad of six now, and would soon begin to understand things, and perhaps ask for his father. It opened before her like an incredible exquisite happiness that perhaps he need never know her sin. She put her hand into Alister's and accepted him in a passion of sobbing that was half joy, half sorrow.
The brothers were all in favour of the marriage. They loved her too much not to want her to have a fair chance in a new life. Here on the Island, though she were a saint, she would still be a penitent. It came hardest on Tom,—for Larry was soon to bring home a wife of his own, but neither man talked much of what he felt. They put aside their personal sorrow and were glad for Maggie and her boy.
But Maggie's mother was consistent to the last. No brazen and flaunting sinner could have seemed to her more a lost creature than the girl who had been so dutiful a daughter, so loving a sister, so perfect a mother, all those years. Tom told her the news. 'I wash my hands of her,' she said. 'Let her take her shame under an honest man's roof if she will. I wish her neither joy nor sorrow of it.' And more gentle words than these Tom could not bring her to say.
So Maggie was married, the old woman preserving her stony silence and apparent unconcern. She only spoke once,—the day the girl was made a wife. It was one of her bad days, and she had to lie down after an attack of her heart. Maggie dressed to go to the church and meet her bridegroom. She was not to return to the cottage, and her modest little luggage and little Jack's were already aboard the Glasgow brig. At the last, hoping for some sign of softening, the girl went into the dim room where her mother lay, ashen-cheeked. The mother turned round on her her dim eyes. 'What do you want of me?' she asked, breaking the silence of years. The girl helplessly covered her eyes with her hands. 'Did you come for my blessing?' gasped the old woman. 'It is liker my curse you'd take with you. But I promised Tom long ago that I would not curse you. Go then. And I praise God that Larry will soon give me an honest daughter instead of you, my shame this many a year.'
That was the last meeting of mother and daughter. They say Alister is a devoted husband, but he comes no more to the Island. He has changed out of his old boat, and his late shipmates say vaguely that he has removed somewhere Sunderland or Cardiff way, and trades to the North Sea. Tom is very reticent about Maggie, though Miss Bell, the postmistress, might tell, if she were not a superior person, and as used to keeping a secret at a pinch as Father Tiernay himself, how many letters he receives with the post-mark of a well-known seaport town.
Poor Maggie! Said I not that in the Island the way of transgressors is hard?
A RICH WOMAN
Margret Laffan was something of a mystery to the Island people. Long ago in comparative youth she had disappeared for a half-dozen years. Then she had turned up one day in a coarse dress of blue and white check, which looked suspiciously like workhouse or asylum garb, and had greeted such of the neighbours as she knew with a nod, for all the world as if she had seen them yesterday. It happened that the henwife at the Hall had been buried a day or two earlier, and when Margret came asking a place from Mrs. Wilkinson, the lord's housekeeper, the position was yet unfilled and Margret got it.
Not every one would have cared for the post. Only a misanthropic person indeed would have been satisfied with it. The henwife's cottage and the poultry settlement might have been many miles from a human habitation, so lonely were they. They were in a glen of red sandstone, and half the wood lay between them and the Hall. The great red walls stood so high round the glen that you could not even hear the sea calling. As for the village, it was a long way below. You had to go down a steep path from the glen before you came to an open space, where you could see the reek of the chimneys under you. Every morning Margret brought the eggs and the trussed chickens to the Hall. But no one disturbed her solitude, except when the deer, or the wild little red cattle came gazing curiously through the netting at Margret and her charges. There, for twenty-seven years, Margret lived with no company but the fowl. On Sundays and holidays she went to mass to the Island Chapel, but gave no encouragement to those who would have gone a step of the road home with her. The Island women used to wonder how she could bear the loneliness.—'Why, God be betune us and harm!' they often said, 'Sure the crathur might be robbed and murdhered any night of the year and no wan the wiser.' And so she might, if the Island possessed robbers and murderers in its midst. But it is a primitively innocent little community, which sleeps with open doors as often as not, and there is nothing to tempt marauders or even beggars to migrate there.
By and by a feeling got about that Margret must be saving money. Her wage as a henwife was no great thing, but then, as they said, 'she looked as if she lived on the smell of an oil-rag,' and there was plenty of food to be had in the Hall kitchen, where Margret waited with her eggs and fowl every morning. Certainly her clothes, though decent, were worn well-nigh threadbare. But the feelers that the neighbours sent out towards Margret met with no solid assurance. Grim and taciturn, Margret kept her own counsel, and was like enough to keep it till the day of her death.
Jack Laffan, Margret's brother, is the village carpenter, a sociable poor man, not the least bit in the world like his sister. Jack is rather fond of idling over a glass with his cronies in the public-house, but, as he is well under Mrs. Jack's thumb, the habit is not likely to grow on him inconveniently. There are four daughters and a son, a lad of fifteen or thereabouts. Two of the daughters are domestic servants out in the big world, and are reported to wear streamers to their caps and fine lace aprons every day. Another is handmaiden to Miss Bell at the post office, and knows the contents of all the letters, except Father Tiernay's, before the people they belong to. Fanny is at home with her father and mother, and is supposed to be too fond of fal-lals, pinchbeck brooches and cheap ribbons, which come to her from her sisters out in the world. She often talks of emigration, and is not sought after by the young men of the Island, who regard her as a 'vain paycocky thing.'
Mrs. Jack has the reputation of being a hard, managing woman. There was never much love lost between her and Margret, and when the latter came back from her six years' absence on the mainland, Mrs. Jack's were perhaps the most ill-natured surmises as to the reasons for Margret's silence and the meaning of that queer checked garb.
For a quarter of a century Margret lived among her fowl, untroubled by her kin. Then the talk about the money grew from little beginnings like a snowball. It fired Mrs. Jack with a curious excitement, for she was an ignorant woman and ready to believe any extravagant story. She amazed Jack by putting the blame of their long ignoring of Margret upon his shoulders entirely, and when he stared at her, dumb-founded, she seized and shook him till his teeth rattled. 'You great stupid omadhaun!' she hissed between the shakes, 'that couldn't have the nature in you to see to your own sister, an' she a lone woman!'
That very day Jack went off stupidly to try to bridge over with Margret the gulf of nearly thirty years. He got very little help from his sister. She watched him with what seemed like grim enjoyment while he wriggled miserably on the edge of his chair and tried to talk naturally. At length he jerked out his wife's invitation to have a bit of dinner with them on the coming Sunday, which Margret accepted without showing any pleasure, and then he bolted.
Margret came to dinner on the Sunday, and was well entertained with a fat chicken and a bit of bacon, for the Laffans were well-to-do people. She thoroughly enjoyed her dinner, though she spoke little and that little monosyllabic; but Margret was taciturn even as a girl, and her solitary habit for years seemed to have made speech more difficult for her. Mrs. Jack heaped her plate with great heartiness and made quite an honoured guest of her. But outside enjoying the dinner Margret did not seem to respond. Young Jack was brought forward to display his accomplishments, which he did in the most hang-dog fashion. The cleverness and good-looks and goodness of the girls were expatiated upon, but Margret gave no sign of interest. Once Fanny caught her looking at her with a queer saturnine glance, that made her feel all at once hot and uncomfortable, though she had felt pretty secure of her smartness before that. Margret's reception of Mrs. Jack's overtures did not satisfy that enterprising lady. When she had departed Mrs. Jack put her down as 'a flinty-hearted ould maid.' 'Her sort,' she declared, 'is ever an' always sour an' bitther to them the Lord blesses wid a family.' But all the same it became a regular thing for Margret to eat her Sunday dinner with the Laffans, and Mrs. Jack discovered after a time that the good dinners were putting a skin and roundness on Margret that might give her a new lease of life—perhaps a not quite desirable result.
The neighbours looked on at Mrs. Jack's 'antics' with something little short of scandal. They met by twos and threes to talk over it, and came to the conclusion that Mrs. Jack had no shame at all, at all, in her pursuit of the old woman's money. Truth to tell, there was scarcely a woman in the Island but thought she had as good a right to Margret's money as her newly-attentive kinsfolk. Mrs. Devine and Mrs. Cahill might agree in the morning, with many shakings of the head, that 'Liza Laffan's avarice and greed were beyond measure loathsome. Yet neither seemed pleased to see the other a little later in the day, when Mrs. Cahill climbing the hill with a full basket met Mrs. Devine descending with an empty one.
For all of a sudden a pilgrimage to Margret's cottage in the Red Glen became the recognised thing. It was surprising how old childish friendships and the most distant ties of kindred were furbished up and brought into the light of day. The grass in the lane to the glen became trampled to a regular track. If the women themselves did not come panting up the hill they sent the little girsha, or wee Tommy or Larry, with a little fish, or a griddle cake, or a few fresh greens for Margret. The men of the Island were somewhat scornful of these proceedings on the part of their dames; but as a rule the Island wives hold their own and do pretty well as they will. All this friendship for Margret created curious divisions and many enmities.
Margret, indeed, throve on all the good things, but whether any one person was in her favour more than another it would be impossible to say. Margret got up a way of thanking all alike in a honeyed voice that had a queer sound of mockery in it, and after a time some of the more independent spirits dropped out of the chase, 'pitching,' as they expressed it, 'her ould money to the divil.' Mrs. Jack was fairly confident all the time that if any one on the Island got Margret's nest-egg it would be herself, but she had a misgiving which she imparted to her husband that the whole might go to Father Tiernay for charities. Any attempt at getting inside the shell which hid Margret's heart from the world her sister-in-law had long given up. She had also given up trying to interest Margret in 'the childher,' or bidding young Jack be on his best behaviour before the Sunday guest. The young folk didn't like the derision in Margret's pale eyes, and kept out of her way as much as possible, since they feared their mother too much to flout her openly, as they were often tempted to do.
Two or three years had passed before Margret showed signs of failing. Then at the end of one very cold winter people noticed that she grew feebler. She was away from mass one or two Sundays, and then one Sunday she reappeared walking with the aid of a stick and looking plainly ill and weak. After mass she had a private talk with Father Tiernay at the presbytery; and then went slowly down to Jack's house for the usual dinner. Both Jack and Mrs. Jack saw her home in the afternoon, and a hard task the plucky old woman found it, for all their assistance, to get back to her cottage up the steep hill. When they had reached the top she paused for a rest. Then she said quietly, 'I'm thinkin' I'll make no more journeys to the Chapel. Father Tiernay'll have to be coming to me instead.'
'Tut, tut, woman dear,' said Mrs. Jack, with two hard red spots coming into her cheeks, 'we'll be seein' you about finely when the weather gets milder.' And then she insinuated in a wheedling voice something about Margret's affairs being settled.
Margret looked up at her with a queer mirthfulness in her glance. 'Sure what wud a poor ould woman like me have to settle? Sure that's what they say when a sthrong-farmer takes to dyin'.'
Mrs. Jack was too fearful of possible consequences to press the matter. She was anxious that Margret should have Fanny to look after the house and the fowl for her, but this Margret refused. 'I'll be able to do for myself a little longer,' she said, 'an' thank you kindly all the same.'
When it was known that Margret was failing, the attentions to her became more urgent. Neighbours passed each other now in the lane with a toss of the head and 'a wag of the tail.' As for Mrs. Jack, who would fain have installed herself altogether in the henwife's cottage, she spent her days quivering with indignation at the meddlesomeness of the other women. She woke Jack up once in the night with a fiery declaration that she'd speak to Father Tiernay about the pursuit of her moneyed relative, but Jack threw cold water on that scheme. 'Sure his Riverince himself, small blame to him, 'ud be as glad as another to have the bit. 'Twould be buildin' him the new schoolhouse he's wantin' this many a day, so it would.' And this suggestion made Mrs. Jack look askance at her pastor, as being also in the running for the money.
It was surprising how many queer presents found their way to Margret's larder in those days. They who had not the most suitable gift for an invalid brought what they had, and Margret received them all with the same inscrutability. She might have been provisioning for a siege. Mrs. Jack's chickens were flanked by a coarse bit of American bacon; here was a piece of salt ling, there some potatoes in a sack; a slice of salt butter was side by side with a griddle cake. Many a good woman appreciated the waste of good food even while she added to it, and sighed after that full larder for the benefit of her man and the weans at home; but all the time there was the dancing marsh-light of Margret's money luring the good souls on. There had never been any organised robbery in the Island since the cattle-lifting of the kernes long ago; but many a good woman fell of a tremble now when she thought of Margret and her 'stocking' alone through the silent night, and at the mercy of midnight robbers.
There was not a day that several offerings were not laid at Margret's feet. But suddenly she changed her stereotyped form of thanks to a mysterious utterance, 'You're maybe feeding more than you know, kind neighbours,' was the dark saying that set the women conjecturing about Margret's sanity.
Then the bolt fell. One day a big, angular, shambling girl, with Margret's suspicious eyes and cynical mouth, crossed by the ferry to the Island. She had a trunk, which Barney Ryder, general carrier to the Island, would have lifted to his ass-cart, but the new-comer scornfully waved him away. 'Come here, you two gorsoons,' she said, seizing upon young Jack Laffan and a comrade who were gazing at her grinning, 'take a hoult o' the thrunk an' lead the way to Margret Laffan's in the Red Glen. I'll crack sixpence betune yez when I get there.' The lads, full of curiosity, lifted up the trunk, and preceded her up the mile or so of hill to Margret's. She stalked after them into the sunny kitchen where Margret sat waiting, handed them the sixpence when they had put down the trunk, bundled them out and shut the door before she looked towards Margret in her chimney-corner.
The explanation came first from his Reverence, who was walking in the evening glow, when Mrs. Jack Laffan came flying towards him with her cap-strings streaming.
'Little Jack has a quare story, yer Riverince,' she cried out panting, 'about a girl's come visitin' ould Margret in the glen, an' wid a thrunk as big as a house. Him an' little Martin was kilt draggin' it up the hill.'
His Reverence waved away her excitement gently.
'I know all about it,' he said. 'Indeed I've been the means in a way of restoring Margret's daughter to her. You never knew your sister-in-law was married, Mrs. Laffan? An odd woman to drop her married name. We must call her by it in future. Mrs. Conneely is the name.'
But Mrs. Jack, with an emotion which even the presence of his Reverence could not quell, let what the neighbours described afterwards as a 'screech out of her fit to wake the dead,' and fled into her house, where on her bed she had an attack which came as near being hysterical as the strong-minded woman could compass. She only recovered when Mrs. Devine and Mrs. Cahill and the widow Mulvany, running in, proposed to drench her with cold water, when her heels suddenly left off drumming and she stood up, very determinedly, and bade them be off about their own business. She always spoke afterwards of Margret as the robber of the widow and orphan, which was satisfying if not quite appropriate.
We all heard afterwards how Margret had married on the mainland, and after this girl was born had had an attack of mania, for which she was placed in the county asylum. In time she was declared cured, and it was arranged that her husband should come for her on a certain day and remove her; but Margret, having had enough of marriage and its responsibilities, left the asylum quietly before that day came and made her way to the Island. She had been well content to be regarded as a spinster till she felt her health failing, and then she had entrusted to Father Tiernay her secret, and he had found her daughter for her.
Margret lived some months after that, and left at the time of her death thirty pounds to the fortunate heiress. The well-stocked larder had sufficed the two for quite a long time without any recourse to 'the stocking.' There was very little further friendship between the village and the Red Glen. Such of the neighbours as were led there at first by curiosity found the door shut in their faces, for Mary had Margret's suspiciousness many times intensified. After the Laffan family had recovered from the first shock of disappointment Fanny made various approaches to her cousin when she met her at mass on the Sundays, and, unheeding rebuffs, sent her a brooch and an apron at Christmas. I wish I could have seen Margret's face and Mary's over that present. It was returned to poor Fanny, with a curt intimation that Mary had no use for it, and there the matter ended.
I once asked Mary, when I knew her well enough to take the liberty, about that meeting between her and her mother, after the door was shut on young Jack's and little Martin's departing footsteps. 'Well,' said Mary, 'she looked hard at me, an' then she said, "You've grown up yalla an' bad-lookin', but a strong girl for the work. You favour meself, though I've a genteeler nose." And then,' said Mary, 'I turned in an' boiled the kettle for the tay.'
The money did not even remain in the Island, for as soon as Margret was laid in a grave in the Abbey—with a vacant space beside her, for, said Mary, 'you couldn't tell but I'd be takin' a fancy to be buried there myself some day,'—Mary fled in the early morning before the neighbours were about. Mary looked on the Island where so many had coveted her money as a 'nest of robbers,' and so she fled, with 'the stocking' in the bosom of her gown, one morning at low tide. She wouldn't trust the money to the post office in the Island, because her cousin Lizzie was Miss Bell's servant. 'Divil a letther but the priest's they don't open an' read,' she said, 'an' tells the news afterwards to the man or woman that owns it. The news gets to them before the letter. An' if I put the fortune in there I'm doubtin' 'twould ever see London. I know an honest man in the Whiterock post office I'd betther be trustin'.
And that is how Margret's 'stocking' left the Island.
HOW MARY CAME HOME
The Island people seldom marry outside the Island. They are passionately devoted to each other, but as a rule look coldly upon the stranger. Swarthy Spanish sailors put in sometimes, and fair-skinned, black-eyed Greeks, and broad-shouldered Norwegians, all as ripe for love as any other sailor, but that they should carry away an Island girl to their outlandish places over sea is a thing almost unheard of. The Island girls are courted by their own blue-jerseyed fisher-lads—and what a place for love-making, with the ravines and caves in the cliff-sides, and the deep glens in the heart of the Island, so lonely except for the lord's red deer and little fierce black cattle. Why, if one of those foreign sailors attempted love-making with an Island lass, just as likely as not a pair of little brown fists would rattle about his amazed ears; the girls there know how to defend their dignity.
But one spring there was a sensation little short of a scandal when it became known that Mary Cassidy, the handsomest girl of the Island, was keeping company with a Spanish sailor who had come into harbour on a Glasgow barque. The stage of keeping company was not long. So violent was the passion that flamed up between the two that there was no gainsaying it. Mary was the one girl in a family of five tall fishermen. Father and mother were dead—the father drowned in a wild night while trying to make the treacherous mouth of the inadequate harbour, the mother dead of her grief. Mary had known fathering and mothering both from the brothers. She was the youngest of them all, and their pride and glory.
She was tall and generously proportioned, with ropes of red gold hair round her small head, and her face had the colour of the sea-shell. In her large brown eyes, sleepily veiled by long lashes, smouldered a hidden fire: her step was proud and fearless, and she was as strong as a beautiful lithe young animal. The brothers brought her gay prints and woollens and rows of beads when they came home with the fishing fleet, and with these she adorned her beauty—a beauty so brilliant that it glittered of itself.
There was no use opposing her once she had fallen in love with Jacopo. He was a handsome, dark fellow, with insinuating manners, and a voice like a blackbird. When the two were together there was no one else in the world for them. He had flamed up with the fierceness of his southern nature: she with the heat of a heart slow to love, and once fired slow to go out.
When Jacopo had settled things with Father Tiernay and had gone on his last trip before he should come to make Mary his wife, the girl walked the Island like one transfigured. The light burned steadily in her deep eyes, her cheeks flamed scarlet, her lips were red as coral. She went about her household duties with her head in the air and her eyes far away. The brothers when they came home of an evening sat silent in a ring, for the grief was on them: but if the girl knew she did not seem to know. Of the five brothers not one had thought of marrying. What any one might do as soon as the golden thread that held them together was snapped no one could say; but they were grizzled or grizzling men, and had long ago been put down by the Island folk as confirmed bachelors.
Father Tiernay had talked with Jacopo about his religion, and had declared him an excellent son of Mother Church, so there was nothing against him on that ground. The captain of his ship gave him a good character, and Jacopo had been with him three seasons. He had a tidy little house near Greenock, and a bit of money saved. Yet the brothers were not satisfied. 'Why couldn't she have fancied a lad of the kindly neighbours?' grumbled William, the eldest. And the youngest, Patrick, answered in the same strain, 'Wasn't the Island good enough for her but she must go to foreign lands?' And then five melancholy heads shook in the twilight.
They had a cold, awkward, insular distrust and shyness of the Spaniard. They made no response to his professions of goodwill and brotherhood, poured out fluently in his yet difficult Scots-English. They noticed and commented afterwards upon his contemptuous shrug, when one feast night he was invited to join the family at its Rosary,—for they are devout people, the Islanders.
Yet, distrust or no distrust, the girl must go to him. He came back one summer day with a fine rig-out for his wedding, and a bonnet and cloak for the bride such as were never dreamt of in the Island. She was an impassioned bride, and as she came down the church with her husband, her eyes uplifted and shining like stars, she seemed rather to float like a tall flame than to walk like a mortal woman.
Five men watched her then with melancholy and patient faces. The five went with her to the boat on which she was to cross to the mainland to take the Glasgow steamer. As the little ferry plied away from the pier it was at her husband she looked, not at them and the Island, though it stood up purple and black, and she had well loved the rocks and glades of it, and though they had fostered her.
The five men went back to their lonely cottage and began to do for themselves. They were handy fellows, as good at frying a fish as catching it, and they were not minded to put a woman in Mary's place. They kept the cottage tidy enough, yet it was a dreary tidiness. The fire generally went out when it was no longer required for meals, and as the brothers came in one after the other, from smoking a pipe on the quay, they went to bed in the dark, or by the shaft of moonlight that came in through the window overlooking the old Abbey and its graves. They were always silent men, and now they grew more taciturn. Even when at first letters came from Mary full of her husband and her happiness, they spelt them out to themselves and did not take the neighbours into their confidence. And more and more they came to be regarded as 'oddities' by the Island people.
About a year after Mary's marriage there came a letter from Jacopo announcing that she was the mother of a son. That child formed a tremendous interest to his five uncles. They did not talk much about it, but a speech from one or another told what was in all their minds.
'The lad'll be fine and tall by this,' one would say. 'Ay,' the other would respond, 'he'll be maybe walking by now.' 'He'll have the looks of his mother,' suggested James. 'Ay: he was a fair child from the beginning,' Thomas would agree.
Seeing the child was so much in their minds it was strange none of them had ever seen it. At first after she was married Mary had been fond of pressing them to come to the Clyde, if it was only for a look at her. But little by little the invitations had dropped off and ceased. They had been shy of going in the early days. It was not that they feared the journey, for some of the brothers had fared much further afield than Scotland; but in their hearts, though they never complained, they remembered how she had not looked back on them as the ferry swung from the pier, and feared that they might be but half-welcome guests in the house of her husband.
At first Jacopo often wrote for his wife, but after a time this too ceased. Then the praises of him by degrees grew spasmodic. There were often two or three letters in which his name found no place. The brothers with the keenness of love noted this fact, though each of them pondered it long in his mind before one evening Patrick spoke of his fear, and then the others brought theirs out of its hiding-place.
Mary had been going on for four years married, when in a wild winter David and Tom were drowned. They were laid with many another drowned fisherman in the Abbey graveyard. Mary wrote the other brothers ill-spelt, tear-stained letters, which proved her heart had not grown cold to them; and the three brothers went on living as the five had done.
It was a bitter, bitter spring when Mary's letters ceased altogether. They had had a short letter from her early in January, and then no word afterwards. February went by gray and with showers of sleet: no word came. In the first week of March there came a great storm, with snow pelting on the furious wind. All the fishing boats were drawn high on the land, and the fishers sat in their cottages benumbed, despite the fires on the hearth, for the wind roared through doors and windows and often seemed minded to take up the little houses and smash them on the rocks as an angry child smashes a flimsy toy. No one went out of doors, and the Cassidys sat with their feet on the turf embers and smoked. The sky was lurid green all that March day, and in the little cottage there was hardly light for the men to see each other's brooding faces. If they spoke it was only to say, 'God betune us and all harm!' or, 'God help all poor sowls at say!' when the wind rattled with increasing fury the stout door and windows.
It was some time in the afternoon that William spoke out of his meditations. 'Boys,' he said, 'if the ferry goes to-morrow, and they'll be fain to put out, for there isn't much food on the Island, I'll start wid her in the name of God, and take the Glasga' boat. It's on my mind there's something wrong wid our Mary.'
The other two breathed a sigh of relief. 'The same was on my tongue,' said one and the other, and almost simultaneously both cried, 'Why should you go? Let me go.'
'Stay where yez are, boys!' said the other authoritatively, 'an' get what comfort yez can about the house. I'm thinkin' I'll be bringin' the girsha home.'
He gave no reason for this supposition, and they asked none. That night the storm subsided, and though the sea was churned white as wool, and no fishing boats would put out for days to come, the tiny steam ferry panted its way through the trough of waters to bring stores from the mainland. Will Cassidy was the only passenger, and he carried with him small provision for himself, but at the last moment Patrick had come running after him with a bundle of woollens.
'It'll be fine and cold travelling back,' he panted, 'so I run over to Clancy's (Clancy's was the village shop) and got a big shawl for her, an' a small one for the child. The things'll be no worse for your keeping them warm on the way over.'
But William did not keep them warm in his brother's sense. He hugged them under his big cotamor, and now and again he took them out and regarded them with interest. Once he said aloud, 'Well, to think of Patrick havin' the thought, the crathur'; and then put them hurriedly back because a big wave was just sousing over the deck.
The next evening he was in the streets of the unfriendly Scotch town that was covered with snow. The green sky of the day of the storm had fulfilled its prophecy and spilt its burden on the earth. As he passed on, inquiring his way from one or another, there were few passengers to enlighten him, and his footsteps fell with a muffled sound on the causeways. At last he came to where the houses grew thinner, and found the place he sought, a little cottage not far from the water's edge.
There was a light in the window, but when he had knocked no one came in answer. He knocked two or three times. Then he lifted the latch and went in. There was a woman sitting by the fireless grate. Her arms were round a child on her bosom, and a thin shawl about her shoulders trailed over the child's face. She did not turn round as he came in, but he saw it was Mary's figure. He had to speak to her before she looked up. Then she gave a faint cry and her frozen face relaxed. She held out the child to him with an imploring gesture: it reminded him of her running to him with a wound when she had fallen down in her babyhood. He took the child from her and felt it very heavy. The mother came to him gently and put her head on his rough coat. 'O William,' she cried, 'he's dead; my little Willie's dead and cold. It was at three o'clock the breath went out of him, and no one ever came since.'
He looked at the child then and saw that he was indeed dead. He put her back gently in her chair, and laid the child's little body on the bright patchwork quilt of the bed. He remembered that quilt: it was part of Mary's bridal gear. Then he came again to the mother and soothed her, with her bright head against his rough coat.
'Whisht, acushla,' he said, 'sure you're famished. Aisy now, till I make a bit of fire for you.'
The girl watched him with wide dry eyes of despair. He gathered the embers on the hearth and set a light to them. He lit a candle and extinguished the smoking lamp, which had apparently been burning all day. Then he went here and there gathering the materials for a meal. The kettle was soon boiling, and he made some tea and forced her to drink a cup. He was very glad of its warmth himself, for he was weary with long fasting. Afterwards he sat down beside her and asked for Jacopo.
'Him,' turning away her head, 'he's wid another woman.' She said no more, and William asked no more. Instead, he said gently, 'Well, acushla, you'll be putting together the few things you'll take with you. There's a cattle boat going at six in the mornin', an' we can get a passage by that.'
She looked up at him. 'But the child?' she said.
'He'll go wid us,' the man replied. 'He'll sleep sweeter on the Island than in this sorrowful town.'
'May God reward you, William,' she said. 'You're savin' more than you know. For if he'd come back I wouldn't answer for it that I wouldn't have kilt him as he slep'.'
The morning rose green and livid, with a sky full of snow though the world was covered with it. Now and again the snow drifted in their faces as they trudged through the streets before daybreak, and it came dryly pattering when they were out on the waste of green waters cleaving their way under the melancholy daylight. William had found a corner for the woman under shelter of the bridge, and there she sat through the hours with the dead child wrapped in her shawl, and the cold of it aching at her heart. The snow came on faster, and the deck passengers huddled in for shelter. 'God save you, honest woman,' said a ruddy-faced wife to her. 'Give me the child, and move yourself about a bit. You'll be fair frozen before we're half way across.' Mary shook her head with a gesture that somehow disarmed the kind woman's wrath at the rejection of her overtures. 'That crature looks to me,' she said to her husband, 'fair dazed wid the sorrow. Maybe it's the husband of her the crature's after buryin'.' There were a great many curious glances at Mary in her corner, but no one else had the temerity to offer her help.
William brought her a cup of tea at mid-day, which she drank eagerly, still holding the child with one arm, but she pushed away the food he offered with loathing.
In the evening they disembarked, and from a pier swept by the north wind were huddled into a train, ill lit and cold as the grave. Mary crouched into a corner with her face bent over the dead child. 'A quiet sleeper, ma'am,' said a cheerful sea-faring man. Mary looked at him with lack-lustre eyes and turned away her head.
Presently she began to sing, a quaint old Island lullaby, which rang weird and melancholy. William looked at her in alarm, but said nothing, and the other passengers watched her curiously, half in fear. She lifted her child from her knee to her breast, and held it there clasped a moment. 'I can't warm him,' she said, looking helplessly at all the wondering faces. 'The cold's on him and on me, and I doubt we'll ever be warm again.'
Presently they drew up at a bleak way-side station for the ferry, and the brother and sister without a word stepped out in the night and the snow. The man did not offer to carry the child. He knew it was no use. But he put a strong arm round the woman and her burden, where the snow was heaviest, and the wind from the sea blew like a hurricane.
They were the only passengers by the ferry, and neither the ferryman nor his mate knew Mary Cassidy, with the shawl drawn over her eyes. But as they stepped ashore and touched the familiar rock on which she and hers for many a forgotten generation had been born and cradled, the piteous frozen madness melted away from her face. She turned to her brother—
'Tis the sad home-coming,' she said, 'but I've brought back all I prized.' She snatched the ring from her finger suddenly and hurled it out in the tossing waters, on which even in the dark they could see the foam-crests. 'Now I'm Mary Cassidy again,' she said, 'and the woman that left you is dead.' She lifted her shawl and kissed the little dead face under it. 'You've no father, avic,' she said passionately. 'You're mine, only mine. Never a man has any right in you at all, but only Mary Cassidy.'
Against Con Daly's little girl there was never a word spoken in the Island. Con had been well liked, God rest his soul!—but the man was drowned nigh upon twenty years ago. There was some old tragic tale about it, how he had volunteered to swim with a rope round his waist to a ship breaking up a few yards from the rocks in a sea that a gannet could scarcely live upon. He had pushed aside the men who remonstrated with him, turning on them a face ghastly in the moonlight. 'Stand aside, men,' he cried, 'and if I fail, see to the girsha!' He was the strongest man in all the Island, and as much at home in the water as a porpoise. They saw his sleek head now and again flung out of the trough of the waves, and his huge shoulders labouring against the weight of the storm. Then suddenly the rope they were holding fell slack in their hands,—they said afterwards it had snapped on a jagged razor of rock,—and the man disappeared. A day or two later his battered and bruised body was flung up on the bathing strand, where in summer the city ladies take their dip in the sea. He was buried with some of the drowned sailors he had tried to rescue, and an iron cross put at his head by the fishermen. But for a long time there was a talk that the man had gone to meet his death gladly, had for some reason or another preferred death to life; but people were never quite sure if there was anything in it.
The Islanders had looked askance at Ellen Daly, Con's wife, before that, though to her husband she was the apple of his eye. She had been a domestic servant on the mainland when Con Daly met and married her, and she had never seemed to have any friends. She had been handsome in her day, at least so some people thought, but there were women on the Island who said they never could abide her, with her pale face and sneering smile, and her eyes that turned green as a cat's when she was angry. However, she never tried to ingratiate herself with the women: if the men admired her it was as much as she asked. When she liked she could be fascinating enough. She bewitched Mrs. Wilkinson, the housekeeper at the Hall, into taking her on whenever his Lordship filled the house with gentlemen and an extra hand was needed. She was deft and clever, and could be insinuating when it served her purpose. But the friendship of the Island women she had never desired, and when her husband was drowned there was not a fisher-wife to go and sit with her in the desolate house. As the years went by her good looks went with them. She yellowed, and her malevolent eyes took on red rims round their greenness; while her dry lips, parted over her snarling teeth, were more ill than they had been when they were ripe and ruddy.
The neighbours were kind by stealth to Con's girsha. Those were long days of her childhood when her mother was at work in the Hall, and the child was locked in the empty cottage; but many was the kind word through the window, from the women as they passed up and down, and now and again a hot griddle-cake, or some little dainty of the kind, was passed through to the child as she sat so dull and lonely on her little creepy stool.
Poor little Mauryeen! She was a child with social instincts, and often, often she used to wonder in those lonely hours why she might not be out with the other children, playing at shop in the crevices of the rocks, or wading for cockles, or dancing round in a ring to the sing-song of 'Green Gravel,' or playing at 'High Gates.' Her mother coldly discouraged any friendship with the children of her foes; and little Mauryeen grew up a silent child, with something more delicate and refined about her than the other children,—with somehow the air of a little lady.
But Mauryeen was not her mother's child to be without a will of her own. As she grew from childhood to girlhood she began to assert herself, and though her mother tried hard to break her spirit she did not succeed. After a time she seemed to realise that here was something she had not counted upon, and to submit, since she could not hope to fight it. All the same she hated the girl whom she could not rule, hated her so furiously that the glitter of her eyes as she looked at her from the chimney-corner was oftentimes murderous. For, little by little Mauryeen grew to be friends with all the fishing village.
Even though she asserted herself the girl did her duty bravely and humbly. Any mother of them all would have been proud to own Mauryeen. When her mother had employment at the Hall Mauryeen took care of the house, and having cleaned and tidied to her heart's content, sat in the sun at her knitting till Ellen Daly came home to find a comfortable meal prepared for her. The woman's one good quality was that she had always been a good housewife, and the girl took after her. Then when her mother was at home Mauryeen went out sewing to the houses of the few gentry who lived on the hill; and the house was well kept and comfortable, though an unnatural hatred sat beside the hearth.
The neighbours pitied and praised Mauryeen all the more. They used to wonder how long it would last, the silent feud between mother and daughter, especially since Mauryeen was so capable and clever that she might for the asking join even Mrs. Wilkinson's chosen band of handmaidens.
The girl meanwhile throve as happily as though she lived in the very sunshine of love rather than in this malignant atmosphere. She saw little of her mother. The hours when they were under one roof were few; and across the threshold she found abundant kindness and praise. Mauryeen was small and graceful, with the olive-tinted fairness which had been her mother's in her best days. But Mauryeen's blue eyes were kindly and her lips smiled, and her soft voice was gentle; she had a pretty way of decking herself which the fisher-girls could never come by. Mauryeen in a pink cotton frock, with a spray of brown seaweed in her belt, might have passed for one of the young ladies who visited at the Hall. If the other girls copied her pretty tricks of decoration they carried the tame air of the mere copyist. But no one grudged Mauryeen her charm; she was so kind and gentle, and she had always the tragedy of that ghastly old mother of hers to stir pity for her. Then too she always seemed so anxious that the other girls should look well, and so willing to take trouble to this end, that no one could envy her her own prettiness.
There came a time when a young man of the Island, Randal Burke by name, declared to Mauryeen that her voice could coax the birds off the trees, and that her head when she listened was like the prettiest bird's head, all covered with golden feathers. She had indeed a very pretty way of listening, with her head on one side and her eyes bright and attentive. Mauryeen was used to compliments, and could usually hold her own in a bit of light love-making; but it was remarkable that at this speech of Randal Burke's she went pale. She always turned pale when another girl would have blushed.
Mauryeen's was a sudden and rapid wooing. The young fellow was fairly independent, possessing as he did a little bit of land with his cottage, as well as a boat. His mother was one of the most prosperous women of the Island, and had been in days gone by Ellen Daly's bitterest enemy. But for all that she welcomed Mauryeen tenderly as a daughter.
There was a terrible to-do when Mauryeen told her mother of her intentions. She turned so livid that Mauryeen for all her brave heart was frightened, and faltered. The old woman choked and gasped with the whirlwind of passion that possessed her. As soon as she could speak she hissed out:—
'The day you marry him I curse you, and him, your house, your marriage, and every child born of you.'
Mauryeen's anger rose and shook her too like a whirlwind, but it drove out fear.
'And if you do, you wicked woman,' she said, 'it's not me it'll harm. Do you think God will listen to the like of you or let harm befall me and mine because of your curse?'
For a day or two after Mauryeen's defiance her mother brooded in quietness, only now and again turning on her daughter those terrible green eyes. No word passed between the two, and meanwhile Randal Burke was hastening the preparations for the marriage by every means in his power. Father Tiernay had 'called' them at the mass three Sunday mornings. The priest was greatly pleased with the marriage. Mauryeen was a pet lamb of his flock, and he deeply disliked and distrusted her mother.
It was the feast day of the year on the Island, a beautiful bright sunny June day. On a plateau the men played at the hurley and putting the stone; and there was a tug of war for married men and single, and after that for the women, amid much jollity and laughter. Above the plateau the hill sloped, and that long sunny slope was the place from which the girls and women looked on at the prowess of their male kind. That day out of all the year there was a general picnic on the hill, and meals were eaten and the long day spent out of doors, till the dews came on the grass.
Now one of the events was a rowing contest, and the course was right under the hill-slope. Father Tiernay every year gave a money prize for the winner, and the distinction in itself was ardently coveted. Randal Burke was rowing against another young fisherman, and it was not easy to forecast the winner, both men were so strong, so practised, and so eager in the contest.
The race had begun, and the people on the hillside were standing up in their excitement watching the boats, which were nearly dead level. Mauryeen stood by Randal's mother, with one hand thrust childishly within her arm, and the other shading her eyes from the bright sun. Suddenly the people were startled by the sound of running feet, and all looking in one direction they saw Mauryeen's mother coming without bonnet or cloak, her face working with passion and her hands clenched. The people fell back before her. She had an evil reputation, and for a minute or two they thought she had gone mad. Mauryeen, who did not fall back with the others, found herself standing in the centre of an empty space, while her mother panted before her, struggling for words. All the women-folk behind pressed together and craned over each other's shoulders, half alarmed and half curious.
At last the woman found her breath. She pointed a yellow finger at the girl, who stood before her with her head proudly lifted, and her eyes amazed but fearless.
'Look at her,' shrieked the beldame, 'all of you, and you, Kate Burke, that boasts your family's the oldest on the Island. Look well at her! Och, the good ould ancient blood! Look at her, for her blood's ancienter still. Do you see anything of Con Daly in her?'
The girl looked round with a forlorn sense of being held up to public scorn, but the women were huddling together, and the fear kept any one from coming to stand by her side.
'Look at her,' again shrieked the hoarse voice. 'D'yez know where she gets her pride and the courage to dare me? She gets it from her father, th' ould lord. Con Daly had never act nor part in her.'
A scream, the like of which the Island had never heard, broke from Mauryeen's lips. It was such a cry as if body and soul were tearing asunder. With that scream she flung her arms above her head. The little group, closing round her awe-stricken, looked to see her fall face downward to the ground. But with a wild movement of her arms, as if she swept the whole world out of her path, she fled down the hill towards the village. Ellen Daly had vanished. No one had seen her go. And down in the dancing bay at their feet Randal Burke proudly shot ahead of his opponent and won the race.
The girl meanwhile had fled on and on, with only the blind instinct to hide her disgrace. The village was empty of all but the sick and the bed-ridden. There was not an eye on Mauryeen Daly as she fled by the open doors. With a mechanical instinct she turned in at the door of her mother's house. The cool darkness of it after the glare outside was grateful to her. She closed the door and barred it. Then she turned into a room off the kitchen, her own little room, where there was a picture of the Mother of Sorrows with seven swords through her heart, and dropped on the floor before the picture with an inarticulate moaning.
She lay there half unconscious, and only feeling her misery dumbly. On the wall hung her blue cashmere dress, in which she was to have been married a day or two later. On the chest of drawers was a box containing the little wreath and veil her mother-in-law had presented her with. But she saw none of these things, with her mouth and eyes against the floor.
She came back to life presently, hearing her name called. The voice had called many times before she heard it. Now it was imperative, almost sharp in its eagerness. 'Open, acushla, open, or I burst the door.' It was Randal's voice; and she answered it, advancing a step or two, groping with outstretched hands, and a wild look of fear in her dilated eyes. Then she heard the door straining and creaking, and a man panting, striving outside. In a little while, almost before she had time to stand clear of it, the door rattled on the floor, and her lover leapt into the cabin.
She put out her hands to fence him off, swaying blindly towards the wall. He sprang to her with a murmur of pity, and was just in time to catch her as her senses left her, and she lay a limp and helpless thing in his arms.
Father Tiernay was standing at his window gazing over a surpassingly fair plain of sea, dotted with silver green islands. He was glad the people had so fine a day for their sports. In the afternoon he would be with them to distribute the prizes and congratulate the winners, and to add to the general enjoyment by his presence; but this morning he was alone, except for his deaf old housekeeper, and Jim the sacristan, who was too dignified to be out on the Fair Hill with the others. The priest's look of perplexity deepened as he watched some one climbing the steep hill to his house. 'It looks like Cody's ghost carrying his wife's body,' he muttered to himself. The figure or figures came nearer. At last his Reverence took in what he saw, and made but one or two steps to the hall door. 'Come in here,' he said, asking no questions, like a practical man; and indeed for a few minutes the young fisherman was incapable of answering any. It was not until the priest had forced some brandy between the girl's lips, when they had laid her on a sofa, and her breath came fluttering back, that Father Tiernay drew the lover aside into the window recess and learnt in a few words what had happened.
'She's so proud, my little girl,' pleaded the lover. 'She won't live under the shame of it unless your Reverence 'ud help us out of it. Couldn't your Reverence say the words over us? We've been called three times, and I've the ring in my pocket. Oh, 'twas well that unnatural woman calculated her time when our happiness was at the full. Couldn't your Reverence do it for us?' he said again in a wheedling tone.