By George A. Birmingham
In the year 1850 or thereabouts religious and charitable society in England was seized with a desire to convert Irish Roman Catholics to the Protestant faith. It is clear to everyone with any experience of missionary societies that, the more remote the field of actual work, the easier it is to keep alive the interest of subscribers. The mission to Roman Catholics, therefore, commenced in that western portion of Galway which the modern tourist knows as Connemara, and the enthusiasm was immense. Elderly ladies, often with titles, were energetic in the cause of the new reformation. Young ladies, some of them very attractive, collected money from their brothers and admirers. States-men and Bishops headed the subscription-lists, and influential committees earnestly debated plans for spending the money which poured in. Faith in the efficacy of money handled by influential committees is one of the characteristics of the English people, and in this particular case it seemed as if their faith were to be justified by results. Most encouraging reports were sent to headquarters from Gonnemara. It appeared that converts were flocking in, and that the schools of the missionaries were filled to overflowing. In the matter of education circumstances favoured the new reformation. The leonine John McHale, the Papal Archbishop of Tuam, pursued a policy which drove the children of his flock into the mission schools. The only other kind of education available was that which some humorous English statesman had called 'national,' and it did not seem to the Archbishop desirable that an Irish boy should be beaten for speaking his own language, or rewarded for calling himself 'a happy English child.' He refused to allow the building of national schools in his diocese, and thus left the cleverer boys to drift into the mission schools, where they learnt carefully selected texts of Scripture along with the multiplication-table. The best of them were pushed on through Dublin University, and crowned the hopes of their teachers by taking Holy Orders in the Church of England. There are still to be met with in Galway and Mayo ancient peasants and broken-down inhabitants of workhouses who speak with a certain pride of 'my brother the minister.' There are also here and there in English rectories elderly gentlemen who have almost forgotten the thatched cottages where they ate their earliest potatoes.
Among these cleverer boys was one AEneas Conneally, who was something more than clever. He was also religious in an intense and enthusiastic manner, which puzzled his teachers while it pleased them. His ancestors had lived for generations on a seaboard farm, watered by salt rain, swept by misty storms. The famine and the fever that followed it left him fatherless and brotherless. The emigration schemes robbed him and his mother of their surviving relations. The mission school and the missionary's charity effected the half conversion of the mother and a whole-hearted acceptance of the new faith on the part of AEneas. Unlike most of his fellows in the college classrooms, he refused to regard an English curacy as the goal of his ambition. It seemed to him that his conversion ought not to end in his parading the streets of Liverpool in a black coat and a white tie. He wanted to return to his people and tell them in their own tongue the Gospel which he had found so beautiful.
The London committee meditated on his request, and before they arrived at a conclusion his mother died, having at the last moment made a tardy submission to the Church she had denied. Her apostasy—so the missionaries called it—confirmed the resolution of her son, and the committee at length agreed to allow him to return to his native village as the first Rector of the newly-created parish of Carrowkeel. He was provided with all that seemed necessary to insure the success of his work. They built him a gray house, low and strong, for it had to withstand the gales which swept in from the Atlantic. They bought him a field where a cow could graze, and an acre of bog to cut turf from. A church was built for him, gray and strong, like his house. It was fitted with comfortable pews, a pulpit, a reading-desk, and a movable table of wood decently covered with a crimson cloth. Beyond the church stood the school he had attended as a boy, whitewashed without and draped inside with maps and illuminated texts. A salary, not princely but sufficient, was voted to Mr. Conneally, and he was given authority over a Scripture-reader and a schoolmaster. The whole group of mission buildings—the rectory, the church, and the school—stood, like types of the uncompromising spirit of Protestantism, upon the bare hillside, swept by every storm, battered by the Atlantic spray. Below them Carrowkeel, the village, cowered in such shelter as the sandhills afforded. Eastward lonely cottages, faintly smoking dots in the landscape, straggled away to the rugged bases of the mountains. The Rev. AEneas Conneally entered upon his mission enthusiastically, and the London committee awaited results. There were scarcely any results, certainly none that could be considered satisfactory. The day for making conversions was past, and the tide had set decisively against the new reformation. A national school, started by a clearsighted priest, in spite of his Archbishop, left the mission school almost without pupils. The Scripture-reader lost heart, and took to seeking encouragement in the public-house. He found it, and once when exalted—he said, spiritually—paraded the streets cursing the Virgin Mary. Worse followed, and the committee in London dismissed the man. A diminishing income forced on them the necessity of economy, and no successor was appointed. For a few years Mr. Conneally laboured on. Then a sharp-eyed inspector from London discovered that the schoolmaster took very little trouble about teaching, but displayed great talent in prompting his children at examinations. He, too, was dismissed, and the committee, still bent on economy, appointed a mistress in his place. She was a pretty girl, and after she had shivered through the stormy nights of two winters in the lonely school-house, Mr. Conneally married her. Afterwards the office of school-teacher was also left vacant. The whitewashed school fell gradually into decay, and the committee effected a further saving.
After his marriage Mr. Conneally's missionary enthusiasm began to flag. His contact with womanhood humanized him. The sternness of the reformer died in him, and his neighbours, who never could comprehend his religion, came to understand the man. They learned to look upon him as a friend, to seek his sympathy and help. In time they learnt to love him.
Two years passed, and a son was born. The village people crowded upon him with congratulations, and mothers of wide experience praised the boy till Mrs. Conneally's heart swelled in her with pride. He was christened Hyacinth, after a great pioneer and leader of the mission work. The naming was Mr. Conneally's act of contrition for the forsaking of his enthusiasm, his recognition of the value of a zeal which had not flagged. Failing the attainment of greatness, the next best thing is to dedicate a new life to a patron saint who has won the reward of those who endure to the end. For two years more life in the glebe house was rapturously happy. Such bliss has in it, no doubt, an element of sin, and it is not good that it should endure. This was to be seen afterwards in calmer times, though hardly at the moment when the break came. There was a hope of a second child, a delightful time of expectation; then an accident, the blighting of the hope, and in a few days the death of Mrs. Conneally. Her husband buried her, digging the first grave in the rocky ground that lay around the little church.
For a time Mr. Conneally was stunned by his sorrow. He stopped working altogether, ceased to think, even to feel. Men avoided him with instinctive reverence at first, and afterwards with fear, as he wandered, muttering to himself, among the sandhills and along the beach. After a while the power of thought and a sense of the outward things of life returned to him. He found that an aged crone from the village had established herself in his house, and was caring for Hyacinth. He let her stay, and according to her abilities she cooked and washed for him and the boy, neither asking wages nor taking orders from him, until she died.
Hyacinth grew and throve amazingly. From morning till evening he was in the village, among the boats beside the little pier, or in the fields, when the men worked there. Everyone petted and loved him, from Father Moran, the priest who had started the national school, down to old Shamus, the crippled singer of interminable Irish songs and teller of heroic legends of the past. It was when he heard the boy repeat a story of Finn MacCool to the old crone in the kitchen that Mr. Conneally awoke to the idea that he must educate his son. He began, naturally enough, with Irish, for it was Irish, and not English, that Hyacinth spoke fluently.
Afterwards the English alphabet followed, though not for the sake of reading books, for except the Bible and the Prayer-Book Hyacinth was taught to read no English books. He learned Latin after a fashion, not with nice attention to complexities of syntax, but as a language meant to be used, read, and even spoken now and then to Father Moran.
Meanwhile the passage of the years brought changes to Carrowkeel. The Admiralty established a coastguard station near the village, and arranged, for the greater security of the Empire, that men in blue-serge clothes should take it in turns to look at the Atlantic through a telescope. Then the unquiet spirit of the Congested Districts Board possessed the place for a while. A young engineer designed a new pier to shelter fishing-boats. He galvanized the people into unwonted activity, and, though sceptical of good results, they earned a weekly wage by building it. Boats came, great able boats, which fought the Atlantic, and the old curraghs were left to blister in the sun far up on the beach. Instructors from the Isle of Man taught new ways of catching mackerel. Green patches between the cottages and the sea, once the playground of pigs and children, or the marine parade of solemn lines of geese, were spread with brown nets. On May mornings, if the take was good, long lines of carts rattled down the road carrying the fish to the railway at Clifden, and the place bore for a while the appearance of vitality. A vagrant Englishman discovered that lobsters could be had almost for the asking in Carrowkeel. The commercial instincts of his race were aroused in him.
He established a trade between the villagers and the fishmongers of Manchester. The price of lobsters rose to the unprecedented figure of four shillings a dozen, and it was supposed that even so the promoter of the scheme secured a profit.
To AEneas Conneally, growing quietly old, the changes meant very little. The coastguards, being bound by one of the articles of the British Constitution, came to church on Sunday mornings with exemplary regularity, and each man at fixed intervals brought a baby to be christened and a woman to be churched. Otherwise they hardly affected Mr. Conneally's life. The great officials who visited Carrowkeel to survey the benignant activities of the Congested Districts Board were men whose magnificent intellectual powers raised them above any recognised form of Christianity. Neither Father Moran's ministrations nor Mr. Conneally's appealed to them.
The London committee of the mission to Roman Catholics made no inquiry about what was going on at Carrowkeel. They asked for no statistics, expected no results, but signed quarterly cheques for Mr. Conneally, presuming, one may suppose, that if he had ceased to exist they would somehow have heard of it.
By far the most important event for Hyacinth and his father was the death of their old housekeeper. In the changed state of society in Carrowkeel it was found impossible to secure the services of another. Hyacinth, at this time about fifteen years old, took to the housework without feeling that he was doing anything strange or unmanly. He was familiar with the position of 'bachelor boys' who, having grown elderly under the care of a mother, preferred afterwards the toil of their own kitchens to the uncertain issue of marrying a girl to 'do for them.' Life under their altered circumstances was simplified. It seemed unnecessary to carry a meal from the room it was cooked in to another for the purpose of eating it, so the front rooms of the house, with their tattered furniture, were left to moulder quietly in the persistent damp. One door was felt to be sufficient for the ingress and egress of two people from a house. The kitchen door, being at the back of the house, was oftenest the sheltered one, so the front door was bolted, and the grass grew up to it. One by one, as Hyacinth's education required, the Latin and Greek books were removed from the forsaken study, and took their places among the diminishing array of plates and cups on the kitchen dresser. The spreading and removal of a tablecloth for every meal came to be regarded as foolish toil. When room was required on the table for plates, the books and papers were swept on one side. A pile of potatoes, and the pan, with bacon or a fish perhaps still frizzling in it, was set in the place left vacant.
Morning and evening AEneas Conneally expected his son to join with him in prayer. The two knelt together on the earthen floor facing the window, while the old man meditated aloud on Divine things. There were breaks in his speech and long silences, so that sometimes it was hard to tell when his prayer had really ended. These devotions formed a part of his father's life into which Hyacinth never really entered at all. He neither rebelled nor mocked. He simply remained outside. So when his father wandered off to solitary places on the seashore, and sat gazing into the sunset or a gathering storm, Hyacinth neither followed nor questioned him. Sometimes on winter nights when the wind howled more fiercely than usual round the house, the old man would close the book they read together, and repeat aloud long passages from the Apocalypse. His voice, weak and wavering at first, would gather strength as he proceeded, and the young man listened, stirred to vague emotion over the fall of Babylon the Great.
For the most part Hyacinth's time was his own. Even the hours of study were uncertain. He read when he liked, and his father seemed content with long days of idleness followed by others of application. It was, indeed, only owing to his love of what he read that the boy learned at all. Often while he tramped from his home to the village at midday his heart was hot within him with some great thought which had sprung to him from a hastily construed chorus of Euripides. Sometimes he startled the fishermen when he went with them at night by chanting Homer's rolling hexameters through the darkness while the boat lay waiting, borne gunwale down to the black water with the drag of the net that had been shot.
There was a tacit understanding that Hyacinth, like his father, was to take Holy Orders. He matriculated in Trinity College when he was eighteen, and, as is often done by poorer students, remained at home, merely passing the required examinations, until he took his degree, and the time came for his entering the divinity school. Then it became necessary for him to reside in Dublin, and the first great change in his life took place.
The night before he left home he and his father sat together in the kitchen after they had finished their evening meal. For a long time neither of them spoke. Hyacinth held a book in his hand, but scarcely attempted to read it. His thoughts wandered from hopeful expectation of what the future was to bring him and the new life was to mean, to vague regrets, weighted with misgivings, which would take no certain shape. There crowded upon him recollections of busy autumn days when the grain harvest overtook the belated hay-making, and men toiled till late in the fields; of long nights in the springtime when he tugged at the fishing-nets, and felt the mackerel slipping and flapping past his feet in the darkness; of the longer winter nights when he joined the gatherings of the boys and girls to dance jigs and reels on the earthen floor of some kitchen. It seemed now that all this was past and over for him. Holiday time would bring him back to Carrowkeel, but would it be the same? Would he be the same?
He looked at his father, half hoping for sympathy; but the old man sat gazing—it seemed to Hyacinth stupidly—into the fire. He wondered if his father had forgotten that this was their last evening together. Then suddenly, without raising his eyes, the old man began to speak, and it appeared that he, too, was thinking of the change.
'I do not know, my son, what they will teach you in their school of divinity. I have long ago forgotten all I learned there, and I have not missed the knowledge. It does not seem to me now that what they taught me has been of any help in getting to know Him.'
He paused for a long time. Hyacinth was familiar enough with his father's ways of speech to know that the emphatic 'Him' meant the God whom he worshipped.
'There is, I am sure, only one way in which we can become His friends. These are they which have come out of great tribulation! You remember that, Hyacinth? That is the only way. You may be taught truths about Him, but they matter very little. You have already great thoughts, burning thoughts, but they will not of themselves bring you to Him. The other way is the only way. Shall I wish it for you, my son? Shall I give it to you for my blessing? May great tribulation come upon you in your life! Great tribulation! See how weak my faith is even now at the very end. I cannot give you this blessing, although I know very well that it is the only way. I know this, because I have been along this way myself, and it has led me to Him.'
Again he paused. It did not seem to Hyacinth to be possible to say anything. He was not sure in his heart that the friendship of the Man of Sorrows was so well worth having that he would be content to pay for it by accepting such a benediction from his father.
'I shall do this for you, Hyacinth: I shall pray that when the choice is given you, the great choice between what is easy and what is hard, the right decision may be made for you. I do not know in what form it will come. Perhaps it will be as it was with me. He made the choice for me, for indeed I could not have chosen for myself. He set my feet upon the narrow way, forced me along it for a while, and now at the end I see His face.'
Hyacinth had heard enough of the brief bliss of his father's married life to understand. He caught for the first time a glimpse of the meaning of the solitary life, the long prayers, and the meditations. He was profoundly moved, but it did not even then seem to him desirable to choose such a way, or to have such attainment thrust on him.
Next morning the autumn sunlight chased the recollection of his emotion from his mind. The fishermen stopped his car as he drove through the street to shake hands with him. Their wives shouted familiar blessings from the cabin doors. Father Moran came bare-headed to the gate of his presbytery garden and waved a farewell.
There is that about the material fabric, the actual stone and mortar, of Trinity College, Dublin, which makes a vivid appeal to the imagination of the common man. The cultured sentimentalist will not indeed be able to lave his soul in tepid emotion while he walks through these quadrangles, as he may among the cloisters and chapels of the Oxford colleges. The amateur of the past cannot here stand at gaze before any single building as he does before the weather-beaten front of Oriel, tracing in imagination the footsteps of Newman or Arnold. Yet to the average man, and far more to the newly emancipated schoolboy, Trinity College, Dublin, makes an appeal which can hardly be ignored. In Oxford and Cambridge town and University are mixed together; shops jostle and elbow colleges in the streets. In Dublin a man leaves the city behind him when he enters the college, passes completely out of the atmosphere of the University when he steps on to the pavement. The physical contrast is striking enough, appealing to the ear and the eye. The rattle of the traffic, the jangling of cart bells, the inarticulate babel of voices, suddenly cease when the archway of the great entrance-gate is passed.
An immense silence takes their place. There is no longer any need for watchfulness, nor risk of being hustled by the hurrying crowds. Instead of footway and street crossing there are broad walks, untrodden stretches of smooth grass. The heavy campanile is in front, and heights of gray building frown down on each side. It needs no education, not even any imagination, to appreciate the change. It is not necessary to know that great scholars inhabited the place, to recall any name or any man's career. The appeal is not to a recollected impression of the Middle Ages, or indeed of any past, remote or near. It is the spirit of scholarship itself, abstract, intangible, which creates this atmosphere. Knowledge, a severe goddess, awes while she beckons.
Hyacinth Conneally had submitted himself to such emotions time after time when, fresh from the wilds of Connemara, he made his way to the examination-hall, an outside student in a borrowed cap and gown. Now, when for the first time he entered into the actual life of the college, could look up at windows of rooms that were his own, and reckon on his privilege of fingering tomes from the shelves of the huge library, the spirit of the place awed him anew. He neither analyzed nor attempted an expression of what he felt, but his first night within the walls was restless because of the inspiration which filled him.
Yet this college does not fail to make an appeal also to the thinking mind, only it is a strange appeal, tending to sadness. The sudden silence after the tumult of the streets has come for some minds to be the symbol of a divorce between the knowledge within and the life without. And this is not the separation which must always exist between thought and action, the gulf fixed between the student and the merchant. It is a real divorce between the nation and the University, between the two kinds of life which ought, like man and woman, to complete each other through their very diversity, but here have gone hopelessly apart. Never once through all the centuries of Ireland's struggle to express herself has the University felt the throb of her life. It is true that Ireland's greatest patriots, from Swift to Davis, have been her children; but she has never understood their spirit, never looked on them as anything but strangers to her family. They have been to her stray robber wasps, to be driven from the hive; while to the others they have seemed cygnets among her duckling brood. It is very wonderful that the University alone has been able to resist the glamour of Ireland's past, and has failed to admire the persistency of her nationality. There has surely been enough in every century that has passed since the college was founded to win it over from alien thought and the ideals of the foreigner.
All this Hyacinth came to feel afterwards, and learnt in bitterness of spirit to be angry at the University's isolation from Irish life. At first quite other thoughts crowded upon his mind. He felt a rebellion against his father's estimate of what he was to learn. It seemed to him that he had come into vital touch with the greatest life of all. He was to join the ranks of those who besieged the ears of God for knowledge, and left behind them to successors yet unborn great traditions of the enigmas they had guessed. In entering upon the study of theology he seemed to become a soldier in the sacred band, the elite of the army which won and guarded truth. Already he was convinced that there could be no greater science than the Divine one, no more inspiring moment in life than this one when he took his first step towards the knowledge of God.
He crossed the quadrangle with his mind full of such thoughts, and joined a group of students round the door of one of the examination-halls. It did not shock his sense of fitness that some of his fellow-students in the great science wore shabby clothes, or that others scorned the use of a razor. Bred as he had been at home, he felt no incongruity between dirty collars and the study of divinity. It was not until he caught scraps of conversation that he experienced an awakening from his dream. One eager group surrounded a foreseeing youth who had written the dates of the first four General Councils of the Church upon his shirt-cuff.
'Read them out, like a good man,' said one.
'Hold on a minute,' said another, 'till I see if I have got them right. I ground them up specially this morning. Nicaea, 318—no, hang it! that's the number of Bishops who were present; 325 was the date, wasn't it?'
'What was the row about at Chalcedon?' asked a tall, pale youth. 'Didn't some monk or other go for Cyril of Alexandria?'
'You'll be stuck anyhow, Tommy,' said a neat, dapper little man with a very ragged gown.
Hyacinth slipped past the group, and approached two better dressed students who stood apart from the others.
'Is this,' he asked, 'where the entrance examination to the divinity school is to be held?'
For answer he received a curt 'Yes' and a stare. Apparently his suit of brown Connemara homespun did not commend him to these aristocrats. They turned their backs on him, and resumed their conversation.
'She was walking up and down the pier listening to the band with two of the rankest outsiders you ever set eyes on—medicals out of Paddy Dunn's. Of course I could do nothing else but break it off.'
'Oh, you were engaged to her, then? I didn't know.'
'Well, I was and I wasn't. Anyhow, I thought it better to have a clear understanding. She came up to me outside the door of Patrick's on Sunday afternoon just as if nothing had happened. "Hullo, Bob," says she; "I haven't seen you for ages." "My name," said I, "is Mr. Banks"—just like that, as cool as you please. I could see she felt it. "I've called you Bob," says she, very red in the face, "and you've called me Maimie ever since we went to Sunday-school together, and I'm not going to begin calling you Mr. Banks now, my boy-o! so don't you think it!"'
It was a relief to Hyacinth when he was tapped on the arm by a boy with a very pimply face, who thrust a paper into his hand, and distracted his attention from the final discomfiture of Maimie, which Mr. Banks was recounting in a clear, high-pitched voice, as if he wished everyone in the neighbourhood to hear it.
'I hope you'll come,' said the boy.
'It's all in the paper. The students' prayer-meeting, held every Wednesday morning at nine o'clock sharp. Special meeting to-morrow.'
Hyacinth was bewildered. There was something quite unfamiliar in this prompt and business-like advertisement of prayer. The student with the papers began to be doubtful of him.
'You're not High Church, are you?' he asked. 'We're not. We don't have printed offices, with verses and responds, and that sort of thing. We have extempore prayer by members of the union.'
'No; I'm not High Church,' said Hyacinth—'at least, I think not. I don't really know much about these things. I'll be very glad to go to your meeting.'
'That's right,' said the other. 'All are welcome. There will be special prayer to-morrow for the success of the British arms. I suppose you heard that old Kruger has sent an ultimatum. There will be war at once.'
There was a sudden movement among the students; gowns were pulled straight and caps adjusted.
'Here he comes,' said someone.
Dr. Henry, the divinity professor, crossed the square rapidly. He was a middle-aged man, stout, almost ponderous, in figure; but he held himself rigidly upright, and walked fast across the square. The extreme neatness of his clothes contrasted with the prevailing shabbiness of the students and the assistant lecturers who followed him. Yet he did not seem to be a man who gave to externals more than their due share of consideration. His broad forehead gave promise of great intellectual power, a promise half belied by the narrow gray eyes beneath it. These were eyes which might see keenly, and would certainly see things just as they are, though they were not likely to catch any glimpse of that greater world where objects cannot be focussed sharply. Yet in them, an odd contradiction, there lurked a possibility of humorous twinkling. The man was capable perhaps of the broad tolerance of the great humorist, certainly of very acute perception of life's minor incongruities. His thin lips were habitually pressed together, giving a suggestion of strength to the set of his mouth. A man with such a mouth can think and act, but not feel either passionately or enduringly. He will direct men because he knows his own mind, but is not likely to sway them because he will always be master of himself, and will not become enslaved to any great enthusiasm. The students trooped into the hall, and the examination began. The assistant lecturers helped in the work. Each student was called up in turn, asked a few questions, and given a portion of the Greek Testament to translate. For the most part their capacities were known beforehand. There were some who had won honours in their University course before entering the divinity school. For them the examiners were all smiles, and the business of the day was understood to be perfunctory. Others were recognised as mere pass men, whom it was necessary to spur to some exertion. A few, like Hyacinth, were unknown. These were the poorer students who had not been able to afford to reside at the University sooner than was absolutely necessary. Their knowledge, generally scanty, was received by the examiners with undisguised contempt. It fell to Hyacinth's lot to present himself to Dr. Henry. He did so tremulously.
The professor inquired his name, and looked him over coldly.
'Read for me,' he said, handing him a Greek Testament. The passage marked was St. Paul's great description of charity. It was very familiar to Hyacinth, and he read it with a serious feeling for the words. Dr. Henry, who at first had occupied himself with some figures on a sheet of paper, looked up and listened attentively.
'Where were you at school,' he asked. 'Who taught you Greek?'
'My father taught me, sir.'
'Ah! You have got a very peculiar pronunciation, and you've made an extraordinary number of mistakes in accentuation and quantity, but you've read as if St. Paul meant something. Now translate.'
'You have given me,' he said, when Hyacinth had finished, 'the Authorized Version word for word. Can you do no better than that?'
'I can do it differently,' said Hyacinth, 'not better.'
'Do you know any Greek outside of the New Testament?'
Hyacinth repeated a few lines from Homer.
'That book of the "Odyssey" is not in the college course,' said Dr. Henry. 'How did you come to read it?'
Hyacinth had no explanation to give. He had read the book, it seemed, without being forced, and without hope of getting a prize. He recited it as if he liked it. The remainder of the examination disclosed the fact that he was lamentably deficient in the rudiments of Greek grammar, and had the very vaguest ideas of the history of the Church.
Afterwards Professor Henry discussed the new class with his assistants as they crossed the square together.
'The usual lot,' said Dr. Spenser—'half a dozen scholars, perhaps one man among them with real brains. The rest are either idlers or, what is worse, duffers.'
'I hit on one man with brains,' said Dr. Henry.
'Oh! Thompson, I suppose. I saw that you took him. He did well in his degree exam.'
'No,' said Dr. Henry; 'the man I mean has more brains than Thompson. He's a man I never heard of before. His name is Conneally. He looks as if he came up from the wilds somewhere. He has hands like an agricultural labourer, and a brogue that I fancy comes from Galway. But he's a man to keep an eye on. He may do something by-and-by if he doesn't go off the lines. We must try and lick him into shape a bit.'
Hyacinth Conneally knew extremely little about the politics, foreign or domestic, of the English nation. His father neither read newspapers nor cared to discuss such rumours of the doings of Governments as happened to reach Carrowkeel. On the other hand, he knew a good deal about the history of Ireland, and the English were still for him the 'new foreigners' whom Keating describes. His intercourse with the fishermen and peasants of the Galway seaboard had intensified his vague dislike of the series of oscillations between bullying and bribery which make up the story of England's latest attempts to govern Ireland. Without in the least understanding the reasons for the war in South Africa, he felt a strong sympathy with the Boers. To him they seemed a small people doomed, if they failed to defend themselves, to something like the treatment which Ireland had received.
It was therefore with surprise, almost with horror, that he listened for the first time to the superlative Imperialism of the Protestant Unionist party when he attended the prayer-meeting to which he had been invited. The room was well filled with students, who joined heartily in the singing of 'Onward, Christian soldiers,' a hymn selected as appropriate for the occasion. An address by the chairman, a Dublin clergyman, followed. According to this gentleman the Boers were a psalm-singing but hypocritical nation addicted to slave-driving. England, on the other hand, was the pioneer of civilization, and the nursing-mother of missionary enterprise. It was therefore clear that all good Christians ought to pray for the success of the British arms. The speech bewildered rather than irritated Hyacinth. The mind gasps for a time when immersed suddenly in an entirely new view of things, and requires time to adjust itself for pleasure or revolt, just as the body does when plunged into cold water. It had never previously occurred to him that an Irishman could regard England as anything but a pirate. Anger rapidly succeeded his surprise while he listened to the prayers which followed. It was apparently open to any student present to give utterance, as occasion offered, to his desires, and a large number of young men availed themselves of the opportunity. Some spoke briefly and haltingly, some laboriously attempted to adapt the phraseology of the Prayer-Book to the sentiment of the moment, a few had the gift of rapid and even eloquent supplication. These last were the hardest to endure. They prefaced their requests with fantastic eulogies of England's righteousness, designed apparently for the edification of the audience present in the flesh, for they invariably began by assuring the Almighty that He was well aware of the facts, and generally apologized to Him for recapitulating them. Hyacinth's anger increased as he heard the fervent groans which expressed the unanimous conviction of the justice of the petitions. No one seemed to think it possible that the right could be on the other side.
When the meeting was over, the secretary, whose name, it appeared, was Mackenzie, greeted Hyacinth warmly.
'Glad to have you with us,' he said. 'I hope you'll always come. I shall be delighted to propose you as a member of the union. Subscription one shilling, to defray necessary expenses. In any case, whether you subscribe or not, we shall be glad to have you with us.'
'I shall never come again,' said Hyacinth.
Mackenzie drew back, astonished.
'Why not? Didn't you like the meeting? I thought it was capital—so informal and hearty. Didn't you think it was hearty? But perhaps you are High Church. Are you?'
Hyacinth remembered that this identical question had been put to him the day before by the pimply-faced boy who distributed leaflets. He wondered vaguely at the importance which attached to the nickname.
'I am not sure,' he said, 'that I quite know what you mean. You see, I have only just entered the divinity school, and I hardly know anything about theology. What is a High Churchman?'
'Oh, it doesn't require any theology to know that. It's the simplest thing in the world. A High Churchman is—well, of course, a High Churchman sings Gregorian chants, you know, and puts flowers on the altar. There's more than that, of course. In fact, a High Churchman———' He paused and then added with an air of victorious conviction: 'But anyhow if you were High Church you would be sure to know it.'
'Ah, well,' said Hyacinth, turning to leave the room, 'I don't know anything about it, so I suppose I'm not High Church.'
Mackenzie, however, was not going to allow him to escape so easily.
'Hold on a minute. If you're not High Church why won't you come to our meetings?'
'Because I can't join in your prayers when I am not at all sure that England ought to win.'
'Good Lord!' said Mackenzie. It is possible to startle even the secretary of a prayer union into mild profanity. 'You don't mean to tell me you are a Pro-Boer, and you a divinity student?'
It had not hitherto struck Hyacinth that it was impossible to combine a sufficient orthodoxy with a doubt about the invariable righteousness of England's quarrels. Afterwards he came to understand the matter better.
Mackenzie was not at heart an ill-natured man, and he would have repudiated with indignation the charge of being a mischief-maker. He felt after his conversation with Hyacinth much as most men would if they discovered an unsuspected case of small-pox among their acquaintances. His first duty was to warn the society in which he moved of the existence of a dangerous man, a violent and wicked rebel. He repeated a slightly exaggerated version of what Hyacinth had said to everyone he met. The pleasurable sense of personal importance which comes with having a story to tell grew upon him, and he spent the greater part of the day in seeking out fresh confidants to swell the chorus of his commination.
In England at the time public opinion was roused to a fever heat of patriotic enthusiasm, and the Irish Protestant Unionists were eager to outdo even the music-halls in Imperialist sentiment, the students of Trinity College being then, as ever, the 'death or glory' boys of Irish loyalty. It is easy to imagine how Hyacinth's name was whispered shudderingly in the reading-room of the library, how his sentiments were anathematized in the dining-hall at commons, how plots were hatched for the chastisement of his iniquity over the fire in the evenings, when pipes were lit and tea was brewed.
At the end of the week Hyacinth was in an exceedingly uncomfortable position. Outside the lecture-rooms nobody would speak to him. Inside he found himself the solitary occupant of the bench he sat on—a position of comparative physical comfort, for the other seats were crowded, but not otherwise desirable. A great English poet had just composed a poem, which a musician, no doubt equally eminent, had set to a noble tune. It embodied an appeal for funds for purposes not clearly specified, and hazarded the experiment of rhyming 'cook's son' with 'Duke's son,' which in less fervent times might have provoked the criticism of the captious. It became the fashion in college to chant this martial ode whenever Hyacinth was seen approaching. It was thundered out by a choir who marched in step up and down his staircase. Bars of it were softly hummed in his ear while he tried to note the important truths which the lecturers impressed upon their classes. One night five musicians relieved each other at the task of playing the tune on a concertina outside his door. They commenced briskly at eight o'clock in the evening, and the final sleepy version only died away at six the next morning.
Dr. Henry, who either did not know or chose to ignore the state of the students' feelings, advised Hyacinth to become a member of the Theological Debating Society. The election to membership, he said, was a mere form, and nobody was ever excluded. Hyacinth sent his name to the secretary, and was blackbeaned by an overwhelming majority of the members. Shortly afterwards the Lord-lieutenant paid a visit to the college, and the students seized the chance of displaying their loyalty to the Throne and Constitution. They assembled outside the library, which the representative of Queen Victoria was inspecting under the guidance of the Provost and two of the senior Fellows. It is the nature of the students of Trinity College to shout while they wait for the development of interesting events, and on this occasion even the library walls were insufficient to exclude the noise. The excellent nobleman inside found himself obliged to cast round for original remarks about the manuscript of the 'Book of Kells,' while the air was heavy with the verses which commemorate the departure of 'fifty thousand fighting men' to Table Bay. When at length he emerged on the library steps the tune changed, as was right and proper, to 'God save the Queen.' Strangely enough, Hyacinth had never before heard the national anthem. It is not played or sung often by the natives of Connemara, and although the ocean certainly forms part of the British Empire, the Atlantic waves have not yet learned to beat out this particular melody. So it happened that Hyacinth, without meaning to be offensive, omitted the ceremony of removing his hat. A neighbour, joyful at the opportunity, snatched the offending garment, and skimmed it far over the heads of the crowd. A few hard kicks awakened Hyacinth more effectually to a sense of his crime, and it was with a torn coat and many bruises that he escaped in the end to the shelter of his rooms, less inclined to be loyal than when he left them.
After a few weeks it became clear that the British armies in South Africa were not going to reap that rich and unvarying crop of victories which the valour of the soldiers and the ability of the generals deserved. The indomitable spirit of the great nation rose to the occasion, and the position of those who entertained doubts about the justice of the original quarrel became more than ever unbearable. Hyacinth took to wandering by himself through parts of the city in which he was unlikely to meet any of his fellow-students. His soul grew bitter within him. The course of petty persecution to which he was subjected hardened his original sentimental sympathy with the Boer cause into a clearly defined hatred of everything English. When he got clear of the college and the hateful sound of the 'cook's son, Duke's son' tune, he tramped along, gloating quietly over the news of the latest 'regrettable incident.'
He was very lonely and friendless, for not even the discomfiture of his enemies can make up to a young man for the want of a friend to speak to. An inexpressible longing for home came over him. There was a shop in a by-street which exposed photographs of Galway scenery in its windows for a time. Hyacinth used to go day by day to gaze at them. The modest front of the Gaelic League Hyce was another haunt of his. He used to stand Debating his eyes on the Irish titles of the books in the window, and repeating the words he read aloud to himself until the passers-by turned to look at him. Once he entered a low-browed, dingy shop merely because the owner's name was posted over the door in Gaelic characters. It was one of those shops to be found in the back streets of most large towns which devote themselves to a composite business, displaying newspapers, apples, tobacco, and sweets for sale. The afternoon light, already growing feeble in the open air, had almost deserted the interior of the shop. At first Hyacinth saw nothing but an untidy red-haired girl reading in a corner by the Ught of a candle. Ho asked her for cigarettes. She rose, and laid her book and the candle on the counter. It was one of O'Growney's Irish primers, dirty and pencilled. Hyacinth's heart warmed to her at once. Was she not trying to learn the dear Irish which the barefooted girls far away at home shouted to each other as they dragged the seaweed up from the shore? Then from the far end of the shop he heard a man's voice speaking Irish. It was not the soft liquid tongue of the Connaught peasants, but a language more regular and formal. The man spoke it as if it were a language he had learned, comparatively slowly and with effort. Yet the sound of it seemed to Hyacinth one of the sweetest things he had ever heard. Not even the shrinking self-distrust which he had been taught by repeated snubbings and protracted ostracism could prevent him from making himself known to this stranger.
'The blessing of God upon Ireland!' he said.
There was not a moment's hesitation on the part of the stranger. The sound of the Gaelic was enough for him. He stretched out both hands to Hyacinth.
'Is it that you also are one of us—one of the Gaels?' he asked. Hyacinth seized the outstretched hands and held them tight. The feeling of offered friendship and companionship warmed him with a sudden glow. He felt that his eyes were filling with tears, and that his voice would break if he tried to speak, but he did not care at all. He poured out a long Gaelic greeting, scarcely knowing what he said. Perhaps neither the man whose hands he held nor the owner of the shop behind the counter fully understood him, but they guessed at his feelings.
'Is it that you are a stranger here and lonely? Where is your home? What name is there on you?'
'Maiseadh, I am a stranger indeed and lonely too,' said Hyacinth.
'You are a stranger no longer, then. We are all of us friends with each other. You speak our own dear tongue, and that is enough to make us friends.'
The tobacconist, it appeared, also spoke Irish of a kind. He cast occasional remarks into the conversation which followed, less, it seemed to Hyacinth, with a view of giving expression to any thought than for the sake of airing some phrases which he had somewhat inadequately learned. Indeed, it struck Hyacinth very soon that his new friend was getting rather out of his depth in his 'own dear tongue.' At last the tobacconist said with a smile:
'I'm afraid we must ask Mr. Conneally—didn't you say that Conneally was your name?—to speak the Beurla. I'm clean beaten with the Gaelic, and you can't go much further yourself, Cahal. Isn't that the truth, now.'
'And small blame to me,' said Cahal—in English, Charles—Maguire. 'After all, what am I but a learner? And it's clear that Mr. Conneally has spoken it since ever he spoke at all.'
Hyacinth smiled and nodded. Maguire went on:
'What are you doing this afternoon? What do you say to coming round with me to see Mary O'Dwyer? It's her "at home" day, and I'm just on my way there.'
'But,' said Hyacinth, 'I don't know her. I can hardly go to her house, can I?'
'Oh, I'll introduce you,' said Maguire cheerfully. 'She allows me to bring anyone I like to see her. She likes to know anyone who loves Ireland and speaks Gaelic. Perhaps we'll meet Finola too; she's often there.'
'Finola. That's what we call Miss Goold—Augusta Goold, you know. We call her Finola because she shelters the rest of us under her wings when the Moyle gets tempestuous. You remember the story?'
'Of course I do,' said Hyacinth, who had learnt the tale of Lir's daughter as other children do Jack the Giant-Killer. 'And who is Miss O'Dwyer?'
'Oh, she writes verses. Surely you know them?'
Hyacinth shook his head.
'What a pity! We all admire them immensely. She has something nearly every week in the Croppy. She has just brought out a volume of lyrics. Her brother worked the publishing of it in New York. He is mixed up with literary people there. You must have heard of him at all events. He's Patrick O'Dwyer, one of the few who stood by O'Neill when he fought the priests. He gave up the Parliamentary people after that. No honest man could do anything else.'
He conducted Hyacinth to one of the old squares on the north side of the city. When the tide of fashion set southwards, spreading terraces and villas from Leeson Street to Killiney, it left behind some of the finest houses in Dublin. Nowadays for a comparatively low rent it is possible to live in a splendid house if you do not aspire to the glory of a smart address. Miss O'Dwyer's house, for instance, boasted a spacious hall and lofty sitting-rooms, with impressive ceilings and handsome fireplaces; yet she paid for it little more than half the rent which a cramped villa in Clyde Road would have cost her. Even so, it was somewhat of a mystery to her friends how Miss O'Dwyer managed to live there. A solicitor who had his offices on the ground-floor probably paid the rent of the whole house; but the profits of verse-making are small, and a poetess, like meaner women, requires food, clothes, and fire. Indeed, Miss O'Dwyer, no longer 'M. O'D.,' whose verses adorned the Croppy, but 'Miranda,' served an English paper as Irish correspondent. It was a pity that a pen certainly capable of better things should have been employed in describing the newest costume of the Lord Lieutenant's wife at Punchestown, or the confection of pale-blue tulle which, draped round Mrs. Chesney, adorned a Castle ball. Miss O'Dwyer herself was heartily ashamed of the work, but it was, or appeared to her to be, necessary to live, and even with the aid of occasional remittances from Patrick in New York, she could scarcely have afforded her friends a cup of tea without the guineas earned by torturing the English language in a weekly chronicle of Irish society's clothes. Even with the help of such earnings, poverty was for ever tapping her on the shoulder, and no one except Mary herself and her one maid-servant knew how carefully fire and light had to be economized in the splendid rooms where an extinct aristocracy had held revels a century before.
Hyacinth and his friend advanced past the solicitor's doors, and up the broad staircase as far as the drawing-room. For a time they got no further than the threshold. The opening of the door was greeted with a long-drawn and emphatic 'Hush!' from the company within. Maguire laid his hand on Hyacinth's arm, and the two stood still looking into the room. What was left of the feeble autumn twilight was almost excluded by half-drawn curtains. No lamp was lit, and the fire cast only fitful rays here and there through the room. It was with difficulty that Hyacinth discerned figures in a semicircle, and a slim woman in a white dress standing apart from the others near the fire. Then he heard a voice, a singularly sweet voice, as it seemed to him, reciting with steady emphasis on the syllables which marked the rhythm of the poem:
'Out there in the West, where the heavy gray clouds are insistent, Where the sky stoops to gather the earth into mournful embraces, Where the country lies saturate, sodden, round saturate hamlets—
'Out there in the sunset where rages and surges Atlantic, And the salt is commingled with rain over desolate beaches, Thy heart, O beloved, is still beating—fitfully, feebly.
'Is beating—ah! not as it beat in the squadrons of Sarafield, Exultantly, joyously, gladly, expectant of battle, With throbs like the notes of the drums when men gather for fighting.
'Beats still; but, ah! not as it beat in the latest Fitzgerald, Nobly devote to his race's most noble tradition; Or in Emmet or Davis, or, last on their list, in O'Brien.
'Beats fitfully, feebly. O desolate mother! O Erin! When shall the pulse of thy life, which but flutters in Connaucht, Throb through thy meadows and boglands, and mountains and cities?'
A subdued murmur of applause greeted the close of the recitation, and praise more sincere than that with which politeness generally greets the drawing-room performances of minor poets. Hyacinth joined in neither. It seemed to him that the verses were too beautiful to speak about, so sacred that praise was a kind of sacrilege. Perhaps some excuse may be found for his emotion in the fact that for weeks he had heard no poetry except the ode about 'wiping something off a slate.' The violence of the contrast benumbed his critical faculty. So a man who was obliged to gaze for a long time at the new churches erected in Belfast might afterwards catch himself in the act of admiring the houses which the Congested Districts Board builds in Connaught.
'I am afraid I must have bored you.' It was Miss O'Dwyer who greeted him. 'I didn't see you and Mr. Maguire come in until I had commenced my poor little poem. I ought to have given you some tea before I inflicted it on you.'
'Oh,' said Hyacinth, 'it was beautiful. Is it really your own? Did you write it?'
Miss O'Dwyer flushed. The vehement sincerity of his tone embarrassed her, though she was accustomed to praise.
'You are very kind,' she said. 'All my friends here are far too kind to me. But come now, I must give you some tea.'
The tea was nearly stone cold and weak with frequent waterings. The saucer and spoon, possibly even the cup, had been used by someone else before. Mr. Maguire secured for himself the last remaining morsel of cake, leaving Hyacinth the choice between a gingerbread biscuit and a torn slice of bread and butter. None of these things appeared to embarrass Miss O'Dwyer. They did not matter in the least to Hyacinth.
'Do you know the West well?' he asked.
'Indeed, I do not. I've always longed to go and spend a whole long summer there, but I've never had the chance.'
'Then how did you know it was like that? I mean, how did you catch the spirit of it in your poem?'
'Did I?' she said. 'I am so glad. But I don't deserve any credit for it. I wrote those verses after I had been looking at one of Jim Tynan's pictures. You know them, of course? No? Oh, but you must go and see them at once if you love the West. And you do, don't you?'
'It is my home,' said Hyacinth.
When he had finished his tea she introduced him to some of the people who were in the room. Afterwards he came to know them, but the memories which Miss O'Dwyer's verses called up in him made him absent and preoccupied. He scarcely heard the names she spoke. Soon the party broke up, and Hyacinth turned to look for Maguire.
'I'm afraid Mr. Maguire has gone,' said Miss O'Dwyer. 'He has a lecture to attend this afternoon. You must come here again, Mr. Conneally. Come next Wednesday—every Wednesday, if you like. We can have a talk about the West. I shall want you to tell me all sorts of things. Perhaps Finola will be here next week. She very often comes. I shall look forward to introducing you to her. You are sure to admire her immensely. We all do.'
'Yes, I've heard of her,' said Hyacinth. 'Mr. Maguire told me who she was.'
'Oh, but he couldn't have told you half. She is magnificent. All the rest of us are only little children compared to her. Now be sure you come and meet her.'
Ever since Pitt and Castlerea perpetrated their Act of Union two political parties have struggled together in Ireland. Both of them have been steadily prominent, so prominent that they have sometimes attracted the attention of the English public, and drawn to their contest a little quite unintelligent interest. The simplest and most discernible line of division between them is a religious one. The Protestant party has hitherto been guided and led by the gentry. It has been steadily loyal to England and to the English Government. It has not been greatly concerned about Ireland or Ireland's welfare, but has been consistently anxious to preserve its own privileges, powers, and property. It has not come well out of the struggle of the nineteenth century. Its Church has been disestablished, its privileges and powers abolished, and the last remnants of its property are being filched from it. It is a curious piece of irony that this party should have hastened its own defeat by the very policy adopted to secure victory. No doubt the Irish aristocracy would have suffered less if they had been seditious instead of loyal. The Roman Catholic party has been led by ecclesiastics, and has always included the bulk of the people. Its leaders have not cared for the welfare of Ireland any more than the Protestant party, but they have always pretended that they did, being in this respect much wiser than their opponents. They have pulled the strings of a whole series of political movements, and made puppets dance on and off the stage as they chose. Also they have understood how to deal with England. Unlike the Protestant party, they have never been loyal, because they knew from the first that England gives most to those who bully or worry her. They have kept one object steadily in view, an object quite as selfish in reality as that of the aristocracy—the aggrandisement of their Church. For this they have been prepared at any time to sacrifice the interests of Ireland, and are content at the present moment to watch the country bleeding to death with entire complacency. The leaders of this party enter upon the twentieth century in sight of their promised land. They possess all the power and nearly all the wealth of Ireland. If the Bishops can secure the continuance of English government for the next half-century Ireland will have become the Church's property. Her money will go to propagating the faith. Her children will supply the English-speaking world with a superfluity of priests and nuns.
Outside both parties there have always been a few men united by no ties of policy or religion, unless, as perhaps we may, we call patriotism a kind of religion. Other lands have been loved sincerely, devotedly, passionately, as mothers, wives, and mistresses are loved. Ireland alone has been loved religiously, as men are taught to love God or the saints. Her lovers have called themselves Catholic or Protestant: such distinctions have not mattered to these men. They have scarcely ever been able to form themselves into a party, never into a strong or a wise party. They have been violent, desperate, frequently ridiculous, but always sincere and unselfish. Their great weakness has lain in the fact that they have had no consistent aim. Some of their leaders have looked for a return to Ireland's Constitution, and built upon the watchword of the volunteers, 'The King, the Lords, and the Commons of Ireland.' Some have dreamed of a complete independence, of an Irish republic shaping its own world policy. Some have wholly distrusted politics, and given their strength to the intellectual, spiritual, or material regeneration of the people. Among these men have been found the sanest practical reformers and the wildest revolutionary dreamers. On the outskirts of their company have hung all sorts of people. Parliamentary politicians have leaned towards them, and been driven straightway out of public life. Criminals have claimed fellowship with them, and brought discredit upon honourable men. Poets and men of letters have drawn their inspiration from their strivings, and in return have decked their patriotism with imperishable splendour. In the future, no doubt, the struggle will lie between this party and the hitherto victorious hierarchy, with England for ally, and the fight seems a wholly unequal one. It was into an advanced and vehement group of patriots that Mary O'Dwyer introduced Hyacinth. He became a regular reader of the Croppy, and made the acquaintance of most of the contributors to its pages. He found them clever, enthusiastic, and agreeable men and women, but, as he was forced to admit to himself, occasionally reckless. One evening a discussion took place in Mary O'Dwyer's room which startled and shocked him. Excitement ran high over the events of the war. The sympathies of the 'Independent Irelanders,' as they called themselves, fiercely assertive even in their name, were of course entirely with the Boers, and they received every report of an English reverse with unmixed satisfaction.
When Hyacinth entered the room he found four people there. Mary O'Dwyer herself was making tea at a little table near the fire. Augusta Goold—the famous Finola—was stretched in a deep chair smoking a cigarette. She was a remarkable woman both physically and intellectually. It was her delight to emphasize her splendid figure by draping it in brilliant reds and yellows. To anyone who cared to speculate on such a subject it seemed a mystery why her clothes remained on her when she walked. The laws of gravity seemed to demand that they should loosen with her movements, become detached, and finally drop down. Nothing of the sort had ever happened, so it must be presumed that she had secret and unconventional ways of fastening them. Similarly it was not easy to see why her hair stayed upon her head. It was arranged upon no recognised system, and suggested that she had perfected the art, known generally only to heroines of romances, of twisting her tresses with a single movement into a loose knot. That she affected white frills of immense complexity was frequently evident, owing to the difficulty she experienced in confining her long legs to feminine attitudes. Her complexion put it in the power of her enemies to accuse her of familiarity with cosmetics—a slander, for she had been observed to turn green during an attack of sea-sickness. She had great brilliant eyes, which were capable of expressing intensity of enthusiasm or hatred, but no one had ever seen them soften with any emotion like love. Her attitude towards social conventions was symbolized by her clothes. In the old days, when the houses of 'society' had still been open to her, she was accustomed to challenge criticism by fondling a pet monkey at tea-parties. Since she had lost caste by taking up the cause of 'Independent Ireland' the ape had been discarded, and the same result achieved by occasional bickerings with the police. She was an able public speaker, and could convince her audiences for a time of the reasonableness of opinions which next morning appeared to be the outcome of delirium. She wrote, not, like Mary O'Dwyer, verse in which any sentiment may be excused, but incisive and vigorous prose. Occasionally even the Castle officials got glimmerings of the meaning of one of her articles, and suppressed the whole issue of the Croppy in which it appeared.
Near her sat a much less remarkable person—Thomas Grealy, historian and archaeologist. He had been engaged for many years on a history of Ireland, but no volume of it had as yet appeared. His friends suspected that he had got permanently stuck somewhere about the period of the introduction of Christianity into the island. His essays, published in the Croppy, dwelt with passionate regret on the departed glories of Tara. He held strong views about the historical reality of the Tuath-de-Danaan, and got irritated at the most casual mention of Dr. Petrie's theory of the round towers. He had proved that King Arthur was an Irishman, with whose reputation Malory and Tennyson had taken unwarrantable liberties. The name of Dante brought a smile of contempt to his lips, for he knew that the 'Purgatorio' was stolen shamelessly from the works of a monk of Cong. He nourished a secret passion for Finola. He never ventured to declare it, but his imagination endowed every heroine, from Queen Maev down to the foster daughter of the Leinster farmer who married King Cormac, with Miss Goold's figure, eyes and hair. It was perhaps the burning of this passion which rendered him so cadaverous that his clothes—in other respects also they looked as if they had been bought in far-off happier days—hung round him like the covering of a broken-ribbed umbrella.
The fourth person present was Timothy Halloran, who hovered about Mary O'Dwyer's tea-table. He was what the country people call a 'spoilt priest.' Destined by simple and pious parents to take Holy Orders, he got as far as the inside of Maynooth College. While there he had kicked a fellow-student down the whole length of a long corridor for telling tales to the authorities. A committee of ecclesiastics considered the case, and having come to the conclusion that he lacked vocation for the priesthood, sent him home. Timothy was accustomed to say that his violence might have been passed over, but that his failure to appreciate the devotion to duty which inspired the tale-bearer marked him decisively as unfit for ordination. He never regretted his expulsion, although he complained bitterly that he had been nearly choked before they cast him out. He meant, it is to be supposed, that the effort to instil a proper reverence for dogma had almost destroyed his capacity for thought, not that the fingers of the reverend professors had actually closed around his windpipe. His subsequent experiences had included a period of teaching in an English Board School, a brief, but not wholly unsatisfactory, career as a political organizer in New York, and a return to Ireland, where he earned a precarious living as a journalist.
All four greeted Hyacinth warmly as he entered the room.
'We were just discussing,' said Mary O'Dwyer, 'the failure of our attempt to organize a field hospital and a staff of nurses for the Boers. It is a shame to have to admit that the English garrison in Ireland can raise thousands of pounds for their war funds, and the Irish can't be got to subscribe a few hundreds.'
'The wealth of the country,' said Grealy, 'is in the hands of a minority—the so-called Loyalists.'
'Nonsense,' said Finola sharply. 'If you ever gave a thought to anything more recent than the High-King's Court at Tara you would know that the landlords are not the wealthy part of the community any longer. There's many a provincial publican calling himself a Nationalist who could buy up the nearest landlord and every Protestant in the parish along with him. I'm a Protestant myself, born and bred among the class you speak of, and I know.'
'You're quite right, Miss Goold,' said Tim. 'The people could have given the money if they liked. I attribute the failure of the fund to the apathy or treachery of the priests, call it which you like. There isn't a Protestant church in the country where the parsons don't preach "Give give, give" to their people Sunday after Sunday. And what's the result? Why, they have raised thousands of pounds.'
'After the poem you published in last week's Croppy,' said Hyacinth to Mary O'Dwyer, 'I made sure the subscriptions would have come in. Your appeal was one of the most beautiful things I ever read. It would have touched the heart of a stone.'
'Poetry is all well enough,' said Tim. 'I admire your verses, Mary, as much as anyone, but we want a collection at every church door after Mass. That's what we ought to have, but it's exactly what we won't get, because the priests are West Britons at heart. They would pray for the Queen and the army to-morrow, like Cardinal Vaughan, if they weren't afraid.'
'I believe,' said Finola, 'that we went the wrong way about the thing altogether. We asked for a hospital, and we appealed to the people's pity for the wounded Boers. Nobody in Ireland cares a pin about the Boers. Why on earth should we? From all I can hear they are a narrow-minded, intolerant set of hypocrites. I'd just as soon read the stuff some fool of an English newspaper man wrote about "our brother the Boer" as listen to the maudlin sentiment our people talk. We don't want to help the Boers. We want to hurt the English.'
'And you think——' said Grealy.
'I think,' went on Finola, 'that we ought to have asked for volunteers to go out and fight, instead of nurses to cocker up the men who are fools enough to get themselves shot. We'd have got them.'
'You would not,' said Tim. 'The clergy would have been dead against you. They would have nipped the whole project in the bud without so much as making a noise in doing it.'
'That's true,' said Grealy. 'Remember, Miss Goold, it was the priests who cursed Tara, and the monks who broke the power of the Irish Kings. I haven't worked the thing out yet, but I mean to show——'
Finola interrupted the poor man ruthlessly:
'Let's try it, anyway. Let's preach a crusade.'
'Not the least bit of good,' said Tim. 'Every blackguard in the country is enlisted already in the Connaught Bangers or the Dublin Fusiliers, or some confounded Militia regiment. There's nobody left but the nice, respectable, goody-goody boys who wouldn't leave their mothers or miss going to confession if you went down on your knees to them.'
'Well, then, the Irish troops ought to shoot their officers, and walk over to the Boer camp,' said Finola savagely.
Hyacinth half smiled at what seemed to him a monstrous jest. Then, when he perceived that she was actually in earnest, the smile froze into a kind of grin. His hands trembled with the violence of his indignation.
'It would be devilish treachery,' he blurted out. 'The name of Irishman will never be disgraced by such an act.'
Augusta Goold flung her cigarette into the grate, and rose from her chair. She stood over Hyacinth, her hands clenched and her bosom heaving rapidly. Her eyes blazed down into his until their scorn cowed him.
'There is no treachery possible for an Irishman,' she said, 'except the one of fighting for England. Any deed against England—yes, any deed—is glorious, and not shameful.'
Hyacinth was utterly quelled. He ventured upon no reply. Indeed, not only did her violence render argument undesirable—and it seemed for the moment that he would find himself in actual grips with a furious Amazon—but her words carried with them a certain conviction. It actually seemed to him while she spoke as if a good defence might be made for Irish soldiers who murdered their officers and deserted to an enemy in the field. It was not until hours afterwards, when the vivid impression of Finola's face had faded from his recollection, when he had begun to forget the flash of her eyes, the poise of her figure, and the glow of her draperies, that his moral sense was able to reassert itself. Then he knew that she had spoken wickedly. It might be right for an Irishman to fight against England when he could. It might be justifiable to seize the opportunity of England's embarrassment to make a bid for freedom by striking a blow at the Empire. So far his conscience went willingly, but that treachery and murder could ever be anything but horrible he refused altogether to believe.
Another conversation in which he took part about this time helped Hyacinth still further to understand the position of his new friends. Tim Halloran and he were smoking and chatting together over the fire when Maguire joined them.
'What's the matter with you?' asked Halloran. 'You look as if you'd been at your mother's funeral.'
'You're not so far out in your guess,' said Maguire grimly. 'I spent the morning at my sister's wedding. Would you like a bit of the cake?' He produced from his pocket a paper containing crushed fragments of white sugar and a shapeless mass of citron and currants. 'With the compliments of the Reverend Mother,' he said. 'Try a bit.'
'What on earth do you mean?' said Hyacinth.
'Oh, I assure you the Sisters of Pity do these things in style,' said Maguire. 'It's a pretty fancy, that of the wedding-cake, isn't it? But you're a Protestant, Conneally; you don't understand this delicate playfulness. I was present to-day at the reception of my only sister into the Institute of the Catholic Sisters of Pity, founded by Honoria Kavanagh. I've lost Birdie Maguire, that's all, the little girl that used to climb on to my knee and kiss me, and instead of her there's a Sister Monica Mary, who will no doubt pray for my soul when she's let.'
'What was the figure in her case?' asked Tim in a perfectly matter-of-fact tone.
'Six hundred pounds,' said Maguire. 'It must have put the old man to the pin of his collar to pay it. The only time he ever talked to me about his affairs he told me he had got four hundred pounds put by for Birdie's fortune, and that I was to have my medical course and whatever the old shop would fetch when he was gone. They must have put the screw on pretty tight to make him spring the extra two hundred. I dare say I shall suffer for it in the end. He must have borrowed the money.'
Hyacinth felt intensely curious about this young nun. Like most Protestants he had grown up to regard monasticism in all its forms as something remote, partly horrible, wholly unintelligible.
'Why did she do it?' he asked. 'What sort of a girl was she? Do you mind telling me?'
'Not in the least,' said Maguire. 'Only I'm not sure that I know. Three years ago—that is, when I left home—she was the last sort of girl you could imagine going into a convent. She was pretty, fond of nice clothes and admiration, as keen as every girl ought to be on a dance. I never supposed she had a thought of religion in her head—I mean, beyond the usual confessions and attendances at Mass.'
'I suppose,' said Hyacinth, 'your people wanted it.'
'I don't think so,' said Maguire. 'Perhaps my mother did. I don't know.'
'You see, Conneally,' said Tim Halloran, 'it is a sort of hall-mark of respectability among people like Maguire's to have a girl in a good convent. A little lower down in the social scale, in the class I come from, the boys are made priests. A doctor is a more expensive article to manufacture, so Maguire's father selected that line of life for him. Not that they could have made a priest of you, Maguire, in any case. You'd have disgraced Maynooth, as I did.'
'I don't understand,' said Hyacinth. 'I thought a vocation for the life was necessary.'
'Oh, so it is,' said Tim Halloran, 'but, you see, there's the period of the novitiate. Given a girl at an impressionable age, the proper convent atmosphere, and a prize of six hundred pounds for the Order, and it will go hard with the Reverend Mother if she can't work the girl up to a vocation. It takes a man a lifetime to make six hundred pounds in a country shop, but there's many a one who does it by hard work and self-denial; then down come the nuns and sweep it away, and it's wasted. It ought to be invested in a local factory or in waterworks, or gas-works, or fifty other things that would benefit the town it's made in. It ought to be fructifying and bearing interest; instead of which off it goes to Munich for stained glass, or to Italy for a marble altar. Is it any wonder Ireland is crying out with poverty?'
'Yes,' said Maguire, 'and that's not the worst of it. I'd be content to let them take the damned money and deck their churches with it, but the girls—there are hundreds of them caught every year for nuns, and swept out of life. It isn't the Irish convents alone that get them. American nuns come over and Australian nuns, and they go round and round the country picking up girls here and there, and carry them off. There, I don't want to talk too much about it. The money is nothing, but the girls and boys——'
'It seems strange to me,' said Hyacinth, 'that when you think that way you should go on belonging to your Church.'
'Desert the Church!' said Maguire. 'We'll never do that. How could we live without religion? And what other religion is there? I grant you that your priests wouldn't rob us, but—but think of the cold of it. You can't realize it, Conneally, but think what it would mean to a Catholic—a religion without saints, without absolution, without sacrifice. Besides, what we complain of is not Catholicism. It's a parasitic growth destroying the true faith, defiling the Church.'
'Yes,' said Tim Halloran, 'and even from my point of view how should we be the better of a change? Your Church is ruled by old women who think the name of Englishman the most glorious in the world. You preach loyalty, and I believe you pray for the Queen in your services. A nice fool I would feel praying that the Queen should have victory over her enemies.'
For a long time afterwards this conversation dwelt in Hyacinth's mind. Tim Halloran he knew to be practically a freethinker, but Maguire regularly heard Mass on Sundays, and often went to confession. It was a puzzle how he could do so, feeling as he did about the religious Orders. So insistent did the problem become to his mind that he found himself continually leading the conversation round to it from one side or another. Mary O'Dwyer told him that she also had a sister in a nunnery.
'She teaches girls to make lace, and wonderful work they do. She is perfectly happy. I think her face is the sweetest and most beautiful thing I have ever seen. There is not a line on it of care or of fretfulness. It seems to me as if her whole life might be described as a quiet smile. I always feel better by the mere recollection of her face for a long time after I have visited her. Oh, I know it wouldn't do for me. I couldn't stand it for a week. I should go mad with the quiet restraint of it all. But my sister is happy. I can't forget that. I suppose she has a vocation.'
'Vocation,' said Hyacinth thoughtfully. 'Yes, I can understand how that would make all the difference. But how many of them have the vocation?'
'Don't you think vocation might be learnt? I mean mightn't one grow into it, if one wished to very much, and if the life was constantly before one's eyes, beautiful and calm?'
It was almost the same thought which Timothy Halloran had suggested. Mary O'Dwyer spoke of growing into vocation, Tim of the working of it up. Was there any difference except a verbal one?
On another occasion he spoke to Dr. Henry about the position of the Church of Ireland in the country.
'We have proved,' said the professor, 'that the Roman claims have no support in Scripture, history, or reason. Our books remain unanswered, because they are unanswerable. We can do no more.'
'We might offer the Irish people a Church which they could join,' said Hyacinth.
'We do. We offer them the Church of St. Patrick, the ancient, historic Church of Ireland. We offer them the two Sacraments of the Gospel, administered by priests duly ordained at the hands of an Episcopate which goes back in an unbroken line to the Apostles. We present them the three great creeds for their assent. We use a liturgy that is at once ancient and pure. The Church of Ireland has all this, is beyond dispute a branch of the great Catholic Church of Christ.'
'It may be all you say,' said Hyacinth, 'but it is not national. In sentiment and sympathy it is English and not Irish.'
'I know what you mean,' said Dr. Henry. 'I think I understand how you feel, but I cannot consent to the conclusion you want to draw. There is no real meaning in the cry for nationality. It is a sentiment, a fashion, and will pass. Even if it were genuine and enduring, I hold it to be better for Ireland to be an integral part of a great Empire than a contemptible and helpless item among the nations of the world, a prey to the intrigues of ambitious foreign statesmen.'
Hyacinth sighed and turned to go, but Dr. Henry laid a hand upon his shoulder and detained him.
'Conneally,' he said kindly, 'let me give you a word of advice. Don't mix yourself up with your new friends too much. You will ruin your own prospects in life if you do. There is nothing more fatal to a man among the people with whom you and I are to live and work than the suspicion of being tainted with Nationalist ideas. You can't be both a rebel and a clergyman. You see,' he added with a smile, 'I take enough interest in you to know who your friends are, and what you are thinking about.'
Augusta Goold's scheme for enrolling Irish volunteers to help the Boers was duly set forth in the next issue of the Croppy. It included two appeals—one for money and one for men. The details were worked out with the frank contempt for possibility which characterizes some of the famous suggestions of Dean Swift. She had the same faculty that he had for bringing absurdities within the range of the commonplace; but there was this difference between them—Miss Goold quite believed in her own plans, while the great Dean no doubt grinned over the proof-sheets of his 'Modest Proposal.'
It happened, most unfortunately, that the appeal synchronized with another, also for funds, which was issued by Mr. O'Rourke, the leader of the Parliamentary party. Since the death of John O'Neill the purse of the party had been getting lean. The old tactics which used to draw plaudits and dollars from the United States, as well as a tribute from every parish in Ireland, had lately been unsuccessful. There were still violent scenes in the House of Commons, but they no longer produced anything except contemptuous smiles. Members of Parliament still succeeded occasionally in getting the Chief Secretary to imprison them, but the glory of martyrdom was harder to win than in the old days. Latterly things had come to such a pass that even the reduced stipends offered to the members fell into arrear. The attendance at Westminster dropped away. The Government could afford to smile at Mr. O'Rourke's efforts to make himself disagreeable, and the Opposition were frankly contemptuous of a people who could not profit them by more than a dozen votes in a critical division. It became impossible to wring even a modest Land Bill from the Prime Minister, and Mr. Chesney, now much at ease in the Secretary's office in the Castle, scarcely felt it necessary to be civil to deputations which wanted railways. It was clear that something must be done, or Mr. O'Rourke's business would disappear. He decided to appeal for funds orbi et urbi. The world—in this case North America—was to be visited, exhorted, and, it was hoped, taxed by some of his most eloquent lieutenants. Even Canada, with its leaven of Orangemen, was to be honoured with the speeches of an orator of second-rate powers. The city—Dublin, of course—was the chosen scene of the leader's personal exertions. Since his revolt against John O'Neill, O'Rourke had been a little shy of Dublin audiences, but the pressing nature of the present crisis almost forced him to pay his court to the capital. He found some comfort in the recollection that during the five years that had elapsed since O'Neill's death he had missed no public opportunity of shedding tears beside his tomb. He remembered, too, that he had put his name down for a large subscription towards the erection of a statue to the dead leader, a work of art which the existing generation seemed unlikely to have the pleasure of seeing.
Thus it happened that on the very day of the publication of Miss Goold's scheme Mr. O'Rourke announced his intention of addressing an appeal for funds to a public meeting in the Rotunda. Miss Goold was disconcerted and irritated. She was well aware that Mr. O'Rourke's appeal would give the respectable Nationalists an excellent excuse for ignoring hers, and unfortunately the respectable people are just the ones who have most money. She was confident that she could rely on the extreme section of the Nationalists, and on that element in the city population which loves and makes a row, but she could not count on the moneyed classes. They were, so far as their words went, very enthusiastic for the Boer cause; but when it came to writing cheques, it was likely that the counter-attractions of the Parliamentary fund would prove too strong.
Since it seemed that Mr. O'Rourke would certainly spoil her collection, the obvious thing to do was to try to spoil his. If he afforded people an excuse for not paying the travelling expenses of her volunteers to Lorenzo Marques, she would, if possible, suggest a way of escape from paying for his men's journeys to London. After all, no one really wanted to subscribe to either fund, and it might be supposed that the public would very gladly keep their purses shut altogether.
For an Irishman it is quite possible to be genuinely enthusiastic and at the same time able to see the humorous side of his own enthusiasm. This is a reason why an Irishman is never a bore unless, to gain his private ends, he wants to be. Even an Irish advocate of total abstinence, or an Irish antivaccinationist, if such a thing exists, is not a bore, because he will always trot out his conscientious objections with a half-humorous, half-deprecating smile. This same capacity for avoiding the slavery of serious fanaticism enables an Irishman to cease quite joyfully from the pursuit of his own particular fad in order to corner an obnoxious opponent. Thus Augusta Goold and her friends were genuinely desirous of striking a blow at England, and really believed that their volunteers might do it; but this did not prevent them from finding infinite relish in the prospect of watching Mr. O'Rourke squirming on the horns of a dilemma. They took counsel together, and the result of their deliberations was peculiar. They proposed to invite Mr. O'Rourke to join his appeal to theirs, to pool the money which came in, and to divide it evenly between the volunteers and the members of Parliament. It was Tim Halloran who hit upon the brilliant idea. Augusta Goold chuckled over it as she grasped its consequences. Mr. O'Rourke, Tim argued, would be unwilling to accept the proposal because he wanted all the money he could get, more than was at all likely to be collected. He would be equally unwilling to reject it, because he could then be represented as indifferent to the heroic struggle of the Boers. In the existing state of Irish and American opinion a suspicion of such indifference would be quite sufficient to wreck his chances of getting any money at all.
Of course, the obvious way of making such a proposal would have been by letter to Mr. O'Rourke. Afterwards the correspondence—he must make a reply of some sort—could be sent to the press, and sufficient publicity would be given to the matter. This was what Tim Halloran wanted to do, but such a course did not commend itself to Augusta Goold. It lacked dramatic possibilities, and there was always the chance that the leading papers might refuse to take any notice of the matter, or relegate the letters to a back page and small print. Besides, a mere newspaper controversy would not make a strong appeal to the section of the Dublin populace on whose support she chiefly relied. A much more attractive plan suggested itself. Augusta Goold, with a few friends to act as aides-de-camp, would present herself to Mr. O'Rourke at his Rotunda meeting, and put the proposal to him then and there in the presence of the audience.
In the meantime the few days before the meeting were occupied in scattering suggestive seed over the hoardings and blank walls of the city. One morning people were startled by the sight of an immense placard which asked in violent red letters, 'What is Ireland going to do?' Public opinion was divided about the ultimate purpose of the poster. The majority expected the announcement of a new play or novel; a few held that a pill or a cocoa would be recommended. Next morning the question became more explicit, and the hypothesis of the play and the pill were excluded. 'What,' the new poster ran, 'is Ireland going to do for the Boers?' The public were not intensely anxious to find an answer to the conundrum thrust thus forcibly on their attention, but they became curious to know who the advertisers were who hungered for the information. Men blessed by Providence with sagacious-looking faces made the most of their opportunity, and informed their friends that the thing was a new dodge of O'Rourke's to get money. Their reputation suffered when the next placard appeared. The advertisers had apparently changed their minds, for what they now wanted to know was, 'What are the Irish M.P.'s going to do for the Boers?' Clearly Mr. O'Rourke could have nothing to gain by insisting on an answer to such a question. The public were puzzled but pleased. The bill-stickers of the city foresaw the possibility of realizing a competence, for the next morning the satisfied inquirers published the result of their investigations. 'The Em Pees '(it was thus that they now referred to the honourable members of Parliament) 'are supporting the infamies of England.' It was at this point that the eye of a Castle official was caught by one of the placards as he made his way to the Kildare Street Club for luncheon. He discussed the matter with a colleague, and it occurred to them that since they were paid for governing Ireland, they ought to give the public some value for their money, and seize the opportunity of doing something. They sent a series of telegrams to Mr. Chesney's London house, which were forwarded by his private secretary to the Riviera. The replies which followed kept the Castle officials in a state of pleasurable excitement until quite late in the evening. At about eight o'clock large numbers of Metropolitan police sallied out of their barracks and tore down the last batch of placards. Next morning fresh ones were posted up, each of which bore the single word, 'Why?' The bill-stickers were highly pleased, and many of them were arrested for drunkenness. Mr. O'Rourke was much less pleased, for he began to guess what the answer was likely to be, and how it would affect his chances of securing a satisfactory collection. The officials were perplexed. They suspected the 'Why?' of containing within its three letters some hideous sedition, but it was not possible to deal vigorously with what might, after all, be only the cunning novelty of some advertising manufacturer. More telegrams harried Mr. Chesney, but before any definite course of action had been decided on the morning of the Rotunda meeting arrived, and with it an answer to the multifarious 'Whys': Because O'Rourke wants all the money to spend in the London restaurants.' There was a great deal of laughter, and many people, quite uninterested in politics, determined to go to the meeting in hopes of more amusement.
When Mr. O'Rourke took the chair the hall was crowded to its utmost capacity. Under ordinary circumstances this would have augured well for the success of his appeal, for it showed that the public were at all events not apathetic. On this particular occasion, however, Mr. O'Rourke would have been better pleased with a smaller audience. The placards had shown him that something unpleasant was likely to occur, though they afforded no hint of the form which the unpleasantness would take. When he rose to his feet he was greeted with the usual volley of cheers, and although some rude remarks about the Boers were made in the corners of the hall, they did not amount to anything like an organized attempt at interruption. He began his speech cautiously, feeling the pulse of his audience, and plying them with the well-worn platitudes of the Nationalist platform. When these evoked the usual enthusiasm he waxed bolder, and shot out some almost original epigrams directed against the Government, working up to a really new gibe about officials who sat like spiders spinning murderous webs in Dublin Castle. The audience were delighted with this, but their joy reached its height when someone shouted: 'You might speak better of the men who tore down the placard on Wednesday.' Mr. O'Rourke ignored the suggestion, and passed on to sharpen his wit upon the landlords. He described them as 'ill-omened tax-gatherers who suck the life-blood of the country, and refuse to disgorge a penny of it for any useful purpose.' Mr. O'Rourke was not a man who shrank from a mixed metaphor, or paused to consider such trifles as the unpleasantness which would ensue if anyone who had been sucking blood were to repent and disgorge it. 'Where,' he went on to ask, 'do they spend their immense revenues? Is it in Ireland?' Here he made one of those dramatic pauses for which his oratory was famous. The audience waited breathlessly for the denunciation which was to follow. They were treated, unexpectedly, to a well-conceived anticlimax. A voice spoke softly, but quite clearly, from the back of the hall:
'Bedad, and I shouldn't wonder if it was in the London restaurants.'
A roar of laughter followed. The orator might no doubt have made an effective reply, but every time he opened his mouth minor wits, rending like wolves the carcase of the original joke, yelled 'turtle-soup' at him, or 'champagne and oysters.' He got angry, and consequently flurried. He tried to quell the tumult by thundering out the denunciation which he had prepared. But the delight which the audience took in shrieking the items of their imaginary bill of fare was too much for him. He forgot what he had meant to say, floundered, attempted to pull himself together, and brought out the stale jest about providing each landlord with a single ticket to Holyhead.