BY GEORGE MOORE
LONDON: WILLIAM HEINEMANN
17 Aout, 1905.
MON CHER DUJARDIN,
Il se trouve que je suis a Paris en train de corriger mes epreuves au moment ou vous donnez les dernieres retouches au manuscrit de 'La Source du Fleuve Chretien,' un beau titre—si beau que je n'ai pu m'empecher de le 'chipper' pour le livre de Ralph Elles, un personnage de mon roman qui ne parait pas, mais dont on entend beaucoup parler. Pour vous dedommager de mon larcin, je me propose de vous dedier 'Le Lac.' Il y a bien des raisons pour que je desire voir votre nom sur la premiere page d'un livre de moi; la meilleure est, peut-etre, parceque vous etes mon ami depuis 'Les Confessions d'un Jeune Anglais' qui ont paru dans votre jolie Revue Independante; et, depuis cette bienheureuse annee, nous avons cause litterature et musique, combien de fois! Combien d'heures nous avons passes ensemble, causant, toujours causant, dans votre belle maison de Fontainebleau, si francaise avec sa terrasse en pierre et son jardin avec ses gazons maigres et ses allees sablonneuses qui serpentent parmi les grands arbres forestiers. C'est dans ce jardin a l'oree de la foret et dans la foret meme, parmi la melancolie de lat nature primitive, et a Valvins ou demeurait notre vieil ami Mallarme, triste et charmant bonhomme, comme le pays du reste (n'est-ce-pas que cette tristesse croit depuis qu'il s'en est alle?) que vous m'avez entendu raconter 'Le Lac.'
A Valvins, la Seine coule silencieusement tout le long des berges plates et graciles, avec des peupliers alignes; comme ils sont tristes au printemps, ces peupliers, surtout avant qu'ils ne deviennent verts, quand ils sont rougeatres, poses contre un ciel gris, des ombres immobiles et ternes dans les eaux, dix fois tristes quand les hirondelles volent bas! Pour expliquer la tristesse de ce beau pays parseme de chateaux vides, hante par le souvenir des fetes d'autrefois, il faudrait tout un orchestre. Je l'entends d'abord sur les violons; plus tard on ajouterait d'autres instruments, des cors sans doute; mais pour rendre la tristesse de mon pauvre pays la bas il ne faut drait pas tout cela. Je l'entends tres bien sur une seule flute placee dans une ile entouree des eaux d'un lac, le joueur assis sur les vagues ruines d'un reduit gallois ou bien Normand. Mais, cher ami, vous etes Normand et peut-etre bien que ce sent vos ancetres qui out pille mon pays; c'est une raison de plus pour que je vous offre ce roman. Acceptez-le sans le connaitre davantage et n'essayez pas de le lire; ne vous donnez pas la peine d'apprendre l'anglais pour lire 'Le Lac'; que le lac ne soit jamais traverse par vous! Et parce que vous allez rester fatalement sur le bord de 'mon lac' j'ai un double plaisir a vous le dedier. Lorsqu'on dedie un livre, on prevoit l'heure ou l'ami le prend, jette un coup d'oeil et dit: 'Pourquoi m'a-t-il dedie une niaiserie pareille?' Toutes les choses de l'esprit, sauf les plus grandes, deviennent niaiseries tot ou tard. Votre ignorance de ma langue m'epargne cette heure fatale. Pour vous, mon livre sera toujours une belle et noble chose. Il ne peut jamais devenir pour vous banal comme une epouse. II sera pour vous une vierge, mieux qu'une vierge, il sera pour vous une demi-vierge. Chaque fois que vous l'ouvrirez, vous penserez a des annees ecoulees, au jardin ou les rossignols chantent, a la foret ou rien ne se passe sauf la chute des feuilles, a nos promenades a Valvins pour voir le cher bonhomme; vous penserez a votre jeunesse et peut-etre un peu a la mienne. Mais je veux que vous lisiez cette dedicace, et c'est pour cela que je l'ai ecrite en francais, dans un francais qui vous est tres familier, le mien. Si je l'ecrivais en anglais et le faisais traduire dans le langage a la derniere mode de Paris, vous ne retrouveriez pas les accents barbares de votre vieil ami. Ils sont barbares, je le concois, mais il y a des chiens qui sont laids et que l'on finit par aimer.
Une poignee de mains,
The concern of this preface is with the mistake that was made when 'The Lake' was excluded from the volume entitled 'The Untilled Field,' reducing it to too slight dimensions, for bulk counts; and 'The Lake,' too, in being published in a separate volume lost a great deal in range and power, and criticism was baffled by the division of stories written at the same time and coming out of the same happy inspiration, one that could hardly fail to beget stories in the mind of anybody prone to narrative—the return of a man to his native land, to its people, to memories hidden for years, forgotten, but which rose suddenly out of the darkness, like water out of the earth when a spring is tapped.
Some chance words passing between John Eglinton and me as we returned home one evening from Professor Dowden's were enough. He spoke, or I spoke, of a volume of Irish stories; Tourgueniev's name was mentioned, and next morning—if not the next morning, certainly not later than a few mornings after—I was writing 'Homesickness,' while the story of 'The Exile' was taking shape in my mind. 'The Exile' was followed by a series of four stories, a sort of village odyssey. 'A Letter to Rome' is as good as these and as typical of my country. 'So on He Fares' is the one that, perhaps, out of the whole volume I like the best, always excepting 'The Lake,' which, alas, was not included, but which belongs so strictly to the aforesaid stories that my memory includes it in the volume.
In expressing preferences I am transgressing an established rule of literary conduct, which ordains that an author must always speak of his own work with downcast eyes, excusing its existence on the ground of his own incapacity. All the same an author's preferences interest his readers, and having transgressed by telling that these Irish stories lie very near to my heart, I will proceed a little further into literary sin, confessing that my reason for liking 'The Lake' is related to the very great difficulty of the telling, for the one vital event in the priest's life befell him before the story opens, and to keep the story in the key in which it was conceived, it was necessary to recount the priest's life during the course of his walk by the shores of a lake, weaving his memories continually, without losing sight, however, of the long, winding, mere-like lake, wooded to its shores, with hills appearing and disappearing into mist and distance. The difficulty overcome is a joy to the artist, for in his conquest over the material he draws nigh to his idea, and in this book mine was the essential rather than the daily life of the priest, and as I read for this edition I seemed to hear it. The drama passes within the priest's soul; it is tied and untied by the flux and reflux of sentiments, inherent in and proper to his nature, and the weaving of a story out of the soul substance without ever seeking the aid of external circumstance seems to me a little triumph. It may be that I heard what none other will hear, not through his own fault but through mine, and it may be that all ears are not tuned, or are too indifferent or indolent to listen; it is easier to hear 'Esther Waters' and to watch her struggles for her child's life than to hear the mysterious warble, soft as lake water, that abides in the heart. But I think there will always be a few who will agree with me that there is as much life in 'The Lake,' as there is in 'Esther Waters'—a different kind of life, not so wide a life, perhaps, but what counts in art is not width but depth.
Artists, it is said, are not good judges of their own works, and for that reason, and other reasons, maybe, it is considered to be unbecoming for a writer to praise himself. So to make atonement for the sins I have committed in this preface, I will confess to very little admiration for 'Evelyn Innes' and 'Sister Teresa.' The writing of 'Evelyn Innes' and 'Sister Teresa' was useful to me inasmuch that if I had not written them I could not have written 'The Lake' or 'The Brook Kerith.' It seems ungrateful, therefore, to refuse to allow two of my most successful books into the canon merely because they do not correspond with my aestheticism. But a writer's aestheticism is his all; he cannot surrender it, for his art is dependent upon it, and the single concession he can make is that if an overwhelming demand should arise for these books when he is among the gone—a storm before which the reed must bend—the publisher shall be permitted to print 'Evelyn Innes' and 'Sister Teresa' from the original editions, it being, however, clearly understood that they are offered to the public only as apocrypha. But this permission must not be understood to extend to certain books on which my name appears—viz., 'Mike Fletcher,' 'Vain Fortune,' Parnell and His Island'; to some plays, 'Martin Luther,' 'The Strike at Arlingford,' 'The Bending of the Boughs'; to a couple of volumes of verse entitled 'Pagan Poems' and 'Flowers of Passion'—all these books, if they are ever reprinted again, should be issued as the work of a disciple—Amico Moorini I put forward as a suggestion.
It was one of those enticing days at the beginning of May when white clouds are drawn about the earth like curtains. The lake lay like a mirror that somebody had breathed upon, the brown islands showing through the mist faintly, with gray shadows falling into the water, blurred at the edges. The ducks were talking in the reeds, the reeds themselves were talking, and the water lapping softly about the smooth limestone shingle. But there was an impulse in the gentle day, and, turning from the sandy spit, Father Oliver walked to and fro along the disused cart-track about the edge of the wood, asking himself if he were going home, knowing very well that he could not bring himself to interview his parishioners that morning.
On a sudden resolve to escape from anyone that might be seeking him, he went into the wood and lay down on the warm grass, and admired the thickly-tasselled branches of the tall larches swinging above him. At a little distance among the juniper-bushes, between the lake and the wood, a bird uttered a cry like two stones clinked sharply together, and getting up he followed the bird, trying to catch sight of it, but always failing to do so; it seemed to range in a circle about certain trees, and he hadn't gone very far when he heard it behind him. A stonechat he was sure it must be, and he wandered on till he came to a great silver fir, and thought that he spied a pigeon's nest among the multitudinous branches. The nest, if it were one, was about sixty feet from the ground, perhaps more than that; and, remembering that the great fir had grown out of a single seed, it seemed to him not at all wonderful that people had once worshipped trees, so mysterious is their life, so remote from ours. And he stood a long time looking up, hardly able to resist the temptation to climb the tree—not to rob the nest like a boy, but to admire the two gray eggs which he would find lying on some bare twigs.
At the edge of the wood there were some chestnuts and sycamores. He noticed that the large-patterned leaf of the sycamores, hanging out from a longer stem, was darker than the chestnut leaf. There were some elms close by, and their half-opened leaves, dainty and frail, reminded him of clouds of butterflies. He could think of nothing else. White, cotton-like clouds unfolded above the blossoming trees; patches of blue appeared and disappeared; and he wandered on again, beguiled this time by many errant scents and wilful little breezes.
Very soon he came upon some fields, and as he walked through the ferns the young rabbits ran from under his feet, and he thought of the delicious meals that the fox would snap up. He had to pick his way, for thorn-bushes and hazels were springing up everywhere. Derrinrush, the great headland stretching nearly a mile into the lake, said to be one of the original forests, was extending inland. He remembered it as a deep, religious wood, with its own particular smell of reeds and rushes. It went further back than the island castles, further back than the Druids; and was among Father Oliver's earliest recollections. Himself and his brother James used to go there when they were boys to cut hazel stems, to make fishing-rods; and one had only to turn over the dead leaves to discover the chips scattered circlewise in the open spaces where the coopers sat in the days gone by making hoops for barrels. But iron hoops were now used instead of hazel, and the coopers worked there no more. In the old days he and his brother James used to follow the wood-ranger, asking him questions about the wild creatures of the wood—badgers, marten cats, and otters. And one day they took home a nest of young hawks. He did not neglect to feed them, but they had eaten each other, nevertheless. He forgot what became of the last one.
A thick yellow smell hung on the still air. 'A fox,' he said, and he trailed the animal through the hazel-bushes till he came to a rough shore, covered with juniper-bushes and tussocked grass, the extreme point of the headland, whence he could see the mountains—the pale southern mountains mingling with the white sky, and the western mountains, much nearer, showing in bold relief. The beautiful motion and variety of the hills delighted him, and there was as much various colour as there were many dips and curves, for the hills were not far enough away to dwindle to one blue tint; they were blue, but the pink heather showed through the blue, and the clouds continued to fold and unfold, so that neither the colour nor the lines were ever the same. The retreating and advancing of the great masses and the delicate illumination of the crests could be watched without weariness. It was like listening to music. Slieve Cairn showing straight as a bull's back against the white sky, a cloud filling the gap between Slieve Cairn and Slieve Louan, a quaint little hill like a hunchback going down a road. Slieve Louan was followed by a great boulder-like hill turned sideways, the top indented like a crater, and the priest likened the long, low profile of the next hill to a reptile raising itself on its forepaws.
He stood at gaze, bewitched by the play of light and shadow among the slopes; and when he turned towards the lake again, he was surprised to see a yacht by Castle Island. A random breeze just sprung up had borne her so far, and now she lay becalmed, carrying, without doubt, a pleasure-party, inspired by some vague interest in ruins, and a very real interest in lunch; or the yacht's destination might be Kilronan Abbey, and the priest wondered if there were water enough in the strait to let her through in this season of the year. The sails flapped in the puffing breeze, and he began to calculate her tonnage, certain that if he had such a boat he would not be sailing her on a lake, but on the bright sea, out of sight of land, in the middle of a great circle of water. As if stung by a sudden sense of the sea, of its perfume and its freedom, he imagined the filling of the sails and the rattle of the ropes, and how a fair wind would carry him as far as the cove of Cork before morning. The run from Cork to Liverpool would be slower, but the wind might veer a little, and in four-and-twenty hours the Welsh mountains would begin to show above the horizon. But he would not land anywhere on the Welsh coast. There was nothing to see in Wales but castles, and he was weary of castles, and longed to see the cathedrals of York and Salisbury; for he had often seen them in pictures, and had more than once thought of a walking tour through England. Better still if the yacht were to land him somewhere on the French coast. England was, after all, only an island like Ireland—- a little larger, but still an island—and he thought he would like a continent to roam in. The French cathedrals were more beautiful than the English, and it would be pleasant to wander in the French country in happy-go-lucky fashion, resting when he was tired, walking when it pleased him, taking an interest in whatever might strike his fancy.
It seemed to him that his desire was to be freed for a while from everything he had ever seen, and from everything he had ever heard. He merely wanted to wander, admiring everything there was to admire as he went. He didn't want to learn anything, only to admire. He was weary of argument, religious and political. It wasn't that he was indifferent to his country's welfare, but every mind requires rest, and he wished himself away in a foreign country, distracted every moment by new things, learning the language out of a volume of songs, and hearing music, any music, French or German—any music but Irish music. He sighed, and wondered why he sighed. Was it because he feared that if he once went away he might never come back?
This lake was beautiful, but he was tired of its low gray shores; he was tired of those mountains, melancholy as Irish melodies, and as beautiful. He felt suddenly that he didn't want to see a lake or a mountain for two months at least, and that his longing for a change was legitimate and most natural. It pleased him to remember that everyone likes to get out of his native country for a while, and he had only been out of sight of this lake in the years he spent in Maynooth. On leaving he had pleaded that he might be sent to live among the mountains by Kilronan Abbey, at the north end of the lake, but when Father Conway died he was moved round to the western shore; and every day since he walked by the lake, for there was nowhere else to walk, unless up and down the lawn under the sycamores, imitating Father Peter, whose wont it was to walk there, reading his breviary, stopping from time to time to speak to a parishioner in the road below; he too used to read his breviary under the sycamores; but for one reason or another he walked there no longer, and every afternoon now found him standing at the end of this sandy spit, looking across the lake towards Tinnick, where he was born, and where his sisters lived.
He couldn't see the walls of the convent to-day, there was too much mist about; and he liked to see them; for whenever he saw them he began to think of his sister Eliza, and he liked to think of her—she was his favourite sister. They were nearly the same age, and had played together; and his eyes dwelt in memory on the dark corner under the stairs where they used to play. He could even see their toys through the years, and the tall clock which used to tell them that it was time to put them aside. Eliza was only eighteen months older than he; they were the red-haired ones, and though they were as different in mind as it was possible to be, he seemed nearer Eliza than anyone else. In what this affinity consisted he couldn't say, but he had always felt himself of the same flesh and blood. Neither his father nor mother had inspired this sense of affinity; and his sister Mary and his brothers seemed to him merely people whom he had known always—not more than that; whereas Eliza was quite different, and perhaps it was this very mutuality, which he could not define, that had decided their vocations.
No doubt there is a moment in every man's life when something happens to turn him into the road which he is destined to follow; for all that it would be superficial to think that the fate of one's life is dependent upon accident. The accident that turns one into the road is only the means which Providence takes to procure the working out of certain ends. Accidents are many: life is as full of accidents as a fire is full of sparks, and any spark is enough to set fire to the train. The train escapes a thousand, but at last a spark lights it, and this spark always seems to us the only one that could have done it. We cannot imagine how the same result could have been obtained otherwise. But other ways would have been found; for Nature is full of resource, and if Eliza had not been by to fire the idea hidden in him, something else would. She was the means, but only the means, for no man escapes his vocation, and the priesthood was his. A vocation always finds a way out. But was he sure if it hadn't been for Eliza that he wouldn't have married Annie McGrath? He didn't think he would have married Annie, but he might have married another. All the same, Annie was a good, comfortable girl, a girl that everybody was sure would make a good wife for any man, and at that time many people were thinking that he should marry Annie. On looking back he couldn't honestly say that a stray thought of Annie hadn't found its way into his mind; but not into his heart—there is a difference.
At that time he was what is known as a growing lad; he was seventeen. His father was then dead two years, and his mother looked to him, he being the eldest, to take charge of the shop, for at that time it was almost settled that James was to go to America. They had two or three nice grass farms just beyond the town: Patsy was going to have them; and his sisters' fortunes were in the bank, and very good fortunes they were. They had a hundred pounds apiece and should have married well. Eliza could have married whomever she pleased. Mary could have married, too, and to this day he couldn't tell why she hadn't married.
The chances his sister Mary had missed rose up in his mind—why, he did not know; and a little bored by these memories, he suddenly became absorbed in the little bleat of a blackcap perched on a bush, the only one amid a bed of flags and rushes; 'an alder-bush,' he said. 'His mate is sitting on her eggs, and there are some wood-gatherers about; that's what's worrying the little fellow.' The bird continued to utter its troubled bleat, and the priest walked on, thinking how different was its evensong. He meditated an excursion to hear it, and then, without his being aware of any transition, his thoughts returned to his sister Mary, and to the time when he had once indulged in hopes that the mills along the river-side might be rebuilt and Tinnick restored to its former commercial prosperity. He was not certain if he had ever really believed that he might set these mills going, or if he had, he encouraged an illusion, knowing it to be one. He was only certain of this, that when he was a boy and saw no life ahead of him except that of a Tinnick shopman, he used to feel that if he remained at home he must have the excitement of adventure. The beautiful river, with its lime-trees, appealed to his imagination; the rebuilding of the mills and the reorganization of trade, if he succeeded in reorganizing trade, would mean spending his mornings on the wharves by the river-side, and in those days his one desire was to escape from the shop. He looked upon the shop as a prison. In those days he liked dreaming, and it was pleasant to dream of giving back to Tinnick its trade of former days; but when his mother asked him what steps he intended to take to get the necessary capital, he lost his temper with her. He must have known that he could never make enough money in the shop to set the mills working! He must have known that he would never take his father's place at the desk by the dusty window! But if he shrank from an avowal it was because he had no other proposal to make. His mother understood him, though the others didn't, and seeing his inability to say what kind of work he would put his hand to, she had spoken of Annie McGrath. She didn't say he should marry Annie—she was a clever woman in her way—she merely said that Annie's relations in America could afford to supply sufficient capital to start one of the mills. But he never wanted to marry Annie, and couldn't do else but snap when the subject was mentioned, and many's the time he told his mother that if the mills were to pay it would be necessary to start business on a large scale. He was an impracticable lad and even now he couldn't help smiling when he thought of the abruptness with which he would go down to the river-side to seek a new argument wherewith to confute his mother, to return happy when he had found one, and sit watching for an opportunity to raise the question again.
No, it wasn't because Annie's relations weren't rich enough that he hadn't wanted to marry her. And to account for his prejudice against marriage, he must suppose that some notion of the priesthood was stirring in him at the time, for one day, as he sat looking at Annie across the tea-table, he couldn't help thinking that it would be hard to live alongside of her year in and year out. Although a good and a pleasant girl, Annie was a bit tiresome to listen to, and she wasn't one of those who improve with age. As he sat looking at her, he seemed to understand, as he had never understood before, that if he married her all that had happened in the years back would happen again—more children scrambling about the counter, with a shopman (himself) by the dusty window putting his pen behind his ear, just as his father did when he came forward to serve some country woman with half a pound of tea or a hank of onions.
And as these thoughts were passing through his mind, he remembered hearing his mother say that Annie's sister was thinking of starting dressmaking in the High Street. 'It would be nice if Eliza were to join her,' his mother added casually. Eliza laid aside the skirt she was turning, raised her eyes and stared at mother, as if she were surprised mother could say anything so stupid. 'I'm going to be a nun,' she said, and, just as if she didn't wish to answer any questions, went on sewing. Well might they be surprised, for not one of them suspected Eliza of religious inclinations. She wasn't more pious than another, and when they asked her if she were joking, she looked at them as if she thought the question very stupid, and they didn't ask her any more.
She wasn't more than fifteen at the time, yet she spoke out of her own mind. At the time they thought she had been thinking on the matter—considering her future. A child of fifteen doesn't consider, but a child of fifteen may know, and after he had seen the look which greeted his mother's remarks, and heard Eliza's simple answer, 'I've decided to be a nun,' he never doubted that what she said was true. From that day she became for him a different being; and when she told him, feeling, perhaps, that he sympathized with her more than the others did, that one day she would be Reverend Mother of the Tinnick Convent, he felt convinced that she knew what she was saying—how she knew he could not say.
His childhood had been a slumber, with occasional awakenings or half awakenings, and Eliza's announcement that she intended to enter the religious life was the first real awakening; and this awakening first took the form of an acute interest in Eliza's character, and, persuaded that she or her prototype had already existed, he searched the lives of the saints for an account of her, finding many partial portraits of her; certain typical traits in the lives of three or four saints reminded him of Eliza, but there was no complete portrait. The strangest part of the business was that he traced his vocation to his search for Eliza in the lives of the saints. Everything that happened afterwards was the emotional sequence of taking down the books from the shelf. He didn't exaggerate; it was possible his life might have taken a different turn, for up to that time he had only read books of adventure—stories about robbers and pirates. As if by magic, his interest in such stories passed clean out of his mind, or was exchanged for an extraordinary enthusiasm for saints, who by renouncement of animal life had contrived to steal up to the last bounds, whence they could see into the eternal life that lies beyond the grave. Once this power was admitted, what interest could we find in the feeble ambitions of temporal life, whose scope is limited to three score and ten years? And who could doubt that saints attained the eternal life, which is God, while still living in the temporal flesh? For did not the miracles of the saints prove that they were no longer subject to natural laws? Ancient Ireland, perhaps, more than any other country, understood the supremacy of spirit over matter, and strove to escape through mortifications from the prison of the flesh. Without doubt great numbers in Ireland had fled from the torment of actual life into the wilderness. If the shore and the islands on this lake were dotted with fortress castles, it was the Welsh and the Normans who built them, and the priest remembered how his mind took fire when he first heard of the hermit who lived in Church Island, and how disappointed he was when he heard that Church Island was ten miles away, at the other end of the lake.
For he could not row himself so far; distance and danger compelled him to consider the islands facing Tinnick—two large islands covered with brushwood, ugly brown patches—ugly as their names, Horse Island and Hog Island, whereas Castle Island had always seemed to him a suitable island for a hermitage, far more so than Castle Hag. Castle Hag was too small and bleak to engage the attention of a sixth-century hermit. But there were trees on Castle Island, and out of the ruins of the castle a comfortable sheiling could be built, and the ground thus freed from the ruins of the Welshman's castle might be cultivated. He remembered commandeering the fisherman's boat, and rowing himself out, taking a tape to measure, and how, after much application of the tape, he had satisfied himself that there was enough arable land in the island for a garden; he had walked down the island certain that a quarter of an acre could grow enough vegetables to support a hermit, and that a goat would be able to pick a living among the bushes and the tussocked grass: even a hermit might have a goat, and he didn't think he could live without milk. He must have been a long time measuring out his garden, for when he returned to his boat the appearance of the lake frightened him; it was full of blustering waves, and it wasn't likely he'd ever forget his struggle to get the boat back to Tinnick. He left it where he had found it, at the mouth of the river by the fisherman's hut, and returned home thinking how he would have to import a little hay occasionally for the goat. Nor would this be all; he would have to go on shore every Sunday to hear Mass, unless he built a chapel. The hermit of Church Island had an oratory in which he said Mass! But if he left his island every Sunday his hermitage would be a mockery. For the moment he couldn't see how he was to build a chapel—a sheiling, perhaps; a chapel was out of the question, he feared.
He would have to have vestments and a chalice, and, immersed in the difficulty of obtaining these, he walked home, taking the path along the river from habit, not because he wished to consider afresh the problems of the ruined mills. The dream of restoring Tinnick to its commerce of former days was forgotten, and he walked on, thinking of his chalice, until he heard somebody call him. It was Eliza, and as they leaned over the parapet of the bridge, he could not keep himself from telling her that he had rowed out to Castle Island, never thinking that she would reprove him, and sternly, for taking the fisherman's boat without asking leave. It was no use to argue with Eliza that the fisherman didn't want his boat, the day being too rough for fishing. What did she know about fishing? She had asked very sharply what brought him out to Castle Island on such a day. There was no use saying he didn't know; he never was able to keep a secret from Eliza, and feeling that he must confide in somebody, he told her he was tired of living at home, and was thinking of building a sheiling on the island.
Eliza didn't understand, and she understood still less when he spoke of a beehive hut, such as the ancient hermits of Ireland lived in. She was entirely without imagination; but what surprised him still more than her lack of sympathy with his dream-project was her inability to understand an idea so inherent in Christianity as the hermitage, for at that time Eliza's mind was made up to enter the religious life. He waited a long time for her answer, but the only answer she made was that in the early centuries a man was either a bandit or a hermit. This wasn't true: life was peaceful in Ireland in the sixth and seventh centuries; even if it weren't, she ought to have understood that change of circumstance cannot alter an idea so inherent in man as the hermitage, and when he asked her if she intended to found a new Order, or to go out to Patagonia to teach the Indians, she laughed, saying she was much more interested in a laundry than in the Indians. Her plea that the Tinnick Convent was always in straits for money did not appeal to him then any more than it did to-day.
'The officers in Tinnick have to send their washing to Dublin. A fine reason for entering a convent,' he answered.
But quite unmoved by the sarcasm, she replied that a woman can do nothing unless she be a member of a congregation. He shrank from Eliza's mind as from the touch of something coarse, and his suggestion that the object of the religious life is meditation did not embarrass her in the very least, and he remembered well how she had said:
'Putting aside for the moment the important question whether there may or may not be hermits in the twentieth century, tell me, Oliver, are you thinking of marrying Annie McGrath? You know she has rich relations in America, and you might get them to supply the capital to set the mills going. The mills would be a great advantage. Annie has a good headpiece, and would be able to take the shop off your hands, leaving you free to look after the mills.'
'The mills, Eliza! there are other things in the world beside those mills!'
'A hermitage on Castle Island?'
Eliza could be very impertinent when she liked. If she had no concern in what was being said, she looked round, displaying an irritating curiosity in every passer-by, and true to herself she had drawn his attention to the ducks on the river while he was telling her of the great change that had come over him. He had felt like boxing her ears. But the moment he began to speak of taking Orders she forgot all about the ducks; her eyes were fixed upon him, she listened to his every word, and when he finished speaking, she reminded him there had always been a priest in the family. All her wits were awake. He was the one of the family who had shown most aptitude for learning, and their cousin the Bishop would be able to help him. What she would like would be to see him parish priest of Tinnick. The parish was one of the best in the diocese. Not a doubt of it, she was thinking at that moment of the advantage this arrangement would be to her when she was directing the affairs of the convent.
If there was no other, there was at least one woman in Ireland who was interested in things. He had never met anybody less interested in opinions or in ideas than Eliza. They had walked home together in silence, at all events not saying much, and that very evening she left the room immediately after supper. And soon after they heard sounds of trunks being dragged along the passage; furniture was being moved, and when she came downstairs she just said she was going to sleep with Mary.
'Oliver is going to have my room. He must have a room to himself on account of his studies.'
On that she gathered up her sewing, and left him to explain. He felt that it was rather sly of her to go away like that, leaving all the explanation to him. She wanted him to be a priest, and was full of little tricks. There was no time for thinking it over. There was only just time to prepare for the examination. He worked hard, for his work interested him, especially the Latin language; but what interested him far more than his aptitude for learning whatever he made up his mind to learn was the discovery of a religious vocation in himself. Eliza feared that his interest in hermits sprang from a boyish taste for adventure rather than from religious feeling, but no sooner had he begun his studies for the priesthood, than he found himself overtaken and overpowered by an extraordinary religious fervour and by a desire for prayer and discipline. Never had a boy left home more zealous, more desirous to excel in piety and to strive for the honour and glory of the Church.
An expression of anger, almost of hatred, passed over Father Oliver's face, and he turned from the lake and walked a few yards rapidly, hoping to escape from memories of his folly; for he had made a great fool of himself, no doubt. But, after all, he preferred his enthusiasms, however exaggerated they might seem to him now, to the commonplace—he could not call it wisdom—of those whom he had taken into his confidence. It was foolish of him, no doubt, to have told how he used to go out in a boat and measure the ground about Castle Island, thinking to build himself a beehive hut out of the ruins. He knew too little of the world at that time; he had no idea how incapable the students were of understanding anything outside the narrow interests of an ecclesiastical career. Anyhow, he had had the satisfaction of having beaten them in all the examinations; and if he had cared to go in for advancement, he could have easily got ahead of them all, for he had better brains and better interest than any of them. When he last saw that ignorant brute Peter Fahy, Fahy asked him if he still put pebbles in his shoes. It was to Fahy he had confided the cause of his lameness, and Fahy had told on him; he was ridiculously innocent in those days, and he could still see them gathered about him, pretending not to believe that he kept a cat-o'-nine-tails in his room, and scourged himself at night. It was Tom Bryan who said that he wouldn't mind betting a couple of shillings that Gogarty's whip wouldn't draw a squeal from a pig on the roadside. The answer to that was: 'A touch will make a pig squeal: you should have said an ass!' But at the moment he couldn't think of an answer.
No doubt everyone looked on him as a ninny, and they persuaded him to prove to them that his whip was a real whip by letting Tom Bryan do the whipping for him. Tom Bryan was a rough fellow, who ought to have been driving a plough; a ploughman's life was too peaceful an occupation for him—a drover's life would have suited him best, prodding his cattle along the road with a goad; it was said that was how he maintained his authority in the parish. The remembrance of the day he bared his back to that fellow was still a bitter one. With a gentle smile he had handed the whip to Tom Bryan, the very smile which he imagined the hermits of old time used to wear. The first blow had so stunned him that he couldn't cry out, and this blow was followed by a second which sent the blood flaming through his veins, and then by another which brought all the blood into one point in his body. He seemed to lose consciousness of everything but three inches of back. Nine blows he bore without wincing; the tenth overcame his fortitude, and he had reeled away from Tom Bryan.
Tom had exchanged the whip he had given him for a great leather belt; that was why he had been hurt so grievously—hurt till the pain seemed to reach his very heart. Tom had belted him with all his strength; and half a dozen of Tom's pals were waiting outside the door, and they came into the room, their wide mouths agrin, asking him how he liked it. But they were unready for the pain his face expressed, and in the midst of his agony he noticed that already they foresaw consequences, and he heard them reprove Tom Bryan, their intention being to dissociate themselves from him. Cowards! cowards! cowards!
They tried to help him on with his shirt, but he had been too badly beaten, and Tom Bryan came up in the evening to ask him not to tell on him. He promised, and he wouldn't have told if he could have helped it. But some explanation had to be forthcoming—he couldn't lie on his back. The doctor was sent for....
And next day he was told the President wished to see him. The President was Eliza over again; hermits and hermitages were all very well in the early centuries, but religion had advanced, and nowadays a steadfast piety was more suited to modern requirements than pebbles in the shoes. If it had been possible to leave for America that day he thought he would have gone. But he couldn't leave Maynooth because he had been fool enough to bare his back to Tom Bryan. He couldn't return home to tell such a story as that. All Tinnick would be laughing at him, and Eliza, what would she think of him? He wasn't such a fool as the Maynooth students thought him, and he realized at once that he must stay in Maynooth and live down remembrance of his folly. So, as the saying goes, he took the bit between his teeth.
The necessity of living down his first folly, of creating a new idea of himself in the minds of the students, forced him to apply all his intelligence to his studies, and he made extraordinary progress in the first years. The recollection of the ease with which he outdistanced his fellow-students was as pleasant as the breezes about the lake, and his thoughts dwelt on the opinion which he knew was entertained, that for many years no one at Maynooth had shown such aptitude for scholarship. He only had to look at a book to know more about it than his fellow-students would know if they were to spend days over it. He won honours. He could have won greater honours, but his conscience reminded him that the gifts he received from God were not bestowed upon him for the mere purpose of humiliating his fellow-students. He often felt then that if certain talents had been given to him, they were given to him to use for the greater glory of God rather than for his own glorification; and his feeling was that there was nothing more hateful in God's sight than intellectual, unless perhaps spiritual, pride, and his object during his last years at Maynooth was to exhibit himself to the least advantage.
It is strange how an idea enters the soul and remakes it, and when he left Maynooth he used his influence with his cousin, the Bishop, to get himself appointed to the poorest parish in Connaught. Eliza had to dissemble, but he knew that in her heart she was furious with him. We are all extraordinarily different one from another, and if we seem most different from those whom we are most like, it is because we know nothing at all about strangers. He had gone to Kilronan in spite of Eliza, in spite of everyone, their cousin the Bishop included. He had been very happy in Bridget Clery's cottage, so happy that he didn't know himself why he ever consented to leave Kilronan.
No, it was not because he was too happy there. He had to a certain extent outgrown his very delicate conscience.
A breeze rose, the forest murmured, a bird sang, and the sails of the yacht filled. The priest stood watching her pass behind a rocky headland, knowing now that her destination was Kilronan Abbey. But was there water enough in the strait at this season of the year? Hardly enough to float a boat of her size. If she stuck, the picnic-party would get into the small boat, and, thus lightened, the yacht might be floated into the other arm of the lake. 'A pleasant day indeed for a sail,' and in imagination he followed the yacht down the lake, past its different castles, Castle Carra and Castle Burke and Church Island, the island on which Marban—Marban, the famous hermit poet, had lived.
It seemed to him strange that he had never thought of visiting the ruined church when he lived close by at the northern end of the lake. His time used to be entirely taken up with attending to the wants of his poor people, and the first year he spent in Garranard he had thought only of the possibility of inducing the Government to build a bridge across the strait. That bridge was badly wanted. All the western side of the lake was cut off from railway communication. Tinnick was the terminus, but to get to Tinnick one had to go round the lake, either by. the northern or the southern end, and it was always a question which was the longer road—round by Kilronan Abbey or by the Bridge of Keel. Many people said the southern road was shorter, but the difference wasn't more than a mile, if that, and Father Oliver preferred the northern road; for it took him by his curate's house, and he could always stop there and give his horse a feed and a rest; and he liked to revisit the abbey in which he had said Mass for so long, and in which Mass had always been said for a thousand years, even since Cromwell had unroofed it, the celebrant sheltered by an arch, the congregation kneeling under the open sky, whether it rained or snowed.
The roofing of the abbey and the bridging of the strait were the two things that the parish was really interested in. He tried when he was in Kilronan to obtain the Archbishop's consent and collaboration; Moran was trying now: he did not know that he was succeeding any better; and Father Oliver reflected a while on the peculiar temperament of their diocesan, and jumping down from the rock on which he had been sitting, he wandered along the sunny shore, thinking of the many letters he had addressed to the Board of Works on the subject of the bridge. The Board believed, or pretended to believe, that the parish could not afford the bridge; as well might it be urged that a cripple could not afford crutches. Without doubt a public meeting should be held; and in some little indignation Father Oliver began to think that public opinion should be roused and organized.
It was for him to do this: he was the people's natural leader; but for many months he had done nothing in the matter. Why, he didn't know himself. Perhaps he needed a holiday; perhaps he no longer believed the Government susceptible to public opinion; perhaps he had lost faith in the people themselves! The people were the same always; the people never change, only individuals change.
And at the end of the sandy spit, where some pines had grown and seeded, he stood looking across the silvery lake wondering if his parishioners had begun to notice the change that had come over him since Nora Glynn left the parish, and as her name came into his mind he was startled out of his reverie by the sound of voices, and turning from the lake, he saw two wood-gatherers coming down a little path through the juniper-bushes. He often hid himself in the woods when he saw somebody coming, but he couldn't do so now without betraying his intention, and he stayed where he was. The women passed on, bent under their loads. Whether they saw him or not he couldn't tell; they passed near enough for him to recognize them, and he remembered that they were in church the day he alluded to Nora in his sermon. A hundred yards further on the women unburdened and sat down to rest a while, and Father Oliver began to consider what their conversation might be. His habit of wandering away by himself had no doubt been noticed, and once it was noticed it would become a topic of conversation. 'And what they do be saying now is, "That he has never been the same man since he preached against the schoolmistress, for what should he be doing by the lake if he wasn't afraid that she made away with herself?" And perhaps they are right,' he said, and walked up the shore, hoping that as soon as he was out of sight the women would forget to tell when they returned home that they had seen him walking by the lake.
All the morning he had been trying to keep Nora Glynn out of his mind, but now, as he rambled, he could not put back the memory of the day he met her for the first time, nearly two years ago, for to-day was the fifteenth of May; it was about that time a little later in the year; it must have been in June, for the day was very hot, and he had been riding fast, not wishing to keep Catherine's dinner waiting, and as he pushed his bicycle through the gate, he saw the great cheery man, Father Peter, with a face like an apple, walking up and down under the sycamores reading his breviary. It must have been in June, for the mowers were in the field opposite, in the field known as the priest's field, though Father Peter had never rented it. There had never been such weather in Ireland before, and the day he rode his bicycle over to see Father Peter seemed to him the hottest day of all. But he had heard of the new schoolmistress's musical talents, and despite the heat of the day had ridden over, so anxious was he to hear if Father Peter were satisfied with her in all other respects. 'We shall be able to talk better in the shade of the sycamores,' Father Peter said, and on this they crossed the lawn, but not many steps were taken back and forth before Father Peter began to throw out hints that he didn't think Miss Glynn was altogether suited to the parish.
'But if you're satisfied with her discipline,' Father Oliver jerked out, and it was all he could do to check himself from further snaps at the parish priest, a great burly man who could not tell a minor from a major chord, yet was venting the opinion that good singing distracted the attention of the congregation at their prayers. He would have liked to ask him if he was to understand that bad singing tended to a devotional mood, but wishing to remain on good terms with his superior, he said nothing and waited for Father Peter to state his case against the new schoolmistress, which he seemed to think could be done by speaking of the danger of young unmarried women in the parish. It was when they came to the break in the trees that Father Peter nudged him and said under his breath:
'Here is the young woman herself coming across the fields.'
He looked that way and saw a small, thin girl coming towards the stile. She hopped over it as if she enjoyed the little jump into the road. Father Peter called to her and engaged her in conversation; and he continued to talk to her of indifferent things, no doubt with the view to giving him an opportunity of observing her. But they saw her with different eyes: whereas Father Peter descried in her one that might become a mischief in the parish, he could discover no dangerous beauty in her, merely a crumpled little face that nobody would notice were it not for the eyes and forehead. The forehead was broad and well shapen and promised an intelligence that the eyes were quick to confirm; round, gray, intelligent eyes, smiling, welcoming eyes. Her accent caressed the ear, it was a very sweet one, only faintly Irish, and she talked easily and correctly, like one who enjoyed talking, laughing gaily, taking, he was afraid, undue pleasure in Father Peter's rough sallies, without heeding that he was trying to entrap her into some slight indiscretion of speech that he could make use of afterwards, for he must needs justify himself to himself if he decided to dismiss her.
As he had been asked to notice her he remarked her shining brown hair. It frizzled like a furze-bush about her tiny face, and curled over her forehead. Her white even teeth showed prettily between her lips. She was not without points, but notwithstanding these it could not be said that she deserved the adjective pretty; and he was already convinced that it was not good looks that prejudiced her in Father Peter's eyes. Nor was the excuse that her singing attracted too much attention an honest one. What Father Peter did not like about the girl was her independent mind, which displayed itself in every gesture, in the way she hopped over the stile, and the manner with which she toyed with her parasol—a parasol that seemed a little out of keeping with her position, it is true. A very fine parasol it was; a blue silk parasol. Her independence betrayed itself in her voice: she talked to the parish priest with due respect, but her independent mind informed every sentence, even the smallest, and that was why she was going to be dismissed from her post. It was shameful that a grave injustice should be done to a girl who was admittedly competent in the fulfilment of all her duties, and he had not tried to conceal his opinion from Father Peter during dinner and after dinner, leaving him somewhat earlier than usual, for nothing affronted him more than injustice, especially ecclesiastical injustice.
As he rode his bicycle down the lonely road to Bridget's cottage, the thought passed through his mind that if Nora Glynn were a stupid, intelligent woman no objection would have been raised against her. 'An independent mind is very objectionable to the ecclesiastic,' he said to himself as he leaped off his bicycle.... 'Nora Glynn. How well suited the name is to her. There is a smack in the name. Glynn, Nora Glynn,' he repeated, and it seemed to him that the name belonged exclusively to her.
A few days after this first meeting he met her about two miles from Garranard; he was on his bicycle, she was on hers, and they both leaped instinctively from their machines. What impressed him this time far more than her looks was her happy, original mind. While walking beside her he caught himself thinking that he had never seen a really happy face before. But she was going to be sent away because she was happy and wore her soul in her face.
They had seemed unable to get away from each other, so much had they to say. He mentioned his brother James, who was doing well in America and would perhaps one day send them the price of a harmonium. She told him she couldn't play on the wheezy old thing at Garranard, and at the moment he clean forgot that the new harmonium would avail her little, since Father Peter was going to get rid of her; he only remembered it as he got on his bicycle, and he returned home ready to espouse her cause against anybody.
She must write to the Archbishop, and if he wouldn't do anything she must write to the papers. Influence must be brought to bear, and Father Peter must be prevented from perpetrating a gross injustice. He felt that it would be impossible for him to remain Father Peter's curate if the schoolmistress were sent away for no fault of hers, merely because she wore a happy face. What Father Peter would have done if he had lived no one would ever know. He might have dismissed her; even so the injustice would have been slight compared with what had happened to her; and the memory of the wrong that had been done to her put such a pain into his heart that he seemed to lose sight of everything, till a fish leaping in the languid lake awoke him, and he walked on, absorbed in the memory of his mistake, his thoughts swinging back to the day he had met her on the roadside, and to the events that succeeded their meeting. Father Peter was taken ill, two days after he was dead, before the end of the week he was in his coffin; and it was left to him to turn Nora Glynn out of the parish. No doubt other men had committed faults as grave as his; but they had the strength to leave the matter in the hands of God, to say: 'I can do nothing, I must put myself in the hands of God; let him judge. He is all wise.' He hadn't their force of character. He believed as firmly as they did, but, for some reason which he couldn't explain to himself, he was unable to leave the matter in God's hands, and was always thinking how he could get news of her.
If it hadn't been for that woman, for that detestable Mrs. O'Mara, who was the cause of so much evil-speaking in the parish!... And with his heart full of hatred so black that it surprised him, he asked himself if he could forgive that woman. God might, he couldn't. And he fell to thinking how Mrs. O'Mara had long been a curse upon the parish. Father Peter was more than once compelled to speak about her from the altar, and to make plain that the stories she set going were untrue. Father Peter had warned him, but warnings are no good; he had listened to her convinced at the time that it was wrong and foolish to listen to scandalmongers, but unable to resist that beguiling tongue, for Mrs. O'Mara had a beguiling tongue—fool that he was, that he had been. There was no use going over the wretched story again; he was weary of going over it, and he tried to put it out of his mind. But it wouldn't be put out of his mind, and in spite of himself he began to recall the events of the fatal day. He had been out all the morning, walking about with an engineer who was sent down by the Board of Works to consider the possibility of building the bridge, and had just come in to rest. Catherine had brought him a cup of tea; he was sitting by the window, almost too tired to drink it. The door was flung open. If Catherine had only asked him if he were at home to visitors, he would have said he wasn't at home to Mrs. O'Mara, but he wasn't asked; the door was flung open, and he found himself face to face with the parish magpie. And before he could bless himself she began to talk to him about the bridge, saying that she knew all about the engineer, how he had gotten his appointment, and what his qualifications were. It is easy to say one shouldn't listen to such gossips, but it is hard to shut one's ears or to let what one hears with one ear out the other ear, for she might be bringing him information that might be of use to him. So he listened, and when the bridge, and the advantage of it, had been discussed, she told him she had been staying at the convent. She had tales to tell about all the nuns and about all the pupils. She told him that half the Catholic families in Ireland had promised to send their daughters to Tinnick if Eliza succeeded in finding somebody who could teach music and singing. But Eliza didn't think there was anyone in the country qualified for the post but Nora Glynn. If Mrs. O'Mara could be believed, Eliza said that she could offer Nora Glynn more money than she was earning in Garranard. Until then he had only half listened to Mrs. O'Mara's chatter, for he disliked the woman—her chatter amused him only as the chatter of a bird might; but when he heard that his sister was trying to get his schoolmistress away from him he had flared up. 'Oh, but I don't think that your schoolmistress would suit a convent school. I shouldn't like my daughter—' 'What do you mean?' Her face changed expression, and in her nasty mincing manner she began to throw out hints that Nora Glynn would not suit the nuns. He could see that she was concealing something—there was something at the back of her mind. Women of her sort want to be persuaded; their bits of scandal must be dragged from them by force; they are the unwilling victims who would say nothing if they could help it. She had said enough to oblige him to ask her to speak out, and she began to throw out hints about a man whom Nora used to meet on the hillside (she wouldn't give the man's name, she was too clever for that). She would only say that Nora had been seen on the hillside walking in lonely places with a man. Truly a detestable woman! His thoughts strayed from her for a moment, for it gave him pleasure to recollect that he had defended his schoolmistress. Didn't he say: 'Now, then, Mrs. O'Mara, if you have anything definite to say, say it, but I won't listen to vague charges.' 'Charges—who is making charges?' she asked, and he had unfortunately called her a liar. In the middle of the row she dropped a phrase: 'Anyhow, her appearance is against her.' And it was true that Nora Glynn's appearance had changed in the last few months. Seeing that her words had a certain effect, Mrs. O'Mara quieted down; and while he stood wondering if it could possibly be true that Nora had deceived them, that she had been living in sin all these months, he suddenly heard Mrs. O'Mara saying that he was lacking in experience—which was quite true, but her way of saying it had roused the devil in him. Who was she that she should come telling him that he lacked experience? To be sure, he wasn't an old midwife, and that's what Mrs. O'Mara looked like, sitting before him.
He had lost control of himself, saying, 'Now, will you get out of this house, you old scandalmonger, or I'll take you by the shoulders and put you out!' And he had thrown the front-door open. What a look she gave him as she passed out! At that moment the clock struck three and he remembered suddenly that the children were coming out of school at that moment. It would have been better if he had waited. But he couldn't wait: he'd have gone mad if he had waited; and he recalled how he had jumped into the road, squeezed through the stile, and run across the field. 'Why all this hurry?' he had asked himself.
She was locking up the desks; the children went by him, curtseying, and he had to wait till the last one was past the door. Nora must have guessed his errand, for her face noticeably hardened. 'I've seen Mrs. O'Mara,' he blurted out, 'and she tells me that you've been seen walking with some man on the hillside in lonely places.... Don't deny it if it is true.' 'I'm not going to deny anything that is true.' How brave she was! Her courage attracted him and softened his heart. But everything was true, alas! Everything. She told him that her plans were to steal out of the parish without saying a word to anyone, for she was determined not to disgrace him or the parish. She was thinking of him in all her trouble, and everything might have ended well if he had not asked her who the man was. She would not say, nor give any reasons why she wouldn't do so. Only this, that if the man had deserted her she didn't want anybody to bring him back, if he could be brought back; if the man were dead it were better to say nothing about him. 'But if it were his fault?' 'I don't see that that would make any difference.'
They went out of the school-house talking in quite a friendly way. There was a little drizzle in the air, and, opening her umbrella, she said, 'I'm afraid you'll get wet.' 'Get wet, get wet! what matter?' he had answered impatiently, for the remark annoyed him. By the hawthorn-bush he began to tell her again that it would relieve his mind to know who the man was. She tried to get away from him, but he wouldn't let her go; and catching her by the arm he besought her, saying that it would relieve his mind. How many times had he said that? But he wasn't able to persuade her, notwithstanding his insistence that as a priest of the parish he had a right to know. No doubt she had some very deep reason for keeping her secret, or perhaps his authoritative manner was the cause of her silence. However this might be, any words would have been better than 'it would relieve my mind to know who the man was.' 'Stupid, stupid, stupid!' he muttered to himself, and he wandered from the cart-track into the wood.
It was impossible to say now why he had wished to press her secret from her. It would be unpleasant for him, as priest of the parish, to know that the man was living in the parish; but it would be still more unpleasant if he knew who the man was. Nora's seducer could be none other than one of the young soldiers who had taken the fishing-lodge at the head of the lake. Mrs. O'Mara had hinted that Nora had been seen with one of them on the hill, and he thought how on a day like this she might have been led away among the ferns. At that moment there came out of the thicket a floating ball of thistle-down. 'It bloweth where it listeth,' he said. 'Soldier or shepherd, what matter now she is gone?' and rising to his feet and coming down the sloping lawn, overflowing with the shade of the larches, he climbed through the hawthorns growing out of a crumbled wall, and once at the edge of the lake, he stood waiting for nothing seemingly but to hear the tiresome clanking call of the stonechat, and he compared its reiterated call with the words 'atonement,' 'forgiveness,' 'death,' 'calamity,' words always clanking in his heart, for she might be lying at the bottom of the lake, and some day a white phantom would rise from the water and claim him.
His thoughts broke away, and he re-lived in memory the very agony of mind he had endured when he went home after her admission that she was with child. All that night, all next day, and for how many days? Would the time ever come when he could think of her without a pain in his heart? It is said that time brings forgetfulness. Does it? On Saturday morning he had sat at his window, asking himself if he should go down to see her or if he should send for her. There were confessions in the afternoon, and expecting that she would come to confess to him, he had not sent for her. One never knows; perhaps it was her absence from confession that had angered him. His temper took a different turn that evening. All night he had lain awake; he must have been a little mad that night, for he could only think of the loss of a soul to God, and of God's love of chastity. All night long he had repeated with variations that it were better that all which our eyes see—this earth and the stars that are in being—should perish utterly, be crushed into dust, rather than a mortal sin should be committed; in an extraordinary lucidity of mind he continued to ponder on God's anger and his own responsibility towards God, and feeling all the while that there are times when we lose control of our minds, when we are a little mad. He foresaw his danger, but he could not do else than rise from his bed and begin to prepare his sermon, for he had to preach, and he could only preach on chastity and the displeasure sins against chastity cause to God. He could think but of this one thing, the displeasure God must feel against Nora and the seducer who had robbed her of the virtue God prized most in her. He must have said things that he would not have said at any other time. His brain was on fire that morning, and words rose to his lips—he knew not whence nor how they came, and he had no idea now of what he had said. He only knew that she left the church during his sermon; at what moment he did not know, nor did he know that she had left the parish till next day, when the children came up to tell him there was no schoolmistress. And from that day to this no news of her, nor any way of getting news of her.
His thoughts went to the hawthorn-trees, for he could not think of her any more for the moment, and it relieved his mind to examine the green pips that were beginning to appear among the leaves. 'The hawthorns will be in flower in another week,' he said; and he began to wonder at the beautiful order of the spring. The pear and the cherry were the first; these were followed by the apple, and after the apple came the lilac, the chestnut, and the laburnum. The forest trees, too, had their order. The ash was still leafless, but it was shedding its catkins, and in another fifteen days its light foliage would be dancing in the breeze. The oak was last of all. At that moment a swallow flitted from stone to stone, too tired to fly far, and he wondered whence it had come. A cuckoo called from a distant hill; it, too, had been away and had come back.
His eyes dwelt on the lake, refined and wistful, with reflections of islands and reeds, mysteriously still. Rose-coloured clouds descended, revealing many new and beautiful mountain forms, every pass and every crest distinguishable. It was the hour when the cormorants come home to roost, and he saw three black specks flying low about the glittering surface; rising from the water, they alighted with a flutter of wings on the corner wall of what remained of Castle Hag, 'and they will sleep there till morning,' he said, as he toiled up a little path, twisting through ferns and thorn-bushes. At the top of the hill was his house, the house Father Peter had built. Its appearance displeased him, and he stood for a long time watching the evening darkening, and the yacht being towed home, her sails lowered, the sailors in the rowing-boat. 'They will be well tired before they get her back to Tinnick;' and he turned and entered his house abruptly.
Catherine's curiosity was a worry. As if he knew why he hadn't come home to his dinner! If she'd just finish putting the plates on the table and leave him. Of course, there had been callers. One man, the man he especially wished to see, had driven ten miles to see him. It was most unfortunate, but it couldn't be helped; he had felt that morning that he couldn't stay indoors—the business of the parish had somehow got upon his nerves, but not because he had been working hard. He had done but little work since she left the parish. Now was that story going to begin again? If it did, he should go out of his mind; and he looked round the room, thinking how a lonely evening breeds thoughts of discontent.
Most of the furniture in the room was Father Peter's. Father Peter had left his curate his furniture, but the pretty mahogany bookcase and the engravings upon the walls were Father Oliver's own taste; he had bought them at an auction, and there were times when these purchases pleased him. But now he was thinking that Father Peter must have known to whom the parish would go at his death, for he could not have meant all his furniture to be taken out of the house—'there would be no room for it in Bridget Clery's cottage;' and Father Oliver sat thinking of the evenings he used to spend with Father Peter. How often during those evenings Father Peter must have said to himself, 'One day, Gogarty, you will be sitting in my chair and sleeping in my bed.' And Father Oliver pondered on his affection for the dead man. There were no differences of opinion, only one—the neglected garden at the back of the house; and, smiling sadly, Father Oliver remembered how he used to reprove the parish priest.
'I'm afraid I'm too big and too fat and too fond of my pipe and my glass of whisky to care much about carnations. But if you get the parish when I'm gone, I'm sure you'll grow some beauties, and you'll put a bunch on my grave sometimes, Gogarty.' The very ring of the dead man's voice seemed to sound through the lonely room, and, sitting in Father Peter's chair, with the light of Father Peter's lamp shining on his face and hand, Father Oliver's thoughts flowed on. It seemed to him that he had not understood and appreciated Father Peter's kindliness, and he recalled his perfect good nature. 'Death reveals many things to us,' he said; and he lifted his head to listen, for the silence in the house and about the house reminded him of the silence of the dead, and he began to consider what his own span of life might be. He might live as long as Father Peter (Father Peter was fifty-five when he died); if so, twenty-one years of existence by the lake's side awaited him, and these years seemed to him empty like a desert—yes, and as sterile. 'Twenty-one years wondering what became of her, and every evening like this evening—the same loneliness.'
He sat watching the hands of his clock, and a peaceful meditation about a certain carnation that unfortunately burst its calyx was interrupted by a sudden thought. Whence the thought came he could not tell, nor what had put it into his head, but it had occurred to him suddenly that 'if Father Peter had lived a few weeks longer he would have found means of exchanging Nora Glynn for another schoolmistress, more suitable to the requirements of the parish. If Father Peter had lived he would have done her a grievous wrong. He wouldn't have allowed her to suffer, but he would have done her a wrong all the same.' And it were better that a man should meet his death than he should do a wrong to another. But he wasn't contemplating his own death nor Nora's when this end to the difficulty occurred to him. Our inherent hypocrisy is so great that it is difficult to know what one does think. He surely did not think it well that Father Peter had died, his friend, his benefactor, the man in whose house he was living? Of course not. Then it was strange he could not keep the thought out of his mind that Father Peter's death had saved the parish from a great scandal, for if Nora had been dismissed he might have found himself obliged to leave the parish.
Again he turned on himself and asked how such thoughts could come into his mind. True, the coming of a thought into the consciousness is often unexpected, but if the thought were not latent in the mind, it would not arise out of the mind; and if Father Peter knew the base thoughts he indulged in—yes, indulged in, for he could not put them quite out of his mind—he feared very much that the gift of all this furniture might—No, he was judging Father Peter ill: Father Peter was incapable of a mean regret.
But who was he, he'd like to be told, that he should set himself up as Father Peter's judge? The evil he had foreseen had happened. If Father Peter felt that Nora Glynn was not the kind of schoolmistress the parish required, should he not send her away? The need of the parish, of the many, before the one. Moreover, Father Peter was under no obligation whatsoever to Nora Glynn. She had been sent down by the School Board subject to his approval. 'But my case is quite different. I chose her; I decided that she was to remain.' And he asked himself if his decision had come about gradually. No, he had never hesitated, but dismissed Father Peter's prejudices as unworthy.... The church needed some good music. But did he think of the church? Hardly at all. His first consideration was his personal pleasure, and he wished that the best choir in the diocese should be in his church, and Nora Glynn enabled him to gratify his vanity. He made her his friend, taking pleasure in her smiles, and in the fact that he had only to express a desire for it to be fulfilled. After school, tired though she might be, she was always willing to meet him in the church for choir practice. She would herself propose to decorate the altar for feast-days. How many times had they walked round the garden together gathering flowers for the altar! And it was strange that she could decorate so well without knowing much about flowers or having much natural taste for flowers.
Feeling he was doing her an injustice, he admitted that she had made much progress under his guidance in her knowledge of flowers.
'But how did he treat her in the end, despite all her kindnesses? Shamefully, shamefully, shamefully!' and getting up from his chair Father Oliver walked across the room, and when he turned he drew his hand across his eyes. The clock struck twelve. 'I shall be awake at dawn,' he said, 'with all this story running in my head,' and he stopped on the threshold of his bedroom, frightened at the sight of his bed. But he had reached the stint of his sufferings, and that morning lay awake, hardly annoyed at all by the black-birds' whistling, contentedly going over the mistakes he had made—a little surprised, however, that the remembrance of them did not cause him more pain. At last he fell asleep, and when his housekeeper knocked at his door and he heard her saying that it was past eight, he leaped out of bed cheerily, and sang a stave of song as he shaved himself, gashing his chin, however, for he could not keep his attention fixed on his chin, but must peep over the top of the glass, whence he could see his garden, and think how next year he would contrive a better arrangement of colour. It was difficult to stop the bleeding, and he knew that Catherine would grumble at the state he left the towels in (he should not have used his bath-towel); but these were minor matters. He was happier than he had been for many a day.
The sight of strawberries on his breakfast-table pleased him; the man who drove ten miles to see him yesterday called, and he shared his strawberries with him in abundant spirit. The sunlight was exciting, the lake called him, and it was pleasant to stride along, talking of the bridge (at last there seemed some prospect of getting one). The intelligence of this new inspector filled him with hope, and he expatiated in the advantages of the bridge and many other things. Nor did his humour seem to depend entirely on the companionship of his visitor. It endured long after his visitor had left him, and very soon he began to think that his desire to go away for a long holiday was a passing indisposition of mind rather than a need. His holiday could be postponed to the end of the year; there would be more leisure then, and he would be better able to enjoy his holiday than he would be now.
His changing mind interested him, and he watched it like a vane, unable to understand how it was that, notwithstanding his restlessness, he could not bring himself to go away. Something seemed to keep him back, and he was not certain that the reason he stayed was because the Government had not yet sent a formal promise to build the bridge. He could think of no other reason for delaying in Garranard; he certainly wanted change. And then Nora's name came into his mind, and he meditated for a moment, seeing the colour of her hair and the vanishing expression of her eyes. Sometimes he could see her hand, the very texture of its skin, and the line of the thumb and the forefinger. A cat had once scratched her hand, and she had told him about it. That was about two months before Mrs. O'Mara had come to tell him that shocking story, two months before he had gone down to his church and spoken about Nora in such a way that she had gone out of the parish. But was he going to begin the story over again? He picked up a book, but did not read many sentences before he was once more asking himself if she had gone down to the lake, and if it were her spell that kept him in Garranard. 'The wretchedness of it all,' he cried, and fell to thinking that Nora's spirit haunted the lake, and that his punishment was to be kept a prisoner always. His imagination ran riot. Perhaps he would have to seek her out, follow her all over the world, a sort of Wandering Jew, trying to make atonement, and would never get any rest until this atonement was made. And the wrong that he had done her seemed the only reality. It was his elbow companion in the evening as he sat smoking his pipe, and every morning he stood at the end of a sandy spit seeing nothing, hearing nothing but her. One day he was startled by a footstep, and turned expecting to see Nora. But it was only Christy, the boy who worked in his garden.
'Your reverence, the postman overlooked this letter in the morning. It was stuck at the bottom of the bag. He hopes the delay won't make any difference.'
From Father O'Grady to Father Oliver Gogarty.
'June 1, 19—.
'DEAR FATHER GOGARTY,
'I am writing to ask you if you know anything about a young woman called Nora Glynn. She tells me that she was schoolmistress in your parish and organist in your church, and that you thought very highly of her until one day a tale-bearer, Mrs. O'Mara by name, went to your house and told you that your schoolmistress was going to have a baby. It appears that at first you refused to believe her, and that you ran down to the school to ask Miss Glynn herself if the story you had heard about her was a true one. She admitted it, but on her refusal to tell you who was the father of the child you lost your temper; and the following Sunday you alluded to her so plainly in your sermon about chastity that there was nothing for her but to leave the parish.
'There is no reason why I should disbelieve Miss Glynn's story; I am an Irish priest like yourself, sir. I have worked in London among the poor for forty years, and Miss Glynn's story is, to my certain knowledge, not an uncommon one; it is, I am sorry to say, most probable; it is what would happen to any schoolmistress in Ireland in similar circumstances. The ordinary course is to find out the man and to force him to marry the girl; if this fails, to drive the woman out of the parish, it being better to sacrifice one affected sheep than that the whole flock should be contaminated. I am an old man; Miss Glynn tells me that you are a young man. I can therefore speak quite frankly. I believe the practice to which I have alluded is inhuman and unchristian, and has brought about the ruin of many an Irish girl. I have been able to rescue some from the streets, and, touched by their stories, I have written frequently to the priest of the parish pointing out to him that his responsibility is not merely local, and does not end as soon as the woman has passed the boundary of his parish. I would ask you what you think your feelings would be if I were writing to you now to tell you that, after some months of degraded life, Miss Glynn had thrown herself from one of the bridges into the river? That might very well have been the story I had to write to you; fortunately for you, it is another story.
'Miss Glynn is a woman of strong character, and does not give way easily; her strength of will has enabled her to succeed where another woman might have failed. She is now living with one of my parishioners, a Mrs. Dent, of 24, Harold Street, who has taken a great liking to her, and helped her through her most trying time, when she had very little money and was alone and friendless in London. Mrs. Dent recommended her to some people in the country who would look after her child. She allowed her to pay her rent by giving lessons to her daughter on the piano. One thing led to another; the lady who lived on the drawing-room floor took lessons, and Miss Glynn is earning now, on an average, thirty shillings per week, which little income will be increased if I can appoint her to the post of organist in my church, my organist having been obliged to leave me on account of her health. It was while talking to Mrs. Dent on this very subject that I first heard Miss Glynn's name mentioned.
'Mrs. Dent was enthusiastic about her, but I could see that she knew little about her lodger's antecedents, except that she came from Ireland. She was anxious that I should engage her at once, declaring that I could find no one like her, and she asked me to see her that evening. I went, and the young woman impressed me very favourably. She came to my church and played for me. I could see that she was an excellent musician, and there seemed to be no reason why I should not engage her. I should probably have done so without asking any further questions—for I do not care to inquire too closely into a woman's past, once I am satisfied that she wishes to lead an honourable life—but Miss Glynn volunteered to tell me what her past had been, saying it was better I should hear it from her than from another. When she had told me her sad story, I reminded her of the anxiety that her disappearance from the parish would cause you. She shook her head, saying you did not care what might happen to her. I assured her that such a thing was not the case, and begged of her to allow me to write to you; but I did not obtain her consent until she began to see that if she withheld it any longer we might think she was concealing some important fact. Moreover, I impressed upon her that it was right that I should hear your story, not because I disbelieved hers—I take it for granted the facts are correctly stated—but in the event of your being able to say something which would put a different complexion upon them.
'Yours very sincerely,
After reading Father O'Grady's letter he looked round, fearing lest someone should speak to him. Christy was already some distance away; there was nobody else in sight; and feeling he was safe from interruption, he went towards the wood, thinking of the good priest who had saved her (in saving her Father O'Grady had saved him), and of the waste of despair into which he would have drifted certainly if the news had been that she had killed herself. He stood appalled, looking into the green wood, aware of the mysterious life in the branches; and then lay down to watch the insect life among the grass—a beetle pursuing its little or great destiny. But he was too exalted to remain lying down; the wood seemed to beckon him, and he asked if the madness of the woods had overtaken him. Further on he came upon a chorus of finches singing in some hawthorn-trees, and in Derrinrush he stopped to listen to the silence that had suddenly fallen. A shadow floated by; he looked up: a hawk was passing overhead, ready to attack rat or mouse moving among the young birches and firs that were springing up in the clearance. The light was violent, and the priest shaded his eyes. His feet sank in sand, he tripped over tufts of rough grass, and was glad to get out of this part of the wood into the shade of large trees.
Trees always interested him, and he began to think of their great roots seeking the darkness, and of their branches lifting themselves in love towards the light. He and these trees were one, for there is but one life, one mother, one elemental substance out of which all has come. That was it, and his thoughts paused. Only in union is there happiness, and for many weary months he had been isolated, thrown out; but to-day he had been drawn suddenly into the general life, he had become again part of the general harmony, and that was why he was so happy. No better explanation was forthcoming, and he did not think that a better one was required—at least, not to-day.
He noticed with pleasure that he no longer tried to pass behind a thicket nor into one when he met poor wood-gatherers bent under their heavy loads. He even stopped to speak to a woman out with her children; the three were breaking sticks across their knees, and he encouraged them to talk to him. But without his being aware of it, his thoughts hearkened back, and when it came to his turn to answer he could not answer. He had been thinking of Nora, and, ashamed of his absentmindedness, he left them tying up their bundles and went towards the shore, stopping many times to admire the pale arch of evening sky with never a wind in it, nor any sound but the cries of swallows in full pursuit. 'A rememberable evening,' he said, and there was such a lightness in his feet that he believed, or very nearly, that there were wings on his shoulders which he only had to open to float away whither he might wish to go.
His brain overflowed with thankfulness and dreams of her forgiveness, and at midnight he sat in his study still thinking, still immersed in his happiness; and hearing moths flying about the burning lamp he rescued one for sheer love of her, and later in the evening the illusion of her presence was so intense that he started up from his chair and looked round for her. Had he not felt her breath upon his cheek? Her very perfume had floated past! There ... it had gone by again! No, it was not she—only the syringa breathing in the window.
From Father Oliver Gogarty to Father O'Grady.
'June 2, 19—.
'DEAR FATHER O'GRADY,
'Miss Glynn's disappearance caused me, as you rightly surmise, the gravest anxiety, and it is no exaggeration to say that whenever her name was mentioned, my tongue seemed to thicken and I could not speak.
'I wish I could find words to thank you for what you have done. I am still under the influence of the emotion that your letter caused me, and can only say that Miss Glynn has told her story truthfully. As to your reproofs, I accept them, they are merited; and I thank you for your kind advice. I am glad that it comes from an Irishman, and I would give much to take you by the hand and to thank you again and again.'