E-text prepared by Al Haines
THE TRAGIC BRIDE
FRANCIS BRETT YOUNG
London: Martin Secker 1920
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WORKS BY THE SAME AUTHOR
THE YOUNG PHYSICIAN THE CRESCENT MOON THE IRON AGE THE DARK TOWER DEEP SEA UNDERGROWTH (with E. BRETT YOUNG)
FIVE DEGREES SOUTH POEMS, 1916-1918
BELLES LETTRES ROBERT BRIDGES: A CRITICAL STUDY MARCHING ON TANGA
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THE COUNTESS OF
PEMBROKE AND MONTGOMERY
I never met Gabrielle Hewish. I suppose I should really call her by that name, for her marriage took the colour out of it as surely as if she had entered a nunnery, and adopted the frigid and sisterly label of some female saint. Nobody had ever heard of her husband before she married him, and nobody ever heard of Gabrielle afterwards, except those who were acquainted with the story of Arthur Payne, as I was, and, perhaps, a coroner's jury in Devonshire, a county where juries are more than usually slow of apprehension. In these days you will not even find the name of Hewish in Debrett, for Gabrielle was the baronet's only child, and when Sir Jocelyn died, in the early days of his daughter's married life, the family, which for the last half century had been putting out no more than a few feeble and not astonishingly brilliant leaves on its one living branch, withered altogether, as well it might in the thin Irish soil where it had stubbornly held its own since the days of Queen Elizabeth. After all, baronetcies are cheap enough in Ireland, and one more or less could make very little difference to the amenities of County Galway, where Roscarna, for all I know, may have been absorbed and parcelled out by the Congested Districts Board ten years ago. Even in clubs and places where they gossip, I doubt if the Hewishes of Roscarna are remembered, for modern memories are short, and in Gabrielle's day the illustrated Sunday newspapers had not contrived to specialise in the smiles of well-connected young Irishwomen.
Of course the Payne episode—I'm not sure it should not rather be called the Payne miracle—had always lain stored somewhere in my literary attic; its theme was too exciting for a man who deals in such lumber to have forgotten; but that admirable woman, Mrs. Payne, had whetted my curiosity to such an extent that I weakly promised her secrecy before she told it to me. "I can't resist telling you," she said, "because it wouldn't be fair of me to deprive you: it's far too much in your line." She even flattered me: "You'd do it awfully well too, you know; but I have a sort of sentimental regard for her—not admiration, or anything of that kind, but an indefinite feeling that noblesse oblige. In her own extraordinary way she did us a good turn, and however carefully you wrapped it up she might recognise her portrait and feel embarrassed. It's she that I'm thinking of, not Arthur. Arthur was too young at the time to realize what was happening, and if he saw your picture of two women desperately fighting over the soul or body of a boy of seventeen who resembled himself I doubt if he'd tumble to the portrait. He's a dear transparently honest person like his father. Still, I don't want to hurt her, and so, if you want the story, you must gloat over it in private, and cherish it as an unwritten masterpiece. Probably if you did write it, it wouldn't be a masterpiece at all. Console yourself with that."
She told me her story—for of course I gave her the promise that she demanded—in a midge-infested corner of the garden at Overton, while Arthur, the unconscious subject of it, was playing tennis with the clergyman's daughter whom he married a year later. I think Mrs. Payne knew that this affair was coming off, and offered me the tale as a combination of oral confession and Nunc Dimittis, watching the boy while she told it to me with a sort of hungry maternal satisfaction, as somebody whom she had not only brought into the world but for whose salvation she was responsible. No doubt she had put up a hard fight for him and had every reason to be satisfied, though Gabrielle shared the honours of the mother's triumph in her own defeat. We sat there talking until all the birds were silent, but a single blackbird that made a noise in the shrubbery like that of two pebbles knocked sharply together; until the young people on the tennis court could no longer see to play, and the tall Californian poppies at the back of the herbaceous border that was her special pride shone like moon-flowers in the dusk.
"When I think of all that ... that summer," she said with a sigh, "I'm so thankful ... so thankful." And then Arthur came back with his sweater over his arm, swinging his racket, and she went straight up to him and kissed him with the sort of modesty that you would have expected in a young girl rather than a middle-aged widow.
"You dear thing, Mater," he said, kissing her forehead in return.
This is the land of digression into which memories of Overton lead one. My only excuse is that part of the story, and indeed its emotional climax belongs to Overton, to that smoothly ordered country house with its huge sentinel elms and its peculiar atmosphere of leisure and peace. No doubt Mrs. Payne was aware of this when she kissed her son. From the lawn where we were sitting she could see the yew-parlour and the cypress hedge in the shadow of which she had stood on the tremendous evening about which she had been telling me. We walked back to the terrace, and on the way she gave me a shy smile, half triumph, half apology. She never mentioned the episode again and though the story fermented in my brain, maturing, as I hoped, like a choice vintage, and has emerged from time to time when my mind has been free from other work, I have kept my promise and have neither repeated it nor written it till this day.
Now, at last, I find myself absolved. Arthur Payne, I believe, is happily married to the fresh young person with whom he was playing tennis. Soon after their marriage they emigrated to the backs of Canada, or was it New Zealand: somewhere at any rate beyond the reach of colonial editions. Overton is now in the possession of a Midland soap-boiler. Mrs. Payne, having fulfilled her main function in life and fearing English winters, has retired to a small villa at Mustapha Superieur, near Algiers, where, though she live for ever she is not likely to read this book. And Gabrielle, the beautiful Gabrielle, is dead.
The news came as a shock to me. For the moment I, who had never even set eyes on her, suffered the pain of an almost personal bereavement; I was moved, as poets are moved by the vanishing of something beautiful from the earth. Was she then so beautiful? I don't know. But I like to persuade myself that she was a fiery, elemental creature of a rare and pathetic brilliance ... for the sake of her story, no doubt. But, for the moment, when old Colonel Hoylake, who always began his Times by quotations from the obituary column—he had survived the age when births or marriages are interesting—suddenly brought out the word Hewish: Gabrielle Hewish, I was startled out of the state of pleasant lethargy into which a day's fishing on the Dulas and the Matthews' beer had plunged me, and became suddenly wide awake. I had the feeling that some bright thing had fallen: a kingfisher, a dragonfly. "Hewish," he murmured again. "Gabrielle Hewish ... Well, well."
"You know the family?"
"Yes, I knew her father, poor feller," he said.
Now I was full of eagerness. It had come over me all at once that this obituary notice was, for me, a happy release. It meant that, for a month or two, all through the mesmeric hours that I should spend up to my knees in the swift Dulas, alone with the dippers and the ring-ousels and the plaintive sand-pipers, I should be able to explore, to my own content, this forbidden treasure, searching in the dark soul of Marmaduke Considine and the tender heart of Gabrielle; threading the lanes that spread in a net about the schoolhouse at Lapton Huish; brooding over the deceptive peace of Overton Manor; recalling the scene in the yew-parlour, the atmosphere, terrifically charged with emotion, of the day when Mrs. Payne took her courage in her hands and fought like a maternal tigress for Arthur's soul. My heart beat faster as I led the old fisherman on with "Yes?"
He laid aside The Times and lit one of the long Trichinopoly cheroots that he smoked perpetually, settling himself back in the comfortable hotel chair.
"Hewish," he said. "Sir Jocelyn Hewish. That was the father's name. Lived at a place called Roscarna in the west of Ireland. He was an extraordinarily good fisherman: tied his own flies. I have some sea-trout flies in my book that he tied thirty years ago ... a kind of blue teal that he'd invented. Of course they had a fine string of white-trout lakes—many a good fish I've had there—but the remarkable thing about Roscarna was this. Right in front of the house at the bottom of the sunk fence, there ran a stretch of river,—about three hundred yards of it, clear deep slides with a level muddy bottom. One winter old Sir Jocelyn took it into his head to clean up this bit of water, and when they came to scrape the bottom they found under the mud that the whole bed of the stream was paved with marble slabs like a swimming bath ... Connemara marble. They went on with the job because it looked so well, all this green, veined stuff shining through the clear water. So they scoured the bottom and fixed up a banderbast for keeping the mud from coming downstream from above, and having made a sort of stewpond, put in four or five hundred yearling brownies. You'd never believe how those fish grew. In a couple of years the water was full of three and four pounders, lovely fish with a small head and pink flesh like a salmon. Quite a curious thing! And you'll never guess the reason. No sooner had they cleared away the mud than the place swarmed with freshwater shrimps. The yearlings throve on them like a smolt when it goes down to the sea. That was the remarkable thing about Roscarna...."
I knew, of course, that it wasn't. The remarkable thing about Roscarna, to anyone with a ha'porth of imagination, was Gabrielle Hewish. Luckily that admirable gossip Hoylake had another interest in life besides fishing stories, and one that served my purpose,—genealogy. It is an interest not uncommon with old soldiers—that is why they often write such incredibly dull memoirs—and after allowing him a number of sporting digressions in the direction of a Lochanillaun pike and the altogether admirable blackgame shooting at Roscarna, which, he assured me, was better than anything in the west except Lord Dudley's shoot on the Corrib, I played him tactfully into the deeper water that interested me and, by the end of the week, had succeeded in drawing from him a good deal of irrelevant family history and, what is more to the point, a fairly consecutive account of the last of the Hewishes, Sir Jocelyn and his amazing daughter.
As he told it to me in the parlour of the fishing inn beside the Dulas, I began to realise that accidentally, and at the moment when I needed it most, I had stumbled on a fountain of curious knowledge. If I had missed meeting him, my story, fascinating as it was, would have been incomplete. It armed me with a whole new theory of Gabrielle, suggesting causes, or, if you like, preparations for the extraordinary episode that followed. It showed me that I had been flattering myself that I knew all about it when, as a matter of fact, I had only got hold of one—and the wrong—end of the stick. I fished the Dulas for a fortnight, hypnotised, pondering on the whole curious business, not only when the bright water rippled by me, but when old Hoylake told me stories of mahseer and tiger fish and barracuda that he had missed, when I was walking through the pinewoods under the mountain, when I was eating, and, I verily believe, when I was asleep. I had thought before that my friend Mrs. Payne was the heroine of the story. Now I am not sure that Gabrielle does not share the honours.
And, first of all, I dreamed of Roscarna. Partly for the sheer pleasure of reconstructing a shadowy countryside that I remembered, partly because Roscarna, the house in which the Hewish family had run to seed in its latter generations, was very much to the point. Twenty miles from Galway—and Irish miles, at that—it stands at the foot of the mountains on the edge of the tract that is called Joyce's Country, a district famous for inbreeding and idiocy where everyone was called Joyce, excepting, of course, the Hewishes of Roscarna, who were aliens, Elizabethan adventurers from the county of Devon, cousins of the Earls of Halberton, who had planted themselves upon the richest of the Joyces' lands in the early seventeenth century and built their house in the English fashion of the time.
I imagine that it was the founder of the house who paved his river bed with marble slabs, smoothing the stickles into a long clear slide. Labour, no doubt, was cheap or forced, and the Elizabethan fancy lavish. In the mouth of the valley, where it opens on the lake, they planted a girdle of dark woods growing so near to the new house that the Hewishes, walking in their gardens, could almost fancy themselves in England and lose sight of the mountain slopes that swept up into the crags behind them. The house stood with its back to the hills and all western barrenness, looking over a level, terraced sward, past a river that had been tamed to the smoothness of a chalk stream, to homely woodlands of beech and elm that might well have been haunted by nightingales if only there had been nightingales in Ireland. There were no nightingales in Devon, so that the first Hewish was under no necessity of importing them to complete his picture. But he had his gravelled walks, his poets' avenue of yews, that grew kindly, his sundials with their graceful and melancholy admonitions, his box-hedges and white peacocks, and the fancy of some Hewish unknown had blossomed at last in a Palladian bridge of freestone, spanning the quiet river.
Roscarna, in fact, was a bold experiment, destined from the first to fail. Never, in all its history, could it have become the living thing that its founders dreamed, any more than the Protestant Church that they built in the village of Clonderriff could be the home of a living faith; for though they turned their backs upon the mountains of Joyce's Country, the mountains were always there, and the house itself, which should have glowed with the warmth of red brick, or one of those soft building-stones that mellow as they weather, seemed always cold and desolate, being made of a hard, cold, Connaught rock, that made the Palladian bridge look like the fanciful toy that it was, and grew bleaker, bluer, colder, as the years went by.
I think of it as one thinks of the villas that Roman colonists built above the marches of Wales, built obstinately on the Roman plan that the climate of Italy had dictated to their fathers, with open atrium and terraces protected from the sun. "What's good enough for Rome," they said, "is surely good enough for Siluria," and, shivering, showed the latest official visitor a landscape that might have been transported bodily from the Sabine Hills ... if only there were more sun! "But we do miss the lizards and the cicalas," they would say with a sigh. No doubt the most enthusiastic built themselves Palladian ... I mean Etruscan bridges and marble stew-ponds for mullet, until, in the end, the immense inertia of the surrounding country asserted itself and the natural desires of mankind led to a mingling of British blood with theirs, till the Roman of the first century became the Briton of the third.
The parallel is as near as it may be, for though the first Hewish was an Englishman, his great-great-grandson was Irish, and the only thing that was left to remind him of his ancestry was the house of Roscarna, the sullen Connaught stone fixed in an alien design, and the huge belt of timber through which the gorse and heather were slowly creeping down from the mountain and settling in the valley bottom that they had once inhabited. But the foreign woods that trailed along the shore of the lake were admirable for black-cock.
The transformation was very gradual. The first Hewishes, no doubt, kept in touch with their English cousins. London was their metropolis, and to London, in the fashions of their remote province, they would return with amusing tales of Irish savagery that made them good company in an eighteenth century coffee-house. Little by little they found their English interests waning, and the social centre shifting westwards. Dublin became their city, and to a stately house in Merrion Square the family coach migrated in the season, until, at last, it seemed hardly worth while to cross the dreariness of the central plain, and a town-house in Galway seemed the zenith of urbanity. Galway, indeed, had risen on a wave of prosperity. In the streets above the Claddagh, merchants who had grown rich in the Spanish trade were building solid houses with carved lintels and windows of stained glass. The Hewishes invested money in these new ventures. In Galway a Hewish of Roscarna was somebody: there the family was taken for granted and, following the way of least resistance, the Hewishes settled down into the state of provincial notabilities.
Notabilities as long as the Spanish money lasted—then notorieties. For, as Roscarna, the symbol of a tradition, decayed, the men of the Hewish family developed a curious recklessness in living.
It was as though the original vigour of the tree planted in a foreign soil had been enough to keep it fighting and flourishing for a couple of hundred years and then had suddenly failed, dying, as a tree will, from above downwards.
For the first half of the nineteenth century a series of dissolute Hewishes—they never bred in great numbers—lived wildly upon the edge of Connemara, drinking and fighting and gaming and wenching while the roof of Roscarna grew leaky and the long stables were turned into pigsties, and soft mud silted over the marble bottom below the Palladian bridge. If they had lived in England the estate would have vanished field by field until nothing but the house was left; but the outer land at Roscarna was of no marketable value, and when Sir Jocelyn succeeded to the property in the year 1870, he found himself master of many worthless acres and a ruined house that he was powerless to repair. It was no wonder that he went to the dogs like his father before him, for the passage of every generation had made recovery more difficult. Of course he should really have become a soldier; but soldiering in those days was an expensive calling. As a baronet—even as an Irish baronet—a good deal would have been expected of him, far more than the dwindling means of Roscarna could possibly supply, and since every career seemed closed to him but one of provincial dissipation he is scarcely to be blamed for having followed it.
When Colonel Hoylake knew him he was a middle-aged man and a reformed character, and the fact that he ever came to be either is enough to show that the original Hewish strain was still strong enough to put up some sort of fight. He cannot have been without his share of original virtue, but by his own account, his youth, hopeless and therefore abandoned, must have been pretty lurid. Of course he drank. His father must have taught him to do that as a matter of habit. He was equally at home with the ancient sherries, a few bins of which remained in the Roscarna cellars to remind him of the Spanish trading days, or with the liquid fire that the Joyces distilled in the mountains under the name of potheen.
Of course he gambled. He was sufficiently Irish for that: and his gaming passion soon made Roscarna a sort of savage Monte Carlo, to which the more dissolute younger sons of the surrounding gentry foregathered: Blakes and O'fflahertys, and Kilkellys, and all the rest of them.
In the middle of the stables, at the back of the house, stood a huge deserted pigsty surrounded by a stone wall, and this place became under Jocelyn's regime, a cockpit, in which desperate birds were pitted against one another, fighting fiercely until they dropped. Even in his later days according to Hoylake, he was not ashamed of these exploits. The gamblers invented for themselves new refinements of sport or cruelty. Spider-racing. I do not suppose that anyone living to-day knows what spider-racing is. This was the manner of it. At night, when the big black-bellied spiders that haunted the lofts came out to spread their nets, stable-boys were sent with candles to collect them in tins, and next morning, when the gamblers assembled in the pigsty at Roscarna a piece of sheet iron, fired to a dull red heat would be placed in the centre. On this hot surface the long-legged insects were thrown. Naturally they must run or be shrivelled with heat. And the one that ran the furthest was counted the winner. Betting on these unfortunate creatures Jocelyn and his friends spent many happy forenoons, and Jocelyn was counted as good a judge of a spider as any man in Galway. In his dealings with women he was relatively decent, relapsing, at an early age into a relation irregular, but so domestic as to be respectable, with a woman named Brigit Joyce who kept house for him and cooked potatoes and distilled potheen as well as any female in the district. I do not know if they had many children. If they did, it is probable that these found their vocation in collecting spiders in the stables, or even drifted back into the hill community from which their mother had come.
Through all his dissipations Sir Jocelyn preserved one characteristic, an unerring instinct for field-sports that no amount of drinking could impair. He could hit a flying bird with a stone, was a deadly shot for snipe or mallard, rode like a centaur, and fished with the instinct of a heron. It is probable that his consciousness of this faculty was at the bottom of his startling recovery. Possibly he was frightened to find a little of his skill failing. I only know that at the age of forty-eight, he pulled himself up short. His eyes, seeing clearly for the first time in his life, became aware of the appalling ruin into which Roscarna had fallen. He became sober for six days out of the seven, setting aside the Sabbath for the worship of Bacchus, and during the remainder he devoted himself seriously, steadily to the reclamation of his estate. He repaired the roof of the house with new blue slates, cleared the attics of owls and the chimneys of jackdaws; he dredged the river and discovered the marble bottom, netted the pike and put down yearling trout. Gradually he restored Roscarna to its old position as a first-class sporting property; and so, having fought his way back, step by step, into the company of decent men, he married a wife.
Hardly the wife one would have expected from a Hewish, it is true. Her name was Parker, her father was a shop-keeper in Baggot Street, Dublin, and how Hewish met her God only knows. She was a sober, plain-sailing Englishwoman, a Protestant, with a religious bias that may have made the reformation of a dissolute baronet attractive to her. She had a little money, to which she stuck like glue, and an abundance of common-sense. It speaks well for the latter that she appreciated, from the first, the value of Biddy Joyce in the kitchen, and kept her there, boiling potatoes, although she knew that she had been her husband's mistress. Firmly, but certainly, she ordered Jocelyn's life, realising, with him, that Roscarna was worth saving, subsidising, with a careful hand, his attempts to restore the woods and waters, interesting herself in the housing of his tenants, and renewing the connection of Roscarna with the parish church of Clonderriff, of which the Hewishes were patrons. It was she who appointed Marmaduke Considine to the vacant living.
For ten years she lived soberly with Sir Jocelyn at Roscarna, hoping ardently that a son might be born to them who should carry on the family name and succeed to the fruits of her economies. In the eleventh year of their married life it seemed that her hopes were to be realised. Even Jocelyn, the new Jocelyn, appreciated the importance of the event. He and Biddy Joyce, now an old and shrivelled woman, but one unrivalled in maternal experience, nursed Lady Hewish as though the whole of their future happiness depended on it. Every Sunday young Mr. Considine dined at Roscarna with the family, and spent the evening in religious discussions with her ladyship. Every month the doctor rode over from Galway to feel her pulse. On a dark winter evening in the year eighteen eighty-three the child was born—a girl. They christened her Gabrielle, and a week later Lady Hewish died.
Her death knocked poor Sir Jocelyn to pieces. Not altogether because he had loved her, but because he had made the habit of depending on her and happened to be a creature of habits ... good or bad. So, having been bereft of that of matrimony, he returned, for a time to that of drinking, leaving the child in the spiritual charge of Mr. Considine, a gentleman of small domestic experience, and the physical care of Biddy Joyce, a mother of many. For the time being Jocelyn was far too busy to bother his head about her, and Biddy dragged her up in the kitchen of Roscarna where she had suckled her half-brothers before her, Mr. Considine exercising a general supervision, pending the day when her soul should be fit for salvation and ghostly admonition.
In the early stages of Jocelyn's relapse the Parkers of Baggot Street descended on Roscarna in force: a proceeding that Lady Hewish had discountenanced in her lifetime. Neither Jocelyn nor Biddy invited them to stay, and they returned to Dublin scandalised, with the report of Gabrielle, a very small baby of eighteen months with coal black eyes and hair, playing like a kitten with the foot of a dead rabbit on the kitchen floor. "Only to think what poor Laura would have felt!" they sighed, not realising that such a train of thought was in the nature of things unprofitable.
So Gabrielle grew, and so, in a few years, Jocelyn, with a tremendous effort pulled himself together, returning, as though refreshed, to his sporting pursuits, the woods, the lake and the river. He even found a new hobby: the breeding of Cocker spaniels, and worked up an interest in the development of his daughter that ran easily with that of training his puppies. He took a great delight in teasing small animals, and treated Gabrielle and the cockers on much the same lines, with the result that the puppies were usually a little cowed and puzzled when he teased them, but Gabrielle bit his hand. This pleased him; for he set great store by animal spirits in any form, and he carried his fingers bandaged in the hunting-field for several weeks in order that he might tell the story of his daughter's prowess. Jocelyn was growing rather childish in his old age.
There were really three periods in Gabrielle's early life. The first, before her father began to take notice of her, was spent altogether in the company of Biddy, who embraced her in her general devotion to children. Biddy called herself a Catholic, and for this reason secretly feared and hated the supervision of young Mr. Considine, a priest of the Church of Ireland; but at heart she was as pagan as the top of Slievegullion, and along with her favourite Christian oaths (in one of which St. Anthony of Padua was disguised as Saint Antonio Perrier), and her whispered "Aves," she taught Gabrielle enough pagan mythology and folklore to set her head spinning whenever she found herself alone in the woods or the fields.
If ever she strayed into the forbidden lanes beyond the lodge-gates at Roscarna she lived in fear of seeing the dead-coach come round the corner: a tall coach, painted black and drawn by coal-black horses and on the box two men, black-coated with black faces, who might jump from the coach and catch her up and throw her inside it. You could never know when the dead-coach was coming, for its wheels were bound with old black rags, so that they made no noise on the stones. Then, in the fields where corn was growing one might come across the "limrechaun," with consequences untold but terrible. And, above all things, she was never to pick up an old comb in the road, for as like as not the comb would be the property of the banshee, a little old woman with long nails and hairy arms. When Gabrielle asked what would happen if she picked up the banshee's comb, Biddy told her that the banshee would come crying to her window at night, and that if this ever happened, she must get a pair of red hot tongs and hold the comb in the window for the banshee to take. This seemed to Gabrielle an unnecessary complication; but Biddy told her that if she didn't follow it in every particular the banshee would scratch the hand off her. Faced with the possibility of this disaster, and not knowing how she could possibly get hold of a pair of red hot tongs in the middle of the night, Gabrielle decided that if ever she saw a comb in the road, she would not bring it home with her. And this was a wise decision, for the heads of the children in Joyce's Country were not above suspicion. Indeed most of the terrors with which Biddy inspired her were based on principles that were ethically sound and combined romantic colour with practical utility.
When she was six her father began to take her out with him at the time when he exercised the puppies. She and the puppies would run about together and by the same word be called to heel. She found that she could do most of the things that they did. Once, on a summer day when two of them had conscientiously frightened a water-rat out of its hole on the margin of the lake, Gabrielle, who was far ahead of her father and hot with running, plunged in after them. She got her mouth full of water, and thought she was drowning, and Jocelyn, frightened for her life, ran in after her and rescued her with the water up to his neck. "Now that you're here," he said, "you'd better learn to swim." And he made her, then and there, bringing her back to Biddy Joyce like a small drowned cat, with her black hair clinging close to her head. It was a great achievement, and since Biddy could not, for the moment, produce any mythological terror in the nature of a Loreley better than a pike that preyed on swimmers, Gabrielle would often go down to the lake secretly in the middle of a summer morning, and strip off her clothes and float on her back in the sunshine. She must have looked a strange little thing with her long white legs, her smooth black hair, her deep violet eyes, and her red lips; for she had this amazing combination of features that you will sometimes find in the far West. She did not get them from her mother or from Jocelyn, both of whom were blond Saxons. I suppose they came to her through the blood of some Irishwoman whom a dead Hewish had married perhaps a hundred years before.
While Biddy Joyce instructed her in oaths and legend, and her father taught her to ride, to swim, to shoot and to fish, her moral and literal education were entrusted to Mr. Considine. Physically Mr. Considine was of a type that does not change much with the passage of time. When first he came to Roscarna, a couple of years before Gabrielle was born, he was a young man of twenty. How he came to be chosen for the cure of Clonderriff I do not know, unless he were in some way connected with the Parker family. He was a Wiltshireman, tall, sandy-haired, with a long face and a square jaw to which he gave an air of determination by constantly gritting his teeth. Gabrielle, as imitative as a starling, began to mimic this habit of his until one day he found himself staring at her, as at a mirror, and told her to stop. She had meant no harm; she didn't even know that she was doing it, but he treated the offence quite seriously.
It was his nature to treat everything seriously, including his mission among the heathen or, what was worse, the Catholic Joyces. He taught her the alphabet and the Lord's Prayer, and the collect for the week, and simple fractions and the capes and headlands of England (the capes and headlands of Ireland didn't matter) and the verb "to have" in French, together with long lists of the kings of Israel and Judah. Gabrielle was very quick to learn. From the first her memory was a pleasant surprise to her—sometimes a surprise to Mr. Considine, as when she offered to give him the Kings of Judah backwards, a proceeding that struck him as not only revolutionary but irreverent, and tinged with a flavour of the Black Mass.
Gabrielle always knew when she had annoyed or embarrassed him, not because he reproved her in any way—to have shown heat in words would have been against his principles—but because he did show heat in his neck, where a faint flush would spread upwards to his ears above the band of his clerical collar. When she was thoroughly bored Gabrielle would sometimes try this experiment, just in the same way as she made the snapdragons put out their tongues.
Jocelyn liked Considine and trusted him, partly, no doubt, because he happened to be an Englishman—the only one in this wilderness of Joyces—and partly because he was something of a sportsman: a little too serious and determined for his sport to appear natural, but for all that a good shot over dogs, and a very accurate, if not instinctive fisherman. In his boyhood, in Wiltshire, he had learned the technique of the dry fly, and his successes with trout in gin-clear water made Jocelyn respect him.
Considine's friendship with Jocelyn must be put to his credit. If he had been a prig he would either have turned up his nose at his patron's morals or condoned them with a sense of self-sacrifice and forbearance. He didn't do either. He just took Jocelyn for what he was worth, realising the shabby trick that heredity had played him; and his attitude toward Gabrielle was much the same. He knew that he couldn't and didn't want to keep pace with her enthusiasms any more than he could keep pace with the baronet's potations. He had been born on a bleak downland, and some of its characteristics had got into the thin, cold humour that was his blood. He was incapable of the generous passions of the people of Roscarna; but I think he was a good man, for all that. Even Mrs. Payne, who had reason to be irritated by his coldness, acknowledged this. And he was as conscientious in his education of Gabrielle as in the care of his parish.
The child matured very quickly. Physically I mean. That is the way in the west. Of course she was a great tom-boy, tall for her years, very frank in her speech and totally unconscious of her sex, as free and virginal as the young Artemis. The world of books to which Mr. Considine introduced her in her school-hours was wholly forgotten outside them. In the woods and on the mountains she throve as a magnificent young animal, moving with an ease and grace and freedom that civilised woman has lost. Her clothes were of Connemara homespun, but to a body such as hers, clothes did not matter. She went barefoot like the girls of Joyce's Country, and her ankles were as clean cut as the cannon of a thoroughbred. She wore her black hair in a thick plait that fell below her waist. She had no friends but Biddy, her father and Considine, except a few men, contemporaries of Jocelyn, who joked with her in the hunting field. She knew no women; for ladies did not call at Roscarna, and the county could never forgive her mother's origins in Baggott Street. All her life was uncomplicated and miraculously happy.
This Arcadian state of affairs might well have gone on for ever, if Jocelyn, feeling that he would like to give her a great treat and, perhaps, becoming proudly conscious of her beauty, had not determined, in the August of her sixteenth year, to take her to Dublin for the Horse Show week. She thrilled to the idea, not because she was anxious to meet her own species but because she loved horses. They travelled up by train from Galway through the vast monotonies of the Bog of Allen, and put up at Maple's Hotel in Kildare Street, within five minutes' walk of her maternal grandmother's shop. In those days no Irish gentleman would have dreamed of dining in a public room, and they took their meals sedately in a private apartment.
Gabrielle had never set foot in a city before. The smooth pavements, the high buildings and the shop windows of Grafton Street excited her. Everything in Dublin wore an air magnificent and spacious. Even the ducks on the pond in the middle of Stephen's Green were exotic, and like no other ducks that she had known. But she could not enjoy her excitement to the full, for the feminine instinct in her realised from the first that her clothes were different from those of the people about her; and this disappointed her, for they were her best, made by the urbane fingers of Monoghan, the tailor at Oughterard.
When she walked down Grafton Street she fancied that people stared at her. It never struck her as possible that they were staring at her vivid and unusual beauty. It struck her as funny that her father did not seem to be aware of the discrepancy in her dress. He wasn't in the least. He had taken his daughter for granted. In his unconscious arrogance he imagined that the distinction of being a Hewish of Roscarna was sufficient in itself to make her independant of externals, and, as he proposed no alterations she trusted his judgment and they went to the Horse Show together in their ill-cut tweeds.
Gabrielle was entranced by the jumping. Whenever a horse topped the fences she straightened her back automatically as though she had been riding herself. With such splendid animals as those she felt that she could have made a better job of it. For the moment she forgot all about her questionable clothes; but when, later in the day, she was taken by her father to be presented to the Halbertons, the family of the Devonshire peer with whom the Hewishes were connected, she became immediately and horribly conscious of Lady Halberton's magnificence and the elegance of her daughters. It shocked and thrilled her to see that the elder Halberton girl powdered her nose. She wondered what it must feel like to have one's hands encased in skin-tight gloves, and how these English people managed to speak with such an elegant tiredness. It seemed to her inevitable that Lady Halberton must be ashamed of her cousins, and she was relieved, but a little frightened, to hear this great lady invite her father and her to dinner at the Shelbourne on the following night. After all, she reflected, there must be something in the name of Hewish. She wondered how on earth she could make her father understand that she couldn't very well go to dinner in the dress that she was wearing, the only one that she possessed.
It is extraordinary to think how forty-eight hours had turned this amazing, sexless creature into a woman. The problem of a dinner-dress was solved for her almost at once by Jocelyn himself. As soon as they were safely back at Maple's he asked her if she really wanted to dine with the Halbertons at the Shelbourne, and when she said, "Of course!" he produced a five pound note from the pigskin case that he carried in his coat-tail, and turned her loose in Grafton Street. An hour later she returned, breathless with excitement, carrying the dress that she had bought, a frock of white muslin, high at the neck and hand-embroidered with a pattern of shamrock. Life was becoming a matter of great excitement.
The maid at Maple's dressed her in the evening, a blowsy young woman from Carlow who called her 'my darlin,' and told her that she had a beautiful head of hair. Biddy had never told her that her hair was beautiful, and Gabrielle herself had always considered it something of a nuisance. In the hotel bedroom a cunning combination of mirrors showed her the thick plait hanging down her back. She had never seen her own back before. Looking at it she shrugged her shoulders to see what they looked like.
Of course she was ready dressed long before she need have been. She went down into the hall of the hotel and waited for her father. She hoped, and was almost sure, that she looked lovely. While she stood there, looking into a huge oval mirror, an old gentleman of much the same cut as her father came in and stared at her as though she were some new and curious animal. She turned and smiled at him. She would have smiled at anyone on that evening. He did not give her a smile in return. He only went red in his bald scalp and cleared his throat, hobbling up to his room and wondering what the devil Maple's was coming to.
A moment later Jocelyn arrived, very stately in the evening dress of the seventies. His face looked brown and hard and weathered, like a filbert, against his white spread of shirt-front. His eyes twinkled, his temples were flushed, and the twisted cord of an artery could be seen pulsating across each of them: all three being symptoms of the bottle of Pommery on which he had dressed. When he saw Gabrielle he said "Ha—very good, very good," and she, in an access of enthusiasm, kissed him and smelt his vinous breath.
It was no more than a stone's throw from their hotel to the Shelbourne, Jocelyn remembering his long-forgotten manners stepped aside courteously when they crossed the road as if he were escorting a real lady. Gabrielle couldn't understand this at all; she would have liked to jog along with him arm in arm. The magnificence of the Shelbourne with its uniformed porters overpowered Gabrielle, and when she reached the Halbertons' private room, she, who had often been reproved for talking the heads off Biddy and Mr. Considine, was dumb. Jocelyn, however, pouring gin and bitters on his Pommery, did talking enough for both of them. He was in excellent form. His talk flowed steadily and Gabrielle, drifting as it were, into an eddy, was left at liberty to examine her cousins and their company.
Lord Halberton and Jocelyn Hewish had very little in common. The peer she noticed wore an air of great fragility, as though he had been sprinkled with powder to preserve him. His movements were all minute and precise. He walked with short steps; and when he smiled, as Jocelyn, already in the story-telling stage, compelled him to do, his lips twitched apart for a moment and then closed again as if he were afraid that any expression more violent might make his teeth fall out. Gabrielle decided that he must be very old, so old that he was only kept alive by these precautions. She had noticed, too, when she shook hands with him that the flesh of his fingers was limp, and that the joints were stiff like those of a dead man.
Lady Halberton, who, at the Horse Show had struck her as an ancient and withered woman, now appeared middle-aged, scintillating in a scheme of black and silver. Her dress and her toupet were black, relieved by silver sequins and a silver mounted tiara. High lights in keeping with the scheme were supplied by other jewels on her fingers, her glittering filbert nails and a diamond pendant that sparkled on the white and bony ridge of her breastbone. The Halberton daughters, whose accents Gabrielle had been imitating in her bedroom when she lay awake with excitement the night before, were inclined to be friendly with her; but as all their conversation had to do with a world of which Gabrielle knew nothing, they did not get very far. Both of them were over thirty and unmarried. From time to time, taking new courage, each in turn would make a pounce on Gabrielle with some question that led nowhere, and then flutter off again. The fact that she obviously puzzled them amused Gabrielle, and she soon regained the confidence that the sight of the hall porters had shaken. From time to time Lady Halberton would turn on her a smile full of glittering teeth, and twice, apropos of nothing, Gabrielle heard her say: "Sweet child! You must really let her come and stay with us at Halberton, Sir Jocelyn," though the baronet did not seem to hear what she said.
They dined en famille. Lord Halberton ate as gingerly as he smiled, probably for the same reason. The party had been squared by the addition of two young men, one of them a soldier from the Curragh, named Fortescue, and the other a naval sub-lieutenant, named Radway. He and Gabrielle, as the least important persons, found themselves in each other's company, while Captain Fortescue dished up the kind of small talk to which they were accustomed to the two Halberton girls, Lady Halberton continuously sparkling at Sir Jocelyn and her husband presiding over the whole function with set lips like a cataleptic.
It was Radway who saved Gabrielle from throttling herself with the flower of a French artichoke, a vegetable with which she was unacquainted, and in a burst of gratitude she confided to him the fact that this was her first dinner party. From this they slipped into an easy intimacy; easy for her because she was so thankful to find someone to whom she could babble, and for him because she was so utterly unguarded. It had been unusual for him to meet a girl of birth or breeding who was not preoccupied with matrimonial possibilities; and this creature was as frank as she was beautiful.
Radway had never been in Ireland before. The cruiser on which he served was visiting Kingstown, and at the Horse Show he had run across the Halbertons whom he had met when he was stationed in their own county at Devonport. Beyond them he didn't know a soul in the country, and the soft western brogue of Gabrielle fascinated him. He encouraged her to talk, and she was quite willing to do so, telling of Roscarna and the hills and the river, of her lessons with Mr. Considine, of her secret bathes in the lake and other things as intimate which would have persuaded him that she was an exceedingly fast young woman if he had not been already convinced that she was nothing but a child.
It gave her a great happiness to talk about Roscarna in this alien land. And Radway was glad to listen if only for the pleasure of hearing her voice.
Radway was a straight-forward young man, twenty-four or five years of age. That he was eminently presentable one deduces from the fact that the Halbertons condescended to entertain him, though Lady Halberton, as the years went by, was known to make social sacrifices for the sake of the dear girls. I do not think it is profitable to seek for much subtlety in Radway. It is better to accept him as the clean sturdy type of youth that Dartmouth turns afloat every year. Physically he was fair (Arthur Payne also was fair), with a straight mouth, excellent teeth, and blue, humorous eyes.
There is nothing younger for its age than a naval sub-lieutenant. In the traditional simplicity of seamen there is more than a tradition; for the inhabitants of a ship are a small island community in which grown men live and accept a glorified version of life at a public school until they reach the flag-list, or are shot out into the world on a pension that is inadequate for its enjoyment. The one subject on which the wardroom claims to be authoritative is that of women; and Radway was already as well acquainted with the Irish aspects of the sport as with the Japanese. In daring, as in physical perfection, the wardroom of the Pennant considered that the daughters of the Irish squirearchy took some beating; and Radway had heard, no doubt, stories of many wayward and passionate episodes with which the hospitality of Irish country houses had been enlivened. Gabrielle was the first of the kind that he had met, her frankness, her beauty, and her sudden, enchanting intimacy seemed to tell him that he was in luck's way and on the edge of an adventure. It was not the part of a sailor to miss opportunities of experience. He couldn't guess, poor devil, what the end would be, but naval tradition favoured the taking of all possible risks, and he determined to let the affair develop as rapidly as possible.
The dulness of the rest of the party isolated them. To all intents and purposes they were alone. The difference between this girl and all the others that he had met was that she withheld nothing, she didn't hedge, or try to protect herself with any assumption of feminine mystery. It puzzled Radway. He wondered, in his innocence, if he had succeeded in making a swift, bewildering conquest. Of course he hadn't done anything of the sort, but the speculation disarmed him, and by the end of the evening he was thoroughly bowled over.
So was Sir Jocelyn—but in another way. All the time that she had been talking to Radway Gabrielle had kept her eye on him. She knew that things were reaching a point of danger when she saw his eyes fill with tears as he told the sympathetic Lady Halberton of the loss of his wife. The achievement of sentiment in Jocelyn marked a fairly high degree of intoxication. In the middle of her description of the Roscarna black-game shooting Gabrielle stopped dead. Radway wondered what on earth had happened to her.
It was a difficult moment, for she hadn't the least idea of its conventional solution. She only knew that somehow she must rescue her father before he became impossible. She supposed that, in the ordinary way, it was his duty and not hers to bring the visit to an end, but she knew that as long as there was whiskey in the decanter he wouldn't dream of going. So she left Radway in the middle of her sentence, walked straight up to Lady Halberton and said, "Good-night," with a staggering abruptness, and before he knew what had happened Lord Halberton was handing Jocelyn his hat.
It took Radway more than a minute to recover from this cold douche; but he was too far gone to let the possibility of romantic developments slip, and before the Hewishes left, he contrived to let Gabrielle know that he wanted to meet her again. "Outside the gates of Trinity College to-morrow at four o'clock," he whispered. She said nothing. He wondered, for one moment, whether she was deeper than he had imagined. Then she looked him full in the eyes and nodded. It gave him a thrill of delight. He found himself listening in a dream to Lady Halberton's reminiscences of the Admiral's garden party, at which they had met, and a maternal appreciation of the accomplishments of her elder daughter, Lady Barbara.
Gabrielle piloted Jocelyn, who was still in a good humour, to his bedroom door. Then she went to bed herself and slept as well as ever. Jocelyn, alone in his room, called for another bottle of whiskey and made a night of it. To be exact he made three days of it—four less than might reasonably have been expected. For Gabrielle to have taken him back to Roscarna was out of the question: and so she went on quietly living at Maple's, and absorbing the strangeness of Dublin while he finished it out. The servants of the hotel were very kind to her; and the waiter who attended to Jocelyn's desires brought her night and morning bulletins of her father's condition that were tinged with a kind of melancholy admiration. "A wonderful gentleman for his age," he said. "There's many a young man would envy the likes of him. Sure, he'd drink the cross off an ass's back, so he would!"
Of course she met Radway. They met, as he had arranged, at Trinity College gates, and went for a long walk along the blazing quays of the Liffey. It was an unusual promenade for the month of August, but neither of them knew Dublin.
He found her difficult. The affair did not develop along the lines that he had intended, and as his time was limited, this made him anxious. With Gabrielle the anticipation was always so much more wonderful than the event. It thrilled him strangely to see her approaching when they met: this tall slim girl with her splendid freedom of gait, her black hair, her pallor, her red lips. When he saw her coming he would think of all the passionate things that he wanted to say to her; but as soon as they started on their walk together she made the saying of them impossible—she was so obviously and vividly interested in other and unsentimental things.
Her interest in the commonplace and (to his mind) unromantic irritated him; but an instinct of good manners, that was not the least of his charm, compelled him to humour her. Once she sat for a whole hour in a dark cellar that smelt of tallow where a couple of men were engaged in making those enormous candles that people in Ireland light on Christmas Day; and once Radway was forced to follow her into the forecastle of a Breton schooner reeking of garlic, where she practised the French that Considine had taught her.
Later in the afternoon he took her to tea at Mitchell's, where she consumed the first ice of her life, and was so pleased with the sensation that she demanded a second; all of which was disappointing for Radway, who wanted to arouse her appetite for romance rather than ices. It seemed as if his nuances of love-making, the indirect methods of approach that modern girls expected, were wasted on her. In the evening he took her out to Howth, relying on the influence of time and place to help him in methods more primitive. It was incredible to him that she shouldn't—or perhaps wouldn't—realise what he was driving at. Apparently she didn't understand the first conventions of the game, and when her obtuseness forced him to a sudden and passionate declaration she laughed at him.
This damping experience, so unusual in the traditions of the wardroom, took the wind out of his sails. He decided that she had been making a fool of him and that he had been wasting his time. With a desperate attempt at preserving his dignity he took her back to Maple's, conscious all the time, of her tantalising beauty. He had planned a formal goodbye; but when he told her that his ship was sailing on the next day, she said, quite simply and with an unusual tenderness in her eyes that she was sorry. "If only you meant what you say..." he said, clutching at a straw. "Of course I mean it," she said. "I shall be very lonely without you. You're the first friend I've ever had. I wish some day," she added, "you could come to Roscarna."
He told her that it was not at all unlikely that the Pennant would some day put into Galway, and she warmed at once to the idea. "How splendid!" she said. "I shall expect you. Don't forget to bring a gun with you."
They walked up and down Kildare Street making plans of what they might do. "But in a week you'll have forgotten all about it," she said. "Nobody ever comes to Roscarna."
"Do you think that I could possibly forget you?" he protested.
This time she did not laugh at him. "No... I don't think you will," she said, and then, after an awkward silence, "Please don't take any notice of what I said this evening. I don't really understand that sort of thing." Then they said good-bye. It was a queer unsatisfactory ending for him, but her last words had reassured him. Thinking it over in the train on the way to Kingstown he decided that she had been honestly and quite naturally amused at the conventional phrases of a modern lover, and the realisation of this only made her more unusual and more desirable. It would be a strange experience to meet her in her proper setting, and if the Pennant should give him the opportunity he determined not to miss it. Next morning the ship left Kingstown for Bermuda.
It was not in Radway's nature to take these things lightly. At a distance the memory of Gabrielle gained a good deal by imagination. It seemed to him that she was far too precious to lose, and the fact that she was a cousin of the exclusive Halbertons settled any social scruples that might have worried him. He forgot his repulse at Howth in the memory of the sweeter moment when they had parted. After all there was no hurry. She was only a child, as her behaviour had shown him so often. At the same time he was anxious that she should not forget him, and for this reason he wrote her a number of letters from Bermuda, from Jamaica and Barbadoes and other ports on the Atlantic station. They were not love letters in any sense of the word; but they served to keep him in her mind, and, few as they were, made an immense breach in the zone of isolation that surrounded Roscarna.
They were the first letters of any kind that Gabrielle had received. The postman from Oughterard did not visit Roscarna twenty times in the year, and since his arrival was something of an event, entailing a meal and endless gossip with Biddy Joyce, Sir Jocelyn soon became aware of his daughter's correspondence. He questioned her about it, and she, without the least demur, handed him Radway's letters. He sniffed at them. If that was all the fellow had to say it struck him as a waste of time and paper. Who was he, anyhow? Gabrielle explained that he had dined with them at the Halbertons, and Jocelyn, who naturally had no recollection of the event, was satisfied with these credentials. "I asked him to come and shoot here," said Gabrielle. Jocelyn stared at her with wrinkled eyes. "The devil you did!" said he.
Radway's letters had exactly the effect on her that he had intended. They were an excitement, and she read them over and over again till she almost knew them by heart. They were the first outside interest that had ever entered her life. With Considine's help she looked up the ports at which they were posted on a big map in the library and thinking of their romantic names and the wonders that they suggested, she also thought a good deal of the writer.
So it was, almost unconsciously, that Radway began to fill a considerable place in her thoughts. His impression had fallen on an extraordinarily virginal mind that the thought of love-making had never disturbed. Physically, she hadn't responded to him in the least; but the long silences of Roscarna and particularly those of the following winter, when Slieveannilaun loomed above the woods like an immense and snowy ghost, and the lake was frozen until the cold spell broke and snow-broth swirled desolately under the Palladian bridge, gave her time for reflection in which her fancy began to dwell on the problems of ideal love. In this dead season the letters of Radway were more than ever an excitement. They stirred her imagination with pictures of burning seas and lurid tropical sunsets, and with this pageantry the memory of him would invade the dank gloom of the library where she and Considine pursued the acquisition of knowledge.
It was inevitable that she should have found some outlet of the kind, for in the curious circumstances of her upbringing she had missed that sentimental stage which is the measles of puberty. She had never trembled with adoration of a schoolmistress and Considine was an unthinkable substitute. In Dublin she had learned for the first time that she was beautiful, and that her country clothes did not show her at her best. This, together with Radway's attentions, had revealed to her the fact that she was a woman, and therefore made to love and be loved.
She loved Roscarna passionately, but in this neither Roscarna nor its inhabitants could help her. Under the most romantic circumstances in the world she could find no romance. Her new-born instinct revealed itself in a curious, almost maternal devotion to her father and the current litter of puppies. Jocelyn found its expression unusual but not unpleasant: the attentions of this charming daughter flattered him; and the puppies liked it, too, licking her face when she smothered them with motherly caresses. But these things were not enough for her, and it came as a great relief when she discovered another outlet in the contents of the library bookshelves.
She became a greedy student of romance. The Hewishes had never been great readers, but in the early nineteenth century one of them had felt it becoming to his position as a country gentleman to buy books. The romantic education of Gabrielle was accomplished, as became an Irishwoman, in the school of Maria Edgeworth. Castle Rackrent ravished her. She thrilled to the elegancies of Belinda and to the Irish atmosphere of Ormond. From these she plunged backwards into the romantic mysteries of Mrs. Radcliffe, living, for a time, in surroundings that might well have been imitated from the wintry Roscarna. She read indiscriminately, and, in her eagerness of imagination, became the heroine of fiction incarnate and the beloved of every dashing young gentleman in print that she encountered.
Jocelyn was inclined to laugh at her, but Biddy, who considered that all books except the breviary, which she possessed but could not read, were inventions of the devil, disapproved. "Sure and you'll be after rotting your poor brain with all that rubbidge," she said, rising to a more vehement protest when, in the middle of the night, she discovered Gabrielle fallen asleep with an open copy of Don Juan beside her pillow and a spent candle flaring within an inch of the lace bed-curtains. Gabrielle smiled when Biddy woke her with a stream of fluent abuse, for she had been dreaming that she herself was Haidee and her Aegean island lay somewhere in the Gulf of Mexico.
She lost a little of her gaiety, and irritated the serious Considine by her dreaminess at the time when she was supposed to be acquiring useful knowledge. He complained to Jocelyn, and Jocelyn, who hated being worried about his daughter, was at last induced, after consultation with Biddy Joyce, to send into Galway for the doctor. It pleased him to have the laugh of Considine when the doctor pronounced her sound in wind and limb—as well he might, for both were of the best.
Gabrielle couldn't understand what all the fuss was about. She was happy in her new world—just as happy as she had been in the old one—with the difference that she was possibly now more sensitive to the beauty that surrounded her. In the time of her childhood she had lived purely for the moment; sufficient unto each day had been its particular physical joys; now she knew that the future held more for her, that the life which she had taken for granted would not go on for ever. Strange things must happen, possibly things more strange than the adventures that she had found among books. She was now seventeen. In her heart she felt an intuition that something must happen soon. She waited for it to come with a kind of hushed excitement.
At the beginning of May she received a letter from Radway in which he told her that the Pennant was leaving the West Indies. Taking it for granted that he would keep his promise of coming to Roscarna she was distressed to think that the shooting season was over. She had always remembered the long grey shape of the Pennant that he had shewn her, lying off Kingstown on the evening of their visit to Howth. From Roscarna itself the sea was not visible, but from the knees of Slieveannilaun, a mile or so behind the house, she knew that she could overlook, not only the shining Corrib, which is an inland sea, but all the scattered lakelets of Iar Connaught, the creeks, the islands, and beyond, the open sea. Lying in the heather, hearing nothing but the liquid whinny of the curlews that had lately forsaken the tidal waters for the mountains, she would watch the foam that fringed the islands, unconscious of the sea's sound and tumult, half expecting that a miracle would happen and that someday she would see the three-funnelled Pennant steaming over the white sea into Galway Bay.
But the spring passed, and the summer wore on, and Gabrielle heard no more of him. It was a summer of terrific heat; the flanks of the mountains were parched and slippery even in that moist countryside, and it would have taken more than a dream to make her climb Slievannilaun. She lived the life that an animal leads in summer, cooling her limbs in the lake, and only stirring abroad in the early morning or the dusk. The weather told on Biddy, who lived in the kitchen where a fire burned all the year round, on Considine, who walked up to Roscarna for Gabrielle's lessons in the morning sun, and on Jocelyn, who seemed to feel it more than either of them. Indeed, if they had noticed Jocelyn, they would have had some cause for anxiety; but Jocelyn never talked about his health, even to Biddy, though he himself perceived, with some irritation, that he was growing old. Secretly he fought against it, driving himself to youthful exertions with an artificial and desperate energy that deceived them, but he slept badly at night, and could not keep himself awake in the daytime. Even Gabrielle remarked that he was losing his memory for names, and got snubbed for her trouble. She found it was better to leave him alone, and put his irritability down to the excessive heat.
In the blue evening, when flocks of starlings were already beginning to sweep the sky above the reedbeds of the lake, and white owls fluttered out like enormous moths, Gabrielle would walk out for a breath of cool air over the baked crevasses of the bog, or more often down their only road; a track that flattered the dignity of Roscarna at the lodge gates but degenerated as it approached Clonderriff.
In the full glare of daylight Clonderriff, for all Mr. Considine's labours, was a sordid collection of cabins, whitened without, but full of peat-smoke and the odours of cattle within. The cabins stood on the brow of a hill. In winter they seemed to crouch beneath a sweeping wind—and the grass thatchings would have been whirled away if they had not been kept in position by ropes that were weighted with stones. The small irregular plots in which the villagers grew their potatoes were bounded by dry walls through crevices of which the wind whistled shrilly, and scattered with boulders too deeply imbedded to be worth the labour of moving, and the walls and boulders were alike covered with an ashen lichen that made them look as if they were crusted over with bitter salt that the wind had carried in from sea. Between the garden plots lay a wilderness of common land, on which lean cattle grazed or routed among heaps of decaying garbage: in winter a desolation, in summer a purgatory of flies. But with the coming of evening and a softer air Clonderriff became transformed. One saw no longer the sordid details, only the long and level lines of the bog, the white-washed cabins shining milky as elder-blossom in moonlight, their windows bloomed with candlelight. In every cranny of the garden walls the crickets began their tingling chorus, but every other living thing in the village seemed at rest.
Often, when she felt lonely, Gabrielle would walk down the road to Clonderriff, not because she found it beautiful, as it surely was, but for the sake of its homeliness and the contrast of its gentle life to the moribund atmosphere of Roscarna. She loved the pale cabins, each a cradle of mysterious life; she loved the sound of placid cattle feeding in the darkness, and above all she loved the sound of human voices when the men sprawled by the roadside telling old stories, and the tall, barefooted women stood above them very slim in their folded shawls. Sometimes as she passed quietly along the road, she would become conscious, without hearing, of human presences, and see a pair of lovers sitting on the end of a stone wall with their lips together, and then she would return to Roscarna full of wonder and excitement.
One night in August the impulse seized her to put on the white dress that she had worn in Dublin. When dinner was over she left Jocelyn snoring over his port and walked as though she were dreaming down the Clonderriff road. The air was full of pale grass-moths. Her heart fluttered within her: she couldn't think why. She herself was like a white, fluttering moth. She came quickly to the outskirts of the village. The cabins were asleep. In none of them could as much as a candlelight be seen. It was strange that the village should be deader than Roscarna, and she felt as though a sudden and deeper darkness had descended on her. A little frightened she decided that she would go through to the end of the village and pay a visit to Considine: not because she wanted to see him in the least, but because she loved shocking him, and nothing surely could shock him more at this time of night than the moth-like apparition that she presented. She even felt a wayward curiosity to know what he did with himself at night. For several years there had been whispers of a theological thesis that he was writing for his doctor's degree. She imagined him, with a reading lamp and red eyes, up to his ears in the minor prophets. It would be fun to see what he thought of her.
She hurried on through the silent village, but when she came to an isolated cabin at the end of it she heard a sound that explained the desolation of the rest; a noise of terrible and unearthly wailing. In the darkness of this curious night it seemed to her a very awful thing. She guessed that somebody had died in the last cabin, and that a wake was being held. For a moment she hesitated, and then, as curiosity got the better of her horror, she came gradually nearer.
The women were keening somewhere at the back of the house, but the front windows blazed with the light of many candles, and the door of the cabin was wide open. Inside its narrow compass a crowd of villagers, twenty or thirty of both sexes, was gathered. Gabrielle, clutching at the wall, drew nearer and looked inside.
The room was full of bottles, a thicket of empty bottles stood on the table, the press, and in the corner by the fireplace. The floor was strewn with the figures of men and women who had drunk until they dropped. Those who were still awake, and reasonably sober, were playing a kind of round game, passing from hand to hand a stick, the end of which had been lighted in the fire. As it passed from one to another the holder said the words: "If Jack dies and dies in my hand a forfeit I'll give." The game was quite exciting, and Gabrielle found herself wondering in whose hand the glowing stick would go out; but while she watched it her eyes became accustomed to the light of the room and fell at last upon a spectacle of cold horror. The coffin in which the dead man was to be buried had been reared up on one end against the further wall, and within it the body stood erect, held in this position by a cross-work of ropes. It was that of an old man with grey untidy hair. He stood there bound, with his eyes closed, his head lolling forward, and his mouth open. She couldn't stand it. She wanted to cry out, but her voice would not come, and so she simply turned and ran blindly along the dark road towards Oughterard.
She ran till she was out of breath and stood against a wall panting and trembling. She hated the darkness, for it seemed vaguely threatening. The thin music of the crickets made it feel as if it were charged with some electric fluid in which the silence grew more awfully intense. It came to her, with a sudden shock, that if she were to return to Roscarna she must pass that dreadful spectacle again, and alone. The only thing that she could possibly do to save herself from this calamity, was to go on to Considine's house and beg him to take her home again. She didn't want to do this, for she felt in her bones that he would laugh at her.
She stood in the shadow of a white-thorn, and though she had now ceased from her storm of trembling, her body gave a shudder from time to time, like a tree that frees its storm-entangled branches when the wind has fallen. She heard a slow step mounting the road. She prayed that the new-comer might be Considine, for then her frightened condition would spare her explanations. The steps came nearer. Out of the darkness a shadowy form approached her. It seemed to her that it was that of a man of superhuman size—one of the giants who, Biddy had told her, lay buried in the long barrows on the edge of the bog. But this was nonsense. She planned what words she would say to him. Abreast of her he stopped, and stared at her white dress. Then suddenly he cried, "Gabrielle!" in a voice that she remembered well. It was Radway's. In a moment she found herself crying, beyond control, in his arms. She clove to him, sobbing desperately, and he kissed her, her eyes, that she tried to shield from him, her neck, her lips. It was an amazing moment in the darkness.
Then she stopped crying and began to laugh unnaturally. In this way she blurted out the story of her fright, and he, still clasping her, listened until she was calm.
"But what are you doing here? How did it all happen?" she said. She did not know what she was saying for happiness.
Little by little he told her. The Pennant had put in to Devonport for repairs a week before. He had been granted a month's leave, and his first thought had been Roscarna. After a couple of days at his own home he had crossed to Ireland, arriving late in the afternoon at Oughterard, where he found a room at an hotel. In Dublin he had armed himself with an Ordnance map, and looking at this, it had seemed to him that it would be easy enough to walk to Roscarna in the evening and let her know that he had arrived. Time was so short that he could not bear to miss a moment of her. So he had set out from Oughterard along the road to Clonderriff, hoping to reach Roscarna in daylight and to return with the rising moon. He had reckoned without Irish miles and Irish roads, and forgotten that a sailor who has been long afloat is out of walking trim. He had made poor progress, and nothing but the distant light of the cabin on the top of the hill in which the wake was being held had prevented him from giving up his attempt to see her. And then this astounding miracle had happened, and he had found her crying in his arms ... surely a lover's luck!
"And now you'll be coming with me to Roscarna," she said.
She was so happy. She passed the cabin of the wake without a shudder. They walked as lovers, arm in arm, and soon a yellow moon, in its third quarter, rose, making Clonderriff beautiful, and flinging their moving shadows upon the pale stones at the roadside. As they breasted the hill, an arm of Corrib burned above the black like a band of sunset cloud, rather than moonlit water. Its beauty overwhelmed them. They clung to each other and kissed again. He told her that she was just as he had seen her first in her white dress, just as he had always imagined her in his days at sea, only more beautiful. She was so pale in the moonlight, and her lips so happy. She was glad that an inspired caprice had made her put on her white dress.
He asked her whether it was very far to Roscarna. "If you could miss the way," he said, "we might go on wandering for ever in the moonlight. There never could be another night like this."
But they had come already to the dark belt of woodland that the first Hewishes had planted, a darkness unvisited by moonlight, where their feet rustled a carpet of dead leaves, and shy, nocturnal creatures made another rustling beside them. At the edge of the wood a bird flew out of a thorn tree. "It's a brown owl," cried Radway; but when its wings caught the moonlight they saw the band of white. "It's a magpie," she said. "One for sorrow ..." and smiled.
Roscarna stood before them, the ghost of a great house with many solemn windows for eyes. It looked blank, uninhabited, lifeless. Between the house and the river moonlight smoothed the lawns. The moon made that cold stone phantom imponderable, a grey mirage. Radway could not believe, for a moment, that it was real; but the sense of Gabrielle's cold cheek against his lips, her fingers twined in his, and her soft, unhurried breathing recalled him, telling him that he was a lover, awake and alive.
They crossed the bridge and entered the house by the front doors. The latch clanged to, echoing, and Biddy Joyce appeared in a red petticoat. Gabrielle introduced Radway, and Biddy was not scandalized, being used to the freedoms of Irish hospitality. Jocelyn had been in bed for half an hour or more, she said, and as the state in which he had retired was problematical they thought it better not to disturb him. They gave Radway supper in the dining-room, Gabrielle sitting opposite to him with her chin in the cup of her hands and her face white with candle-light.
In the meantime Biddy had prepared a guest-room for him, a sombre chamber with long windows, so sealed by neglect that they could not be opened, in which a broken pane served for ventilator. In the middle of it stood a bed, painted and gilt, in the manner of the seventeenth century, with panels of crimson brocade, threadbare but still beautiful, although the pattern of their ornament had faded long since. Gabrielle lighted him to his room, stepping softly along the uncarpeted passage. At the door they surrendered themselves to a passionate good-night.
Radway stayed at Roscarna for three days. Irish ways are easy, and Jocelyn did not appear surprised to see his daughter's correspondent at the breakfast-table. He measured Radway shrewdly with his screwed-up eyes and decided that he was a sportsman, which, together with the Halbertons' introduction, was good enough for him. He only regretted that he could not do the sporting honours of the place for their visitor. There was a certain giddiness, he said, that troubled him at unexpected moments and made him disinclined to go too far afield; but he placed his rods and the contents of the gun-room at Radway's disposal and pressed him to stay as long as the place amused him.
Jocelyn, as host, was very much the country gentleman, picking up the thread of courtly hospitality at the point where it had been broken so many years ago, almost without any effort. It is probable that he had begun to realise that things were not well with him, and that since Gabrielle might soon be left alone in the world, it would be wiser to welcome a possible husband for her. Certainly he did his best for Radway, and Radway, no doubt, found him delightful, for Jocelyn had grown milder as he aged and had never been without a good deal of personal charm. On the other hand, it is not unlikely that Radway told him of his intentions with regard to Gabrielle, even though nothing so definite as an engagement was announced. At any rate, the guest settled down happily at Roscarna, and the morning after his arrival the luggage cart was sent in to his hotel at Oughterard to bring back his traps and gun-case.
Of course Gabrielle took possession of him. The terms of their new relation had been fixed miraculously and finally by the character of their moonlit meeting at Clonderriff. No formal words were spoken, but they knew that they were lovers, having arrived at this heavenly state after a whole year of waste. On Gabrielle's side there were never any doubts or questionings. She was his altogether. She wanted him to know all that could be known of her, and since she felt that so much of her was the product of Roscarna, it was necessary that he should know Roscarna first.
With the spells of moonshine withdrawn he knew it for the wan, neglected ruin that it was, but her romantic passion for its stones helped to maintain the first atmosphere of illusion. She showed him, with a beautiful emotion, the room in which she had been born, the lofts in which she had played with the stableboys in her childhood, her alder-screened bathing place by the lake, the library where her romantic education had been begun.
Here, by the most likely chance, they encountered Considine. He had walked up, as usual, in the morning to read Dante with her. He came through the house unannounced and entered the library where the lovers were bending with their heads close together over the map on which Gabrielle had followed the course of Radway's West Indian voyages, and, being engrossed in these tender reminiscences, they did not see him. He stood in the doorway, gazing, uncertain as to what he should say or do. In his seventeen years at Clonderriff he had got out of the way of dealing with social problems.
At last Gabrielle looked up, saw him, and blushed. She hastened to introduce Radway: "The friend I met in Dublin" ... as if there had been only one.
By this time Considine had recovered himself. He shook hands with Radway heartily and talked to him about the shooting. In those few moments it was the man and not the parson who appeared, and Radway, frankly, took him at his own valuation and liked him.
"Quite a good sort, your padre," he said to Gabrielle afterwards, and she was glad that he was pleased. For herself it had never occurred to her to consider whether he was good or bad. To her he had never been anything more than a figure: Mr. Considine: but it pleased her that anything associated with her should give her lover pleasure. Considine was sufficiently tactful not to mention Dante, and Gabrielle solved his difficulty by asking him for a short holiday during Radway's stay. He coughed and said he would be delighted, and since he did not offer to go they left him in the library.
From the first he must have seen how things were. At the best he was a lonely man, and this must have seemed the last aggravation of his loneliness. I do not suppose he considered that he was in love with Gabrielle, but he was undoubtedly attached to her, for he was not an old man nor vowed to celibacy, and it had been his leisurely delight to watch her beauty unfolding. Leisurely ... because he was slow in everything, slow in his speech, slow to anger, and slow to love—which does not imply that he was without intelligence or feeling or sex. It would not be fair to dismiss the feelings of Considine as unimportant; but it would be even less fair to sentimentalize them, for the least thing that can be said of him is that he was not sentimental himself. When they left him he tried to persuade himself that he was not jealous by settling down to the composition of his weekly sermon; but he did not risk any further disturbance of mind by seeing them together again.
The sunny season held. The river water was so low as to be unfishable, but in the string of lakelets below Loughannilaun Radway landed half a dozen sea-trout with Gabrielle, who knew the stones in every pool, as ghillie. In the divine relaxation of their love-making they were not inclined for strenuous exercise; but when evening fell, and the sky cooled, they would wander abroad together by the lake and through the woodlands or lie dreaming, side by side, in the deep heather.