The Woman Thou Gavest Me
Being the Story of Mary O'Neill
By HALL CAINE
Author of "The Prodigal Son," Etc.
Published August, 1913
THE AUTHOR TO THE READER
How much of the story of Mary O'Neill is a work of my own imagination, and how much comes from an authentic source I do not consider it necessary to say. But as I have in this instance drawn more largely and directly from fact than is usually the practice of the novelist, I have thought it my duty to defeat all possible attempts at personal identification by altering and disguising the more important scenes and characters. Therefore this novel is not to be understood as referring to any living person or persons, and the convent school described in it is not to be identified with any similar educational institution in Rome.
MARTIN CONRAD TO THE AUTHOR
_Here are the Memoranda we have talked about. Do as you like with them. Alter, amend, add to or take away from them, exactly as you think best. They were written in the first instance for my own eye alone, and hence they take much for granted which may need explanation before they can be put to the more general uses you have designed for them. Make such explanation in any way you consider suitable. It is my wish that in this matter your judgment should be accepted as mine. The deep feeling you could not conceal when I told you the story of my dear one's life gives me confidence in your discretion.
Whatever the immediate effect may be, I feel that in the end I shall be justified—fully justified—in allowing the public to look for a little while into the sacred confessional of my darling's stainless heart.
I heard her voice again to-day. She was right—love is immortal. God bless her! My ever lovely and beloved one!_
THE NARRATIVE OF MARY O'NEILL
PAGE FIRST PART: MY GIRLHOOD 1 SECOND PART: MY MARRIAGE 97 THIRD PART: MY HONEYMOON 135 FOURTH PART: I FALL IN LOVE 210 FIFTH PART: I BECOME A MOTHER 308 SIXTH PART: I AM LOST 401 SEVENTH PART: I AM FOUND 505
AUTHOR'S NOTE: The name Raa (of Celtic origin with many variations among Celtic races) is pronounced Rah in Ellan.
THE NARRATIVE OF MARY O'NEILL
"Out of the depths, O Lord, out of the depths," begins the most beautiful of the services of our church, and it is out of the depths of my life that I must bring the incidents of this story.
I was an unwanted child—unwanted as a girl at all events. Father Dan Donovan, our parish priest, told me all about it. I was born in October. It had been raining heavily all day long. The rain was beating hard against the front of our house and running in rivers down the window-panes. Towards four in the afternoon the wind rose and then the yellow leaves of the chestnuts in the long drive rustled noisily, and the sea, which is a mile away, moaned like a dog in pain.
In my father's room, on the ground floor, Father Dan sat by the fire, fingering his beads and listening to every sound that came from my mother's room, which was immediately overhead. My father himself, with his heavy step that made the house tremble, was tramping to and fro, from the window to the ingle, from the ingle to the opposite wall. Sometimes Aunt Bridget came down to say that everything was going on well, and at intervals of half an hour Doctor Conrad entered in his noiseless way and sat in silence by the fire, took a few puffs from a long clay pipe and then returned to his charge upstairs.
My father's impatience was consuming him.
"It's long," he said, searching the doctor's face.
"Don't worry—above all don't worry," said Father Dan.
"There's no need," said Doctor Conrad.
"Then hustle back and get it over," said my father. "It will be five hundred dollars to you if this comes off all right."
I think my father was a great man at that time. I think he is still a great man. Hard and cruel as he may have been to me, I feel bound to say that for him. If he had been born a king, he would have made his nation feared and perhaps respected throughout the world. He was born a peasant, the poorest of peasants, a crofter. The little homestead of his family, with its whitewashed walls and straw-thatched roof, still stands on the bleak ayre-lands of Ellan, like a herd of mottled cattle crouching together in a storm.
His own father had been a wild creature, full of daring dreams, and the chief of them had centred in himself. Although brought up in a mud cabin, and known as Daniel Neale, he believed that he belonged by lineal descent to the highest aristocracy of his island, the O'Neills of the Mansion House (commonly called the Big House) and the Barons of Castle Raa. To prove his claim he spent his days in searching the registers of the parish churches, and his nights in talking loudly in the village inn. Half in jest and half in earnest, people called him "Neale the Lord." One day he was brought home dead, killed in a drunken quarrel with Captain O'Neill, a dissolute braggart, who had struck him over the temple with a stick. His wife, my grandmother, hung a herring net across the only room of her house to hide his body from the children who slept in the other bed.
There were six of them, and after the death of her husband she had to fend for all. The little croft was hungry land, and to make a sufficient living she used to weed for her more prosperous neighbours. It was ill-paid labour—ninepence a day fine days and sixpence all weathers, with a can of milk twice a week and a lump of butter thrown in now and then. The ways were hard and the children were the first to feel them. Five of them died. "They weren't willing to stay with me," she used to say. My father alone was left to her, and he was another Daniel. As he grew up he was a great help to his mother. I feel sure he loved her. Difficult as it may be to believe it now, I really and truly think that his natural disposition was lovable and generous to begin with.
There is a story of his boyhood which it would be wrong of me not to tell. His mother and he had been up in the mountains cutting gorse and ling, which with turf from the Curragh used to be the crofter's only fuel. They were dragging down a prickly pile of it by a straw rope when, dipping into the high road by a bridge, they crossed the path of a splendid carriage which swirled suddenly out of the drive of the Big House behind two high-spirited bays driven by an English coachman in gorgeous livery. The horses reared and shied at the bundle of kindling, whereupon a gentleman inside the carriage leaned out and swore, and then the brutal coachman, lashing out at the bare-headed woman with his whip, struck the boy on his naked legs.
At the next moment the carriage had gone. It had belonged to the head of the O'Neills, Lord Raa of Castle Raa, whose nearest kinsman, Captain O'Neill, had killed my grandfather, so my poor grandmother said nothing. But her little son, as soon as his smarting legs would allow, wiped his eyes with his ragged sleeve and said:
"Never mind, mammy. You shall have a carriage of your own when I am a man, and then nobody shall never lash you."
His mother died. He was twenty years of age at that time, a large-limbed, lusty-lunged fellow, almost destitute of education but with a big brain and an unconquerable will; so he strapped his chest and emigrated to America. What work he found at first I never rightly knew. I can only remember to have heard that it was something dangerous to human life and that the hands above him dropped off rapidly. Within two years he was a foreman. Within five years he was a partner. In ten years he was a rich man. At the end of five-and-twenty years he was a millionaire, controlling trusts and corporations and carrying out great combines.
I once heard him say that the money tumbled into his chest like crushed oats out of a crown shaft, but what happened at last was never fully explained to me. Something I heard of a collision with the law and of a forced assignment of his interests. All that is material to my story is that at forty-five years of age he returned to Ellan. He was then a changed man, with a hard tongue, a stern mouth, and a masterful lift of the eyebrows. His passion for wealth had left its mark upon him, but the whole island went down before his face like a flood, and the people who had made game of his father came crawling to his feet like cockroaches.
The first thing he did on coming home was to buy up his mother's croft, re-thatch the old house, and put in a poor person to take care of it.
"Guess it may come handy some day," he said.
His next act was worthy of the son of "Neale the Lord." Finding that Captain O'Neill had fallen deeply into debt, he bought up the braggart's mortgages, turned him out of the Big House, and took up his own abode in it.
Twelve months later he made amends, after his own manner, by marrying one of the Captain's daughters. There were two of them. Isabel, the elder, was a gentle and beautiful girl, very delicate, very timid, and most sweet when most submissive, like the woodland herbs which give out their sweetest fragrance when they are trodden on and crushed. Bridget, the younger, was rather homely, rather common, proud of her strength of mind and will.
To the deep chagrin of the younger sister, my father selected the elder one. I have never heard that my mother's wishes were consulted. Her father and my father dealt with the marriage as a question of business, and that was an end of the matter. On the wedding day my father did two things that were highly significant. He signed the parish register in the name of Daniel O'Neill by right of Letters Patent; and on taking his bride back to her early home, he hoisted over the tower of his chill grey house the stars and stripes of his once adopted country stitched to the flag of his native island. He had talked less than "Neale the Lord," but he had thought and acted more.
Two years passed without offspring, and my father made no disguise of his disappointment, which almost amounted to disgust. Hitherto he had occupied himself with improvements in his house and estate, but now his restless energies required a wider field, and he began to look about him. Ellan was then a primitive place, and its inhabitants, half landsmen, half seamen, were a simple pious race living in a sweet poverty which rarely descended into want. But my father had magnificent schemes for it. By push, energy and enterprise he would galvanise the island into new life, build hotels, theatres, casinos, drinking halls and dancing palaces, lay out race-courses, construct electric railways to the tops of the mountains, and otherwise transform the place into a holiday resort for the people of the United Kingdom.
"We'll just sail in and make this old island hum," he said, and a number of his neighbours, nothing loth to be made rich by magic—advocates, bankers and insular councillors—joined hands with him in his adventurous schemes.
But hardly had he begun when a startling incident happened. The old Lord Raa of Castle Raa, head of the O'Neills, the same that had sworn at my grandmother, after many years in which he had lived a bad life abroad where he had contracted fatal maladies, returned to Ellan to die. Being a bachelor, his heir would have been Captain O'Neill, but my mother's father had died during the previous winter, and in the absence of direct male issue it seemed likely that both title and inheritance (which, by the conditions of an old Patent, might have descended to the nearest living male through the female line) would go to a distant relative, a boy, fourteen years of age, a Protestant, who was then at school at Eton.
More than ever now my father chewed the cud of his great disappointment. But it is the unexpected that oftenest happens, and one day in the spring, Doctor Conrad, being called to see my mother, who was indisposed, announced that she was about to bear a child.
My father's delight was almost delirious, though at first his happiness was tempered by the fear that the child that was to be born to him might not prove a boy. Even this danger disappeared from his mind after a time, and before long his vanity and his unconquerable will had so triumphed over his common sense that he began to speak of his unborn child as a son, just as if the birth of a male child had been prearranged. With my mother, with Doctor Conrad, and above all with Father Dan, he sometimes went the length of discussing his son's name. It was to be Hugh, because that had been the name of the heads of the O'Neills through all the ages, as far back as the legendary days in which, as it was believed, they had been the Kings of Ellan.
My mother was no less overjoyed. She had justified herself at last, and if she was happy enough at the beginning in the tingling delight of the woman who is about to know the sweetest of human joys, the joy of bearing a child, she acquiesced at length in the accepted idea that her child would be a boy. Perhaps she was moved to this merely by a desire to submit to her husband's will, and to realise his hopes and expectations. Or perhaps she had another reason, a secret reason, a reason that came of her own weakness and timidity as a woman, namely, that the man child to be born of her would be strong and brave and free.
All went well down to the end of autumn, and then alarming news came from Castle Raa. The old lord had developed some further malady and was believed to be sinking rapidly. Doctor Conrad was consulted and he gave it as his opinion that the patient could not live beyond the year. This threw my father into a fever of anxiety. Sending for his advocate, he took counsel both with him and with Father Dan.
"Come now, let us get the hang of this business," he said; and when he realised that (according to the terms of the ancient Patent) if the old lord died before his child was born, his high-built hopes would be in the dust, his eagerness became a consuming fire.
For the first time in his life his excitement took forms of religion and benevolence. He promised that if everything went well he would give a new altar to Our Lady's Chapel in the parish church of St. Mary, a ton of coals to every poor person within a radius of five miles, and a supper to every inhabitant of the neighbouring village who was more than sixty years of age. It was even rumoured that he went so far in secret as to provide funds for the fireworks with which some of his flatterers were to celebrate the forthcoming event, and that one form of illumination was a gigantic frame which, set upon the Sky Hill, immediately in front of our house, was intended to display in brilliant lights the glowing words "God Bless the Happy Heir." Certainly the birth was to be announced by the ringing of the big bell of the tower as signal to the country round about that the appointed festivities might begin.
Day by day through September into October, news came from Castle Raa by secret channels. Morning by morning, Doctor Conrad was sent for to see my mother. Never had the sun looked down on a more gruesome spectacle. It was a race between the angel of death and the angel of life, with my father's masterful soul between, struggling to keep back the one and to hasten on the other.
My father's impatience affected everybody about him. Especially it communicated itself to the person chiefly concerned. The result was just what might have been expected. My mother was brought to bed prematurely, a full month before her time.
By six o'clock the wind had risen to the force of a hurricane. The last of the withered leaves of the trees in the drive had fallen and the bare branches were beating together like bundles of rods. The sea was louder than ever, and the bell on St. Mary's Rock, a mile away from the shore, was tolling like a knell under the surging of the waves. Sometimes the clashing of the rain against the window-panes was like the wash of billows over the port-holes of a ship at sea.
"Pity for the poor folk with their fireworks," said Father Dan.
"They'll eat their suppers for all that," said my father.
It was now dark, but my father would not allow the lamps to be lighted. There was therefore no light in his gaunt room except a sullen glow from the fire of peat and logs. Sometimes, in a momentary lull of the storm, an intermittent moan would come from the room above, followed by a dull hum of voices.
"Guess it can't be long now," my father would say.
"Praise the Lord," Father Dan would answer.
By seven the storm was at its height. The roaring of the wind in the wide chimney was as loud as thunder. Save for this the thunderous noise of the sea served to drown all sounds on the land. Nevertheless, in the midst of the clamour a loud rapping was heard at the front door. One of the maid-servants would have answered it, but my father called her back and, taking up a lantern, went to the door himself. As quietly as he could for the rush of wind without, he opened it, and pulling it after him, he stepped into the porch.
A man in livery was there on horseback, with another saddled horse beside him. He was drenched through, but steaming with sweat as if he had ridden long and hard. Shouting above the roar of the storm, he said:
"Doctor Conrad is here, is he?"
"He is—what of it?" said my father.
"Tell him he's wanted and must come away with me at once."
"Who says he must?"
"Lord Raa. His lordship is dangerously ill. He wishes to see the doctor immediately."
I think my father must then have gone through a moment of fierce conflict between his desire to keep the old lord alive and his hope of the immediate birth of his offspring. But his choice was quickly made.
"Tell the lord," he cried, "that a woman is here in child-birth, and until she's delivered the doctor cannot come to him."
"But I've brought a horse, and the doctor is to go back with me."
"Give the lord my message and say it is Daniel O'Neill who sends it."
"But his lordship is dying and unless the doctor is there to tap him, he may not live till morning."
"Unless the doctor is here to deliver my wife, my child may be dead before midnight."
"What is the birth of your child to the death of his lordship?" cried the man; but, before the words were well out of his mouth, my father, in his great strength, had laid hold of the reins and swung both horse and rider round about.
"Get yourself to the other side of my gate, or I'll fling you into the road," he cried; and then, returning to the porch, he re-entered the house and clashed the door behind him.
Father Dan used to say that for some moments more the groom from Castle Raa could be heard shouting the name of the doctor to the lighted windows of my mother's room. But his voice was swirled away in the whistling of the wind, and after a while the hoofs of his horses went champing over the gravel in the direction of the gate.
When my father returned to his room, shaking the rain from his hair and beard, he was fuming with indignation. Perhaps a memory of forty years ago was seething in his excited brain.
"The old scoundrel," he said. "He'd like it, wouldn't he? They'd all like it! Which of them wants a son of mine amongst them?"
The roaring night outside became yet more terrible. So loud was the noise from the shore that it was almost as if a wild beast were trying to liberate itself from the womb of the sea. At one moment Aunt Bridget came downstairs to say that the storm was frightening my mother. All the servants of the house were gathered in the hall, full of fear, and telling each other superstitious stories.
Suddenly there came a lull. Rain and wind seemed to cease in an instant. The clamour of the sea became less and the tolling of the bell on St. Mary's Rock died away in the distance. It was almost as if the world, which had been whirling through space, suddenly stood still.
In that moment of silence a deeper moan than usual came from the room overhead. My father dropped into a chair, clasped his hands and closed his eyes. Father Dan rattled his pearl beads and moved his lips, but uttered no sound.
Then a faint sound came from the room overhead. My father opened his eyes and listened. Father Dan held his breath. The sound was repeated, but louder, clearer, shriller than before. There could be no mistaking it now. It was Nature's eternal signal that out of the womb of silence a living soul had been born into the world.
"It's over," said my father.
"Glory be to God and all the Saints!" said Father Dan.
"That'll beat 'em," cried my father, and he leapt to his feet and laughed.
Going to the door of the room, he flung it open. The servants in the hall were now whispering eagerly, and one of them, the gardener, Tom Dug, commonly called Tommy the Mate, stepped out and asked if he ought to ring the big bell.
"Certainly," said my father. "Isn't that what you've been standing by for?"
A few minutes later the bell of the tower began to ring, and it was followed almost immediately by the bell of our parish church, which rang out a merry peal.
"That'll beat 'em, I say," cried my father, and laughing in his triumph he tramped the flagged floor with a firmer step than ever.
All at once the crying of the child ceased and there was a confused rumble of voices overhead. My father stopped, his face straightened, and his voice, which had rung out like a horn, wheezed back like a whistle.
"What's going doing? Where's Conrad? Why doesn't Conrad come to me?"
"Don't worry. He'll be down presently," said Father Dan.
A few minutes passed, in which nothing was said and nothing heard, and then, unable to bear the suspense any longer, my father went to the foot of the staircase and shouted the doctor's name.
A moment later the doctor's footsteps were heard on the stone stairs. They were hesitating, halting, dragging footsteps. Then the doctor entered my father's room. Even in the sullen light of the peat fire his face was white, ashen white. He did not speak at first, and there was an instant of silence, dead silence. Then my father said:
"Well, what is it?"
"It is . . ."
"Speak man! . . . Do you mean it is . . . dead?"
"No! Oh no! Not that."
"It is a girl."
"A gir . . . Did you say a girl?"
"My God!" said my father, and he dropped back into the chair. His lips were parted and his eyes which had been blazing with joy, became fixed on the dying fire in a stupid stare.
Father Dan tried to console him. There were thistles in everybody's crop, and after all it was a good thing to have begotten a girl. Girls were the flowers of life, the joy and comfort of man in his earthly pilgrimage, and many a father who bemoaned his fate when a daughter had been born to him, had lived to thank the Lord for her.
All this time the joy bells had been ringing, and now the room began to be illuminated by fitful flashes of variegated light from the firework-frame on the top of Sky Hill, which (as well as it could for the rain that had soaked it) was sputtering out its mocking legend, "God Bless the Happy Heir."
In his soft Irish voice, which was like a river running over smooth stones, Father Dan went on with his comforting.
"Yes, women are the salt of the earth, God bless them, and when I think of what they suffer that the world may go on, that the generations may not fail, I feel as if I want to go down on my knees and kiss the feet of the first woman I meet in the street. What would the world be without women? Think of St. Theresa! Think of the Blessed Margaret Mary! Think of the Holy Virgin herself. . . ."
"Oh, stow this stuff," cried my father, and leaping to his feet, he began to curse and swear.
"Stop that accursed bell! Is the fool going to ring for ever? Put out those damnable lights, too. Put them out. Are the devils of hell trying to laugh at me?"
With that, and an oath at himself for his folly, my father strode out of the room.
My mother had heard him. Through the unceiled timbers of the floor between them the words of his rage had reached her. She was ashamed. She felt as if she were a guilty thing, and with a low cry of pain she turned to the wall and fainted.
The old lord died the same night. Somewhere towards the dead reaches of the dawn his wicked spirit went to its reckoning, and a month afterwards the new Lord Raa, a boy in an Eton jacket, came over to take possession of his inheritance.
But long before that my father, scoring out his disappointment like an account that was closed, had got to work with his advocates, bankers and insular councillors on his great schemes for galvanising the old island into new life.
Out of the mist and veil of my own memory, as distinguished from Father Dan's, there comes first the recollection of a big room containing a big bed, a big wardrobe, a big dressing table, a big praying-stool with an image of Our Lady on the wall above it, and an open window to which a sparrow used to come in the mornings and chirp.
When I came to recognise and to classify I realised that this was my mother's room, and that the sweet somebody who used to catch me up in her arms when I went tottering on voyages of discovery round the vast place was my mother herself, and that she would comfort me when I fell, and stroke my head with her thin white hand, while she sang softly and rocked me to and fro.
As I have no recollection of ever having seen my mother in any other part of our house, or indeed in any other place except our carriage when we drove out in the sunshine, I conclude that from the time of my birth she had been an invalid.
Certainly the faces which first emerge from the islands of my memory are the cheerful and sunny ones of Doctor Conrad and Father Dan. I recall the soft voice of the one as he used to enter our room after breakfast saying, "How are we this morning ma'am?" And I remember the still softer voice of the other as he said "And how is my daughter to-day?"
I loved both of them, but especially Father Dan, who used to call me his Nanny and say I was the plague and pet of his life, being as full of mischief as a goat. He must have been an old child himself, for I have clear recollection of how, immediately after confessing my mother, he would go down on all fours with me on the floor and play at hide-and-seek around the legs of the big bed, amid squeals and squeaks of laughter. I remember, too, that he wore a long sack coat which buttoned close at the neck and hung loose at the skirts, where there were two large vertical pockets, and that these pockets were my cupboards and drawers, for I put my toys and my doll and even the remnants of my cakes into them to be kept in safe custody until wanted again.
My mother called me Mally veen (Mary dear) and out of love of her only child she must have weaned me late, for I have vague memories of her soft white breasts filled with milk. I slept in a little wickerwork cot placed near her bed, so that she could reach me if I uncovered myself in the night. She used to say I was like a bird, having something birdlike in my small dark head and the way I held it up. Certainly I remember myself as a swift little thing, always darting to and fro on tiptoe, and chirping about our chill and rather cheerless house.
If I was like a bird my mother was like a flower. Her head, which was small and fair, and her face, which was nearly always tinged with colour, drooped forward from her delicate body like a rose from its stalk. She was generally dressed in black, I remember, but she wore a white lace collar as well as a coif such as we see in old pictures, and when I call her back to my mind, with her large liquid eyes and her sweet soft mouth, I think it cannot be my affection alone, or the magic of my childish memory, which makes me think, after all these years and all the countries I have travelled in, and all the women I have seen, that my darling mother, though so little known and so little loved, was the most beautiful woman in the world.
Even yet I cannot but wonder that other people, my father especially, did not see her with my eyes. I think he was fond of her after his own fashion, but there was a kind of involuntary contempt in his affection, which could not conceal itself from my quick little eyes. She was visibly afraid of him, and was always nervous and timid when he came into our room with his customary salutation,
"How now, Isabel? And how's this child of yours?"
From my earliest childhood I noticed that he always spoke of me as if I had been my mother's child, not his, and perhaps this affected my feeling for him from the first.
I was in terror of his loud voice and rough manner, the big bearded man with the iron grey head and the smell of the fresh air about his thick serge clothes. It was almost as if I had conceived this fear before my birth, and had brought it out of the tremulous silence of my mother's womb.
My earliest recollections are of his muffled shout from the room below, "Keep your child quiet, will you?" when I was disturbing him over his papers by leaping and skipping about the floor. If he came upstairs when I was in bed I would dive under the bedclothes, as a duck dives under water, and only come to the surface when he was gone. I am sure I never kissed my father or climbed on to his knee, and that during his short visits to our room I used to hold my breath and hide my head behind my mother's gown.
I think my mother must have suffered both from my fear of my father and from my father's indifference to me, for she made many efforts to reconcile him to my existence. Some of her innocent schemes, as I recall them now, seem very sweet but very pitiful. She took pride, for instance, in my hair, which was jet black even when I was a child, and she used to part it in the middle and brush it smooth over my forehead in the manner of the Madonna, and one day, when my father was with us, she drew me forward and said:
"Don't you think our Mary is going to be very pretty? A little like the pictures of Our Lady, perhaps—don't you think so, Daniel?"
Whereupon my father laughed rather derisively and answered:
"Pretty, is she? Like the Virgin, eh? Well, well!"
I was always fond of music, and my mother used to teach me to sing to a little upright piano which she was allowed to keep in her room, and on another day she said:
"Do you know our Mary has such a beautiful voice, dear? So sweet and pure that when I close my eyes I could almost think it is an angel singing."
Whereupon my father laughed as before, and answered:
"A voice, has she? Like an angel's, is it? What next, I wonder?"
My mother made most of my clothes. There was no need for her to do so, but in the absence of household duties I suppose it stimulated the tenderness which all mothers feel in covering the little limbs they love; and one day, having made a velvet frock for me, from a design in an old pattern book of coloured prints, which left the legs and neck and arms very bare, she said:
"Isn't our Mary a little lady? But she will always look like a lady, whatever she is dressed in."
And then my father laughed still more contemptuously and replied,
"Her grandmother weeded turnips in the fields though—ninepence a day dry days, and sixpence all weathers."
My mother was deeply religious, never allowing a day to pass without kneeling on her prayer-stool before the image of the Virgin, and one day I heard her tell my father that when I was a little mite, scarcely able to speak, she found me kneeling in my cot with my doll perched up before me, moving my lips as if saying my prayers and looking up at the ceiling with a rapt expression.
"But she has always had such big, beautiful, religious eyes, and I shouldn't wonder if she becomes a Nun some day!"
"A nun, eh? Maybe so. But I take no stock in the nun business anyway," said my father.
Whereupon my mother's lips moved as if she were saying "No, dearest," but her dear, sweet pride was crushed and she could go no farther.
There was a whole colony on the ground floor of our house who, like my father, could not reconcile themselves to my existence, and the head of them was Aunt Bridget.
She had been married, soon after the marriage of my mother, to one Colonel MacLeod, a middle-aged officer on half-pay, a widower, a Belfast Irishman, and a tavern companion of my maternal grandfather. But the Colonel had died within a year, leaving Aunt Bridget with one child of her own, a girl, as well as a daughter of his wife by the former marriage. As this happened about the time of my birth, when it became obvious that my mother was to be an invalid, my father invited Aunt Bridget to come to his house as housekeeper, and she came, and brought her children with her.
Her rule from the outset had been as hard as might have been expected from one who prided herself on her self-command—a quality that covered everybody, including my mother and me, and was only subject to softening in favour of her own offspring.
Aunt Bridget's own daughter, a year older than myself, was a fair child with light grey eyes, round cheeks of the colour of ripe apples, and long yellow hair that was carefully combed and curled. Her name was Betsy, which was extended by her mother to Betsy Beauty. She was usually dressed in a muslin frock with a sash of light blue ribbon, and being understood to be delicate was constantly indulged and nearly always eating, and giving herself generally the airs of the daughter of the house.
Aunt Bridget's step-daughter, ten years older, was a gaunt, ungainly girl with red hair and irregular features. Her name was Nessy, and, having an instinctive sense of her dependent position, she was very humble and subservient and, as Tommy the Mate used to say, "as smooth as an old threepenny bit" to the ruling powers, which always meant my Aunt, but spiteful, insolent, and acrid to anybody who was outside my Aunt's favour, which usually meant me.
Between my cousin and myself there were constant feuds, in which Nessy MacLeod never failed to take the side of Betsy Beauty, while my poor mother became a target for the shafts of Aunt Bridget, who said I was a wilful, wicked, underhand little vixen, and no wonder, seeing how disgracefully I was indulged, and how shockingly I was being brought up.
These skirmishes went on for a considerable time without consequences, but they came at last to a foolish climax which led to serious results.
Even my mother's life had its gleams of sunshine, and flowers were a constant joy to her. Old Tommy, the gardener, was aware of this, and every morning sent up a bunch of them, freshly cut and wet with the dew. But one day in the spring he could not do so, being out in the dubs of the Curragh, cutting peat for the fires. Therefore I undertook to supply the deficiency, having already, with the large solemnity of six, begun to consider it my duty to take charge of my mother.
"Never mind, mammy, I'll setch some slowers sor you," I said (every f being an s in those days), and armed with a pair of scissors I skipped down to the garden.
I had chosen a bed of annuals because they were bright and fragrant, and was beginning to cut some "gilvers" when Nessy MacLeod, who had been watching from a window, came bouncing down me.
"Mary O'Neill, how dare you?" cried Nessy. "You wilful, wicked, underhand little vixen, what will your Aunt Bridget say? Don't you know this is Betsy Beauty's bed, and nobody else is to touch it?"
I began to excuse myself on the ground of my mother and Tommy the Mate, but Nessy would hear no such explanation.
"Your mamma has nothing to do with it. You know quite well that your Aunt Bridget manages everything in this house, and nothing can be done without her."
Small as I was that was too much for me. Somewhere in my little heart there had long been a secret pang of mortified pride—how born I do not know—at seeing Aunt Bridget take the place of my mother, and now, choking with vexation but without saying a word, I swept off the heads of all the flowers in the bed, and with my arms full of them—ten times more than I wanted—I sailed back to my mother's room.
Inside two minutes there was a fearful tumult. I thought I was doomed to punishment when I heard the big bunch of keys, which Aunt Bridget kept suspended from her waist, come jingling up the stairs, but it was my poor mother who paid the penalty.
"Isabel," cried Aunt Bridget, "I hope you are satisfied with your child at last."
"What has Mary been doing now, dear?" said my mother.
"Don't ask me what she has been doing. You know quite well, or if you don't you ought to."
My mother glanced at the flowers and she seemed to understand what had happened, for her face fell and she said submissively,
"Mary has done wrong, but I am sure she is sorry and will never do it again."
"Sorry, indeed!" cried my Aunt. "Not she sorry. And she'll do it again at the very next opportunity. The vixen! The little wilful, underhand vixen! But what wonder if children go wrong when their own mothers neglect to correct them."
"I daresay you are quite right, dear Bridget—you are always right," said my mother in a low, grave voice. "But then I'm not very well, and Mary is all I have, you know."
My mother was in tears by this time, but Aunt Bridget was not content with her triumph. Sweeping downstairs she carried her complaint to my father, who ordered that I was to be taken out of my mother's charge on the ground that she was incapable of attending to my upbringing—a task which, being assigned to my Aunt Bridget, provided that I should henceforward live on the ground floor and eat oaten cake and barley bonnag and sleep alone in the cold room over the hall while Betsy Beauty ate wheaten bread and apple tart and slept with her mother in the room over the kitchen in which they always kept a fire.
The altered arrangements were a cause of grief to my mother, but I am bound to confess that for me they had certain compensations. One of them was the greater ease with which I could slip out to Tommy the Mate, who had been a sailor before he was a gardener, and was still a fine old salt, with grizzled beard and shaggy eyebrows, and a merry twinkle in what he called his "starboard" eye.
I think Tommy was one of the few about my father's house who were really fond of me, but perhaps that was mainly because he loathed aunt Bridget. He used to call her the Big Woman, meaning that she was the master and mistress of everything and everybody about the place. When he was told of any special piece of her tyranny to servant or farmhand he used to say: "Aw, well, she'll die for all"; and when he heard how she had separated me from my mother, who had nothing else to love or live for, he spat sideways out of his mouth and said:
"Our Big Woman is a wicked devil, I'm thinking, and I wouldn't trust [shouldn't wonder] but she'll burn in hell."
What definite idea I attached to this denunciation I do not now recall, but I remember that it impressed me deeply, and that many a night afterwards, during the miserable half-hours before I fell asleep with my head under the clothes in the cold bedroom over the hall to which (as Nessy MacLeod had told me) the bad fairies came for bad children, I repeated the strange words again and again.
Another compensation was the greater opportunity I had for cultivating an acquaintance which I had recently made with the doctor's son, when he came with his father on visits to my mother. As soon as the hoofs of the horse were heard on the gravel, and before the bell could be rung, I used to dart away on tiptoe, fly through the porch, climb into the gig and help the boy to hold the reins while his father was upstairs.
This led to what I thought a great discovery. It was about my mother. I had always known my mother was sick, but now I got a "skute" (as old Tommy used to say) into the cause of her illness. It was a matter of milk. The doctor's boy had heard his father saying so. If my mother could only have milk morning, noon and night, every day and all day, "there wouldn't be nothing the matter with her."
This, too, impressed me deeply, and the form it took in my mind was that "mammy wasn't sed enough," a conclusion that gained colour from the fact that I saw Betsy Beauty perched up in a high chair in the dining-room twice or thrice a day, drinking nice warm milk fresh from the cow. We had three cows, I remember, and to correct the mischief of my mother's illness, I determined that henceforth she should not have merely more of our milk—she should have all of it.
Losing no time in carrying my intentions into effect, I crept into the dairy as soon as the dairymaid had brought in the afternoon's milking. There it was, still frothing and bubbling in three great bowls, and taking up the first of them in my little thin arms—goodness knows how—I made straight for my mother's room.
But hardly had I climbed half-way up the stairs, puffing and panting under my burden, when I met Nessy MacLeod coming down, and she fell on me with her usual reproaches.
"Mary O'Neill, you wilful, underhand little vixen, whatever are you doing with the milk?"
Being in no mood for explanations I tried to push past, but Nessy prevented me.
"No, indeed, you shan't go a step further. What will your Aunt Bridget say? Take the milk back, miss, this very minute."
Nessy's loud protest brought Betsy Beauty out of the dining-room, and in a moment my cousin, looking more than ever like a painted doll in her white muslin dress with a large blue bow in her yellow hair, had run upstairs to assist her step-sister.
I was now between the two, the one above and the other below, and they laid hold of my bowl to take it from me. They tugged and I resisted and there was a struggle in which the milk was in danger of being spilled.
"She's a stubborn little thing and she ought to be whipped," cried Nessy.
"She's stealing my milk, and I'll tell mamma," said Betsy.
"Tell her then," I cried, and in a burst of anger at finding myself unable to recover control of my bowl I swept it round and flung its contents over my cousin's head, thereby drenching her with the frothing milk and making the staircase to run like a river of whitewash.
Of course there was a fearful clamour. Betsy Beauty shrieked and Nessy bellowed, whereupon Aunt Bridget came racing from her parlour, while my mother, white and trembling, halted to the door of her room.
"Mally, Mally, what have you done?" cried my mother, but Aunt Bridget found no need of questions. After running upstairs to her dripping daughter, wiping her down with a handkerchief, calling her "my poor darling," and saying, "Didn't I tell you to have nothing more to do with that little vixen?" she fell on my mother with bitter upbraidings.
"Isabel, I hope you see now what your minx of a child is—the little spiteful fury!"
By this time I had dropped my empty bowl on the stairs and taken refuge behind my mother's gown, but I heard her timid voice trying to excuse me, and saying something about my cousin and a childish quarrel.
"Childish quarrel, indeed!" cried my Aunt; "there's nothing childish about that little imp, nothing. And what's more, I shall be obliged to you, Isabel, if you will never again have the assurance to speak of my Betsy Beauty in the same breath with a child of yours."
That was more than I could hear. My little heart was afire at the humiliation put upon my mother. So stepping out to the head of the stairs, I shouted down in my shrillest treble:
"Your Betsy Beauty is a wicked devil, and I wouldn't trust but she'll burn in hell!"
Never, to the last hour of my life, shall I forget the effect of that pronouncement. One moment Aunt Bridget stood speechless in the middle of the stairs, as if all breath had been broken out of her. Then, ghastly white and without a word, she came flying up at me, and, before I could recover my usual refuge, she caught me, slapped me on the cheek and boxed both my ears.
I do not remember if I cried, but I know my mother did, and that in the midst of the general tumult my father came out of his room and demanded in a loud voice, which seemed to shake the whole house, to be told what was going on.
Aunt Bridget told him, with various embellishments, which my mother did not attempt to correct, and then, knowing she was in the wrong, she began to wipe her eyes with her wet handkerchief, and to say she could not live any longer where a child was encouraged to insult her.
"I have to leave this house—I have to leave it to-morrow," she said.
"You don't have to do no such thing," cried my father. "But I'm just crazy to see if a man can't be captain in his own claim. These children must go to school. They must all go—the darned lot of 'em."
Before I speak of what happened at school, I must say how and when I first became known to the doctor's boy.
It was during the previous Christmastide. On Christmas Eve I awoke in the dead of night with the sense of awakening in another world. The church-bells were ringing, and there was singing outside our house, under the window of my mother's room. After listening for a little while I made my voice as soft as I could and said:
"Mamma, what is it'?"
"Hush, dear! It is the Waits. Lie still and listen," said my mother.
I lay as long as my patience would permit, and then creeping over to the window I saw a circle of men and women, with lanterns, and the frosty air smoking about their red faces. After a while they stopped singing, and then the chain of our front door rattled, and I heard my father's loud voice asking the singers into the house.
They came in, and when I was back in bed, I heard them talking and then laughing in the room below, with Aunt Bridget louder than all the rest, and when I asked what she was doing my mother told me she was serving out bunloaf and sherry-wine.
I fell asleep before the incident was over, but as soon as I awoke in the morning I conceived the idea of singing the Waits myself. Being an artful little thing I knew that my plan would be opposed, so I said nothing about it, but I got my mother to play and sing the carol I had heard overnight, until my quick ear had mastered both tune and words, and when darkness fell on Christmas night I proceeded to carry out my intention.
In the heat of my impatience I forgot to put on cloak or hat, and stealing out of the house I found myself in the carriage drive with nothing on but a pair of thin slippers and the velvet frock that left my neck and arms so bare. It was snowing, and the snow-flakes were whirling round me and making me dizzy, for in the light from my mother's window they seemed to come up from the ground as well as down from the sky.
When I got out of the light of the window, it was very dark, and I could only see that the chestnuts in the drive seemed to have white blankets on them which looked as if they had been hung out to dry. It was a long time before I got to the gate, and then I had begun to be nervous and to have half a mind to turn back. But the thought of the bunloaf and the sherry-wine buoyed me up, and presently I found myself on the high road, crossing a bridge and turning down a lane that led to the sea, whose moaning a mile away was the only sound I could hear.
I knew quite well where I was going to. I was going to the doctor's house. It was called Sunny Lodge, and it was on the edge of Yellow Gorse Farm. I had seen it more than once when I had driven out in the carriage with my mother, and had thought how sweet it looked with its whitewashed walls and brown thatched roof and the red and white roses which grew over the porch.
I was fearfully cold before I got there. The snow was in my slippers and down my neck and among the thickening masses of my hair. At one moment I came upon some sheep and lambs that were sheltering under a hedge, and they bleated in the silence of the night.
But at last I saw the warm red windows of the doctor's cottage, and coming to the wicket gate, I pushed it open though it was clogged with snow, and stepped up to the porch. My teeth were now chattering with cold, but as well as I could I began to sing, and in my thin and creachy voice I had got as far as—
"Ch'ist was born in Bef-lem, Ch'ist was born in Bef-lem, Ch'ist was born in Bef-lem, An' in a manger laid. . . ."
when I heard a rumbling noise inside the house.
Immediately afterwards the door was opened upon me, and a woman whom I knew to be the doctor's wife looked down into my face with an expression of bewilderment, and then cried:
"Goodness gracious me, doctor—if it isn't little Mary O'Neill, God bless her!"
"Bring her in at once, then," said the voice of Doctor Conrad from within, and at the next moment I found myself in a sort of kitchen-parlour which was warm with a glowing turf fire that had a kettle singing over it, and cosy and bright with a ragwork hearth-rug, a dresser full of blue pottery and a sofa settle covered with red cloth.
I suppose the sudden change to a warm room must have caused me to faint, for I have no recollection of what happened next, except that I was sitting on somebody's lap and that she was calling me boght millish (little sweet) and veg-veen (little dear) while she rubbed my half-frozen limbs and did other things that were, I am sure, all womanly and good.
When I came to myself Doctor Conrad was saying I would have to sleep there that night, and he must go over to the Big House and tell my mother what had happened. He went, and by the time he came back, I had been bathed in a dolly-tub placed in front of the fire, and was being carried upstairs (in a nightdress many sizes too large for me) to a little dimity-white bedroom, where the sweet smelling "scraas" under the sloping thatch of the roof came down almost to my face.
I know nothing of what happened during the night, except that I was feeling very hot, and that as often as I opened my eyes the doctor's wife was leaning over me and speaking in a soft voice that seemed far away. But next day I felt cooler and then Aunt Bridget came in her satin mantle and big black hat, and said something, while standing at the end of my bed, about people paying the penalty when they did things that were sly and underhand.
Towards evening I was much easier, and when the doctor came in to see me at night he said:
"How are we this evening? Ah, better, I see. Distinctly better!"
And then turning to his wife he said:
"No need to stay up with her to-night, Christian Ann."
"But won't the boght millish be afraid to be left alone?" she asked.
I said I shouldn't, and she kissed me and told me to knock at the wall if I wanted anything. And then, with her husband's arm about her waist, the good soul left me to myself.
I don't know how I knew, but I did know that that house was a home of love. I don't know how I knew, but I did know, that that sweet woman, who had been the daughter of a well-to-do man, had chosen the doctor out of all the men in the world when he was only a medical student fresh from Germany or Switzerland. I don't know how I knew, but I did know, that leaving father and mother and a sheltered home she had followed her young husband when he first came to Ellan without friends or connections, and though poor then and poor still, she had never regretted it. I don't know how I knew, but I did know, that all this was the opposite of what had happened to my own dear mother, who having everything yet had nothing, while this good creature having nothing yet had all.
When I awoke next morning the sun was shining, and, after my hair had been brushed smooth over my forehead, I was sitting up in bed, eating for breakfast the smallest of bantam eggs with the smallest of silver spoons, when the door opened with a bang and a small figure tumbled into my room.
It was a boy, two years older than myself. He wore a grey Norfolk jacket and knickerbockers, but the peculiarity of his dress was a white felt hat of enormous size, which, being soiled and turned down in the brim, and having a hole in the crown with a crop of his brown hair sticking through it, gave him the appearance of a damaged mushroom.
Except that on entering he tipped up his head so that I saw his face, which was far from beautiful and yet had two big blue eyes—as blue as the bluest sea—he took no notice of my presence, but tossed a somersault in the middle of the floor, screwed his legs over the back of a chair, vaulted over a table and finally stood on his hands with his legs against the wall opposite to my bed, and his inverted countenance close to the carpet.
In this position, in which he was clearly making a point of remaining as long as possible, while his face grew very red, we held our first conversation. I had hitherto sat propped up as quiet as a mouse, but now I said:
"Little boy, what's your name?"
"Mart," was the answer.
"Where do you come from?"
I cannot remember that this intelligence astonished me, for when the inverted face had become scarlet, and the legs went down and the head came up, and my visitor tossed several somersaults over the end of my bed, to the danger of my breakfast tray, and then, without a word more, tumbled out of the room, I was still watching in astonishment.
I did not know at that time that these were the ways which since the beginning of the world have always been employed by savages and boys when they desire to commend themselves to the female of their kind, so that when the doctor's wife came smiling upstairs I asked her if the little boy who had been to see me was not quite well.
"Bless you, yes, dear, but that's his way," she said, and then she told me all about him.
His name was Martin Conrad and he was her only child. His hat, which had awakened my interest, was an old one of his father's, and it was the last thing he took off when he undressed for bed at night and the first thing he put on in the morning. When the hole came into its crown his mother had tried to hide it away but he had always found it, and when she threw it into the river he had fished it out again.
He was the strangest boy, full of the funniest fancies. He used to say that before he was born he lived in a tree and was the fellow who turned on the rain. It was with difficulty that he could be educated, and every morning on being awakened, he said he was "sorry he ever started this going to school." As a consequence he could not read or write as well as other boys of his age, and his grammar was still that of the peasant people with whom he loved to associate.
Chief among these was our gardener, old Tommy the Mate, who lived in a mud cabin on the shore and passed the doctor's house on his way to work. Long ago Tommy had told the boy a tremendous story. It was about Arctic exploration and an expedition he had joined in search of Franklin. This had made an overpowering impression on Martin, who for mouths afterwards would stand waiting at the gate until Tommy was going by, and then say:
"Been to the North Pole to-day, Tommy?"
Whereupon Tommy's "starboard eye" would blink and he would answer:
"Not to-day boy. I don't go to the North Pole more nor twice a day now."
"Don't you, though?" the boy would say, and this would happen every morning.
But later on Martin conceived the idea that the North Pole was the locality immediately surrounding his father's house, and every day he would set out on voyages of exploration over the garden, the road and the shore, finding, by his own account, a vast world of mysterious things and undiscovered places. By some means—nobody knew how—the boy who could not learn his lessons studied his father's German atlas, and there was not a name in it north of Spitzbergen which he had not got by heart. He transferred them all to Ellan, so that the Sky Hill became Greenland, and the Black Head became Franz Josef Land, and the Nun's Well became Behring Strait, and Martha's Gullet became New Siberia, and St. Mary's Rock, with the bell anchored on it, became the pivot of the earth itself.
He could swim like a fish and climb a rock like a lizard, and he kept a log-book, on the back pages of the Doctor's book of visits, which he called his "diarrhea." And now if you lost him you had only to look up to the ridge of the roof, or perhaps on to the chimney stack, which he called his crow's nest, and there you found him, spying through his father's telescope and crying out:
"Look-out ahead! Ice floes from eighty-six latitude fourteen point north, five knots to the starboard bow."
His mother laughed until she cried when she told me all this, but there is no solemnity like that of a child, and to me it was a marvellous story. I conceived a deep admiration for the doctor's boy, and saw myself with eyes of worship walking reverently by his side. I suppose my poor lonely heart was hungering after comradeship, for being a sentimental little ninny I decided to offer myself to the doctor's boy as his sister.
The opportunity was dreadfully long in coming. It did not come until the next morning, when the door of my room flew open with a yet louder bang than before, and the boy entered in a soap-box on wheels, supposed to be a sledge, and drawn by a dog, an Irish terrier, which being red had been called William Rufus. His hat was tied over his ears with a tape from his mother's apron, and he wore a long pair of his father's knitted stockings which covered his boots and came up to his thighs.
He did not at first take any more notice of me than on the previous day, but steering his sledge round the room he shouted to his dog that the chair by the side of my bed was a glacier and the sheep-skin rug was floating ice.
After a while we began to talk, and then, thinking my time had come, I tried to approach my subject. Being such a clever little woman I went artfully to work, speaking first about my father, my mother, my cousin, Nessy MacLeod, and even Aunt Bridget, with the intention of showing how rich I was in relations, so that he might see how poor he was himself.
I felt myself a bit of a hypocrite in all this, but the doctor's boy did not know that, and I noticed that as I passed my people in review he only said "Is she any good?" or "Is he a stunner?"
At length my great moment came and with a fluttering heart I took it.
"Haven't you got a sister?" I said.
"Not me!" said the doctor's boy, with a dig of emphasis on the last word which cut me to the quick.
"Wouldn't you like to have one?"
"Sisters isn't no good," said the doctor's boy, and he instanced "chaps" at school—Jimmy Christopher and others—whose sisters were afraid of everything—lobsters and crabs and even the sea.
I knew I was as timid as a hare myself, but my lonely little heart was beginning to bleed, and as well as I could for my throat which was choking me, I said:
"I'm not afraid of the sea—not crabs neither."
In a moment the big mushroom hat was tipped aside and the sea-blue eyes looked aslant at me.
"Isn't you, though?"
That did it. I could see it did. And when a minute afterwards, I invited the doctor's boy into bed, he came in, stockings and all, and sat by my right side, while William Rufus, who had formed an instant attachment for me, lay on my left with his muzzle on my lap.
Later the same day, my bedroom door being open, so that I might call downstairs to the kitchen, I heard the doctor's boy telling his mother what I was. I was a "stunner."
From that day forward the doctor's boy considered that I belonged to him, but not until I was sent to school, with my cousin and her stepsister, did he feel called upon to claim his property.
It was a mixed day-school in the village, and it was controlled by a Board which had the village butcher as its chairman. The only teacher was a tall woman of thirty, who plaited her hair, which was of the colour of flax, into a ridiculous-looking crown on the top of her head. But her expression, I remember, was one of perpetual severity, and when she spoke through her thin lips she clipped her words with great rapidity, as if they had been rolls of bread which were being chopped in a charity school.
Afterwards I heard that she owed her position to Aunt Bridget, who had exercised her influence through the chairman, by means of his account with the Big House. Perhaps she thought it her duty to display her gratitude. Certainly she lost no time in showing me that my character had gone to school before me, for in order that I might be directly under her eye, she placed me in the last seat in the lowest class, although my mother's daily teaching would have entitled me to go higher.
I dare say I was, as Father Dan used to say, as full of mischief as a goat, and I know I was a chatterbox, but I do not think I deserved the fate that followed.
One day, not more than a week after we had been sent to school. I held my slate in front of my face while I whispered something to the girl beside and the girl behind me. Both began to titter.
"Silence!" cried the schoolmistress, who was sitting at her desk, but I went on whispering and the girls began to choke with laughter.
I think the schoolmistress must have thought I was saying something about herself—making game, perhaps, of her personal appearance—for after a moment she said, in her rapid accents:
"Mary O'Neill, please repeat what you have just been saying."
I held my slate yet closer to my face and made no answer.
"Don't you hear, miss? Speak! You've a tongue in your head, haven't you?"
But still I did not answer, and then the schoolmistress said:
"Mary O'Neill, come forward."
She had commanded me like a dog, and like a dog I was about to obey when I caught sight of Betsy Beauty's face, which, beaming with satisfaction, seemed to be saying: "Now, we shall see."
I would not stir after that, and the schoolmistress, leaving her desk, came towards me, and looking darkly into my face, said:
"You wilful little vixen, do you think you can trifle with me? Come out, miss, this very moment."
I knew where that language came from, so I made no movement.
"Don't you hear? Or do you suppose that because you are pampered and spoiled by a foolish person at home, you can defy me?"
That reflection on my mother settled everything. I sat as rigid as a rock.
Then pale as a whitewashed wall, and with her thin lips tightly compressed, the schoolmistress took hold of me to drag me out of my seat, but with my little nervous fingers I clung to the desk in front of me, and as often as she tore one of my hands open the other fixed itself afresh.
"You minx! We'll see who's mistress here. . . . Will none of you big girls come and help me?"
With the utmost alacrity one big girl from a back bench came rushing to the schoolmistress' assistance. It was Nessy MacLeod, and together, after a fierce struggle, they tore me from my desk, like an ivy branch from a tree, and dragged me into the open space in front of the classes. By this time the schoolmistress' hands, and I think her neck were scratched, and from that cause also she was quivering with passion.
"Stand there, miss," she said, "and move from that spot at your peril."
My own fury was now spent, and in the dead silence which had fallen on the entire school, I was beginning to feel the shame of my ignominious position.
"Children," cried the schoolmistress, addressing the whole of the scholars, "put down your slates and listen."
Then, as soon as she had recovered her breath she said, standing by my side and pointing down to me:
"This child came to school with the character of a wilful, wicked little vixen, and she has not belied her character. By gross disobedience she has brought herself to where you see her. 'Spare the rod, spoil the child,' is a scriptural maxim, and the foolish parents who ruin their children by overindulgence deserve all that comes to them. But there is no reason why other people should suffer, and, small as this child is she has made the life of her excellent aunt intolerable by her unlovable, unsociable, and unchildlike disposition. Children, she was sent to school to be corrected of her faults, and I order you to stop your lessons while she is publicly punished. . . ."
With this parade of the spirit of justice, the schoolmistress stepped back and left me. I knew what she was doing—she was taking her cane out of her desk which stood by the wall. I heard the desk opened with an impatient clash and then closed with an angry bang. I was as sure as if I had had eyes in the back of my head, that the schoolmistress was holding the cane in both hands and bending it to see if it was lithe and limber.
I felt utterly humiliated. Standing there with all eyes upon me I was conscious of the worst pain that enters into a child's experience—the pain of knowing that other children are looking upon her degradation. I thought of Aunt Bridget and my little heart choked with anger. Then I thought of my mother and my throat throbbed with shame. I remembered what my mother had said, of her little Mary being always a little lady, and I felt crushed at the thought that I was about to be whipped before all the village children.
At home I had been protected if only by my mother's tears, but here I was alone, and felt myself to be so little and helpless. But just as my lip was beginning to drop, at the thought of what my mother would suffer if she saw me in this position of infamy, and I was about to cry out to the schoolmistress: "Don't beat me! Oh! please don't beat me!" a strange thing happened, which turned my shame into surprise and triumph.
Through the mist which had gathered before my eyes I saw a boy coming out of the boys' class at the end of the long room. It was Martin Conrad, and I remember that he rolled as he walked like old Tommy the gardener. Everybody saw him, and the schoolmistress said in her sharp voice:
"Martin Conrad, what right have you to leave your place without permission? Go back, sir, this very moment."
Instead of going back Martin came on, and as he did so he dragged his big soft hat out of the belt of his Norfolk jacket and with both hands pulled it down hard on his head.
"Go back, sir!" cried the schoolmistress, and I saw her step towards him with the cane poised and switching in the air, as if about to strike.
The boy said nothing, but just shaking himself like a big dog he dropped his head and butted at the schoolmistress as she approached him, struck her somewhere in the waist and sent her staggering and gasping against the wall.
Then, without a word, he took my hand, as something that belonged to him, and before the schoolmistress could recover her breath, or the scholars awake from their astonishment, he marched me, as if his little stocky figure had been sixteen feet tall, in stately silence out of the school.
I was never sent back to school, and I heard that Martin, by order of the butcher, was publicly expelled. This was a cause of distress to our mothers, who thought the future of our lives had been permanently darkened, but I cannot say that it ever stood between us and our sunshine. On the contrary it occurred that—Aunt Bridget having washed her hands of me, and Martin's father being unable to make up his mind what to do with him—we found ourselves for some time at large and were nothing loth to take advantage of our liberty, until a day came which brought a great disaster.
One morning I found Martin with old Tommy the Mate in his potting-shed, deep in the discussion of their usual subject—the perils and pains of Arctic exploration, when you have little food in your wallet and not too much in your stomach.
"But you has lots of things when you gets there—hams and flitches and oranges and things—hasn't you?" said Martin.
"Never a ha'p'orth," said Tommy. "Nothing but glory. You just takes your Alping stock and your sleeping sack and your bit o' biscuit and away you go over crevaxes deeper nor Martha's gullet and mountains higher nor Mount Blank and never think o' nothing but doing something that nobody's never done before. My goodness, yes, boy, that's the way of it when you're out asploring. 'Glory's waiting for me' says you, and on you go."
At that great word I saw Martin's blue eyes glisten like the sea when the sun is shining on it; and then, seeing me for the first time, he turned back to old Tommy and said:
"I s'pose you lets women go with you when you're out asploring—women and girls?"
"Never a woman," said Tommy.
"Not never—not if they're stunners?" said Martin.
"Well," says Tommy, glancing down at me, while his starboard eye twinkled, "I won't say never—not if they're stunners."
Next day Martin, attended by William Rufus, arrived at our house with a big corn sack on his shoulder, a long broom-handle in his hand, a lemonade bottle half filled with milk, a large sea biscuit and a small Union Jack which came from the confectioner's on the occasion of his last birthday.
"Glory's waiting for me—come along, shipmate," he said in a mysterious whisper, and without a word of inquiry, I obeyed.
He gave me the biscuit and I put it in the pocket of my frock, and the bottle of milk, and I tied it to my belt, and then off we went, with the dog bounding before us.
I knew he was going to the sea, and my heart was in my mouth, for of all the things I was afraid of I feared the sea most—a terror born with me, perhaps, on the fearful night of my birth. But I had to live up to the character I had given myself when Martin became my brother, and the one dread of my life was that, finding me as timid as other girls, he might want me no more.
We reached the sea by a little bay, called Murphy's Mouth, which had a mud cabin that stood back to the cliff and a small boat that was moored to a post on the shore. Both belonged to Tommy the Mate, who was a "widow man" living alone, and therefore there were none to see us when we launched the boat and set out on our voyage. It was then two o'clock in the afternoon, the sun was shining, and the tide, which was at the turn, was beginning to flow.
I had never been in a boat before, but I dared not say anything about that, and after Martin had fixed the bow oar for me and taken the stroke himself, I spluttered and plunged and made many blunders. I had never been on the sea either, and almost as soon as we shot clear of the shore and were lifted on to the big waves, I began to feel dizzy, and dropped my oar, with the result that it slipped through the rollocks and was washed away. Martin saw what had happened as we swung round to his rowing, but when I expected him to scold me, he only said:
"Never mind, shipmate! I was just thinking we would do better with one," and, shipping his own oar in the stern of the boat, he began to scull.
My throat was hurting me, and partly from shame and partly from fear, I now sat forward, with William Rufus on my lap, and said as little as possible. But Martin was in high spirits, and while his stout little body rolled to the rocking of the boat he whistled and sang and shouted messages to me over his shoulder.
"My gracious! Isn't this what you call ripping?" he cried, and though my teeth were chattering, I answered that it was.
"Some girls—Jimmy Christopher's sister and Nessy MacLeod and Betsy Beauty—would be frightened to come asploring, wouldn't they?"
"Wouldn't they?" I said, and I laughed, though I was trembling down to the soles of my shoes.
We must have been half an hour out, and the shore seemed so far away that Murphy's Mouth and Tommy's cabin and even the trees of the Big House looked like something I had seen through the wrong end of a telescope, when he turned his head, with a wild light in his eyes, and said:
"See the North Pole out yonder?"
"Don't I?" I answered, though I was such a practical little person, and had not an ounce of "dream" in me.
I knew quite well where he was going to. He was going to St. Mary's Rock, and of all the places on land or sea, it was the place I was most afraid of, being so big and frowning, an ugly black mass, standing twenty to thirty feet out of the water, draped like a coffin in a pall, with long fronds of sea-weed, and covered, save at high water, by a multitude of hungry sea-fowl.
A white cloud of the birds rose from their sleep as we approached, and wheeled and whistled and screamed and beat their wings over our heads. I wanted to scream too, but Martin said:
"My gracious, isn't this splendiferous?"
"Isn't it?" I answered, and, little hypocrite that I was, I began to sing.
I remember that I sang one of Tommy's sailor-songs, "Sally," because its jolly doggerel was set to such a jaunty tune—
"Oh Sally's the gel for me, Our Sally's the gel for me, I'll marry the gel that I love best When I come back from sea."
My pretence of happiness was shortlived, for at the next moment I made another mistake. Drawing up his boat to a ledge of the rock, and laying hold of our painter, Martin leapt ashore, and then held out his hand to me to follow him, but in fear of a big wave I held back when I ought to have jumped, and he was drenched from head to foot. I was ashamed, and thought he would have scolded me, but he only shook himself and said:
"That's nothing! We don't mind a bit of wet when we're out asploring."
My throat was hurting me again and I could not speak, but without waiting for me to answer he coiled the rope about my right arm, and told me to stay where I was, and hold fast to the boat, while he climbed the rock and took possession of it in the name of the king.
"Do or die we allus does that when we're out asploring," he said, and with his sack over his shoulder, his broom-handle in his hand and his little Union Jack sticking out of the hole in the crown of his hat, he clambered up the crag and disappeared over the top of it.
Being left alone, for the dog had followed him, my nervousness increased tenfold, and thinking at last that the rising tide was about to submerge the ledge on which I stood, I tried in my fright to climb the cliff. But hardly had I taken three steps when my foot slipped and I clutched the seaweed to save myself from falling, with the result that the boat's rope slid from my arm, and went rip-rip-ripping down the rock until it fell with a splash into the sea.
I saw what I had done, and I screamed, and then Martin's head appeared after a moment on the ledge above me. But it was too late for him to do anything, for the boat had already drifted six yards away, and just when I thought he would have shrieked at me for cutting off our only connection with the shore, he said:
"Never mind, shipmate! We allus expecs to lose a boat or two when we're out asploring."
I was silent from shame, but Martin, having hauled me up the rock by help of the broom handle, rattled away as if nothing had happened—pointing proudly to a rust-eaten triangle with a bell suspended inside of it and his little flag floating on top.
"But, oh dear, what are we to do now?" I whimpered.
"Don't you worrit about that," he said. "We'll just signal back to the next base—we call them bases when we're out asploring."
I understood from this that he was going to ring the bell which, being heard on the land, would bring somebody to our relief. But the bell was big, only meant to be put in motion on stormy nights by the shock and surging of an angry sea, and when Martin had tied a string to its tongue it was a feeble sound he struck from it.
Half an hour passed, an hour, two hours, and still I saw nothing on the water but our own empty boat rocking its way back to the shore.
"Will they ever come?" I faltered.
"Ra—ther! Just you wait and you'll see them coming. And when they take us ashore there'll be crowds and crowds with bugles and bands and things to take us home. My goodness, yes," he said, with the same wild look, "hundreds and tons of them!"
But the sun set over the sea behind us, the land in front grew dim, the moaning tide rose around the quaking rock and even the screaming sea-fowl deserted us, and still there was no sign of relief. My heart was quivering through my clothes by this time, but Martin, who had whistled and sung, began to talk about being hungry.
"My goodness yes, I'm that hungry I could eat. . . . I could eat a dog—we allus eats our dogs when we're out asploring."
This reminded me of the biscuit, but putting my hand to the pocket of my frock I found to my dismay that it was gone, having fallen out, perhaps, when I slipped in my climbing. My lip fell and I looked up at him with eyes of fear, but he only said:
"No matter! We never minds a bit of hungry when we're out asploring."
I did not know then, what now I know, that my little boy who could not learn his lessons and had always been in disgrace, was a born gentleman, but my throat was thick and my eyes were swimming and to hide my emotion I pretended to be ill.
"I know," said Martin. "Dizzingtory! [dysentery]. We allus has dizzingtory when we're out asploring."
There was one infallible cure for that, though—milk!
"I allus drinks a drink of milk, and away goes the dizzingtory in a jiffy."
This recalled the bottle, but when I twisted it round on my belt, hoping to make amends for the lost biscuit, I found to my confusion that it had suffered from the same misadventure, being cracked in the bottom, and every drop of the contents gone.
That was the last straw, and the tears leapt to my eyes, but Martin went on whistling and singing and ringing the big bell as if nothing had happened.
The darkness deepened, the breath of night came sweeping over the sea, the boom of the billows on the rock became still more terrible, and I began to shiver.
"The sack!" cried Martin. "We allus sleeps in sacks when we're out asploring."
I let him do what he liked with me now, but when he had packed me up in the sack, and put me to lie at the foot of the triangle, telling me I was as right as ninepence, I began to think of something I had read in a storybook, and half choking with sobs I said:
"What now, shipmate?"
"It's all my fault . . . and I'm just as frightened as Jimmy Christopher's sister and Nessy MacLeod and Betsy Beauty . . . and I'm not a stunner . . . and you'll have to give me up . . . and leave me here and save yourself and . . ."
But Martin stopped me with a shout and a crack of laughter.
"Not me! Not much! We never leaves a pal when we're out asploring. Long as we lives we never does it. Not never!"
That finished me. I blubbered like a baby, and William Rufus, who was sitting by my side, lifted his nose and joined in my howling.
What happened next I never rightly knew. I was only aware, though my back was to him, that Martin, impatient of his string, had leapt up to the bell and was swinging his little body from the tongue to make a louder clamour. One loud clang I heard, and then came a crash and a crack, and then silence.
"What is it?" I cried, but at first there was no answer.
"Have you hurt yourself?"
And then through the thunderous boom of the rising sea on the rock, came the breaking voice of my boy (he had broken his right arm) mingled with the sobs which his unconquered and unconquerable little soul was struggling to suppress—
"We never minds a bit of hurt . . . we never minds nothing when we're out asploring!"
Meantime on shore there was a great commotion. My father was railing at Aunt Bridget, who was upbraiding my mother, who was crying for Father Dan, who was flying off for Doctor Conrad, who was putting his horse into his gig and scouring the parish in search of the two lost children.
But Tommy the Mate, who remembered the conversation in the potting-shed and thought he heard the tinkle of a bell at sea, hurried off to the shore, where he found his boat bobbing on the beach, and thereby came to his own conclusions.
By the light of a lantern he pulled out to St. Mary's Rock, and there, guided by the howling of the dog, he came upon the great little explorers, hardly more than three feet above high water, lying together in the corn sack, locked in each other's arms and fast asleep.
There were no crowds and bands of music waiting for us when Tommy brought us ashore, and after leaving Martin with his broken limb in his mother's arms at the gate of Sunny Lodge, he took me over to the Presbytery in order that Father Dan might carry me home and so stand between me and my father's wrath and Aunt Bridget's birch.
Unhappily there was no need for this precaution. The Big House, when we reached it, was in great confusion. My mother had broken a blood vessel.
During the fortnight in which my mother was confined to bed I was her constant companion and attendant. With the mighty eagerness of a child who knew nothing of what the solemn time foreboded I flew about the house on tiptoe, fetching my mother's medicine and her milk and the ice to cool it, and always praising myself for my industry and thinking I was quite indispensable.
"You couldn't do without your little Mally, could you, mammy?" I would say, and my mother would smooth my hair lovingly with her thin white hand and answer:
"No, indeed, I couldn't do without my little Mally." And then my little bird-like beak would rise proudly in the air.
All this time I saw nothing of Martin, and only heard through Doctor Conrad in his conversations with my mother, that the boy's broken arm had been set, and that as soon as it was better, he was to be sent to King George's College, which was at the other end of Ellan. What was to be done with myself I never inquired, being so satisfied that my mother could not get on without me.
I was partly aware that big letters, bearing foreign postage-stamps and seals and coats of arms, with pictures of crosses and hearts, were coming to our house. I was also aware that at intervals, while my mother was in bed, there was the sound of voices, as if in eager and sometimes heated conference, in the room below, and that my mother would raise her pale face from her pillow and stop my chattering with "Hush!" when my father's voice was louder and sterner than usual. But it never occurred to me to connect these incidents with myself, until the afternoon of the day on which my mother got up for the first time.
She was sitting before the fire, for autumn was stealing on, and I was bustling about her, fixing the rug about her knees and telling her if she wanted anything she was to be sure and call her little Mally, when a timid knock came to the door and Father Dan entered the room. I can see his fair head and short figure still, and hear his soft Irish voice, as he stepped forward and said:
"Now don't worry, my daughter. Above all, don't worry."
By long experience my mother knew this for a sign of the dear Father's own perturbation, and I saw her lower lip tremble as she asked:
"Hadn't Mary better run down to the garden?"
"No! Oh no!" said Father Dan. "It is about Mary I come to speak, so our little pet may as well remain."
Then at a signal from my mother I went over to her and stood by her side, and she embraced my waist with a trembling arm, while the Father took a seat by her side, and, fumbling the little silver cross on his chain, delivered his message.
After long and anxious thought—and he might say prayer—it had been decided that I should be sent away to a Convent. It was to be a Convent of the Sacred Heart in Rome. He was to take me to Rome himself and see me safely settled there. And they (meaning my father and Aunt Bridget) had promised him—faithfully promised him—that when the holidays came round he should be sent to bring me home again. So there was nothing to fear, nothing to worry about, nothing to . . . to . . .
My mother listened as long as she could, and then—her beautiful white face distorted by pain—she broke in on the Father's message with a cry of protest.
"But she is so young! Such a child! Only seven years old! How can any one think of sending such a little one away from home?"
Father Dan tried to pacify her. It was true I was very young, but then the Reverend Mother was such a good woman. She would love me and care for me as if I were her own child. And then the good nuns, God bless their holy souls. . . .
"But Mary is all I have," cried my mother, "and if they take her away from me I shall be broken-hearted. At such a time too! How cruel they are! They know quite well what the doctor says. Can't they wait a little longer?"
I could see that Father Dan was arguing against himself, for his eyes filled as he said:
"It's hard, I know it's hard for you, my daughter. But perhaps it's best for the child that she should go away from home—perhaps it's all God's blessed and holy will. Remember there's a certain person here who isn't kind to our little innocent, and is making her a cause of trouble. Not that I think she is actuated by evil intentions. . . ."
"But she is, she is," cried my mother, who was growing more and more excited.
"Then all the more reason why Mary should go to the convent—for a time at all events."
My mother began to waver, and she said:
"Let her be sent to a Convent in the island then."
"I thought of that, but there isn't one," said Father Dan.
"Then . . . then . . . then take her to the Presbytery," said my mother. "Dear, dear Father," she pleaded, "let her live with you, and have somebody to teach her, and then she can come to see me every day, or twice a week, or even once a week—I am not unreasonable."
"It would be beautiful," said Father Dan, reaching over to touch my arm. "To have our little Mary in my dull old house would be like having the sun there always. But there are reasons why a young girl should not be brought up in the home of a priest, so it is better that our little precious should go to Rome."
My mother was breaking down and Father Dan followed up his advantage.
"Then wisha, my daughter, think what a good thing it will be for the child. She will be one of the children of the Infant Jesus first, then a child of Mary, and then of the Sacred heart itself. And then remember, Rome! The holy city! The city of the Holy Father! Why, who knows, she may even see himself some day!"
"Yes, yes, I know," said my mother, and then turning with her melting eyes to me she said:
"Would my Mary like to go—leaving her mamma but coming home in the holidays—would she?"
I was going to say I would not, because mamma could not possibly get on without me, but before I could reply Aunt Bridget, with her bunch of keys at her waist, came jingling into the room, and catching my mother's last words, said, in her harsh, high-pitched voice.
"Isabel! You astonish me! To defer to the will of a child! Such a child too! So stubborn and spoiled and self-willed! If we say it is good for her to go she must go!"
I could feel through my mother's arm, which was still about my waist, that she was trembling from head to foot, but at first she did not speak and Aunt Bridget, in her peremptory way, went on:
"We say it is good for you, too, Isabel, if she is not to hasten your death by preying on your nerves and causing you to break more blood vessels. So we are consulting your welfare as well as the girl's in sending her away."
My mother's timid soul could bear no more. I think it must have been the only moment of anger her gentle spirit ever knew, but, gathering all her strength, she turned upon Aunt Bridget in ungovernable excitement.
"Bridget," she said, "you are doing nothing of the kind. You know you are not. You are only trying to separate me from my child and my child from me. When you came to my house I thought you would be kinder to my child than a anybody else, but you have not been, you have been cruel to her, and shut your heart against her, and while I have been helpless here, and in bed, you have never shown her one moment of love and kindness. No, you have no feeling except for your own, and it never occurs to you that having brought your own child into my house you are trying to turn my child out of it."
"So that's how you look at it, is it?" said Aunt Bridget, with a flash of her cold grey eyes. "I thought I came to this house—your house as you call it—only out of the best intentions, just to spare you trouble when you were ill and unable, to attend to your duties as a wife. But because I correct your child when she is wilful and sly and wicked. . . ."
"Correct your own child, Bridget O'Neill!" cried my mother, "and leave mine to me. She's all I have and it isn't long I shall have her. You know quite well how much she has cost me, and that I haven't had a very happy married life, but instead of helping me with her father. . . ."
"Say no more," said Aunt Bridget, "we don't want you to hurt yourself again, and to allow this ill-conditioned child to be the cause of another hemorrhage."
"Bridget O'Neill," cried my mother, rising up from her chair, "you are a hard-hearted woman with a bad disposition. You know as well as I do that it wasn't Mary who made me ill, but you—you, who reproached me and taunted me about my child until my heart itself had to bleed. For seven years you have been doing that, and now you are disposing of my darling over my head without consulting me. Has a mother no rights in her own child—the child she has suffered for, and loved and lived for—that other people who care nothing for it should take it away from her and send it into a foreign country where she may never see it again? But you shall not do that! No, you shall not'! As long as there's breath in my body you shall not do it, and if you attempt. . . ."
In her wild excitement my mother had lifted one of her trembling hands into Aunt Bridget's face while the other was still clasped about me, when suddenly, with a look of fear on her face, she stopped speaking. She had heard a heavy step on the stairs. It was my father. He entered the room with his knotty forehead more compressed than usual and said:
"What's this she shall not do?"
My mother dropped back into her seat in silence, and Aunt Bridget, wiping' her eyes on her black apron—she only wept when my father was present—proceeded to explain.
It seems I am a hard-hearted woman with a bad disposition and though, I've been up early and late and made myself a servant for seven years I'm only in this house to turn my sister's child out of it. It seems too, that we have no business—none of us have—to say what ought to be done for this girl—her mother being the only person who has any rights in the child, and if we attempt . . ."
In his anger and impatience my father could listen no longer and in his loud voice he said:
"Since when has a father lost control of his own daughter? He has to provide for her, hasn't he? If she wants anything it's to him she has to look for it, isn't it? That's the law I guess, eh? Always has been, all the world over. Then what's all this hustling about?"
My mother made a feeble effort to answer him.
"I was only saying, Daniel . . ."
"You were saying something foolish and stupid. I reckon a man can do what he likes with his own, can't he? If this girl is my child and I say she is to go somewhere, she is to go." And saying this my father brought down his thick hand with a thump on to a table.
It was the first time he had laid claim to me, and perhaps that acted on my mother, as she said, submissively:
"Very well, dear. You know best what is best for Mary, and if you say—you and Bridget and . . . and Father Dan. . . ."
"I do say, and that's enough. So just go to work and fix up this Convent scheme without future notice. And hark here, let me see for the future if a man can't have peace from these two-cent trifles for his important business."
My mother was crushed. Her lips moved again, but she said nothing aloud, and my father turned on his heel, and left the room, shaking the floor at every step under the weight of his sixteen stone. At the next moment, Aunt Bridget, jingling her keys, went tripping after him.
Hardly had they gone when my mother broke into a long fit of coughing, and when it was over she lay back exhausted, with her white face and her tired eyes turned upwards. Then I clasped her about the neck, and Father Dan, whose cheeks were wet with tears patted her drooping hand.
My darling mother! Never once have I thought of her without the greatest affection, but now that I know for myself what she must have suffered I love best to think of her as she was that day—my sweet, beautiful, timid angel—standing up for one brief moment, not only against Aunt Bridget, but against the cruelty of all the ages, in the divine right of her outraged motherhood.
My mother's submission was complete. Within twenty-four hours she was busy preparing clothes for my journey to Rome. The old coloured pattern book was brought out again, material was sent for, a sewing-maid was engaged from the village, and above all, in my view, an order was dispatched to Blackwater for a small squirrel-skin scarf, a large squirrel-skin muff, and a close-fitting squirrel-skin hat with a feather on the side of it.
A child's heart is a running brook, and it would wrong the truth to say that I grieved much in the midst of these busy preparations. On the contrary I felt a sort of pride in them, poor innocent that I was, as in something that gave me a certain high superiority over Betsy Beauty and Nessy MacLeod, and entitled me to treat them with condescension.
Father Dan, who came more frequently than ever, fostered this feeling without intending to do so, by telling me, whenever we were alone, that I must be a good girl to everybody now, and especially to my mother.
"My little woman would be sorry to worry mamma, wouldn't she?" he would whisper, and when I answered that I would be sorrier than sorry, he would say:
"Wisha then, she must be brave. She must keep up. She must not grieve about going away or cry when the time comes for parting."
I said "yes" and "yes" to all this, feeling very confidential and courageous, but I dare say the good Father gave the same counsel to my mother also, for she and I had many games of make-believe, I remember, in which we laughed and chattered and sang, though I do not think I ever suspected that the part we played was easier to me than to her.
It dawned on me at last, though, when in the middle of the night, near to the time of my going away, I was awakened by a bad fit of my mother's coughing, and heard her say to herself in the deep breathing that followed:
"My poor child! What is to become of her?"
Nevertheless all went well down to the day of my departure. It had been arranged that I was to sail to Liverpool by the first of the two daily steamers, and without any awakening I leapt out of bed at the first sign of daylight. So great was my delight that I began to dance in my nightdress to an invisible skipping rope, forgetting my father, who always rose at dawn and was at breakfast in the room below.
My mother and I breakfasted in bed, and then there was great commotion. It chiefly consisted for me in putting on my new clothes, including my furs, and then turning round and round on tiptoe and smiling at myself in a mirror. I was doing this while my mother was telling me to write to her as often as I was allowed, and while she knelt at her prayer stool, which she used as a desk, to make a copy of the address for my letters.