The way before him was plain enough, yet his uncles apathy and constitutional infirmity of purpose seemed at times to thwart him. Some two or three days ago, he had come running down from Kilmore with the news that a baby had been born out of wedlock, and Father Stafford had shown no desire that his curate should denounce the girl from the altar.
The greatest saints, he said, have been kind, and have found excuses for the sins of others.
And a few days later, when Father Maguire told his uncle that the Salvationists had come to Kilmore, and that he had walked up the village street and slit their drum with a carving knife, his uncle had not approved of his conduct, and what had especially annoyed Father Tom was that his uncle seemed to deplore the slitting of the drum in the same way as he deplored that the Kavanaghs had a barrel of porter in every Saturday, namely, as one of those regrettable excesses to which human nature is liable. On being pressed he had agreed with his nephew that dancing and drinking were no preparation for the Sabbath, but he would not agree that evil could be suppressed by force. He had even hinted that too strict a rule brought about a revolt against the rule, and when Father Tom had expressed his disbelief at any revolt against the authority of the priest, Father Stafford said: —
They may just leave you, they may just go to America.
Then you think that it is our condemnation of sin that is driving the people to America.
My dear Tom, you told me the other day that you met a lad and a lass walking along the roadside, and that you drove them home. You told me you were sure they were talking about things they should not talk about; you have no right to assume these things. Youre asking of the people an abstinence you dont practice yourself. Sometimes your friends are women.
Yes. But —
Father Toms anger prevented him from finding an adequate argument. Father Stafford pushed the tobacco bowl towards his nephew.
Youre not smoking, Tom.
Your point is that a certain amount of vice is inherent in human nature, and that if we raise the standard of virtuous living our people will escape from us to New York or London.
The sexes mix freely everywhere in western Europe; only in Ireland and Turkey is there any attempt made to separate them.
Later in the evening Father Tom insisted that the measure of responsibility was always the same.
I should be sorry, said his uncle, to say that those who inherit drunkenness bear the same burden of responsibility as those who come of parents who are quite sane —
You cannot deny, uncle John, that free will and predestination —
My dear Tom, I really must go to bed. It is after midnight.
As he walked home, Father Maguire thought of the great change he perceived in his uncle. Father Stafford liked to go to bed at eleven, the very name of St. Thomas seemed to bore him; fifteen years ago he would sit up till morning. Father Maguire remembered the theological debates, sometimes prolonged till after three oclock, and the passionate scholiast of Maynooth seemed to him unrecognisable in the esurient Vicar-General, only occasionally interested in theology, at certain hours and when he felt particularly well. He could not reconcile the two ages, his mind not being sufficiently acute to see that after all no one can discuss theology for more than five-and-twenty years without wearying of the subject.
The moon was shining among the hills and the mystery of the landscape seemed to aggravate his sensibility, and he asked himself if the guardians of the people should not fling themselves into the forefront of the battle. Men came to preach heresy in his parish — was he not justified in slitting their drum?
He had recourse to prayer, and he prayed for strength and for guidance. He had accepted the Church, and in the Church he saw only apathy, neglect, and bad administration on the part of his superiors… . He had read that great virtues are, like large sums of money, deposited in the bank, whereas humility is like the pence, always at hand, always current. Obedience to our superiors is the sure path. He could not persuade himself that it was right for him to allow the Kavanaghs to continue a dissolute life of drinking and dancing. They were the talk of the parish; and he would have spoken against them from the altar, but his uncle had advised him not to do so. Perhaps his uncle was right; he might be right regarding the Kavanaghs. In the main he disagreed with his uncle, but in this particular instance it might be well to wait and pray that matters might improve.
Father Tom believed Ned Kavanagh to be a good boy. Ned was going to marry Mary Byrne, and Father Tom had made up this marriage. The Byrnes did not care for the marriage — they were prejudiced against Ned on account of his family. But he was not going to allow them to break off the marriage. He was sure of Ned, but in order to make quite sure he would get him to take the pledge. Next morning when the priest had done his breakfast, and was about to unfold his newspaper, his servant opened the door, and told him that Ned Kavanagh was outside and wanted to see him.
It was a pleasure to look at this nice, clean boy, with his winning smile, and the priest thought that Mary could not wish for a better husband. Neds smile seemed a little fainter than usual, and his face was paler; the priest wondered, and presently Ned told the priest that he had come to confession, and going down on his knees, he told the priest that he had been drunk last Saturday night, and that he had come to take the pledge. He would never do any good while he was at home, and one of the reasons he gave for wishing to marry Mary Byrne was his desire to leave home. The priest asked him if matters were mending, and if his sister showed any signs of wishing to be married.
Sorra sign, said Ned.
Thats bad news youre bringing me, said the priest, and he walked up and down the room, and they talked over Kates wilful character.
From the beginning she did not like living at home, said the priest.
I dont care about living at home, said Ned.
But for a different reason, remarked the priest. You want to leave home to get married, and have a wife and children, if God is pleased to give you children.
Kate had been in numerous services, and the priest sat thinking of the stories he had heard. He had heard that Kate had come back from her last situation in a cab, wrapped up in blankets, saying she was ill. On inquiry it was found that she had only been three or four days in her situation; three weeks had to be accounted for. He had questioned her himself regarding this interval, but had not been able to get any clear and definite answer from her.
She and mother never stop quarrelling about Pat Connex.
It appears, said the priest, that your mother went out with a jug of porter under her apron, and offered a sup of it to Pat Connex, who was talking with Peter MShane, and now he is up at your cabin every Saturday.
Thats it, said Ned.
Mrs. Connex was here the other day, and I can tell you that if Pat marries your sister he will find himself cut off with a shilling.
Shes been agin us all the while, said Ned. Her money has made her proud, but I dont blame her. If I had the fine house she has, maybe I would be as proud as she.
Maybe you would, said the priest. But what I am thinking of is your sister Kate. She will never get Pat Connex. Pat will never go against his mother.
Well, you see he comes up and plays the melodion on Saturday night, said Ned, and she cant stop him from doing that.
Then you think, said the priest, that Pat will marry your sister?
I dont think she wants to marry him.
If she doesnt want to marry him, whats all this talk about?
She likes to meet Pat in the evenings and go for a walk with him, and she likes him to put his arm round her waist and kiss her, saving your reverences pardon.
It is strange that you should be so unlike. You come here and ask me to speak to Mary Byrnes parents for you, and that Ill do, Ned, and it will be all right. You will make a good husband, and though you were drunk last night, you have taken the pledge to-day, and I will make a good marriage for Kate, too, if shell listen to me.
And who may your reverence be thinking of?
Im thinking of Peter MShane. He gets as much as six shillings a week and his keep on Murphys farm, and his mother has got a bit of money, and they have a nice, clean cabin. Now listen to me. There is a poultry lecture at the school-house to-night. Do you think you could bring your sister with you?
We used to keep a great many hens at home, and Kate had the feeding of them, and now shes turned agin them, and she wants to live in town, and she even tells Pat Connex she would not marry a farmer, however much he was worth.
But if you tell her that Pat Connex will be at the lecture will she come?
Yes, your reverence, if she believes me.
Then do as I bid you, said the priest; you can tell her that Pat Connex will be there.
After leaving the priest Ned crossed over the road to avoid the public-house. He went for a walk on the hills, and it was about five when he turned towards the village. On his way there he met his father, and Ned told him that he had been to see the priest, and that he was going to take Mary to the lecture.
Michael Kavanagh wished his son God-speed. He was very tired; and he thought it was pretty hard to come home after a long days work to find his wife and daughter quarrelling.
I am sorry your dinner is not ready, father, but it wont be long now. Ill cut the bacon.
I met Ned on the road, said her father. He has gone to fetch Mary. He is going to take her to the lecture on poultry-keeping at the school-house.
Ah, he has been to the priest, has he? said Kate, and her mother asked her why she said that, and the wrangle began again.
Ned was the peacemaker; there was generally quiet in the cabin when he was there. He came in with Mary, a small, fair girl, and a good girl, who would keep his cabin tidy. His mother and sisters were broad-shouldered women with blue-black hair and red cheeks, and it was said that he had said he would like to bring a little fair hair into the family.
Weve just come in for a minute, said Mary. Ned said that perhaps youd be coming with us.
All the boys in the village will be there to-night, said Ned. You had better come with us. And pretending he wanted to get a coal of fire to light his pipe, Ned whispered to Kate as he passed her, Pat Connex will be there.
She looked at the striped sunshade she has brought back from the dressmakers — she had once been apprenticed to a dressmaker — but Ned said that a storm was blowing and she had better leave the sunshade behind.
The rain beat in their faces and the wind came sweeping down the mountain and made them stagger. Sometimes the road went straight on, sometimes it turned suddenly and went up-hill. After walking for a mile they came to the school-house. A number of men were waiting outside, and one of the boys told them that the priest had said they were to keep a look out for the lecturer, and Ned said that he had better stay with them, that his lantern would be useful to show her the way. They went into a long, smoky room. The women had collected into one corner, and the priest was walking up and down, his hands thrust into the pockets of his overcoat. Now he stopped in his walk to scold two children who were trying to light a peat fire in a tumbled down grate.
Dont be tired, go on blowing, he said. You are the laziest child I have seen this long while.
Ned came in and blew out his lantern, but the lady he had mistaken for the lecturer was a lady who had come to live in the neighbourhood lately, and the priest said: —
You must be very much interested in poultry, maam, to come out on such a night as this.
The lady stood shaking her waterproof.
Now, then, Lizzie, run to your mother and get the lady a chair.
And when the child came back with the chair, and the lady was seated by the fire, he said: —
Im thinking there will be no lecturer here to-night, and that it would be kind of you if you were to give the lecture yourself. You have read some books about poultry, I am sure?
Well, a little — but —
Oh, that doesnt matter, said the priest. Im sure the book you have read is full of instruction.
He walked up the room towards a group of men and told them they must cease talking, and coming back to the young woman, he said: —
We shall be much obliged if you will say a few words about poultry. Just say what you have in your mind about the different breeds.
The young woman again protested, but the priest said: —
You will do it very nicely. And he spoke like one who is not accustomed to being disobeyed. We will give the lecturer five minutes more.
Is there no farmers wife who could speak, the young lady said in a fluttering voice. She would know much more than I. I see Biddy MHale there. She has done very well with her poultry.
I daresay she has, said the priest, but the people would pay no attention to her. She is one of themselves. It would be no amusement to them to hear her.
The young lady asked if she might have five minutes to scribble a few notes. The priest said he would wait a few minutes, but it did not matter much what she said.
But couldnt some one dance or sing, said the young lady.
Dancing and singing! said the priest. No!
And the young lady hurriedly scribbled a few notes about fowls for laying, fowls for fattening, regular feeding, warm houses, and something about a percentage of mineral matter. She had not half finished when the priest said: —
Now will you stand over there near the harmonium. Whom shall I announce?
The young woman told him her name, and he led her to the harmonium and left her talking, addressing most of her instruction to Biddy MHale, a long, thin, pale-faced woman, with wistful eyes.
This wont do, said the priest, interrupting the lecturer, — Im not speaking to you, miss, but to my people. I dont see one of you taking notes, not even you, Biddy MHale, though you have made a fortune out of your hins. Didnt I tell you from the pulpit that you were to bring pencil and paper and write down all you heard. If you had known years ago all this young lady is going to tell you you would be rolling in your carriages to-day.
Then the priest asked the lecturer to go on, and the lady explained that to get hens to lay about Christmas time, when eggs fetched the best price, you must bring on your pullets early.
You must, she said, set your eggs in January.
You hear that, said the priest. Is there anyone who has got anything to say about that? Why is it that you dont set your eggs in January?
No one answered, and the lecturer went on to tell of the advantages that would come to the poultry-keeper whose eggs were hatched in December.
As she said this, the priests eyes fell upon Biddy MHale, and, seeing that she was smiling, he asked her if there was any reason why eggs could not be hatched in the beginning of January.
Now, Biddy, you must know all about this, and I insist on your telling us. We are here to learn.
Biddy did not answer.
Then what were you smiling at?
I wasnt smiling, your reverence.
Yes; I saw you smiling. Is it because you think there isnt a brooding hin in January?
It had not occurred to the lecturer that hens might not be brooding so early in the year, and she waited anxiously. At last Biddy said: —
Well, your reverence, it isnt because there are no hins brooding. Youll get brooding hins at every time in the year; but, you see, you cant rear chickens earlier than March. The end of February is the earliest I have ever seen. But, of course, if you could rear them in January, all that the young lady said would be quite right. I have nothing to say agin it. I have no fault to find with anything she says, your reverence.
Only that it cant be done. said the priest. Well, you ought to know, Biddy.
The villagers were laughing.
That will do, said the priest. I dont mind your having a bit of amusement, but youre here to learn.
And as he looked round the room, quieting the villagers into silence, his eyes fell on Kate. Thats all right, he thought, and he looked for the others, and spied Pat Connex and Peter MShane near the door. Theyre here, too, he thought. When the lecture is over I will see them and bring them all together. Kate Kavanagh wont go home until she promises to marry Peter. I have had enough of her goings on in my parish.
But Kate had caught sight of Peter. She would get no walk home with Pat that night, and she suspected her brother of having done this for a purpose. She got up to go.
I dont want anyone to leave this room, said the priest. Kate Kavanagh, why are you going? Sit down till the lecture is over.
And as Kate had not strength to defy the priest she sat down, and the lecturer continued for a little while longer. The priest could see that the lecturer had said nearly all she had to say, and he had begun to wonder how the evenings amusement was to be prolonged. It would not do to let the people go home until Michael Dunne had closed his public-house, and the priest looked round the audience thinking which one he might call upon to say a few words on the subject of poultry-keeping.
From one of the back rows a voice was heard: —
What about the pump, your reverence?
Well, indeed, you may ask, said the priest.
And immediately he began to speak of the wrong they had suffered by not having a pump in the village. The fact that Almighty God had endowed Kilmore with a hundred mountain streams did not release the authorities from the obligation of supplying the village with a pump. Had not the authorities put up one in the neighbouring village?
You should come out, he said, and fight for your rights. You should take off your coats like men, and if you do Ill see that you get your rights, and he looked round for someone to speak.
There was a landlord among the audience, and as he was a Catholic the priest called upon him to speak. He said that he agreed with the priest in the main. They should have their pump, if they wanted a pump; if they didnt, he would suggest that they asked for something else. Farmer Byrne said he did not want a pump, and then everyone spoke his mind, and things got mixed. The Catholic landlord regretted that Father Maguire was against allowing a poultry-yard to the patients in the lunatic asylum. If, instead of supplying a pump, the Government would sell them eggs for hatching at a low price, something might be gained. If the Government would not do this, the Government might be induced to supply books on poultry free of charge. It took the Catholic landlord half an hour to express his ideas regarding the asylum, the pump, and the duties of the Government, and in this way the priest succeeded in delaying the departure of the audience till after closing time. However fast they walk, he said to himself, they wont get to Michael Dunnes public-house in ten minutes, and he will be shut by then. It devolved upon him to bring the evenings amusement to a close with a few remarks, and he said: —
Now, the last words I have to say to you Ill address to the women. Now listen to me. If you pay more attention to your poultry youll never be short of half a sovereign to lend your husbands, your sons, or your brothers.
These last words produced an approving shuffling of feet in one corner of the room, and seeing that nothing more was going to happen, the villagers got up and they went out very slowly, the women curtseying and the men lifting their caps to the priest as they passed him.
He had signed to Ned and Mary that he wished to speak to them, and after he had spoken to Ned he called Kate and reminded her that he had not seen her at confession lately.
Pat Connex and Peter MShane, now dont you be going. I will have a word with you presently. And while Kate tried to find an excuse to account for her absence from confession, the priest called to Ned and Mary, who were talking at a little distance. He told them he would be waiting for them in church tomorrow, and he said he had never made a marriage that gave him more pleasure. He alluded to the fact that they had come to him. He was responsible for this match, and he accepted the responsibility gladly. His uncle, the Vicar-General, had delegated all the work of the parish to him.
Father Stafford, he said abruptly, will be very glad to hear of your marriage, Kate Kavanagh.
My marriage, said Kate … . I dont think I shall ever be married.
Now, why do you say that? said the priest. Kate did not know why she had said that she would never be married. However, she had to give some reason, and she said: —
I dont think, your reverence, anyone would have me.
You are not speaking your mind, said the priest, a little sternly. It is said that you dont want to be married, that you like courting better.
Id like to be married well enough, said Kate.
Those who wish to make safe, reliable marriages consult their parents and they consult the priest. I have made your brothers marriage for him. Why dont you come to me and ask me to make up a marriage for you?
I think a girl should make her own marriage, your reverence.
And what way do you go about making up a marriage? Walking about the roads in the evening, and going into public-houses, and leaving your situations. It seems to me, Kate Kavanagh, you have been a long time making up this marriage.
Now, Pat Connex, Ive got a word with you. Youre a good boy, and I know you dont mean any harm by it; but I have been hearing tales about you. Youve been up to Dublin with Kate Kavanagh. Your mother came up to speak to me about this matter yesterday, and she said: Not a penny of my money will he ever get if he marries her, meaning the girl before you. Your mother said; Ive got nothing to say against her, but Ive got a right to choose my own daughter-in-law. These are your mothers very words, Pat, so you had better listen to reason. Do you hear me, Kate?
I hear your reverence.
And if you hear me, what have you got to say to that?
Hes free to go after the girl he chooses, your reverence, said Kate.
Theres been courting enough, the priest said. If you arent going to be married you must give up keeping company. I see Paddy Boyle outside the door. Go home with him. Do you hear what Im saying, Pat? Go straight home, and no stopping about the roads. Just do as I bid you; go straight home to your mother.
Pat did not move at the bidding of the priest. He stood watching Kate as if he were waiting for a sign from her, but Kate did not look at him.
Do you hear what Im saying to you? said the priest.
Yes, I hear, said Pat.
And arent you going? said the priest.
Everyone was afraid Pat would raise his hand against the priest, and they looked such strong men, both of them, that everyone wondered which would get the better of the other.
You wont go home when I tell you to do so. We will see if I cant put you out of the door then.
If you werent a priest, said Pat, the devil a bit of you would put me out of the door.
If I werent a priest I would break every bone in your body for talking to me like that. Now out you go, he said, taking him by the collar, and he put him out.
And now, Kate Kavanagh, said the priest, coming back from the door, you said you didnt marry because no man would have you. Peter has been waiting for you ever since you were a girl of sixteen years old, and I may say it for him, since he doesnt say much himself, that you have nearly broken his heart.
Im sure I never meant it. I like Peter.
You acted out of recklessness without knowing what you were doing.
A continual smile floated round Peters moustache, and he looked like a man to whom rebuffs made no difference. His eyes were patient and docile; and whether it was the presence of this great and true love by her side, or whether it was the presence of the priest, Kate did not know, but a great change came over her, and she said: —
I know that Peter has been very good, that he has cared for me this long while … . If he wishes to make me his wife —
When Kate gave him her hand there was a mist in his eyes, and he stood trembling before her.
Next morning, as Father Maguire was leaving the house, his servant handed him a letter. It was from an architect who had been down to examine the walls of the church. The envelope that Father Maguire was tearing open contained his report, and Father Maguire read that it would require two hundred pounds to make the walls secure. Father Maguire was going round to the church to marry Mary Byrne and Ned Kavanagh, and he continued to read the report until he arrived at the church. The wedding party was waiting, but the architects report was much more important than a wedding, and he wandered round the old walls examining the cracks as he went. He could see they were crumbling, and he believed the architect was right, and that it would be better to build a new church. But to build a new church three or four thousand pounds would be required, and the architect might as well suggest that he should collect three or four millions.
And Ned and Mary noticed the dark look between the priests eyes as he came out of the sacristy, and Ned regretted that his reverence should be out of his humour that morning, for he had spent three out of the five pounds he had saved to pay the priest for marrying him. He had cherished hopes that the priest would understand that he had had to buy some new clothes, but the priest looked so cross that it was with difficulty he summoned courage to tell him that he had only two pounds left.
I want two hundred pounds to make the walls of the church safe. Where is the money to come from? All the money in Kilmore goes into drink, he added bitterly, into blue trousers. No, I wont marry you for two pounds. I wont marry you for less than five. I will marry you for nothing or I will marry you for five pounds, he added, and Ned looked round the wedding guests; he knew that none had five shillings in his pocket, and he did not dare to take the priest at his word and let him marry him for nothing.
Father Maguire felt that his temper had got the better of him, but it was too late to go back on what he said. Marry them for two pounds with the architects letter in the pocket of his cassock! And if he were to accept two pounds, who would pay five to be married? If he did not stand out for his dues the marriage fee would be reduced from five pounds to one pound … And if he accepted Neds two pounds his authority would be weakened; he would not be able to get them to subscribe to have the church made safe. On the whole he thought he had done right, and his servant was of the same opinion.
Theyd have the cassock off your back, your reverence, if they could get it.
And the architect writing to me that the walls cant be made safe under two hundred pounds, and the whole lot of them not earning less than thirty shillings a week, and they cant pay the priest five pounds for marrying them.
In the course of the day he went to Dublin to see the architect; and next morning it occurred to him that he might have to go to America to get the money to build a new church, and as he sat thinking the door was opened and the servant said that Biddy MHale wanted to see his reverence.
She came in curtseying, and before saying a word she took ten sovereigns out of her pocket and put them upon the table. The priest thought she had heard of the architects report, and he said: —
Now, Biddy, I am glad to see you. I suppose you have brought me this for my church. You have heard of the money it will cost to make the walls safe.
No, your reverence, I did not hear any more than that there were cracks in the walls.
But you have brought me this money to have the cracks mended?
Well, no, your reverence. I have been thinking a long time of doing something for the church, and I thought I should like to have a window put up in the church with coloured glass in it.
Father Maguire was touched by Biddys desire to do something for the church, and he thought he would have no difficulty in persuading her. He could get this money for the repairs, and he told her that her name would be put on the top of the subscription list.
A subscription from Miss MHale — L10. A subscription from Miss MHale.
Biddy did not answer, and the priest could see that it would give her no pleasure whatever to subscribe to mending the walls of his church, and it annoyed him to see her sitting in his own chair stretching out her hands to take the money back. He could see that her wish to benefit the church was merely a pretext for the glorification of herself, and the priest began to argue with the old woman. But he might have spared himself the trouble of explaining that it was necessary to have a new church before you could have a window. She understood well enough it was useless to put a window up in a church that was going to fall down. But her idea still was St. Joseph in a red cloak and the Virgin in blue with a crown of gold on her head, and forgetful of everything else, she asked him whether her window in the new church should be put over the high altar, or if it should be a window lighting a side altar.
But, my good woman, ten pounds will not pay for a window. You couldnt get anything to speak of in the way of a window for less than fifty pounds.
He had expected to astonish Biddy, but she did not seem astonished. She said that although fifty pounds was a great deal of money she would not mind spending all that money if she were to have her window all to herself. She had thought at first of only putting in part of the window, a round piece at the top of the window, and she had thought that that could be bought for ten pounds. The priest could see that she had been thinking a good deal of this window, and she seemed to know more about it than he expected. It is extraordinary, he said to himself, how a desire of immortality persecutes these second-class souls. A desire of temporal immortality, he said, fearing he had been guilty of a heresy.
If I could have the whole window to myself, I would give you fifty pounds, your reverence.
The priest had no idea she had saved as much money as that.
The hins have been very good to me, your reverence, and I would like to put up the window in the new church better than in the old church.
But Ive got no money, my good woman, to build the church.
Ah, wont your reverence go to America and get the money. Arent our own kith and kin over there, and arent they always willing to give us money for our churches.
The priest spoke to her about statues, and suggested that perhaps a statue would be a more permanent gift, but the old woman knew that stained glass was more permanent, and that it could be secured from breakage by means of wire netting.
Do you know, Biddy, it will require three or four thousand pounds to build a new church. If I go to America and do my best to get the money, how much will you help me with?
Does your reverence mean for the window?
No, Biddy, I was thinking of the church itself.
And Biddy said that she would give him five pounds to help to build the church and fifty pounds for her window, and, she added, If the best gilding and paint costs a little more I would be sorry to see the church short.
Well, you say, Biddy, you will give five pounds towards the church. Now, let us think how much money I could get in this parish.
He had a taste for gossip, and he liked to hear everyones domestic details. She began by telling him she had met Kate Kavanagh on the road, and Kate had told her that there had been great dancing last night.
But there was no wedding, said the priest.
I only know, your reverence, what Kate Kavanagh told me. There had been great dancing last night. The supper was ordered at Michael Dunnes, and the cars were ordered, and they went to Enniskerry and back.
But Michael Dunne would not dare to serve supper to people who were not married, said the priest.
The supper had been ordered, and they would have to pay for it whether they ate it or not. There was a pigs head, and the cake cost eighteen shillings, and it was iced.
Never mind the food, said the priest, tell me what happened.
Kate said that after coming back from Enniskerry, Michael Dunne said: Is this the wedding party? and that Ned jumped off the car, and said: To be sure. Amnt I the wedded man. And they had half a barrel of porter.
Never mind the drink, said the priest, what then?
There was dancing first and fighting after. Pat Connex and Peter MShane were both there. You know Pat plays the melodion, and he asked Peter to sing, and Peter cant sing a bit, and he was laughed at. So he grabbed a bit of stick and hit Pat on the head, and hit him badly, too. I hear the doctor had to be sent for.
That is always the end of their dancing and drinking, said the priest. And what happened then, what happened? After that they went home?
Yes, your reverence, they went home.
Mary Byrne went home with her own people, I suppose, and Ned went back to his home.
I dont know, your reverence, what they did.
Well, what else did Kate Kavanagh tell you?
She had just left her brother and Mary, and they were going towards the Peak. That is what Kate told me when I met her on the road.
Mary Byrne would not go to live with a man to whom she was not married. But you told me that Kate said she had just left Mary Byrne and her brother.
Yes, they were just coming out of the cabin, said Biddy. She passed them on the road.
Out of whose cabin? said the priest.
Out of Neds cabin. I know it must have been out of Neds cabin, because she said she met them at the cross roads.
He questioned the old woman, but she grew less and less explicit.
I dont like to think this of Mary Byrne, but after so much dancing and drinking, it is impossible to say what might not have happened.
I suppose they forgot your reverence didnt marry them.
Forgot! said the priest. A sin has been committed, and through my fault.
They will come to your reverence to-morrow when they are feeling a little better.
The priest did not answer, and Biddy said: —
Am I to take away my money, or will your reverence keep it for the stained glass window.
The church is tumbling down, and before it is built up you want me to put up statues.
Id like a window as well or better.
Ive got other things to think of now.
Your reverence is very busy. If I had known it I would not have come disturbing you. But Ill take my money with me.
Yes, take your money, he said. Go home quietly, and say nothing about what you have told me. I must think over what is best to be done.
Biddy hurried away gathering her shawl about her, and this great strong man who had taken Pat Connex by the collar and could have thrown him out of the school-room, fell on his knees and prayed that God might forgive him the avarice and anger that had caused him to refuse to marry Ned Kavanagh and Mary Byrne.
Oh! my God, oh! my God, he said, Thou knowest that it was not for myself that I wanted the money, it was to build up Thine Own House.
He remembered that his uncle had warned him again and again aginst the sin of anger. He had thought lightly of his uncles counsels, and he had not practised the virtue of humility, which, as St. Teresa said, was the surest virtue to seek in this treacherous world.
Oh, my God, give me strength to conquer anger.
The servant opened the door, but seeing the priest upon his knees, she closed it quietly, and the priest prayed that if sin had been committed he might bear the punishment.
And on rising from his knees he felt that his duty was to seek out the sinful couple. But how to speak to them of their sins? The sin was not theirs. He was the original wrong-doer. If Ned Kavanagh and Mary Byrne were to die and lose their immortal souls, how could the man who had been the cause of the loss of two immortal souls, save his own, and the consequences of his refusal to marry Ned Kavanagh and Mary Byrne seemed to reach to the very ends of Eternity.
He walked to his uncles with great swift steps, hardly seeing his parishioners as he passed them on the road.
Is Father Stafford in?
Yes, your reverence.
Uncle John, I have come to consult you.
The priest sat huddled in his arm-chair over the fire, and Father Maguire noticed that his cassock was covered with snuff, and he noticed the fringe of reddish hair about the great bald head, and he noticed the fat inert hands. And he noticed these things more explicitly than he had ever noticed them before, and he wondered why he noticed them so explicitly, for his mind was intent on a matter of great spiritual importance.
I have come to ask you, Father Tom said, regarding the blame attaching to a priest who refuses to marry a young man and a young woman, there being no impediment of consanguinity or other.
But have you refused to marry anyone because they couldnt pay you your dues?
Listen, the church is falling.
My dear Tom, you should not have refused to marry them, he said, as soon as his soul-stricken curate had laid the matter before him.
Nothing can justify my action in refusing to marry them, said Father Tom, nothing. Uncle John, I know that you can extenuate, that you are kind, but I do not see it is possible to look at it from any other side.
My dear Tom, you are not sure they remained together; the only knowledge you have of the circumstances you obtained from that old woman, Biddy MHale, who cannot tell a story properly. An old gossip, who manufactures stories out of the slightest materials … but who sells excellent eggs; her eggs are always fresh. I had two this morning.
Uncle John, I did not come here to be laughed at.
I am not laughing at you, my dear Tom; but really you know very little about this matter.
I know well enough that they remained together last night. I examined the old woman carefully, and she had just met Kate Kavanagh on the road. There can be no doubt about it, he said.
But, said Father John, they intended to be married; the intention was there.
Yes, but the intention is no use. We are not living in a country where the edicts of the Council of Trent have not been promulgated.
Thats true, said Father John. But how can I help you? What am I to do?
Are you feeling well enough for a walk this morning? Could you come up to Kilmore?
But it is two miles — I really —
The walk will do you good. If you do this for me, Uncle John —
My dear Tom, I am, as you say, not feeling very well this morning, but —
He looked at his nephew, and seeing that he was suffering, he said: —
I know what these scruples of conscience are; they are worse than physical suffering.
But before he decided to go with his nephew to seek the sinners out, he could not help reading him a little lecture.
I dont feel as sure as you do that a sin has been committed, but admitting that a sin has been committed, I think you ought to admit that you set your face against the pleasure of these poor people too resolutely.
Pleasure, said Father Tom. Drinking and dancing, hugging and kissing each other about the lanes.
You said dancing — now, I can see no harm in it.
There is no harm in dancing, but it leads to harm. If they only went back with their parents after the dance, but they linger in the lanes.
It was raining the other night, and I felt sorry, and I said, Well, the boys and girls will have to stop at home to-night, there will be no courting to-night. If you do not let them walk about the lanes and make their own marriages, they marry for money. These walks at eventide represent all the aspiration that may come into their lives. After they get married, the work of the world grinds all the poetry out of them.
Walking under the moon, said Father Tom, with their arms round each others waists, sitting for hours saying stupid things to each other — that isnt my idea of poetry. The Irish find poetry in other things except sex.
Mankind, said Father John, is the same all the world over. The Irish are not different from other races; do not think it. Woman represents all the poetry that the ordinary man is capable of appreciating.
And what about ourselves?
We are different. We have put this interest aside. I have never regretted it, and you have not regretted it either.
Celibacy has never been a trouble to me.
But, Tom, your own temperament should not prevent you from sympathy with others. You are not the whole of human nature; you should try to get a little outside yourself.
Can one ever do this? said Father Tom.
Well, you see what a difficulty your narrow-mindedness has brought you into.
I know all that, said Father Tom. It is no use insisting upon it. Now will you come with me? They must be married this morning. Will you come with me? I want you to talk to them. You are kinder than I am. You sympathise with them more than I do, and it wasnt you who refused to marry them.
Father John got out of his arm-chair and staggered about the room on his short fat legs, trying to find his hat. Father Tom said: —
Here it is. You dont want your umbrella. Theres no sign of rain.
No, said his uncle, but it will be very hot presently. My dear Tom, I cant walk fast.
I am sorry, I didnt know I was walking fast.
You are walking at the rate of four miles an hour at the least.
I am sorry, I will walk slower.
At the cross rods inquiry was made, and the priests were told that the cabin Ned Kavanagh had taken was the last one.
Thats just another half-mile, remarked Father John.
If we dont hasten we shall be late.
We might rest here, said Father John, for a moment, and he leaned against a gate. My dear Tom, it seems to me youre agitating yourself a little unnecessarily about Ned Kavanagh and his wife — I mean the girl he is going to marry.
I am quite sure. Ned Kavanagh brought Mary back to his cabin. There can be no doubt.
Even so, said Father John. He may have thought he was married.
How could he have thought he was married unless he was drunk, and that cannot be put forward as an excuse. No, my dear uncle, you are inclined for subtleties this morning.
He may have thought he was married. Moreover, he intended to be married, and if through forgetfulness —
Forgetfulness! cried Father Maguire. A pretty large measure of forgetfulness!
I shouldnt say that a mortal sin has been committed; a venial one … . If he intended to be married —
Oh, my dear uncle, we shall be late, we shall be late!
Father Stafford repressed the smile that gathered in the corner of his lips, and he remembered how Father Tom had kept him out of bed till two oclock in the morning, talking to him about St. Thomas Aquinas.
If theyre to be married to-day we must be getting on. And Father Maguires stride grew more impatient. Ill walk on in front.
At last he spied a woman in a field, and she told him that the married couple had gone towards the Peak. Most of them had gone for a walk, but Pat Connex was in bed, and the doctor had to be sent for.
Ive heard, said Father Tom, of last nights drunkenness. Half a barrel of porter; theres what remains, he said, pointing to some stains on the roadway. They were too drunk to turn off the tap.
I heard your reverence wouldnt marry them, the woman said.
I am going to bring them down to the church at once.
Well, if you do, said the woman, you wont be a penny the poorer; you will have your money at the end of the week. And how do you do, your reverence. The woman dropped a curtsey to Father Stafford. Its seldom we see you up here.
They have gone towards the Peak, said Father Tom, for he saw his uncle would take advantage of the occasion to gossip. We shall catch them up there.
I am afraid I am not equal to it, Tom. Id like to do this for you, but I am afraid I am not equal to another half-mile up-hill.
Father Maguire strove to hypnotize his parish priest.
Uncle John, you are called upon to make this effort. I cannot speak to these people as I should like to.
If you spoke to them as you would like to, you would only make matters worse, said Father John.
Very likely, Im not in a humour to contest these things with you. But I beseech you to come with me. Come, he said, take my arm.
They went a few hundred yards up the road, then there was another stoppage, and Father Maguire had again to exercise his power of will, and he was so successful that the last half-mile of the road was accomplished almost without a stop.
At Michael Dunnes, the priests learned that the wedding party had been there, and Father Stafford called for a lemonade.
Dont fail me now, Uncle John. They are within a few hundred yards of us. I couldnt meet them without you. Think of it. If they were to tell me that I had refused to marry them for two pounds, my authority would be gone for ever. I should have to leave the parish.
My dear Tom, I would do it if I could, but I am completely exhausted.
At that moment sounds of voices were heard.
Listen to them, Uncle John. And the curate took the glass from Father John. They are not as far as I thought, they are sitting under these trees. Come, he said.
They walked some twenty yards, till they reached a spot where the light came pouring through the young leaves, and all the brown leaves of last year were spotted with light. There were light shadows amid the rocks and pleasant mosses, and the sounds of leaves and water, and from the top of a rock Kate listened while Peter told her they would rebuild his house.
The priests are after us, she said.
And she gave a low whistle, and the men and boys looked round, and seeing the priests coming, they dispersed, taking several paths, and none but Ned and Mary were left behind. Ned was dozing, Mary was sitting beside him fanning herself with her hat; they had not heard Kates whistle, and they did not see the priests until they were by them.
Now, Tom, dont lose your head, be quiet with them.
Will you speak to them, or shall I? said Father Tom.
In the excitement of the moment he forgot his own imperfections and desired to admonish them.
I think you had better let me speak to them, said Father John. You are Ned Kavanagh, he said, and you are Mary Byrne, I believe. Now, I dont know you all, for I am getting an old man, and I dont often come up this way. But notwithstanding my age, and the heat of the day, I have come up, for I have heard that you have not acted as good Catholics should. I dont doubt for a moment that you intended to get married, but you have, I fear, been guilty of a great sin, and youve set a bad example.
We were on our way to your reverence now, said Mary. I mean to his reverence.
Well, said Father Tom, you are certainly taking your time over it, lying here half asleep under the trees.
We hadnt the money, said Mary, it wasnt our fault.
Didnt I say Id marry you for nothing?
But sure, your reverence, thats only a way of speaking.
Theres no use lingering here, said Father Tom. Ned, you took the pledge the day before yesterday, and yesterday you were tipsy.
I may have had a drop of drink in me, your reverence. Pat Connex passed me the mug of porter and I forgot myself.
And once, said the priest, you tasted the porter you thought you could go on taking it.
Ned did not answer, and the priests whispered together.
We are half way now, said Father Tom, we can get there before twelve oclock.
I dont think Im equal to it, said Father John. I really dont think —
The sounds of wheels were heard, and a peasant driving a donkey cart came up the road.
You see it is all up-hill, said Father John. See how the road ascends. I never could manage it.
The road is pretty flat at the top of the hill once you get to the top of the hill, and the cart will take you to the top.
It seemed undignified to get into the donkey cart, but his nephews conscience was at stake, and the Vicar-General got in, and Father Tom said to the unmarried couple: —
Now walk on in front of us, and step out as quickly as you can.
And on the way to the church Father Tom remembered that he had caught sight of Kate standing at the top of the rock talking to Peter MShane. In a few days they would come to him to be married, and he hoped that Peter and Kates marriage would make amends for this miserable patchwork, for Ned Kavanagh and Mary Byrnes marriage was no better than patchwork.
Mrs. Connex promised the priest to keep Pat at home out of Kates way, and the neighbours knew it was the priests wish that they should do all they could to help him to bring about this marriage, and everywhere Kate went she heard nothing talked of but her marriage.
The dress that Kate was to be married in was a nice grey silk. It had been bought at a rummage sale, and she was told that it suited her. But Kate had begun to feel that she was being driven into a trap. In the week before her marriage she tried to escape. She went to Dublin to look for a situation; but she did not find one. She had not seen Pat since the poultry lecture, and his neglect angered her. She did not care what became of her.
On the morning of her wedding she turned round and asked her sister if she thought she ought to marry Peter, and Julia said it would be a pity if she didnt. Six cars had been engaged, and, feeling she was done for, she went to the church, hoping it would fall down on her. Well, the priest had his way, and Kate felt she hated him and Mrs. MShane, who stood on the edge of the road. The fat were distributed alongside of the lean, and the bridal party drove away, and there was a great waving of hands, and Mrs. MShane waited until the last car was out of sight.
Her husband had been dead many years, and she lived with her son in a two-roomed cabin. She was one of those simple, kindly natures that everyone likes and that everyone despises, and she returned home like a lonely goose, waddling slowly, a little overcome by the thought of the happiness that awaited her son. There would be no more lonely evenings in the cabin; Kate would be with him now, and later on there would be some children, and she waddled home thinking of the cradle and the joy it would be to her to take her grandchildren upon her knee. When she returned to the cottage she sat down, so that she might dream over her happiness a little longer. But she had not been sitting long when she remembered there was a great deal of work to be done. The cabin would have to be cleaned from end to end, there was the supper to be cooked, and she did not pause in her work until everything was ready. At five the pigs head was on the table, and the sheeps tongues; the bread was baked; the barrel of porter had come, and she was expecting the piper every minute. As she stood with her arms akimbo looking at the table, thinking of the great evening it would be, she thought how her old friend, Annie Connex, had refused to come to Peters wedding. Wasnt all the village saying that Kate would not have married Peter if she had not been driven to it by the priest and by her mother.
Poor boy, she thought, his heart is so set upon her that he has no ears for any word against her.
She could not understand why people should talk ill of a girl on her wedding day. Why shouldnt a girl be given a chance? she asked herself. Why should Annie Connex prevent her son from coming to the dance? If she were to go to her now and ask her if she would come? and if she would not come herself, if she would let Pat come round for an hour? If Annie would do this all the gossips would have their tongues tied. Anyhow she could try to persuade her. And she locked her door and walked up the road and knocked at Mrs. Connexs.
Prosperity in the shapes of pig styes and stables had collected round Annies door, and Mrs. MShane was proud to be a visitor in such a house.
I came round, Annie, to tell you theyre married.
Well, come in, Mary, she said, if you have the time.
The first part of the sentence was prompted by the news that Kate was safely married and out of Pats way; and the second half of the sentence, if you have the time, was prompted by a wish that Mary should see that she need not come again for some time at least.
To Annie Connex the Kavanagh family was abomination. The father got eighteen shillings a week for doing a bit of gardening. Ned had been a quarryman, now he was out of work and did odd jobs. The Kavanaghs took in a baby, and they got five or six shillings a week for that. Mrs. Kavanagh sold geraniums at more than their value, and she got more than the market value for her chickens — she sold them to charitable folk who were anxious to encourage poultry farming; and now Julia, the second daughter, had gone in for lace making, and she made a lace that looked as if it were cut out of paper, and sold it for three times its market value.
And to sell above market value was abominable to Annie Connex. Her idea of life was order and administration, and the village she lived in was thriftless and idle. The Kavanaghs received out-door relief; they got two shillings a week off the rates, though every Saturday evening they bought a quarter barrel of porter, and Annie Connex could not believe in the future of a country that would tolerate such a thing. If her son had married a Kavanagh her life would have come to an end, and the twenty years she had worked for him would have been wasted years. Thank God, Kate was out of her sons way, and on seeing Mary she resolved that Pat should never cross the MShanes threshold.
Mrs. MShane looked round the comfortable kitchen, with sides of bacon, and home-cured hams hanging from the rafters. She had not got on in life as well as Mrs. Connex, and she knew she would never have a beautiful closed range, but an open hearth till the end of her days. She could never have a nice dresser with a pretty carved top. The dresser in her kitchen was deal, and had no nice shining brass knobs on it. She would never have a parlour, and this parlour had in it a mahogany table and a grandfathers clock that would show you the moon on it just the same as it was in the sky, and there was a glass over the fireplace. This was Annie Connexs own parlour. The parlour on the other side of the house was even better furnished, for in the summer months Mrs. Connex bedded and boarded her lodgers for one pound or one pound five shillings a week.
So she was married to-day, and Father Maguire married her after all. I never thought he would have brought her to it. Well, Im glad shes married. It rose to Marys lips to say, you are glad she didnt marry your son, but she put back the words. It comes upon me as a bit of surprise, for sure and all I could never see her settling down in the parish.
Them that are the wildest before marriage are often the best after, and I think it will be like that with Kate.
I hope so, said Annie. And there is reason why it should be like that. She must have liked Peter better than we thought; you will never get me to believe that it was the priests will or anybodys will that brought Kate to do what she did.
I hope shell make my boy a good wife.
I hope so, too, said Annie, and the women sat over the fire thinking it out.
Annie Connex wore an apron, and a black straw hat; and her eyes were young, and kind, and laughing, but Mrs. MShane, who had known her for twenty years, often wondered what Annie would have been like if she had not got a kind husband, and if good luck had not attended her all through life.
We never had anyone like her before in the parish. I hear she turned round to her sister Julia, who was dressing her, and said, Now am I to marry him, or shall I go to America? And she was putting on her grey dress at the time.
She looked well in that grey dress; there was lace on the front of it, and everyone said that a handsomer girl hasnt been married in the parish for years. There isnt a man in the parish that would not be in Peters place to-day if he only dared.
I dont catch your meaning, Mary.
Well, perhaps I oughtnt to have said it now that shes my own daughter, but I think many would have been a bit afraid of her after what she said to the priest three days ago.
She did have her tongue on him. People are telling all ends of stories.
Tis said that Father Maguire was up at the Kavanaghs three days ago, and I heard that she hunted him. She called him a policeman, and a tax collector, and a landlord, and if she said this she said more to a priest than anyone ever said before. There are plenty of people in the parish, she said, who believe he could turn them into rabbits if he liked. As for the rabbits she isnt far from the truth, though I dont take it on myself to say if it be a truth or a lie. But I know for a fact that Patsy Rogan was going to vote for the Unionist to please his landlord, but the priest had been to see his wife, who was going to be confined, and didnt he tell her that if Patsy voted for the wrong man there would be horns on the new baby, and Mrs. Rogan was so frightened that she wouldnt let her husband go when he came in that night till he had promised to vote as the priest wished.
Patsy Rogan is an ignorant man, said Annie, there are many like him even here.
Ah, sure there will be always some like him. Dont we like to believe the priest can do all things.
But Kate doesnt believe the priest can do these things. Anyhow shes married, and there will be an end to all the work that has been going on.
Thats true for you, Annie, and thats just what I came to talk to you about. I think now shes married we ought to give her a chance. Every girl ought to get her chance, and the way to put an end to all this talk about her will be for you to come round to the dance to-night.
I dont know that I can do that. I am not friends with the Kavanaghs, though I always bid them the time of day when I meet them on the road.
If you come in for a few minutes, or if Pat were to come in for a few minutes. If Peter and Pat arent friends theyll be enemies.
Maybe theyd be worse enemies if I dont keep Pat out of Kates way. Shes married Peter; but her mind is not settled yet.
Yes, Annie, Ive thought of all that; but theyll be meeting on the road, and, if they arent friends, there will be quarrelling, and some bad deed may be done.
Annie did not answer, and, thinking to convince her, Mary said: —
You wouldnt like to see a corpse right over your window.
It ill becomes you, Mary, to speak of corpses after the blow that Peter gave Pat with his stick at Ned Kavanaghs wedding. No; I must stand by my son, and I must keep him out of the low Irish, and he wont be safe until I get him a good wife.
The low Irish! indeed, Annie, it ill becomes you to talk that way of your neighbours. Is it because none of us have brass knockers on our doors? I have seen this pride growing up in you, Annie Connex, this long while. There isnt one in the village now that youve any respect for except the grocer, that black Protestant, who sits behind his counter and makes money, and knows no enjoyment in life at all.
Thats your way of looking at it; but it isnt mine. I set my face against my son marrying Kate Kavanagh, and you should have done the same.
Something will happen to you for the cruel words you have spoken to me this day.
Mary, you came to ask me to your sons wedding, and I had to tell you —
Yes, and youve told me that you wont come, and that you hate the Kavanaghs, and youve said all you could against them. I should not have listened to all you said; if I did, it is because we have known each other these twenty years. Dont I remember well the rags you had on your back when you came to this village. It ill becomes —
Mrs. MShane got up and went out and Annie followed her to the gate.
The sounds of wheels and hoofs were heard, and the wedding party passed by, and on the first car whom should they see but Kate sitting between Pat and Peter.
Good-bye, Annie. I see that Pats coming to our dance after all. I must hurry down the road to open the door to him.
And she laughed as she waddled down the road, and she could not speak for want of breath when she got to the door. They were all there, Pat and the piper and Kate and Peter and all their friends; and she could not speak? and hadnt the strength to find the key. She could only think of the black look that had come over Annies face when she saw Pat sitting by Kate on the car. She had told Annie that she would be punished, and Mrs. MShane laughed as she searched for the key, thinking how quickly her punishment had come.
She searched for the key, and all the while they were telling her how they had met Pat at Michael Dunnes.
When he saw us he tried to sneak into the yard; but I went after him. And dont you think I did right? Kate said, as they went into the house. And when they were all inside, she said: Now Ill get the biggest jug of porter, and one shall drink one half and the other the other.
Peter was fond of jugs, and had large and small; some were white and brown, and some were gilt, with pink flowers. At last she chose the great brown one.
Now, Peter, youll say something nice.
Ill say, then, said Peter, this is the happiest day of my life, as it should be, indeed; for havent I got the girl that I wanted, and hasnt Pat forgiven me for the blow I struck him? For he knows well I wouldnt hurt a hair of his head. Werent we boys together? But I had a cross drop in me at the time, and that was how it was.
Catching sight of Kates black hair and rosy cheeks, which were all the world to him, he stopped speaking and stood looking at her, unheedful of everything; and he looked so good and foolish at that time that more than one woman thought it would be a weary thing to live with him.
Now, Pat, you must make a speech, too, said Kate.
I havent any speech in me, he said. Im glad enough to be here; but Im sore afraid my mother saw me sitting on the car, and I think I had better be going home and letting you finish this marriage.
Whats that youre saying? said Kate. You wont go out of this house till youve danced a reel with me, and now sit down at the table next to me; and, Peter, you sit on the other side of him, so that he wont run away to his mother.
Her eyes were as bright as coals of fire, and she called to her father, who was at the end of the table, to have another slice of pigs head, and to the piper, who was having his supper in the window, to have a bit more; and then she turned to Pat, who said never a word, and laughed at him for having nothing to say.
It seemed to them as if there was no one in the room but Kate; and afterwards they remembered things. Ned remembered that Kate had seemed to put Pat out of her mind. She had stood talking to her husband, and she had said that he must dance with her, though it was no amusement to a girl to dance opposite Peter. And Mary, Neds wife, remembered how Kate, though she had danced with Peter in the first reel, had not been able to keep her eyes from the corner where Pat sat sulking, and that, sudden-like, she had grown weary of Peter. Mary remembered she had seen a wild look pass in Kates eyes, and that she had gone over to Pat and pulled him out.
It was a pleasure for a girl to dance opposite to Pat, so cleverly did his feet move to the tune. And everyone was admiring them when Pat cried out: —
Im going home. I bid you all good-night; here finish this wedding as you like.
And before anyone could stop him he had run out of the house.
Peter, go after him, Kate said; bring him back. It would be ill luck on our wedding night for anyone to leave us like that.
Peter went out of the door, and was away some time; but he came back without Pat.
The night is that dark, I lost him, he said. Then Kate did not seem to care what she said. Her black hair fell down, and she told Peter he was a fool, and that he should have run faster. Her mother said it was the porter that had been too much for her; but she said it was the priests blessing, and this frightened everyone. But, after saying all this, she went to her husband, saying that he was very good to her, and she had no fault to find with him. But no sooner were the words out of her mouth than her mind seemed to wander, and everyone had expected her to run out of the house. But she went into the other room instead, and shut the door behind her. Everyone knew then there would be no more dancing that night; and the piper packed up his pipes. And Peter sat by the fire, and he seemed to be crying. They were all sorry to leave him like this; and, so that he might not remember what had happened, Ned drew a big jug of porter, and put it by him.
He drank a sup out of it, but seemed to forget everything, and the jug fell out of his hand.
Never mind the pieces, Peter, his mother said.
You cant put them together; and it would be better for you not to drink any more porter. Go to bed. Theres been too much drinking this night.
Mother, I want to know why she said I didnt run fast enough after Pat. And didnt she know that if I hit Pat so hard it was because there were knobs on his stick; and didnt I pick up his stick by mistake of my own.
Sure, Peter, it wasnt your fault; we all know that and Kate knows it too. Now let there be no more talking or drinking. No, Peter, youve had enough porter for to-night.
He looked round the kitchen, and seeing that Kate was not there, he said: —
Shes in the other room, I think; mother, youll be wantin to go to bed.
And Peter got on his feet and stumbled against the wall, and his mother had to help him towards the door.
Is it drunk I am, mother? Will you open the door for me?
But Mrs. MShane could not open the door, and she said: —
I think shes put a bit of stick in it.
A bit of stick in the door? And didnt she say that she didnt want to marry me? Didnt she say something about the priests blessing?
And then Peter was sore afraid that he would not get sight of his wife that night, and he said: —
Wont she acquie-esh-sh?
And Kate said: —
No, I wont.
And then he said: —
We were married in church-to-day, you acquie-eshed.
And she said: —
Ill not open the door to you. Youre drunk, Peter, and not fit to enter a decent womans room.
It isnt because Ive a drop too much in me that you should have fastened the door on me; it is because youre thinking of the blow Ive gave Pat. But, Kate, it was because I loved you so much that I struck him. Now will you open — the door?
No, Ill not open the door to-night, she said. Im tired and want to go to sleep.
And when he said he would break open the door, she said: —
Youre too drunk, Peter, and sorra bit of good it will do you. Ill be no wife to you to-night, and thats as true as Gods in heaven.
Peter, said his mother, dont trouble her to-night. There has been too much dancing and drinking.
Its a hard thing … shut out of his wifes room.
Peter, dont vex her to-night. Dont hammer her door any more.
Didnt she acquie-esh? Mother, you have always been agin me. Didnt she acquie-esh?
Oh, Peter, why do you say Im agin you?
Did you hear her say that I was drunk. If you tell me Im drunk Ill say no more. Ill acquie-esh.
Peter, you must go to sleep.
Yes, go to sleep. … I want to go to sleep, but she wont open the door.
Peter, never mind her.
It isnt that I mind; Im getting sleepy, but what I want to know, mother, before I go to bed, is if Im drunk. Tell me Im not drunk on my wedding night, and, though Kate — and Ill acquie-esh in all that may be put upon me.
He covered his face with his hands and his mother begged him not to cry. He became helpless, she put a blanket under his head and covered him with another blanket, and went up the ladder and lay down in the hay. She asked herself what had she done to deserve this trouble? and she cried a great deal; and the poor, hapless old woman was asleep in the morning when Peter stumbled to his feet. And, after dipping his head in a pail of water, he remembered that the horses were waiting for him in the farm. He walked off to his work, staggering a little, and as soon as he was gone Kate drew back the bolt of the door and came into the kitchen.
Im going, mother, she called up to the loft.
Wait a minute, Kate, said Mrs. MShane, and she was half way down the ladder when Kate said: —
I cant wait, Im going.
She walked up the road to her mothers, and she hardly saw the fields or the mountains, though she knew she would never look upon them again. And her mother was sweeping out the house. She had the chairs out in the pathway. She had heard that the rector was coming down that afternoon, and she wanted to show him how beautifully clean she kept the cabin.
Ive come, mother, to give you this, and she took the wedding ring off her finger and threw it on the ground. I dont want it; I shut the door on him last night, and Im going to America to-day. You see how well the marriage that you and the priest made up together has turned out.
Going to America, said Mrs. Kavanagh, and it suddenly occurred to her that Kate might be going to America with Pat Connex, but she did not dare to say it.
She stood looking at the bushes that grew between their cottage and the next one, and she remembered how she and her brother used to cut the branches of the alder to make pop guns, for the alder branches are full of sap, and when the sap is expelled there is a hole smooth as the barrel of a gun. Im going, she said suddenly, theres nothing more to say. Good-bye.
She walked away quickly, and her mother said, Shes going with Pat Connex. But she had no thought of going to America with him. It was not until she met him a little further on, at the cross roads, that the thought occurred to her that he might like to go to America with her. She called him, and he came to her, and he looked a nice boy, but she thought he was better in Ireland. And the country seemed far away, though she was still in it, and the people too, though she was still among them.
Im going to America, Pat.
You were married yesterday.
Yes, that was the priests doing and mothers and I thought they knew best. But Im thinking one must go ones way, and theres no judging for ones self here. Thats why Im going. Youll find some other girl, Pat.
Theres not another girl like you in the village. Were a dead and alive lot. You stood up to the priest.
I didnt stand up to him enough. Youre waiting for someone. Who are you waiting for?
I dont like to tell you, Kate.
She pressed him to answer her, and he told her he was waiting for the priest. His mother had said he must marry, and the priest was coming to make up a marriage for him.
Thats true, Pat, and youll give a message for me. Tell my mother-in-law that Ive gone.
Shell be asking me questions and Ill be sore set for an answer.
She looked at him steadily, but she left him without speaking, and he stood thinking.
He had had good times with her, and all such times were ended for him for ever. He was going to be married and he did not know to whom. Suddenly he remembered he had a message to deliver, and he went down to the MShanes cabin.
Ah, Mrs. MShane, he said, it was a bad day for me when she married Peter. But this is a worse one, for weve both lost her.
My poor boy will feel it sorely.
When Peter came in for his dinner his mother said: Peter, shes gone, shes gone to America, and youre well rid of her.
Dont say that, mother, I am not well rid of her, for theres no other woman in the world for me except her thats gone. Has she gone with Pat Connex?
No, he said nothing about that, and it was he who brought the message.
Ive no one, mother, to blame but myself. I was drunk last night, and how could she let a drunken fellow like me into her room.
He went out to the backyard, and his mother heard him crying till it was time for him to go back to work.
As he got up to go to work he caught sight of Biddy MHale coming up the road; he rushed past her lest she should ask him what he was crying about, and she stood looking after him for a moment, and went into the cabin to inquire what had happened.
Sure she wouldnt let her husband sleep with her last night, said Mrs. MShane, and youll be telling the priest that. It will be well he should know it at once.
Biddy would have liked to have heard how the wedding party had met Pat Connex on the road, and what had happened after, but the priest was expecting her, and she did not dare to keep him waiting much longer. But she was not sorry she had been delayed, for the priest only wanted to get her money to mend the walls of the old church, and she thought that her best plan would be to keep him talking about Kate and Peter. He was going to America to-morrow or the day after, and if she could keep her money till then it would be safe.
His front door was open, he was leaning over the green paling that divided his strip of garden from the road, and he looked very cross indeed.
She began at once: —
Sure, your reverence, theres terrible work going on in the village, and I had to stop to listen to Mrs MShane. Kate Kavanagh, that was, has gone to America, and she shut her door on him last night, saying he was drunk.
Whats this youre telling me?
If your reverence will listen to me —
Im always listening to you, Biddy MHale. Go on with your story.
It was a long time before he fully understood what had happened, but at last all the facts seemed clear, and he said: —
Im expecting Pat Connex.
Then his thoughts turned to the poor husband weeping in the backyard, and he said: —
I made up this marriage so that she might not go away with Pat Connex.
Well, weve been saved that, said Biddy.
Ned Kavanaghs marriage was bad enough, but this is worse. It is no marriage at all.
Ah, your reverence, you musnt be taking it to heart. If the marriage did not turn out right it was the drink.
Ah, the drink — the drink, said the priest, and he declared that the brewer and the distiller were the ruin of Ireland.
Thats true for you; at the same time we musnt forget that they have put up many a fine church.
It would be impossible, I suppose, to prohibit the brewing of ale and the distillation of spirit. The priests brother was a publican and had promised a large subscription. And now, Biddy, what are you going to give me to make the walls secure. I dont want you all to be killed while I am away.
Theres no fear of that, your reverence; a church never fell down on anyone.
Even so, if it falls down when nobodys in it where are the people to hear Mass?
Ah, wont they be going down to hear Mass at Father Staffords?
If you dont wish to give anything say so.
Your reverence, amnt I — ?
We dont want to hear about that window.
Biddy began to fear she would have to give him a few pounds to quiet him. But, fortunately, Pat Connex came up the road, and she thought she might escape after all.
I hear, Pat Connex, you were dancing with Kate Kavanagh, I should say Kate MShane, and she went away to America this morning. Have you heard that?
I have, your reverence. She passed me on the road this morning.
And you werent thinking you might stop her?
Stop her, said Pat. Who could stop Kate from doing anything she wanted to do?
And now your mother writes to me, Pat Connex, to ask if I will get Lennons daughter for you.
I see your reverence has private business with Pat Connex. Ill be going, said Biddy, and she was many yards down the road before he could say a word.
Now, Biddy MHale, dont you be going. But Biddy pretended not to hear him.
Will I be running after her, said Pat, and bringing her back?
No, let her go. If she doesnt want to help to make the walls safe Im not going to go on my knees to her. … Youll all have to walk to Father Staffords to hear Mass. Have you heard your mother say what shes going to give towards the new church, Pat Connex?
I think she said, your reverence, she was going to send you ten pounds.
Thats very good of her, and this proof that a public and religious spirit was not yet dead in his parish softened the priests temper, and, thinking to please him and perhaps escape a scolding, Pat began to calculate how much Biddy had saved.
She must be worth, Im thinking, close on one hundred pounds to-day. As the priest did not answer, he said, I wouldnt be surprised if she was worth another fifty.
Hardly as much as that, said the priest.
Hadnt her aunt the house were living in before mother came to Kilmore, and they used to have the house full of lodgers all the summer. Its true that her aunt didnt pay her any wages, but when she died she left her a hundred pounds, and she has been making money ever since.
This allusion to Biddys poultry reminded the priest that he had once asked Biddy what had put the idea of a poultry farm into her head, and she had told him that when she was taking up the lodgers meals at her aunts she used to have to stop and lean against the banisters, so heavy were the trays.
One day I slipped and hurt myself, and I was lying on my back for more than two years, and all the time I could see the fowls pecking in the yard, for my bed was by the window. I thought I would like to keep fowls when I was older.
The priest remembered the old woman standing before him telling him of her accident, and while listening he had watched her, undecided whether she could be called a hunchback. Her shoulders were higher than shoulders usually are, she was jerked forward from the waist, and she had the long, thin arms, and the long, thin face, and the pathetic eyes of the hunchback. Perhaps she guessed his thoughts. She said: —
In those days we used to go blackberrying with the boys. We used to run all over the hills.
He did not think she had said anything else, but she had said the words in such a way that they suggested a great deal — they suggested that she had once been very happy, and that she had suffered very soon the loss of all her womans hopes. A few weeks, a few months, between her convalescence and her disappointment had been all her womans life. The thought that life is but a little thing passed across the priests mind, and then he looked at Pat Connex and wondered what was to be done with him. His conduct at the wedding would have to be inquired into, and the marriage that was being arranged would have to be broken off if Kates flight could be attributed to him.
Now, Pat Connex, we will go to Mrs. MShane. I shall want to hear her story.
Sure what story can she tell of me? Didnt I run out of the house away from Kate when I saw what she was thinking of? What more could I do?
If Mrs. MShane tells the same story as you do well go to your mothers, and afterwards Ill go to see Lennon about his daughter.
Pats dancing with Kate and Kates flight to America had reached Lennons ears, and it did not seem at all likely that he would consent to give his daughter to Pat Connex, unless, indeed, Pat Connex agreed to take a much smaller dowry than his mother had asked for.
These new negotiations, his packing, a letter to the Bishop, and the payment of bills fully occupied the last two days, and the priest did not see Biddy again till he was on his way to the station. She was walking up and down her poultry-yard, telling her beads, followed by her poultry; and it was with difficulty that he resisted the impulse to ask her for a subscription, but the driver said if they stopped they would miss the train.
Very well, said the priest, and he drove past her cabin without speaking to her.
In the bar-rooms of New York, while trying to induce a recalcitrant loafer to part with a dollar, he remembered that he had not met anyone so stubborn as Biddy. She had given very little, and yet she seemed to be curiously mixed up with the building of the church. She was the last person he saw on his way out, and, a few months later, he was struck by the fact that she was the first parishioner he saw on his return. As he was driving home from the station in the early morning whom should he see but Biddy, telling her beads, followed by her poultry. The scene was the same except that morning was substituted for evening. This was the first impression. On looking closer he noticed that she was not followed by as many Plymouth Rocks as on the last occasion.
She seems to be going in for Buff Orpingtons, he said to himself.
Its a fine thing to see you again, and your reverence is looking well. I hope youve been lucky in America?
I have brought home some money anyhow, and the church will be built, and you will tell your beads under your window one of these days.
Your reverence is very good to me, and God is very good.
And she stood looking after him, thinking how she had brought him round to her way of thinking. She had always known that the Americans would pay for the building, but no one else but herself would be thinking of putting up a beautiful window that would do honour to God and Kilmore. And it wasnt her fault if she didnt know a good window from a bad one, as well as the best of them. And it wasnt she who was going to hand over her money to the priest or his architect to put up what window they liked. She had been inside every church within twenty miles of Kilmore, and would see that she got full value for her money.
At the end of the week she called at the priests house to tell him the pictures she would like to see in the window, and the colours. But the priests servant was not certain whether Biddy could see his reverence.
He has a gentleman with him.
Isnt it the architect he has with him? Dont you know that it is I who am putting up the window?
To be sure, said the priest; show her in. And he drew forward a chair for Miss MHale, and introduced her to the architect. The little man laid his pencil aside, and this encouraged Biddy, and she began to tell him of the kind of window she had been thinking of. But she had not told him half the things she wished to have put into the window when he interrupted her, and said there would be plenty of time to consider what kind of window should be put in when the walls were finished and the roof was upon them.
Perhaps it is a little premature to discuss the window, but you shall choose the subjects you would like to see represented in the window, and as for the colours, the architect and designer will advise you. But I am sorry to say, Biddy, that this gentleman says that the four thousand pounds the Americans were good enough to give me will not do much more than build the walls.
Theyre waiting for me to offer them my money, but I wont say a word, Biddy said to herself; and she sat fidgetting with her shawl, coughing from time to time, until the priest lost his patience.
Well, Biddy, were very busy here, and Im sure you want to get back to your fowls. When the church is finished well see if we want your window. The priest had hoped to frighten her, but she was not the least frightened. Her faith in her money was abundant; she knew that as long as she had her money the priest would come to her for it on one pretext or another, sooner or later. And she was as well pleased that nothing should be settled at present, for she was not quite decided whether she would like to see Christ sitting in judgment, or Christ crowning His Virgin Mother; and during the next six months she pondered on the pictures and the colours, and gradually the design grew clearer.
And every morning, as soon as she had fed her chickens, she went up to Kilmore to watch the workmen. She was there when the first spadeful of earth was thrown up, and as soon as the walls showed above the ground she began to ask the workmen how long it would take them to reach the windows, and if a workman put down his trowel and wandered from his work she would tell him it was God he was cheating; and later on, when the priests money began to come to an end he could not pay the workmen full wages, she told them they were working for Gods Own House, and that He would reward them in the next world.
Hold your tongue, said a mason. If you want the church built why dont you give the priest the money youre saving, and let him pay us?
Keep a civil tongue in your head, Pat Murphy. It isnt for myself I am keeping it back. Isnt it all going to be spent?
The walls were now built, and amid the clatter of the slaters hammers Biddy began to tell the plasterers of the beautiful pictures that would be seen in her window; and she gabbled on, mixing up her memories of the different windows she had seen, until at last her chatter grew wearisome, and they threw bits of mortar, laughing at her for a crazy old woman, or the priest would suddenly come upon them, and they would scatter in all directions, leaving him with Biddy.
What were they saying to you, Biddy?
They were saying, your reverence, that America is a great place.
You spend a great deal of your time here, Biddy, and I suppose you are beginning to see that it takes a long time to build a church. Now you are not listening to what I am saying. You are thinking about your window; but you must have a house before you can have a window.
I know that very well, your reverence; but, you see, God has given us the house.
Gods House consists of little more than walls and a roof.
Indeed it does, your reverence; and amnt I saving up all my money for the window?
But, my good Biddy, there is hardly any plastering done yet. The laths have come in, and there isnt sufficient to fill that end of the church, and I have no more money.
Wont you reverence be getting the rest of the money in America? And I am thinking a bazaar would be a good thing. Wouldnt we all be making scapulars, and your reverence might get medals that the Pope had blessed.
Eventually he drove her out of the church with his umbrella. But as his anger cooled he began to think that perhaps Biddy was right — a bazaar might be a good thing, and a distribution of medals and scapulars might induce his workmen to do some overtime. He went to Dublin to talk over this matter with some pious Catholics, and an old lady wrote a cheque for fifty pounds, two or three others subscribed smaller sums, and the plasterers were busy all next week. But these subscriptions did not go nearly as far towards completing the work as he had expected. The architect had led him astray, and he looked around the vast barn that he had built and despaired. It seemed to him it would never be finished in his lifetime. A few weeks after he was again running short of money, and he was speaking to his workmen one Saturday afternoon, telling them how they could obtain a plenary indulgence by subscribing so much towards the building of the church, and by going to Confession and Communion on the first Sunday of the month, and if they could not afford the money they could give their work. He was telling them how much could be done if every workman were to do each day an hour of overtime, when Biddy suddenly appeared, and, standing in front of the men, she raised up her hands and said they should not pass her until they had pledged themselves to come to work on Monday.
But havent we got our wives and little ones, and havent we to think of them? said a workman.
Ah, one can live on very little when one is doing the work of God, said Biddy.
The man called her a vain old woman, who was starving herself so that she might put up a window, and they pushed her aside and went away, saying they had to think of their wives and children.
The priest turned upon her angrily and asked her what she meant by interfering between him and his workmen.
Now, dont be angry with me, your reverence. I will say a prayer, and you will say a word or two in your sermon to-morrow.
And he spoke in his sermon of the disgrace it would be to Kilmore if the church remained unfinished. The news would go over to America, and what priest would be ever able to get money there again to build a church?
Do you think a priest likes to go about the barrooms asking for dollars and half-dollars? Would you make his task more unpleasant? If I have to go to America again, what answer shall I make if they say to me: Well, didnt your workmen leave you at Kilmore? They dont want churches at Kilmore. Why should we give you money for a church?
There was a great deal of talking that night in Michael Dunnes, and they were all of one mind, that it would be a disgrace to Kilmore if the church were not finished; but no one could see that he could work for less wages than he was in the habit of getting. As the evening wore on the question of indulgences was raised, and Ned Kavanagh said: —
The devil a bit of use going against the priest, and the indulgences will do us no harm.
The devil a bit, but maybe a great deal of good, said Peter MShane, and an hour later they were staggering down the road swearing they would stand by the priest till the death.
But on Monday morning nearly all were in their beds; only half a dozen came to the work, and the priest sent them away, except one plasterer. There was one plasterer who, he thought, could stand on the scaffold. If I were to fall Id go straight to Heaven, the plasterer said, and he stood so near the edge, and his knees seemed so weak under him, that Biddy thought he was going to fall.
It would be better for you to finish what you are doing; the Holy Virgin will be more thankful to you.
Aye, maybe she would, he said, and he continued his work mechanically.
He was working at the clustered columns about the window Biddy had chosen for her stained glass, and she did not take her eyes off him. The priest returned a little before twelve oclock, as the plasterer was going to his dinner, and he asked him if he were feeling better.
Im all right, your reverence, and it wont occur again.
I hope he wont go down to Michael Dunnes during his dinner hour, he said to Biddy. If you see any further sign of drink upon him when he comes back you must tell me.
He is safe enough, your reverence. Wasnt he telling me while your reverence was having your breakfast that if he fell down he would go straight to Heaven, and he opened his shirt and showed me he was wearing the scapular of the Holy Virgin.
And Biddy began to advocate a sale of scapulars.
A sale of scapulars will not finish my church. Youre all a miserly lot here, you want everything done for you.
Werent you telling me, your reverence, that a pious lady in Dublin —
The work is at a stand-still. If I were to go to America to-morrow it would be no use unless I could tell them it was progressing.
Sure they dont ask any questions in America, they just give their money.
If they do, thats more than youre doing at home. I want to know, Biddy, what you are going to do for this church. Youre always talking about it; youre always here and you have given less than any one else.
Didnt I offer your reverence a sovereign once since I gave you the five pounds?
You dont seem to understand, Biddy, that you cant put up your window until the plastering is finished.
I think I understand that well enough, but the church will be finished.
How will it be finished? When will it be finished?
She did not answer, and nothing was heard in the still church but her irritating little cough.
Youre very obstinate. Well, tell me where you would like to have your window.
It is there I shall be kneeling, and if you will let me put my window there I shall see it when I look up from my beads. I should like to see the Virgin and I should like to see St. John with her. And dont you think, your reverence, we might have St. Joseph as well. Our Lord would have to be in the Virgins arms, and I think, your reverence, I would like Our Lord coming down to judge us, and I should like to have Him on His throne on the day of Judgment up at the top of the window.
I can see youve been thinking a good deal about this window, the priest said.
She began again and the priest heard the names of the different saints she would like to see in stained glass, and he let her prattle on. But his temper boiled up suddenly and he said: —
Youd go on like this till midnight if I let you. Now, Biddy MHale, youve been here all the morning delaying my workmen. Go home to your fowls.
And she ran away shrinking like a dog, and the priest walked up and down the unfinished church. She tries my temper more than anyone I ever met, he said to himself. At that moment he heard some loose boards clanking, and thinking it was the old woman coming back he looked round, his eyes flaming. But the intruder was a short and square-set man, of the type that one sees in Germany, and he introduced himself as an agent of a firm of stained glass manufacturers. He told Father Maguire they had heard in Germany of the beautiful church he was building. I met an old woman on the road, and she told me that I would find you in the church considering the best place for the window she was going to put up. She looks very poor.
Shes not as poor as she looks; shes been saving money all her life for this window. Her window is her one idea, and, like people of one idea, shes apt to become a little tiresome.
I dont quite understand.
He began telling the story, and seeing that the German was interested in the old woman he began to acquire an interest in her himself, an unpremeditated interest; he had not suspected that Biddy was so interesting. The German said she reminded him of the quaint sculpture of Nuremburg, and her character reminded him of one of the German saints, and talking of Biddy and medievalism and Gothic art and stained glass the priest and the agent for the manufacture of stained glass in Munich walked up and down the unfinished church until the return of the plasterer reminded the priest of his embarrassments, and he took the German into his confidence.
These embarrassments always occur, said the agent, but there is no such thing as an unfinished church in Ireland; if you were to let her put up the window subscriptions would pour in.
A paragraph in the newspaper describing the window, the gift of a local saint. I think you told me her name was MHale, and that she lives in the village.
Yes, you pass her house on the way to the station.
The German took his leave abruptly, and when he was half-way down the hill he asked some children to direct him.
Is it Biddy MHale, that has all the hins, and is going to put up a window in the church, that youre wanting?
The German said that that was the woman he wanted, and the eldest child said: —
You will see her feeding her chickens, and you must call to her over the hedge.
And he did as he was bidden.
Madam … the priest has sent me to show you some designs for a stained glass window.
No one had ever addressed Biddy as Madam before. She hastened to let him into the house, and wiped the table clean so that he could spread the designs upon it. The first designs he showed here were the four Evangelists, but he would like a womans present to her church to be in a somewhat lighter style, and he showed her a picture of St. Cecilia that fascinated her for a time; and then he suggested that a group of figures would look handsomer than a single figure. But she could not put aside the idea of the window that had grown up in her mind, and after some attempts to persuade her to accept a design they had in stock he had to give way and listen.
At the top of the picture, where the window narrowed to a point, Our Lord sat dressed in white on a throne, placing a golden crown on the head of the Virgin kneeling before him. About him were the women who had loved him, and the old woman said she was sorry she was not a nun, and hoped that Christ would not think less of her. As far as mortal sin was concerned she could say she had never committed one. At the bottom of the window there were suffering souls. The cauldrons that Biddy wished to see them in, the agent said, would be difficult to introduce — the suffering of the souls could be artistically indicated by flames.
I shall have great joy, she said, seeing the blessed women standing about our Divine Lord, singing hymns in His praise, and the sight of sinners broiling will make me be sorrowful.
She insisted on telling the German of the different churches she had visited, and the windows she had seen, and she did not notice that he was turning over his designs and referring to his note book while she was talking. Suddenly he said: —
Excuse me, but I think we have got the greater part of the window you wish for in stock, and the rest can be easily made up. Now the only question that remains is the question of the colours you care about.
I have always thought theres no colour like blue. Id like the Virgin to wear a blue cloak.
She did not know why she had chosen that colour, but the agent told her that she was quite right; blue signified chastity; and when the German had gone she sat thinking of the Virgin and her cloak. The Minorcas, and Buff Orpingtons, and Plymouth Rocks came through the door cackling, and while feeding them she sat, her eyes fixed on the beautiful evening sky, wondering if the blue in the picture would be as pale, or if it would be a deeper blue.
She remembered suddenly that she used to wear a blue ribbon when she went blackberrying among the hills; she found it in an old box and tied it round her neck. The moment she put it on her memory was as if lighted up with the memories of the saints and the miracles they had performed, and she went to Father Maguire to tell him of the miracle. That the agent should have in stock the very window she had imagined seemed a miracle, and she was encouraged to think some miraculous thing had happened when the priest asked her to tell him exactly what her window was like. She had often told him before but he had never listened to her. But now he recognised her window as an adaptation of Fra Angelicos picture, and he told her how the saint had wandered from monastery to monastery painting pictures on the walls. More he could not tell her, but he promised to procure a small biography of the saint. She received the book a few days after, and as she turned over the leaves she heard the children coming home from school, and she took the book out to them, for her sight was failing, and they read bits of it aloud, and she frightened them by dropping on her knees and crying out that God had been very good to her.
She wandered over the country visiting churches, returning to Kilmore suddenly. She was seen as usual at sunrise and at sunset feeding her poultry, and then she went away again, and the next time she was heard of was in a church near Dublin celebrated for its stained glass. A few days after Ned Kavanagh met her hurrying up the road from the station, and she told him she had just received a letter from the Munich agent saying he had forwarded her window. It was to arrive to-morrow.
It was expected some time about mid-day, but Biddys patience was exhausted long before, and she walked a great part of the way to Dublin to meet the dray. She returned with it, walking with the draymen, but within three miles of Kilmore she was so tired that they had to put her on the top of the boxes, and a cheer went up from the villagers when she was lifted down. She called to the workmen to be careful in unpacking the glass; and when they were putting it up she went down on her knees and prayed that no accident might happen.
At sunset the church had to be closed, and it was with difficulty that she was persuaded to leave it. Next morning at sunrise she was knocking at the door of the woman who was charged with the cleaning of the church, asking for the key.
And from that day she was hardly ever out of the church; the charwoman began to complain that she could not get on with her work, and she was telling the priest that Biddy was always at her elbow, asking her to come to her window, saying she would show her things she had not seen before, when their conversation was interrupted by Biddy. She seemed a little astray, a little exalted, and Father Maguire watched her as she knelt with uplifted face, telling her beads. He noticed that her fingers very soon ceased to move; and that she held the same bead a long time between her fingers. Minutes passed, but her lips did not move; her eyes were fixed on the panes and her look was so enraptured that he began to wonder if Paradise were being revealed to her.
And while the priest wondered, Biddy listened to music inconceivably tender. She had been awakened from her prayers by the sound of a harp string touched very gently; and the note had floated down like a flower, and all the vibrations were not dead when the same note floated down the aisles once more. Biddy listened, anxious to hear it a third time. Once more she heard it, and the third time she saw the saints fingers moving over the strings; and she played a little tune of six notes. And it was at the end of the second playing of the tune that the priest touched Biddy on the shoulder. She looked up and it was a long while before she saw him, and she was greatly grieved that she had been awakened from her dream. She said it was a dream because her happiness had been so great; and she stood looking at the priest, fain, but unable, to tell how she had been borne beyond her usual life, that her whole being had answered to the music the saint played, and looking at him, she wondered what would have happened if he had not awakened her.
Next day was Sunday, and she was in the church at sunrise listening for the music. But she heard and saw nothing until the priest had reached the middle of the Mass. The acolyte had rung the bell to prepare the people for the Elevation, and it was then that she heard a faint low sound that the light wire emitted when the saint touched her harp, and she noticed that it was the same saint that had played yesterday, the tall saint with the long fair hair who stood apart from the others, looking more intently at Our Blessed Lord than the others. She touched her harp again and the note vibrated for a long while, and when the last vibrations died she touched the string again. The note was sweet and languid and intense, and it pierced to the very core of Biddy. The saints hand passed over the strings, producing faint exquisite sounds, so faint that Biddy felt no surprise they were not heard by anyone else; it was only by listening intently that she could hear them. Yesterdays little tune appeared again, a little tune of six notes, and it seemed to Biddy even more exquisite than it had seemed when she first heard it. The only difference between to-day and yesterday was, that to-day all the saints struck their harps, and after playing for some time the music grew white like snow and remote as star-fire, and yet Biddy heard it more clearly than she had heard anything before, and she saw Our Lord more clearly than she had ever seen anybody else. She saw Him look up when He had placed the crown on His Mothers head; she heard Him sing a few notes, and then the saints began to sing. The window filled up with song and colour, and all along the window there was a continual transmutation of colour and song. The figures grew taller, and they breathed extraordinary life. It sang like a song within them, and it flowed about them and out of them in a sort of pearl-coloured mist. The vision clove the church along and across, and through it she could see the priest saying his Mass, and when he raised the Host above his head, Biddy saw Our Lord look at her, and His eyes brightened as if with love of her. He seemed to have forgotten the saints that sang His praises so beautifully, and when He bent towards her and she felt His presence about her, she cried out: —
He is coming to take me in His arms!
And it was then that Biddy fell out of her place and lay at length on the floor of the church, pale as a dead woman. The clerk went to her, but he could not carry her out; she lay rigid as one who had been dead a long while and she muttered, He is coming to put the gold crown on my head. The clerk moved away, and she swooned again.
Her return to her ordinary perceptions was slow and painful. The people had left long ago, and she tottered out of the empty church and followed the road to her cabin without seeing it or the people whom she met on the road. At last a woman took her by the arm and led her into her cabin, and spoke to her. She could not answer at first, but she awoke gradually, and she began to remember that she had heard music in the window and that Our Lord had sung to her. The neighbour left her babbling. She began to feed her chickens, and was glad when she had fed them. She wanted to think of the great and wonderful sights she had seen. She could not particularise, preferring to remember her vision as a whole, unwilling to separate the music from the colour, or the colour and the music from the adoration of the saints.
As the days went by her life seemed to pass more and more out of the life of the ordinary day. She seemed to live, as it were, on the last verge of human life; the mortal and the immortal mingled; she felt she had been always conscious of the immortal, and that nothing had happened except the withdrawing of a veil. The memory of her vision was still intense in her, but she wished to renew it; and waited next Sunday breathless with anticipation. The vision began at the same moment, the signal was the same as before; the note from the harp string floated down the aisles and when it had been repeated three times the saintly fingers moved over the strings, and she heard the beautiful little tune.
Every eye was upon her, and forgetful of the fact that the priest was celebrating Mass, they said, Look, she hears the saints singing about her. She sees Christ coming. The priest heard Biddy cry out Christ is coming, and she fell prone and none dared to raise her up, and she lay there till the Mass was finished. When the priest left the altar she was still lying at length, and the people were about her; and knowing how much she would feel the slightest reproof, he did not say a word that would throw doubt on her statement. He did not like to impugn a popular belief, but he felt obliged to exercise clerical control.
Now, Biddy, I know you are a very pious woman, but I cannot allow you to interrupt the Mass.
If the Lord comes to me am I not to receive Him, your reverence?
In the first place I object to your dress; you are not properly dressed.
She wore a bright blue cloak, she seemed to wear hardly anything else, and tresses of dirty hair hung over her shoulders.
The Lord has not said anything to me about my dress, your reverence, and He put His gold crown on my head to-day.
Biddy, is all this true?
As true as youre standing there.
I am not asking you if your visions are true. I have my opinion about that. I am asking if they are true to you.
True to me, your reverence? I dont rightly understand.
I want to know if you think Our Lord put a gold crown on your head to-day.
To be sure He did, your reverence.
If He did, where is it?
Where is it, your reverence? It is with Him, to be sure. He wouldnt be leaving it on my head and me walking about the parish — that would not be reasonable at all, I am thinking. He doesnt want me to be robbed.
There is no one in the parish who would rob you.
Maybe some one would come out of another parish, if I was walking about with a gold crown on my head. And such a crown as He put upon it! — I am sorry you did not see it, but your reverence was saying the holy Mass at the time.
And she fell on her knees and clung to his cassock.
And you saw the crown, Biddy?
I had it on my head, your reverence.
And you heard the saints singing?
Yes, and I will tell you what they were singing, and she began crooning. Something like that, your reverence. You dont believe me, but we have only our ears and our eyes to guide us.
I dont say I dont believe you, Biddy, but you may be deceived.
Sorra deceiving, your reverence, or Ive been deceived all my life. And now, your reverence, if you have no more business with me I will go, for they are waiting in the chapel yard to hear me tell them about the crown that was put upon my head.
Well, Biddy, I want you to understand that I cannot have you interrupting the Mass. I cannot permit it. The visions may be true, or not true, but you must not interrupt the Mass. Do you hear me?
The acolyte had opened the door of the sacristy, she slipped through it, and the priest took off his cassock. As he did so, he noticed that the acolytes were anxious to get out; they were at the window watching, and when the priest looked out of the window he saw the people gathered about Biddy, and could see she had obtained an extraordinary hold on the popular imagination; no one noticed him when he came out of the sacristy; they were listening to Biddy, and he stood unnoticed amid the crowd for a few minutes.
Shes out of her mind, he said. Shes as good as mad. What did she tell me — that Our Lord put a crown on her head.
It was difficult to know what to do. News of her piety had reached Dublin. People had been down to Kilmore to see her and had given subscriptions, and he understood that Biddy had enabled him to furnish his church with varnished pews and holy pictures. A pious Catholic lady had sent him two fine statues of Our Lady and St. Joseph. St. Joseph was in a purple cloak and Our Lady wore a blue cloak, and there were gold stars upon it. He had placed these two statues on the two side altars. But there were many things he wanted for his church, and he could only get them through Biddy. It was, therefore, his interest to let her remain in Kilmore, only she could not be allowed to interrupt the Mass, and he felt that he must be allowed to pass in and out of his church without having to put up with extravagant salutations.
He was going home to his breakfast and a young man extremely interested in ecclesiastical art was coming to breakfast with him. The young man had a great deal to say about Walter Pater and Chartres Cathedral, and Father Maguire feared he was cutting but a very poor figure in the eyes of this young man, for he could not keep his thoughts on what the young man was saying, he was thinking of Biddy; he hardly thought of anything else but her now; she was absorbing the mind of his entire parish, she interrupted the Mass, he could not go into his church without being accosted by this absurd old woman, and this young man, a highly cultivated young man, who had just come from Italy, and who took the highest interest in architecture, would not be able to see his church in peace. As soon as they entered it they would be accosted by this old woman; she would follow them about asking them to look at her window, telling them her visions, which might or might not be true. She had a knack of hiding herself — he often came upon her suddenly behind the pillars, and sometimes he found her in the confessional. As soon as he crossed the threshold he began to look for her, and not finding her in any likely place, his fears subsided, and he called the young mans attention to the altar that had been specially designed for his church. And the young man had begun to tell the priest of the altars he had seen that Spring in Italy, when suddenly he uttered a cry, he had suddenly felt a hand upon his shoulder.
Your honour will be well rewarded if you will come to my window. Now why should I tell you a lie, your reverence?
She threw herself at the priests feet and besought him to believe that the saints had been with her, and that every word she was speaking was the truth.
Biddy, if you dont go away at once I will not allow you inside the church to-morrow.
The young man looked at the priest, surprised at his sternness, and the priest said: —
She has become a great trial to us at Kilmore. Come aside and I will tell you about her.
And when the priest had told the young man about the window the young man asked if Biddy would have to be sent away.
I hope not, for if she were separated from her window she would certainly die. It came out of her savings, out of the money she made out of chickens.
And what has become of the chickens?
She has forgotten all about them; they wandered away or died. She has been evicted, and she lives now in an out-house. She lives on the bits of bread and the potatoes the neighbours give her. The things of this world are no longer realities to her. Her realities are what she sees and hears in that window. She told me last night the saints were singing about her. I dont like to encourage her to talk, but if you would like to hear her — Biddy, come here!
The old woman came back as a dog comes to its master, joyful, and with brightening eyes.
Tell us what you saw last night.
Well, your reverence, I was asleep, and there suddenly came a knocking at the door, and I got up, and then I head a voice say, Open the door. There was a beautiful young man outside, his hair was yellow and curly, and he was dressed in white. He came into the room first, and he was followed by other saints, and they had harps in their hands, and they sang for a long while; they sang beautiful music. Come to the window and you will hear it for yourselves. Someone is always singing it in the window, not always as clearly as they did last night.
Well go to see your window presently.
The old woman crept back to her place, and the priest and the young man began to talk about the possibilities of miracles in modern times, and they talked on until the sudden sight of Biddy gave them pause.
Look at her, said the young man, can you doubt that she sees Heaven, quite plainly, and that the saints visited her just as she told us?
No doubt, no doubt. But shes a great trial to us at Mass … . The Mass must not be interrupted.
I suppose even miracles are inconvenient at times, Father Maguire. Be patient with her, let her enjoy her happiness.
And the two men stood looking at her, trying vainly to imagine what her happiness might be.