CHAPTER III: THE EXILE
Pat Phelans bullocks were ready for the fair, and so were his pigs; but the two fairs happened to come on the same day, and he thought he would like to sell the pigs himself. His eldest son, James, was staying at home to help Catherine Ford with her churning; Peter, his second son, was not much of a hand at a bargain; it was Pat and James who managed the farm, and when Peter had gone to bed they began to wonder if Peter would be able to sell the bullocks. Pat said Peter had been told the lowest price he could take, James said there was a good demand for cattle, and at last they decided that Peter could not fail to sell the beasts.
Pat was to meet Peter at the cross-roads about twelve oclock in the day. But he had sold his pigs early, and was half an hour in front of him, and sitting on the stile waiting for his son, he thought if Peter got thirteen pounds apiece for the bullocks he would say he had done very well. A good jobber, he thought, would be able to get ten shillings apiece more for them; and he went on thinking of what price Peter would get, until, suddenly looking up the road, whom should he see but Peter coming down the road with the bullocks in front of him. He could hardly believe his eyes, and it was a long story that Peter told him about two men who wanted to buy the bullocks early in the morning. They had offered him eleven pounds ten, and when he would not sell them at that price they had stood laughing at the bullocks and doing all they could to keep off other buyers. Peter was quite certain it was not his fault, and he began to argue. But Pat Phelan was too disappointed to argue with him, and he let him go on talking. At last Peter ceased talking, and this seemed to Pat Phelan a good thing.
The bullocks trotted in front of them. They were seven miles from home, and fifteen miles are hard on fat animals, and he could truly say he was at a loss of three pounds that day if he took into account the animals keep.
Father and son walked on, and not a word passed between them till they came to Michael Quinns public-house. Did you get three pounds apiece for the pigs, father?
I did, and three pounds five.
We might have a drink out of that.
It seemed to Peter that the men inside were laughing at him or at the lemonade he was drinking, and, seeing among them one who had been interfering with him all day, he told him he would put him out of the house, and he would have done it if Mrs. Quinn had not told him that no one put a man out of her house without her leave.
Do you hear that, Peter Phelan?
If you cant best them at the fair, said his father, it will be little good for you to put them out of the public-house afterwards.
And on that Peter swore he would never go to a fair again, and they walked on until they came to the priests house.
It was bad for me when I listened to you and James. If I hadnt I might have been in Maynooth now.
Now, didnt you come home talking of the polis?
Wasnt that after?
They could not agree as to when his idea of life had changed from the priesthood to the police, nor when it had changed back from the police to the priesthood, and Peter talked on, telling of the authors he had read with Father Tom — Caesar, Virgil, even Quintillian. The priest had said that Quintillian was too difficult for him, and Pat Phelan was in doubt whether the difficulty of Quintillian was a sufficient reason for preferring the police to the priesthood.
Any way it isnt a girl thats troubling him, he said to himself, and he looked at Peter, and wondered how it was that Peter did not want to be married. Peter was a great big fellow, over six feet high, that many a girl would take a fancy to, and Pat Phelan had long had his eye on a girl who would marry him. And his failure to sell the bullocks brought all the advantages of this marriage to Pat Phelans mind, and he began to talk to his son. Peter listened, and seemed to take an interest in all that was said, expressing now and then a doubt if the girl would marry him; the possibility that she might seemed to turn his thoughts again towards the priesthood.
The bullocks had stopped to graze, and Peters indecisions threw Pat Phelan fairly out of his humour.
Well, Peter, I am tired listening to you. If its a priest you want to be, go in there, and Father Tom will tell you what you must do, and Ill drive the bullocks home myself. And on that Pat laid his hand on the priests green gate, and Peter walked through.
There were trees about the priests house, and there were two rooms on the right and left of the front door. The parlour was on the left, and when Peter came in the priest was sitting reading in his mahogany arm-chair. Peter wondered if it were this very mahogany chair that had put the idea of being a priest into his head. Just now, while walking with his father, he had been thinking that they had not even a wooden arm-chair in their house, though it was the best house in the village — only some stools and some plain wooden chairs.
The priest could see that Peter had come to him for a purpose. But Peter did not speak; he sat raising his pale, perplexed eyes, looking at the priest from time to time, thinking that if he told Father Tom of his failure at the fair, Father Tom might think he only wished to become a priest because he had no taste for farming.
You said, Father Tom, if I worked hard I should be able to read Quintillian in six months.
The priests face always lighted up at the name of a classical author, and Peter said he was sorry he had been taken away from his studies. But he had been thinking the matter over, and his mind was quite made up, and he was sure he would sooner be a priest than anything else.
My boy, I knew you would never put on the policemans belt. The Bishop will hold an examination for the places that are vacant in Maynooth. Peter promised to work hard and he already saw himself sitting in an arm-chair, in a mahogany arm-chair, reading classics, and winning admiration for his learning.
He walked home, thinking that everything was at last decided, when suddenly, without warning, when he was thinking of something else, his heart misgave him. It was as if he heard a voice saying: My boy, I dont think you will ever put on the cassock. You will never walk with the biretta on your head. The priest had said that he did not believe he would ever buckle on the policemans belt. He was surprised to hear the priest say this, though he had often heard himself thinking the same thing. What surprised and frightened him now was that he heard himself saying he would never put on the cassock and the biretta. It is frightening to hear yourself saying you are not going to do the thing you have just made up your mind you will do.
He had often thought he would like to put the money he would get out of the farm into a shop, but when it came to the point of deciding he had not been able to make up his mind. He had always had a great difficulty in knowing what was the right thing to do. His uncle William had never thought of anything but the priesthood. James never thought of anything but the farm. A certain friend of his had never thought of doing anything but going to America. Suddenly he heard some one call him.
It was Catherine, and Peter wondered if she were thinking to tell him she was going to marry James. For she always knew what she wanted. Many said that James was not the one she wanted, but Peter did not believe that, and he looked at Catherine and admired her face, and thought what a credit she would be to the family. No one wore such beautifully knitted stockings as Catherine, and no ones boots were so prettily laced.
But not knowing exactly what to say, he asked her if she had come from their house, and he went on talking, telling her that she would find nobody in the parish like James. James was the best farmer in the parish, none such a judge of cattle; and he said all this and a great deal more, until he saw that Catherine did not care to talk about James at all.
I daresay all you say is right, Peter; but you see hes your brother.
And then, fearing she had said something hurtful, she told him that she liked James as much as a girl could like a man who was not going to be her husband.
And you are sure, Catherine, that James is not going to be your husband?
Yes, she said, quite sure.
Their talk had taken them as far as Catherines door, and Peter went away wondering why he had not told her he was going to Maynooth; for no one would have been able to advise him as well as Catherine, she had such good sense.
There was a quarter of a mile between the two houses, and while Peter was talking to Catherine, Pat Phelan was listening to his son James, who was telling his father that Catherine had said she would not marry him.
Pat was over sixty, but he did not give one the impression of an old man. The hair was not grey, there was still a little red in the whiskers. James, who sat opposite to him, holding his hands to the blaze, was not as good-looking a man as his father, the nose was not as fine, nor were the eyes as keen. There was more of the father in Peter than in James.
When Peter opened the half-door, awaking the dozen hens that roosted on the beam, he glanced from one to the other, for he suspected that his father was telling James how he had failed to sell the bullocks. But the tone of his fathers voice when he asked him what had detained him on the road told him he was mistaken; and then he remembered that Catherine had said she would not marry James, and he began to pity his brother.
I met Catherine on the road, and I could do no less than walk as far as her door with her.
You could do no less than that, Peter, said James.
And what do you mean by that, James?
Only this, that it is always the crooked way, Peter; for if it had been you that had asked her she would have had you and jumping.
She would have had me!
And now dont you think you had better run after her, Peter, and ask her if shell have you?
Ill never do that; and it is hurtful, James, that you should think such a thing of me, that I would go behind your back and try to get a girl from you.
I did not mean that, Peter; but if she wont have me, you had better try if you can get her.
And suddenly Peter felt a resolve come into his heart, and his manner grew exultant.
Ive seen Father Tom, and he said I can pass the examination. Im going to be a priest.
And when they were lying down side by side Peter said, James, it will be all right. Knowing there was a great heart-sickness on his brother, he put out his hand. As sure as I lie here she will be lying next you before this day twelvemonths. Yes, James, in this very bed, lying here where I am lying now.
I dont believe it, Peter.
Peter loved his brother, and to bring the marriage about he took some money from his father and went to live at Father Toms, and he worked so hard during the next two months that he passed the Bishops examination. And it was late one night when he went to bid them good-bye at home.
What makes you so late, Peter?
Well, James, I didnt want to meet Catherine on the road.
You are a good boy, Peter, said the father, and God will reward you for the love you bear your brother. I dont think there are two better men in the world. God has been good to me to give me two such sons.
And then the three sat round the fire, and Pat Phelan began to talk family history.
Well, Peter, you see, there has always been a priest in the family, and it would be a pity if theres not one in this generation. In 48 your grand-uncles joined the rebels, and they had to leave the country. You have an uncle a priest, and you are just like your uncle William.
And then James talked, but he did not seem to know very well what he was saying, and his father told him to stop — that Peter was going where God had called him.
And you will tell her, Peter said, getting up, that I have gone.
I havent the heart for telling her such a thing. She will be finding it out soon enough.
Outside the house — for he was sleeping at Father Toms that night — Peter thought there was little luck in Jamess eyes; inside the house Pat Phelan and James thought that Peter was settled for life.
He will be a fine man standing on an altar, James said, and perhaps he will be a bishop some day.
And youll see her when youre done reaping, and you wont forget what Peter told you, said Pat Phelan.
And, after reaping, James put on his coat and walked up the hillside, where he thought he would find Catherine.
I hear Peter has left you, she said, as he opened the gate to let the cows through.
He came last night to bid us good-bye.
And they followed the cows under the tall hedges.
I shall be reaping to-morrow, he said. I will see you at the same time.
And henceforth he was always at hand to help her to drive her cows home; and every night, as he sat with his father by the fire, Pat Phelan expected James to tell him about Catherine. One evening he came back overcome, looking so wretched that his father could see that Catherine had told him she would not marry him.
She wont have me, he said.
A man can always get a girl if he tries long enough, his father said, hoping to encourage him.
That would be true enough for another. Catherine knows she will never get Peter. Another man might get her, but Im always reminding her of Peter.
She told him the truth one day, that if she did not marry Peter she would marry no one, and James felt like dying. He grew pale and could not speak.
At last he said, How is that?
I dont know. I dont know, James. But you mustnt talk to me about marriage again.
And he had to promise her not to speak of marriage again, and he kept his word. At the end of the year she asked him if he had any news of Peter.
The last news we had of him was about a month ago, and he said he hoped to be admitted into the minor orders.
And a few days afterwards he heard that Catherine had decided to go into a convent.
So this is the way it has ended, he thought. And he seemed no longer fit for work on the farm. He was seen about the road smoking, and sometimes he went down to the ball-alley, and sat watching the games in the evening. It was thought that he would take to drink, but he took to fishing instead, and was out all day in his little boat on the lake, however hard the wind might blow. The fisherman said he had seen him in the part of the lake where the wind blew the hardest, and that he could hardly pull against the waves.
His mind is away. I dont think hell do any good in this country, his father said.
And the old man was very sad, for when James was gone he would have no one, and he did not feel he would be able to work the farm for many years longer. He and James used to sit smoking on either side of the fireplace, and Pat Phelan knew that James was thinking of America all the while. One evening, as they were sitting like this, the door was opened suddenly.
Peter! said James. And he jumped up from the fire to welcome his brother.
It is good for sore eyes to see the sight of you again, said Pat Phelan. Well, tell us the news. If we had known you were coming we would have sent the cart to meet you.
As Peter did not answer, they began to think that something must have happened. Perhaps Peter was not going to become a priest after all, and would stay at home with his father to learn to work the farm.
You see, I did not know myself until yesterday. It was only yesterday that —
So you are not going to be a priest? We are glad to hear that, Peter.
How is that?
He had thought over what he should say, and without waiting to hear why they were glad, he told them the professor, who overlooked his essays, had refused to recognize their merits — he had condemned the best things in them; and Peter said it was extraordinary that such a man should be appointed to such a place. Then he told that the Church afforded little chances for the talents of young men unless they had a great deal of influence.
And they sat listening to him, hearing how the college might be reformed. He had a gentle, winning way of talking, and his father and brother forgot their own misfortunes thinking how they might help him.
Well, Peter, you have come back none too soon.
And how is that? What have you been doing since I went away? You all wanted to hear about Maynooth.
Of course we did, my boy. Tell him, James.
Oh! it is nothing particular, said James. It is only this, Peter — I am going to America.
And who will work the farm?
Well, Peter, we were thinking that you might work it yourself.
I work the farm! Going to America, James! But what about Catherine?
Thats what Im coming to, Peter. She has gone into a convent. And thats whats happened since you went away. I cant stop here, Peter — I will never do a hands turn in Ireland — and father is getting too old to go to the fairs. Thats what we were thinking when you came in.
There was a faint tremble in his voice, and Peter saw how heart-sick his brother was.
I will do my best, James.
I knew you would.
Yes, I will, said Peter; and he sat down by the fire.
And his father said: —
You are not smoking, Peter.
No, he said; Ive given up smoking.
Will you drink something? said James. We have got a drain of whiskey in the house.
No, I have had to give up spirits. It doesnt agree with me. And I dont take tea in the morning. Have you got any cocoa in the house?
It was not the cocoa he liked, but he said he would be able to manage.
And when the old man came through the doorway in the morning buttoning his braces, he saw Peter stirring his cocoa. There was something absurd as well as something attractive in Peter, and his father had to laugh when he said he couldnt eat American bacon.
My stomach wouldnt retain it. I require very little, but that little must be the best.
And when James took him into the farmyard, he noticed that Peter crossed the yard like one who had never been in a farmyard before; he looked less like a farmer than ever, and when he looked at the cows, James wondered if he could be taught to see the difference between an Alderney and a Durham.
Theres Kate, he said; shes a good cow; as good a cow as we have, and we cant get any price for her because of that hump on her back.
They went to the styes; there were three pigs there and a great sow with twelve little bonhams, and the little ones were white with silky hair, and Peter asked how old they were, and when they would be fit for killing. And James told Peter there were seven acres in the Big field.
Last year we had oats in the Holly field; next year youll sow potatoes there. And he explained the rotation of crops. And, now, he said, we will go down to Crows Oak. You have never done any ploughing, Peter; I will show you.
It was extraordinary how little Peter knew. He could not put the harness on the horse, and he reminded James that he had gone into the post-office when he left school. James gave in to him that the old red horse was hard to drive, but James could drive him better than Peter could lead him; and Peter marvelled at the skill with which James raised his hand from the shaft of the plough and struck the horse with the rein whilst he kept the plough steady with the other hand.
Now, Peter, you must try again.
At the end of the headland where the plough turned, Peter always wanted to stop and talk about something; but James said they would have to get on with the work, and Peter walked after the plough, straining after it for three hours, and then he said: James, let me drive the horse. I can do no more.
You wont feel it so much when you are accustomed to it, said James.
Anything seemed to him better than a days ploughing: even getting up at three in the morning to go to a fair.
He went to bed early, as he used to, and they talked of him over the fire, as they used to. But however much they talked, they never seemed to find what they were seeking — his vocation — until one evening an idea suddenly rose out of their talk.
A good wife is the only thing for Peter, said Pat.
And they went on thinking.
A husband would be better for her, said Pat Phelan, than a convent.
I cannot say I agree with you there. Think of all the good them nuns are doing.
She isnt a nun yet, said Pat Phelan.
And the men smoked on a while, and they ruminated as they smoked.
It would be better, James, that Peter got her than that she should stay in a convent.
I wouldnt say that, said James.
You see, said his father, she did not go into the convent because she had a calling, but because she was crossed in love.
And after another long while James said, It is a bitter dose, I am thinking, father, but you must go and tell her that Peter has left Maynooth.
And what would the Reverend Mother be saying to me if I went to her with such a story as that? Isnt your heart broken enough already, James, without wanting me to be breaking it still more? Sure, James, you could never see her married to Peter?
If she were to marry Peter I should be able to go to America, and that is the only thing for me.
That would be poor consolation for you, James.
Well, it is the best I shall get, to see Peter settled, and to know that there will be some one to look after you, father.
You are a good son, James.
They talked on, and as they talked it became clearer to them that some one must go to-morrow to the convent and tell Catherine that Peter had left Maynooth.
But wouldnt it be a pity, said Pat Phelan, to tell her this if Peter is not going to marry her in the end?
Ill have him out of his bed, said James, and hell tell us before this fire if he will or wont.
Its a serious thing you are doing, James, to get a girl out of a convent, I am thinking.
It will be on my advice that you will be doing this, father; and now Ill go and get Peter out of his bed.
And Peter was brought in, asking what they wanted of him at this hour of the night; and when they told him what they had been talking about and the plans they had been making, he said he would be catching his death of cold, and they threw some sods of turf on the fire.
It is against myself that I am asking a girl to leave the convent, even for you, Peter, said James. But we can think of nothing else.
Peter will be able to tell us if it is a sin that wed be doing.
It is only right that Catherine should know the truth before she made her vows, Peter said. But this is very unexpected, father. I really —
Peter, Id take it as a great kindness. I shall never do a hands turn in this country. I want to get to America. It will be the saving of me.
And now, Peter, said his father, tell us for sure if you will have the girl?
Faith I will, though I never thought of marriage, if it be to please James. Seeing how heart-sick his brother was, he said, I cant say I like her as you like her; but if she likes me I will promise to do right by her. James, youre going away; we may never see you again. It is all very sad. And now youll let me go back to bed.
Peter, I knew you would not say no to me; I cant bear this any longer.
And now, said Peter, let me go back to bed. I am catching my death.
And he ran back to his room, and left his brother and father talking by the fire.
Pat thought the grey mare would take him in faster than the old red horse; and the old man sat, his legs swinging over the shaft, wondering what he should say to the Reverend Mother, and how she would listen to his story; and when he came to the priests house a great wish came upon him to ask the priests advice. The priest was walking up his little lawn reading his breviary, and a great fear came on Pat Phelan, and he thought he must ask the priest what he should do.
The priest heard the story over the little wall, and he was sorry for the old man.
It took him a long time to tell the story, and when he was finished the priest said: —
But where are you going, Pat?
Thats what I stopped to tell you, your reverence. I was thinking I might be going to the convent to tell Catherine that Peter has come back.
Well it wasnt yourself that thought of doing such a thing as that, Pat Phelan.
But at every word the priest said Pat Phelans face grew more stubborn, and at last he said: —
Well, your reverence, that isnt the advice I expected from you, and he struck the mare with the ends of the reins and let her trot up the hill. Nor did the mare stop trotting till she had reached the top of the hill, and Pat Phelan had never known her do such a thing before. From the top of the hill there was a view of the bog, and Pat thought of the many fine loads of turf he had had out of that bog, and the many young fellows he had seen there cutting turf. But every one is leaving the country, the old man said to himself, and his chin dropped into his shirt-collar, and he held the reins loosely, letting the mare trot or walk as she liked. And he let many pass him without bidding them the hour of the day, for he was too much overcome by his own grief to notice anyone.
The mare trotted gleefully; soft clouds curled over the low horizon far away, and the sky was blue overhead; and the poor country was very beautiful in the still autumn weather, only it was empty. He passed two or three fine houses that the gentry had left to caretakers long ago. The fences were gone, cattle strayed through the woods, the drains were choked with weeds, the stagnant water was spreading out into the fields, and Pat Phelan noticed these things, for he remembered what this country was forty years ago. The devil a bit of lonesomeness there was in it then.
He asked a girl if they would be thatching the house that autumn; but she answered that the thatch would last out the old people, and she was going to join her sister in America.
Shes right — theyre all there now. Why should anyone stop here? the old man said.
The mare tripped, and he took this to be a sign that he should turn back. But he did not go back. Very soon the town began, in broken pavements and dirty cottages; going up the hill there were some slated roofs, but there was no building of any importance except the church.
At the end of the main street, where the trees began again, the convent stood in the middle of a large garden, and Pat Phelan remembered he had heard that the nuns were doing well with their dairy and their laundry.
He knocked, and a lay-sister peeped through the grating, and then she opened the door a little way, and at first he thought he would have to go back without seeing either Catherine or the Reverend Mother. For he had got no further than Sister Catherine, when the lay-sister cut him short with the news that Sister Catherine was in retreat, and could see no one. The Reverend Mother was busy.
But, said Pat, youre not going to let Catherine take vows without hearing me.
If it is about Sister Catherines vows —
Yes, it is about them Ive come, and I must see the Reverend Mother.
The lay-sister said Sister Catherine was going to be clothed at the end of the week.
Well, that is just the reason Ive come here.
On that the lay-sister led him into the parlour, and went in search of the Reverend Mother.
The floor was so thickly bees-waxed that the rug slipped under his feet, and, afraid lest he might fall down, he stood quite still, impressed by the pious pictures on the walls, and by the large books upon the table, and by the poor-box, and by the pious inscriptions. He began to think how much easier was this pious life than the life of the world — the rearing of children, the failure of crops, and the loneliness. Here life slips away without one perceiving it, and it seemed a pity to bring her back to trouble. He stood holding his hat in his old hands, and the time seemed very long. At last the door opened, and a tall woman with sharp, inquisitive eyes came in.
You have come to speak to me about Sister Catherine?
Yes, my lady.
And what have you got to tell me about her?
Well, my son thought and I thought last night — we were all thinking we had better tell you — last night was the night that my son came back.
At the word Maynooth a change of expression came into her face, but when he told that Peter no longer wished to be a priest her manner began to grow hostile again, and she got up from her chair and said: —
But really, Mr. Phelan, I have got a great deal of business to attend to.
But, my lady, you see that Catherine wanted to marry my son Peter, and it is because he went to Maynooth that she came here. I dont think shed want to be a nun if she knew that he didnt want to be a priest.
I cannot agree with you, Mr. Phelan, in that. I have seen a great deal of Sister Catherine — she has been with us now for nearly a year — and if she ever entertained the wishes you speak of, I feel sure she has forgotten them. Her mind is now set on higher things.
Of course you may be right, my lady, very likely. It isnt for me to argue with you about such things; but you see I have come a long way, and if I could see Catherine herself —
That is impossible. Catherine is in retreat.
So the lay-sister told me; but I thought —
Sister Catherine is going to be clothed next Saturday, and I can assure you, Mr. Phelan, that the wishes you tell me of are forgotten. I know her very well. I can answer for Sister Catherine.
The rug slipped under the peasants feet and his eyes wandered round the room; and the Reverend Mother told him how busy she was, she really could not talk to him any more that day.
You see, it all rests with Sister Catherine herself.
Thats just it, said the old man; thats just it, my lady. My son Peter, who has come from Maynooth, told us last night that Catherine should know everything that has happened, so that she may not be sorry afterwards, otherwise I wouldnt have come here, my lady. I wouldnt have come to trouble you.
I am sorry, Mr. Phelan, that your son Peter has left Maynooth. It is sad indeed when one finds that one has not a vocation. But that happens sometimes. I dont think that it will be Catherines case. And now, Mr. Phelan, I must ask you to excuse me, and the Reverend Mother persuaded the unwilling peasant into the passage, and he followed the lay-sister down the passage to the gate and got into his cart again.
No wonder, he thought, they dont want to let Catherine out, now that they have got that great farm, and not one among them, Ill be bound, who can manage it except Catherine.
At the very same moment the same thoughts passed through the Reverend Mothers mind. She had not left the parlour yet, and stood thinking how she should manage if Catherine were to leave them. Why, she asked, should he choose to leave Maynooth at such a time? It is indeed unfortunate. There is nothing, she reflected, that gives a woman so much strength as to receive the veil. She always feels stronger after her clothing. She feels that the world is behind her.
The Reverend Mother reflected that perhaps it would be better for Catherines sake and for Peters sake — indeed, for everyones sake — if she were not to tell Catherine of Pat Phelans visit until after the clothing. She might tell Catherine three months hence. The disadvantage of this would be that Catherine might hear that Peter had left Maynooth. In a country place news of this kind cannot be kept out of a convent. And if Catherine were going to leave, it were better that she should leave them now than leave them six months hence, after her clothing.
There are many ways of looking at it, the Reverend Mother reflected. If I dont tell her, she may never hear it. I might tell her later when she has taught one of the nuns how to manage the farm. She took two steps towards the door and stopped to think again, and she was thinking when a knock came to the door. She answered mechanically, Come in, and Catherine wondered at the Reverend Mothers astonishment.
I wish to speak to you, dear mother, she said timidly. But seeing the Reverend Mothers face change expression, she said, Perhaps another time will suit you better.
The Reverend Mother stood looking at her, irresolute; and Catherine, who had never seen the Reverend Mother irresolute before, wondered what was passing in her mind.
I know you are busy, dear mother, but what I have come to tell you wont take very long.
Well, then, tell it to me, my child.
It is only this, Reverend Mother. I had better tell you now, for you are expecting the Bishop, and my clothing is fixed for the end of the week, and —
And, said the Reverend Mother, you feel that you are not certain of your vocation.
That is it, dear mother. I thought I had better tell you. Reading disappointment in the nuns face, Catherine said, I hesitated to tell you before. I had hoped that the feeling would pass away; but, dear mother, it isnt my fault; everyone has not a vocation.
Then Catherine noticed a softening in the Reverend Mothers face, and she asked Catherine to sit down by her; and Catherine told her she had come to the convent because she was crossed in love, and not as the others came, because they wished to give up their wills to God.
Our will is the most precious thing in us, and that is why the best thing we can do is to give it up to you, for in giving it up to you, dear mother, we are giving it up to God. I know all these things, but —
You should have told me of this when you came here, Catherine, and then I would not have advised you to come to live with us.
Mother, you must forgive me. My heart was broken, and I could not do otherwise. And you have said yourself that I made the dairy a success.
If you had stayed with us, Catherine, you would have made the dairy a success; but we have got no one to take your place. However, since it is the will of God, I suppose we must try to get on as well as we can without you. And now tell me, Catherine, when it was that you changed your mind. It was only the other day you told me you wished to become a nun. You said you were most anxious for your clothing. How is it that you have changed your mind?
Catherines eyes brightened, and speaking like one illuminated by some inward light, she said: —
It was the second day of my retreat, mother. I was walking in the garden where the great cross stands amid the rocks. Sister Angela and Sister Mary were with me, and I was listening to what they were saying, when suddenly my thoughts were taken away and I remembered those at home. I remembered Mr. Phelan, and James, who wanted to marry me, but whom I would not marry; and it seemed to me that I saw him leaving his father — it seemed to me that I saw him going away to America. I dont know how it was — you will not believe me, dear mother — but I saw the ship lying in the harbour, that is to take him away. And then I thought of the old man sitting at home with no one to look after him, and it was not a seeming, but a certainty, mother. It came over me suddenly that my duty was not here, but there. Of course you cant agree with me, but I cannot resist it, it was a call.
But the Evil One, my dear child, calls us too; we must be careful not to mistake the devils call for Gods call.
Mother, I daresay. Tears came to Catherines eyes, she began to weep. I cant argue with you, mother, I only know — She could not speak for sobbing, and between her sobs she said, I only know that I must go home.
She recovered herself very soon, and the Reverend Mother took her hand and said: —
Well, my dear child, I shall not stand in your way.
Even the Reverend Mother could not help thinking that the man who got her would get a charming wife. Her face was rather long and white, and she had long female eyes with dark lashes, and her eyes were full of tenderness. She had spoken out of so deep a conviction that the Reverend Mother had begun to believe that her mission was perhaps to look after this hapless young man; and when she told the Reverend Mother that yesterday she had felt a conviction that Peter was not going to be a priest, the Reverend Mother felt that she must tell her of Pat Phelans visit.
I did not tell you at once, my dear child, because I wished to know from yourself how you felt about this matter, the nun said; and she told Catherine that she was quite right, that Peter had left Maynooth. He hopes to marry you, Catherine.
A quiet glow came into the postulants eyes, and she seemed engulfed in some deep joy.
How did he know that I cared for him? the girl said, half to herself, half to the nun.
I suppose his father or his brother must have told him, the nun answered.
And then Catherine, fearing to show too much interest in things that the nun deemed frivolous, said, I am sorry to leave before my work is done here. But, mother, so it has all come true; it was extraordinary what I felt that morning in the garden, she said, returning to her joy. Mother, do you believe in visions?
The saints, of course, have had visions. We believe in the visions of the saints.
But after all, mother, there are many duties besides religious duties.
I suppose, Catherine, you feel it to be your duty to look after this young man?
Yes, I think that is it. I must go now, mother, and see Sister Angela, and write out for her all I know about the farm, and what she is to do, for if one is not very careful with a farm one loses a great deal of money. There is no such thing as making two ends meet. One either makes money or loses money.
And then Catherine again seemed to be engulfed in some deep joy, out of which she roused herself with difficulty.
When her postulant left the room, the Reverend Mother wrote to Pat Phelan, asking him to come next morning with his cart to fetch Catherine. And next morning, when the lay-sister told Catherine that he was waiting for her, the Reverend Mother said: —
We shall be able to manage, Catherine. You have told Sister Angela everything, and you will not forget to come to see us, I hope.
Mr. Phelan, said the lay-sister, told me to tell you that one of his sons is going to America to-day. Sister Catherine will have to go at once if she wishes to see him.
I must see James. I must see him before he leaves for America. Oh, she said, turning to the Reverend Mother, do you remember that I told you I had seen the ship? Everything has come true. You cant believe any longer that it is not a call.
Her box was in the cart, and as Pat turned the mare round he said: I hope we wont miss James at the station. Thats the reason I came for you so early. I thought you would like to see him.
Why did you not come earlier? she cried. All my happiness will be spoilt if I dont see James.
The convent was already behind her, and her thoughts were now upon poor James, whose heart she had broken. She knew that Peter would never love her as well as James, but this could not be helped. Her vision in the garden consoled her, for she could no longer doubt that she was doing right in going to Peter, that her destiny was with him.
She knew the road well, she knew all the fields, every house and every gap in the walls. Sign after sign went by; at last they were within sight of the station. The signal was still up, and the train had not gone yet; at the end of the platform she saw James and Peter. She let Pat Phelan drive the cart round; she could get to them quicker by running down the steps and crossing the line. The signal went down.
Peter, she said, we shall have time to talk presently. I want to speak to James now.
And they walked up to the platform, leaving Peter to talk to his father.
Paddy Maguire is outside, Pat said; I asked him to stand at the mares head.
James, said Catherine, it is very sad you are going away. We may never see you again, and there is no time to talk, and Ive much to say to you.
I am going away, Catherine, but maybe I will be coming back some day. I was going to say maybe you would be coming over after me; but the land is good land, and youll be able to make a living out of it.
And then they spoke of Peter. James said he was too great a scholar for a farmer, and it was a pity he could not find out what he was fit for — for surely he was fit for something great after all.
And Catherine said: —
I shall be able to make something out of Peter.
His emotion almost overcame him, and Catherine looked aside so that she should not see his tears.
This is no time for talking of Peter, she said. You are going away, James, but you will come back. You will find another woman better than I am in America, James. I dont know what to say to you. The train will be here in a minute. I am distracted. But one day you will be coming back, and we shall be very proud of you when you come back. I shall rebuild the house, and we shall be all happy then. Oh! heres the train. Good-bye; you have been very good to me. Oh, James! shall I ever see you again?
Then the crowd swept them along, and James had to take his fathers hand and his brothers hand. There were a great many people in the station — hundreds were going away in the same ship that James was going in. The train was followed by wailing relatives. They ran alongside of the train, waving their hands until they could no longer keep up with the train. James waved a red handkerchief until the train was out of sight. It disappeared in a cutting, and a moment after Catherine and Peter remembered they were standing side by side. They were going to be married in a few days! They started a little, hearing a step beside them. It was old Phelan.
I think, he said, it is time to be getting home.