CHAPTER XII: THE WILD GOOSE
HE REMEMBERED a green undulating country out of which the trees seemed to emerge like vapours, and a line of pearl-coloured mountains showing above the horizon on fine days. And this was all. But this slight colour-memory had followed him all through his wanderings. His parents had emigrated to Manchester when he was nine, and when he was sixteen he felt that he must escape from Manchester, from the overwhelming dreariness of the brick chimneys and their smoke cloud. He had joined a travelling circus on its way to the Continent, and he crossed with it from New Haven to Dieppe in charge of the lions. The circus crossed in a great storm; Ned was not able to get about, and the tossing of the vessel closed the ventilating slides, and when they arrived at Dieppe the finest lion was dead.
Well, there are other things to do in life besides feeding lions, he said; and taking up his fiddle he became interested in it. He played it all the way across the Atlantic, and everyone said there was no reason why he should not play in the opera house. But an interview with the music conductor dispelled illusions. Ned learnt from him that improvisations were not admissible in an opera house; and when the conductor told him what would be required of him he began to lose interest in his musical career. As he stood jingling his pence on the steps of the opera house a man went by who had crossed with Ned, and the two getting into conversation, Ned was asked if he could draw a map according to scale. It would profit him nothing to say no; he remembered he had drawn maps in the school in Manchester. A bargain was struck! he was to get ten pounds for his map! He ordered a table; he pinned out the paper, and the map was finished in a fortnight. It was of a mining district, and having nothing to do when it was finished he thought he would like to see the mine; the owners encouraged him to go there, and he did some mining in the morning — in the evenings he played his fiddle. Eventually he became a journalist.
He wandered and wrote, and wandered again, until one day, finding himself in New York, he signed an agreement and edited a newspaper. But he soon wearied of expressing the same opinions, and as the newspaper could not change its opinions Ned volunteered to go to Cuba and write about the insurgents. And he wrote articles that inflamed the Americans against the Spaniards, and went over to the American lines to fight when the Americans declared war against Spain, and fought so well that he might have become a general if the war had lasted. But it was over, and, overpowered by an extraordinary dislike to New York, he felt he must travel. He wanted to see Europe again, and remembering the green plain of Meath, he said: Ill go to Ireland.
His father and mother were dead, and without a thought of his relations, he read the legends of Meath on his way out; he often sat considering his adventures, the circus, the mining camp, and his sympathy with the Cubans in their revolt against Spain; these convinced him of his Gaelic inheritance and that something might be done with Ireland. Englands power was great, but Spains power had been great too, and when Spain thought herself most powerful the worm had begun. Everything has its day, and as England decayed, Ireland would revive. A good time might be on its way to Ireland; if so he would like to be there or thereabouts; for he always liked to be in the van of a good time.
He went straight to Tara, his mind bending rather to pagan than to Christian Ireland. Traces of Cormacs banqueting hall were pointed out to him, and he imagined what this great hall, built entirely of wood and hung about with skins, must have been. He was shown the Rath of Kings and the Rath of Grania. Her name brought to his mind her flight with Diarmuid and how when they had had to cross a stream and her legs were wetted, she had said to Diarmuid, who would not break his oath to Finn, Diarmuid, you are a great warrior, but this water is braver than you! Perhaps this very stream! he said, looking towards a stream that flowed from the well of Neamhtach or Pearly. But he was told it was this stream that had turned the first water mill in Ireland and that Cormac had put up the mill to save a beautiful bond-maid from toiling at the quern.
The morning was spent in seeking the old sites, and in the afternoon he went to the inn and found a good number of villagers in the tap-room. He learned from them that there were cromlechs and Druid altars within walking distance of Tara, and decided on a walking tour. He wandered through the beautiful country, interested in Irelands slattern life, touched by the kindness and simplicity of the people. Poor people, he thought, how touching it is to find them learning their own language, and he began to think out a series of articles about Ireland.
They talk of Cuchulain, he said, but they prefer an Archbishop, and at every turn in their lives they are paying the priest. The title of my book shall be A Western Thibet, an excellent title for my book! and leaning on a gate and looking across a hay-field, he saw the ends of chapters.
Now that he had a book to write, his return to America was postponed; a postponement was to Ned an indefinite period, and he was glad he was not returning to America till the spring, for he had found pleasant rooms in a farm-house. He would make them his head-quarters; for it was only by living in a farm-house he could learn the life of the people and its real mind. And he would have written his book just as he had planned it if he had not met Ellen Cronin.
She was the only daughter of a rich farmer in the neighbourhood. He had heard so much about her learning and her pretty face that he was disposed to dispute her good looks; but in spite of his landladys praise he had liked her pretty oval face. Her face is pretty when you look at it, he said to his landlady. But this admission did not satisfy her. Well, enthusiasm is pleasant, he thought, and he listened to her rambling talk.
She used to like to come to tea here, and after her tea she and my son James, who was the same age, used to make paper boats under the alder-trees.
And the picture of Ellen making boats under alder-trees pleased Neds fancy, and he encouraged the land-lady to tell him more about her. She told him that Ellen had not taken to study till she was twelve and that it was the priest who had set her reading books and had taught her Latin.
Ned lay back in his chair smiling, listening to the landlady telling him about Ellen. She had chosen her own school. She had inquired into the matter, and had taken her father into her confidence one day by telling him of the advantages of this school. But this part of the story did not please Ned, and he said he did not like her a bit better for having chosen her own school. Nor did he like her better because her mistress had written to her father to say she had learned all that she could learn in Ireland. He liked her for her love of Ireland and her opposition to her fathers ideas. Old Cronin thought Ireland a miserable country and England the finest in the world, whereas Ellen thought only of Irish things, and she had preferred the Dublin University to Oxford or Cambridge. He was told that her university career had been no less brilliant than her school career, and he raised his eyebrows when the landlady said that Miss Ellen used to have her professors staying at Mount Laurel, and that they used to talk Latin in the garden.
But she was long ago done with the professors, and Ned asked the landlady to tell him what change had come over the mind of this somewhat pedantic young woman. And he was told that Ellen had abandoned her studies and professors for politics and politicians, and that these were a great trial to her father, into whose house no Nationalist member of Parliament had ever put his foot before. Now the very men that Mr. Cronin used to speak of as men who were throwing stones at the police three years ago are dining with him to-day. And worse than her political opinions, according to Mr. Cronin, was her resolution to speak the language of her own country. When he had heard her talking it to a boy she had up from the country to teach her, Mr. Cronin stuck both his hands into his stubbly hair and rushed out of the house like a wild man.
It was pleasant to listen to the landladys babble about the Cronins, for he was going to spend the evening with them; he had been introduced to her father, a tall, thin, taciturn man, who had somewhat gruffly, but not unkindly, asked him to come to spend the evening with them, saying that some friends were coming in, and there would be some music.
Neds life had been lived in newspaper offices, in theatres, circuses, and camps. He knew very little of society — nothing at all of European society — and was curious to see what an Irish country-house was like. The Cronins lived in a dim, red brick, eighteenth-century house. It stood in the middle of a large park, and the park was surrounded by old grey walls and Ned liked to lean on these walls, for in places they had crumbled, and admire the bracken in the hollows and the wind-blown hawthorn-trees growing on the other side of the long, winding drive. He had long wished to walk in the park and now he was there. The hawthorns were in bloom and the cuckoo was calling. The sky was dark overhead, but there was light above the trees, and long herds of cattle wandered and life seemed to Ned extraordinarily lovely and desirable at that moment. I wonder what her dreams are? Winter and summer she looks at these mysterious hollows and these abundant hawthorn groves.
The young lady had been pointed out to him as she went by, and he was impatient to be introduced to Ellen, but she was talking to some friends near the window, and she did not see him. He liked her white dress, there were pearls round her neck, and her red hair was pinned up with a tortoise-shell comb. She and her friends were looking over a photograph album, and Ned was left with Mr. Cronin to talk to him as best he could; for it was difficult to talk to this hard, grizzled man, knowing nothing about the war in Cuba nor evincing any interest in America. When Ned asked him about Ireland he answered in short sentences, which brought the conversation to abrupt closes. America having failed to draw him out, and Ireland, Ned began to talk of his landlady. But it was not until he related the conversation he had had with her that evening about Miss Cronin that the old farmer began to talk a little. Ned could see he was proud of his daughter; he regretted that she had not gone to Oxford, and said she would have carried all before her if she had gone there. Ned could see that what his landlady had told him was true — that old Cronin thought very little of Ireland. He hoped to get three minutes conversation, at least, out of Girton, but the old farmer seemed to have said everything he had to say on the subject. The conversation failed again, and Ned was forced to speak to him of the interest that Miss Cronin took in the Irish language and her desire to speak it. At the mention of the Irish language, the old man grew gruffer, and remembering that the landlady had said that Miss Cronin was very religious, Ned spoke of the priests — there were two in the room — and he asked Mr. Cronin which of them had encouraged Miss Cronin to learn Irish. He had never heard the language spoken, and would like to hear it.
I believe, Mr. Cronin, it was Father Egan who taught your daughter Latin?
It was so, said Mr. Cronin; but he might have left the Irish alone, and politics, too. We keep them as fat as little bonhams, and they ought to be satisfied with that.
Ned did not know what were little bonhams, and pretended a great interest when he was told that bonham was the Irish for sucking pig, and glancing at the priests he noticed that they were fat indeed, and he said, There is nothing like faith for fattening. It is better than any oil-cake.
Mr. Cronin gave a grunt and Ned thought he was going to laugh at this sally, but he suddenly moved away, and Ned wondered what had happened. It was Ellen who had crossed the room to speak to her father, and Ned could see that she had heard his remark, and he could see that the remark had angered her, that she thought it in bad taste. He prepared quickly a winning speech which would turn the edge of her indignation, but before he had time to speak the expression of her face changed and a look of pleasure passed into it; he could see that the girl liked him, and he hastened to tell her that his landlady had told him about the paper boats and the alder-trees. And Ellen began to speak about the landlady, saying she was a very good, kind woman, and she wanted to know if Ned were comfortable at the farm-house. But she seemed to have some difficulty in speaking, and then, as if moved by some mysterious influence, they walked across the room towards the window and sat under the shadow of the red damask curtains. A gentle breeze was blowing and the curtains filled with it and sank back with a mysterious rustle. And beyond them the garden lay dark and huddled in the shadows of great trees. He heard her say she was sorry that James, the landladys son, had gone to America, and then they spoke of the forty thousand that were leaving Ireland every year. It was Ned who continued the conversation, but he could see that what he said hardly entered her ears at all. Yet she heard his voice in her heart, and he, too, heard her voice in his heart, and several times she felt she could not go on talking, and once she nearly lost consciousness and must have swayed a little, for he put out his hand to save her.
They went into the garden and walked about in the dusk. He told her about the war in Cuba and about the impulse which had brought him back to Ireland, and his tale seemed to her the most momentous thing she had ever heard. She listened to his first impressions about Tara, and every moment it seemed to her that she was about to hear a great secret, a secret that had been troubling her a long while; every moment she expected to hear him speak it, and she almost cried when her father came to ask Ned if he would play for them.
Ellen was not a musician, and another woman would have to accompany him. He was tall and thin and his hands were manly. She could hardly look at his hands without shuddering, so beautiful were they when they played the violin; and that night music said something more to her than it had ever said before. She heard again the sounds of birds and insects, and she saw again the gloom of the trees, and she felt again and more intensely the overpowering ecstasy, and she yielded herself utterly and without knowing why. When he finished playing he came to her and sat by her, and everything she said seemed to fall from her lips involuntarily. She seemed to have lost herself utterly, she seemed to have become a fluid, she yielded herself like a fluid; it was like dying: for she seemed to pass out of herself to become absorbed in the night. How the time past she knew not, and when her guests came to bid her good-bye she hardly saw them, and listened to their leave-taking with a little odd smile on her lips, and when everyone was gone she bade her father good-night absent-mindedly, fearing, however, that he would speak to her about Ned. But he only said good-night, and she went up the wide staircase conscious that the summer night was within the house and without it; that it lay upon the world, a burden sweet and still, like happiness upon the heart.
She opened her window, and sat there hoping that something would come out of the night and whisper in her ear the secret that tormented her. The stars knew! If she could only read them! She felt she was feeling a little more than she was capable of understanding. The ecstasy grew deeper, and she waited for the revelation. But none came, and feeling a little ashamed she got up to close the window, and it was then that the revelation broke in her mind. She had met the man who was to lead the Irish people! They wanted a new leader, a leader with a new idea; the new leader must come from the outside, and he had come to them from America, and her emotion was so great that she would have liked to have awakened her father. She would have liked to have gone into the country waking the people up in the cottages, telling them that the leader had come. She stood entranced, remembering all he had said to her. He had told her he had been moved to return to Ireland after the war in Cuba, and she had not understood. The word married passed through her mind before she could stay it. But she was necessary to this man, of this she was sure; the Voice had told her. She was feeling more than she could understand, and she lay down in her bed certain that she had accomplished the first stage of her journey.
And just then Ned was leaning on the garden gate. The summer night was sweet and still, and he wanted to think of this girl who had come so suddenly into his life. The idea of marriage flitted across his mind as it had flitted across hers, and he tried to remember the exact moment in Cuba when the wish to see Ireland had come into his mind. To believe in fate and predestination is an easy way out of lifes labyrinth, and if one does not believe in something of the kind the figures will not come right. How did he know that he had not met this girl for some unknown purpose. He could see a great white star through a vista in the trees, and he said: I believe that that star knows. Why will it not tell me?
And then he walked into the woods, and out under the moon, between the little grey fields. Some sheep had come out on the road and were lying upon it. I suppose its all very natural, he said. The circus aspiring to the academy and the academy spying to the circus. Now, what am I going to do to-morrow? I suppose I must go to see her.
He had visited all the ruins and pondered by all the cromlechs, and was a little weary of historic remains; the girl was too much in his mind to permit of his doing much writing. He might go to Dublin, where he had business, and in the morning he looked out the trains, but none seemed to suit his convenience, and at five oclock he was at Laurel Hill listening to Ellen. She was anxious to talk to him about the political opportunity he could seize if he were so minded.
Men have always believed in fate, Ned said, and, interrupting him suddenly she asked him if he would come to see a pretty house in the neighbourhood — a house that would suit him perfectly, for he must have a house if he intended to go in for politics.
They came back in the dusk, talking of painting and papering and the laying out of the garden. Ellen was anxious that the garden should be nice, and he had been much interested in the old family furniture at Laurel Hill, not with the spindle-legged Sheraton sideboard, but with the big Victorian furniture which the Cronins thought ugly. He liked especially the black mahogany sideboard in the dining-room, and he was enthusiastic about the four-post bed that Mr. Cronin had slept in for thirty years without ever thinking it was a beautiful thing. This massive furniture represented a life that Ned perceived for the first time, a sedate monotonous life; and he could see these people accomplishing the same tasks from daylight to dark; he admired the well-defined circle of their interests and the calm security with which they spoke of the same things every evening, deepening the tradition of their country and of their own characters; and he conceived a sudden passion for tradition, and felt he would like to settle down in these grass lands in an eighteenth-century house, living always amid heavy mahogany furniture, sleeping every night in a mahogany four-post bed: and he could not help thinking that if he did not get the mahogany four-post bed with the carved top, perhaps he would not care to marry Ellen at all.
The next time he saw her their talk turned upon the house she had found for him, and she said if he did not take it he would certainly go back to America in the spring. She forgot herself a little; her father had to check her, and Ned returned home sure in his mind that she would marry him — if he asked her. And the next day he chose a pair of trousers that he thought becoming — they were cut wide in the leg and narrow over the instep. He looked out for a cravat that she had not seen him wear, and he chose the largest, and he put on his braided coat. He could not see that his moustache was not in keeping with his clothes: he had often intended to shave it, but to-day was not the day for shaving. She had liked his moustache, and he thought it would be a pity she should not enjoy it, however reprehensible her taste for it might be. And he pondered his side-whiskers, remembering they were in keeping with his costume (larger whiskers would be still more in keeping), and amused by his own fantastic notions, he thought he was beginning to look like the gentleman of seventy or eighty years ago that he had seen in varnished maplewood frames in the drawing-room at the Cronins. His trousers were of a later period, but they were, nevertheless, contemporaneous with the period of the mahogany sideboard, and that was what he liked best.
Suddenly he stopped, remembering that he had never wished to be married, because he never thought that he could love the same woman always, and now he asked himself if Ellen were an exception, and if he had been led back to Ireland to marry her. He had grown tired of women before, but it seemed to him that he never could grow tired of her. That remained to be seen; the one certain thing was that he was going to propose to her.
He was told she was in the garden, and he was glad to dispense with the servants assistance; he would find his way there himself, and, after some searching, he found the wicket. The thing itself and its name pleased him. When he had a garden he would have a wicket. He had already begun to associate Ellen with her garden. She was never so much herself as when attending her flowers, and to please her he had affected an interest in them, but when he had said that the flowers were beautiful his eyes went to the garden walls and Ellen had seen that they had interested him more than the flowers. He had said that the buttresses were of no use; they had been built because in those days people took a pleasure in making life seem permanent. The buttresses had enabled him to admire the roses planted between them, and he had grown enthusiastic; but she had laughed at his enthusiasm, seeing quite clearly that he admired the flowers because they enhanced the beauty of the walls.
At the end of the garden there was a view of the Dublin mountains, and the long walk that divided the garden had been designed in order to draw attention to them. The contrast between the wild mountain and the homely primness of the garden appealed to his sense of the picturesque; and even now though the fate of his life was to be decided in a few minutes he could not but stay to admire the mysterious crests and hollows. In this faint day the mountains seemed more like living things, more mysterious and moving, than he had even seen them before, and he would have stood looking at them for a long while if he had not had to find Ellen. She was at the furthest end of the garden, where he had never been, beyond the rosary, beyond the grass-plot, and she was walking up and down. She seemed to have a fishing-net in her hand. But how could she be fishing in her garden? Ned did not know that there was a stream at the end of it; for the place had once belonged to monks, and they knew how to look after their bodily welfare and had turned the place into a trout preserve. But when Mr. Cronin had bought the property the garden was waste and the stream overgrown with willow-weed and meadow-sweet and every kind of brier. And it was Ellen who had discovered that the bottom of the stream was flagged and she had five feet of mud taken out of it, and now the stream was as bright and clear as in the time of the monks, and as full of trout. She had just caught two which lay on the grass panting, their speckled bellies heaving painfully.
There is a great big trout here, Ellen said, he must be a pound weight, and we tried to catch him all last season, but he is very cunning, he dives and gets under the net.
I think we shall be able to catch him, said Ned, if he is in the stream and if I could get another net.
The gardener will give you one.
And presently Ned came back with a net, and they beat up the stream from different ends, Ellen taking the side next the wall. There was a path there nearly free from briers, and she held her light summer dress round her tightly. Ned thought he had never seen anyone so prettily dressed. She wore a striped muslin variegated with pink flowers; there were black bows in her hat and black ribbon was run down the bottom of her dress; she looked very pretty against the old wall touched here and there with ivy. And the grace of her movement enchanted Ned when she leaned forward and prevented the trout from escaping up the stream. But Neds side of the stream was overgrown with briers and he could not make his way through them. Once he very nearly slipped into the stream, and only saved himself by catching some prickly briers, and Ellen had to come over to take the thorns out of his hand. Then they resumed their fishing, hunting the trout up and down the stream. But the trout had been hunted so often that he knew how to escape the nets, and dived at the right moment. At last wearied out he let Ned drive him against the bank. Ellen feared he would jump out of the net at the last moment, but he was tired and they landed him safely.
And proud of having caught him they sat down beside him on the grass and Ellen said that the gardener and the gardeners boy had tried to catch him many times; that whenever they had company to dinner her father said it was a pity they had not the big trout on the table.
The fishing had been great fun, principally on account of Ellens figure, which Ned admired greatly, and now he admired her profile, its gravity appealed to him, and her attitude full of meditation. He watched her touching the gasping trout with the point of her parasol. She had drawn one leg under her. Her eyes were small and grey and gem-like, and there was a sweet look of interrogation in them now and then.
I like it, this lustreless day, said Ned, and those swallows pursuing their food up and down the lustreless sky. It all seems like a fairy-tale, this catching of the fish, you and I. The day so dim, he said, so quiet and low, and the garden is hushed. These things would be nothing to me were it not for you, and he put his hand upon her knee.
She withdrew her knee quickly and a moment after got up, and Ned got up and followed her across the grass-plot, and through the rosary; not a word was said and she began to wonder he did not plead to be forgiven. She felt she should send him away, but she could not find words to tell him to go. His conduct was so unprecedented; no one had ever taken such a liberty before. It was shameful that she was not more angry, for she knew she was only trying to feel angry.
But, he said, suddenly, as if he divined her thoughts, weve forgotten the fish; wont you come back and help me to carry them? I cannot carry three trout by myself.
She was about to answer severely, but as she stood looking at him her thoughts yielded before an extraordinary feeling of delight; she tried in vain to collect her scattered mind — she wished to reproach him.
Are you going to answer me, Ellen? and he took her hand.
Ned, are you a Catholic? she said, turning suddenly.
I was born one, but I have thought little about religion. I have had other things to think about. What does it matter? Religion doesnt help us to love one another.
I should like you better if you were a good Catholic.
I wonder how that is? he said, and he admired the round hand and its pretty articulations, and she closed her hand on his with a delicious movement.
I could like you better, Ned, if you were a Catholic… . I think I could.
What has my being a good Catholic got to do with your love of me?
And he watched the small and somewhat severe profile looking across the old grey wall into the flat grey sky.
I did not say I loved you, she said, almost angrily; but if I did love you, she said, looking at him tenderly, and you were religious, I should be loving something eternal. You dont understand what I mean? What I am saying to you must seem like nonsense.
No, it doesnt, Ellen, only I am content with the reality. I can love you without wings.
He watched for the look of annoyance in her face that he knew his words would provoke, but her face was turned away.
I like you, but I am afraid of you. It is a very strange feeling. You ran away with a circus and you let the lion die and you went to fight in Cuba. You have loved other women, and I have never loved anyone. I never cared for a man until I saw you, until I looked up from the album.
I understand very well, Ellen; I knew something was going to happen to me in Ireland.
She turned; he was glad to see her full face again. Her eyes were fixed upon him, but she saw through him, and jealous of her thought he drew her towards him.
Let us go into the arbour, he said. I have never been into the arbour of clipped limes with you.
Why do you want to go into the arbour?
I want to kiss you… . The gardener can see us now; a moment ago he was behind the Jerusalem artichokes.
I hadnt noticed the gardener; I hadnt thought about him.
She had persuaded herself before she went into the arbour, and coming out of the arbour she said: —
I dont think father will raise any objection.
But you will speak to him. Hello! were forgetting the fish, and it was the fish that brought all this about. Was it to bring this about that they lived or are to be eaten to-night at dinner?
Ned, you take a strange pleasure in making life seem wicked.
Im sorry Ive been so unsuccessful, but will you ask you father to invite me, Ellen? and Ill try and make life seem nice — and the trout will try too.
Ellen did not know whether she liked or disliked Neds levity, but when she looked at him an overpowering emotion clouded her comprehension and she walked in silence, thinking of when he would kiss her again. At the end of the walk she stopped to bind up a carnation that had fallen from its stake.
Father will be wondering what has become of us.
I think, said Ned, and his own cowardice amused him, I think you had better tell your father yourself. You will tell him much better than I.
And what will you do? she said, turning suddenly and looking at him with fervid eyes. Will you wait here for me?
No, I will go home, and do you come and fetch me — and dont forget to tell him I caught the trout and have earned an invitation to dinner.
His irresponsibility enchanted her in spite of herself — Ned had judged the situation rightly when he said: It is the circus aspiring to the academy and the academy spying the circus. His epigram occurred to him as he walked home and it amused him, and he thought of how unexpected their lives would be, and he hummed beautiful music as he went along the roads, Schumanns Lotus Flower and The Moonlight. Then he recalled the beautiful duet, Siegmunds and Sieglindes May Time, and turning from sublimity suddenly into triviality he chanted the somewhat common but expressive duet in Mireille, and the superficiality of its emotion pleased him at the moment and he hummed it until he arrived at the farm-house.
Mrs. Grattan could tell his coming from afar, for no one in the country whistled so beautifully as Mr. Carmady, she said, every note is clear and distinct; and it does not matter how many there are in the tune he will not let one escape him and there is always a pleasant look in his face when you open the door to him; and she ran to the door.
Mrs. Grattan, wont you get me a cup of tea? And then he felt he must talk to some one. You neednt bring it upstairs, I will take it in the kitchen if youll let me.
Mrs. Grattan had a beautiful kitchen. It had an old dresser with a carved top and a grandfathers clock, and Ned liked to sit on the table and watch the stove. She poured him out a cup of tea and he drank it, swinging his legs all the time.
Well, Mrs. Grattan, Ill tell you some news — I think I am going to marry Miss Cronin.
Well, said she, it doesnt astonish me, but she nearly let the teapot drop. From the first day you came here I always thought something was going to happen to you.
He had no sooner told her the news than he began to regret he had told her, and he said that Miss Cronin had gone to her father to ask his consent. Of course, if he did not give it, there would be no marriage.
But he will give it. Miss Ellen does exactly as she likes with him, and its a fine fortune you will be having with her.
It isnt of that I am thinking, said Ned, but of her red hair.
And you wouldnt believe me when I said that she was the prettiest girl in the country. Now you will see for yourself.
Ned hadnt finished his tea when there was a knock at the door.
And how do you do, Miss Ellen? said Mrs. Grattan, and Ellen guessed from her manner that Ned had told her.
Well, Mrs. Grattan, I am glad that you are the first person to bear the news to. I have just asked my fathers consent and he has given it. I am going to marry Mr. Carmady.
Mrs. Grattan was sorry there was no cake on the table, but there was some buttered toast in the oven; and Ellen reminded her of the paper boats and the alder-trees, and they spoke for a long time about her son James and about people that Ned knew nothing of, until Ned began to feel bored and went to the window. Every now and again he heard a word referring to their marriage, and when the women had done their talk, Ellen said: —
Father says you are to come back to dinner.
Mrs. Grattan, said Ned, we caught three trout this afternoon, and Ellen wondered why Ned should take so much trouble to explain the tale of their fishing, she was intending to talk to them of their honeymoon.
I was thinking, Ned, that as our love began in a love of Ireland, we might go for a tour round Ireland, and see the places that Ireland loves best.
She was eager for a change of scene and a few weeks later they began their wanderings. The first place they visited was Tara, and, standing on the Mound of the Hostages, Ellen pointed out the Rath of Crania. All over Ireland there are cromlechs, and the people point to those as the places where the lovers had rested in their flight. Grania became one of Neds heroines, and he spoke so much of her that Ellen grew a little jealous. They talked of her under the ruins of Dun Angus and under the arches of Cormacs Chapel, the last and most beautiful piece of Irish architecture.
We were getting on very well, Ned said, until the English came. This was the last thing we did and after this no more.
On another occasion he ascribed the failure of the Irish in art and literature to the fact that they had always loved the next world, and that the beautiful world under their feet had been neglected or given over to priests. I hope, Ned, said she, that you will soon be at the head of affairs.
He took her hand and they wandered on amid the ruins, saying that as soon as their honeymoon was over they were going to live in a pretty house at the foot of the Dublin mountains.
Her father had offered to make her an allowance, but she preferred a lump sum, and this lump sum of many thousands of pounds had been invested in foreign securities, for Ellen wished that Ned should be free to advocate whatever policy he judged best for Ireland.
My dear, shall we buy this table?
And while the price and the marquetry were discussed she remembered suddenly that a most experienced electioneering agent was coming to dinner.
I wish you hadnt asked him, said Ned; I looked forward to spending the evening with you, and he watched happiness flash into her eyes.
There are plenty of evenings before us, and I hope you wont be tired of spending them with me.
He said he never wished for better company, and they strolled on through the show-rooms.
Turning from some tapestried curtains, he told her he was weary of the life of the camp. One night in Cuba they had crossed a mountain by a bridle-path. At the top of the mountain they had come to a ledge of rock three feet high and had to leap their horses one by one up this ledge, and the enemy might have attacked them at any moment. And this incident was typical of what his life had been for the last few years. It had been a skein of adventure, and now his wife was his adventure. Flowers stood in pretty vases on his table in the summer-time and around the room were his books, and on the table his pens and paper. The dining-room was always a little surprise, so profusely was the table covered with silver. There were beautiful dinner and dessert services to look at; the servants were well trained, they moved about the table quickly — in a word, his home was full of grace and beauty. Lately he had been a great deal from home and had come to look on Ellen as a delicious recompense for the fatigue of a weeks electioneering in the West. The little train journey from Dublin was an extraordinary excitement, the passing of the stations one by one, the discovery of his wife on the platform, and walking home through the bright evening, telling how his speech had been received.
Ellen always took Ned round the garden before they went into dinner, and after dinner he went to the piano; he loved his music as she loved her garden. She would listen to him for a while, pleased to find that she liked music. But she would steal away to her garden in a little while and he would go on playing for a long while before he would notice her absence; then he would follow her.
There were no late frosts this year, and I have never seen so many caterpillars! she said one evening when he joined her. See, they have eaten this flower nearly all away.
How bright the moon is, we can find them by the light of the moon.
Passing behind the hollyhocks she threw the snails to Ned, not liking to tread upon them herself; Ellen was intent on freeing her flowers from gnawing insects and Ned tried to feel interested in them, but he liked the moonlight on the Dublin mountains far better. He could not remember which was Honesty and which was Rockit, and the difference had been pointed out to him many times. He liked Larkspur and Canterbury bells, or was it their names that he loved them for? He sometimes mistook one for the other just as Ellen mistook one sonata for another, but she always liked the same sonatas.
In another month the poppies will be over everything, she said, and my pansies are beautiful — see these beautiful yellow pansies! But you are not looking at my garden.
They went towards their apple-tree, and Ellen said it was the largest she had ever seen; its boughs were thickest over the seat, and shot out straight, making as it were a little roof. The moon was now brilliant among the boughs, and drawn by the moon they left their seat and passed out of the garden by the wicket, for that night they wished to see the fields with the woods sloping down to the long shores of the sea, and they stood watching, thinking they had never seen the sea so beautiful before. Now on the other side were the hills, and the moon led them up the hillside, up the little path by a ruined church and over a stream that was difficult to cross, for the stepping-stones were placed crookedly. Ellen took Neds hand, and a little further on there were ash-trees and not a wind in all the boughs.
How grey the moonlight is on the mountain, Ned said, and they went through the furze where the cattle were lying, and the breath of the cattle was odorous in the night like the breath of the earth itself, and Ned said that the cattle were part of the earth; and then they sat on a Druid stone and wondered at the chance that brought them together, and they wondered how they could have lived if chance had not brought them together.
Now, the stone they were sitting upon was a Druid stone, and it was from Ellens lips that Ned heard how Brian had conquered the Danes, and how a century later a traitor had brought the English over; and she told the story of Irelands betrayal with such ferveur that Ned felt she was the support his character required, the support he had been looking for all his life; her self-restraint and her gravity were the supports his character required, and these being thrown into the scale, life stood at equipoise. The women who had preceded Ellen were strange, fantastic women, counterparts of himself, but he had always aspired to a grave and well-mannered woman who was never ridiculous.
She protested, saying that she wished Ned to express his own ideas. He pleaded that he was learning Ireland from her lips and that his own ideas about Ireland were superficial and false. Every day he was catching up new ideas and every day he was shedding them. He must wait until he had re-knit himself firmly to the tradition, and in talking to her he felt that she was the tradition; he was sure that he could do no better than accept her promptings, at least for the present.
We shall always think the same. Do you not feel that? and when they returned to the house he fetched a piece of paper and pencil and begged of her to dictate, and then begged of her to write what she would like him to say. He said that the sight of her handwriting helped him, and he thought his life would crumble to pieces if she were taken from him.
Ellen had always said he would be a success, and he was a success; he had begun to feel success revolving about him; he had begun to feel that he was the centre of things: for everyone listened when he spoke; his opinion was sought out, and he could see the people looking towards him for guidance. But there was a little rancour in his heart, as there always is in a mans heart when he is not speaking his whole heart, for not more than half of himself was engaged in the battle; he knew that he had given over half of himself as hostage — half of himself was in his wifes keeping — and he often wondered if it would break out of her custody in spite of her vigilance and his vows.
He had told her that though he was no friend of the Church, he was not an active enemy, and believed that he was speaking the truth. The fight for free will would have to be fought in Ireland some day, and this fight was the most vital; but he agreed with her that other fights would have to be fought and won before the great fight could be arranged for. The order of the present day was for lesser battles, and he promised again and again he would not raise the religious question, and every time he promised his wife his life seemed to vanish; the lesser battles were necessary. It was the fight for free will that interested him. But a politician is the man who does the days work. And in the autumn he agreed to go to America to speechify and to get money for the lesser battles. It was said he was the man who could get the money — what better man could they send than an Irish-American? An American soldier and a journalist. These obvious remarks were on everyones lips, but after speaking everyone paused, for, notwithstanding Ellens care, Ned was suspected; the priests had begun to suspect him, but there was no grounds for opposing him.
He himself was despondent, whereas Ellen was enthusiastic. Her knowledge of Irish politics enabled her to see that Neds chance had come.
If you succeed in America, youll come back the first man in Ireland.
Even so, said Ned, it would be more natural for you to be sorry that I am going.
I cannot be sorry and glad at the same time.
You will be lonely.
Very likely; but, Ned, I shall not be looking very well for the next two months.
You mean on account of the baby; the next few months will be a trying time for you; I should be with you.
They continued to walk round and round their apple-tree and Ellen did not answer for a long while.
I want you to go to America. I dont care that you should see me losing my figure.
We have spent many pleasant hours under this apple-tree.
Yes, it has been a dear tree, she said.
And in about six years there will be one who will appreciate this tree as we have never appreciated it. I can see the little chap running after the apples.
But, Ned, it may be a girl.
Then it will be like you, dear.
She said she would send a telegram and Ned shook the boughs, and their apple-gathering seemed to be portentous. The sound of apples falling in the dusk garden, a new life coming into the world! Dear me, Ned said, men have gathered apples and led their fruitful wives towards the house since the beginning of time. He said these words as he looked over the waste of water seeing Ireland melting into grey clouds. He turned and looked towards where the vessel was going. A new life was about to begin and he was glad of that. For the next three months I shall be carried along on the tide of human affairs. In a week, in a week; and that evening he entered into conversation with some people whom he thought would interest him. It is a curious change, he said, three weeks later, as he walked home from a restaurant; and he enjoyed the change so much that he wondered if his love for his wife would be the same when he returned. Yes, that will be another change. And for the next three months he was carried like a piece of wreckage from hotel to hotel. How different this life is from the life in Ireland. Here we live in the actual moment. And he began to wonder. He had not been thinking five minutes when a knock came to the door, and he was handed a telegram containing two words: A boy. He had always felt it was going to be a boy. Though it does cost a shilling a word they might have let me know how she is, he thought. And he lay back in his chair thinking of his wife — indulging in sensations of her beauty, seeing her gem-like eyes, her pretty oval face, and her red hair scattered about the pillow. At first he was not certain whether the baby was lying by the side of the mother, but now he saw it, and he thrilled with a sense of wonder. The commonest of all occurrences never ceases to be the most wonderful, and there lay his wife and child in the room he knew so well — the curtains with a fruit pattern upon them, the pale wallpaper with roses climbing up a trellis, and pretty blue ribbons intervening between each line of roses. The room was painted white, and he knew the odour of the room well, and the sensation of the carpet. He could see the twilight, and the bulky nurse passing to and fro; and his thoughts went back to his child, and he began to wonder if it were like him or like its mother. It was probably like both. His eyes went to the clock, and he thought of the meeting he was going to. The notes of his speech were upon the table, but he found great difficulty in rousing himself out of his chair; it was so pleasant to lie there, thinking of his wife, of his home, and of his child. But into this vague wandering sensation of happy and beautiful things there came a sudden vision and a thought. He saw his wife take the baby and put it to her breast, and he could not bear to think that that beautiful breast, so dear to him, should suffer harm. He had often thought of Ellen as a beautiful marble — she was as full of exquisite lines as any marble — and only very rarely had he thought of her as a mother; the thought had never been entertained long, for it was never wholly sympathetic.
Now his thoughts quickened, and it seemed urgent that he must communicate at once with his wife. She must not suckle the baby! Only by telegram could he reach her soon enough, but it was not possible to telegraph such a thing. He must write, but the letter would take six days to reach her, and he stood thinking. The post was going out: if he wrote at once she would get his letter in a week. He was due at the meeting in about twenty minutes; the notes of his speech still lay on the table, and he gathered them up and put them in his pocket, and drawing a sheet of paper towards him, he began a hurried letter. But as soon as he dipped his pen in the ink, he experienced great difficulty in expressing his feelings; they were intense enough, but they were vague, and he must find reasons. He must tell her that he loved her beauty, and that it must suffer no disfigurement from a babys lips. No sooner did he put his feelings into words than they shocked him, and he knew how much more they would shock Ellen, and he wondered how he could think such things about his own child. The truth was, there was little time for thinking, and he had to tell Ellen what she must do. It so happened that he had heard only the other day that goats milk was the exact equivalent to human, but it was often difficult to procure. You will find no difficulty, he said, at the foot of the Dublin mountains in procuring goats milk. His thoughts rushed on, and he remembered the peasant women. One could easily be found who would put her baby on goats milk and come and nurse his child for a few shillings — ten or fifteen shillings a week; Ellens beauty was worth a great deal more. The hands of the clock went on, he had to close his letter and post it; and no sooner was it posted than he was beset by qualms of conscience. During the meeting he wondered what Ellen would think of his letter, and he feared it would shock her and trouble her; for, while considering the rights of the child, she would remember his admiration of her.
He passed the following days uneasily, and when the seventh day came he had no difficulty in imagining Ellen reading his letter, and the scene he imagined was very like what really happened. His letter troubled Ellen greatly. She had been thinking only of her baby, she had been suckling it for several days, and it had given her pleasure to suckle it. She had not thought of herself at all, and Neds order that she should pass her child on to another, and consider her personal charm for him, troubled her even to tears; and when she told the nurse her husbands wishes the nurse was sorry that Mrs. Carmady had been troubled, for she was still very weak. Now the child was crying; Ellen put it to her little cup-like breast, which was, nevertheless, full of milk, and it was for the nurse to tell her that a foster-mother could easily be found in the village; but this did not console her and she cried very bitterly. The doctor called. He did not think there was anything strange in Neds letter. He approved of it! He said that Ellen was delicate and had nursed her baby long enough, and it appeared that he had been thinking of recommending a nurse to her, and he spoke of a peasant woman he had just seen. He spoke with so much assurance that Ellen was soothed, but he had not left her very long before she felt that medical opinion would not satisfy her, that she must have theological opinion as well, and she wrote a letter to Father Brennan asking him to come down to see her, mentioning that she had had a baby and could not go to see him. It would be a great relief to her to see him for a few minutes, and if he would come at once she would consider it a great favour. If it were possible for him to come down that very afternoon she would be deeply grateful. She wished to consult him, and on a matter on which she felt very deeply, and nothing, she said, but a priests advice could allay her scruples.
The nurse gave her a sheet of paper and a pencil, and she scribbled a letter as best she could in her bed, and lay back fatigued. The nurse said she must not fret, that Father Brennan would be sure to come to her at once if he were at home, and Ellen knew that that was so; and she felt that she was peevish, but she felt that Ned ought not to have written her that letter.
The hours that afternoon were very long and she restless and weary of them, and she asked the nurse many times to go to the window to see if Father Brennan were coming. At last he came, and she told him of the letter she had received, not wishing to show him the letter, for it was somewhat extravagant, and she did not like a priest to read Neds praise of her body. She was anxious, however, to give him a true account of the letter, and she would have talked a long while if the priest had not stopped her, saying the matter was one for the doctor to decide. The Church had never expressed any views on the subject: whether a mother was justified in nursing her child or in passing it over to a foster-mother. It was entirely a question for the doctor, and if the doctor advised such a course she would be wrong not to follow it. Ellen felt that she had been misunderstood, and she tried to tell the priest that Neds letter had been inspired by his admiration of her, and that this seemed to her selfish. She wondered how a father could consider his wife before the child, but when she said this she did not feel she was speaking quite sincerely, and this troubled her; she was on the verge of tears, and the nurse came in and said she had spoken enough that afternoon, and the priest bade her good-by. The doctor came in soon after; there was some whispering, and Ellen knew that the woman he had brought with him was the foster-mother, and the baby was taken from her, and she saw it fix its gluttonous little lips on the foster-mothers breast.
Now that the priest had ordered her conscience, she got well rapidly, and it was a pleasure to her to prepare herself for her husbands admiration. The nurse thought he would perceive no difference in her, but when they put on her stays it was quite clear that she had grown stouter, and she cried out, Im quite a little mother! But the nurse said her figure would come back all right. Neds return had been delayed, and this she regarded as fortunate, for there was no doubt that in a month she would be able to meet him, slight and graceful as she had ever been.
As soon as she was able she went for long walks on the hills, and every day she improved in health and in figure; and when she read Neds letter saying he would be in Cork in a few days she felt certain he would see no change in her. She opened her dress and could discern no difference; perhaps a slight wave in the breasts line; she was not quite sure and she hoped Ned would not notice it. And she chose a white dress. Ned liked her in white, and she tied it with a blue sash; she put on a white hat trimmed with china roses, and the last look convinced her that she had never looked prettier.
I never wore so becoming a hat, she said. She walked slowly so as not to be out of breath, and, swinging her white parasol over the tops of her tan boots, she stood at the end of the platform waiting for the train to come up.
I had expected to see you pale, he said, and perhaps a little stouter, but you are the same, the very same. And saying that he would be able to talk to her better if he were free from his bag, he gave it to a boy to carry. And they strolled down the warm, dusty road.
They lived about a mile and a half from the station, and there were great trees and old crumbling walls, and, beyond the walls, water meadows, and it was pleasant to look over the walls and watch the cattle grazing peacefully. And to-day the fields were so pleasant that Ned and Ellen could hardly speak from the pleasure of looking at them.
Youve seen nothing more beautiful in America, have you, Ned?
There was so much to say it was difficult to know where to begin, and it was delicious to be stopped by the scent of the honeysuckle. Ned gathered some blossoms to put into his wifes dress, but while admiring her dress and her hat and her pretty red hair he remembered the letter he had written to her in answer to her telegram.
Ive had many qualms about the letter I wrote you in answer to your telegram. After all, a childs right upon the mother is the first right of all. I wrote the letter in a hurry, and hardly knew what I was saying.
We got an excellent nurse, Ned, and the boy is doing very well.
So you said in your letters. But after posting my letter I said to myself: if it causes me trouble, how much more will it cause her?
Your letter did trouble me, Ned. I was feeling very weak that morning and the baby was crying for me, for I had been nursing him for a week. I did not know what to do. I was torn both ways, so I sent up a note to Father Brennan asking him to come to see me, and he came down and told me that I was quite free to give my baby to a foster-mother.
But what does Father Brennan know about it more than anyone of us?
The sanction of the Church, Ned —
The sanction of the Church! What childish nonsense is this? he said. The authority of a priest. So it was not for me, but because a priest —
But, Ned, there must be a code of morality, and these men devote their lives to thinking out one for us.
He could see that she was looking more charming than she had ever looked before, but her beauty could not crush the anger out of him; and she never seemed further from him, not even when the Atlantic divided them.
Those men devote their lives to thinking out a code of morality for us! You submit your soul to their keeping. And what remains of you when you have given over your soul?
But, Ned, why this outbreak? You knew I was a Catholic when you married me.
Yes, … of course, and Im sorry, Ellen, for losing my temper. But it is only in Ireland that women submit themselves body and soul. It is extraordinary; it is beyond human reason.
They walked on in silence, and Ned tried to forget that his wife was a Catholic. Her religion did not prevent her from wearing a white dress and a hat with roses in it.
Shall I go up-stairs to see the baby, or will you bring him down?
Ill bring him down.
And it was a great lump of white flesh with blue eyes and a little red down on its head that she carried in her arms.
And now, Ned, forget the priest and admire your boy.
He seems a beautiful boy, so healthy and sleepy.
I took him out of his bed, but he never cries. Nurse said she never heard of a baby that did not cry. Do you know Im sometimes tempted to pinch him to see if he can cry.
She sat absorbed looking at the baby; and she was so beautiful and so intensely real at that moment that Ned began to forget that she had given the child out to nurse because the priest had told her that she might do so without sin.
I called him after you, Ned. It was Father Stafford who baptised him.
So he has been baptised!
He was not three days old when he was baptised.
Of course. He could not have gone to heaven if he had not been baptised.
Ned, I dont think it kind of you to say these things to me. You never used to say them.
I am sorry, Ellen; Ill say no more, and Im glad it was Father Stafford who baptised him. He is the most sensible priest we have. If all the clergy were like him I should find it easier to believe.
But religion has nothing to do with the clergy. It is quite possible to think the clergy foolish and yet to believe that the religion is the true one.
I like the clergy far better than their religion, and believe them to be worthy of a better one. I like Father Stafford, and you like having a priest to dinner. Let us ask him.
Im afraid, Ned, that Father Stafford is getting old. He rarely leaves the house now and Father Maguire does all the work of the parish.
She liked clerical gossip; the church was finished, and how Biddy heard the saints singing in the window made a fine tale.
So now we have a local saint.
Yes, and miracles!
But do you believe in miracles?
I dont know. I shouldnt like to say. One is not obliged to believe in them.
Im sure you would enjoy believing in Biddy.
Oh, Ned, how aggressive you are, and the very day you come back.
But why hadnt she asked him about America and about his speeches? He had looked forward to telling her about them. She seemed to care nothing about them; even when she spoke about them after dinner, he could see that she was not as much interested in politics as she used to be. However, she wore a white dress and black stockings; her red hair was charmingly pinned up with a tortoise-shell comb, and taking her upon his knee he thought it would be well to please himself with her as she was and forget what she was not.
Next morning when he picked up the newspaper and the daily instalment of a cardinals tour through Ireland caught his eye, he remembered that Ellen had sent for a theologian… . His eyes went down the columns of the newspaper and he said, All the old flummery. Irelands fidelity to her religion, etc., her devotion to Rome, etc., — to everything, he said, except herself. Propagations of the faith, exhortations to do as our ancestors had done, to do everything except make life joyous and triumphant. Looking across the page his eye was caught by the headline, Profession of Irish Nuns in France. Further on in large letters, Killmessan Cathedral: Bazaar. And these items of news were followed by a letter from a Bishop. What a lot of Bishops! he said. He read of worthy parish priests, and a little further on of brilliant young clergymen, and at every meeting the chair was taken by the worthy or by the good parish priest.
Well, he said, if the newspaper reflects the mind of the people there is no hope.
And he heard daily of new churches and new convents and the acquisition of property by the clergy. He heard tales of esuriency and avarice, and the persecution of the dancing-girl and the piper.
The clergy, he said, are swallowing up the country, and he looked for some means whereby he might save the Gael.
About this time an outcry was made against the ugliness of modern ecclesiastical architecture, and a number of enthusiasts were writing to the newspapers proposing a revival of Irish romanesque; they instanced Cormacs Chapel as the model that should be followed. Ned joined in the outcry that no more stained glass should be imported from Birmingham, and wrote to the newspapers many times that good sculpture and good painting and good glass were more likely to produce a religious fervour than bad. His purpose was to point a finger of scorn at the churches, and he hoped to plead a little later that there were too many churches, and that no more should be built until the population had begun to increase again. He looked forward to the time when he would be able to say right out that the Gael had spent enough of money on his soul, and should spend what remained to him on his body. He looked forward to the time when he should tell the Gael that his soul was his greatest expense, but the time was far off when he could speak plainly.
The clergy were prepared to admit that German glass was not necessary for their successful mediation, but they were stubborn when Ned asked them to agree that no more churches were necessary. They were not moved by the argument that the population was declining and would not admit that there were too many churches or even that there were churches enough. The ecclesiastical mind is a subtle one and it knows that when men cease to build churches they cease to be religious. The instinct of the clergy was against Ned, but they had to make concessions, for the country was awakening to its danger, and Ned began to think that all its remaining energies were being concentrated in an effort to escape.
Long years ago in America he had watched a small snake trying to swallow a frog. The snake sucked down the frog, and the frog seemed to acquiesce until the half of his body was down the snakes gullet, and then the frog bestirred himself and succeeded in escaping. The snake rested awhile and the next day he renewed his attack. At last the day came when the weary frog delayed too long and Ned watched him disappear down the snakes gullet.
A good deal of Ireland was down the clerical throat and all would go down if Ireland did not bestir herself. Ireland was weakening daily, and every part of her that disappeared made it more difficult for her to extricate herself. Ned remembered that life and death, sickness and health, success and failure, are merely questions of balance. A nation is successful when its forces are at balance, and nations rise and fall because the centre of gravity shifts. A single Spaniard is as good as a single German, but the centre of gravity is in Spain no longer.
Ned did not look upon religion as an evil; he knew religion to be necessary; but it seemed to him that the balance had been tilted in Ireland.
He threw himself more and more into the education of the people, and politics became his chief interest. At last he had begun to live for his idea, and long absence from home and long drives on outside cars and evenings spent in inn parlours were accepted without murmurings; these discomforts were no longer perceived, whereas when he and Ellen used to sit over the fire composing speeches together, the thought of them filled him with despair. He used to complain that Ellen was always sending him away from home and to hard mutton shops and dirty bedrooms. He reminded her no more of these discomforts. He came back and spent a day or two with her, and went away again. She had begun to notice that he did not seem sorry to leave, but she did not reproach him, because he said he was working for Ireland. He tried to think the explanation a sufficient one. Did he not love his home? His home was a delightful relaxation. The moment he crossed the threshold his ideas went behind him and in the hour before dinner he played with his child and talked to Ellen about the house and the garden and the things he thought she was most interested in. After dinner she read or sewed and he spent an hour at the piano, and then he took her on his knees.
And sometimes in the morning as he walked, with Ellen at his side, to catch the train, he wondered at his good fortune — the road was so pleasant, so wide and smooth and shaded, in fact just as he imagined the road should be, and Ellen was the very pleasantest companion a man could wish for. He looked on her, on his child and his house at the foot of the Dublin mountains, as a little work of art which he had planned out and the perfection of which entitled him to some credit. He compared himself to one who visits a larder, who has a little snack of something, and then puts down the cover, saying, Now thats all right, thats safe for another week.
Nevertheless he could see a little shadow gathering. His speeches were growing more explicit, and sooner or later his wife would begin to notice that he was attacking the clergy. Had she no suspicion? She was by nature so self-restrained that it was impossible to tell. He knew she read his speeches, and if she read them she must have noticed their anti-clerical tone.
Last Saturday he had spoken to her about politics, but she had allowed the conversation to drop, and that had puzzled him. He was not well reported. The most important parts of his speech were omitted and for these omissions he looked upon the reporters and the editors as his best friends. He had managed to steer his way very adroitly up to the present, but the day of reckoning could not much longer be postponed; and one day coming home from a great meeting he remembered that he had said more than he intended to say, though he had intended to say a good deal. This time the reporter could not save him, and when his wife would read the newspaper to-morrow an explanation could hardly be avoided.
He had thrown a book on the seat opposite, and he put it into his bag. Its Nihilism had frightened him at first, but he had returned to the book again and again and every time the attraction had become stronger. The train passed the signal box, and Ned was thinking of the aphorisms — the new Gospel was written in aphorisms varying from three to twenty lines in length — and he thought of these as meat lozenges each containing enough nutriment to make a gallon of weak soup suitable for invalids, and of himself as a sort of illicit dispensary.
Ellen was not on the platform; something had delayed her, and he could see the road winding under trees, and presently he saw her white summer dress and her parasol aslant. There was no prettier, no more agreeable woman than Ellen in Ireland, and he thought it a great pity to have to worry her and himself with explanations about politics and about religion. To know how to sacrifice the moment is wisdom, and it would be better to sacrifice their walk than that she should read unprepared what he had said. But the evening would be lost! It would be lost in any case, for his thoughts would be running all the while on the morning paper.
And they walked on together, he a little more silent than usual, for he was thinking how he could introduce the subject on which he had decided to speak to her, and Ellen more talkative, for she was telling how the child had delayed her, and it was not until they reached the prettiest part of the road that she noticed that Ned was answering perfunctorily.
What is the matter, dear? I hope you are not disappointed with the meeting?
No, the meeting was well enough. There were a great number of people present and my speech was well received.
I am glad of that, she said, but what is the matter, Ned?
Nothing. I was thinking about my speech. I hope it will not be misunderstood. People are so stupid, and some will understand it as an attack on the clergy, whereas it is nothing of the kind.
Well, she said, if it isnt it will be different from your other speeches.
How is that?
All your speeches lately have been an attack upon the clergy direct or indirect. I daresay many did not understand them, but anyone who knows your opinions can read between the lines.
If you had read between the lines, Ellen, you would have seen that I have been trying to save the clergy from themselves. They are so convinced of their own importance that they forget that after all there must be a laity.
Ellen answered very quietly, and there was a sadness in her gravity which Ned had some difficulty in appreciating. He went on talking, telling her that some prelate had pointed out lately, and with approbation, that although the population had declined the clergy had been increasing steadily year after year.
I am really, he said, trying to save them from themselves. I am only pleading for the harmless and the necessary laity.
Ellen did not answer him for a long while.
You see, Ned, I am hardly more to you now than any other woman. You come here occasionally to spend a day or two with me. Our married life has dwindled down to that. You play with the baby and you play with the piano, and you write your letters. I dont know what you are writing in them. You never speak to me of your ideas now. I know nothing of your politics.
I havent spoken about politics much lately, Ellen, because I thought you had lost interest in them.
I have lost interest in nothing that concerns you. I have not spoken to you about politics because I know quite well that my ideas dont interest you any longer. Youre absorbed in your own ideas, and were divided. You sleep now in the spare room, so that you may have time to prepare your speeches.
But I sometimes come to see you in your room, Ellen.
Sometimes, she said, sadly, but that is not my idea of marriage, nor is it the custom of the country, nor is it what the Church wishes.
I think, Ellen, you are very unreasonable, and you are generally so reasonable.
Well, dont let us argue any more, she said. We shall never agree, Im afraid.
Ned remembered that he once used to say to her, Ellen, we are agreed in everything.
If I had only known that it was going to turn out so disagreeable as this, Ned said to himself, I should have held my tongue, and he was sorry for having displeased Ellen, so pretty did she look in her white dress and her hat trimmed with china roses; and though he did not care much for flowers he liked to see Ellen among her flowers; he liked to sit with her under the shady apple-tree, and the hollyhocks were making a fine show up in the air.
I think I like the hollyhocks better than any flowers, and the sunflowers are coming out, he said.
He hesitated whether he should speak about the swallows, Ellen did not care for birds. The swallows rushed round the garden in groups of six and seven filling the air with piercing shrieks. He had never seen them so restless. He and Ellen walked across the sward to their seat and then Ellen asked him if he would like to see the child.
Ive kept him out of bed and thought you might like to see him.
Yes, he said, go fetch the baby and I will shake the boughs, and it will amuse him to run after the apples.
Differences of opinion arise, he said to himself, for the mind changes and desire wanes, but the heart is always the same, and what an extraordinary bond the child is, he said, seeing Ellen leading the child across the sward. He forgot Ireland, forgot priests, and forgot politics, forgot everything. He lifted his little son in his arms and shook the boughs and saw the child run after the falling apples, stumbling and falling but never hurting himself.
The quarrels of the day died down; the evening grew more beautiful under the boughs, and this intimate life round their apple-tree was strangely intense, and it grew more and more intense as the light died. Every now and then the child came to show them an apple he had picked up, and Ned said: He thinks he has found the largest apples that have ever been seen. The secret of their lives seemed to approach and at every moment they expected to hear it. The tired child came to his mother and asked to be taken on her lap. An apple fell with a thud, the stars came out, and Ned carried his son, now half asleep, into the house, and they undressed him together, having forgotten, seemingly, their differences of opinion.
But after dinner when they were alone in the drawing-room their relations grew strained again. Ned wanted to explain to Ellen that his movement was not anti-clerical, but he could see she did not wish to hear. He watched her take up her work and wondered what he could say to persuade her, and after a little while he began to think of certain pieces of music. But to go to the piano would be like a hostile act. The truth was that he had looked forward to the evening he was going to spend with her, he had imagined an ideal evening with her and could not reconcile himself to the loss. The hour we passed in the garden was extraordinarily intense, he said to himself, and he regretted ever having talked to her about anything except simple things. It is unwise of a man to make a comrade of his wife… . Now I wonder if she would be angry with me if I went to the piano — if I were to play something very gently? Perhaps a book would seem less aggressive. He went into his study and fetched his book, and very soon forgot Ellen. But she had not forgotten him, and she raised her eyes to look at him from time to time, knowing quite well that he was reading the book out of which he drew the greater part of his doctrine that he had alluded to on his way home, and that he had called the Gospel of Life.
He turned the pages, and seeing that his love of her had been absorbed by the book, she stuck her needle in her work, folded it up, and put it into the work-basket.
I am going to bed, Ned. He looked up, and she saw he had returned from a world that was unknown to her, a world in which she had no part, and did not want to have a part, knowing it to be wicked. You have been reading all the evening. You prefer your book to me. Good-night.
She had never spoken to him so rudely before. He wondered awhile and went to the piano. She had gone out of the room very rudely. Now he was free to do what he liked, and what he liked most was to play Bach. The sound of the piano would reach her bedroom! Well, if it did — he had not played Bach for four weeks and he wanted to play Bach. Yes, he was playing Bach to please himself. He knew the piano would annoy her. And he was right.
She had just lighted the candles on her dressing-table, and she paused and listened. It annoyed her that he should go to the piano the moment she left him, and that he should play dry intellectual Bach, for he knew that Bach did not interest her. She was tempted to ring for her maid, and would have sent down word to Ned that she would be obliged if he would stop playing, had it not seemed undignified to do so.
As she undressed she lost control over herself, and lying in bed it seemed to her that Ned had hidden himself in a veil of kindness and good humour, and that the man she had married was a man without moral qualities, a man who would leave her without resentment, without disgust, who would say good-by to her as to some brief habit. She could hear Bachs interminable twiddles, and this exasperated her nerves and she wept through many preludes and fugues. Later on she must have heard the fugues in a dream, for the door opened; it passed over the carpet softly; and she heard Ned saying that he hoped the piano had not kept her awake. She heard him lay the candle on the table and come over to her bedside, and, leaning over her, he begged of her to turn round and speak to him.
My poor little woman, I hope I have not been cross with you this evening.
She turned away petulantly, but he took her hand and held it and whispered to her, and gradually tempted her out of her anger, and taking some of her red hair from the pillow he kissed it. She still kept her head turned from him, but she could not keep back her happiness; it followed her like fire, enfolding her, and at last, raising herself up in the bed, she said: —
Oh, Ned, do you still love me?
When he came into her bed she slipped down so that she could lie upon his breast, and they fell asleep thinking of the early train he would have to catch in the morning.
He was going to Dublin, and the servant knocked at the door at seven oclock; Ellen roused a little asking if he must go to Dublin. She would like him to stay with her. But he could not stay, and she felt she must give him his breakfast. While tying her petticoats she went to the door of Neds dressing-room asking him questions, for she liked to talk to him while he was shaving. After breakfast they walked to the station together, and she stood on the platform smiling and waving farewells.
She turned home, her thoughts chattering like the sunshine among the trees; she leaned over the low, crumbling walls and looked across the water meadows. Two women were spending the morning under the trees; they were sewing. A man was lying at length talking to them. This group was part of external nature. The bewitching sunlight found a way into her heart, and it seemed to her that she would never be happy again.
Ned had told her that he was not going to say anything about the priests at this meeting. Ah, if she were only sure he would not attack religion she would not mind him criticising the priests. They were not above criticism; they courted criticism, approving of a certain amount of lay criticism. But it was not the priests that Ned hated; it was religion; and his hatred of religion had increased since he began to read those books — she had seen him put one into his bag, and the rest of the set were in his study. When she got home she paused a moment, and, without knowing exactly why, she turned aside and did not go into his study.
But next day the clock in the drawing-room stopped, and, wanting to know the time, she went into the study and looked at the clock, trying to keep her eyes from the bookcase. But in spite of herself she looked. The books were there: they had been thrust so far back that she could not read the name of the writer. Well, it did not matter, she did not care to know the name of the writer — Neds room interested her more than the books. There was his table covered with his papers; and the thought passed through her mind that he might be writing the book he had promised her not to write. What he was writing was certainly for the printer — he was writing only on one side of the paper — and one of these days what he was writing would be printed.
The study was on the ground floor, its windows overlooking the garden, and she glanced to see if the gardener were by, but her wish to avoid observation reminded her that she was doing a dishonourable action, and, standing with the papers in her hand, she hoped she would go out of the study without reading them. She began to read.
The papers in her hand were his notes for the book he was writing, and the title caught her eye, A Western Thibet. So he is writing the book he promised me not to write, she said. But she could feel no anger, so conscious was she of her own shame. And she did not forget her shame until she remembered that it was her money that was supporting the agitation. He had been spending a great deal of money lately — they were rich now; her father had died soon after their marriage and all his money had come to her, and Ned was spending it on an anti-religious agitation. She had let Ned do what he liked; she had not cared what happened so long as she kept his love, and her moral responsibility became clearer and clearer. She must tell Ned that she could give him no more money unless he promised he would not say anything against the priests. He would make no such promise, and to speak about her money would exhibit her in a mean light, and she would lose all her influence. Now that they were reconciled she might win him back to religion; she had been thinking of this all yesterday. How could she tell him that she would take all her money away from him? Ned was the last person in the world who would be influenced by a threat.
And looking round the room she asked herself why she had ever come into it to commit a dishonourable act! and much trouble had come upon her. But two thousand a year of her money was being spent in robbing the people of Ireland of their religion! Maybe thousands of souls would be lost — and through her fault.
Ellen feared money as much as her father had loved it.
Good Heavens, she murmured to herself, what am I to do? Confession… . Father Brennan. She must consult him. The temptation to confide her secret became more decisive. Confession! She could ask the priest what she liked in confession, and without betraying Ned. And it was not ten oclock yet. She would be in time for eleven oclock Mass. Father Brennan would be hearing confessions after Mass, and she could get to Dublin on her bicycle in an hour. In three-quarters of an hour she was at the presbytery, and before the attendant could answer she caught sight of Father Brennan running down-stairs.
I only want to speak to you for a few minutes.
I am just going into church.
Cant I say a word to you before you go in?
And seeing how greatly agitated she was, he took her into the parlour, and she told him that though she trusted him implicitly she could not consult him on this particular question except in the confessional.
I shall be hearing confessions after Mass.
If the priest told her she must withdraw her money from Ned, her marriage was a broken one. It was she who had brought Ned into politics; she had often spoken of her money in order to induce him to go into politics, and now it was her money that was forcing her to betray him. She had not thought of confession in her present difficulty as a betrayal, but it was one, and a needless one; Father Brennan could only tell her to withdraw her money; yet she must consult the priest — nothing else would satisfy her. She lacked courage: his advice would give her courage. But when she had told Ned that she could give him no more money, she would have to tell him she was acting on the priests advice, for she could not go on living with him and not tell him everything. A secret would poison her life, and she had no difficulty in imagining how she would remember it; she could see it stopping her suddenly as she crossed the room when she was thinking of something quite different. The hardest confession of all would be to tell Ned that she had consulted the priest, and she did not think he would ever love her again. But what matter, so long as she was not weak and contemptible in the eyes of God. That is what she had to think of. The love of ones husband is of this world and temporary, but the love of God is for all eternity. All things are in the will of God. It was God that had sent her into Neds room. She had been compelled, and now she was compelled again. It was God that had sent her to the priest; she was a mere puppet in the hands of God, and she prayed that she might be reconciled to His will, only daring to implore His mercy with one Our Father and one Hail Mary. Further imploration would be out of place, she must not insist too much. God was all wisdom, and would know if the love of her husband might be spared to her, and she hoped she would be reconciled to His will even if her child should be taken from her.
There were two penitents before her. One a woman, faded by time and deformed by work. From the black dress, come down to her through a succession of owners and now as nondescript as herself, Ellen guessed the woman to be one of the humblest class of servants, one of those who get their living by going out to work by the day. She leaned over the bench, and Ellen could see she was praying all the while, and Ellen wondered how Ned could expect this poor woman, earning a humble wage in humble service, to cultivate what he called the virtue of pride. Was it not absurd to expect this poor woman to go through life trying to make life exuberant and triumphant? And Ellen wished she could show Ned this poor woman waiting to go into the confessional. In the confessional she would find a refined and learned man to listen to her, and he would have patience with her. Where else would she find a patient listener? Where else would she find consolation? The Gospel of Life, indeed! How many may listen to the gospel of life, and for how long may anyone listen? Sooner or later we are that poor woman waiting to go into the confessional; she is the common humanity.
The other penitent was a girl about sixteen. Her hair was not yet pinned up, and her dress was girlish even for her age, and Ellen judged her to be one of the many girls who come up to Dublin from the suburbs to an employment in a shop or in a lawyers office, and who spend a few pence in the middle of the day in tea-rooms. The girl looked round the church so frequently that Ellen could not think of her as a willing penitent, but as one who had been sent to confession by her father and mother. At her age sensuality is omnipresent, and Ellen thought of the check confession is at such an age. If that girl overstepped the line she would have to confess everything, or face the frightful danger of a bad confession, and that is a danger that few Catholic girls are prepared to face.
The charwoman spent a long time in the confessional, and Ellen did not begrudge her the time she spent, for she came out like one greatly soothed, and Ellen remembered that Ned had once described the soothed look which she noticed on the poor womans face as a look of foolish ecstasy, wholly divorced from the intelligence. But what intellectual ecstasy did he expect from this poor woman drifting towards her natural harbour — the poor-house?
It was extraordinary that a man so human as Ned was in many ways should become so inhuman the moment religion was mentioned, and she wondered if the sight of that poor woman leaving the confessional would allay his hatred of the sacrament. At that moment the young girl came out. She hurried away, and Ellen went into the confessional to betray her husband.
She was going to betray Ned, but she was going to betray him under the seal of confession, and entertained no thought that the priest would avail himself of any technicality in her confession to betray her. She was, nevertheless, determined that her confession should be technically perfect. She went into the confessional to confess her sins, and one of the sins she was going to confess was her culpable negligence regarding the application of her money. There were other sins. She had examined her conscience, and had discovered many small ones. She had lost her temper last night, and her temper had prevented her from saying her prayers, her temper and her love of Ned; for it were certainly a sin to desire anything so fervidly that one cannot give to God the love, the prayers, that belong to Him.
During Mass the life of her soul had seemed to her strange and complex, and she thought that her confession would be a long one; but on her knees before the priest her soul seemed to vanish, and all her interesting scruples and phases of thought dwindled to almost nothing — she could not put her soul into words. The priest waited, but the matter on which she had come to consult him had put everything else out of her head.
I am not certain that what I am going to tell you is a sin, but I consider it as part of my confession, and she told him how she had given Ned her money and allowed him to apply it without inquiring into the application. Since my child was born I have not taken the interest I used to take in politics. I dont think my husband is any longer interested in my ideas, and now he has told me that some kind of religious reformation is necessary in Ireland.
When did he tell you that?
Yesterday — the day before. I went to the station to meet him and he told me as we walked home. For a long time I believed him: I dont mean that he told me falsehoods; he may have deceived himself. Anyhow he used to tell me that though his agitation might be described as anti-clerical no one could call it anti-religious. But this morning something led me into his room and I looked through his papers. I daresay I had no right to do so, but I did.
And you discovered from his papers that his agitation was directed against religion?
I cannot think of anything more unfortunate, said the priest.
Father Brennan was a little fat man with small eyes and a punctilious deferential manner, and his voice was slightly falsetto.
I cannot understand how your husband can be so unwise. I know very little of him, but I did not think he was capable of making so grave a mistake. The country is striving to unite itself, and we have been uniting, and now that we have a united Ireland, or very nearly, it appears that Mr. Carmady has come from America to divide us again. What can he gain by these tactics? If he tells the clergy that the moment Home Rule is granted an anti-religious party will rise up and drive them out of the country, he will set them against Home Rule, and if the clergy are not in favour of Home Rule who, I would ask Mr. Carmady, who will be in favour of it? And I will ask you, my dear child, to ask him — I suggest that you should ask him to what quarter he looks for support.
Ned and I never talk politics; we used to, but that is a long time ago.
He will only ruin himself. But I think you said you came to consult me about something.
Yes. You see a very large part of my money is spent in politics and I am not certain that I should not withdraw my money. It is for that I have come to consult you.
Ellen had been addressing the little outline of the priests profile, but when he heard the subject on which she had come to consult him he turned and she saw his large face, round and mottled. A little light gathered in his wise and kindly eyes, and Ellen guessed that he had begun to see his way out of the difficulty, and she was glad of it, for she reckoned her responsibility at a number of souls. The priest spoke very kindly, he seemed to understand how difficult it would be for her to tell her husband that she could not give him any more money unless he promised not to attack the clergy or religion, but she must do so. He pointed out that to attack one was to attack the other, for the greater mass of mankind understands religion only through the clergy.
You must not only withdraw your money, he said, but you must use your influence to dissuade him.
I am afraid, said Ellen, that when I tell him that I must withdraw my money, and that you have told me to do so —
You need not say that I told you to do so.
I cannot keep anything back from my husband. I must tell him the whole truth, she said. And when I tell him everything, I shall not only lose any influence that may remain, but I doubt very much if my husband will continue to live with me.
But your marriage was a love marriage?
Yes, but that is a long time ago. It is four years ago.
I dont think your husband will separate himself from you, but even so I think —
You will give me absolution?
She said this a little defiantly, and the priest wondered, and she left the confessional perplexed and a little ashamed and very much terrified.
There was nothing for her to do in Dublin, she must go home and wait for her husband. He was not coming home until evening, and she rode home wondering how the day would pass, thinking the best time to tell him would be after dinner when he left the piano. If he were very angry with her she would go to her room. He would not go on living with her, she was sure of that, and her heart seemed to stand still when she entered the house and saw the study door open and Ned looking through the papers.
I have come back to look for some papers, he said. It is very annoying. I have lost half the day, and he went on looking among his papers and she could see that he suspected nothing. Do you know when is the next train?
She looked out the trains for him, and after he had found the papers he wanted they went into the garden.
She talked of her flowers with the same interest as she had done many times before, and when he asked her to go for a walk with him on the hill she consented, although it was almost unbearable to walk with him for the last time through the places where they had walked so often, thinking that their lives would move on to the end unchanged; and they walked about the hill talking of Irish history, their eyes often resting on the slender outlines of Howth, until it was time for Ned to go to the station.
I shall be back in time for dinner. You will wait dinner a little for me, I may have to come back by a later train.
And they walked down the hill together, Ned bidding her good-bye at the garden gate, saying she had walked enough that day, and she feeling the moment was at hand.
But, Ned, why are you going to Dublin? You are only going to see people who are anti-Catholic, who hate our religion, who are prejudiced against it.
But, he said, why do you talk of these things. We have got on very much better since we have ceased to discuss politics together. We are agreed in everything else.
She did not answer for a long time and then she said: —
But I dont see how we are to avoid discussing them, for it is my money that supports the agitation.
I never thought of that. So it is. Do you wish to withdraw it?
You are not angry with me, Ned? You wont think it mean of me to withdraw my money? How are you going to go on without my money? You see I am wrecking your political career.
Oh, he said, I shall be able to get on without it. Now, good-bye.
May I go to the station with you?
If you like, only let us talk of something else. Everyones conscience is his own law and you must act accordingly.
She trotted by his side, and she begged of him not to laugh at her when he said that to be truly logical she would have to turn him out of the house, or at least to charge him for his board and lodging.
The intonation of his voice laid her heart waste; she felt she was done for, and she walked home repeating the words, I am done for.
As she passed through her garden she saw that her flowers were dying for want of water, and she gave them a few cans of water; but she could not do much work, and though the cans were heavy, they were not as heavy as her heart. She sat down under the apple-tree and remembered her life. Her best days were her school-days. Then life was beginning. Now it seemed to her nearly over, and she only five-and-twenty. She never could take the same interest in politics as she had once taken, nor in books. She felt that her intelligence had declined. She was cleverer as a girl than she was as a woman.
Ned was coming home for dinner, and some time that evening she would have to tell him that she had read his manuscript. She would have liked to meet him at the station, but thought it would be better not to go. The day wore away. Ned was in his best humour, and when she told him why she did not go to the station to meet him, he said it was foolish of her not to have come, for there was nothing he liked better than to stroll home with her in the evening, the road was so pleasant, etc.
She could see that he had not noticed her dress or what he was eating, and it was irritating to see him sitting there with his spoon full of soup telling her how the Irish people would have to reduce their expenditure and think a little less of priests — for a while, at least — unless they were minded to pass away, to become absorbed in America.
I like Brennan, he said, throwing himself back in his chair. He is a clever man. Brennan knows as well as I do theres too much money spent upon religion in Ireland. But, tell me, did he tell you explicitly that you should give me no more money?
Yes. But, Ned —
No, no, I am not in the least angry, he said, I shall always get money to carry on politics. But what a game it is! And I suppose, Ellen, you consult him on every detail of your life?
Her admission that Father Brennan had taken down books and put on his spectacles delighted him.
Taking down tomes! he said. Splendid! Some of these gentlemen would discuss theology with God. I can see Father Brennan getting up: Sire, my reason for entering the said sin as a venal sin, etc.
Very often during the evening the sewing dropped from her hands, and she sat thinking. Sooner or later she would nave to tell Ned she had read his manuscript. He would not mind her reading his manuscript, and though he hated the idea that anyone should turn to a priest and ask him for his interpretation regarding right and wrong, he had not, on the whole, been as angry as she had expected.
At last she got up. I am going to bed, Ned.
Isnt it very early?
There is no use my stopping here. You dont want to talk to me; youll go on playing till midnight.
Now, why this petulancy, Ellen? I think it shows a good deal of forgiveness for me to kiss you after the way you have behaved.
She held a long string of grease in her fingers, and was melting it, and when she could no longer hold it in her fingers, she threw the end into the flame.
Ive forgiven you, Ellen… . You never tell me anything of your ideas now; we never talk to each other, and if this last relation is broken there will be nothing … will there?
I sought Father Brennans advice under the seal of confession, that was all. You dont think that —
There are plenty of indirect ways in which he will be able to make use of the information he has got from you.
You have not yet heard how it happened, and perhaps when you do you will think worse of me. I went into your room to see what books you were reading. There was no harm in looking at a book; but you had put the books so far into the bookcase that I could not see the name of the author. I took up the manuscript from the table and glanced through it. I suppose I ought not to have done that: a manuscript is not the same as a book. And now goodnight.
She had gone to her room and did not expect him. Well, the sensual coil was broken, and if he did not follow her now she would understand that it was broken. He had wanted freedom this long while. They had come to the end of the second period, and there are three — a year of mystery and passion, and then some years of passion without mystery. The third period is one of resignation. The lives of the parents pass into the children, and the mated journey on, carrying their packs. Seldom, indeed, the man and the woman weary of the life of passion at the same time and turn instinctively into the way of resignation like animals. Sometimes it is the man who turns first, sometimes it is the woman. In this case it was the man. He had his work to do, and Ellen had her child to think of, and each must think of his and her task from henceforth. Their tasks were not the same. Each had a different task; she had thrown, or tried to throw, his pack from his shoulders. She had thwarted him, or, tried to thwart him. He grew angry as he thought of what she had done. She had gone into his study and read his papers, and she had then betrayed him to a priest. He lay awake thinking how he had been deceived by Ellen; thinking that he had been mistaken; that her character was not the noble character he had imagined. But at the bottom of his heart he was true to the noble soul that religion could not extinguish nor even his neglect.
She said one day: Is it because I read your manuscript and told the priest, that you would not come to my room, or is it because you are tired of me?
I cannot tell you; and, really, this conversation is very painful. I am engaged upon my work, and I have no thoughts for anything but it. Another time when he came from the piano and sat opposite to her she raised her eyes from her sewing and sat looking at him, and then getting up suddenly she put her hands to her forehead and said to herself: I will conquer this, and she went out of the room.
And from that day she did not trouble him with love. She obtained control over herself, and he remembered a mistress who had ceased to love him, and he had persecuted her for a long while with supplication. She is at one with herself always, he said, and he tried to understand her. She is one of those whose course through life is straight, and not zig-zag, as mine is. He liked to see her turn and look at the baby, and he said, That love is the permanent and original element of things, it is the universal substance; and he could trace Ellens love of her child in her love of him; these loves were not two loves, but one love. And when walking one evening through the shadows, as they spoke about the destiny we can trace in our lives, about life and its loneliness, the conversation verged on the personal, and she said, with a little accent of regret, but not reproachfully: —
But, Ned, you could not live with anyone, at least not always. I think you would sooner not live with anyone.
He did not dare to contradict her; he knew that she had spoken the truth; and Ned was sorry he was giving pain to Ellen, for there was no one he would have liked to please better. He regretted that he was what he was, that his course was zig-zag. For a moment he regretted that such a fate should have befallen Ellen. I am not the husband that would have suited her, he said… . And then, after a moments reflection, I was her instinct; another would not have satisfied her instinct; constancy is not everything. Its a pity I cannot love her always, for none is more worthy of being loved.
They became friends; he knew there was no danger of her betraying him again. Her responsibility ended with her money, and he told her how the agitation was progressing.
Oh, Ned, if I were only sure that your agitation was not directed against religion I would follow you. But you will never believe in me.
Yes, I believe in you. Come to Dublin with me; come to the meeting. Id like you to hear my speech.
I would like to hear you speak, Ned; but I dont think I can go to the meeting.
They were on their way to the station, and they walked some time without speaking. Then, speaking suddenly and gravely as if prompted by some deep instinct, Ellen said: —
But if you fail, Ned, you will be an outcast in Ireland, and if that happens you will go away, and I shall never see you again.
He turned and stood looking at her. That he should fail and become an outcast were not at all unlikely. Her words seemed to him like a divination! But it is the unexpected that happens, she said to herself, and the train came up to the station, and he bade her good-bye, and settled himself down in a seat to consider his speech for the last time.
I shall say everything I dare, the moment is ripe; and the threat to hold out is that Ireland is becoming a Protestant country. And the argument to use is that the Catholics are leaving because there is no joy in Ireland.
He went through the different sections of his speech introducing the word joy: Is Ireland going to become joyous? She has dreamed long enough among dead bones and ancient formulae. The little stations went by and the train rolled into Harcourt Street. He called a car. He was speaking at the Rotunda.
He was speaking on the depopulation question, and he said that this question came before every other question. Ireland was now confronted with the possibility that in five-and-twenty years the last of Ireland would have disappeared in America. There were some who attributed the Irish emigration to economic causes: that was a simple and obvious explanation, one that could be understood by everybody; but these simple and obvious explanations are not often, if they are ever, the true ones. The first part of Neds speech was taken up with the examination of the economic causes, and proving that these were not the origin of the evil. The country was joyless; mans life is joyless in Ireland. In every other country there were merry-makings. You have only to go into the National Gallery, he said, to see how much time the Dutch spent in merry-makings. All their pictures with the exception of Rembrandts treated of joyful subjects, of peasants dancing under trees, peasants drinking and singing songs in taverns, and caressing servant girls. Some of their merry-makings were not of a very refined character, but the ordinary man is not refined, and in the most refined men there is often admiration and desire for common pleasure. In the country districts Irish life is one of stagnant melancholy, the only aspiration that comes into their lives is a religious one. Of course it will be said that the Irish are too poor to pay for pleasure, but they are not too poor to spend fifteen millions a year upon religion. He was the last man in the world who would say that religion was not necessary, but if he were right in saying that numbers were leaving Ireland because Ireland was joyless he was right in saying that it was the duty of every Irishman to spend his money in making Ireland a joyful country. He was speaking now in the interests of religion. A country is antecedent to religion. To have religion you must first have a country, and if Ireland was not made joyful Ireland would become a Protestant country in about twenty-five years. In support of this contention he produced figures showing the rate at which the Catholics were emigrating. But not only were the Catholics emigrating — those who remained were becoming nuns and priests. As the lay population declined the clerics became more numerous. Now, he said, there must be a laity. It is a very commonplace thing to say, but this very commonplace truth is forgotten or ignored, and I come here to plead to-day for the harmless and the necessary laity. He knew that these words would get a laugh, and that the laugh would get him at least two or three minutes grace, and these two or three minutes could not be better employed than with statistics, and he produced some astonishing figures. These figures were compiled, he said, by a prelate bearing an Irish name, but whose object in Ireland was to induce Irishmen and Irishwomen to leave Ireland. This would not be denied, though the pretext on which he wished Irish men and women to leave Ireland would be pleaded as justification. But of this I shall speak, Ned said, presently. I want you first to give your attention to the figures which this prelate produced, and with approbation. According to him there were ten convents and one hundred nuns in the beginning of the century, now there were twelve hundred convents and twenty thousand nuns. The prelate thinks that this is a matter for us to congratulate ourselves on. In view of our declining population I cannot agree, and I regret that prelates should make such thoughtless observations. Again I have to remind you of a fact that cannot be denied, but which is ignored, and it is that a celibate clergy cannot continue the population, and that if the population be not continued the tail of the race will disappear in America in about twenty-five years… . Not only does this prelate think that we should congratulate ourselves on the fact that while the lay population is decreasing the clerical population is increasing, but he thinks that Ireland should still furnish foreign missions. He came to Ireland to get recruits, to beseech Irishmen and Irishwomen to continue their noble work of the conversion of the world. No doubt the conversion of the world is a noble work. My point now is that Ireland has done her share in this noble work, and that Ireland can no longer spare one single lay Irishman or cleric or any Irishwoman. If the foreign mission is to be recruited it must be recruited at the expense of some other country.
Ned suggested Belgium as the best recruiting ground. But it was the prelates own business to find recruits, it was only Neds business to say that Ireland had done enough for the conversion of the world. And this prelate with the Irish name and cosmopolitan heart, who thought it an admirable thing that the clerical population should increase, while the lay population declined; who thought that with the declining population Ireland should still send out priests and nuns to convert the world — was no true Irishman. He cared not a jot what became of his country, so long as Ireland continued to furnish him with priests and nuns for the foreign mission. This prelate was willing to bleed Ireland to death to make a Roman holiday. Ireland did not matter to him, Ireland was a speck — Ned would like to have said, a chicken that the prelate would drop into the caldron which he was boiling for the cosmopolitan restaurant; but this would be an attack upon religion, it would be too direct to be easily understood by the audience, and as the words came to his lips he changed the phrase and said, a pinch of snuff in the Roman snuff-box. After this, Ned passed on to perhaps the most important part of his speech — to the acquisition of wealth by the clergy. He said that if the lay population had declined, and if the clerical population had increased, there was one thing that had increased with the clergy, and that was the wealth of the clergy. I wish the cosmopolitan prelate had spoken upon this subject. I wonder if he inquired how much land has passed into the hands of the clergy in the last twenty years, and how many mortgages the religious hold upon land. I wonder if he inquired how many poultry-farms the nuns and the friars are adding to their convents and their monasteries; and now they are starting new manufactories for weaving — the weaving industry is falling into their hands. And there are no lay teachers in Ireland, now all the teaching is done by clerics. The Church is very rich in Ireland. If Ireland is the poorest country in the world, the Irish Church is richer than any other. All the money in Ireland goes into religion. There is only one other trade that can compete with it. Heaven may be for the laity, but this world is certainly for the clergy.
More money was spent upon religion in Ireland than in any other country. Too much money was spent for the moment in building churches, and the great sums of money that were being spent on religion were not fairly divided. And passing rapidly on, Ned very adroitly touched upon the relative positions of the bishops and the priests and the curates. He told harrowing stories of the destitution of the curates, and he managed so well that his audience had not time to stop him. Everything he thought that they could not agree with he sandwiched between things that he knew they would agree with.
Father Murphy stood a little distance on his right, a thick-set man, and as the sentences fell from Neds lips he could see that Father Murphy was preparing his answer, and he guessed what Father Murphys answer would be like. He knew Father Murphy to be an adroit speaker, and the priest began in a low key as Ned had expected him to do. He began by deploring the evils of emigration, and Mr. Carmady deserved their best thanks for attracting popular attention to this evil. They were indebted to him for having done this. Others had denounced the evil, but Mr. Carmadys eloquence had enabled him to do so as well, perhaps even better than it had been done before. He complimented Mr. Carmady on the picturesque manner in which he described the emptying of the country, but he could not agree with Mr. Carmady regarding the causes that had brought about this lamentable desire to leave the fatherland. Mr. Carmadys theory was that the emptying of Ireland was due to the fact that the Irish priests had succeeded in inducing men to refrain from the commission of sin. Mr. Carmady did not reproach the priests with having failed; he reproached them with having succeeded. A strange complaint. The cause of the emigration, which we all agreed in deploring, was, according to Mr. Carmady, the desire of a sinless people for sin. A strange accusation. The people, according to Mr. Carmady, were leaving Ireland because they wished to indulge in indecent living. Mr. Carmady did not use these words; the words he used were The joy of life, but the meaning of the words was well known.
No race, he said, had perhaps ever been libelled as the Irish race had been, but of all the libels that had ever been levelled against it, no libel had ever equalled the libel which he had heard uttered to-day, that the Irish were leaving Ireland in search of sin.
They had heard a great deal about the dancing-girl, and according to Mr. Carmady it would seem that a nation could save itself by jigging.
He is speaking very well, from his point of view, said Ned to himself.
Father Murphy was a stout, bald-headed man with small pig-like eyes, and a piece seemed to have been taken from the top of his bony forehead. He was elegantly dressed in broadcloth and he wore a gold chain and he dangled his chain from time to time. He was clearly the well-fed, well-housed cleric who was making, in this world, an excellent living of his advocacy for the next, and Ned wondered how it was that the people did not perceive a discrepancy between Father Murphys appearance and the theories he propounded. The idealism of the Irish people, said the priest, was inveterate, and he settled himself on his short legs and began his peroration.
Ned had begun to feel that he had failed, he began to think of his passage back to America. Father Murphy was followed by a young curate, and the curate began by saying that Mr. Carmady would be able to defend his theories, and that he had no concern with Mr. Carmadys theories, though, indeed, he did not hear Mr. Carmady say anything which was contrary to the doctrine of our holy religion. Father Murphy had understood Mr. Carmadys speech in quite a different light, and it seemed to the curate that he, Father Murphy, had put a wrong interpretation upon it; at all events he had put one which the curate could not share. Mr. Carmady had ventured, and, he thought, very properly, to call attention to the number of churches that were being built and the number of people who were daily entering the orders. He did not wish to criticise men and women who gave up their lives to God, but Mr. Carmady was quite right when he said that without a laity there could be no country. In Ireland the clergy were apt to forget this simple fact that celibates do not continue the race. Mr. Carmady had quoted from a book written by a priest in which the distinguished author had said he looked forward to the day when Ireland would be one vast monastery, and the curate agreed with Mr. Carmady that no more foolish wish had ever found its way into a book. He agreed with Mr. Carmady that a real vocation is a rare thing. No country had produced many painters or many sculptors or many poets, and a true religious vocation was equally rare. Mr. Carmady had pointed out that although the population had diminished the nuns and priests had increased, and Father Murphy must hold that Ireland must become one vast monastery, and the laity ought to become extinct, or he must agree with Mr. Carmady that there was a point when a too numerous clergy would overbalance the laity.
Altogether an unexpected and plucky little speech, and long before it closed Ned saw that Father Murphys triumph was not complete. Father Murphys face told the same tale.
The curates argument was taken up by other curates, and Ned began to see he had the youth of the country on his side.
He was speaking at the end of the week at another great meeting, and received even better support at this meeting than he had done at the first, and he returned home wondering what his wife was thinking of his success. But what matter? Ireland was waking from her sleep… . The agitation was running from parish to parish, it seemed as if the impossible were going to happen, and that the Gael was going to be free.
The curates had grievances, and he applied himself to setting the inferior clergy against their superiors, and as the agitation developed he told the curates that they were no better than ecclesiastical serfs, that although the parish priests dozed in comfortable arm-chairs and drank champagne, the curates lived by the wayside and ate and drank very little and did all the work.
But one day at Maynooth it was decided that curates had legitimate grievances, and that the people had grievances that were likewise legitimate. And at this great council it was decided that the heavy marriage fees and the baptismal fees demanded by the priests should be reduced. Concessions were accompanied by threats. Even so it required all the power of the Church to put down the agitation. Everyone stood agape, saying the bishops must win in the end. An indiscretion on Neds part gave them the victory. In a moment of excitement he was unwise enough to quote John Mitchels words that the Irish would be free long ago only for their damned souls. A priest wrote to the newspapers pointing out that after these words there could be no further doubt that it was the doctrine of the French Revolution that Mr. Carmady was trying to force upon a Christian people. A bishop wrote saying that the words quoted were fit words for Anti-Christ. After that it was difficult for a priest to appear on the same platform, and the curates whose grievances had been redressed deserted, and the fight became an impossible one.
Very soon Neds meetings were interrupted, disagreeable scenes began to happen, and his letters were not admitted to the newspapers. A great solitude formed about him.
Well, he said one morning, I suppose you have read the account in the paper of my ignominious escape. That is what they called it.
The wheel, Ellen said, is always going round. You may be at the bottom now, but the wheel is going round, only there is no use opposing the people in their traditions, in their instinct… . And whether the race is destined to disappear or to continue it is certain that the last Gael will die a Catholic.
And the Red Indian will die with the scalp at his girdle.
We wont talk about religion, well talk about things we are agreed upon. I have heard you say yourself that you would not go back to America again, that you never enjoyed life until you came here.
That was because I met you, Ellen.
I have heard you praise Ireland as being the most beautiful and sympathetic country in the world.
It is true that I love these people, and I wish I could become one of them.
You would become one of them, and yet you would tear them to pieces because they are not what you want them to be.
Sometimes he thought he would like to write A Western Thibet, but he was more a man of action than of letters. His writings had been so long confined to newspaper articles that he could not see his way from chapter to chapter. He might have overcome the difficulty, but doubt began to poison his mind. Every race, he said, has its own special genius. The Germans have or have had music. The French and Italians have or have had painting and sculpture. The English have or have had poetry. The Irish had, and alas! they still have their special genius, religious vocation.
He used to go for long walks on the hills, and one day, lying in the furze amid the rough grass, his eyes following the course of the ships in the bay, he said: Was it accident or my own fantastic temperament that brought me back from Cuba? It seemed as if a net had been thrown over him and he had been drawn along like a fish in a net. For some purpose, he said. But for what purpose? I can perceive none, and yet I cannot believe that an accident brought me to Ireland and involved me in the destiny of Ireland for no purpose.
And he did not need to take the book from his pocket, he knew the passage well, and he repeated it word for word while he watched the ships in the bay.
We were friends and we have become strangers, one to the other. Ah, yes; but it is so, and we do not wish to hide our strangerhood, or to dissemble as if we were ashamed of it. We are two ships each with a goal and a way; and our ways may draw together again and we may make holiday as before. And how peacefully the good ships used to lie in the same harbour, under the same sun; it seemed as if they had reached their goal, and it seemed as if there was a goal. But soon the mighty sway of our tasks laid on us as from of old sundered and drove us into different seas and different zones; and it may be that we shall never meet again and it may be that we shall meet and not know each other, so deeply have the different seas and suns changed us. The law that is over us decreed that we must become strangers one to the other; and for this we must reverence each other the more, and for this the memory of our past friendship becomes more sacred. Perhaps there is a vast invisible curve and orbit and our different goals and ways are parcel of it, infinitesimal segments. Let us uplift ourselves to this thought! But our life is too short and our sight too feeble for us to be friends except in the sense of this sublime possibility. So, let us believe in our stellar friendship though we must be enemies on earth.
A deep and mysterious truth, he said, I must go, I must go, he said to himself. My Irish life is ended. There is a starry orbit, and Ireland and I are parts of it, and we must believe in our stellar friendship though we are enemies upon earth.
He wandered about admiring the large windless evening and the bright bay. Great men had risen up in Ireland and had failed before him, and it were easy to account for their failure by saying they were not close enough to the tradition of their race, that they had just missed it, but some of the fault must be the fault of Ireland… . The anecdote varies, but substantially it is always the same story: The interests of Ireland sacrificed to the interests of Rome.
There came a whirring sound, and high overhead he saw three great birds flying through the still air, and he knew them to be wild geese flying south… .
War had broken out in South Africa, Irishmen were going out to fight once again; they were going to fight the stranger abroad when they could fight him at home no longer. The birds died down on the horizon, and there was the sea before him, bright and beautiful, with ships passing into the glimmering dusk, and among the hills a little mist was gathering. He remembered the great pagans who had wandered over these hills before scapulars and rosaries were invented. His thoughts came in flashes, and his happiness grew intense. He had wanted to go and the birds had shown him where he might go. His instinct was to go, he was stifling in Ireland. He might never find the country he desired, but he must get out of Ireland, a mean ineffectual atmosphere, he said, of nuns and rosaries.
A mist was rising, the lovely outlines of Howth reminded him of pagan Ireland. Theyre like music, he said, and he thought of Usheen and his harp. Will Usheen ever come again? he said. Better to die than to live here. And the mist thickened — he could see Howth no longer. The land is dolorous, he said, and as if in answer to his words the most dolorous melody he had ever heard came out of the mist. The wailing of an abandoned race, he said. This is the soul-sickness from which we are fleeing. And he wandered about calling to the shepherd, and the shepherd answered, but the mist was so thick in the hollows that neither could find the other. After a little while the shepherd began to play his flageolet again; and Ned listened to it, singing it after him, and he walked home quickly, and the moment he entered the drawing-room he said to Ellen, Dont speak to me; I am going to write something down, and this is what he wrote: —
THE WILD GOOSE.
A mist came on suddenly, and I heard a shepherd playing this folk-tune. Listen to it. Is it not like the people? Is it not like Ireland? Is it not like everything that has happened? It is melancholy enough in this room, but no words can describe its melancholy on a flageolet played by a shepherd in the mist. It is the song of the exile; it is the cry of one driven out in the night — into a night of wind and rain. It is night, and the exile on the edge of the waste. It is like the wind sighing over bog water. It is a prophetic echo and final despair of a people who knew they were done for from the beginning. A mere folk-tune, mere nature, raw and unintellectual; and these raw folk-tunes are all that we shall have done: and by these and these alone, shall we be remembered.
Ned, she said at last, I think you had better go away. I can see youre wearing out your heart here.
Why do you think I should go? What put that idea into your head?
I can see you are not happy.
But you said that the wheel would turn, and that what was lowest would come to the top.
Yes, Ned; but sometimes the wheel is a long time in turning, and maybe it would be better for you to go away for a while.
He told her that he had seen wild geese on the hill.
And it was from you I heard about the wild geese. You told me the history of Ireland, sitting on a Druid stone?
You want to go, Ned? And the desire to go is as strong in you as in the wild geese.
Maybe; but I shall come back, Ellen.
Do you think you will, Ned? How can you if you go to fight for the Boers?
Theres nothing for me to do here. I want new life. It was you who said that I should go.
For five years you have been devoted to Ireland, and now you and Ireland are separated like two ships.
Yes, like two ships. Ireland is still going Rome-ward, and Rome is not my way.
You are the ship, Ned, and you came to harbour in Ireland. But you and I are like two ships that have lain side by side in the harbour, and now —
And now what, Ellen? Go on!
It seemed to me that we were like two ships.
That is the very thing I was thinking on the hills. The comparison of two ships rose up in my mind on the hill, and then I remembered a passage. And when he had repeated it she said: —
So there is no hope for us on earth. We are but segments of a starry curve, and must be content with our stellar friendship. But, Ned, we shall never be enemies on earth. I am not your enemy, and never shall be. So we have nothing to think of now but our past friendship. The memory of our past — is all that remains? And it was for that you left America after the Cuban war? There is our child. You love the little boy, dont you, Ned?
Yes, he said, I love the little boy… . But youll bring him up a Catholic. Youll bring him up to love the things that I hate.
Let there be no bitterness between us to-night, Ned dear. Let there be only love. If not love, affection at least. This is our last night.
How is that?
Because, Ned, when one is so bent upon going as you are it is better he should go at once. I give you your freedom. You can go in the morning or when you please. But remember, Ned, that you can come back when you please, that I shall be always glad to see you.
They went up-stairs and looked for some time on the child, who was sleeping. Ellen took him out of his bed, and she looked very pretty, Ned thought, holding the half-awakened child, and she kept the little quilt about him so that he might not catch cold.
He put his hands into his eyes and looked at his father, and then hid his face in his mothers neck, for the light blinded him and he wished to go to sleep.
Let me put him back in his bed, Ned said, and he took his son and put him back, and he kissed him. As he did so he wondered how it was that he could feel so much affection for his son and at the same time desire to leave his home.
Now, Ned, you must kiss me, and do not think I am angry with you for going. I know you are dull here, that you have got nothing further to do in Ireland, but it will be different when you come back.
And is it possible that you arent angry with me, Ellen, for going?
I am sorry you are going, Ned — in a way, but I should be more sorry to see you stay here and learn to hate me.
You are very wise, Ellen. But why did you read that manuscript?
I suppose because God wished me to.
One thing Ireland had done for him, and for that he would be always grateful to Ireland — Ireland had revealed a noble woman to him; and distance would bring a closer and more intimate appreciation of her.
He left early next morning before she was awake in order to save her the pain of farewells, and all that day in Dublin he walked about, possessed by the great joyful yearning of the wild goose when it rises one bright morning from the warm marshes, scenting the harsh north through leagues of air, and goes away on steady wing-beats. But he did not feel he was a free soul until the outlines of Howth began to melt into the grey drift of evening. There was a little mist on the water, and he stood watching the waves tossing in the mist thinking that it were well that he had left home — if he had stayed he would have come to accept all the base moral coinage in circulation; and he stood watching the green waves tossing in the mist, at one moment ashamed of what he had done, at the next overjoyed that he had done it.