The Woman Thou Gavest Me (Second Part: My Marriage)
AUTHOR’S NOTE: The name Raa (of Celtic origin with many variations among Celtic races) is pronounced Rah in Ellan.
SECOND PART: MY MARRIAGE
NOTWITHSTANDING my father’s anxiety to leave Rome we travelled slowly and it was a week before we reached Ellan. By that time my depression had disappeared, and I was quivering with mingled curiosity and fear at the thought of meeting the man who was to be my husband.
My father, for reasons of his own, was equally excited, and as we sailed into the bay at Blackwater he pointed out the developments which had been made under his direction the hotels, theatres, dancing palaces and boarding houses that lined the sea-front, and the electric railways that ran up to the tops of the mountains.
“See that?” he cried. ”I told them I could make this old island hum.”
On a great stone pier that stood deep into the bay, a crowd of people were waiting for the arrival of the steamer.
“That’s nothing,” said my father. “Nothing to what you see at the height of the season.”
As soon as we had drawn up alongside the pier, and before the passengers had landed, four gentlemen came aboard, and my heart thumped with the thought that my intended husband would be one of them; but he was not, and the first words spoken to my father were
“His lordship’s apologies, sir. He has an engagement to-day, but hopes to see you at your own house to-morrow morning.”
I recognised the speaker as the guardian (grown greyer and even less prepossessing) who had crossed with the young Lord Raa when he was going up to Oxford; and his companions were a smooth-faced man with searching eyes who was introduced as his lordship’s solicitor from London, a Mr. Curphy, whom I knew to be my father’s advocate, and my dear old Father Dan.
I was surprised to find Father Dan a smaller man than I had thought him, very plain and provincial, a little country parish priest, but he had the tender smile I always remembered, and the sweet Irish roll of the vowels that I could never forget.
“God bless you,” he said. “How well you ‘re looking! And how like your mother, Lord rest her soul! I knew the Blessed Virgin would take care of you, and she has, she has.”
Three conveyances were waiting for us a grand brougham for the Bishop, a big motor car for the guardian and the London lawyer, and a still bigger one for ourselves.
“Well, s’long until to-morrow then,” cried my father, getting up into the front row of his own car, with the advocate beside him and Father Dan and myself behind.
On the way home Father Dan talked of the business that had brought me back, saying I was not to think too much of anything he might have said of Lord Raa in his letters, seeing that he had spoken from hearsay, and the world was so censorious and then there was no measuring the miraculous Influence that might be exercised by a good woman.
He said this with a certain constraint, and was more at ease when he spoke of the joy that ought to come into a girl’s life at her marriage her first love, her first love-letter, her wedding-day and her first baby, all the sweet and wonderful things of a new existence which a man could never know.
“Even an old priest may see that,” he said, with a laugh and a pat of my hand.
We dropped Mr. Curphy at his house in Holmtown, and then my father sat with us at the back, and talked with tremendous energy of what he had done, of what he was going to do, and of all the splendours that were before me.
“You’ll be the big woman of the island, gel, and there won’t be a mother’s son that dare say boo to you.”
I noticed that, in his excitement, his tongue, dropping the suggestion of his adopted country, reverted to the racy speech of his native soil; and I had a sense of being with him before I was born, when he returned home from America with millions of dollars at his back, and the people who had made game of his father went down before his face like a flood.
Such of them as had not done so then (being of the “aristocracy” of the island and remembering the humble stock he came from) were to do so now, for in the second generation, and by means of his daughter’s marriage, he was going to triumph over them all.
“We’ll beat ’em, gel! My gough, yes, we’ll beat ’em!” he cried, with a flash of his black eyes and a masterful lift of his eyebrows.
As we ran by the mansions of the great people of Ellan, he pointed them out to me with a fling of the arm and spoke of the families in a tone of contempt.
“See that? That’s Christian of Balla-Christian. The man snubbed me six months ago. He’ll know better six months to come. . . . That’s Eyreton. His missus was too big to call on your mother she’ll call on you, though, you go bail. See yonder big tower in the trees? That’s Folksdale, where the Farragans live. The daughters have been walking over the world like peacocks, but they’ll crawl on it like cockroaches. . . . Hulloh, here’s ould Balgean of Eagle Hill, in his grand carriage with his English coachman. . . . See that, though? See him doff his hat to you, the ould hypocrite? He knows something. He’s got an inkling. Things travel. We’ll beat ’em, gel, we ‘ll beat ’em! They’ll be round us like bees about a honeypot.”
It was impossible not to catch the contagion of my father’s triumphant spirits, and in my different way I found myself tingling with delight as I recognised the scenes associated with my childhood the village, the bridge, the lane to Sunny Lodge and Murphy’s Mouth, and the trees that bordered our drive.
Nearly everything looked smaller or narrower or lower than I had thought, but I had forgotten how lovely they all were, lying so snugly under the hill and with the sea in
front of them.
Our house alone when we drove up to it seemed larger than I had expected, but my father explained this by saying:
“Improvements, gel! I’ll show you over them to-morrow morning.”
Aunt Bridget (white-headed now and wearing spectacles and a white cap), Betsy Beauty (grown tall and round, with a kind of country comeliness) and Nessy MacLeod (looking like a premature old maid who was doing her best to be a girl) were waiting at the open porch when our car drew up, and they received me with surprising cordiality.
“Here she is at last!” said Aunt Bridget.
“And such luck as she has come home to!” said Betsy Beauty.
There were compliments on the improvement in my appearance (Aunt Bridget declaring she could not have believed it, she really could not), and then Nessy undertook to take me to my room.
“It’s the same room still, Mary,” said my Aunt, calling to me as I went upstairs. “When they were changing everything else I remembered your poor dear mother and wouldn’t hear of their changing that. It isn’t a bit altered.”
It was not. Everything was exactly as I remembered it. But just as I was beginning for the first time in my life to feel grateful to Aunt Bridget, Nessy said:
“No thanks to her, though. If she’d had her way, she would have wiped out every trace of your mother, and arranged this marriage for her own daughter instead.”
More of the same kind she said which left me with the impression that my father was now the god of her idolatry, and that my return was not too welcome to my aunt and cousin; but as soon as she was gone, and I was left alone, home began to speak to me in soft and entrancing whispers.
How my pulses beat, how my nerves tingled! Home! Home! Home!
From that dear spot everything seemed to be the same, and everything had something to say to me. What sweet and tender and touching memories!
Here was the big black four-post bed, with the rosary hanging at its head; and here was the praying-stool with the figure of Our Lady on the wall above it.
I threw up the window, and there was the salt breath of the sea in the crisp island air; there was the sea itself glistening in the afternoon sunshine; there was St. Mary’s Rock draped in its garment of sea-weed, and there were the clouds of white sea-gulls whirling about it.
Taking off my hat and coat I stepped downstairs and out of the house going first into the farm-yard where the springless carts were still clattering over the cobble-stones; then into the cow-house, where the milkmaids were still sitting on low stools with their heads against the sides of the slow-eyed Brownies, and the milk rattling in their noisy pails; then into the farm-kitchen, where the air was full of the odour of burning turf and the still sweeter smell of cakes baking on a griddle; and finally into the potting-shed in the garden, where Tommy the Mate (more than ever like a weather-beaten old salt) was still working as before.
The old man looked round with his “starboard eye,” and recognised me instantly.
“God bless my sowl,” he cried, “if it isn’t the IT missy! Well, well! Well, well! And she’s a woman grown! A real lady too! My gracious, yes,” he said, after a second and longer look, “and there hasn’t been the match of her on this island since they laid her mother under the sod!”
I wanted to ask him a hundred questions, but Aunt Bridget, who had been watching from a window, called from the house to say she was “mashing” a cup of tea for me, so I returned to the drawing-room where (my father being busy with his letters in the library) Betsy Beauty talked for half an hour about Lord Raa, his good looks, distinguished manners and general accomplishments.
“But aren ‘t you just dying to see him?” she said.
I saw him the following morning.
I WAS sitting in my own room, writing to the Reverend Mother, to tell her of my return home, when I heard the toot of a horn and raising my eyes saw a motor car coming up the drive. It contained three gentlemen, one of them wore goggles and carried a silver-haired terrier on his knees.
A little later Nessy MacLeod came to tell me that Lord Raa and his party had arrived and I was wanted immediately.
I went downstairs hesitatingly, with a haunting sense of coming trouble. Reaching the door of the drawing-room I saw my intended husband for the first time there being nothing in his appearance to awaken in me the memory of ever having seen him before.
He was on the hearthrug in front of the fire, talking to Betsy Beauty, who was laughing immoderately. To get a better look at him, and at the same time to compose myself, I stopped for a moment to speak to the three gentlemen (the two lawyers and Lord Raa’s trustee or guardian) who were standing with my father in the middle of the floor.
He was undoubtedly well-dressed and had a certain air of breeding, but even to my girlish eyes he betrayed at that first sight the character of a man who had lived an irregular, perhaps a dissipated life.
His face was pale, almost puffy, his grey eyes were slow and heavy, his moustache was dark and small, his hair was thin over his forehead, and he had a general appearance of being much older than his years, which I knew to be thirty-three.
His manners, when I approached him, were courteous and gentle, almost playful and indulgent, but through all their softness there pierced a certain hardness, not to say brutality, which I afterwards learned (when life had had its tug at me) to associate with a man who has spent much of his time among women of loose character.
Betsy Beauty made a great matter of introducing us; but in a drawling voice, and with a certain play of humour, he told her it was quite unnecessary, since we were very old friends, having made each other’s acquaintance as far back as ten years ago, when I was the prettiest little woman in the world, he remembered, though perhaps my manners were not quite cordial.
“We had a slight difference on the subject of kisses. Don’t you remember it?”
Happily there was no necessity to reply, for my father came to say that he wished to show his lordship the improvements he had been making, and the rest of us were at liberty to follow them.
The improvements consisted chiefly of a new wing to the old house, containing a dining room, still unfurnished, which had been modelled, as I found later, on the corresponding room in Castle Raa.
With a proud lift of his white head my father pointed out the beauties of his new possession, while my intended husband, with his monocle to his eye, looked on with a certain condescension, and answered with a languid humour that narrowly bordered on contempt.
“Oak, sir, solid oak,” said my father, rapping with his knuckles on the tall, dark, heavy wainscoting.
“As old as our hearts and as hard as our heads, I suppose,” said Lord Raa.
“Harder than some, sir,” said my father.
“Exactly,” said Lord Raa in his slow drawl, and then there was general laughter.
The bell rang for luncheon, and we went into the plain old dining room, where Aunt Bridget placed her principal guest on her right and told him all about her late husband, the Colonel, his honours and military achievements.
I could see that Lord Raa was soon very weary of this, and more than once, sitting by his side, I caught the cynical and rather supercilious responses to which, under the gloss of his gracious manners, Aunt Bridget seemed quite oblivious.
I was so nervous and embarrassed that I spoke very little during luncheon, and even Aunt Bridget observed this at last.
“Mary, dear, why don’t you speak?” she said.
But without waiting for my reply she proceeded to explain to his lordship that the strangest change had come over me since I was a child, when I had been the sauciest little chatterbox in the world, whereas now I was so shy that it was nearly impossible to get a word out of me.
“Hope I shall be able to get one word out of her, at least,” said his lordship, whereupon Aunt Bridget smiled significantly and Betsy Beauty burst into fits of laughter.
Almost before the meal was over, my father rose from his seat at the head of the table, and indicating the lawyers who sat near to him, he said:
“These gentlemen and I have business to fix up money matters and all that so I guess we’ll step into the library and leave you young people to look after yourselves.”
Everybody rose to leave the room.
“All back for tea-time,” said Aunt Bridget.
“Of course you don’t want me,” said Betsy Beauty with a giggle, and at the next moment I was alone with his lordship, who drew a long breath that was almost like a yawn, and said:
“Is there no quiet place we can slip away to?”
There was the glen at the back of the house (the Cape Flora of Martin Conrad), so I took him into that, not without an increasing sense of embarrassment. It was a clear October day, the glen was dry, and the air under the shadow of the thinning trees was full of the soft light of the late autumn.
“Ah, this is better,” said his lordship.
He lit a cigar and walked for some time by my side without speaking, merely flicking the seeding heads off the dying thistles with his walking stick, and then ruckling it through the withered leaves with which the path was strewn.
But half way up the glen he began to look aslant at me through his monocle, and then to talk about my life in Rome, wondering how I could have been content to stay so long at the Convent, and hinting at a rumour which had reached him that I had actually wished to stay there altogether.
“Extraordinary! Ton my word, extraordinary! It’s well enough for women who have suffered shipwreck in their lives to live in such places, but for a young gal with any fortune, any looks . . . why I wonder she doesn’t die of ennui.”
I was still too nervous and embarrassed to make much protest, so he went on to tell me with what difficulty he supported the boredom of his own life even in London, with its clubs, its race-meetings, its dances, its theatres and music halls, and the amusement to be got out of some of the ladies of society, not to speak of certain well-known professional beauties.
One of his great friends his name was Eastcliff was going to marry the most famous of the latter class (a foreign dancer at the ”Empire”), and since he was rich and could afford to please himself, why shouldn’t he?
When we reached the waterfall at the top of the glen (it had been the North Cape of Martin Conrad), we sat on a rustic seat which stands there, and then, to my still deeper embarrassment, his lordship’s conversation came to close quarters.
Throwing away his cigar and taking his silver-haired terrier on his lap he said:
“Of course you know what the business is which the gentlemen are discussing in the library?”
As well as I could for the nervousness that was stifling me, I answered that I knew.
He stroked the dog with one hand, prodded his stick into the gravel with the other, and said:
“Well, I don’t know what your views about marriage are. Mine, I may say, are liberal.”
I listened without attempting to reply.
“I think nine-tenths of the trouble that attends married life the breakdowns and what not come of an irrational effort to tighten the marriage knot.”
Still I said nothing.
“To imagine that two independent human beings can be tied together like a couple of Siamese twins, neither to move without the other, living precisely the same life, year in, year out, . . why, it’s silly, positively silly.”
In my ignorance I could find nothing to say, and after another moment my intended husband swished the loosened gravel with his stick and said:
“I believe in married people leaving each other free each going his and her own way what do you think?”
I must have stammered some kind of answer I don’t know what for I remember that he said next:
“Quite so, that’s my view of matrimony, and I’m glad to see you appear to share it. … Tell the truth, I was afraid you wouldn’t,” he added, with something more about the nuns and the convent.
I wanted to say that I didn’t, but my nervousness was increasing every moment, and before I could find words in which to protest he was speaking to me again.
“Our friends in the library seem to think that you and I could get along together, and I’m disposed to think they’re right aren’t you?”
In my ignorance and helplessness, and with the consciousness of what I was expected to do, I merely looked at him without speaking.
Then he fixed his monocle afresh, and, looking back at me in a curious way, he said:
“I don’t think I should bore you, my dear. In fact, I should be rather proud of having a good-looking woman for my wife, and I fancy I could give you a good time. In any case” this with a certain condescension “my name might be of some use to you.”
A sort of shame was creeping over me. The dog was yawning in my face. My intended husband threw it off his knee.
“Shall we consider it a settled thing, then?” he asked, and when in my confusion I still made no reply (having nothing which I felt myself entitled to say), he said something about Aunt Bridget and what she had told him at luncheon about my silence and shyness, and then rising to his feet he put my arm through his own, and turned our faces towards home.
That was all. As I am a truthful woman, that was everything. Not a word from me, nay, not half a word, merely a passive act of silent acquiescence, and in my youthful and almost criminal innocence I was committed to the most momentous incident of my life.
But if there was no love-making, no fondling, no kissing, no courtship of any kind, and none of the delirious rapture which used to be described in Alma’s novels, I was really grateful for that, and immensely relieved to find that matters could be completed without them.
When we reached the house, the bell was ringing for tea and my father was coming out of the library, followed by the lawyers.
“So that’s all right, gentlemen?” he was saying.
“Yes, that’s all right, sir,” they were answering; and then, seeing us as we entered, my father said to Lord Raa:
“And what about you two?”
“We’re all right also,” said his lordship in his drawling voice.
“Good!” said my father, and he slapped his lordship sharply on the back, to his surprise, and I think, discomfiture.
Then with a cackle of light laughter among the men, we all trooped into the drawing room.
Aunt Bridget in her gold-rimmed spectacles and new white cap, poured out the tea from our best silver tea-pot, while Nessy MacLeod with a geranium in her red hair, and Betsy Beauty, with large red roses in her bosom, handed round the cups. After a moment, my father, with a radiant face, standing back to the fire, said in a loud voice:
“Friends all, I have something to tell you.”
Everybody except myself looked up and listened, though everybody knew what was coming.
“We’ve had a stiff tussle in the library this afternoon, but everything is settled satisfactory and the marriage is as good as made.”
There was a chorus of congratulations for me, and a few for his lordship, and then my father said again:
“Of course there’ll be deeds to draw up, and I want things done correct, even if it costs me a bit of money. But we’ve only one thing more to fix up to-day, and then we’re through the wedding. When is it to come off?”
An appeal was made to me, but I felt it was only formal, so I glanced across to Lord Raa without speaking.
“Come now,” said my father, looking from one to the other. “The clean cut is the short cut, you know, and when I’m sot on doing a thing, I can’t take rest till it’s done. What do you say to this day next month?”
I bowed and my intended husband, in his languid way, said:
A few minutes afterwards the motor was ordered round, and the gentlemen prepared to go. Then the silver-haired terrier was missed, and for the first time that day his lordship betrayed a vivid interest, telling us its price and pedigree and how much he would give rather than lose it. But at the
last moment Tommy appeared with the dog in his arms and dropped it into the car, whereupon my intended husband thanked him effusively.
“Yes,” said Tommy, “I thought you set store by that, sir.”
At the next moment the car was gone.
“Well, you are a lucky girl,” said Betsy Beauty; and Aunt Bridget began to take credit to herself for all that had come to pass, and to indicate the methods by which she meant to manage Castle Raa as soon as ever I became mistress of it.
Thus in my youth, my helplessness, my ignorance, and my inexperience I became engaged to the man who had been found and courted for me. If I acquiesced, I had certainly not been consulted. My father had not consulted me. My intended husband had not consulted me. Nobody consulted me. I am not even sure that I thought anybody was under any obligation to consult me. Love had not spoken to me, sex was still asleep in me, and my marriage was arranged before my deeper nature knew what was being done.
THE next weeks were full of hurry, hubbub and perturbation. Our house was turned upside down. Milliners, sewing-maids and dressmakers were working day and night. Flowers, feathers and silk remnants were flowing like sea-wrack into every room. Orders were given, orders were retracted and given again, and then again retracted.
Such flying up and down stairs! Everybody so breathless! Everybody so happy! Every face wearing a smile! Every tongue rippling with laughter! The big grey mansion which used to seem so chill and cold felt for the first time like a house of joy!
In the midst of these busy preparations I had no time to think. My senses were excited. I was dazed, stunned, wrapped round by a kind of warm air of hot-house happiness, and this condition of moral intoxication increased as the passing of the days brought fresh developments.
Our neighbours began to visit us. My father had been right about the great people of the island. Though they had stood off so long, they found their account in my good fortune, and as soon as my marriage was announced they came in troops to offer their congratulations
Never, according to Tommy the Mate, had the gravel of our carriage drive been so rucked up by the pawing feet of high-bred horses. But their owners were no less restless. It was almost pitiful to see their shame facedness as they entered our house for the first time, and to watch the shifts they were put to in order to account for the fact that they had never been there before.
Aunt Bridget’s vanity was too much uplifted by their presence to be particular about their excuses, but my father’s contempt of their subterfuges was naked and undisguised, and 1 hardly know whether to feel amused or ashamed when I think of how he scored off them, how he lashed them to the bone, with what irony and sarcasm he scorched their time-serving little souls.
When they were very great folks, the “aristocracy” of Ellan, he pretended not to know who they were, and asked their names, their father’s names, and what parishes they came from.
“Some of the Christians of Balla-Christian, are you? Think of that now! And me a born Ellanman, and not knowing you from Adam!”
When they were very near neighbours, with lands that made boundary with our own, he pretended to think they had been twenty years abroad, or perhaps sick, or even dead and buried,
“Too bad, ma’am, too bad,” he would say. “And me thinking you were under the sod through all the lonely years my poor wife was ill and dying.”
But when they were insular officials, who “walked on the stars,” and sometimes snubbed him in public, the rapier of ridicule was too light for his heavy hand, and he took up the sledge-hammer, telling them he was the same man to-day as yesterday, and only his circumstances were different his daughter being about to become the lady of the first house in the island, and none of them being big enough to be left out of it.
After such scenes Aunt Bridget, for all her despotism within her own doors, used to tremble with dread of our neighbours taking lasting offence, but my father would say:
“Chut, woman, they’ll come again, and make no more faces about it.”
They did, and if they were shy of my father they were gracious enough to me, saying it was such a good thing for society in the island that Castle Raa was to have a lady, a real lady, at the head of it at last.
Then came their wedding presents pictures, books, silver ornaments, gold ornaments, clocks, watches, chains, jewellery, until my bedroom was blocked up with them. As each fresh parcel arrived there would be a rush of all the female members of our household to open it, after which Betsy Beauty would say:
“What a lucky girl you are!”
I began to think I was. I found it impossible to remain unaffected by the whirlwind of joyous turmoil in which I lived. The refulgence of the present hour wiped out the past, which seemed to fade away altogether. After the first few days I was flying about from place to place, and wherever I went I was a subject for congratulation and envy.
If there were moments of misgiving, when, like the cold wind out of a tunnel, there came the memory of the Reverend Mother and the story she had told me at Nemi, there were other moments when I felt quite sure that, in marrying Lord Raa, I should be doing a self-sacrificing thing and a kind of solemn duty.
One such moment was when Mr. Curphy, my father’s advocate, who with his clammy hands always made me think of an over-fatted fish, came to tell him that, after serious legal difficulties, the civil documents had been agreed to, for, after he had finished with my father, he drew me aside and said, as he smoothed his long brown beard:
“You ought to be a happy girl, Mary. I suppose you know what you are doing for your father? You are wiping out the greatest disappointment of his life, and rectifying the cruelty the inevitable cruelty of the law, when you were born a daughter after he had expected a son.”
Another such moment was when the Bishop came, in his grand carriage, to say that after much discussion he had persuaded his lordship to sign the necessary declaration that all the children of our union, irrespective of sex, should be brought up as Catholics, for taking me aside, as the advocate had done the day before, he said, in his suave voice, fingering his jewelled cross:
“I congratulate yon, my child. Yours is a great and precious privilege the privilege of bringing back to the Church a family which has been estranged from it for nineteen years.”
At the end of a fortnight we signed the marriage settlement. The little ceremony took place in the drawing-room of my father’s house. My intended husband, who had not been to see me in the meantime, brought with him (as well as his trustee and lawyer) a lady and a gentleman.
The lady was his maiden aunt, Lady Margaret Anslem, a fair woman of about forty, fashionably dressed, redolent of perfume, and (except to me, to whom she talked quite amicably) rather reserved and haughty, as if the marriage of her nephew into our family were a bitter pill which she had compelled herself to swallow.
The gentleman was a tall young man wearing a very high collar and cravat, and using a handkerchief with embroidered initials in the corner of it. He turned out to be the Hon. Edward Eastcliff the great friend who, being rich enough to please himself, was about to marry the professional beauty.
I noticed that Aunt Bridget, with something of the instinct of the fly about the flame, immediately fixed herself upon the one, and that Betsy Beauty attached herself to the other.
Lord Raa himself looked as tired as before, and for the first half-hour he behaved as if he did not quite know what to do with himself for wretchedness and ennui.
Then the deeds were opened and spread out on a table, and though the gentlemen seemed to be trying not to discuss the contents aloud I could not help hearing some of the arrangements that had been made for the payment of my intended husband’s debts, and certain details of his annual allowance.
Looking back upon that ugly hour, I wonder why, under the circumstances, I should have been so wounded, but I remember that a sense of discomfort amounting to shame came upon me at sight of the sorry bargaining. It seemed to have so little to do with the spiritual union of souls, which I had been taught to think marriage should be. But I had no time to think more about that before my father, who had signed the documents himself in his large, heavy hand, was saying:
“Now, gel, come along, we’re waiting for your signature.”
I cannot remember that I read anything. I cannot remember that anything was read to me. I was told where to sign, and I signed, thinking what must be must be, and that was all I had to do with the matter.
I was feeling a little sick, nevertheless, and standing by the fire with one foot on the fender, when Lord Raa came up to me at the end, and said in his drawling voice:
“So it’s done.”
“Yes, it’s done,” I answered
After a moment he talked of where we were to live, saying we must of course pass most of our time in London.
“But have you any choice about the honeymoon,” he said, “where we should spend it, I mean?”
I answered that he would know best, but when he insisted on my choosing, saying it was my right to do so, I remembered that during my time in the Convent the one country in the world I had most desired to see was the Holy Land.
Never as long as I live shall I forget the look in his lordship ‘s grey eyes when I gave this as my selection.
“You mean Jerusalem Nazareth the Dead Sea and all that?” he asked.
I felt my face growing red as at a frightful faux pas, but his lordship only laughed, called me his “little nun,” and said that since I had been willing to leave the choice to him he would suggest Egypt and Italy, and Berlin and Paris on the way back, with the condition that we left Ellan for London on the day of our marriage.
After the party from Castle Raa had gone, leaving some of their family lace and pearls behind for the bride to wear at her wedding, and after Aunt Bridget had hoped that “that woman” (meaning Lady Margaret) didn’t intend to live at the Castle after my marriage, because such a thing would not fit in with her plans “at all, at all,” I mentioned the arrangements for the honeymoon, whereupon Betsy Beauty, to whom Italy was paradise, and London glimmered in an atmosphere of vermillion and gold, cried out as usual:
“What a lucky, lucky girl you are!”
But the excitement which had hitherto buoyed me up was partly dispelled by this time, and I was beginning to feel some doubt of it.
As my wedding-day approached and time ran short, the air of joy which had pervaded our house was driven out by an atmosphere of irritation. We were all living on our nerves. The smiles that used to be at everybody’s service gave place to frowns, and, in Aunt Bridget’s case, to angry words which were distributed on all sides and on all occasions.
As a consequence I took refuge in my room, and sat long hours there in my dressing-gown and slippers, hearing the hubbub that was going on in the rest of the house, but taking as little part in it as possible. In this semi-conventual silence and solitude, the excitement which had swept me along for three weeks subsided rapidly.
I began to think, and above all to feel, and the one thing I felt beyond everything else was a sense of something wanting.
I remembered the beautiful words of the Pope about marriage as a mystic relation, a sacred union of souls, a bond of love such as Christ’s love for His Church, and I asked myself if I felt any such love for the man who was to become my husband.
I knew I did not. I reminded myself that I had had nearly no conversation with him, that our intercourse had been of the briefest, that I had seen him only three times altogether, and that I scarcely knew him at all.
And yet I was going to marry him! In a few days more I should be his wife, and we should be bound together as long as life should last!
Then I remembered what Father Dan had said about a girl’s first love, her first love-letter, and all the sweet, good things that should come to her at the time of her marriage.
None of them had come to me. I do not think my thoughts of love were ever disturbed by any expectation of the delights of the heart languors of tenderness, long embraces, sighs and kisses, and the joys and fevers of the flesh for I knew nothing about them. But, nevertheless, I asked myself if I had mistaken the matter altogether. Was love really necessary? In all their busy preparations neither my father, nor my husband, nor the lawyers, nor the Bishop himself, had said anything about that.
I began to sleep badly and to dream. It was always the same dream. I was in a frozen region of the far north or south, living in a ship which was stuck fast in the ice, and had a great frowning barrier before it that was full of dangerous crevasses. Then for some reason I wanted to write a letter, but was unable to do so, because somebody had trodden on my pen and broken it.
It seems strange to me now as I look back upon that time, that I did not know what angel was troubling the waters of my soul that Nature was whispering to me, as it whispers to every girl at the first great crisis of her life. But neither did I know what angel was leading my footsteps when, three mornings before my wedding-day, I got up early and went out to walk in the crisp salt air.
Almost without thinking I turned down the lane that led to the shore, and before I was conscious of where I was going, I found myself near Sunny Lodge. The chimney was smoking for breakfast, and there was a smell of burning turf coming from the house, which was so pretty and unchanged, with the last of the year’s roses creeping over the porch and round the windows of the room in which I had slept when a child.
Somebody was digging in the garden. It was the doctor in his shirt sleeves.
“Good morning, doctor,” I called, speaking over the fence.
He rested on his spade and looked up, but did not speak for a moment.
“Don ‘t you know who I am?” I asked.
“Why yes, of course; you must be . . . ”
Without finishing he turned his head towards the porch and cried:
“Mother! Mother! Come and see who’s here at last!”
Martin’s mother came out of the porch, a little smaller, I thought, but with the same dear womanly face over her light print frock, which was as sweet as may-blossom.
She held up both hands at sight of me and cried:
“There, now! What did I tell you, doctor! Didn’t I say they might marry her to fifty lords, but she wouldn’t forget her old friends?”
I laughed, the doctor laughed, and then she laughed, and the sweetest part of it was that she did not know what we were laughing at.
Then I opened the gate and stepped up and held out my hand, and involuntarily she wiped her own hand (which was covered with meal from the porridge she was making) before taking mine.
“Goodness me, it’s Mary O’Neill.”
“Yes, it’s I.”
“But let me have a right look at you,” she said, taking me now by both hands. “They were saying such wonderful things about the young misthress that I wasn’t willing to believe them. But, no, no,” she said, after a moment, “they didn’t tell me the half.”
I was still laughing, but it was as much as I could do not to cry, so I said:
“May I come in?”
“My goodness yes, and welcome,” she said, and calling to the doctor to wash his hands and follow us, she led the way into the kitchen-parlour, where the kettle was singing from the “slowery” and a porridge-pot was bubbling over the fire.
“Sit down. Take the elbow-chair in the chiollagh [the hearth place]. There! That’s nice. Aw, yes, you know the house.”
Being by this time unable to speak for a lump in my throat that was hurting me, I looked round the room, so sweet, so (homely, so closely linked with tender memories of my childhood, while Martin’s mother (herself a little nervous and with a touching softness in her face) went on talking while she stirred the porridge with a porridge-stick.
“Well, well! To think of all the years since you came singing carols to my door! You remember it, don’t you? . . . Of course you do. ‘Doctor,’ I said, ‘don ‘t talk foolish. She’ll not forget. I know Mary O’Neill. She may be going to be a great lady, but haven’t I nursed her on my knee?”
“Then you Ve heard what ‘s to happen?” I asked.
“Aw yes, woman, yes,” she answered in a sadder tone, I thought. “Everybody’s bound to hear it what with the bands practising for the procession, and the bullocks roasting for the poor, and the fireworks and the illuminations, and I don’t know what.”
She was silent for a moment after that, and then in her simple way she said:
“But it’s all as one if you love the man, even if he is a lord. ”
“You think that’s necessary, don’t you?”
“Love. You think it’s necessary to love one’s husband?”
‘Goodness sakes, girl, yes. If you don’t have love, what have you? What’s to keep the pot boiling when the fire’s getting low and the winter ‘s coming on, maybe? The doctor’s telling me some of the fine ladies in London are marrying without it just for money and titles and all to that. But I can’t believe it, I really can’t! They’ve got their troubles same as ourselves, poor things, and what’s the use of their fine clothes and grand carriages when the dark days come and the night’s falling on them?”
It was harder than ever to speak now, so I got up to look at some silver cups that stood on the mantelpiece.
“Martin’s,” said his mother, to whom they were precious as rubies. “He won them at swimming and running and leaping and climbing and all to that. Aw, yes, yes! He was always grand at games, if he couldn’t learn his lessons, poor boy. And now he’s gone away from us looking for South Poles somewheres. ”
“I know I saw him in Rome,” said I.
She dropped her porridge-stick and looked at me with big eyes.
“Saw him? In Rome, you say? After he sailed, you mean?”
I nodded, and then she cried excitedly to the doctor who was just then coming into the house, after washing his hands under the pump.
“Father, she saw himself in Rome after he sailed.”
There was only one himself in that house, therefore it was not difficult for the doctor to know who was meant. And so great was the eagerness of the old people to hear the last news of the son who was the apple of their eye that I had to stay to breakfast and tell them all about our meeting.
While Martin’s mother laid the table with oat-cake and honey and bowls of milk and deep plates for the porridge, I told the little there was to tell, and then listened to their simple comments.
“There now, doctor! Think of that! Those two meeting in foreign parts that used to be such friends when they were children! Like brother and sister, you might say. And whiles and whiles we were thinking that some day . . . but well say no more about that now, doctor.”
“No, well say no more about that now, Christian Ann,” said the doctor.
Then there was a moment of silence, and it was just as if they had been rummaging among half-forgotten things in a dark corner of their house, and had come upon a cradle, and the child that had lived in it was dead.
It was sweet, but it was also painful to stay long in that house of love, and as soon as I had eaten my oat-cake and honey I got up to go. The two good souls saw me to the door, saying I was not to expect either of them at the Big House on my wedding-day, because she was no woman for smart clothes, and the doctor, who was growing rheumatic, had given up his night-calls, and therefore his gig, so as to keep down expenses.
“Well be at the church, though,” said Martin’s mother.
”And if we don’t see you to speak to, you’ll know we’re there and wishing you happiness in our hearts.”
I could not utter a word when I left them; but after I had walked a little way I looked back, intending to wave my farewell, and there they were together at the gate still, and one of her hands was on the doctor’s shoulder the sweet woman who had chosen love against the world, and did not regret it, even now when the night was falling on her.
I had to pass the Presbytery on my way home, and as I did so, I saw Father Dan in his study. He threw up the window sash and called in a soft voice, asking me to wait until he came down to me.
He came down hurriedly, just as he was, in his worn and discoloured cassock and biretta, and walked up the road by my side, breathing rapidly and obviously much agitated.
“The Bishop is staying with me over the wedding, and he is in such a fury that . . . Don’t worry. It will be all right. But . . .”
“Did you see young Martin Conrad while you were in Rome?”
I answered that I did.
“And did anything pass between you . . . about your marriage, I mean?”
I told him all that I had said to Martin, and all that Martin had said to me.
“Because he has written a long letter to the Bishop denouncing it, and calling on him to stop it.”
“To stop it?”
“That’s so. He says it is nothing but trade and barter, and if the Church is willing to give its blessing to such rank commercialism, let it bless the Stock Exchange, let it sanctify the slave market.”
“The Bishop threatens to tell your father. ‘Who is this young man, ‘ he says, ‘who dares to . . .’ But if I thought there was nothing more to your marriage than … If I imagined that what occurred in the case of your dear mother. But that’s not all.”
“No. Martin has written to me too, saying worse far worse.”
“What does he say, Father Dan?”
“I don’t really know if I ought to tell you, I really don’t. Yet if it’s true … if there’s anything in it . . . ”
I was trembling, but I begged him to tell me what Martin had said. He told me. It was about my intended husband that he was a man of irregular life, a notorious loose liver, who kept up a connection with somebody in London, a kind of actress who was practically his wife already, and therefore his marriage with me would be so Martin had said nothing but “legalised and sanctified concubinage.”
With many breaks and pauses my dear old priest told me this story, as if it were something so infamous that his simple and innocent heart could scarcely credit it.
“If I really thought it was true,” he said, “that a man living such a life could come here to marry my little . . . But no, God could not suffer a thing like that. I must ask, though. I must make sure. We live so far away in this little island that . . . But I must go back now. The Bishop will be calling for me.”
Still deeply agitated, Father Dan left me by the bridge, and at the gate of our drive I found Tommy the Mate on a ladder, covering, with flowers from the conservatory, a triumphal arch which the joiner had hammered up the day before.
The old man hardly noticed me as I passed through, and this prompted me to look up and speak to him.
“Tommy,” I said, “do you know you are the only one who hasn’t said a good word to me about my marriage?”
“Am I, missy?” he answered, without looking down. “Then maybe that’s because I’ve had so many bad ones to say to other people.”
I asked which other people.
“Old Johnny Christopher, for one. I met him last night at the ‘Horse and Saddle.’ ‘Grand doings at the Big House, they’re telling me,’ says Johnny. ‘I won’t say no,’ I says. ‘It’ll be a proud day for the grand-daughter of Neill the Lord when she’s mistress of Castle Raa,’ says Johnny. ‘Maybe so,’ I says, ‘but it’ll be a prouder day for Castle Raa when she sets her elane little foot in it.”
I SHOULD find it difficult now, after all that has happened since, to convey an adequate idea of the sense of shame and personal dishonour which was produced in me by Father Dan ‘s account of the contents of Martin’s letter. It was like opening a door out of a beautiful garden into a stagnant ditch.
That Martin’s story was true I had never one moment’s doubt, first because Martin had told it, and next because it agreed at all points with the little I had learned of Lord Raa in the only real conversation I had yet had with him.
Obviously he cared for the other woman, and if, like his friend Eastcliff, he had been rich enough to please himself, he would have married her; but being in debt, and therefore in need of an allowance, he was marrying me in return for my father’s money.
It was shocking. It was sinful. I could not believe that my father, the lawyers and the Bishop knew anything about it.
I determined to tell them, but how to do so, being what I was, a young girl out of a convent, I did not know.
Never before had I felt so deeply the need of my mother. If she had been alive I should have gone to her, and with my arms about her neck and my face in her breast, I should have told her all my trouble.
There was nobody but Aunt Bridget, and little as I had ever expected to go to her under any circumstances, with many misgivings and after much hesitation I went.
It was the morning before the day of my marriage. I followed my aunt as she passed through the house like a biting March wind, scolding everybody, until I found her in her own room.
She was ironing her new white cap, and as I entered (looking pale, I suppose) she flopped down her flat iron on to its stand and cried:
“Goodness me, girl, what’s amiss? Caught a cold with your morning walks, eh? Haven’t I enough on my hands without that? “We must send for the doctor straight. We can’t have you laid up now, after all this trouble and expense.”
“It isn’t that, Auntie.”
“Then in the name of goodness what is it?”
I told her, as well as I could for the cold grey eyes that kept looking at me through their gold-rimmed spectacles. At first my aunt listened with amazement, and then she laughed outright.
“So you’ve heard that story, have you? Mary O’Neill,” she said, with a thump of her flat iron, “I’m surprised at you.”
I asked if she thought it wasn’t true.
“How do I know if it’s true? And what do I care whether it is or isn’t? Young men will be young men, I suppose.”
She went on with her ironing as she added:
“Did you expect you were marrying a virgin? If every woman asked for that there would be a nice lot of old maids in the world, wouldn’t there?”
I felt myself flushing up to the forehead, yet I managed to say:
“But if he is practically married to the other woman. …”
“Not he married. Whoever thinks about marriage in company like that? You might as well talk about marriage in the hen coop.”
“But all the same if he cares for her, Auntie. . . .”
“Who says he cares for her? And if he does he’ll settle her off and get rid of her before he marries you.”
“But will that be right?” I said, whereupon my aunt rested her iron and looked at me as if I had said something shameful.
“Mary O’Neill, what do you mean? Of course it will be right. He shouldn’t have two women, should he? Do you think the man’s a barn-door rooster?”
My confusion was increasing, but I said that in any case my intended husband could not care for me, or he would have seen more of me.
“Oh, you’ll see enough of him by and by. Don’t you worry about that.”
I said I was not sure that he had made me care much for him.
“Time enough for that, too. You can’t expect the man to work miracles.”
Then, with what courage was left me, I tried to say that I had been taught to think of marriage as a sacrament, instituted by the Almighty so that those who entered it might live together in union, peace and love, whereas . . .
But I had to stop, for Aunt Bridget, who had been looking at me with her hard lip curled, said:
“Tut! That’s all right to go to church with on Sunday, but on weekdays marriage is no moonshine, I can tell you. It’s a practical matter. Just an arrangement for making a home, and getting a family, and bringing up children that’s what marriage is, if you ask me.”
“But don ‘t you think love is necessary?”
“Depends what you mean by love. If you mean what they talk about in poetry and songs bleeding hearts and sighs and kisses and all that nonsense no!” said my aunt, with a heavy bang on her ironing.
“That’s what people mean when they talk about marrying for love, and it generally ends in poverty and misery, and sensible women have nothing to do with it. Look at me,” she said, spitting on the bottom of her iron, “do you think I married for love when I married the colonel? No indeed! ‘Here’s a quiet respectable man with a nice income,’ I said, ‘and if I put my little bit to his little bit we’ll get along comfortably if he is a taste in years,’ I said. Look at your mother, though. She was one of the marrying-for-love kind, and if we had let her have her way where would she have been afterwards with her fifteen years as an invalid? And where would you have been by this time? No,” said Aunt Bridget, bringing down her flat-iron with a still heavier bang, “a common-sense marriage, founded on suitability of position and property, and all that, is the only proper sort of match. And that’s what’s before you now, girl, so for goodness’ sake don’t go about like the parish pan, letting every busybody make mischief with you. My Betsy wouldn’t if she had your chance I can tell you that much, my lady.”
I did not speak. There was another bang or two of the
flat-iron, and then,
“Besides, love will come. Of course it will. It will come in time. If you don’t exactly love your husband when you marry him you’ll love him later on. A wife ought to teach herself to love her husband. I know I had to, and if …”
“But if she can’t, Auntie?”
“Then she ought to be ashamed of herself, and say nothing about it.”
It was useless to say more, so I rose to go.
“Yes, go,” said Aunt Bridget. “I’m so bothered with other people’s business that my head’s all through-others. And, Mary O’Neill,” she said, looking after me as I passed through the door, “for mercy’s sake do brighten up a bit, and don’t look as if marrying a husband was like taking a dose of jalap. It isn’t as bad as that, anyway.”
It served me right. I should have known better. My aunt and I spoke different languages; we stood on different ground.
Returning to my room I found a letter from Father Dan. It ran –
“Dear Daughter in Jesus,
“I have been afraid to go far into the story we spoke about from fear of offending my Bishop, but I have inquired of your father and he assures me that there is not a word of truth in it.
“So I am compelled to believe that our good Martin must have been misinformed, and am dismissing the matter from my mind. Trusting you will dismiss it from your mind also,
“Yours in Xt,
I COULD not do as Father Dan advised, being now enmeshed in the threads of innumerable impulses unknown to myself, and therefore firmly convinced that Martin’s story was not only true, but a part of the whole sordid business whereby a husband was being bought for me.
With this thought I went about all day, asking myself what I could do even yet, but finding no answer until nine o’clock at night, when, immediately after supper (we lived country fashion), Aunt Bridget said:
“Now then, off to bed, girls. Everybody must be stirring early in the morning.”
And then I slipped upstairs to my room, and replied to Father Dan.
Never had I written such a letteu before. I poured my whole heart on to the paper, saying what marriage meant to me, as the Pope himself had explained it, a sacrament implying and requiring love as the very soul of it, and since I did not feel this love for the man I was about to marry, and had no grounds for thinking he felt it for me, and being sure that other reasons had operated to bring us together, I begged Father Dan, by his memory of my mother, and his affection for me, and his desire to see me good and happy, to intervene with my father and the Bishop, even at this late hour, and at the church door itself to stop the ceremony.
It was late before I finished, and I thought the household was asleep, but just as I was coming to an end I heard my father moving in the room below, and then a sudden impulse came to me, and with a new thought I went downstairs and knocked at his door.
“Who’s there?” he cried. “Come in.”
He was sitting in his shirt sleeves, shaving before a looking-glass which was propped up against two ledgers. The lather on his upper lip gave his face a fierce if rather grotesque expression.
“Oh, it’s you,” he said. “Sit down. Got to do this to-night goodness knows if I’ll have time for it in the morning.”
I took the seat in the ingle which Father Dan occupied on
the night of my birth. The fire had nearly burnt out.
“Thought you were in bed by this time. Guess I should have been in bed myself but for this business. Look there -” he pointed with the handle of his razor to the table littered with papers “that’s a bit of what I’ve had to do for you. I kind o’ think you ought to be grateful to your father, my gel.”
I told him he was very kind, and then, very nervously, said:
“But are you sure it’s quite right, sir?”
Not catching my meaning he laughed.
“Right?” he said, holding the point of his nose aside between the tips of his left thumb and first finger. “Guess it’s about as right as law and wax can make it.”
“I don’t mean that, sir. I mean . . .”
“What?” he said, facing round.
Then trembling and stammering I told him. I did not love Lord Raa. Lord Raa did not love me. Therefore I begged him for my sake, for his sake, for everybody’s sake (I think I said for my mother’s sake also) to postpone our marriage.
At first my father seemed unable to believe his own ears.
“Postpone? Now? After all this money spent? And everything signed and sealed and witnessed!”
“Yes, if you please, sir, because. . . .”
I got no farther, for flinging down his razor my father rose in a towering rage.
“Are you mad? Has somebody been putting the evil eye on you? The greatest match this island has ever seen, and you say postpone put if off, stop it, that’s what you mean. Do you want to make a fool of a man? At the last moment, too. Just when there’s nothing left but to go to the High Bailiff and the Church! . . . But I see I see what it is. It’s that young Conrad he’s been writing to you.”
I tried to say no, but my father bore me down.
“Don’t go to deny it, ma’am. He has been writing to every one the Bishop, Father Dan, myself even. Denouncing the marriage if you plaze.”
My father, in his great excitement, was breaking with withering scorn into his native speech.
“Aw yes, though, denouncing and damning it, they’re telling me! Mighty neighbourly of him, I’m sure! Just a neighbour lad without a penny at his back to take all that throuble! If I had known he felt like that about it I might have axed his consent! The imperence, though! The imperence of sin! A father has no rights, it seems! A daughter is a separate being, and all to that! Well, well! Amazing thick, isn’t it?”
He was walking up and down the room with his heavy tread, making the floor shake.
“Then that woman in Rome I wouldn’t trust but she has been putting notions into your head, too. All the new-fangled fooleries, I’ll go bail. Women and men equal, not a ha’p’orth of difference between them! The blatherskites!”
I was silenced, and I must have covered my face and cried, for after a while my father softened, and touching my shoulder he asked me if a man of sixty-five was not likely to know better than a girl of nineteen what was good for her, and whether I supposed he had not satisfied himself that this marriage was a good thing for me and for him and for everybody.
“Do you think I’m not doing my best for you, gel my very best?” –
I must have made some kind of assent, for he said:
“Then don’t moither me any more, and don’t let your Aunt Bridget moither me telling me and telling me what I might have done for her own daughter instead.”
At last, with a kind of rough tenderness, he took me by the arm and raised me to my feet.
“There, there, go to bed and get some sleep. We’ll have to start off for the High Bailiff’s early in the morning.”
My will was broken down. I could resist no longer. Without a word more I left him.
Returning to my room I took the letter I had been writing to Father Dan and tore it up piece by piece. As I did so I felt as if I were tearing up a living thing something of myself, my heart and all that was contained in it.
Then I threw open the window and leant out. I could hear the murmur of the sea. I felt as if it were calling to me, though I could not interpret its voice. The salt air was damp and it refreshed my eyelids.
At length I got into bed, shivering with cold. When I had put out the light I noticed that the moon, which was near the full, had a big yellow ring of luminous vapour around it.
MY sleep that night was much troubled by dreams. It was the same dream as before, again and again repeated the dream of frozen regions and of the great ice barrier, and then of the broken pen.
When I awoke in the hazy light of the dawn I thought of what the Pope had said about beginning my wedding-day with penance and communion, so I rose at once to go to church.
The dawn was broadening, but the household was still asleep, only the servants in the kitchen stirring when I stepped through a side door, and set out across the fields.
The dew was thick on the grass, and under the gloom of a heavy sky the day looked cold and cheerless. A wind from the south-east had risen during the night, the sea was white with breakers, and from St. Mary’s Rock there came the far-off moaning of surging waves.
The church, too, when I reached it, looked empty and chill. The sacristan in the dim choir was arranging lilies and marguerites about the high altar, and only one poor woman, with a little red and black shawl over her head and shoulders, was kneeling in the side chapel where Father Dan was saying Mass, with a sleepy little boy in clogs to serve him.
The woman was quite young, almost as young as myself, but she was already a widow, having lately lost her husband “at the herrings” somewhere up by Stornoway, where he had gone down in a gale, leaving her with one child, a year old, and another soon to come.
All this she told me the moment I knelt near her. The poor thing seemed to think I ought to have remembered her, for she had been at school with me in the village.
“I’m Bella Quark that was,” she whispered. “I married Willie Shimmin of the Lhen, you recollect. It’s only a month this morning since he was lost, but it seems like years and years. There isn’t nothing in the world like it.”
She knew about my marriage, and said she wished me joy, though the world was “so dark and lonely for some.” Then she said something about her “lil Willie.” She had left him asleep in her cottage on the Curragh, and he might awake and cry before she got back, so she hoped Father Dan wouldn’t keep her long.
I was so touched by the poor thing’s trouble that I almost forgot my own, and creeping up to her side I put my arm through hers as we knelt together, and that was how the Father found us when he turned to put the holy wafer on our tongues.
The wind must have risen higher while I was in the church, for when I was returning across the fields it lashed my skirts about my legs so that I could scarcely walk. A mist had come down and made a sort of monotonous movement in the mountains where they touched the vague line of the heavy sky.
I should be afraid to say that Nature was still trying to speak to me in her strange inarticulate voice, but I cannot forget that a flock of yearlings, which had been sheltering under a hedge, followed me bleating to the last fence, and that the moaning of the sea about St. Mary’s Rock was the last sound I heard as I re-entered the house.
Everything there was running like a mill-race by this time. The servants were flying to and fro, my cousins were calling downstairs in accents of alarm, Aunt Bridget was answering them in tones of vexation, and my father was opening doors with a heavy push and closing them with a clash.
They were all so suddenly pacified when I appeared that it flashed upon me at the moment that they must have thought I had run away.
“Goodness gracious me, girl, where have you been?” said Aunt Bridget.
I told her, and she was beginning to reproach me for not ordering round the carriage, instead of making my boots and stockings damp by traipsing across the grass, when my father said:
“That’ll do, that’ll do! Change them and take a snack of something. I guess we ‘re due at Holm town in half an hour.”
I ate my breakfast standing, the car was brought round, and by eight o’clock my father and I arrived at the house of the High Bailiff, who had to perform the civil ceremony of my marriage according to the conditions required by law.
The High Bailiff was on one knee before the fire in his office, holding a newspaper in front of it to make it burn.
“Nobody else here yet?” asked my father.
“Traa dy liooar” (time enough), the High Bailiff muttered.
He was an elderly man of intemperate habits who spent his nights at the “Crown and Mitre,” and was apparently out of humour at having been brought out of bed so early.
His office was a room of his private house. It had a high desk, a stool and a revolving chair. Placards were pinned on the walls, one over another, and a, Testament, with the binding much worn, lay on a table. The place looked half like a doctor’s consulting room, and half like a small police court.
Presently Mr. Curphy, my father’s advocate, came in, rather irritatingly cheerful in that chill atmosphere, and, half an hour late, my intended husband arrived, with his London lawyer and his friend Eastcliff.
My mind was far from clear and I had a sense of seeing things by flashes only, but I remember that I thought Lord Raa was very nervous, and it even occurred to me that early as it was he had been drinking.
“Beastly nuisance, isn’t it?” he said to me aside, and then there was something about “this legal fuss and fuddlement.”
With the air of a man with a grievance the High Bailiff took a big book out of the desk, and a smaller one off a shelf, and then we sat in a half circle, and the ceremony began.
It was very brief and cold like a matter of business. As far as I can remember it consisted of two declarations which Lord Raa and I made first to the witnesses present and afterwards to each other. One of them stated that we knew of no lawful impediment why we should not be joined together in matrimony, and the other declared that we were there and then so joined.
I remember that I repeated the words automatically, as the High Bailiff in his thick alcoholic voice read them out of the smaller of his books, and that Lord Raa, in tones of obvious impatience, did the same.
Then the High Bailiff opened the bigger of his books, and after writing something in it himself he asked Lord Raa to sign his name, and this being done he asked me also.
“Am I to sign, too?” I asked, vacantly.
“Well, who else do you think?” said Mr. Curphy with a laugh. “Betsy Beauty perhaps, eh?”
“Come, gel, come,” said my father, sharply, and then I signed.
I had no longer any will of my own. In this as in everything I did whatever was asked of me.
It was all as dreary and lifeless as an empty house. I can remember that it made no sensible impression upon my heart. My father gave some money (a few shillings I think) to the High Bailiff, who then tore a piece of perforated blue paper out of the bigger of his books and offered it to me, saying:
“This belongs to you.”
“To me?” I said.
“Who else?” said Mr. Curphy, who was laughing again, and then something was said by somebody about marriage lines and no one knowing when a wise woman might not want to use them.
The civil ceremony of my marriage was now over, and Lord Raa, who had been very restless, rose to his feet, saying:
“Beastly early drive. Anything in the house to steady one’s nerves, High Bailiff?”
The High Bailiff made some reply, at which the men laughed, all except my father. Then they left me and went into another room, the dining-room, and I heard the jingling of glasses and the drinking of healths while I sat before the fire with my foot on the fender and my marriage lines in my hand.
My brain was still numbed, I felt as one might feel if drowned in the sea and descending, without quite losing consciousness, to the depths of its abyss.
I remember I thought that what I had just gone through differed in no respect from the signing of my marriage settlement, except that in the one case I had given my husband rights over my money, my father’s money, whereas in this case I seemed to have given him rights over myself.
Otherwise it was all so cold, so drear, so dead, so unaffecting.
The blue paper had slipped out of my hand on to the worn hearthrug when my helpless meditations were interrupted by the thrumming and throbbing of the motor-ear outside, and by my father, who was at the office door, saying in his loud, commanding voice:
“Come, gel, guess it’s tune for you to be back.”
Half an hour afterwards I was in my own room at home, and given over to the dressmakers. I was still being moved automatically a creature without strength or will.
I HAVE only an indefinite memory of floating vaguely through the sights and sounds of the next two hours of everybody except myself being wildly excited; of my cousins calling repeatedly from unseen regions of the house; of Aunt Bridget scolding indiscriminately; of the dressmakers chattering without ceasing as they fitted on my wedding dress; of their standing off from me at intervals with cries of delight at the success of their efforts; of the wind roaring in the chimney; of the church-bells ringing in the distance; of the ever-increasing moaning of the sea about St. Mary’s Bock; and finally of the rumbling of the rubber wheels of several carriages and the plash of horses ‘ hoofs on the gravel of the drive.
When the dressmakers were done with me I was wearing an ivory satin dress, embroidered in silver, with a coronal of myrtle and orange blossoms under the old Limerick lace of the family veil, as well as a string of pearls and one big diamond of the noble house I was marrying into. I remember they said my black hair shone with a blue lustre against the sparkling gem, and I dare say I looked gay on the outside anyway.
At last I heard a fluttering of silk outside my room, and a running stream of chatter going down the stairs, followed by the banging of carriage doors, and then my father’s deep voice, saying:
“Bride ready? Good! Time to go, I guess,”
He alone had made no effort to dress himself up, for he was still wearing his every-day serge and his usual heavy boots. There was not even a flower in his button-hole.
We did not speak very much on our way to church, but I found a certain comfort in his big warm presence as we sat together in the carriage with the windows shut, for the rising storm was beginning to frighten me.
“It will be nothing,” said my father. “Just a puff of wind and a slant of rain maybe.”
The little church was thronged with people. Even the galleries were full of the children from the village school. There was a twittering overhead like that of young birds in a tree, and as I walked up the nave on my father’s arm I could not help but hear over the sound of the organ the whispered words of the people in the pews on either side of us.
“Dear heart alive, the straight like her mother she is, bless her!”
“Goodness yes, it’s the poor misfortunate mother come to life again.”
“‘Deed, but the daughter’s in luck, though,”
Lord Raa was waiting for me by the communion rail. He looked yet more nervous than in the morning, and, though he was trying to bear himself with his usual composure, there was (or I thought there was) a certain expression of fear in his face which I had never seen before.
His friend and witness, Mr. Eastcliff, wearing a carnation button-hole, was by his side, and his aunt, Lady Margaret, carrying a sheaf of beautiful white flowers, was standing near.
My own witnesses and bridesmaids, Betsy Beauty and Nessy MacLeod, in large hats, with soaring black feathers, were behind me. I could hear the rustle of their rose-coloured skirts and the indistinct buzz of their whispered conversation, as well as the more audible reproofs of Aunt Bridget, who in a crinkly black silk dress and a bonnet like a half moon, was telling them to be silent and to look placid.
At the next moment I was conscious that a bell had been rung in the chancel; that the organ had stopped; that the coughing and hemming in the church had ceased; that somebody was saying “Stand here, my lord”; that Lord Raa, with a nervous laugh, was asking “Here?” and taking a place by my side; that the lighted altar, laden with flowers, was in front of me; and that the Bishop in his vestments, Father Dan in his surplice and white stole, and a clerk carrying a book and a vessel of holy water were beginning the service.
Surely never was there a sadder ceremony. Never did any girl under similar circumstances feel a more vivid presentiment of the pains and penalties that follow on a forced and ill-assorted marriage. And yet there came to me in the course of the service such a startling change of thought as wiped out for a while all my sadness, made me forget the compulsion that had been put upon me, and lifted me into a realm of spiritual ecstasy.
The Bishop began with a short litany which asked God’s blessing on the ceremony which was to join together two of His children in the bonds of holy wedlock. While that was going on I was conscious of nothing except the howling of the wind about the church windows and the far-off tolling of the bell on St. Mary’s Rock nothing but this and a voice within me which seemed to say again and again, “I don ‘t love him! I don’t love him!”
But hardly had the actual ceremony commenced when I began to be overawed by the solemnity and divine power of the service, and by the sense of God leaning over my littleness and guiding me according to His will.
What did it matter how unworthy were the preparations that had led up to this marriage if God was making it? God makes all marriages that are blessed by His Church, and therefore He overrules to His own good ends all human impulses, however sordid or selfish they may be.
After that thought came to me nothing else seemed to matter, and nothing, however jarring or incongruous, was able to lower the exaltation of my spirit.
But the service, which had this effect upon me, appeared to have an exactly opposite effect on Lord Raa. His nervousness increased visibly, though he did his best to conceal it by a lightness of manner that sometimes looked like derision.
Thus when the Bishop stepped down to us and said:
“James Charles Munster, wilt thou take Mary here present for thy lawful wife, according to the rite of our holy Mother the Church,” my husband halted and stammered over his answer, saying beneath his breath, “I thought I was a heretic.”
But when the corresponding question was put to me, and Father Dan thinking I must be nervous, leaned over me and whispered, “Don’t worry, child, take your time,” I replied in a loud, clear, unfaltering voice:
And again, when my husband had to put the ring and the gold and silver on the salver (he fumbled and dropped them as he did so, and fumbled and dropped them a second time when he had to take them up after they had been blessed, laughing too audibly at his own awkwardness), and then repeat after the Bishop:
“With this ring I thee wed; this gold and silver I thee give; with my body I thee worship; and with all my worldly goods I thee endow,” he tendered the ring slowly and with an obvious effort.
But I took it without trembling, because I was thinking that, in spite of all I had heard of his ways of life, this solemn and sacred sacrament made him mine and no one else’s.
It is all very mysterious; I cannot account for it; I only know it was so, and that, everything considered, it was perhaps the strangest fact of all my life.
I remember that more than once during the ceremony Father Dan spoke to me softly and caressingly, as if to a child, but I felt no need of his comforting, for my strength was from a higher source.
I also remember that it was afterwards said that all through the ceremony the eyes of the newly-wedded couple seemed sedulously to shun each other, but if I did not look at my husband it was because my marriage was like a prayer to me, carrying me back, with its sense of purity and sanctity, to the little sunlit church in Rome where Mildred Bankes had taken her vows.
After the marriage service there was Nuptial Mass and Benediction (special dispensation from Rome), and that raised to a still higher pitch the spiritual exaltation which sustained me.
Father Dan read the Epistle beginning “Let wives be subject to their husbands,” and then the Bishop read the Gospel, concluding, “Therefore now they are not two, but one flesh: what therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.”
I had trembled when I thought of these solemn and sonorous words in the solitude of my own room, but now that they were spoken before the congregation I had no fear, no misgiving, nothing but a sense of rapture and consecration.
The last words being spoken and Lord Raa and I being man and wife, we stepped into the sacristy to sign the register, and not even there did my spirit fail me. I took up the pen and signed my name without a tremor. But hardly had I done so when I heard a rumbling murmur of voices about me first the Bishop’s voice (in such a worldly tone) and then my father’s and then my husband’s, and then the voices of many others, in light conversation mingled with trills of laughter. And then, in a moment, in a twinkling, as fast as a snowflake melts upon a stream, the spell of the marriage service seemed to break.
I have heard since that my eyes were wet at that moment and I seemed to have been crying all through the ceremony. I know nothing about that, but I do know that I felt a kind of internal shudder and that it was just as if my soul had suddenly awakened from an intoxicating drug.
The organ began to play the Wedding March, and my husband, putting my arm through his, said, “Come.”
There was much audible whispering among the people waiting for us in the church, and as we walked towards the door I saw ghostly faces smiling at me on every side, and heard ghostly voices speaking in whispers that were like the backward plash of wavelets on the shore.
“Sakes alive, how white’s she’s looking, though,” said somebody, and then somebody else said I could not help but hear it
“Dear heart knows if her father has done right for all that.”
I did not look at anybody, but I saw Martin’s mother at the back, and she was wiping her eyes and saying to some one by her side it must have been the doctor
“God bless her for the sweet child veen she always was, anyway.”
The storm had increased during the service; and the sacristan, who was opening the door for us, had as much as he could do to hold it against the wind, which came with such a rush upon us when we stepped into the porch that my veil and the coronal of myrtle and orange blossoms were torn off my head and blown back into the church.
“God bless my sowl,” said somebody it was Tommy’s friend, Johnny Christopher “there’s some ones would be sailing that bad luck, though.”
A band of village musicians, who were ranged up in the road, struck up “The Black and Grey” as we stepped out of the churchyard, and the next thing I knew was that my husband and I were in the carriage going home.
He had so far recovered from the frightening effects of the marriage service that he was making light of it, and saying:
“When will this mummery come to an end, I wonder?”
The windows of the carriage were rattling with the wind, and my husband had begun to talk of the storm when we came upon the trunk of a young tree which had been torn up by the roots and was lying across the road, so that our coachman had to get down and remove it.
“Beastly bad crossing, I’m afraid. Hope you’re a good sailor. Must be in London to-morrow morning, you know.”
The band was playing behind us. The leafless trees were beating their bare boughs in front. The wedding bells were pealing. The storm was thundering through the running sky. The sea was very loud.
At my father’s gate Tommy the Mate, with a serious face, was standing, cap in hand, under his triumphal arch, which (as well as it could for the wind that was tearing its flowers and scattering them on the ground) spelled out the words “God bless the Happy Bride.”
When we reached the open door of the house a group of maids were waiting for us. They were holding on to their white caps and trying to control their aprons, which were swirling about their black frocks. As I stepped out of the carriage they addressed me as “My lady” and “Your ladyship.” The seagulls, driven up from the sea, were screaming about the house.
My husband and I went into the drawing-room, and as we stood together on the hearthrug I caught a glimpse of my face in the glass over the mantelpiece. It was deadly white, and had big staring eyes and a look of faded sunshine. I fixed afresh the pearls about my neck and the diamond in my hair, which was much disordered.
Almost immediately the other carriages returned, and relatives and guests began to pour into the room and offer us their congratulations. First came my cousins, who were too much troubled about their own bedraggled appearance to pay much attention to mine. Then Aunt Bridget, holding on to her half -moon bonnet and crying:
“You happy, happy child! But what a wind! There’s been nothing like it since the day you were born.”
My father came next, like a gale of wind himself, saying:
“I’m proud of you, gel. Right proud I am. You done well.”
Then came Lady Margaret, who kissed me without saying many words, and finally a large and varied company of gaily-dressed friends and neighbours, chiefly the “aristocracy” of our island, who lavished many unnecessary “ladyships” upon me, as if the great name reflected a certain glory upon themselves.
I remember that as I stood on the hearthrug with my husband, receiving their rather crude compliments, a vague gaiety came over me, and I smiled and laughed, although my heart was growing sick, for the effect of the wedding-service was ebbing away into a cold darkness like that of a night tide when the moonlight has left it.
It did not comfort me that my husband, without failing in good manners, was taking the whole scene and company with a certain scarcely-veiled contempt which I could not help but see.
And neither did it allay my uneasiness to glance at my father, where he stood at the end of the room, watching, with a look of triumph in his glistening black eyes, his proud guests coming up to me one by one, and seeming to say to himself, “They’re here at last! I’ve bet them! Yes, by gough, I’ve bet them!”
Many a time since I have wondered if his conscience did not stir within him as he looked across at his daughter in the jewels of the noble house he had married her into the pale bride with the bridegroom he had bought for her and thought of the mockery of a sacred union which he had brought about to gratify his pride, his vanity, perhaps his revenge.
But it was all over now. I was married to Lord Raa. In the eyes equally of the law, the world and the Church, the knot between us was irrevocably tied.
MEMORANDUM BY MARTIN CONRAD
I am no mystic and no spiritualist, and I only mention it as one of the mysteries of human sympathy between far-distant friends, that during a part of the time when my dear one was going through the fierce struggle she describes, and was dreaming of frozen regions and a broken pen, the ship I sailed on had got itself stuck fast in a field of pack ice in latitude 76, under the ice barrier by Charcot Bay, and that while we were lying like helpless logs, cut off from communication with the world, unable to do anything but groan and swear and kick our heels in our bunks at every fresh grinding of our crunching sides, my own mind, sleeping and waking, was for ever swinging back, with a sort of yearning prayer to my darling not to yield to the pressure which I felt so damnably sure was being brought to bear on her.
Nothing counted in the presence of our love. To be only we two together — that was everything. The world and the world’s laws, the Church and the Canons of the Church were blotted out, forgotten, lost.
Hall Caine’s 1913 novel about a conflict between marriage and love, The Woman Thou Gavest Me, is another of his great Manx novels, obvious even in spite of Caine’s attempt to veil the location through pseudonyms.
Having investigated the conflicts between passion, love and social mores in nearly all of his previous works, Caine used his last novel before the advent of World War One to investigate a topic sure to cause offence across wide sets of the public: marriage and the divorce laws. The plot centres on Mary O’Neill, who submissively agrees to the pressures of family and society to marry Lord Raa – an act that she regrets as he proves himself to be a cad, which is shown in stark contrast when Martin Conrad, her great love, returns into her life. The furore that was created upon the release of the novel was almost inevitable, but it only served to publicise the novel further and boost the sales of this best-selling novel.
Unlike his other works, The Woman Thou Gavest Me is startling in that Caine chooses the write the story in the first person, subtitling the novel: “The story of Mary O’Neill.” But for the extended section towards the close of The Deemster, no other Manx novel of Caine’s has a first-personal narrative. In addition to this, that he chose here to present the story in a woman’s voice is all the more startling. The effect is to give the novel a life and readability at times lacking in his other works, as it relieves some of the weight that his didacticism can sometimes cause.
This novel is often missed in surveys of Caine’s Manx novels due to there being no mention of the “Isle of Man” or anything “Manx” throughout. However, the names Caine substituted for the Isle of Man and its locations are so obvious to anyone with even a passing knowledge of the Island, its history and its language, it seems most unlikely that Caine could have expected anyone not to know where the novel was set. That it was on the island of Ellan, whose main town was Blackwater, where people affectionately refer to children as “bogh millish,” would not have fooled many, even off the Island. It is one of the book’s many pleasures today to decipher these Manx obscurities, although the novel itself deserves our attention in being another in the collection of great Manx novels written by Hall Caine, the Island’s greatest novelist.
Hall Caine is without a doubt the greatest novelist that the Isle of Man has ever known. He was the best-selling novelist on both sides of the Atlantic at the end of the 19th Century, writing novels such as The Manxman which grew comparisons to Tolstoy and earned him recognition from Royalty and Prime Ministers. It would be hard to overestimate the importance of Hall Caine in the literary history of the Isle of Man.