The Woman Thou Gavest Me (Fourth Part: I Fall in Love)
AUTHOR’S NOTE: The name Raa (of Celtic origin with many variations among Celtic races) is pronounced Rah in Ellan.
FOURTH PART: I FALL IN LOVE
DURING our first day in London my husband had many visitors, including Mr. Eastcliff and Mr. Vivian, who had much to tell and arrange about.
I dare say a great many events had happened during our six months ‘ absence from England; but the only thing I heard of was that Mr. Eastcliff had married his dancing-girl, that she had retired from the stage, and that her public appearances were now confined to the box-seat of a four-in-hand coach, which he drove from London to Brighton.
This expensive toy he proposed to bring round to the hotel the following day, which chanced to be Derby Day, when a party was to be made up for the races.
In the preparations for the party, Alma, who, as usual, attracted universal admiration, was of course included, but I did not observe that any provision was made for me, though that circumstance did not distress me in the least, because I was waiting for Martin ‘s message.
It came early next morning in the person of Martin himself, who, running into our sitting-room like a breath of wind from the sea, said his fellow officers were separating that day, each going to his own home, and their commander had invited me to lunch with them on their ship, which was lying off Tilbury.
It did not escape me that my husband looked relieved at this news, and that Alma’s face brightened as she said in her most succulent tones:
“I should go if I were you, Mary. The breeze on the river will do you a world of good, dear.”
I was nothing loath to take them at their word, so I let them go off in their four-in-hand coach, a big and bustling party, while with a fast-beating heart I made ready to spend the day with Martin, having, as I thought, so much and such serious things to say to him.
A steam launch from the ship was waiting for us at the Westminster Pier, and from the moment I stepped into it I felt like another woman. It was a radiant day in May, when the climate of our much-maligned London is the brightest and best, and the biggest city in the world is also the most beautiful.
How I loved it that day! The sunlight, the moving river, the soft air of early summer, the passing panorama of buildings, old and new what a joy it was to me! I sat on a side seat, dipping my hand over the gunwale into the cool water, while Martin, with a rush of racy words, was pointing out and naming everything.
St. Paul’s was soon past, with the sun glistening off the golden cross on its dome; then London Bridge; then the Tower, with its Traitors’ Gate; then the new Thames Bridge; and then we were in the region of the barges and wharfs and warehouses, with their colliers and coasting traders, and with the scum of coal and refuse floating on the surface of the stream.
After that came uglier things still, which we did not mind, and then the great docks with the hammering of rivets and the cranking noise of the lightermen’s donkey engines, loading and unloading the big steamers and sailing ships; and then the broad reaches of the river where the great liners, looking so high as we steamed under them, lay at anchor to their rusty cable-chains, with their port-holes gleaming in the sun like rows of eyes, as Martin said, in the bodies of gigantic fish.
At last we came out in a fresh breadth of water, with marshes on either side and a far view of the sea, and there, heaving a little to the flowing tide, and with a sea-gull floating over her mizzen mast, lay Martin’s ship.
She was a wooden schooner, once a Dundee whaler called the Mary but now re-christened the Scotia, and it would be silly to say how my eyes filled at sight of her, just because she had taken Martin down into the deep Antarctic and brought him safely back again.
“She’s a beauty, isn’t she?” said Martin.
“Isn’t she?” I answered, and in spite of all my troubles I felt entirely happy.
We had steamed down against a strong tide, so we were half an hour late for luncheon, and the officers had gone down to the saloon, but it was worth being a little after time to see the way they all leapt up and received me like a queen making me feel, as I never felt before, the difference between the politeness of the fashionable idlers and the manners of the men who do things.
”Holloa!” they cried.
“Excuse us, won’t you? We thought something had happened and perhaps you were not coming,” said the commander, and then he put me to sit between himself and Martin.
The strange thing was that I was at home in that company in a moment, and if anybody imagines that I must have been embarrassed because I was the only member of my sex among so many men he does not know the heart of a woman.
They were such big, bronzed manly fellows with the note of health and the sense of space about them large space as if they had come out of the heroic youth of the world, that they set my blood a-tingling to look at them.
They were very nice to me too, though I knew that I only stood for the womankind that each had got at home and was soon to go back to, but none the less it was delightful to fee] as if I were taking the first fruits of their love for them.
So it came to pass that within a few minutes I, who had been called insipid and was supposed to have no conversation, was chattering away softly and happily, making remarks about the things around me and asking all sorts of questions.
Of course I asked many foolish ones, which made the men laugh very much; but their laughter did not hurt me the least bit in the world, because everybody laughed on that ship, even the sailors who served the dishes, and especially one grizzly old salt, a cockney from Wapping, who for some unexplained reason was called Treacle.
It made me happy to see how they all deferred to Martin, saying: “Isn’t that so, Doctor?” or “Don’t you agree, Doctor?” and though it was strange and new to hear Martin (my “Mart of Spitzbergen”) called “Doctor,” it was also very charming.
After luncheon was over, and while coffee was being served, the commander sent Treacle to his cabin for a photograph of all hands which had been taken when they were at the foot of Mount Erebus; and when it came I was called upon to identify one by one, the shaggy, tousled, unkempt, bearded, middle-aged men in the picture with the smart, clean-shaven young officers who sat round me at the table.
Naturally I made shockingly bad shots, and the worst of them was when I associated Treacle with the commander, which made the latter rock in his seat and the former shake and shout so much that he spilled the coffee.
“But what about the fourth man in the front row from the left?” asked the commander.
“Oh, I should recognise him if I were blindfolded,” I answered.
“By his eyes,” I said, and after this truly Irish and feminine answer the men shrieked with laughter.
“She’s got you there, doc,” cried somebody.
“She has sure,” said Martin, who had said very little down to that moment, but was looking supremely happy.
At length the time came for the men to go, and I went up on deck to see them off by the launch, and then nobody was left on the ship except Martin and myself, with the cook, the cabin-boy and a few of the crew, including Treacle. I knew that that was the right time to speak, but I was too greedy of every moment of happiness to break in on it with the story of my troubles, so when Martin proposed to show me over the ship, away I went with him to look at the theodolites and chronometers and sextants, and sledges and skis, and the aeronautic outfit and the captive balloon, and the double-barrelled guns, and the place where they kept the petroleum and the gun cotton for blasting the ice, and the hold forward for the men’s provisions in hermetically-sealed tins, and the hold aft for the dried fish and biscuit that were the food for the Siberian dogs, and the empty cage for the dogs themselves, which had just been sent up to the Zoo to be taken care of.
Last of all he showed me his own cabin, which interested me more than anything else, being such a snug little place (though I thought I should like to tidy it up a bit), with his medical outfit, his books, his bed like a shelf, and one pretty photograph of his mother’s cottage with the roses growing over it, that I almost felt as if I would not mind going to the Antarctic myself if I could live in such comfortable quarters.
Two hours passed in this way, though they had flown like five minutes, when the cabin-boy came to say that tea was served in the saloon, and then I skipped down to it as if the ship belonged to me. And no sooner had I screwed myself into the commander’s chair, which was fixed to the floor at the head of the narrow table, and found the tea-tray almost on my lap, than a wave of memory from our childhood came sweeping back on me, and I could not help giving way to the coquetry which lies hidden in every girl ‘s heart so as to find ont how much Martin had been thinking of me.
“Ill bet you anything,” I said, (I had caught Martin’s style) “you can’t remember where you and I first saw each other.”
He could it was in the little dimity-white room in his mother’s house with its sweet-smelling “seraas” under the sloping thatch.
“Well, you don’t remember what you were doing when we held our first conversation?”
He did he was standing on his hands with his feet against the wall and his inverted head close to the carpet.
“But you’ve forgotten what happened next!”
He hadn’t I had invited William Rufus and himself into bed, and they had sat up on either side of me.
Poor William Rufus! I heard at last what had become of him. He had died of distemper soon after I was sent to school. His master had buried him in the back-garden, and, thinking I should be as sorry as he was for the loss of our comrade, he had set up a stone with an inscription in our joint names all of his own inditing. It ran he spelled it out to me
“HERE LICE WILYAM ROOFDS WRECKTED
BT IZ OLE FRENS MARTIN CONRAD
AND MARY O’NEILL.”
Two big blinding beads came into my eyes at that story, bat they were soon dashed away by Martin who saw them coming and broke into the vernacular. I broke into it, too, (hardly knowing that the well of my native speech was still there until I began to tap it), and we talked of Tommy the Mate and his “starboard eye,” called each other “bogh millish,” said things were “middling,” spoke of the “threes” (trees) and the “tunder” (thunder), and remembered that “our Big Woman was a wicked devil and we wouldn’t trust but she’d burn in hell.”
How we laughed! We laughed at everything; we laughed at nothing; we laughed until we cried; but I have often thought since that this was partly because we knew in our secret hearts that we were always hovering on the edge of tragic things.
Martin never once mentioned my husband or my marriage, or his letters to my father, the Bishop and Father Dan, which had turned out so terribly true; but we had our serious moments for all that, and one of them was when we were bending over a large chart which he had spread out on the table to show me the course of the ship through the Great Unknown, leaning shoulder to shoulder, so close that our heads almost touched, and I could see myself in his eyes as he turned to speak to me.
“You were a little under the weather yesterday, shipmate what was the cause of it?” he asked.
“Oh, we … we can talk of that another time, can’t we?” I answered, and then we both laughed again, goodness knows why, unless it was because we felt we were on the verge of unlocking the doors of each other’s souls.
Oh that joyful, wonderful, heart-swelling day! But no day ever passed so quickly. At half -past six Martin said we must be going back, or I should be late for dinner, and a few minutes afterwards we were in the launch, which had returned to fetch us,
I had had such a happy time on the ship that as we were steaming off I kissed my hand to her, whereupon Treacle, who was standing at the top of the companion, taking the compliment to himself, returned the salute with affectionate interest, which sent Martin and me into our last wild shriek of laughter.
The return trip was just as delightful as the coming out had been, everything looking different the other way round, for the sunset was like a great celestial fire which had been lighted in the western sky, and the big darkening city seemed to have turned its face to it.
Martin talked all the way back about a scheme he had afoot for going down to the region of the Pole again in order to set up some machinery that was to save life and otherwise serve humanity, and while I sat close up to him, looking into his flashing eyes they were still as blue as the bluest sea; I said, again and again: “How splendid! How glorious! “What a great, great thing it will be for the world.”
“Wont it!” he said, and his eyes sparkled like a boy’s.
Thus the time passed without our being aware how it was going, and we were back at Westminster Pier before I bethought me that of the sad and serious subject I had intended to speak about I had said nothing at all But all London seemed to have been taking holiday that day, for as we drove in a taxi up Parliament Street streams of vehicles full of happy people were returning from the Derby, including costers’ donkey carts in which the girls were carrying huge boughs of May blossom, and the boys were wearing the girls’ feathery hats, and at the top of their lusty lungs they were waking the echoes of the stately avenue with the “Honey-suckle and the Bee.”
“Yew aw the enny, Oi em ther bee,
Oi’d like ter sip ther enny from those red lips, yew see.“
As we came near our hotel we saw a rather showy four-in-hand coach, called the ”Phoebus,” drawing up at the covered way in front of it, and a lady on top, in a motor veil, waving her hand to us.
It was Alma, with my husband’s and Mr. Eastcliff’s party back from the races, and as soon as we met on the pavement she began to pay me high compliments on my improved appearance.
“Didn’t I say the river air would do you good, dearest?” she said, and then she added something else, which would have been very sweet if it had been meant sweetly, about there being no surer way to make a girl beautiful than to make her happy.
There was some talk of our dining together that night, but I excused myself, and taking leave of Martin, who gave my hand a gentle pressure, I ran upstairs without waiting for the lift, being anxious to get to my own room that I might be alone and go over everything in my mind.
I did so, ever so many times, recalling all that had been said and done by the commander and his comrades, and even by Treacle, but above all by Martin, and laughing softly to myself as I lived my day over again in a world of dream.
My maid came in once or twice, with accounts of the gorgeous Derby dinner that was going on downstairs, but that did not matter to -me in the least, and as soon as I had swallowed a little food I went to bed early partly in order to get rid of Price that I might go over everything again and yet again.
I must have done so far into the night, and even when the wings of my memory were weary of their fluttering and I was dropping off at last, I thought I heard Martin calling “shipmate,” and I said “Yes,” quite loud, as if he had been with me still in that vague and beautiful shadow-land which lies on the frontier of sleep.
How mysterious, how magical, how wonderful!
Looking back I cannot but think it strange that even down to that moment I did not really know what was happening to me, being only conscious of a great flood of joy. I cannot but think it strange that, though Nature had been whispering to me for months, I did not know what it had been saying. I cannot but think it strange that, though I had been looking for love so long without finding it, I did not recognise it immediately when it had come to me of itself.
But when I awoke early in the morning, very early, while the sunrise was filling my bedroom with a rosy flush, and’ the thought of Martin was the first that was springing from the mists of sleep to my conscious mind, and I was asking myself how it happened that I was feeling so glad, while I had so many causes for grief, then suddenly – suddenly as the sun streams through the cloud-scud over the sea – I knew that what had long been predestined had happened, that the wondrous new birth, the great revelation, the joyous mystery which comes to every happy woman in the world had come at last to me.
I was in love.
I was in love with Martin Conrad.
MY joy was short-lived. No sooner had I become aware that I loved Martin Conrad, than my conscience told me I had no right to do so. I was married, and to love another than my husband was sin.
It would be impossible to say with what terror this thought possessed me. It took all the sunlight out of my sky, which a moment before had seemed so bright. It came on me like a storm of thunder and lightning, sweeping my happiness into the abyss.
All my religion, everything I had been taught about the sanctity of the sacrament of marriage seemed to rise up and accuse me. It was not that I was conscious of any sin against my husband. I was thinking only of my sin against God.
The first effect was to make me realise that it was no longer passible for me to speak to Martin about my husband and Alma. To do this now that I knew I loved him would be deceitful, mean, almost treacherous.
The next effect was to make me see that all thought of a separation must now be given up. How could I accuse my husband when I was myself in the same position? If he loved another woman, I loved another man.
In my distress and fright I saw only one means of escape either from the filthy burden to which I was bound or the consciousness of a sinful heart, and that was to cure myself of my passion. I determined to do so. I determined to fight against my love for Martin Conrad, to conquer it and to crush it.
My first attempt to do this was feeble enough. It was an effort to keep myself out of the reach of temptation by refusing to see Martin alone.
For three or four days I did my best to carry out this purpose, making one poor excuse after another, when (as happened several times a day) he came down to see me that I was just going out or had just come in, or was tired or unwell.
It was tearing my heart out to deny myself so, but I think I could have borne the pain if I had not realised that I was causing pain to him also.
My maid, whose head was always running on Martin, would come back to my room, after delivering one of my lying excuses, and say:
“You should have seen his face, when I told him you were ill. It was just as if I ‘d driven a knife into him. ”
Everybody seemed to be in a conspiracy to push me into Martin’s arms Alma above all others. Being a woman she read my secret, and I could see from the first that she wished to justify her own conduct in relation to my husband by putting me into the same position with Martin.
“Seen Mr. Conrad to-day?” she would ask.
“Not to-day,” I would answer.
“Really? And you such old friends! And staying in the same hotel, too!”
When she saw that I was struggling hard she reminded my husband of his intention of asking Martin to dinner, and thereupon a night was fixed and a party invited.
Martin came, and I was only too happy to meet him in company, though the pain and humiliation of the contrast between him and my husband and his friends, and the difference of the atmosphere in which he lived from that to which I thought I was doomed for ever, was almost more than I could bear.
I think they must have felt it themselves, for though their usual conversation was of horses and dogs and race-meetings, I noticed they were silent while Martin in his rugged, racy poetic way (for all explorers are poets) talked of the beauty of the great Polar night, the cloudless Polar day, the midnight calm and the moonlight on the glaciers, which was the loveliest, weirdest, most desolate, yet most entrancing light the world could show.
“I wonder you don’t think of going back to the Antarctic, if it’s so fascinating,” said Alma.
“I do. Bet your life I do,” said Martin, and then he told them what he had told me on the launch, but more fully and even more rapturously the story of his great scheme for saving life and otherwise benefiting humanity.
For hundreds of years man, prompted merely by the love of adventure, the praise of achievement, and the desire to know the globe he lived on, had been shouldering his way to the hitherto inviolable regions of the Poles; but now the time had come to turn his knowledge to account.
“How?” said my husband.
“By putting himself into such a position,” said Martin, “that he will be able to predict, six, eight, ten days ahead, the weather of a vast part of the navigable and habitable world by establishing installations of wireless telegraphy as near as possible to the long ice-barrier about the Pole from which ice-floes and icebergs and blizzards come, so that we can say in ten minutes from the side of Mount Erebus to half the southern hemisphere, ‘Look out. It’s coming down,’ and thus save millions of lives from shipwreck, and hundreds of millions of money.”
“Splendid, by Jove!” said Mr. Eastcliff.
“Yes, ripping, by jingo!” said Mr. Vivian.
“A ridiculous dream!” muttered my husband, but not until Martin had gone, and then Alma, seeing that I was all aglow, said:
“What a lovely man! I wonder you don’t see more of him, Mary, my love. He ‘ll be going to the ends of the earth soon, and then you’ll be sorry you missed the chance.”
Her words hurt me like the sting of a wasp, but I could not resist them, and when some days later Martin called to take me to the Geographical Society, where his commander, Lieutenant was to give an account of their expedition,
I could not find it in my heart to refuse to go.
Oh, the difference of this world from that in which I had been living for the past six months! All that was best in England seemed to be there, the men who were doing the work of the world, and the women who were their wives and partners.
The theatre was like the inside of a dish, and I sat by Martin’s side on the bottom row of seats, just in front of the platform and face to face with the commander.
His lecture, which was illustrated by many photographic lantern slides of the exploring party, (including the one that had been shown to me on the ship) was very interesting, but terribly pathetic; and when he described the hardships they had gone through in a prolonged blizzard on a high plateau, with food and fuel running low, and no certainty that they would ever see home again, I found myself feeling for Martin ‘s hand to make sure that he was there.
Towards the end the commander spoke very modestly of himself, saying he could never have reached the 87th parallel if he had not had a crew of the finest comrades that ever sailed on a ship.
“And though they’re all splendid fellows,” he said, “there’s one I can specially mention without doing any wrong to the rest, and that’s the young doctor of our expedition Martin Conrad. Martin has a scheme of his own for going down to the Antarctic again to make a great experiment in the interests of humanity, and if and when he goes I say, ‘Good luck to him and God bless him!'”
At these generous words there was much applause, during which Martin sat blushing like a big boy when he is introduced to the girl friends of his sister.
As for me I did not think any speech could have been so beautiful, and I felt as if I could have cried for joy.
When I got back to the hotel I did cry, but it was for another reason. I was thinking of my father and wondering why he did not wait.
“Why, why, why?” I asked myself.
NEXT day, Martin came rushing down to my sitting-room with a sheaf of letters in his hand, saying:
“That was jolly good of the boss, but look what he has let me in for?”
They were requests from various newspapers for portraits and interviews, and particularly from one great London journal for a special article to contain an account of the nature and object of the proposed experiment.
“What am I to do?” he said. “I’m all right for stringing gabble, but I couldn’t write anything to save my soul. Now, you could. I’m sure you could. You could write like Robinson Crusoe. Why shouldn’t you write the article and I’ll tell you what to put into it?”
There was no resisting that. And down at the bottom of my secret heart I was glad of the excuse to my conscience that I could not any longer run away from Martin because I was necessary to help him.
So we sat together all day long, and though it was like shooting the rapids to follow Martin’s impetuous and imaginative speech, I did my best to translate his disconnected outbursts into more connected words, and when the article was written and read aloud to him he was delighted.
“Stunning! Didn’t I say you could write like Robinson Crusoe?”
In due course it was published and made a deep impression, for wherever I went people were talking of it, and though some said “Fudge!” and others, like my husband, said “Dreams!” the practical result was that the great newspaper started a public subscription with the object of providing funds for the realisation of Martin’s scheme.
This brought him an immense correspondence, so that every morning he came down with an armful of letters and piteous appeals to me to help him to reply to them.
I knew it would be dangerous to put myself in the way of so much temptation, but the end of it was that day after day we sat together in my sitting-room, answering the inquiries of the sceptical, the congratulations of the convinced, and the offers of assistance that came from people who wished to join in the expedition.
What a joy it was! It was like the dawn of a new life to me. But the highest happiness of all was to protect Martin against himself, to save him from his over-generous impulses in a word, to mother him.
Many of the letters he received were mere mendicancy. He was not rich, yet he could not resist a pitiful appeal, especially if it came from a woman, and it was as much as I could do to restrain him from mining himself.
Sometimes I would see him smuggle a letter into his side pocket, with
“H’m! That will do later.”
“What is it?” I would ask.
“Oh, nothing, nothing!” he would answer.
‘”Hand it out, sir,” I would say, and then I would find a fierce delight in sending six freezing words of refusal to some impudent woman who was trying to play upon the tender side of my big-hearted hoy.
Oh, it was delightful! My whole being seemed to be renewed. If only the dear sweet hours could go on and on forever!
Sometimes my husband and Alma would look in upon us at our work, and then, while the colour mounted to my eyes, Martin would say:
“I’m fishing with another man’s floats, you see.”
“I see,” my husband would reply, fixing his monocle and showing his front teeth in a painful grin.
“Just what dear Mary loves, though,” Alma would say. “I do believe she would rather be sitting in this sunless room. writing letters for Mr. Conrad, than wearing her coronet at a King’s coronation:”
“Just so, ma’am; there are women like that,” Martin would answer, looking hard at her; and when she had gone, (laughing lightly but with the frightened look I had seen before) he would say, as if speaking to himself:
“I hate that woman. She’s like a snake. I feel as if I want to put my foot on it.”
At length the climax came, One day Martin rushed downstairs almost beside himself in his boyish joy, to say that all the money he needed had been subscribed, and that in honour of the maturing of the scheme the proprietor of the newspaper was to give a public luncheon at one of the hotels, and though no women were to be present at the “feed” a few ladies were to occupy seats in a gallery, and I was to be one of them.
I had played with my temptation too long by this time to shrink from the dangerous exaltation which I knew the occasion would cause, so when the day came I went to the hotel in a fever of pleasure and pride.
The luncheon was nearly over, the speeches were about to begin, and the ladies’ gallery was buzzing like a hive of bees, when I took my seat in it. Two bright young American women sitting next to me were almost as excited as myself, and looking down at the men through a pair of opera-glasses they were asking each other which was Martin, whereupon my vanity, not to speak of my sense of possession, was so lifted np that I pointed him oat to them, and then borrowed their glasses to look at the chairman.
He seemed to me to have that light of imagination in his eyes which was always blazing in Martin’s, and when he began to speak I thought I caught the note of the same wild passion.
He said they were that day opening a new chapter in the wonderful book of man’s story, and though the dangers of the great deep might never be entirely overcome, and the wind would continue to blow as it listed, yet the perils of the one and the movements of the other were going to be known to, and therefore checked by, the human family.
After that, and a beautiful tribute to Martin as a man, (that everybody who had met him had come to love him, and that there must be something in the great solitudes of the silent white world to make men simple and strong and great, as the sea made them staunch and true) he drank to the success of the expedition, and called on Martin to respond to the toast.
There was a great deal of cheering when Martin rose, but I was so nervous that I hardly heard it He was nervous too, as I could plainly see, for after a few words of thanks, he began to fumble the sheets of a speech which he and I had prepared together, trying to read it, but losing his place and even dropping his papers.
Beads of perspiration were starting from my forehead and I knew I was making noises in my throat, when all at once Martin threw his papers on the table and said, in quite another voice:
“Ship-mates, I mean gentlemen, I never could write a speech in my life, and you see I can’t read one, but I know what I want to say and if you 11 take it as it comes here goes.”
Then in the simple style of a sailor, not always even grammatical yet splendidly clear and bold and natural, blundering along as he used to do when he was a boy at school and could not learn his lessons, but with his blue eyes ablaze, he told of his aims and his expectations.
And when he came to the end he said:
“His lordship, the chairman, has said something about the good effects of the solitudes of Nature on a man’s character. I can testify to that. And I tell you this whatever you are when you’re up here and have everything you want, it’s wonderful strange the way you’re asking the Lord to stretch out His hand and help you when you’re down there, all alone and with an empty hungry stomach.
“I don’t know where you were last Christmas Day, shipmates … I mean gentlemen, but I know where I was. I was in the 85th latitude, longitude 163, four miles south and thirty west of Mount Darwin. It was my own bit of an expedition that my commander has made too much of, and I believe in my heart my mates had had enough of it. When we got out of our sleeping bags that morning there was nothing in sight but miles and miles of rolling waves of snow, seven thousand feet up on a windy plateau, with glaciers full of crevasses shutting us off from the sea, and not a living thing in sight as far as the eye could reach.
“We were six in company and none of us were too good for Paradise, and one he was an old Wapping sailor, we called him Treacle had the name of being a shocking old rip ashore. But we remembered what day it was, and we wanted to feel that we weren’t cut off entirely from the world of Christian men our brothers and sisters who would be going to church at home. So I dug out my little prayer-book that my mother put in my kit going away, and we all stood round bare-headed in the snow a shaggy old lot I can tell you, with chins that hadn’t seen a razor for a month and I read the prayers for the day, the first and second Vespers, and Laudate Dominum and then the De Profundis.
“I think we felt better doing that, but they say the comical and the tragical are always chasing each other, which can get in first, and it was so with us, for just as I had got to an end with the solemn words, ‘Out of the depths we cry unto thee, Lord, Lord hear our cry,’ in jumps old Treacle in his thickest cockney, ‘And Gawd bless our pore ole wives and sweethearts fur a-wye.'”
If Martin said any more nobody heard it. The men below were blowing their noses, and the women in the gallery were crying openly.
“Well, the man who can talk like that may open all my letters and telegrams, ‘ ‘ said one of the young American women, who was wiping her eyes without shame.
What I was doing, and what I was looking like, I did not know until the lady, who had lent me the opera-glasses leaned over to me and said:
“Excuse me, but are you his wife, may I ask?”
“Oh no, no,” I said nervously and eagerly, but only God knows how the word went through and through me.
I had taken the wrong course, and I knew it. My pride, my joy, my happiness were all accusing me, and when I went to bed that night I felt as if I had been a guilty woman.
I TRIED to take refuge in religion. Every day and all day I humbly besought the pardon of heaven for the sin of loving Martin Conrad.
The little religious duties which I had neglected, since my marriage (such as crossing myself at rising from the table) I began to observe afresh, and being reminded by Martin’s story that I had promised my mother to say a De Profundis for her occasionally I now said one every day. I thought these exercises would bring me a certain relief, but they did not.
I searched my Missal for words that applied to my sinful state, and every night on going to bed I prayed to God to take from me all unholy thoughts, all earthly affections. But what was the use of my prayers when in the first dream of the first sleep I was rushing into Martin’s arms?
It was true that my love for Martin was what the world would call a pure love; it had no alloy of any kind; but all the same I thought I was living in a condition of adultery adultery of the heart.
Early every morning I went to mass, but the sense I used to have of returning from the divine sacrifice to the ordinary occupations of life with a new spirit and a clean heart I could feel no longer.
I went oftener to confession than I had done before twice a week to begin with, then every other day, then every day. But the old joy, the sense of purity and cleansing, did not come. I thought at first the fault might be with my Confessor, for though I knew I was in the presence of God, the whispering voice behind the grating, which used to thrill me with a feeling of the supernatural, was that of a young man, and I asked myself what a young priest could know by experience of the deep temptations of human love.
This was at the new Cathedral at Westminster, so I changed to a little Catholic church in a kind of mews in Mayfair, and there my Confessor was an older man whose quivering voice seemed to search the very depths of my being. He was deeply alarmed at my condition and counselled me to pray to God night and day to strengthen me against temptation.
“The Evil One is besieging your soul, my child,” he said. “Fight with him, my daughter.”
I tried to follow my ghostly father’s direction, but how hard it was to do so! Martin had only to take my hand and look into my eyes and all my good resolutions were gone in a moment.
As a result of the fierce struggle between my heart and my soul my health began to fail me. From necessity now, and not from design, I had to keep my room, but even there my love for Martin was always hanging like a threatening sword over my head.
My maid Price was for ever singing his praises. He was so bright, so cheerful, so strong, so manly; in fact, he was perfect, and any woman in the world might be forgiven if she fell in love with him.
Her words were like music in my ears, and sometimes I felt as if I wanted to throw my arms about her neck and kiss her. But at other moments I reproved her, telling her it was very wicked of her to think so much of the creature instead of fixing her mind on the Creator a piece of counsel which made Price, who was all woman, open her sparkling black eyes in bewilderment.
Nearly every morning she brought me a bunch of flowers, which Martin had bought at Covent Garden, all glittering from the sunshine and damp with the dew. I loved to have them near me, but, finding they tempted me to think more tenderly of him who sent them, I always contrived by one excuse or another to send them into the sitting-room that they might be out of my sight at all events.
After a while Price, remembering my former artifice, began to believe that I was only pretending to be ill, in order to draw Martin on, and then taking a certain liberty with me, as with a child, she reproved me.
“If I were a lady I couldn’t have the heart,” she said, “I really couldn’t. It’s all very well for us women, but men don’t understand such ways. They’re only children, men are, when you come to know them.”
I began to look upon poor Price as a honeyed fiend sent by Satan to seduce me, and to say the truth, she sometimes acted up to the character. One day she said:
“If I was tied to a man I didn’t love, and who didn’t love me, and somebody else, worth ten of him was ready and waiting, I would take the sweet with the bitter, I would. We women must follow our hearts, and why shouldn’t wet”
Then I scolded her dreadfully, asking if she had forgotten that she was speaking to her mistress, and a married woman; but all the while I knew that it was myself, not my maid, I was angry with, for she had only been giving voice to the thoughts that were secretly tormenting me.
I had been in bed about a week when Price came with a letter in her hand and a look of triumph in her black eyes and said:
“There, my lady! What did I tell you! You’ve had it all your own way and now you’ve driven him off. He has left the hotel and gone to live on his ship.”
This frightened me terribly, and partly for that reason I ordered her out of the room, telling her she must leave me altogether if she ever took such liberties again. But I’m sure she saw me, as she was going through the door, take up Martin’s letter, which I had thrown on to the table, and press it to my lips.
The letter was of no consequence. It was merely to tell me that he was going down to Tilbury for a few days, to take possession of his old ship in the name of his company, but it said in a postscript:
“If there’s anything I can do for you, pass me the word and I’ll come up like quick-sticks.”
“What can I do? What can I do?” I thought. Everything my heart desired my soul condemned as sinful, and religion had done nothing to liberate me from the pains of my guilty passion.
AH this time my husband and Alma were busy with the gaieties of the London season, which was then in full swing, with the houses in Mayfair being ablaze every night, the blinds up and the windows open to cool the overheated rooms in which men and women could be seen dancing in closely-packed crowds.
One night, after Alma and my husband had gone to a reception in Grosvenor Square, I had a sudden attack of heart-strain and had to be put to bed, whereupon Price, who had realised that I was really ill, told Hobson, my husband’s valet, to go after his master and bring him back immediately.
“It’ll be all as one, but I’ll go if you like,” said Hobson.
In half an hour he came back with my husband’s answer, “Send for a doctor.”
This put Price into a fever of mingled anger and perplexity, and not knowing what else to do she telegraphed to Martin on his ship, telling him that I was ill and asking what doctor she ought to call in to see me. .
Inside an hour a reply came not from Tilbury but from Portsmouth saying:
“Call Doctor of Brook Street. Am coming up at once.”
All this I heard for the first time when Price, with another triumphant look, came into my bedroom flourishing Martin’s telegram as something she had reason to be proud of.
“You don’t mean to say that you telegraphed to Mr. Conrad?” I said.
“Why not?” said Price. “When a lady is ill and her husband pays no attention to her, and there’s somebody else not far off who would give his two eyes to save her a pain in her little finger, what is a woman to do?”
I told her what she was not to do. She was not to call the doctor under any circumstances, and when Martin came she was to make it plain to him that she had acted on her own responsibility.
Towards midnight he arrived, and Price brought him into my room in a long ulster covered with dust. I blushed and trembled at sight of him, for his face betrayed the strain and anxiety he had gone through on my account, and when he smiled at seeing that I was not as ill as he had thought, I was ashamed to the bottom of my heart.
“You’ll be sorry you’ve made such a long journey now that you see there’s so little amiss with me,” I said.
“Sorry?” he said. “By the holy saints, I would take a longer one every night of my life to see you looking so well at the end of it.”
His blue eyes were shining like the sun from behind a cloud, and the cruellest looks could not have hurt me more.
I tried to keep my face from expressing the emotion I desired to conceal, and asked if he had caught a train easily from Portsmouth, seeing he had arrived so early.
“No. Oh no, there was no train up until eleven o’clock,” he said.
“Then how did you get here so soon?” I asked, and though he would not tell me at first I got it out of him at last he had hired a motor-car and travelled the ninety miles to London in two hours and a half.
That crushed me. I could not speak. I thought I should have choked. Lying there with Martin at arm’s length of me, I was afraid of myself, and did not know what I might do next. But at last, with a great effort to control myself, I took his hand and kissed it, and then turned my face to the wall.
THAT was the beginning of the end, and when, next day towards noon, my husband came with drowsy eyes to make a kind of ungracious apology, saying he supposed the doctor had been sent for, I said:
“James, I want you to take me home.”
“Home? You mean . . . Castle Raa?”
He hesitated, and I began to plead with him, earnestly and eagerly, not to deny me what I asked.
“Take me home, I beg, I pray.”
At length, seeming to think I must be homesick, he said:
“Well, you know my views about that God-forsaken place; but the season’s nearly at an end, and I don’t mind going back on one condition that you raise no objection to my inviting a few friends to liven it up a bit?”
“It is your house,” I said. “You must do as you please in it.”
“Very good; that’s settled,” he said, getting up to go. “And I dare say it will do you no harm to be out of the way of all this church-going and confessing to priests, who are always depressing people even when they’re not making mischief.”
Hardly had my husband left me when Alma came into my sitting-room in the most affectionate and insincere of her moods.
“My poor, dear sweet child,” she said. “If I’d had the least idea you were feeling so badly I shouldn’t have allowed Jimmy to stay another minute at that tiresome reception. But how good it was of Mr. Conrad to come all that way to see you! That’s what I call being a friend now!”
Then came the real object of her visit I saw it coming.
“I hear you’re to have a house-party at Castle Raa. Jimmy’s in his room writing piles of invitations. He has asked me and I should love to go, but of course I cannot do so without you wish it. Do you?”
What could I say? What I did say I scarcely know. I only know that at the next minute Alma’s arms were round my neck, and she was saying:
“You dear, sweet, unselfish little soul! Come let me kiss you.”
It was done. I had committed myself. After all what right had I to raise myself on a moral pinnacle now? And what did it matter, anyway? I was flying from the danger of my own infidelities, not to save my husband from his.
Price had been in the room during this interview and when it was over I was ashamed to look at her.
“I can’t understand you, my lady: I really can’t,” she said.
Next day I wrote a little letter to Martin on the Scotia telling him of our change of plans, but forbidding him to trouble to come up to say good-bye, yet half hoping he would disregard my injunction.
He did. Before I left my bedroom next morning I heard his voice in the sitting-room talking to Price, who with considerable emphasis was giving her views of Alma.
When I joined him I thought his face (which had grown to be very powerful) looked hard and strained; but his voice was as soft as ever while he said I was doing right in going home and that my native air must be good for me.
“But what’s this Price tells me that Madame is going with you?”
I tried to make light of that, but I broke down badly, for his eyes were on me, and I could see that he thought I was concealing the truth.
For some minutes he looked perplexed, as if trying to understand how it came to pass that sickening;, as he believed I was, at the sight of my husband’s infidelities I was yet carrying the provocative cause of them away with me, and then he said again:
“I hate that woman. She’s like a snake. I feel as if I want to put my foot on it. I mil, too, one of these days bet your life I will.”
It hurt me to hide anything from him, but how could I tell him that it was not from Alma I was flying but from himself?
When the day came for our departure I hoped I might get away without seeing Martin again. We did get out of the hotel and into the railway station, yet no sooner was I seated in the carriage than (in the cruel war that was going on within me) I felt dreadfully down that he was not there to see me off.
But at the very last moment, just as Alma with her spaniel under her arm, and my husband with his terrier on a strap, were about to step into the train, up came Martin like a gust of mountain wind.
“Helloa!” he cried. “I shall be seeing you soon. Everything’s settled about the expedition. We’re to sail the first week in September, so as to get the summer months in the Antarctic. But before that I must go over to the island to say good-bye to the old folks, and I’ll see you at your father’s I suppose.”
Then Alma gave my husband a significant glance and said:
“But, Mary, my love, wouldn’t it be better for Mr. Conrad to come to Castle Raa? You won’t be able to go about very much. Remember your delicate condition, you know.”
“Of course, why of course,” said my husband. “That’s quite true, and if Mr. Conrad will do me the honour to accept my hospitality for a few days . . .”
It was what I wanted above everything on earth, and yet I said:
“No, no! It wouldn’t be fair. Martin will be too busy at the last moment.”
But Martin himself jumped in eagerly with:
“Certainly! Delighted! Greatest pleasure in the world.”
And then, while Alma gave my husband a look of arch triumph to which he replied with a painful smile, Martin leaned over to me and whispered:
“Hush! I want to! I must!” though what he meant by that I never knew.
He continued to look at me with a tender expression until we said good-bye; but after the carriage door had been closed and the engine had throbbed, and the guard had whistled, I thought I had never seen his strong face so stern as when the train moved from the platform.
WE reached Ellan towards the close of the following day. It was the height of the holiday season, and the island seemed to be ablaze with lights.
Two motor-cars were waiting for us at the pier, and in a little while we were driving out of Blackwater through congested masses of people who were rambling aimlessly through the principal streets.
Our way was across a stone bridge that crossed the harbour at its inner end, and then up a hill that led to a headland overlooking the sea. Within half an hour we drew up at a pair of large gate posts which were much decayed and leaning heavily out of the perpendicular.
The chauffeur of the first of our cars got down to open the gate, and after it had clashed to behind us, we began to ascend a very steep drive that was bordered by tall elm. trees. It was now almost dark, and the rooks, which had not yet gone off to the mountains, were making their evening clamour.
“Well, my dear, you’re at home at last, and much good may it do you,” said my husband.
I made no answer to this ungracious speech, but Alma was all excitement.
“So this is Castle Raa! What a fascinating old place!” she said, and as we drove through the park she reached out of the car to catch a first glimpse of the broad terraces and winding ways to the sea which had been reflected in her memory since she was a child.
I felt no such anxiety. Never did a young bride approach the home of her husband with less curiosity, but as our motor-car toiled up the drive I could not help seeing the neglected condition of the land, with boughs of trees lying where they had fallen in the storms, as well as broken gates half off their hinges and swinging to the wind.
The house itself, when we came in sight of it, was a large castellated building with many lesser turrets and one lofty octagonal tower, covered entirely with ivy, which, being apparently unshorn for years, hung in long trailers down the walls, and gave the w r hole pile the appearance of a huge moss-covered rock of the sea planted on a promontory of the land.
As our car went thundering up to the great hall door nearly the whole of the servants and some of the tenant farmers (under the direction of the tall, sallow man who had been my husband’s guardian in former days, and was now his steward) were waiting to welcome us, as well as Lady Margaret Anselm, who was still reserved and haughty in her manner, though pleasant enough with me.
My husband nodded to all, shook hands with some, presented Alma to his aunt as “one of Mary’s old school friends,” (a designation which, as I could see, had gone ahead of her) and then we passed into the house.
I found the inside corresponded with the outside in its appearance of neglect and decay, the big square hall having rusty and disjointed armour on its wainscotted walls and the mark of water on the floor, which had come from a glass dome over the well of the stairs, for it had rained while we were on the sea.
The drawing-room had faded curtains over the windows, faded velvet on the square sofa and stiff chairs, faded carpets, faded samplers, and faded embroidery on faded screens.
The dining-room (the sedate original of my father’s rather garish copy) was a panelled chamber, hung round with rubicund portraits of the male O’Neills from the early ones of the family who had been Lords of Ellan down to the “bad Lord Raa,” who had sworn at my grandmother on the high road.
I felt as if no woman could have made her home here for at least a hundred years, and I thought the general atmosphere of the house was that of the days when spendthrift noblemen, making the island a refuge from debt, spent their days in gambling and their nights in drinking bumpers from bowls of whiskey punch, to the nameless beauties they had left “in town.”
They were all gone, all dead as the wood of the worm-eaten wainscotting, but the sound of their noisy merry-making seemed to cling to the rafters still, and as I went up to my rooms the broad oaken staircase seemed to be creaking under their drunken footsteps.
My own apartments, to which Lady Margaret conducted me, were on the southern side of the house a rather stuffy bedroom with walls covered by a kind of pleated chintz, and a boudoir with a stone balcony that had a flight of steps going down to a terrace of the garden, which overlooked a glen and had a far view of the sea.
On the opposite side of the landing outside (which was not immediately off the great staircase though open to the view of it) there was a similar suite of rooms which I thought might be my husband’s, but I was told they were kept for a guest.
Being left alone I had taken off my outer things and was standing on my balcony, listening to the dull hum of the water in the glen, the rustle of the trees above it, the surge of the sea on the rocks below, the creaking of a rusty weathercock and the striking of a court-yard clock, when I also heard the toot and throb of another motor-car, and as soon as it came up I saw that it contained Aunt Bridget in the half-moon bonnet and Betsy Beauty, who was looking more than ever like a country belle.
When I went down to the drawing-room Lady Margaret was pouring out tea for them, and at sight of me Aunt Bridget cried;
“Sakes alive, here she is herself!”
“But how pale and pinched and thin!” said Betsy Beauty.
“Nonsense, girl, that’s only natural,” said my Aunt Bridget, with something like a wink; and then she went on to say that she had just been telling her ladyship that if I felt lonely and a little helpless on first coming home Betsy would be pleased to visit me.
Before I could reply my husband came in, followed shortly by Alma, who was presented as before, as “Mary’s old school-fellow”; and then, while Betsy talked to Alma and my husband to his kinswoman, Aunt Bridget, in an undertone, addressed herself to me.
“You’re that way, aren’t you? … No? Goodness me, girl, your father will be disappointed!”
Just then a third motor-car came throbbing up to the house, and Betsy who was standing by the window cried:
“It’s Uncle Daniel with Mr. Curphy and Nessy.”
“Nessy, of course,” said Aunt Bridget grumpily, and then she told me in a confidential whisper that she was a much-injured woman in regard to “that ungrateful step-daughter,” who was making her understand the words of Scripture about the pang that was sharper than a serpent’s tooth.
As the new-comers entered I saw that Nessy had developed an old maid’s idea of smartness, and that my father’s lawyer was more than ever like an over-fatted fish; but my father himself (except that his hair was whiter) was the same man still, with the same heavy step, the same loud voice and the same tempestuous gaiety.
“All here? Good! Glad to be home, I guess! Strong and well and hearty, I suppose? . . . Yes, sir, yes! I’m middling myself, sir. Middling, sir, middling!”
During these rugged salutations I saw that Alma, with the bad manners of a certain type of society woman, looked on with a slightly impertinent air of amused superiority, until she encountered my father’s masterful eyes, which nobody in the world could withstand.
After a moment my father addressed himself to me.
“Well, gel,” he said, taking me by the shoulders, as he did in Rome, “you must have cut a dash in Egypt, I guess. Made the money fly, didn’t you? No matter! My gold was as good as anybody else’s, and I didn’t grudge it. You’ll clear me of that, anyway.”
Then there was some general talk about our travels, about affairs on the island (Mr. Curphy saying, with a laugh and a glance in my direction, that things were going so well with my father that if all his schemes matured he would have no need to wait for a descendant to become the “uncrowned King of Ellan”), and finally about Martin Conrad, whose great exploits had become known even in his native country.
“Extraordinary! Extraordinary!” said my father. “I wouldn’t have believed it of him, I wouldn’t really. Just a neighbour lad without a penny at him. And now the world’s trusting him with fifty thousand pounds, they’re telling me!”
“Well, many are called but few are chosen,” said Mr. Curphy with another laugh.
After that, and some broken conversation, Aunt Bridget expressed a desire to see the house, as the evening was closing in and they must soon be going back.
Lady Margaret thereupon took her, followed by the rest of us, over the principal rooms of the Castle; and it was interesting to see the awe with which she looked upon everything her voice dropping to a whisper in the dining-room, I remember, as if the scene of carousing of the old roysterers had been a sort of sanctuary.
My father, less impressed, saw nothing but a house in bad repair, and turning to my husband, who had been obviously ill at ease, he said:
“Go on like this much longer, son-in-law, and you’ll be charging two-pence a head to look at your ruins. Guess I must send my architect over to see what he can do for you.”
Then taking me aside he made his loud voice as low as he could and said:
“What’s this your Aunt Bridget tells me? Nine months married and no sign yet? Tut, tut! That won’t do, gel, that won’t do.”
I tried to tell him not to spend money on the Castle if he intended to do so in expectation of an heir, but my heart was in my mouth and what I really said I do not know. I only know that my father looked at me for a moment as if perplexed, and then burst into laughter.
“I see! I see!” he said. “It’s a doctor you want. I must send Conrad to put a sight on you. It’ll be all right, gel, it’ll be all right! Your mother was like that when you were coming.”
As we returned to the hall Betsy Beauty whispered that she was surprised Mr. Eastcliff had married, but she heard from Madame that we were to have a house-party soon, and she hoped I would not forget her.
Then Aunt Bridget, who had been eyeing Alma darkly, asked me who and what she was and where she came from, whereupon I (trying to put the best face on things) explained that she was the daughter of a rich New York banker. After that Aunt Bridget’s countenance cleared perceptibly and she said:
“Ah, yes, of course! I thought she had a quality toss with her.”
The two motor-cars had been drawn up to the door, and the two parties had taken their seats in them when my father, looking about him, said to my husband:
“Your garden is as rough as a thornbush, son-in-law. I must send Tommy the Mate to smarten it up a bit. So long! So long!”
At the next moment they were gone, and I was looking longingly after them. God knows my father’s house had never been more than a stepmother’s home to me, but at that moment I yearned to return to it and felt like a child who was being left behind at school.
What had I gained by running away from London? Nothing at all. Already I knew I had brought my hopeless passion with me.
And now I was alone.
NEXT day Lady Margaret came to my room to say good-bye, telling me she had only stayed at Castle Raa to keep house and make ready for me, and must now return to her own home, which was in London.
I was sorry, for my heart had warmed to her, and when I stood at the door and saw her drive off with my husband to catch the afternoon steamer, I felt I had lost both sympathy and protection.
Alma’s feelings were less troubled, and as we turned back into the house I could see that she was saying to herself:
“Thank goodness, she’s gone away.”
A day or two later Doctor Conrad came, according to my father’s instructions, and I was glad to see his close-cropped iron-grey head coming up the stairs towards my room.
Naturally our first conversation was about Martin, who had written to tell his parents of our meeting in London and to announce his intended visit. It was all very exciting, and now his mother was working morning and night at the old cottage, to prepare for the arrival of her son. Such scrubbing and scouring! Such taking up of carpets and laying them down again, as if the darling old thing were expecting a prince!
“It ought to be Sunny Lodge indeed before she’s done with it,” said the Doctor.
“I’m sure it will,” I said. “It always was, and it always will be.”
“And how are we ourselves,” said the doctor. “A little below par, eh? Any sickness? No? Nausea? No? Headache and a feeling of lassitude, then? No?”
After other questions and tests, the old doctor was looking puzzled, when, not finding it in my heart to keep him in the dark any longer, I told him there was nothing amiss with my health, but I was unhappy and had been so since the time of my marriage.
“I see,” he said. “It’s your mind and not your body that is sick?”
“I’ll speak to Father Dan,” he said. “Good-bye! God bless you!”
Less than half an hour after he had gone, Alma came to me in her softest mode, saying the doctor had said I was suffering from extreme nervous exhaustion and ought to be kept from worries and anxieties of every kind.
“So if there’s anything I can do while I’m here, dearest, . . . such as looking after the house and the servants . . . No, no, don’t deny me; it win be a pleasure, I assure you. . . . So we’ll say that’s settled, shall we? . . . My dear, sweet darling creature?”
I was too much out of heart to care what happened, but inside two days I realised that Alma had taken possession of the house, and was ordering and controlling: everything.
Apparently this pleased such of the servants as had anything to gain by it the housekeeper in particular for Alma was no skinflint and she was making my husband’s money flow like water, but it was less agreeable to my maid, who said:
“This is a nice place to be sure, where the mistress takes no interest in anything, and the guest walks over everybody. She’ll walk over the mistress herself before long mark my word but she will.”
It would be about a week after our arrival at Castle Raa that Price came to my room to say that a priest was asking for me, and he was such a strange-looking tiling that she was puzzled to know if his face was that of a child, a woman or a dear old man.
I knew in a moment it must be Father Dan, so I went flying downstairs and found him in the hall, wearing the same sack coat (or so it seemed) as when I was a child and made cupboards of its vertical pockets, carrying the same funny little bag which he had taken to Borne and used for his surplice at funerals, and mopping his forehead and flicking his boots: with a red print handkerchief, for the day was hot and the roads were dusty.
He was as glad to see me as I to see him, and when I asked if he would hare tea, he said Yes, for he had walked all the way from the Presbytery, after fasting the day before; and when I asked if he would not stay overnight he said Yes to that, too, “if it would not be troublesome and inconvenient”
So I took his bag and gave it to a maid, telling her to take it to the guest’s room on my landing, and to bring tea to my boudoir immediately.
But hardly had I taken him upstairs and we had got seated in my private room, when the maid knocked at the door to say that the housekeeper wished to speak with me, and on going out, and closing the door behind me, I found her on the landing a prim little flinty person with quick eyes, thin lips and an upward lift of her head.
“Sorry, my lady, but it won’t be convenient for his reverence to stay in the house to-night,” she said.
“Why so?” I said.
“Because Madame has ordered all the looms to be got ready for the house-party* and this one,” (pointing to the guest’s room opposite) “is prepared for Mr. and Mrs. Eastcliff, and we don’t know how soon they may arrive.”
I felt myself flashing up to the eyes at the woman’s impudence, and it added to my anger that Alma herself was standing at the head of the stairs, looking on and listening. So with a little spurt of injured pride I turned severely on the one while really speaking to the other, and said:
“Be good enough to make this room ready for his reverence without one moment’s delay, and please remember for the future, that I am mistress in this house, and your duty is to obey me and nobody else whatever.”
As I said this and turned back to my boudoir, I saw that Alma’s deep eyes had a sullen look, and I felt that she meant to square accounts with me some day; but what she did was done at once, for going downstairs (as I afterwards heard from Price) she met my husband in the hall, where, woman-like, she opened her battery upon him at his weakest spot, saying:
“Oh, I didn’t know your wife was priest-ridden.”
“Precisely,” and then followed an explanation of what had happened, with astonishing embellishments which made my husband pale with fury.
Meantime I was alone with Father Dan in my room, and while I poured out his tea and served him with bread and butter, he talked first about Martin (as everybody seemed to do when speaking to me), saying:
“He was always my golden-headed boy, and it’s a mighty proud man I am entirely to hear the good news of him.”
More of the same kind there was, all music to my ears, and then Father Ban came to closer quarters, saying Doctor Conrad had dropped a hint that I was not very happy.
“Tell your old priest everything, my child, and if there is anything he can do. . .”
Without waiting for more words I sank to my knees at his feet, and poured out all my troubles – telling him my marriage had been a failure; that the sanctifying grace which he had foretold as the result of the sacrament of holy wedlock had not come to pass; that not only did I not love my husband, but my husband loved another woman, who was living here with us in this very house.
Father Dan was dreadfully distressed. More than once while I was speaking he crossed himself and said, “Lord and His Holy Mother love us;” and when I came to an end he began to reproach himself for everything, saying that he ought to have known that our lad (meaning Martin) did not write those terrible letters without being certain they were true, and that from the first day my husband came to our parish the sun had been darkened by his shadow.
“But take care,” he said. “I’ve told nobody about the compact we made with your husband nobody but our Blessed Lady herself and you mustn’t think of that as a way out of your marriage. No, nor of any other way, no matter what, which the world, and the children of the world, may talk about.”
“But I can’t bear it, I can’t bear it,” I cried.
“Hush! Hush! Don’t say that, my daughter. Think of it as one of the misfortunes of life which we all have to suffer. How many poor women have to bear the sickness and poverty, not to speak of the drunkenness and death, of their husbands! Do they think they have a right to run away from all that to break the sacred vows of their marriage on account of it? No, my child, no, and neither must you. Some day it will all come right. You’ll see it will. And meantime by the memory of your mother that blessed saint whom the Lord has made one of his own. …”
“Then what can I do?”
“Pray, my child, pray for strength to bear your trials and to resist all temptation. Say a rosary for the Blessed Virgin every morning before breaking your fast. I’ll say a rosary, too. You’ll see yet this is only God’s love for you, and you’ll welcome His holy will.”
While my dear father and friend was counselling me so I heard my husband speaking in his loud, grating tones on the landing outside, and before I could rise from my knees he had burst open the door and entered the room.
His face was deadly white and he was like a man out of his right mind.
“Mary,” he said, looking down at me where I knelt with my hands crossed on my bosom, “when did I give you permission to introduce a priest into my house? Isn’t it enough for a man to have a wife who is a Catholic without having the church and its ministers shunted into his home without his permission?”
I was so taken aback by this furious assault that at first I could not speak, but Father Dan interposed to defend me, saying with beautiful patience, that his visit had been quite unexpected on my part, and that I had asked him to stay overnight only because he was an old man, and had had a long walk from his parish.
“I’m much obliged to your reverence,” said my husband, who was quivering with fury, “but my wife is perfectly capable of answering for herself without your assistance, and as for your parish you would have done better to stay there instead of coming to meddle in this one.”
“Aren’t you measuring me by your own yard, sir?” said Father Dan, and at that straight thrust my husband broke into ungovernable rage.
“Everybody knows what a Popish priest is,” he said. “A meddlesome busybody who pokes his nose into other men’s secrets. But priest or no priest, I’ll have no man coming to my house to make mischief between husband and wife.”
“Are you sure,” said Father Dan, “that some woman isn’t in your house already, making mischief between wife and husband?”
That thrust too went home. My husband looked at me with flashing eyes and then said:
“As I thought! You’ve been sent for to help my wife to make a great to-do of her imaginary grievances. You’re to stay in the house too, and before long we’ll have you setting up as master here and giving orders to my servants! But not if I know it! … Your reverence, if you have any respect for your penitent, you’ll please be good enough to leave my wife to my protection.”
I saw that Father Dan had to gulp down his gathering anger, but he only said:
“Say no more, my lord. No true priest ever comes between a man and the wife whom God has given him. It’s his business to unite people, not to put them apart. As for this dear child, I have loved her since she was an infant in arms, and never so much as at the present speaking, so I don’t need to learn my duty from one who appears to care no more for her than for the rind of a lemon. I’ll go, sir,” said the old man, drawing himself up like a wounded lion, “but it’s not to your protection I leave her it’s to that of God’s blessed and holy love and will.”
My husband had gone before the last words were spoken, but I think they must have followed him as he went lunging down the stairs.
During this humiliating scene a hot flush of shame had come to my cheeks and I wanted to tell Father Dan not to let it grieve him, but I could do nothing but stoop and kiss his hand.
Meantime two or three of the servants had gathered on the landing at the sound of my husband’s voice, and among them was the flinty housekeeper holding the Father’s little bag, and she gave it back to him as he passed her.
Then, all being over, the woman came into my room, with an expression of victorious mischief in her eyes and said:
“Your ladyship had better have listened to them as knows, you see.”
I was too benumbed by that cruel stroke to reply, but Price said enough for both of us.
“If them as knows,” she said, “don’t get out of this room inside two seconds they’ll get their ugly faces slapped.”
I thought I had reached the end of my power of endurance, and that night, before going to bed, while my maid was taking down my hair, and I was thinking of Martin and asking myself if I should put up with my husband’s brutalities any longer, I heard her say:
“If I were a lady married to the wrong man, I ‘d have the right one if I had to go through the divorce court for him.”
Now that was so exactly the thought that was running riot in my own tormented mind, that I flew at her like a wild cat, asking her how she dared to say anything so abominably wicked, and telling her to take her notice there and then.
But hardly had she left the room, when -my heart was in my mouth again, and I was trembling with fear lest she should take me at my word and then the last of my friends would be gone.
WITHIN the next few days the house-party arrived. There would be twenty of them at least, not counting valets and ladies’ maids, so that large as Castle Raa was the house was full.
They were about equally divided as to sex and belonged chiefly to my husband’s class, but they included Mr. Eastcliff’s beautiful wife, Camilla, and Alma’s mother, who, much to Alma ‘s chagrin, had insisted upon being invited.
My husband required me to receive them, and I did so, though I was only their nominal hostess, and they knew it and treated me accordingly.
I should be ashamed to speak of the petty slights they put upon me, how they consulted Alma in my presence and otherwise wounded my pride as a woman by showing me that I had lost my own place in my husband’s house.
I know there are people of the same class who are kind and considerate, guileless and pure, the true nobility of their country women who are devoted to their homes and children, and men who spend their wealth and strength for the public good but my husband’s friends were not of that kind.
They were vain and proud, selfish, self-indulgent, thoroughly insincere, utterly ill-mannered, shockingly ill-informed, astonishingly ill-educated (capable of speaking several languages but incapable of saying a sensible word in any of them), living and flourishing in the world without religion, without morality’, and (if it is not a cant phrase to use) without God.
What their conduct was when out shooting, picnicking, driving, riding, motoring, and yachting (for Mr. Eastcliff had arrived in his yacht, which was lying at anchor in the port below the glen), I do not know, for “doctor’s orders” were Alma’s excuse for not asking me to accompany them.
But at night they played bridge (their most innocent amusement), gambled and drank, banged the piano, danced “Grizzly Bears,” sang duets from the latest musical comedies, and then ransacked the empty houses of their idle heads for other means of killing the one enemy of their existence Time.
Sometimes they would give entertainments in honour of their clogs, when all the animals of all the guests (there seemed to be a whole kennel of them) would be dressed up in coats of silk and satin with pockets and pocket-handkerchiefs, and then led downstairs to the drawing-room, where Alma’s wheezy spaniel and my husband’s peevish terrier were sup- posed to receive them.
Sometimes they would give “freak dinners,” when the guests themselves would be dressed up. the men in women’s clothes, the women in men’s, the male imitating the piping treble of the female voices, and the female the over-vowelled slang of the male, until, tiring of this foolishness, they would end up by flinging the food at the pictures on the walls, the usual pellet being softened bread and the favourite target the noses in the family portraits, which, hit and covered with a sprawling mess, looked so ridiculous as to provoke screams of laughter.
The talk at table was generally of horses and dogs, but sometimes it was of love, courtship and marriage, including conjugal fidelity, which was a favourite subject of ridicule, with both the women and the men.
Thus my husband would begin by saying (he often said it in my hearing) that once upon a time men took their wives as they took their horses, on trial for a year and a day, and “really with some women there was something to say for the old custom.”
Then Mr. Vivian would remark that it was “a jolly good idea, by Jove,” and if he “ever married, by the Lord that’s just what he would do.”
Then Mr. Eastcliff would say that it was a ridiculous superstition that a woman should have her husband all to herself, “as if he were a kind of toothbrush which she could not share with anybody else,” and somebody would add that she might as reasonably want her dentist or her hairdresser to be kept for her own use only.
After that the ladies, not to be left behind, would join in the off-hand rattle, and one of them would give it as her opinion that a wife might have an incorrigibly unfaithful husband, and yet be well off.
“Ugh!” said Alma one night, shrugging her shoulders. “Think of a poor woman being tied for life to an entirely faithful husband!”
“I adore the kind of man who goes to the deuce for a woman Parnell, and Gambetta and Boulanger and that sort,” said a “smart” girl of three or four-and-twenty, whereupon Camilla Eastcliff (she was a Russian) cried:
“That’s vhy the co-respondents in your divorce courts are so sharming. They’re like the villayns in the plays always so dee-lightfully vicked.”
Oh, the sickening horror of it all! Whether it was really moral corruption or only affectation and pose, it seemed equally shocking, and though I bore as much of it as I could with a cheerful face, I escaped as often as possible to the clean atmosphere of my own room.
But even there I was not always allowed to be alone, for Alma’s mother frequently followed me. She was a plump little person in a profuse ornamentation of diamond rings and brooches, with little or no education, and a reputation for saying risky things in blundering French whereof the principal humour lay in the uncertainty as to whether she knew their meaning or not.
Nevertheless she was the only good-hearted woman in the house, and I really believe she thought she was doing a kind act in keeping me company. But oh, how I suffered from her long accounts of her former “visits” to my house, whereby I learned, without wishing to, what her origin had been (the daughter of a London postman); what position she had held in Castle Raa in her winsome and reckless youth (one that need not be defined); how she had met her husband in New York and he had married her to save the reputation of his child; and finally how the American ladies of society had refused to receive her, and she had vowed to be revenged on them by marrying Alma to the highest title in Europe that could be bought with money.
“I was just like your father, my dear. I never did no manner of harm to those people. They used to think I thought myself better blood nor they were, but I never thought no such thing, I assure you. Only when they turned nasty after my marriage I made up my mind just as your father did as Alma should marry a bigger husband nor any of them, even if he wasn’t worth a dime and ‘adn’t a ‘air on ‘is ‘ead.”
But even these revelations about herself were less humiliating than her sympathy with me, which implied that I was not fitted to be mistress of a noble house how could it be expected of me? whereas Alma was just as if she had been born to it, and therefore it was lucky for me that I had her there to show me how to do things.
“Alma’s gotten such ton! Such distangy manners!” she would say.
The effect of all this was to make me feel, as I had never felt before, the intolerable nature of the yoke I was living under.
When I looked into the future and saw nothing before me but years of this ignoble bondage, I told myself that nothing no sacrament or contract, no law of church or state could make me endure it.
From day to day my maid came to me with insidious hints about Alma and my husband. I found myself listening to them. I also found myself refreshing my memory of the hideous scene in Paris, and wondering why I had condoned the offence by staying an hour longer under my husband’s protection.
And then there was always another force at work within me my own secret passion. Though sometimes I felt myself to be a wretched sinner and thought the burden I had to bear was heaven’s punishment for my guilty love, at other times my whole soul rose in revolt, and I cried out not merely for separation from my husband but for absolute sundering.
Twice during the painful period of the house-party I heard from Martin. His first letter was full of accounts of the far-reaching work of his expedition the engaging of engineers, electricians, geologists and masons, and the shipping of great stores of wireless apparatus for his spirits seemed to be high, and life was full of good things for him.
His second letter told me that everything was finished, and he was to visit the island the next week, going first to “the old folks” and coming to me for a few days immediately before setting sail.
That brought matters to a head, and compelled me to take action.
It may have been weak of me, but not wanting a repetition of the scene with Father Dan, (knowing well that Martin would not bear it with the same patience) I sent the second letter to Alma, asking if the arrangement would be agreeable. She returned it with the endorsement (scribbled in pencil across the face), “Certainly; anything to please you, dear.”
I submitted even to that. Perhaps I was a poor-spirited thing, wanting in proper pride, but I had a feeling that it was not worth while to waste myself in little squibs of temper, because an eruption was coming (I w r as sure of that) in which Martin would be concerned on my side, and then everybody and everything would be swept out of the path of my life for ever.
Martin came. In due course I read in the insular newspapers of his arrival on the island how the people had turned out in crowds to cheer him at the pier, and how, on reaching our own village the neighbours (I knew the names of all of them) had met him at the railway station and taken him to his mother’s house, and then lighted fires on the mountains for his welcome home.
It cut me to the heart’s core to think of Martin amid thrilling scenes like those while I was here among degrading scenes like these. My love for Martin was now like a wound and I resolved that, come what might, before he reached Castle Raa I should liberate myself from the thraldom of my false position.
Father Dan ‘s counsels had faded away by this time. Though I had prayed for strength to bear my burden there had been no result, and one morning, standing before the figure of the Virgin in my bedroom, I felt an impulse to blow out her lamp and never to light it again.
The end of it all was that I determined to see the Bishop and my father ‘s advocate, Mr. Curphy, and perhaps my father himself, that I might know one way or the other where I was, and what was to become of me. But how to do this I could not see, having a houseful of people who were nominally my guests.
Fortune ill-fortune favoured me. News came that my father had suddenly fallen ill of some ailment that puzzled the doctors, and making this my reason and excuse I spoke to my husband, asking if I might go home for two or three days.
“Why not?” he said, in the tone of one who meant, “Who’s keeping you?”
Then in my weakness I spoke to Alma, who answered:
“Certainly, my sweet girl. We shall miss you dreadfully, but it’s your duty. And then you’ll see that dear Mr. . . . What d’ye callum?”
Finally, feeling myself a poor, pitiful hypocrite, I apologised for my going away to the guests also, and they looked as if they might say: “We’ll survive it, perhaps.”
The night before my departure my maid said:
“Perhaps your ladyship has forgotten that my time’s up, but I’ll stay until you return if you want me to.”
I asked her if she would like to stay with me altogether and she said:
“Indeed I should, my lady. Any woman would like to stay with a good mistress, if she is a little quick sometimes. And if you don ‘t want me to go to your father ‘s I may be of some use to you here before you come back again.”
I saw that her mind was still running on divorce, but I did not reprove her now, for mine was turning in the same direction.
Next morning most of the guests came to the hall door to see me off, and they gave me a shower of indulgent smiles as the motor-car moved away.
BEFORE going to my father’s house I went to the Bishop’s. Bishop’s Court is at the other side of the island, and it was noon before I drove under its tall elm trees, in which a vast concourse of crows seemed to be holding a sort of general congress.
The Bishop was then at his luncheon, and after luncheon (so his liveried servant told me) he usually took a siesta. I have always thought it was unfortunate for my interview that it came between his food and his sleep.
The little reception-room into which I was shown was luxuriously, not to say gorgeously, appointed, with easy chairs and sofas, a large portrait of the Pope, signed by the Holy Father himself, and a number of pictures of great people of all kinds dukes, marquises, lords, counts as well as photographs of fashionable ladies in low dress inscribed in several languages to “My dear Father in God the Lord Bishop of Ellan.”
The Bishop came to me after a few minutes, smiling and apparently at peace with all the world. Except that he wore a biretta he was dressed as in Rome in his long black soutane with its innumerable buttons, his silver-buckled shoes, his heavy gold chain and jewelled cross.
He welcomed me in his smooth and suave manner, asking if he could offer me a little refreshment; but, too full of my mission to think of eating and drinking, I plunged immediately into the object of my visit.
“Monsignor,” I said, “I am in great trouble. It is about my marriage.”
The smile was smitten away from the Bishop ‘s face by this announcement.
“I am sorry,” he said. “Nothing serious, I trust?”
I told him it was very serious, and straightway I began on the spiritual part of my grievance that my husband did not love me, that he loved another woman, that the sacred sacrament of my marriage. . . .
“Wait,” said the Bishop, and he rose to close the window, for the clamour of the crows was deafening a trial must have been going on in the trees. Returning to his seat he said:
“Dear lady, you must understand that there is one offence, and only one. which in all Christian countries and civilised communities is considered sufficient to constitute a real and tangible grievance. Have you any evidence of that?”
I knew what he meant and I felt myself colouring to the roots of my hair. But gulping down my shame I recounted the story of the scene in Paris and gave a report of my maid ‘s charges and surmises.
“Humph!” said the Bishop, and I saw in a moment that he was going to belittle my proofs.
“Little or no evidence of your own, apparently. Chiefly that of your maid. And ladies’ maids are notorious mischief-makers.”
“But it’s true,” I said. “My husband will not deny it. He cannot.”
“So far as I am able to observe what passes in the world,” said the Bishop, “men in such circumstances always can and do deny it.”
I felt my hands growing moist under my gloves. I thought
the Bishop was trying to be blind to what he did not wish to see.
“But I’m right, I’m sure I’m right,” I said.
“Well, assuming you are right, what is it, dear lady, that you wish me to do?”
For some minutes I felt like a fool, but I stammered out at length that I had come for his direction and to learn what relief the Church could give me.
“H’m!” said the Bishop, and then crossing one leg over the other, and fumbling the silver buckle of his shoe, he said:
“The Church, dear lady, does indeed provide alleviation in cases of dire necessity. It provides the relief of separation always deploring the necessity and hoping for ultimate reconciliation. But to sanction the separation of a wife from her husband because pardon me, I do not say this is your case she finds that he does not please her, or because again I do not say this is your case she fancies that somebody else pleases her better. …”
“Monsignor,” I said, feeling hot and dizzy, “we need not discuss separation. I am thinking of something much more serious.”
Never shall I forget the expression of the Bishop’s face. He looked aghast.
“My good lady, surely you are not thinking of divorce?”
I think my head must have dropped as in silent assent, for in a peremptory and condemnatory manner the Bishop took me to task, asking if I did not know that the Catholic Church did not recognise divorce under any circumstances, and if I had forgotten what the Holy Father himself (pointing up to the portrait) had said to me that when I entered into the solemn contract of holy matrimony I was to do so in the full consciousness that it could not be broken but by death.
“The love in which husband and wife contract to hold each other in holy wedlock is typified by the love of Christ for His Church, and as the one can never be broken, neither can the other.”
“But my husband does not love me,” I said. “Neither do I love him, and therefore the contract between us is broken already.”
The Bishop was very severe with me for this, telling me that as a good child of the Church, I must never, never say that again, for though marriage was a contract it differed from all other contracts whatsoever.
“When you married your husband, dear lady, you were bound to him not by your own act alone, but by a mysterious power from which neither of you can ever free yourself. The power that united you was God, and whom God has joined together no man may put asunder.”
I felt my head drooping. The Bishop was saying what I had always been taught, though in the torment of my trouble and the fierce fire of my temptation I had forgotten it.
“The civil law might divorce you,” continued the Bishop. “I don’t know I can say nothing about that. But it would have no right to do so because the law can have no right to undo what God Himself has done.”
Oh, it was cruel! I felt as if the future of my life were darkening before me as if the iron bars of a prison were closing upon me, and fetters were being fixed on every limb.
“But even if the civil law could and would divorce you,” said the Bishop, “think of the injury you would be inflicting on the Church. Yours was what is called a mixed marriage, and the Church does not favour such marriages, but it consented in this case, and why? Because it hoped to bring back an erring family in a second generation to the fold of the faith. Yet what would you be doing? Without waiting for a second generation you would be defeating its purpose.”
A cold chill seemed to creep to my heart at those words.
Was it the lost opportunity the Bishop was thinking of, instead of the suffering woman with her bruised and bleeding soul?
I rose to go. The Bishop rose with me, and began to counsel forgiveness.
“Even if you have suffered injury, dear lady,” he said “I don’t say you haven’t isn’t it possible to forgive? Remember, forgiveness is a divine virtue, enjoined on us all, and especially on a woman towards the man she has married. Only think! How many women have to practise it every day, all the world over!”
“Ah, well!” I said, and walked to the door.
The Bishop walked with me, urging me, as a good daughter of the Church, to live at peace with my husband, whatever his faults, and when my children came (as please God they would) to “instil into them the true faith with all a mother’s art, a mother’s tenderness,” so that the object of my marriage might be fulfilled, and a good Catholic become the heir to Castle Raa.
“So the Church can do nothing for me?” I said.
“Nothing but pray, dear lady,” said the Bishop.
“When I left him my heart was in fierce rebellion; and, since the Church could do nothing, I determined to see if the law could do anything, so I ordered my chauffeur to drive to the house of my father’s advocate at Holmtown.
The trial in the trees was over by this time, and a dead crow tumbled from one of the tall elms as we passed out of the grounds.
Holmtown is a little city on the face of our bleak west coast, dominated by a broad stretch of sea, and having the sound of the waves always rumbling over it. Mr. Curphy’s house faced the shore and his office was an upper room plainly furnished with a writing desk, a deal table, laden with law books and foolscap papers, a stiff arm-chair, covered with American leather, three or four coloured engravings of judges in red and ermine, a photograph of the lawyer himself in wig and gown, an illuminated certificate of his membership of a legal society, and a number of lacquered tin boxes, each inscribed with the name of a client the largest box bearing the name of “Daniel O’Neill”
My father’s advocate received me with his usual bland smile, gave me his clammy fat hand, put me to sit in the armchair, hoped my unexpected visit did not presage worse news from the Big House, and finally asked me what he could do.
I told my story over again, omitting my sentimental grievances and coming quickly, and with less delicacy, to the grosser facts of my husband ‘s infidelity.
The lawyer listened with his head aside, his eyes looking out on the sea and his white fingers combing his long brown beard, and before I had finished I could see that he too, like the Bishop, had determined to see nothing.
“You may be right,” he began. . . .
“I am right!” I answered.
“But even if you are, I am bound to tell you that adultery is not enough of itself as a ground for divorce.”
“If you were a man it would be, but being a woman you must establish cruelty as well.”
“Cruelty? Isn’t it all cruelty?” I asked.
“In the human sense, yes; in the legal sense, no,” answered the lawyer.
And then he proceeded to explain to me that in this country, unlike some others, before a woman could obtain a divorce from her husband she had to prove that he had not only been unfaithful to her, but that he had used violence to her, struck her in the face perhaps, threatened her or endangered her life or health.
“Your husband hasn’t done that, has he? No? I thought not. After all he’s a gentleman. Therefore there is only one other ground on which you could establish a right to divorce, namely desertion, and your husband is not likely to run away. In fact, he couldn’t. It isn’t to his interest. We’ve seen to all that lie re,” and smiling again, the lawyer patted the top of the lacquered box that bore my father’s name.
I was dumbfounded. Even more degrading than the fetters whereby the Church bound me to my marriage were the terms on which the law would release me.
“But assuming that you could obtain a divorce,” said the lawyer, “what good would it do you? You would have to relinquish your title.”
“I care nothing about my title,” I replied.
“And your position.”
“I care nothing about that either.”
“Come, come,” said the lawyer, patting my arm as if I had been an angry child on the verge of tears. “Don’t let a fit of pique or spleen break up a marriage that is so suitable from the points of property and position. And then think of your good father. Why did he spend all that money in setting a ruined house on its legs again? That he might carry on his name in a noble family, and through your children, and your children’s children. …”
“Then the law can do nothing for me?” I said, feeling sick and sore.
“Sorry, very sorry, but under present conditions, as far as I can yet see, nothing,” said the lawyer.
“Good-day, sir,” I said, and before he could have known what I was doing I had leapt up, left the room, and was hurrying downstairs.
My heart was in still fiercer rebellion now. I would go home. I would appeal to my father. Hard as he had always been with me he was at least a man, not a cold abstraction, like the Church and the law, without bowels of compassion or sense of human suffering.
ALTHOUGH I had sent word that I was coming home, there was no one to welcome me when I arrived.
Aunt Bridget was out shopping, and Betsy Beauty (in the sulks with me, as I afterwards heard, for not asking her to the house-party) had run upstairs on hearing our horn, so I went direct to my father’s room.
Nessy MacLeod answered my knock, but instead of opening the door to let me in, she slid out like a cat and closed it behind her. Never had her ungainly figure, her irregular features, and her red head seemed to me so repugnant. I saw at once that she was giving herself the airs of housekeeper, and I noticed that she was wearing the bunch of keys which used to dangle from Aunt Bridget ‘s waist when I was a child.
“Your father is ill,” she said.
I told her I knew that, and it was one of the reasons I was there.
“Seriously ill,” she said, standing with her back to the door. “The doctor says he is to be kept perfectly quiet.”
Indignant at the effrontery of the woman who was trying to keep me out of my father ‘s room, I said:
“Let me pass, please.”
“S’sh! He has a temperature, and I don’t choose that anybody shall disturb him to-day.”
“Let me pass,” I repeated, and I must have pitched my voice so high that my father heard it.
“Is that Mary?” came from the other side of the door, whereupon Nessy beat a retreat, and at the next moment I was in my father’s room.
His massive and powerful head was propped up with pillows in the camp-bed which was all he ever slept on, and he was looking so ill and changed in so short a time that I was shocked, as well as ashamed at the selfishness of having thought only of myself all the morning.
But he would listen to no sympathy, protesting there was little or nothing the matter with him, that “Conrad was croaking about cancer,” but the doctor was a fool.
“What about yourself, though?” he said. “Great doings at the Castle, they’re telling me.”
I thought this a favourable opportunity to speak about my own affairs, so I began on my story again, and though I found it harder to tell now that my listener was my father, I struggled on and on, as well as I could for the emotion that was choking me.
I thought he would pity me. I expected him to be angry. Although he was showing me some of the contemptuous tenderness which he had always assumed towards my mother, yet I was his daughter, and I felt sure that he would want to leap out of bed that he might take my husband by the throat and shake him as a terrier shakes a rat. But what happened was something quite different.
Hardly had I begun when he burst out laughing.
“God bless my soul,” he cried, “you’re never going to lose your stomach over a thing like that?”
I thought he had not understood me, so I tried to speak plainer.
“I see,” he said. “Sweethearting some other woman, is he? Well, what of it? He isn’t the first husband who has done the like, and I guess he won’t be the last.”
Still I thought I had not made myself clear, so I said my husband had been untrue to me, that his infidelities under my own roof had degraded me in my own eyes and everybody else’s, that I could not bear to live such a life any longer and consequently . . .
“Consequently,” said my father, “you come to me to fight your battles for you. No, no, fight them yourself, gel. No father-in-law ought to interfere.”
It was a man’s point of view I suppose, but I was ready to cry with vexation and disappointment, and though I conquered the impulse to do that I could go no farther.
”Who’s the woman?” he asked.
I told him it was one of our house-party.
“Then cut her out. I guess you’re clever enough to do it, whoever she is. You’ve got the looks too, and I don’t grudge you the money. Cut her out that’s the best advice I can give you. Make your husband see you’re the better woman of the two. Cut her out, I ‘m saying, and don’t come whining here like a cry-baby, who runs to her grandmother’s apron-strings at the first scratch she gets outside.”
He had been reaching forward, but he now fell back on his pillows, saying:
“I see how it is, though. “Women without children are always vapouring about their husbands, as if married life ought to be a garden of Eden. One woman, one man, and all the rest of the balderdash. I sot your Aunt Bridget on you before, gel, and I’ll have to do it again I ‘m thinking. But go away now. If I’m to get better I must have rest. Nessy!” (calling) “I’ve a mort o’ things to do and most everything is on my shoulders. Nessy! My medicine! Nessy! Nessy! Where in the world has that girl gone to? ”
“I’m here, Daniel,” said Nessy McLeod coming back to the room; and as I went out and passed down the corridor, with a crushed and broken spirit and the tears ready to gush from my eyes, I heard her coaxing him in her submissive and insincere tones, while he blamed and scolded her.
Half an hour afterwards Aunt Bridget came to me in my mother’s room. Never in my life before had I been pleased to see her. She, at least, would see my situation with a woman’s eyes. But I was doomed to another disappointment.
“Goodness me, girl,” she cried, “what’s this your father tells me? One of your own guests, is it? That one with the big eyes I’ll go bail. Well, serve you right, I say, for bringing a woman like that into the house with your husband so smart and such a quality toss with her. If you were lonely coming home why didn’t you ask your aunt or your first cousin? There would have been no trouble with your husband then not about me at all events. But what are you thinking of doing?”
“Getting a divorce,” I answered, firmly, for my heart was now aflame.
If I had held a revolver in Aunt Bridget’s face she could not have looked more shocked.
“Mary O’Neill, are you mad?” she cried. “Divorce indeed! No woman of our family has ever disgraced herself like that. What will your father say? What’s to happen to Betsy Beauty? What are people going to think about me?”
I answered that I had not made my marriage, and those who had made it must take the consequences.
“What does that matter now? Hundreds of thousands of women have married the wrong man of their own free will, but if every woman who has made a rue-bargain were to try to get out of it your way where would the world be, I wonder? Perhaps you think you could marry somebody else, but you couldn’t. What decent man wants to marry a divorced woman even if she is the injured party?”
“Then you think I ought to submit tamely submit to such infidelities?” I asked.
“Sakes alive,” said Aunt Bridget, “what else can you do? Men are polygamous animals, and we women have to make up our minds to it. Goodness knows I had to when the old colonel used to go hanging around those English barmaids at the ‘Cock and Hen.’ Be a little blind, girl – that’s what nine wives out of ten have to be every day and every night and all the world over.”
“Will that make my husband any better?” I asked.
“I don’t say it will,” said Aunt Bridget. “It will make you better, though. What the eye doesn’t see the heart doesn’t grieve for. That’s something, isn’t it?”
When I went to bed that night my whole soul was in revolt. The Church, the law, society, parental power, all the conventions and respectabilities seemed to be in a conspiracy to condone my husband’s offence and to make me his scapegoat, doomed to a life of hypocrisy and therefore immorality and shame. I would die rather than endure it. Yes, I would die that very day rather than return to my husband’s house and go through the same ordeal again.
But next morning when I thought of Martin, as I always did on first awakening, I told myself that I would live and be a clean woman in my own eyes whatever the World might think of me.
Martin was now my only refuge, so I would tell him everything. It would be hard to do that, but no matter, I would crush down my modesty and tell him everything. And then, whatever he told me to do I should do it.
I knew quite well what my resolution meant, what it implied and involved, but still I thought, “Whatever he tells me to do I will do it.”
I remembered what the Countess in Rome had said about a life of “complete emancipation” as an escape from unhappy marriage, and even yet I thought “Whatever he tells me to do I mill do it.”
After coming to that conclusion I felt more at ease and got up to dress.
It was a beautiful morning, and I looked down into the orchard, where the apples were reddening under the sunshine and the gooseberries were ripening under their hanging boughs, when in the quiet summer air I heard a footstep approaching.
An elderly woman in an old-fashioned quakerish bonnet was coming up the drive. She carried a little bunch of red and white roses, and her face, which was very sweet and simple, wore the pathetic expression of a child in trouble.
It was Martin’s mother. She was coming to see me, and at the first sight of her something told me that my brave resolution was about to be broken, and I was going to be shaken to the depths of my being.
I heard the bell of the front door ringing. After a moment a maid came up and said:
“Mrs. Doctor Conrad has called to see your ladyship.”
“Bring her here,” I answered.
My heart was in my mouth already.
WHEN Martin’s mother came into the room she looked nervous and almost frightened, as if she had charged herself with a mission which she was afraid to fulfil. But I put her to sit in my mother’s easy chair and sat on the arm of it myself, and then she seemed calmer and more comfortable.
In spite of the silver threads in the smooth hair under her poke bonnet her dear face was still the face of a child, and never before had it seemed to me so helpless and childlike.
After a moment we began to talk of Martin. I said it must be a great happiness to her to have him back after his long and perilous voyage; and she answered that it was, but his visit was so short, only four days altogether, although the doctor and she had looked forward to it so long.
“That’s not Martin’s fault, though,” she said. “He’s such a good son. I really, really think no mother ever had such a good son. But when children grow up they can’t always be thinking of the old people, can they? That’s why I say to the doctor, ‘Doctor,’ I say, ‘perhaps we were the same ourselves when we were young and first loved each other.”
Already I thought I saw vaguely what the dear soul had come to tell me, but I only said I supposed Martin was still with them.
She told me no, he had gone to King George’s. That was his old school, and being prize-giving day the masters had asked him to the sports and to the dinner that was to be given that night before the breaking-up for the holidays.
“The boys will give him a cheer, I know they will,” she said.
I said of course he would be back to-morrow, but again she said no; he had gone for good, and they had said good-bye to him. When he left King George’s he was to go on to Castle Raa, Didn’t I know that? He had said he would telegraph to me. But being from home perhaps I had not yet received his message. Oh yes, he was going on to the Castle to-morrow night and would stay there until it was time to leave the island.
“I’m so glad,” I said, hardly knowing with what fervour I had said it, until I saw the same expression of fear come back to the sweet old face. .
“Martin will be glad, too,” she said, “and that’s . . . that’s why I’ve come to see you.”
“You won’t be cross with me, will you? But Martin is so fond of you. … He always has been fond of you, ever since he was a boy . . . but this time . . .”
“This time I thought … I really, really thought he was too fond of you.”
I had to hold my breast to keep down the cry of joy that was rising to my throat, but the dear soul saw nothing.
“Not that he said so not to say said so, but it’s a mother to see things, isn’t it? And he was talking and talking so much about Mary O’Neill that I was frightened really frightened.”
“He’s so tender-hearted, you see. And then you . . . you’re such a wonderful woman grown. Tommy the Mate says there hasn’t been the like of you on this island since they laid your mother under the sod. It’s truth enough, too gospel truth. And Martin Martin says there isn’t your equal, no, not in London itself neither. So . . . so,” she said, trembling and stammering, “I was thinking … I was thinking he was only flesh and blood like the rest of us, poor boy, and if he got to be too fond of you . . . now that you’re married and have a husband, you know. …”
The trembling and stammering stopped her for a moment.
“They’re saying you are not very happy in your marriage neither. Times and times I’ve heard people saying he isn’t kind to you, and they married you against your will. … So I was telling myself if that’s so, and Martin and you came together now, and you encouraged him, and let him go on . . . and anything came of it … any trouble or disgrace or the like of that … it would be such a terrible cruel shocking thing for the boy . . . just when everybody’s talking about him and speaking so well too.”
It was out at last. Her poor broken-hearted story was told. Being a married woman, unhappily married, too, I was a danger to her beloved son, and she had come to me in her sweet, unmindful, motherly selfishness to ask me to protect him against myself.
“Whiles and whiles I’ve been thinking of it,” she said. “‘What will I do?’ I’ve been asking myself, and sometimes I’ve been thinking I would speak to Martin. I didn’t dare do it, though. But when I heard last night that you had come home to see your father, I said: ‘Doctor, I’ll go over and speak to herself.’ ‘You’ll never do that, Christian Ann,’ said the doctor. ‘Yes, I will,’ I said. ‘I’ll speak to the young mistress herself. She may be a great lady now, but haven’t I nursed her on my knee? She’ll never do anything to harm my boy, if I ask her not to. No indeed she won’t. Not Mary O’Neill. I’ll never believe it of her. Never in this world.’ ”
The sweet old face was beaming but it was wet with tears, too, and while trying to get out her pocket-handkerchief, she was fumbling with the flowers which she was still holding and passing from hand to hand.
“Let me take the roses,” I said as well as I could, for I could scarcely say anything.
“I brought them for you,” she said, and then she laughed, a little confusedly, at her own forgetfulness.
“To be sure they’re nothing to the green-house ones you’ll have at the Castle, but I thought you’d like them for all that They’re from the tree outside the window of your own little room. We call it your room still the one you slept in when you came in your little velvet frock and pinnie, singing carols to my door. ‘Mary O’Neill’s room,’ Martin called it then, and it’s been the same to us ever since.”
This touched me so deeply that, before I knew what I was doing, I was putting my arm about her waist and asking her to tell me what she wished me to do and I would do it.
“Will you, though?” she said, and then one by one she propounded the artless little schemes she had concocted to cure Martin of what she conceived to be his love for me.
Her first thought was that I might make excuse of my father’s illness to remain where I was until the time came for Martin to leave the island; but she repented of this almost immediately, remembering that Martin was set on seeing me, (‘I must see her,’ he had said) and if he did not see me he would be so downhearted.
Then she thought I might praise up my husband to Martin, saying what a fine man he was to be sure, and how good he had been to me, and what a proud woman I was to be married to him; but she was ashamed of that almost as soon as she had said it, for it might not be true, and Martin might see I was pretending.
Finally, she suggested that in order to create a coolness between Martin and myself I might try not to be so nice to him, speaking short to him sometimes, and even harsh and angry; but no, that would be too cruel, especially from me, after all these years, just when he was going so far away, too, and only the Lord and the blessed saints knew what was to become of him.
It was Martin, Martin, always Martin. Still in her sweet motherly selfishness she could think of nobody else. Fondly as she loved me, it never occurred to her for a moment that if I did what she wished and sent Martin away from me, I too would suffer. But a harder heart than mine would have melted at the sight of her perplexity and distress, and when with a helpless look she said:
“I don’t know what you are to do I really, really don’t,” I comforted her (needing comfort so much myself), and told her I would find a way of my own to do what she desired.
“Will you, though?” she said.
“Indeed I will.”
“And you won’t send him away sore-hearted, either?”
“Indeed I won’t.”
“I knew you would say that. May the Lord and His Holy Mother bless you!”
She was weeping tender, copious, blessed tears by this time, but there were smiles behind them.
“Not that there’s another woman in the world I would rather give him to if things were as they used to be. But they’re different now, are they not?” she asked.
“Yes, they’re different now,” I answered.
“But are you sure you’re not cross with me for coming?”
“Oh, no, no,” I said, and it was all I could say for my voice was failing me.
She gave a sigh of inexpressible relief and then rose to go.
“I must be going now. The doctor is digging in the garden and he hasn’t had his breakfast. But I put the pot on the slouree to boil and it will be ready for the porridge.”
She got as far as the door and then turned and said:
“I wish I had a photo of you a right one, just as you are at this very minute. I’d hang it in your own room, and times and times in the day I’d be running upstairs to look at it. But it’s all as one. I’ve got a photo of you here,” (touching her breast) “and sometimes I can see it as plain as plain.”
I could not speak after that, but I kissed her as she was going out, and she said:
“That’s nice, now! Good-bye, my chree! You’ll not be going home until to-morrow, it’s like, so perhaps I’ll be putting another sight on you. Good-bye!”
I went to the window to watch her as she walked down the drive. She was wiping her eyes, but her head was up and I thought her step was light, and I was sure her face was shining.
God bless her! The dear sweet woman! Such women as she is, and my mother was so humble and loving, so guileless and pure, never saying an unkind word or thinking an unkind thought are the flowers of the world that make the earth smell sweet.
When she was gone and I remembered the promise I had made to her I asked myself what was to become of me. If I could neither divorce my husband under any circumstances without breaking a sacrament of the Church, nor love Martin and be loved by him without breaking the heart of his mother, where was I?
I intended to go home the following morning; I was to meet Martin the following night. What was I to say? What was I to do?
All day long these questions haunted me and I could find no answers. But towards evening I took my troubles where I had often taken them to Father Dan.
THE door of the Presbytery was opened by Father Dan’s Irish housekeeper, a good old soul whose attitude to her master was that of a “moithered” mother to a wilful child.
All the way up the narrow staircase to his room, she grumbled about his reverence. Unless he was sickening for the scarlet fever she didn’t know in her seven sinses what was a-matter with him these days. He was as white as a ghost, and as thin as a shadder, and no wonder neither, for he didn’t eat enough to keep body and soul together.
Yesterday itself she had cooked him a chicken as good as I could get at the Big House; “done to a turn, too, with a nice bit of Irish bacon on top, and a bowl of praties biled in their jackets and a basin of beautiful new buttermilk;” but no, never a taste nor a sup did he take of it.
“It’s just timpting Providence his reverence is, and it’ll be glory to God if you’ll tell him so.”
“What’s that you’re saying about his reverence, Mrs. Cassidy?” cried Father Dan from the upper landing.
“I’m saying you’re destroying yourself with your fasting and praying and your midnight calls at mountain cabins, and never a ha’porth of anything in your stomach to do it on. ”
“Whisht then, Mrs. Cassidy, it’s tay-time, isn’t it? So just step back to your kitchen and put on your kittle, and bring up two of your best china cups and saucers, and a nice piece of buttered toast, not forgetting a thimbleful of something neat, and then it’s the mighty proud woman ye’ll be entoirely to be waiting for once on the first lady in the island. . . . Come in, my daughter, come in.”
He was laughing as he let loose his Irish tongue, but I could see that his housekeeper had not been wrong and that he looked worn and troubled.
As soon as he had taken me into his cosy study and put me to sit in the big chair before the peat and wood fire, I would have begun on my errand, but not a word would he hear until the tea had come up and I had taken a cup of it.
Then stirring the peats for light as well as warmth, (for the room was dark with its lining of books, and the evening was closing in) he said:
“Now what is it? Something serious I can see that much.”
“It is serious, Father Dan.”
“Tell me then,” he said, and as well as I could I told him my story.
I told him that since I had seen him last, during that violent scene at Castle Raa, my relations with my husband had become still more painful; I told him that, seeing I could not endure any longer the degradation of the life I was living, I had thought about divorce; I told him that going first to the Bishop and afterwards to my father’s advocate I had learned that neither the Church nor the law, for their different reasons, could grant me the relief I required; and finally, in a faint voice (almost afraid to hear myself speak it), I told him my solemn and sacred secret that whatever happened I could not continue to live where I was now living because I loved somebody else than my husband.
“While I was speaking Father Dan was shuffling his feet and plucking at his shabby cassock, and as soon as I had finished he flashed out on me with an anger I had never seen in his face or heard in his voice before.
“I know who it is,” he said. “It’s Martin Conrad.”
I was so startled by this that I was beginning to ask how he knew, when he cried:
“Never mind how I know. Perhaps you think an old priest has no eyes for anything but his breviary, eh? It’s young Martin, isn’t it?”
“The wretch, the rascal, the scoundrel! If he ever dares to come to this house again, I’ll slam the door in his face.”
I knew he loved Martin almost as much as I did, so I paid no heed to the names he was calling him, but I tried to say that I alone had been to blame, and that Martin had done nothing.
“Don’t tell me he has done nothing,” cried Father Dan. “I know what he has done. He has told you he loves you, hasn’t he?”
“He has been colloguing with you, then, and getting you to say things?”
“Pitying and sympathising with you, anyway, in your relations with your husband?”
“Not for one moment.”
“He had better not! Big man as he is in England now, I’ll warm his jacket for him if he comes here making mischief with a child of mine. But thank the Lord and the holy saints he’s going away soon, so you’ll see no more of him.”
“But he is coming to Castle Raa,” I said, “and I am to see him to-morrow night.”
“That too! The young scoundrel!”
I explained that my husband had invited him, being prompted to do so by the other woman.
“Worse and worse!” cried Father Dan. “Don’t you see that they’re laying a trap for you, and like two young fools you’re walking directly into it. But no matter! You mustn’t go.”
I told him that I should be compelled to do so, for Martin was coming on my account only, and I could neither tell him the truth nor make an excuse that would not be a falsehood.
“Well, well, perhaps you’re right there. It’s not the best way to meet temptation to be always running away from it. That’s Irish, but it’s true enough, though. You must conquer this temptation, my child; you must fight it and overcome it.”
“But I’ve tried and tried and I cannot,” I said.
And then I told him the story of my struggle how love had been no happiness to me but only a cruel warfare, how I had suffered and prayed and gone to mass and confession, yet all to no purpose, for my affection for Martin was like a blazing fire which nothing could put out.
Father Dan’s hands and lips were trembling while I spoke and I could see that he was shuddering with pity for me, so I went on to say that if God had put this pure and holy love into my heart could it be wrong
“Stop a minute,” cried Father Dan. “Who says God put it there? And who informed you it was pure and holy? Let us see where we are. Come, now. You say the Bishop told you that you could never be divorced under any circumstances? ‘ ‘
“Yet you wish to leave your husband?”
“How can I help it? The life I have been living is too horrible.”
“Never mind that now. You wish to leave your husband, don’t you?”
“I … I must.”
“And you want to go to this . . . this young … in short, you want to go to Martin Conrad? That’s the plain truth, isn’t it? Don’t deny it. … Very well, let us call things by their proper names. What is the fact? You are asking me – me, your spiritual Father to allow you to live a life of open adultery. That’s what it comes to. You know it is, and God and His holy Mother have mercy on your soul!”
I was so startled and shocked by his fierce assault, and by the cruel climax it had come to, that I flung up my hands to my face and kept them there, for I felt as if my brain had been stunned and my heart was bursting.
How long I sat like this, with my hidden face to the fire, I do not know; but after a long silence in which I heard nothing but my ovn heaving breath, I became aware that Father Dan had drawn one of my hands down to his knee and was smoothing it with his own.
“Don’t be angry with your old priest for telling you the truth,” he said. “It’s hard to bear; I know it’s hard; but it’s as hard for him as for you, my child. Think only think what he is trying to save you from. If you do what you wish to do, you will put yourself out of communion. If you put yourself out of communion, you will cease to be a Catholic. What will become of you then, my daughter? What will be left to replace the consolations of the Church in sorrow, in suffering, in the hour of death? Have you never thought of that?”
I never had. It was thrilling through and through me.
“You say you cannot live any longer with your husband because he has broken the vow he made to you at your marriage. But think how many – many thousands of poor women all the world over are doing it every day living with adulterous husbands for the sake of their homes and children. And not for the sake of their homes and children only, but for the sake of their souls and their religion. Blessed, blessed martyrs, though we know nothing about them, holding society and the Church and the human family together.”
I was trembling all over. I felt as if Father Dan were trying to take away from me the only sweet and precious thing in my life that was left.
“Then you think you cannot live without the one you love, because all your heart is full of him. But think of the holy women, the holy saints, who have gone through the same temptation fighting against it with all the strength of their souls until the very wounds of our blessed Lord have been marked on their bodies.”
He was creeping closer to my side. His voice was quivering at my ear. I was struggling hard, and still trembling all over.
“Hold fast by the Church, my child. It is your only refuge. Remember that God made your marriage and you cannot break it without forsaking your faith. Can anything be good that is bought at such a price? Nothing in this .world! When you meet to-morrow night you two children tell him that. Tell him I told you to say so. … I love you both. Don’t break your old priest’s heart. He’s in trouble enough for you already. Don’t let him think that he must lose you altogether. And then remember your mother, too that saint in heaven who suffered so long and was patient. . . . Everything will depend upon you, my child. In matters of this kind the woman is the stronger vessel. Be strong for him also. Renounce your guilty love, my daughter ”
“But I cannot, I cannot,” I said. “I love him, and I cannot give him up!”
“Let us ask God to help you,” said Father Dan, and still holding my hand he drew me down to my knees and knelt beside me. The room was dark by this time, and only the sullen glow from the peat fire was on our faces.
Then in a low voice, so low that it was like his throbbing whisper before the altar, when he raised the Sacred Host, Father Dan prayed for me (calling me his dear child whom God had committed to his care) that I might keep my marriage vow and be saved from the temptation to break it.
His beautiful prayer or his throbbing voice, or both together, had a great effect upon me, and when I rose to my feet, I felt stronger. Although Martin was as dear to me as ever, I thought I saw my way at last. If he loved me as I loved him, I had to be brave for both of us. I had to oppose to the carnal instinct of love the spiritual impulse of renunciation. Yes, yes, that was what I had to do.
Father Dan saw me to the door.
“Give my love to my boy,” he said, “and don’t forget what I told you to tell him.”
“I’ll tell him,” I replied, for though I knew my heart was bleeding I felt calm and more courageous.
It was milking time and the cows were lowing in the byre when I crossed the fields and the farm-yard on my way back to my father’s house.
Early next morning I left it for Castle Raa.
ALTHOUGH it was mid-day before I reached the Castle, the gate to the park had not been opened, the drive was deserted and even the great door to the house itself was closed.
And when, in answer to my ringing, one of the maids came after a certain delay, wearing neither apron nor cap, I found the hall empty and no sign of life in the house, except a shrill chorus of laughter which came from the servants’ quarters.
“What’s the meaning of this?” I asked, but before the girl could reply, Price who had come down to take my wraps said:
“I’ll tell your ladyship presently.”
As we were going upstairs she told me that the entire house-party had that morning gone off on a cruise in Mr. Eastcliff’s yacht, that they would be away several days, and that Madame had left a letter for me which was supposed to explain everything.
I found it on the mantelpiece in my boudoir under an open telegram which had been stuck into the edge of the bevelled glass. The telegram, which was addressed to me, was from Martin.
“Expect to arrive to-morrow evening. Staying until Wednesday afternoon. If not convenient wire Principal’s House, King George’s College.”
“That means- to-day,” said Price. “The telegram came yesterday. Madame opened it and she told me to say -”
“Let me read her letter first,” I said.
The letter ran as follows:
“My Dearest Mary,
“You will be astonished to find the house empty and all your racketty guests gone. Let me explain, and if you are angry about what has happened you must lay all the blame on me.
“Well, you see, my dear, it was arranged nearly a month ago that before we left your delightful house we should make a little cruise round your charming island. But we had not expected that this would come off so soon, when suddenly and unexpectedly that silly Mr. Eastcliff, who has no more brains than a spring chicken, remembered that he had promised to visit a friend who has taken a shoot in Skye. Result we had to make the cruise immediately or not at all, and yet behold! our hostess was away on an urgent call of sickness, and what in the world were we to do without her?
“Everybody was in a quandary that wise Mr. Vivian saying it would be ‘jolly bad form by Jove’ to go without you, while Mr. East cliffs ‘deeliglit fully vicked’ little Camilla declared it would be ‘vilaynous,’ and your husband vowed that his Margaret Mary could not possibly be left behind.
“It was then that a certain friend of yours took the liberty of remembering that you did not like the sea, and that even if you had been here and had consented to go with us it would have been only out of the sweetness of your heart, which I’ve always known to be the tenderest and most unselfish in the world.
“This seemed to satisfy the whole house and everybody was at ease, when lo! down on us like a thunderbolt came the telegram from Mr. Conrad. Thinking it might require to be repeated, I took the liberty of opening it, and then we were in a plight, I assure you.
“What on earth was he to think of our leaving the house when he was on the point of arriving? And, above all, how were we to support the disappointment of missing him some of us, the women especially, and myself in particular, being just crazy to see him again f
“This nearly broke down our plans altogether, but once more I came to the rescue by remembering that Mr. Conrad was not coming to se us but you, and that the very kindest thing we could do for a serious person of his kind would be to take our racketty presence out of the way.
“That contented everybody except my mother, who would you believe it? I had gotten some prudish notions into her head about the impropriety of leaving you alone, and declared her intention of staying behind to keep you in countenance! We soon laughed her out of that, though, and now, to relieve you of her company, we are carrying her away with us which will be lots of fun, for she’s, as fond of water as a cat and will fancy she is seasick all the time.
“Good-bye, dearest! We’re just off. I envy you. You happy, happy girl! I am sure you will have such a good time. What a man! As natural as nature! I see by the insular paper that your islanders adore him.
“Hope you found your father better. Another wonderful man! Such an original type, too! Good-bye, my dearest dear, ALMA.
“P.S. Have missed you so much, darling! Castle Raa wasn’t the same place without you I assure you it wasn’t.”
While I was turning this letter over in my hand, wondering what the beautiful fiend had meant by it, my maid, who was standing by, was visibly burning with a desire to know its contents and give me the benefit of her own interpretation.
I told her in general what Alma had said and she burst into little screams of indignation.
“Well, the huzzy! The wicked huzzy! That’s all she is, my lady, begging your pardon, and there’s no other name for her. Arranged a month ago, indeed! It was never thought of until last night after Mr. Conrad ‘s telegram came.”
“Then what does it mean?”
“I can tell your ladyship what it means, if you’ll promise not to fly out at me again. It means that Madame wants to stand in your shoes, and wouldn’t mind going through the divorce court to do so. And seeing that you can’t be tempted to divorce your husband because you are a Catholic, she thinks your husband, who isn’t, might be tempted to divorce you. So she’s setting a trap for you, and she expects you to fall into it while she’s away, and if you do . . .”
“Oh, trust me, your ladyship. I haven’t been keeping my ears closed while your ladyship has been away, and if that chatterbox of a. maid of hers hadn’t been such a fool I suppose she would have been left behind to watch. But there’s somebody else in the house who thinks she has a grievance against you, and if listening at keyholes will do anything . . . Hush!”
Price stopped suddenly with her finger to her lip, and then going on tiptoe to the door she opened it with a jerk, when the little housekeeper was to be seen rising to an upright position while pretending that she had slipped.
“I only came to ask if her ladyship had lunched?” she said.
I answered that I had not, and then told her (so as to give her no further excuse for hanging about me) that in future she was to take her orders from Price an announcement which caused my maid to stand several inches taller in her shoes, and sent the housekeeper hopping downstairs with her beak in the air like an injured cockatoo.
All the afternoon I was in a state of the utmost agitation, sometimes wondering what Martin would think of the bad manners of my husband, who after inviting him had gone away just as he was about to arrive; sometimes asking myself, with a quiver of shame, if he would imagine that this was a scheme of my own contriving; but oftenest remembering my resolution of renunciation and thinking of the much fiercer fight that was before me now that I had to receive and part with him alone.
More than once I had half a mind to telegraph to Martin putting him off, and though I told myself that to do so would not be renunciation but merely flight from temptation, I always knew at the bottom of my heart that I really wanted him to come.
Nevertheless I vowed to my very soul that I should be strong – strong in every word and look and if Alma was daring me I should defy her, and she would see that I should neither yield nor run away.
Thus I entrenched myself at last in a sort of bright strong faith in my power to resist temptation. But I must leave it to those who know better than I the way to read a woman’s heart to say how it came to pass that towards five o’clock, when I heard the sound of wheels and going on to my balcony saw a jaunting-car at the front entrance, and then opening my door heard Martin’s great voice in the hall, I flew downstairs literally flew in my eagerness to welcome him.
There he was in his brown Harris tweeds and soft slouch hat with such an atmosphere of health and sweep of winds about him as almost took away my breath.
“Helloa!” he cried, and I am sure his eyes brightened at the sight of me for they were like the sea when the sun shines on it.
“You’re better, aren’t you?” he said. “No need to ask that, though the colour in your face is wonderful.”
In spite of my resolution, and the attempt I made to show him only a kind of glad seriousness, I could not help it if I blushed. Also I could not help it if, while going upstairs and telling him what had happened to the house-party, I said he was doomed to the disappointment of having nobody except myself for company, and then, woman-like, waited eagerly for what he would say.
“So they’re all gone except yourself, are they?” he said.
“I’m afraid they are,” I answered.
“Well, if it had been the other way about, and you had gone and they had stayed, by the stars of God, I should have been disappointed. But things being as they are, we’ll muddle through, shan’t we?”
Not all the vows in the world could prevent me from finding that answer delightful, and when, on entering my boudoir, he said:
“Sorry to miss Madame though. I wanted a word with that lady before I went down to the Antarctic,” I could not resist the mischievous impulse to show him Alma’s letter.
While he read it his bright face darkened (for all the world like a jeweller’s window when the shutter comes down on it), and when he had finished it he said once more:
“I hate that woman! She’s like a snake. I’d like to put my foot on it.”
And then –
“She may run away as much as she likes, but I will yet, you go bail, I will.”
He was covered with dust and wanted to wash, so I rang for a maid, who told me that Mr. and Mrs. Eastcliff’s rooms had been prepared for Mr. Conrad. This announcement (though I tried to seem unmoved) overwhelmed me with confusion, seeing that the rooms in question almost communicated with my own. But Martin only laughed and said:
“Stunning! We’ll live in this wing of the house and leave the rest of the old barracks to the cats, should we?”
I was tingling with joy, but all the same I knew that a grim battle was before me.
BY the time he returned from his room I had tea served in my boudoir, and while we sat facing the open door to the balcony he told me about his visit to his old school; how at the dinner on the previous night the Principal had proposed his health, and after the lads had sung “Forty Years On” he had told them yarns about his late expedition until they made the long hiss of indrawn breath which is peculiar to boys when they are excited; how they had followed him to his bedroom as if he had been the Pied Piper of Hamelin and questioned him and clambered over him until driven off by the house-master; and how, finally, before he was out of bed this morning the smallest scholar in the junior house, a tiny little cherub with the face of his mother, had come knocking at his door to ask if he wanted a cabin boy.
Martin laughed as if he had been a boy himself (which he always was and always will be) while telling me these stories, and I laughed too, though with a certain tremor, for I was constantly remembering my resolution and feeling afraid to be too happy.
After tea we went out on to the balcony, and leaned side by side over the crumbling stone balustrade to look at the lovely landscape loveliest when the sun is setting on it with the flower-garden below and the headland beyond, covered with heather and gorse and with a winding white path lying over it like the lash of a whip until it dipped down to the sea.
“It’s a beautiful old world, though, isn’t it?” said Martin.
“Isn’t it?” I answered, and we looked into each other’s eyes and smiled.
Then we heard the light shsh of a garden hose, and looking down saw an old man watering the geraniums.
“Sakes alive! It’s Tommy the Mate,” cried Martin, and leaving me on the balcony he went leaping down the stone stairway to greet his old comrade.
“God bless me!” said Tommy. “Let me have a right look at ye. Yes, yes, it’s himself, for sure.”
A little gale of tender memories floated up to me from my childhood at seeing those two together again, with Martin now standing head and shoulders above the old man’s Glengarry cap.
“You’ve been over the highways of the sea, farther than Franklin himself, they’re telling me,” said Tommy, and when Martin, laughing merrily, admitted that he had been farther south at all events, the old sailor said:
“Well, well! Think of that now! But wasn’t I always telling the omadhauns what you’d be doing some day?”
Then with a “glime” of his “starboard eye” in my direction he said:
“You haven’t got a woman yet though? . . . No, I thought not. You’re like myself, boy there’s not many of them sorts in for you.”
After that, and a more undisguised look my way, the old man talked about me, still calling me the “lil misthress” and saying they were putting a power of gold on my fingers, but he would be burning candles to the miracles of God to see the colour of it in my cheeks too.
“She’s a plant that doesn’t take kindly to a hot-house same as this,” (indicating the house) “and shell not be thriving until somebody’s bedding her out, I’m thinking.”
It was Saturday, and after dinner Martin proposed that we should walk to the head of the cliff to see Blackwater by night, which was a wonderful spectacle, people said, at the height of the season, so I put a silk wrap over my head and we set out together.
There was no moon and few stars were visible, but it was one of those luminous nights in summer which never forget the day. Therefore we walked without difficulty along the white winding path with its nutty odour of the heather and gorse until we came near the edge of the cliff, and then suddenly the town burst upon our view, with its promenades, theatres, and dancing palaces ablaze with electric light, which was reflected with almost equal brilliance in the smooth water of the bay.
We were five miles from Blackwater, but listening hard we thought we could hear, through the boom of the sea on the dark cliffs below us, the thin sounds of the bands that were playing in the open-air pavilions, and looking steadfastly we thought we could see, in the black patches under the white light, the movement of the thousands of persons who were promenading along “the front.”
This led Martin to talk of my father, saying as we walked back, with the dark outlines of the sleeping mountains confronting us, what a marvellous man he had been to transform in twenty years the little fishing and trading port into a great resort for hundreds of thousands of pleasure-seekers.
“But is he any better or happier for the wealth it has brought him, and for the connections he has bought with it? Is anybody any better?” said Martin.
“I know one who isn’t,” I answered.
I had not meant to say that. It had slipped out unawares, and in my confusion at the self -revelation which it seemed to make, I tripped in the darkness and would have fallen if Martin had not caught me up.
In doing this he had to put his arms about me and to hold me until I was steady on my feet, and having done so he took my hand and drew it through his arm and in this way we walked the rest of the way back.
It would be impossible and perhaps foolish to say what that incident meant to me. I felt a thrill of joy, a quivering flood of delight which, with all the raptures of my spiritual love, had never come to me before.
Every woman who loves her husband must know what it is, but to me it was a great revelation. It was just as if some new passion had sprung into life in me at a single moment. And it had the mighty passion that lies at the root of our being, the overwhelming instinct of sex which, taking no account of religion and resolutions, sweeps everything before it like a flood.
I think Martin must have felt it too, for all at once he ceased to speak, and I was trembling so much with this new feeling of tenderness that I could not utter a word. So I heard nothing as we walked on but the crackle of our footsteps on the gravel path and the measured boom of the sea which we were leaving behind us nothing but that and the quick beating in my own breast.
When we came to the garden the frowning face of the old house was in front of us, and it was all in darkness, save for the light in my room which came out on to the balcony. Everything was quiet. The air was breathless. There was not a rustle in the trees.
We took two or three turns on the lawn in front of my windows, saying nothing but feeling terribly, fearfully happy. After a few moments (or they seemed few) a cuckoo clock on my desk struck eleven, and we went up the stone stairway into my boudoir and parted for the night.
Even then we did not speak, but Martin took my hand and lifted my fingers to his lips, and the quivering delight I had been feeling ever since I slipped on the headland rushed through me again.
At the next moment I was in my room. I did not turn on the light. I undressed in the darkness and when my maid came I was in bed. She wanted to tell me about a scene with the housekeeper in the kitchen, but I said:
“I don’t want to talk to-night, Price.”
I did not know what was happening to me. I only knew, for the first time that night, that above everything else I was a woman, and that my renunciation, if it was ever to come to pass, would be a still more tragic thing than I had expected.
My grim battle had begun.
WHEN I awoke in the morning I took myself severely to task. Was this how I was fulfilling the promise I had made to Martin’s mother, or preparing to carry out the counsel of Father Dan?
“I must be more careful,” I told myself. “I must keep a stronger hold of myself.”
The church bells began to ring, and I determined to go to mass. I wanted to go alone and much as I grudged every minute of Martin’s company which I lost, I was almost glad when, on going into the boudoir with my missal in my hand, I found him at a table covered with papers and heard him say:
“Helloa! See these letters and telegrams? Sunday as it is I’ve got to answer them.”
Our church was a little chapel-of-ease on the edge of my husband’s estate, opened, after centuries of neglect, by the bad Lord Raa, in his regenerate days, for the benefit of the people of his own village. It was very sweet to see their homely faces as they reverently bowed and rose, and even to hear their creachy voices when they joined in the singing of the Gloria.
Following the gospel there was a sermon on the words “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” The preacher was a young curate, the brother of my husband’s coachman; and it occurred to me that he could know very little of temptation for himself, but the instruction he gave us was according to’ the doctrine of our Church, as I had received it from the Reverend Mother and the Cardinals who used to hold retreats at the convent.
“Beware of the temptations of the flesh, my children,” said the priest.” The Evil One is very subtle, and not only in our moments of pride and prosperity, but also in our hours of sorrow and affliction, he is for ever waiting and watching to betray us to our downfall and damnation.”
In the rustling that followed the sermon a poor woman who sat next to me, with a print handkerchief over her head, whispered in my ear that she was sorry she had not brought her husband, for he had given way to drink, poor fellow, since the island had had such good times and wages had been so high.
But the message came closer home to me. Remembering the emotions of the night before, I prayed fervently to be strengthened against all temptation and preserved from all sin. And when the mass was resumed I recalled some of the good words with which I had been taught to assist at the Holy Sacrifice praying at the Credo that as I had become a child in the bosom of the Church I might live and die in it.
When the service was over I felt more at ease and I emptied my purse, I remember, partly into the plate and partly to the poor people at the church door.
It was in this spirit that I returned home in the broad sunshine of noonday. But half way up the drive I met Martin walking briskly down to meet me. He was bareheaded and in flannels; and I could not help it if he looked to me so good, so strong, and so well able to protect a woman against every danger, that the instructions I had received in church, and the resolutions I had formed there, seemed to run out of my heart as rapidly as the dry sand of the sea-shore runs through one’s fingers.
“Helloa!” he cried, as usual. “The way I’ve been wasting this wonderful morning over letters and telegrams! But not another minute will I give to anything under the stars of God but you.”
If there was any woman in the world who could have resisted that greeting I was not she, and though I was a little confused I was very happy.
As we walked back to the house we talked of my father and his sudden illness, then of his mother and my glimpse of her, and finally of indifferent things, such as the weather, which had been a long drought and might end in a deluge.
By a sort of mutual consent we never once spoke of the central subject of our thoughts my marriage and its fatal consequences but I noticed that Martin’s voice was soft and caressing, that he was walking close to my side, and that as often as I looked up at him he was looking down at me and smiling.
It was the same after luncheon when we went out into the garden and sat on a seat in the shrubbery almost immediately facing my windows, and he spread a chart on a rustic table and pointing to a red line on it said:
“Look, this is the course of our new cruise, please God.”
He talked for a long time, about his captain and crew; the scientific experts who had volunteered to accompany him; his aeronautic outfit, his sledges and his skis; but whatever ae talked about if it was only his dogs and the food he had found for them it was always in that soft, caressing voice which made me feel as if (though he never said one word of love) he were making love to me, and saying the sweetest things a man could say to a woman.
After a time I found myself answering in the same tones, and even when speaking on the most matter-of-fact subjects I felt as if I were saying the sweetest things a woman could say to a man.
We sat a long time so, and every moment we were together seemed to make our relation more perilous, until at length the sweet seductive twilight of the shortening autumn day began to frighten me, and making excuse of a headache I said I must go indoors.
He walked with me up the stone-stairway and into my boudoir, until we got to the very door of my room, and then suddenly he took up both my hands and kissed them passionately.
I felt the colour rushing to my cheeks and I had an almost irresistible impulse to do something in return. But conquering it with a great effort, I turned quickly into my bedroom, shut the door, pulled down the blinds and then sat and covered my face and asked myself, with many bitter pangs, if it could possibly be true (as I had been taught to believe) that our nature was evil and our senses were always tempting us to our destruction.
Several hours passed while I sat in the darkness with this warfare going on between my love and my religion, and then Price came to dregs me for dinner, and she was full of cheerful gossip.
“Men are such children,” she said; “they can’t help giving themselves away, can they?”
It turned out that after I had left the lawn she had had some conversation with Martin, and I could see that she was eager to tell me what he had said about myself.
“The talk began about your health and altered looks, my lady. ‘Don’t you think your mistress is looking ill?’ said he. ‘A little,’ I said. ‘But her body is not so ill as her heart, if you ask me,’ said I.”
“You never said that, Price?”
“Well, I could not help saying it if I thought so, could I?”
“And what did he say?”
“He didn’t say anything then, my lady, but when I said, ‘You see, sir, my lady is tied to a husband she doesn’t love,’ he said, ‘How can she, poor thing?’ ‘Worse than that, ‘ I said, ‘her husband loves another woman.’ ‘The fool! Where does he keep his eyes?’ said he. ‘Worse still,’ said I, ‘he flaunts his infidelities in her very face.’ ‘The brute!’ he said, and his face looked so fierce that you would have thought he wanted to take his lordship by the throat and choke him. ‘Why doesn’t she leave the man?’ said he. ‘That’s what I say, sir, but I think it’s her religion,’ I said. ‘Then God help her, for there ‘s no remedy for that, ‘ said he. And then seeing him so down I said, ‘But we women are always ruled by our hearts in the long run.’ ‘Do you think so?’ said he. ‘I’m sure of it,’ said I, ‘only we must have somebody to help us,’ I said. ‘There’s her father,’ said he. ‘A father is of no use in a case like this,’ I said, ‘especially such a one as my lady ‘s is, according to all reports. No,’ said I, ‘it must be somebody else somebody who cares enough for a woman to risk everything for her, and just take her and make her do what’s best for herself whether she likes it or not. Now if somebody like that were to come to my lady, and get her out of her trouble,’ I said. . . . ‘Somebody will,’ said he. ‘Make your mind easy about that. Somebody will,’ he said, and then he went on walking to and fro.”
Price told this story as if she thought she was bringing me the gladdest of glad tidings; but the idea that Martin had come back into my life to master me, to take possession of me, to claim me as his own (just as he did when I was a child) and thereby compel me to do what I had promised his mother and Father Dan not to do this was terrifying.
But there w-as a secret joy in it too, and every woman will know what I mean if I say that my heart was beating high with the fierce delight of belonging to somebody when I returned to the boudoir where Martin was waiting to sit down to dinner.
Then came a great surprise.
Martin was standing with his back to the fire-place, and I saw in a moment that the few hours which had intervened had changed him as much as they had changed me.
“Helloa! Better, aren’t we?” he cried, but he was now cold, almost distant, and even his hearty voice seemed to have sunk to a kind of nervous treble.
I could not at first understand this, but after a while I began to see that we two had reached the point beyond which it was impossible to go without encountering the most tremendous fact of our lives my marriage and all that was involved by it.
During dinner we spoke very little. He seemed intentionally not to look at me. The warm glances of his sea-blue eyes, which all the afternoon had been making the colour mount to my cheeks, had gone, and it sent a cold chill to my heart to look across the table at his clouded face. But sometimes when he thought my own face was down I was conscious that his eyes were fixed on me with a questioning, almost an imploring gaze. His nervousness communicated itself to me. It was almost as if we had begun to be afraid of each other and were hovering on the brink of fatal revelations.
When dinner was over, the table cleared and the servants gone, I could bear the strain no longer, so making excuse of a letter I had to write to the Reverend Mother I sat down at my desk, whereupon Martin lit a cigar and said he would stroll over the headland.
I heard his footsteps going down the stone stairway from the balcony; I heard their soft thud on the grass of the lawn; I heard their sharper crackle on the gravel of the white path, and then they mingled with the surge and wash of the flowing tide and died away in the distance.
I rose from the desk, and going over to the balcony door looked out into the darkness. It was a beautiful, pathetic, heart -breaking night. No moon, but a perfect canopy of stars in a deep blue sky. The fragrance of unseen flowers sweet-briar and rose as well as ripening fruit came up from the garden. There was no wind either, not even the rustle of a leaf, and the last bird of evening was silent. All the great orchestra of nature was still, save for the light churning of the water running in the glen and the deep organ song of the everlasting sea.
“What can I do?” I asked myself.
Now that Martin was gone I had begun to understand him. His silence had betrayed his heart to me even more than his speech could have done. Towering above him like a frowning mountain was the fact that I was a married woman and he was trying to stand erect in his honour as a man.
“He must be suffering too,” I told myself.
That was a new thought to me and it cut me to the quick.
When it came to me first I wanted to run after him and throw myself into his arms, and then I wanted to run away from him altogether.
I felt as if I were on the brink of two madnesses the madness of breaking my marriage vows and the madness of breaking the heart of the man who loved me.
“Oh, what can I do?” I asked myself again.
I wanted him to go; I wanted him to stay; I did not know what I wanted. At length I remembered that in ordinary course he would be going in two days more, and I said to myself:
“Surely I can hold out that long.”
But when I put this thought to my breast, thinking it would comfort me, I found that it burnt like hot iron.
Only two days, and then he would be gone, lost to me perhaps for ever. Did my renunciation require that? It was terrible!
There was a piano in the room, and to strengthen and console myself in my trouble I sat down to it and played and sang. I sang “Ave Maris Stella.”
I was singing to myself, so I know I began softly so softly that my voice must have been a whisper scarcely audible outside the room
“Hail thou star of ocean,
Portal of the sky.”
But my heart was full and when I came to the verses which
always moved me most
“Virgin of all virgins,
To thy shelter take us”
my voice, without my knowing it, may have swelled out into the breathless night until it reached Martin, where he walked on the dark headland, and sounded to him like a cry that called him back.
I cannot say. I only know that when with a thickening throat I had come to an end, and my forehead had fallen on to the key-board, and there was no other sound in the air but the far-off surging of the sea, I heard somebody calling me in a soft and tremulous whisper,
It was he. I went out to the balcony and there he was on the lawn below. The light of the room was on him and never before had I seen his strong face so full of agitation.
“Come down,” he said. “I have something to say to you.”
I could not resist him. He was my master. I had to obey.
When I reached the bottom of the stairway he took my hand, and I did not know whether it was his hand or mine that was trembling. He led me across the lawn to the seat in the shrubbery that almost faced my windows. In the soft and soundless night I could hear his footsteps on the turf and the rustle of my dress over the grass.
We sat, and for a moment he did not speak. Then with a passionate rush of words he said:
“Mary, I hadn’t meant to say what I’m going to say now, but I can’t do anything else. You are in trouble, and I can’t stand by and see you so ill-used. I can’t and I won’t!”
I tried to answer him, but my throat was fluttering and I could not speak.
“It’s only a few days before I ought to sail, but they may be enough in which to do something, and if they’re not I’ll postpone the expedition or put it off, or send somebody in my place, for go away I cannot and leave you like this.”
I tried to say that he should not do that whatever happened to me, but still I could not speak.
“Mary, I want to help you. But I can only do so if you give me the right to do it. Nobody must tell me I ‘m a meddler, butting in where I have no business. There are people enough about you who would be only too ready to do that people related to you by blood and by law.”
I knew what he was coming to, for his voice was quivering in my ears like the string of a bow.
“There is only one sort of right, Mary, that is above the right of blood, and you know what that is.”
My eyes were growing so dim that I could hardly see the face which was so close to mine.
“Mary,” he said, “I have always cared for you. Surely you know that. By the saints of God I swear there has never been any other girl for me, and now there never will be. Perhaps I ought to have told you this before, and I wanted to do so when I met you in Rome. But it didn’t seem fair, and I couldn’t bring myself to do it.”
His passionate voice was breaking; I thought my heart was breaking also.
“All I could do I did, but it came to nothing; and now you are here and you are unhappy, and though it is so late I want to help you, to rescue you, to drag you out of this horrible situation before I go away. Let me do it. Give me the right of one you care enough for to allow him to speak on your behalf.”
I knew what that meant. I knew that I was tottering on the very edge of a precipice, and to save myself I tried to think of Father Dan, of Martin’s mother, of my own mother, and since I could not speak I struggled to pray.
“Don ‘t say you can ‘t. If you do I shall go away a sorrowful man. I shall go at once too to-night or to-morrow morning at latest, for my heart bleeds to look at you and I can’t stay here any longer to see you suffer. It is not torture to me it’s hell!”
And then the irrepressible, overwhelming, inevitable moment came. Martin laid hold of my right hand and said in his tremulous voice:
“Mary . . . Mary … I … I love you!”
I could hear no more. I could not think or pray or resist any longer. The bitter struggle was at an end. Before I knew what I was doing I was dropping my head on to his breast and he with a cry of joy was gathering me in his arms.
I was his. He had taken his own. 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.
For some moments I hardly breathed. I was only conscious that over my head Martin was saying something that seemed to come to me with all the deep and wonderful whispers of his heart.
“Then it’s true! It’s true that you love me! Yes, it’s true! It’s true! No one shall hurt you again. Never again! No, by the Lord God!”
And then suddenly as suddenly as the moment of intoxication had come to me I awoke from my delirium. Some little thing awakened me. I hardly know what it was. Perhaps it was only the striking of the cuckoo clock in my room.
“What are we doing?” I said.
Everything had rolled back on me my marriage, Father Dan’s warning, my promise to Martin’s mother.
“Where are we?” I said.
“Hush! Don’t speak,” said Martin. “Let us think of nothing to-night nothing except our love.”
“Don’t say that,” I answered. “We are not free to love each other,” and then, trying to liberate myself from his encircling arms I cried:
“God help me! God forgive me!”
“Wait!” said Martin, holding me a moment longer. “I know what you feel, and I’m not the man to want a girl to wrong her conscience. But there’s one question I must ask you. If you were free, could you love me then?”
“Don’t ask me that. I must not answer it.”
“You must and shall, ” said Martin. “Could you? ”
“That’s enough for me enough for to-night anyway. Have no fear. All shall be well. Go to your room now.”
He raised me to my feet and led me back to the foot of the balcony, and there he kissed my hand and let me go.
“Good night!” he said softly.
“Good night!” I answered.
“God bless you, my pure sweet girl!”
At the next moment I was in my room, lying face down on my bed seeing no hope on any side, and sobbing my heart out for what might have been but for the hard law of my religion and the cruel tangle of my fate.
NEXT morning, Monday morning, while I was breakfasting in my bedroom, Price came with a message from Martin to say that he was going into the glen and wished to know if I would go with him.
I knew perfectly what that meant. He wished to tell me what steps he intended to take towards my divorce, and my heart trembled with the thought of the answer I had to give him that divorce for me, under any circumstances, was quite impossible.
Sorry as I was for myself I was still more sorry for Martin. I felt like a judge who had to pronounce sentence upon him dooming his dearest hopes to painful and instant death.
I could hear him on the lawn with Tommy the Mate, laughing like a boy let loose from school, and when I went down to him he greeted me with a cry of joy that was almost heart-breaking.
Our way to the glen was through a field of grass, where the dew was thick, and, my boots being thin, Martin in his high spirits wished to carry me across, and it was only with an effort that I prevented him from doing so.
The glen itself when we reached it (it was called Glen Raa) was almost cruelly beautiful that day, and remembering what I had to do in it I thought I should never be able to get it out of my sight with its slumberous gloom like that of a vast cathedral, its thick arch of overhanging boughs through which the morning sunlight was streaming slantwards like the light through the windows of a clerestory, its running water below, its rustling leaves above, and the chirping of its birds on every side, making a sound that was like the chanting of a choir in some far-off apse and the rumbling of their voices in the roof.
Two or three times, as we walked down the glen towards a port (Port Raa) which lay at the seaward end of it, Martin rallied me on the settled gravity of my face and then I had to smile, though how I did so I do not know, for every other minute my heart was in my mouth, and never more so than when, to make me laugh, he rattled away in the language of his boyhood, saying:
“Isn’t this stunning? Splendiferous, eh?”
When we came out at the mouth of the port, where a line of little stunted oaks leaned landward as with the memory of many a winter’s storm, Martin said:
“Let us sit down here.”
We sat on the sloping bank, with the insects ticking in the grass, the bees humming in the air, the sea fowl screaming in the sky, the broad sea in front, and the little bay below, where the tide, which was going out, had left behind it a sharp reef of black rocks covered with sea-weed.
A pleasure-steamer passed at that moment with its flags flying, its awnings spread, its decks crowded with excursionists, and a brass band playing one of Sousa’s marches, and as soon as it had gone, Martin said:
“I’ve been thinking about our affair, Mary, how to go to work and all that, and of course the first thing we’ve got to do is to get a divorce.”
I made no answer, and I tried not to look at him by fixing my eyes upon the sea.
“You have evidence enough, you know, and if you haven’t there’s Price she has plenty. So, since you’ve given me the right to speak for you, dear, I’m going to speak to your father first.”
I must have made some half-articulate response, for not understanding me he said:
“Oh, I know he’ll be a hard nut to crack. He won’t want to hear what I’ve got to say, but he has got to hear it. And after all you’re his daughter, and if he has any bowels of compassion . . .”
Again I must have made some effort to speak, for he said:
“Yes, he’s ill, but he has only to set Curphy to work and the lawyer will do the rest.”
I could not allow him to go any further, so I blurted out somehow that I had seen my father already.
“On this subject?”
“And what did he say?”
I told him as well as I could what my father had said, being ashamed to repeat it.
“That was only bluff, though,” said Martin. “The real truth is that you would cease to be Lady Raa and that would be a blow to his pride. Then there would no longer be any possibility of establishing a family and that would disturb his plans. No matter! We can set Curphy to work ourselves.”
“But I have seen Mr. Curphy also,” I said.
“And what did he say?”
I told him what the lawyer had said and he was aghast.
“Good heavens! What an iniquity! In England too! But never mind! There are other countries where this relic of the barbaric ages doesn’t exist. We’ll go there. We must get you a divorce somehow.”
My time had come. I could keep back the truth no longer.
“But Martin,” I said, “divorce is impossible for me quite impossible.”
And then I told him that I had been to see the Bishop also, and he had said what I had known before, though in the pain of my temptation I had forgotten it, that the Catholic Church did not countenance divorce under any circumstances, because God made marriages and therefore no man could dissolve them.
Martin listened intently, and in his eagerness to catch every word he raised himself to a kneeling position by my side, so that he was looking into my face.
“But Mary, my dear Mary,” he said, “you don’t mean to say you will allow such considerations to influence you?”
“I am a Catholic what else can I do?” I said.
“But think my dear, dear girl, think how unreasonable, how untrue, how preposterous it all is in a case like yours? God made your marriage? Yours? God married you to that notorious profligate? Can you believe it?”
His eyes were flaming. I dared not look at them.
“Then think again. They say there’s no divorce in the Catholic Church, do they? But what are they talking about? Morally speaking you are a divorced woman already. Anybody with an ounce of brains can see that. “When you were married to this man he made a contract with you, and he has broken the terms of it, hasn’t he? Then where’s the contract now? It doesn’t any longer exist. Your husband has destroyed it.”
“But isn’t marriage different?” I asked.
And then I tried to tell him what the Bishop had said of the contract of marriage being unlike any other contract because God Himself had become a party to it.
“What?” he cried. “God become a party to a marriage like yours? My dear girl, only think! Think of what your marriage has been the pride and vanity and self-seeking that conceived it, the compulsion that was put upon you to carry it through, and then the shame and the suffering and the wickedness and the sin of it! Was God a party to the making of a marriage like that?”
In his agitation he rose, walked two or three paces in front and came back to me.
“Then think what it means if your marriage may not be dissolved. It means that you must go on living with this man whose life is so degrading. Year in, year out, as long as your life lasts you must let him humiliate and corrupt you with his company, his companions and his example, until you are dragged down, down, down to the filth he lives in himself, and your very soul is contaminated. Is that what the Church asks of you?”
I answered no, and tried to tell him what the Bishop had told me about separation, but he interrupted me with a shout.
“Separation? Did he say that? If the Church has no right to divorce you what right has it to separate you! . . . Oh, I see what it will say hope of reconciliation. But if you were separated from your husband would you ever go back to him? Never in this world. Then what would your separation be? Only divorce under another name.”
I was utterly shaken. Perhaps I wanted to believe what Martin was saying; perhaps I did not know enough to answer him, but I could not help it if I thought Martin’s clear mind was making dust and ashes of everything that Father Dan and the Bishop had said to me.
“Then what can I do?” I asked.
I thought his face quivered at that question. He got up again, and stood before me for a moment without speaking. Then he said, with an obvious effort
“If your Church will not allow you to divorce your husband, and if you and I cannot marry without that, then …”
“I didn’t mean to propose it … God knows I didn’t, but when a woman . . . when a woman has been forced into a loveless marriage, and it is crushing the very soul out of her, and the iron law of her Church will not permit her to escape from it, what crime does she commit if she . . .”
“Well?” I asked, though I saw what he was going to say.
“Mary,” he said, breathing hard and fast, “you must come to me.”
I made a sudden cry, though I tried not to.
“Oh, I know,” he said. “It’s not what we could wish. But we’ll be open about it. We’ll face it out. Why shouldn’t we? I shall anyway. And if your father and the Bishop say anything to me I’ll tell them what I think of the abominable marriage they forced you into. As for you, dear, I know you’ll have to bear something. All the conventional canting hypocrisies! Every man who has bought his wife, and every woman who has sold herself into concubinage there are thousands and thousands of them all the world over, and they’ll try . . . perhaps they’ll try . . . but let them try. If they want to trample the life out of you they’ll have to walk over me first yes, by God they will!”
“But Martin . . .”
“Do you mean that I … I am . . . to . . . to live with you without marriage?”
“It’s the only thing possible, isn’t it!” he said. And then he tried to show me that love was everything, and if people loved each other nothing else mattered religious ceremonies were nothing, the morality of society was nothing, the world and its back-biting was nothing.
The great moment had come for me at last, and though I felt torn between love and pity I had to face it.
“Martin, I … I can’t do it,” I said.
He looked steadfastly into my face for a moment, but I dare not look back, for I knew he was suffering.
“You think it would be wrong?”
I tried to say “Yes” again, but my reply died in my throat.
There was another moment of silence and then, in a faltering voice that nearly broke me down, he said:
“In that case there is nothing more to say. . . . There isn’t, is there?”
I made an effort to speak, but my voice would not come.
“I thought … as there was no other way of escape from this terrible marriage . . . but if you think . . .”
He stopped, and then coming closer he said:
“I suppose you know what this means for you, Mary that after all the degradation you have gone through you are shutting the door to a worthier, purer life, and that . . .”
I could bear no more. My heart was yearning for him, yet I was compelled to speak.
“But would it be a purer life, Martin, if it began in sin? No, no, it wouldn’t, it couldn’t. Oh, you can’t think how hard it is to deny myself the happiness you offer me. It’s harder than all the miseries my husband has inflicted upon me. But it wouldn’t be happiness, because our sin would stand between us. That would always be there, Martin every day, every night, as long as ever we lived. . . . We should never know one really happy hour. I ‘m sure we should not. I should be unhappy myself and I should make you unhappy. Oh, I daren’t! I daren’t! Don’t ask me, I beg I beseech you.”
I burst into tears after this, and there was a long silence between us. Then Martin touched my arm and said with a gentleness that nearly broke my heart:
“Don’t cry, Mary. I give in. I find I have no will but yours, dear. If you can bear the present condition of things, I ought to be able to. Let us go back to the house.”
He raised me to my feet and we turned our faces homeward.
All the brightness of the day had gone for both of us by this time. The tide was now far out. Its moaning was only a distant murmur. The shore was a stretch of jagged black rocks covered with sea- weed.
NOTWITHSTANDING Martin’s tenderness I had a vague fear that he had only pretended to submit to my will, and before the day was over I had proof of it.
During dinner we spoke very little, and after it was over we went out to the balcony to sit on a big oak seat which stood there.
It was another soft and soundless night, without stars, very dark, and with an empty echoing air, which seemed to say that thunder was not far off, for the churning of the nightjar vibrated from the glen, and the distant roar of the tide, now rising, was like the rumble of drums at a soldier’s funeral.
Just as we sat down the pleasure-steamer we had seen in the morning re-crossed our breadth of sea on its way back to Blackwater; and lit up on deck and in all its port-holes, it looked like a floating cafe chantant full of happy people, for they were singing in chorus a rugged song which Martin and I had known all our lives
Ramsey town, Ramsey town, smiling by the sea, Here’s a health to my true love, wheresoe’er she be.
When the steamer had passed into darkness, Martin said:
“I don’t want to hurt you again, Mary, but before I go there’s something I want to know. … If you cannot divorce your husband, and if … if you cannot come to me what . … what is left to us?”
I tried to tell him there was only one thing left to us, and (as much for myself as for him) I did my best to picture the spiritual heights and beauties of renunciation.
“Does that mean that we are to . . . to part?” he said. “You going your way and I going mine . . . never to meet again?”
That cut me to the quick, so I said it was all I could trust myself to say that the utmost that was expected of us was that we should govern our affections control and conquer them.
“Do you mean that we are to stamp them out altogether?” he said.
That cut me to the quick too, and I felt like a torn bird that is struggling in the lime, but I contrived to say that if our love was guilty love it was our duty to destroy it.
“Is that possible?” he said.
“We must ask God to help us,” I answered, and then, while his head was down and I was looking out into the darkness, I tried to say that though he was suffering now he would soon get over this disappointment.
“Do you wish me to get over it?” he asked.
This confused me terribly, for in spite of all I was saying I knew at the bottom of my heart that in the sense he intended I did not and could not wish it.
“We have known and cared for each other all our lives, Mary isn’t that so? It seems as if there never was a time when we didn’t know and care for each other. Are we to pray to God, as you say, that a time may come when we shall feel as if we had never known and cared for each other at all?”
My throat was fluttering I could not answer him.
“I can’t,” he said. “I never shall never as long as I live. No prayers will ever help me to forget you.”
I could not speak. I dared not look at him. After a moment he said in a thicker voice:
“And you . . . will you be able to forget me? By praying to God will you be able to wipe me out of your mind?”
I felt as if something were strangling me.
“A woman lives in her heart, doesn’t she?” he said. “Love is everything to her . . . everything except her religion. Will it be possible this renunciation . . . will it be possible for you either?”
I felt as if all the blood in my body were running away from me.
“It will not. You know it will not. You will never be able to renounce your love. Neither of us will be able to renounce it. It isn’t possible. It isn’t human. . . . Well, what then? If we continue to love each other you here and I down there we shall be just as guilty in the eyes of the Church, shan’t we?”
I did not answer him, and after a moment he came closer to me on the seat and said almost in a whisper:
“Then think again, Mary. Only give one glance to the horrible life that is before you when I am gone. You have been married a year . . . only a year . . . and you have suffered terribly. But there is worse to come. Your husband ‘s coarse infidelity has been shocking, but there will be something more shocking than his infidelity his affection. Have you never thought of that?”
I started and shuddered, feeling as if somebody must have told him the most intimate secret of my life. Coming still closer he said:
“Forgive me, dear. I’m bound to speak plainly now. If I didn’t I should never forgive myself in the future . . . Listen! Your husband will get over his fancy for this . . . this woman. He’ll throw her off, as he has thrown off women of the same kind before. What will happen then? He’ll remember that you belong to him . . . that he has rights in you . . . that you are his wife and he is your husband . . . that the infernal law which denies you the position of an equal human being gives him a right a legal right to compel your obedience. Have you never thought of that?”
For one moment we looked into each other’s eyes; then he took hold of my hand and, speaking very rapidly, said:
“That’s the life that is before you when I am gone to live with this man whom you loathe . . . year after year, as long as life lasts . . . occupying the same house, the same room, the same . . .”
I uttered an involuntary cry and he stopped.
“Martin,” I said, “there is something you don’t know.”
And then, I told him it was forced out of me my modesty went down in the fierce battle with a higher pain, and I do not know whether it was my pride or my shame or my love that compelled me to tell him, but I did tell him God knows how that I could not run the risk he referred to because I was not in that sense my husband ‘s wife and never had been.
The light was behind me, and my face was in the darkness; but still I covered it with my hands while I stammered out the story of my marriage day and the day after, and of the compact I had entered into with my husband that only when and if I came to love him should he claim my submission as a wife.
“While I was speaking I knew that Martin’s eyes were fixed on me, for I could feel his breath on the back of my hands, but before I had finished he leapt up and cried excitedly:
“And that compact has been kept?”
“Then it’s all right! Don’t be afraid. You shall be free. Come in and let me tell you how! Come in, come in!”
He took me back into the boudoir. I had no power to resist him. His face was as pale as death, but his eyes were shining. He made me sit down and then sat on the table in front of me.
“Listen!” he said. “When I bought my ship from the Lieutenant we signed a deed, a contract, as a witness before all men that he would give me his ship and I would give him some money. But if after all he hadn’t given me his ship what would our deed have been? Only so much waste paper.”
It was the same with my marriage. If it had been an honest contract, the marriage service would have been a witness before God that we meant to live together as man and wife. But I never had, therefore what was the marriage service? Only an empty ceremony!
“That’s the plain sense of the matter, isn’t it?” he cried. “I defy any priest in the world to prove the contrary.”
“Well, don’t you see what it comes to? You are free morally free at all events. You can come to me. You must, too. I daren’t leave you in this house any longer. I shall take you to London and fix you up there, and then, when I come back from the Antarctic . . .”
He was glowing with joy, but a cold hand suddenly seized me, for I had remembered all the terrors of excommunication as Father Dan had described them.
“But Martin,” I said, “would the Church accept that?”
“What matter whether it would or wouldn’t? Our consciences would be clear. There would be no sin, and what you were saying this morning would not apply.”
“But if I left my husband I couldn’t marry you, could I?”
“Then the Church would say that I was a sinful woman living a sinful life, wouldn’t it?”
“But you wouldn’t be.”
“All the same the Church would say so, and if it did I should be cut out of communion, and if I were cut out of communion I should be cast out of the Church, and if I were cast out of the Church . . . what would become of me then?”
“But, my dear, dear girl,” said Martin, “don’t you see that this is not the same thing at all? It is only a case of a ceremony. And why should a mere ceremony even if we cannot do away with it darken a woman’s life for ever?”
My heart was yearning for love, but my soul was crying out for salvation; and not being able to answer him for myself, I told him what Father Dan had said I was to say.
“Father Dan is a saint and I love him,” he said. “But what can he know what can any priest know of a situation like this? The law of man has tied you to this brute, but the law of God has given you to me. Why should a marriage service stand between us?”
“But it does,” I said. “And we can’t alter it. No, no, I dare not break the law of the Church. I am a weak, wretched girl, but I cannot give up my religion.”
After that Martin did not speak for a moment. Then he said:
“You mean that, Mary?”
And then my heart accused me so terribly of the crime of resisting him that I took his hand and held his fingers in a tight lock while I told him what I had never meant to tell how long and how deeply I had loved him, but nevertheless I dared not face the thought of living and dying without the consolations of the Church.
“I dare not! I dare not!” I said. “I should be a broken-hearted woman if I did, and you don’t want that, do you?”
He listened in silence, though the irregular lines in his face showed the disordered state of his soul, and when I had finished a wild look came into his eyes and he said:
“I am disappointed in you, Mary. I thought you were brave and fearless, and that when I showed you a way out of your miserable entanglement you would take it in spite of everything. ‘ ‘
His voice was growing thick again. I could scarcely bear to listen to it.
“Do you suppose I wanted to take up the position I proposed to you? Not I. No decent man ever does. But I love you so dearly that I was willing to make that sacrifice and count it as nothing if only I could rescue you from the misery of your abominable marriage.”
Then he broke into a kind of fierce laughter, and said:
“It seems I wasn’t wanted, though. You say in effect that my love is sinful and criminal, and that it will imperil your soul. So I’m only making mischief here and the sooner I get away the better for everybody.”
He threw off my hand, stepped to the door to the balcony, and looking out into the darkness said, between choking laughter and sobs:
“Ellan, you are no place for me. I can’t bear the sight of you any longer. I used to think you were the dearest spot on earth, because you were the home of her who would follow me to the ends of the earth if I wanted her, but I was wrong. She loves me less than a wretched ceremony, and would sacrifice my happiness to a miserable bit of parchment.”
My heart was clamouring loud. Never had I loved him so much as now. I had to struggle with myself not to throw myself into his arms.
“No matter!” he said. “I should be a poor-spirited fool to stay where I ‘m not wanted. I must get back to my work. The sooner the better, too. I thought I should be counting the days down there until I could come home again. But why should I? And why should I care what happens to me? It’s all as one now.”
He stepped back from the balcony with a resolute expression on his gloomy face, and I thought for a moment (half hoping and half fearing it) that he was going to lay hold of me and tell me I must do what he wished because I belonged to him.
But he only looked at me for a moment in silence, and then burst into a flood of tears, and turned and ran out of the house.
Let who will say his tears were unmanly. To me they were the bitter cry of a great heart, and I wanted to follow him and say, “Take me. Do what you like with me. I am yours.”
I did not do so. I sat a long time where he had left me and then I went into my room and locked the door.
I did not cry. Unjust and cruel as his reproaches had been, I began to have a strange wild joy in them. I knew that he would not have insulted me like that if he had not loved me to the very verge of madness itself.
Hours passed. Price came tapping at my door to ask if she should lock up the house meaning the balcony. I answered “No, go to bed.”
I heard the deadened thud of Martin’s footsteps on the lawn passing to and fro. Sometimes they paused under my window and then I had a feeling, amounting to certainty, that he was listening to hear if I was sobbing, and that if I had been he would have broken down my bedroom door to get to me.
At length I heard him come up the stone stairway, shut and bolt the balcony door, and walk heavily across the corridor to his own room.
The day was then dawning. It was four o’clock.
I AWOKE on Wednesday morning in a kind of spiritual and physical fever. Every conflicting emotion which a woman can experience in the cruel battle between her religion and her love seemed to flood body and soul joy, pain, pride, shame, fear, rapture so that I determined (not without cause) to make excuse of a headache to stay in bed.
Although it was the last day of Martin ‘s visit, and I charged myself with the discourtesy of neglecting him, as well as the folly of losing the few remaining hours of his company, I thought I could not without danger meet him again.
I was afraid of him, but I was still more afraid of myself.
Recalling my last sight of his face as he ran out of the house, and knowing well the desire of my own heart, I felt that if I spent another day in his company it would be impossible to say what might happen.
As a result of this riot of emotions I resolved to remain all day in my room, and towards evening to send out a letter bidding him good-bye and good-luck. It would be a cold end to a long friendship and my heart was almost frozen at the thought of it, but it was all I dared do and I saw no help for it.
But how little did I know what was written in the Book of Fate for me!
First came Price on pretence of bathing my forehead, and she bombarded me with accounts of Martin’s anxiety. When he had heard that I was ill he had turned as white as if sixteen ounces of blood had been taken out of him. It nearly broke me up to hear that, but Price, who was artful, only laughed and said:
“Men are such funny things, bless them! To think of that fine young man, who is big enough to fell an ox and brave enough to face a lion, being scared to death because a little lady has a headache.”
All morning she was in and out of my room with similar stories, and towards noon she brought me a bunch of roses wet with the dew, saying that Tommy the Mate had sent them.
“Are you sure it was Tommy the Mate?” I asked, whereupon the sly thing, who was only waiting to tell the truth, though she pretended that I was forcing it out of her, admitted that the flowers were from Martin, and that he had told her not to say so.
“What ‘s he doing now?” I asked.
“Writing a letter,” said Price, “and judging by the times he has torn it up and started again and wiped his forehead, it must be a tough job, I can tell you.”
I thought I knew whom the letter was meant for, and before luncheon it came up to me.
It was the first love letter I had ever had from Martin, and it melted me like wax over a candle. I have it still, and though Martin is such a great man now, I am tempted to copy it out just as it was written with all its appearance of irreverence (none, I am sure, was intended), and even its bad spelling, for without that it would not be Martin my boy who could never learn his lessons.
“Dear Mary, I am destroyed to here how ill you are, and when I think it’s all my fault I am ready to kick myself.
“Don’t worry about what I was saying last night. I was mad to think what might happen to you while I should be down there, but I’ve been thinking it over since and I’ve come to the conclusion that if their is anything to God He can be trusted to look after you without any help from me, so when we meet again before I go away we’ll never say another word on the subject that’s a promise.
“I can’t go until your better though, so I’m just sending the jaunting car into town with a telegram to London telling them to postpone the expedision on account of illness, and if they think it’s mine it won’t matter because it’s something worse.
“But if you are realy a bit better, as your maid says, you might come to the window and wave your hand to me, and I shall be as happy as a sand-boy.
To this letter (forgetting my former fears) I returned an immediate verbal reply,saying I was getting better rapidly and hoped to be up to dinner, so he must not send that telegram to London on any account, seeing that nobody knew what was going to happen and everything was in the hands of God.
Price took my message with a knowing smile at the corner of her mouth, and a few minutes afterwards I heard Martin laughing with Tommy the Mate at the other end of the lawn.
I don ‘t know why I took so much pains with my dress that night. I did not expect to see Martin again. I was sending him away from me. Yet never before had I dressed myself with so much care. I put on the soft white satin gown which was made for me in Cairo, a string of pearls over my hair, and another (a tight one) about my neck.
Martin was waiting for me in the boudoir, and to my surprise he had dressed too, but, except that he wore a soft silk shirt, I did not know what he was wearing, or whether he looked handsome or not, because it was Martin and that was all that mattered to me.
I am sure my footstep was light as I entered the room, for I was shod in white satin slippers, but Martin heard it, and I saw his eyes fluttering as he looked at me, and said something sweet about a silvery fir tree with its little dark head against the sky.
“It’s to be a truce, isn’t it?” he asked.
“Yes, a truce,” I answered, which meant that as this was to be our last evening together all painful subjects were to be put aside.
Before we sat down to eat he took me out on to the balcony to look at the sea, for though there was no rain flashes of sheet lightning with low rumbling of distant thunder lit up the water for a moment with visions of heavenly beauty, and then were devoured by the grim and greedy darkness.
During dinner we kept faith with each other. In order to avoid the one subject that was uppermost in both our minds, we played at being children, and pretended it was the day we sailed to St. Mary’s Rock.
Thinking back to that time, and all the incidents which he had thought so heroic and I so tragic, we dropped into the vernacular, and I called him “boy” and he called me “bogh millish,” and at every racy word that came up from the forgotten cells of our brains we shrieked with laughter.
When Martin spoke of his skipper I asked “Is he a stunner?” When he mentioned one of his scientific experts I inquired “Is he any good?” And after he had told me that ha hoped to take possession of some island in the name of the English crown, and raise the Union Jack on it, I said: “Do or die, we allus does that when we’re out asploring.”
How we laughed! He laughed because I laughed, and I laughed because he was laughing. I had some delicious moments of femininity too (such as no woman can resist), until it struck me suddenly that in all this make-believe we were making love to each other again. That frightened me for a time, but I told myself that everything was safe as long as we could carry on the game.
It was not always easy to do so, though, for some of our laughter had tears behind it, and some of our memories had an unexpected sting, because things had a meaning for us now which they never had before, and we were compelled to realise what life had done for us.
Thus I found my throat throbbing when I recalled the loss of our boat, leaving us alone together on that cruel rock with the rising tide threatening to submerge us, and I nearly choked when I repeated my last despairing cry: “I’m not a stunner! . . . and you’ll have to give me up . . . and leave me here, and save yourself.”
It was like walking over a solfataro with the thin hot earth ready to break up under our feet.
To escape from it I sat down at the piano and began to sing. I dared not sing the music I loved best the solemn music of the convent so I sang some of the nonsense songs I had heard in the streets. At one moment I twisted round on the piano stool and said:
“I’ll bet you anything” (I always caught Martin’s tone in Martin’s company), “you can’t remember the song I sang sitting in the boat with William Rufus on my lap.”
“I’ll bet you anything I can,” said Martin.
“Oh, no, you can’t,” I said.
“Have it as you like, bogh, but sing it for all,” said Martin, and then I sang
“Oh, Sally’s the gel for me,
Our Sally’s the gel for me,
I’ll marry the gel that I love best,
When I come back from sea.“
But that arrow of memory had been sharpened on Time’s grindstone and it seemed to pierce through us, so Martin proposed that we should try the rollicking chorus which the excursionists had sung on the pleasure-steamer the night before.
He did not know a note of music and he had no more voice than a corn-crake, but crushing up on to the music-stool by my side, he banged away with his left hand while I played with my right, and we sang together in a wild delightful discord
“Ramsey town, Ramsey town, smiling by the sea,
Here’s a health lo my true love, wheresoe’er she be.“
We laughed again when that was over, but I knew I could not keep it up much longer, and every now and then I forgot that I was in my boudoir and seemed to see that lonesome plateau, twelve thousand feet above the icy barrier that guards the Pole, and Martin toiling through blizzards over rolling waves of snow.
Towards midnight we went out on to the balcony to look at the lightning for the last time. The thunder was shaking the cliffs and rolling along them like cannon-balls, and Martin said:
“It sounds like the breaking of the ice down there.”
When we returned to the room he told me he would have to be off early in the morning, before I was out of bed, having something to do in Blackwater, where “the boys were getting up a spree of some sort.”
In this way he rattled on for some minutes, obviously talking himself down and trying to prevent me from thinking. But the grim moment came at last, and it was like the empty gap of time when you are waiting for the whirring of the clock that is to tell the end of the old year and the beginning of the new.
My cuckoo clock struck twelve. Martin looked at me. I looked at him. Our eyes fell. He took my hand. It was cold and moist. His own was hot and trembling.
“So this is … the end,” he said.
“Yes . . . the end,” I answered.
“Well, we’ve had a jolly evening to finish up with, anyway,” he said. “I shall always remember it.”
I tried to say he would soon have other evenings to think about that would make him forget this one
“Never in this world!” he answered.
I tried to wish him good luck, and great success, and a happy return to fame and fortune.
He looked at me with his great liquid eyes and said:
“Aw, well, that’s all as one now.”
I tried to tell him it would always be a joy to me to remember that he and I had been such great, great friends.
He looked at me again, and answered:
“That ‘sail as one also.”
I reproached myself for the pain I was causing him, and to keep myself in countenance I began to talk of the beauty and nobility of renunciation each sacrificing for the other’s sake all sinful thoughts and desires.
“Yes, I’m doing what you wish,” he said. “I can’t deny you anything.”
That cut me deep, so I went on to say that if I had acted otherwise I should always have had behind me the memory of the vows I had broken, the sacrament I had violated, and the faith I had abandoned.
“All the same we might have been very happy,” he said, and then my throat became so thick that I could not say any more.
After a few moments he said:
“It breaks my heart to leave you. But I suppose I must, though I don ‘t know what is going to happen.”
“All that is in God’s hands,” I said.
“Yes,” said Martin, “it’s up to Him now.”
It made my heart ache to look at his desolate face, so, struggling hard with my voice, I tried to tell him he must not despair.
“You are so young,” I said. “Surely the future holds much happiness for you.”
And then, though I knew that the bare idea of another woman taking the love I was turning away would have made the world a blank for me, I actually said something about the purest joys of love falling to his lot some day.
“No, by the Lord God,” said Martin. “There’ll be no other woman for me. If I’m not to have you I’ll wear the willow for you the same as if you were dead.”
There was a certain pain in that, but there was a thrill of secret joy in it too.
He was still holding my hand. We held each other’s hands a long time. In spite of my affected resignation I could not let his hand go. I felt as if I were a drowning woman and his hand were my only safety. Nevertheless I said:
“We must say good-night and good-bye now.”
“And if it is for ever?”
“Don’t say that.”
“But if it is?”
‘Well, then … for ever.”
“At least give me something to take away with me,” he said. “Better not,” I answered, but even as I spoke I dropped the handkerchief which I had been holding in my other hand and he picked it up.
I knew that my tears, though I was trying to keep them back, were trickling down my cheeks. I saw that his face was all broken up as it had been the night before.
There was a moment of silence in which I was conscious of nothing but the fierce beating of my pulse, and then he raised my hand to his lips, dropped it gently and walked over to the door.
But after he had opened it he turned and looked at me. I looked at him, longing, craving, hungering for his love as for a flame at which my heart could warm itself.
Then came a blinding moment. It seemed as if in an instant he lost all control of himself, and his love came rushing upon him like a mighty surging river.
Flinging the door back he returned to me with long strides, and snatching me up in his great arms, he lifted me off my feet, clasped me tightly to him, kissed me passionately on the mouth and cried in a quivering, husky voice:
“You are my wife. I am your real husband. I am not leaving you because you are married to this brute, but for the sake of your soul. We love each other. We shall continue to love each other. No matter where you are, or what they do with you, you are mine and always will be.”
My blood was boiling. The world was reeling round me. There was a roaring in my brain. All my spiritual impulses had gone. I was a woman, and it was the same to me as if the primordial man had taken possession of me by sheer force. Yet I was not afraid of that. I rejoiced in it. I wanted to give myself up to it.
But the next moment Martin had dropped me, and fled from the room, clashing the door behind him.
I felt as if a part of myself had been torn from my breast and had gone out with him.
The room seemed to become dark.
FOR a moment I stood where Martin had left me, throbbing through and through like an open wound, telling myself that he had gone, that I should never see him again, and that I had driven him away from me.
Those passionate kisses had deprived me of the power of consecutive thought. I could only fed. And the one thing I felt above everything else was that the remedy I had proposed to myself for my unhappy situation renunciation was able, because Martin was a part of my own being and without him I could not five.
“Martin! Martin! My love! My love!” cried the voice of my heart.
In fear lest I had spoken the words aloud, and in terror of what I might do under the power of them, I hurried into my bedroom and locked and bolted the door.
But the heart knows nothing of locks and bolts, and a moment afterwards my spirit was following Martin to his room. I was seeing him as I had seen him last, with his face full of despair, and I was accusing myself of the pain I had caused him.
I had conquered Martin, but I had conquered myself also. I had compelled 1 to submit, but his submission had vanquished me.
Even if I had a right to impose renunciation on myself, what right had I to impose it upon him, who did not desire it, did not think it necessary, was not reconciled to it, and only accepted it out of obedience to my will?
He loved me. No man ever loved a woman more dearly. He deserved to be loved in return. He had done nothing to forfeit love. He was bound by no ties. And yet I was driving him away from me. What right had I to do so?
I began to see that I had acted throughout with the most abominable selfishness. In his great love he had said little or nothing about himself. But why had Inot thought of him? In the struggles of my religious consciousness I had been thinking of myself alone, but Martin had been suffering too, and I had never once really thought of that? What right had I to make him suffer?
After a while I began to prepare for bed, but it took me long to undress, for I stopped every moment to think.
I thought of the long yean Martin had been waiting for me, and while I was telling myself that he had kept pore for my sake, my heart was beating so fast that I could hardly bear the strain of it.
It cut me still deeper to think that even as there had been no other woman for him in the past so there would be no other in the future. Never as long as he lived! I was as sure of that as of the breath I breathed, and when I remembered what he had said about wearing the willow for me as if I were dead I was almost distracted.
His despairing words kept ringing mercilessly in my ears “It’s all as one now”; “How happy we might have been.” I wanted to go to him and tell him that though I was sending him away still I loved him, and it was because I loved him that I was sending him away.
I had made one step towards the door before I remembered that it was too late to carry out my purpose. The opportunity had passed. Martin had gone to his room. He might even be in bed by this time.
But there are spiritual influences which control our bodies independently of our will I put on my dressing-gown (being partly undressed) and went back to the boudoir. I hardly knew what impulse impelled me to do so, and neither do I know why I went from the boudoir to the balcony unless it was in hope of the melancholy joy of standing once more where Martin and I had stood together a little while ago.
I was alone now. The low thunder was still rolling along the cliffs, but I hardly heard it The white sheet lightning was still pulsing in the sky and rising, as it seemed, out of the sea, but I hardly saw it.
At one moment I caught a glimpse of a solitary fishing boat, under its brown lugger sails, heading towards Blackwater; at the next moment my eyes were dazzled as by a flashlight from some unseen battleship.
Leaning over the balcony and gazing into the intermittent darkness I pictured to myself the barren desolation of Martin’s life after he had left me. Loving me so much he might fall into some excess, perhaps some vice, and if that happened what would be the measure of my responsibility?
Losing me he might lose his faith in God. I had read of men becoming spiritual castaways after they had lost their anchorage in some great love; and I asked myself what should I do if Martin became an infidel.
And when I told myself that I could only save Martin’s soul by sacrificing my own I was overwhelmed by a love so great that I thought I could do even that.
“Martin! Martin! Forgive me, forgive me,” I cried.
I felt so hot that I opened my dressing-gown to cool my bare breast. After a while I began to shiver and then fearing I might take cold I went back to the boudoir, and sat down.
I looked at my cuckoo clock. It was half-past twelve. Only half an hour since Martin had left, me! It seemed like hours and hours. What of the years and years of my life that I had still to spend without him?
The room was so terribly silent, yet it seemed to be full of our dead laughter. The ghost of our happiness seemed to haunt it. I was sure I could never live in it again.
I wondered what Martin would be doing now. Would he be in bed and asleep, or sitting up like this, and thinking of me as I was thinking of him?
At one moment I thought I heard his footsteps. I listened, but the sound stopped. At another moment, covering my face with my hands, I thought I saw him in his room, as plainly as if there were no walls dividing us. He was holding out his hands to me, and his face had the yearning, loving, despairing expression which it had worn when he looked back at me from the door.
At yet another moment I thought I heard him calling me.
I listened again, but again all was still, and when I told myself that if in actual fact he had spoken my name it was perhaps only to himself (as I was speaking his) my heart throbbed up to my throat.
Once more I heard his voice.
I could bear no more. Martin wanted me. I must go to him. Though body and soul were torn asunder I must go.
Before I knew what I was doing I had opened the door and was walking across the corridor in the direction of Martin’s room.
The house was dark. Everybody had gone to bed. Light as my footsteps were, the landing was creaking under me. I knew that the floors of the grim old Castle sometimes made noises when nobody walked on them, but none the less I felt afraid.
Half way to Martin’s door I stopped. A ghostly hand seemed to be laid on my shoulder and a ghostly voice seemed to say in my ear:
“Wait! Reflect! If you do what you are thinking of doing what will happen? You will become an outcast. The whole body of your own sex will turn against you. You will be a bad woman.”
I knew what it was. It was my conscience speaking to me in the voice of my Church my Church, the mighty, irresistible power that was separating me from Martin. I was its child, born in its bosom, but if I broke its laws it would roll over me like a relentless Juggernaut.
It was not at first that I could understand why the Church should set itself up against my Womanhood. My Womanhood was crying out for life and love and liberty. But the Church, in its inexorable, relentless voice, was saying, “Thou Shalt Not!”
After a moment of impenetrable darkness, within and without, I thought I saw things more plainly. The Church was the soul of the world. It stood for purity, which alone could hold the human family together. If all women who had made unhappy marriages were to do as I was thinking of doing (no matter under what temptation) the world would fall to wreck and ruin.
Feeling crushed and ashamed, and oh, so little and weak, I groped my way back to the boudoir and closed the door.
Then a strange thing happened one of those little accidents of life which seem to be thrown off by the mighty hand of Fate. A shaft of light from my bedroom, crossing the end of my writing-desk, showed me a copy of a little insular newspaper.
The paper, which must have come by the evening post, had probably been opened by Martin, and for that reason only I took it up and glanced at it.
The first thing that caught my eye was a short report headed “Charity Performance.”
“The English ladies and gentlemen from Castle Raa who are cruising round the island in the handsome steam yacht, the Cleopatra, gave a variety entertainment last night in aid of the Catholic Mission at the Palace, Ravenstown.
“At the end of the performance the Lord Bishop, who was present in person and watched every item of the programme with obvious enjoyment, proposed a vote of thanks in his usual felicitous terms, thanking Lord Raa for this further proof of his great liberality of mind in helping a Catholic charity, and particularly mentioning the beautiful and accomplished Madame Lier, who had charmed all eyes and won all hearts by her serpentine dances, and to whom the Church in Ellan would always be indebted for the handsome sum which had been the result of her disinterested efforts in promoting the entertainment.
“It is understood that the Cleopatra will leave Ravenstown Harbour to-morrow morning on her way back to Port Raa.”
That was the end of everything. It came upon me like a torrent and swept all my scruples away.
Such was the purity of the Church threatening me with its censures for wishing to follow the purest dictates of my heart, yet taking money from a woman like Alma, who was bribing it to be blind to her misconduct and to cover her with its good- will!
My husband too his infidelities were flagrant and notorious, yet the Church, through its minister, was flattering his vanity and condoning his offences!
He was coming back to me, too this adulterous husband, and when he came the Church would require that I should keep “true faith” with him, whatever his conduct, and deny myself the pure love that was now awake within me.
But no, no, no! Never again! It would be a living death. Accursed be the power that could doom a woman to a living death!
Perhaps I was no longer sane morally sane and if so God and the Church will forgive me. But seeing that neither the Church nor the Law could liberate me from this bond which I did not make, that both were shielding the evil man and tolerating the bad woman, my whole soul rose in revolt.
I told myself now that to leave my husband and go to Martin would be to escape from shame to honour.
I saw Martin’s despairing face again as I had seen it at the moment of our parting, and my brain rang with his passionate words. “You are my wife. I am your real husband. We love each other. We shall continue to love each other. No matter where you are, or what they do with you, you are mine and always will be.”
Something was crying out within me: “Love him! Tell him you love him. Now, now! He is going away. To-morrow will be too late. Go to him. This will be your true marriage. The other was only legalised and sanctified prostitution.”
I leapt up, and tearing the door open, I walked with strong steps across the corridor towards Martin’s room.
My hair was down, my arms were bare in the ample sleeves of my dressing-gown, and my breast was as open as it had been on the balcony, but I thought nothing of all that.
I did not knock at Martin’s door. I took hold of the handle as one who had a right. It turned of itself and the door opened.
My mind was in a whirl, black rings were circling round my eyes, but I heard my trembling, quivering, throbbing voice, as if it had been the voice of somebody else, saying:
“Martin, I am coming in.”
Then my heart which had been beating violently seemed to stop. My limbs gave way. I was about to fall.
At the next moment strong arms were around me. I had no fear. But there was a roaring in my brain such as the ice makes when it is breaking up.
Oh, you good women, who are happy in the love that guards you, shields you, shelters you, wraps you round and keeps you pure and true, tread lightly over the prostrate soul of your sister in her hour of trial and fierce temptation.
And you blessed and holy saints who kneel before the Mother of all Mothers, take the transgression of her guilty child to Him who long ago in the house of the self-righteous Pharisee said to the woman who was a sinner and yet loved much the woman who had washed His feet with her tears and dried them with the hair of her head “Thy sins are forgiven thee.”
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.