The Woman Thou Gavest (Seventh Part: I am Found)
AUTHOR’S NOTE: The name Raa (of Celtic origin with many variations among Celtic races) is pronounced Rah in Ellan.
SEVENTH PART: I AM FOUND
ONE HUNDRED AND SIXTH CHAPTER
MY return to consciousness was a painful, yet joyful experience. It was almost like being flung in a frail boat out of a tempestuous sea into a quiet harbour.
I seemed to hear myself saying, “My child shall not die. Poverty shall not kill her. I am going to take her into the country . . . she will recover. . . . No, no, it is not Martin. Martin is dead. . . . But his eyes . . . don’t you see his eyes. . . . Let me go.”
Then all the confused sense of nightmare seemed to be carried away as by some mighty torrent, and there came a great calm, a kind of morning sweetness, with the sun shining through my closed eyelids, and not a sound in my ears but the thin carolling of a bird.
When I opened my eyes I was in bed in a room that was strange to me. It was a little like the Reverend Mother’s room in Rome, having pictures of the Saints on the walls, and a large figure of the Sacred Heart over the mantelpiece; but there was a small gas fire, and a canary singing in a gilded cage that hung in front of the window.
I was trying to collect my senses in order to realize where I was when Sister Mildred’s kind face, in her white wimple and gorget, leaned over me, and she said, with a tender smile, “You are awake now, my child?”
Then memory came rushing back, and though the immediate past was still like a stormy dream I seemed to remember everything.
“Is it true that I saw. . . .
“Yes,” said Mildred.
“Then-he was not shipwrecked!”
“That was a false report. Within a month or two the newspapers had contradicted it.”
“Where is he?” I asked, rising from my pillow.
“Hush! Lie quiet. Yon are not to excite yourself. I must call the doctor.”
Mildred was about to leave the room, but I could not let her go.
“Wait! I must ask you something more.”
“Not now, my child. Lie down.”
“But I must. Dear Sister, I must. There is somebody else.”
“You mean the baby,” said Mildred, in a low voice.
“She has been found, and taken to the country, and is getting better rapidly. So lie down, and be quiet,” said Mildred, and with a long breath of happiness I obeyed.
A moment afterwards I heard her speaking to somebody over the telephone (saying I had recovered consciousness and was almost myself again), and then some indistinct words came back in the thick telephone voice like that of a dumb man shouting down a tunnel, followed by sepulchral peals of merry laughter.
“The doctor will be here presently,” said Mildred, returning to me with a shining face.
“And . . . he?”
“Yes, perhaps he will be permitted to come, too.”
She was telling me how baby had been discovered by means of Mrs. Oliver’s letter which had been found in my pocket when there was the whirr of an electric bell in the corridor outside, followed (as soon as Mildred could reach the door) by the rich roll of an Irish voice.
It was Dr. O’Sullivan, and in a moment he was standing by my bed, his face ablaze with smiles.
“By the Saints of heaven, this is good, though,” he said. “It’s worth a hundred dozen she is already of the woman we brought here first.”
“That was last night, wasn’t it?” I asked.
“Well, not last night exactly,” he answered. And then I gathered that I had been ill, seriously ill, being two days unconscious, and that Martin had been in a state of the greatest anxiety.
“He’s coming, isn’t he?” I said. “Will he be here soon? How does he look? Is he well? Did he finish his work? ”
“Now, now, now,” said the doctor, with uplifted hands. “If it’s exciting yourself like this you’re going to be, it isn’t myself that will be taking the risk of letting him come at all.”
But after I had pleaded and prayed and promised to be good he consented to allow Martin to see me, and then it was as much as I could do not to throw my arms about his neck and kiss him.
I had not noticed what Mildred was doing during this time, and almost before I was aware of it somebody else had entered the room.
It was dear old Father Dan.
“Glory be to God!” he cried at sight of me, and then he said:
“Don’t worry, my daughter, now don’t worry,” with that nervous emphasis which I knew by long experience to be the surest sign of my dear Father’s own perturbation.
I did not know then, or indeed until long afterwards, that for six months past he had been tramping the streets of London in search of me (day after day, and in the dark of the night and the cold of the morning); but something in his tender old face, which was seamed and worn, so touched me with the memory of the last scene in my mother’s room that my eyes began to overflow, and seeing this he began to laugh and let loose his Irish tongue on us.
“My blissing on you, doctor! It’s the mighty proud man yell be entoirely to be saving the life of the swatest woman in the world. And whisha, Sister, if ye have a nip of something neat anywhere handy, faith it isn’t my cloth will prevent me from drinking the health of everybody. ‘ ‘
If this was intended to cheer me up it failed completely, for the next thing I knew was that the doctor was bustling the dear old Father out of the room, and that Mildred was going out after him.
She left the door open, though, and as soon as I had calmed down a little I listened intently for every sound outside.
It was then that I heard the whirr of the electric bell again, but more softly this time, and followed by breathless whispered words in the corridor (as of some one who had been running) and once more … I knew, I knew, I knew!
After a moment Mildred came to ask me in a whisper if I was quite sure that I could control myself, and though my heart was thumping against my breast, I answered Yes.
Then I called for a hand-glass and made my hair a shade neater, and after that I closed my eyes (God knows why) and waited.
There was a moment of silence, dead silence, and then then I opened my eyes and saw him standing in the open doorway.
His big, strong, bronzed face stronger than ever now, and marked with a certain change from the struggles he had gone through was utterly broken up. For some moments he did not speak, but I could see that he saw the change that life had made in me also. Then in a low voice, so low that it was like the breath of his soul, he said:
“Forgive me! Forgive me!”
And stepping forward he dropped to his knees by the side of my bed, and kissed the arms and hands I was stretching out to him.
That was more than I could bear, and the next thing I heard was my darling’s great voice crying:
“Sister! Sister! Some brandy! Quick! She has fainted.”
But my poor little fit of hysterics was soon at an end, and though Martin was not permitted to stay more than a moment longer, a mighty wave of happiness flowed over me, such as I had never known before and may never know again.
ONE HUNDRED AND SEVENTH CHAPTER
I HAD such a beautiful convalescence. For the major operations of the Great Surgeon an anaesthetic has not yet been found, but within a week I was sitting up again, mutilated, perhaps, but gloriously alive and without the whisper of a cry.
By this time Father Dan had gone back to Ellan (parting from me with a solemn face as he said, “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace”), and Sister Mildred had obtained permission to give up one of her rooms to me as long as I should need it.
Martin came to see me every day, first for five minutes, then ten, and finally for a quarter and even half an hour. He brought such an atmosphere of health with him, that merely to hold his hand seemed to give me new strength being so pale and bloodless now that I thought the sun might have shone through me as through a sea-gull.
I could scarcely believe it was not a dream that he was sitting by my side, and sometimes I felt as if I had to touch him to make sure he was there.
How he talked to keep up my spirits! It was nearly always about his expedition (never about me or my experiences, for that seemed a dark scene from which he would not draw the curtain), and I was all a-tremble as I listened to the story of his hair-breadth escapes, though he laughed and made so light of them.
It nearly broke my heart that he had not got down to the Pole; and when he told me that it was the sense of my voice calling to him which had brought him back from the 88th latitude, I felt as if I had been a coward, unworthy of the man who loved me.
Sometimes he talked about baby he called her “Girlie” telling a funny story of how he had carried her off from Ilford, where the bricklayer had suddenly conceived such a surprising affection for my child (” what he might go so far as to call a fatherly feeling “) that he had been unwilling to part with her until soothed down by a few sovereigns not to say frightened by a grasp of Martin’s iron hand which had nearly broken his wrist.
“She’s as right as a trivet now, though,” said Martin, “and I’ll run down to Chevening every other day to see how she’s getting on.”
My darling was in great demand from the first, but when
he could not be with me in the flesh he was with me in the
spirit, by means of the newspapers which Mildred brought up
I liked the illustrated ones best, with their pictures of scenes in the Expedition, particularly the portraits of Martin himself in his Antarctic outfit, with his broad throat, determined lips, clear eyes, and that general resemblance to the people we all know which makes us feel that the great men of every age are brothers of one family.
But what literary tributes there were, too! What interviews, what articles! A member of the scientific staff had said that ” down there,” with Nature in her wrath, where science was nothing and even physical strength was not all, only one thing really counted, and that was the heroic soul, and because Martin had it, he had always been the born leader of them all.
And then, summing up the tangible gains of the Expedition, the Times said its real value was moral and spiritual, because it showed that in an age when one half of the world seemed to be thinking of nothing but the acquisition of wealth (that made me think of my father) and the other half of nothing but the pursuit of pleasure (that reminded me of my husband and Alma), there could be found men like Martin Conrad and his dauntless comrades who had faced death for the sake of an ideal and were ready to do so again.
Oh dear! what showers of tears I shed over those newspapers! But the personal honours that were bestowed on Martin touched me most of all.
First, the Royal Geographical Society held a meeting at the Albert Hall, where the Gold Medal was presented to him. I was in a fever of anxiety on the night of that function, I remember, until Dr. O’Sullivan (heaven bless him!) came flying upstairs, to tell me that it had been a “splendid success,”and Martin’s speech (he hadn’t prepared a word of it) “a perfect triumph.”
Then some of the Universities conferred degrees on my darling, which was a source of inexpressible amusement to him, especially when (after coming back from Edinburgh) he marched up and down my room in his Doctor’s cap and gown, and I asked him to spell “promise” and he couldn’t.
Oh, the joy of it all! It was so great a joy that at length it became a pain.
The climax came when the Home Secretary wrote to say that the King had been graciously pleased to confer a Knighthood upon Martin, in recognition of his splendid courage and the substantial contribution he had already made to the material welfare of the world.
That frightened me terribly, though only a woman would know why. It was one thing to share the honours of the man I loved (however secretly and as it were by stealth), but quite another thing to feel that they were carrying him away from me, drawing him off, lifting him up, and leaving me far below.
When the sense of this became acute I used to sit at night, when Mildred was out at her work, by the lofty window of her room, looking down on the precincts of Piccadilly, and wondering how much my darling really knew about the impulse that took me there, and how nearly (but for the grace of God) its awful vortex had swallowed me up.
It was then that I began to write these notes (having persuaded Mildred to buy me this big book with its silver clasp and key), not intending at first to tell the whole story of my life, but only to explain to him for whom everything has been written (what I could not bring myself to say face to face), how it came to pass that I was tempted to that sin which is the most awful crime against her sex that a woman can commit.
Three months had gone by this time, the spring was coming, and I was beginning to feel that Martin (who had not yet been home) was being kept in London on my account, when Dr. O’Sullivan announced that I was well enough to be moved, and that a little of my native air would do me good.
Oh, the thrill that came with that prospect! I suppose there is a sort of call to one’s heart from the soil that gave one birth, but in my case it was coupled with a chilling thought of the poor welcome I should receive there, my father’s house being closed to me and my husband ‘s abandoned for ever.
The very next morning, however, there came a letter from Father Dan, giving me all the news of Ellan: some of it sad enough, God knows (about the downfall of my father’s financial schemes); some of it deliciously wicked, such as it would have required an angel not to rejoice in (about the bad odour in which Alma and my husband were now held, making the pendulum of popular feeling swing back in my direction); and some of it utterly heart-breaking in its assurances of the love still felt for me in my native place.
Of course the sweetest part of that came from Christian Ann, who, after a stiff fight with her moral principles, had said that whatever I had done I was as “pure as the mountain turf,” and, who then charged Father Dan with the message that ” Mary O’Neill’s little room ” was waiting for her still.
This settled everything everything except one thing, and that was the greatest thing of all. But when Martin came later the same day, having received the same message, and declared his intention of taking me home, there seemed to be nothing left to wish for in earth or heaven.
Nevertheless I shouldn’t have been a woman if I had not coquetted with my great happiness, so when Martin had finished I said:
“But dare you?”
“Dare I what?” said Martin.
“Dare you go home . . . with me?”
I knew what I wanted him to say, and he said it like a darling.
“Look here, Mary, I’m just spoiling for a sight of the little island, and the old people are destroyed at not seeing me; but if I can’t go back with you, by the Lord God! I’ll never go back at all.”
I wanted to see baby before going away, but that was forbidden me.
“Wait until you’re well enough, and we’ll send her after you,” said Dr. O’Sullivan.
So the end of it all was that inside a week I was on my way to Ellan, not only with Martin, but also with Mildred, who, being a little out of health herself, had been permitted to take me home.
Shall I ever forget our arrival at Blackwater! The steamer we sailed in was streaming with flags from stem to stern, and as she slid up the harbour the dense crowds that packed the pier from end to end seemed frantic with excitement. Such shouting and cheering! Such waving of hats and hand-kerchiefs!
There was a sensible pause, I thought, a sort of hush, when the gangway being run down, Martin was seen to give his arm to me, and I was recognised as the lost and dishonoured one.
But even that only lasted for a moment. It was almost as if the people felt that this act of Martin’s was of apiece with the sacred courage that had carried him down near to the Pole, for hardly had he brought me ashore, and put me into the automobile waiting to take us away, when the cheering broke out into almost delirious tumult.
I knew it was all for Martin, but not even the humility of my position, and the sense of my being an added cause of my darling’s glory, could make me otherwise than proud and happy.
We drove home, with the sunset in our faces, over the mountain road which I had crossed with my husband on the day of my marriage; and when we came to our own village I could not help seeing that a little just a little of the welcome waiting for us was meant for me.
Father Dan was there. He got into the car and sat by my side; and then some of the village women, who had smartened themselves up in their Sunday clothes, reached over and shook hands with me, speaking about things I had said and done as a child and had long forgotten.
We had to go at a walking pace the rest of the way, and while Martin saluted old friends (he remembered everybody by name) Father Dan talked in my ear about the “domestic earthquake” that had been going on at Sunny Lodge, everything topsy-turvy until to-day, the little room being made ready for me, and the best bedroom (the doctor’s and Christian Ann’s) for Martin, and the ” loft ” over the dairy for the old people themselves as if their beloved son had been good in not forgetting them, and had condescended in coming home.
“Is it true?” they had asked each other. “Is he really, really coming?” “What does he like to eat, mother?” “What does he drink?” “What does he smoke?”
I had to close my eyes as I came near the gate of my father’s house, and, except for the rumbling of the river under the bridge and the cawing of the rooks in the elms, I should not have known when we were there.
The old doctor (his face overflowing with happiness, and his close-cropped white head bare, as if he had torn out of the house at the toot of our horn) met us as we turned into the lane, and for the little that was left of our journey he walked blithely as a boy by the car, at the side on which Martin sat.
I reached forward to catch the first sight of Sunny Lodge, and there it was behind its fuchsia hedge, which was just breaking into bloom.
There was Christian Ann, too, at the gate in her sunbonnet; and before the automobile had come to a stand Martin was out of it and had her in his arms.
I knew what that meant to the dear sweet woman, and for a moment my spirits failed me, because it flashed upon my mind that perhaps her heart had only warmed to me for the sake of her son.
But just as I was stepping out of the car, feeling physically weak and slipping a little, though Father Dan and Sister Mildred were helping me to alight, my Martin’s mother rushed at me and gathered me in her arms, crying:
“Goodness gracious me, doctor if it isn’t little Mary O’Neill, God bless her!” just as she did in the old, old days when I came as a child “singing carvals to her door.”
ONE HUNDRED AND EIGHTH CHAPTER
WHEN I awoke next morning in “Mary O’Neill’s little room,” with its odour of clean white linen and sweet-smelling scraas, the sun was shining in at the half-open window, birds were singing, cattle were lowing, young lambs were bleating, a crow was cawing its way across the sky, and under the sounds of the land there was a far-off murmur of the sea.
Through the floor (unceiled beneath) I could hear the Doctor and Christian Ann chortling away in low tones like two cheerful old love-birds; and when I got up and looked out I saw the pink and white blossom of the apple and plum trees, and smelt the smoke of burning peat from the chimney, as well as the salt of the sea-weed from the shore.
Sister Mildred came to help me to dress, and when I went downstairs to the sweet kitchen-parlour, feeling so strong and fresh, Christian Ann, who was tossing an oat-cake she was baking on the griddle, cried to me, as to a child:
“Come your ways, villish; you know the house.”
And when I stepped over the rag-work hearthrug and sat in the “elbow-chair” in the chiollagh, under the silver bowls that stood on the high mantelpiece, she cried again, as if addressing the universe in general, for there was nobody else in the room:
“Look at that now! She’s been out in the big world, and seen great wonders, and a power of people I’ll go bail, but there she is, as nice and comfortable as if she had never been away!”
Sister Mildred came down next; and then the old doctor, who had been watching the road for Martin (he had refused to occupy the old people’s bedroom after all and had put up at the “Plough”), came in, saying:
“The boy’s late, mother what’s doing on him, I wonder?”
We waited awhile longer, and then sat down to breakfast. Oh, the homely beauty of that morning meal, with its porridge, its milk, its honey and cakes, its butter like gold, and its eggs like cream!
In spite of Sister Mildred’s protests Christian Ann stood and served, and I will not say that for me there was not a startling delight in being waited upon once more, being asked what I would like, and getting it, giving orders and being obeyed me, me, me!
At length in the exercise of my authority I insisted on Christian Ann sitting down too, which she did, though she didn’t eat, but went on talking in her dear, simple, delicious way.
It was always about Martin, and the best of it was about her beautiful faith that he was still alive when the report came that he had been lost at sea.
What? Her son dying like that, and she old and the sun going down on her? Never! Newspapers? Chut, who cared what people put in the papers? If Martin had really been lost, wouldn’t she have known it having borne him on her bosom (“a middling hard birth, too”), and being the first to hear his living voice in the world?
So while people thought she was growing “weak in her intellects,” she had clung to the belief that her beloved son would come back to her. And behold! one dark night in winter, when she was sitting in the chiollagh alone, and the wind was loud in the trees, and the doctor upstairs was calling on her to come to bed (“you’re wearing yourself away, woman”), she heard a sneck of the garden gate and a step on the gravel path, and it was old Tommy the Mate, who without waiting for her to open the door let a great yell out of him through the window that a “talegraf” had come to say her boy was safe.
Father Dan looked in after mass, in his biretta and faded cassock (the same, I do declare, that he had worn when I was a child), and then Martin himself came swinging up, with his big voice, like a shout from the quarter-deck.
“Helloa! Stunning morning, isn’t it?”
It was perfectly delightful to see the way he treated his mother, though there was not too much reverence in his teasing, and hardly more love than license.
When she told him to sit down if he had not forgotten the house, and said she hoped he had finished looking for South Poles and was ready to settle quietly at home, and he answered No, he would have to go back to London presently, she cried:
“There now, doctor? What was I telling you? Once they’ve been away, it’s witched they are longing and longing to go back again. What ‘s there in London that’s wanting him?”
Whereupon the doctor (thinking of the knighthood), with a proud lift of his old head and a wink at Father Dan, said:
“Who knows? Perhaps it’s the King that’s wanting him, woman.”
“The King?” cried Christian Ann. “He’s got a bonny son of his own, they’re telling me, so what for should he be wanting mine?”
“Mary,” said Martin, as soon as he could speak for laughing, “do you want a mother? I’ve got one to sell, and I wouldn’t fnist but I might give her away.”
“Cuff him, Mrs. Conrad,” cried Father Dan. “Cuff him, the young rascal! He may be a big man in the great world over the water, but he mustn ‘t come here expecting his mother and his old priest to worship him.”
How we laughed! I laughed until I cried, not knowing which I was doing most, but feeling as if I had never had an ache or a care in all my life before.
Breakfast being over, the men going into the garden to smoke, and Sister Mildred insisting on clearing the table, Christian Ann took up her knitting, sat by my side, and told me the “newses” of home sad news, most of it, about my father, God pity him, and how his great schemes for “galvanising the old island into life” had gone down to failure and fatuity, sending some to the asylum and some to the graveyard, and certain of the managers of corporations and banks to gaol.
My father himself had escaped prosecution; but he was supposed to be a ruined man, dying of cancer, and had gone to live in his mother’s old cottage on the curragh, with only Nessy McLeod to care for him having left the Big House to Aunt Bridget and cousin Betsy, who declared (so I gathered or guessed) that I had disgraced their name and should never look on their faces again.
“But dear heart alive, that won’t cut much ice, will it?” said Christian Ann, catching a word of Martin’s.
Later in the day, being alone with the old doctor, I heard something of my husband also that he had applied (according to the laws of Ellan) for an Act of Divorce, and that our insular legislature was likely to grant it.
Still later, having walked out into the garden, where the bluebells were in bloom, I, too, heard the sneck of the gate, and it was old Tommy again, who (having been up to the “Plough” to “put a sight on himself”) had come round to welcome me as well a little older, a little feebler, “tacking a bit,” as he said, with “romps in his fetlock joints,” but feeling “well tremenjus.”
He had brought the “full of his coat-pockets” of lobsters and crabs for me (“wonderful good for’ invalids, missie”) and the “full of his mouth” of the doings at Castle Raa, which he had left immediately after myself Price also, neither of them being willing to stay with a master who had “the rough word” for everybody, and a “misthress” who had “the black curse on her” that would “carry her naked sowl to hell.”
“I wouldn’t be gardener there, after the lil missie had gone . . . no, not for the Bank of Ellan and it full of goold.”
What a happy, happy day that was! There was many another day like it, too, during the sweet time following, when spring was smiling once more upon earth and man, and body and soul in myself were undergoing a resurrection no less marvellous.
After three or four weeks I had so far recovered as to be able to take walks with Martin through the leafy lanes with the golden gorse on the high turf hedges and its nutty odour in the air, as far, sometimes, as to the shore, where we talked about “asploring” or perhaps (without speaking at all) looked into each other’s eyes and laughed.
There was really only one limitation to my happiness, separation from my child, and though I was conscious of something anomalous in my own position which the presence of my baby would make acute (setting all the evil tongues awag), I could not help it if, as I grew stronger, I yearned for my little treasure.
The end of it was that, after many timid efforts, I took courage and asked Martin if I might have my precious darling back.
“Girlie?” he cried. “Certainly you may. You are well enough now, so why shouldn’t you? I’m going to London on Exploration business soon, and I’ll bring her home with me.”
But when he was gone (Mildred went with him) I was still confronted by one cause of anxiety Christian Ann. I could not even be sure she knew of the existence of my child, still less that Martin intended to fetch her.
So once more I took my heart in both hands, and while we sat together in the garden, with the sunlight pouring through the trees, Christian Ann knitting and I pretending to read, I told her all.
She knew everything already, the dear old thing, and had only been waiting for me to speak. After dropping a good many stitches she said:
“The world will talk, and dear heart knows what Father Dan himself will say. But blood’s thicker than water, even if it’s holy water, and she’s my own child’s child, God bless her!”
After that we had such delicious times together, preparing for the little stranger who was to come cutting up blankets and sheets, and smuggling down from the “loft” to “Mary O’Neill’s room” the wooden cradle which had once been Martin’s, and covering it with bows and ribbons.
We kept the old doctor in the dark (pretended we did) and when he wondered “what all the fuss was about,” and if “the island expected a visit from the Queen,” we told him (Christian Ann did) to “ask us no questions and we’d tell no lies.”
What children we were, we two mothers, the old one and the young one! I used to hint, with an air of great mystery, that my baby had “somebody’s eyes,” and then the dear simple old thing would say:
“Somebody’s eyes, has she? Well, well! Think of that, now!”
But Christian Ann, from the lofty eminence of the motherhood of one child twenty-five years before, was my general guide and counsellor, answering all my foolish questions when I counted up baby’s age (eleven months now) and wondered if she could walk and talk by this time, how many of her little teeth should have come and whether she could remember me.
As the time approached for Martin ‘s return our childishness increased, and on the last day of all we carried on such a game together as must have made the very Saints themselves look down on us and laugh.
Before I opened my eyes in the morning I was saying to myself, “Now they’re on their way to Euston,” and every time I heard the clock strike I was thinking, “Now they’re in the train,” or “Now they’re at Liverpool,” or “Now they’re on the steamer”; but all the while I sang “Sally” and other nonsense, and pretended to be as happy as the day was long.
Christian Ann was even more excited than myself; and though she was always reproving me for my nervousness and telling me to be composed, I saw her put the kettle instead of the tea-pot on to the tablecloth, and the porridge-stick into the fire in place of the tongs.
Towards evening, when Martin was due, I had reduced myself to such a state of weakness that Christian Ann wanted to put me to bed; but sitting down in the chiollagh, and watching the road from the imprisonment of the “elbow-chair,” I saw at last the two big white eyes of the automobile wheeling round in the dusk by the gate of my father’s house.
A few minutes afterwards Martin came sweeping into the kitchen with a nice-looking nurse behind him, carrying my darling at her breast.
She was asleep, but the light of the fire soon wakened her, and then a strange thing happened.
I had risen from my seat, and Christian Ann had come hurrying up, and we two women were standing about baby, both ready to clutch at her, when she blinked her blue eyes and looked at us, and then held out her arms to her grandmother!
That nearly broke my heart for a moment (though now I thank the Lord for it), but it raised Christian Ann into the seventh heaven of rapture.
“Did you see that now?” she cried, clasping my baby to her bosom her eyes glistening as with sunshine, though her cheeks were slushed as with rain.
I got my treasure to myself at last (Christian Ann having to show the nurse up to her bedroom), and then, being alone with Martin, I did not care, in the intoxication of my happiness, how silly I was in my praise of her.
“Isn’t she a little fairy, a little angel, a little cherub?” I cried. “And that nasty, nasty birthmark quite, quite gone.”
The ugly word had slipped out unawares, but Martin had caught it, and though I tried to make light of it, he gave me no peace until I had told him what it meant with all the
humiliating story of my last night at Castle Raa and the blow my husband had struck me.
“But that’s all over now,” I said.
“Is it? By the Lord God I swear it isn’t, though!” said Martin, and his face was so fierce that it made me afraid.
But just at that moment Christian Ann came downstairs, and the old doctor returned from his rounds, and then Tommy the Mate looked in on his way to the “Plough,” and hinting at my going to church again some day, gave it as his opinion that if I put the “boght millish” under my “perricut” (our old island custom for legitimising children) “the Bishop himself couldn’t say nothin’ against it” at which Martin laughed so much that I thought he had forgotten his vow about my husband.
MEMORANDUM OF MARTIN CONRAD
I hadn’t, though.
The brute! The bully! When my darling told me that story (I had to drag it out of her) I felt that if I had been within a hundred miles at the time, and had had to crawl home to the man on my hands and knees, there wouldn’t have been enough of him left now to throw on the dust-heap.
Nearly two years had passed since the debt was incurred, but I thought a Christian world could not go on a day longer until I had paid it back with interest.
So fearing that my tender-hearted little woman, if she got wind of my purpose, might make me promise to put away my vow of vengeance, I got up early next morning and ordered the motor-car to be made ready for a visit to Castle Raa.
Old Tommy happened to be in the yard of the inn while I was speaking to the chauffeur, and he asked if he might be allowed to go with me. I agreed, and when I came out to start he was sitting in a corner of the car, with his Glengarry pulled down over his shaggy eyebrows, and his knotty hands leaning on a thick blackthorn that had a head as big as a turnip.
We did not talk too much on the way I had to save up my strength for better business and it was a long spin, but we got to our journey’s end towards the middle of the morning.
As we went up the drive (sacred to me by one poignant memory) an open carriage was coming down. The only occupant was a rather vulgar-looking elderly woman (in large feathers and flowing furbelows) whom I took to be the mother of Alma.
Three powdered footmen came to the door of the Castle as our car drove up. Their master was out riding. They did not know when he would be back.
“I’ll wait for him,” I said, and pushed into the hall, old Tommy following me.
I think the footmen had a mind to intercept us, but I suppose there was something in my face which told them it would be better not to try, so I walked into the first room with the door open.
It turned out to be the dining-room, with portraits of the owner’s ancestors all round the walls a solid square of evil-looking rascals, every mother’s son of them.
Tommy, still resting his knotty hands on his big blackthorn, was sitting on the first chair by the door, and I on the end of the table, neither saying a word to the other, when there came the sound of horses ‘ hoofs on the path outside. A little later there were voices in the hall, both low and loud ones the footmen evidently announcing my arrival and their master abusing them for letting me into the house.
At the next moment the man came sweeping into the dining-room. He was carrying a heavy hunting-crop and his flabby face was livid. Behind him came Alma. She was in riding costume and was bending a lithe whip in her gloved hands.
I saw that my noble lord was furious, but that mood suited me as well as another, so I continued to sit on the end of the table.
“So I hear, sir,” he said, striding up to me, “I hear that you have taken possession of my place without so much as ‘by your leave’?”
“That’s so,” I answered.
“Haven’t you done enough mischief here, without coming to insult me by your presence?”
“Not quite. I’ve a little more to do before I’ve finished.”
“Jim,” said the woman (in such a weary voice), “don’t put yourself about over such a person. Better ring the bell for the servants and have him turned out of doors.”
I looked round at her. She tried an insolent smile, but it broke down badly, and then his lordship strode up to me with quivering lips.
“Look here, sir,” he said. “Aren’t you ashamed to show your face in my house?”
“I’m not,” I replied. “But before I leave it, I believe you’ll be ashamed to show your face anywhere.”
“Damn it, sir! Will you do me the honour to tell me why you are here?” said his lordship, with fury in his looks.
“Certainly. That’s exactly what I’ve come for,” I said, and then I stated my business without more ado.
I told him what he had done to the woman who was ten thousand times too good to be his wife torturing her with his cruelties, degrading her with his infidelities, subjecting her to the domination of his paramour, and finally striking her in the face like a coward and a cur.
“Liar!” he cried, fairly gasping in his rage. “You’re a liar and your informant is a liar, too.”
“Tommy,” I said, “will you step outside for a moment?”
Tommy went out of the room at once, and the woman, who was now looking frightened, tried to follow him.
I stopped her. Rising from the table, I stepped over to the door and locked it.
“No, madam,” I said. “I want you to see what takes place between his lordship and me.”
The wretched woman fell back, but the man, grinding his teeth, came marching up to me.
“So you’ve come to fight me in my own house, have you?” he cried.
“Not at all,” I answered. “A man fights his equal. I’ve come to thrash you.”
That was enough for him. He lifted his hunting-crop to strike, but it didn’t take long to get that from his hand or to paralyse the arm with which he was lunging out at me.
And then, seizing him by the white stock at his throat, I thrashed him. I thrashed him as I should have thrashed a vicious ape. I thrashed him while he fumed and foamed, and cursed and swore. I thrashed him while he cried for help, and then yelled with pain and whined for mercy. I thrashed him under the eyes of his ancestors, the mad, bad race he came from, and him the biggest blackguard of them all. And then I flung him to the ground, bruised in every bone, and his hunting-crop after him.
“I hear you’re going to court for an Act of Divorce,” I said. “Pity you can’t take something to back you, so take that, and say I gave it you.”
I was turning towards the door when I heard a low, whining cry, like that of a captured she-bear. It was from the woman. The wretched creature was on her knees at the farthest corner of the room, apparently mumbling prayers, as if in terror that her own turn might be coming next.
In her sobbing fear I thought she looked more than ever like a poisonous snake, and I will not say that the old impulse to put my foot on it did not come back for a moment. But I only said as I passed, pointing to the writhing worm on the floor:
“Look at him, madame. I wish you joy of your nobleman, and him of you.”
Then I opened the door, and notwithstanding the grim business I had been going through, I could have laughed at the scene outside.
There was old Tommy with his back to the dining-room door, his Glengarry awry on his tousled head, and his bandy legs stretched firmly apart, flourishing his big-headed blackthorn before the faces of the three powdered footmen, and inviting them to “come on.”
”Come on, now, you bleating ould billy-goats, come on, come on!”
I was in no hurry to get away, but lit a cigar in front of the house while the chauffeur was starting the motor and Tommy was wiping his steaming forehead on the sleeve of his coat.
All the way home the old man talked without ceasing, sometimes to me, and sometimes to the world in general.
“You gave him a piece of your mind, didn’t you?” he asked, with a wink of his “starboard eye.”
“I believe I did,” I answered.
“I allus said you would. ‘Wait till himself is after coming home, and it’ll be the devil sit up for some of them,’ says I.”
There was only one limitation to Tommy’s satisfaction over our day’s expedition that he had not cracked the powdered skulls of “some o’ them riddiclus dunkeys. ”
[END OF MARTIN CONRAD’S MEMORANDUM]
ONE HUNDRED AND NINTH CHAPTER
ANOTHER month passed, and then began the last and most important phase of my too changeful story.
Every week Martin had been coming and going between Ellan and London, occupied when he was away with the business of his next Expedition (for which Parliament had voted a large sum), and when he was at home with reports, diaries, charts, maps, and photographs toward a book he was writing about his last one.
As for myself, I had been (or tried to think I had been) entirely happy. With fresh air, new milk, a sweet bedroom, and above all, good and tender nursing (God bless Christian Ann for all she did for me! ), my health had improved every day or perhaps, by that heavenly hopefulness which goes with certain maladies, it had seemed to me to do so.
Yet mine was a sort of twilight happiness, nevertheless. Though the sun was always shining in my sky, it was frequently under eclipse. In spite of the sheltered life I lived in that home of charity and love, I was never entirely free from a certain indefinable uneasiness about my position.
I was always conscious, too, that Martin’s mother and father, not to speak of Father Dan, were suffering from a similar feeling, for sometimes when we talked about the future their looks would answer to my thoughts, and it was just as if we were all silently waiting, waiting, waiting for some event that was to justify and rehabilitate me.
It came at last for me with a startling suddenness.
One morning, nurse being out on an errand and Christian Ann patting her butter in the dairy, I was playing with baby on the rag-work hearthrug when our village newsman came to the threshold of the open door.
“Take a Times,” he said. “You might as well be out of the world, ma’am, as not know what’s going on in it.”
I took one of his island newspapers, and after he had gone I casually glanced at it.
But what a shock it gave me! The first heading that flew in my face was
“INSULAR DIVORCE BILL PASSED.”
It was a report of the proceedings of the Supreme Court of our Ellan legislature, which (notwithstanding the opposition of its ecclesiastical members) had granted my husband’s petition.
Perhaps I ought to have had a sense of immense relief. Or perhaps I should have gone down on my knees there and then, and thanked God that the miserable entanglement of the horrible marriage that had been forced upon me was at last at an end.
But no, I had only one feeling as the newspaper fell from my fingers shame and humiliation, not for myself (for what did it matter about me, anyway?), but for Martin, whose name, now so famous, I had, through my husband’s malice, been the means of dragging through the dust.
I remember that I thought I should never be able to look into my darling’s face again, that when he came in the afternoon (as he always did) I should have to run away from him, and that all that was left to me was to hide myself and die.
But just as these wild thoughts were galloping through my brain I heard the sneck of the garden gate, and almost before I was aware of what else was happening Martin had come sweeping into the house like a rush of wind, thrown his arms around me, and covered my face, my neck, and my hands with kisses never having done so before since I came to live at his mother’s home.
“Such news! Such news!” he cried. “We are free, free, free!”
Then, seeing the newspaper at my feet on the floor, he said:
“Ah, I see you know already. I told them to keep everything away from you all the miserable legal business. But no matter! It’s over now. Of course it’s shocking perfectly shocking that that squirming worm, after his gross infidelities, should have been able to do what he has done. But what matter about that either? He has done just what we wanted what you couldn’t do for yourself before I went away, your conscience forbidding you. The barrier that has divided us is down . . . now we can be married at any time.”
I was so overcome by Martin’s splendid courage, so afraid to believe fully that the boundless relief I had looked for so long had come to me at last, that for some time I could not speak. And when I did speak, though my heart was clamouring loud, I only said:
“But do you really think that . . . that we can now be husband and wife?”
“Think it?” he cried, with a peal of laughter. “I should think I do think it. What’s to prevent us? Nothing! You’ve suffered enough, my poor girl. But all that you have gone through has to be forgotten, and you are never to look back again.”
“Yes, yes, I know I should be happy, very happy,” I said, “but what about you?”
“I looked forward to being a help at least not a trouble to you, Martin.”
“And so you will be. Why shouldn’t you?”
“Martin,” I said (I knew what I was doing, but I couldn’t help doing it), “wouldn’t it injure you to marry me . . . being what I am now … in the eyes of the world, I mean?”
He looked at me for a moment as if trying to catch my meaning, and then snatched me still closer to his breast.
“Mary,” he cried, “don’t ask me to consider what the damnable insincerities of society may say to a case like ours. If you don’t care, then neither do I. And as for the world, by the Lord God I swear that all I ask of it I am now holding in my arms.”
That conquered me poor trembling hypocrite that I was, praying with all my soul that my objections would be overcome.
In another moment I had thrown my arms about my Martin’s neck and kissed and kissed him, feeling for the first time after my months and years of fiery struggle that in the eyes of God and man I had a right to do so.
And oh dear, oh dear! When Martin had gone back to his work, what foolish rein I gave to my new-born rapture!
I picked baby up from the hearthrug and kissed her also, and then took her into the dairy to be kissed by her grandmother, who must have overheard what had passed between Martin and me, for I noticed that her voice had suddenly become livelier and at least an octave higher.
Then, baby being sleepy, I took her upstairs for her morning nap, and after leaning over her cradle, in the soft, damp, milk-like odour of her sweet body and breath, I stood up before the glass and looked at my own hot, tingling, blushing cheeks and sparkling eyes.
Oh, what gorgeous dreams of happiness came to me! I may have been the unmarried mother of a child, but my girlhood my lost girlhood was flowing back upon me. A vision of my marriage-day rose up before me and I saw myself as a bride, in my bridal veil and blossoms.
How happy I was going to be! But indeed I felt just then as if I had always been happy. It was almost as though some blessed stream of holy water had washed my memory clean of all the soilure of my recent days in London, for sure I am that if anybody had at that moment mentioned Ilford and the East End, the bricklayer and the Jew, or spoken of the maternity homes and the orphanages, I should have screamed.
Towards noon the old doctor came back from his morning rounds, and I noticed that his voice was pitched higher too. We never once spoke about the great news, the great event, while we sat at table; but I could not help noticing that we were all talking loud and fast and on the top of each other, as if some dark cloud which had hovered over our household had suddenly slid away.
After luncheon, nurse being back with baby, I went out for a walk alone, feeling wonderfully well and light, and having two hours to wait for Martin, who must be still pondering over his papers at the “Plough.”
How beautiful was the day! How blue the sky! How bright the earth! How joyous the air so sweet and so
full of song-birds!
I remember that I thought life had been so good to me that I ought to be good to everybody else especially to my father, from whom it seemed wrong for a daughter to be estranged, whatever he was and whatever he had done to her.
So I turned my face towards my poor grandmother’s re- stored cottage on the curragh, fully determined to be reconciled to my father; and I only slackened my steps and gave up my purpose when I began to think of Nessy MacLeod and how difficult (perhaps impossible) it might be to reach him.
Even then I faced about for a moment to the Big House with some vain idea of making peace with Aunt Bridget and then slipping upstairs to my mother’s room having such a sense of joyous purity that I wished to breathe the sacred air my blessed saint had lived in.
But the end of it all was that I found myself on the steps of the Presbytery, feeling breathlessly happy, and telling myself, with a little access of pride in my own gratitude, that it was only right and proper that I should bring my happiness where I had so often brought my sorrow to the dear priest who had been my friend since the day of my birth and my darling mother’s friend before.
Poor old Father Dan! How good I was going to be to him!
ONE HUNDRED AND TENTH CHAPTER
A PEW minutes afterwards I was tripping upstairs (love and hope work wonderful miracles!) behind the Father’s Irish housekeeper, Mrs. Cassidy, who was telling me how well I was looking (“smart and well extraordinary”), asking if it “was on my two feet I had walked all the way,” and denouncing the “omathauns” who had been “after telling her there wasn’t the width of a wall itself betune me and the churchyard.”
I found Father Dan in his cosy study lined with books; and being so much wrapped up in my own impetuous happiness, I did not see at first that he was confused and nervous, or remember until next day that, though (at the sound of my voice from the landing) he cried “Come in, my child, come in,” he was standing with his back to the door as I entered hiding something (it must have been a newspaper) under the loose seat of his easy-chair.
“Father,” I said, “have you heard the news?”
“The news. …”
“I mean the news in the newspaper.”
“Ah, the news in the newspaper.”
“Isn’t it glorious? That terrible marriage is over at last! Without my doing anything, either! Do you remember what you said the last time I came here?”
“The last time. …”
“You said that I, being a Catholic, could not break my marriage without breaking my faith. But my husband, being a Protestant, had no compunction. So it has come to the same thing in the end, you see. And now I’m free.”
“You’re free . . . free, are you?”
“It seems they have been keeping it all away from me making no defence, I suppose and it was only this morning I heard the news.”
“Only this morning, was it?”
“I first saw it in a newspaper, but afterwards Martin himself came to tell me.”
“Martin came, did he?”
“He doesn ‘t care in the least; in fact, he is glad, and says we can be married at any time.”
“Married at any time he says that, does he?”
“Of course nothing is arranged yet, dear Father, but I couldn’t help coming^ to see you about it. I want everything to be simple and quiet no display of any kind.”
“Simple and quiet, do you?”
“Early in the morning immediately after mass, perhaps.”
“Immediately after mass. . . . ”
“Only a few wild flowers on the altar, and the dear homely souls who love me gathered around.”
“The dear, homely souls. …”
“It will be a great, great thing for me, but I don’t want to force myself upon anybody, or to triumph over any one least of all over my poor father, now that he is so sick and down.”
“No, no … now that he is so sick and down.”
“I shall want you to marry us, Daddy Dan not the Bishop or anybody else of that kind, you know.”
“You’ll want me to marry you not the Bishop or anybody else of that kind.”
“But Father Dan,” I cried, laughing a little uneasily (for I had begun to realise that he was only repeating my own words), “why don’t you say something for yourself?”
And then the cheery sunshine of the cosy room began to fade away.
Father Dan fumbled the silver cross which hung over his cassock (a sure sign of his nervousness), and said with a grave face and in a voice all a-tremble with emotion:
“My child. …”
“You believe that I wouldn’t pain or distress or shock you if I could avoid it?”
“Indeed I do.”
“Yet I am going to pain and distress and shock you now. I … I cannot marry you to Martin Conrad. I daren’t. The Church thinks that you are married already that you are still the wife of your husband.”
Though my dear priest had dealt me my death-blow, I had not yet begun to feel it, so I smiled up into his troubled old face and said:
“But how can the Church think that, dear Father? My husband has no rights over me now, and no duties or responsibilities with respect to me. He can marry again if he likes. And he will, I am sure he will, and nobody can prevent him. How, then, can the Church say that I am still his wife?”
“Because marriage, according to the law of the Church, can only be dissolved by death,” said Father Dan. “Haven’t I told you that before, my daughter? Didn’t we go over it again and again when you were here the last time?”
“Yes, yes, but I thought if somebody else sought the divorce somebody who had never believed in the indissolubility of marriage and wasn’t bound by the law of the Church . . . we’ve heard of cases of that kind, haven’t we?”
Father Dan shook his head.
“My poor child, no. The Church thinks marriage is a sacred covenant which no difference of belief, no sin on either side, can ever break.”
“But, Father,” I cried, “don’t you see that the law has already broken it?”
“Only the civil law, my daughter. Remember the words of our blessed and holy Redeemer: ‘Every one that putteth away Ms wife and marrieth another committeth adultery; and he that marrieth one that is put away committeth adultery.’ . . . My poor child, my heart bleeds for you, but isn’t that the Divine Commandment?”
“Then you think,” I said (the room was becoming dark and I could feel my lip trembling), “you think that because I went through that marriage ceremony two years ago . . . and though the civil law has dissolved it … you think I am still bound by it, and will continue to be so . . . to the end of my life?”
Father Dan plucked at his cassock, fumbled his print handkerchief, and replied:
“I am sorry, my child, very, very sorry.”
“Father Dan,” I said sharply, for by this tune my heart was beginning to blaze, “have you thought about Martin? Aren’t you afraid that if our Church refuses to marry us he may ask some other church to do so?”
“Christ’s words must be the final law for all true Chris- tians, my daughter. And besides. . . .”
“Besides that. . . .”
“It blisters my tongue to say it, my child, knowing your sufferings and great temptations, but. . . .”
“But what, dear Father?”
“You are in the position of the guilty party, and therefore no good clergyman of any Christian Church in the world, following the Commandment of his Master, would dare to marry you.”
What happened after that I cannot exactly say. I remember that, feeling the colour flying to my face, I flung up my hands to cover it, and that when I came to full possession of my senses again Father Dan (himself in a state of great agitation) was smoothing my arms and comforting me.
“Don’t be angry with your old priest for telling you the truth the bitter truth, my daughter.”
He had always seen this dark hour coming to him, and again and again he had prayed to be delivered from it in the long nights of his fruitless wanderings when I was lost in London, and again since I had been found and had come home and he had looked on, with many a pang, at our silent hopes and expectations Martin’s and mine, we two children.
“And when you came into my little den to-day, my daughter, with a face as bright as stars and diamonds, God knows I would have given half of what is left of my life that mine should not be the hand to dash the cup of your happiness away.”
As soon as I was sufficiently composed, within and without, Father Dan led me downstairs (praying God and His Holy Mother to strengthen me on my solitary way), and then stood at the door in his cassock to watch me while I walked up the road.
It was hardly more than half an hour since I had passed over the ground before, yet in that short tune the world seemed to have become pale and grey the sun gone out, the earth grown dark, the still air joyless, nothing left but the everlasting heavens and the heavy song of the sea.
As I approached the doctor’s house Martin came swinging down the road to meet me, with his strong free step and that suggestion of the wind from the mountain-tops which seemed to be always about him.
“Hello!” he cried. “Thought you were lost and been hunting all over the place for you.”
But as he came nearer and saw how white and wan my face was, though I was doing my best to smile, he stopped and said:
“My poor little woman, where have you been, and what have they been doing to you?”
And then, as well as I could, I told him.
ONE HUNDRED AND ELEVENTH CHAPTER
“IT’S all my fault,” he said.
He had led me to the garden-house, which stood among the bluebells at the end of the orchard, and was striding to and fro in front of it.
“I knew perfectly what the attitude of the Church would be, and I ought to have warned you.”
I had never before seen him so excited. There was a wild look in his eyes and his voice was quivering like the string of a bow.
“Poor old Father Dan! He’s an old angel, with as good a heart as ever beat under a cassock. But what a slave a man may be to the fetish of his faith! Only think what he says, my darling! The guilty party! Ill never believe you are the guilty party, but consider! The guilty party may never marry! No good clergyman of any Christian Church in the world dare marry her! What an infamy! Ask yourself what the churches are here for. Aren’t they here to bring salvation to the worst of sinners? Yet they cast out the woman who has sinned against her marriage vow denying her access to the altar and turning her out of doors though she may have repented a thousand times, with bitter, bitter tears!”
He walked two or three paces in front of the garden-house and then came back to me with naming eyes.
“But that’s not your case, anyway,” he said. “Father Dan knows perfectly that your marriage was no marriage at all only a sordid bit of commercial bargaining, in which your husband .gave you his bad name for your father’s unclean money. It was no marriage in any other sense either, and might have been annulled if there had been any common honesty in annulment. And now that it has tumbled to wreck and ruin, as anybody might have seen it would do, you are told that you are bound to it to the last day and hoar of your life! After all you have gone through all you have suffered never to know another hour of happiness as long as you live! While your husband, notwithstanding his brutalities and infidelities, is free to do what he likes, to marry whom he pleases! How stupid! How disgusting! How damnable!”
His passionate voice was breaking, he could scarcely control it.
“Oh, I know what they’ll say. It will be the old, old song, ‘Whom God hath joined together.’ That’s what this old Church of ours has been saying for centuries to poor women with broken hearts. Has the Church itself got a heart to break? No nothing but its cast-iron laws which have been broken a thousand times and nobody a penny the worse.”
“But I wonder,” he continued, “I wonder why these churchmen, who would talk about the impossibility of putting asunder those whom God has joined together, don’t begin by asking themselves how and when and where God joins them. Is it in church, when they stand before the altar and are asked a few questions, and give a few answers? If so, then God is responsible for some of the most shocking transactions that ever disgraced humanity all the pride and vanity and deliberate concubinage that have covered themselves in every age, and are covering themselves still, with the cloak of marriage.”
“But no,” said Martin, “it’s not in churches that God marries people. They’ve got to be married before they go there, or they are never married at all never! They’ve got to be married in their hearts, for that’s where God joins people together, not in churches and before priests and altars.”
I sat listening to him with a rising and throbbing heart, and after another moment he stepped into the garden-house, and sat beside me.
“Mary,” he said, in his passionate voice, “that’s our case, isn’t it? God married us from the very first. There has never been any other woman for me, and there never has been any other man for you isn’t that so, my darling? . . . Then what are they talking about these churches and churchmen? It’s they who are the real divorcers trying to put those asunder whom God Himself has joined together. That’s the plain sense of the matter, isn’t it?”
I was trembling with fear and expectation. Perhaps it was the same with me as it had been before; perhaps I wanted (now more than ever) to believe what Martin was saying; perhaps I did not know enough to be able to answer him; perhaps my overpowering love and the position I stood in compelled me to agree. But I could not help it if it seemed to me that his clear mind clear as a mountain river and as swift and strong was sweeping away all the worn-out sophistries.
“Then what . . . what are we to do?” I asked him.
“Do? Our duty to ourselves, my darling, that’s what we have to do. If we cannot be married according to the law of the Church, we must be married according to the law of the land. Isn’t that enough? This is our own affair, dearest, ours and nobody else’s. It’s only a witness we want anyway a witness before God and man that we intend to be man and wife in future.”
“But Father Dan?”
“Leave him to me,” said Martin. “I’ll tell him everything. But come into the house now. You are catching a cold. Unless we take care they’ll kill you before they’ve done.”
Next day he leaned over the back of my chair as I sat in the chiollagh with baby in my lap, and said, in a low tone:
“I’ve seen Father Dan.”
“The old angel took it badly. ‘God forbid that you should do that same, my boy,’ he said, ‘putting both yourself and that sweet child of mine out of the Church for ever.’ ‘It’s the Church that’s putting us out,’ I told him. ‘But God’s holy law condemns it, my son,’ he said. ‘God’s law is love; and He has no other law,’ I answered.”
I was relieved and yet nervous, glad and yet afraid.
A week passed, and then the time came for Martin to go to Windsor for his investiture. There had been great excitement in Sunny Lodge in preparation for this event, but being a little unwell I had been out of the range of it.
At the moment of Martin’s departure I was in bed, and he had come upstairs to say good-bye to me.
What had been happening in the meantime I hardly knew, but I had gathered that he thought pressure would be brought to bear on me.
“Our good old Church is like a limpet on the shore,” he said. “Once it gets its suckers down it doesn’t let go in a hurry. But sit tight, little woman. Don’t yield an inch while I’m away,” he whispered.
When he left me I reached up to see him going down the road to the railway station. His old father was walking proudly by his side, bare-headed as usual and still as blithe as a boy.
Next day I was startled by an unexpected telegram. It came from a convent in Lancashire and was addressed to “Mary O’Neill, care of Doctor Conrad.” It ran:
“Am making a round of visits to the houses of our Society and would like to see you on my way to Ireland. May I cross to-morrow? Mother Magdalene.”
ONE HUNDRED AND TWELFTH CHAPTER
SHE arrived the following afternoon my dear Reverend Mother with the pale spiritual face and saint-like eyes.
Except that her habit was now blue and white instead of black, she seemed hardly changed in any respect since our days at the Sacred Heart.
Finding that I was in bed, she put up at the “Plough” and came every day to nurse me.
I was naturally agitated at seeing her again after so many years and such various experiences, being uncertain how much she knew of them.
Remembering Martin’s warning, I was also fairly certain that she had been sent for, but my uneasiness on both heads soon wore off.
Her noiseless step, her soft voice, and her sweet smile soothed and comforted me. I began to feel afresh the influence she had exercised over me when I was a child, and to wonder why, during my dark time in London, I had never thought of writing to her.
During the first days of her visit she said nothing about painful things never mentioning my marriage, or what had happened since she saw me last.
Her talk was generally about our old school and my old schoolfellows, many of whom came to the convent for her “retreats,” which were under the spiritual direction of one of the Pope’s domestic prelates.
Sometimes she would laugh about our Mother of the Novices who had “become old and naggledy”; sometimes about the little fat Maestro of the Pope’s choir who had cried when I first sang the hymn to the Virgin, (“Go on, little angel,”); and sometimes about the two old lay sisters (now quite toothless) who still said I might have been a “wonderful washerwoman” if I had “put my mind to it.”
I hate to think that my dear Reverend Mother was doing this consciously in order to break down my defences, but the effect was the same. Little by little, during the few days she was with me, she bridged the space back to my happy girlhood, for insensibly I found myself stirred by the emotions of the convent, and breathing again the air of my beloved Rome.
On the afternoon of the fourth day of her visit I was sitting up by her side in front of my window, which was wide open. It was just such a peaceful evening as our last one at Nemi. Not a leaf was stirring; not a breath of wind in the air; the only sounds we heard were the lowing of the cattle waiting to be milked, the soft murmur of the sea, and the jolting of a springless cart that was coming up from the shore, laden with sea wrack.
As the sun began to sink it lit blazing fires in the windows of the village in front especially in the window of my mother’s room, which was just visible over the tops of the apple trees in the orchard.
The Reverend Mother talked of Benediction. If she were in Rome she would be in church singing the Ora pro nobis.
“Let us sing it now. Shall we?” she said.
At the next moment her deep majestic contralto, accompanied by my own thin and quavering soprano, were sending out into the silent air the holy notes which to me are like the reverberations of eternity:
Ora pro nobis.
Ora pro nobis.“
“When we had finished I found my hand lying in her lap. Patting it gently she said:
“Mary, I am leaving you to-morrow.”
“Yes, but I can’t go without telling you why I came” and then her mission was revealed to me.
She had heard about my marriage and the ruin it had fallen to; my disappearance from home and the circumstances of my recovery; my husband’s petition for divorce and the disclosures that had followed it.
But sad and serious and even tragic as all this might be, it was as nothing (in the eyes of the Church and of God) compared with the awful gravity of the step I now contemplated a second marriage while my husband was still alive.
She had nothing to say against Martin. Except the facts that concerned myself she had never heard a word to his discredit. She could even understand those facts, though she could not condone them. Perhaps he had seen my position (married to a cruel and unfaithful husband) and his pity had developed into love she had heard of such happenings.
“But only think, my child, what an abyss he is driving you to! He asks you to break your marriage vows! . . . Oh, yes, yes, I can see what he will say that pressure was put upon you and you were too young to know what you were doing. That may be true, but it isn’t everything. I thought it wrong, cruelly wrong, that your father should choose a husband for you without regard to your wish and will. But it was you, not your father, who made your marriage vows, and you can never get away from that never!”
Those marriage vows were sacred; our blessed Saviour taken His Commandment for law.
“Think, my child, only think what would happen to the world if every woman who has made an unhappy marriage were to do as you think of doing. What a chaos! What an uprooting of all the sacred ties of home and family! And how women would suffer women and children above all. Don’t you see that, my daughter?”
The security of society lay in the sanctity of marriage; the sanctity of marriage lay in its indissolubility; and its indissolubility centred in the fact that God was a party to it.
“Perhaps you are told that your marriage will be your own concern only and that God and the Church have nothing to do with it. But if women had believed that in all ages, how different the world would be to-day! Oh, believe me, your marriage vow is sacred, and you cannot break it without sin mortal sin, my daughter.”
The moral of all this was that I must renounce Martin Conrad, wash my heart clean of my love of him, shun the temptation of seeing him again, and if possible forget him altogether.
“It will be hard. I know it will be hard, but …”
“It will be quite impossible,” I said as well as I could, for my very lips were trembling.
I had been shaken to the depths of my soul by what the Reverend Mother said, but remembering Martin’s warning I now struggled to resist her.
“Two years ago, while I was living with my husband I tried to do that and I couldn’t,” I said. “And if I couldn’t do it then, when the legal barrier stood between us, how can I do it now when the barrier is gone?”
After that I told her of all I had passed through since as a result of my love for Martin how I had parted from him when he went down to the Antarctic; how I had waited for him in London; how I had sacrificed family and friends and home, and taken up poverty and loneliness and hard work for him; how I had fallen into fathomless depths of despair when I thought I had lost him; and how joy and happiness had returned only when God, in His gracious goodness, had given him back.
“No, no, no,” I cried. “My love for Martin can never be overcome or forgotten never as long as I live in the world!”
“Then,” said the Reverend Mother (she had been listening intently with her great eyes fixed on my hot and tingling face), “then,” she said, in her grave and solemn voice, “if that is the case, my child, there is only one thing for you to do to leave it.”
“Leave the world, I mean. Return with me to Rome and enter the convent.”
It would be impossible to say how this affected me how it shook me to the heart’s core how, in spite of my efforts to act on my darling’s warning, it seemed to penetrate to the inmost part of my being and to waken some slumbering instinct in my soul.
For a long time I sat without speaking again, only listening with a fluttering heart to what the Reverend Mother was saying that it was one of the objects of the religious life to offer refuge to the tortured soul that could not trust itself to resist temptation; and that taking my vows as a nun to God would be the only way (known to and acknowledged by the Church) of cancelling my vows as a wife to my husband.
“You will be a bride still, my child, but a bride of Christ. And isn’t that better far better? You used to wish to be a nun, you know, and if your father had not come for you on that most unhappy errand you might have been one of ourselves already. Think of it, my child. The Mothers of our convent will be glad to welcome you, if you can come as a willing and contented Sister. And how can I leave you here, at the peril of your soul, my daughter?”
I was deeply moved, but I made one more effort.
I told the Reverend Mother that, since the days when I had wished to be a nun, a great change had come over me. I had become a woman, with all a woman’s passions the hunger and thirst for love, human love, the love of the good man who loved me with all his soul and strength. Therefore I could never be a willing and contented Sister. I should only break the peace and harmony of their house. And though she were to put me down in the lowest cell of her convent, my love would follow me there; it would interrupt my offices, it would clamour through my prayers, and I should always be unhappy miserably unhappy.
“Not so unhappy there as you will be if you remain in the world and carry out your intention,” said the Reverend Mother. “Oh believe me, my child, I know you better than you know yourself, If you marry again, you will never be able to forget that you have broken your vow. Other women may forget it frivolous women women living in society and devoting their lives to selfish pleasures. Such women may divorce their husbands, or be divorced by them, and then marry again, without remembering that they are living in a state of sin, whatever the civil law may say open and wicked and shameless sin. But you will remember it, and it will make you more unhappy than you have ever been in your life before.”
“Worse than that.” she continued, after a moment, “it will make your husband unhappy also. He will see your remorse, and share it, because he will know he has been the cause. If he is a good man the mere sight of your grief will torture him. The better man he is the more will he suffer. If you were a runaway nun he would wish to take you back to your convent, for though it might tear his heart out to part with you, he would want to restore your soul. But being a wife who has broken her marriage vows he will never be able to do anything. An immense and awful shadow will stand between you and darken every hour of your lives that is left.”
“When the Reverend Mother had done I sat motionless and speechless, with an aching and suffocating heart, staring down on the garden over which the night was falling.
After a while she patted my cold hand and got up to go. saying she would call early in the morning to bid me good-bye. Her visit to Ireland would not last longer than three weeks, and after that she might come back for me, if I felt on reflection (she was sure I should) that I ought to return with her to Rome.
I did not reply. Perhaps it was partly because I was physically weak that my darling’s warning was so nearly overcome. But the moment the door closed on the Reverend Mother a conviction of the truth of what she had said rushed upon me like the waves of an overflowing sea.
Yet how cruel! After all our waiting, all our longing, all our gorgeous day-dreams of future happiness! When I was going to be a bride, a happy bride, with my lost and stolen girlhood coming back to me!
For the second time a dark and frowning mountain had risen between Martin and me. Formerly it had been my marriage now it was my God.
But if God forbade my marriage with Martin what was I to do? What was left in life for me? Was there anything left?
I was sitting with both hands over my face, asking myself these questions and struggling with a rising tempest of tears, when I heard baby crying in the room below, and Christian Ann hushing and comforting her.
“What’s doing on the boght, I wonder?”
A few minutes later they came upstairs, Isabel on her grandmother’s arm, in her nightdress, ready for bed.
“If it isn’t the wind I don’t know in the world what’s doing on the millish,” said the old lady.
And then baby smiled through the big round beads that stood in her sea-blue eyes and held out her arms to me.
Oh God! Oh God! Was not this my answer?
ONE HUNDRED AND THIRTEENTH CHAPTER
IN her different way Christian Ann had arrived at the same conclusion.
Long before the thought came to me she had conceived the idea that Father Dan and the Reverend Mother were conspiring to carry me off, and in her dear sweet womanly jealousy (not to speak of higher and nobler instincts) she had resented this intensely.
For four days she had smothered her wrath, only revealing it to baby in half-articulate interviews over the cradle (“We’re no women for these nun bodies, going about the house like ghosts, are we, villish?”), but on the fifth day it burst into the fiercest flame and the gentle old thing flung out at everybody.
That was the morning of the departure of the Reverend Mother, who, after saying good-bye to me in my bedroom, had just returned to the parlour-kitchen, where Father Dan was waiting to take her to the railway station.
What provoked Christian Ann’s outburst I never rightly knew, for though the door to the staircase was open, and I could generally catch anything that was said in the room below (through the open timbers of the unceiled floor), the soft voice of the Reverend Mother never reached me, and the Irish roll of Father Dan’s vowels only rumbled up like the sound of a drum.
But Christian Ann’s words came sharp and clear as the crack of a breaker, sometimes trembling with indignation, sometimes quivering with emotion, and at last thickening into sobs.
“Begging your pardon, ma’am, may I ask what is that you’re saying to the Father about Mary O’Neill? . . . Going back to Rome is she? To the convent, eh? … No, ma’am, that she never will! Not if I know her, ma’am. . . . Not for any purpose in the world, ma’am. . . . Temptation, you say? You know best, ma’am, but I don’t call it overcoming temptation going into hidlands to get out of the way of it. … Yes, I’m a Christian woman and a good Catholic too, please the Saints, but asking your pardon, ma’am, I ‘m not thinking too much of your convents, or believing the women inside of them are living such very unselfish lives either, ma’am.”
Another soft rumble as of a drum, and then
“No, ma’am, no, that’s truth enough, ma’am. I’ve never been a nun myself, having had better work to do in the world, ma’am. But it’s all as one I know what’s going on in the convents, I’m thinking. . . . Harmony and peace, you say? Yes, and jealousy and envy sometimes, too, or you wouldn’t be women like the rest of us, ma’am. … As for Mary O’Neill, she has something better to do too, I’m thinking. . . . After doing wrong, is she? Maybe she is, the boght millish, maybe we all are, ma’am, and have need of God’s mercy and forgiveness. But I never heard that praying is the only kind of penance He asks of us, ma’am. And if it is, I wouldn’t trust but there are poor women who are praying as well when they’re working over their wash-tubs as some ones when they’re saying their rosaries and singing their Tantum Ergos. . . .”
Another interruption and then “There’s Bella Kinnish herself who keeps the corner shop, ma’am. Her husband was lost at the ‘mackerel’ two years for Easter. He left her with three little children and a baby unborn, and Bella’s finding it middling hard to get a taste of butcher’s meat, or even a bit of loaf -bread itself for them, ma’am. And when she’s sitting late at night, as the doctor’s telling me, and all the rest of the village dark, darning little Liza’s stockings, and patching little “Willie’s coat, or maybe nursing the baby when it’s down with the measles, the Lord is as pleased with her, I’m thinking, as with some of your nun bodies in their grand blue cloaks taking turn and turn to kneel before the tabernacle.”
There was another rumble of apologetic voices after that (both Father Dan’s and the Reverend Mother’s), and then came Christian Ann ‘s clear notes again, breaking fast, though, and sometimes threatening to stop.
“What’s that you’re saying, ma’am? . . . Motherhood a sacred and holy state also? ‘Deed it is, ma’am! That’s truth enough too, though some ones who shut themselves up in convents don’t seem to think so. … A mother’s a mother, and what’s more, her child is her child, wedlock or no wedlock. And if she’s doing right by her little one, and bringing it up well, and teaching it true, I don’t know that when her time comes the Lord will be asking her which side of her wedding-day it was born on. …
“As for Mary O’Neill, ma’am, when you’re talking and talking about her saving her soul, you’re forgetting she has her child to save too, ma’am. God gave her the boght villish, and is she to run away from it? It’s a fine blessing would
be on her for that, isn’t it? … Father Dan, I’m surprised at you such a terrible, cruel, shocking, unnatural thing as you’re thinking. I thought you were a better man than that I really did. . . . And as for some ones that call themselves Mothers, they’re no mothers at all and never will be tempting a poor woman in her trouble to leave her child to be a charge on other people. …”
Still another rumble of soft voices and then
“Not that I’m thinking of myself, ma’am. Dear heart, no! It’s only too eager I’d be to have the lil angel to myself. There she is on the hearthrug, ma’am, and if anything happens to Mary O’Neill, it’s there she’ll be for the rest of my life, and it’s sorry I am for the darling’s sake that my time cannot be longer. . . .
“But Mary O’Neill isn’t for leaving her little one to go into any convent. ‘Deed no, ma’am! There would be no rest on her if she did. I ‘m a mother myself and I know what she’d be feeling. You might put the black hood on her head, but Nature’s a wonderful powerful thing, and she’d never go to bed at night or get up in the morning without thinking of her baby. ‘Where’s she now?’ she’d be asking herself. ‘What’s happening to my motherless child?’ she’d be saying. And as the years went on she’d be thinking, ‘Is she well, and has she taken her first communion, and is she growing up a good woman, and what’s the world doing on her?’ . . .”
“No, ma’am, no! Mary O’Neill will go into no convent while her child is here to be cared for! ‘Deed she won’t! Not Mary O’Neill! I’ll never believe it of her! Never in this world!”
I heard nothing more for a long time after that nothing but a noise in my own head which drowned all other noises. And when I recovered my composure the Reverend Mother and Father Dan must have gone, for there was no sound in the room below except that of the rocking-chair (which was going rapidly) and Christian Ann’s voice, fierce but broken as if baby had cried and she was comforting her.
Then a great new spirit came to me. It was Motherhood again! The mighty passion of motherhood which another mighty passion had temporarily overlaid sweeping down on me once more out of the big, simple, child-like heart of my Martin’s mother.
In the fever of body and brain at that moment it seemed to solve all the problems of life for me.
If the Commandment of God forbade me to marry again because I had already taken vows before the altar (no matter how innocently or under what constraint), and if I had committed a sin, a great sin, and baby was the living sign of it, there was only one thing left me to do to remain as I was and consecrate the rest of my life to my child.
That would be the real expiation, not burying myself in a convent. To live for my child! Alone with her! Here, where my sin had been, to work out my atonement!
This pleased and stirred and uplifted me very much when I first thought of it. And even when I remembered Martin, and thought how hard it would be to tear myself away from the love which waited with open arms for me (so near, so sweet, so precious), there seemed to be something majestic, almost sublime, in the sacrifice I was about to make the sacrifice of everything in the world (except one thing) that was dearer to me than life itself.
A sort of spiritual pride came with the thought of this sacrifice. I saw myself as a woman who, having pledged herself to God in her marriage and sinned against the law in breaking her marriage vows, was now going to accept her fate and to humble herself before the bar of Eternal Justice.
But oh, what a weak, vain thing I was, just when I thought I was so strong and noble!
After a long day in which I had been fighting back the pains of my poor torn heart and almost persuading myself that I had won a victory, a letter came by the evening post which turned all my great plans to dust and ashes.
The letter was from Martin. Only four little pages, written in my darling’s rugged hand, half serious and half playful, yet they made the earth rock and reel beneath me.
“MY DEAR LITTLE WOMAN, Just back from Windsor. Stunning ‘do.’ Tell you all about it when I get back home. Meantime up to my eyes in work. Arrangements for next Expedition going ahead splendidly. Had a meeting of the committee yesterday and settled to sail by the ‘Orient’ third week in August, so as to get down to Winter Quarters in time to start south in October.
“Our own little affair has got to come off first, though, so I’ll see the High Bailiff as soon as I return.
“And what do you think, my ‘chree’? The boys of the ‘Scotia’ are all coming over to Ellan for the great event. ‘Deed, yes, though, every man- jack of them! Scientific staff included, not to speak of ‘Sullivan and old Treacle who swears you blew a kiss to him. They remember you coming down to Tilbury. Aw, God bless me soul, gel, the way they’re talking of you! There’s no holding them at all at all!
“Seriously, darling, you have no time to lose in making your preparations. My plan is to take you to New Zealand and leave you at Wellington (good little town, good people, too) while I make my bit of a trip to the Pole.
“We’ll arrange about Girlie when I reach home, which will be next week, I hope or rather fear for every day is like a month when I’m away from you.
“But never mind, little woman! Once I get this big Expedition over we are not going to be separated any more. Not for a single day as long as we live, dearest! No, by the Lord God life’s too short for it.
ONE HUNDRED AND FOURTEENTH CHAPTER
AFTER I had read this letter I saw that my great battle, which I had supposed to be over, was hardly begun.
Martin was coming home with his big heart full of love for me, and my own heart ran out to meet him.
He intended to sail for New Zealand the second week in August, and he expected to take me with him.
In spite of all my religious fears and misgivings, I asked myself why I should not go? What was to prevent me? What sin had I really committed? What was there for reparation? Was it anything more than the letter of the Divine law that I had defied and broken?
My love was mine and I was his, and I belonged to him for ever. He was going out on a great errand in the service of humanity. Couldn’t I go to be his partner and helpmate? And if there had been sin, if the law of God had been broken, wouldn’t that, too, be a great atonement?
Thus my heart fought with my soul, or with my instincts as a child of the Church, or whatever else it was that brought ine back and back, again and again, in spite of all the struggles of my love, to the firm Commandment of our Lord.
Father Dan had been right I could not get away from that. The Reverend Mother had been right, too other women might forget that they had broken the Divine law but I never should. If I married Martin and went away with him, I should always be thinking of the falseness of my position, and that would make me unhappy. It would also make Martin unhappy to witness my unhappiness, and that would be the worst bitterness life could bring.
Then what was left to me? If it was impossible that I should bury myself in a convent it was equally impossible that I should live alone, and Martin in the same world with me.
Not all the spiritual pride I could conjure up in the majesty and solemnity of my self-sacrifice could conquer the yearning of my heart as a woman. Not all my religious fervour could keep me away from Martin. In spite of my conscience, sooner or later I should go to him I knew quite well I should. And my child, instead of being a barrier dividing us, would be a natural bond calling on us and compelling us to come together.
Then what was left to a woman in my position who believed in the Divine Commandment who could not get away from it? Were all the doors of life locked to her? Turn which way she would, was there no way out?
Darker and darker every day became this question, but light came at last, a kind of light or the promise of light. It was terrible, and yet it brought me, oh, such immense relief!
I am almost afraid to speak of it, so weak and feeble must any words be in which I attempt to describe that unforgetable change. Already I had met some of the mysteries of a woman’s life now I was to meet the last, the greatest, the most tragic, and yet the kindest of them all.
I suppose the strain of emotion I had been going through had been too much for my physical strength, for three days after the arrival of Martin’s letter I seemed to be really ill.
I am ashamed to dwell on my symptoms, but for a moment I am forced to do so. My eyes were bright, my cheeks were coloured, and there was no outward indication of any serious malady. But towards evening I always had a temperature, and in the middle of the night (I was sleeping badly) it rose very high, with a rapid pulse and anxious breathing, and in the morning there was great exhaustion.
Old Doctor Conrad, who had been coming to me twice a day, began to look very grave. At last, after a short examination, he said, rather nervously:
“I should like a colleague from Blackwater to consult with me. Will you receive him?”
I said “Yes” on one condition that if the new doctor had anything serious to say he should report it first to me.
A little reluctantly Martin ‘s father agreed to my terms and the consulting physician was sent for. He came early the next day a beautiful Ellan morning with a light breeze from the sea bringing the smell of new-mown hay from the meadows lying between.
He was an elderly man, and I could not help seeing a shadow cross his clean-shaven face the moment his eyes first fell on me. They were those tender but searching eyes which are so often seen in doctors, who are always walking through the Valley of the Shadow and seem to focus their gaze accordingly.
Controlling his expression, he came up to my bed and, taking the hand I held out to him, he said:
“I trust we’ll not frighten you, my lady.”
I liked that (though I cared nothing about my lost title, I thought it was nice of him to remember it), and said I hoped I should not be too restless.
While he took out and fixed his stethoscope (he had such beautiful soft hands) he told me that he had had a daughter of my own age once.
“Once? Where is she now?” I asked him.
“In the Kingdom. She died like a Saint,” he answered.
Then he made a long examination (returning repeatedly to the same place), and when it was over and he raised his face I thought it looked still more serious.
“My child,” he said (I liked that too), “you’ve never spared yourself, have you?”
I admitted that I had not.
”When you’ve had anything to do you’ve done it, whatever it might cost you.”
I admitted that also. He looked round to see if there was anybody else in the room (there was only the old doctor, who was leaning over the end of the bed, watching the face of his colleague) and then said, in a low voice:
“Has it ever happened that you have suffered from privation and hard work and loss of sleep and bad lodgings and . . . and exposure?”
His great searching eyes seemed to be looking straight into my soul, and I could not have lied to him if I had wished, so I told him a little (just a little) about my life in London at Bayswater, in the East End and Ilford.
“And did you get wet sometimes, very wet, through all your clothes?” he asked me.
I told him No, but suddenly remembering that during the cold days after baby came (when I could not afford a fire) I had dried her napkins on my body, I felt that I could not keep that fact from him,
“You dried baby’s napkins on your own body?” he asked.
“Sometimes I did. Just for a while,” I answered, feeling a little ashamed, and my tears rising.
“Ah!” he said, and then turning to the old doctor, “What a mother will do for her child, Conrad!”
The eyes of Doctor Conrad (which seemed to have become swollen) were still fixed on the face of his colleague, and, speaking as if he had forgotten that I was present with them in the room, he said:
“You think she’s very ill, don’t you?”
“We’ll talk of that in your consulting-room,” said the strange doctor.
Then, telling me to lie quiet and they would come back presently, he went downstairs and Martin’s father followed him.
Nurse came up while they were away (she had taken possession of me during the last few days), and I asked her who were in the parlour-kitchen.
“Only Father Donovan and Mrs. Conrad and baby,” she told me.
Then the doctors came back the consultant first, trying to look cheerful, and the old doctor last, with a slow step and his head down, as if he had been a prisoner coming back to court to receive sentence.
“My lady,” said the strange doctor, “you are a brave woman if ever there was one, so we have decided to tell you the truth about your condition.”
And then he told me.
I was not afraid. I will not say that I was not sorry. I could have wished to live a little longer especially now when (but for the Commandment of God) love and happiness seemed to be within my grasp.
But oh, the relief! There was something sacred in it, something supernatural. It was as if God Himself had come down to me in the bewildering maze that was haunted by the footsteps of my fate and led me out of it.
Yet why these poor weak words? They can mean so little to anybody except a woman who has been what I was, and she can have no need of them.
All fear had vanished from my thoughts. I had no fear for myself, I remembered, and none for baby. The only regret I felt was for Martin he loved me so; there had never been any other woman in the world for him.
After a moment I thanked the doctors and hoped I had not given them too much trouble. Doctor Conrad seemed crushed into stupefaction and said nothing; but the strange doctor tried to comfort me by saying there would be no pain, and that my malady was of a kind that would probably make no outward manifestation.
Being a woman to the end I was very glad of that, and then I asked him if it would last long. He said No, not long, he feared, although everything was in God’s hands and nobody could say certainly.
I was saying I was glad of that too, when my quick ears caught a sound of crying. It was Christian Ann, and Father Dan was hushing her. I knew what was happening the good souls were listening at the bottom of the stairs.
My first impulse was to send nurse to say they were not to cry. Then I had half a mind to laugh, so that they might hear me and know that what I was going through was nothing. But finally I bethought me of Martin, and asked that they might both be brought up, for I had something to say to them.
After a moment they came into the room, Christian Ann in her simple pure dress, and Father Dan in his shabby sack coat, both looking very sorrowful, the sweet old children.
Then (my two dear friends standing together at the foot of the bed) I told them what the doctor had said, and warned them that they were to tell nobody else nobody whatever, especially Martin.
“Leave me to tell him,” I said. “Do you faithfully promise me?”
I could see how difficult it was for them to keep back their tears, but they gave me their word and that was all I wanted.
“My boy! My poor boy veen! He’s thinking there isn’t another woman in the world like her,” said Christian Ann.
And then Father Dan said something about my mother extracting the same promise concerning myself, when I was a child at school.
After that the Blackwater doctor stepped up to say good-bye.
“I leave you in good hands, but you must let me come to see you again some day,” he said, and then with a playful smile he added:
“They’ve got lots of angels up in heaven we must try to keep some of them on earth, you know.”
That was on the fifth of July, old Midsummer Day, which is our national day in Ellan, and flags were flying over many of the houses in the village.
ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTEENTH CHAPTER
JULY 6. I feel so much better to-day. I hardly know what reaction of my whole being, physical and spiritual, has set in since yesterday, but my heart is lighter than for a long time, and sleep, which I had come to look upon as a lost blessing, came to me last night for four solid hours beautiful and untroubled as a child’s.
JULY 8. Martin writes that he expects to be here on the 12th. Letter full of joyous spirits. “Lots to tell you when I reach home, dearest.” Strange! No mortal can imagine how anxious I am to get him back, yet I almost dread his coming. When he was away before, Time could not go fast enough for me. Now it is going too fast. I know what that means the story I have to tell. How am I to tell it?
JULY 10. Only two days more and Martin will be here. Of course I must be up when he arrives. Nurse says No, but I say Yes. To be in bed when he comes would be too much of a shock for him.
“Servants are such domineering tyrants,” says Christian Ann, who never had but one, and “the strange woman” was such a phantom in the house that the poor mistress was grateful to God when Hollantide came round and the ghost walked away of itself. My nurse is a dear, though. How glad I am now that I persuaded Christian Ann to let her stay.
JULY 12. Martin comes to-day, and the old doctor (with such a proud and stately step) has gone off to Blackwater to meet him. I am terribly weak (no pain whatever), but perfectly resolute on dressing and going downstairs towards tea-time. I shall wear a white tea-gown, which Sister Mildred gave me in London. Martin likes me best in white.
LATER. My Martin has come! We had counted it up that travelling across the island by motor-car he would arrive at five, so I was dressed and downstairs by four, sitting in the chiollagh and watching the road through the window opposite. But he was half an hour late, and Christian Ann and I were in such a fever that anybody would have believed it to be half a century and that the world had stood still.
We might have known what would happen. At Blackwater “the boys” (the same that “got up the spree” when Martin went away) had insisted on a demonstration. Then, on reaching our village, Martin had got down and shaken hands with everybody the joiner and the grocer and the blacksmith and the widow who keeps the corner shop so that it had taken him a quarter of an hour to get through, amid a general chorus of “The boy he is, though!” and “No pride at all at all!”
After that he drove home at top speed, and my quick ears caught the musical hum of the motor as it crossed the bridge. Good gracious, what excitement!
“Quick nurse, help me to the gate.”
I got there just in time to hear a shout, and to see a precipitate bound out of the car and then . . . what an embrace!
It is such a good thing my Martin is a big, brawny person, for I don’t know how I should have got back to the house, being so weak and breathless just then, if his strong arm had not been round my waist.
Dr. ‘Sullivan had come too, looking as gay as a hummingbird, and after I had finished with Martin I kissed him also (having such a largesse of affection to distribute generally), whereupon he blushed like a boy, bless him, and stammered out something about St. Patrick and St. Thomas, and how he wouldn’t have believed anybody who had said there was anything so sweet, etc.
Martin said I was looking so well, and he, too, declared he wouldn’t have believed any man who had sworn I could have looked so much better in the time.
My nervous thermometer must have gone up by leaps and bounds during the next hour, for immediately after tea the old doctor ordered me back to bed, though I refused to go until he had faithfully promised that the door to the staircase should be kept open, so that I could hear what was said downstairs.
What lots of fun they had there! Half the parish must have come in “to put a sight” on Martin after his investiture, including old Tommy the Mate, who told everybody over and over again that he had “known the lad since he was a lump” and “him and me are same as brothers.”
The old doctor’s stately pride must have been something to see. It was “Sir Martin” here and “Sir Martin” there, until I could have cried to hear him. I felt just as foolish myself, too, for though I cannot remember that my pulse gave one extra beat when they made me “your ladyship,” now that Martin has become. . . . But that’s what we women are, you see!
At length Martin’s big voice came up clear above the rest, and then the talk was about the visit to Windsor. Christian Ann wanted to know if he wasn’t “f reckoned” to be there, “not being used of Kings,” whereupon he cried:
“What! Frightened of another man and a stunning good one, too!”
And then came a story of how the King had asked if he hadn’t been in fear of icebergs, and how he had answered No, you could strike more of them in a day in London (meaning icy-hearted people) than in a life-time in the Antarctic. I suppose I must have laughed at that, for the next I heard was:
“Hush! Isn’t that Mary?”
“Aw, yes, the poor veg veen,” said a sad voice. It was Christian Ann’s. At the bottom of her heart I shall always be the child who “sang carvals to her door.”
“What a wonderful day! I shall not sleep a wink to-night, though. To-morrow I must tell him.
JULY 13. I intended to tell Martin this morning, but I really couldn’t.
I was going downstairs to breakfast, holding on to the bannisters at one side and using nurse ‘s shoulder as my other crutch, when I saw the brightest picture I have ever beheld. Baby and Martin were on hands and knees on the rag-work hearthrug, face to face Martin calling her to come, Isabel lifting up her little head to him, like a fledgling in a nest, and both laughing with that gurgling sound as of water bubbling out of a bottle.
This sight broke all the breath out of me at the very first moment. And when Martin, after putting me into my place in the chiollagh, plunged immediately into a rapturous account of his preparations for our departure how we were to be married by special license at the High Bailiff’s on the tenth (if that date would do), how I was to rest a day and then travel up to London on the twelfth, and then rest other four days (during which warm clothes could be bought for me), and sail by the Orient on the sixteenth I could not find it in my heart to tell him then of the inexorable fate that confronted us.
It was cowardice, I knew, and sooner or later I should have to pay for it. But when he went on to talk about baby, and appealed to his mother to say if she wouldn’t look after Girlie when I was gone, and Christian Ann (in such a different tone) said Yes, she would look after Girlie when I was gone, I decided that I dared not tell him at all I would die rather than do so.
The end of it all is that I have arranged with Christian Ann, the old doctor, and Father Dan that Time and Martin’s own observation are to tell him what is going to happen, and none of us are to say anything about it.
What a deceiver I am, though! I put it all down to my unselfish love for Martin. It would be such a blow to him disturbing his plans, upsetting everything, perhaps causing him to postpone his Expedition, or even to abandon it altogether. “Let the truth fall soft on him. He’ll see it soon enough. Don’t let us be cruel.”
The dear sweet, unsuspecting old darlings have taken it all in all my vain and cowardly selfishness. I am to play the part of pretending to fall in with Martin’s plans, and they are to stand by and say nothing.
Can I do it? I wonder, I wonder!
JULY 15. I am becoming quite a great actress! It’s astonishing to see how I develop my deceptions under all sorts of veils and disguises.
Martin told me to-day that he had given up the idea of leaving me at Wellington and had determined to take me on to Winter Quarters, having met, on the way to Windsor, some great specialist in my kind of malady (I wonder how much he knows of it), who declared that the climate of the Antarctic would act on me like magic.
Such glorious sunshine in summer! Such crisp, dry, stimulating air! New life with every breath! Such a stunning little house, too, so cosy and comfortable! And then the men whom he would leave behind while he slipped down South they would worship me!
“How splendid! How glorious!” I cried. “How delightful to be mistress over a houseful of big, hungry, healthy boys, who come in out of the snow and want to eat up everything!”
Sometimes I feel myself being carried away by my own acting, and then I see the others (Christian Ann and the old doctor and Father Dan) dropping their heads or stealing out of the room.
I wish I were not so weak. I feel no pain whatever. Only this temperature during the nights and the ever-deepening exhaustion in the mornings.
JULY 16. I am keeping it up! To-day I was alone with Martin for a long hour in the garden-house. Weather soft and beautiful, the heavens blue, and gleams of sunshine coming through the trellis-work.
Merely to sit beside my darling with his odour of health is to feel a flood of bodily strength coursing through me, enough to make me forget that I am a frail thing myself, who could be blown away by a puff of wind. But to hear him talk on his own subject is to be lifted up to the highest reaches of the soul.
I always say there is a dumb poet in every explorer; but the poet wasn’t dumb to-day when Martin talked about the cyclone or anticyclone, or whatever it is which covers the region of the South Pole like a cap, and determines the weather of a great part of the habitable globe.
“We are going to take from God His word and pass it on to the world,” he said.
After that he made reference (for the first time since his return) to the difficulties of our position, saying what a glorious thing it would be to escape to that great free region from the world of civilisation, with its effete laws and worn-out creeds which enslave humanity.’
“Only a month to-day until we start, and you’ll be well enough to travel then, dearest.”
“Yes, yes, only a month to-day, and I shall be well enough then, dearest.”
Oh, Mary O’Neill! How much longer will you be able to keep it up, dear?
JULY 17. Martin brought the proofs of his new book from London, and to-day in the summer-house (bluebells paling out and hanging their heads, but the air full of the odour of fruit trees) he and Dr. ‘Sullivan and I have been correcting “galleys” the doctor reading aloud, Martin smoking his briar-root pipe, and I (in a crater of cushions) supposed to be sitting as judge and jury.
Such simple, straight, natural writing! There may have been a thousand errors but my ears heard none of them. The breathless bits about the moments when death was near; the humorous bits about patching the tent with the tails of their shirts when an overturned lamp burnt a hole in the canvas this was all I was conscious of until I was startled by the sound of a sepulchral voice, groaning out “Oh Lord a-massy me!” and by the sight of a Glengarry cap over the top of the fuchsia hedge. Old Tommy was listening from the road.
We sat late over our proofs and then, the dew having begun to fall, Martin said he must carry me indoors lest my feet should get wet which he did, with the result that, remembering what had happened on our first evening at Castle
Raa, I had a pretty fit of hysterics as soon as we reached the house.
“Let’s skip, Commanther,” was the next thing I heard, and then I was helped upstairs to bed.
JULY 18. “What a flirt I am becoming! Having conceived the idea that Dr. O’Sullivan is a little wee bit in love with me too, I have been playing him off against Martin.
It was so delicious (after all I have gone through) to have two magnificent men, out of the heroic youth of the world waiting hand and foot on one little woman, that the feminine soul in me to-day couldn’t resist the temptation to an innocent effort at coquetry.
So before we began business on the proofs I told Martin that, if he was determined to leave me behind at winter quarters while he went away to the Pole, he must allow Dr. O’Sullivan to remain behind to take care of me.
Of course the doctor rose to my bait like a dear, crying:
“He will too by St. Patrick and St. Thomas he will, and a mighty proud man hell be entirely. …”
But good gracious! A momentary shadow passed over Martin’s face, then came one of his big broad smiles, then out shot his clinched fist, and . . . the poor doctor and his garden seat were rolling over each other on the grass.
However, we got through without bloodshed, and did a good day’s work on the book.
I must not write any more. I have always written in my own book at night, when I haven’t been able to get any kind of Christian sleep; but I’m weaker now, so must stop, lest I shouldn’t have strength enough for Martin’s.
JULY 20. Oh dear! I am dragging all these other poor dears into my deceptions. Christian Ann does not mind what lies, or half -lies, she has to tell in order to save pain to her beloved son. But the old doctor! And Father Dan!
To-day itself, as Martin’s mother would say, I had to make my poor old priest into a shocking story-teller.
I developed a cough a few weeks ago, and though it is not really of much account I have been struggling to smother it while Martin has been about, knowing he is a doctor himself, and fearing his ear might detect the note.
But this afternoon (whether a little damp, with a soft patter of sweet rain on the trees and the bushes) I had a rather bad bout, at which Martin’s face looked grave, until I laughed and said:
”It’s nothing! I’ve had this sort of cough every summer since I was born haven’t I, Father Dan?”
I shall have to remember that in my next confession, but what Father Dan is to do I really don’t know.
JULY 21. I have been rather down to-day about a newspaper that came to me anonymously from Paris, with a report marked for my special delectation.
“FASHIONABLE MARRIAGE OP AN ENGLISH PEER AND AN AMERICAN HEIRESS.”
My husband’s and Alma’s! It took place at the American Embassy, and was attended by great numbers of smart people. There was a long account of the grandeur of the bride’s dress and of the splendour of the bridegroom’s presents. They have taken an apartment on the Champs Elysees and will spend most of the year in Paris.
Ah well, why should I trouble about a matter that so little concerns me? Alma is still beautiful; she will be surrounded by admirers; her salon will be frequented by the fashionable parasites of Europe and America.
As for my husband, the straw-fire of his wife’s passion for him will soon burn out, especially now that she has gained what she wanted his name, his title.
* * * * * * *
Martin carried me upstairs to bed to-night. I was really feeling weaker than usual, but we made a great game of it. Nurse went first, behind a mountain of pillows; Martin and I came next, with his arms about my body and mine around his neck; and Dr. O’Sullivan last, carrying two tall brass candlesticks.
How we laughed! “We all laughed together, as if trying to see which of us could laugh the loudest. Only Christian Ann looked serious, standing at the bottom of the stairs, nursing baby in her nightdress.
It is three o’clock in the morning as I write, and I can hear our laughter still only it sounds like sobbing now.
JULY 22. Have heard something to-day that has taken all the warmth of life out of me. It is about my father, whom the old doctor still attends. Having been told of my husband’s marriage he has announced his intention of claiming my child if anything happens to me!
What his object may be I do not know. He cannot be thinking of establishing a claim to my husband’s title Isabel being a girl. Remembering something his lawyer said about the marriage settlement when I consulted him on the subject of divorce, I can only assume that (now he is poor) he is trying to recover the inheritance he settled on my husband.
It frightens me raising my old nightmare of a lawsuit about the legitimacy of my child. I want to speak to Martin about it. Tet how can I do so without telling him the truth which I have been struggling so hard to conceal?
JULY 23. Oh, Mary O’Neill, what are you coming to?
I told Martin about father’s threat, only I gave it another colour. He had heard of the Reverend Mother’s visit, so I said the rumour had reached my father that I intended to enter a convent, and he had declared that, if I did so, he would claim my child from Christian Ann, being its nearest blood relation.
“Can he do so when I am . . . when we are gone?” I asked.
I thought Martin’s strong face looked sterner than I had ever seen it. He made a vague reply and left me soon afterwards on some sort of excuse.
About an hour later he came back to carry me upstairs, and just as he was setting me down, and Christian Ann was coming in with the candles, he whispered:
“Don’t worry about Girlie. I’ve settled that matter, I’m thinking.”
What has he done, I wonder?
MEMORANDUM OF MARTIN CONRAD
What I had done is easily told. I had gone straight to Daniel O’Neill himself, intending to know the truth of the story and to act accordingly.
Already I knew enough to scent mischief. I could not be so stupefied into blindness of what was going on under my eyes as not to see that the dirty question of money, and perhaps the dirtier question of the aims and expectations of the woman MacLeod, were at the root of the matter that was distressing my darling.
Daniel O’Neill had left the Big House and gone to live in his mother’s old cottage for two reasons first, to delude the law into the idea that he was himself utterly ruined by the bankruptcy to which he had brought the whole island; and next, to gratify the greed of his mistress, who wanted to get him to herself at the end, so that he might be persuaded to marry her (if it were only on his death-bed) and so establish, against any claim of his daughter’s, her widow’s rights in what a husband leaves behind him which is half of everything in Ellan.
What connection this had with the man’s desire to get hold of the child I had yet to learn; but I meant to learn it without another hour’s delay, so I set off for the cottage on the curragh.
It was growing dark, and not being sure of my way through the ever-changing bypaths of the bog land, I called on Father Dan to guide me. The old priest seemed to know my errand (the matter my darling had communicated as a secret being common knowledge), and at first he looked afraid.
”Well . . . yes, yes . . . why shouldn’t I?” he said, and then, “Yes, I will, I will” with the air of a man who had made up his mind to a daring enterprise.
Our curragh is a stretch of wild marsh lying over against the sea, undrained, only partly cultivated, half covered with sedge and sallow bushes, and consequently liable to heavy mists. There was a mist over it that night, and hence it was not easy even for Father Dan (accustomed to midnight visits to curragh cottages) to find the house which had once been the home of “Neale the Lord.”
We rooted it out at last by help of the parish constable, who was standing at the corner of a by-road talking to the coachman of a gorgeous carriage waiting there, with its two splendid horses smoking in the thick night air.
When, over the shingle of what we call “the street,” we reached the low straggling crofter-cottage under its thick trammon tree (supposed to keep off the evil spirits), I rapped with my knuckles at the door, and it was opened by a tall, scraggy w r oman with a handle in her hand.
This was Nessy MacLeod, harder and uglier than ever, with her red hair combed up, giving her the appearance of a bunch of carrots over two stalks of rhubarb.
Almost before I had time to say that we had come to see Mr. O’Neill, and to step into the house while saying so, a hoarse, husky, querulous man’s voice cried from within:
“Who is it, Nessy?”
“It’s Father Dan, and Martin … I mean Sir . . . ”
“That’ll do,” I said, and the next moment we were in the living-room a bare, bleak, comfortless Curraghman’s kitchen.
A more incongruous sight than we saw there human eyes never beheld.
Daniel O’Neill, a shadow of the big brute creature he once was, a shrivelled old man, with his bony hands scored and contracted like an autumn leaf, his shrunken legs scarcely showing through his baggy trousers, his square face whiter than the wall behind it, and a piece of red flannel hanging over his head like a cowl, sat in the elbow-chair at the side of the hearth-fire, while at a deal table, which was covered with papers that looked like law deeds and share certificates (being stamped and sealed), sat the Bishop of the island, and its leading lawyer, Mr. Curphy.
On hearing my name and seeing me enter the house, Daniel O’Neill lost all control of himself. He struggled to his feet by help of a stick, and as I walked up to him he laid hold of me.
“You devil!” he cried. “You infernal villain! You . . .”
But it is of no use to repeat what else he said in the fuming of his rage, laying hold of me by the collar of my coat, and tugging at it as if he would drag me to his feet.
I was half sorry for the man, badly as I thought of him, so I only opened his hand (easy enough to do, for the grip was gone from it) and said:
“You’re an old man, sir, and you’re a sick man don’t tempt me to forget that you are the father of Mary O’Neill. Sit down.”
He sat down, breathless and broken, without another word. But the Bishop, with a large air of outraged dignity, faced about to poor Father Dan (who was standing near the door, turning his round hat in his trembling hands) and said:
“Father Donovan, did you know that Mr. O’Neill was very ill?”
“I did, Monsignor,” said Father Dan.
“And that a surgeon is coming from London to perform an operation upon him did you know that?”
“I did, Monsignor.”
“Did you know also that I was here to-night to attend with Mr. Curphy to important affairs and perhaps discharge some sacred duties?”
“I knew that too, Monsignor.”
“Then,” said the Bishop, pointing at me, “how dare you bring this man here this man of all others, who has been the chief instrument in bringing shame and disgrace upon our poor sick friend and his deeply injured family?”
“So that’s how you look at it, is it, Monsignor?”
“Yes, sir, that is how I look at it, and I am sorry for a priest of my Church who has so weakened his conscience by sympathy with notorious sinners as to see things in any other light.”
“Didn’t you hear me, Father Donovan? Or do you desire me to use a harder name for them for one of them in particular, on whom you have wasted so much weak sentimentality, to the injury of your spiritual influence and the demoralisation of your parish. I have warned you already. Do you wish me to go further, to remove you from your Presbytery, or perhaps report your conduct to those who have power to take the frock off your back? What standard of sanctity for the sacrament of Holy Matrimony do you expect to maintain while you degrade it by openly associating with a woman who has broken her marriage vows and become little better … I grieve to say it [with a deep inclination of the head towards the poor wreck in the elbow-chair] little better than a common. . . . ”
I saw the word that was coming, and I was out in an instant. But there was somebody before me. It was Father Dan. The timid old priest seemed to break in one moment the bonds of a life-long tyranny.
“What’s that you say, Monsignor?” he cried in a shrill voice. “1 degrade the sacrament of Holy Matrimony? Never in this world! But if there’s anybody in the island of Ellan who has done that same every day of his life, it’s yourself, and never more cruelly and shamefully than in the case we’re talking of at this present speaking.”
“I’m not used to this kind of language from my clergy, Father Donovan,” began the Bishop, but before he could say more Father Dan caught him up by crying:
“Perhaps not, Monsignor. But you’ve got to hear for once, and that’s now. When this man [pointing to Daniel O’Neill] for his own purposes wanted to marry his daughter (who was a child and had no choice in the matter) to one of another faith, a man who didn’t believe in the sacrament of marriage as we know it, who was it that paved the way for him?”
“You actually mean that?. . . . ”
“I mean that without your help, Monsignor, a good girl could never have been married to a bad man. You didn’t act in ignorance, either. When somebody told you somebody who is here now that the man to whom you were going to marry that innocent girl was a notorious loose liver, a profligate, a reprobate, a betrayer of women, and a damned scoundrel. …”
“Go on, Father Dan; that’s God’s own name for him,” I said, when the old priest caught his breath for a moment, terrified by the word that had burst from his lips.
“Let’s have an end of this,” said the Bishop mightily.
“Wait a bit, sir,” I said, and then Father Dan went on to say how he had been told there was nothing to my story, and how he had been forbidden to inquire into it.
“That’s how you made me a party to this wicked marriage, God and His Holy. Mother pardon me! And now that it has come to the end you might have expected, and the poor helpless child who was bought and sold like a slave is in the position of the sinner, you want me to cut her off, to turn the hearts of all good people against her, to cast her out of communion, to make her a thing to point the finger at me, her spiritual father who baptized her, taking her out of the arms of the angel who bore her and giving her to Christ or if I won’t you’ll deprive me of my living, you’ll report me to Rome, you’ll unfrock me. . . .”
“Do it, Monsignor,”‘ cried Father Dan, taking a step nearer to the Bishop and lifting a trembling hand over his head. “Do it, if our Holy Church will permit you, and I’ll put a wallet on my old shoulders and go round the houses of my parish in my old age, begging a bite of bread and a basin of meal, and sleeping under a thorn bush, rather than lay my head on my pillow and know that that poor victim of your wicked scheming is in the road.”
The throbbing and breaking of the old priest’s voice had compelled me to drop my head, and it was not until I heard the sneck of the lock of the outer door that I realised that, overcome by his emotion, he had fled from the house.
“And now I guess you can follow your friend,” said Daniel O’Neill.
“Not yet, sir,” I answered. “I have something to say first.”
“Well, well, what is it, please?” said the lawyer sharply and insolently, looking to where I was standing with folded arms at one side of the hearth-place.
“You’ll hear soon enough, Master Curphy,” I answered.
Then, turning back to Daniel O’Neill, I told him what rumour had reached my dear one of his intentions with regard to her child, and asked him to say whether there was any truth in it.
“Answer the man, Curphy,” said Daniel O’Neill, and thereupon the lawyer, with almost equal insolence, turned to me and said:
“What is it you wish to know, sir?”
“Whether, if Mary O’Neill is unable from any cause to keep control of her child (which God forbid!), her father intends to take possession of it.”
“Why shouldn’t he? If the mother dies, for instance, her father will be the child’s legal guardian.”
“But if by that time the father is dead too what then?”
“Then the control of the child will with the consent of the court devolve upon his heir and representative.”
“Meaning this lady?” I asked, pointing to the woman MacLeod, who was now standing at the back of Daniel O’Neill’s chair.
“And what will she do with it?”
“Do with it?”
The lawyer was running his fingers through his long beard and trying to look perplexed.
“Mr. Curphy, I’ll ask you not to pretend to be unable to understand me. If and when this lady gets possession of Mary O’Neill’s child, what is she going to do with it?”
“Very well,” said the advocate, seeing I meant business, “since my client permits me to speak, I’ll tell you plainly. Whatever the child’s actual parentage . . . perhaps you know best . . .”
“Go on, sir.”
“Whatever the child’s parentage, it was born in wedlock. Even the recent divorce proceedings have not disturbed that. Therefore we hold that the child has a right to the inheritance which in due time should come to Mary O’Neill’s off-spring by the terms of the settlement upon her husband.”
It was just as I expected, and every drop of my blood boiled at the thought of my darling’s child in the hands of that frozen-hearted woman.
“So that is the law, is it?”
“That is the law in Ellan.”
“In the event of Mary O’Neill’s death, and her father’s death, her child and all its interests will come into the hands of . . .”
“Of her father’s heir and representative.”
“Meaning, again, this lady?”
The woman at the back of the chair began to look restless.
“I don’t know, sir,” she said, “if your repeated references to me are intended to reflect upon my character, or my ability to bring up the child well and look after its interests properly.”
“They are, madam they most certainly and assuredly are,” I answered.
“Daniel!” she cried.
“Be quiet, gel,” said Daniel O’Neill “Let the man speak. We’ll see what he has come for presently. Go on, sir.”
I took him at his word, and was proceeding to say that as I understood things it was intended to appeal to the courts in order to recover (nominally for the child) succession to the money which had been settled on Mary O’Neill’s husband at the time of their marriage, when the old man cried, struggling again to his feet:
“There you are! The money! It’s the money the man’s after! He took my daughter, and now he’s for taking my fortune what’s left of it, anyway. He shan’t, though! No, by God he shan’t! . . . Go back to your woman, sir. Do you hear me? your woman, and tell her that neither you nor she shall touch one farthing of my fortune. I’m seeing to that now. It’s what we’re here for to-night before that damnable operation to-morrow, for nobody knows what win come of it. She has defied me and ruined me, and made me the byword of the island, God’s curse on her. . . .”
“Daniel! Daniel!” cried the MacLeod woman, trying to pacify the infuriated madman and to draw him back to his seat.
I would have given all I had in the world if Daniel O’Neill could have been a strong man at that moment, instead of a poor wisp of a thing with one foot in the grave. But I controlled myself as well as I could and said:
“Mr. O’Neill, your daughter doesn’t want your fortune, and as for myself, you and your money are no more to me than an old hen sitting on a nest of addled eggs. Give it to the lady at the back of your chair she has earned it, apparently.”
“Really,” said the Bishop, who had at length recovered from Father Dan’s onslaught. “Really, Sir What-ever-your-name is, this is too outrageous that you should come to this lonely house at this time of night, interrupting most urgent business, not to speak of serious offices, and make injurious insinuations against the character of a respectable person you, sir, who had the audacity to return openly to the island with the partner of your sin, and to lodge her in the house of your own mother your own mother, sir, though Heaven knows what kind of mother it can be who harbours her son’s sin-laden mistress, his woman, as our sick friend says. . . . ”
Lord! how my hands itched! But controlling myself again, with a mighty effort I said:
“Monsignor, I don’t think I should advise you to say that again.”
“Why not, sir?”
“Because I have a deep respect for your loth and should be sorry to see it soiled.”
“Violence!” cried the Bishop, rising to his feet. “You threaten me with violence? … Is there no policeman in this parish, Mr. Curphy?”
“There’s one at the corner of the road, Bishop,” I said. “I brought him along with me. I should have brought the High Bailiff too, if there had been time. You would perhaps be no worse for a few witnesses to the business that seems to be going on here.”
Saying this, as I pointed to the papers on the table, I had hit harder than I knew, for both the Bishop and the lawyer (who had also risen) dropped back into their seats and looked at each other with expressions of surprise.
Then, stepping up to the table, so as to face the four of them, I said, as calmly and deliberately as I could:
“Now listen to me. I am leaving this island in about three weeks time, and expect to be two years perhaps three years away. Mary O’Neill is going with me as my wife. She intends to leave her child in the care of my mother, and I intend to promise her that she may set her mind at ease that it shall never under any circumstances be taken away. You seem to have made up your minds that she is going to die. Please God she may disappoint your expectations and come back strong and well. But if she does not, and I have to return alone, and if I find that her child has been removed from the protection in which she left it, do you know what I shall do?”
“Go to the courts, I presume,” said the lawyer.
“Oh dear, no! I’ll go to no courts, Mr. Curphy. I’ll go to the people who have set the courts in motion which means that I’ll go to you and you and you and you. Heaven knows how many of us may be living when that day comes; but as surely as I am, if I find that the promise I made to Mary O’Neill has been a vain one, and that her child is under this woman’s control and the subject of a lawsuit about this man’s money, and she in her grave, as surely as the Lord God is above us there isn’t one soul of you here present who will be alive the following morning.”
That seemed to be enough for all of them. Even old Daniel O’Neill (the only man in the house who had an ounce of fight in him) dropped his head back in his chair, with his mouth wide open and his broken teeth showing behind his discoloured lips.
I thought Father Dan would have been waiting for me under the trammon on “the street,” but he had gone back to the Presbytery and sent Tommy the Mate to lead me through the mist and the by-lanes to the main road.
The old salt seemed to have a “skute” into the bad business which had brought out the Bishop and the lawyer at that late hour, and on parting from me at the gate of Sunny Lodge he said:
“Lord-a-massy me, what for hasn’t ould Tom Dug a fortune coming to him?”
And when I asked him. what he would do with a fortune if he had one he answered:
“Do? Have a tunderin’ [thundering] good law-shoot and sattle some o’ them big fellas.”
Going to bed in the “Plough” that night, I had an ugly vision of the scene being enacted in the cottage on the curragh (a scene not without precedent in the history of the world, though the priesthood as a whole is so pure and noble) – the midnight marriage of a man dying in unnatural hatred of his own daughter (and she the sweetest woman in the world) while the priest and the prostitute divided the spoils.
[END OF MARTIN CONRAD’S MEMORANDUM]
ONE HUNDRED AND SIXTEENTH CHAPTER
JULY 25. The old doctor brought me such sad and startling news to-day. My poor father is dead – died yesterday, after an operation which he had deferred too long, refusing to believe it necessary.
The dreadful fact has hitherto been kept secret not only from me but from everybody, out of fear of legal proceedings arising from the failure of banks, &c., which has brought the whole island to the verge of bankruptcy.
He was buried this morning at old St. Mary’s – very early, almost before daybreak, to suit the convenience of the Bishop, who wished to catch the first steamer en route for Rome.
As a consequence of these strange arrangements, and the secrecy that has surrounded my father’s life of late, people are saying that he is not dead at all, that in order to avoid prosecution he has escaped from the island (going off with the Bishop in a sort of disguise), and that the coffin put into the grave this morning did not contain a human body.
“But that’s all wrong,” said the old doctor. “Your father is really dead and buried, and the strange man who went away with the Bishop was the London surgeon who performed the operation.”
I can hardly realise it – that the strong, stalwart being, the stern old lion whose heavy foot, tramping through my poor mother’s room, used to make the very house shake, is gone.
He died as he had lived, it seems. To the last self-centred, inflexible, domineering – a peasant yet a great man (if greatness is to be measured by power), ranking, I think, in his own little scene of life with the tragic figures of history.
I have spent the day in bitter grief. Ever since I was a child there has been a dark shadow between my father and me. He was like a beetling mountain, always hanging over my head. I wonder whether he wished to see me at the end. Perhaps he did, and was over-persuaded by the cold and savourless nature of Nessy MacLeod, who is giving it out, I hear, that grief and shame for me killed him.
People will say he was a vulgar parvenu, a sycophant, a snob heaven knows what. All wrong! For the true reading of his character one has to go back to the day when he was a ragged boy and the liveried coachman of the “bad Lord Raa” lashed at his mother on the road, and he swore that when he was a man she should have a carriage of her own, and then “nobody should never lash her.”
He found Gessler’s cap in the market-place and was no more willing than Tell to bend the knee to it.
My poor father! He did wrong to use another life, another soul, for either his pride or his revenge. But God knows best how it will be with him, and if he was the first cause of making my life what it has been, I send after him (I almost tremble to say it), if not my love, my forgiveness.
JULY 26. I begin to realise that after all I was not romancing when I told the old dears that Martin and his schemes would collapse if I failed him. Poor boy, he is always talking as if everything depended upon me. It is utterly frightening to think what would happen to the Expedition if he thought I could not sail with him on the sixteenth.
Martin is not one of the men who weep for their wives as if the sun had suffered eclipse, and then marry again before their graves are green. So, having begun on my great scheme of pretending that I am getting better every day, and shall be “ready to go, never fear,” I have to keep it up.
I begin to suspect, though, that I am not such a wonderful actress after all. Sometimes in the midst of my raptures I see him looking at me uneasily as if he were conscious of a certain effort. At such moments I have to avoid his eyes lest anything should happen, for my great love seems to be always lying in wait to break down my make-believe.
To-day (though I had resolved not to give way to tears) when he was talking about the voyage out, and how it would “set me up” and how the invigorating air of the Antarctic would “make another woman of me,” I cried:
“How splendid! How glorious!”
“Then why are you crying?” he asked.
“Oh, good gracious, that’s nothing for me,” I answered.
But if I am throwing dust in Martin’s eyes I am deceiving nobody else, it seems. To-night after he and Dr. O’Sullivan had gone back to the “Plough,” Father Dan came in to ask Christian Ann how she found me, and being answered rather sadly, I heard him say:
“Ugh cha nee! [Woe is me!] What is life? It is even a vapour which appeareth for a little while and then vanisheth away.”
And half an hour later, when old Tommy came to bring me some lobsters (he still declares they are the only food for invalids) and to ask “how’s the lil woman now?” I heard him moaning, as he was going out:
“There’ll be no shelter for her this voyage, the vogh! She’ll carry the sea in with her to the Head, I’m thinking.”
JULY 27. I must keep it up – I must, I must! To allow Martin’s hopes and dreams to be broken in upon now would be enough to kill me outright.
I don’t want to be unkind, but some explorers leave the impression that their highest impulse is the praise of achievement, and once they have done something all they ‘ve got to do next is to stay at home and talk about it. Martin is not like that. Exploration is a passion with him. The “lure of the little voices” and the “call of the Unknown” have been with him from the beginning, and they will be with him to the end.
I cannot possibly think of Martin dying in bed, and being laid to rest in the green peace of English earth dear and sweet as that is to tamer natures, mine for instance. I can only think of that wild heroic soul going up to God from the broad white wilderness of the stormy South, and leaving his body under heaving hummocks of snow with blizzards blowing a requiem over his grave.
Far off may that glorious ending be, but shall my poor failing heart make it impossible? Never, never, never!
Moral – I’m going to get up every day whatever my nurse may say.
JULY 28. I was rocking baby to sleep this afternoon when Christian Ann, who was spinning by the fire, told me of a quarrel between Aunt Bridget and Nessy MacLeod.
It seems that Nessy (who says she was married to my father immediately before the operation) claims to be the heiress of all that is left, and as the estate includes the Big House she is ‘ ‘ putting the law on ‘ ‘ Aunt Bridget to obtain possession.
Poor Aunt Bridget! What a pitiful end to all her scheming for Betsy Beauty, all her cruelties to my long-suffering mother, all her treatment of me to be turned out of doors by her own step-daughter!
When old Tommy heard of the lawsuit, he said:
“Chut! Sarves her right, I say! It’s the black life the Big Woman lived before, and it’s the black life she’ll be living now, and her growing old, and the Death looking in on her.”
JULY 29. We have finished the proofs to-day and Dr. O’Sullivan has gone back with them. I thought he looked rather wae when he came to say good-bye to me, and though he made a great deal of noise his voice was husky when (swearing by his favourite Saints) he talked about “returning for the tenth with all the boys, including Treacle.”
Of course that was nonsense about his being in love with me. But I’m sure he loves me all the same many, many people love me. I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve all this love. I have had a great deal of love in my life now that I come to think of it.
We worked hard over the last of the proofs, and I suppose I was tired at the end of them, for when Martin carried me upstairs to-night there was less laughter than usual, and I thought he looked serious as he set me down by the bed.
I bantered him about that (“A penny for your thoughts, mister”), but towards midnight the truth flashed upon me I am becoming thinner and therefore lighter every day, and he is beginning to notice it.
Moral – I must try to walk upstairs in future.
JULY 30. Ah, me! It looks as if it were going to be a race between me and the Expedition which shall come off first and sometimes I am afraid I am going to be the loser!
Martin ought to sail on the sixteenth only seventeen days! I am expected to be married on the tenth only eleven! Oh, Mary O’Neill, what a strange contradictory war you are waging! Look straight before you, dear, and don’t be afraid.
I had a letter from the Reverend Mother this evening. She is crossing from Ireland to-morrow, which is earlier than she intended, so I suppose Father Dan must have sent for her.
I do hope Martin and she will get on comfortably together. A struggle between my religion and my love would be more than I could bear now.
JULY 31. When I awoke this morning very late (I had slept after daybreak) I was thinking of the Reverend Mother, but lo! who should come into the room but the doctor from Blackwater!
He was very nice; said I had promised to let him see me again, so he had taken me at my word.
I watched him closely while he examined me, and I could see that he was utterly astonished couldn’t understand how I came to be alive and said he would never again deny the truth of the old saying about dying of a broken heart, because I was clearly living by virtue of a whole one.
I made pretence of wanting something in order to get nurse out of the room, and then reached up to the strange doctor and whispered “When?”
He wasn’t for telling me, talked about the miraculous power of God which no science could reckon with, but at last I got a word out of him which made me happy, or at least content.
Perhaps it’s sad, but many things look brighter that are far more sorrowful dying of a broken heart, for example, and (whatever else is amiss with me) mine is not broken, but healed, gloriously healed, after its bruises, so thank God for that, anyway!
Just had some heavenly sleep and such a sweet dream! I thought my darling mother came to me. “You’re cold, my child,” she said, and then covered me up in the bedclothes. I talked about leaving my baby, and she said she had had to do the same leaving me. “That’s what we mothers come to so many of us but heaven is over all,” she whispered.
AUGUST 1. I really cannot understand myself, so it isn’t a matter for much surprise if nobody else understands me. In spite of what the strange doctor said yesterday I dressed up grandly to-day, not only in my tea-gown, but some beautiful old white Irish lace which nurse lent me to wrap about my throat.
I think the effect was rather good, and when I went downstairs leaning on nurse’s shoulder, there was Martin waiting for me, and though he did not speak (couldn’t perhaps), the look that came into his blue eyes was the same as I on that last night at Castle Raa when he said something about a silvery fir-tree with its dark head against the sky.
Oh, my own darling, I could wish to live for you, such as I am, if I could be of any use, if I would not be a hindrance rather than a help, if our union were right, if, in short, God Himself had not already answered to all such questionings and beseechings, His great, unalterable, irrevocable No!
AUGUST 2. The Reverend Mother, who arrived in the island last night, has been with me all day. I think she knows, for she has said nothing more about the convent only (with her eyes so soft and tender) that she intends to remain with me a little while, having need of rest herself.
To my surprise and joy, Martin and she have got on famously. This evening she told me that, in spite of all (I know what she meant by that), she is willing to believe that he is a true man, and, notwithstanding his unhappy opinions about the Church, a Christian gentleman.
Such a touching thing happened to-day. We were all sitting in the garden, (sun warm, light breeze off the sea, ripe corn chattering in the field opposite), when I felt a tugging at my skirts, and who should it be but Isabel, who had been crawling along the dry grass plucking daisies, and now, dragging herself up to my side, emptied them into my lap.
No, I will not give way to tears any more as long as I live, yet it rather “touches me up,” as Martin says, to see how one’s vainest dreams seem to come to pass.
I don’t know if Martin thought I was going to break down, but he rattled away about Girlie having two other mothers now Grandma, who would keep her while we were down South, and the Reverend Mother, who would take her to school when she was old enough.
So there’s nothing more to fear about baby.
But what about Martin himself? Am I dealing fairly in allowing him to go on with his preparations? Isn’t it a kind of cruelty not to tell him the truth?
This problem is preying on my mind. If I could only get some real sleep perhaps I could solve it.
AUGUST 3. I am growing weaker every day. No pain; no cough; nothing but exhaustion. Father Dan told me this morning that I was growing more than ever like my mother that “sweet saint whom the Lord has made His own.” I know what he means like her as she was at the last.
My poor old priest is such a child! A good old man is always a child a woman can see through and through him.
Ah, me! I am cared for now as I never was before, yet I feel like baby when she is tired after walking round the chairs and comes to be nursed. What children we all are at the end just children!
AUGUST 4. Father Dan came across, in breathless excitement to-day. It seems the poor soul has been living in daily dread of some sort of censure from Rome through his Bishop about his toleration of me, I suppose but behold! it’s the Bishop himself who has suffered censure, having been sent into quarantine at one of the Roman Colleges and forbidden to return to his diocese.
And now, lo! a large sum of money comes from Rome for the poor of Ellan, to be distributed by Father Dan!
I think I know whose money it is that has been returned; but the dear Father suspects nothing, and is full of a great scheme for a general thanksgiving, with a procession of our village people to old St. Mary’s and then Rosary and Benediction.
It is to come off on the afternoon of the tenth, it seems, my last day in Ellan, after my marriage, but before my departure.
How God governs everything!
AUGUST 6. It is really wrong of me to allow Martin to go on. This morning he told me he had bought the special license for our marriage, and this evening he showed me our tickets for Sydney two berths, first cabin, steadiest part of the ship.
Oh, my dear heart, if you only knew that I have had my ticket these many days, and that it is to take me out first on the Great Expedition to the still bigger Unknown, the Everlasting Sea, the Immeasurable Eternity!
I must be brave. Although I am a little cowardly sometimes, I can be brave.
I have definitely decided to-night that I will tell him. But how can I look into his face and say. . . .
AUGUST 7. I have made up my mind to write to Martin. One can say things so much easier in a letter I can, anyway. Even my voice affects me swelling and falling when I am moved, like a billow on the ocean.
I find my writing cannot any longer be done in a sitting position in bed, bt I can prop my book on my breast and write lying down.
MARY O’NEILL’S LETTER TO MARTIN CONRAD
August 9th, 6 A.M.
MY OWN DARLING, Strengthen yourself for what I am going to say. It will be very hard for you I know that, dear.
To-morrow we were to have gone to the High Bailiff; this day week we were to have sailed for Sydney, and two months hence we were to have reached Winter Quarters.
But I cannot go with you to the High Bailiff’s; I cannot go with you to Sydney; I cannot go with you to Winter Quarters; I cannot go anywhere from here. It is impossible, quite impossible.
I have loved too much, dear, so the power of life is burnt out for me. My great love – love for my mother, for my darling baby, and above all for you has consumed me and I cannot live much longer.
Forgive me for not telling you this before for deceiving you bj- saying that I was getting better and growing stronger when I knew I was not. I used to think it was cowardice which kept me from telling you the truth, but I see now that it was love, too.
I was so greedy of the happiness I have had since I came to this house of love that I could not reconcile myself to the loss of it. You will try to understand that (won’t you, dear?), and so forgive me for keeping you in the dark down to the very last moment.
This will be a great grief to you. I would die with a glad heart to save you a moment’s pain, yet I could not die at ease if I did not think you would miss me and grieve for me. I like to think that in the time to come people will say, “Once he loved Mary O’Neill, and now there is no other woman in the world for him.” I should not be a woman if I did not feel like that should I?
But don’t grieve too much, dearest. Only think! If I had been strong and had years and years still to live, what a life would have been before me before both of us.
We couldn’t have lived apart, could we? And if we had married I should never have been able to shake off the thought that the world, which would always be opening its arms to you, did not want me. That would be so, wouldn’t it after all I have gone through? The world never forgives a woman for the injuries it inflicts on her itself, and I have had too many wounds, darling, to stand by your side and be any help to you.
Oh, I know what you would say, dearest. “She gave up everything for love of me, choosing poverty, obscurity, and pain above wealth and rank and ease, and therefore I will choose her before everything else in the world.” But I know what would come to us in the end, dear, and I should always feel that your love for me had dragged you down, closed many of the doors of life to you. I should know that you were always hearing behind you the echoing footsteps of my fate, and that is the only thing I could not bear.
Besides, my darling, there is something else between us in this world the Divine Commandment! Our blessed Lord says we can never be man and wife, and there is no getting beyond that, is there?
Oh, don’t think I reproach myself with loving you that I think it a sin to do so. I do not now, and never shall. He who made my heart what it is must know that I am doing no wrong.
And don’t think I regret that night at Castle Raa. If I have to answer to God for that I will do so without fear, because I know He will know that, when the cruelty and self-seeking of others were trying to control my most sacred impulses, I was only claiming the right He gave me to be mistress of myself and sovereign of my soul.
You must not regret it either, dearest, or reproach yourself in any way, for when we stand together before God’s footstool He will see that from the beginning I was yours and you were mine, and He will cover us with the wings of His loving mercy.
Then don’t think, dear, that I have ever looked upon what happened afterwards first in Ellan and then in London as, in any sense, a punishment. I have never done that at any time, and now I believe from the bottom of my heart that, if I suffered while you were away, it was not for my sin but my salvation.
Think, dear! If you and I had never met again after my marriage, and if I had gone on living with the man they had married me to, my soul would have shrivelled up and died. That is what happens to the souls of so many poor women who are fettered for life to coarse and degrading husbands. But my soul has not died, dearest, and it is not dying, whatever my poor body may do, so I thank my gracious God for the sweet and pure and noble love that has kept it alive.
All the same, my darling, to marry again is another matter. I took my vow before the altar, dear, and however ignorantly I took it, or under whatever persuasion or constraint, it is registered in heaven.
It cannot be for nothing, dear, that our blessed Lord made that stern Commandment. The Church may have given a wrong interpretation to it you say it has, and I am too ignorant to answer you, even if I wished to, which I don’t. But I am sure my Lord foresaw all such mistakes, and all the hardships that would come to many poor women (perhaps some men, too), as well as the wreck the world might fall to for want of this unyielding stay, when He issued His divine and irrevocable law that never under any circumstances should marriage be broken.
Oh, I am sure of it, dear, quite sure, and before His unsearchable wisdom I bow my head, although my heart is torn.
Yet think, darling, how light is the burden that is laid upon us! Marriage vows are for this world only. The marriage law of the Church which lasts as long as life does not go on one moment longer. The instant death set my body free, my soul may fly to where it belongs. If I were going to live ten, twenty, thirty years, this might be cold comfort, but I am not.
Then why should we be sorry? You cannot be mine in this life and I cannot be yours, so Death comes in its mercy and majesty to unite us! Our love will go far beyond life, and the moment the barrier of death is passed our union will begin! And once it begins it will never end! So Death is not really a separator, but a great uniter! Don’t you see that, dearest? One moment of parting hardly a moment, perhaps and then .we shall be together through all Eternity! How wonderful! How glorious! How triumphant!
Do you believe in individual immortality, dear? I do. I believe that in the other life I shall meet and know my dear ones who are in heaven. More than that, I believe that the instant I pass from this life I shall live with my dear ones who are still on earth. That is why I am willing to go because I am sure that the moment I draw my last breath I shall be standing by your side.
So don’t let there be any weeping for me, dear. “Nothing is here for tears; nothing but well and fair.” Always remember – love is immortal.
I will not say that I could not have wished to live a little longer – if things had been otherwise with both of us. I should like to live to see your book published and your work finished (I know it will be some day), and baby grow up to be a good girl and a beautiful one too (for that’s something, isn’t it?); and I should like to live a, little longer for another reason, a woman’s reason – simply to be loved, and to be told that I am loved, for though a woman may know that, she likes to hear it said and is never tired of hearing it.
But things have gone against us, and it is almost sinfully ungrateful to regret anything when we have so many reasons for thankfulness.
And then about Girlie – I used to think it would be terrible (for me, I mean) to die before she could be old enough to have any clear memory of her mother (such as I have of mine) to cherish and love – only the cold, blank, unfilled by a face, which must be all that remains to most of those whose parents passed away while they were children. But I am not afraid of that now, because I know that in the future, when our little girl asks about her mother, you will describe me to her as you saw and remember me – and that will be so much sweeter and lovelier than I ever was, and it will be such a joy to think that my daughter sees me through her father’s eyes.
Besides, dearest, there is something still more thrilling – the thought that Girlie may grow to be like me (like what you think me), and that in the time to come she may startle you with undescribable resemblances, in her voice or smile, or laugh, to her mother in heaven, so that some day, perhaps, years and years hence, when she is quite grown up, she may touch your arm and you may turn quickly to look at her, and lo! it will seem to you as if Mary herself (your Mary) were by your side. Oh Death, where is thy sting? Oh grave, where is thy victory?
Go on with your great work, dearest. Don’t let it flag from any cold feeling that I am lost to you. Whenever you think of me, say to yourself, “Alary is here; Love is stronger than death, many waters cannot quench it.”
Did you ever read Browning? I have been doing so during the last few days, nurse (she is quite a thoughtful woman) having lent me his last volume. When I read the last lines of what is said to have been his last poem I thought of you, dear:
“No, at noonday in the bustle of man’s, work-time
Greet the unseen with a cheer!
Bid him forward, breast and back as either should be,
‘Strive and thrive!’ Cry ‘Speed, fight on, fare ever
There as here!“
I am going to get up again to-day, dear, having something to do that is just a little important to give you this manuscript book, in which I have been writing every day (or rather every night since you found me in London.
You will see what it is, and why it was written, so I’ll say no more on that subject.
I am afraid you’ll find it very egotistical, being mainly about myself; but I seem to have been looking into my soul all the time, and when one does that, and gets down to the deep places, one meets all other souls there, so perhaps I have been writing the lives of some women as well.
I once thought I could write a real book (you’ll see what vain and foolish things I thought, especially in my darker moments) to show what a woman’s life may be when, from any cause whatsoever, she is denied .the right God gave her of choosing the best for herself and her children.
There is a dream lying somewhere there, dear, which is stirring the slumber of mankind, but the awakening will not be in my time certainly, and perhaps not even in Girlie’s.
And yet, why not?
Do you know, dearest, what it was in your wonderful book which thrilled me most? It was your description of the giant iceberg you passed in the Antarctic Ocean five hundred feet above the surface of the sea and therefore five hundred below it, going steadily on and on, against all the force of tempestuous wind and wave, by power of the current underneath.
Isn’t the movement of all great things in life like that, dearest? So perhaps the world will be a better place for Girlie than it has been for me. And in any case, I shall always feel that, after all and in spite of everything, it has been glorious to be a woman.
* * * * * * *
And now, my own darling, though we are only to be separated for a little while, I want to write what I should like to say when I part from you to-morrow if I did not know that something in my throat would choke me.
I want to tell you again that I love you dearly, that I have never loved anybody but you, and that no marriage vows will keep me from loving you to the last.
I want to thank you for the great, great love you have given me in return – all the way back from the time when I was a child. Oh, my dearest, may God for ever bless you for the sunshine you have brought into my life – every single day of it, joyful days and sorrowful ones, bright days and dark, but all shining with the glory of your love.
Never allow yourself to think that my life has not been a happy one. Looking back on it now I feel as if I have always had happiness. And when I have not had happiness I have had something far higher and better – blessedness.
I have had such joy in my life, dear – joy in the beauty of the world, in the sunshine and the moon and the stars and the flowers and the songs of the birds, and then (apart from the divine love that is too holy to speak about) in my religion, in my beloved Church, in the love of my dear mother and my sweet child, and above all – above all in you.
I feel a sense of sacred thankfulness to God for giving you to me, and if it has not been for long in this life, it will be for ever in the next.
So good-bye, my dearest me – just for a little moment! My dearest one, Good-bye!
MARY O’NEILL’S LAST NOTE WRITTEN ON THE FLY-LEAVES OF HER MISSAL
It is all over. I have given him my book. My secret is out. He knows now. I almost think he has known all along.
I had dressed even more carefully than usual, with nurse’s Irish lace about my neck as a collar, and my black hair brushed smooth in my mother’s manner, and when I went downstairs by help of my usual kind crutch (it is wonderful how strong I have been to-day) everybody said how much better I was looking.
Martin was there, and he took me into the garden. It was a little late in the afternoon, but such a sweet and holy time, with its clear air and quiet sunshine one of those evenings when Nature is like a nun “breathless with adoration.”
Although I had a feeling that it was to be our last time together we talked on the usual subjects – the High Bailiff, the special license, “the boys” of the Scotia who were coming over for my wedding, and how some of them would have to start out early in the morning.
But it didn’t matter what we talked about. It was only what we felt, and I felt entirely happy – sitting there in my cushions, with my white hand in his brown one, looking into his clear eyes and ruddy face or up to the broad blue of the sky.
The red sun had begun to sink down behind the dark bar of St. Mary’s Rock, and the daisies in the garden to close their eyes and drop their heads in sleep, when Martin became afraid of the dew.
Then we went back to the house I walking firmly, by Martin’s side, though I held his arm so close.
The old doctor was in his consulting room, nurse was in my room, and we could hear Christian Ann upstairs putting baby into her darling white cot she sleeps with grandma now.
The time came for me to go up also, and then I gave him my book, which I had been carrying under my arm, telling him to read the last pages first.
Although we had never spoken of my book before he seemed to know all about it; and it flashed upon me at that moment that, while I thought I had been playing a game of make-believe with him, he had been playing a game of make-believe with me, and had known everything from the first. There was a certain relief in that, yet there was a certain sting in it, too. What strange creatures we are, we women!
For some moments we stood together at the bottom of the stairs, holding each other ‘s hands. I was dreadfully afraid he was going to break down as he did at Castle Raa, and once again I had that thrilling, swelling feeling (the most heavenly emotion that comes into a woman’s life, perhaps) that I, the weak one, had to strengthen the strong.
It was only for a moment, though, and then he put his great gentle arms about me, and kissed me on the lips, and said, silently but oh, so eloquently, “Good-bye darling, and God bless you!”
Then I walked upstairs alone, quite alone, and when I reached the top he was still at the bottom looking up at me. I smiled down to him, then walked firmly into my room and up to my bed, and then . . . down, all my strength gone in a moment.
I have had such a wonderful experience during the night. It was like a dream, and yet something more than a dream. I don’t want to make too much of it to say that it was a vision or any supernatural manifestation such as the blessed Margaret Mary speaks about. Perhaps it was only the result of memory operating on my past life, my thoughts and desires. But perhaps it was something higher and more spiritual, and God, for my comforting, has permitted me to look for one moment behind the veil.
I thought it was to-morrow – my wedding day, and the day of Father Dan’s thanksgiving celebration – and I was sitting by my French window (which was wide open) to look at the procession.
I seemed to see everything – Father Dan in his surplice, the fishermen in their clean “ganzies,” the village people in their Sunday clothes, the Rechabites, the Foresters, and the Odd-fellows with their coloured badges and banners coming round the corner of the road, and the mothers with babies too young to be left looking on from the bridge.
I thought the procession passed under my window and went on to the church, which was soon crowded, leaving numbers of people to kneel on the path in front, as far down as the crumbling gate piers which lean towards each other, their foundations having given way.
Then I thought Benediction began, and when the congregation sang I sang also. I heard myself singing:
Ora pro nobis.“
Down to this moment I thought I had been alone, but now the Reverend Mother entered my room, and she joined me. I heard her deep rich voice under mine:
Ora pro nobis.“
Then I thought the Ora ended, and in the silence that followed it I heard Christian Ann talking to baby on the gravel path below. I had closed my eyes, yet I seemed to see them, for I felt as if I were under some strange sweet anaesthetic which had taken away all pain but not all consciousness.
Then I thought I saw Martin come close under my window and lift baby up to me, and say something about her.
I tried to answer him and could not, but I smiled, and then there was darkness, in which I heard voices about me, with somebody sobbing and Father Dan saying, as he did on the morning my mother died:
“Don ‘t call her back. She’s on her way to God’s beautiful paradise after all her suffering.”
After that the darkness became still deeper, and the voices faded away, and then gradually a great light came, a beautiful, marvellous, celestial light, such as Martin describes when he speaks about the aurora, and then … I was on a broad white snowy plateau, and Martin was walking by my side.
How wonderful! How joyful! How eternally glorious!
* * * * * * *
It is 4 A.M. Some of “the boys” will be on their way to my wedding. Though I have been often ashamed of letting them come I am glad now for his sake that I didn’t try to keep them back. With his comrades about him he will control himself and be strong.
* * * * * * *
Such a peaceful morning! There is just light enough to see St. Mary ‘s Rock. It is like a wavering ghost moving in the vapour on the face of the deep. I can hear the far-off murmur of the sea. It is like the humming in a big shell. A bird is singing in the garden and the swallows are twittering in a nest under the thatch. A mist is lying over the meadows, and the tree tops seem to be floating between the earth and the sky.
How beautiful the world is!
Very soon the mist will rise, and the day will break and the sun will come again and . . . there will be no more night.
[END OF THE NARRATIVE OF MARY O’NEILL]
MEMORANDUM OF MARTIN CONRAD
My darling was right. I had known all along, but I had been hoping against hope that the voyage would set her up, and the air of the Antarctic cure her.
Then her cheerfulness never failed her, and when she looked at me with her joyous eyes, and when her soft hand slipped into mine I forgot all my fears, so the blow fell on me as suddenly as if I had never expected it.
With a faint pathetic smile she gave me her book and I went back to my room at the inn and read it. I read all night and far into the next day – all her dear story, straight from her heart, written out in her small delicate, beautiful characters, with scarcely an erasure.
No use saying what I thought or went through. So many things I had never known before! Such love as I had never even dreamt of, and could never repay her for now!
How my whole soul rebelled against the fate that had befallen my dear one! If I have since come to share, however reluctantly, her sweet resignation, to bow my head stubbornly where she bowed hers so meekly (before the Divine Commandment), and to see that marriage, true marriage, is the rock on which God builds His world, it was not then that I thought anything about that.
I only thought with bitter hatred of the accursed hypocrisies of civilised society which, in the names of Law and Religion, had been crushing the life out of the sweetest and purest woman on earth, merely because she wished to be “mistress of herself and sovereign of her soul.”
What did I care about the future of the world? Or the movement of divine truths? Or the new relations of man and woman in the good time that was to come? Or the tremendous problems of lost and straying womanhood, or the sufferings of neglected children, or the tragedies of the whole girlhood of the world? What did I care about anything but my poor martyred darling? The woman God gave me was mine and I could not give her up – not now, after all she had gone through.
Sometime in the afternoon (heaven knows when) I went back to Sunny Lodge. The house was very quiet. Baby was babbling on the hearth-rug. My mother was silent and trying not to let me see her swollen eyes. My dear one was sleeping, had been sleeping all day long, the sleep of an angel. Strange and frightening fact, nobody being able to remember that she had ever been seen to sleep before!
After a while, sick and cold at heart, I went down to the shore where we had played as children. The boat we sailed in was moored on the beach. The tide was far out, making a noise on the teeth of the Rock, which stood out against the reddening sky, stern, grand, gloomy.
Old Tommy the Mate came to the door of his cabin. I went into the quiet smoky place with its earthen floor and sat in a dull torpor by the hearth, under the sooty “laff” and rafters. The old man did not say a word to me. He put some turf on the fire and then sat on a three-legged stool at the other side of the hearth-place.
Once he got up and gave me a basin of buttermilk, then stirred the peats and sat down again without speaking. Towards evening, when the rising sea was growing louder, I got up to go. The old man followed me to the door, and there, laying his hand on my arm he said:
“She’s been beating to windward all her life, boy. But mind ye this – she’s fetching the harbour all right at last.”
Going up the road I heard a band of music in the distance, and saw a procession of people coming down. It was Father Dan’s celebration of thanksgiving to God for what was left of Daniel ‘Neill ‘s ill-gotten wealth sent back from Rome for the poor.
Being in no humour to thank God for anything, I got over a sod hedge and crossed a field until I came to a back gate to our garden, near to “William Rufus’s” burial place stone overgrown with moss, inscription almost obliterated.
On the path I met my mother, with baby toddling and tumbling by her side.
“How is she now?” I asked.
She was awake – had been awake these two hours, but in a strange kind of wakefulness, her big angel eyes open and shining like stars as if smiling at someone whom nobody else could see, and her lips moving as if speaking some words which nobody else could hear.
“What art thou saying, boght millish?” my mother had asked, and after a moment in which she seemed to listen in rapture, my darling had answered:
“Hush! I am speaking to mamma – telling her I am leaving Isabel with Christian Ann. And she is saying he is very glad.”
We walked round to the front of the house until we came close under the window of “Mary O’Neill’s little room,” which was wide open.
The evening was so still that we could hear the congregation singing in the church and on the path in front of it.
Presently somebody began to sing in the room above. It was my darling in her clear sweet silvery voice which I have never heard the like of in this world and never shall again.
After a moment another voice joined hers a deep voice, the Reverend Mother’s.
All else was quiet. Not a sound on earth or in the air. A hush had fallen on the sea itself, which seemed to be listening for my precious darling’s last breath. The sun was going down, very red in its setting, and the sky was full of glory.
When the singing came to an end baby was babbling in my mother’s arms – “Bo-loo-la-la-ma-ma.” I took her and held her up to the open window, crying:
“Look, darling! Here’s Girlie!”
There was no answer, but after another moment the Reverend Mother came to the window. Her pale face was even paler than usual, and her lips trembled. She did not speak, but she made the sign of the Cross.
And by that … I knew.
“Out of the depths I cry unto thee, Lord, Lord, hear my cry.”
THE AUTHOR TO THE READER
I saw him off at Tilbury when he left England on his last Expedition. Already he was his own man once more. After the blinding, stunning effect of the great event there had been a quick recuperation. His spirit had risen to a wonderful strength and even a certain cheerfulness.
I did not find it hard to read the secret of this change. It was not merely that Time, the great assuager, had begun to do its work with him, but that he had brought himself to accept without qualm or question Mary O’Neill’s beautiful belief (the old, old belief) in the immortality of personal love, and was firmly convinced that, freed from the imprisonment of the flesh, she was with him every day and hour, and that as long as he lived she always would be.
There was nothing vague, nothing fantastic, nothing mawkish, nothing unmanly about this belief, but only the simple faith of a steady soul and a perfectly clear brain. It was good to see how it braced a strong man for life to face Death in that way.
As for his work I found him quite hopeful. His mission apart, I thought he was looking forward to his third trip to the Antarctic, in expectation of the silence and solitude of that strengthening region.
As I watched the big liner that was taking him away disappear down the Thames I had no more doubt that he would get down to the South Pole, and finish his task there, than that the sun would rise the following morning.
Whatever happens this time he will “march breast forward.”
WIRELESS ANTARCTIC CONTINENT
(via MACQUARIE ISLAND AND RADIO HOBART 16).
Arrived safe. All well. Weather excellent. Blue sky. Warm. Not a breath of wind. Sun never going down. Constellations revolving without dipping. Feel as if we can see the movement of the world. Start south to-morrow. Calmer than I have ever been since she was taken from me. But She was right. She is here. “Love is stronger than death, many waters cannot quench it.”
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.