Part 4 out of 4
first concern must be how I may earn my living. To earn one's living is
an obligation that can only be dispensed with at one's own great risk.
What may happen afterwards, Heaven knows! I may meet you, or I may meet
another woman, or I may remain unmarried. I do not intend to allow
myself to think of these things; my thoughts are set on one thing
only--how to get to New York, and how I shall pick up a living when I
get there. Again I thank you for what you have done for me, for the
liberation you have brought me of body and mind. I need not have added
the words "body and mind," for these are not two things, but one thing.
And that is the lesson I have learned. Good-bye.
It would be a full moon on the fifteenth of July, and every night he
went out on the hillside to watch the horned moon swelling to a disc.
And on the fifteenth, the day he had settled for his departure, as he
sat thinking how he would go down to the lake in a few hours, a letter
started to his mind which, as well as he could remember, was written in
a foolish, vainglorious mood--a stupid letter that must have made him
appear a fool in her eyes. Had he not said something about--The
thought eluded him; he could only remember the general tone of his
letter, and in it he seemed to consider Nora as a sort of medicine--a
cure for religion.
He should have written her a simple little letter, telling her that he
was leaving Ireland because he had suffered a great deal, and would
write to her from New York, whereas he had written her the letter of a
booby. And feeling he must do something to rectify his mistake, he went
to his writing-table, but he had hardly put the pen to the paper when he
heard a step on the gravel outside his door.
'Father Moran, your reverence.'
'I see that I'm interrupting you. You're writing.'
'No, I assure you.'
'But you've got a pen in your hand.'
'It can wait--a matter of no importance. Sit down.'
'Now, you'll tell me if I'm in the way?'
'My good man, why are you talking like that? Why should you be in the
'Well, if you're sure you've nothing to do, may I stay to supper?'
'But I see that I'm in the way.'
'No; I tell you you're not in the way. And you're going to stay to
Father Oliver flung himself between Father Moran and the door; Father
Moran allowed himself to be led back to the armchair. Father Oliver took
the chair opposite him, for he couldn't send Moran away; he mustn't do
anything that would give rise to suspicion.
'You're quite sure I'm not in the way--I'm not interfering with any
'Quite sure. I'm glad you have come this evening.'
'Are you? Well, I had to come.'
'You had to come!'
'Yes, I had to come; I had to come to see if anything had happened. You
needn't look at me like that; I haven't been drinking, and I haven't
gone out of my mind. I can only tell you that I had to come to see you
'And you don't know why?'
'No, I don't; I can't tell you exactly why I've come. As I was reading
my breviary, walking up and down the road in front of the house, I felt
that I must see you. I never felt anything like it in my life before. I
had to come.'
'And you didn't expect to find me?'
'Well, I didn't. How did you guess that?'
'You'd have hardly come all that way to find me sitting here in this
'That's right. It wasn't sitting in that chair I expected to see you; I
didn't expect to see you at all--at least, I don't think I did. You see,
it was all very queer, for it was as if somebody had got me by the
shoulders. It was as if I were being pushed every yard of the road.
Something was running in my mind that I shouldn't see you again, or if I
did see you that it would be for the last time. You seemed to me as if
you were going away on a long journey.'
'Was it dying or dead you saw me?'
'That I can't say. If I said any more I shouldn't be telling the truth.
No, it wasn't the same feeling when I came to tell you I couldn't put up
with the loneliness any more--the night I came here roaring for drink. I
was thinking of myself then, and that you might save me or do something
for me--give me drink or cure me. I don't know which thought it was that
was running in my head, but I had to come to you all the same, just as I
had to come to you to-day. I say it was different, because then I was on
my own business; but this time it seemed to me that I was on yours. One
good turn deserves another, as they say; and something was beating in my
head that I could help you, serve as a stay; so I had to come. Where
should I be now if it were not for you? I can see you're thinking that
it was only nonsense that was running in my head, but you won't be
saying it was nonsense that brought me the night I came like a madman
roaring for drink. If there was a miracle that night, why shouldn't
there be a miracle to-night? And if a miracle ever happened in the
world, it happened that night, I'm thinking. Do you remember the dark
gray clouds tearing across the sky, and we walking side by side, I
trying to get away from you? I was that mad that I might have thrown you
into the bog-hole if the craving had not passed from me. And it was just
lifted from me as one might take the cap off one's head. You remember
the prayer we said, leaning over the bit of wall looking across the bog?
There was no lonesomeness that night coming home, Gogarty, though a
curlew might have felt a bit.'
'Well, there were curlews and plovers about, and a starving ass picking
grass between the road and the bog-hole. That night will be ever in my
mind. Where would I be now if it hadn't been that you kept on with me
and brought me back, cured? It wouldn't be a cassock that would be on my
back, but some old rag of a coat. There's nothing in this world,
Gogarty, more unlucky than a suspended priest. I think I can see myself
in the streets, hanging about some public-house, holding horses attached
to a cab-rank.'
'Lord of Heaven, Moran! what are you coming here to talk to me in this
way for? The night you're speaking of was bad enough, but your memory of
it is worse. Nothing of what you're saying would have happened; a man
like you would be always able to pick up a living.'
'And where would I be picking up a living if it weren't on a cab-rank,
or you either?'
'Well, 'tis melancholy enough you are this evening.'
'And all for nothing, for there you are, sitting in your old chair. I
see I've made a fool of myself.'
'That doesn't matter. You see, if one didn't do what one felt like
doing, one would have remorse of conscience for ever after.'
'I suppose so. It was very kind of you, Moran, to come all this way.'
'What is it but a step? Three miles--'
'And a half.'
Moved by a febrile impatience, which he could not control, Father Oliver
got up from his chair.
'Now, Moran, isn't it strange? I wonder how it was that you should have
come to tell me that you were going off to drink somewhere. You said you
were going to lie up in a public-house and drink for days, and yet you
didn't think of giving up the priesthood.'
'What are you saying, Gogarty? Don't you know well enough I'd have been
suspended? Didn't I tell you that drink had taken that power over me
that, if roaring hell were open, and I sitting on the brink of it and a
table beside me with whisky on it, I should fill myself a glass?'
'And knowing you were going down to hell?'
'Yes, that night nothing would have stopped me. But, talking of hell, I
heard a good story yesterday. Pat Carabine was telling his flock last
Sunday of the tortures of the damned, and having said all he could about
devils and pitchforks and caldrons, he came to a sudden pause--a blank
look came into his face, and, looking round the church and seeing the
sunlight streaming through the door, his thoughts went off at a tangent.
"Now, boys," he said, "if this fine weather continues, I hope you'll be
all out in the bog next Tuesday bringing home my turf."'
Father Oliver laughed, but his laughter did not satisfy Father Moran,
and he told how on another occasion Father Pat had finished his sermon
on hell by telling his parishioners that the devil was the landlord of
hell. 'And I leave yourself to imagine the groaning that was heard in
the church that morning, for weren't they all small tenants? But I'm
afraid my visit has upset you, Gogarty.'
'How is that?'
'You don't seem to enjoy a laugh like you used to.'
'Well, I was thinking at that moment that I've heard you say that, even
though you gave way to drink, you never had any doubts about the reality
of the hell that awaited you for your sins.'
'That's the way it is, Gogarty, one believes, but one doesn't act up to
one's belief. Human nature is inconsistent. Nothing is queerer than
human nature, and will you be surprised if I tell you that I believe I
was a better priest when I was drinking than I am now that I'm sober? I
was saying that human nature is very queer; and it used to seem queer to
myself. I looked upon drink as a sort of blackmail I paid to the devil
so that he might let me be a good priest in everything else. That's the
way it was with me, and there was more sense in the idea than you'd be
thinking, for when the drunken fit was over I used to pray as I have
never prayed since. If there was not a bit of wickedness in the world,
there would be no goodness. And as for faith, drink never does any harm
to one's faith whatsoever; there's only one thing that takes a man's
faith from him, and that is woman. You remember the expulsions at
Maynooth, and you know what they were for. Well, that sin is a bad one,
but I don't think it affects a man's faith any more than drink does. It
is woman that kills the faith in men.'
'I think you're right: woman is the danger. The Church dreads her. Woman
'I don't quite understand you.'
Catherine came into the room to lay the cloth, and Father Oliver asked
Father Moran to come out into the garden. It was now nearing its prime.
In a few days more the carnations would be all in bloom, and Father
Oliver pondered that very soon it would begin to look neglected. 'In a
year or two it will have drifted back to the original wilderness, to
briar and weed,' he said to himself; and he dwelt on his love of this
tiny plot of ground, with a wide path running down the centre, flower
borders on each side, and a narrow path round the garden beside the
hedge. The potato ridges, and the runners, and the cabbages came in the
middle. Gooseberry-bushes and currant-bushes grew thickly, there were
little apple-trees here and there, and in one corner the two large
apple-trees under which he sat and smoked his pipe in the evenings.
'You're very snug here, smoking your pipe under your apple-trees.'
'Yes, in a way; but I think I was happier where you are.'
'The past is always pleasant to look upon.'
'You think so?'
The priests walked to the end of the garden, and, leaning on the wicket,
Father Moran said:
'We've had queer weather lately--dull heavy weather. See how low the
swallows are flying. When I came up the drive, the gravel space in front
of the house was covered with them, the old birds feeding the young
'And you were noticing these things, and believing that Providence had
sent you here to bid me good-bye.'
'Isn't it when the nerves are on a stretch that we notice little things
that don't concern us at all?'
'Yes, Moran; you are right. I've never known you as wise as you are this
Catherine appeared in the kitchen door. She had come to tell them their
supper was ready. During the meal the conversation turned on the roofing
of the abbey and the price of timber, and when the tablecloth had been
removed the conversation swayed between the price of building materials
and the Archbishop's fear lest he should meet a violent death, as it had
been prophesied if he allowed a roof to be put upon Kilronan.
'You know I don't altogether blame him, and I don't think anyone does at
the bottom of his heart, for what has been foretold generally comes to
pass sooner or later.'
'The Archbishop is a good Catholic who believes in everything the Church
teaches--in the Divinity of our Lord, the Immaculate Conception, and the
Pope's indulgences. And why should he be disbelieving in that which has
been prophesied for generations about the Abbot of Kilronan?'
'Don't you believe in these things?'
'Does anyone know exactly what he believes? Does the Archbishop really
believe every day of the year and every hour of every day that the Abbot
of Kilronan will be slain on the highroad when a De Stanton is again
Abbot?' Father Oliver was thinking of the slip of the tongue he had been
guilty of before supper, when he said that the Church looks upon woman
as the real danger, because she is the life of the world. He shouldn't
have made that remark, for it might be remembered against him, and he
fell to thinking of something to say that would explain it away.
'Well, Moran, we've had a pleasant evening; we've talked a good deal,
and you've said many pleasant things and many wise ones. We've never had
a talk that I enjoyed more, and I shall not forget it easily.'
'How is that?'
'Didn't you say that it isn't drink that destroys a man's faith, but
woman? And you said rightly, for woman is life.'
'I was just about to ask you what you meant, when Catherine came in and
'Love of woman means estrangement from the Church, because you have to
protect her and her children.'
'Yes, that is so; that's how it works out. Now you won't be thinking me
a fool for having come to see you this evening, Gogarty? One never knows
when one's impulses are true and when they're false. If I hadn't come
the night when the drink craving was upon me, I shouldn't have been here
'You did quite right to come, Moran; we've talked of a great many
'I've never talked so plainly to anyone before; I wonder what made me
talk as I've been talking. We never talked like this before, did we,
Gogarty? And I wouldn't have talked to another as I've talked to you. I
shall never forget what I owe to you.'
'You said you were going to leave the parish.'
'I don't think I thought of anything except to burn myself up with
drink. I wanted to forget, and I saw myself walking ahead day after day,
drinking at every public-house.'
'And just because I saved you, you thought you would come to save me?'
'There was something of that in it. Gad! it's very queer; there's no
saying where things will begin and end. Pass me the tobacco, will you?'
Father Moran began to fill his pipe, and when he had finished filling
it, he said:
'Now I must be going, and don't be trying to keep me; I've stopped long
enough. If I were sent for a purpose--'
'But you don't believe seriously, Moran, that you were sent for a
purpose?' Moran didn't answer, and his silence irritated Father Oliver,
and, determined to probe his curate's conscience, he said: 'Aren't you
satisfied now that it was only an idea of your own? You thought to find
me gone, and here I am sitting before you.' After waiting for some time
for Moran to speak, he said: 'You haven't answered me.'
'What should I be answering?'
'Do you still think you were sent for a purpose?'
'Well, I do.'
The priests stood looking at each other for a while.
'Can't you give a reason?'
'No; I can give no reason. It's a feeling. I know I haven't reason on my
side. There you are before me.'
'It's very queer.'
He would have liked to have called back Moran. It seemed a pity to let
him go without having probed this matter to the bottom. He hadn't asked
him if he had any idea in his mind about the future, as to what was
going to happen; but it was too late now. 'Why did he come here
disturbing me with his beliefs,' he cried out, 'poisoning my will?' for
he had already begun to fear that Moran's visit might come between him
and his project. The wind sighed a little louder, and Father Oliver
said: 'I wouldn't be minding his coming here to warn me, though he did
say that it wasn't of his own will that he came, but something from the
outside that kept pushing him along the road--I wouldn't be minding all
that if this wind hadn't risen. But the omen may be a double one.' At
that moment the wind shook the trees about the house, and he fell to
thinking that if he had started to swim the lake that night he would be
now somewhere between Castle Island and the Joycetown shore, in the
deepest and windiest part of the lake. 'And pretty well tired I'd be at
the time. If I'd started to-night a corpse would be floating about by
now.' The wind grew louder. Father Oliver imagined the waves slapping in
his face, and then he imagined them slapping about the face of a corpse
drifting towards the Joycetown shore.
There was little sleep in him that night, and turning on his pillow, he
sought sleep vainly, getting up at last when the dawn looked through the
curtains. A wind was shaking the apple-trees, and he went back to bed,
thinking that if it did not drop suddenly he would not be able to swim
across the lake that evening. The hours passed between sleeping and
waking, thinking of the newspaper articles he would write when he got to
America, and dreaming of a fight between himself and an otter on the
shore of Castle Island. Awaking with a cry, he sat up, afraid to seek
sleep again lest he might dream of drowning men. 'A dream robs a man of
all courage,' and then falling back on his pillow, he said, 'Whatever my
dreams may be I shall go. Anything were better than to remain taking
money from the poor people, playing the part of a hypocrite.'
And telling Catherine that he could not look through her accounts that
morning, he went out of the house to see what the lake was like.
'Boisterous enough; it would take a good swimmer to get across to-day.
Maybe the wind will drop in the afternoon.'
The wind continued to rise, and next day he could only see white waves,
tossing trees, and clouds tumbling over the mountains. He sat alone in
his study staring at the lamp, the wind often awaking him from his
reverie; and one night he remembered suddenly that it was no longer
possible for him to cross the lake that month, even if the wind should
cease, for he required not only a calm, but a moonlight night. And going
out of the house, he walked about the hilltop, about the old thorn-bush,
his hands clasped behind his back. He stood watching the moon setting
high above the south-western horizon. But the lake--where was it? Had he
not known that a lake was there, he would hardly have been able to
discover one. All faint traces of one had disappeared, every shape was
lost in blue shadow, and he wondered if his desire to go had gone with
the lake. 'The lake will return,' he said, and next night he was on the
hillside waiting for the lake to reappear. And every night it emerged
from the shadow, growing clearer, till he could follow its winding
shores. 'In a few days, if this weather lasts, I shall be swimming out
there.' The thought crossed his mind that if the wind should rise again
about the time of the full moon he would not be able to cross that year,
for in September the water would be too cold for so long a swim. 'But it
isn't likely,' he said; 'the weather seems settled.'
And the same close, blue weather that had prevailed before the storm
returned, the same diffused sunlight.
'There is nothing so depressing,' the priest said, 'as seeing swallows
flying a few feet from the ground.'
It was about eight o'clock--the day had begun to droop in his
garden--that he walked up and down the beds admiring his carnations.
Every now and again the swallows collected into groups of some six or
seven, and fled round the gables of his house shrieking. 'This is their
dinner-hour; the moths are about.' He wondered on, thinking Nora
lacking; for she had never appreciated that beautiful flower Miss
Shifner. But her ear was finer than his; she found her delight in music.
A thought broke through his memories. He had forgotten to tell her he
would write if he succeeded in crossing the lake, and if he didn't write
she would never know whether he was living or dead. Perhaps it would be
better so. After hesitating a moment, the desire to write to her took
strong hold upon him, and he sought an excuse for writing. If he didn't
write, she might think that he remained in Garranard. She knew nothing
of Moran's visit, nor of the rising of the wind, nor of the waning of
the moon; and he must write to her about these things, for if he were
drowned she would think that God had willed it. But if he believed in
God's intervention, he should stay in his parish and pray that grace
might be given to him. 'God doesn't bother himself about such trifles as
my staying or my going,' he muttered as he hastened towards his house,
overcome by an immense joy. For he was happy only when he was thinking
of her, or doing something connected with her, and to tell her of the
fatality that seemed to pursue him would occupy an evening.
_From Father Oliver Gogarty to Miss Nora Glynn._
'_July_ 25, 19--.
'You will be surprised to hear from me so soon again, but I forgot to
say in my last letter that, if I succeeded in crossing the lake, I would
write to you from New York. And since then many things have happened,
strange and significant coincidences.'
And when he had related the circumstance of Father Moran's visit and the
storm, he sought to excuse his half-beliefs that these were part of
God's providence sent to warn him against leaving his parish.
'Only time can rid us of ideas that have been implanted in us in our
youth, and that have grown up in our flesh and in our mind. A sudden
influence may impel us to tear them up and cast them aside, but the seed
is in us always, and it grows again. "One year's seed, seven years'
weed." And behind imported Palestinian supernature, if I may be
permitted to drop into Mr. Poole's style, or what I imagine to be his
style, there is the home belief in fairies, spirits, and ghosts, and the
reading of omens. Who amongst us does not remember the old nurse who
told him stories of magic and witchcraft? Nor can it be denied that
things happen that seem in contradiction to all we know of Nature's
laws. Moreover, these unusual occurrences have a knack of happening to
men at the moment of their setting out on some irrevocable enterprise.
'You who are so sympathetic will understand how my will has been
affected by Father Moran's visit. Had you heard him tell how he was
propelled, as it were, out of his house towards me, you, too, would
believe that he was a messenger. He stopped on his threshold to try to
find a reason for coming to see me; he couldn't find any, and he walked
on, feeling that something had happened. He must have thought himself a
fool when he found me sitting here in the thick flesh. But what he said
did not seem nonsense to me; it seemed like some immortal wisdom come
from another world. Remember that I was on the point of going. Nor is
this all. If nothing else had happened, I might have looked upon Father
Moran's visit as a coincidence. But why should the wind rise? So far as
I can make out, it began to rise between eleven and twelve, at the very
time I should have been swimming between Castle Island and the Joycetown
shore. I know that belief in signs and omens and prognostics can be
laughed at; nothing is more ridiculous than the belief that man's fate
is governed by the flight of birds, yet men have believed in bird augury
from the beginning of the world.
'I wrote to you about a curlew (I can still see it in the air, its
beautifully shapen body and wings, its long beak, and its trailing legs;
it staggered a little in its flight when the shot was fired, but it had
strength enough to reach Castle Island: it then toppled over, falling
dead on the shore); and I ask you if it is wonderful that I should have
been impressed? Such a thing was never heard of before--a wild bird with
its legs tied together!
'At first I believed that this bird was sent to warn me from going, but
it was that bird that put the idea into my head how I might escape from
the parish without giving scandal. Life is so strange that one doesn't
know what to think. Of what use are signs and omens if the
interpretation is always obscure? They merely wring the will out of us;
and well we may ask, Who would care for his life if he knew he was going
to lose it on the morrow? And what mother would love her children if she
were certain they would fall into evil ways, or if she believed the
soothsayers who told her that her children would oppose her ideas? She
might love them independent of their opposition, but how could she love
them if she knew they were only born to do wrong? Volumes have been
written on the subject of predestination and freewill, and the truth is
that it is as impossible to believe in one as in the other.
Nevertheless, prognostications have a knack of coming true, and if I am
drowned crossing the lake you will be convinced of the truth of omens.
Perhaps I should not write you these things, but the truth is, I cannot
help myself; there is no power of resistance in me. I do not know if I
am well or ill; my brain is on fire, and I go on thinking and thinking,
trying to arrive at some rational belief, but never succeeding.
Sometimes I think of myself as a fly on a window-pane, crawling and
buzzing, and crawling and buzzing again, and so on and so on....
'You are one of those who seem to have been born without much interest
in religion or fear of the here-after, and in a way I am like you, but
with a difference: I acquiesced in early childhood, and accepted
traditional beliefs, and tried to find happiness in the familiar rather
than in the unknown. Whether I should have found the familiar enough if
I hadn't met you, I shall never know. I've thought a good deal on this
subject, and it has come to seem to me that we are too much in the habit
of thinking of the intellect and the flesh as separate things, whereas
they are but one thing. I could write a great deal on this subject, but
I stop, as it were, on the threshold of my thought, for this is no time
for philosophical writing. I am all a-tremble, and though my brain is
working quickly, my thoughts are not mature and deliberate. My brain
reminds me at times of the skies that followed Father Moran's
visit--skies restlessly flowing, always different and always the same.
These last days are merciless days, and I have to write to you in order
to get some respite from purposeless thinking. Sometimes I stop in my
walk to ask myself who I am and what I am, and where I am going. Will
you be shocked to hear that, when I awoke and heard the wind howling, I
nearly got out of bed to pray to God, to thank him for having sent Moran
to warn me from crossing the lake? I think I did say a prayer, thanking
him for his mercy. Then I felt that I should pray to him for grace that
I might remain at home and be a good priest always, but that prayer I
couldn't formulate, and I suffered a great deal. I know that such
vacillations between belief and unbelief are neither profitable nor
admirable; I know that to pray to God to thank him for having saved me
from death while in mortal sin, and yet to find myself unable to pray to
him to do his will, is illogical, and I confess that my fear is now lest
old beliefs will claim me before the time comes. A poor, weak, tried
mortal man am I, but being what I am, I cannot be different. I am calm
enough now, and it seems as if my sufferings were at an end; but
to-morrow some new fear will rise up like mist, and I shall be
enveloped. What an awful thing it would be if I should find myself
without will on the fifteenth, or the sixteenth, or the seventeenth of
August! If the wind should rise again, and the lake be windy while the
moon is full, my chance for leaving here this summer will be at an end.
The water will be too cold in September.
'And now you know all, and if you don't get a letter from New York,
understand that what appears in the newspapers is true--that I was
drowned whilst bathing. I needn't apologize for this long letter; you
will understand that the writing of it has taken me out of myself, and
that is a great gain. There is no one else to whom I can write, and it
pleases me to know this. I am sorry for my sisters in the convent; they
will believe me dead. I have a brother in America, the one who sent the
harmonium that you used to play on so beautifully. He will believe in my
death, unless we meet in America, and that is not likely. I look forward
to writing to you from New York.
Two evenings were passed pleasantly on the composition and the copying
of this letter, and, not daring to entrust it to the postboy, he took it
himself to Bohola; and he measured the time carefully, so as to get
there a few minutes before the postmistress sealed up the bag. He
delayed in the office till she sealed it, and returned home, following
the letter in imagination to Dublin, across the Channel to Beechwood
Hall. The servant in charge would redirect it. His thoughts were at
ramble, and they followed the steamer down the Mediterranean. It would
lie in the post-office at Jerusalem or some frontier town, or maybe a
dragoman attached to some Turkish caravansary would take charge of it,
and it might reach Nora by caravan. She might read it in the waste. Or
maybe it would have been better if he had written 'Not to be forwarded'
on the envelope. But the servant at Beechwood Hall would know what to
do, and he returned home smiling, unable to believe in himself or in
anything else, so extraordinary did it seem to him that he should be
writing to Nora Glynn, who was going in search of the Christian river,
while he was planning a journey westward.
A few days more, and the day of departure was almost at hand; but it
seemed a very long time coming. What he needed was a material
occupation, and he spent hours in his garden watering and weeding, and
at gaze in front of a bed of fiery-cross. Was its scarlet not finer than
Lady Hindlip? Lady Hindlip, like fiery-cross, is scentless, and not so
hardy. No white carnation compares with Shiela; but her calyx often
bursts, and he considered the claims of an old pink-flaked clove
carnation, striped like a French brocade. But it straggled a little in
growth, and he decided that for hardiness he must give the verdict to
Raby Castle. True that everyone grows Raby Castle, but no carnation is
so hardy or flowers so freely. As he stood admiring her great trusses of
bloom among the tea-roses, he remembered suddenly that it was his love
of flowers that had brought him to Garranard, and if he hadn't come to
this parish, he wouldn't have known her. And if he hadn't known her, he
wouldn't have been himself. And which self did he think the worthier,
his present or his dead self?
His brain would not cease thinking; his bodily life seemed to have
dissipated, and he seemed to himself to be no more than a mind, and,
glad to interest himself in the business of the parish, he listened with
greater attention than he had ever listened before to the complaints
that were brought to him--to the man who had failed to give up a piece
of land that he had promised to include in his daughter's fortune, and
to Patsy Murphy, who had come to tell him that his house had been broken
into while he was away in Tinnick. The old man had spent the winter in
Tinnick with some relations, for the house that the Colonel had given
him permission to build at the edge of the lake proved too cold for a
Patsy seemed to have grown older since the autumn; he seemed like a doll
out of which the sawdust was running, a poor shaking thing--a large head
afloat on a weak neck. Tresses of white hair hung on his shoulders, and
his watery eyes were red and restless like a ferret's. He opened his
mouth, and there were two teeth on either side like tusks. Gray stubble
covered his face, and he wore a brown suit, the trousers retained about
his pot-belly--all that remained of his body--by a scarf. There was some
limp linen and a red muffler about his throat. He spoke of his age--he
was ninety-five--and the priest said he was a fine-looking, hearty man
for his years. There wasn't a doubt but he'd pass the hundred. Patsy was
inclined to believe he would go to one hundred and one; for he had been
told in a vision he would go as far as that.
'You see, living in the house alone, the brain empties and the vision
That was how he explained his belief as he flopped along by the priest's
side, his head shaking and his tongue going, telling tales of all kinds,
half-remembered things: how the Gormleys and the Actons had driven the
Colonel out of the country, and dispersed all his family with their
goings-on. That was why they didn't want him--he knew too much about
them. One of his tales was how they had frightened the Colonel's mother
by tying a lame hare by a horsehair to the knocker of the hall door.
Whenever the hare moved a rapping was heard at the front-door. But
nobody could discover the horsehair, and the rapping was attributed to a
He seemed to have forgotten his sword, and was now inclined to talk of
his fists, and he stopped the priest in the middle of the road to tell
a long tale how once, in Liverpool, someone had spoken against the
Colonel, and, holding up his clenched fist, he said that no one ever
escaped alive from the fist of Patsy Murphy.
It was a trial to Father Oliver to hear him, for he could not help
thinking that to become like him it was only necessary to live as long
as he. But it was difficult to get rid of the old fellow, who followed
the priest as far as the village, and would have followed him further if
Mrs. Egan were not standing there waiting for Father Oliver--a
delicate-featured woman with a thin aquiline nose, who was still
good-looking, though her age was apparent. She was forty-five, or
perhaps fifty, and she held her daughter's baby in her coarse peasant
hands. Since the birth of the child a dispute had been raging between
the two mothers-in-law: the whole village was talking, and wondering
what was going to happen next.
Mrs. Egan's daughter had married a soldier, a Protestant, some two years
ago, a man called Rean. Father Oliver always found him a straightforward
fellow, who, although he would not give up his own religion, never tried
to interfere with his wife's; he always said that if Mary liked she
could bring up her children Catholics. But hitherto they were not
blessed with children, and Mary was jeered at more than once, the people
saying that her barrenness was a punishment sent by God. At last a child
was given them, and all would have gone well if Rean's mother had not
come to Garranard for her daughter-in-law's confinement. Being a black
Protestant, she wouldn't hear of the child being brought up a Catholic
or even baptized in a Catholic Church. The child was now a week old and
Rean was fairly distracted, for neither his own mother nor his
mother-in-law would give way; each was trying to outdo the other. Mrs.
Rean watched Mrs. Egan, and Mrs. Egan watched Mrs. Rean, and the poor
mother lay all day with the baby at her breast, listening to the two of
'She's gone behind the hedge for a minute, your reverence, so I whipped
the child out of me daughter's bed; and if your reverence would only
hurry up we could have the poor cratur baptized in the Holy Faith. Only
there's no time to be lost; she do be watchin' every stir, your
'Very well, Mrs. Egan: I'll be waiting for you up at the chapel.'
'A strange rusticity of mind,' he said to himself as he wended his way
along the village street, and at the chapel gate a smile gathered about
his lips, for he couldn't help thinking how Mrs. Rean the elder would
rage when the child was brought back to her a Catholic. So this was
going to be his last priestly act, the baptism of the child, the saving
of the child to the Holy Faith. He told Mike to get the things ready,
and turned into the sacristy to put on his surplice.
The familiar presses gave out a pleasant odour, and the vestments which
he might never wear again interested him, and he stood seemingly lost in
thought. 'But I mustn't keep the child waiting,' he said, waking up
suddenly; and coming out of the sacristy, he found twenty villagers
collected round the font, come up from the cottages to see the child
baptized in the holy religion.
'Where's the child, Mrs. Egan?'
The group began talking suddenly, trying to make plain to him what had
'Now, if you all talk together, I shall never understand.'
'Will you leave off pushing me?' said one.
'Wasn't it I that saw Patsy? Will your reverence listen to me?' said
Mrs. Egan. 'It was just as I was telling your reverence, if they'd be
letting me alone. Your reverence had only just turned in the chapel gate
when Mrs. Rean ran from behind the hedge, and, getting in front of me
who was going to the chapel with the baby in me arms, she said: "Now
I'll be damned if I'll have that child christened a Catholic!" and
didn't she snatch the child and run away, taking a short-cut across the
fields to the minister's.'
'Patsy Kivel has gone after her, and he'll catch up on her, surely, and
she with six ditches forninst her.'
'If he doesn't itself, maybe the minister isn't there, and then she'll
'All I'm hopin' is that the poor child won't come to any harm between
them; but isn't she a fearful terrible woman, and may the curse of the
Son of God be on her for stealin' away a poor child the like of that!'
'I'd cut the livers out of the likes of them.'
'Now will you mind what you're sayin', and the priest listenin' to you?'
'Your reverence, will the child be always a Protestant? Hasn't the holy
water of the Church more power in it than the water they have? Don't
they only throw it at the child?'
'Now, Mrs. Egan--'
'Ah, your reverence, you're going to say that I shouldn't have given the
child to her, and I wouldn't if I hadn't trod on a stone and fallen
against the wall, and got afeard the child might be hurt.'
'Well, well,' said Father Oliver, 'you see there's no child--'
'But you'll be waitin' a minute for the sake of the poor child, your
reverence? Patsy will be comin' back in a minute.'
On that Mrs. Egan went to the chapel door and stood there, so that she
might catch the first glimpse of him as he came across the fields. And
it was about ten minutes after, when the priest and his parishioners
were talking of other things, that Mrs. Egan began to wave her arm,
crying out that somebody should hurry.
'Will you make haste, and his reverence waitin' here this half-hour to
baptize the innocent child! He'll be here in less than a minute now,
your reverence. Will you have patience, and the poor child will be
The child was snatched from Patsy, and so violently that the infant
began to cry, and Mrs. Egan didn't know if it was a hurt it had
received, for the panting Patsy was unable to answer her.
'The child's all right,' he blurted out at last. 'She said I might take
it and welcome, now it was a Protestant.'
'Ah, sure, you great thickhead of a boy! weren't you quick enough for
'Now, what are you talkin' about? Hadn't she half a mile start of me,
and the minister at the door just as I was gettin' over the last bit of
'And didn't you go in after them?'
'What would I be doin', going into a Protestant church?'
Patsy's sense of his responsibility was discussed violently until Father
'Now, I can't be waiting any longer. Do you want me to baptize the child
'It would be safer, wouldn't it?' said Mrs. Egan.
'It would,' said Father Oliver; 'the parson mightn't have said the words
while he was pouring the water.'
And, going towards the font with the child, Father Oliver took a cup of
water, but, having regard for the child's cries, he was a little sparing
'Now don't be sparin' with the water, your reverence, and don't be a
mindin' its noise; it's twicest the quantity of holy water it'll be
wanting, and it half an hour a Protestant.'
It was at that moment Mrs. Rean appeared in the doorway, and Patsy
Kivel, who didn't care to enter the Protestant church, rushed to put her
out of his.
'You can do what you like now with the child; it's a Protestant, for all
'Go along, you old heretic bitch!'
'Now, Patsy, will you behave yourself when you're standing in the
Church of God! Be leaving the woman alone,' said Father Oliver; but
before he got to the door to separate the two, Mrs. Rean was running
down the chapel yard followed by the crowd of disputants, and he heard
the quarrel growing fainter in the village street.
Rose-coloured clouds had just begun to appear midway in the pale
sky--a beautiful sky, all gray and rose--and all this babble about
baptism seemed strangely out of his mind. 'And to think that men are
still seeking scrolls in Turkestan to prove--' The sentence did not
finish itself in his mind; a ray of western light falling across the
altar steps in the stillness of the church awakened a remembrance in him
of the music that Nora's hands drew from the harmonium, and, leaning
against the Communion-rails, he allowed the music to absorb him. He
could hear it so distinctly in his mind that he refrained from going up
into the gallery and playing it, for in his playing he would perceive
how much he had forgotten, how imperfect was his memory. It were better
to lose himself in the emotion of the memory of the music; it was in his
blood, and he could see her hands playing it, and the music was coloured
with the memory of her hair and her eyes. His teeth clenched a little as
if in pain, and then he feared the enchantment would soon pass away; but
the music preserved it longer than he had expected, and it might have
lasted still longer if he had not become aware that someone was standing
in the doorway.
The feeling suddenly came over him that he was not alone; it was borne
in upon him--he knew not how, neither by sight nor sound--through some
exceptional sense. And turning towards the sunlit doorway, he saw a poor
man standing there, not daring to disturb the priest, thinking, no
doubt, that he was engaged in prayer. The poor man was Pat Kearney. So
the priest was a little overcome, for that Pat Kearney should come to
him at such a time was portentous. 'It is strange, certainly,
coincidence after coincidence,' he said; and he stood looking at Pat as
if he didn't know him, till the poor man was frightened and began to
wonder, for no one had ever looked at him with such interest, not even
the neighbour whom he had asked to marry him three weeks ago. And this
Pat Kearney, who was a short, thick-set man, sinking into years, began
to wonder what new misfortune had tracked him down. His teeth were worn
and yellow as Indian meal, and his rough, ill-shaven cheeks and pale
eyes reminded the priest of the country in which Pat lived, and of the
four acres of land at the end of the boreen that Pat was digging these
He had come to ask Father Oliver if he would marry him for a pound, but,
as Father Oliver didn't answer him, he fell to thinking that it was his
clothes that the priest was admiring, 'for hadn't his reverence given
him the clothes himself? And if it weren't for the self-same clothes, he
wouldn't have the pound in his pocket to give the priest to marry him,'
'It was yourself, your reverence--'
'Yes, I remember very well.'
Pat had come to tell him that there was work to be had in Tinnick, but
that he didn't dare to show himself in Tinnick for lack of clothes, and
he stood humbly before the priest in a pair of corduroy trousers that
hardly covered his nakedness.
And it was as Father Oliver stood examining and pitying his
parishioner's poverty it had occurred to him that, if he were to buy two
suits of clothes in Tinnick and give one to Pat Kearney, he might wrap
the other one in a bundle, and place it on the rocks on the Joycetown
side. It was not likely that the shopman in Tinnick would remember,
after three months, that he had sold two suits to the priest; but should
he remember this, the explanation would be that he had bought them for
Pat Kearney. Now, looking at this poor man who had come to ask him if he
would marry him for a pound, the priest was lost in wonder.
'So you're going to be married, Pat?'
And Pat, who hadn't spoken to anyone since the woman whose potatoes he
was digging said she'd as soon marry him as another, began to chatter,
and to ramble in his chatter. There was so much to tell that he did not
know how to tell it. There was his rent and the woman's holding, for now
they would have nine acres of land, money would be required to stock it,
and he didn't know if the bank would lend him the money. Perhaps the
priest would help him to get it.
'But why did you come to me to marry you? Aren't you two miles nearer
to Father Moran than you are to me?'
Pat hesitated, not liking to say that he would be hard set to get round
Father Moran. So he began to talk of the Egans and the Reans. For hadn't
he heard, as he came up the street, that Mrs. Rean had stolen the child
from Mrs. Egan, and had had it baptized by the minister? And he hoped to
obtain the priest's sympathy by saying:
'What a terrible thing it was that the police should allow a black
Protestant to steal a Catholic child, and its mother a Catholic and all
her people before her!'
'When Mrs. Rean snatched the child, it hadn't been baptized, and was
neither a Catholic nor a Protestant,' the priest said maliciously.
Pat Kearney, whose theological knowledge did not extend very far,
remained silent, and the priest was glad of his silence, for he was
thinking that in a few minutes he would catch sight of the square
whitewashed school-house on the hillside by the pine-wood, and the
thought came into his mind that he would like to see again the place
where he and Nora once stood talking together. But a long field lay
between his house and the school-house, and what would it avail him to
see the empty room? He looked, instead, for the hawthorn-bush by which
he and Nora had lingered, and it was a sad pleasure to think how she had
gone up the road after bidding him good-bye.
But Pat Kearney began to talk again of how he could get an advance from
'I can back no bill for you, Pat, but I'll give you a letter to Father
Moran telling him that you can't afford to pay more than a pound.'
Nora's letters were in the drawer of his writing-table; he unlocked it,
and put the packet into his pocket, and when he had scribbled a little
note to Father Moran, he said:
'Now take this and be off with you; I've other business to attend to
besides you;' and he called to Catherine for his towels.
'Now, is it out bathing you're going, your reverence? You won't be
swimming out to Castle Island, and forgetting that you have confessions
'I shall be back in time,' he answered testily, and soon after he began
to regret his irritation; for he would never see Catherine again, saying
to himself that it was a pity he had answered her testily. But he
couldn't go back. Moran might call. Catherine might send Moran after
him, saying his reverence had gone down to bathe, or any parishioner,
however unwarranted his errand, might try to see him out. 'And all
errands will be unwarranted to-day,' he said as he hurried along the
shore, thinking of the different paths round the rocks and through the
His mind was on the big wood; there he could baffle anybody following
him, for while his pursuer would be going round one way he would be
coming back the other. But it would be lonely in the big wood; and as he
hurried down the old cart-track he thought how he might while away an
hour among the ferns in the little spare fields at the end of the
plantation, watching the sunset, for hours would have to pass before the
moon rose, and the time would pass slowly under the melancholy
hazel-thickets into which the sun had not looked for thousands of years.
A wood had always been there. The Welshmen had felled trees in it to
build rafts and boats to reach their island castles. Bears and wolves
had been slain in it; and thinking how it was still a refuge for foxes,
martens and badgers and hawks, he made his way along the shore through
the rough fields. He ran a little, and after waiting a while ran on
again. On reaching the edge of the wood, he hid himself behind a bush,
and did not dare to move, lest there might be somebody about. It was not
till he made sure there was no one that he stooped under the
blackthorns, and followed a trail, thinking the animal, probably a
badger, had its den under the old stones; and to pass the time he sought
for a den, but could find none.
A small bird, a wren, was picking among the moss; every now and then it
fluttered a little way, stopped, and picked again. 'Now what instinct
guided its search for worms?' he asked, and getting up, he followed the
bird, but it escaped into a thicket. There were only hazel-stems in the
interspace he had chosen to hide himself in, but there were thickets
nearly all about it, and it took some time to find a path through these.
After a time one was found, and by noticing everything he tried to pass
the time away and make himself secure against being surprised.
The path soon came to an end, and he walked round to the other side of
the wood, to see if the bushes were thick enough to prevent anyone from
coming upon him suddenly from that side; and when all searches were
finished he came back, thinking of what his future life would be without
Nora. But he must not think of her, he must learn to forget her; for the
time being at least, his consideration must be of himself in his present
circumstances, and he felt that if he did not fix his thoughts on
external things, his courage--or should he say his will?--would desert
him. It did not need much courage to swim across the lake, much more to
leave the parish, and once on the other side he must go any whither, no
whither, for he couldn't return to Catherine in a frieze coat and a pair
of corduroy trousers. Her face when she saw him! But of what use
thinking of these things? He was going; everything was settled. If he
could only restrain his thoughts--they were as wild as bees.
Standing by a hazel-stem, his hand upon a bough, he fell to thinking
what his life would be, and very soon becoming implicated in a dream, he
lost consciousness of time and place, and was borne away as by a
current; he floated down his future life, seeing his garret room more
clearly than he had ever seen it--his bed, his washhand-stand, and the
little table on which he did his writing. No doubt most of it would be
done in the office, but some of it would be done at home; and at
nightfall he would descend from his garret like a bat from the eaves.
Journalists flutter like bats about newspaper offices. The bats haunt
the same eaves, but the journalist drifts from city to city, from county
to county, busying himself with ideas that were not his yesterday, and
will not be his to-morrow. An interview with a statesman is followed by
a review of a book, and the day after he may be thousands of miles away,
describing a great flood or a railway accident. The journalist has no
time to make friends, and he lives in no place long enough to know it
intimately; passing acquaintance and exterior aspects of things are his
share of the world. And it was in quest of such vagrancy of ideas and
affections that he was going.
At that moment a sudden sound in the wood startled him from his reverie,
and he peered, a scared expression on his face, certain that the noise
he had heard was Father Moran's footstep. It was but a hare lolloping
through the underwood, and wondering at the disappointment he felt, he
asked if he were disappointed that Moran had not come again to stop him.
He didn't think he was, only the course of his life had been so long
dependent on a single act of will that a hope had begun in his mind that
some outward event might decide his fate for him. Last month he was full
of courage, his nerves were like iron; to-day he was a poor vacillating
creature, walking in a hazel-wood, uncertain lest delay had taken the
savour out of his adventure, his attention distracted by the sounds of
the wood, by the snapping of a dry twig, by a leaf falling through the
'Time is passing,' he said, 'and I must decide whether I go to America
to write newspaper articles, or stay at home to say Mass--a simple
The ordinary newspaper article he thought he could do as well as
another--in fact, he knew he could. But could he hope that in time his
mind would widen and deepen sufficiently to enable him to write
something worth writing, something that might win her admiration?
Perhaps, when he had shed all his opinions. Many had gone already, more
would follow, and one day he would be as free as she was. She had been a
great intellectual stimulus, and soon he began to wonder how it was that
all the paraphernalia of religion interested him no longer, how he
seemed to have suddenly outgrown the things belonging to the ages of
faith, and the subtle question, if passion were essential to the growth
of the mind, arose. For it seemed to him that his mind had grown, though
he had not read the Scriptures, and he doubted if the reading of the
Scriptures would have taught him as much as Nora's beauty. 'After all,'
he said, 'woman's beauty is more important to the world than a scroll.'
He had begun to love and to put his trust in what was natural,
spontaneous, instinctive, and might succeed in New York better than he
expected. But he would not like to think that it was hope of literary
success that tempted him from Garranard. He would like to think that in
leaving his poor people he was serving their best interests, and this
was surely the case. For hadn't he begun to feel that what they needed
was a really efficient priest, one who would look after their temporal
interests? In Ireland the priest is a temporal as well as a spiritual
need. Who else would take an interest in this forlorn Garranard and its
people, the reeds and rushes of existence?
He had striven to get the Government to build a bridge, but had lost
patience; he had wearied of the task. Certain priests he knew would not
have wearied of it; they would have gone on heckling the Government and
the different Boards until the building of the bridge could no longer be
resisted. His failure to get this bridge was typical, and it proved
beyond doubt that he was right in thinking he had no aptitude for the
temporal direction of his parish.
But a curate had once lived in Bridget Clery's cottage who had served
his people excellently well, had intrigued successfully, and forced the
Government to build houses and advance money for drainage and other
useful works. And this curate had served his people in many
capacities--as scrivener, land-valuer, surveyor, and engineer. It was
not till he came to Garranard that he seemed to get out of touch with
practical affairs, and he began to wonder if it was the comfortable
house he lived in, if it were the wine he drank, the cigars he smoked,
that had produced this degeneracy, if it were degeneracy. Or was it that
he had worn out a certain side of his nature in Bridget Clery's cottage?
It might well be that. Many a man has mistaken a passing tendency for a
vocation. We all write poetry in the beginning of our lives; but most of
us leave off writing poetry after some years, unless the instinct is
very deep or one is a fool. It might well be that his philanthropic
instincts were exhausted; and it might well be that this was not the
case, for one never gets at the root of one's nature.
The only thing he was sure of was that he had changed a great deal, and,
he thought, for the better. He seemed to himself a much more real person
than he was a year ago, being now in full possession of his soul, and
surely the possession of one's soul is a great reality. By the soul he
meant a special way of feeling and seeing. But the soul is more than
that--it is a light; and this inner light, faint at first, had not been
blown out. If he had blown it out, as many priests had done, he would
not have experienced any qualms of conscience. The other priests in the
diocese experienced none when they drove erring women out of their
parishes, and the reason of this was that they followed a light from
without, deliberately shutting out the light of the soul.
The question interested him, and he pondered it a long while, finding
himself at last forced to conclude that there is no moral law except
one's own conscience, and that the moral obligation of every man is to
separate the personal conscience from the impersonal conscience. By the
impersonal conscience he meant the opinions of others, traditional
beliefs, and the rest; and thinking of these things he wandered round
the Druid stones, and when his thoughts returned to Nora's special case
he seemed to understand that if any other priest had acted as he had
acted he would have acted rightly, for in driving a sinful woman out of
the parish he would be giving expression to the moral law as he
understood it and as Garranard understood it. This primitive code of
morals was all Garranard could understand in its present civilization,
and any code is better than no code. Of course, if the priest were a
transgressor himself he could not administer the law. Happily, that was
a circumstance that did not arise often. So it was said; but what did he
know of the souls of the priests with whom he dined, smoked pipes, and
played cards? And he stopped, surprised, for it had never occurred to
him that all a man knows of his fellow is whether he be clean or dirty,
short or tall, thin or stout. 'Even the soul of Moran is obscure to me,'
he said--'obscure as this wood;' and at that moment the mystery of the
wood seemed to deepen, and he stood for a long while looking through the
twilight of the hazels.
Very likely many of the priests he knew had been tempted by women: some
had resisted temptation, and some had sinned and repented. There might
be a priest who had sinned and lived for years in sin; even so if he
didn't leave his parish, if he didn't become an apostate priest, faith
would return to him in the end. But the apostate priest is anathema in
the eyes of the Church; the doctrine always has been that a sin matters
little if the sinner repent. Father Oliver suddenly saw himself years
hence, still in Garranard, administering the Sacraments, and faith
returning like an incoming tide, covering the weedy shore, lapping round
the high rock of doubt. If he desired faith, all he had to do was to go
on saying Mass, hearing confessions, baptizing the young, burying the
old, and in twenty years--maybe it would take thirty--when his hair was
white and his skin shrivelled, he would be again a good priest, beloved
by his parishioners, and carried in the fulness of time by them to the
green churchyard where Father Peter lay near the green pines.
Only the other day, coming home from his after-noon's walk, he stopped
to admire his house. The long shadow of its familiar trees awakened an
extraordinary love in him, and when he crossed the threshold and sat
down in his armchair, his love for his house had surprised him, and he
sat like one enchanted by his own fireside, lost in admiration of the
old mahogany bookcase with the inlaid panels, that he had bought at an
auction. How sombre and quaint it looked, furnished with his books that
he had had bound in Dublin, and what pleasure it always was to him to
see a ray lighting up the parchment bindings! He had hung some
engravings on his walls, and these had become very dear to him; and
there were some spoons, bought at an auction some time ago--old, worn
Georgian spoons--that his hands were accustomed to the use of; there was
an old tea-service, with flowers painted inside the cups, and he was
leaving these things; why? He sought for a reason for his leaving them.
If he were going away to join Nora in America he could understand his
going. But he would never see her again--at least, it was not probable
that he would. He was not following her, but an idea, an abstraction, an
opinion; he was separating himself, and for ever, from his native land
and his past life, and his quest was, alas! not her, but--He was
following what? Life? Yes; but what is life? Do we find life in
adventure or by our own fireside? For all he knew he might be flying
from the very thing he thought he was following. His thoughts zigzagged,
and, almost unaware of his thoughts, he compared life to a flower--to a
flower that yields up its perfume only after long cultivation--and then
to a wine that gains its fragrance only after it has been lying in the
same cellar for many years, and he started up convinced that he must
return home at once. But he had not taken many steps before he stopped:
'No, no, I cannot stay here year after year! I cannot stay here till I
die, seeing that lake always. I couldn't bear it. I am going. It matters
little to me whether life is to be found at home or abroad, in adventure
or in habits and customs. One thing matters--do I stay or go?'
He turned into the woods and walked aimlessly, trying to escape from his
thoughts, and to do so he admired the pattern of the leaves, the flight
of the birds, and he stopped by the old stones that may have been Druid
altars; and he came back an hour after, walking slowly through the
hazel-stems, thinking that the law of change is the law of life. At that
moment the cormorants were coming down the glittering lake to their
roost. With a flutter of wings they perched on the old castle, and his
mind continued to formulate arguments, and the last always seemed the
At half-past seven he was thinking that life is gained by escaping from
the past rather than by trying to retain it; he had begun to feel more
and more sure that tradition is but dead flesh which we must cut off if
we would live.... But just at this spot, an hour ago, he had acquiesced
in the belief that if a priest continued to administer the Sacraments
faith would return to him; and no doubt the Sacraments would bring about
some sort of religious stupor, but not that sensible, passionate faith
which he had once possessed, and which did not meet with the approval of
his superiors at Maynooth. He had said that in flying from the monotony
of tradition he would find only another monotony, and a worse one--that
of adventure; and no doubt the journalist's life is made up of fugitive
interests. But every man has, or should have, an intimate life as well
as an external life; and in losing interest in religion he had lost the
intimate life which the priesthood had once given him. The Mass was a
mere Latin formula, and the vestments and the chalice, the Host itself,
a sort of fetishism--that is to say, a symbolism from which life had
departed, shells retaining hardly a murmur of the ancient ecstasy. It
was therefore his fate to go in quest of--what? Not of adventure. He
liked better to think that his quest was the personal life--that
intimate exaltation that comes to him who has striven to be himself, and
nothing but himself. The life he was going to might lead him even to a
new faith. Religious forms arise and die. The Catholic Church had come
to the end of its thread; the spool seemed pretty well empty, and he sat
down so that he might think better what the new faith might be. What
would be its first principle? he asked himself, and not finding any
answer to this question, he began to think of his life in America. He
would begin as a mere recorder of passing events. But why should he
assume that he would not rise higher? And if he remained to the end of
his day a humble reporter, he would still have the supreme satisfaction
of knowing that he had not resigned himself body and soul to the life of
the pool, to a frog-like acquiescence in the stagnant pool.
His hand held back a hazel-branch, and he stood staring at the lake. The
wild ducks rose in great flocks out of the reeds and went away to feed
in the fields, and their departure was followed by a long interval,
during which no single thought crossed his mind--at least, none that he
could remember. No doubt his tired mind had fallen into lethargy, from
which a sudden fear had roughly awakened him. What if some countryman,
seeking his goats among the rocks, had come upon the bundle and taken it
home! And at once he imagined himself climbing up the rocks naked. Pat
Kearney's cabin was close by, but Pat had no clothes except those on his
back, and would have to go round the lake to Garranard; and the priest
thought how he would sit naked in Kearney's cottage hour after hour.
'If anyone comes to the cabin I shall have to hold the door to. There is
a comic side to every adventure,' he said, 'and a more absurd one it
would be difficult to imagine.'
The day had begun in a ridiculous adventure--the baptism of the poor
child, baptized first a Protestant, then a Catholic. And he laughed a
little, and then he sighed.
'Is the whole thing a fairy-tale, a piece of midsummer madness, I
wonder? No matter, I can't stay here, so why should I trouble to
discover a reason for my going? In America I shall be living a life in
agreement with God's instincts. My quest is life.'
And, remembering some words in her last letter, his heart cried out that
his love must bring her back to him eventually, though Poole were to
take her to the end of the earth, and at once he was carried quickly
beyond the light of common sense into a dim happy world where all things
came and went or were transformed in obedience to his unexpressed will.
Whether the sun were curtained by leafage or by silken folds he did not
know--only this: that she was coming towards him, borne lightly as a
ball of thistle-down. He perceived the colour of her hair, and eyes, and
hands, and of the pale dress she wore; but her presence seemed revealed
to him through the exaltation of some sense latent or non-existent in
him in his waking moods. His delight was of the understanding, for they
neither touched hands nor spoke. A little surprise rose to the surface
of his rapture--surprise at the fact that he experienced no pang of
jealousy. She had said that true love could not exist without jealousy!
But was she right in this? It seemed to him that we begin to love when
we cease to judge. If she were different she wouldn't be herself, and it
was herself he loved--the mystery of her sunny, singing nature. There
is no judgment where there is perfect sympathy, and he understood that
it would be as vain for him to lament that her eyebrows were fair as to
lament or reprove her conduct.
Continuing the same train of thought, he remembered that, though she was
young to-day, she would pass into middle, maybe old age; that the day
would come when her hair would be less bright, her figure would lose its
willowness; but these changes would not lessen his love for her. Should
he not welcome change? Thinking that perhaps fruit-time is better than
blossom-time, he foresaw a deeper love awaiting him, and a tenderness
that he could not feel to-day might be his in years to come. Nor could
habit blunt his perceptions or intimacy unravel the mystery of her sunny
nature. So the bourne could never be reached; for when everything had
been said, something would remain unspoken. The two rhythms out of which
the music of life is made, intimacy and adventure, would meet, would
merge, and become one; and she, who was to-day an adventure, would
become in the end the home of his affections.
A great bird swooped out of the branches above him, startling him, and
he cried out: 'An owl--only an owl!' The wood was quiet and dark, and in
fear he groped his way to the old stones; for one thing still remained
to be done before he left--he must burn her letters.
He burnt them one by one, shielding the flame with his hand lest it
should attract some passer-by, and when the last was burnt he feared no
longer anything. His wonder was why he had hesitated, why his mind had
been torn by doubt. At the back of his mind he had always known he was
going. Had he not written saying he was going, and wasn't that enough?
And he thought for a moment of what her opinion of him would be if he
stayed in Garranard. In a cowardly moment he hoped that something would
happen to save him from the ultimate decision, and now doubt was
A yellow disc appeared, cutting the flat sky sharply, and he laid his
priest's clothes in the middle of a patch of white sand where they could
be easily seen. Placing the Roman collar upon the top, and, stepping
from stone to stone, he stood on the last one as on a pedestal, tall and
gray in the moonlight--buttocks hard as a faun's, and dimpled like a
faun's when he draws himself up before plunging after a nymph.
When he emerged he was among the reeds, shaking the water from his face
and hair. The night was so warm that it was like swimming in a bath, and
when he had swum a quarter of a mile he turned over on his back to see
the moon shining. Then he turned over to see how near he was to the
island. 'Too near,' he thought, for he had started before his time. But
he might delay a little on the island, and he walked up the shore, his
blood in happy circulation, his flesh and brain a-tingle, a little
captivated by the vigour of his muscles, and ready and anxious to plunge
into the water on the other side, to tire himself if he could, in the
mile and a half of gray lake that lay between him and shore.
There were lights in every cottage window; the villagers would be about
the roads for an hour or more, and it would be well to delay on the
island, and he chose a high rock to sit upon. His hand ran the water off
his hard thighs, and then off his long, thin arms, and he watched the
laggard moon rising slowly in the dusky night, like a duck from the
marshes. Supporting himself with one arm, he let himself down the rock
and dabbled his foot in the water, and the splashing of the water
reminded him of little Philip Rean, who had been baptized twice that
morning notwithstanding his loud protest. And now one of his baptizers
was baptized, and in a few minutes would plunge again into the
The night was so still and warm that it was happiness to be naked, and
he thought he could sit for hours on that rock without feeling cold,
watching the red moon rolling up through the trees round Tinnick; and
when the moon turned from red to gold he wondered how it was that the
mere brightening of the moon could put such joy into a man's heart.
Derrinrush was the nearest shore, and far away in the wood he heard a
fox bark. 'On the trail of some rabbit,' he thought, and again he
admired the great gold moon rising heavily through the dusky sky, and
the lake formless and spectral beneath it.
Catherine no doubt had begun to feel agitated; she would be walking
about at midnight, too scared to go to sleep. He was sorry for her;
perhaps she would be the only one who would prefer to hear he was in
America and doing well than at the bottom of the lake. Eliza would
regret in a way, as much as her administration of the convent would
allow her; Mary would pray for him--so would Eliza, for the matter of
that; and their prayers would come easily, thinking him dead. Poor
women! if only for their peace of mind he would undertake the second
half of the crossing.
A long mile of water lay between him and Joycetown, but there was a
courage he had never felt before in his heart, and a strength he had
never felt before in his limbs. Once he stood up in the water, sorry
that the crossing was not longer. 'Perhaps I shall have had enough of it
before I get there;' and he turned on his side and swam half a mile
before changing his stroke. He changed it and got on his back because he
was beginning to feel cold and tired, and soon after he began to think
that it would be about as much as he could do to reach the shore. A
little later he was swimming frog-fashion, but the change did not seem
to rest him, and seeing the shore still a long way off he began to think
that perhaps after all he would find his end in the lake. His mind set
on it, however, that the lake should be foiled, he struggled on, and
when the water shallowed he felt he had come to the end of his strength.
'Another hundred yards would have done for me,' he said, and he was so
cold that he could not think, and sought his clothes vaguely, sitting
down to rest from time to time among the rocks. He didn't know for
certain if he would find them, and if he didn't he must die of cold. So
the rough shirt was very welcome when he discovered it, and so were the
woollen socks. As soon as he was dressed he thought that he felt nearly
strong enough to climb up the rocks, but he was not as strong as he
thought, and it took him a long time to get to the top. But at the top
the sward was pleasant--it was the sward of the terrace of the old
house; and lying at length, fearful lest sleep might overtake him, he
looked across the lake. 'A queer dusky night,' he said, 'with hardly a
star, and that great moon pouring silver down the lake.'
'I shall never see that lake again, but I shall never forget it,' and as
he dozed in the train, in a corner of an empty carriage, the spectral
light of the lake awoke him, and when he arrived at Cork it seemed to
him that he was being engulfed in the deep pool by the Joycetown shore.
On the deck of the steamer he heard the lake's warble above the violence
of the waves. 'There is a lake in every man's heart,' he said, 'and he
listens to its monotonous whisper year by year, more and more attentive
till at last he ungirds.'