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Title: Grania, The Story of an Island; vol. 2/2
Author: Lawless, Emily
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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                                GRANIA

                               VOL. II.



                         _By the same Author_


                           HURRISH: a Study
                 IRELAND (Story of the Nations Series)
                        MAJOR LAWRENCE, F.L.S.
                      PLAIN FRANCES MOWBRAY, &c.
                         WITH ESSEX IN IRELAND



                                GRANIA

                        THE STORY OF AN ISLAND

                                BY THE

                          HON. EMILY LAWLESS

                     AUTHOR OF ‘HURRISH, A STUDY’
                                 ETC.

                            IN TWO VOLUMES

                               VOL. II.

                                LONDON
                SMITH, ELDER, & CO., 15 WATERLOO PLACE
                                 1892

                        [_All rights reserved_]



PART III

_MAY TO AUGUST_



CHAPTER I


Thus the weeks went on, one week after the other, all exactly alike, and
no new light came to aid Grania in her investigations about the stolen
turf. What was hardly less important, however, the depredations
themselves ceased. From the night on which she had pursued the thief
through the gully and lost him at the mouth of it, no fresh inroads, so
far as she could discover, had been made in the stack, and, this being
the case, she was content for the present to let the matter be. She had
a kindly feeling towards poor Pete Durane, and if he were the culprit
would have been sorry to have been forced to bring the guilt home to
him. If, on the other hand, it was Shan Daly--the only other person she
could think of as likely to be guilty--though she hated that miscreant
as she hated no other person in the world, still, there was his wretched
wife to be thought of, and his equally wretched family. As well, too,
hope to extract blood from flints as get any satisfaction or
compensation out of Shan Daly, and, as for the mere vindictive pleasure
of punishment, the ties of kinship and acquaintanceship are far too
closely drawn in so limited a community as Inishmaan for that sort of
pleasure to be often resorted to. If we were on visiting terms with the
families of our pick-pockets and burglars, those artists would be even
less interrupted in the exercise of their vocations than they are at
present.

Meanwhile the work of the year had to be gone on with. Grania was
feeding up a calf, as well as two pigs, to be sold at the Galway spring
fair. The freight charges from Inishmaan to Galway were serious--not
less than half a crown for every calf and a shilling apiece for the
pigs; whereas the freight charges to Ennistimon were much less; but,
then, the chances of a good sale at the Galway fair were considerably
greater, and, on the whole, therefore, she had decided to send them
there.

Her other work was now lighter, for there was nothing to be done to the
potatoes till autumn, and she had hardly any oats. In the Aran isles the
land is divided into townlands, every townland containing so many
‘quarters,’ every quarters so many ‘croggeries,’ every croggery so many
acres. Inishmaan possesses but two townlands, containing six quarters
each, with sixteen croggeries to every quarter, and sixteen acres to
every croggery. Grania and Honor held a little over one croggery, six
acres of which was pure stone, leaving some ten or eleven to be reckoned
upon. Of these, half were laid down in potatoes, while the remainder
served as pasturage, eked out, of course, with a good deal of
surreptitious aid from the bent-grass below.

As for the weather, it seemed to be getting daily worse. So wet and
miserable a spring had rarely been experienced, even upon Inishmaan. To
rain in moderation, nay, something more than moderation, no Aranite, as
explained, objects, but, even of the best thing, it is just possible to
have too much, and such incessant deluges as followed day after day, and
night after night, were this year beyond the recollection of the oldest
inhabitant. If the destiny of the islands was sooner or later to be
washed away and to vanish from sight in the sea, it seemed as if now
was the time that destiny was likely to be fulfilled. The rain came down
in literal sheets, and in sheets it swept over the surface. There being
no earth for it to dry into, it poured over the level slabs, sweeping
from slab to slab almost as the sea swept over the rocks between the
tide-marks. Watching it at such moments, it would have seemed to you as
if the whole island would shortly become one great waterfall, or
scarcely perceptible reef for the Atlantic to roll over, the water, as
it descended upon the slabs, falling into the troughs or tunnels laid
ready for it, and out of them again until it found rest in the final
trough awaiting it at the bottom.

About a fortnight after her visit to the Duranes, Grania was standing
one evening at the door of the cabin looking down the track towards the
sea. It had been raining heavily all day, and had now come on to blow
hard. Across the nearest sound and above the cliffs of Clare the sky
wore a greenish look, especially where it showed between dark roving
patches of cloud. At the base of the island the cooses and small bays on
the west and north-west were astir with the hissing of waves. The rising
wind tore and whistled its way noisily through the sparse
hawthorn-bushes and ragged growth of brambles and hemlocks. The night,
clearly, was going to be a nasty one.

The girl leaned against the shelter of the doorway and looked out
towards the ‘Old Sea.’ It was growing dark, but there was a pale
splinter of white light far away, almost lost on the horizon--a sinister
light, like a broken war-arrow. Everywhere else the plain was one mass
of leaden-coloured waves, solid and unillumined. The sense of a vast
crowd, coming steadily onward, struggling together by fits and starts,
with many side-battles and cross-currents, but on the whole bearing
steadily down upon some devoted foe, pressed upon the mind as you looked
out seaward.

Nearer, the prospect was not much more cheerful. The wind howled
viciously, tearing off fragments of scaly stone from the rocks and
flinging them against the windows and over the roof like so many forest
leaves. Little Phelim Daly was in the O’Malleys’ cabin. He had come, as
he often did, to share their evening meal, and Grania had decided to
keep him, finding the night so wild, and had run across in the teeth of
the rising gale to tell his mother so. He was not exactly an enlivening
guest, and this evening seemed to be even more nerve-ridden than usual.
After finishing his share of the potatoes and milk, he sat for some time
hunched up, with his knees and his chin together, close to the fire. As
the storm rose louder and the gust came faster and faster down the
widely-gaping chimney, he grew uneasy, looked furtively round the walls,
then up at the narrow slip of sky visible through the small pane of
glass, shaking from head to foot as he did so, and seeming to see
something out there that he dreaded, something that he was unable to
resist staring at, but which scared him with the utterly unreasoning
fear of an animal in presence of that which arouses all its latent
hereditary terrors.

Glancing round from her post beside the doorway, Grania saw him staring
thus, with parted lips and glassy eyes, agonising fear written in every
lineament. Suddenly, as she watched him, a great shiver ran through his
whole body, his very shadow thrown by the firelight against the opposite
wall vibrating violently as a leaf vibrates in a sudden storm.

‘Why, then! Why, then!--God look down on the child!--what ails him
to-night?’ she asked in a tone of astonishment. ‘What is it,
Phelim--what do you see out there, sonny, at all, at all?’ she added,
going over and stooping down beside him upon the hearth.

For all answer the boy only shivered the harder, clutching her at the
same time, and holding her petticoat tight in his two hands, as if to
hinder himself from being forcibly dragged away by someone.

‘’Tis in his bed he should be at this hour, the creature!’ Honor said
from her own corner, where her pale face showed extremely like a
ghost’s, framed as it was on two sides by the smoke-stained chocolate
walls. ‘It is not a night for anyone to be looking about them, either in
or out of the house, so it is not,’ she added, crossing herself
fervently. ‘Shut the door, Grania, and put on another sod of the turf.
God save us! but it is the wild weather! There is no end to the bad
weather this year, so there is not. Glory be to Him that sent it, wet or
fine!’

Grania obeyed, shut the door and heaped on an additional armful of turf;
then stood for awhile beside the fireplace, listening to the wind as it
roared down the unprotected chimney.

It was indeed a night to set even sober brains afloat with nervous
terrors. The little house seemed to be an atom lost in the hungry vortex
of the storm and oncoming darkness. A sense of vast, uncurtained
space--of tossing, interminable vastness--of an aërial ocean without
bourne or limits, seemed to press upon the mind as you sat and listened.
They were as lonely, those three, as though they had been the only
occupants of some star or planet set in the hollow void of space. Even
the yellow cat, who was rarely or never friendly, seemed to feel the
influence of the weather, and came of her own accord close up to
Grania, rubbing against her as if glad to increase the sense of home and
shelter by touching someone.

As Honor had said, the only thing, clearly, to do with Phelim was to put
him to bed. Grania accordingly made him lie down close to the wall, upon
the sort of make-shift of a bed which filled the corner where she
herself slept, telling him, as she did so, to turn his head well away
from the light, and to cover his ears close up with her old flannel
petticoat, so as not to hear the storm. This done, she returned to her
former place beside the fireplace.



CHAPTER II


She drew up her own particular creepy stool, and sat down, staring at
the tongues of red flame as they were blown in towards her, every now
and then, by a fresh gust from above.

Her thoughts and the night seemed to her to match one another. She had
seen little or nothing of Murdough Blake for the last fortnight, one
reason being that he had been away from Inishmaan at Ballyvaughan, in
company with Shan Daly and other kindred spirits, sharing in a sort of
rude regatta, got up by the hooker and curragh owners of the
neighbourhood. A report had come to her through a friendly neighbour
that he had been all this time drinking hard--nay, had been seen by
someone lying dead drunk in the Ballyvaughan street. Whether this was
the case or not, she knew that he was spending money, for the only time
she had seen him had been late one evening, when he had come up to beg
for a loan--not for the first or the third time either that year. She
had given him the money, it being for a debt, he said, and she having a
little that she could spare, and had not even reproached him, beyond
telling him that it must positively be for the last time.

Grania suffered as strong people suffer. Not patiently, nor yet with any
particular inclination to complain, but with a suffering that was a sort
of fire in her veins. She would have liked to have taken the matter,
then and there, into her own strong hands; to have beaten Shan
Daly--recognised aider and abettor in every misdeed--soundly with her
own two fists; to have dragged Murdough by force out of this ditch which
his own folly was slowly digging below him. Yet, what could she do?
There was only one way of getting any more hold on him, and that was by
marrying him. That, however, was at present impossible. Apart from
Honor’s increasing illness there was no place ready for them, excepting
this cabin, and how could he come there? Besides, even if she did marry
him, what then? could she be sure of getting any more hold over him? of
stopping him from drinking? of inducing him to do anything she wished?
Did he even care much about what she wished? Did he care much about her
in any way, in fact, except so far as he cared for the cows and the
pigs, and the other possessions she owned? Did he--Would he--Had he--?

She thrust her pampootie-shod foot suddenly into the turf, kicking it to
right and left, as these thoughts crowded upon her mind, and making it
flare away wildly up the chimney in a tangle of scarlet sparks.

She had forgotten Honor for the moment, or thought perhaps that she had
fallen asleep. This, however, was clearly not the case, for at that
moment her soft guttural voice made itself heard from the corner.

‘What ails you then to-night, sister dear?’ she asked gently. ‘What
makes you look so wild? Is it the storm that scares you?’

Grania started, then recovered herself. ‘May be indeed, Honor, it was
the storm I was thinking of,’ she said in as indifferent a tone as she
could muster. ‘It _is_ a bitter black night and an ugly one, God knows,’
she added, looking up at the square of window, through which a faint
drizzle of light still shone. There was a few minutes’ silence in the
cabin, broken only by the moaning of the wind, the spitting of the fire,
and the soft recurrent sound of the boy’s breathing. Suddenly a hollow,
bull-voiced roar came rushing up the gully, followed by the angry thud
of the sea against the rocks at the bottom of the slope. It seemed to
Grania like a voice outside herself, a voice roaring confirmations of
her own thoughts, and, with an impulse of disburdening herself of some
at least of these, she went on:

‘Isn’t it queer, Honor, to think of all the trouble there is, far and
near, over the whole, big world? Sure when one looks out over the sea
and the land yonder, and beyond that again, and thinks of it all, there
seems to be nothing but trouble and trouble and trouble, and more
trouble upon the top of trouble. God help us! what are we brought into
it for at all, at all, I sometimes wonder, if there’s to be nothing for
us but trouble and trouble and trouble? ’Tis bad enough for the men, but
it’s worse a hundred times for the women! Where’s any happiness coming
to any of us from at all, at all, I want to know? I can’t see much of
it, look where I will, Honor, so I can’t. Can you?--say, sister
allanah--can you?’

Honor opened her mild brown eyes to their widest possible extent, and
half raised herself up in bed in wonder at such questionings.

‘Sure, child! isn’t God everywhere?’ she exclaimed simply. ‘And
happiness! Why, saints above! who ever heard of such talk! Happiness?
God love the child! what were any of us, and women specially, sent into
the world for, except to save our souls and learn to bear what’s given
us to bear? Augh, Grania, Grania! don’t be looking for happiness, child,
for I tell you you won’t get it--not married nor single, sick nor well,
rich nor poor, young nor old; for ’tisn’t in it at all, at all, so how
can you expect to find it? ’Tis only in heaven there’s any real, right
happiness, child, as I’m always telling you, and ’tis not till you get
there that any one need think to find it, nor couldn’t, not though they
were to hunt for it the whole world over, and get under the sea-water,
too, looking for it! And for a woman!--why, child, ’tis impossible! To
bear and bear, that’s all she’s got to do, so she has, till God sends
her rest--nothing else. Isn’t that what she has come into the world for,
no other? Oh, but ’tis the priest himself should be telling you all
that, and not me that knows so little. If you could only once get your
heart to the right way of thinking, child asthore, ’tisn’t tormenting
yourself with any such follies you’d be this night, nor any night,
either! Sure, the priest would tell you that there’s no happiness in
this world for a man, let alone for a woman; only trouble, and trouble,
as you say, on the top of trouble, and will be as long as the grass
grows and the rain falls, and the streams run, and the sea goes round
Ireland, and that will be till the world itself comes to an end, so it
will!’

Grania for all answer thrust her foot again amongst the turf, making it
flare and sputter like a Catherine wheel.

‘Then I don’t believe it--nor want to believe it--nor to hear it, what’s
more--not though every priest in Ireland or the world were to say it!’
she suddenly burst out angrily. ‘And it is all very well for you, Honor,
a saint born, wanting nothing and caring for nothing, only just the bit
to keep you alive and the spot to pray on. But all women are not made
like that. My God, no! There’s many and many a one would let themselves
be cut in little pieces or burned alive, any day in the week, if so be
they were loved back, but, if not, ’tisn’t better they’d get, but worse
and wickeder every day, till they’d be fit to kill themselves or other
people, so they would, and what good would that do to anyone? Sure, I
know ’tis just nonsense talking like that to you. A nun born you are,
Honor, and always have been; but I’m not--so there, I tell you,
sister--for what’s the good of me lying to you, and only us two left
alone in the world and likely soon, God help me! to be only one of us!
Sure, He knows I’d do anything to please you, Honor--you that were a
mother to me, and more. But say I’d sit down easy with such a skin and a
bones of a life as that, and no happiness till I come to die?--and
saints know what I’d be like then!--why, I can’t, Honor, I can’t, and
that’s the whole truth! The priests may tell all they will of heaven,
but what is it to me?--just _gosther_! ’Tis here I want a little bit of
the happiness, so I do. Maybe ’tis very wicked, but I could not feel
different, not except I was to die first and to be born right over
again, so I couldn’t!’

She looked over at her sister’s corner as she finished speaking,
half-defiantly, half with a feeling of apprehension, expecting a fresh
burst of reprobation in response to this outburst. Poor Honor’s
remonstrances, however, were exhausted. Her strength was so slight that
a very little overset it, and she began to cry helplessly, uttering a
soft sobbing sort of wail, more to herself than to Grania, repeating
over and over again that it was all _her_ fault--all _her_ fault the
child was lost and destroyed, and all through _her_! What had she been
doing? what had she been doing? Oh God! Oh God! what _had_ she been
doing?

Grania’s compunction awoke in a minute at the words. They had far more
effect on her than a more finished remonstrance would have had. Leaping
up from where she was squatting beside the fire, she ran over to the
bed, and, leaning over the sick woman, began trying to soothe her back
into quietness, heaping abuse upon herself at the same time for having
disturbed her.

‘Sorrow take me for a fool! what ailed me at all to be troubling you,
and you just beginning to settle down, and enough trouble of your own to
bear, God knows! and more than enough?’ she exclaimed penitently. ‘’Tis
beat I should be if I got my rights this minute, and if you’d the
strength to do it I’d ask you to beat me with a big stick, and welcome,
Honor. Bad end to myself if I know what ailed me! ’Twas just the wild
looks of that creature Phelim that put foolish thoughts in my head, that
and the storm, ne’er another thing. Sure, sister dear, Honor sweet,
you’ll settle to sleep again and be easy, won’t you? Don’t be punishing
me by saying you won’t, or ’tis biting off my tongue another time I’ll
be, rather than talking to you. Don’t all people have foolish thoughts
in their heads some time or other, and you wouldn’t be troubling about
any nonsense I’d say? Is it your own foolish little Grania, that always
was a troublesome, ignorant little _preghaun_ from the time she could
run by herself?--only you so good and patient ’twas more like one of the
saints out of heaven than a woman. Will I sing you the “_Moderagh rue_”
then, or “_Sheela na guira_” till you’ll sleep? Weary upon this wind!
’Tis that that sets us all mad this night, I think, and puts it into my
head to be talking nonsense. Hark at it battering against the door, as
if it was wanting to burst it in, whether or no! There, there, Honor,
you’ll shut your poor eyes, and not be thinking about another thing,
good or bad, till the morning. And, maybe, please God! it will be fine
then, and you’ll see the sun shining in at the door, and the little
boats dancing up and down on the water, the way you like. Sure, ’tis in
May we are now, and the bad weather can’t last for ever and ever, so it
can’t.’

Honor shut her eyes, more to please Grania and satisfy her entreaties,
than because she felt any inclination to sleep. Little by little,
however, exhaustion crept over her, and she fell into a doze, which
passed by degrees into broken, uneasy slumbers. Even in her sleep,
however, it was clear that the same thoughts pursued her, for from time
to time she would sigh heavily, her lips uttering now a broken prayer,
now some tender self-accusing word, while in her eyes, had there been
light to see them, the large tears might have been seen gathering
slowly, and stealing one after the other down the hollows of her poor
thin cheeks.

Finding that she really was sleeping, Grania presently left her bedside,
and sat down again beside the now all but invisible fire, her thoughts
wandering first to one thing then to another as she listened to the
wind. Once, too, she got up and went over to the door to make sure that
there was no danger of its being burst in by the blasts that kept
rushing one after the other against it like battering rams through the
narrow funnel. Then, having carefully covered up the _greeshaugh_, or
hot embers, so as to be able to light the fire in the morning, she, too,
lay down beside little Phelim, pushing him gently over a little nearer
to the wall in order to find room for herself upon the same well-worn
narrow pallet.



CHAPTER III


About the still more exposed cabin of the Duranes the storm raged yet
more furiously, and awoke, one after the other, all its inhabitants, no
less than nine of whom were sleeping under its roof that night. It blew
the white turf-ashes out from the chimney in such a shower over Pete
himself, who was sleeping upon the right-hand side of the fireplace, and
whose mouth happened to be wide open at the time, that it became filled
with them, in getting rid of which he uttered a succession of sputtering
sounds which had the undesirable effect of arousing his wife and
exciting her never very distant wrath.

‘_Monnum a Dhea!_ is it waking the children you want to be after
_now_?’ she asked in a tone all the more acrid from its enforced
lowness. Then, with a ‘Whist! whist! whist!’ addressed to the baby, she
began, gently but rapidly, thumping that important personage’s back, so
as to hinder it, if possible, from awaking.

Unfortunately the action brought her elbow into sudden sharp contact
with the head of the youngest little girl who had nestled close up to
her for warmth, and who immediately responded with a loud howl, which in
its turn aroused Juggy Kelly, Pete’s niece and the general servant of
the establishment, who slept with the chickens in a sort of loft
overhead, and who, with a vague idea that something was suddenly being
required of her, began, half awake, to hist and hoost vigorously, as if
she were driving in geese or turkeys to roost.

‘Auch! listen to that creature!’ muttered the mistress of the house in
a tone of yet more acrid displeasure--a displeasure only kept low by the
fear of awakening the rest of the still slumbering flock. ‘_Bedhe husth!
Bedhe husth!_’ she called up in a shrill whisper in the direction of the
offender. ‘Troth, and I might speak to the chickens themselves and
better,’ she added to herself in a mutter of indignation. ‘A fool that
Juggy came into the world, and a fool she’ll stop in it as long as the
head stays on her! What ails me to be letting myself be troubled with
her, I wonder? Isn’t _one_ fool enough for a decent woman to have on her
hands at the same time?--yes, indeed, and more than enough! ’Tis the
right _baulyore_ I am with my easy-going ways, slaving and slaving from
morning till night, and getting no thanks, only feeding them that never
yet did a day’s work--nor couldn’t either, I believe, though you covered
them with gold from head to foot, and promised them all Ireland in
return for doing it. Whist! whist! whist, I tell you! _Will_ you whist,
I say?’ she continued to the baby, who had by this time joined its
plaintive howls to the other confusion of noises within and without the
cabin. ‘Whist this very minute! Arrah, will you hold the tongue of you
then, and stop bawling? What! and will nothing else content ye? There,
then, there, then; _now_ be easy, and let me hear no more of you.’ Then,
as the baby’s voice sank into a chuckle and murmur of content, ‘Weary on
you, one and all, for torments! my life’s destroyed amongst you, late
and early! Never a day’s peace or quiet upon this earth, God knows!’

‘Dada, my foot’s sore! There’s a big thorn sticking out of the top of
it!’ suddenly exclaimed the youngest child but two, a small, red-headed,
lively creature called Norah, its father’s chief favourite, who was
sleeping in an obscure corner of the cabin along with a brother of
about a year older.

‘Arrah, hush, my dotey! Be easy, now, there’s a good child, and don’t be
crossing your mother!’ Pete answered apprehensively, creeping out of his
own bed and feeling his way over in the darkness to where the child’s
voice came from. ‘There, there; go to sleep quick, acushla agus, and
sure dada will look for the ugly devil of a thorn in the morning and
pull it out, never fear,’ he whispered soothingly, whereupon the child,
satisfied by his assurance, put up her little face to be kissed and then
settled down again, curling her little legs under her as a small drowsy
bird curls itself into its own corner of the nest.

‘Man Above! it _is_ the terrible night it is, and no mistake!’ Pete
added to himself in a tone of apprehension, looking round him with a
terrified glance as a wilder gust than ever swept down the chimney,
rattling the ill-fitting woodwork, once more filling the cabin with
white ashes, and threatening to bring the whole crazy construction about
their ears.

‘Wild weather! God save all mariners upon the sea, far and near, this
night, amen!’ muttered old Durane from his own corner behind the door,
the one most out of the draught, and partially protected also by the
_corrag_, or screen of dry branches of furze and alder. He was only half
awake, but the formula was so familiar that it rose unbidden to his lips
even in his sleep.

‘True to you, father, the same, amen!’ dutifully responded his son, as
he skipped back across the cabin and into his own lair, pulling the
great coat which was his chief covering by night as well as by day close
up to his chin.

‘Yerra! you’re the nice pair, the two of you, talking and carrying on
in the black heart of the night as if it was the broad middle of the
day!’ his wife exclaimed angrily. ‘And I that have not had one taste of
sleep yet, and my two arms broke with holding up the child! I take the
holy Mother of God to witness that ’tis enough to make any woman curse
the hour she was born, let alone the day she ever laid her two eyes upon
such a man--not to say he is a man at all, for he isn’t, nor hasn’t the
spirit nor the courage nor the sense of a man, only clever at putting
upon one that’s too soft and easy ever to say a ‘no’ to him! Yerra! give
him his bit and his sup and his bed, and his easy life, and ’tis all he
wants. _Wurrah deelish! Wurrah deelish!_ ’tis the queer husband _I_
have, anyhow! God, He knows that, so He does!’

To all this, Pete the submissive made no reply, only rolled himself up
into a ball, trying to get his feet out of the piercing draught, a
performance which, despite the shortness of his legs, he utterly failed
to accomplish. By degrees the scolding voice died away for mere lack of
anything to feed upon; the baby, too, slept; little red-headed Norah
crept closer and closer to her brother, pushing him against another
sister who lay just beyond, till the three became an indistinguishable
mass of small mottled arms and legs. The old man had relapsed into the
placid dreamless slumbers of old age. Up in the chicken-loft poor,
much-abused Juggy Kelly lay, her troubles and stupidities alike
forgotten, one fat arm, utterly bare of covering, hanging outside the
thin coverlet, her mouth wide open, and deep snores heaving her
capacious chest.

Thus, despite the blasts which unceasingly shook it, all the inmates of
the cabin little by little fell asleep. In other cabins scattered over
the face of the island the inhabitants, too, slept, notwithstanding the
storm, till, towards daybreak, the wind itself--sweeping over and over,
and round and round its unprotected top; playing mad pranks along the
steep perpendicular cliffs; rushing vociferously through the narrow
fluted channels and fissures, in at one end, out at the other; loosening
the thin flakes of limestone and dropping them with a hollow or tinkling
clatter upon the next ledge--producing, in short, every variety of sound
of which that not very responsive musical instrument was capable--was
the only thing left awake and astir upon Inishmaan.



CHAPTER IV


The art of weaving is one that has been practised upon the Aran isles
for a longer time than it is easy to reckon. It cannot, however, be said
to have, so far, reached any very high point of perfection. At the time
at which this story opened there were no fewer than four professional
weavers upon Inishmaan. Dumb Denny O’Shaughnessy, however, had always
been considered to stand at the top of his profession, especially as the
maker of the thick yellowish-white flannel used by the women for their
bodices and by the men for their entire suits. Dumb Denny had now been
dead some months, but the weaving trade was still carried on by his
nephew Teige, though there were not wanting captious housewives ready
to cry out that the stuff produced by him was of a very inferior quality
to that produced by old Denny. Changes, no matter of what sort or from
what cause, are naturally condemned in such places as Inishmaan.

Grania had for some time back been intending to get Honor the materials
for a new bedgown, the only garment the poor woman now ever needed.
Honor herself had deprecated the expense, declaring that the old one did
well enough, though her elbows had long been through the sleeves--a fact
not to be concealed whenever her old striped shawl, the only other
garment she wore, fell back and left them exposed. Patches might perhaps
have been fitted to them, but unfortunately Grania’s various
accomplishments did not include any very intimate acquaintance with a
needle, her hands being much more at home with an oar or a pitch-fork.
Honor, for an Aranite, had been a fairly neat worker in her day, but
that day was long past. In any case, new flannel Grania was determined
to get, and when she had set her mind resolutely upon anything it was
not likely to be long delayed.

A few days later, therefore, she set off for the O’Shaughnessy cabin to
give the order to Teige, first driving ‘Moonyeen’ down to enjoy an
hour’s illicit feeding upon the bent-grass on the seashore. This small
act of habitual larceny accomplished, she followed the level platform of
rock till she reached the corner of the island, which brought her
opposite to the little spit or isthmus by means of which the islet upon
which the O’Shaughnessys’ cabin stood joined on to its larger neighbour.

The weather was as bad as ever. Though it was now mid-May the day felt
like March. An ill-conditioned blast--easterly rather than
westerly--seemed to be waiting for the passerby at every corner. As she
walked along the prospect was enough to set even native teeth on edge.
In every direction spread the eternal grey sheets of rock, broken into
fissures, battered by the storms, half melted under dissolving torrents
of rain, their few patches of greenery shrunk away into the fissures for
warmth and safety. Beyond lay the unvarying sweep of grey sea, or of
land almost as cheerless. Overhead the same eternal cloud-processions.
No clear sky anywhere. On they went, those clouds; hurrying endlessly;
grey, shapeless masses entangled in one another; clutching at one
another with bodiless fingers, rolling away into the distance for ever
and ever; always going on, and yet never gone.

Especially was the wind cold and boisterous upon the narrow tongue of
rock that linked the O’Shaughnessys’ territory to the rest of the world.
It seemed to be literally sweeping in from all sides at once as Grania
made her way across, avoiding as far as possible the oily coils of
seaweed strewn over it, and, having reached the other side, clambered up
the short steep bit of cliff which intervened between it and the cabin.

The door stood wide open, so that before she reached it she could see
right through the cabin and out to the sea upon the other side. There
were two windows, one on the same side as the door, looking south
towards Inishmaan, the other looking northward. It was through this one
that the grey light of the sea lying below came so distinctly, shining
upon the floor and walls with something of the cold sheen and glitter of
a sea-cave. Between the two windows stretched the loom, a rickety
structure of indistinguishable hue, its beams half rotten, and bent and
warped with time, the very cords on which the work in progress was
stretched being so worn and old that it seemed impossible they could
continue to serve their purpose much longer. In place, too, of a metal
sustainer a small bar of wood held up the work in progress--in the
present case a piece of the usual whitish flannel of the island, the
same that Grania had herself come to order.

Teige O’Shaughnessy was sitting bent double over his work, but he
suddenly lifted his head, and started erect with a look of sheepish joy
when he saw his visitor.

Poor Teige! He was not much less ill-favoured now than he had been six
years earlier. On the contrary, a fall which he had had while
puffin-hunting had resulted in a lameness which, though it did not
hinder him from walking, made it painful to him. As Teige the _boccach_,
or cripple, he was known all over the islands, where his freckled face,
red hair, and halting gait was a familiar object in every cabin, as he
came and went with his bundles of flannel and coarse homespun friezes.

Standing behind his loom, whose beams and pulleys filled nearly the
whole interior of the cabin, his poor, ugly face looked up at his
visitor from under its red thatch with a peculiarly wistful expression,
an expression not often seen on a man’s face, very often upon that of
some affectionate and rather unusually ill-used dog. Yet Grania had
never ill-used Teige O’Shaughnessy. At least, had she? The question is
not so easily answered as may at first sight seem. Given a woman with a
larger share of plain human affection than she can conveniently dispose
of--an impatient woman, hot tempered and vehement--let her have given
away that affection where it is, to say the least, indifferently
responded to; let her have someone else at hand to whom she is as the
sun, moon, and stars shining in their glory--as wonderful and hardly
less unapproachable--what sort of treatment is she likely to mete out to
that person? The experience of larger places than Inishmaan may be taken
to supply the answer!

Grania’s own impression, had she been asked, was that she was very good
indeed to Teige O’Shaughnessy--now. She allowed him, that is to say, to
do a multitude of odd jobs for her that she would never for an instant
have dreamt of troubling Murdough with. When Honor had been well enough,
for instance, it had been his office to help row the two sisters over to
Aranmore to mass upon a Sunday morning, one for which he was well
fitted, as he was as expert in the management of a curragh as she was
herself, though his lameness made him less serviceable in other tasks,
such as digging, or carrying heavy loads up hill.

A patient, hard-working, poor _boccach_, that everyone admitted him to
be--admitted it with the contempt which such grovelling qualities
naturally awaken in Ireland. Indoors, especially, his handiness was
really degrading. The earthen floor of the cabin was actually reported
to be swept by him, not once a month, but every morning before he
settled down to his day’s work. The two tiny-paned windows were both
extraordinarily clean, and the glass literally whole, so that the cabin
was an exceptionally light one, in spite of its space being almost
wholly blocked up by the loom and its various appurtenances.

To anyone entering at that moment, a first glance would have revealed no
figure but that of the weaver himself. As Grania advanced into the
cabin, however, an odd-looking, little, doubled-up, red object rose from
a corner of the hearth where it had been squatting, and came towards
her, making queer bobs, ducks, and uncanny grimaces as it did so.

This was deaf and dumb Biddy O’Shaughnessy, twin sister to the man
lately dead. Biddy had always been reckoned ‘queer’ upon Inishmaan, and
her infirmity had naturally tended to cut her off from her fellows. She
was also said to be malicious, though how a creature so helpless could
be supposed to have the means of injuring anyone, it was hard to say.
Whatever affection she had to give had certainly all been concentrated
upon her twin-brother, and, since his death, she had grown more elf-like
and uncanny than ever, as if the one tie that linked her to humanity had
now been broken. She was asserted by her neighbours to detest her nephew
Teige, though for this assertion also there was probably only the
wildest surmise to go upon, and certainly Teige had never shown any
signs of being aware of the fact himself.

Upon Grania the old woman’s presence had always produced a distinctly
unpleasant impression--not exactly of fear, not exactly of repulsion,
but of something not very far removed from both. She had never got over
that all but insane access of terror which the sight of the two old
twins had inspired in her on the evening when, as the reader will
remember, she had peeped in as a child at the cabin-window, and then
torn madly home in consternation to Honor. Biddy was known, too, to have
the power of seeing the ‘gentry,’ namely, the _shee_ or _sidh_--beings
who creep out from every mouse-hole and from behind every rafter the
minute a family has gone to sleep, but which few people have the power
of seeing and actually holding communication with. Of these privileged
few, Biddy O’Shaughnessy was universally held to be one.

After uttering sundry queer clacking noises, something like the notes
of a bald coot, which were intended to serve as greetings, the old woman
seemed to forget her visitor, going back to her former place and
squatting down again beside the fire. Meanwhile Grania proceeded to
explain to Teige the sort of flannel she wanted to have for Honor,
handing him at the same time a mass of wool which had been spun by
themselves several winters before. The piece of flannel then upon the
loom being of the same character, though coarser than the one she
wanted, she took hold of it to show Teige how she wished it to be
different, explaining that she wanted Honor to have the warmest and
softest flannel possible. Poor Honor! she was so thin that everything
fretted her skin and hurt her nowadays.

While they stood there talking the cold light reflected off the sea
shone upon their two heads bent over the loom, Grania’s dark one, from
which her shawl had dropped, and Teige’s carroty poll, the fiery redness
of which was only modified by the dust that had gathered thickly on it
in the course of his day’s work. The tide rose higher and higher,
wetting the rocks and stranded, half-dry seaweeds, curling round the
small indentations, and shooting noisily upwards in long jets of spray.
It seemed as if the little house on top must presently be overtaken and
washed away by it. They had to raise their voices almost to a shout so
as to hear one another above the tumult.

Old Biddy, vexed perhaps at being left out of the conference, presently
began to move about, uttering the queer, disjointed grunts and croaks
which were her chief contributions to conversation. First she chattered
vehemently to herself; next, apparently, to someone or something sitting
amongst the smouldering embers of the turf; next she began to stare at
the rafters overhead, nodding and blinking at them, as if some friendly
or inquisitive face was peering down from between their interstices.
After a while, growing tired of these entertainments, she crept over
towards the loom, making her way in and out of its crazy woodwork with a
deftness born of long practice. In this way she got by degrees to the
other side, unobserved by the two absorbed over the discussion of the
flannel. For a while she contented herself with gazing up at them, her
wrinkled old monkey-face puckered into a variety of quaint grimaces--a
wonderful old human gargoyle, beyond the imagination of even a Gothic
carver adequately to reproduce. All at once a new notion seemed to seize
her, and the next time the two heads approached one another, bending
over the woof, Teige explaining something and Grania listening, she
darted forward, and, with a sudden, impish clutch, caught at them and
held them tightly together, so that for a few seconds the two faces were
forcibly pushed cheek to cheek, the total unexpectedness of the movement
hindering either of them from resisting.

Grania was the first to pull herself away, and she did it furiously. The
very touch of the old creature was like the touch of a toad or a spider
to her--it sent a shiver of disgust through her whole body. She turned
angrily, her arm was up, she was about to strike. She stopped short,
however, at sight of the crooked, diminutive body and grinning
monkey-face before her. Old Biddy, on her side, bobbed, ducked, and
chattered, blinking her eyes, a little frightened evidently, yet
proud, too, and pleased by her own successful piece of mischief.
Grania, thereupon, swept round upon Teige. _Someone_ should be
responsible--_someone_ should be made to pay for the insult! Teige was
standing in the same place beside the loom, his face red as a lobster,
as red as his hair, but his eyes shining--shining as they had probably
never shone in his life before. The poor, ill-favoured _boccach_ was for
the moment transfigured. Grania stared at him in sheer astonishment.
What did he mean? What was he staring at? What on earth possessed him?
She felt confused and startled. Something was passing through her, a
sudden impression, she did not as yet know what it was, but it was
something new--something at once new and disturbing--something that
meant---- What, she asked herself confusedly, _did_ it mean?

With a sudden, angry clutch she swept up her shawl which was lying on
the floor, and, without another word, ran out of the cabin down the
steep bit of pathway which led to the narrow causeway, now narrower
than ever from the fast encroaching tide.

Lame as he was, Teige, being nearer to the door, contrived to scramble
after her, and caught her up just as she reached the other side.

‘Auch, Grania! Grania O’Malley!--’tisn’t angry you’d be with one who
hasn’t the sense of life in her at all, at all?’ he cried
deprecatingly--‘a creature that can’t speak with her tongue, nor hear
with her ears, nor understand, nor a thing! What is she but a poor old
lost one out and out, old Biddy, God help her! Sure, Grania O’Malley,
’tisn’t yourself would turn upon such a one as that? Arrah, I know you
wouldn’t.’

But Grania was not to be reasoned with. She pulled her hand furiously
away, almost pushing him down the rocks in her anger. What did he mean
by trying to stop her? what did he mean by staring at her? what did he
mean by----? Had they all gone mad to-day--herself into the bargain? Why
did he look at her like that?--look at her as no one else had ever--why
did he--why did she----? Her head spun round; she hurried on.

It was like an idea dropped out of another world, a world remote from
Inishmaan and Aran altogether. It set her whole frame in a whirl, not as
regards Teige--he was a chip, a straw, nothing--but because it chimed in
with something--a tune, a notion--she could not tell what, which had
often sung through her brain and tingled in her ears, been heard now and
then for a moment, sometimes almost distinctly, then lost, then heard
again. What was it? What was the name of that tune? Was it inside
herself or outside, or where was it?

Scrambling over the rocks, she hurried on, forgetting in her excitement
to fetch home Moonyeen, forgetting the flannel, forgetting everything
but this new voice, buzzing, buzzing unceasingly in her ears. Presently
she found that she had overshot the path by a considerable distance, so
stopped a minute, perplexed and giddy, close to the edge of the cliff.
Below her lay the coose where Murdough kept his curragh, and beyond it
she could see the little old villa, standing upon its narrow green
platform, backed up behind and at the side with rocks. On a nearer view
it would have been seen to have grown even more tumbledown than when we
saw it last; its rusty ironwork still more rusty, and still more
fantastic in its decrepitude. At this distance, however, it was
practically unchanged, and, ruined as it was, it shed an air of classic
dignity, of half-effaced importance and prosperity upon the spot where
it stood, such as no other spot on Inishmaan certainly boasted.

Grania stood for a moment on the edge of the cliff, staring down at it;
her black brows almost meeting in the intensity of her gaze, her arms
locked one over the other on her chest, her face working. Suddenly she
turned with a gesture of impatience, and looked away from it towards the
other side, the side where there was no villa, and where there was
nothing to be seen, nothing, that is, but the sea and the bare
sea-washed sheets of limestone. Ledge above ledge, layer above layer,
these last rose; straight, horizontal, clean cut as if laid by some
builder’s hands, a mass of crude, uncompromising masonry. Under that
heavy, lowering sky it was about as cold and as menacing a prospect as
could well be imagined--a prospect, too, that had a suggestion somehow
about it of cruelty. ‘Look well at me,’ it seemed to say, ‘you have only
to choose. Life up there on those stones! death down here upon
these--there, you see, where the surf is licking the mussels!
Choose--choose carefully--take your time--only choose!’

No one was in sight, not even a cow, only a few seagulls overhead, and
with a quick impulse, born of her own hurrying thoughts, the girl
suddenly flung up her arms, uttering at the same time a low cry, half of
anger, half of sheer brain-tormenting perplexity. It was like the cry of
some dumb creature, vague, inarticulate, full of uncomprehended pain,
and of still less comprehended dissatisfaction. She could not have
explained why she did it, what she meant by it, or what was amiss.
Nothing had happened. She was in no trouble, everything was the same as
usual; only--only----

It relieved, yet it startled her. She looked round, fearing to have been
overheard. A tuft of nodding yellow tansy looked up with an air of
impudent intelligence into her face. Whatever its thoughts may have
been, however, it kept them to itself, and merely nodded the harder.

With another shamefaced glance around, Grania turned and made her way,
this time straight home to the cabin where Honor was waiting for her,
and where she had to listen to a long, tender remonstrance upon the
folly of wasting money upon clothes for the likes of her. What was the
good of it at all, at all? Was it for the burying she wanted them?
Didn’t everyone know it was a sin and a shame to be buying clothes for
people that could never live to wear them out? Wickedness, so it was,
God knew!--no better. Grania listened to all this silently, then equally
silently went about her work. All day she experienced a startled sort of
feeling. Something seemed to have happened. And yet no--upon second
thoughts she remembered nothing had happened. It was as if something
had got inside herself, or into the air--she could not tell where. That
tune; what was it? who had sung it to her? what was its name? what did
it all mean? By degrees, however, the impression began to pass away,
till by bedtime it had almost gone.

As for Teige O’Shaughnessy he remained at least ten minutes standing
upon the same spot where they had parted, gazing with the same air of
sheepish remonstrance at the piece of rock where he had seen her last.
Then, with a grunt and a look of perplexity, he returned, scratching his
carroty head, to the cabin, and set to work again upon the piece of
flannel stretched upon the loom. The tide continued to rise; the little
peninsula was presently converted into an island; he and old Biddy were
as effectually cut off from the rest of Inishmaan as though an ocean had
rolled between them and it. She was back now in her usual place beside
the chimney, her eyes fixed with a look of eager, unblinking fascination
upon a particular spot amongst the rafters. All at once she sprang up,
made a dart forward, and caught at something, small enough, apparently,
to be contained in one hand, then retreated, gibbering and chuckling, to
her stool again, as delighted evidently as a child that has captured a
butterfly. Cautiously she opened finger after finger, at last the whole
hand; peeped round each portion of it separately, examined front, back,
and sides, every part of it, her wrinkled old face twisted into an
expression first of high glee, next of incredulity. Finally, with a
grimace of sudden disappointment and malice, she turned, shaking her
fist and chattering her teeth furiously, in the direction of her nephew,
evidently regarding him as in some way or other responsible for the
disappointment.



CHAPTER V


At last the spell which had so long brooded over the islands was broken!
The weather changed. The rain ceased--temporarily at any rate. A glimmer
of sunshine even broke out, and sent dimpling, pinkish reflections one
after the other along the sides of the little cooses, which for months
had known no colours but indian ink and lamp-black. The rock pools
themselves awoke, the oozy things that tenant them seeming to feel the
warm impulsion from above, expanding their snaky tentacles and turning
their ever-gaping, hungry, jelly-like mouths towards the sunlight.

Down at the old church of Cill-Cananach the spring had asserted itself
yet more undeniably. The rocks there were so worn and thinned away as
hardly to be visible at all, and over them the sands had spread in a
succession of humps and hollows. These humps and hollows were full of
shells--sea shells and land shells, tossed together in friendly
companionship. You might have picked out of them a winkle or a limpet,
and the next minute the yellow-banded cast-off house of a common snail.
Bare it was, always must be bare; nevertheless, there was a suggestion
of something warmer, of something less austere and grim than those
wind-infested shores often gave. Tufts of maiden-hair hung confidingly
over the ledges, the rare yellow rock-rose, which, by some odd caprice,
finds its home here and here only, showed at intervals its brilliant
brown-spotted face, while everywhere the thyme, spread about in great
purple masses, gave out its sweet wild smell.

Grania O’Malley, more than most others, rejoiced in this sudden escape
from winter into something like a realisation of summer. She had been
living for some time back in a sort of tomb--an open-air one, but still
a tomb. Now a change had come, and the youth in her rose to it. Murdough
Blake, too, grew suddenly more companionable. He actually came of his
own accord, and proposed to aid her in some of her accustomed tasks, and
they accordingly resumed their nightly occupation of feeding the kelp
fire--she, that is to say, feeding it, he feeding her ears and his own
upon the usual gorgeous, if windy, diet of achievements to be performed
by himself at some remote, as yet undiscovered, date.

One afternoon she started about four o’clock towards an old ‘clochaun,’
or bee-hive cell, the only variation of architecture Inishmaan boasts,
setting aside raths, cabins, ruined churches, and the solitary
Italianised villa upon the east shore. She had hoped Murdough might have
met her there, he having promised to do so. There was no sign of him,
however, so she set to work without loss of time, having brought a
sickle for the purpose, and was soon piling a heap of grass upon the
flattest of the neighbouring slabs.

This ‘clochaun’--last of a once, doubtless, numerous kindred--was still
reasonably intact, though its windows were all but closed, partly from
the slipping of the stones above them, partly from the great bosses of
lichen and strong-growing sea-thrift which choked their openings. With
its roof of over-lapping stones, rounded walls, and floor of earth mixed
with sand and shells, it had far more the aspect of some queerly
constructed bird’s-nest, some erratically disposed beast’s lair, than
anything conceivable as having ever been inhabited by the human biped.
At this date, too, it was even less like a human abode than when some
skin-clad sixth-century monk inhabited it, for from floor below to roof
above it was covered with a dense growth of tall, feathery-looking
grass, which, sprouted in tufts on either side, and waved in a dense
triumphal crop over the small domed summit.

Lying, as it did, within the track over which the O’Malley sisters
reigned, they naturally had the right of grazing there, and it was this
that had brought Grania out that afternoon, sickle in hand, to clear the
walls of their harvest, and carry it home to the calf, whose appetite
was a sort of raging lion, never to be appeased, and who regarded a diet
largely made up of maiden-hair ferns, red-crane’s-foot, campions, white
saxifrages, and such-like flowery provender with natural, if unæsthetic,
contempt.

She waited a while after clearing the ‘clochaun’ of its grass to give
Murdough a chance of appearing. Then, as there were no signs of him, and
the afternoon was still early, it occurred to her, before saddling
herself with her load, that she would go down to the villa, which was no
great distance, and see if he was there--a contingency which, from her
acquaintanceship with his habits, she had reason to regard as far from
improbable.

She did not find him, but there were signs of his having been there not
long before, and of his having had company, too--company that, in her
opinion, he would have been much better without. A still picturesque, if
dilapidated, villa without, it had gradually grown into the likeness of
a mere dirty, disreputable little ‘shebeen-shop’ inside. The floor was
filthy with accumulated mud, brought in on many pairs of pampooties and
never cleared away. Some cracked glasses, a couple of black bottles with
jagged, dangerous-looking necks, and several old tin pannikins stood
heaped together upon a sort of ledge which served as a table. There was
a barrel, too, half hidden behind some cut furze-bushes in a remote
corner. The existence of this barrel was supposed to be a profound
secret, but secrets are ill kept in places like Inishmaan, and Grania,
like everyone else, knew perfectly well that a barrel of illicit whisky
had been put ashore there some three weeks before. How much of that
whisky was there left now? she wondered.

She had made her way in by a back window, the secret of opening which
Murdough had long ago shown her, and now looked round her with a
sensation of intense disgust. Like most Irishwomen of her class--at all
events till age, sympathy, possibly till mere abounding patience and
pity break them in--this was to her the sin of sins; the sin that meant
starvation, clamorous children, misery of all sorts, shame and the
horrors of the workhouse at no very remote future. To-day, too, she was
already vexed and disappointed, and therefore less inclined than usual
to be tolerant.

‘It is the fool he is! My God! it is the fool!’ she muttered fiercely,
as she looked about her. ‘What ails him, then, at all, at all?--soaking!
soaking! soaking! What ails them all, my God? Weary upon that drink, but
it is the curse of the world!’

She went over to the barrel, and shook it viciously, not having anything
else at hand to shake. It was nearly empty, for she could hear what
little liquor was left splashing about at the very bottom. Had it been
full, she would, perhaps, in her wrath, have dragged it out, stove in
the bottom and let the stuff run away into the sea. As it was, it did
not seem worth while. She came out again, a scowl upon her face, an
angry red light shining in her eyes; dropped the window into its place;
climbed the hill with swift, wrathful steps, and returned to the
‘clochaun’ and her heap of grass. Here, having collected together the
latter with a sort of fierce energy, she made it into an enormous stack,
got the rope round it, and, having hoisted it up by main force upon her
back, turned to go homeward.

As she was slowly mounting from the third to the fourth ledge she saw a
figure sitting alone upon a large boulder close to the edge of the
track, and perceived, upon coming nearer, that it was old Durane, who
was sunning himself in the unaccustomed warmth, enjoying a pipe and the
luxury of being free from even the distant sounds of his
daughter-in-law’s tongue.

Everyone upon Inishmaan regarded it as a high privilege to get old
Durane to talk, for he was a stately and reticent old personage, as has
been seen, quite satisfied with being excellent company to himself, and
not tormented, as most of us are, by any burning desire of being
recognised as good company by others as well. Where he was sitting was
within the edge of the O’Malleys’ territory, and as Grania with her
towering load came up the track he looked up and, perhaps, in
recognition of that fact, gave her a civil good-day, with a wave of his
hand, and a _Banaght lath! Banaght lath!_--an old-fashioned mode of
salutation, already almost completely gone out of fashion.

A sudden impulse came over the girl--an unusual one with her, for she
was not gregarious--an impulse to stop a minute and have a chat with the
old fellow, the rather that the cord was cutting her shoulder badly,
and a rest, therefore, would not be unwelcome.

‘It is down at the old house by the sea--the gentlefolks’ house as they
call it--I have been, Mr. Durane, sir,’ she observed in a tone of
suitable respect, as she sat down beside him on the great smooth top of
the boulder. ‘And it is a bad way it is getting into, too--a very bad
way, so it is.’ Then, after a minute--‘Was it ever as it was in the old
time, when the quality was living upon Inishmaan, that you remember it?’
she went on in rather a hesitating tone, her first conversational
venture not having, so far, met with any particular encouragement on the
part of her neighbour.

Old Durane shifted his pipe from one side of his mouth to the other,
looked seaward, spat politely behind him into a fissure, then turned a
bright little puckered eye upon her as if to ask her what she was
driving at, and presently took up his parable.

‘Is it about Mr. Lynch Bodkin you are asking me, my good girl, if I
remember him? Oh, but yes, I do remember him very well; why not? why
not? He was a great man, and a good man, Mr. Lynch Bodkin--a _very_ good
man! He would have ten, yes, and twelve gentlemen over from Galway or
Round’stown at one time to dine with him, and it is the door of the
house he would lock if they wanted to go away early, so he would. “No
man has ever left my table till I choose, and no man ever shall,” he
would say. “Is it to shame me you would be after, and in my own house,
too? There is the red wine, and there is the white wine for you, and, if
that will not do, there is the whisky wine too, and you may take your
choice, gentlemen!” that is what he would say. Oh! a very good man he
was, Mr. Lynch Bodkin, very. There are no such gentlemen left now--no,
none at all.’

Grania listened with profound attention. It all seemed rather odd
somehow. In what, she wondered, did Mr. Lynch Bodkin’s particular
goodness consist?

‘And was it always drunk the gentleman would be, and the other gentlemen
that were with him, too?’ she inquired in a tone of perfect gravity.

‘Drunk? but he was not drunk at all!--never to say drunk!’ old Durane
answered indignantly. ‘And for respect, I would have you to know, my
good girl, that there was not a gentleman in all Galway--no, nor in Mayo
either, nor in the whole of Connaught--that was so much thought of as
Mr. Lynch Bodkin! It was down there by the sea yonder he would hold his
courts, so he would, for it was he that gave all the justice to
Inishmaan--yes, and to the other islands as well. And it would have to
be upon a fine day, because it would be on the outside of his house that
he would hold the court always--yes, indeed, outside of it, down there
on the rocks by the sea that it would be held. And if it was not a very
fine day, he would just go out of the door and look up at the sky, and
say to the people, “Come again to-morrow, boys!” and they would all go
away. Then next day, perhaps, they would come. Oh! but it was a fine
sight, I can tell you, to see his honour sitting there in a great gold
armchair that would be brought out of the house, out from his own
parlour, and put upon the rocks yonder! There would be, perhaps, six or
seven people brought up for him to judge at once, and sometimes his
honour would put the hand-cuffs on them himself, so he would, for it was
in his own house he kept the hand-cuffs always. And if it was anything
very bad, oh! very bad indeed they had done, then it was to the
“Continent” over beyond there he would send them--into Galway to the
jail--because there has never been any jail on Aran.’

‘And would they go into the jail when he sent them?’ Grania inquired
with some surprise.

‘Is it go? Indeed and it is they that _must_ go. My God! yes, and find
the boat to go in, too, so they must, and pay for that boat themselves,
so they must! It was just a small bit of writing his honour would be
good enough to give them, that was all, and they must show it at the
jail-door in Galway when they went in. Go? I do not think there was a
man or a woman on Inishmaan, no, nor on all Aran, nor anywhere near it,
that would not have gone to jail, or anywhere else, if his honour, Mr.
Lynch Bodkin, had sent him! A great man, and a very good man too, Mr.
Lynch Bodkin! There are no such quality now.’

Old Durane paused, lost apparently in pleasurable retrospection.

‘But it is back I must be getting,’ he added presently, rising with
sudden briskness from his seat. ‘And you, too, my fine girl, with your
bundle of grass on your back! Gorra! but it is some young man that
should be carrying it for you, and if I was twenty years younger I would
not see you so loaded--so I would not. And how is that good woman your
sister? No better? _Tchah! tchah!_ that is bad! It is not long you will
be keeping her with you, I am afraid! Well, well, it is in God’s hands,
and it is the best sort He will have for Himself, and small blame to Him
for that, either--no, indeed; small blame to Him! You will tell her that
I was asking after her, for it is the sick people that like to hear and
know everything that goes on. When my wife was such a long time dying,
it was not a cat kittened in all Inishmaan but she must know about it
the first--yes, indeed, always--always the very first! But I will wish
you a good-day now, my fine girl; I will wish you a very good-day.’ And
old Durane, who soon tired of any company, except his own, toddled away
with a wave of his ragged caubeen that would have done honour to an
ambassador.

Grania, too, shouldered her load again after a minute and went
ploddingly on her way home. She felt less angry, somehow, since she had
talked to this old philosopher, though she could not have explained why.
It seemed as if some voice of the past had got between her and her
wrath. Would it have been any different in those old times she wondered,
or was it always the same? Always? always?

She was no sooner out of sight and round the corner of the next rock
than old Durane sat down again, stretching his long thin legs
luxuriously before him, so as to let the warm light which played over
the top of the ridge reach them. He was not really in any hurry to get
home. Rosha and her shrill rasping voice were joys that would keep. He
loved the sunshine beyond everything, though he got it so seldom, and on
fine days, deserting the cabin, deserting even his favourite stony
armchair, would seek out some sheltered cleft of the rocks or hollow
amongst the furze, and sit there hour after hour, turning the pebbles in
front of him about with his stick, and smiling slowly to himself,
sometimes muttering over and over some cabalistic word--a word which,
for the moment, had the effect of recreating for him the past, one
which, even to himself, had grown almost spectrally remote, so dim and
far away was it. A queer old ragged Ulysses this, whose Ithaca was that
solitary islet set in the bleak and inhospitable Atlantic! Far out of
sight, and rarely now to be stirred by anything modern, lay hidden away
in the recesses of that old brain of his a whole phantasmagoria of
recollections, beliefs, prejudices, traditions; bits of a bygone feudal
world, with all its habits and customs; bits of a hardly more remote and
forgotten legendary world; the world of the primitive Celt--a big,
elemental world this, glorious with the light of a still unspoiled
future--fragments of fifty creeds, fragments of a hundred modes of
thought, all dead enough, Heaven knows, yet alive for the moment under
that weather-beaten old caubeen of his. This peculiarly Irish form of
brain-endowment has never yet found expression in art--never, so far as
can be judged by symptoms, is in the least likely to do so--but it has
from time immemorial served as the source of a good deal of odd
discounted entertainment to its possessors, and that, if not the same
thing, is perhaps as good a one--possibly even better.



CHAPTER VI


Gregory Sound, Foul Sound, South Sound, every sound around the three
islands was full of mackerel.

For several days all the available curraghs belonging to Inishmaan, and
the two other islands as well, had been out after them the whole day
long. The Aran folk are not particularly expert fishermen, and their
share of the herring fishery, the chief take of the year, is apt to be a
meagre one. They have neither the tackle nor the hereditary skill of the
Galway Claddagh men--though even these fish less and worse than their
fathers did, and let the lion’s share of the yearly spoil fall into the
hands of strangers. As for the once famous “sun-fishing,” it has become
a myth: the fish are scarcer, but even when they do appear hardly an
attempt is made to secure them.

Grania O’Malley and Murdough Blake were out alone together in a curragh
in the South Sound. They were fishing at a distance of several miles
from their own island, beyond the least of the three islands, Inisheer,
and between it and the opposite coast of Clare. The sun shone brightly,
the sea was almost a dead calm, yet the great green rollers kept their
boat incessantly on the move--slowly, slowly up one side of a smooth
green glassy ridge; then slowly, slowly down the other side--down, down,
down, sleepily, quietly, all but imperceptibly, into the hollow of the
next glassy valley; then up, up, up, to the very top of the one beyond.

Despite this movement the sea had the effect of seeming to have a film
of glass laid over it, so unbroken was its surface. You might have
traced the same roller which had just lifted their own boat’s keel miles
upon miles away, till it finally broke against the Hag’s Head or got
lost somewhere in the direction of Miltown Malbay. Everywhere the black
bows of other curraghs peered up mysteriously, looking like the heads of
walruses, dudongs, or some such sea-habitants; now visible above the
shining surface; now lost to sight; then suddenly reappearing again. It
seemed as if they were amusing themselves by some warm-weather game of
floating and diving.

Summer had come at last, there was no doubt of that fact! As Murdough
and Grania walked down to the boat the air had been full of all manner
of alluring promises. The year had at last awakened, and even those
small epitomes of desolation, their own islands, had caught the
infection, their usual ascetic aspect having given way to-day to one of
quite comparative frolicsomeness--the sort of frolicsomeness suggestive
of a monk or a nun upon an unwonted holiday. At the point where they had
got into the curragh the sand was one mass of silene, spreading its
reticulated net in all directions. Across this green net the still young
rays of the sun had struck, lighting up the thin long stems and white
pendulous flower-heads, which sprang up again every time they were
trodden down, nodding, and nodding frantically, in breezy, reckless
defiance of any such accidents.

Even out here, in the middle of the bay, there was an extraordinary
sense of lightness--a sense of warmth, too, of gaiety and elation. The
distant headlands, generally swathed to the very feet in clouds, wore
to-day an air of quite Italian-like distinctness, joined to a not at all
Italian-like sense of remoteness and distance. It was a day of days, in
short! A day to write up in red chalk; a day to remember for years; not
a day, alas! likely soon to recur again.

Grania felt foolishly happy. Not for a long time, not since she had
first known for certain that Honor must die, hardly since she and
Murdough had been children together, had she felt so light, so rid of
all tormenting thoughts, thoughts all the worse and more tormenting from
their being so imperfectly understood. Her heart seemed to leap and
bound under her old patched bodice, though she sat erect and decorously
upon her narrow thwart, watching the line as if no other thought for her
existed in the whole world. Inside that old bodice, however, a whole
dance of glad young fancies were flitting to and fro and up and down.
The world was good, after all, she thought--good! good! good!--at least
_sometimes_!

Mackerel-fishing is, fortunately, not a business of too strenuous a
nature to be enjoyable. Your line bobs easily and pleasantly along the
surface in the wake of your boat. Your bait--a shining object of some
sort, more often than not a scrap of the skin of the first victim--is
artfully attached, not to the killing hook, but to the one immediately
above it. At this the fish snaps--why, no fisherman can tell you--is
caught by the hook below, pulled in, tossed to the bottom of the boat,
your line is out again, and so the game goes merrily on--merrily for all
save the mackerel, whose opinion naturally does not count for much one
way or other.

Grania and Murdough were both expert fishers. She, if anything, was the
more expert of the two, and her hand the quickest to draw in the line at
the right moment. Her attention, too, never varied--in appearance--from
the business in hand, whereas his was wont to be afloat over the whole
surrounding earth, sea, sky, and universe at large. His powers of
concentration were not, it is to be feared, improving. It is conceivable
that many successive evenings devoted to the society of Shan Daly, Paddy
O’Toole, Kit Rafferty--otherwise ‘Kit the Rake’--also to that of the big
barrel hidden away under the furze-bushes in the old villa, are not
exactly conducive to a young man’s steadiness of hand or his
business-like habits. So far, happily, this one’s natural good looks,
and the all but absolutely open-air life he led, had kept him from the
prematurely sodden air of the young topers of our towns. Still, there
were signs, slight but significant, pointing in one direction--pointing
grimly towards a brink which, once crossed, there is seldom, if ever,
any crossing back again.

To-day, however, these signs were happily in abeyance. His eye was
bright, his skin clear, the voluble superabounding Gaelic ran as nimbly
as ever over his tongue; his shoulders squared themselves as broadly as
ever against the soft green glassiness behind him; he looked as vigorous
and as comely a specimen of youthful peasant manhood as heart of maiden
sweetheart could desire.

On they floated--easily, buoyantly. Now and then one or other would give
a few strokes of the oar, so as to keep the curragh moving and hinder it
from turning round. The high-piled, somewhat picturesque point of
Inisheer was from this position the nearest land in sight. Over it they
could see the crenelated top of O’Brien’s castle, which rises
incongruously out of the middle of an ancient rath, a rath so ancient
that its origin is lost in the clouds, and even tradition refuses to
find a name for it, so that archæology has to put up regretfully with a
blank in its records. Farther on three small grey cabins stood out, the
stones in their walls distinguishable separately even at this distance;
beyond these again twinkled a tiny, weed-covered lake with a crooked
cross beside it; then three or four big monumental stones running in a
zigzag line up one side of a narrow bohereen; then some more grey
cabins, gathered in a little cluster; then a few stunted, dilapidated
thorn-trees, bent double by the gales; then the broken-down gable-end of
a church, and then the sea again.

‘Is it to Galway those will be going, I wonder?’ Grania asked presently,
pointing to a curragh which three men were just lifting over a little
half-moon of sand, preparatory to launching it.

‘No, it will not be to Galway, Grania O’Malley, they will be going--not
to Galway at all,’ Murdough answered, turning round to watch them and
speaking eagerly. ‘It is out to sea they will be going--to the real Old
Sea beyond! That one there is Malachy Flaherty--the big man with the
chin beard--and that is Pat Flaherty in the middle, and the little one
yonder, with the red round his waist, is Macdara Flaherty. It is all
Flaherties they are, mostly, on Inisheer; yes, and it is all pilots
mostly they are, too. Oh, but it is a good business, the piloting
business!--my faith and word yes, a very good, fine business, I can tell
you, Grania O’Malley! It is three pounds English, not a penny less, they
will make sometimes in one afternoon--three pounds and more too! Macdara
Flaherty, he has told me himself he did often make that when he would be
out alone by himself. Macdara Flaherty! think of that! And who is
Macdara Flaherty, I should like to know, that he should get three
pounds? Just a poor little pinkeen of a fellow, not up to my shoulder!
Glory be to God! but it is a good grand business, the piloting business,
and if I had been reared a pilot it is much money I should have made by
this time, yes indeed, and put by too, so I should. It was a very great
shame of my father and of my mother that they did not bring me up to the
piloting business, so it was! A big, black, burning shame of the two of
them!’

Grania listened with a sort of sleepy satisfaction. Of late Murdough’s
gorgeous visions of what, under other and totally different
circumstances, he would have done and achieved had been less a pleasure
to her than might have been expected. It is conceivable that they jarred
a little too much with the actual reality. To-day, however, her mood was
so placid that nothing seemed to touch it. She went on, nevertheless,
with her fishing. That, at least, was wonderfully good. The mackerel
kept rushing insanely at the bits of dancing, glittering stuff which
lured them; snapping at them so idiotically and so continuously that
already quite a big pile lay at the bottom of the boat.

After fishing along the coast of Inisheer they drifted in the afternoon
some little distance southwards with the tide, until it carried them
nearly opposite to the cliffs of Moher. They could see the huge
pale-grey boundary wall, with all the joints and scars on its face and
the white fringe of water at its feet. Then, when the tide had again
turned, they followed it slowly back, till they had once more come to
nearly the same spot they had occupied in the morning.

As the dusk came on Grania’s contented mood seemed only to deepen and to
grow more conscious. A vague, diffused enjoyment filled her veins. She
wished for nothing, hoped for nothing, imagined nothing, only to go on
and on as they were doing at present--she and Murdough always together,
no one else near them--on and on and on, for ever, and ever, and ever.
It was like one of her old childish visions come true.

A soft wind blew towards them from the Atlantic, sweeping across their
own three islands. You might have thought that, instead of that
inhospitable waste of saltness, some region of warmth, fertility, and
greenness lay out there in the dim and shadowy distance. The air
appeared to be filled with soft scents; an all-pervading impression of
fertility and growth, strong to headiness, seemed to envelope them as
they sat there, one behind the other. Now and then a dog barked, or the
far-off sound of voices came from one of the islands; otherwise, save
the movements of the boat and the soft rush of the water around them,
not a sound was to be heard. The warm air caressed Grania; a sense of
vague intoxication and happiness such as she had never before felt
seemed to envelope her from head to foot. As it grew darker a quantity
of phosphorescence began to play about upon the surface, dropping in
tiny green rivulets from off their oars as they lifted them. It seemed
to her as if the queer green glittering stuff was alive, and was winking
at her; as if it was telling her stories; some of them old stories, but
others quite new--stories that she had certainly never heard or never
understood before.

She looked at Murdough. They were nearly touching one another, though
his back was to her. Beyond him everything was blurred and confused, but
his shoulders in their yellowish flannel ‘baudeen’ stood out square and
well-defined. A vague desire to speak to him filled her mind. She wanted
it so much that it perplexed her, for what was there particularly to say
to him at the moment? She did not know, all she knew was that she _did_
want it--wanted it to a degree that was almost painful, while at the
same time something else seemed to stop her, to stand in the way, to
forbid her speaking to him. It was all very queer! She could not tell
what had come to herself that evening.

The most unconventional of all countries under the sun, Ireland has a
few strict conventions of its own, and one of the strictest of those
conventions was standing like a wall of brass right in her path at that
moment. True, she and Murdough were betrothed--might be said to be as
good as married--but what then? Even if they had been married, married a
hundred times, convention stronger than anything else, the iron
convention of their class, would have forbidden anything like open
demonstrativeness from him to her, still more therefore from her to him.
She knew this; knew it without arguing or thinking about it; would not
have dreamt of questioning it; could not, in fact, have done so, for it
was ground into the very marrow of her bones, was a part of the
heritage, not of her race alone, but of her own particular half of that
race. All the same, nature, too, was strong; the witchery of the night
was strong; the whole combining circumstances of the moment were
exceedingly, exceptionally strong. There was no resisting them entirely;
so, stopping for a moment in her leisurely rowing, she stretched out her
hand and laid it lightly for a moment upon his shoulder, at the same
time holding up the oar so as to let the shining particles run down the
blade into the sea in a tiny green cascade.

‘It is all on fire it seems to be, does it not, Murdougheen?’ she said
tremulously.

He started. ‘My faith and word, yes, it does, Grania a veelish,’ he
answered. ‘It is very like fire--very. A man would think that he might
light his pipe by it; so he would! It is very strange; very!’

The intoxicating air had stolen, perhaps, a little into his veins also.
And whether spontaneously or merely in mesmeric response to her touch
upon his shoulder, he too stopped rowing, and turning a little
backwards, rather to his own astonishment put his arm about her waist.

Grania blushed scarlet. Her head swam, but without a moment’s hesitation
she put her face up to his, and they kissed one another. It was a
genuine lovers’ kiss, their first, although they had been over a year
engaged, a fact of which she was immediately and overwhelmingly
conscious.

Profiting by the cessation of his labours, Murdough presently pulled out
his pipe, lit it--though not by the phosphorescence--sucked at it for a
few minutes, and, thus refreshed, embarked upon a new disquisition upon
the great advantages to be gained by being a pilot.

Yes, indeed, it was himself ought to have been one, so he ought, and if
he had been a pilot, it is the best pilot upon the three islands he
would have been--by God! yes--the very best! It was out beside the
Brannock rocks--the farthest rocks of all--he would have stopped mostly,
and stopped, and stopped, and stopped, no matter what storm might be
blowing at the time, and waited until a ship came. And the very minute a
ship came in sight--a real big ship, that is, from the East Indies, or,
maybe, America, or, better still, California--then he would have rowed
out to her all by himself. He would not have taken anyone with him, no,
for he did not want to be sharing his money with anyone, but he would
have rowed and rowed, out and out, till he got into the middle of the
big Old Sea. And there he would have waited till the ship came close up
to him, and then it was up upon the deck of it he would have got--yes,
indeed, up upon the deck. And it was the captain himself, and no other,
that must have come to speak to him, for he would not have spoken a word
to any other man, only to the captain himself. And when the captain came
he would have asked if he knew the way up to the Galway quay, and if he
knew every shoal and rock and sandbank there was in the bay. And he
would have thrown back his head like that and laughed--yes, laughed out
loud, he would, at the captain, for to go asking him such a foolish
question. And he would have said that he did, and no man better, nor so
well, not on all the islands, nor on the Continent, nor in Dublin
itself---- ‘And if you do not want me, and if you will not pay me my
full big price, it is not I that will go with you, no, not one half
foot of me. And if I do not go with you, it is upon the rocks you will
go this night, my fine captain, you and all your poor men--yes, indeed,
upon the rocks this night, and be drowned every one of you--for there is
no other man on Inisheer, no, nor on any of the islands, that dare bring
you into Galway upon such a night, only myself alone. And I will not
bring you in for less than my full price, so you need not think it. No,
indeed, for why would I venture my life for nothing? Great King of
Glory! that would be a foolish thing for any man to do--a _very_ foolish
thing! Is it for a fool you take me, my fine captain, with your gold
lace upon your sleeves? Begorrah, if you do you are wrong, for I am no
fool at all, so do not think it. Only I should be sorry for you and your
poor men if they were all drowned, as they will be, God knows, this
night, if you do not give me my full price!’

His voice went on and on, rising, falling, then rising again, the
guttural many-syllabled Gaelic flowing and flowing like a stream. Some
belated cormorants came flying across the water from Aranmore, uttering
dull croaks as they went. The heavy smoke of the kelp-fires trailed
across the bay, and as the curragh passed through it, filled their
nostrils with its sharp, briny scent, lying behind them as they passed
like a bar of solid cotton. Sometimes, in the interest of his narrative,
Murdough’s voice rose to a shout, as he waved his arms in the air, shook
his fist at an imaginary opponent, or looked appealingly at his auditor
for a response.

Grania, however, never uttered word or syllable. She hardly looked at
him, could not have told afterwards what he had been talking about, or
what had passed them by. They took to their oars again after half an
hour, and rowed slowly homeward, past the western extremity of the
smaller island, foreshortened here to a low conical hill; across the
Foul Sound, where the swell was breaking in puffs of spray across the
skerries; on and on till once more their own island stood before them,
its big rath making it seem from this point lower even than usual. It
was very dark indeed now. They had to feel their way as they best could
round the outlying reefs, all but grinding against them, till they
finally ran the curragh ashore upon the single spit of firm sand just
below the old church of Cill-Cananach. Dark or light, hot or cold,
sunlight, starlight, moonlight, it was all one that evening to Grania.
The world itself seemed to have changed; to stand still; to be a new
world. Everything about and around her had changed--the sea, the sky,
the boat, the rocks, the shore--above all, herself; herself and
Murdough. She knew now what she had only guessed before--knew it
through every pulse and artery of her body. The old walls had broken
down. The common heritage was at last hers--hers and, as it seemed to
her, his also. They loved; they were together. How, then, could the
world fail to have changed?

Even after they had at last touched the shore; after she had got out of
the boat and had helped Murdough to pull it up on the sands; after they
had left it behind them, with that queer, twinkling greenish water still
flapping fantastically around its sides; even then she seemed to herself
to be still in a dream, still to be dazed, still to be walking amongst
the clouds. She only came back fully to life and to ordinary reality
again when they had left the sands, and the sea, and the green, uncanny
phosphorescence behind them, and were mounting soberly, one after the
other, up the narrow, shingle-covered track which led to the cabin.



CHAPTER VII


The road from Cashla Bay past Spiddal into Galway is as grim a one
surely as is to be found in these three kingdoms. Mile after mile it
runs through a grey world of boulders, varying from the size of a
hencoop to that of an average cottage. Mile after mile, and still you
say to yourself that the stony deluge must have reached its limits, that
the stones will soon begin to cease; somewhere or other, a little
farther on, at the next turn, there will be unencumbered fields again;
grass, perhaps; possibly even trees; at the worst an earth free from
this soul-wearying, this eternal, interminable incubus of stones.

But no; mile after mile, and still never a sign or hint of change, never
the slightest diminution in their multitude. The straight road--good and
level as all West Connaught roads are--runs on and on through this
rock-encumbered wilderness as if it loved it. There are low drift-hills
near at hand, stone-covered like the rest; there are a few nipped and
draggled looking villages at long intervals; there is a more or less
misty glimpse of Connemara mountains occasionally to be had; also a much
nearer view of Clare and the hills of Burren; there is the bay, very
near indeed, with, perhaps, a ‘pookhaun’ or a hooker upon it; now and
then a stream dashes by, struggling with difficulty through its incubus
of rock, and disappearing under a bridge; otherwise, save stones,
stones, stones, there is nothing till the Galway suburbs grow, grey and
unlovely, upon your sight.

It was the day of Galway fair, the last of the great western spring
fairs, and a large party of Aranites were on their way to it. Grania and
Murdough were amongst them. Grania had her calf to sell, also a couple
of pigs. Murdough had nothing to sell and nothing to do, but any
opportunity of escaping for a few hours from Inishmaan, any prospect of
stir, bustle, and life was welcome to him. It was he, therefore, who had
urged Grania to go this time herself to the fair, instead of entrusting
the calf and pigs to Pete Durane, who usually sold them for her,
charging a modest commission for his own benefit upon the transaction.

She had at first demurred. She did not want, she said, to leave Honor.
This was a perfectly true reason, but there were others as well. An
inborn reluctance, a touch of savage pride had always hitherto made her
shrink from facing the crowds and the bustle of the mainland. Ever since
those early days of her trips with her father in the old hooker she had
hardly set foot outside their own islands. There had been for her a
sense of great dignity and importance in those old, lost, but
never-forgotten days. How, indeed, could there fail to be? To sail
across the bay in one’s own private hooker; to enter a harbour in it;
the fuss and bustle of embarkation; the loud talk of the other
hooker-owners with her father; the stares of the open-mouthed,
bare-legged beggars and loafers upon the pier--such details as these had
naturally given a sense of vague but vast dignity and grandeur to a
small person sitting bolt upright upon her ballast of stones, and
looking with a sense of condescension at all these new houses and faces
thus brought, as it were, officially, under her notice.

After this to land, like anyone else, from a curragh at Cashla Bay, and
to tramp tamely along a road, was a descent not easy to bring the mind
to. Murdough, however, had so urged the matter, had pictured the
delights of the fair in such glowing colours, had undertaken to look
after her so energetically, to aid her so indefatigably, that in the
end--the glamour of that fishing evening being still upon her--she had
consented. Honor, too, had wished her to go, had arranged that Molly
Muldoon should come and sit with her while she was away, had disposed of
every difficulty, and had herself waked her up at three o’clock that
morning so as to be ready to start at dawn for the curragh, looking so
much better than she had lately done that Grania had been able to start
feeling as if all was really going well, and all would still go well
with her and with all of them.

And in the morning all had gone well. The weather was very fine, though
there was a suspicious movement and bustling up of clouds to eastward.
As for the scenery, certainly a stranger would have seen little
variation, save in point of size, between its stoniness and the
stoniness of Inishmaan. To Grania, however, as to all whose eyes are not
spoiled by too varied and too early an acquaintanceship with many
landscapes, small differences made great ones, and there was enough
variety in that morning tramp through those stone-encumbered pastures to
cause an exhilarated sense of travel and enlarged acquaintanceship with
a world as yet imperfectly known and visited.

To walk briskly along the wide, indefinitely extending road, with
Murdough Blake beside her; to hear him expatiating, descanting, pointing
out the different objects she was to notice; to look from right to left;
to laugh and nod to other passers-by--all this surely was novelty, stir,
and exhilaration enough for anyone! The group of Aranites tramped
rapidly along in their cow’s-skin pampooties, their tongues keeping
pace with their legs. In their homemade flannel clothes and queer shoes,
with their quick, alert, yet shuffling tread, they formed a marked
contrast to the ordinary peasants of the mainland, most of whom stopped
short on encountering them, and a brisk interchange of guttural
salutations took place. Yes, certainly, it _was_ amusing, Grania
thought. Murdough was right; it was a mistake to stay always in one
place. One grew to be no better than a cow, or a goat, or a thistle
growing upon the rocks. It was good to look abroad. The world, after
all, was really a large place. Why, beyond Galway there were actually
other towns; Dublin even; that Dublin which Murdough was always talking
about and pining to get to. Who could tell but what she herself might
some day see Dublin? Stranger things had happened.

Matters went less well when they at last reached Galway. The fair is
held in the middle of the town, in its main square, the Belgrave or
Grosvenor Square of its fashion and importance. The crowd was already
great, all the people from the country round having streamed in long
before our more distant Aranites could reach the scene. To Grania’s
unaccustomed ears the noise seemed to echo and re-echo from every house
around, big grey or white houses--enormously big in her eyes--and all
strange, all full of people standing in the windows and looking out,
laughing at the crowd below--that crowd of which she herself was but a
solitary and an insignificant fragment.

She had considerable difficulty in discovering her own beasts, which had
been sent by boat the night before so that they might be fresh for the
fair, and even after she had found them the next difficulty of finding
purchasers was to her inexperience absolutely paralysing. If Murdough
had stayed with her and helped her, as he had promised to do, all might
have gone well, but almost immediately after their arrival he had gone
off to look at a horse, promising to return quickly, and had never done
so. Left to herself, Grania soon grew utterly miserable and bewildered.
She was not frightened by the crowd, for that was not her way; but the
noise, the shouts, the rude shoving, the laughter, the rushing to and
fro of the animals, the loud thumps upon their wretched backs, the
pushing of the people about her, the constant arrival of more cars, more
carts, more people, more beasts, more big, excited men in frieze coats,
the necessity of being constantly on the alert, so as to hinder oneself
from being cheated--all this disturbed and annoyed her. Further, it
offended her dignity, used as she was to moving at her own free will
amid the solitude and austere silence of her own island.

Worse than all the rest, however, and deeper than any merely temporary
vexation, was the sense of Murdough’s defection. Why had he left her?
why did he not come back when he had promised to do so? why
_to-day_?--just to-day when everything had promised to be so happy? She
scanned the crowd in every direction, growing from minute to minute more
wretched, more and more hurt and angry. A burning, deep-seated anger
such as she had never before experienced seemed to fill her veins. She
was hot and cold at once; she was sick with vexation and disappointment.
The end of it was that, after vainly waiting and looking about her,
seeing him twenty times in the distance, and finding, as he drew near,
that it was someone else, she suddenly accepted an offer for her calf
from a cattle-jobber which was at least ten shillings less than she
ought to have got for it, and, making over the two pigs to Pete Durane,
telling him to do the best he could with them, she darted away out of
the fair, out of the town, retracing her steps almost by instinct along
the road to Spiddal, her whole soul smarting under a sense of wrong and
injury.

It had begun to rain while she was still in Galway, and as she advanced
along the road the rain grew momentarily heavier. There was not a scrap
of shelter of any sort, and before she had gone many miles she was
drenched to the skin. The immensely thick red flannel petticoat she
wore, in all other respects an admirable garment, is apt in the long run
to become a terrible drag in such a downpour as this. Once soaked, it
weighed upon her as though it had been a petticoat of solid lead, and
she had again and again to pause and wring it out as she might have
wrung a sponge. In spite of this she hurried on along the dreary,
featureless road, hardly heeding where she was going, only filled with
the desire of escaping from that dreadful fair, which to her had been a
scene not merely of disappointment but something far worse--a
breaking-down of this sweet, this newly-found, this hardly-touched
happiness--a source of intense bitterness; of a bitterness how intense
she herself hardly yet knew.

At last, though how long after she left Galway she could not have told,
she once more reached the spot, not far from Cloghmore Point, where they
had disembarked in the morning. No boat was ready to take her across;
the men were all away; there was not even a curragh to be seen, or, in
her present mood, she might have attempted to get across the bay by
herself. As it was, there was nothing for it but to wait till someone
arrived. Once more, therefore, wringing out her petticoat and gathering
up her hair, which had got loose in her race, she got under the shelter
of a bank and sat down upon a stone, near to where a small stream was
bubbling and trickling through a pipe.

It was a wretched spot. There were a few cabins a little farther up the
road, but it did not occur to her, somehow, to ask for shelter in any of
them. She simply sat still upon her stone under the bank, waiting for
someone to come, feeling miserable, but almost too tired now to know why
or about what. The rain beat upon her head; the wind whistled round her;
the sea was a sheet of ink, save for here and there the white crest of a
breaker. She was growing very cold after the heat of her walk, and her
wet clothes clung closely. She had eaten nothing since the early
morning. As regards all this, however, she was for the moment not
indifferent merely, but unconscious of it.

Presently the door of the nearest cabin opened, and a woman came out,
carrying a pail in her hand. She came directly towards Grania, who sat
still on her stone under the pelting rain and watched her. She was a
terribly emaciated-looking creature, evidently not long out of bed,
though it was now getting to the afternoon. She seemed almost too weak,
indeed, to stand, much less to walk. As she came up to the stranger she
gazed at her with a look of dull indifference, either from ill-health or
habitual misery; set her pail under the pipe in the bank through which
the stream ran, and, when it was filled, turned and went back,
staggering under its weight, towards the door of her cabin again.

With an instinct of helpfulness Grania sprang up and ran after her, took
the pail from her hands and carried it for her to the door.

The woman stared a little, but said nothing. Some half-naked,
hungry-looking children were playing round the entrance, and through
these she pushed her way with a weary, dragging step. Then, as if for
the first time observing the rain, turned and beckoned Grania to follow
her indoors.

Dull as it had been outside, entering the cabin was like going into a
cellar. There was hardly a spark of fire. That red glow which rarely
fails in any Irish home, however miserable, was all but out; a pale,
sickly glimmer hung about the edges of some charred sods of turf, but
that was all.

A heavy, stertorous breathing coming from a distant corner next
attracted Grania’s attention, and, looking closely, she could just
distinguish a man lying there at full length. A glance showed that he
was dead drunk, too drunk to move, though not too drunk, as presently
became apparent, to maunder out a string of incoherent abuse, which he
directed at his wife without pause, meaning, or intermission, as she
moved about the cabin. One of the brood of squalid children--too well
used, evidently, to the phenomenon to heed it--ventured within reach of
his arm, whereupon he struck an aimless blow at it, less with the
intention apparently of hurting it, than from a vague impulse of
asserting himself by doing something to somebody. He was very lamentably
drunk indeed, and probably not for the first, or the first hundredth,
time.

The woman indifferently drew the child away and sent it to play with the
other children in the gutter outside. Then having set the black pot upon
the fire, she squatted down on her heels beside it, heedless,
apparently, of the fact that there was not a chance of its boiling in
its present state, and taking no heed either of her visitor or of her
husband, who continued to maunder out more or less incoherent curses
from his corner.

Grania shivered and felt sick. Something in the look and extraordinary
apathy of the woman, something in the hideous squalor of the house,
affected her as no poverty--not even that of the Dalys at home--had ever
done before. She raked together the embers, and put a few fresh sods of
turf on the fire--seeing that the woman of the house was either too ill
or too indifferent to do anything--then sat down on a low creepy
opposite to her, feeling chilled to the bone and utterly miserable.

Something new was at work within her. She did not yet know what it was,
but it was a revelation in its way--a revelation as new and as strange
as that other revelation two days before in the boat, only that it was
exactly the reverse of it. A new idea, a new impression, was again at
work within her, only this time it was a new idea, a new impression upon
the intolerableness of life, its unspeakable hopelessness, its misery,
its dread, unfathomable dismalness. Why _should_ people go on living so?
she thought. Why should they go on living at all, indeed? Why, above
all, should they marry and bring more wretched creatures into the world,
if this was to be the way of it? How stupid, how useless, how horrible
it all was! Yes, Honor was right, the priests were right, the nuns were
right, they were all right--there was no happiness in the world, none at
all--nowhere! Murdough Blake?--well, Murdough Blake would be just like
the rest of them, just like every other husband--worse, perhaps, than
some. He wanted to marry her, it is true, but why? Because she was
strong, because she owned the farm, because she owned Moonyeen, and the
pigs, and the little bit of money; because she could keep him in
idleness; could keep him, above all, in drink; because he could get more
out of her perhaps than he could out of another!

She looked suddenly across at the mistress of the house and it seemed to
her that she saw herself grown older. Evidently the other had once been
a handsome woman, and was not even now old, only worn out with
ill-health, many children, much work, much misery. Her left hand, which
she held mechanically towards the now rising blaze, was so thin that the
wedding-ring seemed to be dropping off; her hair was still black, and
hung about her emaciated face in draggled-looking coils and wisps like
seaweed. Staring at her in the dusk of that miserable hearth Grania
seemed to see herself a dozen years later: broken down in spirit; broken
down in health; grown prematurely old; her capacity for work diminished;
with a brood of squalid, ill-fed children clamouring for what she had
not to give them; with no help; with Honor long dead; without a soul
left who had known her and cared for her when she was young; with shame
and a workhouse on the mainland--deepest of all degradation to an
islander--coming hourly nearer and nearer, and a maudlin, helpless,
eternally drunken--

With a sudden sickening sense of disgust and yet of fascination she
turned and looked again at the man, still swearing and squirming in his
corner. All at once an overpowering feeling of revolt overtook her, and
with a bound she sprang to her feet and ran out of the cabin and down
the road. Anywhere, anywhere in the world would be better than to remain
an instant longer looking at those two, that man, that woman! Who were
they? Were they not simply herself and him--herself and Murdough?

It was raining harder than ever, but she went on a long distance, far
away from all the houses, before she again crouched down, this time
nearer to the shore, under the shelter of a big boulder, there to wait
till the rest of the party returned from Galway.

It was a dreary, and seemingly an endless wait, but they came at last.
Half an hour at least before they reached her she could hear Murdough
Blake’s voice, far away up the road, and the minute he saw her he ran
forward and began a long, involved account of all that had delayed him
and prevented his return--how he had met Pat this, and Larry that, and
Malachy the other, what they had said, done, and consulted him about. It
was an even more involved account, and one that entailed a yet more
profuse expenditure of vocabulary, than usual, and this and his looks
showed that the proverbial hospitality of Galway had not belied itself.
Grania answered nothing; accepted his explanations in absolute silence;
sat looking in front of her silently upon her thwart all the while they
were crossing back to the islands. She was so often silent that neither
he nor anyone else in the boat noticed anything unusual. When they
reached the shore, however, she turned instantly away, without a word to
any of the rest of the party gathered together at the landing-place, and
walked slowly home by herself to the cabin and to Honor.



CHAPTER VIII


It was what is called a turning-point, but there are many such
turning-points in all lives, and some of them are important, and some
not. One thing was lost for Grania, not to be recaptured again. The
young exultation, the extraordinary elation of that evening in the boat
she never again felt. It had not lasted long certainly, but it had been
good while it lasted--very, _very_ good. Why that day of the Galway fair
should have killed it, utterly and unrecognisably, she could not have
explained, but so it was. Murdough had behaved in much the same fashion
often before: left her to herself, gone away, said he would come back
and not done so, returned in the end more or less the worse for
drink--but what of that? It was the normal state of things, a state to
be reckoned with, hardly to be especially aggrieved by or astonished at.
Why should the defection of one afternoon count when the defections of
many previous ones had hardly counted at all?

There is no use in asking such questions, no use in such probings. Our
probes are too short, and we simply miss the point we aim at. We know
them each in our own turn, recognise them more or less silently, more or
less unwillingly, and there is an end of the matter. Grania, at any
rate, did so. She recognised, silently and unwillingly, that she had
been a fool; recognised it grimly and with bitterness. Bitterly too and
silently she repeated to herself that Honor’s way of looking at the
matter _had_ been the true one. Not as regards the joy, the peace, the
glory, that was to be attained; that was as inscrutable, as little
believable as ever, at any rate, for herself, whatever it might be in
the case of ready-made saints like Honor. Where she had been right was
as regards this world. That part was all quite true. Happiness was
simply _gustho_--nonsense--there was no such thing!

The two sisters clung very closely to one another during those long
summer days--days which were to be the last of their life
together--closer than they had ever done before. Grania had a curiously
strong feeling that Honor’s death would be for herself also the end of
all things. It was a period, at any rate, beyond which she did not and
would not look. A touch of desperation had got hold of the girl. Honor
and Murdough! they had always been her world; she had no
other--anywhere--and now both seemed to be crumbling, both to be failing
her!

One of them certainly was. Honor was sinking rapidly. Her emaciation
could hardly be greater, but her power of taking food was daily
decreasing and her strength waning; the end plainly was very near now.

Towards the middle of August a spell of oddly hot, dull weather fell
upon the islands. The sea seemed to go to sleep. The gulls and puffins
hung along the edge of the shore like so many tame ducks or other
barnyard creatures, bobbing lazily upon the small crestless waves, but
without energy apparently to carry them farther. Soon rows of curraghs
with barrels stuck upright in them might have been seen passing at
intervals to and fro to Cashla Point, going empty, returning full. There
had not been any rain for four weeks past--a state of affairs which
meant a water-famine for Aran.

Honor suffered from this warmth and closeness as she had never appeared
to suffer from the cold and the blustering winds, a condition of things
to one of her rearing too natural probably to have any effect one way or
other. Night after night during that hot, dry spell she lay awake,
although she always tried to persuade Grania that she was sleeping
soundly, so as to induce her to lie down and get some sleep herself.
Every now and then, however, a low, dry cough, breaking from her corner,
or the feeble sound of her voice raised in some softly-uttered
supplication, belied the kindly pretence.

One night, towards the end of the third week of August, these fits of
coughing had been unusually long and bad. From about seven in the
evening till long past eleven the hard, hacking sound had never ceased
for an instant, and the consequent exhaustion was intense. Grania had
sat the whole time with her arms about her, supporting her, and feeling,
as she had often done of late, as though she herself was receiving
support from that contact as well as giving it. From time to time she
gave Honor some water or a little whey to drink, or renewed the dip
candle which stood upon the shelf, but they hardly spoke. What, indeed,
was there for them to say?

Something in the dull warmth of the night, something in her own restless
unhappiness, something in the sense of the nearness for Honor of that
brink which, to her, too, seemed to be the end of all things made Grania
even less able to bear patiently the other’s suffering that night than
usual. Her love for Honor, which seemed to herself to have increased
tenfold of late, her admiration for her extraordinary patience, that
sort of wild anger and revolt which the suffering of those we love is
apt to awaken in us, they all worked together in the girl’s mind, until
at last, when the paroxysms were beginning to abate, they broke from her
lips in the form of an angry protest.

‘How you do bear it, Honor--all night and day too--never a bit of ease
or comfort! I do not understand it, no, I do _not_! If it was me I
should just fight, and kick, and scream; yes, I should! I should curse
everything, yes, everything--and God! I should curse and I should fight
till I died fighting, so I would; no other!’

‘Och, then, whist, whist, with your wild talk, child,’ Honor exclaimed,
breathlessly. ‘Fight God! Is it sensible of what you’re saying you are,
you poor, ignorant child, or gone clean mad you have this hot night?
Listen to me, Grania, and come a bit closer, for I can’t speak loud.
Don’t think I’m any better than yourself, child, for I’m not, ne’er a
bit, and for patience, it is out of all patience I am, often and often,
times upon times beyond number, out of all patience, and longing to die
and be quit of it all. “What is the use of it, my God,” I say, “what is
the good or the sense of it? Is it any glory or honour you can get out
of the likes of me, lying here, and coughing my heart away? Sure, my
God, isn’t it enough? Won’t you give me the bit of ease, and I suffering
so bad and so long? Sure, my God, what is the meaning of it at all, at
all? Is it with all the saints about you up there in glory and grandeur,
you’d want to be looking down at a sick lone woman lying on her back out
on a poor little bit of a bare rock in the middle of the salt, salt
sea?” And then, Grania dear--well, ’tis like this--there’s a feeling, I
can’t tell it to you, for I haven’t the words, nor couldn’t if I had
them itself. ’Tis for all the world as if someone was saying, “There,
there! Whist with you; whist, I tell you! I know how you feel, you poor
creature! I know it! I know it! There, there! Be easy a bit longer; it’s
coming to you; it’s coming! I’m sending it--the peace, and the joy, and
the rest of it.” And then, Grania, I look out towards the Old Sea there,
and I say to myself, “It’s coming! It’s coming! It’s on the way! My
God, it’s on the way; it’s on the way!”’ Honor crossed her hands, and
her white face shone wonderfully.

Grania’s lips twitched; her eyes filled uncontrollably; she made a
violent effort to brave it off, but it was not to be done. All the
trouble of the last few weeks, all the bitterness of this new
discovery--a discovery which was secretly eating into her very
flesh--the sight of the suffering so patiently borne by her sister; it
all seemed to come upon her at once. The barriers broke down; the floods
carried all before them, and she burst out crying. It was like a child’s
crying, so loud, so open, so unconcealed, once it had got free.

‘Auch! Auch! Auch! What’ll I do! Auch, my God, what’ll I do?’ she
exclaimed, sobbing. ‘Say, Honor agra, what’ll I do at all without you?
Is it leaving me you’d be, leaving me all by myself in this big cold
world? Auch! Auch! What will I do? Auch, my God, my God, what will I
do?’

Honor turned towards her, astonishment in her mild eyes.

‘Sure, pulse of my soul and heart of my heart, ’tis _well_ you’ll do,’
she said, coaxingly. ‘Arrah, then, I don’t mean just at first’--for
Grania made an angry gesture of denial--‘but after a bit--when the grief
is a little easy, as it will be, and when you can think of me as I shall
be, well at last, and going with the help of the saints to be better
still. Sure, what am I but a charge to you, and have been these years
upon years past? And for the house and the creatures and the rest of it,
is not it your very own they are and always have been, and you the first
in the world for cleverness and management, and that not on Inishmaan
alone, but the two other islands as well, not to speak of the Continent
itself? And for anything else, sure you know there is not a boy on the
island that isn’t after you, so that you could marry, you could, if you
had six hands for them to be putting rings upon, or seven, instead of
one, and Murdough Blake himself at the head and top of them all!’

By this allusion to Murdough Blake, Honor had thought to touch the right
chord, and to remind Grania of all that still remained to her after she
herself was gone. It had exactly the opposite effect, however.

‘Murdough Blake! Murdough Blake! Wisha! ’tis little _he_ cares for me,
no more than he does for old Moonyeen out yonder!’ she exclaimed,
fiercely. ‘’Tis the house and the beasts and the bit of money _he_ cares
for, if he cares for anything, so it is--that and himself!’

It was the first time she had ever admitted such an idea in words, the
first time that the long pent-up bitterness had ever crossed her lips.
Pride, modesty, custom--the last the strongest barrier of the three--had
hindered her from touching upon such a subject, even to Honor. Even now
the words were no sooner uttered than a rush of shame overtook her--of
shame and a feeling of self-betrayal. She grew red up to the roots of
her hair, got up, stammered something about seeing to the beasts,
snatched up her petticoat, which was lying near her, and ran out of the
cabin into the darkness before Honor had realised what she was about, or
could utter a syllable to detain her.



CHAPTER IX


She did not go very far. Only as far as to the end of the platform,
stopping at her usual spot, close to the big granite boulder which
blocked the mouth of the gully. Her head was spinning; wild thoughts
came and went in it, without, as it seemed to her, her having anything
to say to them. She was tingling from head to foot with the sense of
self-betrayal, a betrayal not so much to Honor as to herself, to the
world at large--to the birds of the air and the stars above
them--letting them all know what pride, decency, self-respect required
to be kept for ever locked up and hidden away.

The fact is, though it is difficult for an outsider to believe it, that
the whole subject of love, of passion of any kind, especially from a
girl and with regard to her own marriage, is such an utterly unheard-of
one amongst Grania’s class that the mere fact of giving utterance to a
complaint on the subject gave her a sense not merely of having committed
a hideous breach of common decency, but of having actually crossed the
line that separates sanity from madness. Could she really be going
crazy? she asked herself. Would she soon be seen gibbering by the
roadside like mad Peggy O’Carroll, who was always laughing to herself at
nothing, and being mocked at by the boys as they drove the kelp donkeys
to and from the sea-shore?

What ailed her? she again asked herself. What _did_ ail her? It seemed
to be literally like some disease that had got into her bones--this
strange unrest, this disturbance--a disease, too, of which she had never
heard; which nobody else so far as she knew had ever had; a disease
which had no name, and therefore was the more mysterious and horrible.
As a matter of fact, she was to some extent ill, or rather her usually
perfect health had for the moment partially deserted her. Close
attendance on Honor, many sleepless nights, trouble of all kinds, the
wear and tear of nursing, all these had broken down those good solid
barriers which a life spent eternally in the open air would otherwise
have kept up. Sturdy, too, as she was, there was nothing bovine in her
strength, on the contrary, like most Irishwomen, she was a nervous
creature at bottom, however little she might have seemed so when those
barriers were in their proper place. At present they were gone. She was
unstrung, and we all know what that means. So completely was this the
case that she had even become aware of it herself. She felt worn out,
and wrought up to a pitch of desperation. Something she must do, she
felt, but what, that was the question, what?

She went to the edge of the platform and put her head against the big
boulder, invisible but still present, a familiar object sustaining and
comforting. Stooping down, she pressed her cheek closer and closer
against the gritty surface till it began to hurt her. What ailed her?
she once again asked herself, what _did_ ail her; what did it all mean?
‘Auch, what will I do, my God, what will I do, at all?’ she moaned
suddenly, speaking aloud into the friendly deaf ear of the night.
‘Arrah, if I was but dead! if I was but dead! My God, if I was but dead,
wouldn’t that be the best way out of it, at all, at all?’

She did not mean this, by the way, in the least. She did not want to
die, to be dead. Life was bounding and beating within her, on the
contrary--beating to the point of pain. It was a protest merely, a
voice from the very strength of her youth and her love. She asked for
death, as all young creatures ask for death when what they really want
is life--only life with a difference.

By-and-by, as the air began to cool her, or the old stone brought
counsel, she tried to think the matter out, to get a little away from
her trouble, and to look at it with some degree of reasonableness.
Thought to one of Grania’s rearing and powers of comparison and
deduction is a queer, dim process, very strange in its methods, very
mysterious often in its results. In its own fashion, however, it has to
be gone through, and is gone through, especially under the stress of
strong emotion. Under that stress she now began to try and consider the
matter; to try and see if there was not some way to be found of getting
rid of this new, this utterly intolerable, wretchedness. What if she
made up her mind, she asked herself, to give up Murdough--now, at once,
to-night--surely that would give her peace if anything would? She was
not bound to marry him, and if she were, his tipsiness and ways of going
on recently would be excuse enough, if she wanted or cared about an
excuse, which she did not. She lifted her head, and tried to think this
new idea clearly out; to see what it was, and where it led to. Yes, to
give him up! to be free; completely free. Surely that was the right
thing to do--the right thing and the spirited thing! Yes, she would do
it, she resolved. She would see him herself--to-morrow morning the very
first thing--she would see him and she would tell him so, that she
would.

A glow of tingling satisfaction shot through her as she thought of
meeting Murdough the first thing in the morning, and telling him in an
easy, off-hand fashion that she had made up her mind and that she was
not going to marry him, that he need not think it, for she had quite
made up her mind. Stay, would it not be even better, she next reflected,
if she could tell him at the same time that she was going to marry
someone else? _Someone_ else, yes; but who else? That had to be decided.
Who was there that she could declare on the spur of the moment she
intended to marry instead of him? Well, why not Teige O’Shaughnessy? she
thought; poor Teige O’Shaughnessy, who was so sober, so industrious, so
hardworking, so exactly everything that Murdough was not; who would leap
out of his very skin with joy at the bare idea; who would not even need
to be informed beforehand; who would do everything she wished: obey her,
follow her, worship her all his life, she instinctively knew, just as
Pete Durane obeyed, followed, and worshipped Rosha, badly as that
termagant treated him.

The idea seemed for the moment a perfectly brilliant one, a haven of
refuge, a complete solution for all the miseries of the past few weeks.
It stood out before her as a splendid spirited programme, brimful of
satisfaction, brimful, above all, of a delightful promise of vengeance.
Murdough’s rage, Murdough’s scorn of poor Teige, Murdough’s fury at
herself, Murdough’s attempts to change her resolution, her own air of
jaunty indifference--a sort of parody of his former ones--surely, surely
it should be done, and done, too, the very next day!

She got up and moved about the platform with a sense of having regained
her old liberty, with a sense of being once more Grania O’Malley, the
cleverest, strongest, richest girl on the whole island. She was about to
return to the cabin when--suddenly, like a thunderbolt--the reaction
came. She stopped short with a feeling of absolute terror, a feeling of
having taken some irrevocable step, a feeling of sheer panic. ‘Oh, no,
no, no, no, no!’ she cried aloud. ‘Oh, no, no, no, my God! Sure you
_know_ I didn’t mean it. You know right _well_ I didn’t. ’Twas only mad
I was! just mad, out and out, no other!’---- Mean it? Better be ill used
by Murdough; beaten by Murdough; toil, drudge, be killed by Murdough;
better have her heart broken; better have to give up the farm, and be
ruined by Murdough, than live prosperously and comfortably with anyone
else! The thought of the cabin seen a few weeks before at Cashla rushed
back suddenly upon her mind, but now with none of that previous sense of
disgust, none of that horror of revolt and loathing which had filled her
then. Even in this extremity, even so, dead drunk in a corner, Murdough
was still Murdough--the first; the only one. Idle? yes; tipsy? yes;
cold, unkind, indifferent even? yes, yes, yes, still he was _Murdough_,
her Murdough, always the same Murdough, and what did anything else
matter?

The love that had come down from the very beginning of things, the love
that had never known a break, the love that was a part of herself, a
part of everything she saw and touched, of everything she could imagine,
the tenderness that had curled itself subtly into every fibre of her
body, was not to be dislodged in so summary a fashion. It clung
tenaciously; clung only the harder because it ought to be dislodged,
because she herself wished to dislodge it. A sudden wave of desperate
love, of tender, reckless passion, swept through her, and she stretched
out her arms.

‘Auch, Murdough, _Murdougheen_,’ she murmured tenderly. ‘Where are you,
Murdough? where are you then, at all, at all, this dark night? Arrah,
come to your poor Grania! Where are you, dear? where are you?’

She ran back to the edge of the platform, and flinging her arms again
about the boulder, pressed her cheek against its gritty irresponsive
surface. It was like a reconciliation! There had been a quarrel, and now
there was no quarrel; none! She and Murdough; she and Murdough; always,
always, _always_ she and Murdough. The warm dark night about her, the
scarcely audible note of the sea upon the rocks below, the stars
blinking sleepily overhead; they all seemed to be so many witnesses and
assurances of that reconciliation.



CHAPTER X


Yet she did not after this seek him out, or try to make their relations
closer in any way. On the contrary, it was a few days later that the
first serious quarrel of their lives occurred. Murdough had not been
near her for over a fortnight. She did not even know where he was, for
he had got into the habit of being continually away on the mainland, no
one knew where or for what. Late one afternoon, however, he came and
beckoned mysteriously to her to come out on the platform and speak to
him. He was evidently--for the moment, at all events--as sober as a
judge.

She went. There was a worn, dragged look about her face, due partly to
watching, partly to anger, partly to the cross-fire at war within her.
She was longing to quarrel fiercely with him; to have it all out; to
rage and storm at him; to startle him, if she could, with her anger; and
then--and then--to tell him that she loved him better than all the world
besides; that she would do anything he liked; that she did not care how
he behaved, not even how often he got drunk, if only he would not leave
her always alone, if only he would care for her a little, a very little,
more. The recollection of that evening in the boat still clung and clung
to her very heart-strings. The sun was setting as she came out upon the
platform; a warm wind swept round the rocks; the little tansies and
saxifrages were all bathed in the dusky yellowish light.

Murdough had something important to say, however, and, therefore, wasted
no time in useless and quite unaccustomed preliminaries.

‘Then I would not have called you out, Grania, for I know you do not
like to be called, and that is why I have kept away so much, so it is,’
he said, with his customary air of ingenuousness. ‘But to-day it is in a
little bit of difficulty I am again, a little bit of trouble and
difficulty, so it is to you I have come.’

She put her back against her old friend, the boulder, and waited to
learn what she was to do.

‘It is just a little bit more of the money that I want you to give me,
that is what it is; yes, indeed, nothing more,’ he went on, with the
same air of ingenuousness, smoothing down his hair as he spoke. His eyes
looked as clear that evening, the rascal, his whole aspect as fresh,
vigorous, and wholesome as though he had never tasted anything stronger
in his life than buttermilk.

‘Thirty shillings it is this time, and it is to Micky Sulivan of
Allyhaloo that I owe it, and he is a hard man, is Micky Sulivan! My God,
yes, a very hard man, everyone knows that, a real nigger. He will not
wait one week for his money, he says; no, nor a single day.’

An angry light was beginning to awaken in Grania’s eyes.

‘And why should I give you thirty shillings for Micky Sulivan, Murdough
Blake?’ she said, in a tone that had a suggestion of distant thunder in
it. ‘It is a great deal of money I have given you this quarter already,
so I have--a great deal of money!’

Murdough looked hurt. There was every reason why she should give it in
his opinion. She had it, and he wanted it. What better reason could
there be?

‘Then I did not think you would speak so to me, Grania O’Malley, I did
not,’ he answered in a tone of natural indignation. ‘And for “a great
deal,” you have given me money three times, but not much at any one
time, my God, no, not much at all! Fifteen shillings it was once, and
seventeen shillings another time, and twenty-two shillings another. That
is not much, even when you put it all together, not much at all. There
is young Macdara O’Flaherty, he will spend two, three, four, pounds,
real gold pounds, right off and think nothing of it. I did not think you
would speak so, Grania O’Malley, when all the world knows that we two
are to be married shortly, and you such a rich girl.’

The angry light in Grania’s eyes grew stronger. She set her back
squarely against her old friend. She was going to have her turn for
once.

‘It is not the rich girl I would be, not the rich girl, but the beggar;
yes, the beggar, and nothing else, out upon the cold, naked rocks, that
is what I should be, if I were to marry you, Murdough Blake, so it is!’
she exclaimed, striking the stone beside her, anger upon the subject she
did not greatly care about breaking loose because anger upon the subject
that she did care about must perforce be kept hidden away. Once begun,
however, it was easy enough to go on upon this topic.

‘For it is the shame and the talk and the disgrace of the world you are
getting to be! There is not a man, nor a woman, nor a child, down to the
youngest on Inishmaan, but knows you, and knows that it is the truth!
Drinking and drinking, and making a heathen beast and fool of yourself,
gadding about the town from morning till night, always drinking,
drinking, drinking! Is it to make a _baulyore_ of myself that I would be
giving you my money and be marrying you? then I will not do it, so do
not think it. I will not make a _baulyore_ of myself for any man that
ever was born. Do you think it is the wife of a man like Shan Daly that
I want to be? to be working and working for ever, and him drinking the
whole world dry, and spending the money faster than I could make it if I
had six hands, and more? No, indeed, that is not the sort of man I will
marry, so I will not! It is a good man, and a sober man, and a decent
man I will have, and no other will serve me, not if he were the only man
in the whole world and the king of it, so you need not think it! And
that is my last word to you, so it is, Murdough Blake, my very last
word, God help me, therefore you may believe me.’

She stopped short, hot and panting. The words had rushed out with a
fluency quite unlike her usual utterances. They were driven by that
fierce current behind them. They came in this form simply because they
were longing, but forbidden, to come in quite another one.

Murdough was genuinely astonished. Those secret currents, pent up,
longing and struggling madly to find an exit, were invisible to him, and
quite unsuspected, but that Grania would dream of changing her mind
about marrying him had never so much as dawned upon his imagination. If
his notions about love and all that belonged to it were of the dimmest,
his notions about himself and all that belonged to himself, including
his obvious desirability as a husband, were of the clearest and most
definite character. Grania belonged, too, to him, always _had_ belonged
to him, no one else had ever pretended to rival him in her eyes. Her
admiration of him, and of his various gifts and graces, had been patent
to all men; she had never concealed it, or attempted to conceal it. All
Inishmaan knew that in her eyes there was no one like him either on the
island or off the island, and that a mere occasional lapse from
sobriety, a mere occasional demand for a little extra ready money, that
trifles of this sort could seriously be held a reason for giving him up
was too ridiculous an idea to find entry readily into his mind.

He cast about for a minute how to answer. What did she mean? What was
she driving at? Who had been putting notions into her mind? Was it
Honor, or who? That his wisest course would have been to be a little
affectionate to her; to have appealed to her affection for him; to have
put his arms round her; nay, if so wild, so utterly unprecedented a
course had proved necessary, to have actually gone so far as to kiss
her; that _this_ was what she wished, what she was waiting for, he did
not know in the least. It was a great pity there was no one at hand to
tell him so, for he was really an exceedingly intelligent young man,
quick to take a hint, and would doubtless have essayed even this
unpractical method of argument had he known it to be the one most
likely to succeed under the circumstances. He was by this time very much
in earnest, and had no idea of being in his turn made a _baulyore_ of,
as she had said, and a laughing-stock before all Inishmaan. He did not
know it, however, and the result was that natural annoyance prompted him
to take up quite a different line, one not nearly so well calculated to
be successful. It was an error of judgment, but to such errors even
intelligent people are occasionally liable.

‘Begorra, this is grand news you have for me this evening, Grania
O’Malley, so it is!’ he exclaimed, with a loud laugh, though his face
was red, and an angry look in his eyes betrayed some lack of
indifference. ‘Grand news, glory be to God, and ’tis myself is obliged
to you for telling it to me! And who is it that you’re going to take up
with, now you’ve given me the go-by, if you’ll be so polite as to tell
me? ’Tis some rich gentleman over from the Continent, I’ll be bound,
that you have been putting your _comether_ upon, or, may be, a lord from
Dublin? Gorra, ’tis the proud place Inishmaan will be when it sees him
coming to carry you off! my faith, yes; the proud place and the proud
people we’ll be, every one of us! Sure, how could a poor young fellow
like myself have any chance with you, so grand and so proud as you’ll
be? Musha, it’s not Irish will do you then to speak, I suppose, but the
best of fine scholar’s English, and a grand house with a slate roof on
it you’ll have no doubt to live in, and a servant, please God, or maybe
two, to wait on you. Och, glory! glory! it _will_ be the great day for
Inishmaan when Grania O’Malley is seen sailing off with her new husband
the lord from Dublin! _Wurrah! Wurrah!_ the grand day, please God, and
no mistake.’

The jeering tone, the laughter, the sting of all this from Murdough,
_Murdough_, of all people in the world, lashed Grania to madness. She
looked wildly round her for a weapon--physical or otherwise it mattered
little--blind, helpless anger possessing her. Suddenly the remembrance
of her thoughts a few nights before--of her momentary notion about Teige
O’Shaughnessy--returned to her mind, and she seized upon it. It was a
poor weapon, as she probably knew, but it was the only one visible upon
the spur of the moment.

‘Then it is no gentleman I am going to marry, so it is not! no gentleman
at all, for it is enough of fine, idle gentlemen I have had, God knows,
and that is the sort I am tired of!’ she exclaimed. ‘It is a quiet boy,
and a decent boy, and a poor boy that I am going to marry, one that will
work hard, and not drink, drink, drink, day and night, till he doesn’t
know his one hand from the other, or the floor from the roof over his
head, or the sun from the moon, or the grass from the stones, or God’s
green earth from the salt black bottom of the sea! It is a good man and
a faithful man, and a man that will love me, and care me, that is the
sort of man that I want and that I am going to be married to, so I am.
And if you wish to know the name of him, it is Teige O’Shaughnessy, and
_that_ is the man I have chosen, and whom I am going to marry, so it is,
Murdough Blake; the very same, no other!’

Murdough stared at her for a moment in open-eyed astonishment. Then he
burst into a still louder laugh, a laugh that might have been heard
right across the island. This time it was quite a genuine one. His
vanity, which would have been touched to the quick if Grania had thrown
him over for someone whom he could by any possibility have looked upon
as a rival, was left untouched, was even gratified, by the mention of
Teige O’Shaughnessy, between whom and himself no such rivalry was in his
eyes possible; nay, the very juxtaposition of their images was a sort of
indirect compliment to himself. His sense, therefore, of the ridiculous
was genuinely tickled. Besides, to do him justice, he did not believe
her in the least.

‘Auch! then, glory, glory! Glory to God! and more power to you, Grania
O’Malley, but it _is_ the grand man, sure enough, you have chosen, so it
is! The grand man, the handsome man, and the rich man, glory be to God!
Och! but it is the right sight and show you will be when you and Teige
O’Shaughnessy are married! Glory to God! the right sight and show, and
the fine, straight, handsome husband it is you will have, bedad! Arrah!
will you be so obliging as to tell me was it the handsome, straight legs
of him, or the beautiful spotty face of him, or the fine colour of his
hair that first took the fancy to? Or maybe it was the beautiful big
house he has to give you on top of the rocks yonder? or the nice,
sweet-tempered aunt he keeps in it, that will be such pleasant company
to talk to when you are sitting there by yourself? My faith and word,
Grania O’Malley, it is myself will laugh to see you and Teige
O’Shaughnessy when you are man and wife! Gorra, I will tell you now what
I will do--then I will, please God!--I will go out in a curragh, and
will bring with me every bouchaleen upon Inishmaan, and we will all go
out together on to the sea, and will follow you to watch and look at
you, when you are on your way to Aranmore to be married to Teige
O’Shaughnessy. Glory be to God! Glory be to God! it _is_ the match you
have got hold of, sure enough! my faith and word, the match! Och! ’tis
killed I’ll be with the laughing!’ And he rolled to and fro upon the
rocks.

Grania’s face was scarlet. She sprang forward till she was within half a
foot of him. Blind rage possessed her. She shook from head to foot, and
clenched her fists in his face. A little more and she would have
pummelled him soundly with them.

‘Out of this! Out of this! Out of it with you this very minute!’ she
cried. ‘Get off this ground, and get off this rock, and go laugh
somewhere else, for it is not here you shall laugh, so it is not! It is
not here you shall come ever again, for I do not want to have you, and I
do not want to see you, and I do not want to hear you, nor to have
anything to do with you!--never again, so long as I live--never, so help
me! And for my money, which is all you come for, and all you want, you
need not be asking me for any of it again--not for Micky Sulivan, or
anyone else--for I will not give you one thraneen more of my money, so
I will not--I will throw it into the sea first. I will not do anything
for you, and I will not see you, and for marrying you, I would not marry
you, not if you were made of solid gold from head to foot, and were
crowned King of all Ireland or of the world itself! For it is not such a
husband as _you_ I want, and so I tell you!’

She was back into the cabin and had shut the door before Murdough the
fluent could utter another word. He stood for a minute or two longer
upon the platform, then walked away rather soberly, scratching his chin
as he went. In his sense of the intense, the delightful, the utterly
convulsive absurdity of any comparison between himself and Teige
O’Shaughnessy he had momentarily forgotten the rather important errand
upon which he had come to speak to Grania. He remembered it now, and it
was with an uneasy sense that he had not perhaps managed his interview
quite as judiciously as he might have done. It is all very well to be
excessively witty and brilliantly sarcastic, but, then, it interferes
sometimes rather seriously with business.



CHAPTER XI


It was one of those victories, nevertheless, that cost more to the
winner than the loser. The first rapture, the first keen tingling
satisfaction of her explosion over, Grania was more miserable than ever.
What had she done? she asked herself, aghast. Done? She had done the
very thing, the mere thought, the momentary dread, of which had all but
scared her out of her senses a few nights before. Broken with Murdough!
Of her own accord, actually of her own free will she had broken with
him; refused to marry him, refused to see him, refused to speak or have
anything more to do with him. _Broken with Murdough!_ Refused to marry
Murdough! It was like breaking with life, it was like refusing to
breathe the air, refusing to eat or to drink, refusing to move a limb!
How could she do it? What! live on, on, and on; thirty, forty, fifty
years, perhaps, and in all that time, in all these years, the
interminable years that stretched ahead of her, no Murdough! _No
Murdough?_ Murdough wiped out of her life?--it was the sun and the
stars, it was life itself wiped out! Nothing could make such a vision
endurable--nothing could make it even conceivable!

She went about her work, therefore, like a dazed creature; saw to the
house, cared for Honor, fed the beasts; but it was as a body with no
soul inside it--a mere shell. Was she herself, she sometimes wondered
dully, or was she someone else? She really hardly knew.

Oddly enough, Honor seemed scarcely to notice that anything was
specially amiss with her. This came partly from sheer physical weakness,
and partly from that absorption in her own drama which all souls, even
the tenderest, seem to feel at the coming on of death. Grania, besides,
had always been a bit ‘queer’; given to extremes--now elated, now
depressed--and it did not seem to her that she was very much more so
than usual. As to her being specially unhappy about Murdough Blake, that
was a trouble quite out of Honor’s ken, and not one of the things she
would have dreamed of worrying herself over. That Murdough was lazy and
wasteful, was given occasionally to getting drunk, was rather good for
nothing and worthless generally, these were facts which, even if anyone
had called her attention to them, she would probably have accepted
placidly enough. No doubt he was most of these things. Why not? Wasn’t
it only to be expected that he would be, seeing that he was a man and a
young one? Why wouldn’t he be? Didn’t God Almighty, for some mysterious
reason of His own, make them mostly so?

A view so general, and at the same time so tolerant in its pessimism,
was not likely to be disturbed by any particular illustration of it. If
anyone had, further, proceeded to point out that Grania was not likely
to be happy, married to such a man, Honor, for all her sisterly
devotion, would probably have replied, equally placidly, that no doubt
she would not be happy. Why, again, should she be? People as a rule were
not happy, nor meant apparently to be happy, and the married state
especially stood before her mind as a state of natural and inevitable
discomfort--one in which there was always a more or less troublesome and
unmanageable male to be fed, looked after, and put up with generally.
That it possessed any counter-balancing advantages; that it could, even
at the start, be, for a woman, a state of especial happiness, she simply
did not, for a moment, believe. She would have been too polite to
contradict anyone who had chosen to put forward such an assertion, but
in her own mind she scouted it utterly. ‘Arrah, holy Bridget! what could
there be in it to make any woman in this earthly world _happy_?’ she
would have said to herself. Her own private opinion was that all that
was an invention got up by the men. _They_ persuaded the women to
believe there was something pleasant in it, and the silly creatures were
fools enough to believe them. That was all. The whole thing was really
exceedingly simple!

This being her standpoint it followed that the pangs of unrequited love
were the last that would have been successfully laid bare before her.
Of Grania’s future she did, indeed, think incessantly, but it was a
future that skipped over the next forty, fifty, or sixty years, and
fixed itself only upon what lay beyond that trifling interregnum. Day
and night her thoughts fixed themselves more and more in this direction;
hoping, interceding, imploring for the one that had to be left--left in
a cold, ugly world--pleading that she might be brought in; that her
heart might turn; that, sooner or later, they two might stand together
safe--safe, as she put it to herself, in Glory--a place which, if it had
no name, no inhabitants, no conceivable whereabouts, was still at least
as real and as definite to her as those rocks, as yonder sea that she
habitually looked at. It was the one thing that still troubled her; the
one thing that kept her from her peace; perturbed her poor soul, and
brought the tears into her patient eyes.

So they went on together, as others beside them have gone on, and will
go on, till all things end, till all the books are written, and every
story finished; loving one another, that is to say, with a love which,
on one side, at least, had gathered to itself all that, under other
circumstances, might have spread over a considerable field,
understanding one another as much--well, about as much as most of us
contrive to understand one another--as much, in other words, as if they
had never met, never grown up in the same nest, never eaten off the same
loaf, never touched hands, or exchanged a syllable in their lives.

Poor Honor’s sisterly petitions were not, it must be owned, prospering,
for Grania in these weeks was certainly not improving. A new
recklessness had got hold of her. It was in her blood--for she came,
upon both sides, of a wild, untameable stock--but it had never risen so
near to the surface before. Circumstances had tamed her, as they tame
most people; a certain sense of responsibility had tamed her; doubts and
self-perplexities had tamed her; of late, too, that keen, hungry clutch
at the heart had tamed her. Now she no longer cared, or thought that she
no longer cared. The barriers were completely broken down; the floods
were out and away; there was no knowing yet how far, or how furiously,
they might travel.

One afternoon, about a week after her last interview with Murdough
Blake, she had been up to Allyhaloo, the village at the extreme south
end of the island, to get some straw for Moonyeen, and was coming down
the path with a great load of it on her back. The wind swept round and
round her head with a sort of fickle, clamorous insistence, now rising
to a wailing climax, then suddenly sinking, then as suddenly wailing out
again. The sea was of a uniform grey, a few darker lines being drawn
here and there across it as if by somebody’s fingers. The Cashla coast,
Spiddal, the whole line of the Connemara hills were lost and muffled in
swathing, formless bands of mist.

Grania fixed her eyes steadily upon the path, which was all she could
see, bent down as she was under her bundle. Her mind, except now and
then under strong emotion, still worked only as a child’s mind
works--vaguely, that is to say, with a sort of dim diffuseness--stirred
by what came to her through her senses, but lapsing into vagueness again
as soon as that direct impression had worn off. In this respect she was
just what she had always been. The events that had recently happened had
been events belonging to and affecting quite another region. Her mind
stood aloof, uninfected, unenlarged, untouched by them.

A real event, by the way, had happened that afternoon. A party of
people--English people, it was reported--had come over from Galway in a
pleasure yacht, and had made the tour of the islands, visiting not
Aranmore only, but the other two islands as well--a rare event at the
present day, twenty-five years ago an almost unprecedented one.

As she came down, picking her way carefully over the stones, her
mountain of straw towering behind her, Grania suddenly perceived that
this party were coming right towards her up the path. It was the direct
way to Dun Connor, the chief, if not the only, lion of the island, which
the strangers, no doubt, were then on their way to visit. A ragged
tangle of children followed them, shouting and clamouring for
half-pence.

A vehement feeling of annoyance made Grania long to rush away, to hide
herself behind a boulder, to do anything rather than have to encounter
these strangers--gentry, the sort of people that Murdough was always
talking about and envying--people who lived in big white houses with
staring windows like those she had seen in Galway. Pride, however, and a
sort of stubbornness hindered her from running away. She went on
accordingly down the path, and, when the contact became imminent, merely
stepped a little aside, on to a piece of flat rock beside a stunted
thorn-bush, and stood there--her cumbersome burden rising behind
her--waiting till the visitors should have passed.

There were three of them--two ladies, and a young man escorting them.
They came up laughing, evidently amused, and enjoying the sense of
discovery--for Inishmaan was all but untrodden ground--a flutter of
skirts and parasols, of hat-ribands and waterproof cloaks filling up the
pathway.

Grania stood doggedly waiting--her head a little thrown back; something
of the stir and stress that filled her visible in her whole look and
bearing; a wild, untamed vision of strength and savage beauty standing
beside that crooked and stunted thorn-bush.

The visitors to the island were a little taken by surprise by it. One of
the two ladies put up an eyeglass to look at her, at the same time
touching her friend’s arm so as to call her attention.

With an angry sense that she was being stared at, Grania on her side
turned and gazed fiercely at them, her great slumberous eyes, so
Southern in their darkness, filled with a curious lowering light.

The visitors passed hastily on up the track.

‘Did you notice that girl standing above the pathway?’ one of the ladies
said to the other. ‘How she stared! Did you observe? Not quite
pleasant, was it?’

‘Yes,’ the other answered, clutching rather feverishly at her skirts.
‘Don’t go so quickly, dear. What stones! Yes, I noticed her. A fine,
handsome creature, I thought--picturesque, too, in her red
petticoat--but, as you say, not exactly pleasant-looking. Generally they
have such good manners, poor creatures--quite decent, you know!’

They hurried on, for a storm was clearly coming up, and the yacht was
not built for heavy weather. Quick, hot gusts of wind kept following one
another over the grey, treeless surface of the island. The sea, too,
sent up an occasional growl--a hint as to what might be coming. The
visit to Dun Connor had accordingly to be cut short, and, with a hasty
glance at the wilderness of stone around them, the visitors turned down
the path again, and betook themselves to the shore.

From her usual post beside the cabin Grania watched them stumbling over
the stones in their haste and rapidly embarking, with a feeling of
satisfaction in her own fierce sea and sky which had scared away these
fine people so suddenly.

A dull wrath, like that of the coming storm itself, was in the girl’s
veins. She had passed Murdough early the same day--one of the
O’Flaherties and Phil Garry were with him at the time--and he had
ostentatiously gone on talking and laughing, without paying the smallest
attention to her presence. She, on her side, had passed him without a
glance, but it had seemed to her as if every drop of blood in her veins
had turned in that instant to boiling lead, and she could have killed
all three of them then and there, without ruth or hesitation, had her
means been only equal to her wishes. It was still burning dangerously
in her, that dull wrath, made up of anger, inarticulate despair, of love
turned for the time being into a sort of sombre hatred. The necessity,
too, of concealing it from Honor made it all the worse and all the more
perilously pent up within her.

As it happened, a mode of expending it came that very night, and the
long mystery of the stolen turf was at the same time cleared up.

The promised storm came on to blow unmistakably about six o’clock, and
by nine or ten o’clock it had grown to a regular tempest. North and
south, east and west, it seemed to come from all directions at once.
Warm scuds of rain fell as if from a bucket. Then the Atlantic joined
the concert, its hollow, bull-voiced roar, full of suggestions of
shipwreck, terror, and death, coming up unceasingly to them from below.

Poor Honor was rather frightened. The suddenness of the storm disturbed
and distressed her. It seemed unnatural, this combination of heat and of
rushing wind. It was a new thing to her experience, and seemed to
forebode evil. From time to time the sound of her prayers could be heard
coming from her own dusky corner, the words caught and carried off, as
it were, before they were half uttered by the rushing wind, which tore
down the chimney and seemed to be bent, this time, upon dislodging the
sturdy, much-enduring little house from its deeply-set foundations upon
the rocks.

Grania remained huddled beside the hearth, without approaching the bed.
She was conscious that she was not good company for Honor that evening,
so kept away from her as far as possible. Suddenly, as they sat there,
with the width of the cabin dividing them, a loud, piercing scream
seemed to break between them. It was so close that both believed for a
moment that it was inside the house. It was only the scream of a passing
gull or gannet, scared, like the rest of the world, by the suddenness
and peculiarity of the storm, but it had an oddly human, oddly
articulate sound. It had hardly ceased, too, before, with a thump and
creak of its hinges, the door swung suddenly open, with that peculiarly
eerie effect characteristic of doors which open of themselves.

Honor uttered a low wail of dismay, and, clasping her hands together,
began nervously to pray aloud--a queer mixture, half of Irish, half of
Latin, escaping her lips. Grania got up and went to the door, picking up
the iron poker from the hearth as she did so, and taking it with her,
probably from a recollection of the well-known superstition that iron
is a safe thing to have at hand if there is anything uncanny in the air.

She was turning back and was about to shut the door, when she noticed,
to her surprise, a man’s figure, rather the shadow of a man’s figure,
passing behind the low wall which divided the little yard from the
unenclosed waste of rock without. Suddenly a thought shot through her, a
vivid thought, a thought which grew like lightning into a certainty.
Could it be? was it?--yes, it was--_Murdough!_ Murdough repenting;
Murdough come to see after them in the storm! It was--it must be! A
flood of hope, bounding, tumultuous, almost painful; a sudden confused
rush, first of vehement love, then of equally vehement anger, then of
love again, broke across her brain, making her reel and stagger as she
stood upon the threshold.

Telling Honor that she was only going to see that the beasts were all
right, and would be back in a minute, she hurried outside, closing the
door softly behind her.

Sure enough a figure was there, for she could still see it moving, the
dim silhouette of a man’s figure thrown against the rock. Grania watched
and waited. Her heart was beating now so that it was an agony. The
expectation of Murdough’s approach, the thought of his coming, the touch
of his hands, the nearness of his presence was so strong, so convincing,
that it had already become a reality. A reality, alas and alas! it
certainly was not. Another moment showed that no one was coming, no one
at least to the door or anywhere near the door. In the dim light she
could still distinguish the figure of a man, but it was a small man,
consequently it was not Murdough; moreover, this man, whoever he was,
was creeping stealthily behind the low wall that enclosed the cabin, and
getting round to the back of it--to that part where the turf-stack
stood piled.

Grania remained standing where she was, the poker clutched in her
hand--all her hopes dashed; all the thoughts of a moment ago turned
forcibly back into a different channel. Her face, could it have been
seen in the darkness, would have been a curious study. Passion was
written on it, and passionate anger; hungry, baffled love was there, and
a not less hungry or less baffled desire for revenge. They were all
there; all working and struggling together. Suddenly she made a bound
forwards; she had crossed the yard; she had seized the trespasser--had
clutched him by the back of his neck--and was holding him as a mastiff
holds a burglar. It was like Vengeance descended miraculously from the
sky itself, so unexpected was it, so startling in the hurly-burly of
that hot, wild night. An involuntary yell of terror broke from the
turf-stealer, and he turned, wriggling like a worm, and struggling
vainly to escape from her clutch, a clutch which was for the moment like
iron. It was, as the reader will hardly need to be told, Shan Daly! An
old basket was beside him, already half full of turf, and there was a
lump of it in each hand. Never was criminal caught more feloniously
red-handed.

Grania’s pent-up wrath had now found its channel. The barriers were all
up. The current was at the full. The wild blood of the O’Malleys, the
wild blood of the Joyces--neither of them names which, for those who
know the West, carry any mild or merciful associations with them--was
hot in her veins like fire. Desperate rage, that rage for which killing
seems the only alleviation, for the time being possessed her wholly. Her
head swam, her teeth were clenched together, her right arm rose; the
storm itself was not more reckless of consequences for the moment than
she. A little more, another five minutes, and blood would have flowed
over the rocks: for that iron poker in Grania’s hands was no plaything.

A mere chance hindered it. A plaintive cry broke suddenly from the
cabin. It was Honor’s voice calling to her sister to come in, to come
back, not to leave her. What was she doing? It was frightened she was of
being alone by herself in the wild night. Grania! where was Grania? What
was Grania doing at all?

The cry, so pitiful in its weakness, reached the other’s ear even in all
the height of her fury. What was she to do? she asked herself in the
rapidly concentrated thought of the moment. Could she kill Shan Daly
without disturbing Honor? That, probably, was the form in which the
question practically presented itself to her mind. To kill him, or at
least to beat him then and there within an inch of his worthless life,
was clearly the thing to do, but to disturb Honor, to frighten Honor,
that, under all circumstances, was to be avoided. The result was that in
the indecision of the moment her grip probably relaxed, for, with a
sudden tug and the wriggle of an escaping conger eel, Shan Daly
contrived to shake it off, writhed himself a few inches away over the
stones, dragged himself beyond her clutch, half fell over the big
boulder in his panic, then, picking himself up, fled down the hill,
terror in all his limbs, but an intense sense of escape, of deliverance,
tingling through every inch of his frame. For a moment he had seen the
figure of Death standing over him with a poker in its hand, and the
sight had scared him. If ever that dusky soul of his sent out a genuine
ejaculation of thankfulness heavenwards, it was probably at that
moment!



PART IV

_SEPTEMBER AGAIN_



CHAPTER I


The month of September had begun, but the breach between Grania and
Murdough was still unhealed. He, on his side, was feeling less at ease
than his jaunty air or undisturbed manner might have led anyone to
suppose. This unlooked-for decision upon Grania’s part was, he could not
but own, startling. So far he had kept the fact to himself, not choosing
it to be known, and knowing that she was extremely unlikely to speak of
it. It might have entailed unpleasant consequences had it leaked out. In
Inishmaan, as in more imposing places, there are inconveniences likely
enough to fall upon a brilliant young man when a marriage which is to
set him upon his legs is known to be broken off.

What ailed her? he asked himself again and again. What an
extraordinarily queer girl she had grown of late! he next reflected,
thinking over the scene of their quarrel. What queer eyes she
had!--‘’Tis as if the devil himself was sitting at the bottom of them,
and staring at you--the devil himself, no better--enough to scare a man,
so they are! quite enough to scare a man!’ he repeated several times to
himself, as he recalled the look of concentrated rage with which she had
sprung upon him and swept him, as it were, out of her path in her fury.
‘’Twasn’t safe she looked, so she didn’t then--not safe at all. And what
did I do to make her so mad? Only laughed at her about Teige
O’Shaughnessy! My God, and who wouldn’t laugh at her about Teige
O’Shaughnessy? _Teige O’Shaughnessy_, wisha!’

That Grania would seriously dream of marrying Teige he did not for a
moment believe, but that, even in anger, she should throw such a rival
in his teeth was an insult very difficult to stomach. Murdough had never
asked himself for a moment whether he cared for Grania or not, the
question would probably have seemed to him utterly superfluous. Of
_course_ he cared for her. Had she not always been there; always, in a
fashion, belonged to him? Why in the world _wouldn’t_ he care for her?

That he had liked her better in the old days when she was still the
little Grania of the hooker, before she had shot up into this rather
formidable woman she had so suddenly become, there is no denying. The
little Grania had admired him without criticism; the little Grania had
no sombre moods; the little Grania never gazed at him with those big,
menacing eyes--eyes such as a lioness might turn upon someone whom she
loves, but who displeases her--the little Grania was natural, was
comprehensible, was just like any other little _girsha_ in the place,
not at all like this new Grania, who was quite out of his range and ken;
an unaccountable product, one that made him feel vaguely uneasy; who
seemed to belong to a region in which he had never travelled; who was
‘queer,’ in short; the last word summing up concisely the worst and most
damning thing that could be said of anyone in Inishmaan.

He brooded over all this a good deal, sitting and swinging his legs upon
the steps of the old villa, which, since his grandmother’s death, he had
taken pretty constantly to inhabit, it being preferable, in his mind,
despite its bareness, to the overcrowded family cabin up at
Alleenageeragh. That there was a sense of relief in being free from
Grania and her ‘queerness’ he was aware, but, on the other hand, there
was a yet greater sense of failure and of defeat. His vanity was badly
hurt by it, likewise his pocket, and the two together acted as a
powerful counter-poise. He was ‘used,’ moreover, to Grania. His future
had always held her as a matter of course, just as hers had always held
him, and use, more than all the other ingredients of existence,
possesses a tremendous leverage upon beings of Murdough’s type. The end
of his brooding was that one evening, about a fortnight after their
quarrel, and a couple of days after the scene between Grania and Shan
Daly, he waylaid her as she was coming back from the kelp fire, hiding
for that purpose in an old clump of hawthorn bushes till she should pass
by.

This clump stood upon the flattest bit of land in the whole island, so
that from it, as from a post of vantage, he could see a long way, miles
it seemed, over the dim, still faintly-gleaming surface. Where he had
hidden himself was the only spot that broke this flatness, a flatness
sloping imperceptibly till it merged into the sea at high-water mark. It
was a fine warm evening, though there had been heavy rain in the
daytime. A quantity of small brown moths flew round his head, other and
much larger white ones kept emerging one after the other from the
nettles and brambles that covered the fallen stones, for, like almost
every clump on the islands, this too held a well and a scrap of old
ruined church hidden somewhere away at the bottom of it.

After waiting half an hour, he saw Grania coming towards him, the only
living thing far as the eye could reach, everything else being either
stone, or else vegetation hardly less grey and arid. As she came near an
unexpected qualm seized Murdough, a sudden alarm as to what she might
be going to say or to do; how she would behave when she saw him there.
It was quite a new idea for him to dream of being afraid of Grania, or
to doubt his own unquestionable superiority over her; but since their
quarrel she had assumed rather a different aspect in his eyes, and this
evening she looked, he thought, bigger and more imposing, somehow, than
usual, as she came walking slowly towards him, solitary and
empty-handed, her eyes staring straight in front of her as if she were
seeking something that was not there. The impression was so strong that
it even occurred to him for a moment that he would let her pass, as he
easily could do, and stay hidden away in his lair until she had gone by.

‘Arrah, great King of Glory, ’tis the mortal queer-looking girl she has
grown to be, sure and certain!’ he muttered uneasily. ‘My soul from the
devil, what ails her these times, at all at all? She that used to be
the nice, easy, little _girsha_.’

Whether he would have called to her or have let her pass unchallenged,
it is impossible to say, but it happened that as she drew near to the
clump she slackened her already slow pace, and looked directly towards
him; her eyes, as it seemed to him, piercing right down to where he
stood hidden in the centre of the thorny thicket. Concluding, therefore,
that he was discovered, he got up and in rather a quavering voice,
called to her, and asked her to stop.

She started violently, and stopped dead short, then looked again, not
directly towards him, but a little farther on, as if doubtful whether
she had really heard a voice, or only imagined that she had done so.
Murdough’s head and shoulders rising out of the clump was a piece of
evidence not to be mistaken. Still she stood rooted to the same spot,
staring at him, not speaking; staring as if he had been his own ghost.

What were they going to say to one another? What, after their stormy
parting, after that fortnight of silence and alienation, was the footing
upon which they were to meet? Neither of them knew, and it was probably
accident that decided that point. Murdough’s inspiration was at any rate
a happier one than his last had been.

‘Then it was waiting to walk back to the house with you I was--yes,
indeed--just waiting to walk back with you, that was all, Grania
O’Malley,’ he said, with a decided quaver in his voice, and an air of
mild deprecation.

The tone and look, more even than the words, disarmed the girl utterly;
further than this, they filled her with a sudden, a delicious sense of
happiness. She said nothing, but when he had stepped over the mass of
branches, and through an outer circumvallation of nettles, and had come
up to her, she was trembling violently, and it was silently and still
tremblingly that she turned and walked back beside him through the dusk,
as they had so often walked before.

It was the only explanation between them, but it seemed to suffice. The
first awkwardness of the meeting over, Murdough’s tongue soon regained
its nimbleness, and he began telling her a long tale about a curragh
which he had bought or proposed to buy, if so be, God willing, he could
find the money. It was Malachy O’Flaherty’s own curragh, and the best in
the islands, barring one, and that was Phil Garry’s father’s big curragh
which had gone to the bottom in the great storm on the twenty-eighth of
January last. Poor old Mick Garry’s heart would have broken to lose it,
so it would, honest man, only, thank God, he hadn’t long to fret about
it, for he was drowned himself at the same time, and only that Phil
Garry and his brother Teddy had stayed at home and hidden themselves,
they would have been drowned too, as the little bouchaleen Pat was, who
had been the only one of the family the old man could get hold of when
he went out in such a hurry to save the nets. But Malachy O’Flaherty’s
curragh was a picture, fit for a king, and had been the first in of
seven that had started at the Ballyvaughan races last March; at least
seven would have started only that two never got off, for one of them
broke her rudder the day before, and the other had a big hole stove in
her side, through Thaddeus Doonan, that owned her, leaping into her in a
hurry, the fool, with his boots on. She was the handsomest boat on the
whole bay, and had been newly caulked and canvassed by Malachy himself
only that very year. There was no curragh like her in Galway or out of
it, and it was raging mad the Claddagh men were about it, for whoever
owned her would be sure to win the big race that was coming on next
month, with twenty boats starting and three shillings down to every
boat. Twenty times three shillings would be sixty shillings, that was
three pounds, and if he had to sell the coat off his back, and the shirt
too, he’d do it rather than not have her to race in, for it was a sin
and a shame letting her go to those who didn’t know how to row no more
than black crabs down at the bottom of the sea. That was what Malachy
O’Flaherty had said, and he had said, too, that he would give it to him
dirt cheap, because he’d like to see her coming in first at the big
race, and not let everything good go to strangers. What was the good,
Malachy had said, of stinting and saving for ever? Was it when a man was
old that he wanted the money most? No, it was not, it was when he was
young, for how did he know he would ever live to be old at all, at all?
Could you take the money into the grave with you? No, you could not, for
money was of no use there, nor anything else either, when you would be
dead and buried! That was what Malachy O’Flaherty had said, and it was
quite true, so it was, quite true. It is not in the grave, nor in heaven
either, with all the grandeur and glory you’d find _there_, you would be
wanting money, whether it was much or whether it was little.

To all this Grania listened silently, as usual, turning her eyes upon
him from time to time with a curiously lingering expression. There was a
look of inquiry in her glance, a look of entreaty and expectation, a
look of impatience, too, only it was impatience curbed and restrained by
something stronger than itself. So they walked on side by side until
they had reached the cabin. Here Murdough, whose tale was finished, was
turning away, but she made a quick sign to him to stop; went in with
resolute steps, came out again and thrust something hurriedly into his
hands. It was a bank-note, and all the money that she had at that moment
in the world with the exception of a few shillings, and what must be
kept absolutely sacred for the expenses of Honor’s funeral.

Murdough’s astonishment and delight burst out then and there like a
fountain; burst into a torrent of words--vague, iridescent, incoherent.
Projects of every sort--races to be won, victories over rivals, money,
much money, to be earned in the future--they all poured forth; flew and
hurtled through the air; one golden scheme jostling against another in
its hurry to express itself. Grania listened, but her eyes never lost
that oddly intent, wistful expression. She stood perfectly still while
he capered about the rocks, waving his hands and snapping his fingers
as he descanted first on one project then on another. Suddenly she
turned, and, leaving him to finish his flights by himself, went in,
closing the door behind her; not this time, however, with a bang, but
slowly, with a gradual and, as it seemed, a reluctant pressure from
within.

It was with a more conscious strut than usual that, after waiting a
minute to see if she would return, Murdough marched off towards the old
villa, the note she had given him making sweet music against his pocket
as he did so. Money! Not a few paltry shillings, but a whole large sum
at once. He was a king! There were no possibilities that were not open
to him, no dream that might not be fulfilled, no hopes that might not
suddenly bloom into life. Where was Teige O’Shaughnessy _now_? he asked
himself with derision. How long would it be before anyone gave _him_
money like that?--the poor, mean, scraping, saving little _boccach_.

Through all this satisfaction there returned, however, from time to time
the same vague uneasiness about Grania. She had only done what she
ought; had given him the money right off in a lump, without any
lecturings or bargains; that was all quite natural and proper, but, upon
the other hand, what sort of wife would she be, this Grania, for a
quiet, easy-going boy, who only wanted to live in peace and quietness?
Wasn’t she queer? Mother of Moses! she _was_ queer! the queerest girl in
the whole world! That was the burden, refrain, summing-up of all his
meditations about her.

Once in the course of these meditations he chanced to look up and catch
Shan Daly’s ferrety eyes peering at him from their red-rimmed sockets as
if he were trying to make out what he was thinking of, for Shan, too,
had got into the habit of creeping into the old villa, preferring its
shelter to the mud-banks and sides of walls which of late had been his
habitual resting-places. The relative standing of these two had become
exactly reversed since Murdough had grown to be a man, and a strong one.
Formerly, Shan, we know, had bullied him unmercifully whenever he got
the chance; now, Shan was his henchman, his jackal, the patient partaker
of all his moods. It spoke a good deal for Murdough’s good temper and
inherently unresentful way of looking at things, that he never showed
the slightest inclination to avenge himself upon Shan, or to pay back
his old wrongs as he easily might have done. On the contrary, though he
despised him, as everyone did, he seemed rather to enjoy his society
than otherwise. He was ‘used’ to him, you see, and that counted for so
much. Have we not seen that he was also ‘used’ to Grania O’Malley?
Between a man with no scruples whatever, no character to lose, no qualms
of any sort save fear for his own skin, and a mere convivial young
gentleman who has never done anything worse than get drunk and run into
debt, the sense, too, of superiority is perhaps never wholly upon one
side. Murdough knew nothing of Shan’s latest adventure, but he had long
had cause to suspect that Shan, for some reason, hated Grania. Several
times he had been aware that it was Shan who had prevented him from
going to see her, or who had egged him on to doing things she disliked.
This, and a slight feeling of embarrassment upon the subject, kept him
from telling him of her recent donation. All the same he was genuinely
grateful for it, and in the first flush of his gratitude laid out a
variety of schemes which he would, could, or might carry out in the
course of the next few weeks to gratify her. ‘Queer’ she undoubtedly
was, mysteriously, unaccountably queer, but at least her queerness had,
this time, taken a right instead of a wrong direction!



CHAPTER II


As it turned out, there was no opportunity for any of these amiable
schemes to be carried into effect, for the very next day Honor was taken
suddenly worse about nine o’clock in the evening, and to all who saw her
it seemed clear that the end had at last really come. There was great
dismay amongst those who were drawn to the cabin by the news, not so
much on account of the fact itself, as on account of the difficulty, the
perennial difficulty at Inishmaan, of getting a priest across from the
larger island in time. Grania had wanted to send Teige O’Shaughnessy for
Father Tom that very morning, but Honor had forbidden her to do so,
wishing to delay a little longer, so that the last rites might be
received as near the end as possible. Now that end had plainly come, but
to get a priest across the sound before the next morning was clearly out
of the question.

It was a thick night, with showers of rain at intervals, but upon the
first intimation of the change old Molly Muldoon had travelled
faithfully across the rocks from Ballinlisheen, according to her
promise, and after the other women had gone she remained to share in the
task of nursing, and to aid Grania in what both believed to be the last
night of Honor’s life. Towards three o’clock, every moment, it was
thought, must see the end, but the chilly, fatal hours passed by, and
Honor still lived. About five o’clock Molly had to go to see after her
chickens, which ‘would be mad,’ she explained, ‘the creatures, with
hunger,’ but promised shortly to return. Grania merely nodded. She was
sitting, as she had sat all night, close beside the bed, gazing upon
her sister with eyes from which even the desire for sleep seemed to be
permanently banished.

About seven o’clock Honor herself sank into a doze of exhaustion, and
Grania thereupon stole out of the cabin to go and look for little Phelim
Daly, and send him for Murdough Blake, or in default of Murdough, for
Teige O’Shaughnessy, so as to get one or other of them to go at once to
Aranmore, and implore Father Tom for the love of Heaven to come to
Inishmaan without delay.

She had hitherto been too absorbed to notice or think about the weather,
but now, as she stepped outside the cabin and down the gully, she found
that a sudden fog had come on, a dense waving curtain of mist, under
which everything in front of her was already submerged. It was a fog
that seemed to be coming to them from the Connemara side of the bay,
and had evidently only recently reached the island, for the sea to the
south of it was quite clear. In the direction in which she was going
vast cloud armies, still more or less detached one from another, were
marching steadily onward to the assault. Height over height, fold upon
fold, on they came; clinging to the rocks, following the little
indentations of the shore, smothering every object the instant they
touched it in a thick, cloying, inextricable embrace. It was curious to
see how partial was still this invasion. Here, to the left, the sea was
clear, the pale rays of sun lighting up the wash of the waves as they
broke over the outlying rocks and skerries; there, to the right, the
bays and cooses were already choked to the very brim. Overhead at one
moment she could see a sky, clear, seemingly, to the zenith; another
minute and the thick woolly masses had swept over her, lower and lower
still, pouring on and on from their inexhaustible fog cauldrons away to
the north and the north-west.

She hastened down the track, and along the lower ridge to the Dalys’
cabin; found the boy and despatched him on his errand, with strict
orders not to rest or come back until he had found either Murdough or
Teige O’Shaughnessy. Then she returned, to take up her place again
beside Honor’s bed.

So the day wore on. Molly Muldoon did not return for a long, long time,
and she remained therefore quite alone in the cabin. There was hardly
any change. Honor continued to doze, and Grania, absorbed in watching
her, had almost ceased to notice the passage of time. Suddenly, about
three in the afternoon, she was startled by an extraordinarily rapid
accession of darkness, almost like the coming on of night, a darkness so
great as to make it all but impossible to see across the cabin.

Going to the door and opening it, she found herself facing a
solid-looking wall of vapour in which every detail of landscape seemed
to be lost. To the south indeed the sea was still visible, but even here
the whole surface was covered with a shroud of mist, dense in some
places as wool, and curdling momentarily thicker and thicker, as
battalion joined battalion, the more scattered ones stretching fleecy
arms to one another across the still visible spaces of water. Evidently
this was no morning mist, likely to disperse, but a dense sea fog such
as now and then in autumn and early spring, rarely at this season,
enclosed the islands in its folds, rendering all communication from one
to the other well-nigh impossible for days at a time.

Startled, she turned to look towards the larger island, by this time
utterly lost to sight. What was to be done? she thought anxiously. How
was Father Tom to be brought, and would he ever be persuaded to venture
across the sound in such a fog? What too could have delayed Murdough or
Teige? Had Phelim failed to find either of them? Surely, if one happened
to be away the other would have been at home? Here was another day
passing, and that Honor could survive this night also was hardly to be
expected.

That the nearness of the end was troubling the sick woman herself was
clear, for when Grania got back to the bed Honor’s eyes were open and
fixed themselves instantly upon her with a longing expression. Seeing
that she wished to speak, Grania stooped and leaned over her. Honor’s
white lips parted with a great effort.

‘Is he coming? allanah?’ she muttered breathlessly. ‘Auch, Grania dear,
don’t be delaying! ’Tisn’t long I’ll be in it now, and you wouldn’t let
me go without the good words at the last?’

‘No, no, Honor; don’t think of it. Don’t be afraid. He’ll come, sure
enough. Be easy, dear; he’ll come.’

Honor’s eyes closed again patiently with a satisfied expression, but
Grania’s mind was a prey to desperate anxiety. What was to be done?
Where could Phelim be? Was no one coming to them? She hurried back to
the entrance and stood there, straining her eyes into the fog, her heart
wrung with passionate anxiety.

Presently a movement made itself seen in it, and a figure was visible
dimly struggling up the track towards her. Her whole soul went out in a
prayer that it might be Murdough; surely it must be Murdough? But no,
another moment showed that it was not a coat but a petticoat that was
moving through the fog. It was only, in fact, the faithful Molly Muldoon
come back to take her turn at the nursing. Grania beckoned to her
eagerly, and, having explained the situation in a few words, picked up
her own petticoat and ran off through the fog in the direction of the
old villa. If Murdough Blake was to be found anywhere, it would be
there, she knew.



CHAPTER III


She was out of the cabin and the fog had closed around her almost before
the words were uttered. It was like a pall, only a white pall instead of
a black one, a pall that seems to get through and through and round and
round you, to swathe the limbs, to enfold you to the very skin. Down
from the sky in white masses it came, and up from the sea--a new sky, a
new sea--the very air appeared to be half solid, air that seemed to
choke, yet which was light enough and cool enough as you swallowed it.

Grania, as she sped along the familiar track, seemed hardly to know
where she was, so rolled round and isolated from everything and
everyone was she by this strange enveloping fleecy stuff. As she went on
something, too, seemed to happen to her. It was as if the fog had got
between her and everything she had come out to do. She hardly thought
now of Father Tom. The sick bed, with the white drawn face and the
anxious eyes so near death, watching, always watching the door; the hot
race between death and the priest--all this, that had so filled her mind
the whole day and the previous night, seemed to melt now and to
disappear. A new set of images had arisen. It was a new goal towards
which she seemed to be hurrying, for which she was fighting the fog, to
which she was struggling on and on through this blinding whiteness.

More and more as she warmed with the struggle her old self emerged, as a
rock emerges which has been temporarily hidden by the waves. The thought
of Murdough rose with it. It was Murdough whom she had so often gone
along this path to meet; it was Murdough whom she was going to meet now.
The old love, the old dumb, unquenchable desire rose in her, as it had
so often risen before. The remembrance of that evening in the boat--the
one evening of evenings in her life--stood out before her like a vision.
With it rose the remembrance of two evenings ago when she had looked up
suddenly and seen him standing in the middle of the big thorn clump. In
the isolation created by the fog, in the glow of her battling with it,
in the stress of her own feelings, he seemed to be already with her, to
be beside her, to be touching her; not the every-day indifferent
Murdough either; the unsatisfactory, conversational Murdough, the
Murdough who got tipsy and mocked at her, the Murdough who was always
wanting money, but the real Murdough, the Murdough she had never ceased
to believe in; who looked up at her suddenly, and then stretched out his
arms to her; who caught her in them and held her; the Murdough who loved
her, even as she loved him.

If this Murdough had melted a hundred times when confronted with the
real one, he had at least grown again a hundred times when the other
Murdough had removed himself. To Grania’s mind--to her inmost
feelings--he _was_ the real Murdough, ten thousand proofs to the
contrary notwithstanding. She had known him, seen him, recognised him
twice; once for ten minutes in the boat, again for half a minute the
other evening when he called to her upon the rocks, and as for the rest
of their time together it was nothing--_gustho_--not to be accounted.

That she was going to see this real Murdough became more and more of a
conviction with every step she advanced. The emergency seemed to call
him into existence. It was now or never! He must and would be found
equal to it, it was impossible to believe otherwise. Her faith grew
stronger minute by minute, cried aloud in her ears, and pushed itself
more and more strenuously upon her with every yard she advanced.

By the time she reached the villa it had become a certainty. As she came
round the last corner and dropped into the little hollow--now a
smoke-filled cauldron from which all detail had vanished--she could hear
a sound of voices coming up from the invisible depths below. The house
itself was completely lost to sight until she all but touched it, when
it suddenly emerged, its massive three-cornered front rising white out
of the dimness. She went hurriedly up to the door, which stood wide
open. To the left lay the sea, half covering the rocks, invisible but
audible, a dull grinding noise rising from time to time, then ceasing
altogether. On the other side of the house there were a couple of
windows, broken, and patched with dirty bits of paper, but upon this
side there were none, and never had been any, only three wide low steps
which led up to the door, and which were of granite like the house
itself, solid granite steps, the homes of flourishing sea spurreys and
saxifrages, springing thickly from a dozen clefts and gaping fissures.

Something of the dignity of the type to which it belonged, and which had
survived all vicissitudes, seemed to be stamped upon it to-day. Grania
had always felt this dignity vaguely, and even now in her hurry a dim
sensation of respect began to creep over her as she came within sight of
those solidly-cut granite steps, that low, solidly-carved doorway. It
was a tribute to a different order of things, to a different way of life
from her own, a feeling increased, no doubt, by old Durane’s tales of
the bygone glory and grandeur of its owner, but also inherent, born in
her race, and not, therefore, easily dissevered from it.

A sudden lull in the tumult of voices showed that her coming had been
observed, and the next minute her heart gave a great bound and then
seemed to stand still, for Murdough himself came out of the house and
stood upon the top of the steps looking down at her.

For the last half-hour her thoughts had been rushing to meet him; she
had been mentally throwing her arms round him; merging all their late
differences, appealing to their old love, their old childish affection;
telling him all that she had not been able to find words to say the
other evening; telling him that she knew he would help her now in her
great trouble, that he would come with her to Aranmore; forcing him, in
fact, by her urgency to do so. Instead, however, of doing anything of
the kind, a sudden feeling of diffidence came over her--a feeling of
being there a suppliant, a beggar--of being at a disadvantage, she could
not tell how or why. Probably it was something in their mutual attitude
which suggested it. She had never in her own person known the feeling of
being a suppliant, for in her time there had never been any gentry on
Inishmaan, and she and Honor stood quite on the summit of such social
altitudes as she was acquainted with. All the same, she did know it
instinctively, and it arose without any bidding now. This fine young man
standing at ease upon the top of the steps--at his own hall door, as it
were--the girl--herself--with her petticoat over her head, appealing
from below. Where had she seen those two figures that they seemed so
familiar? She did not know, but it had the effect of changing all her
previous thoughts, and bringing quite a new element of confusion into
her mind.

Possibly Murdough was similarly affected by the accidental
juxtaposition; in any case, all situations of personal importance came
naturally to him, and it was with none of the diffidence he had shown
the other evening, on the contrary, with an air quite in accordance with
this imaginary picture, that he asked her, in a tone of astonishment,
what upon earth was the matter, and what had brought her out in such
weather? It was not a fit day for decent people to be out of their
houses at all; couldn’t she see that for herself?

Grania put her hand suddenly up to her head. A momentary vertigo seemed
to assail her: a feeling of confusion, as if everything, herself and
Murdough included, had got wrong, and were out of place. What had
happened to them both? she wondered.

‘Arrah, Murdougheen, don’t you know? Didn’t the child tell you? Didn’t
you get the word from Phelim?’ she stammered at length.

Murdough looked slightly embarrassed.

‘Is it little Phelim Daly you mean?’ he asked, in a tone of some
hesitation. ‘Well, yes, Grania; the child did come to me three hours
ago, or maybe something better, I will not deny it. But it was not much
I could understand of what he said, not much at all. It is no better
than a natural he is, you know, and getting worse, I think, the
creature, every day, God help him! His father was here at the time, and
he said that it was all _gustho_ he was talking, so he did--something
about going to the big island to look for a priest. Arrah, my God! as if
any man in his senses, or out of them, would think of going to the big
island in such weather, no matter if it was for a priest, or for
anything else! It was just waiting I was for the fog to clear a bit, and
then it was up to your house, Grania, I was going, to see if there was
anything I could do for you. Yes, indeed, up to your very own house I
was going, so you may believe me. But it would be walking over the
cliffs, or into a hole in the rocks, I would be, if I was to try and go
there now, so I just waited till it should clear. That was how it was,
and no lie at all--ask the boys inside, and they will tell you. Arrah,
how in God’s name did you get here yourself at all, at all? It was the
mad woman you were to come out in such weather. Is it your legs you want
to break, or your neck, maybe? There has not been such a fog on
Inishmaan not for this seven years back--Moriarty O’Flanaghan was just
saying so--not for this seven years back and more.’

Grania pushed her hair feverishly off her face, and let the petticoat
she wore as a cloak drop from her shoulders. She felt hot and stifled.
Murdough’s words seemed to be coming to her out of a dream; his very
personality, as he stood there, big, solid, and self-satisfied, seemed
unreal. In this confusion her thoughts had come back to the one fixed
and absolute reality--her errand! That, let what would happen, must be
carried out.

‘It is dying Honor is, that is what she is doing,’ she said, simply.
‘And it is a priest she must have before she can die--yes, a priest now,
this very minute, Murdough! And if you cannot go with me, it is someone
else I must get, for it is not till the fog clears she can wait, for the
fog may not clear, God knows, all the long night through, and it is not
till the morning she will last, and she cannot die till she gets the
priest, so she cannot. And that is why I have come to you, Murdough,
because I do not think you would let my sister Honor die and no priest
near her, you would not have the heart. And it is myself will go in the
curragh with you to Aranmore, only you must come too, you or someone,
for I could not row it all by myself. And as for our not going out in
the fog, sure, my God! if we were to be drowned itself, the two of us,
isn’t that better any day of the week than for her to die and no priest
near her--she that is such a real saint, and has always set her heart
upon having one at the last? Arrah, ’tis only joking you are, I know;
you wouldn’t refuse me, Murdough, you couldn’t! Haven’t we two been
always together since the time when we were a pair of little prechauns,
no higher than a kish--always together, you and me, always? Sure, I
wouldn’t ask you, God knows, if there wasn’t the need--the burning,
burning need. Isn’t your life dearer to me a hundred times than anyone
else’s, let alone my own? Arrah! come, then, Murdough, dear, come! Don’t
let us be wasting any more time. ’Tis _dying_, I tell you, she
is--dying fast. My God! who knows but ’tis in the death-grips she is
this minute up on the rocks yonder, and not a creature nigh her, only
Molly Muldoon, and we two not even started yet!’

Murdough Blake was really to be pitied! He was put in a most unpleasant
position, one for which great allowance must be made. To begin with, he
was excessively good-natured, a fact which even his most casual
acquaintances knew well, and knew that nothing in the world was easier
than to tease or coax him into doing anything that was required--so long
as it did not entail too troublesome an effort upon his part. For
Grania, too, if she had filled him several times of late with a sense of
discomfort, if her claims and her ‘queerness’ had made her irksome and
incomprehensible, he had at least a very old feeling of comradeship, one
which went back to the very roots of life and was as strong probably as
any feeling he was capable of; which had been strengthened and warmed,
too, into fresh energy by her unexpected generosity the day before. To
refuse her, therefore, now, when she was so extremely urgent, was a real
discomfort to him, a real worry and disturbance. Her will, moreover, was
much the stronger of the two, and he experienced, therefore, a distinct
physical inclination to yield to it and obey without further question.
On the other hand, there was something about this particular task to
which she was urging him that was peculiarly daunting and disquieting to
his mind, the very thought of which sent cold shivers of discomfort
through and through him. Had it been a question of taking out a boat in
the middle of a storm, no matter how violent, his manhood would probably
have risen to the occasion and he would have gone. He was no coward,
certainly no commonplace coward, and it was not, therefore, any prosaic
fear of death in itself that held him back. It was something else;
something in the look, in the very touch and thought of this dank,
close, unnatural whiteness that deterred, and as it were sickened, him
by anticipation. He had a sense of its having come there for no good; of
its being the abode and hiding-place of who could tell what ugly,
malignant spirits. A whole hoard of ancestral terrors, unexplained but
unmistakable, awoke and stirred in his mind as he looked abroad from the
steps, and thought of himself out there, adrift and helpless in a boat;
lost and smothered up in this horrible white blanket of a fog; a prey to
Heaven alone knew who or what! A cold shiver ran through him from head
to heels. No, he _could_ not, he really _could_ not go. Grania must be
reasonable. To-morrow, or any time, even in the night, as soon as the
fog cleared, he was ready to start. Meanwhile Honor must abstain, for
this one evening, from dying, or, if she would be so unreasonable as to
die just now, well, die she must for once without a priest, for no
priest could he, or any man, in his opinion, bring her in such weather.
He set himself to put all this clearly before his petitioner. He was
really exceedingly vexed to have to refuse her, but plainly there was no
help for it.

‘Then, indeed and indeed, Grania, ’tis mortal sorry I am to go against
you, so I am,’ he said, scratching his head with a vigorous gesture,
less dignified, but probably a good deal more natural, than his previous
airs of superiority. ‘And if it was any way possible--any way possible
at all--to get to the big island, it is myself would go with you this
minute, yes, indeed, and gladly, rather than disappoint you. Why not? it
would be only a pleasure. But sure, my God! how can I, or any man in
this mortal world, go out in such weather? It is not in reason to ask
such a thing. Merciful powers! only look at it over there!--thicker and
thicker, and queerer and queerer, and more wicked-looking every minute
it’s getting, curling and gathering itself up into great heaps as if it
was a mountain made of smoke--real Hell smoke, it is--yes, indeed, my
faith and word--real Hell smoke, no other! God knows that I am not
afraid, so you need not think _that_. God who is up there in glory knows
whether I am afraid or not--right well He knows it, no one upon this
earth better, or as well. But there are some things that it is not right
for any man to attempt to do, no, nor be asked to do, either, so there
are. Arrah! my faith and word, I wonder you can’t see it for yourself?
Sure, even if I were to get out the boat to oblige you, how in the name
of reason could I find the way to Aranmore in such weather as this? Is
it by smelling at it with my nose I would find it? There is no seeing
it, no, nor seeing anything else in such unnatural weather, so there is
not, no more than if you were looking about you in the middle of a cave
in the black inside heart of a mountain. And, if you did get there
itself, no priest would come out with you, not one foot of it, so he
would not! No, but he would tell you that you had no business to come
out at all on such a day, that he would, for there is no knowing what
may happen to people if they will do what they are not meant to do. It
is straight up out of the boat in the middle of the bay a man would
maybe find himself taken, and carried away God knows where, so he might,
for there are things about on a day like this that it doesn’t do to
speak of, no, nor to think of either, as everyone that is sensible knows
right well. And as for Honor dying, sure, what would ail her to die
to-night? Isn’t it months upon months she has been at it, and why would
she choose such weather as this to die in? ’Twouldn’t be decent of her,
so it wouldn’t, and ’tis the decent woman she has always been! Arrah!
then, be a good girl, Grania agra, and just go home and stay quietly in
the house till to-morrow, and begorrah! by the first streak of day, or
sooner, so long as it’s anyway decent weather, I’ll come to you, and
we’ll go off for the priest, sure enough, and bring him back with us in
the curragh. Won’t that content you, Grania, dheelish?--say it will, and
go home quickly, there’s a good girl, for, indeed, ’tis wickeder and
wickeder looking it’s getting every minute.’

But Grania’s face was set like a flint. She had picked up the petticoat
and gathered it about her shoulders again, her whole air showing a
determination utterly defiant of all blandishments.

‘It is to look for Teige O’Shaughnessy I am going now,’ she said
briefly. ‘And if I do not find him, then I am going to Aranmore by
myself, for I will not let my sister Honor die and never a priest near
her, so I will not, God help me!’

Murdough felt the natural displeasure of a man who has taken great pains
to explain a matter in the clearest possible manner and who finds that
all his explanations have been simply thrown away. He was annoyed, too,
by the mention of Teige’s name.

‘Then it is not Teige O’Shaughnessy you will find, for it was over to
Allinera he went this morning with his pack, and it is not back he will
be able to get home through this fog, the poor _boccach_, I am
thinking,’ he said contemptuously. ‘And as for your going alone to
Aranmore in a curragh this night you will not do _that_ either, I am
thinking, so you will not. If you do, ’tis the mad woman you are--the
mad woman out and out!’ And he turned upon his heel to go back into the
house.

‘Then it is the mad woman I am, sure and certain,’ she answered, ‘for it
_is_ going I am, and so good-night to you, Murdough Blake.’

There was a mutual pause. Both had now said all that they had got to
say. Both had reached a platform from which there was no receding.
Murdough was absolutely determined that, let what would happen, nothing
should tempt him to stir abroad upon such an evening. Grania was still
more absolutely determined that, come what would, a priest for Honor she
must and would get. If Murdough would not help her, then Teige should.
If Teige proved to be really from home, then she would go by herself,
and find her way across the sound as best she could. If every man in
Inishmaan was afraid of the fog, _she_ was not afraid. Honor should not
die without a priest. That fact, amongst much that was dim and confused,
stood out absolutely fixed and certain.

She turned round resolutely, therefore, to go, and then--and then--she
turned back again! She was torn in two. Was this the end? the very, very
end? Were they parting like this? That it was no everyday parting, not
even any everyday quarrel, of that she felt absolutely certain. Was it,
_could_ it be the end of all things? No, it couldn’t be! she told
herself. It was not possible! Again her faith in Murdough--the real, the
invisible Murdough, rose--rose, too, in the very teeth of evidence. It
was _not_ possible, she decided; he was joking, she felt sure of it. She
turned therefore; hesitated; went a few steps onward; then again
stopped, and again hesitated.

Suddenly she turned resolutely back with a bound, rushed up the three
broad steps of the villa, and stood beside him in the porch on the top
of them. It was a tolerably deep porch, and the fog, besides, was now so
dense that as they stood there they were to all intents and purposes as
isolated as if no other human beings existed in the world. Although
there were three men within a very few yards of them, the sense of
solitude was for the moment as complete as though they had stood alone
together in the centre of the great Sahara. They were encompassed hand
and foot by the whiteness; two ghostly figures, cut off and hidden away
in a world of their own--hidden, to a great degree, even from one
another. For Grania, certainly, there existed no other creatures at the
time save only herself and Murdough. Only herself and Murdough, and they
were parting; parting, yet for the moment together, for the moment still
within reach, touch, and grasp of one another.

The result was that, almost before he had realised that she had returned
and that she was standing beside him, Murdough felt two arms about his
neck, clinging tighter, tighter still, pressing about it in a
convulsive, panic-stricken embrace, close and clinging as that of the
very fog without, only warm, very warm, and very human; desperation in
every touch of it, anger, too, but above all love--a love that could
kill its object, but that would never fail it; could never entirely
cease to believe in it.

‘Och, Murdough! Murdough! Murdough!’ she whispered, and her breath
fanned his cheek fiercely. ‘Och, Murdough, look at me! Murdougheen,
speak to me! Is there never one bit of love for me in all that big
strong body of yours? Never one bit of love for your poor Grania, that’s
loved you, and none but you, all her life long, ever since she was a
little bit of a girsha? Sure, heart of my heart, wouldn’t I die any day
in the week gladly just to please you, or any night of it for that
matter either, if you asked me? and is there nothing you’d do for me in
return--nothing? nothing? Arrah! say you’ll come with me to
Aranmore--only say the word--say you’ll not refuse me. Sure you
couldn’t, Murdough, you _couldn’t_, let me go out alone into the strange
wild night without you? Arrah, say you couldn’t, dear; say it! ‘Deed and
you needn’t say it, for I wouldn’t believe it of you, not if anyone
swore it, so I wouldn’t. Och, _ma slanach! ma slanach_! who have I in
the wide world to look to but you? My God! ’tis mad, out and out, I
think I am going, for my heart feels bursting in the inside of me.’

Murdough was shocked, more than shocked, he was startled, positively
scared and terrified by such an unlooked-for demonstration, such utterly
unheard-of vehemence. If Grania had gone mad, he certainly had not done
so, and one proof of his sanity was that he was intensely conscious of
the presence of those two other men gathered round the cracked
punch-bowl not far off, as well as of the presence of Shan Daly, who was
probably hidden away in some obscure corner of the building. He could
not see any of them certainly, and therefore presumably they could not
see him. Still, they might _hear_; a thought which filled him with acute
discomfort. Had Grania really gone mad, he asked himself; it seemed to
be the only possible explanation. Lapses into drunkenness were trifles,
a few other obvious slips from the path of absolute rectitude were
customary, and therefore forgivable, but such conduct as this was
unheard-of, was absolutely unprecedented and inconceivable! His sense of
decorum was stirred to its very depths.

Rapidly disengaging himself from her, he drew her hastily out of the
porch, down the steps, and round the nearest corner of the building,
where there was a sort of weedy ditch or hollow which ran between the
wall of the villa and the bank, ending in a kind of kitchen-midden, made
up of all the loose rubbish which had accumulated there from time to
time, and beyond which a small, disused back-door opened. Here they
again confronted one another.

Either his look of dismay had aroused Grania to a sense of the enormity
of her conduct, or the mere break in the chain of her ideas had brought
her back to everyday life, in any case, she was now blushing hotly. The
fiery fit was past. She felt beaten down and subdued by her own
vehemence. All she wanted now was to get away--to get away quickly, and
to be alone.

‘Then, indeed and indeed, I don’t know what ails me this evening, so I
do not, Murdough,’ she said in a tone of confused apology. ‘’Tis the
weather, maybe! God knows it is the queerest, most unnatural sort ever
was, and seems to be driving one out of one’s senses.’ She paused; then
went on: ‘Maybe ’tis right you are about not going out in it, dear, and
I’ll just step back to the house, as you bid me, and, please God, I’ll
find Honor something easier, and she’ll hold out till the morning, and
if not, why, I must just go look for Teige. Anyway, God won’t desert
her, come what will, I’m sure. He couldn’t, could He? He never would
have the heart to do such a thing, and she such a real saint!’

She paused again, and looked at him beseechingly, then added timidly,
‘’Tisn’t out and out angry you are with me, dear, are you? Arrah!
Murdough, it wasn’t me did it at all, at all, you know, only the
weather--just the weather and the fear I was in of Honor dying without
the good words at the last.’

For the third time she paused, and stood looking at him, trying hard to
see his face in the fog. But his face was a mere blur, and he himself
remained absolutely silent. This silence was so extraordinary, so
unprecedented upon his part, that it filled her with a sense of awe,
both of awe and of self-dismay. After waiting a minute, therefore, she
added, still more humbly, ‘Good-bye, dear. God knows ’tis sorry I am for
vexing you. It won’t happen again, Murdough--never again, dear; never!’
and she turned to go.

For the first time that evening an unaccountable wave of irresolution
swept over Murdough. He was very angry with her, excessively angry;
ashamed too, and embarrassed to the last degree; nay, he was inclined,
as has been said, to think that she really must have gone mad, since no
one who was not mad would behave in such a way. All the same, something
new seemed to be stirring within him. He, too, felt ‘queer.’ Could it
really be the weather, or, if not, what was it? The effect in any case
was that he felt suddenly disinclined to let her go. A sudden wish came
over him to stop her, to hear again what she had to say; to quarrel with
her, perhaps, but not to part with her so suddenly. He made a step
forward. She was still within easy reach; had only gone, in fact, a yard
or two up the bank. It was upon the tip of his tongue to call after her,
to ask her to stop: to say that, perhaps, after all, he _would_ go with
her, since she had so set her heart upon it--piece of folly as it
was!--that in any case he would go back with her as far as the cabin,
and see for himself how Honor was getting on, whether matters were
realty so desperate as she asserted or not. He had made a couple of
steps forward, had opened his lips, his hand was actually
out-stretched, when out of the dark doorway in the wall behind him
another hand suddenly emerged, a lean hand with hairy, clutching
fingers, the arm belonging to it clad in a sleeve so ragged that it
literally fell away from it in filthy, sooty-coloured ribbons. This
other hand caught Murdough’s and held it fast for a minute. Only for a
minute, but when it had again released its hold Grania was already out
of reach, half-way up the side of the bank, and nothing was to be seen
far or near but the white all-encompassing shroud of the fog.



CHAPTER IV


That shroud was whiter and more encompassing than ever as she made her
way back to the cabin. Its effect upon her was not, however, now to
excite, but to deaden and subdue. The long struggle with Murdough; the
failure of her appeal to him; her own, even to herself, unexpected and
unaccountable behaviour at the end of their meeting; the dismay with
which he had received that behaviour; all these had combined to produce
a reaction. She felt thoroughly beaten down now, thoroughly sobered and
ashamed. No one on Inishmaan, no girl, possibly anywhere, had ever
behaved in such a manner before, no one certainly within the range of
her experience had ever been so lost to all propriety and decency. A
sense of being a sort of pariah was strong upon her as she crept back
with difficulty over the fog-filled fissures, and stole noiselessly into
the cabin, wishing only to hide herself there from all eyes. Her new
self-mistrust even went so far as to include a belief that her
impression about Honor’s danger had probably been quite wrong, that she
would prove to be no worse than usual, and that it would therefore do
perfectly well to think about getting the priest for her in the morning
when the fog should have dispersed. That, as Murdough said, was the
decent thing to do, and no doubt Honor would do whatever was most decent
and most proper.

Unfortunately, so valuable a lesson as to the advantages of being always
perfectly decent and reasonable was not destined to be enforced that
evening. On the contrary, Grania had no sooner opened the cabin door,
and cast her eyes upon the bed, than she saw that a great change for the
worse had taken place during her absence. Honor was sitting upright,
propped by every movable thing in the house--propped, too, by Molly
Muldoon’s willing arms--but panting, white, and exhausted, apparently
all but gone, so nearly gone, indeed, that it seemed to Grania, as she
stood there upon the threshold, that each of these hardly-won breaths
must be the last, that the end had positively come. She caught her own
breath and sank instinctively upon her knees with a feeling of the
imminence of that end.

But Honor had seen her. For a moment a gleam of intense hope lit up her
face. She looked behind her eagerly towards the door, expecting
evidently to see a black figure following her, that figure for whose
coming her whole soul had for hours back been going out in an agony of
petition, for whose coming she was struggling so desperately to keep
alive. There was no black figure following, however, and after a minute
a new look, first of intense disappointment, then of an agonised effort
at submission, came into her face, and she beckoned her sister over to
her, speaking in a low gasping whisper.

‘Arrah, Grania child, don’t be destroying yourself ... breaking the
heart in your body with trying to do what you ... can’t do. Sure ’tis
killing yourself I see you are! The fog ... yes, I know ... Molly
Muldoon told me! Arrah, can’t I see with my own eyes how the house is
filled with it ... in at all the cracks and down the chimney! Saints in
glory, ’tis terrible wicked-looking weather, and how could Father Tom
come out such an evening if you did get to ... Aranmore itself?’ She
paused, breathless and panting. ‘The Holy Mother will stand between me
and ... and all harm,’ she then whispered painfully. ‘She’ll know it
wasn’t my ... fault. She’ll know ’twas the fog ... and the men afeard
... as ... who could blame them? She’ll speak the word for me ... I know
she will ... she’ll ... speak ... the ... word for me.’

Again she paused. Suddenly her eyes turned upon Grania.

‘Arrah, my bird, don’t be fretting yourself,’ she murmured tenderly.
‘Don’t I know you would have got him for me if you could?’ Then, with
another great effort, ‘Take heart, my bird, take heart; ’tisn’t long
I’ll be in it, you know, to be disappointed, and whether or not--sure I
can bear it, honey sweet; I can bear it, I tell you; bear it ... easy.’

But a fresh impulse had now seized hold of Grania. Her momentary apathy
was gone. A new determination was setting her eyes ablaze.

‘You _shall_ have him, Honor, and he _shall_ come to you, if I have to
bring him swimming through the water after me, so he shall,’ she
exclaimed fiercely. ‘Don’t be afraid, dear; keep up your poor heart a
little, a very little longer, sister darling, and he’ll be with you.’

She kissed her hastily, and dashed out of the door again, turning this
time in the direction of the O’Shaughnessys’ cabin. Maybe Teige would be
back, after all. Most probably, almost certainly, he would be back by
this time. Anyhow, with Teige or without Teige, to Aranmore and to
Father Tom that night somehow or other she would get.



CHAPTER V


She hurried desperately on over the flagging, heedless of the cracks,
but keeping always upon the same level which must in time, she knew,
bring her to the shore exactly opposite the O’Shaughnessys’ cabin. The
fog was too thick now to dream of keeping to any path, but the levels on
Inishmaan are always the same, so that by following any one of them you
are sure to reach a given point sooner or later. From time to time she
came to some unusually wide fissure, and had to scramble across as best
she could, the edges feeling like ice under her feet, or like some sort
of half-melted substance, such as wax or spermaceti. The short thick
thorn bushes growing out of the rocks brushed her ankles, and now and
then she found herself suddenly out upon the cliff-like edge of the
step, and had to work her way back to where the terrace broadened, and
the walking was comparatively safe.

At last she knew by the general look and touch of the rocks that she
must be getting close to the narrow tongue of land which led to the
smaller islet. This was the most dangerous part of the way, and she
stood still a moment, therefore, to make sure of her bearings, before
clambering down to the shore and thence on to the tongue of land.

The fog was absolutely impervious now. It was impossible to see more
than a few inches ahead. Every now and then a puff of wind would come
and partially clear it for a moment, when the whirling vapour would give
her the sense of being surrounded by smoke, so wildly did it fly around
her. Then all would close up again, and a sense of suffocation encompass
her, through which colder breaths blew fitfully, coming from where rain
pools lay amongst the rocks, or where some draught, caught from the sea
and entangled in the surf, rose to the upper levels.

Making her way cautiously to the edge of the step, she let herself drop
on to the next below. She was now upon the second of the eight steps or
platforms of which Inishmaan consists, and there was therefore only one
more between her and high-water mark. This one, however, was much more
broken and littered with fallen blocks than the upper ones, so that it
took her a long time to cross it and longer still to make sure of where
she was. At last she got to the edge, and having scrambled down, not
without several slips, from not knowing where to set her feet, she
reached the bottom, and was thus upon the actual shore at last.

The tide, she calculated, was by this time half-way in, so that it was
necessary to make haste in order to secure Teige, and bring him back to
where the curragh was kept. The tongue of rock, at all times narrow and
slippery, was to-day all but impassable. Twice she fell, and found
herself clinging by her hands to the weed-covered top, her feet and
nearly her whole body dangling over the edge, where there was no
foothold whatever, and where she could just discern the hungry greenish
swell rising noiselessly up, up, up, rising stealthily, as if determined
to catch her unawares.

Almost upon hands and knees she succeeded in reaching the other side,
and clambered up the final bit of track which led to the cabin. It was
so squat and so low that had the island been much larger it would have
been easy to miss it altogether. As she came near, it looked more like
some shaggy old beast crouched there in the hollow than a house. No
light showed upon the side facing her, but when she reached the door she
could see a pale pink splinter, evidently of firelight, stealing out
from below. She knocked twice loudly, her heart beating; hoping, praying
that Teige himself would come to the door and open to her. No one came
near the door, however, although she could hear someone moving to and
fro inside, someone who was evidently quite unaware of that clamorous
appeal so close at hand. Grania’s heart sank, for it was clear now that
Teige was still from home, and only deaf-and-dumb Biddy left in charge,
who would not only be utterly useless herself, but would probably not
even be able to tell her where Teige was likely to be found.

She lifted the latch of the door. It opened easily, and she went in. The
old woman had her back turned, and did not therefore at first perceive
her entrance. It was fairly clear inside, showing that the door had not
been opened since the fog had grown so thick. Grania stood for a moment
upon the threshold, blinking at the firelight, which seemed painfully
hot and red after that unnatural white world she had left outside.

Biddy, dressed as usual from head to heels in red flannel, and still
utterly unconscious of anyone’s entrance, seemed to be engaged in
chasing something or somebody round the cabin, uttering queer,
inarticulate cries under her breath as she did so. Now she would make a
dart at some object, seated apparently on a beam above the hearth, next,
seizing the corner of her petticoat, she would turn and flap vigorously
behind her, as if she were being followed and pulled by someone at once
very small and very persistent, giving utterance as she did so to
scolding or remonstrating sounds, such as a nurse might use to some
unusually troublesome child.

So odd was the old creature’s behaviour, so utterly unexplained by
anything in sight--for not even a cat or a chicken was in the
cabin--that Grania, for all her haste, stood still a moment, staring at
her as she hopped from side to side of the narrow space. She had seen
Biddy behave queerly before, but never quite so queerly as this.
Suddenly her reputed powers of seeing and holding communication with the
_sidh_ came into her mind, and a chill sensation shot over her. Was
there _really_ something in the cabin that she could not see? And if so,
whereabouts was it, and what was it like? Biddy, meanwhile, in one of
her turnings, had caught sight of her visitor standing ghost-like by
the door, and uttered a sudden scream, the odd, discordant,
hardly-human scream of the deaf and dumb. Grania thereupon stepped
forward to explain her errand, the old woman, after a moment’s stare of
unrecognition, beginning to nod and duck as she perceived who her
visitor was. The girl looked hastily round for something of Teige’s, so
as to explain whom she was in search of. She could see nothing but a
battered high hat hanging to a hook in the wall which had formerly
belonged to dumb Denny, but which his nephew sometimes wore when he went
to Aranmore to chapel. This hat she took down, and held towards the old
woman with an interrogative gesture, pointing at the same time towards
the door.

Whether she was understood or not it was not easy to tell. In any case,
Biddy’s information was not of any very detailed or available character.
Dropping down upon the stool which stood beside the hearth, and
throwing her withered arms over her head, she uttered a wild cry,
something between a croak and a scream, which was intended to mean
‘Gone! Gone!’ an ejaculation she had often made use of since her brother
died, and which apparently conveyed to her mind all that sense of
departure, of loneliness, and of desertion which we articulate people
employ so many, and often such inadequate, words to convey.

Evidently it was useless to hope for further information, so Grania
turned to go. Upon opening the door a solid, white wall of fog rose in
front of her, one in which every detail was lost, and which it needed
some little resolution to penetrate, so opaque and impervious looking
was it. Turning for an instant before the fog again swallowed her up,
she saw that old Biddy had already forgotten her visit. With eyes fixed
upon a spot a little way above her head, she had risen from her stool
and was stealthily approaching that spot, evidently with the intention
of pouncing upon whoever was seated there before he or she could hope to
perceive her approach and make off. Against the dim background of the
cabin the single red fantastic figure lit by the firelight made a
curiously vivid dot of colour, which seemed to hang for several minutes
before Grania’s eyes as she pursued her way across the fog-filled
fissures.



CHAPTER VI


The disappointment had no effect whatever upon her determination of
somehow or other getting to Father Tom that night. There was no one else
upon Inishmaan whom she could appeal to with any hope of success, and
therefore she did not think of appealing to anyone else. She would go by
herself, and she would go at once. Her course was now at least a simple
one.

She had to return in the first instance to their own cabin to get out a
pair of old oars which hung in the cow-house, but she did not intend to
see Honor again, certainly not to let Honor see her. The bare thought
of, for a second time that evening, meeting the look of mute dismay
which had met her after her first unsuccessful quest went through her
like a knife. Anything would be better, she felt, than to see that
again; anything, anything.

She stole accordingly to the cow-house like a thief, and, having got
down the oars, started again for the landing-place. Moonyeen turned her
spotted head and lowed reproachfully, which brought her back at once to
see if there was enough for her to eat, and she hastily shook down a
couple of armfuls of weedy grass, cut a few days before in the clefts,
and left it near her. That would do till the morning. It was all the cut
grass she had by her. To-morrow she must not forget to go and cut some
more, she reflected as she did so.

For the second time she had got as far as the old boulder, and for the
second time she paused and looked back. Though only a few yards away
the cabin was already invisible; the fog making it a mere blur, like
some phantom cabin seen in a dream. A sudden intense yearning came over
Grania to see the inside of it once again, and a yet greater yearning
for one, only one more sight of Honor’s face. She _must_ see that, she
felt; she could not and would not go out into that big hungry sea--to
disappear, perhaps, and be lost for ever by herself in the fog--without
at least once again peeping at Honor as she slept.

She stole back accordingly and looked in. Molly Muldoon, crouched up
into a shapeless blue heap by the bed, was already nodding drowsily, a
few inches of puckered forehead, the top of a religiously white cap, the
only portions of her distinguishable. Whether Honor slept or not it was
impossible to say. Her eyelids were down, and the white face below them
might have been a dead woman’s face. There was a slight heaving under
the sheet, that was all.

Grania stood there and gazed. Her eyes seemed rooted to that narrow
square of brown wall and that white face in the dimmest corner of it.
Both belonged to her as nothing else in this whole wide world belonged
or ever could belong. She must not delay, however, she knew. Time was
slipping on; what little light was left was rapidly going. She stole out
noiselessly, and the cabin door shut remorselessly behind her. Reaching
the big boulder, she again picked up the oars which she had left there,
laid them across her shoulders, and turned hurriedly down the track.

It was easy enough to find the way as long as she was in the gully, for
there was no turning there to the right or to the left. Beyond it,
however, everything--track, rocks, and fog-filled air--looked exactly
alike. The oars too prevented her feeling her way as before with her
hands, and it was not for a long time and until after many stumbles that
she at last reached the small semicircular sweep of sand upon which the
curragh was kept.

Just as she did so something bounced suddenly against her foot, making
her start violently and spring backwards. She had once or twice heard an
odd pattering noise behind her on her way downhill, but everything
seemed odd and unaccountable that evening, so that she had given no
particular heed to it. Now she looked down panic-stricken, a prey to
terror, all the fears awakened by Biddy O’Shaughnessy’s proceedings
astir again, and leaping within her. It was not until she had dropped
one of the oars, and that a violent mew of pain had come up from the
ground at her feet, that she discovered that the object was nothing more
terrifying than their own yellow cat. What had induced the creature,
which never by any chance left the cabin, which had never followed her
in its life, or shown her the smallest sign of affection, which was
notoriously a mere mass of greed and self-indulgence, to select that
particular evening for following her all this way, coming down to the
shore, which, like most of its race, it detested, is not easy to
explain. Grania, at all events, made no attempt to explain it. She
stooped hastily to pick up the oar, and as she did so stroked the
creature’s back, a vague feeling of comfort coming to her from its
presence. Her solitude did not seem to be quite so solitary now that
something belonging to them was with her, even if it was only their own
ill-tempered yellow cat. There was no response to her caress beyond that
the cat did not, as usual, show any inclination to scratch in return,
merely sidled noiselessly past her, and then ran a few paces ahead, its
brilliant tail lifted high in air as if to show the way.

As the event proved, Grania was destined to have another, if not a much
more efficient, auxiliary. When she had found the curragh, a matter
which, small as the space was, took her some time, she began at once to
push it towards the sea. A ridge of sand or up-sticking point of rock
just in front caught it and delayed her, and she went forward to try and
clear it away. She was bending down upon her hands and knees, trying to
find out its exact position and size, when as she raised her face she
suddenly found herself confronted with another face nearly upon the same
level as her own--a ghostly face, with great, widely-staring
eyes--gazing straight at her through a foot or two of fog.

Again her fears sprang up, and again they were allayed, this time as the
familiar small features and big pale blue eyes of little Phelim Daly
gradually became defined, the boy sidling silently up to her as if for
protection, and then, like the cat, trotting silently on a step or two
in advance, and turning round as though to watch whether she were
following.

She asked him what had happened? Where he had been all day? Why, when
Murdough wouldn’t come, he hadn’t tried to find Teige? What his father
had done to him? Whether he had beaten him; and how in the end he had
managed to escape and to find her out? He made no answer, however, to
any of these questions, beyond turning and again fixing his strange blue
eyes upon her with a wistful, far-away look; a look full of doubt; one
which seemed to ask her in his turn what was the matter; what they were
both doing down there upon such a night; why they were out at all; what
it all meant? It was an even less responsible, and more far-away look
than his usually were, and seemed to suggest that something had
happened in the course of the day yet further to disturb and unsettle
his always more or less distraught wits.

There was no time to press the matter, and she turned, therefore, to
renew her efforts to get the boat to sea, going behind it and pushing as
hard as she could. Suddenly the impediment, whatever it was, gave way;
the curragh slid rapidly forward; its black bow splashed into the
invisible water. Another push from behind, and it was afloat.

While she was still pushing it, before it was yet wholly afloat, and
before she had even made up her mind whether she was going to take
Phelim with her or not, the yellow cat had run on ahead, and had sprung
into the boat with an air of decision. This seemed to settle the matter,
and they all got in together; an odd boatload surely! At the very last
moment one of the crew, however, changed its mind. Perhaps it was
Phelim’s presence, for whom it had always shown a particular aversion;
perhaps it was the rocking of the boat as Grania pushed her oar against
the sand. Anyhow, with a sudden demoniac mew of fury, the yellow cat
sprang up again; darted frantically, like a thing possessed, from side
to side, up and down the thwarts, one after the other; then up the
stern, availing itself of Phelim, who sat there, as a bridge, and,
scratching his bare legs viciously as it did so, sprang to the shore
again and raced frantically away up the spit of sand, its yellow tail
flaring for a second like a small meteor before it vanished into the
darkness.

Phelim uttered a cry of dismay, and sprang up as if he also were about
to escape. Grania, however, called to him to stay still; then, as the
only use she could put him to, desired him to go to the other end of the
boat and look out carefully, and if he saw anything ahead of them, no
matter what, except water and fog, to call to her at once.

Apparently he understood, for he nodded twice, going over and squatting
down in his usual frog-like fashion at the bow, holding on there to the
two sides, as he peered into the foot or so of air and water, which was
all that was visible ahead of them. She meanwhile had settled steadily
down to the task of rowing. It was exactly like trying to row blindfold,
but she knew so well every inch of the way, every rock, shoal, and
sandbank, and had so often gone along it in the dark, as well as the
light, that it seemed hardly possible to her that she could go far
wrong.

The first notice from her watcher at the bow came, however, before they
had even got clear of their own island. She thought she was upon the
usual track, quite away from the dangerous rocks of Portacurra, the
furthermost point to westward--that she was even allowing more space
than was usual or necessary--when all at once a cry from Phelim startled
her, and she stopped rowing.

Looking behind she at first saw nothing but the black beak-like bow of
the boat, and the boy’s figure huddled beside it, everything else being
a mere blur, but as far as she could make out clear. She thought that he
had simply made a mistake, but with another long-drawn cry he turned and
pointed downwards towards the water. Leaning forward and looking closer,
she then saw, to her surprise, that it was quite true. Greenish points
were rising dimly in every direction, some of them within an inch or two
of the surface, and beyond these again were other and larger masses,
formless as the very fog itself, but which could be nothing but rocks,
the barnacle-coated knife-edged rocks of Portacurra, a touch from one
of which would tear a hole in the curragh’s canvas sides and sink it
like a stone.

Backing cautiously, she managed to escape without any contact. Only just
in time, however; another stroke of the oars, two seconds’ more delay,
and Phelim’s warning would have come too late.

They were now out in Gregory’s Sound, and the only serious danger
therefore was of missing the great island altogether, and rowing
straight away into the Atlantic.

After so bad a start Grania had lost confidence in her own powers of
finding the way. There was nothing to be done, however, but to row
steadily on, and, above all, to avoid turning the boat round. She shut
her eyes accordingly, as the safest way of avoiding this, and rowed her
hardest, every muscle in her body bound and strung to the task. If she
missed the right way past Illaunalee, over the bar and so into Killeany
Bay, she was resolved to run ashore anywhere, no matter where, and,
leaving the curragh to its fate, push on with Phelim to Father Tom’s
house, and trust to getting the loan of another curragh to bring them
back to Inishmaan.

Half an hour passed thus, and then an hour. Overhead, the white curtain
was thicker than ever; yet it seemed to her that it was a little lighter
now than it had been when they were starting, showing that it was less
the time of day than the sheer density of the fog that had made it so
impossible to see upon their own island. On and on she rowed; still on
and on, always on and on. Already it appeared to her that she had been
rowing quite long enough to have crossed Gregory’s Sound, here little
more than a mile wide, and she hoped, therefore, that she had got upon
the right track, and would soon be passing the straggling line of
sandbanks which surround Illaunalee. Odd-looking vortexes and currents
were visible now in the dimness overhead; mysterious maelstroms, gazing
up, instead of down, into which, the careering fragments might be seen
circling round and round; breaking capriciously off, joining together
again, gathering into interlaced patterns, sweeping up and down,
expanding, converging; all this movement going on along the edge of a
sort of pit, scooped as it were out of the very air itself. Suddenly,
while she was looking at it, the whole thing would close up, and a new
vortex or funnel break out in an altogether different place.

Grania was beginning to get drowsy over her task, what with the weight
of the air and with the pressure of her own troubled thoughts. Her
drowsiness did not perceptibly slacken the activity of her muscles, but
she rowed more and more mechanically, the rhythm of her own movements
seeming to produce a dream-like effect upon her brain. Thoughts, or
rather dreams, of Honor visited her from time to time, thoughts, too, or
dreams, of Murdough, both equally broken, confused, fragmentary. As far
as her own sensations went, she might have been rowing there the whole
live-long night, so benumbing and sleep-like was that torpor. How long
she really had been rowing she could not in the least have told, but her
thoughts or her dreams were suddenly cut short--cut into as it were--by
another wild cry from Phelim. This time it was much more than a cry, it
was an actual scream; a shrill, discordant screech, such as some animals
give when they are in the intensest throes of terror. Grania on her side
started violently, and turned round. The boy, she found, had leaped up
from his seat, and was standing at his full height, waving his thin arms
frantically in the air, calling to her, and pointing directly above his
head, with gesticulations violent enough to all but swamp the frail
craft they were in. Another moment and it seemed as if he would leap
clean overboard from sheer panic.

Looking up she, too, saw what he had seen, and was almost equally
startled. Apparently immediately above them, in reality a little way
ahead, one of those same aërial funnels had just opened, and within the
comparatively clear space of its air-filled hollow could be seen, not
merely the careering particles of fog circling round and round, but
something else, something that did not circle or move at all, a few
inches of wind-tattered grass, a few inches more of bare splintered
rock. There they hung, apparently in mid-air, their beginnings and
endings alike invisible, but this much clearly discernible, a startling
vision in itself, and a plain proof, moreover, that they were not
approaching Illaunalee, or anywhere even remotely near it.

Where were they? Grania asked herself in dismay. Were they moving along
the base of the south side of Aranmore, where the cliffs rise constantly
higher till they are crowned at last by Dun Aengus, or had she passed
the mouth of Killeany Bay altogether, and were they edging therefore
along the lower and more broken cliffs upon the north side of the
island? She did not know; she could not even remotely guess!

In any case the only thing to be done was to get away once more into
open water, and with a rapid movement of the oars she accordingly backed
the curragh, forgetting for the moment little Phelim, who, staggering
helplessly, fell violently forward, only just saving himself by
clutching with both hands at the side of the boat, where he hung for a
while, head downwards, doubled in two, his shoulders and the front part
of his body all but touching the water.

It seemed to be the last straw needed to overset his already shattered
nerves and panic-stricken wits! From that moment he evidently gave
himself up for lost. Gathering himself back by degrees to his former
place he began to whimper and cry aloud, rubbing his hands up and down
his poor starved legs, moaning over their bruises and talking rapidly
and incoherently, now to himself, now to the sea, or to the planks in
front of him. Once in the middle of these moanings and mutterings he
suddenly looked up and uttered another prolonged screech of terror,
whereupon Grania stopped abruptly in her rowing and looked round. This
time, however, he had screamed at nothing. He was incapable, in fact, of
serving any longer as watcher. Reality and unreality had become one to
him. Like some utterly fear-maddened animal he continued to moan and
whimper helplessly, gazing out into the fog-filled space in front of
him, but not seeing anything, even if there happened to be anything
there to see; his big, prominent blue eyes staring blankly, and as blind
eyes stare, over the edge of the curragh as it floated on and on, under
the invisible but always near presence of the great cliffs; on and on;
yes, but where to? to what goal? towards what sort of a landing-place?
Neither of them knew; she very little more than he.



CHAPTER VII


For Grania had by this time utterly lost count of her bearings. To
hinder the curragh from turning round, to hinder it from running upon
the rocks, and so getting immediately swamped, was all that she could
attempt to do. She paddled along slowly, therefore, trying from time to
time to make out where she was, but always, as she knew, failing
utterly; failing to the point of not even knowing whether she was at
that moment facing the mouth of Killeany Bay or turning her back upon
it.

That last point soon decided itself, for the cliffs were evidently
getting steeper. Despite, too, the dead calm, unruffled by even so much
as a breath, despite the leaden shroud which pressed down everywhere
upon the water, low thuds made themselves audible from time to time, as
the slow, sulky swell rolled in to the shore, impeded, apparently, by
the thick, lifeless air, yet reaching it in the end, and sinking down in
a succession of slow, monotonous washes. From the general look of the
water around, it began to be clear to Grania that they must by this time
have got amongst some of the outlying reefs, for there were rocks now to
right of them, as well as to left. The tide, too, was running swiftly,
and kept drawing them insensibly shorewards. Twice she caught a glimpse
of a pale green monster only just in time to avoid running full upon it.
Ought she to go on, or ought she to stop? Ought she to try to turn
round? or what ought she to do? she asked herself.

The question was soon settled. Suddenly, without the slightest warning
from Phelim, without a hint of any kind from without, there came a
startling crash. Another and another followed. Then came a worse sound,
the sickening sound of ripping and tearing; the sharp ripping of tarred
canvas. This time they were full upon a rock, which had pierced them
through and through, as a pin might pierce a child’s balloon. In another
moment, it is true, they were afloat again, but it was too late. Water
was now pouring in wildly through a hole in the side. Already the bottom
of the boat was half full. In the first impulse of the moment Grania had
snatched up her flannel petticoat and stuffed it into the hole, holding
it there with both hands as she felt the pressure growing greater and
greater. It was like trying, however, to stop the course of a
river--hopeless to absurdity. To get out somewhere, no matter where; to
reach the shore if possible; if not, to reach some rock; to get the boy,
at any rate, out, was the only thing to be attempted.

She looked wildly round, straining her eyes distractedly through the
impenetrable, blinding whiteness. Presently another pale green monster
loomed slowly up--part of the same rock, possibly, they had already
struck upon, possibly of another. In any case it was flat on the top,
and fairly easy, apparently, to scramble on to; rose, too, as far as she
could make out, above the high-water line; nay, might even be joined by
other rocks to the base of the cliffs. It was a hopeless-looking chance
of escape, still it was the only one that offered itself, and
accordingly she drove the boat full against the side of the rock,
calling out loudly as she did so to Phelim to jump out and climb up it.

Roused by her tone of command the boy obeyed, apparently without knowing
why, clambered over the side of the boat, caught at the rock, clutching
hold of the seaweed which fringed it, and hanging there for a minute or
two as a small sloth might hang to the bough of a tree. At the same
moment the other end of the curragh, already half full of water, was
jerked lower still by the movement, and the displacement, slight as it
was, of his weight, and sank deeply in the sea, and in so doing was
pushed several feet farther from the rock.

Seeing the boy clear, and knowing that in another few minutes the boat
must in any case fill, Grania took her hands away from the hole, through
which the water instantly spurted upwards in a solid gush. Summoning all
her strength, she, too, made a great effort to try and attain the rock,
upon the side of which Phelim was now crouched, but the already nearly
submerged curragh gave her a poor foothold to spring from, and she
missed it by a foot or more, and sank immediately into deep water.

The tide was running fast; there was no other landing-place of any kind;
nothing to climb upon; nothing to catch hold of. There were rocks in
plenty around her, but they were most of them inches deep in water, a
stray, glimmering, point appearing from time to time, like a ghost, and
then vanishing again. She was caught, too, like a straw in the grip of
that slow, seemingly gentle swell, which swept her hither and thither,
now a little nearer to the rock, now impossibly, hopelessly, far away
from it again. Clearly unless help came, the end would not be very long
delayed.

Roused by the splash and by the sharp ringing cry she had uttered as she
fell, Phelim half turned round, then climbed a little higher up, helping
himself by the seaweeds, until he reached the top, which was quite grey
and dry. Here, getting upon his hands and knees, he stared down into the
waste of water below him, and at the struggle going on within it. He was
evidently incapable of anything further, however. Mind and body were
alike paralysed--alike unable to respond to any call from without. He
scarcely seemed to know what was occurring, retaining only by sheer
unreasoning instinct his grip upon the foothold he had secured. What dim
ideas travelled through his brain as he lay crouching there it is
impossible to say, but as far as help went, any of the gulls swooping
overhead, any of the seaweed-covered spider-legged crabs scuttling in
and out of the crannies below him, were of as much avail as he.

Either Grania knew this or she may have even forgotten his presence, for
she made no effort to induce him to come to her aid. She was too young,
however, and too vigorous, to surrender the contest without at least a
struggle for her life. Twice she neared the rock, striking out bravely
through the water, though she was unable to swim, and twice the current
pulled her back again, sweeping her farther and farther towards the open
sea, but so lightly, so buoyantly, as it were playfully, toying
capriciously with her as a child or a young animal plays with something
that it has taken a fancy to. It was an unequal game though. Her
strength was going fast, the water was very cold, although the night was
warm. Five minutes more, nay three, nay two, and the struggle would be
at an end.

Huddled like a frog, his knees and chin almost touching each other,
Phelim Daly lay upon the rock and watched her dully, sick, despairing
apathy written upon every line of his small white face, his big, always
unnaturally prominent, eyes staring down with hardly a trace of
comprehension or intelligence in them. Again Grania struggled forward,
and again the capricious water washed her a trifle nearer to the rock,
and to comparative safety--washed her once almost within touch of it.
Her face, with its clinging masses of black hair, had grown very white
now, nearly as white as that of the boy gazing vacantly down at her from
only a few feet above her head. With a sudden effort, a sudden
concentration of despair and of hopelessness, she again uttered a cry
for help; a wild, ringing cry which rang out far and wide through the
silence, away out into the big, lonely Atlantic, flinging her hands at
the same time over her head, her straining eyes gazing round and round
with the agonising, longing stare of desperation. Was no one coming to
her help, then? No one? _no one?_

‘Murdough!’ she cried. Then, after a pause, ‘Murdough ... ’tis drowning
I am! For God’s sake, come to me! Murdough! Murdough!’

But there was no Murdough. There was no response of any sort, no help or
hint or suggestion of help. There was only the swaying water; only the
dimly-seen foam-streaked surface; only the white, closely-enveloping
shroud of fog; only Phelim’s small face peering helplessly over the
rock; so few feet away in reality, such miles and miles for any
practical purpose.

The tide was running out now, and it took her along with it, but so
slowly, so insensibly, that it was the faintest, most barely perceptible
movement. The silence everywhere was extraordinary. The sea under its
close-fitting shroud seemed as absolutely unruffled as the basin of some
indoors fountain. Not a ripple anywhere; only that same slow internal
movement, a movement hardly to be perceived upon the surface; only the
gradual undertow of the tide drawing everything stealthily in one
direction. Sea, sky, land, water, everything seemed alike to be lapped
in the drowsiest, the most complete and immovable repose. Sleep seemed
everywhere to be the order of the hour, to have taken possession of all
things. The very atoms of seaweed as they floated along appeared to
partake and be half conscious of that placidity.

Grania had ceased now to struggle. She was sinking slowly, but she still
kept her head partially above the surface. Had there been the slightest
movement in the water all would have been over before this, but, as it
was, death, too, seemed to linger, to share in the general suspension of
all things, to delay and hover. Suddenly a quantity of brown seaweed,
stirred by the changing tide, swept round the corner of the big rock and
floated down towards her. It was a mass of enormously long laminaria,
grown, not within tide-marks, but out in the deeper, more abysmal
region, as leathery in texture, as solid, and seemingly as sustaining,
as the branch of a forest tree, the thick strands welded together by
years of growth in deep water. It floated up to her, then under her,
half lifting her upon itself as upon a raft, her hands clutching in the
thick oily strands, her whole body sustained and for the moment uplifted
by it.

With this feeling of support from below a new look came into her face;
her eyes opened widely, and she suddenly stretched out her hands.

‘Augh, Murdough! Murdough!’ she murmured deliriously. ‘Didn’t I know
you’d come? Didn’t I know you’d never leave your poor Grania to drown by
herself in the cruel salt sea? Arrah, take me up, then, darling, take me
up! Be quick, dear, and gather me up out of this cold, creeping water!
Augh, but ’tis the strong arms you have, though you would always have it
’twas me was the strongest, you rogue! Hold me closer to you, Murdough
dear; hold me closer, I say; closer! closer still! Augh, Murdough!...
_Murdougheen!_’

And with a movement as if Murdough Blake had indeed come at last to the
rescue, and was lifting her in his arms, she let her head fall back upon
the seaweed, her cheek resting upon it as if upon his shoulder, her eyes
at the same time closing with a long-drawn sigh of satisfaction, and so
resting and so sighing she sank slowly, insensibly, and without a
struggle into the great folds of the laminaria, which, after supporting
her in that position for perhaps a minute, began gently to loosen its
long sashlike strands, floating presently away by degrees over the
hardly undulating surface, returning again and again, and sweeping
back, though in a less compact mass, now under, now over, now round her,
the great brown ribbons swaying in easy serpentine curves about the
floating form, the two getting to be hardly distinguishable in the
all-pervading dreaminess, a dreaminess of which the very fog itself
seemed to be but a part; a dream too deep and apparently too
satisfactory to be ever again disturbed or broken in upon by anything
from without.

       *       *       *       *       *

Six or seven hours later the first fishermen astir upon Aranmore,
chancing to go out upon the cliff, saw little Phelim Daly still crouched
upon the same rock; still staring down with the same terrified,
widely-opened eyes into the waste of waters below him. He was promptly
rescued, and carried to the nearest cabin, where, when his wits had
partially thawed, his errand was either extracted from him, or possibly
was guessed without being extracted; in any case, Father Tom was shortly
afterwards summoned, and within an hour was on his way to Inishmaan,
through the still thick, but by this time penetrable fog, to visit the
dying woman.

He was in time. Honor was still alive and perfectly conscious of his
coming. Her sunken eyes lit with delight, and her hands clasped one
another rapturously as the black figure entered the cabin door. She
looked eagerly behind it for Grania, having been told by old Molly that
she had gone herself to Aranmore to fetch him, but when it was explained
to her that Grania had stopped to rest at Kilronan she was satisfied,
and asked no more. Once again she looked round the cabin questioningly,
evidently perplexed and disappointed, when the preparations had all been
made, and everything was ready for the last rites, and still there was
no Grania to share them with her. That the sister who had never left
her, never once in all those weary days and nights, should have left her
now; should have deserted her in this extremity; left her to pass alone
through the last dark gate, without her hand to hold by, her face to
look to, her shoulder to lean on, must have seemed very strange to
her--very strange, no doubt, and very unaccountable. She did not utter
any complaints about it, however. She had been too patient all her life
to be impatient now. If it was mysterious, why, everything else for that
matter was mysterious too. The Familiar was receding, the Unfamiliar
approaching fast, coming nearer and nearer every moment. After her long
probation, after her tedious waiting, she was at last upon the verge of
that looked-for, that intensely-desired country; a country which, if to
most of us it seems but a dream within a dream, a floating mirage, a
phantom made up of love and faith, of hope and of yearning
desire--unthinkable, untenable, all but impossible--was to Honor, and is
to such as Honor, no phantom, no mirage, but the soberest and solidest
of solid realities; the thing for which they live, the hope for which
they die. Real or unreal, fact or fancy, it was coming rapidly towards
her now. She was floating towards it as fast as ever she could float;
hurrying breathlessly, as a stream hurries when it nears the sea. Long
before the fog had completely melted away, long before ordinary
matter-of-fact daylight had returned to Inishmaan, her journey thither
was accomplished. Already, even while the priest stood beside her, while
the prayers she had so longed for, those prayers which Grania had died
to obtain for her, were being uttered, she was drifting across its
borderland; already its sounds rather than his voice, rather than any
earthly voices, were in her ears; already her foot was upon its
threshold. And upon that threshold, perhaps--who knows?--who can
tell?--they met.


                               THE END.

                              PRINTED BY
                SPOTTISWOODE AND CO., NEW-STREET SQUARE
                                LONDON





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