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Title: Grania, The Story of an Island; vol. 1/2
Author: Lawless, Emily
Language: English
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                                VOL. I.

                         _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

                    [Illustration: ISLANDS OF ARAN

                             GALWAY BAY.]


                        THE STORY OF AN ISLAND

                                BY THE
                          HON. EMILY LAWLESS

                     AUTHOR OF ‘HURRISH, A STUDY’

                            IN TWO VOLUMES

                                VOL. I.

                SMITH, ELDER, & CO., 15 WATERLOO PLACE

                        [_All rights reserved_]


                               To M. C.

This story was always intended to be dedicated to you. It could hardly,
in fact, have been dedicated to anyone else, seeing that it was with you
it was originally planned; you who helped out its meagre scraps of
Gaelic; you with whom was first discussed the possibility of an Irish
story without any Irish brogue in it--that brogue which is a tiresome
necessity always, and might surely be dispensed with, as we both agreed,
in a case where no single actor on the tiny stage is supposed to utter a
word of English. For the rest, they are but melancholy places, these
Aran Isles of ours, as you and I know well, and the following pages have
caught their full share--something, perhaps, more than their full
share--of that gloom. That this is an artistic fault no one can doubt,
yet there are times--are there not?--when it does not seem so very easy
to exaggerate the amount of gloom which life is any day and every day
quite willing to bestow.

Several causes have delayed the little book’s appearance until now, but
here it is, ready at last, and dedicated still to you.

E. L.

_January, 1892_.






A mild September afternoon, thirty years ago, in the middle of Galway

Clouds over the whole expanse of sky, nowhere showing any immediate
disposition to fall as rain, yet nowhere allowing the sky to appear
decidedly, nowhere even becoming themselves decided, keeping everywhere
a broad indefinable wash of greyness, a grey so dim, uniform, and
all-pervasive, that it defied observation, floating and melting away
into a dimly blotted horizon, an horizon which, whether at any given
point to call sea or sky, land or water, it was all but impossible to

Here and there in that wide cloud-covered sweep of sky a sort of break
or window occurred, and through this break or window long shafts of
sunlight fell in a cold and chastened drizzle, now upon the bluish
levels of crestless waves, now upon the bleak untrodden corner of some
portion of the coast of Clare, tilted perpendicularly upwards; now
perhaps again upon that low line of islands which breaks the outermost
curve of the bay of Galway, and beyond which is nothing, nothing, that
is to say, but the Atlantic, a region which, despite the ploughing of
innumerable keels, is still given up by the dwellers of those islands to
a mystic condition of things unknown to geographers, but too deeply
rooted in their consciousness to yield to any mere reports from

One of these momentary shafts of light had just caught in its passage
upon the sails of a fishing smack or hooker, Con O’Malley’s hooker, from
the middle isle of Aran. It was an old, battered, much-enduring sail of
indeterminate hue, inclining to coffee colour, and patched towards the
top with a large patch of a different shade and much newer material. The
hooker itself was old, too, and patched, but still seaworthy, and, as
the only hooker at that time belonging to the islands, a source, as all
Inishmaan knew, of unspeakable pride and satisfaction to its owner.

At present its only occupants were Con himself and his little
eleven-year-old daughter, Grania. There was, however, a smaller boat
belonging to it a few yards away, which had been detached a short while
before for the convenience of fishing. The occupants of this smaller
boat were two also, a lad of about fourteen, well grown, light haired,
fairly well to do, despite the raggedness of his clothes, which in
Ireland is no especial test of poverty. The other was a man of about
twenty-eight or thirty, the raggedness of whose clothes was of the
absolute rather than comparative order. The face, too, above the rags
was rather wilder, more unsettled, more restless than even West
Connaught recognises as customary or becoming. Nay, if you chose to
consider it critically, you might have called it a dangerous face, not
ugly, handsome rather, as far as the features went, and lit by a pair of
eyes so dark as to be almost black, but with a restlessly moving lower
jaw, a quantity of hair raked into a tangled mass over an excessively
low brow, and the eyes themselves were sombre, furtive, menacing--the
eyes of a wolf or other beast of prey--eyes which by moments seemed to
flash upon you like something sinister seen suddenly at dead of night.
Shan Daly, or Shan-à-vehonee--‘Shan the vagabond’--he was commonly
called by his neighbours, and he certainly looked the character.

Even this man’s fashion of fishing had something in it of the same
furtive and predatory character. Fishing, no doubt, is a predatory
pursuit; still, if any predatory pursuit can be said to be legalised or
sanctified, it surely is. Shan Daly’s manner of fishing, however,
carried no biblical suggestions with it. Every time his line neared the
surface with a fish attached, he clutched at it with a sudden clawing
gesture, expressive of fierce, hungry desire, his lips moving, his eyes
glittering, his whole face working. Even when the fish had been cleared
from the line and lay in a scaly heap at the bottom of the boat, his
looks still followed them with the same peculiarly hungry expression.
Watching him at such a moment you would hardly have been surprised had
you seen him suddenly begin to devour them, then and there, scales and
all, as an otter might have done.

For more than an hour the light western breeze which had carried the
hooker so rapidly to Ballyvaughan that morning, with its load of kelp,
had been gradually dying away, until now it was all but gone. Far and
wide, too, not a sign of its revival appeared. Schools of gulls rose and
dipped in circles here and there upon the surface of the water, their
screams, now harsh and ear-piercing, now faint and rendered almost
inaudible by distance. A few other fishing boats lay becalmed at widely
separated points in the broad circumference, and, where the two lines of
coast, converging rapidly towards one another, met at Galway, a big
merchantman was seen slowly moving into harbour in the wake of a small
tug, the trail of whose smoke lay behind it, a long coal-black thread
upon the satiny surface.

Leaning against the taffrail of his vessel, Con O’Malley puffed lazily
at his pipe, and watched the smoke disappearing in thin concentric
circles, his brawny shoulders, already bent, less from age than from an
inveterate habit of slouching and leaning showing massively against that
watery background. Opposite, at the further end of the boat, the little
red-petticoated figure of his daughter sat perched upon the top of a
heap of loose stones, which served for the moment as ballast. The day,
as has been said, was calm, but the Atlantic is never an absolutely
passive object. Every now and then a slow sleepy swell would come and
lift the boat upon its shoulders, up one long green watery slope and
down another, setting the heap of stones rolling and grinding one
against the other. Whenever this happened the little figure upon the
ballast would get temporarily dislodged from its perch, and sent
rolling, now to one side, now to the other, according as the boat moved,
or the loose freight shifted its position. The next moment, however,
with a quick scrambling action, like that of some small marmoset or
squirrel, it would have clambered up again to its former place; its feet
would have wedged themselves securely into a new position against the
stones, the small mouth opening to display a row of white teeth with a
laugh of triumphant glee at its own achievement.

A wild little face, and a wild little figure! Bare-headed, with unkempt
hair tossing in a brown mane over face and neck; a short red flannel
petticoat barely reaching to the knees; another, a whitish one, tied by
the strings cloak-fashion about the shoulders, and tumbling backwards
with every movement. One thing would probably have struck a stranger as
incongruous, and that was the small feet and legs were not, as might
have been expected, bare, but clad in comfortable thick knitted
stockings, with shoes, or rather sandals, of the kind known as
_pampooties_, made of cow’s skin, the hair being left on, the upper
portion sewn together and tied with a wisp of wool in more or less
classical fashion across the two small insteps.

Seen against that indeterminate welter of sea and sky, the little brown
face with its rapidly moving glances, strongly marked brows, vividly
tinted colouring, might have brought southern suggestions to your mind.
Small Italian faces have something of that same outline, that flash,
that vividness of colouring: gipsies too. Could the child by any chance,
you might have asked yourself, be a gipsy? But no: a moment’s
reflection would have told you it was impossible, for there are no
gipsies, never have been any, in Ireland.

Of course, the real explanation would soon have presented itself to your
mind. It lay in that long-unrenewed, but still-to-be-distinguished
streak of Spanish blood, which comes out, generation after generation,
in so many a West Irish face, a legacy from the days when, to all
intents and purposes, yonder little town was a beleaguered fortress,
dependent for daily necessities upon its boats and the shifting caprice
of the seas; the landways between it and the rest of the island being as
impracticable for all ordinary purposes and ordinary travellers as any
similar extent of mid-Africa to-day.

Hours pass unobserved in occupations which are thoroughly congenial to
our temperaments, and it would have been difficult to hit upon one more
congenial to such a temperament as Con O’Malley’s than that in which he
was at that moment engaged. Had wind, sky, and other conditions
continued unchanged, he would in all probability have maintained the
same attitude, smoked his pipe with the same passive enjoyment, watched
the horizon with the same vaguely scrutinising air, till darkness drove
him home to supper and Inishmaan. An interruption, however, came, as
interruptions are apt to come when they are least wanted. The fishing
that afternoon had been unusually good, and for a long time past the two
occupants of the smaller boat had been too busily occupied pulling in
their lines to have time for anything else. It was plain, however, that
strict harmony was not reigning there. Now and then a smothered
ejaculation might have been heard from the elder of the two fishermen
directed against some proceeding on the part of the younger one.
Presently this would die away, and silence again set in, broken only by
the movements of the fishers, the whisper of the water, the far-off
cries of the gulls, and the dull sleepy croak with which the old hooker
responded to the swell, which, lifting it upon its shoulders up one
smooth grey incline, let it drop down again with a stealthy rocking
motion the next moment upon the other.

Suddenly a loud burst of noise broke from the curragh. It was less like
the anger of a human being than like the violent jabbering, the harsh,
inarticulate cries of some infuriated ape. Harsher and harsher, louder
and louder still it grew, till the discord seemed to fill the whole
hitherto peace-enveloped scene; the very gulls wheeling overhead
sweeping away in wider circles as the clamour reached their ears.

Con O’Malley roused himself, lifted his gaze from the horizon, took the
pipe out of his mouth, and, standing erect, flung an angry glance at
the curragh, which was only separated from his own boat by some twenty
or thirty yards of water.

Evidently a furious quarrel was raging there. The two fishermen, a
minute ago, defined, as everything else, large or small, was defined
against that grey, luminous background of water, were now tumbled
together into an indistinguishable heap, rolling, kicking, struggling at
the bottom of the boat. Now a foot or hand, now a head, rose above the
confusion, as one or other of the combatants came uppermost; then the
struggle grew hot and desperate, and the fragile craft rocked from side
to side, but nothing was to be seen of either of them.

Suddenly Shan Daly’s face appeared. It was convulsed with rage; fury and
a sort of wild triumph shone in his black eyes; one skinny arm, from
which the ragged sleeve had fallen back, rose, brown, naked, and
sinewy, over the edge of the boat. He had pinned the boy, Murdough
Blake, down with his left hand, and with the other was now feeling
round, evidently for something to strike him with. Before he could do
so, however, Con O’Malley interfered.

‘_Cred thurt_, Shan Daly? _Cred thurt?_’[1] he exclaimed in loud,
peremptory tones.

There was an instant silence. Shan Daly drew back, showing a very ugly
face--a face spotted green and yellow with passion, teeth gleaming
whitely, rage and the desire of vengeance struggling in every line of
it. He stared at his interlocutor wildly for a minute, as if hardly
realising who he was or what he was being asked, his mouth moving as if
he was about to speak, but not a word escaping from his lips. In the
meantime, the boy had shaken himself free, had got upon his feet, and
now proceeded to explain the cause of the quarrel. His face was red with
the prolonged struggle, his clothes torn, there was a bad bleeding
bruise upon the back of one of his hands, but though he breathed hard,
and was evidently excited, it was with a volubility quite remarkable
under the circumstances that he proceeded to explain the matter in hand.
Shan Daly, he said, had quarrelled with him about the fish. The fish
would roll together whenever the boat moved, so that the two heaps, his
and Shan’s, got mixed. Could he, Murdough Blake, help their rolling? No:
God knew that he could not help it. Yet Shan Daly had sworn to have his
blood if he didn’t keep them apart. How was he to keep them apart? It
was all the fault of the fish themselves! Yes, it was! So it was! He had
done his best to keep them apart, but the fish were slimy and they ran
together. Did he make them slimy? No, he did not! It was God Himself
who had made them slimy. But Shan Daly....

How much longer he would have gone on it is difficult to say, but at
this point his explanations were cut summarily short.

‘_Bedhe hushth, agus tharann sho_,’[2] Con O’Malley said curtly.

The smaller boat was then pushed up to the other and the boy obeyed. No
sooner was he upon the deck of the larger vessel than Con O’Malley
silently descended into the curragh. The two boats were again pushed a
few yards apart, and Murdough Blake found himself left behind upon the


Hardly had the smaller boat pushed away from the larger one and regained
its former place, before the little girl upon the ballast scrambled
hastily down from her perch, mounted the deck, and went up to the boy as
he stood there astonished, furious, red to the roots of his hair with
anger and indignant surprise.

She had been watching the struggle between him and Shan Daly with
breathless interest. She hated Shan with all the hate of her fierce
little heart. She loved Murdough. He was their nearest neighbour, her
playfellow, her big brother--not that they were of any kin to one
another--her hero, after a fashion. She adored him as a small schoolboy
adores a bigger one, and, like that small schoolboy, laid herself open
to be daily and hourly snubbed by the object of her adoration.

‘Is it hurt you are, Murdough? Murdough dheelish, is it hurt you are?
Speak, Murdougheen, speak to me! Did the beast stick you? Speak, I say!’
she asked in quick, eager Irish, pouring out a profusion of those tender
diminutives for which our duller English affords such a meagre and a
poverty-stricken equivalent.

But the boy was too angry, too profoundly insulted by the whole
foregoing scene, especially the end of it, to make any response. He
pushed her from him instead with a quick, angry gesture, and continued
to stare at the sea and the other boat with an air of immeasurable

The little girl did not seem to mind. She kept pressing herself closely
against him for a minute or two longer, with all the loving,
not-to-be-repulsed, pertinacity of an affectionate kitten. Then, finding
that he took no notice of these attentions, she left him, and trotted
back to her former perch, clambering over the big stones with an agility
born of practice, and having dived into a recess hidden away between a
couple of loose boards, presently found what she was in search of, and,
scrambling back, came close up to him and thrust the object silently
into his hands.

It was only a bit of bread, perfectly stale, dry bread, but then it was
baker’s bread, not griddle, and as such accounted a high delicacy upon
Inishmaan, only to be procured when a boat went to the mainland, and
even then only by the more wealthy of its citizens, such as Con
O’Malley, who had a fancy for such exotic dainties, and found an eternal
diet of potatoes and oatmeal porridge, even if varied by a bit of
cabbage and stringy bacon upon Sundays and saints’ days, apt at times to

It seemed as if even this treasured offering would not at first
propitiate the angry boy. He even went so far as to make a gesture with
his hand as if upon the point of flinging it away from him into the sea.
Some internal monitor probably made him refrain from this last act of
desperation, for it was getting late, and a long time since he had eaten
anything. He stood still, however, a picture of sullen irresolution: his
good-looking, blunt-featured, thoroughly Irish face lowering, his
under-lip thrust forward, his hands, one of them with the piece of bread
in it, hanging by his side. A sharper voice than Grania’s came, however,
to arouse him.

‘_Monnum oan d’youl! Monnum oan d’youl!_’[3] Con O’Malley shouted
angrily from the curragh. ‘Go to her helm this minute, ma bouchaleen, or
it will be the worse for you! Is it on to the Inishscattery rocks you’d
have us be driving?’

Murdough Blake started; then, with another angry pout, crossed the deck
of the hooker, and went to take up his place beside the helm, upon the
same spot on which Con O’Malley himself had stood a few minutes before.
The big boat was almost immovable; still, the Atlantic is never exactly
a toy to play with, and it was necessary for some hand to be upon the
helm in case of a sudden capricious change of wind, or unlooked-for
squall arising. Little Grania did not go back to her former place upon
the ballast, but, trotting after him, scrambled nimbly on to the
narrow, almost knife-like edge of the hooker, twisting her small
pampootie-clad feet round a rope, so as to get a better purchase and be
able to balance herself.

The afternoon was closing in quickly now. Clouds had gathered thickly to
northward. The naked stone-strewn country between Spiddal and Cashla,
the wild, almost unvisited, wholly roadless region beyond Greatman’s
Bay, were all lost to sight in dull, purplish-brown shadows. Around the
boat the water, however, was still grey and luminous, and the sky above
it clear, but the distance was filled with racing, hurrying streaks of
darker water; while from time to time sudden flurries of wind broke up
the hitherto perfect reflections.

Usually, when these two companions were alone together, an incessant
chattering went on, or, to be accurate, an incessant monologue; for
Murdough Blake already possessed one of the more distinctive gifts of
his countrymen, and his tongue had a power of building up castles in the
air--castles in which he himself, of course, was chief actor, owner,
lord, general person of importance--castles which would sometimes mount
up, tier above tier, higher and higher, tottering dizzily before the
dazzled eyes of his small companion, till even her admiration, her
capacity for belief, failed to follow them longer.

Neither of them knew a single word of English, for the schoolmaster had
not in those days even casually visited Inishmaan, which is still, at
the moment I write, the most retrograde spot, probably, within the four
seas. The loss was none to them, however, for they were unaware of it.
No one about them spoke English, and had they spoken it, nay, used it
habitually, it would have been less an aid probably than a hindrance to
these architectural glories. To-day, however, Murdough was in no mood to
exhibit any of his usual rhetorical feats. He was thoroughly out of
temper. His vanity had been badly mauled, not so much by Shan Daly’s
attack upon him--for, like everyone in and around Inishmaan, he despised
Shan Daly--as by the fashion in which Con O’Malley had cut short his own
explanations. This had touched it to the quick: and Murdough Blake’s
vanity was already a serious possession, not one to be wounded with
impunity. Con being out of reach, and too high in any case for
reprisals, he paid back his wrongs, as most of us do, in snubs upon the
person nearest at hand. The _tête-à-tête_, therefore, was a silent one.
From time to time the hooker would give a friendly, encouraging croak,
as if to suggest a topic, sloping now a little to the right, now to the
left, as the soft air began to be invaded by fresher currents coming in
from the Atlantic--wild nurse, mother, and grandmother of storms, calm
enough just then, but with the potentiality of, Heaven only knows how
many, unborn tempests for ever and for ever brooding within her restless
old breast.

Occasionally Murdough would take a bite out of the slice of white bread,
but carelessly, and with a nonchalant air, as much as to say that he
would just as soon have been doing anything else. Whenever he did this,
little Grania would watch him from the ledge upon which she had perched
herself, her big dark eyes glistening with satisfaction as the mouthful
disappeared down his throat. Now and then too she would turn for a
moment towards the curragh, and as she did so and as her eye caught
sight of Shan Daly’s slouching figure a gleam of intense rage would
sweep across the little brown face, the soft upper lip wrinkling and
curling expressively as one may see a small dog’s lips curl when it
longs to bite. Ill would it have fared with Shan-à-veehonee or
Shan-à-gaddy (‘Shan the thief)--which was another of his local
names--had her power to punish him been equal to her wish to do so. Her
hates and her loves ranged at present over a ridiculously narrow
compass, but they were not at all ridiculous in their intensity. It was
a small vessel, but there was an astonishing amount of latent heat, of
latent possibilities, alike for good and ill, in it.


On board the curragh, meanwhile, the silence had been equally unbroken.

Con O’Malley did not care about this commonplace hand-line fishing. He
always took a prominent part in the herring fishery, which is the chief
fishing event of the year in Galway Bay, and is carried on on board of
the hookers, upon the decks of which a small windlass is generally
rigged up by the fishermen, so that the net may be more easily hauled on
board, when the fish, being cleared from it, tumble down in a great,
scaly, convulsive heap upon the deck. The herring fishing was over,
however, for this year; there were no mackerel in the bay at present;
and this stupid hand-line fishing hardly, in his opinion, brought in
enough to make it worth while to interest himself in it. He was vexed,
too, at having had to leave his comfortable perch and open-eyed
afternoon snooze in order to separate these two fighting idiots. Though
he was not in the least drunk, as you are, please, to understand, he had
certainly taken two or three glasses of undesirably raw whisky in pretty
quick succession before leaving Ballyvaughan, and this, added to the
sleepiness engendered by a whole day in the open air, naturally disposed
him to the passive, rather than more active, forms of occupation.

He hardly made a pretence, therefore, of fishing; merely sat with a line
in his hand, staring at the water with an air of almost preternatural
sobriety. Shan Daly, on the contrary, for whom this fishing was the
chief event of the day, and whose own share of the fish was his
principal payment for such services as he was able to render, had
resumed his previous attitude of watchful expectation, glancing up from
time to time as he did so at his employer with a furtive, somewhat
shame-faced expression; conscious that he was in disgrace, conscious,
too, that he somehow or other deserved to be in disgrace, but with too
limited a realisation of things in general, especially of the things we
call right and wrong, to be able to define to himself very clearly in
what his offence consisted. Beings of so eminently elementary an order
as that presented by Shan Daly are apt to be more or less offenders
against whatever society they chance to be thrown into; nay, are apt to
belong in a greater or less degree to what we call the criminal classes;
but their criminality is pretty much upon a par with the criminality of
mad dogs or vicious horses. Punish them we must, no doubt, for our own
sakes; restrain them still more obviously, if we can; but anything of a
high tone of moral and abstract condemnation is, I am apt to suppose,
sheer waste of good material in their case. Like most of our poor,
overburdened, and underprovided humanity, this luckless Shan was not,
after all, entirely bad, or, to be accurate, his badness was not of an
absolutely consistent and uniform character. He had a wretched, sickly,
generally starved wife at home upon Inishmaan; a wretched, sickly,
generally starved family, too, and some, at least, of these fish he was
so anxious to obtain, and for the preservation of which he would hardly,
in the mood, have stopped short at murder, were destined that night for
their supper.

Not much time was given him on this occasion to follow his pursuit, for
Con O’Malley was beginning to want to get back to Inishmaan, where he
intended to put his small daughter, Grania, ashore, previous to sailing
on himself to Aranmore, the largest of the three islands, in the harbour
of which he kept his hooker, and where there was a certain already
distantly gleaming attraction in the form of the ‘Cruskeen
Beg’--largest, best kept, most luxurious of the public-houses upon the
three islands, and the chief scene of such not, after all, very wild or
seductive conviviality as was attainable upon them.

Signalling, therefore, to Murdough Blake to pull the two vessels closer
together, he presently mounted the hooker, followed by the reluctant
Shan, the curragh was let drop back into its former place, and they were
soon scudding westward over the bay, all the four sails--mainsail,
foresail, jib, and a small triangular one above the mainsail--being
expanded to their utmost to catch the still light and capriciously
shifting afternoon breeze.


Tired of trying to conciliate her not-to-be-conciliated companion,
little Grania by-and-by trotted over to her father and cuddled up to
him, as he lounged, pipe in mouth, one hand upon a rope, his eye as
usual upon the clouds. He was good-natured to her in his way, liked to
have her with him on these occasions, would even now and then when they
landed take her for a walk amongst his compeers, the other hooker-owners
at Galway, Roundstone, or Ballyvaughan, though, at home upon Inishmaan
he took no heed to her proceedings, leaving the whole charge, trouble,
and care of her bringing up upon the hands of his elder daughter.

Leaning there, idly scanning the grey masses overhead, with floating,
carrotty beard, loose-lipped mouth, indeterminate other features, and
eternal frieze coat dangling by a single button, this big,
good-tempered-looking Con O’Malley of Inishmaan might have passed, in
the eyes of an observer on the look-out for types, as the very picture
and ideal of the typical Connaught peasant--if there are such things as
typical peasants or, indeed, any other varieties of human beings, a
point that might be debated. As a matter of fact, he was not in the
least, however, what we mean when we talk of a typical man, for he had
at least one strongly-marked trait which is even proverbially rare
amongst men of his race and class--so rare, indeed, that it has been
said to be undiscoverable amongst them. His first marriage--an event
which took place thirty years back, while he was still barely
twenty--had been of the usual _mariage de convenance_ variety, settled
between his own parents and the parent of his bride, with a careful,
nay, punctilious, heed to the relative number of cows, turkeys,
feather-beds, boneens, black pots and the like, producible upon either
side, but as regards the probable liking or compatibility of the
youthful couple absolutely no heed whatsoever. Con O’Malley and Honor
O’Shea (as in western fashion she was called to the hour of her death)
had, all the same, been a fairly affectionate couple, judged by the
current standard, and she, at any rate, had never dreamt of anything
being lacking in this respect. Sundry children had been born to them, of
whom only one, a daughter, at the present time survived. Then, after
some eighteen years of married life, Honor O’Shea had died, and Con
O’Malley had mourned her with a commendable show of woe and, no doubt,
a fair share of its inner reality also. He was by that time close upon
forty, so that the fires of love, if they were ever going to be kindled,
might have been fairly supposed to have shown some signs of their
presence. Not at all. It was not until several years later that they
suddenly sprang into furious existence. An accident set them alight, as,
but for such an accident, they would in all probability have slumbered
on in his breast, unsuspected and unguessed at, even by himself, till
the day of his death.

It was a girl from the ‘Continent,’ as the islanders call the mainland,
who set the spark to that long-slumbering tinder--a girl from Maam in
the Joyce country, high up in the mountains of Connemara--a Joyce
herself by name, a tall, wild-eyed, magnificently handsome creature,
with an unmistakable dash of Spanish blood in her veins. Con had seen
her for the first time at old Malachy O’Flaherty’s wake, a festivity at
which--Malachy having been the last of the real, original O’Flaherties
of Aranmore--nearly every man in the three islands had mustered, as well
as a considerable sprinkling of more or less remotely connected Joyces
and O’Flaherties from the opposite coast. Whole barrels of whisky had
been broached, and the drinking, dancing, and doings generally had been
quite in accordance with the best of the old traditions.

Amongst the women gathered together on this celebrated occasion, Delia
Joyce, of Maam in Connemara, had borne away the palm, as a Queen’s yacht
might have borne it away amongst an assembly of hookers and canal
barges. Not a young man present on the spot--little as most of them were
apt to be troubled with such perturbations--but felt a dim, unexplained
trouble awake in his breast as the young woman from Maam swept past
him, or danced with measured, stately steps down the centre of the stone
floor; her red petticoat slightly kilted above her ankles, her head
thrown back, her great, dark, slumberous eyes sweeping round the room,
as she looked demurely from one strange face to another. Upon Con
O’Malley--not amongst the category of young men--the effect was the most
marked, most instantaneous, most overwhelming of all! Delia Joyce, as
everyone in the room discovered in ten minutes, had no fortune, and,
therefore, obviously was no match. She was the orphan niece of a man who
had seven living children of his own. She had not a cow, a gridiron, a
penny-piece, an inch of land, not a possession of any sort in the world.

Regardless of this utterly damning fact, regardless of his own age,
regardless of the outrage inflicted upon public opinion, regardless of
everything and everybody, Con O’Malley fell hopelessly in love with her;
clung to her skirts like a leech the whole evening; followed her the
next day as she was about to step on board her curragh for the mainland;
carried her, in short, bodily off her feet by the sheer vehemence of his
love-making. He was still a good-looking man at the time; not bent or
slouching, but well set up; a ‘warm’ man, ‘well come’ and ‘well-to-do;’
a man whose pleadings no woman--short, that is, of a bailiff’s or a
farmer’s daughter--would disdain to listen to.

Delia Joyce coyly but gladly consented to respond to his ardour. It was
a genuine love-match on both sides--that rarest of rare phenomena in
peasant Ireland. That it would, as a matter of course, and for that very
reason, turn out disastrously was the opinion, loudly expressed, of
every experienced matron, not in Inishmaan alone, but for forty miles
around that melancholy island. A ‘Black stranger,’ a ‘Foreigner,’ a girl
‘from the Continent,’ not related to anyone or belonging to the place!
worse than all, a girl without a penny-piece, without a stool or a
feather-bed to add to the establishment! There was not a woman, young or
old, living on the three islands but felt a sense of intense personal
degradation whenever the miserable affair was so much as alluded to
before her!

Marriages, however, are queer things, and the less we prophesy about
them the less likely we are perhaps to prove conspicuously wrong. So it
was in this case. A happier, more admittedly successful marriage there
never was or could be, save, indeed, in one important and lamentable
respect, and that was that it came to an end only too soon. About a year
after the marriage little Grania was born, two years after it a boy;
then, within a few days of one another, the mother and the baby both
died. From that day Con O’Malley was a changed man. He displayed no
overwhelming or picturesque grief. He left the weeping and howling at
the funeral, as was proper, to the professional mourners hired upon that
occasion. He did not wear crape on his hat--the last for the excellent
reason that Denny O’Shaughnessy made none, and Denny O’Shaughnessy was
much the most fashionable of the weavers upon Inishmaan. He did not
mope, he did not mourn, he did not do anything in particular. But from
the day of his wife’s death he went to the dogs steadily and
relentlessly--to the dogs, that is, so far as it is going to the dogs to
take no further interest in anything, including your own concerns. He
did not even do this in any very eminent or extravagant fashion: simply
became on a par with the most shiftless and thriftless of his
neighbours, instead of being rather noticeably a contrast to them in
these respects. Bit by bit, too, the ‘Cruskeen Beg,’ which had hitherto
regarded him as only a very distant and unsatisfactory acquaintance,
began to know him better. He still managed to keep the hooker afloat,
but what it and his farm brought him in nearly all found its way across
the counter of it or some kindred shebeen, and how Honor O’Malley
contrived to keep herself and the small Grania, not to speak of a tribe
of pensioners and hangers-on, upon the margin left was a marvel to all
who were acquainted with the family. Nine years this process had been
going on, and it was going on still, and, as the nature of things is,
more and more rapidly of late. Poor Con O’Malley! He was not in the
least a bad man; nay, he was distinctly a good man: kindly, religious,
faithful, affectionate, generous--a goodly list surely of the virtues?
But he had set his foot upon a very bad road, one which, all over the
world, but especially in Ireland, there is rarely, or never, any turning
back upon.


The hooker had by this time got into the North Sound, known to the
islanders as Bealagh-a-Lurgan. Tradition talks here of a great
freshwater lake called Lough Lurgan, which once covered the greater part
of Galway Bay. This may be so or it may not, the word anyhow is one for
the geologist. What is certain, and more important for the moment, is,
that from this point we gain the best view that is to be had of the
three Aran isles as a whole, their long-drawn, bluntly-peaked outlines
filling the whole eye as one looks to westward.

Taken together in this fashion, the three isles, with the two sounds
which divide them, and an outlying fringe of jagged, vicious-looking
rocks and skerries, make up a total length of some fifteen miles,
containing, roughly speaking, about eleven thousand acres. Acres! As one
writes down the word, it seems to rise up, mock, gibe, laugh at, and
confound one, from its wild inappropriateness, at least to all the ideas
we commonly associate with it. For, be it known to you, oh prosperous
reader--dweller, doubtless, in a sleek land, a land of earth and water,
possibly even of trees--that these islands, like their opposite
neighbour, the Burren of Clare, are rock, not partially, but absolutely.
Over the entire surface, save the sands upon the shore and the detritus
that accumulates in the crannies, there is no earth whatsoever, save
what has been artificially created, and even this is for the most part
but a few inches deep. The consequence is, that a droughty season is
the worst of all seasons for the Aranite. Drench him with rain from
early March to late November, he is satisfied, and asks no more. Give
him what to most people would seem the most moderate possible allowance
of sun and dry weather, and ruin begins to stare him in the face! The
earth, so laboriously collected, begins to crack; his wells--there are
practically no streams--run dry; his beasts perish before his eyes; his
potatoes lie out bare and half baked upon the stones; his oats--these
are not cut, but plucked bodily by hand out of the sands--wither to the
ground; he has no stock, nothing to send to the mainland in return for
those necessaries which he gets from there, nothing to pay his rent
with; worse than all, he has actually to fetch the water he requires to
drink in casks and barrels from the opposite shore!

A cheerful picture, you say! Difficult perhaps to realise, still more
difficult, when realised, to contemplate placidly. Who so realising it
can resist the wish to become, for a moment even, that dream of
philanthropists--a benevolent despot, and, swooping suddenly upon the
islands, carry off their whole population--priests, people, and all--and
set them down in a new place, somewhere where Nature would make some
little response, however slight, to so much toil, care, love, so
fruitlessly and for so many centuries lavished upon her here?

‘But would they thank you?’ you, as an experienced philanthropist,
perhaps, ask me. I reply that, it is, to say the least, extremely
doubtful. Certainly you might carefully sift the wide world, search it
diligently with a candle from pole to pole, without hitting upon another
equally undesirable, equally profitless place of residence. Climate,
soil, aspect, everything is against it. Ingenuity might seek and seek
vainly to find a quality for which it could be upheld. And yet, so
strangely are we made, that a dozen years hence, if you examined one of
the inhabitants of your ideal arcadia, you would probably find that all
his, or her, dreams of the future, all his, or her, visions of the past,
still clung, limpet-fashion, to these naked rocks, these melancholy dots
of land set in the midst of an inhospitable sea, which Nature does not
seem to have constructed with an eye to the convenience of so much as a

The four occupants of our hooker naturally troubled their heads with no
such problems. To them their islands--especially this one they were
approaching, Inishmaan--were to all practical purposes the world. Even
for Con O’Malley, whom business carried pretty often to the mainland,
the latter was, save on the merest fringe, to all intents and purposes
an unknown country. The world, as it existed beyond that grey wash of
sea, was a name to him, and nothing more. Ireland--sometimes regarded by
superior persons as the very Ultima Thule of civilisation--hung before
his eyes as a region of dangerous novelties, dazzling, almost wicked in
its sophistication, and he had never set foot on a railroad in his life.

Inishmaan has no regular harbour, consequently it was necessary to get
the curragh out again so as to set little Grania ashore. The child had
been hoping the whole way back that Murdough Blake, too, would have come
ashore with her, but he remained sitting, with the same expression of
sulky dignity, upon the deck of the hooker, and it was the hated Shan
Daly who rowed her to the land; which done, with a quick, furtive glance
towards a particular spot a little to westward, he turned and rowed as
quickly as he could back to the larger vessel again.

While the boat was still on its way, before it had actually touched
shore, a woman who had been waiting for it on the edge might have been
seen to move hastily along the rocks, so as to be ready to meet them
upon their arrival. This woman wore the usual red Galway flannel
petticoat, with a loose white or yellowish flannel jacket above, known
as a ‘baudeen,’ and worn by both sexes on the islands, a handkerchief
neatly crossed at her neck, with blue knitted stockings and pampooties
upon her feet. At first sight it would have been difficult to guess her
age. Her hair, better brushed than usual, was of a deep, unglossy black,
and her skin clear and unwrinkled; yet there was nothing about her which
seemed to speak of youth. It was a plain face and a sickly one, with
little or nothing of that play of expression which redeems many an
otherwise homely Irish face, yet, if you had taken the trouble to
examine it, you would have been struck, I think, with something peculiar
about it, something that would have arrested your attention. Elements
not often seen in combination seemed to find a meeting-place there. A
look of peculiar contentedness, an indescribable placidity and repose,
had stamped those homely features as with a benediction. The mild brown
eyes, lifting themselves blinkingly to the sunlight, had something about
them, chastened, reposeful, serene, an expression hardly seen beyond the
shelter of the convent; yet, at the same time, there was something in
the manner in which the woman ran down to the shore to meet the child,
and, lifting her carefully over the edge of the boat, set her on her
feet upon the rocks, a manner full of a sort of tender assiduity, a
clinging, caressing, adoring tenderness, not often, hardly ever indeed,
to be found apart from the pains and the joys of a mother.

This was Honor O’Malley, little Grania’s half-sister, the only surviving
daughter of Con O’Malley’s first marriage. She had been little more than
a half-grown girl when her mother died, but for several years had kept
house for her father. Then had come the short-lived episode of his
second marriage and his wife’s death, since which time Honor’s one aim
in life, her whole joy, her pride, her torment, her absorbing passion,
had been her little sister.

The child had been an endless trouble to her. Honor herself was a
saint--a tender, self-doubting, otherwise all-believing soul. The small
sister was a born rebel. No priest lived on Inishmaan, or, indeed, lives
there still, so that this visible sign of authority was wanting. Even
had there been one, it is doubtful whether his mere presence would have
had the desired effect, though Honor always devoutly believed that it
would. The child had grown up as the young seamew grows. The air, the
rocks, the restless, fretting sea; a few keen loves, a few still keener
and more vehement hates; the immemorial criss-cross of wishes,
hindrances, circumstances--these and such as these had made her
education, so far as she had had any. As for poor Honor’s part in it!
Well, the child was really fond of her, really loved her, and that must
suffice. There are mothers who have to put up with less.

Taking her by the hand the elder sister now attempted to lead her from
the shore. It was a slow process! At every rock she came to little
Grania stopped dead short, turning her head mutinously back to watch the
hooker, as, with its brown patched sails set almost to the cracking
point, it rounded the first green-speckled spit of land, on its way to
Aranmore. Whenever she did so, Honor waited patiently beside her until
her curiosity was satisfied and she was ready to proceed on her way.
Then they went on again.

There were rocks enough to arrest even a more determined laggard. The
first barnacle-coated set crossed, they got upon a paler-coloured set,
out of reach of the tide, which were tumbled one against another like
half-destroyed dolmens or menhirs. These stretched in all directions far
as the eye could reach. The whole shore of this side of the island was
one continuous litter of them. Three agents--the sea, the weathering of
the air, the slow, filtering, sapping action of rain--had produced the
oddest effect of sculpturing upon their surface. From end to end--back,
sides, every atom of them--they were honey-combed with holes varying
from those into which the two clenched fists might be thrust to those
which would with difficulty have accommodated a single finger. These
holes were of all depths too. Some of them mere dimples, some piercing
down to the heart of the blocks, five, six, seven feet in depth, and as
smooth as the torrent-worn troughs upon a glacier.

Ten minutes were spent in clearing this circumvallation; then the
sisters got upon a waste of sand sprinkled with sickly bent, through
which thin patches of white flowering campion asserted themselves. Here,
invisible until you all but brushed against its walls, rose a small
chapel, roofless, windowless, its door displaced, its gable ends
awry--melancholy to look at, yet not without a certain air of invitation
even in its desolation. Sand had everywhere invaded it, half hiding the
walls, completely covering the entrance, and forming a huge drift where
once the altar had risen. Looking at it, fancy, even in calm weather,
seemed involuntarily to conjure up the sweep of the frightened yellow
atoms under the flail of the wind; the hurry-scurry of distracted
particles; the tearing away of the frail covering of bent; the wild rush
of the sand through the entrance; and, finally, its settling down to
rest in this long-set-aside haven of the unprotected.

West of the chapel, and a little to the left of the ruined entrance,
stood a cross, though one which a casual glance would hardly have
recognised as such, for there were no cross arms--apparently never had
been any--and the figure upon the upright post was so worn by weather,
so utterly extinguished, rubbed, and lichen-crusted by the centuries, as
hardly to have a trace of humanity left. Honor never passed the place
without stopping to say a prayer here. For her it had a special
sanctity, this poor, shapeless, armless cross, though she would
probably have been unable to explain why. Now, as usual, she stopped,
almost mechanically, and, first crossing herself devoutly, bent her head
down to kiss a small boss or ridge, which apparently once represented
the feet, and then turned to make her sister do the same.

This time Grania would willingly have gone on, but Honor was less
compliant than before, and she gently bent the child’s reluctant head,
coaxing her, till her lips at last touched the right place. Grania did
not exactly resist, but her eyes wandered away again in the direction of
the hooker, now fast disappearing round the corner. Why had Murdough
Blake gone to Aranmore, instead of coming back with her? she thought,
with a sense of intense grievance. The disappointment rankled, and the
salt, gritty touch and taste of the boss of limestone against her small
red lips could not, and did not, alter the matter an atom, one way or

Leaving the chapel they next began to climb the slope, first crossing a
sort of moraine of loose stones which lay at its foot. Like all the Aran
isles, Inishmaan is divided into a succession of rocky steps or
platforms, the lowest to eastward, the highest to westward, platforms
which are in their turn divided and subdivided by innumerable joints and
fissures. This, by the way, is a fact to be remembered, as, without it,
you might easily wander for days and days over the islands without
really getting to know or understand their topography.

A curious symmetry marked the first of these steps, that up which the
sisters were then mounting: you would have been struck in a moment by
its resemblance to the backbone of some forgotten monster, unknown to
geologists. A python, say, or plesiosaurus of undetermined species, but
wholly impressive vastness, stretching itself lazily across about a
third of the island, till its last joint, sinking towards the sea,
disappeared from sight in the general mass of loose stones which lay at
the bottom of the slope.

It was at the head of this monster that the O’Malleys’ cabin stood,
while at the other--the tail-end, so to speak--was hidden away that foul
and decaying hovel in which the Shan Daly family squatted, lived, and
starved. Though far above the level of the average stamp of Aran
architecture, the O’Malleys’ house itself would not, perhaps, have
struck a stranger as luxurious. It was of the usual solid,
square-shaped, two-roomed type, set at the mouth of a narrow gorge or
gully, leading from the second to the third of those steps, steps whose
presence, already insisted upon, must always be borne in mind, since
they form the main point, the ground lines upon which the whole island
is built.

A narrow entrance between two rocks, steep as the sides of a well, led
to the door of the cabin, the result being that, whenever the wind was
to the west or south-west--the two prevailing winds--anyone entering it
was caught as by a pair of irresistible hands, twirled for a moment
hither and thither, and then thrust violently forward. Impossible to
enter quietly. You were shot towards the door, and, if it proved open,
shot forward again, as if discharged from some invisible catapult. So
well was the state of affairs understood that a sort of hedge or screen,
made of heather, and known as a _corrag_, was kept between the door and
fire, so that entering friends might be checked and hindered from
falling, as otherwise they assuredly would have fallen, prone upon the
hearthstone. There were a good many other, and all more or less futile
contrivances upon that little group of wind-worn, wind-tormented islands
against their omnipotent master.


Blocking the mouth of the already narrow gully stood a big boulder of
pink granite, a ‘Stranger’ from the opposite coast of Galway. Leaning
against this boulder as the sisters mounted the pathway, a group of five
figures came into sight. Only one of these was full grown, the rest were
children--babies, rather--of various ages from five years old to a few
weeks or less. Seen in the twilight made by the big rock you might have
taken the whole group for some sort of earth or rock emanation, rather
than for things of living flesh and blood, so grey were they, so wan, so
much the same colour, so much apparently the same texture as what they
leaned against.

Honor started forward at a run as soon as she caught sight of them, her
pale face lit with a warm ray of kindliness and hospitality.

‘Auch, and is it there you are, Kitty Daly?’ she exclaimed. ‘But it is
the bad place you have taken to sit in, so it is, and all your poor
young children too! And it is you that look bad, too, this day, God love
us!--yes indeed, but bad! And is it long that you have been sitting
there? My God, I would have left the door open if I had thought you
would come and I not in it! Yet it is not a cold day either, praise be
to God!--no it is a very fine, warm day. There has not been a finer day
this season, if so be it will last till his reverence comes next week
for the pathern. But what brings you up this afternoon at all, at all?
It is too soon for you to be coming up the hill, and you so weak
still--too soon altogether!’

While she was speaking the woman had got up, her whole little brood,
save the baby which she held in her arms, rising with her as if by a
single impulse. Seen in the strong light which fell upon their faces
over the top of the gully they looked even more piteous, more wan and
wobegone than when they were squatting in the comparative shadow at the
base of the rock. She made no direct reply to Honor’s question, but
looked up at her with a dumb, wistful appeal, and then down at the
children, who in their turn looked up at what, no doubt, was in their
eyes the embodiment of prosperity standing before them. There was no
mistaking what that appeal meant. The answer was written upon every face
in the whole group. Hunger was written there; worse--starvation; first,
most clamorous of needs, not often, thank Heaven! seen so clearly, but
when seen terrible--a vision from the deepest, most elemental depths, a
cry to pity, full of ancient primordial horrors; heart-rending;
appalling; impossible not to hasten to satisfy.

That this was the only possible answer to her question seemed to have
immediately struck the kindly-natured Honor. For, without wasting
further time, she ran to her own door, taking out a big key as she did
so from her pocket. Another minute and she had rummaged out a half-eaten
griddle-loaf, and was hacking big morsels off it with a blunt, well-nigh
disabled dinner-knife.

Manners, however, had to be observed, let the need for haste be never so
great, and no one was more observant of such delicacies than Honor

‘Then, indeed, it is not very good bread to-day, so it is not,’ she
observed apologetically. ‘It was last Tuesday week I would have wished
to ask you to taste of it, Mrs. Daly. The barm did not rise rightly this
time, whatever the reason was, still, after your walk you would, maybe,
eat a bit of it, and I would be much obliged to you, and the young
children, too. But it is some cow’s milk that they must have. Run,
Grania, run quick and fetch some out of the big mether, it is on the top
shelf, out of the way of the cat. It is good cow’s milk, Mrs. Daly,
though it has been skimmed once; I skim it now in the morning, after
Grania has had her breakfast. The child grows so fast it is the best
milk she must have, but it is not at all bad milk, only skimmed once, or
I would not offer it you, no, indeed, I would not, Mrs. Daly, ma’am.’

But the poor visitor was past responding to any such friendly efforts to
shield her self-respect. She tried to thank her entertainer, but the
tears came too fast, and fairly choked her. One after another they
gathered and ran down her thin white cheeks, fresh tears continually
brimming her poor eyes, once a brilliant blue--not a common colour in
the west of Ireland--and which still, though their brightness had
waned, seemed all too blue and too brilliant for the poor faded face
they shone out of.

‘Och, then! Och, then! Och, then!’ Honor O’Malley said in a gentle tone,
at once soothing and remonstrating. ‘Och, then, Mrs. Daly, will you
please give me the baby for a minute, ma’am? for it is not lucky, they
say, to cry over such a young child. The _sidh_--God forgive me for
naming such a wicked, heathen word!--the _sidh_, old people say, do be
looking about, and if they see tears drop on a baby it is they will get
it for themselves, so they will--God stand between us and all such work
this night, amen! Well, Phelim sonny, and what ails you? Is it the milk
that is sour? Then it is not very sour it can be, for it was only milked
the morning before last. Grania, fetch some sugar and put it in the
child’s milk. Bless me, Mrs. Daly, but he does grow, that child Phelim!
only look at the legs of him!’

The boy she was addressing was the eldest of the pitiful little group, a
wistful-faced, shadowy creature of about five. His eyes were blue, like
his mother’s, though of a paler shade and more prominent. Big, startled
eyes they were--the eyes of a child that sees phantoms in the night,
that starts in its sleep and cries out, it knows not why or about what.
With those big eyes fixed full upon her face he was staring hard at
Grania O’Malley, the pannikin of milk which had been put into his hands
remaining untasted in the intensity of his contemplation.

‘Indeed and indeed it is too good you are to them, Honor O’Malley--too
good entirely!’ poor Mrs. Daly managed to say, finding her voice at
last, though still speaking through the sobs which choked her. ‘But it
is yourself knows where to look for the blessing so it is! And may God
shield you and keep you in health and sickness, in joy and sorrow, in
this world and in the world to come--yes, indeed, and beyond it too, if
need be, amen! It is ashamed I am, sorry and ashamed, to be troubling
you, and you not well yourself. But Shan, you see--it is very bad times
Shan has had lately. There is no work at all to do, he says, not
anywhere on Inishmaan, no, nor upon Aranmore even. There was some fish
he was to bring in this afternoon, but he has not come back yet, and the
evening it is late, and if he did catch the fish itself, it is not young
children that can eat fish alone, so it is not. And me so weak still, it
is but little I can do; for it is not, you know, till next Friday will
be three weeks that--’

She stopped and looked bashfully down at the poor little bundle in her
neighbour’s arms. Though this was her fourth child she had a feeling of
delicacy about alluding to the fact of its birth which would have seemed
not merely inconceivable, but monstrous to a woman of another race and
breeding. Honor, however, knew as much, or more, about the matter than
she did herself. She had been with her at the time, although old Mrs
Flanaghan, Phil Flanaghan’s mother, was the chief official in command on
the occasion. It was Honor, however, who had baptised the baby--this
poor little white-faced object then in her arms, whose birth and death
had seemed likely to be contemporaneous. It was an office for which she
was in great demand on Inishmaan, where, as explained, there was no
priest, and where her peculiar piety made her seem to her neighbours
specially fitted for such semi-sacerdotal duties. Of course such a
baptism was only meant as a preliminary, to serve till the more regular
sacrament could be bestowed, but, from the difficulties of transport, it
often happened that weeks and months passed before any other could be
given; nay, not infrequently, the poor little pilgrim had found its way
to the last haven for all such pilgrims, near to the old church of
Cill-Cananach, unguarded from future perils by any more regular rite.

Looking down at the small waxen face upturned in her lap, Honor O’Malley
felt that such a consummation was not in this case far off. She did not
say to herself that it was so much the better, for that would have been
a sin, but her thoughts certainly ran unconsciously in that direction
as, having given it back to its mother, she bustled to and fro in the
cabin, putting together all the available scraps of food she could find;
which done, she tied them into a bundle and deposited the bundle in the
passive arms of little Phelim, who accepted it from her with the same
dim, wondering stare of astonishment in his pale china-blue eyes--a
stare with which every event, good or ill, seemed alike to be received
by him. Five years’ experience of a very troublesome world had evidently
not yet accustomed him to any of its peculiar ways or vicissitudes.


The Daly brood departed with their booty, Honor next bustled about to
get their own meal ready. Grania meanwhile had promptly dumped herself
down upon her two small heels and sat doing nothing, except staring
sulkily at the fire. The child was thoroughly cross. She wanted her
playfellow, and poor Honor by no means filled the blank. An old hen,
sitting upon a clutch of eggs in a hole in the wall a little to the left
of the fire, put its head out, and uttered a friendly interrogative
cluck, by way of suggestion that it was there and would not object to a
handful of oatmeal if it came in its way. Grania, however, took no
notice, but sat, with her small brows drawn close together, staring at
the ash-covered heap of turf, below which a dull red glow still

Inside the cabin everything was warm, turf-scented, chocolate-tinted.
Walls, roof, hearth, furniture--what furniture there was--all was dim
and worn, blackened with time, smoke, and much friction. Little light
came in at the small, closely-puttied windows; much smoke down the wide,
imperfectly-fashioned chimney. It suited its inmates, however, and that,
after all, is the main thing. To them, as to the old speckled hen, it
was home--the one spot on earth that was theirs, which made the
difference between warmth, self-respect, comfort, and a desolate, windy
world without. Solid at least it was. There was no scamped work about
it: no lath and plaster in the walls; no dust and rubble in the
foundations. Had there been it would not have stood out against the
first of the ten thousand storms that had beat against its solid little
walls since the first day that they were planted in the mouth of that
wicked, squally gully.

Supper over, Grama watched her opportunity. With a sudden slide, a run,
a quick scramble, and a dart through the open door, she managed, while
Honor was scouring out the black pot, to escape and run off at the top
of her speed to a spot where she knew she would be safe, for some time
at least, from pursuit.

This retreat of hers was a stone fort known as the _Mothar dun_, one of
seven or eight so-called Cyclopean forts which stud the islands. This
one, which was only a few hundred yards from their own door, was small,
as Cyclopean forts go--not towering in air like a great natural cliff,
as Dun Aengus does, nor yet covering the whole top of the island, like
Dun Connor or Conchobhair, but forming a comparatively modest circle,
set half-way up the slope--an absurd position, if you reflect on it from
a military point of view, since it must have been dominated by any enemy
who happened to stand above it. Nobody on Inishmaan troubled themselves,
however, about such matters, and little Grania O’Malley naturally least
of all.

Clambering over the big blocks, excited with the sense of escape, and
breathless from her run up the perpendicular, ladderlike face of the
slope, she had just reached the innermost enclosure when, out of the
darkest part of it, a figure bounced against her so roughly as to cause
her to spring backwards, striking her foot, as she did so, against one
of the sharp-pointed stones.

It was a big, red-headed lad of fourteen or, perhaps, fifteen years old,
extremely, almost painfully, ugly, possessing one of those faces which
confront one now and then in the west of Ireland, and which seem to
verge to a cruel degree upon the grotesque. So freckled was he that his
face seemed all freckle; an utterly shapeless, and at the same time
ridiculously inconspicuous, nose; a shock head, tangled enough to
suggest the historic ‘glibbe’ of his remote progenitors; with all that,
a harmless, amiable, not even particularly stupid face, but so dull, and
at the same time apprehensive-looking, that its very amiability seemed
to provoke and invite attack. Attack was certainly not spared on this

‘Auch, and is it you then, Teige O’Shaughnessy! And why must you be
sticking there in the dark, knocking me down for nothing at all--yes,
indeed, for nothing at all?’ the child exclaimed as soon as she had
recovered her breath. ‘Augh, but it is yourself, Teige O’Shaughnessy,
that is the ugly, awkward boy! the ugliest and awkwardest in all
Inishmaan! My word, just wait till Murdough Blake comes back from the
sea, till I tell him how you run out at me in the dark and I doing
nothing! It is Murdough Blake will give you the real good beating, so he
will!--yes, indeed, the best good beating ever you got in your life,
just to learn you manners! That he will, and more too, you ugly, clumsy

She stopped, breathless, exhausted by her own volubility.

The boy so belaboured with words only stood still, his poor ugly face
growing redder and uglier in his confusion.

‘Arrah, is it hurt you are, Grania O’Malley?’ he stammered sheepishly at

‘And if it is hurt I am or not hurt, it is not to _you_ I will be
telling it, Teige O’Shaughnessy,’ she replied haughtily. ‘And I will be
glad for you to go away, so I will, for I do not want to be looking at
your ugly face, nor at your red hair, nor at any piece of you, so I do
not!’ And she flung herself face downwards upon the nearest stone.

Poor Teige found apparently no effective rejoinder to these
observations, for, after staring stupidly at her for about a minute, he
turned and proceeded obediently to depart, his heavy feet--heavy even in
their soft cow’s skin pampooties--lumbering along over the rocks, the
sound growing fainter and fainter as he disappeared down the stony

Little Grania waited where she was till he was out of sight, then she
jumped up from the stone upon which she had thrown herself and clambered
nimbly up, till she had reached her favourite perch on the top of the
fort, where a small portion of the parapet still existed. Seating
herself upon this she let her feet dangle out over the smooth flagged
platform which stretched for some distance beyond.

She was still sobbing, from anger, however, rather than pain, her
suffering being of the kind known in nursery parlance as a pain in the
temper, the previous vexation about Murdough having been deepened and
brought into fresh prominence by the recent encounter.

Teige O’Shaughnessy was an orphan, and lived with an uncle and aunt, an
old brother and sister who inhabited a cabin upon one of the outlying
rocks, one which became an island at high tide and therefore was then
unapproachable. The two were twins, and earned their bread, or rather
the old man earned it for both of them, by weaving. Apparently it was a
sorry trade, for the cabin in which they lived was so twisted,
sea-battered, brine-encrusted, and generally miserable that, by
comparison, most of the other houses upon the island might have been
regarded by their owners as quite architectural and dignified domiciles.
This, one would say, ought to have been a source of popularity, but, for
several reasons, the O’Shaughnessys were rather pariahs upon Inishmaan.
This was not on account of their poverty, which is never a really
damning reproach in Ireland, and probably, therefore, was due partly to
the fact that, compared to most of its inhabitants, they were
new-comers--at least, there were several very old people on Inishmaan
who pretended to remember a time when there were no O’Shaughnessys
there--partly to their extreme ill-favouredness, and, still more, to the
fact that the two old people were deaf and dumb, and could therefore
only communicate with their neighbours and the rest of the world by
signs--a sufficient reason surely in a much less superstitious
community than that of Inishmaan for regarding them as lying peculiarly
under the disfavour of Heaven, and likely enough to bring that contagion
or blight of disfavour upon other, and more fortunate, people if unduly
encouraged and associated with.

Grania, a born aristocrat--all children are born aristocrats--shared
this feeling in the strongest degree, and was well aware that Teige was
in some way or other immensely inferior to herself, and therefore a
person only to be tolerated when no more attractive company was to be
had. She sat for some time longer with her feet dangling over the top of
the fort, a quaint little red-petticoated figure, the solitary spot of
colour in all that desolate greyness. Immediately beneath her the ridged
platforms of rock showed their upturned edges, one below the other,
fluted, worn, and grooved into every variety of furrow. Hardly a speck
of green to be seen anywhere. Here and there an adventurous spray of
honeysuckle or bryony, grown deep in the hollows, showed perhaps a few
inches of foliage above the wrinkled surface of the rocks, but that was

The winds were all hushed for that evening, but their power and prowess
was written at large upon every worn crag, torn fissure, and twisted
stump; upon the whole battered, wind-tormented scene. Inishmaan might
from this point have suggested some weather-beaten old vessel, a raft or
hulk given over to the mercy of winds and waves, keeping afloat still,
but utterly scarred and defaced, a derelict, past all possibility of

After sitting for about a quarter of an hour upon the same spot, the
child began to tire of her solitary perch. A new impulse seized her,
and, leaving the rath, she clambered down the wall, over the loose
blocks scattered outside--remains of a still discernible _chevaux de
frise_--ran across the level slabs of rock, till she reached the end of
the one she was upon, when she dropped suddenly down-hill, over, as it
were, a single gigantic stair, thereby attaining the one below.

This brought her to a totally different aspect of the island, and,
comparatively speaking, a cheerful and sheltered one. A narrow _coose_,
or horseshoe-shaped bay, running some little way inshore, had created a
sort of small sea-facing amphitheatre, backed by a semicircle of rocks,
at the bottom and sides of which mountain ash, holly, and fuchsia--the
latter still red with flower--grew and flourished, enclosing and
sheltering a small, perfectly level green stage or platform.

At the end of this platform, which served it for a terrace, stood a
house--not a cabin, and the only habitable abode on Inishmaan that could
be called by any other name. It was said to have been built for a
relation of the owner of the islands, who, fifty years before, had found
here an asylum from his creditors. Whatever its history may have been,
it formed undoubtedly an odd contrast to every other form of
architecture to be found in the place. In shape it seemed to have been
intended to imitate some small Greek or Roman temple, the front
consisting of four cut granite pillars supporting a roof, and led up to
by three wide, shallow steps, which steps were also of granite, the
reddish feldspathic granite of West Galway. The back and sides of the
building, however, were only of the ordinary blue limestone of the
island, once plastered with stucco, and white, but long since blistered
and broken away. Damp and decay had, in fact, got possession of the
whole building. Not only had the stucco almost entirely fallen off, but
even the scrolled iron banisters of a flight of steps which led from the
end of the terrace to the sea were in many places worn to a mere thread
by the constant friction of water and rust-producing action of the

No one lived there now, though an old woman, the grandmother of Murdough
Blake, was paid a trifle for looking after it, and was pretty generally
to be found there in the daytime. With Grama it had always been a chief
haunt and playground, partly because Murdough Blake had a prescriptive
right to go there to dig bait and loaf about generally, but also because
there was a fascination for her in the tumble-down old house itself, so
utterly unlike any other within the range of her experience.

As might have been expected, it was all shut up now; so, having vainly
tried each of the doors and windows, and rapped impatiently at two or
three of them, she went down the steps and squatted disconsolately upon
a bit of rock at the foot of them.

The air, mild as milk, had something about it that evening which seemed
to touch the cheek like a caress. There had been no sunset worth
speaking of, but the western sky and sea above and below the rim of the
horizon were tinged with faint salmon, through which the grey broke, and
into which it was gradually melting. To the north, behind the child’s
head, the great grey profile of Dun Conchobhair lifted its frowning
mass, well defined against the sky--a dark, sinister fragment of a
long-forgotten past, looking gloomily down upon the poor, squat, and
weather-worn habitations of to-day.

The sea seemed to have grown curiously small. The ‘Old Sea,’ as the
islanders call the Atlantic, was here hidden completely out of sight,
and only the sound between the middle and smallest island, with a
fragment of the bay beyond, was visible. To the left lay the remains of
a small pier, where the owner of the villa had once moored his boats,
now broken down and half destroyed by storms. Seagulls floated hither
and thither in the still water, tame as ducks upon a farmyard pool.
Cormorants passed overhead with black outstretched necks, and now and
then the white-barred head of a diver rose for a moment, to disappear
again into the depths of the water the next.

As it grew darker, the shapes of everything began to change, blend, and
melt into one another. The crooked iron supports, bent and red with
rust, took on new and more fantastic forms. They seemed now a company of
spindle-legged imps, writhing, twisting, tugging to right and left, so
as to escape from the weight of what they had undertaken to carry. Red
flakes, fallen from them, lay in all directions upon the ground, mixed
with fragments of black oarweed, like so many twists of old worn-out
tobacco. Everything breathed a dull calm, a half-stupefied melancholy.
The swell slid lazily up one side of the little pier, hiding its stones
and rat-holes for a moment, then fell heavily back again down the other,
with a movement that was almost suggestive of a shrug, a gesture, of
somewhat bored resignation.

For nearly an hour the child sat on and on, heedless of poor Honor’s
anxieties, dreaming dim, formless dreams, such as visit alike all young
heads, whatever the measure of so-called education that may have fallen
to the lot of their owners.

She thought over the incidents in the boat that afternoon, and clenched
her two little rows of white teeth afresh at the recollection of Shan
Daly’s attack on Murdough. Then she took to wondering where Murdough
was, and whether he was on his way back, a vague dream of floating away
somewhere or other in a boat, only he and she together, rising
blissfully before her mind. A momentary qualm as to Honor came to cross
these delights, quickly dispersed, however, by the reflection that Honor
had her prayers and her cross, and that she really wanted nothing else,
whereas she, Grania, wanted many things, while as for Murdough Blake,
that hero’s wants were simply insatiable--grew and multiplied, in fact,
with such rapidity that even his most faithful admirer could hardly keep
pace with them.

By-and by, as she sat there, the tide began to creep higher up, and
nearer and nearer to her feet. There was a smell of salt and slimy
things, which seemed to be mounting upon the rising water. A rat
scuffled and squeaked not far off, and bats flew darkly to and fro
overhead. Grania began to think of going home. She was not afraid of
rats, bats, sea-water, or anything else. She was used to being alone at
all hours, and, as for the sea, it was almost her element. Still, as one
had to go back and to bed some time or other, it seemed almost as well
to go now.

On her way home she had to pass close to the half-peninsula, half-island
upon which the O’Shaughnessys’ cabin stood, barely visible at this
distance under its load of black thatch, and looking rather like the
last year’s nest of some shore-infesting crow or chough. The tide was
still low enough to get to it, and the fancy took the child to go across
and peep in at the window, which, like every other window upon
Inishmaan, was sure to be unshuttered. Teige, no doubt, would be at
home at this hour, and she would be able, perhaps, to give him a fright,
in return for the fright he had given her an hour before.

The seaweeds were more than usually slimy upon the rocks covering the
space which separated this small outlying fragment of Inishmaan from the
rest of the island, and even in her pampooties little Grania found some
difficulty in getting across, and stumbled more than once before she
reached the rocks on the other side. No one came to the door, or seemed
to hear her footsteps, and, as the door itself was shut, there was
clearly nothing to be done but to go up to the cabin and apply her small
nose to the one narrow, closely-puttied square of glass which in the
daytime gave light to the dwelling.

Any illumination there was was now from within, not from without, for a
bright turf-fire was blazing redly upon the hearth. At first sight the
most prominent object visible was the loom, which practically filled up
the whole interior of the cabin. Beyond it the child could presently
distinguish two figures, a white figure and a red figure, both of them
extraordinarily ugly--a frightful little old man, a hideous little old
woman--both of them, too, though utterly, strangely silent, were
nevertheless, as she saw to her dismay, gesticulating violently at one
another. Now it was the old man who, squatting down towards the ground,
would spread out his arms widely, then springing suddenly erect wave
them over his head, apparently imitating some one engaged in rowing,
fishing, or what not, the whole performance being carried on with the
most breathless vehemence and energy. Then the old woman would take her
turn, and go through a somewhat similar evolution, expressive seemingly
of weaving, spinning, walking, eating, or whatever she wanted to
express, while, whichever was the principal performer, the other would
respond with quick comprehensive jerks of the head, sudden enough and
sharp enough apparently to crack the spinal column.

It was less like a pair of human beings communicating together than like
a pair of extraordinary automata, some sort of ugly, complicated toy set
into violent action by its proprietor and unable to leave off until its
mechanism had run down. To the child, standing outside in the dark, the
whole thing, lit as it was by the fitful illumination of the fire, and
doubled by a sort of second performance on the part of a still more
grotesque pair of shadows painted on the ceiling overhead, had something
in it quite extraordinarily terrifying, quite indescribably mysterious
and horrible. She knew, of course, perfectly well that it was only dumb
Denny and dumb Biddy O’Shaughnessy; that they always gesticulated like
that to one another--not having any other way, poor souls, of
communicating. She knew this perfectly well, but as she stood there, a
little, quailing, shaking figure, peering in through the unshuttered
window, she became a prey to all the indescribable terrors, all the
dumb, inexplicable, but at the same time agonising, horrors of
childhood. She longed as she had never longed before in her life to get
her head under some blanket, under somebody’s skirt, anywhere, with
anyone, no matter where, so only she had somewhere to hide, some hand to
cling to. Her heart beat, her knees knocked together, her teeth
chattered, and with that sudden sense of the necessity of finding some
refuge stinging her through and through like a nettle, she turned and
fled--as a scared rabbit flies--down the rocky way, across the slippery
tide rocks, over the slimy, evil-smelling oarweeds, which seemed to be
twining deliberately round her feet and trying to stop her, up hill and
down hill till she once more found herself inside their own cabin, and
within the sheltering arms of the faithful Honor, who had been watching
for her for an hour past from the threshold.

As for Con O’Malley, the hospitality of Kilronan proved, on this
occasion as often before, too much for him, and he had to stay and sleep
off the effects of it under the friendly, sheltering roof of the
‘Cruskeen Beg.’






Six years have come and gone since that September evening, and our
little twelve-year-old Grania has grown into a tall, broad-chested
maiden, vigorous as a frond of bracken in that fostering Atlantic air,
so cruel to weaklings, so friendly to those who are already by nature
strong. Other changes have followed of a less benignant character. Con
O’Malley is dead. Sundry causes, but chiefly, alas! whisky, have made an
end of the stout master of the hooker, and in consequence that good ship
has had to be sold, and Inishmaan has been left hookerless. Honor
O’Malley, always delicate, had become a confirmed invalid, had not for
many months left her own dusky corner of the cabin, nay, was only too
likely before long to change it for a yet duskier abode. The Shan
Dalys?--well, there is not much to say about the Shan Dalys. Shan
himself had grown even a more confirmed vagrant than before. He lived no
one knew how, or where, for he was given to disappearing from Inishmaan
for a week or more at a time, reappearing more ragged, if possible, than
usual, with bloodshot eyes, tangled beard, and all the signs of having
slept in holes or under the banks of ditches, a vagrant upon the face of
the earth. The poor wife was, if anything, more of a moving skeleton
than when we saw her last. Of the many children born to them only two
survived, Phelim and a little girl of five. Happy for the rest that
fate had been pitiful, for in any less kindly country those left would
literally have starved. Phelim was supported almost wholly by the
O’Malley sisters, and not a day in the week passed without his coming,
as a matter of course, to share their rations.

To turn to a more cheerful subject. Murdough Blake had grown up, as he
had promised to do, into a tall, active, lissom young fellow. In his
archaic clothes of yellowish flannel, spun, woven, bleached, made upon
the island, in the cow’s skin pampooties which give every Aranite his
peculiarly shuffling and at the same time swinging step, he ought to
have rejoiced the inmost heart of a painter, had a painter ever thought
of going to the Aran isles in search of subjects, a ridiculous
supposition, for who would dream of doing so? He was anything but
satisfied, however, with his own clothes, his own standing, his own
prospects in life, or, for that matter, with anything else about him,
excepting with young Murdough Blake himself, who was clearly too
exceptional a person to be wasted upon such a spot as Inishmaan.

A quarter of a century ago no golden political era for promising young
Irishmen of his class had yet dawned, and, even if it had done so, the
Aran isles are rather remote for recruits to be sought for there,
especially recruits who are innocent of any tongue except their own
fine, old useless one. There was, consequently, nothing for Murdough to
do except to follow in the old track, the same track that his father and
grandfather had followed before him--namely, fish a little, farm a
little, rear a little cattle for the mainland, marry and bring up a
‘long’ family like his neighbours, unless he was prepared to make a bold
start for the land of promise on the other side of the Atlantic--a
revolutionary measure for which, despite his many dissatisfactions, he
lacked, probably, the necessary courage.

Whether he would have cared to do so or no, Grania certainly would not,
and they were shortly to be married. To her Inishmaan was much more than
home, much more than a place she lived in, it was practically the world,
and she wished for no bigger, hardly for any more prosperous, one. It
was not merely her own little holding and cabin, but every inch of it
that was in this peculiar sense hers. It belonged to her as the rock on
which it has been born belongs to the young seamew. She had grown to it,
and it had grown to her. She was a part of it, and it was a part of her,
and the bare idea of leaving it--of leaving it, that is to say,
permanently--would have filled her with nothing short of sheer

Perhaps to one whose lot happens to be cast upon an island--a mere brown
dot set in an angry and turbulent ocean--the act of leaving it seems a
far more startling piece of transplantation than any flitting can seem
to one who merely shares a mainland dotted over with tens of thousands
of homesteads more or less similar to one’s own. To sail away, see it
dimly receding behind you, becoming first a mere speck, then vanishing
altogether, must be a very serious proceeding, one which, since it is
not within our power to exchange habitations with a native, say, of
Saturn or of Mars, it is not very easy to imagine exceeded in gravity.

If all humans are themselves islands, as the poet has suggested, then
this tall, red-petticoated, fiercely-handsome girl was decidedly a very
isolated, and rather craggy and unapproachable, sort of island. In her
neighbours’ eyes she was a ‘Foreigner,’ just as her mother had been a
foreigner before her, and there was much shaking of heads and lifting
of hands amongst the matrons of Inishmaan whenever her name was
mentioned. Even to her own sister who adored her, who had adored her
from the cradle, she was a source of much disquietude, much sisterly
anxiety, less as regards this life--which, from the good Honor’s
standpoint, was an affair of really no particular moment one way or
other--than as regards the future, the only future worthy in her eyes of
the name.

Probably she was right enough. Such a frame as Grania’s is a good,
ready-made home for most of the simpler, more straightforward virtues.
Honesty, strength, courage, love of the direct human kind, pity for the
weak--especially the weak that belong to you, that are your own kith and
kin, and dependent upon you--these were born in her, came to her direct
from the hands of Nature. For other, the more recondite, saintlier
virtues--faith, meekness, holiness, patience, and the rest--she
certainly showed no affinity. They were not to be looked for--hardly by
a conceivable process to be acquired or engrafted.

This, rather than her own broken health, her own fast-approaching death,
was the real sting and sorrow of Honor’s life, the sorrow that, day
after day, impaled her upon its thorns, and woke her up pitilessly a
dozen times in the night to impale her afresh. Like some
never-to-be-forgotten wound it would be upon her almost before she was
well awake. Herself saved, and Grania, perhaps--not! It was a nightmare,
a permanent terror, a horror of great darkness, worse a hundred times to
her than if the anticipation had been reversed.

That in some mysterious way, she could not have explained how, her
sister, rather than herself, might benefit by her own present
sufferings, was the only counter-hope that ever for a moment buoyed her
up. She had ventured, after long hesitation, to consult Father Tom of
Aranmore upon this subject the last time she had been able to go to
confession, and if he had not encouraged, he had not absolutely
discouraged, her from treasuring the notion. She did treasure it
accordingly. Every new pang, every hour of interminable, long-drawn
weakness being literally offered up upon a sort of invisible altar, with
much trembling, much self-rebuke at the worthlessness of the offering,
and yet with a deep-seated belief that it might somehow or other be
accepted, little promising as, it must be owned, matters looked at
present. Poor Honor! poor faithful sisterly soul! We smile at you,
perhaps, yet surely we envy you, too, and our envy cuts short and half
shames us out of our smiles.

As for Murdough Blake, his views about Grania were of the simplest
possible description. She was immensely strong he knew, the strongest
girl on Inishmaan, as well as the best off, and, for both reasons
evidently, the most suitable one as a wife for himself. If she was
‘Foreigner,’ out of touch and tone with her neighbours, no such
accusation could certainly be laid at his door. A more typical young man
it would be difficult to find--typical enough to excuse some abuse of
the term--typical in his aspirations, typical in his extravagances,
typical, nay conventional, even in his wildest inconsequences, his most
extravagant rhodomontades, paradoxical as that may seem to one unused to
such flowers of speech. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Murdough Blakes
had talked just as big, and done just as little, strutted their hour in
just the same fashion over the self-same rocks, and felt themselves
equally exceptionally fine young fellows long before this one had come
into existence. That Grania would be doing very well, really
exceptionally well for herself in marrying him he honestly believed,
though it would have been difficult to show any particular grounds for
the conviction. In any case they would have been married before this,
only that it happened there was no roof ready for them, Honor being too
ill for another inmate to be brought into the O’Malleys’ house, while,
on the other hand, Grania would not leave her, even if she could have
made up her mind to share the two-roomed cabin up at Alleenageeragh in
which Murdough himself lived, in company with a widowed mother, a
grown-up sister, a couple of younger brothers, sundry domestic animals,
and a bedridden great aunt.

As regards his marked desirability as a husband, she fortunately
thoroughly agreed with him. To marry anyone but Murdough Blake would
have seemed to her as impossible as to be herself anyone but Grania
O’Malley. True, there had been troubles between them of late, some of
them rather serious troubles, but no troubles, however serious, could
touch that central point, the keystone and cardinal fact of her
existence. For money, for instance, Murdough showed a perfectly
perennial thirst--money, that is to say, earned by anyone in the world
but himself. Another thirst, too, he already showed symptoms of
possessing, more apt even than this to deepen and increase as the years
rolled on. These, and some other matters besides, were a source of no
little trouble to Grania, all the more that she never spoke of them to
Honor. She had one great panacea, however, for any and every trouble--a
panacea which it were well that we all of us possessed. Oh, troubled
fellow-mortals, self-tormented, nerve-ridden, live incessantly in the
open air, live under the varied skies, heedless, if you can, of their
vagaries, and, if you do, surely sooner or later you will reap your
reward! Grania O’Malley had reaped hers, or rather it had come to her
without any sowing or reaping, which is the best and most natural way.
She had a special faculty, too, for such living--one which all cannot
hope either to have or to acquire. She could dig, she could chop, she
could carry, she could use her muscles in every sort of outdoor labour
as a man uses his, and, moreover, could find a joy in it all. For words,
unlike Murdough, she had no talent. Her thoughts, so far as she had any
conscious thoughts, would not clothe themselves in them. They stood
aside, dumb and helpless. Her senses, on the other hand, were
exceptionally wide awake, while for sheer muscular strength and
endurance she had hardly her match amongst the young men of the three
islands. This was a universally-known fact, admitted by everyone, and a
source of no small pride to herself, as well as of prospective
satisfaction to Murdough. A wife that would work for you--not
spasmodically, but from morning till night--a wife that would take all
trouble off your hands; a wife that actually _liked_ working!--could
brilliant young man with a marked talent for sociability desire anything

Upon that particular morning, as upon nearly every other morning
throughout the year, Grania had left the cabin early, after settling
Honor in her usual corner for the day, and had taken down the cow to
pasture it upon the bent-grass growing upon the seashore at the foot of
the hill, not far from where the two sisters owned a small strip of

It was a bleak, unfriendly day, bitterly cold, with driving showers,
though the month was already April. The sea, whenever she chanced to
raise her head to look at it, was of a dull blackish purple, varied with
vicious, windy-looking streaks of white along the edges of the rocks
over which the rollers were sweeping heavily. ‘Moonyeen,’ the
short-horned cow, was eagerly cropping the scanty grass, her head turned
intelligently away from the blast. It was strictly forbidden, by the
way, for anyone to pasture cattle on this bent-grass, and that for the
excellent reason that a breach once made in it the wind got in, and the
whole became once more a mere driving waste of sand. The agent for the
property, however, lived away on Aranmore, at a safe distance across
Gregory’s Sound, and everyone upon the Middle island did, therefore, as
they pleased in this respect, and Grania O’Malley did like the rest.

She had been digging hard in her potato-patch ever since breakfast-time,
and her drills were now nearly finished, and she herself felt
comfortably tired, and satisfied. There is no room for ploughs upon
Inishmaan, since no horse or even pony could turn upon the tiny spots
of tillage so hardly captured from its stones. Donkeys and ponies are,
indeed, kept by many of the islanders, but chiefly to carry the loads of
kelp to and from the coast. Grania O’Malley had neither one nor the
other, though many poorer neighbours possessed both. She was so strong
that it would have seemed to her a sheer waste of good fodder, and she
carried her own loads of kelp and seaweed persistently up and down the
hill, till towards evening she would often find her eyes shutting of
themselves from sheer fatigue, and she would fall asleep before the
cabin-fire like a dog that has been all day hunting.

She was only waiting now to begin her midday meal of cold potatoes and
griddle-bread for little Phelim Daly, who came with the regularity of a
winter-fed robin to share them with her. She wondered that he had not
yet appeared, and sat down upon a piece of rock to wait for him. Before
she had been sitting there many minutes she saw the wild little figure
coming towards her, across the slabs of rock. He was rather tall for his
age, with the air of some sickly, ill-thriven plant that has run to
waste, his pale blue, restless eyes looking up with the piteous
expression of a forlorn, neglected animal for which no one cares, and
which has almost ceased to care about itself. He came and squatted down
close to her side upon a smaller bit of rock which rose out of the sandy
soil, his thin legs stretched out in front of him, his eyes looking
piteously up at her out of his small white face.

‘Is it hungry you are, acushla?’ she asked, noticing his expression;
then, without waiting for an answer, went and fetched a cake of
griddle-bread tied up in a handkerchief which she had left at a little

‘Phelim is hungry; yes, Grania O’Malley, Phelim is very, _very_ hungry,’
the boy answered in a curiously forlorn, far-away voice, as if the
subject had hardly any special reference to himself.

‘Here, then; God help the child! Here!’ and she thrust a large lump of
griddle-bread into his limp, unchildish hands.

He began breaking off pieces from it and thrusting them into his mouth,
but carelessly and as if mechanically, looking before him the while with
the same vacant, far-away gaze.

‘Phelim’s legs hurt,’ he presently said dreamily. ‘The wind was bad to
Phelim last night. Phelim was asleep and the wind came and said, “Get
up, Phelim; get up, sonny.” So Phelim got up. It was dark--och, but it
_was_ dark; you couldn’t see anything only the darkness. Phelim wanted
to crawl back to his bed again, but the wind kept calling and calling,
“Come out, Phelim! Come out, Phelim!” so he went out. And when he got
outside the clouds were all running races round and round the sky, and
he set off running after them, and he ran and he ran till he had run all
round Inishmaan. And when he could run no further he fell down. But the
wind wouldn’t let him lie still, and kept saying, “Get up, sonny! Get
up, Phelim!” Then when Phelim couldn’t get up it went away, quite away.
So Phelim lay still a while, and thought he was back in his bed. But
by-and-by big crawling things, white things and red things and black,
came crawling, crawling up, one after the other, out of the sea and over
the rocks and over the sands and over Phelim, up his legs and along his
back and into his neck. Then Phelim let a great screech, for the fright
had hold of him. And he screeched and he screeched and he screeched
and--and that’s why Phelim’s legs are so bad to-day,’ and he began
slowly rubbing them up and down with one skinny, claw-like hand.

Grania shivered and crossed herself. She knew it was all nonsense, that
he had been only dreaming, still, everyone was aware that there often
_were_ wicked things about at night, and it made her uncomfortable to
listen to him.

‘Och, ’tis just the cold that ails you; nothing else, avic,’ she said
decisively. ‘Here, wrap yourself up in this. God help the child! ’tis a
mere bundle of bones he is,’ she added to herself as she put the white
flannel petticoat, which served her as a cloak, round the boy as he sat
crouched in a bundle upon the bit of rock, the cold wind scourging his
legs and blowing the sand into his weary-looking pale blue eyes.

She left him to go and fetch her spade, which was at the other end of
the ridge. When she came back he had slipped behind the larger of the
two pieces of rock, and, with her petticoat huddled about him like a
shawl, was lying flat upon his stomach, engaged in picking out small
morsels of white quartz which had got mixed with the other pebbles, and
ranging them in a row, whispering something to each of them as he did

Grania stopped to look at him. ‘What are you doing now, avic?’ she asked

The boy turned at her voice, and looked up with the same vague, forlorn
expression, not having evidently heard or understood. Then when she had
repeated her question:

‘It was the little stones,’ he said dreamily.

‘Well, and what about the little stones, child?’

‘’Twas something the little stones was telling Phelim. The wind is bad
to the little stones. The stones cry, cry, cry. There is one little
stone here that cries most of all; there is no other stone on Inishmaan
that cries so loud.’

Grania stooped and looked at the pebbles as if to discover something
more than common in them.

‘Do all the things speak to you, Phelim?’ she asked inquisitively.

‘Then they do not; no, Grania O’Malley. Once Phelim heard nothing. The
wind was gone; there was nothing--nothing at all, at all. All at once
something said, “There is nothing now on Inishmaan but Phelim.” Then
Phelim was more afraid of Phelim than of anything else, and he began to
screech and screech. He screeched--och, but he screeched! Phelim _did_
screech that night, Grania O’Malley!’

‘Arrah, ’tis worse you are getting every day, child, with your
nonsense,’ she said with a sort of rough motherliness. ‘Here, come away
with you; we’ll go look for Murdough Blake on the rocks yonder: maybe
he’ll give you a fish to take to your mammy. Come!’ She stuck her spade
upright in the soil as she spoke and held out her hand.

Phelim got up and trotted obediently beside her down the slope. Having
crossed the sandy tract, under the broken walls of the old church of
Cill-Cananach, they got out upon the rocks beyond, half hidden now by
the rising tide.

At the extreme end, where these rocks broke suddenly into deep water, a
figure was standing fishing, a tall, broad-shouldered figure, looking
even larger than it actually was, as everything did against that vacant

Grania hastened her steps. A curious look was beginning to dawn in her
face: an habitual, or rather a recurrent, one, as anyone would have
known who had been in the habit of watching her. It was a look of vague
expectation, undefined but unmistakable; a look of suppressed
excitement, which seemed to pervade her whole frame. What there was to
expect, or what there was to be particularly excited about, she would
have been puzzled herself to explain. There the feeling was, however,
and so far it had survived many disappointments.

Murdough Blake turned as they came up, vehement displeasure clouding his
good-looking, blunt-featured face.

‘It is the devil’s own bad fishing it is to-day, so it is!’ he
exclaimed, pointing to the rock beside him, upon which a few small
pollock and bream were flapping feebly in their last agonies. ‘Two
hours, my God! it is I am here--two hours and more! I ask you, Grania
O’Malley, is that a proper lot of fish for two hours’ catching? And
Teige O’Shaughnessy that caught seven-and-forty in less time
yesterday--seven-and-forty, not one less, and he a _boccach_![4] Is it
fair? My God! I ask you is it fair?’

Phelim had squatted down like a small seal upon a flat-topped bit of
rock, evidently expecting to wait there for another hour at least.
Murdough, however, was delighted at their coming. He had been only
pining for an excuse to break off his occupation.

‘It is not _myself_ will stop any longer for such fishing as that, so it
is not!’ he exclaimed indignantly. ‘My faith and word no! Why would I
stop? Is it to be looking at the sea? God knows I have seen enough of
the sea! Enough and more than enough!’

Grania offering no objection to this very natural indignation, he rolled
up his line, collected the fish, and they turned back together across
the rocks.


They were now upon the loneliest piece of the whole island. Far and near
not a human creature or sign of humanity, save themselves, was to be
seen. The few villages of Inishmaan were upon the other side, the few
spots of verdure which might here and there have been discerned by long
search were all but completely lost in the prevailing stoniness, and to
eyes less accustomed than theirs nothing could have been more deplorable
than the waste of desolation spread out here step above step, stony
level above stony level, till it ended, appropriately enough, in the
huge ruinous fort of Dun Connor, grey even amongst that greyness, grim
even by comparison with what surrounded it, and upon which it looked
austerely down.

It was one of those days, too, when the islands, susceptible enough at
times of beauty, stand out nakedly, almost revoltingly, ugly. The low
sky; the slate-coloured waste of water; the black hanks of driftweed
flung hither and thither upon the rocks; the rocks themselves,
shapeless, colourless, half-dissolved by the rains that eternally beat
on them; the white pools staring upwards like so many dead eyes; the
melancholy, roofless church; the great, grey fort overhead, sloughing
away atom by atom like some decaying madrepore; the few pitiful attempts
at cultivation--the whole thing, above, below, everywhere, seeming to
press upon the senses with an impression of ugliness, an ugliness enough
to sicken not the eyes or the heart alone, but the very stomach.

As Grania and Murdough pursued their way side by side over the rocks
little Phelim gradually lagged behind, and at last drifted away
altogether, stopping dreamily first at one patch of sand, then at
another, and becoming more and more merged in the general hue of the
rocks, till he finally disappeared from sight in the direction of his
mother’s cabin.

The other two kept on upon the same level till they had got back to
Grania’s potato-patch. Here she picked up her spade, and at once resumed
her work of clearing out stone-encumbered ridges, Murdough Blake
perching himself meanwhile comfortably upon a boulder, where he sat
swinging his pampootie-shod feet over the edge and complacently
surveying her labours.

The girl drove her spade vehemently into the ground with a sort of
fierce impatience, due partly to a sense of having wasted time, but
more to a vague feeling of irritation and disappointment which, like the
former feeling, had a fashion of recurring whenever these two had been
some time together. The sods sprang from before her spade; the light
sandy soil flew wildly hither and thither; some of the dust of it even
reached Murdough as he lounged upon his boulder: but he only sat still
and watched her complacently, utterly unaware that he had anything
himself to say to this really unnecessary display of energy.

The theory that love would be less felt if it was less talked about
certainly finds some justification in Ireland, and amongst such
well-developed specimens of youthful manhood as Murdough Blake. It _is_
seldom talked of there, and apparently in consequence seldom felt.
Marriages being largely matters of barter, irregular connections all but
unknown, it follows that the topic loses that predominance which it
possesses in nearly every other community in the world. Politics, sport,
religion, a dozen others push it from the field. Physiologically--you
would have said to look at him--he was of the very material out of which
an emotional animal is made, and yet--explain the matter how you
like--he was not in the least an emotional animal, or rather his
emotional activity was used up in quite other directions than the
particular form called love-making. Of his conversational entertainment,
for instance, to do him justice, he was rarely lacking.

‘Begorrah, tis the wonderful girl you are for the work, Grania
O’Malley!’ he observed, when the silence between them had lasted about
three minutes. ‘Is it never tired you do be getting of it; never at all,
summer or winter, say, Grania?’

She shook her head. ‘And what else would I be doing upon Inishmaan if I
did get tired of it itself, Murdough Blake?’ she asked pertinently.

There being no very easy answer to this question, Murdough was silent
again for another minute and a half.

‘It is myself that gets tired of it then, so it is,’ he replied
candidly. ‘I would give a great deal if I had it, I would, Grania
O’Malley, to be out of Inishmaan, so I would, God knows!’ he continued,
looking away towards the line of coast, low to the south, but rising
towards the north in a succession of pallid peaks, peering one behind
the other till they melted into the distance. ‘It is a very poor place,
Inishmaan, for a young man and a man of spirit to be living in, always,
week-days and Sundays, fine days, rain days, always the same. How is he
to show what is in him, at all, at all, and he always in the same place?
It is, yes, my faith and word, very hard on him. He might as well be
one of these prickly things down there that do take a year to crawl from
one stone to another, so he might, every bit as well, my faith and

‘You do go to Galway most weeks in Peter O’Donovan’s turf boat,’ the
girl rejoined, stooping to pick up a stone and tossing it impatiently
away from the drill.

‘And if I do, Grania O’Malley, what then? It is not a very great affair
Peter O’Donovan’s turf boat. And it is not much time either--not more
than three or four hours at the most--that I get in the town, for there
is the fastening of the boat to be done, and helping to get the turf on
board, and many another thing too. And Peter O’Donovan he is a very hard
man, so he is; yes, indeed, God knows, _very_. And when I am in the town
itself, and walking about in the streets of it, why, you see, Grania
deelish, I’ve got so little of the English---- Bad luck to my father and
to my mother too for not sending me to be learnt it when I was a
bouchaleen! A man feels a born gomoral, so he does, just a gomoral, no
better--when he hasn’t got the good English. And there are a great many
of the quality too in the town of Galway, and it is not one word of the
Irish that they will speak--no, nor understand it either--so they will
not, Grania, not one word.’

‘I’ve got no English either, and I don’t want any of it,’ she answered
proudly; ‘I had sooner have only the Irish.’

‘Arrah, Grania, but you are an ignorant colleen to go say such a thing!
’Tis yourself that knows nothing about it, or you would not talk so.
Language is grand, grand! I wish that I knew all the languages that ever
were upon this earth since the days of King Noah, who made the Flood.
Yes, I do, and more too, than ever there were on it! Then I could talk
to all the people, and hold up my head high with the best in the land.
My word, yes, if I knew all the languages that ever were, I promise you
I could speak fine--my word, yes!’

It was quite a new idea to Grania that there were more languages in the
world than English and Irish, and she meditated silently upon the
information for several minutes.

‘There’s what Father Tom speaks in the chapel, when he comes over from
Aranmore to say Mass,’ she observed reflectively. “Ave Maria” and “Pater
Noster.” Honor learned me that, and it is not the Irish, I know, and it
would not be the English, I suppose, either?’

The remark was put in the form of an interrogation, but Murdough’s
thoughts had travelled elsewhere.

‘Young Mr. Mullarky of Ballyhure was in Galway last day I was there, so
he was. Och! but it is the quality that have the grand times, Grania
O’Malley, and it is myself would have had the grand times too if I had
been born one of them, that I would, the grandest times of them all. He
was riding upon a big black horse, the blackest horse ever you saw in
your life. Och! but the noise it made as it came down the street,
scattering the people and clattering upon the stones. _Wurrah! wurrah!_
but it did make the noise, I tell you, Grania, and the people all
turning round to look at him, and he pretending not to see one of them.
My God! but a horse is a wonderful beast! I would sooner have a horse of
my own, of my very own, that I could ride all over the world upon the
back of, than I would have a ship or anything! Yes, I would, my faith
and word, yes.’

‘A ship would take you a deal further,’ Grania replied scornfully. ‘When
my father had the hooker he would put up the sails of her here in
Inishmaan, and it would not be four hours--no, nor nearly four
hours--before we would be sailing into the harbour at Ballyvaughan, and
what horse in the world would do that for you?’

‘A horse wouldn’t take you over the sea, of course, but a horse could
take you anywhere you wanted on the dry land--anywhere over the whole
earth, just for the trouble of skelping it. Arrah my word! just think
how you’d feel sitting on the back of it, and it galloping along the
road, and everyone turning round to look at you. That’s how the quality
feel, and that’s how I’d feel if I had been born one of them, as I might
have been and as I ought to have been; for why not? Why should they have
everything and we nothing? Is that fair? God who is up there in heaven,
He knows right well that it is not fair, so it is not. There was a man
last year at the Galway horse fair, and he had a little horse, a
yellow-coloured one it was, Grania O’Malley, only the mane and tail of
it were black, and I went up to him as bold as bold, and says I--“_Cay
vadh é luach an coppul shin?_”[5] For I wanted to know the cost of it.
“_Coog poonthe daig_,[6] and that’s more than you’ve got about you this
minute, I’m thinking, my poor gosthoon,” said he, with a laugh. “Gorra,
that’s true,” thought I to myself, and I went away very troubled like,
for my heart seemed tied with strings to that little yellow horse. And I
watched it all day from a distance, and everyone that went up to look at
it; ’twas just like something of my own that I was afraid of having
stolen, just the very same, and I could have leaped out and knocked them
down, I was so mad to think that another would have it and I not. And
about four o’clock in the afternoon there came a young fellow from
Gort--a little dotteen he was, not up to my shoulder--and he too asked
the price of it, only it was in the English he asked it, and the man
told him seventeen pounds, for I understood that much. “Can it leap?”
says the young fellow. “Is it leap?” says the other. “Yarra, it would
leap the moon as ready as look at it, so it would, and higher too if you
could find it anything to stand on!” says he, joking like. “Auch, don’t
be trying to put your comethers upon me,” says the young fellow who was
wanting to buy it. “Do you think it was yesterday I was born?” says he.

‘Well, with that they went away to a place about a quarter of a mile
from there, and I crept after them, hiding behind the walls, and every
now and then I would peep over the top of a wall, and the heart inside
me it would go hop, hopping, up and down, till I thought it would burst.
And every time that little yellow horse lifted its legs or twitched its
ear I’d leap as if I was doing it myself. And when the man that was
selling it gave it now and then a skelp with a bit of a kippeen that he
held in his hand I felt like murdering him--“How dare you be touching
another gentleman’s horse, you spalpeen?” I’d cry out, only it was in
the inside of me, you understand, under my breath, I’d say it, for there
were the two of them, and the one that was wanting to sell the horse was
a big fellow, twice as big as myself and bigger, with a great brown
beard on the chin of him. And ever since that day I’ve been thinking and
thinking of all I’d do if I had a horse, a real live horse of my own.
And at night I do be dreaming that I’m galloping down the hill over
beyond Gort-na-Copple, and the four legs of the horse under me going so
fast that you would hardly tell one of them from the other, and the
children running out on to the road, and their mothers screeching and
bawling to them at the tops of their voices to come out of that, or
maybe the gentleman would kill them. Oh! but it is a grand beast, I tell
you, Grania O’Malley, a horse is! There is no other beast in the whole
world so grand as a horse--not one anywhere--no, not anywhere at all.’

Grania listened to all this in perfect silence. These aspirations of
Murdough found her very much colder than his more juvenile ones used to
find her. They did not stimulate her imagination, somehow now, on the
contrary they merely made her feel vaguely uncomfortable and cross. All
this talk about money and fine horses, and the quality, and what he
would have done if he himself had been one of the quality was a mere
fairy tale, and moreover a very tiresome fairy tale to her. There was
nothing about it that she could attach any idea to; nothing which seemed
to have any connection with themselves, or their own life present or
future. She went on steadily cleaning out her drills, scraping the small
stones in front of her and laying them in heaps at the side. Murdough
meanwhile, having finished everything he had to say upon the subject of
horsemanship, had travelled away to another topic, explaining,
expounding, elaborating, pouring forth a flood of illustrations such as
his native tongue is rich in. It was a torrent to which there was
apparently no limit, and which, once started, could flow as readily and
continue as long in one direction as in another.

Grania was hardly listening. She wanted--she hardly herself knew _what_
she wanted--but certainly it was not words. Why would Murdough always
go on talk, talk, talking? she thought irritably. She admired his
interminable flow of words of course--she would not have been Irish had
she not done so--at the same time she was conscious of a vague grudge
against them. They seemed always to be coming between them. They were
her rivals after a fashion, and she was not of a temper to put up
patiently with rivals, even invisible ones.

‘Man above! but it is late ’tis getting!’ she suddenly exclaimed. ‘And
I, that ought to have gone home before this!--yes indeed,’ she added,
looking up at the sky, in which the light had shifted considerably
towards the west since they had been there together. ‘Honor will wonder
not to see me. It is half an hour ago I should have gone, so it is.’

‘Is it worse than common she is to-day?’ Murdough inquired carelessly,
getting up from his rock and stretching himself with an air of
immeasurable fatigue.

‘It is not better any way,’ the girl answered curtly.

A great heap of seaweed which she had brought up from the shore was
lying close under the low lacework wall of the little enclosure. Taking
up her fork she stuck it into the whole mass, twisting it about so as to
make it adhere; then with a sudden lift she raised the fork with all its
dangling burden and laid it against her shoulder, and so burdened
prepared to mount the hill.

Murdough watched her proceedings with an air of impartial approval.
‘_Monnum a Dhea!_ but it is yourself that is the powerful strong girl,
Grania O’Malley. There is not many of the boys, I tell you, on Inishmaan
that is stronger than you--no, nor as strong either, so there is not,’
he observed appreciatively.

Grania smiled proudly. She knew that she was strong, and took an immense
pride in her own strength; moreover, speeches like these were about the
nearest approaches to compliments that Murdough ever paid her, and she
treasured them accordingly.

They walked on together over the rocky platform till they had reached
its edge, where a low cliff or single gigantic stair rose
perpendicularly, leading to the one beyond. Here Murdough, who was a
little in front, clambered leisurely up, catching at the overhanging lip
of the step with his hand, and pulling himself easily upwards with its
aid till he stood upon the higher level. Then he waited for Grania.

With her dangling burden of seaweed depending from her shoulder it was
not quite so easy for her to do the same. To have handed the whole
thing, fork and all, to Murdough until she had in her turn climbed to
where he stood would have been the simplest course, but then it was not
a course that would have occurred to either of them. Murdough was
supposed by Honor and the rest of the world to help Grania at her work,
not having any work in particular of his own to do, but in reality their
mutual share of that work was always exactly what it had been that
afternoon. Habits grow as rapidly as ragweeds, especially where life is
of the simplest, and where two people are practically agreed as to how
that life is to be carried on; and that Murdough should trouble himself
about anything that it was possible for her to do single-handed had long
seemed to both of them a sheer absurdity. They might and did have
differences about other matters, but so far they were absolutely at

Now, therefore, as usual, the rule held. Grania lowered the fork on her
shoulder, so as to reduce its weight, bringing it down until its burden
of seaweed covered her back and head. Then, exerting her muscles to the
utmost, she scrambled up, half blinded by the sticky black stuff which
dangled over her eyes, helping herself as best she could with her left
hand and wedging her knees into the small clefts as they rose one above
the other, till at last, her face red and bathed in perspiration though
the day was cold, she stood upon the ridge above.

This time Murdough did not compliment her in words upon her strength,
but his glance seemed to say the same thing, and she was content.

From this point they had no more steps to climb, though they had to make
a slight circuit to avoid a second and steeper one which lay just below
the gully. Following the course of a small valley, grass-grown and
boulder-dotted, they presently found themselves in the street, if street
it could be called, of a tiny hamlet, consisting of some five or six
stone cabins upon one side and three or four upon the other, minute
cabins, built of materials so disproportionately big that two or three
of the stone slabs sufficed for the length of a wall, which walls were
grey as the still living rocks around them, and, like them, might have
been seen on inspection to be covered with a close-fitting suit of
lichens, sedums, and such small crops, with here and there something
taller sprouting where a chink gave it foothold, or a piece of earth,
fallen from the decaying thatch above, offered a temporary home.

This was Ballinlisheen, second or third largest of the towns of
Inishmaan. A good many of its citizens--most of them apparently very old
women--were sitting upon their heels at the doorsteps as the two young
people came up the track, Murdough sauntering leisurely along with his
hands in his pockets, Grania with her black load of seaweed dangling
half-way down her back. The latter did not stop to speak to anyone. She
was in a hurry to get back to Honor, being conscious of having already
delayed too long. Murdough, though a young man generally open to all
social advances, was beginning to get hungry, so he, too, kept on
steadily beside her, giving only an occasional nod or word of greeting
as first one and then another head craned forward into the narrow space
between the opposing doorways.

Conversation, which had lagged a little in Ballinlisheen before their
coming, began to stir and grow brisk again after they had passed on and
were moving along the top of the nearest ridge.

‘She _is_ the big girl, Grania O’Malley! the powerful big girl, my
conscience, yes,’ said old Stacia Casey, Mick Halliday’s wife,
stretching out a neck long and scraggy as a turkey’s and looking after
them with an air of contemplation.

‘Murdough Blake tops her by the head,’ replied her neighbour Deb Cassidy
from the opposite side of the street, in a tone of contradiction.

‘He does not, then, nor by the half of it,’ retorted the other in the
same spirit. ‘Is it marrying him she’ll be, I wonder?’ she added after a
minute’s pause.

‘Is it eating her dinner she’ll be?’ exclaimed her friend with a laugh.
‘_Wurrah! wurrah!_ but ’tis the real born fool you must be, woman, to be
asking such a question.’

‘Ugh! ugh! but ’tis the real born fool _she_ will be if she _does_ marry
him!’ grunted an enormously big old woman, much older than any of the
other speakers, Peggy Dowd by name, the professional story teller, and
at that time the oldest inhabitant of Inishmaan. She was supposed to
live with a widowed daughter, herself a woman of nearly sixty, but was
to be found anywhere else in preference, her great age and standing
reputation making her everywhere acceptable, or at all events accepted.

‘Murdough Blake, wisha!’ she went on, emptying the small black pipe she
was smoking with a sharp rap upon the stones. ‘Trath, ’tis the poor lot
those Blakes of Alleenageeragh are, and always have been, so they have!
There was this one’s grandfather--myself remembers him when he was no
older than this one--no, nor so old by a year--a fine bouchaleen you’d
say to look at him--broad and bulky, and a clean skin, and a toss to his
head as if all the rest in the place were but dirt and he picking his
steps about amongst them. Well, what was he? He was just nothing, that
is what he was, and so I tell you, women, not worth a thraneen, no, nor
the half of a thraneen. Ugh! ugh! ugh! don’t talk to me of the Blakes
of Alleenageerah, for I tell you I know them--I know them, those Blakes
of Alleenageeragh. St. Macdara! I _do_ know them, and have reason to
know them! There was another--Malachy Blake his name was--a great man,
full of gosther and brag; you’d think it was the world he must have for
himself, the whole world, no less, from Liscanor Head to Renvyle Point
out yonder, and farther still. Well, I will tell you now about Malachy
Blake. The heart of him was no better than the heart of a pullet--of a
sick pullet, when the eyes of it begin to turn up, and it squeaks when
you take it in your hand and turns over and dies on the floor. That was
what Malachy Blake’s heart was like--no better! I have heard him one day
so you’d think the wind flying over the top of the island or the stars
shining up in the sky would stoop down to listen to him, and the very
next minute I have seen a little pinkeen of a man not up to his shoulder
give him the go-by and abuse him before the girls, and he never showing
no spirit nor a thing, no more than if he was dead. _Phoo! phoo! phoo!_
I know them, those Blakes of Alleenageeragh. There is a story that I
could tell you about that same Malachy Blake would make the very eyes of
you start out of your head, so it would. But there--’tis a poor case,
God knows, to be telling stories to them that knows nothing; a poor
case, a very poor case! A fine man he was anyway to look at, I’ll say
that for him, Malachy Blake, finer than this one, or six of him! and
there was a many a girl in the place liked him well enough, though ’tis
flat and low in his grave he is now, and has been these thirty years.
_Phoo! phoo!_ flat and low in his grave he is. Yes, indeed, flat and low
for all his boasting! But I shall be sorry for Grania O’Malley and for
that good woman her sister if she marries young Murdough Blake, so I
shall; very sorry! very sorry!’

‘It is not long Honor O’Malley will be in this world, marrying or no
marrying,’ said another old woman, many years younger than the last
speaker, Molly Muldoon by name, a brisk, apple-faced little spinster of
fifty-seven or thereabouts. ‘It was only yesterday I was with her at
their own house yonder, and it was the death-streak I saw plainly under
her left eye, the death-streak that no one can live two months once it
comes out on them. Oh, a good woman Honor O’Malley is, as you say, Mrs.
Dowd, ma’am, none better in this world, nor beyond it either--a real
saint, and a credit to Inishmaan and all belonging to her. It is myself
has promised to be with her at the last, and at her laying out and at
everything, so I have. “Keep Grania away,” says she to me only
yesterday. “’Tis broke the child’s heart will be any way, and what good
is it to be tearing the life out of her and I past knowing anything
about it? Send for Murdough Blake,” says she, “the minute the breath is
out of my body, and bid him take her with my blessing and comfort her.”
Those were the very words she said. Oh, yes, a good woman, and a kind
woman, and a tender woman is Honor O’Malley, a real saint. It is the
loss she will be to Inishmaan, the great loss entirely.’

Mrs. Dowd grunted. She was not much of a devotee of saints, certainly
not of contemporary ones.

‘And if it isn’t the real out-and-out right wake and funeral she gets it
will be the shame of the place, no better,’ Molly Muldoon went on in a
tone of enthusiasm. ‘Candles--the best wax ones--with tobacco and
spirits for the men, and a plate of white salt to lay on her breast, and
the priest, or may be two priests, over from Aranmore. That is the
least she should have, so it is, for none ever deserved it better than
Honor O’Malley, so they did not.’

‘They’re rich too, the O’Malleys,’ remarked Deb Cassidy from her side of
the path--‘money laid by, and warm people always from first to last, no
warmer anywhere. Oh, a real rich girl is Grania O’Malley--my God! yes,
rich. There are not three girls on Inishmaan as rich as she is--no, not
two, nor any other at all, I am thinking.’

‘Trath, and it is none too rich she’ll find herself when she is married
to Murdough Blake!’ old Peggy Dowd said bitterly. ‘’Tis down from the
sky or up from the sea those Blakes of Alleenageeragh do expect the
money to be coming to them. A gosthering, spending, _having_ brood they
are and always have been. Rich is it? Gorra! ’tis eight days in the week
she’ll find herself working for all her money if she means to keep a
roof over her head and Murdough Blake under it--yes, and going a
shaughraun most like at the tail of it all, so she will. Mark my words,
women, so she will, so she will!’

No one ventured to contradict this prophecy, Peggy O’Dowd’s age and
reputation making the course perilous. There was a few minutes’ silence,
after which Molly Muldoon was the first to break up the conclave. She
was the chief rearer of chickens on Inishmaan, and now got up briskly to
see after the various broods to which every corner of her cabin was
dedicated. One by one, most of the other women, too, got up and moved
indoors on various domestic duties, till at last only old Peggy herself
remained behind. She had no household duties to see to. She was a mere
visitor, a sitter beside other people’s hearths and a sharer of other
people’s victuals. She remained, therefore, squatting in the same place
upon the doorstep, her big blue patched cloak hitched about her
shoulders, her knees nearly on a level with her big projecting chin, her
broad face, once immensely fat, now fallen into deep furrows and
hollows, growing gradually impassive as the momentary excitement of
recalling her old grudge against the Blakes faded away or got merged in
other and probably equally long-remembered grudges. Sitting there
hunched in her big cloak, she might at a little distance have been taken
for some sort of queer vegetable growth--a fungus, say, or toadstool,
which had slowly drawn to itself all the qualities--by preference the
less benignant ones--of the soil from which it had sprung. In places
like Inishmaan, where change has hardly any existence, the loves, hates,
feuds, animosities of fifty or sixty years ago may often be found on
examination to be just as green and just as unforgotten as those of


Grania and Murdough had parted meanwhile upon the top of the ridge close
to the old Mothar Dun, he going west, she east. When she reached home
she found the cabin door still shut, a hen and clutch of chickens
sitting upon the step waiting to be let in. It was evident that no one
had been either in or out since she left it five or six hours before.

Inside the cabin was very dark, and Honor’s thin white face showed
ghost-like against this setting. She was half sitting, half lying, upon
her bed, with her eyes closed, though she was not asleep, a board and a
pillow covered with a bit of old striped cotton supporting her.
Everything around had the peculiarly chocolate hue of peat. The cabin
was clean--for an Irish cabin commendably clean--but the whole had the
deeply-dyed, almost black, hue of a Rembrandt background. The face of
the sick woman herself might have come from the canvas of quite a
different master. Early Italian painters have all tried their hands at
it. How well we know it!--that peculiar look, a look of toil-worn
peace--peace caught as it were out of the inmost heart of pain;--the
hollow cheek, the deeply-marked eye-sockets, the eyes looking out as
prisoners’ eyes look from their dungeon bars;--we all recognise it when
great art shows it to us, though rarely, if ever, otherwise. Upon a
canvas Honor O’Malley’s face might have been the face of a saint or a
martyr. It _was_ the face of a saint or a martyr, as saints and martyrs
find their representation in these days of ours. Three long years the
poor woman had lain there dying. Consumption had its hold upon her. It
had been very slow and deliberate in its approaches--nay, in its earlier
stage might have been arrested altogether had there been any means at
hand of attempting anything of the sort, which, of course, there were
not. Who can say what hours of pain had worn themselves out in that
smoke-dyed corner? Who can say how many supplications had risen out of
its recesses, how often the eternal complaint of the sea licking the
base of the cliffs had seemed to Honor the voice of her own silent
complaining, the unresting cry of the night wind her own dumb cries made
audible? She had won peace now. She was dying comparatively quickly.
Mercy was fast coming nearer and nearer, and would presently touch her
with its wings.

Grania’s step sounded on the rocks without, and she looked up suddenly,
a smile of welcome waking in her hollow eyes.

‘Is it yourself, it is, allanah?’ she exclaimed joyfully as the younger
sister came quickly in, pushed upon the shoulders of the gust which
always lurked in the throat of that gully.

‘’Tis myself, and ’tis wanting me you have been this while back, Honor,
I know,’ the girl replied in quick tones of self-reproach.

‘Augh, no, child, ner a bit; ’twas only I--’ here her voice was stopped
by an access of coughing, which shook her from head to foot and brought
a momentary flush to her poor sunken cheeks.

Grania stood by penitently, helpless till the paroxysm was exhausted and
the coughing had ceased.

‘’Twas the potatoes,’ she said apologetically when Honor again lay back,
white and dry-lipped. ‘’Tis a bitter while they take this year,
whatever the reason is; and then Phelim, the creature, came, and I got
listening to him, and then Murdough Blake and--’

‘Wurrah! whist with the tongue of you, and don’t be telling me, child!
Is it within the four walls of a house I would be keeping my bird all
the long day?’ the sick woman said with tender impatience. ‘’Tis the
uselessness of me, I was going to say, kills me. Never a pot cleaned nor
a thing done since morning. But there! God knows, and He sent it; so
’tis all for the best, sure and certain.’

Grania without another word picked up the three-legged black pot, and
ran to fill it at the well outside, setting it down on the fire when she
returned, and beginning to mix in the oatmeal by handfuls for the
stirabout which was to serve for their evening meal.

Honor lay watching her, her face still flushed from the last fit of
coughing, the perspiration standing out in drops on her forehead and
under her hollow eye-sockets, but a great look of content gradually
spreading over her face as her eyes followed her sister’s movements.

As long as it had been possible she had gone on working, long, indeed,
after she ought to have ceased to do so. Her spinning wheel still stood
near her in a corner, though it was nearly a year since she had been
able to touch it. Her knitting lay close at hand. That she still
occasionally worked at, and even managed to mend her own clothes and
Grania’s, and to keep her own immediate surroundings sweet and clean.

Irish cabins are not precisely bowers of refinement, yet this corner,
where Honor O’Malley’s life had been for years ebbing slowly away, told
a tale in its way of a purity which, if it did not amount to
refinement, amounted to something better. Outside the wind howled,
sweeping with a vicious whirl over the long naked ledges, loosening here
and there a thin flake of stone, which spun round and round for a moment
like a forest leaf, then fell with a light pattering noise upon the
ridge below. Inside the sods crackled dully, as the fire blown by Grania
ran along their ragged brown sides, or shot into a flame whenever a
stray fibre helped it on.

Besides the two owners, and not counting an itinerant population of
chickens varying in ages and degrees of audacity, the cabin boasted one
other inmate. The dog tax being unknown, nearly every Irish cabin has
its cur, and on the Aran isles the dogs are only less numerous than the
babies. The O’Malleys, however, had no dog, and their house-friend (the
_r_ in the last word might appropriately have been omitted) was a small
yellow, or, rather, orange-coloured, cat, noted as having the worst
temper of any cat upon Inishmaan. Whether in consequence of this temper,
or in spite of it, there was no cat who appeared to have also so
constant a train of feline adorers. Remote as the O’Malleys’ cabin
stood, it was the recognised rendezvous of every appreciative Tom upon
the island, so that at night it was sometimes even a little startling to
open the door suddenly and catch the steady glitter of a row of watchful
eyes, or to see three, four, or five retreating forms creeping
feloniously away over the rocks.

‘’Tis the milk she does be tasting already, the little snaking beast,’
Honor said, pointing to it, as it sat furtively licking its lips close
to the hearth.

Grania struck the cat a light tap on the nose with the iron spoon she
was stirring the pot with, an insult to which it responded with a
vicious spitting mew, and a backward leap, which seemed to set all its
orange-coloured coat on edge in a moment.

‘Was it along by the sea-way you were to-day, allanah?’ Honor pursued

‘I was, sister.’

‘Did you pass by the old chapel?’

‘I did, Honor.’

‘Then you said, I’ll be bound, a prayer at the little old cross for me,
as I bade you do?’

‘Well, then, Honor, I will not tell you a lie--no, I will not--but I
never once thought of it,’ Grania replied penitently. ‘You see, Murdough
Blake he was with me, and we got colloguing. But sure, sister asthor,
don’t fret, and I’ll go to-morrow by the first streak of day and say as
many as ever you tell me, so I will, Honor.’

Honor for answer sighed and lay back against the wooden settle as if
some habitual source of trouble was weighing upon her mind.

‘Grania, it is a bad thing for you that there is no priest on Inishmaan,
a very bad thing,’ she said, earnestly, an ever-present source of
anxiety coming to the front, as it often did when she and Grania were
alone. ‘How is a young girsha to learn true things if there is no one in
it to teach her? When I lie at night in bed thinking, thinking, I think
of you Grania, and I pray to God and the Holy Mother, and to all the
tender saints, that it may not be laid against you. Sure how can the
child know, I say, and she never taught? The Holy Mother will know how
’twas, and may be when I get there, Grania, she’ll let me say the word,
and show that it was no fault of yours, allanah, for how could you know
and none here to teach you, only me that knows nothing and less than
nothing myself?’

Grania’s fierce grey eyes filled for a moment. Then with a sudden
impulse she flung her head back, lifting the iron spoon she had just
tapped the cat’s nose with, and holding it defiantly in front of her.

‘Then I don’t want none of them to be learning me, only you, Honor--so,
I do not,’ she said irritably. ‘I couldn’t bear to be driven or bid by
any of them--so, I couldn’t!’

‘Is it a priest, Grania? My God! child, you don’t know what you’re
saying! A priest! Why, everyone that ever was born into this world, man
or woman, must obey a priest. You know that right well yourself, and
what would be the end of them if they didn’t, so you do.’

‘I don’t care. I would not be bid, no, not by anyone,’ Grania answered
defiantly. ‘And the priests arn’t all so good as you say, Honor, so they
are not. I mind me there was a young girl over by Cashla way told me of
the priest where she lived--Father Flood his name was--a terrible hard
man he was, and carried a big stick, so he did, and beat the children
frightful when they were bould--yes indeed. And one day she was going
herself to the chapel and hurt her foot on the way, and couldn’t get in
till Mass was half over. And Father Flood he saw her coming up, and he
frowned at her from the altar to stop by the door, and not dare come
nearer. So she waited, trembling all over, and wanting to tell him what
happened. But presently he come down the chapel, and when he got close
to her he caught her without a word by the side hair--just here, Honor,
she told me, above the ear--as he was passing by to the door, and pulled
her by it right after him out of the chapel. And when they were outside
he shook her up and down and backwards and forwards as hard as he
could, yes, indeed, as hard as ever he could, she told me, and she
crying all the time, and begging and praying of him to stop, and every
time she tried to tell him what hindered her he just shook the harder,
till it was time for him to be going in again, when he gave her a great
push which laid her flat on the grass, and back with him himself into
the chapel again. And she only ten years old and a widow’s child!’

Honor sighed. ‘’Tis hard, God knows, ’tis hard,’ she said. ‘The world is
a cruel place, especially for them that’s weak in it. There is no end to
the pain and the trouble of it, no end at all,’ she said in a tone of
discouragement. ‘But, Grania dear, sure isn’t it what we suffer that
does us the good? “Pains make saints!” I heard a good woman I used to
know, that’s dead now, say that often. “Pains make saints,” “Pains make
saints,”’ she repeated softly over and over to herself.

‘’Tisn’t the hurting I’d care about,’ Grania said scornfully. ‘I’ve hurt
myself often and never minded. ’Tis being bid by them that have no call
or care to you. If one done to me what was done to that girl at Cashla
I’d hit him back, so I would, let him be ten times a priest.’

Honor gave a sudden scream of dismay. ‘Och then, whist! and whist! and
whist, child!’ she cried, piteously. ‘What are you saying at all, at
all? Saints be above us, Grania, and keep you from being heard this day,
I pray, amen! Sure a priest’s not a man! You know that well enough.
_Wurrah! wurrah!_ that you would speak so! And I that learned her from
the start! Holy Virgin, ’tis _my_ fault, all _my_ fault. The child’s
destroyed, and all through me! My God, my God, what will I do? Och, what
will I do? Och, what will I do, at all, at all?’

Grania ran remorsefully and put her arms about her sister, whose thin
form was shaken as if it would fall to pieces by the sudden violence of
her trouble. Honor let herself be soothed back to quietness, but her
face still worked painfully, and on her pale brow and moving lips it was
easy to read that she was still inwardly offering up petitions
calculated to appease the wrath thus rashly evoked.

Grania’s penitence was real enough so far as Honor was concerned, but it
did not alter her private opinion as regards the matter in dispute. ‘I’d
think him a man if he hit me, let him be what he would!’ she repeated to
herself as she ran into the next room to fetch the milk set out of reach
of the cat since the morning’s milking.


The stirabout ready, the two sisters ate their meal together. Honor’s
was that of a blackbird. In vain Grania coaxed her with the best-mixed
corner of the pot; in vain added milk, breaking in little bits of
carefully-treasured white bread, brought from the mainland. The sick
woman pretended to eat, but in reality barely moistened her lips with
the milk and touched a corner of the bread. When she could persuade her
to take no more Grania settled down to her own share, and with the aid
of her yellow auxiliary speedily cleared the pot. With a man’s power of
work she had a man’s healthy appetite, and could often have disposed of
more food than fell to her share.

The meal over she got up, went to the door, and stood awhile looking
down the gully towards the seashore. It was getting dusk, and the night
was strangely cold. The wind sweeping in from the north-east felt rough
and harsh. No screen or protection of any sort was to be found upon this
side of the island. Worse still, fuel was scarce and dear. As a rule,
the poor suffer less in Ireland from cold than from most of the other
ills of life. A smoke-saturated cabin is warm if it is nothing else.
Turf, too, is generally abundant; often to be had for the trouble of
fetching it home. In the Aran isles there are no bogs, consequently
there is no turf, and the cost of carriage from the mainland has to be
added, therefore, to its price. The traffic, too, being in a few hands,
those few make their own profit out of it, and their neighbours are more
or less at their mercy.

Upon Inishmaan, the most retrograde of the three islands, turf is
scarcer and dearer than on either Aranmore or Inisheer. Sometimes the
supply vanishes utterly in the winter, and until fresh turf can be
fetched from the mainland the greatest suffering prevails; dried cowdung
and every other substitute having to be resorted to to supply its place.
Grania was always careful to lay in a good supply of turf in the autumn,
and the sisters’ rick was noted as the tallest and solidest on the
island. This year, however, it had melted mysteriously away, much
earlier than usual. They had burned a good deal, for the winter had been
a severe one, and the sick woman suffered greatly from cold. Still
Grania had suspicions that someone had been tampering with their rick,
though, so far, she had said nothing about the matter to Honor, not
wishing her to be troubled about it.

It was nearly time now to go down and see if the kelp fire was burning,
and to set it in order for the night--the last task always in the day
during the kelp-burning season. Murdough Blake had promised to meet her
there, and the consciousness of this made her feel dimly remorseful at
the thought of again leaving Honor, although the kelp fire had to be
seen to, and she had no intention of lingering a minute longer than she
could help. With this idea in her mind she turned to look at her sister,
a mere shadow now in her dusky corner, from which the hacking sound of a
cough broke, with mournful iteration, upon the silence. A sudden feeling
of pity, a sudden intense sense of contrast, swept over the girl’s mind
as she did so. She would have been incapable of putting the thought into
words, but she felt it, nevertheless. Herself and Honor! What a
difference! Yet why? Why should it be so? Honor so good, so patient, she
herself so much the contrary! With that strong pictorial faculty which
comes of an out-of-door life, she already saw herself racing down the
hill towards the shore where the kelp fire was built; already _felt_ the
gritty texture of the rocks under her feet, the peculiarly springy
sensation that the overhanging lip of one ledge always lent as you
sprang from it to the next beyond; saw herself arriving in the narrow
stony gorge where the kelp was burnt; saw the glow of its fire, a narrow
trough of red ashes half covered and smothered with seaweed; saw
Murdough Blake coming through the dusk to meet her. At this point a
mixture of sensations, too complicated to be quite comfortable, came
over her, and she left her momentary dreams for the reality, which at
least was straightforward enough.

‘Is there e’er a thing I can do, sister, before I go?’ she asked.

‘Ne’er a thing at all, child. ’Tis asleep you’ll find me most like when
you come back,’ Honor answered cheerfully.

Grania left a cup with water in it within the sick woman’s reach,
covered the fire with ashes, so that it might keep alight, laid her own
cloak over Honor, and went out.

She was already late, and Murdough, she knew, had the strongest possible
objections to being kept waiting; accordingly she hurried down the rocky
incline at a pace that only one accustomed from babyhood to its
intricacies could have ventured to go.

As she hurried along her own movements brought the blood tingling
through her veins, and her spirits rose insensibly. She felt glad and
light, she hardly herself knew why. Leaping from one rocky level to
another, her feet beat out a ringing response to the clink of the
grooved and chiselled rocks against which they struck. Once she stopped
a moment to clutch at a tuft of wood sorrel, springing out of a
fissure, and crammed it all, trefoiled leaves and half-expanded pale
grey flowers, into her mouth, enjoying the sweet sub-acid flavour as she
crunched them up between her strong white teeth.

Better fed than most of her class, her own mistress, without grinding
poverty, the mere joy of life, the sheer animal zest and intoxication of
living was keener in her than it often is in those of her own rank and
sex in Ireland. Of this she was herself dimly aware. Did others find the
same pleasure merely in breathing--merely in moving and working--as she
did, she sometimes wondered. Even her love for Honor--the strongest
feeling but one she possessed--the despair which now and then swept over
her at the thought of losing her, could not check this. Nay, it is even
possible that the enforced companionship for so many hours of the day
and night of that pitiful sick-bed, the pain and weakness which she
shared, so far as they could be shared, lent a sort of reactionary zest
to the freedom of these wild rushes over the rocks and through the cold
sea air. She did not guess it herself, but so no doubt it was.

The dusk lingers long in the far north-west, and upon the Aran islands
longer apparently than elsewhere, owing to their shining environment of
sea and still more to their treeless rain-washed surfaces, which reflect
every atom of light as upon a mirror. It was getting really dark now,
however, and the sea below her was all one dull purplish grey, barred at
long intervals with moving patches of a yet deeper shadow. Splashes of
white or pale yellowish lichens flung upon the dark rocks stood out here
and there, looking startlingly light and distinct as she neared them.
They might have been dim dancing figures, or strange grimacing faces
grinning at her out of the obscurity. Over everything hung an intense
sense of saltness--in the air, upon the rocks, on the short grass which
crisped under foot with the salty particles as with a light hoar-frost.
Fragments of dry crumpled-up seaweed, like black rags, lay about
everywhere, showing that the kelp fires were not far off.

She hastened her steps. Was Murdough already there? she wondered. He
was. As she came round the corner she saw him leaning against a big
boulder, a ‘Stranger’ like the one that blocked the mouth of their own
gully; ice-dropped granite blocks whose pale rounded forms stud by
thousands the darker limestone of the islands.

‘My faith and word, Grania O’Malley, but it is the late woman you are
to-night!’ he said, straightening himself from his lounging posture and
speaking in a tone of offence.

‘I know I am, Murdough agra!’

There was a tone of unusual submissiveness about the girl’s voice as she
advanced towards him through the dusk; a look almost of shyness in her
eyes as she lifted them to his in the dimness.

‘My faith and word but it is the long time, the _very_ long time, I have
been kept waiting. And it is the ugly lonely place for a man to be kept
waiting in!’ he continued in the same aggrieved tone. ‘And it was not to
please myself I came either. No, it was not, but just to help you with
the kelp fire. And it is not one foot of me I would have come--no, nor
the half of a foot--if I had thought you would have served me so.’

‘Honor kept me. ’Tis sick she is this evening, worse than common,’
Grania answered simply. ‘Was it wanting me very badly you were, Murdough
agra?’ she added, in the same tone as before.

‘Yes, it was wanting you _very_ badly I was, Grania O’Malley, for it was
the _Fear Darrig_ I could not help thinking of, and that it was just the
place to see him, and it was that made me want you, for they say two
people do never see him at the one time, and it is not I that want to
see him now, nor at any time--not at all, so I do not!’

‘My grandfather, he saw the _Fear Darrig_ many’s the time,’ Murdough
continued, presently, in a more amicable tone; ‘he would, maybe, be
setting his lines at night and it would look up at him sudden out of the
water. Once, too, he told my grandmother he was up near the big Worm
hole and it run at him on a sudden, and danced up and down before him,
for all the world like a red Boffin pig gone mad. Round and round it ran
as clear as need be in the moonlight, laughing and leaping and clapping
its hands, and he praying for the bare life all the while, and shutting
his eyes for fear of what he’d see, and not a single saint in the whole
sky minding him, no more than if he’d been an old black Protestant

‘You have never seen the _Fear Darrig_, have you, Murdough?’ Grania
asked with a slightly mocking accent, as she began to busy herself with
collecting the dry seaweed and heaping it upon the smouldering fire.

‘Well, then, I have not, Grania O’Malley, but a man that is in Galway
and lives near Spiddal--a tall big man he is, by the name of
O’Rafferty--he told me that he had seen him not long since. He was going
to a fair to sell some chickens that his wife had been rearing--fine
young spring chickens they were--and he had them tied in an old basket
and it on his back. And he had to go across a place where the sea runs
bare, and the tide being out, there were big black rocks sticking up
everywhere. It was a strange, lonesome place, he said, full of big
hollows between the rocks, and he didn’t half like the look of it, for
the day was very dark and he was afraid every minute the tide might be
coming in on him, and the basket on his back kept slipping and slipping
with every step he made, and not another creature near him, good or bad.
“Arrah! what will I do now, at all, at all?” says he to himself, when,
all of a sudden, he heard a sort of a croaking noise behind him, and he
turned round, and there on the top of one of the rocks sat a little old
man with a face as red as a ferret, and an old red hat on his head, and
he croaking like a scald crow and squinting at him out of the two eyes.’

Murdough paused dramatically, but Grania merely went on stacking her
seaweed, and he had to continue his narrative without any special

‘Well, O’Rafferty, he just took one look he told me, no more, and with
that he dropped the basket that was on his back, with the spring
chickens in it and all, and he set to running, and he run and he run
till he was over the place, and away with him across the fields beyond,
and never stopped till he had run the breath all out of his body, and
himself right into the middle of the place where the fair was held! And
it was the devil’s own abuse he got from his wife, so it was, he said,
when he got home that night, for letting her fine spring chickens be
drowned on her, which she had been months upon months of rearing.’

‘Then it is the cowardly man I think he was,’ Grania said scornfully,
lifting her head from her work for a moment. ‘If it had been me, I would
have looked twice, so I would, and not anyway have let the young
chickens be lost and drowned in the sea.’

‘Then I do not think he was the cowardly man at all,’ Murdough replied
warmly; ‘and for chickens, what is the use of fine spring chickens or of
money itself, or of a thing good or bad, if a man’s life is all but the
same as lost with him being terrified out of his senses with looking at
what no man ought to be looking at? It is quite right, I think, Patrick
O’Rafferty was, and it is what I would have done myself--yes, indeed I

Grania answered nothing, but her face did not relax from its
indifferent, scornful expression, as with skilful hand she rapidly fed
the kelp fire from the big black heap of seaweed hard by.

Murdough, however, was by this time in the full swing of narrative. All
he cared for was an audience, whether sympathetic or unsympathetic
mattered little.

‘It is a very strange thing, so it is, a very strange thing, but it is
not the worst things that give a man often the worst frights, so it is
not,’ he said, in a tone of profound reflection. ‘I have been out in the
boats many and many a time when the sea would be getting up, and the
other boys about me would be screaming and praying, and in the devil’s
own fright, fearing lest they’d be drowned. Well, now, I was not
frightened then--no, not one little bit in the world, Grania O’Malley,
no more than if I had been at home and in my bed! The very worst fright
ever I got in my life--well, I cannot tell you what it was that
frightened me so, no, I can_not_! I was out by myself in Martin Kelly’s
curragh, fishing for the mackerel, and it was getting a bit dark, but
the sea was not wild, not to say wild at all; there was no reason to be
frightened, no reason in life, when all at once--like that--I took the
fright! I did not want to take it, you may believe me, and I cannot tell
you, no, I can_not_, to this day, nor never, what it was frightened me
so. It was just as if there were two people in the inside of me, and one
of them laughed at the other and said, “Why, Murdough Blake, man alive,
what the devil ails you to-day?” but the other he never answered a
single word, only shook and shook till it seemed as if the clothes on my
back would be all shaken to pieces.’

‘And what did you do?’ Grania asked, pausing in her stacking, and
leaning upon her fork to listen.

‘Well, then, I will tell you what I did, yes I will, Grania O’Malley. I
just shut my eyes tight, and I rowed, and I rowed. How I rowed and my
two eyes shut tight, I cannot tell you, but I did. If I had opened them
ever so little I made sure I should have seen--God alone knows what I
would have seen, but something worse than any living man ever saw
before. Once I heard a gull scream close to my head, and I screamed
myself too, yes, I did, my faith and honour, never a word of lie. The
clothes on my back they were wet as the sea itself with sweat, what with
the fright and the way I was rowing, and when I got close to the rocks I
just opened my eyes a little weeshy bit--like that--and peeped out
between my eyelids, trembling all the while from head to foot with what
I might see and saying every prayer I could remember, and---- Well!
there was nothing there--nothing at all, no more than there is on the
palm of my hand!’

And he opened it wide, dramatically, to demonstrate his assertion.

This time Grania listened without any protest, mental or otherwise. Like
every Celt that ever was born she perfectly understood these sudden
unexplainable panics, more akin to those that affect sensitive animals,
horses particularly, than anything often felt by more stolid and
apathetic bipeds. Though not overflowing in words, as Murdough’s did,
her imagination was perhaps even more alive than his to those dim
formless visions which people the dusk, and keep alive in the Celt a
sense of vague presences, unseen but realisable--survivals of a whole
world of forgotten beliefs, unfettered by logic, untouched by education,
hardly altered even by later and more conscious beliefs, which have
rather modified these earlier ones than superseded them.

The kelp fire was by this time made up, and after beating down the top
of it so that it might keep alight all night, they turned and walked
back together through the darkness. The wind, which had been rising for
an hour past, blew with a dreary raking noise over the naked platforms.
Stepping carefully, so as to avoid the innumerable fissures, slippery as
the crevasses upon a glacier, they presently reached a narrow track, or
‘bohereen,’ which led between two lines of loosely-piled walls back to
the neighbourhood of the O’Malleys’ cabin.

It was almost absolutely pitch dark. Below them the sea was one vast
indistinguishable moaning waste. A single tall standing stone--one of
the many relics of the past which cover the islands--rose up against it
like some vaguely-warning sign-post. Stars showed by glimpses, but the
clouds rolled heavily, and the night promised to be an unpleasant one.

Grania felt vaguely irritated and unhappy, she did not know why. That
sense of elation with which she had run down over the rocks an hour ago
had passed away, and was replaced by a feeling of discomfort quite as
frequent with her as the other, especially when she and Murdough had
been for some time together. Everything seemed to irritate her--the
wind; the stones against which she stumbled; the clouds tossing and
drifting over her head; even the familiar moan of the sea had an
unexplainable irritation that night for her ear. Looking up at him as he
strode along beside her, a dim but substantial shadow in the darkness,
this sense of intense, though causeless, vexation was especially strong.
There were moments when it would have given her the deepest satisfaction
to have fallen upon him and beaten him soundly then and there with her
fists, so irritated was she, and so puzzled, too, by her own irritation.
Of all this, fortunately, he knew and suspected nothing. His own private
and particular world--the one in which he lived, breathed, and
shone--was as far apart as the poles from hers. A vast untravelled sea
stretched between them, and neither could cross from one to the other.

They parted at last upon the top of the ridge, close to the head of the
sprawling monster which always lay there, half buried beneath the rocks,
Murdough keeping straight on along the bohereen towards Alleenageeragh,
Grama turning short off across the lower platform, which speedily
brought her home.


Honor was not asleep. Her cough had kept her awake; the restlessness,
too, and weariness of illness making it difficult for her to find any
position endurable for more than a minute or two at a time.

Grania lifted her up and remade the bed. It was a fairly good one,
consisting of a mattress stuffed with sea-grass, a small feather bed
over that again, with blankets and a single sheet, coarse but clean.
This done, and the sick woman settled again, she pulled off her own
pampooties and stockings, unfastened her skirt, muttered a prayer, and
tossed herself without further ceremony upon her own pallet.

The howl of the wind grew as the night wore on. It was not as loud as it
often was, but it had a peculiarly teasing, ear-wearying wail. Now
shrill and menacing; now sinking into a whisper--an angry whisper filled
with a deep sense of wrong and injury and complaint. Then, as if that
sense of wrong was really too strong to be suppressed any longer, it
swelled and swelled into a loud waspish tone--one which, like some
scolding tongue, appeared to rise higher and higher the less it was
opposed; then, when at its highest pitch, it would suddenly drop again
to meanings and mutterings, full, it seemed, of impotent rage and dull
unuttered malice.

Despite her day’s work Grania could not sleep. She lay staring up at the
blackened rafters, lit here and there by a dim reddish flicker from the
almost dead turf. She could hear ‘Moonyeen’ stirring in her own private
cabin hard by. Now and then came the rattle of her horns against a
beam, or a pulling noise as the rope slipped up and down the stake to
which it was tied. A stealthy scratching, apparently from a mouse,
caught her ear, while Honor’s laboured breathing, broken now and then by
a hard, agonising cough, seemed to fill every pause left momentarily by
the wind.

She was beginning to get drowsy, but she still saw the rafters and heard
the scraping noise of the cow on the other side of the partition, only
the rafters seemed to be part of a boat, and there were fish now amongst
the hay, and nets and tackle dangling overhead. Murdough was there,
throwing out a line, and turning round to tell her that he was going to
be made king of Ireland. She herself was leaning over the boat’s side,
looking into the water, deeper, deeper, deeper, watching something like
a red spark that was coming up nearer and nearer to meet her. And as it
came close she saw that it was a red hat, and was upon the head of an
old man, and then she knew that it was the _Fear Darrig_. She tried to
turn away her eyes, but could not, for they seemed caught somehow and
dragged down. And Murdough shrieked, and pulled her petticoat to draw
her back, but, when he found that he couldn’t draw her back, he left off
pulling, and got out of the boat, and ran away from her across the sea.
Then she, too, tried to get out of the boat, and follow him over the
water; but something held her fast, and she could only stretch out her
arms to him and beg him to come back. But he never once turned his head,
only ran faster and faster, and she could hear his feet going patter,
patter, patter, and getting farther and farther away from her over the
sea as he ran.

Suddenly she was wide awake, but that patter of footsteps was still
going on. She could hear them quite distinctly--bare feet they seemed
to be, moving across the flags outside, rapidly and stealthily, as if
some one was passing along under a heavy load. Her thoughts instantly
flew to the stolen turf, and, leaping from her bed, she applied her face
to the little narrow square of window which opened above it. She was not
mistaken. The silhouette of a man’s figure was clearly distinguishable,
showing black for a moment against the white of the granite boulder
beyond. He was close to the mouth of the gully when she first caught
sight of him; another instant and he had passed beyond it, and it had
swallowed him up from her sight.

Grania never hesitated. Barefooted as she was, her clothes hanging
loosely around her, she opened the door and ran down the track, calling
to the man to stop. It was bound to be an invisible chase as long as she
was in the gully, but she expected to see the thief, whoever he was, at
the other end of it, and possibly to be able to catch him. To her
surprise, however, when she emerged breathless on the other side of the
gully not a living thing was to be seen. A flare of wild moonlight was
gleaming upon the stunted thorn-bushes; the platform of rock on which
she stood stretched away, grey and level, but living creature of any
sort or kind there was none. Overhead the clouds swept to and fro in
bewildering masses; the wind blew coldly; the moon, which for a moment
had shone so vividly, disappearing suddenly between rolling clouds, so
that the whole platform became indistinguishable.

Grania waited a while, peering eagerly round into all the fissures,
hoping for another gleam of moonlight which might enable her to discover
the delinquent. Instead of this a violent storm of rain suddenly burst
upon her as she stood there, drenching her to the skin in a moment. So
sudden and violent was it, and so quickly had it followed the former
gleam, that it had the effect of momentarily confusing her, almost as if
it had formed part of her dream.

Reluctantly she turned and retraced her steps through the gully. To
right and left as she now went up it the rain was beating with a furious
pattering noise, dashing upon the flat rocks, shooting out in small
spurts of spray, and forcing its way in all directions through a
thousand tortuous channels. As she emerged upon the other side of the
gully it seemed to her that someone was moving stealthily in the
direction from which she had come. There was so much noise around her,
however, that it was impossible to make certain, and, after pausing for
a moment, she came to the conclusion that she had been mistaken.

Turning once more before entering the cabin, it was curious to see how
in an instant the whole ground, a minute before dry, had become
converted into one vast streaming watercourse. Every little hole and
fissure within sight was already choked with water, the supply from
above coming down quicker than it could be disposed of, so that hollow
groans and chuckles of imprisoned air were heard rising on all sides as
from a seashore suddenly invaded by the advancing tide. It seemed as if
the fierce little gully itself must at this rate be utterly dissolved
and melted away to a mere pulp by the morning.


But the atmospheric surprises of such spots as Inishmaan are
inexhaustible. When next morning she again opened the cabin-door,
leaving Honor asleep, the rain and storm had vanished utterly, and
serenity reigned supreme over everything. The sky was such a sky as one
must go to Ireland--nay, to west Ireland--to see: great rolling masses
of clouds above, black or seemingly black by contrast with the pale
opaque serenity beneath. Parallel with and immediately above the horizon
spread a belt of sky filled with silvery clouds, pale as ghosts, rising
one over the other, tier on tier, like the circles of some celestial
amphitheatre. Now and then fragments of the darker region would detach
themselves and go floating across this silvery portion, their shadows
flung down one after the other as they went. Nowhere any direct
sunlight, yet the play of light and shadow was endless; tint following
tint, line following line, shade following shade in an interminable
gradation of light and movement. What gave tone and peculiarity to the
scene was that, owing to the wetness of the rocks and to their absolute
horizontality, the whole drama of the sky was repeated twice over; the
same shaft of light, seen first far off upon the most remote horizon,
telling its story again and again with absolute faithfulness upon the
luminous planes of rock as in a succession of enchanted mirrors.

Grania sat down on her accustomed seat, a bit of the upper ledge which
ran close to the great boulder and just at the mouth of the gully. She
had hardly slept at all, for Honor had awakened coughing, probably on
account of the open door, and for hours her cough had hardly ceased, the
oppression having been so great that twice it had seemed as if she must
suffocate before relief came. Grania had accordingly sat the greater
part of the night with her arm around her, supporting her in a sitting
posture, and it was not till towards six o’clock that Honor had fallen
into a doze, and that she had then been able to lie down.

She was tired out, therefore, as well as vexed by her unsuccessful chase
of the night before, and her mind was now busily going over what was to
be done about the turf. Already a large hole had been made in the rick,
and if this went on there would not be enough left to carry them on till
they got a fresh supply in the autumn. She ran over in her mind all the
evil-doers of the island, trying to fix upon the one most likely to be
the culprit. At first her thoughts had fixed themselves upon Shan Daly,
the black sheep par excellence, and as it were officially, of Inishmaan.
But Shan Daly was believed to be away at present, though no one knew
where, and on the whole she inclined to think that it was more likely to
have been Pete Durane, who lived on the other side of the island, a
little above Allinera, and whose record was by no means a blameless one
in the matter of petty larceny. The figure of which she had momentarily
caught a glimpse seemed more like that of Pete Durane, too, than of
Shan. Having come to this conclusion she decided to go round to the
Duranes’ house that morning, and see if, in the course of conversation,
any suspicious circumstances came to light. She also made up her mind to
watch again herself that evening. Perhaps Murdough Blake would come and
watch with her too. If so, they--

At this point a cough and faint stirring sound made itself heard from
the cabin, and she got up and went in.

Honor was lying upon her back, her face drawn and white with the long
conflict of the night. Her eyes opened, however, and turned, as they
always did, with a loving look upon her sister as she entered. Grania
lifted her up, propping her on her arm, and proceeded to arrange her for
the day. There was only one pillow in the cabin, so that the foundation
of the support by means of which she was enabled to sit erect had to be
made with the aid of an old fishing kish, which Grania had adapted for
the purpose. Raised upon this and the pillow over it, Honor could see
quite comfortably through the open door, here, as in every Irish cabin,
the chief means of observation with the outer world.

The sun had now struggled through the clouds and shone in at the
entrance with a sleepy radiance. In every direction the sound of
tinkling water was to be heard, as the residue of last night’s deluge
dripped from a thousand invisible chinks, falling with a soft, pattering
noise upon the platform which served as a sort of natural terrace to the
cabin. Against the steep, wet sides of the gully the light broke in
soft, prismatic gleams, which played up and down its fluted edges and
over the big face of the boulder in an incessant dance of colour. The
poor little weatherbeaten spot seemed filled for the moment to an almost
unnatural degree with soft movement and tender, playful radiance.

Honor gazed at it all from her bed, an expression of vague yearning
growing in her patient eyes.

Presently the brown sail of a hooker showed for a moment passing
between the rocks in the direction of the mainland.

Her eyes turned to follow it till it had passed beyond their reach.

‘That will be the Wednesday boat for Galway, Grania!’ she said in a tone
of mild excitement.

Grania was not looking. Her thoughts were still with the turf, and she
was going over in her mind the plan for that evening’s campaign. She
would tell her suspicions, she decided, to Murdough, and they would
watch behind the big boulder, or perhaps at the bottom of the gully.

‘Maybe, sister,’ she replied indifferently. ‘It is up to the Duranes’
house I must be going this morning,’ she added presently. ‘And, Honor,
it is not the kelp I need watch this evening. Will I--will I ask
Murdough Blake to come over, and sit with us a bit? It is not for a long
time, he says--no, not for a long, long time--that he has seen you.’

Honor suddenly reddened, and a curious look of embarrassment came into
her face.

‘Well, then, honey sweet, of course you can,’ she said, but in a tone of
such evident reluctance that Grania could not fail to observe it.

‘What is it ails you about Murdough?’ she asked curiously. ‘It is not
the first time, not the first by many, that you did not want him to come
here. Is it that you think anyway ill of him? Is it, Honor? Say, is it?’
she persisted anxiously.

‘Auch! child, no. Ill? Why would I think ill of him? Tis just--auch,
’tis just--’tis nothing in life but my own foolishness--nothing in life
but that. Heart of my soul! what wouldn’t I do if you asked me? and of
course he can come. But, ’tis just---- Auch, ’tis laughing at me you’ll
be, Grania--but you know when the fit takes me I must cough, and then
the phlegm--and--and--well, ’tis shamed I am, dear, shamed outright to
be sitting and spitting, you know, and a young man looking at me. That’s
just it, and nothing else in life, only that!’

Grania stared at her for a second open-eyed, then she, too, reddened
slightly. Such a reason would certainly never have dawned upon her mind.
Modest she was--no girl more so--but she took far too sturdy and
out-of-doors a view of life for any such fantastic notions of delicacy
as this to trouble her--notions which could only, perhaps, lurk and grow
up in such a nature as Honor’s, conventual by instinct, and now trebly,
artificially sensitive from ill health. Honor’s wishes were to be
respected, however, even when they were mysterious.

‘Well, indeed, sister, I never gave thought to that,’ she replied,
humbly enough.

‘Auch! and why would you give thought to it? Sure, why would a young
colleen like you, that’s niver known ache or sickness, think of such
things, no more than the young flowers out there coming up through the
rocks?’ the other answered with eager, loving tenderness. ‘And my prayer
to God and the Holy Virgin is that you never _may_ have to think of
them, Grania dheelish, alannah, acushla oge machree,’ she went on
coaxingly, heaping up one term of endearment upon another. She was
afraid that her reason, although a perfectly true and, to her mind, a
perfectly reasonable one, might somehow have offended Grania. With this
idea she presently went on, having first waited long enough to regain
her breath.

‘Think ill of Murdough Blake? Wisha! of Murdough Blake is it? a right
_brine-oge_ of a boy and a credit to all that owns him! A likely story
that, when it is a joy to me to think of the two, him and yourself,
coming and living here in the old house and I dead and gone--yes,
indeed, and your little children growing up round you--my blessing and
the blessing of Heaven be upon them, night and day, be they many or be
they few! And if it was not the next thing to a sin, ’tis fretted and
vexed I’d be to be stopping on in the way I am. What for? Only to be
hindering two young creatures that’s wanting and wishing to settle down,
as is only natural, and they not able to do it, and all because of me!
Sure, sister dear, ’tis begging your pardon I do be often inclined to
do--yes, indeed, many’s the time; only there--’tis God sends it, you
know, and it can’t be different, whether or no.’

Grania’s face had run through several variations while Honor was
speaking. By the time she had finished, however, her eyes were gentle
and misty.

‘A right _brine-oge_ of a boy,’ the other continued complacently,
smoothing down her blanket. ‘And love is a jewel that’s well known all
the world over’--this observation cannot be said to have been uttered
with any very fervent conviction, merely in the tone of one who utters
an adage, sanctioned by usage, and therefore respectable--‘’tisn’t every
colleen, either, gets the one she likes best, so it isn’t, and no
trouble; nothing to do but to settle down, and all ready, no questions,
nor money wanted, nor a thing. ’Tis hard for a girl to have to marry a
man and he nothing to her, or worse perhaps--a black stranger out of
nowhere--and all for no reason but because of his wanting so many cows,
or her father setting his mind on it, or the like of that. I mind me
when I was a slip of a child--thirteen years old maybe, or less--there
was a little girl--Mary O’Reilly her name was--barely seventeen years,
no more: a soft-faced, yellow-haired little girsha, as slight and
tender to look at as one of those fairy-ferns out there, when they come
up first through the cracks. And there was a man belonging to Inisheer,
whom they called Michael Donnellan--well, he wasn’t, to say rightly,
old, but he was a big, set-looking man, with a red hairy face on him,
and a nasty look, somehow. Well, he and Mat Reilly--that’s Mary
O’Reilly’s father--settled it up between them one night, over at the
“Cruskeen Beg,” and the number of cows fixed, and not a word, good or
bad, only the wedding-day settled, and the priest told and all. As for
Mary, all the notice she got was four days’, not one more! And sure
enough when the day came they all went over to Aranmore chapel, and
married they were--a grand wedding--and back they came in the boats, and
up to the house, and the height of eating and drinking going on, and the
neighbours all asked in, and every thing! I was looking in at the back
window, by the same token, and half the other girshas in the place with
me, and sorry I was, too, for I was fond of poor Mary O’Reilly, though I
didn’t rightly understand what it all meant, being only a child at the
time myself. Well, they were just setting out from the cabin, and the
neighbours had all gathered round to bid them “God speed!” when all at
once poor Mary, that was standing there quiet and decent as a lamb, gave
a sudden screech, and she ran and she twisted her arms round the top of
the doorway, that had a little space, mind you, between it and the head
of the door, so she could get her arm in. And when they went to unloose
her she struck out at them and fought and kicked and bit--the innocent,
peaceable creature that never lifted her hand to man or mouse before in
her life!--and she cried out to them that she wouldn’t leave her mammy,
no, she would _not_, and that they might tear her into little pieces but
she’d never loose hold of the door. Just think of it! the shame and the
disgrace before the whole country! Her mother tried to unloose her,
though she was crying fit to burst all the time herself. And the man
that was her husband since the morning went up to her, and spoke rough
to her--the beast!--and told her she must come with him at once. And she
cried out that she would _not_ go with him, no, not unless he took her
away in little pieces, for that she hated the sight of him and his red
face, and that she would kill herself, and him too, rather than go a
foot with him! Och, _vo, vo_! that was a day--my God! that was a day!
However, take her away with him he did, somehow or other, and ugly and
sulky he looked in his new clothes, and his face redder than ever, being
made such a _baulgore_[7] before them all--and she crying and screaming
to her mammy to keep her, and the old man holding back his wife that was
fighting to get to her--and away with the two of them in a curragh to
Inisheer, where he lived!’

‘And what did she do when he got her there? Did she kill him? ’Tis _I_
would have killed him, no fear of me but I would!’ Grania exclaimed
eagerly, her upper lip raised as she used to raise it when she was a
child, showing the white teeth below.

‘“Kill him”? Arrah! nonsense, girl alive; the creature hadn’t it in her
to kill a fly, no, nor the hundredth part of the half of a fly. What did
she do? Sure, she did as every other woman has done since the world
began; what else had she to do, God help her? Och, _vo, vo_! marrying is
a black job for many and many a one, and so I tell you, child, though
it’s little, I dare say, you believe me. I often think that it was
seeing poor Mary that same day gave me the first strong turn against it
myself--so I do,’ Honor ended meditatively.

Grania frowned till her brows met, but made no further comment on the

‘Yes, indeed, I do think that ’twas seeing Mary O’Reilly hanging on to
that old door, and her mother crying and all, set me so against it then,
I do really!’ Honor went on complacently. ‘It wasn’t that I couldn’t
have married well enough if I had wanted it, mind you! There was an old
man--you’ve often heard me talk of him--up by Polladoo way; rich he
was--oh, my God! he _was_ rich!--nigh upon two cantrells of land he
rented, not a foot less, and my father was mad with me to marry
him--said once he’d turn me out of the house on to the bare sea rocks if
I didn’t! But your mother, Grania, that wasn’t long in it then herself,
helped me, so she did--may her bed in Glory be the sweeter and the
easier for it this day I pray! That was the worst time ever I had at
all, at all!--the very worst time of all,’ Honor added reflectively.

Grania looked up. A new idea, a sudden curiosity, was stirring in her

‘But did you never care for e’er a one, Honor?’ she asked, reddening and
speaking quickly: ‘never for e’er a one at all--not when you were young?
Sure, Honor, you must! Think a bit, sister, and tell me. Arrah! why
wouldn’t you tell me? Isn’t it all past and done now?’

‘“Care”? Is it I, child? “_Care_”! God keep you, no! What would ail me
to care?’ the elder sister asked in tones of genuine astonishment.
‘Auch! men is a terrible trouble, Grania, first and last. What with the
drink and the fighting and one thing and another, a woman’s life is no
better than an old garron’s down by the seashore once she’s got one of
them over her driving her the way he chooses.’ She paused, and a new
look, this time a look of unmistakable passion, came into her face.
‘Oh, no, Grania asthore, ’tis a _nun_ I would have loved to be; oh, my
God! yes, that _is_ the beautiful life! Pulse of my heart, sister
avilish, there’s nothing for a woman like being a nun--nothing, nothing!
Praying and praying from morning till night, and nought to do, only what
you’re bid, and a safe fair walk before you to heaven, without a turn,
or the fear of a turn, to right or left! Sure, ’tis all over now, as you
say, but many’s the time, och many’s and many’s the time, Grania, and
for years upon years, I cried myself to sleep because I couldn’t be a
nun. ’Tis on that little bed you do be sleeping on now I’d be lying, and
father and poor Phil, that’s dead, snoring one against the other as if
it was for money, and the wind blowing, and the sea and rocks grinding
against each other the way they do, and I would think of the big world
and the cruel things that do be going on in it, and the ugly ways of
men that frightened me always, and then of the convent, and the chapel
and the pictures and the garden--for I saw it all once, at Galway, at
the Sisters of Mercy there--and my heart would go out in a great cry:
“Oh, my God, make me a nun! Oh, my God, won’t You let me be a nun! My
God! my God! You’ll let me be a nun, won’t You? Arrah my God! _won’t_
You? _won’t_ You?”’

She lay back in the bed, her face flushed, her breath came fast; old
passion was stirring vehemently within her. For such passion as this,
however, Grania had no sympathy, Honor’s aspirations in this respect
having all her life been a source of irritation to her.

‘Then it is not _myself_ would like to be a nun,’ she exclaimed
defiantly. ‘And I think it was real bad of you, Honor, so I do, to have
wanted to go away. What would have become of any of us without you, and
of me most of all? Did you never think of that? Say, Honor, did you
never think of that?’

‘Arrah! whist! child, I know it, I know it. You needn’t be telling me,
for I’ve told myself so a hundred times,’ Honor answered eagerly. ‘And
maybe it’s all for the best now the way it is; anyhow, the end is not
far off, and God and the Holy Virgin will know it was not my fault. I
had the heart in me to be a nun, if ever a woman had, and it’s the heart
that’s looked to there--the heart and nothing else. And as to my not
thinking of you! why, you little _rogora dhu_, you black rogue of the
world, God forgive me if I’ve thought of anything else, child, since the
first hour I had you to myself! ’Twasn’t in it nor thought of, you were
at all, in those times I’m speaking of, nor would have been but for
father seeing your mother, a stranger come over from the Joyce country,
dancing at old Malachy O’Flaherty’s wake, and all the young fellows in
the place after her. What ailed him to think of marrying her _I_ never
could fancy! A man past forty years of age and a widower, too! An
extraordinary thing and scarce decent! No fortune to her, neither,
nothing but a pair of big black eyes--the very same as those two shining
in your own head this minute--and the walk, so people said, of a queen.
A good girl she was--I’m not saying anything against her, poor
Delia--and I cried myself sick the day she died, for she was a kind
friend to me. But there was yourself, Grania, screeching and kicking,
and making the devil’s own commotion with wanting to be fed. Somehow,
once I got you into my arms, and no one near you but myself, I
disremember ever wanting again to be a nun, so I do.’

Grania’s fierce look softened. ‘’Tis a mother you’ve been to me, sure
enough, all my life, sister,’ she said gently.

‘“Mother”! Wisha! child, with your “mother”! ’Tisn’t much _I_ think of
mothers, I can tell you! There’s mothers enough in the world and to
spare, too! Anyone can be a _mother_--small thanks to them! Oh, no,
Grania sweet, acushla machree, love of my heart, ’tis your _soul_, ’tis
the precious, precious soul of you that I’ve always wanted, and cried
after, and longed for, ever since first I had you to myself. Sure, if I
could only feel easy about _that_ I’d die the happiest woman ever yet
had a footboard laid on her face. Oh, my pet, my bird, my little
deerfoor asthore, won’t you try to turn to Him when I’m gone? Remember,
I’ll be near, maybe, though you won’t see me. Sure, if it was to do you
any good, I’d stop a hundred years longer than need be in the place
Father Tom tells of, or a thousand either, for I don’t mind pain, being
so used to it, and think it all joy and sweetness.’ Honor lifted her
head a little in the bed and raised her soft brown eyes imploringly
towards her sister. ‘Oh, Grania dheelish, pulse of my soul, what’s this
life at all, at all, short or long, easy or hard--what is it, what is it
but a dream? just a dream, no better!’ she cried with sudden passion,
that sisterly passion into which everything else had long been merged.
‘If I could only make sure of meeting my bird in heaven, if it was a
thousand years off and a thousand on the top of that, and ten thousand
more at the hinder end of that, sure, what would it matter? Oh, child
asthore, think of us two, you and me, standing up there together,
holding one another by the two hands, and knowing we’d never be
separated no more!--never, never, sun or shine, winter or summer--never
as long as God lived, and that’s for ever and ever! Oh, child, child!
when that thought comes over me, ’tis like new life in my veins and new
blood in my poor heart. I feel as if I could get out of my bed, and go
leaping and dancing over the rocks to the sea, or up into the air itself
like the birds, so I do.’

Her strength, momentarily sustained, suddenly broke down, and her voice
sank so as to be almost inaudible. ‘You wouldn’t disappoint me, Grania,
dear? Sure you wouldn’t disappoint your poor old Honor, that never loved
man or woman, chick or child, only yourself?’ she whispered, the words
coming out one by one with difficulty.

Grania’s eyes filled, and she let Honor take her hand and hold it in her
two worn ones, which were grown so thin that they seemed made of a
different substance from her own toil-roughened one. But though she was
touched and would have done anything to please Honor, she could not even
pretend to respond to the sick woman’s eager longing. She would have
done so if she could, but it was impossible. The whole thing was utterly
foreign and alien to her. There was nothing in it which she could catch
hold of, nothing that she could feel to attach any definite idea to.
Fond as she was of Honor, unwilling as she was to vex her, her whole
attitude, her excessive urgency, worried her. What ailed her to talk so,
to have such queer ways and ideas? Was it because she was sick, because
she was dying? Did all sick people talk and feel like that? Was it
possible that _she_ would ever feel anything of the sort if she were
sick, if she were going to die? She did not believe it for a minute. The
youth in her veins cried for life, life! sharp-edged life, life with the
blood in it, not for a thin bloodless heaven that no one could touch or

Turning away, she made an excuse, therefore, of having to go and see
after the calf, and ran hastily out of the cabin door into the sunlight,
leaving it open behind her.

Left alone, Honor’s eyes kept dreamily following the yellow bands of
light as they spread in ever-widening streams across the rocks. Over the
top of the gully she could see a space of sky, which seemed to her to be
not only bluer, but also higher than usual. She tilted her head a little
backwards so as to be able to look farther and farther up, higher and
higher still, into this dim, mysterious distance, gradually forgetting
all troubles, vexations, hindrances, as her eyes lost themselves in that
untravelled region.

‘Augh, my God! what will it be like at all, at all, when we get there?’
she whispered, looking up and smiling, yet half abashed at the same time
by her own audacity.


At the extreme south-eastern end of the island, upon the same step or
level of rock, but about half a mile farther on than the O’Malleys,
lived the Duranes. Their cabin was the smallest and worst, next to Shan
Daly’s, on Inishmaan, but then they were Duranes, and Durane is one of
the best established names on the island. The family consisted of a
father, a mother, five children, a grandfather and an orphan niece.
There was only one room in the whole house, and that room was about
twenty feet long by twelve or perhaps fourteen feet wide. The walls had,
seemingly, never been coated with plaster, and even the mortar between
the blocks of stone had fallen out, and been replaced from the inside
by lumps of turf or mud as necessity occurred.

When the family were collected together, space, as may be guessed, was
at a premium, since even upon the floor they could hardly all sit down
at the same time. There was, however, a sort of ledge, covered with
straw, about three feet from the ground, upon which four of the five
children slept, and where, when food was being distributed, all that
were old enough to sit alone were to be seen perched in a row, with
tucked-up legs and open mouths, like a brood of half-fledged turkeys. At
other times they gathered chiefly upon the doorstep, which, in all Irish
cabins, is the coveted place, and only ceases to be so in exceptionally
cold weather, or after actual darkness has set in.

There was no land belonging to the cabin beyond a strip of stony
potato-ground, and Peter, or Pete, Durane was forced therefore to earn
what he could as day-labourer to his luckier neighbours. Not much
employment was given, as may be imagined, on Inishmaan, and had there
been Pete would hardly have been able to profit by it. He was a thin
dried-up little man, looking old already, though he was not yet forty,
with soft appealing eyes and a helpless, vacillating manner. His wife
Rose, or Rosha, on the contrary, though in reality a year or two older
than himself, was a fine-looking woman still, with hard red cheeks and
round black eyes, who had only accepted him, as she often loudly
asserted, for the sake of charity, and to hinder the creature from
throwing himself into the sea.

Poor Pete had certainly not been regarded as the pearl of bachelors, and
had had to seek far and ask often before finding anyone willing to
accept him. He was a well-meaning, harmless little man, full of the
best intentions, and incapable of hurting a fly. Unfortunately for
himself he bore a poor reputation in the somewhat important matter of
honesty, and it was this that had made Grania think of him in connection
with the stolen turf.

About a year before there had been a scandal about some straw which had
been missed by one of the neighbours, and which was finally traced to
Pete’s door, and although the amount taken had been a trifle, still in
so small and so poverty-stricken a community as Inishmaan small things,
it will be understood, are readily missed. No steps had been taken to
prosecute the culprit--indeed, the ties of kindred are so closely woven
and interwoven all over the island that the law is rarely resorted to.
The straw had been duly returned to the owner’s door early one morning,
and it was one of the many jokes against Pete Durane that he had been
soundly thrashed by his wife for the theft--possibly because of the
detection of it.

When Grania entered, the children were still eating their midday meal,
an old table having been pushed against their ledge for the purpose--a
very old table, almost shapeless from years of ill-usage, but still
solid, and the chief article of furniture in the house. Rosha was busily
ladling out a fresh supply of potatoes from the big black pot, laying
them down in heaps upon the table in sizes varying according to the age,
or possibly the merits, of the recipient. They were not allowed to get
cold, the children snatching them up and beginning to eat them almost
before they were out of the pot.

What with the all but total absence of glass in the paper-patched
windows, and what with the smouldering eddies of turf-smoke which rolled
overhead like some dull domestic cloud, it was at first so dark that
Grania could see nothing except the piles of potatoes and the children,
or rather the children’s hands, which, being fitfully lit by the fire,
kept darting into the light and out again, like things endowed with some
odd galvanic existence of their own. After awhile, as her eyes got more
accustomed to the atmosphere, she made out that besides the mistress of
the house, there were two other women sitting there, one of them an aunt
of Rosha’s from the opposite side of the island, the other our previous
acquaintance, Peggy Dowd, who had dropped in as usual about meal time.

No sooner was that meal snatched up and swallowed down than the children
rushed out of doors again in a body, tumbling one over the other as they
did so, the eldest girl clutching up her mother’s flannel petticoat as
she went. A spare petticoat--one, that is to say, not invariably worn
upon the person of the mistress of the house--is a highly important
article in an Irish cabin, and fulfils more functions than could be
guessed at first sight. It is a quilt by night, a shawl by day, a
head-gear, an umbrella for an entire brood of children to run out under
in the rain--nay, the man of the house himself will often not disdain to
take a turn of it, especially on occasions which do not bring him too
directly into the light of publicity. This last, by the way, was a
privilege which poor Pete Durane had never dared to claim.

Even after the children had been got rid of Grania felt it impossible
for her to enter upon the subject of her visit--a delicate one in any
case--while there were strangers present. Accordingly she did not remain
in the cabin many minutes, contenting herself with begging Rosha to ask
Pete to come over and speak to her that evening as soon as his day’s
work was finished.


Her silence did not hinder her from becoming the subject of vigorous
controversy and criticism the instant her back was turned.

‘Auch, my word, just look at the length of her! My word, she is the big
girl that Grania O’Malley, the big girl out and out!’ Rosha exclaimed,
looking after her as she ran down the steep path, her tall vigorous
figure framed for a few minutes by the doorway of the room she had just
left. ‘It is the mighty queer girl that she is, though! God look down
upon us this day, but she is the queerest girl ever I knew on this earth
yet, that same Grania O’Malley. Yes, indeed, _yes_!’ A long-drawn smack
of the palate gave emphasis and expansion to the words.

‘Auch, Rosha Durane, don’t be overlooking the girl! ’Tis a decent
father’s child she is any way,’ said the aunt from the other side of the
island, apparently from an impulse of amiability, in reality by way of
stimulating Rosha to a further exposition of what Grania’s special
queerness consisted in.

‘Did I say Con O’Malley was not a decent man? Saints make his bed in
heaven this day, when did I say it?’ the other answered, apparently in
her turn in hot indignation, but in reality perfectly understanding the
motive of her aunt’s remark. ‘What I do say, and what is well known to
all Inishmaan, and that it is no invention of mine nor yet thought of by
me, is that he was a very wild queer man. And Grania is just the same;
she is a very wild queer girl, and a bold one too, and so I suppose I
may say even in my own house and before you, Mrs. O’Flanagan, though
you _are_ my poor mother’s sister that’s these seven years back gone to
glory! I tell you there is no end to her queerness, and to the bold
things she does be doing. It is well known to all Inishmaan, yes and to
Aranmore, too, that she goes out to the fishing just like a man, so she
does, just like a man, catching the plaice and the mullets and the
conger eels, and many another fish beside I shouldn’t wonder; and if
that is not a very bold thing for a young girl to do, then I do not know
what a bold thing is, although I _am_ your own niece, Mrs. O’Flanagan.
But that is only the half of it. She has no fear of anything, not of
anything at all, I tell you, neither upon the earth nor under it
either--God keep us from speaking of harm, amen! She will as soon cross
a fairies’ ring as not! just the same and sooner, and it is not two
months, or barely three at the most, that I saw her with my own eyes
walk past a red jackass on the road, and it braying hard enough to split
at the time, and not crossing herself, no, nor a bend of the head, nor
spitting even! It is the truth I am telling you, Mrs. O’Flanagan, ma’am,
though you may not choose to believe me, the truth and no lie!’

‘_Ugh! ugh! ugh!_ ’Tis a bad end comes to such ways as those, a bad end,
a bad end,’ said old Peggy Dowd, who up to this had been busily occupied
in eating up the scraps left in the pot, but had now leisure to take her
part, and accordingly entered upon the subject with all the recognised
weight of her years and authority. ‘Did I ever tell you women both,
about Katty O’Callaghan, that lived over near Aillyhaloo when I was a
girl? From the time she was the height of that turf kish there she would
not be bid by anyone, no, not by the priest himself. The first time
ever I saw her she was close upon eighteen years old, for she was not
born on the island, but came from Cashla way to help an uncle of hers
that had a small farm up near Aillyhaloo. A fine big girl she was, just
the moral of that Grania there, with a straight back, and a wide chest,
and the two eyes of her staring up big and bold at you--the very same.
But, Man Above, the impudence of her! She had no proper respect not for
anything, so she had not. She would laugh when you talked of the good
people, and she would say that she would as soon go up at night to the
Phooka’s hole as not, which everyone knows is all but the same as death.
As for the _cohullen druith_, with my own two ears I heard her say she
did not believe that there was such a thing! though my grandfather, God
save his soul! saw one once on the head of a merrow hard by the Glassen
rock. But, faith! I haven’t the time nor the strength to be telling you
the half of her folly and nonsense, nor couldn’t if I took the night to
do it! Anyhow, there she was, straight and strong, a fine handsome girl
just like that Grania there; and her uncle was to give her two cows when
she married, and her father at Cashla, I heard too there was talk of his
giving something, I don’t know whether it was pigs or what. In any case
there was nothing to hinder her settling, only you may guess if any
decent quiet-reared boy would like to go marrying a wife with such ways
and such talk in her mouth as that same Katty O’Callaghan! However, she
was bid for at last by a harmless easy-going young fellow of the name of
Phil Mulcahy, and married him, and went up to live a quarter of a mile
or so beyond Aillyhaloo, at the edge of the big west cliff yonder, and a
year after she had a child, as fine a boy at the start as you’d see in
a day’s walk. Well, you may think she was going to get off clean and
clever, after her goings on; but not a bit of it--so just wait till you
hear. One day she went down the rocks by Mweeleenareeava for the
sea-wrack, and I dare say she was carrying on as usual with her nonsense
and folly, anyway, when she got back the first thing she noticed was
that the child looked mighty queer, and seemed shrunk half its size, and
its face all weazened up like a little old man’s, and the eyes of it as
sharp and wicked as you please. Well, women both of you, from that hour
that creature grew smaller and smaller, and queerer and queerer, and its
eyes wickeder and wickeder, and the bawl never out of its mouth, and it
wanting the breast night and day, and never easy when it got it either,
but kicking and fighting and playing the devil’s own bad work. Of course
the neighbours saw right enough what had happened, and told Katty
plainly the child was changed--and why not? Sure who could wonder at it
after her goings on, which were just as if she’d laid them out for that
very purpose! But she wouldn’t hear a word of it, so she wouldn’t, and
said it was the teeth, or the wind in its stomach, and God only knows
what nonsense besides. But one day a woman was coming along from
Aillinera to Aillyhaloo, a real right-knowing woman she was by the name
of Nora Cronohan, and as she was going she stopped to ask for a potato
and a sup of milk, for she was stravoging the country at the time. So
she looked up and down the cabin, and presently she cast eyes on the
creature, which was laid in a basket by the fire, that being the place
it stayed easiest in, and--

‘“Arrah! what’s that you’ve got at all in there?” says she, staring at
it, and it staring back at her with its two eyes as wicked as wicked.

‘“My child, what else?” says Katty, speaking quite angrily.

‘With that the woman gave a screech of laughter so that you could have
heard her across the Foul Sound with the wind blowing west, and “Your
child!” says she. “Your child! Sure, God save you, woman, you might as
well call a black _arth-looghra_ a salmon any day in the week as that
thing there a child!”

‘Well, Katty was going to throw her into the sea, she was so mad! But
first she looked at the basket, and with that she began to shake and
tremble all over, for the creature was winking up so knowing at her, and
opening and shutting its mouth as no Christian child in this world or
any other ever would or could.

‘“Why, what ails it now, at all, at all?’ says she, turning to the
other, and her face growing as white as the inside of a potato.

‘“Listen to me, woman,” says Nora Cronohan, holding up her hand at her.
“That’s not your child at all, you ignorant creature, as anyone can see,
and there’s but two ways for you to get your own right child back again.
You must either take that up the next time there’s a south wind blowing
and set it to roast on the gridiron with the door open, or if you won’t
do that you must gather a handful of the _boliaun bwee_ and another
handful of the _boliaun dhas_, and put them down to boil, and boil them
both in the pot for an hour, and then throw the whole potful right over
it; and if you’ll do either of those things I’ll be your warrant but it
will be glad to be quit of you, and you’ll get your own fine child

‘Well, you’d think that would be enough for any reasonable woman! But
no. Katty wouldn’t do either the one thing nor the other, but held to it
that it was her own child, not changed at all, only sick; such fool’s
talk! as if anyone with half an eye, and that one blind, couldn’t have
told the difference! She had ne’er another child, you see, nor the sign
of one, and that perhaps was what made her so set on it. Anyhow the
neighbours tried to get her to see reason, and her husband, too, though
he was but a poor shadow of a man, did what he could. At last her
mother-in-law, that was a decent well-reared woman, and knew what was
right, tried to get at the creature one day when Katty was out on the
rocks, so as to serve it the right way, and have her own fine grandchild
back. But if she did Katty was in on her before she could do a thing,
and set upon the decent woman, and tore the good clothes off her back,
and scratched her face with her nails so that there was blood running
along her two cheeks when the neighbours came up, and but for their
getting between them in time, God knows but she’d have had her life.
After that no one, you may believe, would have hand, act, or part with
Katty Mulcahy! Indeed, it soon came to this, that her husband durstn’t
stop with her in the cabin, what between her goings on and the screeches
of the creature, which got worse and worse till you could hear them upon
the road to Ballintemple, a good half-mile away. Yarra! the whole of
that side of the island got a bad name through her, and there’s many
doesn’t care even now to walk from Aillinera to Aillyhaloo, specially
towards evening, not knowing what they might hear!

‘Well, one day--’ here the narrator paused, looked first at one and then
at the other of her listeners, coughed, spat, twitched the big cloak
higher round her shoulders, and settled herself down again in her chair
with an air of intense satisfaction. ‘One day, it was a desperate wild
afternoon just beginning December, and the wind up at Aillyhaloo enough
to blow the head of you off your two shoulders. Most of the people were
at home and the houses shut, but there were a few of us colleens
colloguing together outside the doors, talking of one thing and another,
when all of a sudden who should come running up the road but Katty
Mulcahy, with the bawl in her mouth, and a look on her face would
frighten the life out of an Inishboffin pig.

‘“Och! och! och!” says she, screeching. “Och! och! och! my child’s
dying! It’s got the fits. It’s turning blue. Where’s Phil? Where’s its
father? Run, some of you, for God’s sake, and see if he’s in yet from
the fishing.”

‘Well, at first we all stared, wondering like, and one or two of the
little girshas ran off home to their mothers, being scared at her looks.
But at last some of us began laughing--I was one that did myself, and so
I tell you women both--you see we knew of course all the time that it
wasn’t her own child at all, only a changeling, and that as for Phil he
had never been near the fishing, but was just keeping out of the way,
not wishing, honest man, to be mixed up with any such doings. Well, when
she heard us laughing she stopped in the middle of her screeching, and
she just gave us one look, and before anyone knew what was coming there
she was in the very thick of us, and her arms going up and down like two
flails beating the corn!

‘Och, Mary Queen of Heaven, but that was a hubbuboo! We turned and we
run, and our blood was like sea-water down our backs, for we made sure
we’d carry the marks of her to our graves, for she had a bitter hard
hand, and God knows I’m speaking the truth, had Katty Mulcahy when you
roused her! Well, at the screams of us a heap more people came running
out of the houses, and amongst them who should put his head out of one
of the doors but Phil Mulcahy himself, with no hat to his head and a
pipe to his mouth, for he had no time to take it out, and she thinking,
you know, he was away at the fishing!

‘At that Katty stood still like one struck, and the eyes of her growing
that round you’d think they must fall out of her head, so big were they,
and her mouth working like a sea pool in the wind. And presently she let
out another bawl, and she made for him! I was the nearest to him, and
there was some three or four more between the two, but you may believe
me, we didn’t stop long! It was something awful, women both, and so I
tell you, to see her coming up the road with that rage on her face, and
it as white as the foam on the sea. Phil stood shaking and shaking,
staring at her and his knees knocking, thinking his hour was come, till
just as she was within touch of him, when he turned and he ran for his
life. He ran and he ran, and she ran after him. Now there’s no place at
all, as everyone knows, to run on that side of Aillyhaloo only along by
the cliff, for the rest is all torn and destroyed, with great cracks
running down God knows where to the heart of the earth. So he kept along
by the edge, and she after him, and we after the two of them presently
to see the end of it. Phil ran as a man runs for his life, but Katty,
she ran like a woman possessed! Holy Bridget! you could hardly see the
feet of her as she raced over the ground! The boys cried out that she’d
have him for sure, and if she had caught him and this rage still on her
God knows she’d have thrown him over the cliff, and you know ’tis
hundreds of feet deep there, and never an inch of landing. Poor Phil
thought himself done for, and kept turning and turning, and far away as
he was now we could see the terror on the face of him, and we all
screeched to him to turn away from the edge, but he did not know where
he was going, he was that dazed. Well, she was just within grip of him
when she stopped all at once as if she was shot, and lifted her head in
the air like that! Whether she heard something, or what ailed her I
can’t tell, but she gathered herself up and began running in the
opposite way, not along by the sea but over the rocks, the nearest way
back to her own house. How she got across nobody knows, for the cracks
there are something awful, but you’d think it was wings she had to see
the leaps she threw in the air, for all the world like a bird! Anyhow,
she got over them at last, and into her house with her, and the door
shut with a bang you might have heard across the Sound at Killeany.

‘Nobody, you may believe me, troubled to go after her or near her _that_
night, and the wind being so cold, after a bit we all went home, and
Phil, too, by-and-by come creeping back, looking like a pullet that had
had its neck wrung, and the boys all laughing at him for being ’fraid of
a woman--as if it was only a woman Katty was, with that black look on
her face and she leaping and going on as no woman in this world ever
could, if she was left to herself! That night there was no more about it
one way or another, nor the next morning either, but by the middle of
the afternoon a man that was passing brought us word that he heard a
noise of hammering inside of the house. Well, at that we all wondered
what was doing now, and some said one thing and some another. But a
boy--a young devil’s imp he was by the name of Mick Caroll--peeped in at
the end window and came running up to say he had seen something like a
coffin standing on the floor, only no bigger he said than the top of a
keg of butter. Well, that was the queerest start of all! For who, I ask
you both, could have made that coffin for her, and what could she have
wanted with a coffin either? For you’re not so ignorant, women, either
of you, as need to be told there wouldn’t be anything to put into it!
’Twasn’t likely that thing she had in the house with her would stop to
be put into any coffin! ’Tis out of the window or up the chimney it
would have been long before it came to that, as everyone knows that
knows anything. Anyhow, ’twas the truth it seems he told, for the very
next day out she came from the house herself, and the coffin or the box
or whatever it was under her arm, and carried it down did she sure
enough to the shore, and paid a man handsome to let her put it in a
curragh--as well she’d need, and him losing his soul on her!--and away
with her to Cashla over the “Old Sea”! And whether she found a priest to
bury it for her is more than I can tell you, but they _do_ say out there
on the Continent there’re none so particular, so long as they get their
dues. As for Phil, he went over only the very next week to her father’s
house, the poor foolish innocent creature, but all he got for his pains
was a pailful of pig’s wash over his head, and back he came to Inishmaan
complaining bitterly, though it was thankful on his two knees to
Almighty God he ought to have been it was no worse, and so we all told
him. However, there was no putting sense into his head, and not a word
would he say good or bad, only cried and talked of his Katty! Lucky for
him his troubles didn’t last very long, for the next thing we heard of
her was that she was dead, and about a year after that, or maybe two
years, he married a decent little girl, a cousin of my own, and took her
to live with him up at the house at Aillyhaloo. And, but that he was
killed through having his head broke one dark night by Larry Connel in
mistake for the youngest of the Lynches, ’tis likely he’d be in it
still! Any way, he had a grand wake, the finest money could buy, for
Larry Connel, that had always a good heart, paid for it himself, and got
upon a stool, so he did, and spoke very handsomely of poor Phil, so that
Molly Mulcahy the widow didn’t know whether it was crying she should be
or laughing, the creature, with glory! And for eating and drinking and
fiddling and jig-dancing, it was like nothing either of _you_ ever saw
in your lives, and a pride and satisfaction to all concerned.
But,’--here Peggy Dowd hitched her cloak once more about her
shoulders and spat straight in front of her with an air of
reprobation--‘but--there was never a man nor yet a woman either, living
upon Inishmaan at the time, that would have danced one foot, and so I
tell you, women both--not if you’d have _paid_ them for doing it--at
_Katty_ Mulcahy’s wake.’


The two listeners remained silent a minute after the tale had ended.
Peggy Dowd filled her pipe and puffed at it solemnly, with the air of
one who has fulfilled a social duty and sustained a widely-known
reputation. Suddenly Mrs. Durane, glancing towards the door, uttered an
ejaculation of annoyance.

‘My conscience! if there is not that Pete Durane! God help the world,
but he’s back early from his work this day!’

Almost before she had finished the words the little man came suddenly
round the doorway into the cabin, hardly finding room to enter his own
house owing to the three women, two of them in their big woollen
cloaks, who already filled it to the very walls. His face wore a
deprecating smile, which hardly ever left it, and which was the more
noticeable from the absence of most of his front teeth. His hair, unlike
that of most Irishmen of his rank, was very thin, so that he had the
effect of being almost bald, and this with his short stature, bent back,
and hesitating air, gave a general look of feebleness and
ineffectiveness to his whole aspect. A poor _pittiogue_ his wife called
him, and as he stood there her two friends mentally endorsed the

‘Well now, well now, is this yourselves? Bless me, ladies, but ’tis the
proud man I am to see you in my poor house,’ he exclaimed as he entered.
‘Yes, indeed, Mrs. O’Flanagan, ma’am! and how is that good man your
husband? and your fine girl, too? But it is a sight to see her coming up
the road, so it is!’

‘Och! Pete Durane, get along then, with your fine speeches,’ said his
wife irritably. ‘What a murrain brings you back at this time of day? Is
it to torment me before you need you’re wanting?’

‘Arrah, don’t be speaking to him like that, Rosha Durane!’ said the aunt
from the other side of the island, with a short derisive laugh. ‘I tell
you, Pete, there has been a very fine girl asking for you yourself, this
day, so there has. Och, but a fine girl, as fine as any in Inishmaan.
Saints alive! but ’twas herself was disappointed not to find you within.
“Will he come to see me this evening, do you think, Mrs. Durane?” says
she, putting her head on one side. “’Tis the unfortunate colleen I am to
miss him,” says she. So you may be the proud man, Pete Durane, then you

Poor Pete’s face got as red as his wife’s petticoat. His susceptibility
was one of the many standing jokes upon Inishmaan, where jokes were
rare, and once started lasted long. It was quite true. By one of those
humorous freaks of which nature is fond, while his handsome stalwart
contemporaries were all but invulnerable in this respect, the poor
little _pittiogue_ was known to be intensely susceptible to the tender
passion. It had made him a slave all his life to his wife Rosha, and
even now, after years of consistent ill-usage on her part, he was still
slavishly devoted to her, and took her buffets, physical no less than
verbal, with all the meekness of an attached and well-broken-in

‘Ugh! ugh! ’tis going I must be,’ old Peggy Dowd said suddenly,
struggling to rise from her low seat. ‘Will you put the cloak around me,
Mrs. Durane, ma’am, if you please. Ugh! ugh! ’Tis myself is scarce fit
to walk back alone, so I am not.’

‘Will I send the girl Juggy Kelly with you to help you up the hill?
Yes, indeed, but it is a great help, so it is. You must make her go
behind you and push--push hard. Trouble? Och! what are the young people
for if not to be of some good to those that’s better and older than
themselves? But where is she, that girl Juggy Kelly? It is always out of
the way she is when she is wanted. Run, Pete, run out down the road and
look for her. Quick, man, don’t be standing there like a stuck pig over
against the door, taking up all the light.’

Then, as the obedient Pete flew off hatless down the path--‘It is not
known the trouble I have had with that girl!’ Mrs. Durane continued,
turning for sympathy to her friends. ‘Would you believe it, Mrs.
O’Flanagan, ma’am, ’tis sleeping with the chickens now she complains of!
There is not a morning of her life but she comes to me with her face all
scratched, crying and saying she’ll not stop in it. “Then don’t,” says
I; “go sleep with the crows if you like, since the chickens won’t serve
you.” That is what I say; yes, indeed! such impudence!’

‘Och! there is no satisfying the young people, do what you will for them
these times,’ Mrs. O’Flanagan replied sympathetically. ‘Did you hear of
young Macdara Kilbride--Manus Kilbride’s eldest son, him that’s just
back from America?--it is not into his own father and mother’s house he
will go almost, so it is not. “Phew! phew!” says he; “why, what a lot of
smoke!” And so there is some smoke, and why would there not be? It is a
very good house, Mary Kilbride’s house is, there is no better house in
all Inishmaan. It is true it is built on a bit of a slope, and the door
is at the top, so that the rain comes into it in wet weather; God He
sends the rain, and it is a very bad season for Inishmaan when He does
not send enough--oh yes, a very bad season, everyone knows that. But
Macdara Kilbride is just so. His feet do be sticking in the floor of the
house, he says, every time he crosses it. It is a soft floor, there is
no denying that, and the chimney never was a good one to draw, being
fallen in a good deal at the top, and the stones off. But, Man Above!
does he think his father can be going into Galway every day in the week
for more bricks? Besides, it is a good house; a very good house is Mary

‘Ugh! ugh! what did I tell you just now? ’Tis the same everywhere. Young
people they are the same, all the same; there is no good in them at all,
so there is not!’ Peggy Dowd again spat vigorously into the fire to
emphasise her disgust, then hitched her big cloak about her shoulders,
and began preparing with many groans and wheezing sighs to depart
without the aid of her proffered assistant.

Just as she had hobbled across to the doorway it was again filled by a
figure, and the elder Durane, Pete’s father, came in.

He was a curious contrast to his insignificant-looking little son. A
tall, stately old man, with that peculiarly well-bred air not
unfrequently still to be seen amongst the elder Irish peasants. His
white hair was very thick, and hung over his forehead and around his hat
in a dense silky thatch. His eyes were drooping and tired-looking, and
his whole air that of a man who has done his work in the world, and asks
for nothing now but to be left in peace. By an arrangement common enough
in the west of Ireland, when the parent is old, and the son or sons
married, he had surrendered all ownership in the house and all rights of
possession, with a few trifling exceptions. The single stuffed chair,
for instance, was his, so was the one drinking-glass, and an old
two-handled black oak mether bound with brass, a relic this of unknown
antiquity. These and a few similar articles of personal use were his own
private property, and to these he clung punctiliously, and in case of a
dispute would doubtless have defended them to the death.

On the whole his daughter-in-law and he got on better than might have
been expected. Rosha, to tell truth, was rather in awe of her
father-in-law. His old world politeness, combined with a certain power
he occasionally showed of being uncomfortably caustic if provoked, were
not without effect upon the rough-tongued, coarse-natured woman. In the
endless domestic storms between her and her husband--storms, it must be
said, which raged almost exclusively on one side--old Durane never took
his son’s part, though often appealed to by that much-bullied person to
do so. On the other hand he had a way of dreamily watching Rosha as she
raged about the cabin which had more effect upon the virago than might
have been expected from so very negative a form of attack. He now stood
perfectly silent upon the threshold, and having politely removed his
hat, bent his white head first to one and then to the other of the
visitors, leaning as he did so upon the big black stick which he held in
his hand. He was still in the same attitude when his son Pete returned
hastily, without the girl he had been sent for, but dragging two of the
children after him by the hand.

‘Augh, then, Pete Durane, will you never get the sense?’ his wife
exclaimed furiously. ‘Who bade you bring back the children, and they
sent out on purpose? Pulling them up the rocks, too, like that, and
Patsy smoking red with the heat this minute, the creature’--passing her
hand over her offspring’s forehead, and turning the palm round to the
company to prove her assertion. ‘Auch, Mr. Durane, sir, but it is the
fool you have for a son, God love you! yes, indeed, the very biggest
fool on all Inishmaan, and it was myself was the next biggest ever to go
and marry him, so I was, God knows.’

The elder Durane looked at his son, and then at his daughter-in-law, an
air of vague disturbance beginning to cloud his face, but he said
nothing. Then, equally silently, his eyes began to wander slowly round
the cabin, as if he were calculating the probabilities of any food being
forthcoming. Not seeing signs of anything of the sort at present, he
again lifted his hat with the same air of dreamy civility, and backing
cautiously out of the doorway, beyond which he had not yet ventured,
retraced his steps a little way down the pathway, until he had reached
a spot where the planes of rock had got accidentally worn away into the
likeness of a sort of roughly-hewn arm-chair. Here he seated himself,
his legs stretched out in front of him, his eyes beginning, evidently
from long habit, to seek out one particular spot in the far-reaching,
dull-tinted horizon. Gradually as he did so the serenity, disturbed by
Rosha’s appeal and by the general sense of disturbance which was apt to
surround that vigorous woman, returned to his face, a look of
reminiscence, undefined but on the whole pleasurable, settling down upon
his handsome weather-beaten old features.

The aunt from the other side of the island had nearly reached her own
home again, and even Peggy Dowd had long disappeared, wheezing and
grunting up the craggy pathway, before he ventured to leave his
arm-chair and contemplative gaze at the horizon, and once more seek out
the cabin and that atmosphere of storm which seemed to hang about it as
closely and almost as persistently as its veil of peat smoke.

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LOŸS, LORD BERRESFORD, and other Tales.

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[1] ‘What is the matter?’

[2] ‘Hold your tongue and come here.’

[3] ‘My soul from the devil.’

[4] Cripple.

[5] What is the price of that horse?

[6] Fifteen pounds.

[7] Laughing-stock.

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