'I have never heard of him,' said Hyacinth.
'Never heard of the Martyr of Melanesia!' said Elsie. 'Why, we knew that at once.'
'Yes,' said Marion, 'there was an article on him in last month's Gleaner. Surely you read the Gleaner, Mr. Conneally?'
Hyacinth felt Marion's eyes fixed on him with something of a reproach in them. He wrestled with a vague recollection of having somewhere heard the name of the periodical. For a moment he thought of risking cross-questioning, and saying that he had only missed the last number. Then he suddenly remembered the card with silver lettering which hung above his coat in the hall, and told the truth with even a quite unnecessary aggravation.
'No, I never remember seeing a copy of it in my life. I don't even know what it is about.'
'Oh!' said the girls, round-eyed with horror. 'Just think! And we all have collecting-boxes.'
'It is a missionary periodical,' said Marion. 'It has news in it from every corner of the mission-field, and every month a list of the stations that specially need our prayers.'
Hyacinth left the Rectory that night with three well-read numbers of the Gleaner in his pocket.
Afterwards he had many talks with Canon Beecher and the Quinns about the work of the missionary societies. He learnt, to his surprise, that really immense sums of money were subscribed every year by members of the Church of Ireland for the conversion of the heathen in very remote parts of the world. It could not be denied that these contributions represented genuine self-denial. Young men went without a sufficiency of tobacco, and refrained from buying sorely-needed new tennis-racquets. Ladies, with the smallest means at their command, reared marketable chickens, and sold their own marmalade and cakes. In such ways, and not from the superfluity of the rich, many thousands of pounds were gathered annually. It was still more wonderful to him to discover that large numbers of young men and women, and these the most able and energetic, devoted themselves to this foreign service, and that their brothers and sisters at home were banded together in unions to watch their doings and to pray for them. He found himself entirely untouched by this enthusiasm, in spite of the beautiful expression it found in the lives of his new friends.
But it astonished him greatly that there should be this potent energy in the Irish Church. The utter helplessness of its Bishops and clergy in Irish affairs, the total indifference of its people to every effort at national regeneration, had led him to believe that the Church itself was moribund. Now he discovered that there was in it an amazing vitality, a capacity of giving birth to enthusiastic souls. The knowledge brought with it first of all a feeling of intense irritation. It seemed to him that all religions were in league against Ireland. The Roman Church seized the scanty savings of one section of the people, and squandered them in buying German glass and Italian marble. Were the Protestants any better, when they spent L20,000 a year on Chinamen and negroes? The Roman Catholics took the best of their boys and girls to make priests and nuns of them. The Protestants were doing the same thing when they shipped off their young men and young women to spend their strength among savages. Both were robbing Ireland of what Ireland needed most—money and vitality. He would not say, even to himself, that all this religious enthusiasm was so much ardour wasted. No doubt the Roman priest did good work in Chicago, as the Protestant missionary did in Uganda; only it seemed to him that of all lands Ireland needed most the service and the prayers of those of her children who had the capacity of self-forgetfulness. Afterwards, when he thought more deeply, he found a great hope in the very existence of all this altruistic enthusiasm. He had a vision of all that might be done for Ireland if only the splendid energy of her own children could be used in her service. He tried more than once to explain his point of view. Mr. Quinn met him with blank disbelief in any possible future for Ireland.
'The country is doomed,' he said. 'The people are lazy, thriftless, and priest-ridden. The best of them are flying to America, and those that remain are dying away, drifting into lunatic asylums, hospitals, and workhouses. There is a curse upon us. In another twenty years there will be no Irish people—at least, none in Ireland. Then the English and Scotch will come and make something of the country.'
From Canon Beecher he met with scarcely more sympathy or understanding.
'Yes,' he admitted, 'no doubt we ought to make more efforts than we do to convert our fellow-countrymen. But it is very difficult to see how we are to go to work. There is one society which exists for this purpose. Its friends are full of the very kind of enthusiasm which you describe. I could point you out plenty of its agents whose whole souls are in their work, but you know as well as I do how completely they are failing.'
'But,' said Hyacinth, 'I do not in the least mean that we should start more missions to Roman Catholics. It does not seem to me to matter much what kind of religion a man professes, and I should be most unwilling to uproot anyone's belief. What we ought to do is throw our whole force and energy into the work of regenerating Ireland. It is possible for us to do this, and we ought to try.'
'Well, well,' said the Canon, 'I must not let you make me argue with you, Conneally; but I hope you won't preach these doctrines of yours to my daughters. I think it is better for them to drop their pennies into missionary collecting-boxes, and leave the tangled problems of Irish politics to those better able to understand them than we are.'
There are certain professions, in themselves honest, useful, and even estimable, for which society has agreed to entertain a feeling of contempt. It is, for instance, very difficult to think of a curate as anything except a butt for satirists, or to be respectful to the profession of tailoring, although many a man for private pecuniary reasons is meek before the particular individual who makes his clothes. Yet the novelist and the playwright, who hold the mirror up to modern humanity, are occasionally kind even to curates and tailors. There is a youthful athlete in Holy Orders who thrashes, to our immense admiration, the village bully, bewildering his victim and his admirers with his mastery of what is described a little vaguely as the 'old Oxford science.' Once, at least, a glamour of romance has been shed over the son of a tailor, and it becomes imaginable that even the chalker of unfinished coats may in the future be posed as heroic. There is still, however, a profession which no eccentric novelist has ever ventured to represent as other than entirely contemptible. The commercial traveller is beneath satire, and outside the region of sympathy. If he appears at all in fiction or on the stage, he is irredeemably vulgar. He is never heroic, never even a villain, rarely comic, always, poor man, objectionable. This is a peculiar thing in the literature of a people like the English, who are not ashamed to glory in their commercial success, and are always ready to cheer a politician who professes to have the interests of trade at heart. Amid the current eulogies of the working man and the apotheosis of the beings called 'Captains of Industry,' the bagman surely ought to find at least an apologist. Without him it seems likely that many articles would fail to find a place in the windows of the provincial shopkeepers. Without him large sections of the public would probably remain ignorant for years of new brands of cigarettes, and dyspeptic people might never come across the foods which Americans prepare for their use.
Also the individual bagman is often not without his charm. He knows, if not courts and princes, at least hotels and railway companies. He is on terms of easy familiarity with every 'boots' in several counties. He can calculate to a nicety how long a train is likely to be delayed by a fair 'somewhere along the line.' He is also full of information about local politics. In Connaught, for instance, an experienced member of the profession will gauge for you the exact strength of the existing League in any district. He knows what publicans may be regarded as 'priest's men,' and who have leanings towards independence. His knowledge is frequently minute, and he can prophesy the result of a District Council election by reckoning up the number of leading men who read the United Irishman, and weighing them against those who delight in the pages of the Leader. The men who can do these things are themselves local. They reside in their district, and, as a rule, push the sales and collect the debts of local brewers and flour-merchants. The representatives of the larger English firms only make their rounds twice or three times a year, and are less interesting. They pay the penalty of being cosmopolitan, and tend to become superficial in their judgment of men and things.
Hyacinth, like most members of the public, was ignorant of the greatness and interest of his new profession. He entered upon it with some misgiving, and viewed his trunk of sample blankets and shawls with disgust. Even a new overcoat, though warm and weatherproof, afforded him little joy, being itself a sample of Mr. Quinn's frieze. One thought alone cheered him, and even generated a little enthusiasm for his work. It occurred to him that in selling the produce of the Ballymoy Mill he was advancing the industrial revival of Ireland. He knew that other people, quite heroic figures, were working for the same end. A Government Board found joyous scope for the energies of its officials in giving advice to people who wanted to cure fish or make lace. It earned the blessing which is to rest upon those who are reviled and evil spoken of, for no one, except literary people, who write for English magazines, ever had a good word for it. There were also those—their activity took the form of letters to the newspapers—who desired to utilize the artistic capacity of the Celt, and to enrich the world with beautiful fabrics and carpentry. They, too, were workers in the cause of the revival. Then there were great ladies, the very cream of the Anglo-Irish aristocracy, who petted tweeds and stockings, and offered magnificent prizes to industrious cottagers. They earned quite large sums of money for their proteges by holding sales in places like Belfast and Manchester, where titles can be judiciously cheapened to a wealthy bourgeoisie, and the wives of ship-builders and cotton-spinners will spend cheerfully in return for the privilege of shaking hands with a Countess. A crowd of minor enthusiasts fostered such industries as sprigging, and there was one man who believed that the future prosperity of Ireland might be secured by teaching people to make dolls. It was altogether a noble army, and even a commercial traveller might hold his head high in the world if he counted himself one of its soldiers. Hitherto results have not been at all commensurate with the amount of printer's ink expended in magazine articles and advertisements. Yet something has been accomplished. Nunneries here and there have been induced to accept presents of knitting-machines, and people have begun to regard as somehow sacred the words 'technical education.' The National Board of Education has also spent a large sum of money in reviving among its teachers the almost forgotten art of making paper boats.
Hyacinth very soon discovered that his patriotic view of this work did not commend itself to his brother travellers. He found that they had no feeling but one of contempt for people whom they regarded as meddling amateurs. Occasionally, when some convent, under a bustling Mother Superior, advanced from the region of half-charitable sales at exhibitions into the competition of the open market, contempt became dislike, and wishes were expressed in quite unsuitable language that the good ladies would mind their own proper business. Until Hyacinth learnt to conceal his hopes of Ireland's future as a manufacturing country he was regarded with suspicion. No one, of course, objected to his making what use he could of patriotism as an advertisement, but he was given to understand that, like other advertisements, it could not be quoted among the initiated without a serious breach of good manners. Even as an advertisement it was not rated highly.
There was an elderly gentleman, stout and somewhat bibulous, who superintended the consumption of certain brands of American cigarettes in the province of Connaught. Hyacinth met him in the exceedingly dirty Railway Hotel at Knock. Since there were no other guests, and the evening was wet, the two were thrown upon each other's society in the commercial-room.
'I don't think,' said Mr. Hollywell, in reply to a remark of Hyacinth's, 'that there's the least use trying to drag patriotic sentiment into business. Of course, since you represent an Irish house—woollen goods, I think you said—you're quite right to run the fact for all it's worth. I don't in the least blame you. Only I don't think you'll find it pays.'
He sipped his whisky-and-water—it was still early, and he had only arrived at his third glass—and then proceeded to give his personal experience.
'Now, I work for an American firm. If there was any force in the patriotic idea I shouldn't sell a single cigarette. My people are in the big tobacco combine. You must have read the sort of things the newspapers wrote about us when we started. From any point of view, British Imperial or Irish National, we should have been boycotted long ago if patriotism had anything to do with trade. But look at the facts. Our chief rivals in this district are two Irish firms. They advertise in Gaelic, which is a mistake to start with, because nobody can read it. They get the newspaper people to write articles recommending a "great home industry" to public support. They get local branches of all the different leagues to pass resolutions pledging their members to smoke only Irish tobacco. But until quite lately they simply didn't have a look in.'
'Why?' asked Hyacinth. 'Were your things cheaper or better?'
'No,' said the other, 'I don't think they were either. You see, prices are bound to come out pretty even in the long run, and I should say that, if anything, they sold a slightly better article. It's hard to say exactly why we beat them. When competition is really keen a lot of little things that you would hardly notice make all the difference. For one thing, I get a free hand in the matter of subscribing to local bazaars and race-meetings. I've often taken as much as a pound's worth of tickets for a five-pound note that some priest was raffling in aid of a new chapel. It's wonderful the orders you can get from shopkeepers in that kind of way. Then, we get our things up better. Look at that.'
He handed Hyacinth a highly-glazed packet with a picture of a handsome brown dog on it.
'Keep it,' said Mr. Hollywell. 'I give away twenty or thirty of those packets every week. Now look inside. What have you? Oh, H.M.S. Majestic. That's one of a series of photos of "Britain's first line of defence." Lots of people go on buying those cigarettes just to get a complete collection of the photos. We supply an album to keep them in for one and sixpence. There's another of our makes which has pictures of actresses and pretty women. They are extraordinarily popular. They're perfectly all right, of course, from the moral point of view, but one in every ten is in tights or sitting with her legs very much crossed, just to keep up the expectation. It's very queer the people who go for those photos. You'd expect it to be young men, but it isn't.'
The subject was not particularly interesting to Hyacinth, but since his companion was evidently anxious to go on talking, he asked the expected question.
'Young women,' said Mr. Hollywell. 'I found it out quite by accident. I got a lot of complaints from one particular town that our cigarettes had no photos with them. I discovered after a while that a girl in one of the principal shops had hit on a dodge for getting out the photos without apparently injuring the packets. The funny thing was that she never touched the ironclads or the "Types of the soldiers of all nations," which you might have thought would interest her, but she collared every single actress, and had duplicates of most of them. And she wasn't an exception. Most girls goad their young men to buy these cigarettes and make collections of the photos. Queer, isn't it? I can't imagine why they do it.'
'You said just now,' said Hyacinth, 'that latterly you hadn't done quite so well. Did you run out of actresses and battleships?'
'No; but one of the Irish firms took to offering prizes and enclosing coupons. You collected twenty coupons, and you got a silver-backed looking-glass—girls again, you see—or two thousand coupons, and you got a new bicycle. It's an old dodge, of course, but somehow it always seems to pay. However, all this doesn't matter to you. All I wanted was to show you that there is no use relying on patriotism. The thing to go in for in any business is attractive novelties, cheap lines, and, in the country shops, long credit.'
It was not very long before Hyacinth began to realize the soundness of Mr. Hollywell's contempt for patriotism. In the town of Clogher he found the walls placarded with the advertisements of an ultra-patriotic draper. 'Feach Annseo,' he read, 'The Irish House. Support Home Manufactures.' Another placard was even more vehement in its appeal. 'Why curse England,' it asked, 'and support her manufactures?' Try O'Reilly, the one-price man.' The sentiments were so admirable that Hyacinth followed the advice and tried O'Reilly.
The shop was crowded when he entered, for it was market day in Clogher. The Irish country-people, whose manners otherwise are the best in the world, have one really objectionable habit. In the street or in a crowded building they push their way to the spot they want to reach, without the smallest regard for the feelings of anyone who happens to be in the way. Sturdy country-women, carrying baskets which doubled the passage room they required, hustled Hyacinth into a corner, and for a time defeated his efforts to emerge. Getting his case of samples safely between his legs, he amused himself watching the patriot shopkeeper and his assistants conducting their business. It was perfectly obvious that in one respect the announcements of the attractive placard departed from the truth: O'Reilly was not a 'one-price man,' He charged for every article what he thought his customers were likely to pay. The result was that every sale involved prolonged bargaining and heated argument. In most cases no harm was done. The country-women were keenly alive to the value of their money, and evidently enjoyed the process of beating down the price by halfpennies until the real value of the article was reached. Then Mr. O'Reilly and his assistants were accustomed to close the haggle with a beautiful formula:
'To you,' they said, with confidential smiles and flattering emphasis on the pronoun—'to you the price will be one and a penny; but, really, there will be no profit on the sale.'
Occasionally with timid and inexperienced customers O'Reilly's method proved its value. Hyacinth saw him sell a dress-length of serge to a young woman with a baby in her arms for a penny a yard more than he had charged a moment before for the same material. Another thing which struck him as he watched was the small amount of actual cash which was paid across the counter. Most of the women, even those who seemed quite poor, had accounts in the shop, and did not shrink from increasing them. Once or twice a stranger presented some sort of a letter of introduction, and was at once accommodated with apparently unlimited credit.
At length there was a lull in the business, and Hyacinth succeeded in spreading his goods on a vacant counter, and attracting the attention of Mr. O'Reilly. He began with shawls.
'I hope,' he said, 'that you will give me a good order for these shawls.'
Mr. O'Reilly fingered them knowingly.
'Price?' he said.
Hyacinth mentioned a sum which left a fair margin of profit for Mr. Quinn. O'Reilly shook his head and laughed.
'Can't do it.'
Hyacinth reduced his price at once as far as possible.
'No use,' said Mr. O'Reilly.
Compared with the suave oratory to which he treated his customers, this extreme economy of words was striking.
'See here,' he said, producing a bundle of shawls from a shelf beside him. 'I get these for twenty-five shillings a dozen less from Thompson and Taylor of Manchester.'
Hyacinth looked at them curiously. Each bore a prominent label setting forth a name for the garment in large letters surrounded with wreaths of shamrocks. 'The Colleen Bawn,' he read, 'Erin's Own,' 'The Kathleen Mavourneen,' 'The Cruiskeen Lawn.' The appropriateness of this last title was not obvious to the mere Irishman, but the colour of the garment was green, so perhaps there was a connection of thought in the maker's mind between that and 'Lawn.' 'Cruiskeen' he may have taken for the name of a place.
'Are these,' asked Hyacinth, 'what you advertise as Irish goods?'
Mr. O'Reilly cleared his throat twice before he replied.
'They are got up specially for the Irish market.' In the interests of his employer Hyacinth kept his temper, but the effort was a severe one.
'These,' he said, 'are half cotton. Mine are pure wool. They are really far better value even if they were double the price.'
Mr. O'Reilly shrugged his shoulders.
'I don't say they're not, but I should not sell one of yours for every dozen of the others.'
'Try,' said Hyacinth; 'give them a fair chance. Tell the people that they will last twice as long. Tell them that they are made in Ireland.'
'That would not be the slightest use. They would simply laugh in my face. My customers don't care a pin where the goods are made. I have never in my life been asked for Irish manufacture.'
'Then, why on earth do you stick up those advertisements?' said Hyacinth, pointing to the 'Feach Annseo' which appeared on a hoarding across the street.
Mr. O'Reilly was perfectly frank and unashamed.
'The other drapery house in the town is owned by a Scotchman, and of course it pays more or less to keep on saying that I am Irish. Besides, I mean to stand for the Urban Council in March, and those sort of ads. are useful at an election, even if they are no good for business.'
'I'll tell you what I'll do,' said Hyacinth, shirking a discussion on the morality of advertising: 'I'll let you have a dozen shawls at cost price, and take back what you can't sell, if you give me your word to do your best for them.'
Similar discussions followed the display of serges and blankets. It appeared that nice-looking goods could be sent over from England at lower prices. It was vain for Hyacinth to press the fact that his things were better. Mr. O'Reilly admitted as much.
'But what am I to do? The people don't want what is good. They want a cheap article which looks well, and they don't care a pin whether the thing is made in England, Ireland, or America. Take my advice,' he added as Hyacinth left the shop: 'get your boss to do inferior lines—cheap, cheap and showy.'
So far Mr. Hollywell's opinions were entirely justified. The appeal of the patriotic press to the public and the shopkeepers on behalf of the industrial revival of Ireland had certainly not affected the town of Clogher. Hyacinth was bitterly disappointed; but hope, when it is born of enthusiasm, dies hard, and he was greatly interested in a speech which he read one day in the 'Mayo Telegraph'. It had been made at a meeting of the League by an Ardnaree shopkeeper called Dowling. A trade rival—the fact of the rivalry was not emphasized—had advertised in a Scotch paper for a milliner. Dowling was exceedingly indignant. He quoted emigration statistics showing the number of girls who left Mayo every year for the United States. He pointed out that all of them might be employed at home, as milliners or otherwise, if only the public would boycott shops which sold English goods or employed Scotch milliners. He more than suspected that the obnoxious advertisement was part of an organized attempt to effect a new plantation of Connaught—'worse than Cromwell's was.' The fact that Connaught was the only part of Ireland which Cromwell did not propose to plant escaped the notice of both Mr. Dowling and his audience. The speech concluded with a passionate peroration and a verse, no doubt declaimed soundingly, of 'The West's Awake.'
Hyacinth made an expedition to Ardnaree, and called hopefully on the orator. His reception was depressing in the extreme. The shop, which was large and imposing, was stocked with goods which were obviously English, and Mr. Dowling curtly refused even to look at the samples of Mr. Quinn's manufactures. Hyacinth quoted his own speech to the man, and was amazed at the cynical indifference with which he ignored the dilemma.
'Business is one thing,' he said, 'and politics is something entirely different.'
Hyacinth lost his temper completely.
'I shall write to the papers,' he said, Vand expose you. I shall have your speech reprinted, and along with it an account of the way you conduct your business.'
A mean, hard smile crossed Mr. Dowling's mouth before he answered:
'Perhaps you don't know that my wife is the Archbishop's niece?'
Hyacinth stared at him. For a minute or two he entirely failed to understand what Mrs. Dowling's relationship to a great ecclesiastic had to do with the question. At last a light broke on him.
'You mean that an editor wouldn't print my letter because he would be afraid of offending a Roman Catholic Archbishop?'
The expression 'Roman Catholic' caught Mr. Dowling's attention.
'Are you a Protestant?' he asked. 'You are—a dirty Protestant—and you dare to come here into my own house, and insult me and trample on my religious convictions. I'm a Catholic and a member of the League. What do you mean, you Souper, you Sour-face, by talking to me about Irish manufactures? Get out of this house, and go to the hell that's waiting for you!'
As Hyacinth turned to go, there flashed across his mind the recollection of Miss Goold and her friends who wrote for the Croppy.
'There's one paper in Ireland, anyhow,' he said, 'which is not afraid of your wife nor your Archbishop. I'll write to the Croppy, and you'll see if they won't publish the facts.'
Mr. Dowling grinned.
'I don't care if they do,' he said. 'The priests are dead against the Croppy, and there's hardly a man in the town reads it. Go up there now to Hely's and try if you can buy a copy. I tell you it isn't on sale here at all, and whatever they publish will do me no harm.'
When Hyacinth returned to the hotel he found Mr. Holywell seated, with the inevitable whisky-and-water beside him, in the commercial-room.
'Well, Mr. Conneally,' he said, 'and how is patriotism paying you? Find people ready to buy what's Irish?'
Hyacinth, boiling over with indignation, related his experience with Mr. Dowling.
'What did I tell you?' said Mr. Hollywell. 'But anyhow you're just as well out of a deal with that fellow. I wouldn't care to do business with him myself. I happen to know, and you may take my word for it '—his voice sunk to a confidential whisper—'that he's very deep in the books of two English firms, and that he daren't—simply daren't—place an order with anyone else. They'd have him in the Bankruptcy Court to-morrow if he did. I shouldn't feel easy with Mr. Dowling's cheque for an account until I saw how the clerk took it across the bank counter. You mark my words, there'll be a fire in that establishment before the year's out.'
The prophecy was fulfilled, as Hyacinth learnt from the Mayo Telegraphy and Mr. Dowling's whole stock of goods was consumed. There were rumours that a sceptical insurance company made difficulties about paying the compensation demanded; but the inhabitants of Ardnaree marked their confidence in the husband of an Archbishop's niece by presenting him with an address of sympathy and a purse containing ten sovereigns.
Most of Hyacinth's business was done with small shopkeepers in remote districts. The country-people who lived out of reach of such centres of fashion as Ardnaree and Clogher were sufficiently unsophisticated to prefer things which were really good. Hats and bonnets were not quite universal among the women in the mountain districts far back where they spoke Irish, and Mr. Quinn's head-kerchiefs were still in request. Even the younger women wanted garments which would keep them warm and dry, and Hyacinth often returned well satisfied from a tour of the country shops. Sometimes he doubted whether he ought to trust the people with more than a few pounds' worth of goods, but he gradually learnt that, unlike the patriotic Mr. Dowling, they were universally honest. He discovered, too, that these people, with their imperfect English and little knowledge of the world, were exceedingly shrewd. They had very little real confidence in oratorical politicians, and their interest in public affairs went no further than voting consistently for the man their priest recommended. But they quickly understood Hyacinth's arguments when he told them that the support of Irish manufactures would help to save their sons and daughters from the curse of emigration.
'Faith, sir,' said a shopkeeper who kept a few blankets and tweeds among his flour-sacks and porter-barrels, 'since you were talking to the boys last month, I couldn't induce one of them to take the foreign stuff if I was to offer him a shilling along with it.'
When he returned to Ballymoy after his interview with Mr. Dowling, Hyacinth set himself to fulfil his threat of writing to the Croppy. He spent Saturday afternoon and evening in his lodgings with the paper containing the blatant speech spread out before him. He blew his anger to a white heat by going over the evidence of the man's grotesque hypocrisy. He wrote and rewrote his article. It was his first attempt at expressing thought on paper since the days when he sought to satisfy examiners with disquisitions on Dryden's dramatic talent and other topics suited to the undergraduate mind. This was a different business. It was no longer a question of filling a sheet of foolscap with grammatical sentences, discovering synonyms for words hard to spell. Now thoughts were hot in him, and the art lay in finding words which would blister and scorch. Time after time he tore up a page of bombast or erased ridiculous flamboyancies. Late at night, with a burning head and ice-cold feet, he made his last copy, folded it up, and, distrusting the cooler criticism of the morning, went out and posted it to the Croppy.
A letter from Miss Goold overtook him the following Thursday in the hotel at Clogher.
'I was delighted to hear from you again,' she wrote. 'I was afraid you had cut me altogether, gone over to the respectable people, and forgotten poor Ireland. Captain Quinn told me that you and he had quarrelled, and I gathered that you rather disapproved of him. Well, he was a bit of a blackguard; but, after all, one doesn't expect a man who takes on a job of that kind to be anything else. I never thought it would suit you, and you will do me the justice of remembering that I never wanted you to volunteer. Now about your article. It was admirable. These "Cheap Patriots"'—it was thus the article was headed—'are just the creatures we want to scarify. Dowling and his kind are the worst enemies Ireland has to-day. We'll publish anything of that kind you send us, and remember we're not the least afraid of anybody. It's a grand thing for a paper to be as impecunious as the Croppy. No man but a fool would take a libel action against us with any hope of getting damages. A jury might value Dowling's character at any fantastic sum they chose, but it would be a poor penny the Croppy would pay. Still, we're not so hard up that we can't give our contributors something, and next week you'll get a small cheque from the office. I hope it may encourage you to send us more. Don't be afraid to speak out. If anything peculiarly seditious occurs to you, write it in Irish. I know it's all the same to you which language you write in. Do us half a column every fortnight or so on Western life and politics.'
Hyacinth was absurdly elated by Miss Goold's praise. He made up his mind to contribute regularly to the Croppy, and had visions of a great future as a journalist, or perhaps a literary exponent of the ideas of Independent Ireland.
Meanwhile, he became very intimate both with the Quinns and with Canon Beecher's family. Mrs. Quinn was an enthusiastic gardener, and early in the spring Hyacinth helped her with her flowerbeds. He learnt to plait the foliage of faded crocuses, and pin them tidily to the ground with little wooden forks. He gathered suitable earth for the boxes in which begonias made their earliest sprout-ings, and learned to know the daffodils and tulips by their names. Later on he helped Mr. Quinn to mow the grass and mix a potent weed-killer for the gravel walks. There came to be an understanding that, whenever he was not absent on a journey, he spent the latter part of the afternoon and the evening with the Quinns. As the days lengthened the family tea was pushed back to later and later hours to give more time out of doors.
There is something about the very occupation of gardening which is deadening to enthusiasm. Perhaps a man learns patience by familiarity with growing plants. Nature is never in a hurry in a garden, and there is no use in trying to hustle a flower, whereas a great impatience is the very life-spirit of enthusiastic patriotism. There has probably never been a revolutionary gardener, or even a strong Radical who worked with open-air flowers. Of course, in greenhouses things can be forced, and the spirit of the ardent reformer may find expression in the nurture of premature blooms. Perhaps also the constant stooping which gardening necessitates, especially in the early spring, when the weeds grow plentifully, tends to destroy the stiff mental independence which must be the attitude of the militant patriot. It is very difficult for a man who has stooped long enough to have conquered his early cramps and aches to face the problems of politics with uncompromising rigidity. Hyacinth recognised with a curious qualm of disgust that his thoughts turned less and less to Ireland's wrongs and Ireland's future as he learnt to care for the flowers and the grass.
No doubt, too, the atmosphere of the Quinns' family life was not congenial to the spirit of the Irish politician. Mrs. Quinn was totally uninterested in politics, and except a prejudice in favour of what she called loyalty, had absolutely no views on any question which did not directly affect her home and her children. Mr. Quinn had a coldly-reasonable political and economic creed, which acted on the luxuriant fancies of Hyacinth's enthusiasm as his weed-killer did on the tender green of the paths. He declined altogether to see any good in supporting Irish manufactures simply because they were Irish. The story of O'Reilly's attitude towards his shawls moved him to no indignation.
'I think he's perfectly right,' he said. 'If a man can buy cheap shawls in England he would be a fool to pay more for Irish ones. Business can't be run on those lines. I'm not an object of charity, and if I can't meet fair competition I must go under, and it's right that I should go under.'
Hyacinth had no answer to give. He shirked the point at issue, and attacked Mr. Quinn along another line in the hope of arousing his indignation.
'But it is not fair competition that you are called upon to face. Do you call it fair competition when the Government subsidizes a woollen factory in a convent?'
'Ah!' said Mr. Quinn, 'you are thinking of the four thousand pounds the Congested Districts Board gave to the convent at Bobeen. But it is hardly fair to hold the Government responsible for the way that body wastes eighty thousand pounds a year.'
'The Government is ultimately responsible, and you must admit that, after such a gift, and in view of the others which will certainly follow, you are called upon to meet most unfair competition.'
'Yes, I admit that. But isn't that exactly what you want to make general? There doesn't seem to me any difference between giving a bounty to one industry and imposing a protective tariff in favour of another; and if your preference for Irish manufactures means anything, it means a sort of voluntary protection for every business in the country. If you object to the Robeen business being subsidized you can't logically try to insist on mine being protected.'
It was puzzling to have the tables turned on him so adroitly. Hyacinth was reduced to feeble threat.
'Just wait a while till the nuns get another four thousand pounds, and perhaps four thousand pounds more after that, and see how it will affect you.'
Mr. Quinn smiled.
'I'm not much afraid of nuns as trade competitors, or, for the matter of that, of the Congested Districts Board either. If the Yorkshire people would only import a few Mother Superiors to manage their factories, and take the advice of members of our Board in their affairs, I would cheerfully make them a present of any reasonable subsidy, and beat them out of the market afterwards.'
There was another influence at work on Hyacinth's mind which had as much to do with the decay of his patriotism as either the gardening or Mr. Quinn's logic. Marion Beecher and her sister were very frequently at the Mill House during the spring and summer. There was one long afternoon which was spent in the marking out of the tennis-ground. Mr. Quinn had theories involving calculations with a pencil and pieces of paper about the surest method of securing right angles at the corners and parallel lines down the sides of the court. Hyacinth and Marion worked obediently with a tape measure and the garden line. One of the boys messed cheerfully with a pail of liquid whitening. Afterwards the gardening was somewhat deserted, and Hyacinth was instructed in the game. It took him a long time to learn, and for many afternoons he and Marion were regularly beaten, but she would not give up hope of him. Often the excuse of her coming to the Quinns was the necessity of practising some new hymn or chant for Sunday. Hyacinth worked as hard at the music as at the tennis under her tuition, and there came a time when he could sing an easy tenor part with fair accuracy. Then in the early summer, when the evenings were warm, hymns were sung on the lawn in front of the house. There seemed no incongruity in Marion Beecher's company in passing without a break from lawn-tennis to hymn-singing, and Mr. Quinn was always ready to do his best at the bass with a serious simplicity, as if it were a perfectly natural and usual thing to close an afternoon's amusement with 'Rock of Ages.' Hyacinth was not conscious of any definite change in his attitude towards religion. He still believed himself to be somehow outside the inner shrine of the life which the Beechers and the Quinns lived, just as he had been outside his father's prayers. But he found it increasingly difficult after an hour or two of companionship with Marion Beecher to get back to the emotions which had swayed him during the weeks of his intimacy with Miss Goold. To write for the Croppy after sitting beside Marion in church on Sunday evenings was like passing suddenly from a quiet wood into a heated saloon where people wrangled. A wave of the old passionate feeling, when it returned, affected him as raw spirit would the palate of a boy.
One day early in summer—the short summer of Connaught, which is glorious in June, and dissolves into windy mist and warm rain in the middle of July—Hyacinth was invited by Canon Beecher to join a boating party on the lake. The river, whose one useful function was the turning of Mr. Quinn's millwheel, wound away afterwards through marshy fields and groves of willow-trees into the great lake. At its mouth the Beechers kept their boat, a cumbrous craft, very heavy to row, but safe and suited to carry a family in comfort. The party started early—Canon Beecher, Hyacinth, and one of the boys very early, for they had to walk the two miles which separated Ballymoy from the lake shore. Mrs. Beecher, the girls, the two other boys, and the baskets of provisions followed a little later on the Rectory car, packed beyond all possibility of comfort. The Canon himself pulled an oar untiringly, but without the faintest semblance of style, and the party rippled with joy when they discovered that Hyacinth also could row.
'Now,' said Elsie, 'we can go anywhere. We can go on rowing and rowing all day, and see places we've never seen before.'
'My dear girl,' said her mother, 'remember that Mr. Conneally and your father aren't machines. You mustn't expect them to go too far.'
'Oh, but,' said Elsie, 'father says he never gets tired if he has only one oar to pull.'
The Canon was preparing for his toil. The old coat, in colour now almost olive green, was folded and used as a cushion by Marion in the bow. His white cuffs, stowed inside his hat, were committed to the care of Mrs. Beecher. He rolled his gray shirtsleeves up to the elbow, and unbuttoned his waistcoat.
'Now,' he said, 'I'm ready. If I'm not hurried, I'll pull along all day. But what about you, Conneally? You're not accustomed to this sort of thing?'
But Hyacinth for once was self-confident. He might be a poor singer and a contemptible tennis player, but he knew that nothing which had to do with boats could come amiss to him. He looked across the sparkling water of the lake.
'I'll go on as long as you like. You won't tire me when there's no tide and no waves. This is a very different business from getting out the sweeps to pull a nobby five miles against the strength of the ebb, with a heavy ground swell running.'
About eleven o'clock they landed on an island and ate biscuits. The Canon told Hyacinth the story of the ruin under whose walls they sat.
'It belonged to the Lynotts, the Welshmen of Tyrawley. They were at feud with the Burkes, and one night in winter——'
The girls wandered away, carrying their biscuits with them. It is likely that they had heard the story every summer as long as they could remember. Mrs. Beecher alone still maintained an attitude of admiration for her husband's antiquarian knowledge, the more creditable because she must have been familiar with the onset of the MacWilliam Burkes before even Marion was old enough to listen. To Hyacinth the story was both new and interesting. It stirred him to think of the Lynotts fighting hopelessly, or begging mercy in the darkness and the cold just where he sat now saturate with sunlight and with life. He gazed across the mile of shining water which separated the castle from the land, and tried to realize how the Irish servant-girl swam from the island with an infant Lynott on her back, and saved the name from perishing. How the snow must have beaten in her face and the lake-waves choked her breath! It was a great story, but the girls, shouting from the water's edge, reminded him that he was out to pull an oar, and not to sentimentalize. He and the Canon rose, half smiling, half sighing, and took their places in the boat.
They penetrated before luncheon time to a bay hitherto unknown to the Beechers. A chorus of delight greeted its discovery. The water shone bright green and very clear above the slabs of white limestone. The shore far inland was almost verdure-less. Broad flat rocks lay baking in the sunshine, and only the scantiest grass struggled up between their edges. Sometimes they overlapped each other, and rose Uke an immense staircase. Fifty yards or so from the land was a tiny island entirely overgrown with stunted bushes. The boat was pushed up to it and a landing-place sought, but the shrubs were too thick, and it was decided to picnic among the rocks on the land. Then Marion in the bow made a discovery. A causeway about a foot under water led from the island to the shore. The whole party leaned over to examine it. Every stone was visible in the clear water, and it was obvious that it had been planned and built, and was no merely accidental formation of the rocks. The Canon had heard of a similar device resorted to by an island hermit to insure the privacy of his cell. Hyacinth spoke vaguely of the settlements of primitive communities of lake-dwellers. The three boys planned an expedition across the causeway after luncheon.
'We'll carry our shoes and stockings with us,' they said, 'and then explore the island. Perhaps there is a hermit there still, or a primitive lake-dweller. What is a primitive lake-dweller, Mr. Conneally?'
Hyacinth was uncertain, but hazarded a suggestion that the lake-dwellers were the people who buried each other in raths. The Canon, whose archaeology did not go back beyond St. Patrick, offered no correction.
Tea was made later on in yet another bay, this time on the eastern shore of the lake. An oak wood grew down almost to the water's edge, and the branches overhung a sandy beach, more golden than any sea-strand. The whole party collected dead wood and broken twigs for the fire. Then, while the girls unpacked the baskets and secured the kettle amidst the smoke, Hyacinth lay back luxuriously and watched the sun set behind the round-shouldered mountain opposite. The long, steep slope shone bright green while the sun still rested in view above the summit; then suddenly, when the topmost rim of it had dipped out of sight, the whole mountainside turned purple, and a glory of gold and crimson hung above it on the motionless streaks of cloud. Slowly the splendour faded, the purple turned gray, and a faint breeze fluttered across the lake.
The day was the first of many which Hyacinth gave to such expeditions. The work of Mr. Quinn's office was not so pressing as to necessitate his spending every day there when he was in Ballymoy, and a holiday was always obtainable. The lake scenery remained vivid in his memory in after-years, and had its influence upon him even while he enjoyed it, unconscious of anything except the present pleasure. There was something besides the innocent gaiety of the girls and the simple sincerity of the Canon's platitudes, something about the lake itself, which removed him to a spiritual region utterly remote from the fiery atmosphere of Miss Goold's patriotism. Many things which once loomed very large before him sank to insignificance as he drank to the full of the desolation around him. The past, in which no doubt men strove and hoped, hated and loved and feared, had left the just recognisable ruins of some castles and the causeway built by an unknown hermit or the prehistoric lake-dwellers. A few thatched cabins, faintly smoking, and here and there a cairn of stones gathered laboriously off the wretched fields, were the evidences of present activity. Now and then a man hooted to his dog as it barked at the sheep on the hillside, or a girl drove a turf-laden donkey inland from the boggy shore. Otherwise there were no signs of human life. A deep sense of monotony and inevitableness settled down upon Hyacinth. He came for the first time under the great enchantment which paralyzes the spirit and energy of the Celt. He knew himself to be, as his people were, capable of spasms of enthusiasm, the victim of transitory burnings of soul. But the curse was upon him—the inevitable curse of feeling too keenly and seeing too clearly to be strenuous and constant. The flame would die down, the enthusiasm would vanish—it was vanishing from him, as he knew well—and leave him, not indeed content with common life, but patient of it, and to the very end sad with the sense of possibilities unrealized.
Yet it was not without many struggles and periods of return to the older emotions that Hyacinth surrendered his enthusiasm. There still recurred to him memories of his father's vision of an Armageddon and the conception of his own part in it. Sometimes, waking very early in the morning, he became vividly conscious of his own feebleness of will and his falling away from great purposes. The conviction that he was called to struggle for Ireland's welfare, to sacrifice, if necessary, his life and happiness for Ireland, was strong in him still. He felt himself affected profoundly by the influences which surrounded him, but he had not ceased to believe that the idea of self-sacrificing labour was for him a high vocation. He writhed, his limbs twisting involuntarily, when these thoughts beset him, and often he was surprised to discover that he was actually uttering aloud words of self-reproach.
Then he would write fiercely, brutally, catch at the excuse of some hypocrisy or corruption, or else denounce selfishness and easy-going patriotic sentiment, finding subject for his satire in himself. His articles brought him letters of praise from Miss Goold. 'You have it,' she wrote once, 'the thing we all seek for, the power of beating red-hot thought into sword-blades. Write more like the last.' But the praise always came late. The violent mood, the self-reproach, the bitterness, were past. His life was wrapt round again with softer influences, and he read his own words with shame when they reached him in print. Afterwards for a while, if he wrote at all, it was of the peasant life, of quaint customs, half-forgotten legends and folklore. These articles appeared too, but brought no praise from Miss Goold. Once she reproached him when he lapsed into gentleness for many consecutive weeks.
'You oughtn't to waste yourself. There are fifty men and women can do the sort of thing you're doing now; we don't want you to take it up. It's fighting men we need, not maundering sentimentalists.'
It was during the second year of Hyacinth's residence in Ballymoy that the station-master at Clogher died. The poor man caught a cold one February night while waiting for a train which had broken down three miles outside his station. From the cold came first pneumonia, and then the end. Now, far to the east of Clogher, on a different branch of the railway-line, is a town with which the people of Mayo have no connection whatever. In it is a very flourishing Masonic lodge. Almost every male Protestant in the town and the neighbourhood belongs to it, and the Rector of the parish is its chaplain. Among its members at that time was an intelligent young man who occupied the position of goods clerk on the railway. The Masonic brethren, as in duty bound, used their influence to secure his promotion, and brought considerable pressure to bear on the directors of the company to have him made station-master at Clogher.
It is said with some appearance of truth that no appointment in Ireland is ever made on account of the fitness of the candidate for the post to be filled. Whether the Lord Lieutenant has to nominate a Local Government Board Inspector, or an Urban Council has to select a street scavenger, the principle acted on is the same. No investigation is made about the ability or character of a candidate. Questions may be asked about his political opinions, his religious creed, and sometimes about the social position of his wife, but no one cares in the least about his ability. The matter really turns upon the amount of influence which he can bring to bear. So it happened that John Crawford, Freemason and Protestant, was appointed station-master at Clogher. Of course, nobody really cared who got the post except a few seniors of John Crawford's, who wanted it for themselves. Probably even they would have stopped grumbling after a month or two if it had not happened that a leading weekly newspaper, then at the height of its popularity and influence, was just inaugurating a crusade against Protestants and Freemasons. The case of John Crawford became the subject of a series of bitter and vehement articles. It was pointed out that although Roman Catholics were beyond all question more intelligent, better educated, and more upright than Protestants, they were condemned by the intolerance of highly-paid officials to remain hewers of wood and drawers of water. It was shown by figures which admitted of no controversy that Irish railways, banks, and trading companies were, without exception, on the verge of bankruptcy, entirely owing to the apathy of shareholders who allowed their interests to be sacrificed to the bigotry of directors. It was urged that a public meeting should be held at Clogher to protest against the new appointment.
The meeting was convened, and Father Fahey consented to occupy the chair. He was supported by a dispensary doctor, anxious to propitiate the Board of Guardians with a view to obtaining a summer holiday; a leading publican, who had a son at Maynooth; a grazier, who dreaded the possible partition of his ranch by the Congested Districts Board; and Mr. O'Reilly, who saw a hope of drawing custom from the counter of his rival draper, the Scotchman.
Father Fahey opened the proceedings with a speech. He assured his audience that he was not actuated by any spirit of religious bigotry or intolerance. He wished well to his Protestant fellow-countrymen, and hoped that in the bright future which lay before Ireland men of all creeds would be united in working for the common good of their country. These sentiments were not received with vociferous applause. The audience was perfectly well aware that something much more to the point was coming, and reserved their cheers. Father Fahey did not disappoint them. He proceeded to show that the appointment of the new station-master was a deliberate insult to the faith of the inhabitants of Clogher.
'Are we,' he asked, 'to submit tamely to having the worst evils of the old ascendancy revived in our midst?'
He was followed by the dispensary doctor, who also began by declaring his freedom from bigotry. He confused the issue slightly by complaining that the new station-master was entirely ignorant of the Irish language. It was perfectly well known that in private life the doctor was in the habit of expressing the greatest contempt for the Gaelic League, and that he could not, if his life depended on it, have translated even Mr. O'Reilly's advertisements; but his speech was greeted with tumultuous cheers. He proceeded to harrow the feelings of his audience by describing what he had heard at the railway-station one evening while waiting for the train. As he paced the platform his attention was attracted by the sound of a piano in the station-master's house. He listened, and, to his amazement and disgust, heard the tune of a popular song, 'a song'—he brought down his fist on the table as he uttered the awful indictment—'imported from England.'
'I ask,' he went on—'I ask our venerated and beloved parish priest; I ask you, fathers of innocent families; I ask every right-thinking patriot in this room, are our ears to be insulted, our morals corrupted, our intellects depraved, by sounds like these?'
He closed his speech by proposing a resolution requiring the railway company to withdraw the obnoxious official from their midst.
The oratory of the grazier, who seconded the resolution, was not inferior. It filled his heart with a sense of shame, so he said, to think of his cattle, poor, innocent beasts of the field, being handled by a Protestant. They had been bred, these bullocks of his, by Catholics, fed by Catholics, were owned by a Catholic, bought with Catholic money at the fairs, and yet they were told that in all Ireland no Catholic could be discovered fit to put them into a train.
Neither the resolution itself nor the heart-rending appeal of the grazier produced the slightest effect on the railway company. John Crawford continued to sell tickets, even to Father Fahey himself, and appeared entirely unconcerned by the fuss.
About a fortnight after the meeting Hyacinth spent a night in Clogher. Mr. Holywell, the cigarette man, happened to be in the hotel, and, as usual, got through a good deal of desultory conversation while he drank his whisky-and-water. Quite unexpectedly, and apropos of nothing that had been said, he plumped out the question:
'What religion are you, Conneally?'
The inquiry was such an unusual one, and came so strangely from Mr. Holywell, who had always seemed a Gallio in matters spiritual, that Hyacinth hesitated.
'I'm a Baptist myself,' he went on, apparently with a view to palliating his inquisitiveness by a show of candour. 'I find it a very convenient sort of religion in Connaught. There isn't a single place of worship belonging to my denomination in the whole province, so I'm always able to get my Sundays to myself. I don't want to convert you to anything or to argue with you, but I have a fancy that you are a Church of Ireland Protestant.'
Hyacinth admitted the correctness of the guess, and wondered what was coming next.
'Ever spend a Sunday here?'
'Never,' said Hyacinth; 'I always get back home for the end of the week if I can.'
'Ah! Well, do you know, if I were you, I should spend next Sunday here, and go to Mass.'
'I shall not do anything of the sort.'
'Well, it's your own affair, of course; only I just think I should do it if I were you. Good-night.'
'Wait a minute,' said Hyacinth. 'I want to know what you mean.'
Mr. Holywell sat down again heavily.
'Been round your customers here lately?'
'No. I only arrived this evening, and have done nothing yet. I mean to go round them to-morrow.'
'You may just as well go home by the early train for all the good you'll do.'
Hyacinth restrained himself with an effort. He reflected that he was more likely to get at the meaning of these mysterious warnings if he refrained from direct questioning. After a minute of two of silence Mr. Hollywell went on:
'They had a meeting here a little while ago about the appointment of a Protestant station-master. They didn't take much by it so far as the railway company is concerned, but I happen to know that word has gone round that every shopkeeper in the town is to order his goods as far as possible from Catholics. Now, everybody knows your boss is a Protestant, but the people are a little uncertain about you. They've never seen you at Mass, which is suspicious, but, on the other hand, the way you gas on about Irish manufactures makes them think you can't be a Protestant. The proper thing for you to do is to lie low till you've put in an appearance at Mass, and then go round and try for orders.'
'That's the kind of thing,' said Hyacinth, 'that I couldn't do if I had no religion at all; but it happens that I have convictions of a sort, and I don't mean to go against them.'
'Oh, well, as I said before, it's your own affair; only better Protestants than you have done as much. Why, I do it myself constantly, and everyone knows that a Baptist is the strongest kind of Protestant there is.'
This reasoning, curiously enough, proved unconvincing.
'I can't believe,' said Hyacinth, 'that a religious boycott of the kind is possible. People won't be such fools as to act clean against their own interests. Considering that nine-tenths of the drapery goods in the country come from England and are sold by Protestant travellers, I don't see how the shopkeepers could act as you say.'
'Oh, of course they won't act against their own interests. I've never come across a religion yet that made men do that. They won't attempt to boycott the English firms, because, as you say, they couldn't; but they can boycott you. Everything your boss makes is turned out just as well and just as cheap, or cheaper, by the nuns at Robeen. Perhaps you didn't know that these holy ladies have hired a traveller. Well, they have, and he's a middling smart man, too—quite smart enough to play the trumps that are put into his hand; and he's got a fine flush of them now. What with the way that wretched rag of a paper, which started all the fuss, goes on rampaging, and the amount of feeling that's got up over the station-master, the peaceablest people in the place would be afraid to deal with a Protestant at the present moment. The Robeen man has the game in his own hands, and I'm bound to say he'd be a fool if he didn't play it for all it's worth. I'd do it myself if I was in his shoes.'
Hyacinth discovered next day that Mr. Holywell had summed up the situation very accurately. No point-blank questions were asked about his religion, but he could by no means persuade his customers to give him even a small order. Every shop-window was filled with goods placarded ostentatiously as 'made in Robeen.' Every counter had tweeds, blankets, and flannels from the same factory. No one was in the least uncivil to him, and no one assigned any plausible reason for refusing to deal with him. He was simply bowed out as quickly as possible from every shop he entered.
He returned home disgusted and irritated, and told his tale to his employer. Mr. Quinn recognised the danger that threatened him. For the first time, he admitted that his business was being seriously injured by the competition of Robeen. He took Hyacinth into his confidence more fully than he had ever done before, and explained what seemed to be a hopeful plan.
'I may tell you, Conneally, that I have very little capital to fall back upon in my business. Years ago when things were better than they are now, I had a few thousands put by, but most of it went on buying my brother Albert's share of the mill. Lately I have not been able to save, and at the present moment I can lay hands on very little money. Still, I have something, and what I mean to do is this: I shall give up all idea of making a profit for the present. I shall even sell my goods at a slight loss, and try to beat the nunnery out of the market. I think this religious animosity will weaken after a while, and if we offer the cheapest goods we must in the end get back our customers.'
Hyacinth was not so sanguine.
'You forget,' he said, 'that these people have Government money at their backs, and are likely to get more of it. If you sell at a loss they will do so, too, and ask for a new grant from the Congested Districts Board to make good their deficiency.'
Mr. Quinn sighed.
'That is quite possible,' he said. 'But what can I do? I must make a fight for my business.'
'Perhaps I have no right to make the suggestion, but it seems to me that you are bound to be beaten. Would it not be better to give in at once? Don't risk the money you have safe. Keep it, and try to sell the mill and the business.'
'I shall hold on,' said Mr. Quinn.
'Ought you not to think of your wife? Remember what it will mean to her if you are beaten in the end, when your savings are gone and your business unsaleable.'
For a moment there were signs of wavering in Mr. Quinn's face. The fingers of his hands twisted in and out of each other, and a pitiable look of great distress came into his eyes. Then he unclasped his hands and placed them flat on the table before him.
'I shall hold on,' he said. 'I shall not close my mill while I have a shilling left to pay my workers with.'
'Well,' said Hyacinth, 'it is for you to decide. At least, you can count on my doing my best, my very best.'
Mr. Quinn carried on his struggle for nearly a year, although from the very first he might have recognised its hopelessness. Time after time Hyacinth made his tour, and visited the shopkeepers who had once been his customers. Occasionally he succeeded in obtaining orders, and a faint gleam of hope encouraged him, but he had no steady success. Mr. Quinn's original estimate of the situation was so far justified that after a while the religious animosity died out. Shopkeepers even explained apologetically that they gave their orders to the Robeen convent for purely commercial reasons.
'Their goods are cheaper than yours, and that's the truth, Mr. Conneally.'
Hyacinth recognised that Mr. Quinn was being beaten at his own game. He had attempted to drive the nuns out of the market by underselling them, and now it appeared that they, too, were prepared to face a loss. It was obvious that their losses must be great, much greater than Mr. Quinn's. Rumours were rife of large loans raised by the Mother Superior, of mortgages on the factory buildings and the machinery. These stories brought very little consolation, for, as Hyacinth knew, Mr. Quinn was very nearly at the end of his resources. He refused to borrow.
'When I am forced to close up,' he said, 'I shall do so with a clear balance-sheet. I have no wish for bankruptcy.'
'I should like,' said Hyacinth vindictively, 'to see the Reverend Mother reduced to paying a shilling in the pound.'
'I am afraid,' said Mr. Quinn, 'you won't see that. The convent is a branch of an immense organization. No doubt, if it comes to a pinch, funds will be forthcoming.'
'Yes, and they won't draw on their own purse till they have got all they can out of the Congested Districts Board. I have no doubt they are counting on another four thousand pounds to start them clear when they have beaten you.'
One day, quite accidentally, Hyacinth came by a piece of information about the working of the Robeen factory which startled him. He was travelling home by rail. It happened to be Friday, and, as usual in the early summer, the train was crowded with emigrants on their way to Queenstown. The familiar melancholy crowd waited on every platform. Old women weeping openly and men with faces ridiculously screwed and puckered in the effort to restrain the rising tears clung to their sons and daughters. Pitiful little boxes and carpet bags were piled on the platform. Friends clung to hands outstretched through the carriage-windows while the train moved slowly out. Then came the long mournful wail from those left behind, and the last wavings of farewell. At the Robeen station the crowd was no less than elsewhere. The carriages set apart for the emigrants were full, and at the last minute two girls were hustled into the compartment where Hyacinth sat. A woman, their mother, mumbled and slobbered over their hands. An old man, too old to be their father, shouted broken benedictions to them. Two young men—lovers, perhaps, or brothers—stood red-eyed, desolate and helpless, without speaking. After the train had started Hyacinth looked at the girls. One of them, a pretty creature of perhaps eighteen years old, wept quietly in the corner of the carriage. Beside her lay her carpet bag and a brown shawl. On her lap was an orange, and she held a crumpled paper bag of biscuits in her hand. There was nothing unusual about her. She was just one instance of heartbreak, the heart-break of a whole nation which loves home as no other people have ever loved it, and yet are doomed, as it seems inevitably, to leave it. She was just one more waif thrown into the whirlpool of the great world to toil and struggle, succeed barrenly or pitifully fail; but through it all, through even the possible loss of faith and ultimate degradation, fated to cling to a love for the gray desolate fatherland. The other girl was different. Hyacinth looked at her with intense interest. She was the older of the two, and not so pretty as her sister. Her face was thin and pale, and a broad scar under one ear showed where a surgeon's knife had cut. She sat with her hands folded on her lap, gazing dry-eyed out of the window beside her. There was no sign of sorrow on her face, nothing but a kind of sulky defiance.
After a while she took the paper bag out of her sister's hand, opened it, and began to eat the gingerbread biscuits it contained. Hyacinth spoke to her, but she turned her head away, and would not answer him. His voice seemed to rouse the younger sister, who stopped crying and looked at him curiously. He tried again, and this time he spoke in Irish.
At once the younger girl brightened and answered him. Apparently she had no fear that malice could lurk in the heart of a man who spoke her own language. In a few minutes she was chatting to him as if he were an old friend.
He learnt that the two girls were on their way to New York. They had a sister there who had sent them the price of their tickets. Yes, the sister was in a situation, was getting good wages, and had clothes 'as grand as a lady's.' She had sent home a photograph at Christmas-time, which their mother had shown all round the parish. These two were to get situations also as soon as they arrived. Oh yes, there was no doubt of it: Bridgy had promised. There were four of them left at home—three boys and a girl. No doubt in time they would all follow Bridgy to America—all but Seumas; he was to have the farm. No, the girls could not get married, because their father was too poor to give them fortunes. There was nothing for them but to go to America. But their mother had not wanted them to go. The clergy and the nuns were against the girls going. Indeed, they nearly had them persuaded to send Bridgy's money back.
'But Onny was set on going.'
She glanced at her sister in the corner of the carriage. Hyacinth turned to her.
'Why do you want to leave Ireland?'
But Onny remained silent, sulky, at it seemed. It was the younger girl who answered him.
'They say it's a fine life they have out there. There's good money to be earned, and mightn't we be coming home some day with a fortune?'
'But aren't you sorry to leave Ireland?'
Again he looked at the elder girl, and this time was rewarded with a flash of defiant bitterness from her eyes.
'Sorry, is it? No, but I'm glad!'
'Onny's always saying that there was nothing to be earned in the factory. And she got more than the rest of us. Wasn't she the first girl that Sister Mary Aloysius picked out of the school when the young lady from England came over to teach us? She was the best worker they had.'
'It's true what she says,' said Onny. 'I was the best worker they had. I worked for them for three years, and all I was getting at the end of it was six shillings a week. Why would I be working for that when I might be getting wages like Bridgy's in America? What sense would there be in it?'
'But why did you work for such wages?'
'Well, now,' said the younger girl, 'how could we be refusing the Reverend Mother when she came round the town herself, and gave warning that we'd all be wanted?'
'There's few,' continued Onny, without noticing her sister, 'that earned as much as I did. Many a girl works there and has no more than one and ninepence to take home at the end of the week.'
Hyacinth began to understand how it was that Mr. Quinn was being hopelessly beaten. This was no struggle between two trade rivals, to be won by the side with the longer purse. Nor was it simply a fight between an independent manufacturer and a firm fed with Government bounties. Mr. Quinn's rival could count on an unlimited supply of labour at starvation wages, while he had to hire men and women at the market value of their services. He had been sorry for the two girls when they got into the train. Now he felt almost glad that they were leaving Ireland. It appeared that they had certainly chosen the wiser part.
He arrived at home dejected, and sat down beside the fire in his room to give himself up to complete despair. He found no hope anywhere. Irish patriotism, so he saw it, was a matter of words and fine phrases. No one really believed in it or would venture anything for it. Politics was a game at which sharpers cheated each other and the people. The leaders were bold only in sordid personal quarrels. The mass of the people were utterly untouched by the idea of nationality, in earnest about nothing but huckstering and petty gains. Over all was the grip of a foreign bureaucracy and a selfish Church tightening slowly, squeezing out the nation's life, grasping and holding fast its wealth. No man any longer made any demand except to be allowed to earn what would buy whisky enough to fuddle him into temporary forgetfulness of the present misery and the imminent tyranny.
The slatternly maid-servant who brought him his meals and made his bed tapped at the door.
'Please, sir, Jimmy Loughlin's after coming with a letter from Mr. Quinn, and he's waiting to know if you'll go.'
Hyacinth read the note, which asked him to call on his employer that afternoon.
'Tell him I'll be there.'
'Will you have your dinner before you go? The chops is in the pan below. Or will I keep them till you come back?'
'Oh, I've time enough. Bring them as soon as they're cooked, and for goodness' sake see that the potatoes are properly boiled.'
He took up a great English weekly paper, with copies of which Canon Beecher supplied him at irregular intervals, and propped it against the dish-cover while he ate. The article which caught his attention was headed 'Angels in Connaught.' It contained an idealized account of the work of the Robeen nuns, from whose shoulders it seemed to the writer likely that wings would soon sprout. There was a description of the once miserable cabins now transformed into homesteads so comfortable that English labourers would not disdain them. The people shared in the elevation of their surroundings. Men and women, lately half-naked savages, starved and ignorant, had risen in the scale of civilization and intelligence to a level which almost equalled that of a Hampshire villager. The double stream of emigration to the United States and migration to the English harvest-fields was stopped. An earthly paradise had been created in a howling wilderness by the self-denying labours of the holy ladies, aided by the statesmanlike liberality of the Congested Districts Board. There was another page of the article, but Hyacinth could stand no more.
He stood up and glanced at his watch. It was already nearly five o'clock. He pushed his way down the street, where the country-people, having completed their week's marketing, were loading donkeys on the footpath or carts pushed backwards against the kerbstone. Women dragged their heavily-intoxicated husbands from the public-houses, and girls, damp and bedraggled, stood in groups waiting for their parents. He turned into the gloomy archway of the mill, unlocked the iron gate, and crossed the yard into the Quinns' garden. The lamp burned brightly in the dining-room, and he could see Mrs Quinn in her chair by the fireside sewing. Her children sat on the rug at her feet. He saw their faces turned up to hers, gravely intent. No doubt she was telling them some story. He stood for a minute and watched them, while the peaceful joy of the scene entered into his heart. This, no doubt, a home full of such love and peace, was the best thing life had got to give. It was God's most precious benediction. 'Lo, thus shall a man be blessed who feareth the Lord.' He turned and passed on to the door. The servant showed him in, not, as he expected, to the sitting-room he had just gazed at, but to Mr. Quinn's study.
It was a desolate chamber. A plain wooden desk like a schoolmaster's stood in one corner, and upon it a feeble lamp. A bookcase surmounted a row of cupboards along one wall. Its contents—Hyacinth had often looked over them—were a many-volumed encyclopaedia, Macaulay's 'History of England,' Foxe's 'Book of Martyrs,' a series entitled 'Heroes of the Reformation,' and some bound volumes of a trade journal. Above the chimneypiece hung two trout-rods, a landing-net, and an old gun. The grate was tireless. It was a room obviously not loved by its owner. Neither pleasure nor comfort was looked for in it. It was simply a place of escape from the attractions of quiet ease when business overflowed the proper office hours. Mr. Quinn rose from his desk when Hyacinth entered.
'I am very glad to see you,' he said; 'I want to have a talk with you.'
Hyacinth waited while he arranged and rearranged some papers on the desk in front of him. Mr. Quinn, although he had specially sent for Hyacinth, seemed in no hurry to get to the subject of the interview. When he did speak, it was evident from his tone that the important topic was still postponed.
'How did you get on this week?'
Hyacinth had nothing good to report. He took from his pocket the note-book in which he entered his orders, and went over it. It contained an attenuated list. Moreover, the harvest had been bad, and old debts very difficult to collect. Mr. Quinn listened, apparently not very attentively, and when the reading was over said:
'What you report this week is simply a repetition of the story of the last six months. I did not expect it to be different. It makes the decision I have to make a little more inevitable, that is all. Mr. Conneally, we have been very good friends, and since you have been in my employment I have been satisfied with you in every way. Now I am unable to employ you any longer. I am giving up my business.'
Hyacinth made an effort to speak, but Mr. Quinn held up his hand and silenced him.
'This week,' he continued, 'I received news which settled the matter for me. Jameson and Thorpe, the big drapers in Dublin, were my best customers for certain goods. Last Monday they wrote that they had an offer of blankets at a figure a long way below mine. I didn't believe that articles equal in quality to mine could be produced at the price, and wrote a hint to that effect. I received—nothing could have been more courteous—a sample of the blankets offered. Well, I admit that it was at least equal to what I could supply in every way. I wrote again asking as a favour to be supplied with the name of the competing firm. I got the answer to-day. Mr. Thorpe wrote himself. The Robeen convent has undersold me.'
Hyacinth made another attempt to speak.
'Let me finish,' said Mr. Quinn. 'I had foreseen, of course, that this was coming. I have no more capital to fall back upon. I do not mean to run into debt. There is nothing for me but to dismiss my employees and shut up.'
'Yes,' said Hyacinth. 'And then——'
He knew he had no right to ask a question about the future, but the thought of Mrs. Quinn and her children as he had seen them in the dining-room almost forced him to inquire what was to happen to them. A spasm of extreme pain crossed Mr. Quinn's face.
'You are thinking of my wife. It will be hard—yes, very hard. She loved this place, her friends here, her garden, and all the quiet, peaceful life we have lived. Well, there is to be an end of it. But don't look so desperate.' He forced himself to smile as he spoke. 'We shall not starve or go to the workhouse. I have a knowledge of woollen goods if I have nothing else, and I dare say I can get an appointment as foreman or traveller for some big drapery house. But I may not be reduced to that. There is a secretary wanted just now in the office of one of the Dublin charitable societies. I mean to apply for the post. Canon Beecher and our Bishop are both members of the committee, and I am sure will do their best for me. The salary is not princely—a hundred and twenty pounds a year, I think. But there, I ought not to be talking all this time about myself. I must try and do something for you.'
'Never mind me,' said Hyacinth; 'I shall be all right. But I can't bear to think of you and Mrs. Quinn. Poverty like that in Dublin! Have you thought what it means? A shabby little house in a crowded street, off at the back of somewhere; dirt and stuffiness and vulgarity all around you. She can't be expected to stand it—or you either.'
'My dear boy,' said Mr. Quinn, 'my wife and I have been trying all our lives to be Christians. Shall we receive good at the Lord's hand and not evil also? However it may be with me, I know that she will not fail in the trial.'
His face lit up as he spoke, and the smile on it was no longer forced, but clear and brave. Hyacinth knew that he was once again in the presence of that mysterious power which enables men and women to meet and conquer loss and pain, against which every kind of misfortune beats in vain. His eyes filled with tears as he took Mr. Quinn's hand and bade him good-night.
Hyacinth had three months' work to do before he actually left Mr. Quinn's employment. He knew that at the end of that time he would be left absolutely without income, and that it was necessary for him to look out for some other situation. He reckoned up the remains of his original capital, and found himself with little more than a hundred pounds to fall back upon. Yet he did nothing. From time to time he bestirred himself, pondered the newspaper advertisements of vacant situations, and mentally resolved to commence his search at once. Always some excuse offered itself to justify putting the unpleasant business off, and he allowed himself to slip back into the quiet routine of life as if no catastrophe threatened him. He was, indeed, far more troubled about the Quinns' future than his own, and when, at the end of April, Canon Beecher returned from Dublin with the news that he had secured the secretaryship of the Church of Ireland Scriptural Schools Society for Mr. Quinn, Hyacinth felt that his mind was relieved of a great anxiety. That no such post had been discovered for him did not cost him a thought. In spite of his spasmodic efforts to goad himself into a condition of reasonable anxiety for his future, there remained half consciously present in his mind a conviction that somehow a way of getting sufficient food and clothes would offer itself in due time.
The conviction was justified by the event. It was on Saturday evening that the Canon returned with his good news, and on Sunday morning Hyacinth received a letter from Miss Goold.
'You have no doubt heard,' she wrote, 'that we have got a new editor for the Croppy—Patrick O'Dwyer, Mary's brother. Of course, you remember Mary and her unpoetical hysterics the morning after the Rotunda meeting. The new editor is a splendid man. He has been on the staff of a New York paper for the last five years, and thoroughly understands the whole business. But that's not the best of him. He hates England worse than I do. I'm only a child beside him, bursting out into fits of temper now and then, and cooling off again. He hates steadily, quietly, and intensely. But even that is not all that is to be said. He has got brains—brains enough, my dear Hyacinth, to make fools of you and me every day and all day long. He has devised a new policy for Ireland. The plan is simplicity itself, like all really great plans, and it must succeed. I won't go into it now, because I want you to come up to Dublin and see O'Dwyer. He tells me that he needs somebody else besides himself on the staff of the Croppy, which, by the way, is to be enlarged and improved. He wants a man who can write a column a week in Irish, as well as an article now and then in good strong plain English. I suggested your name to him, and showed him some of the articles you had written. He was greatly pleased with the one about O'Dowd's cheap patriotism, and liked one or two of the others. He just asked one question about you: "Does Mr. Conneally hate England and the Empire, and everything English, from the Parliament to the police barrack? It is this hatred which must animate the work." I said I thought you did. I told him how you had volunteered to fight for the Boers, and about the day you nearly killed that blackguard Shea. He seemed to think that was good enough, and asked me to write to you on the subject. We can't offer you a big salary. The editor himself is only to get a hundred pounds a year for the present, and I am guaranteeing another hundred for you. I am confident that I shan't have to pay it for more than six months. The paper is sure to go as it never went before, and in a few years we shall be able to treble O'Dwyer's salary and double yours. Nothing like such a chance has ever offered itself in Irish history before. Everything goes to show that this is our opportunity. England is weaker than she has been for centuries, is clinging desperately to the last tatters of her old prestige. She hasn't a single statesman capable of thinking or acting vigorously. Her Parliament is the laughingstock of Europe. Her Irish policy may be summed up in four words—intrigue with the Vatican. In Ireland the power of the faithful garrison is gone. The Protestants in the North are sick of being fooled by one English party after another. The landlords, or what's left of them, are beginning to discover that they have been bought and sold. The Bishops, England's last line of defence, are overreaching themselves, and we are within measurable distance of the day when the Church will be put into her proper place. There is not so much as a shoneen publican in a country town left who believes in the ranting of O'Rourke and his litter of blind whelps. Ireland is simply crying out for light and leading, and the Croppy is going to give both. You always wanted to serve Ireland. Now I am offering you the chance. I don't say you ought to thank me, though you will thank me to the day of your death. I don't say that you have an opportunity of becoming a great man. I know you, and I know a better way of making sure of you than that. I say to you, Hyacinth Conneally, that we want you—just you and nobody else. Ireland wants you.'
The letter, especially the last part of it, was sufficiently ridiculous to have moved Hyacinth to a smile. But it did no such thing. On the contrary, its rhetoric excited and touched him. The flattery of the final sentences elated him. The absurdity of the idea that Ireland needed him, a fifth-rate office clerk, an out-of-work commercial traveller who had failed to sell blankets and flannels, did not strike him at all. The figure of Augusta Goold rose to his mind. She flashed before him, an Apocalyptic angel, splended and terrible, trumpet-calling him to the last great fight. He forgot in an instant the Quinns and their trouble. The years of quietness in Ballymoy, the daily intercourse with gentle people, the atmosphere of the religion in which he had lived, fell away from him suddenly.
He sat absorbed in an ecstasy of joyful excitement until the jangling of Canon Beecher's church bell recalled him to common life again. It speaks for the strength of the habits he had formed in Ballymoy that he rose without hesitation and went to take his part in the morning service.
He sat down as usual beside Marion Beecher and her harmonium. He listened to her playing until her father entered. He found himself gazing at her when she stood up for the opening words of the service. He felt himself strangely affected by the gentleness of her face and the slender beauty of her form. When she knelt down he could not take his eyes off her. There came over him an inexplicable softening, a relaxation of the tense excitement of the morning. He thought of her kneeling there in the faded shabby church Sunday after Sunday for years and years, when he was working at hot pressure far away. He knew just how her eyes would look calmly, trustfully up to the God she spoke to; how her soul would grow in gentleness; how love would be the very atmosphere around her. And all the while he would struggle and fight, with no inspiration except a bitter hate. Suddenly there came on him a feeling that he could not leave her. The very thought of separation was a fierce pain. A desire of her seized on him like uncontrollable physical hunger. Wherever he might be, whatever life might have in store for him, he knew that his heart would go back to her restlessly, and remain unsatisfied without her. He understood that he loved her. Canon Beecher's voice came to him as if from an immense distance:
'O God, make speed to save us.'
Then he heard very clearly Marion's sweet voice replying:
'O Lord, make haste to help us.'
There was a faint shuffling, and the congregation rose to their feet. His eyes were still on Marion, and now his whole body quivered with the force of his newly-found love. She half turned and looked at him. For one instant their eyes met, and he saw in hers a flash of recognition, then a strange look of fear, and she turned away from him, flushed and trembling. He saw that she had read his heart and knew his love.
'Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost,' read the Canon heavily.
Hyacinth's heart swelled in him. His whole being seemed to throb with exultation, and he responded in a voice he could not recognise for his.
'As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.'
Marion stood silent. Her head was bowed down, and her hands clasped tight together.
Of the remainder of the morning's service Hyacinth could never afterwards remember anything. No doubt Canon Beecher read the Psalms and lessons and prayers; no doubt he preached. Probably, also, hymns were sung, and Marion played them, but he could not imagine how. It seemed quite impossible that she could have touched the keys with her fingers, or that she could have uttered any sound; yet no one had remarked the absence of hymns or even noticed any peculiarity in their performance. Not till after the service was over did he regain full consciousness of himself and his surroundings; then he became exceedingly alert. He watched the Canon disappear into the vestry, heard the congregation trample down the aisle, listened to Marion playing a final voluntary. It seemed to him as he sat there waiting for her to stop that she played much longer than usual. He could hear Mrs. Beecher and Mr. Quinn talking in the porch, and every moment he expected the Canon to appear. At last the music ceased, and the lid of the harmonium was closed and locked. He stepped forward and took Marion's hands in his.
'Marion,' he said, 'I love you. It was only this morning that I found it out, but I know—oh, I know—that I love you far, far more than I can tell you.'
The hand which lay in his grew cold, and the girl's head was bowed so that he could not see her face. He felt her tremble.
'Marion, Marion, I love you, love you, love you!'
Then very slowly she raised her head and looked at him. He stooped to kiss her lips, and felt her face flush and glow when he touched it. Then she drew her hands from his and fled down the church to her mother.
Hyacinth stood agape with wonder at the words which he had spoken. The knowledge of his love had come on him like a sudden gust, and he only half realized what he had done. He walked back to his lodgings, going over and over the amazing words, recalling with flushed astonishment the kiss. Then a chilling doubt beset him suddenly. Did Marion know how poor he was? Never in his life had the fear of poverty or the desire of gain determined Hyacinth's plans. He knew very well that no such considerations would have in any way affected his conduct towards Marion. Once he realized that he loved her, the confession of his love was quite inevitable. Yet he felt vaguely that he might be judged blameworthy. He had read a few novels, and he knew that even the writers whose chief business it is to glorify the passion of love do not dare to represent it as independent of money. He knew, too, that many penniless heroes won admiration—he did not in the least understand why they should—by silently deserting affectionate women. He knew that kisses were immoral except for those who possessed a modest competence. These authorized ethics of marriage engagements were wholly incomprehensible to him, and it in no way disquieted his conscience that he had bound Marion to him with his kiss; yet he felt that she had a right to know what income he hoped to earn, and what kind of home he would have to offer her. A hundred pounds a year might be deemed insufficient, and he knew that, not being either a raven or a lily, he could not count on finding food and clothes ready when he wanted them.
The daughters of the Irish Church clergy, even of the dignitaries, are not brought up in luxury. Still, they are most of them accustomed to a daily supply of food—plain, perhaps, but sufficient—and will look for as much in the homes of their husbands. A girl like Marion Beecher does not expect to secure a position which will enable her to send her own clothes to a laundress or hire a cook who can make pastry; but it is not fair to ask her to wash the family's blankets or to boil potatoes for a pig. Probably her friends would think her lucky in marrying a curate or a dispensary doctor with one hundred and fifty pounds a year, and the prospect of one-third as much again after a while. But Hyacinth remembered that he was poorer than any curate. He determined to put the matter plainly before Marion without delay.
The Rectory door was opened for him by Elsie Beecher, and, in spite of her wondering protests, Hyacinth walked into the dining-room and asked that Marion should be sent to him. The room was empty, as he expected. He stood and waited for her, deriving faint comfort and courage from the threadbare carpet, patched tablecloth, and poor crazy chairs. They were strange properties for a scene with possibilities of deep romance in it, but they made his confession of poverty easier.
Marion entered at last and stood beside him. He neither took her hand nor looked at her.
'When I told you to-day that I loved you,' he said, 'I ought to have told you that I am very poor.'
'I know it,' she said.
'But I am poorer even than you know. I am not in Mr. Quinn's employment any more. I have no settled income, and only a prospect of earning a very small one.' He paused. 'I shall have to go away from Ballymoy. I must live in Dublin. I do not think it is fair to ask you to marry me. I shall have no more to live upon than——'
She moved a step nearer to him and laid her hand on his arm.
'Look at me,' she said.
He raised his eyes to her face, and saw again there, as he had seen in church, the wonderful shining of love, which is stronger than all things and holds poverty and hardship cheap.
'Keep looking at me still,' she said. 'Now tell me: Do you really think it matters that you are poor? Do you think I care whether you have much or little? Tell me.'
He could not answer her, although he knew that there was only one answer to her question.
'Do you think that I love money? Do you doubt that I love you?'
Her voice sunk almost to a whisper as she spoke, and her eyes fell from looking into his. Just as when he kissed her in the church, she flushed suddenly, but this time she did not try to escape from him. Instead she clung to his arm, and hid her face against his shoulder. He put his arms round her and held her close.
'I know,' he said. 'I was a fool to come here thinking that my being poor would matter. I might have known. Indeed, I think I did know even before I spoke to you.'
She had no answer except a long soft laugh, which was half smothered in his arms.
On Saturday evenings and Sunday afternoons Canon Beecher enjoyed the privilege of a fire in his study. He was supposed to be engaged at these seasons in the preparation of his sermons, a serious and exacting work which demanded solitude and profound quiet. In earlier years he really had prepared his sermons painfully, but long practice brings to the preacher a certain fatal facility. Old ideas are not improved by being clothed in new phrases, and of new ideas—a new idea will occasionally obtrude itself even on the Christian preacher—the Canon was exceedingly mistrustful. The study was an unexciting and comparatively comfortable room. The firelight on winter afternoons played pleasantly on the dim gold backs of the works of St. Augustine, a fine folio edition bequeathed to Mrs. Beecher by a scholarly uncle, which reposed undisturbed along a lower shelf. Adventurous rays occasionally explored a faded print of the Good Shepherd which hung above the books, and gleamed upon the handle of the safe where the parish registers and church plate were stored. The quiet and the process of digesting his mid-day dinner frequently tempted the Canon to indulge in a series of pleasant naps on Sunday afternoons.
When Hyacinth tapped at the study door and entered, the room was almost dark, and the sermon preparation, if proceeding at all, can have got no further than the preliminary concatenation of ideas. The Canon, however, was aggressively, perhaps suspiciously, wide awake.