'Who is that?' he asked. 'Oh, Conneally, it is you. I am very glad to see you. Curiously enough, I thought of going down to call on you this afternoon. I wanted to have a talk with you. I dare say you have come up to consult me.'
Hyacinth was astonished. How could anyone have guessed what he came about? Had Marion told her father already?
'It is a sad business,' the Canon went on—' very distressing and perplexing indeed. But so far as you personally are concerned, Conneally, I cannot regard it as an unmixed misfortune. You were meant for something better, if I may say so, than selling blankets. Now, I have a plan for your future, which I talked over last week with an old friend of yours. Now that something has been settled about the Quinns, we must all give our minds to your affairs.'
Then Hyacinth understood that Canon Beecher expected to be consulted about his future plans, and even had some scheme of his own in mind.
'Yes,' he replied, 'I shall be very glad of your help and advice, although I think I have decided about what I am going to do. It was not on that subject I came to speak to you to-day, but on another, more important, I think, for you and for me and for Marion.'
'I ought to tell you at once that I love your daughter Marion, and I am sure that she loves me. I want to marry her.'
'My dear boy! I had not the slightest idea of this. It is one of the most extraordinary things—or perhaps extraordinary is not exactly the proper word—one of the most surprising things I——'
The Canon stopped abruptly and sat stroking his chin with his forefinger in the effort to adjust his mind to the new situation presented to it. It was characteristic of the man that the thought of Hyacinth's poverty was not the first which presented itself. Indeed, Canon Beecher was one of those unreasonable Christians who are actually convinced of the truth of certain paradoxical sayings in the Gospel about wealth and poverty. He believed that there were things of more importance in life than the possession of money. Fortunately, such Christians are rare, for their absurd creed forms a standing menace to the existence of Church and sect alike. Fortunately also, ecclesiastical authorities have sufficient wisdom to keep these eccentrics in the background, confining them as far as possible to remote and obscure places. If ever a few of them escape into the open and find means of expressing themselves, the whole machinery of modern religion will become dislocated, and the Church will very likely relapse into the barbarity of the Apostolic age.
'I believe, Conneally,' said the Canon at last, 'that you are a good man. I do not merely mean that you are moral and upright, but that you sincerely desire to follow in the footsteps of the Master.'
He looked as if he wanted some kind of answer, at least a confirmation of his belief. Fresh from his interview with Marion, and having the Canon's eyes upon him, it did not seem impossible to Hyacinth to answer yes. Even the thought of the work he was to engage in with Miss Goold and Patrick O'Dwyer seemed to offer no ground for hesitation. Was he not enlisting with them to take part in the great battle? He had never ceased to believe his father's words: 'And the battlefield is Ireland—our dear Ireland which we love!' He felt for the moment that he was altogether prepared to make the confession of faith the Canon required.
'Yes,' he said, 'I am on His side.'
'And you love Marion? Are you quite sure of that? Are you certain that this is not a passing fancy?'
This time Hyacinth had no doubt whatever about his answer.
'I am as certain of my love as I am of anything in the world.'
'I am glad. I am very glad that this has happened—for your sake, because I have always liked you; also for Marion's sake. I shall see you happy because you love one another, and because you both love the Lord. I ask no more than those two things. But I must go and tell my wife at once. She will be glad, too.'
He rose and went to the door. With his hand stretched out to open it he stopped, struck by a sudden thought.
'By the way, I ought to ask you—if you mean to be married—have you any—I mean it is necessary—I hope you won't think I am laying undue stress upon such matters, but I really—I mean we really ought to consider what you are to live upon.'
It was the prospect of imparting the news to his wife which forced this speech from him. Mrs. Beecher was, indeed, the least worldly of women. Did she not marry the Canon, then a mere curate, on the slenderest income, and bear him successively five babies in defiance of common prudence? But it had fallen to her lot to order the affairs of the household, and she had learnt that the people who give you bread and beef demand, after an interval, more or less money in exchange. It was likely that, after her first rapture had subsided, she would make some inquiry about Hyacinth's income and prospects. The Canon felt he ought to be prepared.
'Of course, I have lost my position with Mr. Quinn. You know that. But I have an offer of work which I hope will lead on to something better, and will enable me in a short time to earn enough money to marry on. You know—or perhaps you don't, for I am afraid I never told you '—he remembered that he had carefully concealed his connection with the Croppy from his friends at Ballymoy, and paused—' I have done some little writing. Oh, nothing very much—not a book, or anything like that, only a few articles for the press. Well, a friend of mine has got me the offer of a post in connection with a weekly paper. It is not a very great thing in itself just now, but it may improve, and there is always the prospect of picking up other work of the same kind.'
The Canon, who had never seen even an abstract of one of his own sermons in print, had a proper reverence for the men who guide the world's thought through the press.
'That is very good, Conneally—very satisfactory indeed. I always knew you had brains. But why did you never tell me what you were doing? I should have been deeply interested in anything you wrote.'
Hyacinth's conscience smote him.
'The truth is, that I was sure you wouldn't approve of the paper I wrote for. It is the Croppy, the organ of the extreme left wing of the Nationalist party. It is Miss Goold—Augusta Goold—who now offers me work on that paper. She says—— But you had better read what she says for yourself. Then you will know the worst of it.'
He took the letter from his pocket. The Canon lit a candle and read it through slowly and attentively. When he had finished he laid it upon the table and sat down. Hyacinth waited in extreme anxiety for what was to come.
'I do not like the cause you mean to work for or the people you call your friends. I would rather see my daughter's husband doing almost anything else in the world. I would be happier if you proposed to break stones upon the roadside. You know what my political opinions are. I regard the Croppy as a disloyal and seditious paper, bent upon fostering a dangerous spirit.'
Hyacinth listened patiently. He had steeled himself against the hearing of some such words, and was determined not to be moved to argument or self-defence except as a last resort.
'I hope,' he said, 'that you will at least give me credit for honestly acting in accordance with my convictions.'
'I am sure—quite sure—that you are honest, and believe that your cause is the right one. I recognise, too, though this is a very difficult thing to do, that you have every right to form and hold your own political opinions. It seems to me that they are very wrong and very mischievous, but it is quite possible that I am mistaken and prejudiced. In any case, I am not called upon to refuse you my affection or to separate you from my daughter because we differ about politics.'
Hyacinth breathed a great sigh of relief. He looked at the Canon in wonder and admiration. It had been beyond hope that a man grown gray in a narrow faith, a faith in which for centuries religion and politics had been inextricably blended, could have risen in one clear flight above the mire of prejudice. It seemed, even after he had spoken, impossible that in Ireland, where political opponents believe each other to be thieves and murderers, there could be found even one man, and he from the least emancipated class of all, who could understand and practise tolerance.
'I say,' went on the Canon, speaking very slowly, and with evident difficulty, 'that I have no right to put you away from me because of your political opinions. But there is something here '—he touched Miss Goold's letter—' from which I must by all means try to save you. Will you let me speak to you, not as Marion's father, not even as your friend, but as Christ's ambassador set here to watch for your soul? But I need not excuse myself for what I am about to say. You will at least listen to me patiently.'
He took up Miss Goold's letter and searched through it for a short time; then he read aloud:
'"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? For it is this hatred which must animate our work. I said I thought you did." Now consider what those words mean. You are to dedicate your powers, the talents God has given you, to preaching a gospel of hate. This is not a question of politics. I am ready to believe that in the contest of which our unhappy country is the battle-ground a man may be either on your side or mine, and yet be a follower of Christ. It is impossible to think that anyone can deliberately, with his eyes open, accept hatred for the inspiration of his life and still be true to Him.'
Hyacinth was greatly moved by the solemnity with which the Canon spoke. There was that in him which witnessed to the truth of what he heard. Yet he refused to be convinced. When he spoke it was clear that he was not addressing his companion, for his eyes were fixed upon the picture of the Good Shepherd, faintly illuminated by the candle light. He desired to order his own thought on the dilemma, to justify, if he could, his own position to himself. 'It is true that the Gospel of Christ is a Gospel of love. Yet there are circumstances in which it is wrong to follow it. Is it possible to rouse our people out of their sordid apathy, to save Ireland for a place among the nations, except by preaching a mighty indignation against the tyranny which has crushed us to the dust?'
He felt that Canon Beecher's eyes never left him for a moment while he spoke. He looked up, and saw in them an intense pleading. There stole over him a desire to yield, to submit himself to this appealing tenderness. He defended himself desperately against his weakness.
'I am not choosing the pleasanter way. It would be easier for me to give up the fight for Ireland, to desert the beaten side, to forget the lost cause.' He turned to Canon Beecher, speaking almost fiercely: 'Do you think it is a small thing for me to surrender your friendship, and perhaps—perhaps to lose Marion? Is there not some of the nobility of sacrifice in refusing to listen to you?'
'I cannot argue with you. No doubt you are cleverer than I am. But I know this—God is love, and only he who dwelleth in love dwelleth in God.'
'But I do love: I love Ireland.'
'Ah yes; but He says, "Love your enemies."'
'Then,' said Hyacinth, 'I will not have Him for my God.'
Hardly had he spoken than he started and grew suddenly cold. It was no doubt some trick of memory, but he believed that he heard very faintly from far off a remembered voice:
'Will you be sure to know the good side from the bad, the Captain from the enemy.'
They were the last words his father had said to him. They had passed unregarded when they were spoken, but lingered unthought of in some recess of his memory. Now they came on him full of meaning, insistent for an answer.
'You have chosen,' said the Canon.
He had chosen. Could he be sure that he had chosen right, that he knew the good side from the bad?
'You have chosen, and I have no more to say. Only, before it becomes impossible for you and me to kneel together, I ask you to let me pray with you once more. You can do this because you still believe He hears us, although you have decided to walk no more with Him.'
They knelt together, and Hyacinth, numbly indifferent, felt his hand grasped and held.
'O Christ,' said Canon Beecher, 'this child of Thine has chosen to live by hatred rather than by love. Do Thou therefore remove love from him, lest it prove a hindrance to him on the way on which he goes. Let the memory of the cross be blotted out from his mind, so that he may do successfully that which he desires.'
Hyacinth wrenched his hand free from the grasp which held it, and flung himself forward across the table at which they knelt. Except for his sobs and his choking efforts to subdue them, there was silence in the room. Canon Beecher rose from his knees and stood watching him, his lips moving with unspoken supplication. At last Hyacinth also rose and stood, calm suddenly.
'You have conquered me,' he said.
'My son, my son, this is joy indeed! All along I knew He could not fail you. But I have not conquered you. The Lord Jesus has saved you.'
'I do not know,' said Hyacinth slowly, 'whether I have been saved or lost. I am not sure even now that I know the good side from the bad. But I do know that I cannot live without the hope of being loved by Him. Whether it is the better part to which I resign myself I cannot tell. No doubt He knows. As for me, if I have been forced to make a great betrayal, if I am to live hereafter very basely—and I think I am—at least I have not cut myself off from the opportunity of loving Him.'
Canon Beecher took no notice of Hyacinth's last speech. He had returned with amazing swiftness and ease from the region of high emotion to the commonplace. Excursions to the shining peaks of mystical experience are for most men so rare that the glory leaves them with dazzled eyes, and they walk stumblingly for a while along the dull roads of the world. But Canon Beecher, in the course of his pleading with Hyacinth, had been only in places very well known to him. The presence chamber of the King was to him also the room of a familiar friend. It was no breathless descent from the green hill of the cross to the thoroughfare of common life.
'Now, my dear boy,' he said, 'we really must go and talk to my wife and Marion. Besides, I must tell you the plan I have made for you—the plan I was just going to speak about when you put it out of my head with the news of your love-making.'
For Hyacinth a great effort was necessary before he could get back to his normal state. His hands were trembling violently. His forehead and hair were damp with sweat. His whole body was intensely cold. His mind was confused, and he listened to what was said to him with only the vaguest apprehension of its meaning. The Canon laid a firm hand upon his arm, and led him away from the study. In the passage he stopped, and asked Hyacinth to go back and blow out the candle which still burned on the study table.
'And just put some turf on the fire,' he added; 'I don't want it to go out.'
The pause enabled Hyacinth to regain his self-command, and the performance of the perfectly ordinary acts required of him helped to bring him back again to common life.
When they entered the drawing-room it was evident that Mrs. Beecher had already heard the news, and was, in fact, discussing the matter eagerly with Marion. She sprang up, and hastened across the room to meet them.
'I am so glad,' she said—'so delighted! I am sure you and Marion will be happy together.'
She took Hyacinth's hands in hers, and held them while she spoke, then drew nearer to him and looked up in his face expectantly. A fearful suspicion seized him that on an occasion of the kind she might consider it right to kiss him. It was with the greatest difficulty that he suppressed a wholly unreasonable impulse to laugh aloud. Apparently the need of such affectionate stimulant was strong in Mrs. Beecher. When Hyacinth hung back, she left him for her husband, put her arms round his neck, and kissed him heartily on both cheeks.
'Isn't it fortunate,' she said, 'that you saw Dr. Henry last week while you were in Dublin? You little thought how important that talk with him was going to turn out—I mean, of course, important for us. It always was important for Mr.—I mean for Hyacinth.'
The Canon seemed a little embarrassed. He cleared his throat somewhat unnecessarily, and then said:
'I haven't mentioned that matter yet.'
'Not mentioned Dr. Henry's offer! Then, what have you been talking about all this time?'
It did not seem necessary to tell Mrs. Beecher all that had been said, or to repeat the scene in the study for her benefit. The Canon cleared his throat again.
'I was in Dublin last week attending a meeting of the Scriptural Schools Society, and I met Dr. Henry. We were talking about the Quinns. I told you that Mr. Quinn is to be the new secretary of the society, didn't I? Dr. Henry knows Mr. Quinn slightly, and was greatly interested in him. Your name naturally was mentioned. Dr. Henry seems to have taken a warm interest in you when you were in college, and to have a very high opinion of your abilities. He did not know what had become of you, and was very pleased to hear that you were a friend of ours.'
Hyacinth knew at once what was coming—knew what Canon Beecher's plan for his future was, and why he was pleased with it; understood how Mrs. Beecher came to describe this conversation with Dr. Henry as fortunate. He waited for the rest of the recital, vaguely surprised at his own want of feeling.
'I told him,' the Canon went on, eying Hyacinth doubtfully, 'that you had lost your employment here. I hope you don't object to my having mentioned that. I am sure you wouldn't if you had heard how sympathetically he spoke of you. He assured me that he was most anxious to help you in any way in his power. He just asked one question about you.' Hyacinth started. Where had he heard those identical words before? Oh yes, they were in Miss Goold's letter. Patrick O'Dwyer also had just asked one question about him. He smiled faintly as the Canon went on: '"Is he fit, spiritually fit, to be ordained? For it is the desire to serve God which must animate our work." I said I thought you were. I told him how you sang in our choir here, and how fond you seemed of our quiet life, and what a good fellow you are. You see, I did not know then that I was praising the man who is to be my son-in-law. He asked me to remind you of a promise he had once made, and to say that he was ready to fufil it. I understood him to mean that he would recommend you to any Bishop you like for ordination.'
Hyacinth remained silent. He felt that in surrendering his work for the Croppy he surrendered also his right to make any choice. He was ready to be shepherded into any position, like a sheep into a pen. And he had no particular wish to resist. He saw a simple satisfaction in Mrs. Beecher's face and a beautiful joy in Marion's eyes. It was impossible for him to disappoint them. He smiled a response to Mrs. Beecher's kindly triumph.
'Isn't that splendid! Now you and Marion will be able to be married quite soon, and I do dislike long engagements. Of course, you will be very poor at first, but no poorer than we were. And Marion is not afraid of being poor—are you, dear?'
'That is just what I have been saying to him,' said Marion; 'isn't it, Hyacinth? Of course I am not afraid. I have always said that if I ever married I should like to marry a clergyman, and if one does that one is sure to be poor.'
Evidently there was no doubt in either of their minds that Hyacinth would accept Dr. Henry's offer. Nor had he any doubt himself. The thing seemed too inevitable to be anything but right. Only on Canon Beecher's face there lingered a shadow of uncertainty. Hyacinth saw it, and relieved his mind at once.
'I shall write to Dr. Henry to-night and thank him. I shall ask him to try and get me a curacy as soon as possible.'
'Thank you,' said the Canon.
'I think,' added Hyacinth, 'that I should prefer getting work in England.'
'Oh, why,' said Mrs. Beecher. 'Wouldn't it be better to stay in Ireland! and then we might have Marion somewhere within reach.'
'My dear,' said the Canon, 'we must let Hyacinth decide for himself. I am sure he knows what is wisest for him to do.'
Hyacinth was not at all sure that he knew what was wisest, and he was quite certain that he had not decided for himself in any matter of the slightest importance. He had suggested an English curacy in the vague hope that it might be easier there to forget his hopes and dreams for Ireland. It seemed to him, too, that a voluntary exile, of which he could not think without pain, might be a kind of atonement for the betrayal of his old enthusiasm.
The Canon followed him to the door when he left.
'My dear boy'—there was a break in his voice as he spoke—' my dear boy, you have made me very happy. I am sure that you will not enter upon the work of the ministry from any unworthy motive. The call will become clearer to you by degrees. I mean the inward call. The outward call, the leading of circumstance, has already made abundantly plain the way you ought to walk in. The other will come—the voice which brings assurance and peace when it speaks.'
Hyacinth looked at him wistfully. There seemed very little possibility of anything like assurance for him, and only such peace as might be gained by smothering the cries with which his heart assailed him. The Canon held his hand and wrung it.
'I can understand why you want to go to England. Your political opinions will interfere very little with your work there. Here, of course, it would be different. Yes, your choice is certainly wise, for nothing must be allowed to hinder your work. "Laying aside every weight," you remember, "let us run the race." Yes, I understand.'
It was perfectly clear to Hyacinth that the Canon did not understand in the least. It was not likely that anyone ever would understand.
Gradually his despondency gave way before the crowding in of thoughts of satisfaction. He was to have Marion, to live with her, to love her, and be loved by her as long as they both lived. He saw life stretching out before him, a sunlit, pleasant journey in Marion's company. It did not seem to him that any trouble could be really bad, any disappointment intolerable, any toil oppressive with her love for an atmosphere round him. He believed, too, that the work he was undertaking was a good work, perhaps the highest and noblest kind of work there is to be done in the world. From this conviction also came a glow of happiness. Yet there kept recurring chill shudderings of self-reproach. Something within him kept whispering that he had bartered his soul for happiness.
'I have chosen the easier and therefore the baser way,' he said. 'I have shrunk from toil and pain. I have refused to make the sacrifice demanded of me.'
He went back again to the story of his father's vision. For a moment it seemed quite clear that he had deliberately refused the call to the great fight, that he had judged himself unworthy, being cowardly and selfish in his heart. Then he remembered that the Captain of whom his father had told him was no one else but Christ, the same Christ of whom Canon Beecher spoke, the Good Shepherd whose love he had discovered to be the greatest need of all.
'I must have Him,' he said—'I must have Him—and Marion.'
Again with the renewed decision came a glow of happiness and a sense of rest, until there rose, as if to smite him, the thought of Ireland—of Ireland, poor, derided of strangers, deserted by her sons, roped in as a prize-ring where selfish men struggle ignobly for sordid gains The children of the land fled from it sick with despair. Its deserted houses were full of all doleful things. Cormorants and the daughters of the owl lodged in the lintels of them.
Sullen desolation was on the threshold, while satyrs cried to their fellows across tracts of brown rush-grown land. Aliens came to hiss and passed by wagging their hands. Over all was the monotony of the gray sky, descending and still descending with clouds that came upon the land, mistily folding it in close embraces of death. Voices sounded far off and unreal through the gloom. The final convulsive struggles of the nation's life grew feebler and fewer. Of all causes Ireland's seemed the most hopelessly lost. Was he, too, going to forsake her? He felt that in spite of all the good promised him there would always hang over his life a gloom that oven Marion's love would not disperse, the heavy shadow of Ireland's Calvary. For Marion there would be no such darkness, nor would Marion understand it. But surely Christ understood. Words of His crowded to the memory. 'When He beheld the city He wept over it, saying, Oh, Jerusalem, Jerusalem!' Most certainly He understood this, as He understood all human emotion. He, too, had yearned over a nation's fall, had felt the heartbreak of the patriot.
'I have chosen Him,' he said at last. 'Once having caught a glimpse of Him, I could not do without Him. He understands it all, and He has given me Marion.'
It was a brilliant July day, and the convent at Robeen was decked for a festival. The occasion was a very great one. Cloth of gold hung in the chapel, the entrance-hall was splendid with flowers, and the whole white front of the buildings had put on signs of holiday. Indeed, this festival was unique, the very greatest day in the history of the sisterhood. Easter, Christmas, and the saints' days recurred annually in their proper order, and the emotions they brought with them were no doubt familiar to holy ladies whose business it was to live in close touch with the other world. But on this day the great of the earth, beings much more unapproachable, as a rule, than the saints, were to visit the convent. Honour was to be paid to ladies whose magnificence was guaranteed by worldly titles; to the Proconsuls of the far-off Imperial power, holders of the purse-strings of the richest nation upon earth; to Judges accustomed to sit in splendid robes and awful head-dresses, pronouncing the doom of malefactors; to a member of the Cabinet, a very mighty man, though untitled; and quite possibly—a glittering hope—to the Lord Lieutenant himself.
It was therefore no wonder that the nuns had decked their convent with all possible splendour. On each side of the iron gateway was a flag-post. From the top of one fluttered the green banner of Ireland, with its gold harp and a great crown over it. From the other hung the Union Jack, emblem of that marriage of nationalities for whose consummation eight centuries have not sufficed. It was hoisted upside down—not with intentional disrespect, but because Sister Gertrude, who superintended this part of the decorations, had long ago renounced the world, and did not remember that the tangled crosses had a top or a bottom to them. Between the posts hung a festoon of signalling flags, long pointed strips of bunting with red balls or blue on them. The central streamer just tipped as it fluttered the top of the iron cross which marked the religious nature of the gateway. The straight gravel walk inside was covered with red baize, and on each side of it were planted tapering poles, round which crimson and white muslin circled in alternate stripes, giving them the appearance of huge old-fashioned sugar-sticks. These added to the gaiety of the scene, though it cannot be supposed that they were of any actual use. The most bewildered visitor was hardly likely to stray off the red baize or miss his way to the door in front of him. Within the great entrance-hall were palms and flowering shrubs in pots or tubs. The mosaic flooring, imported from Italy, and a source of pride to all the Sisters, shone with much washing and polishing. The Madonna with the blue eyes and the golden crown, before which even Bishops crossed themselves, was less in evidence than usual, for the expected guests were mostly heretics. She stood retired behind the flower-pots, and veiled her benignity with the leaves of palms.
Right and left of the hall stretched corridors, whose shining parquet invited the curious to explore the working-rooms and eating-rooms which lay beyond. The door of the chapel stood open, and offered a vision of simpering angels crowding the canvas of the altar-piece, a justly-admired specimen of German religious art. Before it, dimly seen, two nuns knelt, types of conventual piety, absorbed in spiritual contemplation amid the tumult of the world's invasion of their sanctuary. Another door led to the garden. Here a fountain played into a great stone basin, and neat gravel walks intersected each other at sharp angles among flower-beds. The grass which lay around the maze of paths was sacred as a rule, even from the list slippers of the nuns, but to-day booths stood on it like stalls at a charity bazaar, hung with tweeds, blankets, and stockings. A tall Calvary lowered incongruously over one. An inferior Madonna, deposed from her old station in the entrance-hall, presided in a weather-beaten blue robe over another.
Beyond the garden, blocked off from it by a white wall, lay the factory itself, the magnet which was drawing the great of the earth to the nunnery. Here were the workers, all of them bright young women, smiling pleasantly and well washed for the occasion. They were dressed in neat violet petticoats and white blouses, with shawls thrown back from their heads, a glorified presentment of the Mayo woman's working dress. Here and there, a touch of realism creditable to the Reverend Mother's talent for stage management, one sat in bare feet—not, of course, dust or mud stained, as bare feet are apt to be in Connaught, but clean. The careful observer of detail might have been led to suppose that the Sisters improved upon the practice of the Holy Father himself, and daily washed the feet of the poor.
Everywhere fresh-complexioned, gentle-faced nuns flitted silently about. The brass crosses pendent over their breasts relieved with a single glitter the sombre folds of their robes. Snowy coifs, which had cost the industrial schoolgirls of a sister house hours of labour and many tears, shone, glazed and unwrinkled, round their heads. Even the youngest of them had acquired the difficult art of walking gracefully with her hands folded in front of her.
At about two o'clock the visitors began to arrive, although the train from Dublin which was to bring the very elect was not due for another half-hour. Lady Geoghegan, grown pleasantly stout and cheerfully benignant, came by a local train, and rejoiced the eyes of beholders with a dress made of one of the convent tweeds. Sir Gerald followed her, awkward and unwilling. He had been dragged with difficulty from his books and the society of his children, and was doubtful whether a cigar in a nunnery garden might not be counted sacrilege. With them was a wonderful person—an English priest: it was thus he described himself—whom Lady Geoghegan had met in Yorkshire. His charming manners and good Church principles had won her favour and earned him the holiday he was enjoying at Clogher House. He was arrayed in a pair of gray trousers, a white shirt, and a blazer with the arms of Brazenose College embroidered on the pocket, his sacerdotal character being marked only by his collar. He leaped gaily from the car which brought them from the station, and, as he assisted his hostess to alight, amazed the little crowd around the gate by chaffing the driver in an entirely unknown tongue. The good man had an ear for music, and plumed himself on his ability to pick up any dialect he heard—Scotch, Yorkshire, or Irish brogue. The driver was bewildered, but smiled pleasantly. He realized that the gentleman was a foreigner, and since the meaning of his speech was not clear, it was quite likely that he might be hazy about the value of money and the rates of car hire.
The Duchess of Drummin came in her landau. Like Lady Geoghegan, she marked the national and industrial nature of the occasion in her attire. At much personal inconvenience, for the day was warm, she wore a long cloak of rich brown tweed, adorned with rows of large leather-covered buttons. Lady Josephine Maguire fluttered after her. She had bidden her maid disguise a dress, neither Irish nor homespun, with as much Carrickmacross lace as could be attached to it. Lord Eustace, who represented his father, appeared in all the glory of a silk hat and a frock-coat. He eyed Sir Gerald's baggy trousers and shabby wideawake with contempt, and turned away his eyes from beholding the vanity of obviously bad form when he came face to face with the English priest in his blazer.
A smiling nun took charge of each party as it arrived. Lady Geoghegan plied hers with questions, and received a series of quite uninforming answers. Her husband followed her, bent principally upon escaping from the precincts if he could. Already he was bored, and he knew that speeches from great men were in store for him if he were forced to linger. The Duchess of Drummin eyed each object presented to her notice gravely through long-handled glasses, but gave her attendant nun very little conversational help. Lady Josephine made every effort to be intelligent, and inquired in a dormitory where the looking-glasses were. She was amazed to hear that the nuns did, or failed to do, their hair—the head-dresses concealed the result of their efforts—without mirrors. Lord Eustace was preoccupied. Amid his unaccustomed surroundings he walked uncertain whether to keep his hat on his head or hold it in his hands. The English priest, whose name was Austin, got detached from Lady Geoghegan, and picked up a stray nun for himself. She took him, by his own request, straight to the chapel. He crossed himself with elaborate care on entering, and knelt for a moment before the altar. The nun was delighted.
'So you, too, are a Catholic?'
'Certainly,' he replied briskly—'an English Catholic.'
'Ah! many of our priests go to England. Perhaps you have met Father O'Connell. He is on a London mission.'
'No,' said Mr. Austin, 'I do not happen to have met him. My church is in Yorkshire.'
The nun gazed at him in amazement.
'Your church! Then you are——
'Yes,' he said, 'I am a priest.'
Her eyes slowly travelled over him. They began at the gray trousers, passed to the blazer, resting a moment on the college arms, which certainly suggested the ecclesiastical, and remained fixed on his collar. After all, why should she, a humble nun, doubt his word when he said he was a priest? Perhaps he might belong to some order of which she had never heard. Eccentricities of costume might be forced on the English clergy by Protestant intolerance. She smothered her uncertainty, and took him at his word. They went together into the garden. Mr. Austin took off his hat before the tarnished Madonna, and crossed himself again. The nun's doubts vanished.
'I think,' he said, 'that I should like to buy some of this tweed. Is it for sale?'
'Oh, certainly. Sister Aloysia will sell it to you. We are so glad, so very glad, when anyone will buy what our poor workers make. It is all a help to the good cause.'
'Now this,' said Mr. Austin, fingering a bright-green cloth, 'would make a nice lady's dress. Don't you think so?'
The nun cast down her eyes.
'I do not know, Father, about dresses. Sister Aloysia, the Reverend Father wants to buy tweed to make a dress for '—she hesitated; perhaps it was his niece, but he looked young to have a full-grown niece—'for his sister.'
Sister Aloysia looked round her, puzzled. She saw no Reverend Father.
'This,' said the other, 'is Father—Father——'
'Austin,' he helped her out.
'Father Austin,' added the nun.
'And you wish,' said Sister Aloysia, 'to buy a dress for your sister?'
'Not for my sister,' said Mr. Austin—'for my wife.'
Both nuns started back as if he had tried to strike them.
'Your wife! Your wife! Then you are a Protestant.'
'Certainly not,' he said. 'I detest all Protestants. I am a Catholic—an Anglo-Catholic.'
Neither of the nuns had ever heard of an Anglo-Catholic before. What manner of religion such people might profess was doubtful and unimportant. One thing was clear—this was not a priest in any sense of the word which they could recognise. They distrusted him, as a wolf, not certainly in the clothing, but using the language, of a sheep. The situation became embarrassing. Mr. Austin prepared to bow himself away.
'I think,' he said, 'I shall ask Lady Geoghegan'—he rolled the title out emphatically; it formed a salve to his wounded dignity—'I shall ask Lady Geoghegan to purchase the tweed for me. I must be on the look-out for a friend who promised to meet me here this afternoon—a young man whom I contemplate engaging as my curate. I am most particular in the choice of a curate, and should, of course, prefer a public school and 'Varsity man. I need scarcely say that I refer only to Oxford and Cambridge as the Universities. As a rule, I do not care for Irishmen, but on the recommendation of my friend Dr. Henry, I am willing to consider this Mr. Conneally.'
It seemed to Mr. Austin that a preference for the English Universities, the friendship of a distinguished professor, a contempt for the mere Irishman, and a titled hostess ought to restore the respect he had forfeited by the mention of his wife. Curiously enough, and this shows the disadvantage of a monastic seclusion from the world, the nuns remained unimpressed. The conception of a married priest was too much for them. As he walked away Mr. Austin heard Sister Aloysia murmur:
'How very indecent!'
Meanwhile, the train from Dublin had arrived, and Mr. Austin, when he returned after his interview with Hyacinth, found that even the two nuns he had victimized had forgotten him in the excitement of gazing at more important visitors. Mr. Justice Saunders, a tall, stout man with a florid face, made a tour of the factory under the charge of one of the senior Sisters. He took little notice of what he was shown, being mainly bent on explaining to his escort how he came to be known in legal circles as 'Satan Saunders.' Afterwards he added a tale of how he had once bluffed a crowd in an out-of-the-way country town into giving three cheers for the Queen.
'You're all loyal here,' he said. 'I saw the Union Jack flying over the gate as I came in.'
The nun smiled, a slow, enigmatic smile, and the Judge, watching her, was struck by her innocence and simplicity.'
'Surely,' she said, 'the Church must always be loyal.'
'Well, I'm not so sure of that. I've met a few firebrands of priests in my time.'
'Oh, those!' she said with a shrug of her shoulders. 'You must not think of them. It will always be easy to keep them in order when the time comes. They spring from the cabins. What can you expect of them? But the Church—— Can the Church fail of respect for the Sovereign?'
Mr. Clifford and Mr. Davis followed Judge Saunders. They were members of the Congested Districts Board, and it was clear from the manner of the nun who escorted them that they were guests of very considerable importance in her estimation. Mr. Clifford was an Englishman who had been imported to assist in governing Ireland because he was married to the sister of the Chief Secretary's wife. He was otherwise qualified for the task by possessing a fair knowledge of the points of a horse. He believed that he knew Ireland and the Irish people thoroughly.
His colleague, Mr. Davis, was a man of quite a different stamp. The son of a Presbyterian farmer in County Tyrone, he had joined the Irish Parliamentary party, and made himself particularly objectionable in Westminster. He had devoted his talents to discovering and publishing the principles upon which appointments to lucrative posts are made by the officials in Dublin Castle. It was found convenient at last to provide him with a salary and a seat on the Congested Districts Board. Thus he found himself engaged in ameliorating the lot of the Connaught peasants. Mr. Clifford used to describe him as 'a bit of a bounder—in fact, a complete outsider—but no fool.' His estimate of Mr. Clifford was perhaps less complimentary.
'Every business,' he used to say, 'must have at least one gentleman in it to do the entertaining and the dining out. We have Mr. Clifford. He's a first-rate man at one of the Lord Lieutenant's balls.'
A professor from Trinity College was one of the two guests conducted by the Reverend Mother herself. Nominally this learned gentleman existed for the purpose of impressing upon the world the beauties of Latin poetry, but he was best known to fame as an orator on the platforms of the Primrose League, and a writer of magazine articles on Irish questions. He was a man who owed his success in life largely to his faculty for always keeping beside the most important person present. The Lord Lieutenant, being slightly indisposed, had been unable to make an early start, so the most honourable stranger was Mr. Chesney, the Chief Secretary. To him Professor Cairns attached himself, and received a share of the Reverend Mother's blandishments.
Mr. Chesney himself was dapper and smiling as usual. Even the early hour at which he had been obliged to leave home had neither ruffled his temper nor withered the flower in his buttonhole. He spent his money generously at the various stalls in the garden, addressed friendly remarks to the women in the factory, and asked the questions with which Mr. Davis had primed him in the train.
Quite a crowd of minor people followed the great statesman. There were barristers who hoped to become County Court Judges, and ladies who enjoyed a novel kind of occasion for displaying their clothes, hoping to see their names afterwards in the newspaper accounts of the proceedings. There were a few foremen from leading Dublin shops, who foresaw the possibility of a fashionable boom in Robeen tweeds and flannels. There were also reporters from the Dublin papers, and a representative—Miss O'Dwyer—of a syndicate which supplied ladies' journals with accounts of the clothes worn at fashionable functions.
The supreme moment of the day arrived when the company assembled to listen to words of wisdom from the orators selected to address them. Seats had been provided by carting in forms from the neighbouring national schools. A handsomely-carved chair of ecclesiastical design awaited Mr. Chesney.
He opened his speech by assuring his audience that there was no occasion for him to address them at all, a truth which struck home to the heart of Sir Gerald, who was trying to arrange himself comfortably at a desk designed for a class of infants.
'Facts,' Mr. Chesney explained himself, 'are more eloquent than words. You have seen what I could never have described to you—the contented workers in this factory and the artistic designs of the fabrics they weave. Many of you remember what Robeen was a few years ago—a howling wilderness. We are told on high authority that even the wilderness shall blossom as a rose.'
He bowed in the direction of the Reverend Mother, possibly with a feeling that it was suitable to acknowledge her presence when quoting Holy Writ, possibly with a vague idea that she might consider herself a spiritual descendant of the Prophet Isaiah. 'You see it now a hive of happy industry.'
He observed with pleasure that the reporters were busy with their note-books, and he knew that these editors of public utterance might be relied on to unravel a tangled metaphor before publishing a speech. He went on light-heartedly, confident that in the next day's papers his wilderness would blossom into something else, and that the hive, if it appeared at all, would be arrived at by some other process than blossoming. The habit of rolling out agreeable platitudes to audiences forced to listen is one which grows on public men as dram-drinking does on the common herd. Mr. Chesney was evidently enjoying himself, and there seemed no reason why he should ever stop. He could, and perhaps would, have gone on for hours but for the offensive way in which Judge Saunders snapped the case of his watch at the end of every period. There was really no hurry, for the special train which was to bring them back to Dublin would certainly wait until they were ready for it. Mr. Chesney felt aggrieved at the repeated interruption, and closed his speech without giving the audience the benefit of his peroration.
The Judge came next, and began with reminding his hearers that he was known as 'Satan Saunders.' An account of the origin of the name followed, and was enjoyed even by those who had listened to the Judge's oratory before, and therefore knew the story. There was something piquant, almost risque, in the constant repetition of a really wicked word like 'Satan' in the halls of a nunnery. The audience laughed reassuringly, and the Judge went on to supply fresh pabulum for mirth by suggesting that the Reverend Mother should clothe her nuns in their own tweeds. He was probably right in supposing that the new costumes would add a gaiety to the religious life. Other jests followed, and he sat down amid a flutter of applause after promising that when he next presided over the Winter Assizes in a draughty court-house he would send for a Robeen blanket and wrap his legs in it.
Mr. Clifford, who followed the Judge, began by wondering whether anyone present had ever been in Lancashire. After a pause, during which no one owned to having crossed the Channel, he said that Lancashire was the home of the modern factory. There every man and woman earned good wages, wore excellent clothes, and lived in a house fitted with hot and cold water taps and a gas-meter. It was his hope to see Mayo turned into another Lancashire. When ladies of undoubted commercial ability, like the Lady Abbess who presided over the Robeen convent—Lady Abbess sounded well, and Mr. Clifford was not strong on ecclesiastical titles—took the matter up, success was assured. All that was required for the development of the factory system in Mayo was capital, and that 'we, the Congested Districts Board, are in a position to supply.' With the help of some prompting from Mr. Davis, he proceeded to lay before the audience a few figures purporting to explain the Board's expenditure.
Professor Cairns was evidently anxious to follow Mr. Clifford, if only in the humble capacity of the proposer of a vote of thanks. But Ids name was not on the programme, and Mr. Chesney was already engaged in a whispered conversation with the Reverend Mother. Ignoring the professor, almost rudely, he announced that the company in general was invited to tea in the dining-room.
The refreshments provided, if not substantial, were admirable in quality. There happened just then to be a young lady engaged, at the expense of the County Council, in teaching cookery in a neighbouring convent. She was sent over to Robeen for the occasion, and made a number of delightful cakes at extremely small expense. The workers in the factory had given the butter she required as a thank-offering, and the necessary eggs came from another convent where the nuns, with financial assistance from the Congested Districts Board, kept a poultry-farm. The Reverend Mother dispensed her hospitality with the same air of generosity with which Mr. Clifford had spoken of providing capital for the future ecclesiastical factories.
The Reverend Mother bowed out the last of her guests, and retired to her own room well satisfied. She was assured of further support from the Congested Districts Board, and certain debts which had grown uncomfortably during her struggle with Mr. Quinn need trouble her no longer. Her goods would be extensively advertised next morning in the daily press. Her house would obtain a celebrity likely to attract the most eligible novices—those, that is to say, who would bring the largest sums of money as their dowries. There arose before her mind a vision of almost unbounded wealth and all that might be done with it. What statues of saints might not Italy supply! French painters and German organ-builders would compete for the privilege of furnishing the chapel of her house. Already she foresaw pavements of gorgeous mosaic, windows radiant with Munich glass, and store of vestments to make her sacristy famous. Grandiose plans suggested themselves of founding daughter houses in Melbourne, in Auckland, in Capetown, in Natal. All things were possible to a well-filled purse. She saw how her Order might open schools in English towns, where girls could be taught French, Italian, Latin, music, all the accomplishments dear to middle-class parents, at ridiculously low fees, or without fees at all. She stirred involuntarily at the splendour of her visions. The day's weariness dropped off from her. She rose from her chair and went into the chapel. She prostrated herself before the altar, and lay passive in a glow of warm emotion. For God, for the Mother of God, for the Catholic Church, she had laboured and suffered and dared. Now she was well within sight of the end, the golden reward, the fulfilment of hopes that had never been altogether selfish.
Her thoughts, sanctified now by the Presence on the altar, drifted out again on to the shining sea of the future. What she, a humble nun, had done others would do. A countless army of missionary men and women marching from the Irish shore would conquer the world's conquerors, regain for the Church the Anglo-Saxon race. Once in the far past Irish men and women had Christianized Europe, and Ireland had won her glorious title, 'Island of Saints.' Now the great day was to dawn again, the great race to be reborn. For this end had Ireland been kept faithful and pure for centuries, just that she might be at last the witness to the spiritual in a materialized world. For this end had the Church in Ireland gone through the storm of persecution, suffered the blight of the world's contempt, that she might emerge in the end entirely fitted for the bloodless warfare.
'And I am one of the race, a daughter of Ireland. And I am a worker—nay, one who has accomplished something—in the vineyard of the Church. Ah, God!'
She was swept forward on a wave of emotion. Thought ceased, expiring in the ecstasy of a communion which transcended thought. Then suddenly, sharp as an unexpected pain, an accusation shot across her soul, shattering the coloured glory of the trance in an instant.
'Who am I that I should boast?'
The long years of introspection, the discipline of hundreds of heart-searching confessions, the hardly-learned lesson of self-distrust, made it possible for her to recognise the vain-glory even with the halo of devotion shining round it. She abased herself in penitence.
'Give me the work, my Lord; give others the glory and the fruit of it. Let me toil, but withhold the reward from me. May my eyes not see it, lest I be lifted up! Nay, give me not even work to do, lest I should be praised or learn to praise myself. "Nunc dimittis servam tuam, Domine, secundum verbum tuum in pace."'
There stole over her a sense of peace—numb, silent peace—wholly unlike the satisfaction which had flooded her in her own room or during the earlier ecstasy before the altar. She raised her eyes slowly till they rested on the shrine where the body of the sacrifice reposed.
'Quia viderunt oculi mei salutare tuum.'
At last she rose. The lines of care and age gathered again upon her face. Her eyes gleamed with keen intelligence. She braced herself with the thought of all that might still lie before her. The advice of Iago, strangely sanctified, clamoured in her heart—' Put money in thy purse.'
The Reverend Mother was not the only person well satisfied with the day. The Right Hon. T. J. Chesney leant back in his saloon-carriage, and puffed contentedly at his cigar. It might be his part occasionally—indeed, frequently—to talk like a fool, but the man was shrewd enough. It really seemed that he had hit on the true method of governing Ireland. Nationalist members of Parliament could be muzzled, not by the foolish old methods of coercion, but by winning the goodwill of the Bishops. No Irish member, dared open his mouth when a priest bid him keep it shut, or give a vote contrary to the wishes of the hierarchy. And the Bishops were reasonable men. They looked at things from a point of view intelligible to Englishmen. There was no ridiculous sentimentality about their demands. For so much money they would silence the clamour of the Parliamentary party; for so much more they would preach a modified loyalty, would assert before the world that the Irish people were faithful servants of the Sovereign; for a good lump sum down they would undertake to play 'God Save the King' or 'Rule, Britannia' on the organ at Maynooth. Of course, the money must be paid: Mr. Chesney was beginning to understand that, and felt the drawback. It would have been much pleasanter and simpler if the Bishops would have been content with promises. There was a certain difficulty in obtaining the necessary funds without announcing precisely what they-were for. But, after all, a man cannot be called a great statesman without doing something to deserve the title, and British statesmanship is the art of hoodwinking the taxpayer. That is all—not too difficult a task for a clever man. Mr. Chesney reckoned on no power in Ireland likely to be seriously troublesome. The upper classes were either helpless and sulking, or helpless and smiling artificially. They might grumble in private or try to make themselves popular by joining the chorus of the Church's flatterers. Either way their influence was inconsiderable. Was there anyone else worth considering? The Orangemen were still a noisy faction, but their organization appeared to be breaking up. They were more bent on devouring their own leaders than interfering with him. There were a number of people anxious to revive the Irish language, who at one time had caused him some little uneasiness. He had found it quite impossible to understand the Gaelic League, and, being an Englishman, arrived gradually at the comfortable conclusion that what he could not understand must be foolish. Now, he had great hopes that the Bishops might capture the movement.
If once it was safely under the patronage of the Church, he had nothing more to fear from it No doubt, resolutions would be passed, but resolutions——— Mr. Chesney smiled. There were, of course, the impossible people connected with the Croppy. Mr. Chesney did not like them, and in the bottom of his heart was a little nervous about them. they seemed to be very little afraid of the authority of the Church, and he doubted if the authority of the state would frighten them at all. Still, there were very few of them, and their abominable spirit of independence was spreading slowly, if at all.
'They won't,' he said to himself, 'be of any importance for some years to come, at all events, and five years hence——'
In five years Mr. Chesney hoped to be Prime Minister, or perhaps to have migrated to the House of Lords, At least, he expected to be out of Ireland, Meanwhile, he lighted a fresh cigar. The condition of the country was extremely satisfactory, and his policy was working out better than he had hoped.
The other travellers by the special train were equally well pleased, Ireland, so they understood Mr. Chesney, was to be made happy and contented, peaceful and prosperous. It followed that there must be Boards under the control of Dublin Castle—more and more Boards, an endless procession of them. There is no way devised by the wit of man for securing prosperity and contentment except the creation of Boards, If Boards, then necessarily officials—officials with salaries and travelling allowances. Nice gentlemanly men, with villas at Dalkey and Killiney, would perform duties not too arduous in connection with the Boards, and carry out the benevolent policy of the Government. There was not a man in the train, except the newspaper reporters, who did not believe in the regeneration of Ireland by Boards, and everyone hoped to take a share in the good work, with the prospect of a retiring pension afterwards.
The local magnates—with the exception of Sir Gerald Geoghegan, whose temper had been bad from the first—also went home content. The minds of great ladies work somewhat confusedly, for Providence, no doubt wisely, has denied to most of them the faculty of reason. It was enough for them to feel that the nuns were 'sweet women,' and that in some way not very clear Mr. Chesney was getting the better of 'those wretched agitators.'
Only one of all whom the special train had brought down failed to return in it. Mary O'Dwyer slipped out of the convent before the speeches began, and wandered away towards the desolate stony hill where the stream which turns the factory mill took its rise. It grieved her to miss the cup of tea which a friendly nun had led her to expect; but even tea might be too dearly purchased, and Miss O'Dwyer had a strong dislike to listening to what Augusta Goold described as the 'sugared hypocrisies of professional liars.' Besides, she had her cigarette-case in her pocket, and a smoke, unattainable for her in the convent or the train, was much to be desired. She left the road at the foot of the hill, and picked her way along the rough bohireen which led upwards along the course of the stream. After awhile even this track disappeared. The stream tumbled noisily over rocks and stones, the bog-stained water glowing auburn-coloured in the sunlight. The ling and heather were springy under her feet, and the air was sweet with the scent of the bog-myrtle. She spied round her for a rock which cast a shade upon the kind of heathery bed she had set her heart to find. Her eyes lit upon a little party—a young man and two girls—encamped with a kettle, a spirit-stove, and a store of bread-and-butter. Her renunciation of the convent tea had not been made without a pang. She looked longingly at the steam which already spouted from the kettle. The young man said a few words to the girls, then stood up, raised his hat to her, and beckoned. She approached him, wondering.
'Surely it can't be—I really believe it is——'
'Yes, Miss O'Dwyer, it really is myself, Hyacinth Conneally.'
'My dear boy, you are the last person I expected to meet, though of course I knew you were somewhere down in these parts.'
'Come and have some tea,' said Hyacinth. 'And let me introduce you to Miss Beecher and Miss Elsie Beecher.'
Miss O'Dwyer took stock of the two girls. 'They make their own clothes,' she thought, 'and apparently only see last year's fashion-plates. The eldest isn't bad-looking. How is it all West of Ireland girls have such glorious complexions? Her figure wouldn't be bad if her mother bought her a decent pair of stays. I wonder who they are, and what they are doing here with Hyacinth. They can't be his sisters.'
While they drank their tea certain glances and smiles gave her an inkling of the truth. 'I suppose Hyacinth is engaged to the elder one,' she concluded. 'That kind of girl wouldn't dare to make eyes at a man unless she had some kind of right to him.'
After tea she produced her cigarette-case.
'I hope you don't mind,' she said to Marion. 'I know it's very shocking, but I've had a tiring day and an excellent tea, and oh, this heather is delicious to lie on!' She stretched herself at full length as she spoke. 'I really must smoke, just to arrive at perfect felicity for once in my life. How happy you people ought to be who always have in a place like this!'
'Oh,' said Marion, 'it sometimes rains, you know.'
'Ah! and then these sweet spots get boggy, I suppose, and you have to wear thick, clumping boots.'
Her own were very neat and small, and she knew that they must obtrude themselves on the eye while she lay prone. Elsie, whose shoes were patched as well as thick-soled, made an ineffectual attempt to cover them with her skirt.
'Now,' said Hyacinth, 'tell us what you are doing down here. They haven't made you an inspectress of boarded-out workhouse children, have they? or sent you down to improve the breed of hens?'
'No,' said Miss O'Dwyer; 'I have spent the afternoon helping to govern Ireland.'
Marion and Elsie gazed at her in wonder. A lady who smoked cigarettes and bore the cares of State upon her shoulders was a novelty to them.
'I have sat in the seats of the mighty,' she said; 'I have breathed the same air as Mr. Chesney and two members of the C.D.B. Think of that! Moreover, I might, if I liked, have drunk tea with a Duchess.'
'Oh,' said Hyacinth, 'you were at the convent function, I suppose. I wonder I didn't see you.'
'What on earth were you doing there? I thought you hated the nuns and all their ways.'
'Go on about yourself,' said Hyacinth. 'You are not employed by the Government to inspect infant industries, are you?'
'Oh no; I was one of the representatives of the press. I have notes here of all the beautiful clothes worn by the wives and daughters of the West British aristocracy. Listen to this: "Lady Geoghegan was gowned in an important creation of saffron tweed, the product of the convent looms. We are much mistaken if this fabric in just this shade is not destined to play a part in robing the elegantes who will shed a lustre on our house-parties during the autumn." And this—you must just listen to this.'
'I won't,' said Hyacinth; 'you can if you like, Marion. I'll shut my ears.'
'Very well,' said Miss O'Dwyer; 'I'll talk seriously. When are you coming up to Dublin? You know my brother has taken over the editorship of the Croppy. We are going to make it a great power in the country. We are coming out with a policy which will sweep the old set of political talkers out of existence, and dear the country of Mr. Chesney and the likes of him.' She waved her hand towards the convent. 'Oh, it is going to be great. It is great already. Why don't you come and help us?'
Hyacinth looked at her. She had half risen and leaned upon her elbow. Her face was flushed and her eyes sparkled. There was no doubt about the genuineness of her enthusiasm. The words of her poem, long since, he supposed, blotted from his memory, suddenly returned to him:
'O, desolate mother, O, Erin, When shall the pulse of thy life which but flutters in Connacht Throb through thy meadows and boglands and mountains and cities?'
Had it come at last, this revival of the nation's vitality? Had it come just too late for him to share it?
'I shall not help you,' he said sadly; 'I do not suppose that I ever could have helped you much, but now I shall not even try.'
She looked at him quickly with a startled expression in her eyes. Then she turned to Marion.
'Are you preventing him?' she said.
'No,' said Hyacinth; 'it is not Marion. But I am going away—going to England. I am going to be ordained, to become an English curate. Do you understand? I came here to-day to see the man who is to be my Rector, and to make final arrangements with him.'
For some minutes she said no more. He saw in her face a wondering sorrow, a pathetic submissive-ness to an unexpected disappointment, like the look in the face of a dog struck suddenly by the hand of a friend. He felt that he could have borne her anger better. No doubt if he had made his confession to Augusta Goold he would have been overwhelmed with passionate wrath or withered by a superb contemptuous stare. Then he could have worked himself to anger in return. But this!
'You will never speak to any of us again,' she went on. You will be ashamed even to read the Croppy. You will wear a long black coat and gray gloves. You will learn to talk about the "Irish Problem" and the inestimable advantages of belonging to a world-wide Empire, and about the great heart of the English people. I see it all—all that will happen to you. Your hair will get quite smooth and sleek. Then you will become a Vicar of a parish. You will live in a beautiful house, with Virginia creeper growing over it and plum-trees in the garden. You will have a nice clean village for a parish, with old women who drop curtsies to you, and men—such men! stupid as bullocks! I know it all. And you will be ashamed to call yourself an Irishman. Oh, Hyacinth!'
Miss O'Dwyer's catalogue of catastrophes was curiously mixed. Perhaps the comedy in it tended to obscure the utter degradation of the ruin she described. But the freakish incongruity of the speech did not strike Hyacinth. He found in it only two notes—pity that such a fate awaited him, and contempt for the man who submitted to it.
'I cannot help myself. Will you not make an effort to understand? I am trying to; do what is right.'
She shook her head.
'No,' he said, 'I know it is no use. You could not understand even if I told you all I felt.'
Her eyes filled suddenly with tears. He heard her sob. Then she turned without a word and left them. He stood watching her till she reached the road and started on her walk to the railway-station. Then he took Marion's two hands in his, and held them fast.
'Will you understand?' he asked her.
She looked up at him. Her face was all tenderness. Love shone on him—trusting, unquestioning, adoring love, love that would be loyal to the uttermost; but her eyes were full of a dumb wonder.
One morning near the end of September the Irish Times published a list of Irish graduates ordained in England on the previous Sunday. Among other names appeared:
'Hyacinth Conneally, B.A., T.C.D., deacon, by the Bishop of Ripon, for the curacy of Kirby-Stowell.'
Shortly afterwards the Croppy printed the following verses, signed 'M.O'D.':
'EIRE TO H. C.
'Bight across the low, flat curragh from the sea, Drifting, driving sweeps the rain, Where the bogborn, bent, brown rushes grow for me, Barren grass instead of grain.
'Out across the sad, soaked curragh towards the sea, Striding, striving go the men, With their spades and forks and barrows toil for me That my corn may grow again
'Ah I but safe from blast of wind and bitter sea, You who loved me—-Tusa fein— Live and feel and work for others, not for me, Never coming back again.
'Yes, while all across the curragh from the West Drifts the sea-rain off the sea, You have chosen. Have you chosen what is best For yourself, O son, and me?'
Hyacinth read the verses, cut them out of the Croppy, and locked them in the box in which he stored the few papers of interest he possessed. The sorrowful judgment pronounced on his conduct affected him, but only in a dull way, like an additional blow upon a limb already bruised to numbness. He accepted his new duties and performed them without any feeling of enthusiasm, and after a little while without any definite hope of doing any good. He got no further in understanding the people he had to deal with, and he was aware that even those of them who came most frequently into contact with him regarded him as a stranger. A young doctor whose wife took a fancy to Marion tried to make friends with him. The result was unsatisfactory, owing to Hyacinth's irresponsiveness. He could not, without yawning piteously, spend an evening discussing the performances of the local cricket club; nor did his conduct improve when the two ladies suspended their talk and sacrificed an hour to playing four-handed halma with their husbands. An unmarried solicitor, attracted by Marion's beauty and friendliness, adopted the habit of calling at Hyacinth's little house about nine or ten o'clock in the evening. He was a man full of anecdote and simple mirth, and he often stayed, quite happily, till midnight. Every week he brought an illustrated paper as an offering to Marion, and recommended the short stories in it; to her notice. He often asked Hyacinth's advice and help in solving the conundrums set by the prize editor. He took a mild interest in politics, and retailed gossip picked up at the Conservative Club. After a while he gave up coming to the house. Hyacinth blamed himself for being cold and unfriendly to the man.
Mr. Austin treated Hyacinth with kindness and some consideration, much as a wise master treats an upper servant. He was anxious that his curate should perform many and complicated ceremonies in church, was seriously intent on the wearing of correctly-coloured stoles, and 'ran,' as he expressed it himself, a very large number of different organizations, of each of which the objective appeared to be a tea-party in the parochial hall. Hyacinth accepted his tuition, bowed low at the times when Mr. Austin liked to bow, watched for the seasons when stoles bloomed white and gold, changed to green, or faded down to violet. He tried to make himself agreeable to the 'united mothers' and the rest when they assembled for tea-drinking. Mr. Austin asserted that these were the methods by which the English people were being taught the Catholic faith. Hyacinth did not doubt it, nor did he permit himself to wonder whether it was worth while teaching them.
To Marion the new life was full of many delights. The surpliced choir-boys gratified her aesthetic sense, and she entered herself as one of a band of volunteers who scrubbed the chancel tiles and polished a brass cross. She smiled, kissed, and petted Hyacinth out of the fits of depression which came on him, managed his small income with wonderful skill, and wrote immensely long letters home to Ballymoy.
It is very hard for a poor man to travel from one side of England to the other side of Ireland, because railway companies, even when, to allure the public, they advertise extraordinary excursions, charge a great deal for their tickets. The journey becomes still more difficult of accomplishment when the poor man is married. Then there are two tickets to be bought, and very likely most of the money which might have bought them has been spent securing the safe arrival of a baby—a third person who in due time will also require a railway-ticket. This was Hyacinth's case. For two summers he had no holiday at all, and it was only by the most fortunate of chances that he found himself during the third summer in a position to go to Ballymoy. He sublet his house to a freshly-arrived supervisor of Inland Revenue, who wanted six weeks to look about for a suitable residence. With the nine pounds paid in advance by this gentleman, Hyacinth and Marion, having with them their baby, a perambulator, and much other luggage, set off for Ballymoy.
The journey is not a very pleasant one, because it is made over the lines of three English railway companies, whose trains refuse to connect with each other at junctions, and because St. George's Channel is generally rough. The discomfort of third-class carriages is more acutely felt when the Irish shore is reached, but the misery of having to feed and tend a year-old child lasts the whole journey through. Therefore, Marion arrived in Dublin dishevelled, weary, and, for all her natural placidness, inclined to be cross. The steamer came to port at an hour which left them just the faint hope of catching the earliest train to Ballymoy. Disappointment followed the nervous strain of a rush across Dublin. Two long hours intervened before the next train started, and the people who keep the refreshment-room in Broadstone Station are not early risers. Marion, without tea or courage, settled herself and the baby in the draughty waiting-room.
Hyacinth was also dishevelled, dirty, and tired, having borne his full share of strife with the child's worst moods. But the sight of Ireland from the steamer's deck filled him with a strange sense of exultation. He wished to shout with gladness when the gray dome of the Custom House rose to view, immense above the low blanket of mist. Even the incredibly hideous iron grating of the railway viaduct set his pulse beating joyfully. He drew deep breaths, inhaling various abominable smells delightedly. The voices of the sleepy porters on the quay roused in him a craving for the gentle slovenliness of Irish speech. He fussed and hustled Marion beyond the limits of her endurance, pretending eagerness to catch the early train, caring in reality not at all whether any train were caught or missed, filled only with a kind of frenzy to keep moving somehow further into Ireland. In the cab he gave utterance to ridiculous pleasantries. He seized the child from Marion, and held him, wailing piteously, half out of the window, that his eyes might rest on the great gilt characters which adorn the offices of the Gaelic League. It was with rapture that he read Irish names, written and spelt in Irish, above the shops, and saw a banner proclaiming the annual festival of Irish Ireland hanging ovei the door of the Rotunda. The city had grown more Irish since he left it. There was no possibility now, even in the early morning, with few people but scavengers and milkmen in the streets, of mistaking for an English town.
While Marion sat torpid in the waiting-room, he paced the platform eagerly from end to end. He saw the train pushed slowly into position beside the platform, watched porters sweep the accumulated debris of yesterday's traffic from the floors of the carriages, and rub with filthy rags the brass doorhandles. Little groups of passengers began to arrive—first a company of cattle-jobbers, four of them, red-faced men with keen, crafty eyes, bound for some Western fair; then a laughing party of tourists, women in short skirts and exaggeratedly protective veils, men with fierce tweed knickerbockers dragging stuffed hold-alls and yellow bags. These were evidently English. Their clear high-pitched voices proclaimed contempt for their surroundings, and left no doubt of their nationality. One of them addressed a bewildered porter in cheerful song:
'Are you right there, Michael? are you right? Have you got the parcel there for Mrs. White?'
He felt, and his companions sympathized, that he was entering into the spirit of Irish life. Then, heralded by an obsequious guard, came a great man, proconsular in mien and gait. Bags and rugs were wheeled beside him. In his hand was a despatch-box bearing the tremendous initials of the Local Government Board. He took complete possession of a first-class smoking carriage, scribbled a telegram, perhaps of international importance, handed it to the guard for instant despatch, and lit a finely-odorous cigar. Hyacinth, humbled by the mere view of this incarnation of the Imperial spirit, went meekly to the waiting-room to fetch Marion and his child. He led them across the now crowded platform towards a third-class carriage.
'I will not go with you in your first-class carriage, Father Lavelle; so that's flat. Nor I won't split the difference and go second either, if that's what you're going to propose to me. Is it spend what would keep the family of a poor man in bread and tea for a week, for the sake of easing my back with a cushion? Get away with you. The plain deal board's good enough for me. And, moreover, I doubt very much if I've the money to do it, if I were ever so willing. I'm afraid to look into my purse to count the few coppers that's left in it after paying that murdering bill in the hotel you took me to. Gresham, indeed! A place where they're not ashamed to charge a poor old priest three and sixpence for his breakfast, and me not able to eat the half of what they put before me.'
Hyacinth turned quickly. Two priests stood together near the bookstall. The one, a young man, handsome and well-dressed, he did not know. The other he recognised at once. It seemed to be the same familiarly shabby black coat which he wore, the same many-stained waistcoat, the identical silk hat, ruffled and rain-spotted. The same pads of flesh hung flaccid from his jaws; the red, cracked knuckles of his hands, well remembered, were enormous still. Only the furrows on the face seemed to be ploughed deeper and wider, and a few more stiff hairs curled over the general bushiness of the grizzled eyebrows.
'Father Moran!' cried Hyacinth.
'I am Father Moran. You're right there. But who you are or how you come to know me is more than I can tell. But wait a minute. I've a sort of recollection of your voice. Will you speak to me again, and maybe I'll be able to put a name on you.'
Hyacinth said a few words rapidly in Irish.
'I have you now,' said the priest. 'You're Hyacinth Conneally, the boy that went out to fight for the Boers. Father Lavelle, this is a friend of mine that I've known ever since he was born, and I haven't laid eyes on him these six years or more. You're going West, Mr. Conneally? But of course you are. Where else would you be going? We'll travel together and talk. If it's second-class you're going, Father Lavelle will have to lend me the money to pay the extra on my ticket, so as I can go with you. Seemingly it's a Protestant minister you've grown into. Well now, who'd have thought it? And you so set on fighting the battle of Armageddon and all. It's a come-down for you, so it is. But never mind. You might have got yourself killed in it. There's many a one killed or maimed for life in smaller fights than it. It's better to be a minister any day than a corpse or a cripple. And as you are a minister, it's likely to be third-class you're travelling. Times are changed since I was young. It was the priests travelled third-class then, if they travelled at all, and the ministers were cocked up on the cushions, looking down on the likes of us out of the windows with the little red curtains half-drawn across them. Now it'll be Father Lavelle there, with his grand new coat that he says is Irish manufacture—but I don't believe him—who'll be doing the gentleman. But come along, Mr. Conneally—come along, and tell me all the battles you fought and the Generals you made prisoners of, and how it was you took to preaching afterwards.'
Hyacinth, somewhat shyly, introduced the priest to Marion. Then a ticket-collector drove them into their carriage and locked the door.
Father Moran began to catechize Hyacinth before the train started, and drew from him, as they went westwards, the story of his disappointments, doubts, hopes, veerings, and final despair. Hyacinth spoke unwillingly at first, giving no more than necessary answers to the questions. Then, because he found that reticence called down on him fresh and more detailed inquiries, and also because the priest's evident and sympathetic interest redeemed a prying curiosity from offensiveness, he told his tale more freely. Very soon there was no more need of questioning, and Father Moran's share in the talk took the form of comments interrupting a narrative.
Of Captain Albert Quinn he said:
'I've heard of him, and a nice kind of a boy he seems to have been. I suppose he fought when he got there. He's just the sort that would be splendid at the fighting. Well, God is good, and I suppose it's to do the fighting for the rest of us that He makes the likes of Captain Quinn. Did you hear that they wanted to make him a member of Parliament? Well, they did. Nothing less would please them. But what good would that be, when he couldn't set foot in the country for fear of being arrested?'
Later on he was moved to laughter.
'To think of your going on the road with a bag full of blankets and shawls! I never heard of such a thing, and all the grand notions your head was full of! Why didn't you come my way? I'd have made Rafferty give you an order. I'd have bought the makings of a frieze coat from you myself—I would, indeed.'
Afterwards he became grave again.
'I won't let you say the hard word about the nuns, Mr. Conneally. Don't do it, now. There's plenty of good convents up and down through the country—more than ever you'll know of, being the black Protestant you are. And the ones that ruined your business—supposing they did ruin it, and I've only your word for that—what right have you to be blaming them? They were trying to turn an honest penny by an honest trade, and that's just what you and your friend Mr. Quinn were doing yourselves.'
Hyacinth, conscious of a failure in good taste, shifted his ground, only to be interrupted again.
'Oh, you may abuse the Congested Districts Board to your heart's content. I never could see what the Government made all the Boards for unless it was to keep the people out of mischief. As long as there is a Board of any kind about the country every blackguard will be so busy throwing stones at it that he won't have time nor inclination left to annoy decent people. And I'll say this for the Congested Districts Board: they mean well. Indeed they do; not a doubt of it. There's one good thing they did, anyway, if there isn't another, and that's when they came to Carrowkeel and bought the big Curragh Farm that never supported a Christian, but two herds and some bullocks ever since the famine clearances. They fetched the people down off the mountains and put them on it. Wasn't that a good thing, now? Sure, all Government Boards do more wrong than right. It's the nature of that sort of confederation. But it's all the more thankful we ought to be when once in a while they do something useful.'
Hyacinth came to tell of the choice which Canon Beecher offered him, and dwelt with tragic emphasis on his own decision. The priest listened, a smile on his lips, a look of pity which belied the smile in his eyes.
'So you thought Ireland would be lost altogether unless you wrote articles for Miss Goold in the Croppy? It's no small opinion you have of yourself, Hyacinth Conneally. And you thought you'd save your soul by going to preach the Gospel to the English people? Was that it, now?'
'It was not,' said Hyacinth, 'and you know it wasn't.'
'Of course it wasn't. What was I thinking of to forget the young lady that was in it? A fine wife you've got, any way. God bless her, and make you a good husband to her! By the looks of her she's better than you deserve. I suppose it was to get money you went to England, so as to buy her pretty dresses and a beautiful house to live in? Did you think you'd grow rich over there?'
'Indeed I did not,' said Hyacinth bitterly. 'I knew we'd never be rich.'
'Well, then, couldn't you as well have been poor in Ireland? And better, for everybody's poor here. But there, I know well enough it wasn't money you were after. Don't be getting angry with me, now. It wasn't for the sake of saving your soul you went, nor to get your nice wife, though a man might go a long way for the likes of her. I don't know why you went, and it's my belief you don't know yourself. But you made a mistake, whatever you did it for, going off on that English mission. Is it a mission you call it when you're a Protestant? I don't think it is, but it doesn't matter. You made a mistake. Why don't you come back again?'