The Wind Bloweth
by Brian Oswald Donn-Byrne
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

Uncle Robin's letters had vast wisdom. "Ay be reading the books, laddie. An ill-educated man feels always at a disadvantage among folk of talent. Aboard ship you can read and think more than at a university. I've got a parcel for you to take when you go again. Hakluyt's Voyages and a good Marco Polo. And the new book of Mr. Dickens, 'The Haunted Man.' And there's a great new writer you'll not want to miss, by name of Thackeray." And there'd be the Bank of England note, "for fear you might be needing it on a special occasion, and not having it, and feeling bad." Dear Uncle Robin! And then the flash of tenderness, like a rainbow: "God bless you and keep you, my brother's son!"

His Uncle Robin's letters he would greet with a smile, and perhaps a bit moistness in the eye; Alan Donn's with a grin, as an elder brother's. But his mother's letters he would approach with a coldness akin to fear. He hated to open them. It was like an unpleasant duty.

The realization of her was always a chilling disappointment, but the dream of her was a great hope. And in the black waters of the China Seas, or in the night watches off the Azores, where the porpoises played in the phosphorescence, there would come a sea-change over the knowledge he had of her. All the spiritual, all the mental angles of her faded into gracious line, and on the tight French lips of her a smile would play as a flower opens, and her eyes, hard as diamonds, would open and become kindly as a lighted house. And the strange things of the heart would come out, like little shy rabbits, or like the young tortoises, and bask in that kindly picture. And the things that were between them, that could not be said, but just sensed, as the primroses of spring are sensed, not seen, not felt, hardly smelt even, but sensed.... The hesitant deep things he would say and the dignified, smiling answer, or the pressure of the hand even, and the inclination of the shoulder....

And the people he would meet who would ask him about his mother, and he could answer nothing, so that they thought him stupid and unthoughtful. But really what was there to say?... And once when he sprang into Biscay Bay after a cabin-boy who had fallen over the taffrail, and the lad's mother had thanked him in Plymouth for saving the child's life: "Your mother will be very proud of you," the old woman said. But the reality of the harsh Frenchwoman came to him like a slap in the face. "Christ, if she only were!" his heart cried. But the clipped little Scots-Irish voice replied, "Aye, I suppose she will."

And again the soft mood would come, and then he would have a letter from her, ending with that harsh command, that was a gust of some bleak tempest of her own life, where his father had perished: "Pray God to keep you pure in mind and body!"

And homeward bound again, in the soft murmur of the wind among the shrouds, and the little laughter of the water at the bows, there would abide with him again the dream mother of the night watches, until he said to himself that surely the reality was false, and at the garden-gate she would be waiting for him with a great depth of kindness in her eyes, and arms warm as sunshine, and a bosom where a boy might rest his head for a moment after the great harshness of the strange places.

But the kindliness came not from her. It came from Robin More, who ran down the garden faster than his dignity should have allowed him. "Are you all right, wee Shane? Is everything all right with you? You're looking fine, but you haven't been sick, wee fellow? Tell me, you haven't been sick?" Or from Alan Donn, with his great snort of laughter: "Christ! are you home again? And all the good men that's been lost at sea! Well, the devil's childer have the devil's luck. Eigh, laddie, gie's a feel o' ye. A Righ—O King of Graces, but you're the lean pup! Morag, Nellie, Cassie, some tea! and be damned quick about it!"

And then his mother would come into the room, like a cold wind or a thin ghost, and there would be a kiss on the cheek, a cold, precise peck, like a bird's. And, "Did you have a good voyage?" just as if she said, "Do you think we'll have rain?"

Oh, well, to hell with it! as Alan Donn said when he flubbed his approach to the last green for some championship or other. "What you never had, you never lost!"

Aye, true indeed. What you never had you couldn't very well lose. Aye, there was a lot in that. Just so; but—

Boys do be thinking long....

Section 6

Because his Uncle Alan was in Scotland somewhere shooting deer and would not be home for several days, and because Uncle Robin was in Paris, and because the Goban Saor put into Dundalk to take a cargo of unbleached linen, young Shane decided to stay there for a few days before proceeding northward to the Antrim Glens. He felt he couldn't face the house at Cushendu with his cold, precise mother alone there, so he accepted the hospitality of an apprentice friend.

It was at a country barn dance during these few days that he met Moyra Dolan.

A tallish, tawny-haired woman with the dead-white skin that goes with reddish hair, with steel for eyes, there was a grace and carriage to her that put her aside from the other peasant girls as a queen may masquerade as a slave and yet betray herself as a queen. Other girls there were as pretty, with their hair like flax and their eyes like blue water; with hair like a dim blue cloud and eyes like a smudge of charcoal. But none had her teeth, her small ankles, her long, sensitive hands. Some strain of the Stuart cavaliers had crept into that hardy peasant stock on the way to the defeat of the Boyne Water.... She might have seemed nothing but a pretty lady's maid in London or Dublin but in North Louth she was like a queen....

Her looks were her tragedy, for she held herself too good for a laboring man to marry, and, having no dower, no farmer would have her. Among the peasantry romance does not count, but land. And if the Queen of Sheba, and she having nothing but her shift, were to offer herself in marriage to a strong farmer, he would refuse her for the cross-eyed woman in the next townland who had twenty acres and five good milch cows.... Only for the very rich or the very poor is romance!

Her only chance for marriage was a matter of luck. She would have to meet some government official, or some medical student home on his holidays, or some small merchant whom her beauty would unbalance, as drink would unbalance him. And she must dazzle, and her old mother play and catch him, as a jack pike is dazzled by a spoon bait, hooked, and brought ashore. She might marry or might miss, or grow into an acidulous red-headed woman. It was a matter of luck. And her luck was in. She met young Shane Campbell.

They danced together. They wandered in the moonlight. They met in the country lanes. And they were very silent, she because she played a game, and a counter is better than a lead, and he because he was in love with her. Had it been only a matter of sweethearting, he would have been merry as a singing bird, full of chatter, roughing it with her for a kiss. But it was love with him, and a thing for life, and life was long and more serious than death.... So he was silent.

He was silent when he went home for a week, silent with uncles Robin and Alan, who sensed he was going through one of the crises of adolescence, and knew the best thing to do was to leave him alone. He was silent with his mother, who saw nothing, cared nothing, so intent was she on revolving within herself as inexorably as the planets revolve in space. He decided to spend the last days of his leave in Dundalk. And at the railroad station in Ballymena he hazarded a look at Alan Donn.

"Uncle Alan—" and he stopped.

"What is it, laddie? Is it a girl troubling you? Take my advice and look her in the eyes and, 'You can love me or leave me, and to hell with you!' tell her. 'Do you see this right foot of mine?' says you. 'Well, it's pointed to the next townland, where there's just as pretty a one as you.' And you'll find her come around; maybe there'll be a bit of an argument, but she'll come around. And if she doesn't, there'd have been no hope for you, anyway. A touch o' the spur for the lazy mare and a bit sugar for the jumper! And when you've done loving her, gie her a chuck in the chin: 'Good-by! Good luck! What you keep to yoursel' 'll worry nobody,' says you. And to hell with her!"

"Alan Donn!"

"Oh, it's that way, is it, Shaneen? If you're in deep water, there's none but yourself can help you, laddie. I thought it was just maybe a case o' laugh and kiss me. But it's different, is it? There's no use giving advice. What's in you will out. But remember this: when it's over, for good or bad, your Uncle Alan's here, to laugh with you or greet with you or help you out of a hole. So—

"Good-by, laddie. Beannacht leat! My blessing with you!"

Section 7

"Young lad, what is this you have done to my fine young daughter?"

"I have done nothing, Bhean 'i Dolain," young Shane flared up, "save in honor, and the man or woman who says other lies."

"Agra, I know that. I know there's no harm in you from head to foot. And the trouble you've put on her is in her heart. All day long she sighs, and is listless as a shaded plant that does be needing the sun. All night long she keeps awake, and the wee silent tears come down her face. And before my eyes she's failing, and her step that was once light now drags the like of a cripple's. Young lad of the North, you've put love in the heart of her and sorrow in the mind."

"I'm not so sprightly in the mind myself, woman Dolan."

"I know, avick. I know. Isn't it myself that's suffered the seven pangs of love and I a young girl? But it's easy on a man, avick. He can go into the foreign countries, and put it out of his mind, or take to the drink and numb the great pain. But for a woman it's different. It's the like of a disfiguration that all can see. And when you're gone away, sure all will remember, for men do be minding long. The marrying time will come, and they'll look at my grand young daughter: strong farmer, and merchant of the shop, and drover does be going to England for the cattle-fairs, and they'll say: 'Isn't that the red girl gave love to the sailing fellow, and burnt her heart out so that there's no sap in it for me?' And they'll pass her by, my grand young daughter, that's the equal of any."

"And what would you have me do, woman of the house?"

"What would any decent man do but marry her?"

"Aye!... Aye! I thought of marrying her, if she'd have me.... But we hardly know each other yet ... and maybe I'm too young...."

"If you're able to handle a ship, you're able to handle a woman, young lad. And what time is better for marriage nor the first flush of youth? Sure you grow together like the leaves upon the tree. Let you not be putting it off now, but spring like a hero."

"But isn't the matter of her faith between us, woman of the house?"

"And sure that can be fixed later. Will the priest mind, do you think, so long as she does her duty? And a sixpence in the plate on Sunday is better nor a brown ha'penny, and a half-sovereign at Easter will soothe black anger like healing grass. Very open in thought I am, and I knowing the seven pangs of love. Let you go to your own clergyman, and she'll go with you, I'll warrant, so eaten is she by love."

"My people, woman o' the house—"

"Your people, is it? Sure it isn't your people is marrying my grand young daughter, but you yourself. The old are crabbit, and they do be thinking more of draining a field, or of the price of flax, nor of the pain and delights of love. And it's always objections. But there can be no objecting when the job's finished."

She looked at him shrewdly.

"A grand influence, a grand steadying influence is marriage on a sailing man. It keeps you from spending your money in foreign ports, where you only buy trickery for your silver. And when you have a wife at home, you'll have little truck with fancy women, who have husbands behind the screen, sometimes, and them with knives.... So I've heard tell.... Or maybe get an evil sickness. Listen to an old woman has wisdom, bold lad."

"When I come from my voyage...."

"Dark lad, if anything happens to you, and you drowning in the black water, the great regret that will be on you and the water gurgling into your lungs, and, 'Wasn't I the fool of the world,' you'll say, 'that might have heard the crickets singing in the night-time and my white love by my side? And might have had power of kissing and lovemaking, but was young and foolish, and lay be my lee lone....'"

But this was the wrong tack, the old woman noticed, and came about.

"And all the time you're away, my daughter will be pining for you, drooping and pining, my grand young daughter, and the spring will go out of her step and the light from her eyes and the luster from the hair that's a wonder to all.... Oh, isn't it the cruel thing?"

"My ship sails the day after to-morrow."

She saw surrender in his face, rose quickly, and went to the door.

"Come inside, Moyra, Moyreen! And be putting your cloak on, with the ribbons that tie beneath your chin. And your dress of muslin that the lady in Newry gave you. And stockings. And your shoes of leather. And I'll be putting on my Paisley shawl. And this young boy will be getting Michael Doyle's horse and trap. Come in, Moyreen, come in and put haste on you, for it's going to Dundalk we are, this day, this hour, this minute even!"

Section 8

It occurred to him as he sat in the haggard under the riding moon, not a pitch shot from the house where his wife was being waked, that nothing was disturbed because she was dead. It was not strange that the stars kept on their courses, for the death of neither king nor cardinal nor the wreck of the greatest ship that ever sailed the seas would not move them from their accustomed orbit. But not a robin in the hedge was disturbed, not a rabbit in the field, not a weasel in the lane. Nature never put off her impenetrable mask. Or did she really not care? And was a human soul less to her than a worm in the soil?

There was a stir in the house. They would be making tea now for the men and women who said they were mourners.... The querulous voice of his wife's mother came to him as some one led her from the heated house into the coolth of the June night.

"Great sacrifices we made for him, myself and the white love that's stretched beyond in the room. All we had we gave him, and all she found was barren death, and I the barren charity of Northern men...."

"Oh, sure, 'tis the pity of the world you are, Pegeen," a neighbor comforted her.

"On his bended knees he came to her, asking for love," the cailleach went on. "On his bare and bended knees. And her heart melted toward him as the snow melts on the hills. 'And hadn't you better wait,' said I, 'Moyreen Roe? With the great looks and the grand carriage of you, 'tis a great match you can make surely. A gentleman from England, maybe, would have a castle and fine lands, or the pick of the dealing men, and they going from Belfast to Drogheda and stopping overnight at Ardee. Or wouldn't it be better for you to marry one of your own kind, would go to church with you in a kindly way?'

"'But if I don't marry this lad, he'll kill himself,' she says to me.

"'But your faith,' says I, ''avourneen, your holy faith, surely you will not be forsaking that for this boy!'"

"And what did she say to that, Pegeen?" the neighbor asked.

"'Sure it's promised to turn he has,' she answered. 'And do everything is right by me, so much I love him!'"

"The treacherous Ulster hound!" The neighbor inveighed.

"Treacherous by race and treacherous by nature. Sure, can't you see it, the way he treats me? Sorrow word he has for me, that bore the wife of his bosom, barring, 'Alan Donn Campbell will see you and fix up everything.' And haven't I met Alan Campbell once before, and it's the cold eye he has and the hard heart. And this is all the return I get for bearing the white darling would be fit mate for a king. There was a publican of Dundalk had an eye on her, a big red-faced, hearty man. And she might have married him but this lad came and spoiled everything. And if she'd married him, I'd have been sitting in the parlor of the public house, in a seemly black dress and a brooch in the bosom of it, taking my pinch of snuff and my strong cup of tea with a drop of Hollands in it would warm the cockles of your heart, and listening to the conversation of the fine customers and them loosening up with the drink. And the ould grannies would have courtesied to me and hate in their hearts. But now a leaf on the wind am I, a broken twig on the stream. And the black men of Ulster have me for a plaything, the men that have a hatred for me and my kind, so that it's a knife they'd put in you, or poison in your tea—"

"Let you be coming in now, Pegeen. Let you be coming in now. And take a cup of tea would put heart in you, or something strong, maybe. And then we'll be saying a prayer for her who's gone—"

"Dead she is, the poor heart, dead she is, and better off nor I am—"

Her high querulousness died away as she went into the house, and again was the silence of the riding moon. All her grief, all her lies, all her bitterness had not stirred a leaf upon the bough. Not a robin in the hedge was disturbed by her calamity, not a rabbit in the field, not a weasel in the lane....

Section 9

He thought to himself: had they rushed him into this marriage? And he answered himself truthfully, they had not. He could have said no, and stood by his no, young as he was, against every old woman and every young woman in the world. No, fast as they had worked, they hadn't worked faster than his thought had.

And did he marry because he was in love with Moyra Dolan? He was in love with her, he conceded that. For what the term was accepted at, he was in love with her. Women he had met in his twenty years, great ladies of the Ulster clans; shy, starched misses from the Friends' School; moody peasant girls; merry women of the foreign ports, and to none of them had he felt that strange yearning he had felt toward Moyra Dolan, the strange pull that sends the twig in the diviner's hands down toward the hidden water. Yes, he was in love with her, but was it because of that he had married her? And he truthfully answered, no.

He remembered, the mood coming back to him as concretely as an action, what he had thought while the old woman had wheedled him with her voice like butter. All he had thought in his prentice days at sea, all he had thought of in the night watches, all he had thought of in the loneliness of his mother's house, had gathered like great cloud-banks at night, and had suddenly taken form and color and purpose in that one moment, as a cloud-bank at the coming of the sun.... Life had appeared to him in one brief moment, and he had tried to grasp it.

It had seemed to him right that he would go down to the sea in ships all his days, and trade in foreign ports, and work, transmuting effort into gain, and should come home to rest.

And for whom was the gain? And where was home? Surely not for himself was the gain, and home was not his cold mother's house? And now that he had come to manhood as boys come at sea, braving danger and thinking mightily, it was for him to decide.

A mirage, a seeming, a thing to look at, to go get bravely had come into his mind in little pictures, like prints in a book. A thing of simplicity, simple as the sea, and as colorful and as wholesome and as beautiful. He thought of a little thatched and whitewashed house with a cobbled yard clean as a ship's decks, and a garden where the bluish green stalks and absurdly pretty flowers of potatoes would come in spring, and one side would be the red and white of the clover, and on the other would be the minute blue flower of the flax; and an old dog drowsing on the threshold.... And this would be in his mind as he wandered the hot foreign streets.... And there would be the droning of the bees in the clover, and the swish of the swallows darting to and from the eaves, and in the evening would be the singing of the crickets.... And these he would hear over the capstan's clank.... When he tumbled into his cabin after his watch, into the heeling room where the lamp swung overhead like a crazy thing, and all was a litter of oilskins and sea-boots, and a great dampness everywhere, he would know there was a swept cottage in Louth where the delft shone on the dresser in the kindly light of the turf, and there would be a spinning-wheel in the corner, and big rush-bottomed chairs, and the kettle singing on the hob.... And when his comrades would leave the ship in port of nights to go to the houses where music and dancing were, and crazy drinking, and where the adroit foreign women held out their arms of mystery and mercenary romance, he would lean over the taffrail and laugh and shake his head:

"No, I think I'll stay on board." "Come on, young Shane. There's a woman down at Mother Parkinson's and they say she's an Austrian archduchess who has run away with a man, and got left. Come on." Or, "There's a big dance over on the beach to-night, and a keg of rum, and the native women. Jump in." "No, I think I'll stay on board and read." "Come on. Don't be a fool." "No, go ahead and enjoy yourselves. I'll stay on board." And there would be the plash of oars as they rowed shoreward, and maybe a song raised.... And he would make himself comfortable under the awning of the after deck, and read the bundles of newspapers from home, of how Thomas Chalmers, the great Scottish preacher, was dead, or how a new great singer had been heard in London, a Swedish girl, her name was Jenny Lind, or how Shakspere's house had been bought and a great price paid for it, three thousand pounds.... Or he would read one of the new books that were coming out in a flood, a new one by Mr. Dickens, the bite of the new writer, Mr. Thackeray with his "Vanity Fair," or that strange book written by a woman, "Wuthering Heights".... But in a little minute the volume would fall to his knees, and the people of the book would leave the platform of his mind, and a real, warmer presence come to it.... He could see the gracious, kindly womanhood now move through the house, now come to the door to watch the far horizon.... Of evenings she would stand dreaming at the lintel while he was leaning dreaming over the taffrail, and though there were ten thousand miles between them their hearts would be intimate as pigeons.... And he would think of coming home to the peaceful cottage and the wife with the grave eyes and kindly smile, and if he were a day ahead of time, she would forget her reserve in great joy, and low, pleased laughter would jet from her throat.... And if he were on time, there would be the quiet grave confidence: "I knew your step!" ... And if he were late, there would be the passing of the cloud from the brows: "Thank God! I—I was—just a trifle worried!" ... And the greetings over, she would look at him with a smile and a little lift of the eyebrows, and he would give her what he had brought from the voyage: a ring from Amsterdam, maybe, where the great jewelers are, or heavy silken stockings of France; or had he gone to the West Indies, a great necklet of red coral; or some fancy in humming-birds' feathers from the Brazils; lace from Porto Rico, that the colored women make with their slim brown fingers; things of hammered brass from India; and were he to China in the tea-trade, a coat such as a mandarin's lady would wear.... And with each gift there would be gasp of incredulous surprise, and "O Shaneen, you shouldn't have!" ... And then the evening would come, and they would stand on the threshold, and he would listen to the sounds the seamen never hear: the swish and ripple of the wind among the trees, the birds settling themselves to sleep amid the boughs, the bittern that boomed like a horn, and the barking of a distant dog, and the crickets that do be singing when the evening falls.... And he would turn from that to find her arms out and her lips apart, who could wait no longer, and together they would go into their house, where the red turf had turned yellow—together, over their own threshold, into their own house.... And when the time came for him to go to sea again, she would be grave with unshed tears and a brave smile.... And one day after a long voyage, when she had greeted him, she would say, "Some one has come to our house!" and he wouldn't understand, and be annoyed, until she showed him the little warm head in the cradle, and he would drop on his knees reverentially, and there would be great silent tears from him, and all her heart would show in her quiet smile....

And never an old woman on Naples quay would ask him for an alms but would get it, he thinking all the time of the old woman with the tow-like hair who abode in his house, his wife's mother. And she would be comfortable there in her old days, with always a fire to warm her, and always a cup of tea to cheer her up, and a kindly ear for her stories of ancient days, and a thanks for the alien rosaries she would say, praying for his safe return from the almighty waters.... And never a dog on his travels but would get a pat and a whistle, and he thinking of the grizzled terrier in Louth that guarded the threshold of quiet beauty....

And so he would have been content to live all his days, so he thought he would live, going down to the dangers of the sea, trading in strange ports, and transmuting hard, untiring effort into gain for her at home and her children, and he would grow old and grizzled, until he could no longer brace to a heeling plank or stand the responsibility of a ship's mastery, and then they would buy a little house on some harbor, while their sons went rolling down to Rio or fought the typhoon in the China Seas, and he could sit there with his telescope, watching the ships go by, or come in and out hauling up mainsail or making their mooring, and grumbling pleasantly at how good seamanship fades and dies....

All this he had thought out in the loneliness of foreign ports, in the night watches aboard ship, in the inhospitality of his mother's house, and on the jaunting-car to Dundalk. All this he had thought out, and on its basis gone into marriage. And it would just have been as well for him, better perhaps, had he thrown a coin into the air to find out whether he should marry or no.

And that was what human thought was worth—a brown penny thrown into the empty air!

"Gloir do'n Athair, agas do'n Mhac, agas do'n Spiorad Naomh," went the drone of the rosary within. "Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost, Amen!"

Section 10

And the house that he had known in a dream was no more in reality than a cold strange dwelling; all was there, the whitewash, the thatch, the delft on the dresser, but as a home it was stillborn. The turf did not burn well and the swallows shunned the eaves, feeling, in nature's occult way, that the essential rhythm was wanting. Nor would bees be happy in the skips, but must swarm otherward. One would have said the house was built on some tragic rock....

Only the old dog was faithful, and stayed where his master put him.

And the face he had dreamed would not look toward him over the illimitable ocean. Seek as he would, it was never there, with warm gravity. His eyes might strive, but all they would see was the oily swell of the Dogger Bank, and the great plowed field of Biscay Bay, and the smash of foam against the Hebrides. Never would a space in the watery horizon open and show him a threshold of beauty with quiet, brooding face.... And when he came home, either late or early, or on time to the moment, it was, "Och, is it yourself?" And the only interruption to the house was the little more trouble he caused. And his gifts were treated tepidly, though with cupidinous eyes. In the evening, if he stood on the threshold, it was: "Wisha, is it going out you are? And isn't it enough of the fresh air you have, and you on the salt water?" And her embraces were half chastity, half sin, tepidly passionate, unintimate ... so that shame was on him, and no pride or joyousness.... Cold! cold! cold!... A cold house, a cold woman.... No light or warmth or graciousness....

And the old woman whom he had thought of as warm and peaceful by the fire was a hag with a peasant's cupidity: "And isn't it a little more you can be leaving us, darling lad, what with the high price that does be on things in this place and you not spending a brown ha'penny aboard ship?... And herself might be taken sick now, and wouldn't it be a grand thing, a wee store of money in the house? Or the wars might come, find you far on the sea! An extra sovereign now, brave fellow, a half-sovereign itself!"

And when he left it was of less import than the cow going dry. Only one mourned him, the old dog. Only one remembered him, the half-blind badger hound, that dreamed of ancient hunting days....

And he would go down to his ship, heartbroken, when none was looking a mist of tears in his eyes,—he was not yet twenty-one,—but in a day or so that would pass, and the sea that was so strong would give him of its strength and heal him, so that after a few days he could stand up and say: "Well.... Huuh.... Well...."

A trick had been played him, like some tricks the sea and sun play. Afar off he had seen an island like an appointed dancing place, like the Green of Fiddlers, and he had asked to be put ashore there, to live and be a permanent citizen. And when he was landed, he found that his dancing place was only a barren rock where the seagulls mourned. Past the glamour of the sun and sea mists, there were only cold, searching winds and dank stone....

But he came of a race that are born men, breed men, and kill men. Crying never patched a hole in a brogue, and a man who's been fooled is no admirable figure, at least to Antrim men. So shut your mouth! When a master loses a ship he gets no other. That is the inexorable rule of the sea. So when a man wrecks his life....

What he had decided was this: go ahead. He had been fooled; pay the forfeit. Retreat into his own heart, and go ahead. Thirty, forty years.... He had himself to blame. And it wasn't as if he had to live in the house all the time; he had only to come back there. All that was killed was his heart. His frame was still stolid, his eye clear.... There would be little oases here and there, some great record of a voyage broken, friends bravely made, a kiss now and then, freely, gallantly given.... But ... go ahead!

And then suddenly death had come, and the scheme of life was broken, like a piece from the end of a stick. Death he had seen before, but never so close to him. A good man had died and he had said: "God! there's a pity!" though why he didn't know. And a young girl might die, and it would seem like a tragedy in a play. And a child would die, and he would feel hurt and say, "Yon's cruelty, yon!" And death had seemed to be an ultimate word.

But never before now had he seen the ramifications of death. Life had seemed to him to be a straight line, and suddenly he was inspired to the knowledge that it was a design, a pattern, a scheme.... And now he felt it was only a tool, like a knife, or scissors, in the hands of what?... What? Destiny?... or what?...

Section 11

"A chraoibhin aoibhinn! O pleasant little branch, is there regard in you for the last words of the dead woman?" The old cailleach had come again to ruffle the grave silence about young Shane in the haggard.

"Was it—was it anything for me?"

"And whom would it be for, acushla veg? Sure the love of her heart you were, the white love of her heart. You and me she was thinking of, her old mother that saw a power of trouble. Ill-treated I was by Sergeant Dolan, who fought old Bonaparte in the foreign wars, and took to drinking in the dreadful days of peace. Harsh my life was, and peaceful should my end be, the like of a day that does be rainy, and turns fine at evening-time. And that was what she wanted, a charaid bhig, little friend o' me."

"What now?"

"She said to me, and she dying in my arms and the blue spirit coming out of the red lips of her—och! achanee!—'Sure it's not in that grand Northern lad to see you despised in your old age, and the grannies of the neighborhood laughing at you who boasted often. The wee house he'll give you—the wee house is comfortable for an old woman—'"

"But the house isn't mine. It's Alan Donn Campbell's. It isn't mine to give, and I haven't the money to buy it. All the money I have is my pay and what my uncles give me—and they won't see you want."

"But isn't it the grand rich Northern family you are? And won't there be money coming to you when your uncles and mother die?"

"I suppose so."

"Well now, agra, a few of us have been thinking. And Manus McGinty, the priest's brother, is willing to advance you the money at interest, to be paid him when your people die. And you can buy the house, and a slip of a pig I can be fattening against the Christmas market."


"Och, agra," she whined, "you wouldn't go back on the words of the poor girl, and her dying in my arms? And she was thinking of you when she should have been thinking of her God! And the grand subtle things she said of you, that only a woman can understand! Sure it was of love for you she died, you being away so long from her on the salt and bitter sea—"

"Listen, woman Dolan. I heard how Moyra died as I came through the village. She died as she was beating my poor old hound. She dropped dead from the passion in her, like a shot man. So where's all your love and your long dying wishes as she lay in your arms?"

He arose and walked away from her, through the haggard, under the sky, where the southeast cloud-banks rolled steadily toward the placid moon. And there was silence for an instant, so speechless he left her. And then suddenly her ancient shrill voice cut the air like a drover's whip:

"You Orange bastard!"

Section 12

The feeling that was uppermost in him as he sat outside the thatched cottage in the moonlight while the wake was within was not grief at his wife's death; not a shattered mind that his life so carefully laid out not twelve months before was disoriented; not any self-pity; not any grievance against God such as little men might have. But a strange dumb wonder.... There she lay within, in her habit of a Dominican lay sister, her hands waxy, her face waxy, her eyelids closed. And six guttering candles were about her, and woman droned their prayers with a droning as of bees. There she lay with her hands clasped on a wooden crucifix. And no more would the robins wake her, and they fussing in the great hawthorn-tree over the coming of dawn. No longer would she rake the ash from the peat and blow the red of it to a little blaze. No longer would she beat his dog out of the house with the handle of the broom. No longer would she forgather with the neighbors over a pot of tea for a pleasant vindictive chat. No longer would she look out to sea for him with her half-loving, half-inimical eyes. No longer in her sharpish voice would she recite her rosary and go to bed.

And to-morrow they would bury her—there would be rain to-morrow: the wind was sou'east,—they would lower her, gently as though she were alive, into a rectangular slot in the ground, mutter alien prayers in an alien tongue with business of white magic, pat the mound over as a child pats his castle of sand on the sea-shore—and leave her there in the rain.

A month from now they would say a mass for her, a year from now another, but to-morrow, to-day, yesterday even, she was finished with all of life—with the fussy excited robins of dawn; with the old dog that wanted to drowse by the fire; with the young husband who was either too much or too little of a man for her; with the clicking beads she would tell in her sharpish voice; with each thing; with everything....

And here was the wonder of it, the strange dumb wonder, that the snapping of her life meant less in reality to him than the snapping of a stay aboard ship. The day after to-morrow he would mount the deck of Patrick Russell's boat, and after a few crisp orders would set out on the eternal sea, as though she were still alive in her cottage, as though, indeed, she had never even lived, and northward he would go past the purple Mull of Cantyre; past the Clyde, where the Ayrshire sloops danced like bobbins on the water; past the isles, where overhead drove the wedges of the wild swans, trumpeting as on a battle-field; past the Hebrides, where strange arctic birds whined like hurt dogs; northward still to where the northern lights sprang like dancers in the black winter nights; eastward and southward to where the swell of the Dogger Bank rose, where the fish grazed like kine.... Over the great sea he would go, as though nothing had happened, not even the snapping of a stay—down to the sea, where the crisp winds of dawn were, and the playful, stupid, short-sighted porpoises; the treacherous, sliding icebergs; and the gulls that cried with the sea's immense melancholy; and the great plum-colored whales....



Section 1

It was all like a picture some painter of an old and obvious school might have done. First, there was the port, with the white ships riding at their moorings in the blue sea. Then grayish white Marseilles, with its two immense ribbons, the Cannebiere running northward, and the Rue de Rome and the Prado intersecting it. The great wooded amphitheater rising like a wave and little Notre Dame de la Garde peeking like a sentry out to sea. And eastward from the quays were the little jagged islands the Phenicians knew, If, and Rion, Jaros, strange un-French names ... the sunshine yellow as a lamp, and the sea blue as flax, and the green woods, and the ancient grayish white city—all a picture some unimaginative painter would have loved. Next to Belfast, Marseilles was to Shane Campbell a second home. There it was, like your own house!

Obvious and drowsy it might seem, but once he went ashore, the swarming, teeming life of it struck Shane like a current of air. Along the quays, along the Cannebiere, was a riot of color and nationality unbelievable from on board ship. Here were Turks dignified and shy. Here were Greeks, wary, furtive. Here were Italians, Genoese, Neapolitans, Livonians, droll, vivacious, vindictive. Here were Moors, here were Algerians, black African folk, sneering, inimical. Here were Spaniards, with their walk like a horse's lope. Here were French business men, very important. Here were Provencals, cheery, short, tubby, excitable, olive-colored, black-bearded, calling to one another in the langue d'oc of the troubadours, "Te, mon bon! Commoun as? Quezaco?"

And the bustle of the shops and the bustle of cafes, until Shane was forced to go out to the olive-lined roads to the rocky summit of La Garde, and once there, as if drawn by a magnet, Shane would enter the chapel in the fort, where the most renowned Notre Dame of the Mediterranean smiles mawkishly in white olive-wood. After the blinding sun of the Midi, the cool dark chapel was like a dungeon to him, so little could he see anything; but in a while the strange furniture of the place would take form before his eyes: the white statue of the Virgin, the silver tunny-fish, the daubs of sea hazards whence the Virgin had rescued grateful mariners, the rope-ends, the crutches.... And though none might be in the chapel, yet it was full of life, so much did the pathetic ex-votos tell.... And he would come out of the chapel, and again the Midi sun would flash in a shower of gold, and he could see the blue Mediterranean, pricked with minute lateen-sails, and the grayish town beneath him, so old and yet so vital, and the calm harbor, with the forest of spars, and Monte Cristo, white as an egg....

A queer town that, as familiar as a channel marking, teeming as an ant-hill, and when darkness came over it, and he viewed it from the after deck, mystery came, too.... For a while there was a hush, and around the hills gigantic ghosts walked.... One thought of the Phocaeans who had founded it, and to whom the Cannebiere was a rope-walk, where they made the sheets for their ships.... And one thought of Lazarus, who had been raised from among the silent dead and who had come there, so legend read, a gray figure in ceramic garments, standing in the prow of a boat....

One thing Robin More had told him remained in his mind and captured his fancy, and that was that Pontius Pilate had been governor of Marseilles after his office in Judea. And of him Shane would think when the mysterious dusk came on the Midi hills ... Pilate, who had smiled, "What is truth?" and who had turned Christ over to the mob.... A big man, he imagined the Roman to have been, with clever eyes, and a great black beard covering a weak chin.... A man who knew all the subtleties of mind, and had no backbone.... And he could see the Roman, sitting on his villa porch in the dusk with tortured eyes, and fingering his beard with fingers that shook.... Paul was going through Greece and Rome like a flame, and the Pilate wondered.... Could it have been possible?... Ridiculous! a Jewish carpenter! A crazy man!.... And yet.... Could it have been possible.... No! no! no! And yet.... People had seen Him walk on the waves.... But people never knew what they saw, exactly.... No! How foolish!... He raised a man from the dead they said.... And that centurion—what was his name?—his daughter!... No, a stupid Jewish legend.... And yet.... Could it be possible? Could it? Could it?

"Lights! Lights! Do you hear me! Bring lights! Lights!" Pilate would all but scream, panic-stricken in the Midi dusk....

To Shane Campbell Marseilles had been all this for two years while he journeyed from Liverpool for silk and scented soaps—a landmark familiar as the Giant's Causeway, a strange, motley human circus, a veil behind which hid gigantic ghosts.... Until he met La Mielleuse on the road to Aix.

Section 2

For six years now, since the day they had buried his wife in the green divots of Louth, women had been alien to him. It was not that he hated them, not that he was uncomfortable among them; but the thought of close mental or spiritual or physical contact with them put him in a panic, as one might be in a panic at the thought of contact with some Chinaman, or Eskimo. The women of the better class in ports importuned him, but he passed with a grave humorous smile and an unexpected courtesy. His friends' wives or acquaintances could get nothing out of him but a grave answer to any questions they might put, so that they characterized him as a stick. And at home in Ulster, whither he went after occasional voyages, where Robin More still drowsed over his books; where Alan Donn still hunted and fished and golfed, haler at five and fifty than a boy in his early twenties; and where his mother sat and did beautiful broidery, dumbly, inimically, cold as a fish, secretive as a badger, there he would meet the women of the Antrim families, women who knew of the disaster of his marriage, and they would look approvingly at his firm face and smiling, steady eyes, and they would say: "A man, thon! He could be a good friend. You could trust him, a woman could." They were unco good folk, Antrim folk.

For the peasant girls around he had always a laugh and a joke. And for the young girls from school he had always a soft spot in his heart somehow, appreciating them as one appreciates the first primrose or a puppy dog playing on the lawn or the lark in the clear air. There came such a current of beauty and freshness from them.... New from the hand of the Maker.... They were pausing now, as the wind pauses on the tide.... And in a little while the world, the damned world!... And so he treated them with a great gravity, answering their questions on geography, telling them what an estuary was, and what the trade-winds, and how a typhoon came and paused and passed: and how jute and grain and indigo were taken from Calcutta, and of the Hooghly, the most difficult river in the world to navigate, and of the shoal called "James and Mary".... And they listened to him with wide-open, violet eyes....

And there were two women, Leah Fraser, a slight woman with hair smooth and reddish like a gold coin, and eyes that thought and saw back of things, and slender, beautiful hands, and she moved with the dignity of a swan.... And there was Anne MacNeill, who handled a horse as a man would, and was a great archer—she could shoot as far as Alan could drive a golf-ball with a spoon.... Shane could always see her, a Diana on the greensward, leaning forward, listening to hear the smack of the arrow on the target.... And both these women were his good friends, the thought of them filling his mind like sweet lavender.... But when they were each alone with him, and a little silence would come, then panic would fall on him, and he would make an undignified escape from their company proffering any old excuse.... And they would watch him go, with little twisted smiles.... Poor Leah! Poor Anne!

All the love in him, that some sweet, gracious woman should have had, was anesthetized, or it was deflected, perhaps, to the great three-masted schooner he was now owner and master of, a beautiful boat that had been christened the Ulster Lady, and came from the yards at Belfast, taking the water as nobly as a swan. From truck to keelson there was no part of her imperfect; from stem to stern. Barring a little tendency to be cranky before the wind in a seaway, nothing better sailed. Jammed, or on the wind, she was like a hare before the hounds, so quickly did she go. Her slim black body, her white, beautifully set sails—not a strake or an inch of canvas on her that he did not know and love. And more thought was given by him to the proper peaking of a spar and the exact setting of a leech than to the profits of the cargo. It was like having one's own country, and his cabin aboard was like his own castle—the little stateroom with the swinging-lamps, and the compass above the fastened bed, the row of books, the Aberdeen terrier, Duine Uasal, who slept peacefully on the rug, and who would go on deck and sniff the wind like a connoisseur.... And there was a manuscript poem of his father's in the Irish letter, Leaba Luachra, "The Bed of Rushes," which he had discovered and had framed. And there was a prized thing of his boyhood there, a dagger the Young Pretender wore in his stocking, and he in Highland dress, as he swung toward London with pipe and drum. Alan Donn had given it to him, and he after getting it on a visit to Argyll. "Not only is it Charlie's, but it's a nice handy thing, thon!" ... A beautiful piece of work it was, perfectly balanced, keen as a razor, with a handle of the stag's horn.... It was the only weapon Shane had, and about it curled romance and the smoke of dead, royal hopes.... A bonny, homy place that cabin, peaceful as a garden of bees, when the water slipped past the beam. It was like a warm hearth-fire to come down there after a strenuous time on deck while the sou'wester crashed on the Welsh coast. Or in the roll of the Bay of Biscay, after a space watching the swinging fields of stars, to come down there was to drop into a welcoming circle of friends, to throw one's self down and pick up a book, the Laureate's "In Memoriam" or Mr. Thackeray's latest—and to glance from the pages of "Henry Esmond" to Prince Charlie's dagger lying peacefully on the desk.... How near! how near!... And up forward the lookout paced, or leaned over the bows, humming in Gaidhlig:

'S tric me sealtuinn do'n chnoc is airde D'fheac a faic mi fear a bhata An dtig tu andiu no'n dtig tu 'maireach? Is mur dtig tu eader gur truagh mar ta mi!

Will you come to-day or will you come to-morrow? If you never come how piteous for me! Fhir a' bhata, na horo eile! Hi horo, fhir a bhata—

All the nostalgia of the Scottish isles was in the minors of that song.... And it was like a lullaby.... And the wind hummed through the rigging.... And underneath was the flow and throb of the immense circulation of the sea.... And overhead the helmsman rang the ship's bell. Tung-tung, tung-tung, tung-tung, tung. And all was well on board the Ulster Lady. And she was his only sweetheart and delight ... until he met La Mielleuse on the road to Aix....

Section 3

The babble of the Greek merchants in the Cafe Turc at last began to bore him, and hiring a horse and sort of gig he decided to drive to Aix. He had always wished to see the old Provencal capital, but somehow the opportunity had always passed by, or something.... But on this bright September afternoon it seemed such a pity to go back on board ship.... He examined the old white horse with interest.

"Are you sure he'll take me there? You see his—" Shane wanted to say suspensory ligaments, but his French didn't quite go that far—"his legs—"

"But, Monsieur, he has won several races—"

"Well, in that event"—Shane grinned, "K-k-k-k!"

The white horse trotted steadily out the Prado, the Rue de Rome, trotted out in the country, passed Bains de la Mediterranee. A northerdly breeze was out rippling the gulf and giving promise of autumn, and the heavy heat of the Midi had disappeared for the instant. Soon they would be plucking the grapes of Provence. The olive-trees were black on the white road. The white horse trotted on....

There were peasants on the road going into town, and townspeople going out to the country.... And children who insulted one another shrilly.... But the white horse plodded on. On a stretch of level road he passed a pair talking, noting casually that the woman was a lady from her carriage, and from his threatening cringe that the man was a cad. Italian riff-raff of some kind....

"But you are mistaken," the woman was saying. "You are making an error."

The man's reply was low, inaudible.

"But I assure you, you are mistaken."

The white horse plodded on.

"Please, please"—the woman's voice followed Shane, and there was embarrassed fear in it—"please let me pass! You are mistaken."

And then again: "I swear to you ... please ... please!"

The white horse was surprised at a firm pull on his mouth, a crack of the whip, and a turn.... He broke in a lolloping canter.... Shane jumped down....

"Madame, is this man annoying you?"

"Sirvase, Signor—"

But one look at the woman's face was sufficient. Shane turned on the fawning Sicilian with a snarl.

"Get to hell out of here, quick!" The man shuffled off, walked quickly, ran, disappeared....

The great dark eyes had agony in them. Her mouth quivered. Shane knew her knees were shaking as she stood.

"Better get in here. I'll drive you home." He helped her into the trap. "I ought to have held that fellow," he grumbled. "Marseilles? No! Oh, Les Bains! We'll be there in a minute. You're all right now, Madame."

"He mistook me—for—somebody else—" She had a voice deep and sweet as a bell, but there was a tremor in it now—a marked accent of fear, past, but not recovered from.

He was aware of a great vibrant womanhood beside him, as some people are aware of spirits in a room, or a mother is aware of a child. He was aware, though he hardly saw them, though he didn't know he saw them, of the proud Greek beauty of her face, so decisively, so finely chiseled, so that it seemed to soar forward, as a bird soars into the wind; of the firm, dark ellipsis of the eyebrows; of the mouth that quivered, and yet in repose would be something for a master of line and color to draw; the little hands that plucked nervously at the dark silk gown, unquiet as butterflies. Her eyes, he knew, were wide with fear, great black pupils, deep, immensely deep. And he was aware, too, of something within her that vibrated, as a stay aboard ship vibrates in a gusty, angry wind, or as an ill-plucked harpstring will vibrate to and fro, unable to stop.

"I live here, Monsieur."

It was a little white villa, with green jalousies such as the Midi has in thousands. He pulled up, and she was down before he could help her. Her face was quiet now but for the tremor of her eyes.

"Thank you ever so much," she said.

"But this man, Madame. Are you safe? Ought not one to—the police?"

"It was nothing, Monsieur." She laughed, but her voice still quivered. "Some good-for-nothing who took me for some one else, whom he had seen somewhere else, and knew—something—about. Nothing at all, a bagatelle, that might happen to any one. But I thank you so much! You were going somewhere?"

"To Aix, Madame."

"But your horse is lame!"

"So he is, poor old boy! I hadn't noticed."

"Then—adieu, Monsieur. And thanks again."

He drove back to town. "I shall never get to Aix," he thought. "Perhaps I shouldn't go.... Some fate...." At the livery post he got down and examined the horse's fetlock.

"So you won several races, eh?" But the white horse seemed to shake its head. "No! Oh, well, no matter, old codger!" And he stroked the long lugubrious muzzle....

And thus, casually as he would light a match for his cigarette, casually as he would stumble over something, casually as he would pick up a book, he met La Mielleuse on the road to Aix....

Section 4

For days now he had been aware of her presence in Marseilles without thinking of her—aware of her as he was aware of the Hotel de Ville, or of the Consigne, as of the obelisk in the Place Castellane. These things were facts, had their place, and she was a fact. She had become imprinted on his memory as on a sensitive plate. So one dusk on the Prado, as he met her, he was no more surprised than if, in their appointed places he had come across the obelisk or the Consigne or the Hotel de Ville.

She was standing looking out to sea, and the little wind from Africa blew against her, and made her seem poised for flight, like a bird.

And because he saw no reason why he shouldn't and because he was direct and simple as the sea itself, he went to her.

"Are you a sea-captain's wife?"

"No, Monsieur." She seemed to know him without turning. Perhaps she recognized his voice.

"I saw you looking out toward the Pharo. I thought perhaps you were waiting for some one to come home on a ship."

"No," she said slowly. "No. I—I come here some dusks, and look out to sea. There is something. It seems to pull me. The great waters and the blinking lighthouse—I seem to stand out of myself. And miles and miles and miles away there is a new land with a new life where one might go ... and begin.... What is in me seems to struggle to go out there, but it never gets more than an inch or so outside. But even that.... And the wind ... so clean. Are you a sailor?"

"Yes, I am a sailor."

"It is very beautiful and very pure, the sea?"

"Yes, sometimes it is very beautiful. I think it is always beautiful. And it must be pure—I never thought.... It is strong, and sometimes cruel. It heals, and sometimes it is very lonely. One never quite understands. It is so big."

"Yes, so big and strong ... and it heals. One seems, one's self, one's little cares, to be so little."

And they were silent for a while.

"But perhaps I intrude, Madame. Your husband——"

"My husband is dead in Algiers these six years."

"I am sorry."

Everything was hushed, the tideless sea, the silent wind. Behind them, and still about them, hung the strange dusk of Pontius Pilate. Before them blazed Marseilles.

"You are married?"

"I was married."

"Then your wife is—dead?"

"Yes, Madame, she is dead."

"You grieve?"

"No, I do not grieve."

"Did you not love her?"

"I loved some one I thought was she. It wasn't she."

There was another instant's silence as they walked.

"Ah, I think I understand," she said. And they walked into the blaze of the city. She paused for a moment.

"Will you pardon me for asking things like that? I don't usually.... But in the dusk I seem to be another person...."

"No. In the light we are other persons."

"Ah," she smiled understandingly. "You are going to your ship now?"

There was a finality in her voice. It was more an affirmation than a question.

"Madame," Shane said, "will you please let me see you to your door?"

She looked at him for an intense second, and a little cloud of—was it fear?—flitted across her face.

"Madame, there are thieves and villains of all kinds abroad. You have had one experience. Please let me protect you from a possible second."

"If you wish." She smiled. He called a carriage.

In the light she was a different person. Along the sea-shore walking in the dusk, she was a troubled phantom, a thing of beauty, but without flesh, without the trappings of clothes—as if a spirit had been imprisoned in cold white statuary. But now she was a beautiful woman, gravely gay, a woman of the world, not of the great world, perhaps, and not of the half-world—just a woman aware of and experienced in life. And poised.

"You are English?"

"Not English. Irish."

Poised she was, but she was like a player playing a game, and the breaks against her. He knew the smile. He had seen it often on Alan Donn's face, playing in some of the great title matches. Four holes to go, and he must better par. It's all right, the smile said; there's nothing wrong. But in Alan Donn's was the glint of a naked knife, and in this woman's eyes, down deep, veiled, but ill concealed, was appeal.

They stopped at her house. He helped her out.

"Adieu, Monsieur. And again a thousand thanks."

"C'etait un vrai plaisir!"



The cabman looked surprised when ordered to return. He turned and regarded his fare with amazement.

"Quai de la Fraternite," I said.

"Hup, alors!" The cabby shrugged his shoulders. And they trotted ploddingly through the dusk of Pontius Pilate to the burning cloud which was Marseilles....

Section 5

He knew he should meet her again, and where he should meet her, and he did, on the Prado. He knew when. In the Midi dusk. A touch of mistral was out, and the wind blew seaward. She was sitting down, looking toward Africa.

"You oughtn't to come out here alone," he said. "Marseilles is a bad port."

"I know," she said. "I know. But it draws me, this spot. You leave soon?" she asked.

"In a few days."

"But you will be back."

"Yes, I will be back," he told her. "I don't know why, but I think I'd rather die than not see Marseilles again. It is a second home, and yet I know so few people here."

"If one has the temperament, and conditions are—as they should be—Marseilles is wonderful."

"One could be happy here."

"Yes," and she sighed.

The spell of the archaic dusk came on him again; a dusk old as the world. About them brooded the welter of passion and romance that Marseilles is. Once it was a Phocaean village, and hook-nosed Afric folk had stepped through on long, thin feet. And then had come the Greeks, with their broad, clear brows, their gray eyes. And further back the hairy Gauls had crept, snarling like dogs. And Greece died. And came the clash of the Roman legions, ruthless fighting hundreds, who saw, did massive things. And Rome died. And over the sea came the Saracens, their high heads, their hard, bronzed bodies, their scarlet mouths. And they conquered and builded and lived.... And were hurled back.... Years hummed by, and passion died not, or romance, and it was from Marseilles that a battalion had come to Paris gates singing the song that Rouget de Lisle had written in Strasburg:

Allons, enfants de la Patrie, Le jour de gloire est arrive.

And passed that day, and came another, when a handful of grizzled veterans left the gates to join their brothers and meet the exiled emperor.... Passion and romance! Their colors were in Marseilles still.... Over in Anse des Catalans weren't there the remains of the village of the sea-Gipsies, who had come none knew whence?... And along the gulf there were settlements of Saracen blood—les Maures, the Provencals called them ... and the shadow of Pontius Pilate wild-eyed in the dusk....

"It's strange"—her voice came gently to him,—"but I can hear you think."

"And I can feel your silence," he said. "Just feel—you—being silent—"

The wind whipped up, grew shrill, grew cold. She shivered in her thin frock.

"You are becoming cold."

"I am cold."

"Then hadn't you better go home—to your house?"

She rose silently. It seemed to him somehow that she had put herself under his care. She was like some gentle little craft that had anchored humbly under the lee of a great ship. He felt somehow that she was a thing to be protected. He hailed a carriage, and she made no protest—all the time under his lee, so needful of protection. It was a shock when they came into the lights of Marseilles to find a proud, grave woman there and not a shrinking, wide-eyed child.... Her face, poised for flight, like a bird's wing; the beautiful, half-opened mouth, the hands, the little feet in their shoes. She was like some beautiful shy deer. And somewhere hovered disaster, like a familiar spirit.... And yet she was smiling....

At the door he made to bid her good-by.

"Would you—would you care to come in?"

"Why—why, yes." He sent the carriage away.

He followed her up the path to the little villa and with her entered the house. There were no servants to answer the door; she let herself in with a latch-key, but so scrupulously clean was the place, so furnished in its way, that there must have been servants somewhere. The living-room into which she conducted him was spacious and a little bare, though not bare for the Midi—a plain white room, high in the ceiling, with chairs of good line. Here was a big piano, here a fireplace, here a few paintings, colorful landscapes, on the wall. Together they lit candles.

"Back of here is a garden," she said, "where I spend most of the day. And I have a cook"—she smiled—"and a maid who waits on me. And yet I go out to walk on the Prado...."

Shane wasn't surprised. It wasn't home, somehow. The room was like a setting in a play, here light, here shadow.... The paintings, the instrument of music, the chairs, they were not things owned and loved. They were properties.... In the golden candle-light, as she moved, she was like an actress of great restraint. Every step, posture, gesture seemed to have an occult significance. Even her bedroom, away off somewhere, he felt, was not a place where one slept easily and dreamed. It would be like the dressing-room of some woman mummer.... It was all like a play, of which he was seeing a fragment from the wings.... What was it all about? Who was she? And why was his heart a-flutter?

She had taken off her hat, and her hair was coiled close about her exquisite head. White and black, regular, significant, antique—like a cameo of some Greek woman, long dead. She stood by a little table, one hand on it, the other like some butterfly against her gown.... It was like a pose—but unconscious, he knew, utterly unconscious....

"Tell me," she said, "why did you speak to me?"

"I don't know," he said, "I just spoke."

"You weren't"—her words were weighty, picked—"looking for a flirtation with a pretty woman?"

"Why, no. Of course not," he answered. "I never thought—"

"No. No, you didn't." She decided for herself.

She came toward him suddenly in the candle-light. Stood before him.

"Tell me, who are you? What are you?" There was a tragic appeal in her face. "Where do you come from? Where are you going?"

"I don't know." His throat was dry, his heart pounding. "A few days ago I was a contented man, unhappy but contented. And now I don't know."

"And I don't know who I am." Her mouth quivered. "I am two people—three people."

They looked at each other with a sort of agony, as though they had lost something dear to each, and to both of them. They were immensely intimate. He put out his hand....

"Poor ... poor...."

Their hands touched, and there seemed to rush between them, through them, some powerful current; and how it happened he did not know, but they were kissing each other.... He thought with a queer shock, was a woman's mouth so soft, so sweet, so vibrant? He hadn't known. And was he kissing her? And how had it happened? It was impossible!... Or was he dreaming?... Or was he—was he dead?...

She released herself from him for an instant, putting her hands on his shoulders, her eyes looking into his eyes....

"What is your name?"

"Campbell. Shane Campbell."

"Campbell. Shane Campbell. Shane—Shane Campbell. Mine is Claire-Anne—Claire-Anne Godey."

Section 6

It seemed to him as he went to Les Bains that next evening that the world had somehow changed into another dimension, so much clearer the air was, so much brighter the stars.... He had discovered a higher, more rarefied stratum of life, in the dim, keen atmosphere of which things took on incomparable beauty and mystery, so that the water on his left hand, unseen, yet so blue, was not the Gulf of Lyons, but the whole Mediterranean, which washed Genoa and Naples and Sicily, and the little islands of the Greeks, and the barbaric shores of Africa, Morocco, and Algiers; and Gibraltar, where the English were, like an armed sentry in a turret. The ships in the harbor were not ships of commerce, but stately entities, each whispering to each in the shush-shush of water and wind, telling of the voyages they had made, adventurous as sturgeons. Even from the mud-and-rush huts along the sea-shore came the note of brave romance. And the softly singing trees! And in the great amphitheater of the woods no longer the shade of Pontius Pilate gnawed his bitten nails, but more gallant presences were, gray-eyed Greek women, with proud composed faces and eloquent hands, and Saracens calmly awaiting the morrow's battle, and troubadours puzzling keenly for a rime.... They were not colored thoughts, but sentient presences. Spirit and thought had united in him into a being like a bird, leaving the earth, and flying into a realm of ancient forgotten beauty, spirit being the will, and thought the vibrating wing.... How harmonious everything was, the stars, the earth, the sea, the people! How clear it had all become! How one!...

He came to her in her garden where she sat beneath a tree. Around, the cicadas whirred in the speaking trees. Zig-zig-zig-zig. But they were no longer strident. They seemed but a vibration of the high atmosphere in which he was....

"Claire-Anne! Claire-Anne...."

"Yes ... yes, lover...."


She stood up as he took her lovely, pale hands. There was no shame to her glance, nothing but a wonderful frankness, her eyes going to his like brave winged things.

"Claire-Anne, I want to ask you something."

"Yes ... Lover...."

"Claire-Anne, when will you marry me?"

Her hands never quivered, but he was aware that her mouth did, in the high diluted starlight.

"Why do you want to marry me? Is it because ...? Do you feel bound?... or ... just why?"

"I want to be with you, Claire-Anne."

"Then—dearest, does it matter to go before the mayor and arrange about property? And to go before a priest and make promises—to God!... Sit down, lover; sit down with me here, in the dusk, under the tree."

She still clasped both his hands. He might have been talking to some beautiful disembodied spirit, as Pontius Pilate was a poor panic-stricken spirit, or to something he had conjured out of his head, but for her firm, warm hands. To-night it was she had strength....

"Dearest, promises are so easy to make. I have made promises, oh, so many promises!... And life or destiny.... And when you can't keep them, your heart breaks. You know nothing of me—Shane...."

"I don't want to know; I just want you, Claire-Anne!"

"You must know something. I was just a girl, well brought up, well educated.... I dreamed of being a great actress. I was an actress, but I was ... manquee ... didn't succeed, get success.... And then I married, and my husband died.... And here I am.... And there are other things you mustn't know.... Not that they are dear to me; oh, no!... but you must never hear them.... O Shane, if seven years ago.... But Destiny or life wouldn't let us. And now we can only cheat him, and that only for a while.... Because Destiny is all-seeing and jealous and cruel.... Only for a while, a sweet while...."

"But, Claire-Anne, I don't understand—"

"Don't understand, don't, my lover. Don't anything.... Only let me give all I have, can give to you, and let me take what you care to give in return, only that.... O Shane, we are two people in a dark wood, and it is lonely and terrifying.... And we have met, and our hands ... se sont serrees ... gripped and held.... And we aren't lonely any more, or afraid. And you have a picture in your mind of me, a beautiful, warm picture.... But if the night passed, and we came to the meadow-lands.... O Shane, don't let's go into the light—not into the open, not into the light.... Oh, no! no!"

"But, Claire-Anne...."

"Come closer, Shane. The night is empty. There are only we two in the world.... Come close. Closer. Closer still...."

Section 7

He was sitting in her garden one sunset, under the mulberry-tree, and she had gone into the house for a minute, moving with the firm, gracious walk of hers that was like the firm swimming of swans. In the little hush of sunset, and she gone, there came a sudden knowledge to him.... For a space of time, how long he knew not, he was in an Antrim study.... Without, the sun had gone down, and there was the purple, twilight water, and the gentle calling of the cricket.... And within was a gray head that had fallen on a book ... fallen ... fallen as the sun went down.

"Why, Uncle Robin!" he called.

Then came a great gush of tears to his heart and eyes....

She came from the house, as again he became cognizant of the Midi garden instead of the Antrim glen, of the Mediterranean instead of the waters of Moyle. She came down the dusky pathway. At a little distance she saw his face. She stopped short, her face white....

"Shane! Shane! what is wrong? Are you hurt? Ill?"

"My Uncle Robin is dead, Claire-Anne."

She looked at him for a little instant, not quite understanding. She came to him swiftly as a swallow. She sat close beside him. Her arm went through his. Her hands clasped his hands.

"Why didn't you tell me, heart?" she whispered.

"I just knew this instant. I felt, saw.... We were that close ... my Uncle Robin! Beannacht De ar a anam! God's blessing on his soul!"

She never spoke. She never stirred. She hardly breathed. She was just there, her hands, firm and strong, on his, did he want her.

"Was it ... a hard death, Shane?"

"No; I seemed to see him, asleep, among his books."

"His books were his friends ... you told me....

"Yes, dear. His life was with them."

"And he wasn't a young man, your Uncle Robin?"

"Eight and sixty years of age."

"Is it so ill, heart, to go quickly, quietly, with your friends about you, on an autumn afternoon?"

"No, dear, not ill. Very rightly ... I think. But there is something.... Something is gone from the world, like a fine tree from a garden.... And he was awful' dear to me, my Uncle Robin.... It will be a hard thing to go home, and he not there to come and ask: 'Are you all right, laddie? You're no sick?' Claire-Anne, I'll be thinking long...."

She sat with him in silence in the garden, and after a little while got up and went without a word.... And he sat in the garden thinking to himself, had he been lax to Uncle Robin in any way? He might have written oftener. It wasn't fair to have kept the old man worried and he an apprentice at sea. Yes, he could have written, could have written oftener. And thought more. And there were books he might have brought the old man—books from 'Frisco and New York and Naples. The book-stores were so far from the quays, and he had put it off. And he could have so easily.... When one is young, one is so thoughtless.... A message from somewhere ran into his consciousness like a ripple of code-flags: 'It doesn't matter, dear laddie. Don't be taking on. Don't be blaming yourself. You were the dear lad ... and I'm happy....'

Ah, yes, but a great tree was gone from the garden. An actuality had been converted into thought and emotion, and thought and emotion may be all that endure, and an actuality be unreal ... but an actuality is so warm ... so reassuring....

He rose and went toward the house, and as he walked he met her....

"Claire-Anne, do you mind if I go back to the ship?... Somehow, I'm a little lost...."

"There is a carriage waiting for you outside."

For the first time it occurred to him that in this occult experience she had not uttered one jarring note. She had not asked questions, nor had she tried to argue with him, as other women would have, telling him he fancied all this. Nor had she bothered him with vain, unwelcome sentiment. She had just—stood by, as at sea. And how swiftly she had divined his need of privacy, of his own ship!

"There are none like you in this world, Claire-Anne," he told her.

"I am what you make me, Shane—what you need of me." Her hand sought his in the stilly dusk. "Come back only when you are ready dearest ... dearest ... I am here! Always here!"

Section 8

Though she never said so, yet he knew she wanted to go on board the ship that was so much of his life, and one day he had her rowed across to the Ulster Lady. He smiled as he saw how firmly she got on board, though ships were unknown to her. Queer, how she never lost dignity, grace. And it was so easy for a woman to look silly, undignified, getting on board ship. She never disappointed him....

She mused over the sweet line of the schooner, the tapering masts, the snug canvas, the twinkling brass. The wake of a passing paddle-steamer made the boat pitch gently. It was like breathing.

"She is so much a pretty lady," Claire-Anne said. "So much like you, Shane, in a way. She might be a young sister—a young, loved sister. And where is your place on board when she sails?"

He pointed her out the space behind wheel and binnacle.

"Whenever there's any need, I'm there, just there."

"And Shane, great waves like you see in pictures—great enormous waves, does she stand those?"

"Yes, great waves, like you see in pictures, she stands those. Drives through them, and over them, and under them."

"And Solomon said"—she was just thinking aloud—"that he couldn't understand the way of a ship on the sea. And he was immensely wise. Dearest ... it can't be just wood and canvas, a ship ... power and grace and beauty.... It's like great people...."

"They're as different as people are, Claire-Anne."

"Are they, Shane? I knew they weren't ... just things."

He took her below in the dusk of his cabin. She filled the space like some gracious green tree.

"And here is where I live on board ship."

The Aberdeen terrier came forward to greet her, his tail waving gently, his ears up, his brown eyes grave and warm.

"Duine uasal! Duine uasal!" she knelt to him.

"You remember?" He minded he had told her casually of the dog's name.

"Of course I remember! Shane, what does Duine uasal mean?"

"Gentilhomme," he translated.

"He has the eyes," she said.

The framed manuscript of his father's verses caught her eyes, and she looked at him in inquiry.

"What is it?"

"A poem of my father's, in Gaidhlig, Claire-Anne. 'The Bed of Rushes.'"

"How queer the letters are! Slim and graceful, and powerful, too. Would you read it, Shane?"

"Leaba luachra," he read, "a bed of rushes, bhi fum areir, was beneath me last night, agas do chaitheas amach e le banaghadb an lae, and I threw it out with the whitening of day. Thainic mo chead gradh le mo thaobh, my hundred loves came to my side; guala ee qualainn, shoulder to shoulder, agas beal re beal, and mouth to mouth."

"Now I know you better, Shane."

"How, dearest?"

"I know how you come by your—your sense of beauty, Shane. It's from your father. You have it just as he had. But he could say and you can't, Shane. You have it, but it doesn't come out that way. It comes out in the sailing of the ship, Shane. You must sail beautifully. Shane, I should love to see you sail."

With a quick movement she dropped on her knees, and her beautiful dark head on the pillow of his bed.

"Couldn't you take me with you once, Shane, when you sail? Away on just one voyage?"

"Of course I could, dearest, and will."

"Would you, my heart? Would you?" She stood up again, and swift tears came to her eyes.

"I couldn't come," she said.

"But, Claire-Anne—"

"No," she said. She turned her back to him, so that he shouldn't see her face, and her voice vibrated. "No, Shane dear. No. You go to sea and sail your ships, and take care of them in the tempest and coax them in light weather. And go from port to port, watching the strange cities and the peoples, and seeing into them, with ... tes yeux d'enfant ... your eyes of a child.... And have your life, free, big, clean.... And just in a corner ... le plus petit coin ... keep me ... so when you come to Marseilles, you will come up the garden path in the dusk, and call, 'Claire-Anne!'" There was something like a sob from her. "Just say, 'Claire-Anne'...."

She turned around and caught his hands for a minute, looked at him, smiled, laughed.... From his desk she picked up the Young Pretender's dagger.

"What is this for, Shane? Is this yours?"

"Mine now, Claire-Anne; but it was—some one else's once. My Uncle Alan, Alan Donn, gave it to me."


"It belonged once to Charles Edward Stuart, the Young Pretender. He wore it at his knee in '45. Do you remember, Claire-Anne? He landed in Scotland and advanced on England, and got as far as Derby at the head of the Scottish clans and Jacobite gentlemen. 'Black Friday' they called it in London."

"But he never got to London."

"No, he never got to London. Crash and whir of battle, and when the smoke cleared, there were the gallant Highland clansmen scattered, and the sturdy English nobles, and the bonny Irish gentlemen. And a king on the run!"

"And, Shane, what happened to him after that?"

"I think—my history may not be right, but I think he spent the rest of his life a pensioner of the king of France, playing petty politics, drinking, and accepting love from romantic women, and loyalty from the beaten clans."

"What a pity, Shane! What a pity!"

"That he failed, dearest? I don't know."

"Not that he failed, Shane! No! The most gallant fail, nearly always fail, for they take the greatest odds. But that he lived too long, Shane ... the high moment gone...."

She looked at the dagger again that had once snuggled to Prince Tearloch's knee, hefted it, caressed it.

"Shane dearest, why didn't he use his own knife to—set himself free?"

"I don't know."

"I think I know."

She faced him suddenly.

"Shane, why didn't somebody do it for him?"

"I suppose they couldn't see the end, Claire-Anne. They couldn't foresee the king of France's charity, the tricked women, the wine-stained cards. There's many the Scots gentlemen who would have—set him free."

"But they didn't, Shane dearest. It seems—Destiny must always win. Shane, what is that poem in Gaidhlig about the world, the verses you once said?"

"Treasgair an saoghal, agus tigeann an garth mar smal. Alaistir, Caesar, 's an mead do bhi d'a bpairt Ta an Theamhair na fear agas feach an Traoi mar ta— Life goes conquering on. The winds forever blow Alexander, Caesar, and the crash of their fighting men Tara is grass, and see how Troy is low—"

He stopped with a little shock, for her face was a mask of tears.

"Dearest, dearest, it's only an old, sad story. It has nothing to do with us. Claire-Anne—"

"Is any story old, Shane? Is any story ever new? Isn't it always the same story?"

She looked at the dagger for an instant more, and put it down with a little sob.

"Poor gentleman!"

Section 9

From his cabin below he could hear the Belfast mate roaring at the helmsman:

"What kind of steering do you call that? Look at your damned wake. Like an eel's wriggle. Keep her full, and less of your damned luffin'."

"Keep her full, sir!" the steersman repeated.

"Look at your foretopsail! Bouse it, blast ye! Bouse it! You Skye cutthroats!"

If the nor'easter held, Shane calculated, he could run through Biscay full, come into the Mediterranean on a broad reach, and jam her straight at Marseilles. About him was the tremor as she took the head seas. Plunge! Tremble! Dash on! Overhead the squeaking of the sheets, the squeal of blocks, the thrap-thrap-thrap of the lee halyards, the melancholy whining of the gulls. With luck he would be in Marseilles within the week. And if the wind swung westward after he left Gibraltar to port, he would nip off hours, a day even. And every hour counted until the moment he went up the dusky path and called, "Claire-Anne!"

He had never before driven the Ulster Lady as he was driving her now. Before, he had been content to get what he could out of her, coaxing her, nursing her, as a trainer does a horse he is fond of; but now he was riding her like a jockey intent on winning a race. On deck the crew wondered what had got into the old man, as they called him, for all his twenty-eight years.

"Before, he was a sailor," the isles crew complained. "Is he now a merchant at last? A Righ is truagh! O King, the pity!"

But it was not interest in cargoes that compelled him; it was the thought of a face like the wing of a bird, ready to soar. The dark, gracious face, with the eyes where emotion swirled like a mill-race, the parted ruddy lips-La Mielleuse—mouth of honey. And the word he must not say aloud, like some occult word of magic until a certain moment should come:

"Claire-Anne!" Just "Claire-Anne!"

Before he had left Marseilles he had not been able to think of her, to weigh what happened, to understand. Things were too close. But at sea, and in the dusk of the Antrim glen, and in Belfast and Liverpool, he had had time to view the incident in perspective; to stand aside, as one stands back from a picture, and appreciate the color, the line, the truth; to see that that rich purple, that splash of orange, that rippling, rich silver-gray are not spots like flowers, but a definite design....

In Antrim he had remembered Dancing Town, the vision of Fiddlers' Green. Fourteen years before!

And now that he remembered, it seemed to him foolish not to have known he was sailing somewhere. He was always sailing.... And unexpectedly, after he had given up all hope, under his lee bow had risen suddenly Fiddlers' Green.... Once before he thought he had made port there, but that only made this island the true one.... For there were always two things, and the second was right.... False dawn and dawn; the False Cape and Cape Horn; the Southern Crosses, the false and true....

And he would tell her this, when he met her again, of how he had been thinking, and discovered her to be the true life....

The wife he had married and buried seven years before he thought of now; she was the second woman he had known, his mother the first. And from the cold precipice of his mother he had fled into the flinty fields of Moyra Dolan.... He felt a little sorry for the boy he was seven years before—so young, so gallant, so wrong.... He had thought that all there was in life was a home to return to, a wife, children.... He had wanted an acre of land in the sun, where all the world was his. When one was young, one knew so little.... Wisdom came with the lapping of the waves, and years of quiet thinking under the gigantic stars.... A plot of land he had wanted then, and now he had the stars, they belonging more to him than to the astrologers who conned them, the fields, more than to the tillers who cultivated them, the sea than to the fishermen who trawled.... He was one with everything, understanding everything, its immense harmony.... From hard earth and wet sea he had arisen on swift, dark pinions until he had been one with the spirit that infused all earth and sea and sky holding the multitudinous atoms in One with immense will and scheme.... And it was she who had given them to him—Claire-Anne ... the wings of the morning.... The flutter of her white hands ... the eyes that looked and drooped, looked, drooped ... the little catch in her breath....

His life opened before him now, like a fair seaway. About his appointed tasks he would go in his appointed life ... sailing ships with needed cargoes ... a despatch messenger for the peoples of the world over the vast solitudes of sea ... doing his work well and willingly ... and asking no reward but that the bird of dusk, the mouth of honey, be his to love and be loved by ... to melt with and be one in occult alchemy of soul and mind and body ... to get strength and knowledge, and the understanding which is more than strength and knowledge....

He was twenty-eight, she was twenty-five. There were twenty years before them still, twenty years of love and understanding, and then a strange happy twilight, like the dusk of Antrim, that gives way hardly to the short night.... Some day she would marry him and come to his house ... some day when something that was wrong in her heart was righted and forgotten, something he had no wish to intrude upon, so closely did she conceal it.... There was a locked, haunted room in her heart ... poor heart!... but one day the presence would be exercised, and the room swept and garnished.... Some day she would marry him, and he would bring her home to Ulster.... And who better than she could understand the springy heather and the blue smoke-reek, the crickets of the evening and the curlew's call? And in the house where his mother was cold and arrogant, would be a warm and gracious lady ... Claire-Anne!...

God! he was thinking long to be in Marseilles again, to go up the dusky path, to call, "Claire-Anne!"

The big Belfast mate larruped down the short companionway.

"How's she doing, Mr. McKinstry?"

"She's doing fine, sir. If I may say so, there's not a better boat sails the water, not the Sovereign of the Seas itself. Nor a better crew to handle things, not on board the king's yacht."

"Nor a better mate, Mr. McKinstry."

"Ah, well, sir; we do wir best."

He tumbled on deck again, and Shane could hear him roar from amidships:

"Lay forward, a couple of you damned farmers, and see if you can't get more out of those jibs. Faster! faster! You're as slow as the grace of God at a miser's funeral.... If I only had a crew...."

Section 10

She stopped in her swift flight to him through the dusk of the Midi garden.

"Dearest, why is your face so white? Your hands bruised?"

"The consul said something to me—about you—and I knocked him down."

"Oh!" she said, a shocked little cry, and: "Oh!" a drawn-out wail of pain. "Why did you strike him?"

"Because he lied about you."

Her face was turned from him, in the dusk of the crickets, toward the wooded amphitheater, where dead Pontius roved wild-eyed in the dusk, where Lazarus tossed uneasily in his second sleep, where the Greeks lay in alien soil, and the shadows of Roman legionaries looked puzzled at the flat sea, not recognizing busy Tiber—her back was to him, her head up in pain, her nerve-wrenched hands uneasy, white....

"He didn't lie," she said at last. "Oh, you'd have known it sooner or later. No! no! He didn't lie."


"He didn't lie. I was just a fool to think—oh, well, he didn't lie. No, no!" she repeated. "He didn't lie." She threw out a hand hopelessly. "He didn't lie."

He went up to her in the dusk, put his hands gently on her shoulders. The quivering frame became still suddenly, with a greater nervousness. She was like a deer ready to bound away....

"I don't see what I could have done, Claire-Anne. But—can I do anything now?"

She turned toward him suddenly. Her face was a mask of pain—and surprise.

"Then you haven't grown cold to me, unmerciful, ... or gross?"

"Why, no, Claire-Anne!"

"And you know."

"I—know, but I don't understand...."

She gave a queer, little shuddering cry, half laugh, half sob. She moved over to the seat by the whispering mulberry-tree, and dropped in it, her hands covering her face.

"All the wrong," she said, "that people call wrong I've done I didn't mind. But the one decent thing—of loving you—that's kept me awake all the time you were away. It's been like a sin, letting you love me. The rest was destiny, but this one thing was—I."

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5     Next Part
Home - Random Browse