But now I was about to kill Martin Conrad as well as Mary O'Neill, by breaking the pledge (sacred as any sacrament) which they had made for life and for eternity.
Could I do that? In this hideous way too? Never! Never! Never! I should die in the streets first.
I remember that I was making a movement to go back to Ilford (God knows how), when, on the top of all my brave thinking, came the pitiful thought of my child. My poor helpless little baby, who had made no promise and was party to no pledge. She needed nourishment and fresh air and sunshine, and if she could not get them—if I went back to her penniless—she would die!
My sweet darling! My Isabel, my only treasure! Martin's child and mine!
That put a quick end to all my qualms. Again I bit my lip until it bled, and told myself that I should speak to the Very next man who came along.
"Yes, the very next man who comes along," I thought.
I was standing at that moment in the shadow of one of the pilasters of the loggia, almost leaning against it, and in the silence of the street I heard distinctly the sharp firm step of somebody coming my way.
It was a man. As he came near me he slowed down, and stopped. He was then immediately behind me. I heard his quick breathing. I felt that his eyes were fixed on me. One sidelong glance told me that he was wearing a long ulster and a cap, that he was young, tall, powerfully built, had a strong, firm, clean-shaven face, and an indescribable sense of the open air about him.
"Now, now!" I thought, and (to prevent myself from running away) I turned quickly round to him and tried to speak.
But I said nothing. I did not know what women say to men under such circumstances. I found myself trembling violently, and before I was aware of what was happening I had burst into tears.
Then came another blinding moment and a tempest of conflicting feelings.
I felt that the man had laid hold of me, that his strong hands were grasping my arms, and that he was looking into my face. I heard his voice. It seemed to belong to no waking moment but to come out of the hours of sleep.
I looked up at him, but before my eyes could carry the news to my brain I knew who it was—I knew, I knew, I knew!
"Don't be afraid! It's I!"
Then something—God knows what—made me struggle to escape, and I cried:
"Let me go!"
But even while I was struggling—trying to fly away from my greatest happiness—I was praying with all my might that the strong arms would hold me, conquer me, master me.
They did. And then something seemed to give way within my head, and through a roaring that came into my brain I heard the voice again, and it was saying:
"Quick, Sister, call a cab. Open the door, O'Sullivan. No, leave her to me. I've got her, thank God!"
And then blinding darkness fell over me and everything was blotted out.
But only a moment afterwards (or what seemed to be a moment) memory came back in a great swelling wave of joy. Though I did not open my eyes I knew that I was safe and baby was safe, and all was well. Somebody—it was the same beloved voice again—was saying:
"Mally! My Mally! My poor, long-suffering darling! My own again, God bless her!"
It was he, it was Martin, my Martin. And, oh Mother of my Lord, he was carrying me upstairs in his arms.
I AM FOUND
ONE HUNDRED AND SIXTH CHAPTER
My return to consciousness was a painful, yet joyful experience. It was almost like being flung in a frail boat out of a tempestuous sea into a quiet harbour.
I seemed to hear myself saying, "My child shall not die. Poverty shall not kill her. I am going to take her into the country . . . she will recover. . . . No, no, it is not Martin. Martin is dead. . . . But his eyes . . . don't you see his eyes. . . . Let me go."
Then all the confused sense of nightmare seemed to be carried away as by some mighty torrent, and there came a great calm, a kind of morning sweetness, with the sun shining through my closed eyelids, and not a sound in my ears but the thin carolling of a bird.
When I opened my eyes I was in bed in a room that was strange to me. It was a little like the Reverend Mother's room in Rome, having pictures of the Saints on the walls, and a large figure of the Sacred Heart over the mantelpiece; but there was a small gas fire, and a canary singing in a gilded cage that hung in front of the window.
I was trying to collect my senses in order to realize where I was when Sister Mildred's kind face, in her white wimple and gorget, leaned over me, and she said, with a tender smile, "You are awake now, my child?"
Then memory came rushing back, and though the immediate past was still like a stormy dream I seemed to remember everything.
"Is it true that I saw. . . ."
"Yes," said Mildred.
"Then he was not shipwrecked?"
"That was a false report. Within a month or two the newspapers had contradicted it."
"Where is he?" I asked, rising from my pillow.
"Hush! Lie quiet. You are not to excite yourself. I must call the doctor."
Mildred was about to leave the room, but I could not let her go.
"Wait! I must ask you something more."
"Not now, my child. Lie down."
"But I must. Dear Sister, I must. There is somebody else."
"You mean the baby," said Mildred, in a low voice.
"She has been found, and taken to the country, and is getting better rapidly. So lie down, and be quiet," said Mildred, and with a long breath of happiness I obeyed.
A moment afterwards I heard her speaking to somebody over the telephone (saying I had recovered consciousness and was almost myself again), and then some indistinct words came hack in the thick telephone voice like that of a dumb man shouting down a tunnel, followed by sepulchral peals of merry laughter.
"The doctor will be here presently," said Mildred, returning to me with a shining face.
"And . . . he?"
"Yes, perhaps he will be permitted to come, too."
She was telling me how baby had been discovered—by means of Mrs. Oliver's letter which had been found in my pocket—when there was the whirr of an electric bell in the corridor outside, followed (as soon as Mildred could reach the door) by the rich roll of an Irish voice.
It was Dr. O'Sullivan, and in a moment he was standing by my bed, his face ablaze with smiles.
"By the Saints of heaven, this is good, though," he said. "It's worth a hundred dozen she is already of the woman we brought here first."
"That was last night, wasn't it?" I asked.
"Well, not last night exactly," he answered. And then I gathered that I had been ill, seriously ill, being two days unconscious, and that Martin had been in a state of the greatest anxiety.
"He's coming, isn't he?" I said. "Will he be here soon? How does he look? Is he well? Did he finish his work?"
"Now, now, now," said the doctor, with uplifted hands. "If it's exciting yourself like this you're going to be, it isn't myself that will he taking the risk of letting him come at all."
But after I had pleaded and prayed and promised to be good he consented to allow Martin to see me, and then it was as much as I could do not to throw my arms about his neck and kiss him.
I had not noticed what Mildred was doing during this time, and almost before I was aware of it somebody else had entered the room.
It was dear old Father Dan.
"Glory be to God!" he cried at sight of me, and then he said:
"Don't worry, my daughter, now don't worry,"—with that nervous emphasis which I knew by long experience to be the surest sign of my dear Father's own perturbation.
I did not know then, or indeed until long afterwards, that for six months past he had been tramping the streets of London in search of me (day after day, and in the dark of the night and the cold of the morning); but something in his tender old face, which was seamed and worn, so touched me with the memory of the last scene in my mother's room that my eyes began to overflow, and seeing this he began to laugh and let loose his Irish tongue on us.
"My blissing on you, doctor! It's the mighty proud man ye'll be entoirely to be saving the life of the swatest woman in the world. And whisha, Sister, if ye have a nip of something neat anywhere handy, faith it isn't my cloth will prevent me from drinking the health of everybody."
If this was intended to cheer me up it failed completely, for the next thing I knew was that the doctor was bustling the dear old Father out of the room, and that Mildred was going out after him.
She left the door open, though, and as soon as I had calmed down a little I listened intently for every sound outside.
It was then that I heard the whirr of the electric bell again, but more softly this time, and followed by breathless whispered words in the corridor (as of some one who had been running) and once more . . . I knew, I knew, I knew!
After a moment Mildred came to ask me in a whisper if I was quite sure that I could control myself, and though my heart was thumping against my breast, I answered Yes.
Then I called for a hand-glass and made my hair a shade neater, and after that I closed my eyes (God knows why) and waited.
There was a moment of silence, dead silence, and then—then I opened my eyes and saw him standing in the open doorway.
His big, strong, bronzed face—stronger than ever now, and marked with a certain change from the struggles he had gone through—was utterly broken up. For some moments he did not speak, but I could see that he saw the change that life had made in me also. Then in a low voice, so low that it was like the breath of his soul, he said:
"Forgive me! Forgive me!"
And stepping forward he dropped to his knees by the side of my bed, and kissed the arms and hands I was stretching out to him.
That was more than I could bear, and the next thing I heard was my darling's great voice crying:
"Sister! Sister! Some brandy! Quick! She has fainted."
But my poor little fit of hysterics was soon at an end, and though Martin was not permitted to stay more than a moment longer, a mighty wave of happiness flowed over me, such as I had never known before and may never know again.
ONE HUNDRED AND SEVENTH CHAPTER
I had such a beautiful convalescence. For the major operations of the Great Surgeon an anaesthetic has not yet been found, but within a week I was sitting up again, mutilated, perhaps, but gloriously alive and without the whisper of a cry.
By this time Father Dan had gone back to Ellan (parting from me with a solemn face as he said, "Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace"), and Sister Mildred had obtained permission to give up one of her rooms to me as long as I should need it.
Martin came to see me every day, first for five minutes, then ten, and finally for a quarter and even half an hour. He brought such an atmosphere of health with him, that merely to hold his hand seemed to give me new strength—being so pale and bloodless now that I thought the sun might have shone through me as through a sea-gull.
I could scarcely believe it was not a dream that he was sitting by my side, and sometimes I felt as if I had to touch him to make sure he was there.
How he talked to keep up my spirits! It was nearly always about his expedition (never about me or my experiences, for that seemed a dark scene from which he would not draw the curtain), and I was all a-tremble as I listened to the story of his hair-breadth escapes, though he laughed and made so light of them.
It nearly broke my heart that he had not got down to the Pole; and when he told me that it was the sense of my voice calling to him which had brought him back from the 88th latitude, I felt as if I had been a coward, unworthy of the man who loved me.
Sometimes he talked about baby—he called her "Girlie"—telling a funny story of how he had carried her off from Ilford, where the bricklayer had suddenly conceived such a surprising affection for my child ("what he might go so far as to call a fatherly feeling") that he had been unwilling to part with her until soothed down by a few sovereigns—not to say frightened by a grasp of Martin's iron hand which had nearly broken his wrist.
"She's as right as a trivet now, though," said Martin, "and I'll run down to Chevening every other day to see how she's getting on."
My darling was in great demand from the first, but when he could not be with me in the flesh he was with me in the spirit, by means of the newspapers which Mildred brought up in armfuls.
I liked the illustrated ones best, with their pictures of scenes in the Expedition, particularly the portraits of Martin himself in his Antarctic outfit, with his broad throat, determined lips, clear eyes, and that general resemblance to the people we all know which makes us feel that the great men of every age are brothers of one family.
But what literary tributes there were, too! What interviews, what articles! A member of the scientific staff had said that "down there," with Nature in her wrath, where science was nothing and even physical strength was not all, only one thing really counted, and that was the heroic soul, and because Martin had it, he had always been the born leader of them all.
And then, summing up the tangible gains of the Expedition, the Times said its real value was moral and spiritual, because it showed that in an age when one half of the world seemed to be thinking of nothing but the acquisition of wealth (that made me think of my father) and the other half of nothing but the pursuit of pleasure (that reminded me of my husband and Alma), there could be found men like Martin Conrad and his dauntless comrades who had faced death for the sake of an ideal and were ready to do so again.
Oh dear! what showers of tears I shed over those newspapers! But the personal honours that were bestowed on Martin touched me most of all.
First, the Royal Geographical Society held a meeting at the Albert Hall, where the Gold Medal was presented to him. I was in a fever of anxiety on the night of that function, I remember, until Dr. O'Sullivan (heaven bless, him!) came flying upstairs, to tell me that it had been a "splendid success," and Martin's speech (he hadn't prepared a word of it) "a perfect triumph."
Then some of the Universities conferred degrees on my darling, which was a source of inexpressible amusement to him, especially when (after coming back from Edinburgh) he marched up and down my room in his Doctor's cap and gown, and I asked him to spell "promise" and he couldn't.
Oh, the joy of it all! It was so great a joy that at length it became a pain.
The climax came when the Home Secretary wrote to say that the King had been graciously pleased to confer a Knighthood upon Martin, in recognition of his splendid courage and the substantial contribution he had already made to the material welfare of the world.
That frightened me terribly, though only a woman would know why. It was one thing to share the honours of the man I loved (however secretly and as it were by stealth), but quite another thing to feel that they were carrying him away from me, drawing him off, lifting him up, and leaving me far below.
When the sense of this became acute I used to sit at night, when Mildred was out at her work, by the lofty window of her room, looking down on the precincts of Piccadilly, and wondering how much my darling really knew about the impulse that took me there, and how nearly (but for the grace of God) its awful vortex had swallowed me up.
It was then that I began to write these notes (having persuaded Mildred to buy me this big book with its silver clasp and key), not intending at first to tell the whole story of my life, but only to explain to him for whom everything has been written (what I could not bring myself to say face to face), how it came to pass that I was tempted to that sin which is the most awful crime against her sex that a woman can commit.
Three months had gone by this time, the spring was coming and I was beginning to feel that Martin (who had not yet been home) was being kept in London on my account, when Dr. O'Sullivan announced that I was well enough to be moved, and that a little of my native air would do me good.
Oh, the thrill that came with that prospect! I suppose there is a sort of call to one's heart from the soil that gave one birth, but in my case it was coupled with a chilling thought of the poor welcome I should receive there, my father's house being closed to me and my husband's abandoned for ever.
The very next morning, however, there came a letter from Father Dan, giving me all the news of Ellan: some of it sad enough, God knows (about the downfall of my father's financial schemes); some of it deliciously wicked, such as it would have required an angel not to rejoice in (about the bad odour in which Alma and my husband were now held, making the pendulum of popular feeling swing back in my direction); and some of it utterly heart-breaking in its assurances of the love still felt for me in my native place.
Of course the sweetest part of that came from Christian Ann, who, after a stiff fight with her moral principles, had said that whatever I had done I was as "pure as the mountain turf," and, who then charged Father Dan with the message that "Mary O'Neill's little room" was waiting for her still.
This settled everything—everything except one thing, and that was the greatest thing of all. But when Martin came later the same day, having received the same message, and declared his intention of taking me home, there seemed to be nothing left to wish for in earth or heaven.
Nevertheless I shouldn't have been a woman If I had not coquetted with my great happiness, so when Martin had finished I said:
"But dare you?"
"Dare I—what?" said Martin.
"Dare you go home . . . with me?"
I knew what I wanted him to say, and he said it like a darling.
"Look here, Mary, I'm just spoiling for a sight of the little island, and the old people are destroyed at not seeing me; but if I can't go back with you, by the Lord God! I'll never go back at all."
I wanted to see baby before going away, but that was forbidden me.
"Wait until you're well enough, and we'll send her after you," said Dr. O'Sullivan.
So the end of it all was that inside a week I was on my way to Ellan, not only with Martin, but also with Mildred, who, being a little out of health herself, had been permitted to take me home.
Shall I ever forget our arrival at Blackwater! The steamer we sailed in was streaming with flags from stem to stern, and as she slid up the harbour the dense crowds that packed the pier from end to end seemed frantic with excitement. Such shouting and cheering! Such waving of hats and handkerchiefs!
There was a sensible pause, I thought, a sort of hush, when the gangway being run down, Martin was seen to give his arm to me, and I was recognised as the lost and dishonoured one.
But even that only lasted for a moment, it was almost as if the people felt that this act of Martin's was of a piece with the sacred courage that had carried him down near to the Pole, for hardly had he brought me ashore, and put me into the automobile waiting to take us away, when the cheering broke out into almost delirious tumult.
I knew it was all for Martin, but not even the humility of my position, and the sense of my being an added cause of my darling's glory, could make me otherwise than proud and happy.
We drove home, with the sunset in our faces, over the mountain road which I had crossed with my husband on the day of my marriage; and when we came to our own village I could not help seeing that a little—just a little—of the welcome waiting for us was meant for me.
Father Dan was there. He got into the car and sat by my side; and then some of the village women, who had smartened themselves up in their Sunday clothes, reached over and shook hands with me, speaking about things I had said and done as a child and had long forgotten.
We had to go at a walking pace the rest of the way, and while Martin saluted old friends (he remembered everybody by name) Father Dan talked in my ear about the "domestic earthquake" that had been going on at Sunny Lodge, everything topsy-turvy until to-day, the little room being made ready for me, and the best bedroom (the doctor's and Christian Ann's) for Martin, and the "loft" over the dairy for the old people themselves—as if their beloved son had been good in not forgetting them, and had condescended in coming home.
"Is it true?" they had asked each other. "Is he really, really coming?" "What does he like to eat, mother?" "What does he drink?" "What does he smoke?"
I had to close my eyes as I came near the gate of my father's house, and, except for the rumbling of the river under the bridge and the cawing of the rooks in the elms, I should not have known when we were there.
The old doctor (his face overflowing with happiness, and his close-cropped white head bare, as if he had torn out of the house at the toot of our horn) met us as we turned into the lane, and for the little that was left of our journey he walked blithely as a boy by the car, at the side on which Martin sat.
I reached forward to catch the first sight of Sunny Lodge, and there it was behind its fuchsia hedge, which was just breaking into bloom.
There was Christian Ann, too, at the gate in her sunbonnet; and before the automobile had come to a stand Martin was out of it and had her in his arms.
I knew what that meant to the dear sweet woman, and for a moment my spirits failed me, because it flashed upon my mind that perhaps her heart had only warmed to me for the sake of her son.
But just as I was stepping out of the car, feeling physically weak and slipping a little, though Father Dan and Sister Mildred were helping me to alight, my Martin's mother rushed at me and gathered me in her arms, crying:
"Goodness gracious me, doctor—if it isn't little Mary O'Neill, God bless her!"—just as she did in the old, old days when I came as a child "singing carvals to her door."
ONE HUNDRED AND EIGHTH CHAPTER
When I awoke next morning in "Mary O'Neill's little room," with its odour of clean white linen and sweet-smelling scraas, the sun was shining in at the half-open window, birds were singing, cattle were lowing, young lambs were bleating, a crow was cawing its way across the sky, and under the sounds of the land there was a far-off murmur of the sea.
Through the floor (unceiled beneath) I could hear the Doctor and Christian Ann chortling away in low tones like two cheerful old love-birds; and when I got up and looked out I saw the pink and white blossom of the apple and plum trees, and smelt the smoke of burning peat from the chimney, as well as the salt of the sea-weed from the shore.
Sister Mildred came to help me to dress, and when I went downstairs to the sweet kitchen-parlour, feeling so strong and fresh, Christian Ann, who was tossing an oat-cake she was baking on the griddle, cried to me, as to a child:
"Come your ways, villish; you know the house."
And when I stepped over the rag-work hearthrug and sat in the "elbow-chair" in the chiollagh, under the silver bowls that stood on the high mantelpiece, she cried again, as if addressing the universe in general, for there was nobody else in the room:
"Look at that now! She's been out in the big world, and seen great wonders, and a power of people I'll go bail, but there she is, as nice and comfortable as if she had never been away!"
Sister Mildred came down next; and then the old doctor, who had been watching the road for Martin (he had refused to occupy the old people's bedroom after all and had put up at the "Plough"), came in, saying:
"The boy's late, mother—what's doing on him, I wonder?"
We waited awhile longer, and then sat down to breakfast. Oh, the homely beauty of that morning meal, with its porridge, its milk, its honey and cakes, its butter like gold, and its eggs like cream!
In spite of Sister Mildred's protests Christian Ann stood and served, and I will not say that for me there was not a startling delight in being waited upon once more, being asked what I would like, and getting it, giving orders and being obeyed—me, me, me!
At length in the exercise of my authority I insisted on Christian Ann sitting down too, which she did, though she didn't eat, but went on talking in her dear, simple, delicious way.
It was always about Martin, and the best of it was about her beautiful faith that he was still alive when the report came that he had been lost at sea.
What? Her son dying like that, and she old and the sun going down on her? Never! Newspapers? Chut, who cared what people put in the papers? If Martin had really been lost, wouldn't she have known it—having borne him on her bosom ("a middling hard birth, too"), and being the first to hear his living voice in the world?
So while people thought she was growing "weak in her intellects," she had clung to the belief that her beloved son would come back to her. And behold! one dark night in winter, when she was sitting in the chiollagh alone, and the wind was loud in the trees, and the doctor upstairs was calling on her to come to bed ("you're wearing yourself away, woman"), she heard a sneck of the garden gate and a step on the gravel path, and it was old Tommy the Mate, who without waiting for her to open the door let a great yell out of him through the window that a "talegraf" had come to say her boy was safe.
Father Dan looked in after mass, in his biretta and faded cassock (the same, I do declare, that he had worn when I was a child), and then Martin himself came swinging up, with his big voice, like a shout from the quarter-deck.
"Helloa! Stunning morning, isn't it?"
It was perfectly delightful to see the way he treated his mother, though there was not too much reverence in his teasing, and hardly more love than license.
When she told him to sit down if he had not forgotten the house, and said she hoped he had finished looking for South Poles and was ready to settle quietly at home, and he answered No, he would have to go back to London presently, she cried:
"There now, doctor? What was I telling you? Once they've been away, it's witched they are—longing and longing to go back again. What's there in London that's wanting him?"
Whereupon the doctor (thinking of the knighthood), with a proud lift of his old head and a wink at Father Dan, said:
"Who knows? Perhaps it's the King that's wanting him, woman."
"The King?" cried Christian Ann. "He's got a bonny son of his own, they're telling me, so what for should he be wanting mine?"
"Mary," said. Martin, as soon as he could speak for laughing, "do you want a mother? I've got one to sell, and I wouldn't trust but I might give her away."
"Cuff him, Mrs. Conrad," cried Father Dan. "Cuff him, the young rascal! He may be a big man in the great world over the water, but he mustn't come here expecting his mother and his old priest to worship him."
How we laughed! I laughed until I cried, not knowing which I was doing most, but feeling as if I had never had an ache or a care in all my life before.
Breakfast being over, the men going into the garden to smoke, and Sister Mildred insisting on clearing the table, Christian Ann took up her knitting, sat by my side, and told me the "newses" of home—sad news, most of it, about my father, God pity him, and how his great schemes for "galvanising the old island into life" had gone down to failure and fatuity, sending some to the asylum and some to the graveyard, and certain of the managers of corporations and banks to gaol.
My father himself had escaped prosecution; but he was supposed to be a ruined man, dying of cancer, and had gone to live in his mother's old cottage on the curragh, with only Nessy MacLeod to care for him—having left the Big House to Aunt Bridget and cousin Betsy, who declared (so I gathered or guessed) that I had disgraced their name and should never look on their faces again.
"But dear heart alive, that won't cut much ice, will it?" said Christian Ann, catching a word of Martin's.
Later in the day, being alone with the old doctor. I heard something of my husband also—that he had applied (according to the laws of Ellan) for an Act of Divorce, and that our insular legislature was likely to grant it.
Still later, having walked out into the garden, where the bluebells were in bloom, I, too, heard the sneck of the gate, and it was old Tommy again, who (having been up to the "Plough" to "put a sight on himself") had come round to welcome me as well—a little older, a little feebler, "tacking a bit," as he said, with "romps in his fetlock joints," but feeling "well tremenjus."
He had brought the "full of his coat-pockets" of lobsters and crabs for me ("wonderful good for invalids, missie") and the "full of his mouth" of the doings at Castle Raa, which he had left immediately after myself—Price also, neither of them being willing to stay with a master who had "the rough word" for everybody, and a "misthress" who had "the black curse on her" that would "carry her naked sowl to hell."
"I wouldn't be gardener there, after the lil missie had gone . . . no, not for the Bank of Ellan and it full of goold."
What a happy, happy day that was! There was many another day like it, too, during the sweet time following, when spring was smiling once more upon earth and man, and body and soul in myself were undergoing a resurrection no less marvellous.
After three or four weeks I had so far recovered as to be able to take walks with Martin—through the leafy lanes with the golden gorse on the high turf hedges and its nutty odour in the air, as far, sometimes, as to the shore, where we talked about "asploring" or perhaps (without speaking at all) looked into each other's eyes and laughed.
There was really only one limitation to my happiness, separation from my child, and though I was conscious of something anomalous in my own position which the presence of my baby would make acute (setting all the evil tongues awag), I could not help it if, as I grew stronger, I yearned for my little treasure.
The end of it was that, after many timid efforts, I took courage and asked Martin if I might have my precious darling back.
"Girlie?" he cried. "Certainly you may. You are well enough now, so why shouldn't you? I'm going to London on Exploration business soon, and I'll bring her home with me."
But when he was gone (Mildred went with him) I was still confronted by one cause of anxiety—Christian Ann. I could not even be sure she knew of the existence of my child, still less that Martin intended to fetch her.
So once more I took my heart in both hands, and while we sat together in the garden, with the sunlight pouring through the trees, Christian Ann knitting and I pretending to read, I told her all.
She knew everything already, the dear old thing, and had only been waiting for me to speak. After dropping a good many stitches she said:
"The world will talk, and dear heart knows what Father Dan himself will say. But blood's thicker than water even if it's holy water, and she's my own child's child, God bless her!"
After that we had such delicious times together, preparing for the little stranger who was to come—cutting up blankets and sheets, and smuggling down from the "loft" to "Mary O'Neill's room" the wooden cradle which had once been Martin's, and covering it with bows and ribbons.
We kept the old doctor in the dark (pretended we did) and when he wondered "what all the fuss was about," and if "the island expected a visit from the Queen," we told him (Christian Ann did) to "ask us no questions and we'd tell no lies."
What children we were, we two mothers, the old one and the young one! I used to hint, with an air of great mystery, that my baby had "somebody's eyes," and then the dear simple old thing would say:
"Somebody's eyes, has she? Well, well! Think of that, now!"
But Christian Ann, from the lofty eminence of the motherhood of one child twenty-five years before, was my general guide and counsellor, answering all my foolish questions when I counted up baby's age (eleven months now) and wondered if she could walk and talk by this time, how many of her little teeth should have come and whether she could remember me.
As the time approached for Martin's return our childishness increased, and on the last day of all we carried on such a game together as must have made the very Saints themselves look down on us and laugh.
Before I opened my eyes in the morning I was saying to myself, "Now they're on their way to Euston," and every time I heard the clock strike I was thinking, "Now they're in the train," or "Now they're at Liverpool," or "Now they're on the steamer"; but all the while I sang "Sally" and other nonsense, and pretended to be as happy as the day was long.
Christian Ann was even more excited than myself; and though she was always reproving me for my nervousness and telling me to be composed, I saw her put the kettle instead of the tea-pot on to the tablecloth, and the porridge-stick into the fire in place of the tongs.
Towards evening, when Martin was due, I had reduced myself to such a state of weakness that Christian Ann wanted to put me to bed; but sitting down in the chiollagh, and watching the road from the imprisonment of the "elbow-chair," I saw at last the two big white eyes of the automobile wheeling round in the dusk by the gate of my father's house.
A few minutes afterwards Martin came sweeping into the kitchen with a nice-looking nurse behind him, carrying my darling at her breast.
She was asleep, but the light of the fire soon wakened her, and then a strange thing happened.
I had risen from my seat, and Christian Ann had come hurrying up, and we two women were standing about baby, both ready to clutch at her, when she blinked her blue eyes and looked at us, and then held out her arms to her grandmother!
That nearly broke my heart for a moment (though now I thank the Lord for it), but it raised Christian Ann into the seventh heaven of rapture.
"Did you see that now?" she cried, clasping my baby to her bosom—her eyes glistening as with sunshine, though her cheeks were slushed as with rain.
I got my treasure to myself at last (Christian Ann having to show the nurse up to her bedroom), and then, being alone with Martin, I did not care, in the intoxication of my happiness, how silly I was in my praise of her.
"Isn't she a little fairy, a little angel, a little cherub?" I cried. "And that nasty, nasty birthmark quite, quite gone."
The ugly word had slipped out unawares, but Martin had caught it, and though I tried to make light of it, he gave me no peace until I had told him what it meant—with all the humiliating story of my last night at Castle Raa and the blow my husband had struck me.
"But that's all over now," I said.
"Is it? By the Lord God I swear it isn't, though!" said Martin, and his face was so fierce that it made me afraid.
But just at that moment Christian Ann came downstairs, and the old doctor returned from his rounds, and then Tommy the Mate looked in on his way to the "Plough," and hinting at my going to church again some day, gave it as his opinion that if I put the "boght mulish" under my "perricut" (our old island custom for legitimising children) "the Bishop himself couldn't say nothin' against it"-at which Martin laughed so much that I thought he had forgotten his vow about my husband.
MEMORANDUM OF MARTIN CONRAD
I hadn't, though.
The brute! The bully! When my darling told me that story (I had to drag it out of her) I felt that if I had been within a hundred miles at the time, and had had to crawl home to the man on my hands and knees, there wouldn't have been enough of him left now to throw on the dust-heap.
Nearly two years had passed since the debt was incurred, but I thought a Christian world could not go on a day longer until I had paid it back—with interest.
So fearing that my tender-hearted little woman, if she got wind of my purpose, might make me promise to put away my vow of vengeance, I got up early next morning and ordered the motor-car to be made ready for a visit to Castle Raa.
Old Tommy happened to be in the yard of the inn while I was speaking to the chauffeur, and he asked if he might be allowed to go with me. I agreed, and when I came out to start he was sitting in a corner of the car, with his Glengarry pulled down over his shaggy eyebrows, and his knotty hands leaning on a thick blackthorn that had a head as big as a turnip.
We did not talk too much on the way—I had to save up my strength for better business—and it was a long spin, but we got to our journey's end towards the middle of the morning.
As we went up the drive (sacred to me by one poignant memory) an open carriage was coming down. The only occupant was a rather vulgar-looking elderly woman (in large feathers and flowing furbelows) whom I took to be the mother of Alma.
Three powdered footmen came to the door of the Castle as our car drove up. Their master was out riding. They did not know when he would be back.
"I'll wait for him," I said, and pushed into the hall, old Tommy following me.
I think the footmen had a mind to intercept us, but I suppose there was something in my face which told them it would be better not to try, so I walked into the first room with the door open.
It turned out to be the dining-room, with portraits of the owner's ancestors all round the walls—a solid square of evil-looking rascals, every mother's son of them.
Tommy, still resting his knotty hands on his big blackthorn, was sitting on the first chair by the door, and I on the end of the table, neither saying a word to the other, when there came the sound of horses' hoofs on the path outside. A little later there were voices in the hall, both low and loud ones—the footmen evidently announcing my arrival and their master abusing them for letting me into the house.
At the next moment the man came sweeping into the dining-room. He was carrying a heavy hunting-crop and his flabby face was livid. Behind him came Alma. She was in riding costume and was bending a lithe whip in her gloved hands.
I saw that my noble lord was furious, but that mood suited me as well as another, so I continued to sit on the end of the table.
"So I hear, sir," he said, striding up to me, "I hear that you have taken possession of my place without so much as 'by your leave'?"
"That's so," I answered.
"Haven't you done enough mischief here, without coming to insult me by your presence?"
"Not quite. I've a little more to do before I've finished."
"Jim," said the woman (in such a weary voice), "don't put yourself about over such a person. Better ring the bell for the servants and have him turned out of doors."
I looked round at her. She tried an insolent smile, but it broke down badly, and then his lordship strode up to me with quivering lips.
"Look here, sir," he said. "Aren't you ashamed to show your face in my house?"
"I'm not," I replied. "But before I leave it, I believe you'll be ashamed to show your face anywhere."
"Damn it, sir! Will you do me the honour to tell me why you are here?" said his lordship, with fury in his looks.
"Certainly. That's exactly what I've come for," I said, and then I stated my business without more ado.
I told him what he had done to the woman who was ten thousand times too good to be his wife-torturing her with his cruelties, degrading her with his infidelities, subjecting her to the domination of his paramour, and finally striking her in the face like a coward and a cur.
"Liar!" he cried, fairly gasping in his rage. "You're a liar and your informant is a liar, too."
"Tommy," I said, "will you step outside for a moment?"
Tommy went out of the room at once, and the woman, who was now looking frightened, tried to follow him.
I stopped her. Rising from the table, I stepped over to the door and locked it.
"No, madam," I said. "I want you to see what takes place between his lordship and me."
The wretched woman fell back, but the man, grinding his teeth, came marching up to me.
"So you've come to fight me in my own house, have you?" he cried.
"Not at all," I answered. "A man fights his equal. I've come to thrash you."
That was enough for him, he lifted his hunting-crop to strike, but it didn't take long to get that from his hand or to paralyse the arm with which he was lunging out at me.
And then, seizing him by the white stock at his throat, I thrashed him. I thrashed him as I should have thrashed vicious ape. I thrashed him while he fumed and foamed, and cursed and swore. I thrashed him while he cried for help, and then yelled with pain and whined for mercy. I thrashed him under the eyes of his ancestors, the mad, bad race he came from, and, him the biggest blackguard of them all. And then I flung him to the ground, bruised in every bone, and his hunting-crop after him.
"I hear you're going to court for an Act of Divorce," I said. "Pity you can't take something to back you, so take that, and say I gave it you."
I was turning towards the door when I heard a low, whining cry, like that of a captured she-bear. It was from the woman. The wretched creature was on her knees at the farthest corner of the room, apparently mumbling prayers, as if in terror that her own turn might be coming next.
In her sobbing fear I thought she looked more than ever like a poisonous snake, and I will not say that the old impulse to put my foot on it did not come back for a moment. But I only said as I passed, pointing to the writhing worm on the floor:
"Look at him, madame. I wish you joy of your nobleman, and him of you."
Then I opened the door, and notwithstanding the grim business I had been going through, I could have laughed at the scene outside.
There was old Tommy with his back to the dining-room door, his Glengarry awry on his tousled head, and his bandy legs stretched firmly apart, flourishing his big-headed blackthorn before the faces of the three powdered footmen, and inviting them to "come on."
"Come on, now, you bleating ould billy-goats, come on, come on!"
I was in no hurry to get away, but lit a cigar in front of the house while the chauffeur was starting the motor and Tommy was wiping his steaming forehead on the sleeve of his coat.
All the way home the old man talked without ceasing, sometimes to me, and sometimes to the world in general.
"You gave him a piece of your mind, didn't you?" he asked, with a wink of his "starboard eye."
"I believe I did," I answered.
"I allus said you would. 'Wait till himself is after coming home, and it'll be the devil sit up for some of them,' says I."
There was only one limitation to Tommy's satisfaction over our day's expedition—that he had not cracked the powdered skulls of "some o' them riddiclus dunkeys."
[END OF MARTIN CONRAD'S MEMORANDUM]
ONE HUNDRED AND NINTH CHAPTER
Another month passed, and then began the last and most important phase of my too changeful story.
Every week Martin had been coming and going between Ellan and London, occupied when he was away with the business of his next Expedition (for which Parliament had voted a large sum), and when he was at home with reports, diaries, charts, maps, and photographs toward a book he was writing about his last one.
As for myself, I had been (or tried to think I had been) entirely happy. With fresh air, new milk, a sweet bedroom, and above all, good and tender nursing (God bless Christian Ann for all she did for me!), my health had improved every day—or perhaps, by that heavenly hopefulness which goes with certain maladies, it had seemed to me to do so.
Yet mine was a sort of twilight happiness, nevertheless. Though the sun was always shining in my sky, it was frequently under eclipse. In spite of the sheltered life I lived in that home of charity and love, I was never entirely free from a certain indefinable uneasiness about my position.
I was always conscious, too, that Martin's mother and father, not to speak of Father Dan, were suffering from a similar feeling, for sometimes when we talked about the future their looks would answer to my thoughts, and it was just as if we were all silently waiting, waiting, waiting for some event that was to justify and rehabilitate me.
It came at last—for me with a startling suddenness.
One morning, nurse being out on an errand and Christian Ann patting her butter in the dairy, I was playing with baby on the rag-work hearthrug when our village newsman came to the threshold of the open door.
"Take a Times," he said. "You might as well be out of the world, ma'am, as not know what's going on in it."
I took one of his island newspapers, and after he had gone I casually glanced at it.
But what a shock it gave me! The first heading that flew in my face was—
"INSULAR DIVORCE BILL PASSED."
It was a report of the proceedings of the Supreme Court of our Ellan legislature, which (notwithstanding the opposition of its ecclesiastical members) had granted my husband's petition.
Perhaps I ought to have had a sense of immense relief. Or perhaps I should have gone down on my knees there and then, and thanked God that the miserable entanglement of the horrible marriage that had been forced upon me was at last at an end.
But no, I had only one feeling as the newspaper fell from my fingers—shame and humiliation, not for myself (for what did it matter about me, anyway?), but for Martin, whose name, now so famous, I had, through my husband's malice, been the means of dragging through the dust.
I remember that I thought I should never be able to look into my darling's face again, that when he came in the afternoon (as he always did) I should have to run away from him, and that all that was left to me was to hide myself and die.
But just as these wild thoughts were galloping through my brain I heard the sneck of the garden gate, and almost before I was aware of what else was happening Martin had come sweeping into the house like a rush of wind, thrown his arms around me, and covered my face, my neck, and my hands with kisses—never having done so before since I came to live at his mother's home.
"Such news! Such news!" he cried. "We are free, free, free!"
Then, seeing the newspaper at my feet on the floor, he said:
"Ah, I see you know already. I told them to keep everything away from you—all the miserable legal business. But no matter! It's over now. Of course it's shocking—perfectly shocking—that that squirming worm, after his gross infidelities, should have been able to do what he has done. But what matter about that either? He has done just what we wanted—what you couldn't do for yourself before I went away, your conscience forbidding you. The barrier that has divided us is down . . . now we can be married at any time."
I was so overcome by Martin's splendid courage, so afraid to believe fully that the boundless relief I had looked for so long had come to me at last, that for some time I could not speak. And when I did speak, though my heart was clamouring loud, I only said:
"But do you really think that . . . that we can now be husband and wife?"
"Think it?" he cried, with a peal of laughter. "I should think I do think it. What's to prevent us? Nothing! You've suffered enough, my poor girl. But all that you have gone through has to be forgotten, and you are never to look back again."
"Yes, yes, I know I should be happy, very happy," I said, "but what about you?"
"I looked forward to being a help—at least not a trouble to you, Martin."
"And so you will be. Why shouldn't you?"
"Martin," I said (I knew what I was doing, but I couldn't help doing it), "wouldn't it injure you to marry me . . . being what I am now . . . in the eyes of the world, I mean?"
He looked at me for a moment as if trying to catch my meaning, and then snatched me still closer to his breast.
"Mary," he cried, "don't ask me to consider what the damnable insincerities of society may say to a case like ours. If you don't care, then neither do I. And as for the world, by the Lord God I swear that all I ask of it I am now holding in my arms."
That conquered me—poor trembling hypocrite that I was, praying with all my soul that my objections would be overcome.
In another moment I had thrown my arms about my Martin's neck and kissed and kissed him, feeling for the first time after my months and years of fiery struggle that in the eyes of God and man I had a right to do so.
And oh dear, oh dear! When Martin had gone back to his work, what foolish rein I gave to my new-born rapture!
I picked baby up from the hearthrug and kissed her also, and then took her into the dairy to be kissed by her grandmother, who must have overheard what had passed between Martin and me, for I noticed that her voice had suddenly become livelier and at least an octave higher.
Then, baby being sleepy, I took her upstairs for her morning nap, and after leaning over her cradle, in the soft, damp, milk-like odour of her sweet body and breath, I stood up before the glass and looked at my own hot, tingling, blushing cheeks and sparkling eyes.
Oh, what gorgeous dreams of happiness came to me! I may have been the unmarried mother of a child, but my girlhood—my lost girlhood—was flowing back upon me. A vision of my marriage-day rose up before me and I saw myself as a bride, in my bridal veil and blossoms.
How happy I was going to be! But indeed I felt just then as if I had always been happy. It was almost as though some blessed stream of holy water had washed my memory clean of all the soilure of my recent days in London, for sure I am that if anybody had at that moment mentioned Ilford and the East End, the bricklayer and the Jew, or spoken of the maternity homes and the orphanages, I should have screamed.
Towards noon the old doctor came back from his morning rounds, and I noticed that his voice was pitched higher too. We never once spoke about the great news, the great event, while we sat at table; but I could not help noticing that we were all talking loud and fast and on the top of each other, as if some dark cloud which had hovered over our household had suddenly slid away.
After luncheon, nurse being back with baby, I went out for a walk alone, feeling wonderfully well and light, and having two hours to wait for Martin, who must be still pondering over his papers at the "Plough."
How beautiful was the day! How blue the sky! How bright the earth! How joyous the air—so sweet and so full of song-birds!
I remember that I thought life had been so good to me that I ought to be good to everybody else—especially to my father, from whom it seemed wrong for a daughter to be estranged, whatever he was and whatever he had done to her.
So I turned my face towards my poor grandmother's restored cottage on the curragh, fully determined to be reconciled to my father; and I only slackened my steps and gave up my purpose when I began to think of Nessy MacLeod and how difficult (perhaps impossible) it might be to reach him.
Even then I faced about for a moment to the Big House with some vain idea of making peace with Aunt Bridget and then slipping upstairs to my mother's room—having such a sense of joyous purity that I wished to breathe the sacred air my blessed saint had lived in.
But the end of it all was that I found myself on the steps of the Presbytery, feeling breathlessly happy, and telling myself, with a little access of pride in my own gratitude, that it was only right and proper that I should bring my happiness where I had so often brought my sorrow—to the dear priest who had been my friend since the day of my birth and my darling mother's friend before.
Poor old Father Dan! How good I was going to be to him!
ONE HUNDRED AND TENTH CHAPTER
A few minutes afterwards I was tripping upstairs (love and hope work wonderful miracles!) behind the Father's Irish housekeeper, Mrs. Cassidy, who was telling me how well I was looking ("smart and well extraordinary"), asking if it "was on my two feet I had walked all the way," and denouncing the "omathauns" who had been "after telling her there wasn't the width of a wall itself betune me and the churchyard."
I found Father Dan in his cosy study lined with books; and being so much wrapped up in my own impetuous happiness I did not see at first that he was confused and nervous, or remember until next day that, though (at the sound of my voice from the landing) he cried "Come in, my child, come in," he was standing with his back to the door as I entered—hiding something (it must have been a newspaper) under the loose seat of his easy-chair.
"Father," I said, "have you heard the news?"
"The news. . . ."
"I mean the news in the newspaper."
"Ah, the news in the newspaper."
"Isn't it glorious? That terrible marriage is over at last! Without my doing anything, either! Do you remember what you said the last time I came here?"
"The last time. . . ."
"You said that I, being a Catholic, could not break my marriage without breaking my faith. But my husband, being a Protestant, had no compunction. So it has come to the same thing in the end, you see. And now I'm free."
"You're free . . . free, are you?"
"It seems they have been keeping it all away from me—making no defence, I suppose—and it was only this morning I heard the news."
"Only this morning, was it?"
"I first saw it in a newspaper, but afterwards Martin himself came to tell me."
"Martin came, did he?"
"He doesn't care in the least; in fact, he is glad, and says we can be married at any time."
"Married at any time—he says that, does he?"
"Of course nothing is arranged yet, dear Father, but I couldn't help coming to see you about it. I want everything to be simple and quiet—no display of any kind."
"Simple and quiet, do you?"
"Early in the morning—immediately after mass, perhaps."
"Immediately after mass. . . ."
"Only a few wild flowers on the altar, and the dear homely souls who love me gathered around."
"The dear, homely souls. . . ."
"It will be a great, great thing for me, but I don't want to force myself upon anybody, or to triumph over any one—least of all over my poor father, now that he is so sick and down."
"No, no . . . now that he is so sick and down."
"I shall want you to marry us, Daddy Dan—not the Bishop or anybody else of that kind, you know."
"You'll want me to marry you—not the Bishop or anybody else of that kind."
"But Father Dan," I cried, laughing a little uneasily (for I had begun to realise that he was only repeating my own words), "why don't you say something for yourself?"
And then the cheery sunshine of the cosy room began to fade away.
Father Dan fumbled the silver cross which hung over his cassock (a sure sign of his nervousness), and said with a grave face and in a voice all a-tremble with emotion:
"My child. . . ."
"You believe that I wouldn't pain or distress or shock you if I could avoid it?"
"Indeed I do."
"Yet I am going to pain and distress and shock you now. I . . . I cannot marry you to Martin Conrad. I daren't. The Church thinks that you are married already—that you are still the wife of your husband."
Though my dear priest had dealt me my death-blow, I had not yet begun to feel it, so I smiled up into his troubled old face and said:
"But how can the Church think that, dear Father? My husband has no rights over me now, and no duties or responsibilities with respect to me. He can marry again if he likes. And he will, I am sure he will, and nobody can prevent him. How, then, can the Church say that I am still his wife?"
"Because marriage, according to the law of the Church, can only be dissolved by death," said Father Dan. "Haven't I told you that before, my daughter? Didn't we go over it again and again when you were here the last time?"
"Yes, yes, but I thought if somebody else sought the divorce—somebody who had never believed in the indissolubility of marriage and wasn't bound by the law of the Church . . . we've heard of cases of that kind, haven't we?"
Father Dan shook his head.
"My poor child, no. The Church thinks marriage is a sacred covenant which no difference of belief, no sin on either side, can ever break."
"But, Father," I cried, "don't you see that the law has already broken it?"
"Only the civil law, my daughter. Remember the words of our blessed and holy Redeemer: 'Every one that putteth away his wife and marrieth another committeth adultery; and he that marrieth one that is put away committeth adultery.' . . . My poor child, my heart bleeds for you, but isn't that the Divine Commandment?"
"Then you think," I said (the room was becoming dark and I could feel my lip trembling), "you think that because I went through that marriage ceremony two years ago . . . and though the civil law has dissolved it . . . you think I am still bound by it, and will continue to be so . . . to the end of my life?"
Father Dan plucked at his cassock, fumbled his print handkerchief, and replied:
"I am sorry, my child, very, very sorry."
"Father Dan," I said sharply, for by this time my heart was beginning to blaze, "have you thought about Martin? Aren't you afraid that if our Church refuses to marry us he may ask some other church to do so?"
"Christ's words must be the final law for all true Christians, my daughter. And besides. . . ."
"Besides that. . . ."
"It blisters my tongue to say it, my child, knowing your sufferings and great temptations, but. . . ."
"But what, dear Father?"
"You are in the position of the guilty party, and therefore no good clergyman of any Christian Church in the world, following the Commandment of his Master, would dare to marry you."
What happened after that I cannot exactly say. I remember that, feeling the colour flying to my face, I flung up my hands to cover it, and that when I came to full possession of my senses again Father Dan (himself in a state of great agitation) was smoothing my arms and comforting me.
"Don't be angry with your old priest for telling you the truth—the bitter truth, my daughter."
He had always seen this dark hour coming to him, and again and again he had prayed to be delivered from it—in the long nights of his fruitless wanderings when I was lost in London, and again since I had been found and had come home and he had looked on, with many a pang, at our silent hopes and expectations—Martin's and mine, we two children.
"And when you came into my little den to-day, my daughter, with a face as bright as stars and diamonds, God knows I would have given half of what is left of my life that mine should not be the hand to dash the cup of your happiness away."
As soon as I was sufficiently composed, within and without, Father Dan led me downstairs (praying God and His Holy Mother to strengthen me on my solitary way), and then stood at the door in his cassock to watch me while I walked up the road.
It was hardly more than half an hour since I had passed over the ground before, yet in that short time the world seemed to have become pale and grey—the sun gone out, the earth grown dark, the still air joyless, nothing left but the everlasting heavens and the heavy song of the sea.
As I approached the doctor's house Martin came swinging down the road to meet me, with his strong free step and that suggestion of the wind from the mountain-tops which seemed to be always about him.
"Hello!" he cried. "Thought you were lost and been hunting all over the place for you."
But as he came nearer and saw how white and wan my face was, though I was doing my best to smile, he stopped and said:
"My poor little woman, where have you been, and what have they been doing to you?"
And then, as well as I could, I told him.
ONE HUNDRED AND ELEVENTH CHAPTER
"It's all my fault," he said.
He had led me to the garden-house, which stood among the bluebells at the end of the orchard, and was striding to and fro in front of it.
"I knew perfectly what the attitude of the Church would be, and I ought to have warned you."
I had never before seen him so excited. There was a wild look in his eyes and his voice was quivering like the string of a bow.
"Poor old Father Dan! He's an old angel, with as good a heart as ever beat under a cassock. But what a slave a man may be to the fetish of his faith! Only think what he says, my darling! The guilty party! I'll never believe you are the guilty party, but consider! The guilty party may never marry! No good clergyman of any Christian Church in the world dare marry her! What an infamy! Ask yourself what the churches are here for. Aren't they here to bring salvation to the worst of sinners? Yet they cast out the woman who has sinned against her marriage vow—denying her access to the altar and turning her out of doors—though she may have repented a thousand times, with bitter, bitter tears!"
He walked two or three paces in front of the garden-house and then came back to me with flaming eyes.
"But that's not your case, anyway," he said. "Father Dan knows perfectly that your marriage was no marriage at all—only a sordid bit of commercial bargaining, in which your husband gave you his bad name for your father's unclean money. It was no marriage in any other sense either, and might have been annulled if there had been any common honesty in annulment. And now that it has tumbled to wreck and ruin, as anybody might have seen it would do, you are told that you are bound to it to the last day and hour of your life! After all you have gone through—all you have suffered—never to know another hour of happiness as long as you live! While your husband, notwithstanding his brutalities and infidelities, is free to do what he likes, to marry whom he pleases! How stupid! How disgusting! how damnable!"
His passionate voice was breaking, he could scarcely control it.
"Oh, I know what they'll say. It will be the old, old song, 'Whom God hath joined together.' That's what this old Church of ours has been saying for centuries to poor women with broken hearts. Has the Church itself got a heart to break? No—nothing but its cast-iron laws which have been broken a thousand times and nobody a penny the worse."
"But I wonder," he continued, "I wonder why these churchmen, who would talk about the impossibility of putting asunder those whom God has joined together, don't begin by asking themselves how and when and where God joins them. Is it in church, when they stand before the altar and are asked a few questions, and give a few answers? If so, then God is responsible for some of the most shocking transactions that ever disgraced humanity—all the pride and vanity and deliberate concubinage that have covered themselves in every age, and are covering themselves still, with the cloak of marriage."
"But no," said Martin, "it's not in churches that God marries people. They've got to be married before they go there, or they are never married at all—never! They've got to be married in their hearts, for that's where God joins people together, not in churches and before priests and altars."
I sat listening to him with a rising and throbbing heart, and after another moment he stepped into the garden-house, and sat beside me.
"Mary," he said, in his passionate voice, "that's our case, isn't it? God married us from the very first. There has never been any other woman for me, and there never has been any other man for you—isn't that so, my darling? . . . Then what are they talking about—these churches and churchmen? It's they who are the real divorcers—trying to put those asunder whom God Himself has joined together. That's the plain sense of the matter, isn't it?"
I was trembling with fear and expectation. Perhaps it was the same with me as it had been before; perhaps I wanted (now more than ever) to believe what Martin was saying; perhaps I did not know enough to be able to answer him; perhaps my overpowering love and the position I stood in compelled me to agree. But I could not help it if it seemed to me that his clear mind—clear as a mountain river and as swift and strong—was sweeping away all the worn-out sophistries.
"Then what . . . what are we to do?" I asked him.
"Do? Our duty to ourselves, my darling, that's what we have to do. If we cannot be married according to the law of the Church, we must be married according to the law of the land. Isn't that enough? This is our own affair, dearest, ours and nobody else's. It's only a witness we want anyway—a witness before God and man that we intend to be man and wife in future."
"But Father Dan?"
"Leave him to me," said Martin. "I'll tell him everything. But come into the house now. You are catching a cold. Unless we take care they'll kill you before they've done."
Next day he leaned over the back of my chair as I sat in the chiollagh with baby in my lap, and said, in a low tone:
"I've seen Father Dan."
"The old angel took it badly. 'God forbid that you should do that same, my boy,' he said, 'putting both yourself and that sweet child of mine out of the Church for ever.' 'It's the Church that's putting us out,' I told him. 'But God's holy law condemns it, my son,' he said. 'God's law is love; and He has no other law,' I answered."
I was relieved and yet nervous, glad and yet afraid.
A week passed, and then the time came for Martin to go to Windsor for his investiture. There had been great excitement in Sunny Lodge in preparation for this event, but being a little unwell I had been out of the range of it.
At the moment of Martin's departure I was in bed, and he had come upstairs to say good-bye to me.
What had been happening in the meantime I hardly knew, but I had gathered that he thought pressure would be brought to bear on me.
"Our good old Church is like a limpet on the shore," he said. "Once it gets its suckers down it doesn't let go in a hurry. But sit tight, little woman. Don't yield an inch while I'm away," he whispered.
When he left me I reached up to see him going down the road to the railway station. His old father was walking proudly by his side, bare-headed as usual and still as blithe as a boy.
Next day I was startled by an unexpected telegram. It came from a convent in Lancashire and was addressed to "Mary O'Neill, care of Doctor Conrad." It ran:
"Am making a round of visits to the houses of our Society and would like to see you on my way to Ireland. May I cross to-morrow? Mother Magdalene."
ONE HUNDRED AND TWELFTH CHAPTER
She arrived the following afternoon—my dear Reverend Mother with the pale spiritual face and saint-like eyes.
Except that her habit was now blue and white instead of black, she seemed hardly changed in any respect since our days at the Sacred Heart.
Finding that I was in bed, she put up at the "Plough" and came every day to nurse me.
I was naturally agitated at seeing her again after so many years and such various experiences, being uncertain how much she knew of them.
Remembering Martin's warning, I was also fairly certain that she had been sent for, but my uneasiness on both heads soon wore off.
Her noiseless step, her soft voice, and her sweet smile soothed and comforted me. I began to feel afresh the influence she had exercised over me when I was a child, and to wonder why, during my dark time in London, I had never thought of writing to her.
During the first days of her visit she said nothing about painful things—never mentioning my marriage, or what had happened since she saw me last.
Her talk was generally about our old school and my old schoolfellows, many of whom came to the convent for her "retreats," which were under the spiritual direction of one of the Pope's domestic prelates.
Sometimes she would laugh about our Mother of the Novices who had "become old and naggledy"; sometimes about the little fat Maestro of the Pope's choir who had cried when I first sang the hymn to the Virgin, ("Go on, little angel,"); and sometimes about the two old lay sisters (now quite toothless) who still said I might have been a "wonderful washerwoman" if I had "put my mind to it."
I hate to think that my dear Reverend Mother was doing this consciously in order to break down my defences, but the effect was the same. Little by little, during the few days she was with me, she bridged the space back to my happy girlhood, for insensibly I found myself stirred by the emotions of the convent, and breathing again the air of my beloved Rome.
On the afternoon of the fourth day of her visit I was sitting up by her side in front of my window, which was wide open. It was just such a peaceful evening as our last one at Nemi. Not a leaf was stirring; not a breath of wind in the air; the only sounds we heard were the lowing of the cattle waiting to be milked, the soft murmur of the sea, and the jolting of a springless cart that was coming up from the shore, laden with sea wrack.
As the sun began to sink it lit blazing fires in the windows of the village in front—especially in the window of my mother's room, which was just visible over the tops of the apple trees in the orchard.
The Reverend Mother talked of Benediction. If she were in Rome she would be in church singing the Ora pro nobis.
"Let us sing it now. Shall we?" she said.
At the next moment her deep majestic contralto, accompanied by my own thin and quavering soprano, were sending out into the silent air the holy notes which to me are like the reverberations of eternity:
"Mater purissima Ora pro nobis. Mater castissima Ora pro nobis."
When we had finished I found my hand lying in her lap. Patting it gently she said:
"Mary, I am leaving you to-morrow."
"Yes, but I can't go without telling you why I came"—and then her mission was revealed to me.
She had heard about my marriage and the ruin it had fallen to; my disappearance from home and the circumstances of my recovery; my husband's petition for divorce and the disclosures that had followed it.
But sad and serious and even tragic as all this might be, it was as nothing (in the eyes of the Church and of God) compared with the awful gravity of the step I now contemplated—a second marriage while my husband was still alive.
She had nothing to say against Martin. Except the facts that concerned myself she had never heard a word to his discredit. She could even understand those facts, though she could not condone them. Perhaps he had seen my position (married to a cruel and unfaithful husband) and his pity had developed into love—she had heard of such happenings.
"But only think, my child, what an abyss he is driving you to! He asks you to break your marriage vows! . . . Oh, yes, yes, I can see what he will say—that pressure was put upon you and you were too young to know what you were doing. That may be true, but it isn't everything. I thought it wrong, cruelly wrong, that your father should choose a husband for you without regard to your wish and will. But it was you, not your father, who made your marriage vows, and you can never get away from that—never!"
Those marriage vows were sacred; our blessed Saviour had said they could never be broken, and our holy Church had taken His Commandment for law.
"Think, my child, only think what would happen to the world if every woman who has made an unhappy marriage were to do as you think of doing. What a chaos! What an uprooting of all the sacred ties of home and family! And how women would suffer—women and children above all. Don't you see that, my daughter?"
The security of society lay in the sanctity of marriage; the sanctity of marriage lay in its indissolubility; and its indissolubility centred in the fact that God was a party to it.
"Perhaps you are told that your marriage will be your own concern only and that God and the Church have nothing to do with it. But if women had believed that in all ages, how different the world would be to-day! Oh, believe me, your marriage vow is sacred, and you cannot break it without sin—mortal sin, my daughter."
The moral of all this was that I must renounce Martin Conrad, wash my heart clean of my love of him, shun the temptation of seeing him again, and if possible forget him altogether.
"It will be hard. I know it will he hard, but. . . ."
"It will be quite impossible," I said as well as I could, for my very lips were trembling.
I had been shaken to the depths of my soul by what the Reverend Mother said, but remembering Martin's warning I now struggled to resist her.
"Two years ago, while I was living with my husband I tried to do that and I couldn't," I said. "And if I couldn't do it then, when the legal barrier stood between us, how can I do it now when the barrier is gone?"
After that I told her of all I had passed through since as a result of my love for Martin—how I had parted from him when he went down to the Antarctic; how I had waited for him in London; how I had sacrificed family and friends and home, and taken up poverty and loneliness and hard work for him; how I had fallen into fathomless depths of despair when I thought I had lost him; and how joy and happiness had returned only when God, in His gracious goodness, had given him back.
"No, no, no", I cried. "My love for Martin can never be overcome or forgotten—never as long as I live in the world!"
"Then," said the Reverend Mother (she had been listening intently with her great eyes fixed on my hot and tingling face), "then," she said, in her grave and solemn voice, "If that is the case, my child, there is only one thing for you to do—to leave it."
"Leave the world, I mean. Return with me to Rome and enter the convent."
It would be impossible to say how this affected me—how it shook me to the heart's core—how, in spite of my efforts to act on my darling's warning, it seemed to penetrate to the inmost part of my being and to waken some slumbering instinct in my soul.
For a long time I sat without speaking again, only listening with a fluttering heart to what the Reverend Mother was saying—that it was one of the objects of the religious life to offer refuge to the tortured soul that could not trust itself to resist temptation; and that taking my vows as a nun to God would be the only way (known to and acknowledged by the Church) of cancelling my vows as a wife to my husband.
"You will be a bride still, my child, but a bride of Christ. And isn't that better—far better? You used to wish to be a nun, you know, and if your father had not come for you on that most unhappy errand you might have been one of ourselves already. Think of it, my child. The Mothers of our convent will be glad to welcome you, if you can come as a willing and contented Sister. And how can I leave you here, at the peril of your soul, my daughter?"
I was deeply moved, but I made one more effort.
I told the Reverend Mother that, since the days when I had wished to be a nun, a great change had come over me. I had become a woman, with all a woman's passions—the hunger and thirst for love, human love, the love of the good man who loved me with all his soul and strength. Therefore I could never be a willing and contented Sister. I should only break the peace and harmony of their house. And though she were to put me down in the lowest cell of her convent, my love would follow me there; it would interrupt my offices, it would clamour through my prayers, and I should always be unhappy—miserably unhappy.
"Not so unhappy there as you will be if you remain in the world and carry out your intention," said the Reverend Mother. "Oh believe me, my child, I know you better than you know yourself. If you marry again, you will never be able to forget that you have broken your vow. Other women may forget it—frivolous women—women living in society and devoting their lives to selfish pleasures. Such women may divorce their husbands, or be divorced by them, and then marry again, without remembering that they are living in a state of sin, whatever the civil law may say—open and wicked and shameless sin. But you will remember it, and it will make you more unhappy than you have ever been in your life before."
"Worse than that," she continued, after a moment, "it will make your husband unhappy also. He will see your remorse, and share it, because he will know he has been the cause. If he is a good man the mere sight of your grief will torture him. The better man he is the more will he suffer. If you were a runaway nun he would wish to take you back to your convent, for though it might tear his heart out to part with you, he would want to restore your soul. But being a wife who has broken her marriage vows he will never be able to do anything. An immense and awful shadow will stand between you and darken every hour of your lives that is left."
When the Reverend Mother had done I sat motionless and speechless, with an aching and suffocating heart, staring down on the garden over which the night was falling.
After a while she patted my cold hand and got up to go, saying she would call early in the morning to bid me good-bye. Her visit to Ireland would not last longer than three weeks, and after that she might come back for me, if I felt on reflection (she was sure I should) that I ought to return with her to Rome.
I did not reply. Perhaps it was partly because I was physically weak that my darling's warning was so nearly overcome. But the moment the door closed on the Reverend Mother a conviction of the truth of what she had said rushed upon me like the waves of an overflowing sea.
Yet how cruel! After all our waiting, all our longing, all our gorgeous day-dreams of future happiness! When I was going to be a bride, a happy bride, with my lost and stolen girlhood coming back to me!
For the second time a dark and frowning mountain had risen between Martin and me. Formerly it had been my marriage—now it was my God.
But if God forbade my marriage with Martin what was I to do? What was left in life for me? Was there anything left?
I was sitting with both hands over my face, asking myself these questions and struggling with a rising tempest of tears, when I heard baby crying in the room below, and Christian Ann hushing and comforting her.
"What's doing on the boght, I wonder?"
A few minutes later they came upstairs, Isabel on her grandmother's arm, in her nightdress, ready for bed.
"If it isn't the wind I don't know in the world what's doing on the millish," said the old lady.
And then baby smiled through the big round beads that stood in her sea-blue eyes and held out her arms to me.
Oh God! Oh God! Was not this my answer?
ONE HUNDRED AND THIRTEENTH CHAPTER
In her different way Christian Ann had arrived at the same conclusion. Long before the thought came to me she had conceived the idea that Father Dan and the Reverend Mother were conspiring to carry me off, and in her dear sweet womanly jealousy (not to speak of higher and nobler instincts) she had resented this intensely.
For four days she had smothered her wrath, only revealing it to baby in half-articulate interviews over the cradle ("We're no women for these nun bodies, going about the house like ghosts, are we, villish?"), but on the fifth day it burst into the fiercest flame and the gentle old thing flung out at everybody.
That was the morning of the departure of the Reverend Mother, who, after saying good-bye to me in my bedroom, had just returned to the parlour-kitchen, where Father Dan was waiting to take her to the railway station.
What provoked Christian Ann's outburst I never rightly knew, for though the door to the staircase was open, and I could generally catch anything that was said in the room below (through the open timbers of the unceiled floor), the soft voice of the Reverend Mother never reached me, and the Irish roll of Father Dan's vowels only rumbled up like the sound of a drum.
But Christian Ann's words came sharp and clear as the crack of a breaker, sometimes trembling with indignation, sometimes quivering with emotion, and at last thickening into sobs.
"Begging your pardon, ma'am, may I ask what is that you're saying to the Father about Mary O'Neill? . . . Going back to Rome is she? To the convent, eh? . . . No, ma'am, that she never will! Not if I know her, ma'am. Not for any purpose in the world, ma'am. . . . Temptation, you say? You know best, ma'am, but I don't call it overcoming temptation—going into hidlands to get out of the way of it. . . . Yes, I'm a Christian woman and a good Catholic too, please the Saints, but asking your pardon, ma'am, I'm not thinking too much of your convents, or believing the women inside of them are living such very unselfish lives either, ma'am."
Another soft rumble as of a drum, and then—
"No, ma'am, no, that's truth enough, ma'am. I've never been a nun myself, having had better work to do in the world, ma'am. But it's all as one—I know what's going on in the convents, I'm thinking. . . . Harmony and peace, you say? Yes, and jealousy and envy sometimes, too, or you wouldn't be women like the rest of us, ma'am. . . . As for Mary O'Neill, she has something better to do too, I'm thinking. . . . After doing wrong, is she? Maybe she is, the boght millish, maybe we all are, ma'am, and have need of God's mercy and forgiveness. But I never heard that praying is the only kind of penance He asks of us, ma'am. And if it is, I wouldn't trust but there are poor women who are praying as well when they're working over their wash-tubs as some ones when they're saying their rosaries and singing their Tantum Ergos. . . ."
Another interruption and then—"There's Bella Kinnish herself who keeps the corner shop, ma'am. Her husband was lost at the 'mackerel' two years for Easter. He left her with three little children and a baby unborn, and Bella's finding it middling hard to get a taste of butcher's meat, or even a bit of loaf-bread itself for them, ma'am. And when she's sitting late at night, as the doctor's telling me, and all the rest of the village dark, darning little Liza's stockings, and patching little Willie's coat, or maybe nursing the baby when it's down with the measles, the Lord is as pleased with her, I'm thinking, as with some of your nun bodies in their grand blue cloaks taking turn and turn to kneel before the tabernacle."
There was another rumble of apologetic voices after that (both Father Dan's and the Reverend Mother's), and then came Christian Ann's clear notes again, breaking fast, though, and sometimes threatening to stop.
"What's that you're saying, ma'am? . . . Motherhood a sacred and holy state also? 'Deed it is, ma'am! That's truth enough too, though some ones who shut themselves up in convents don't seem to think so. . . . A mother's a mother, and what's more, her child is her child, wedlock or no wedlock. And if she's doing right by her little one, and bringing it up well, and teaching it true, I don't know that when her time comes the Lord will be asking her which side of her wedding-day it was born on. . . .
"As for Mary O'Neill, ma'am, when you're talking and talking about her saving her soul, you're forgetting she has her child to save too, ma'am. God gave her the boght villish, and is she to run away from it? It's a fine blessing would be on her for that, isn't it? . . . Father Dan, I'm surprised at you—such a terrible, cruel, shocking, unnatural thing as you're thinking. I thought you were a better man than that—I really did. . . . And as for some ones that call themselves Mothers, they're no mothers at all and never will be—tempting a poor woman in her trouble to leave her child to be a charge on other people. . . ."
Still another rumble of soft voices and then—
"Not that I'm thinking of myself, ma'am. Dear heart, no! It's only too eager I'd be to have the lil angel to myself. There she is on the hearthrug, ma'am, and if anything happens to Mary O'Neill, it's there she'll be for the rest of my life, and it's sorry I am for the darling's sake that my time cannot be longer. . . .
"But Mary O'Neill isn't for leaving her little one to go into any convent. 'Deed no, ma'am! There would be no rest on her if she did. I'm a mother myself and I know what she'd be feeling. You might put the black hood on her head, but Nature's a wonderful powerful thing, and she'd never go to bed at night or get up in the morning without thinking of her baby. 'Where's she now?' she'd be asking herself. 'What's happening to my motherless child?' she'd be saying. And as the years went on she'd be thinking, 'Is she well, and has she taken her first communion, and is she growing up a good woman, and what's the world doing on her?' . . .
"No, ma'am, no! Mary O'Neill will go into no convent while her child is here to be cared for! 'Deed she won't! Not Mary O'Neill! I'll never believe it of her! Never in this world!"
I heard nothing more for a long time after that—nothing but a noise in my own head which drowned all other noises. And when I recovered my composure the Reverend Mother and Father Dan must have gone, for there was no sound in the room below except that of the rocking-chair (which was going rapidly) and Christian Ann's voice, fierce but broken as if baby had cried and she was comforting her.
Then a great new spirit came to me. It was Motherhood again! The mighty passion of motherhood—which another mighty passion had temporarily overlaid—sweeping down on me once more out of the big, simple, child-like heart of my Martin's mother.
In the fever of body and brain at that moment it seemed to solve all the problems of life for me.
If the Commandment of God forbade me to marry again because I had already taken vows before the altar (no matter how innocently or under what constraint), and if I had committed a sin, a great sin, and baby was the living sign of it, there was only one thing left me to do—to remain as I was and consecrate the rest of my life to my child.
That would be the real expiation, not burying myself in a convent. To live for my child! Alone with her! Here, where my sin had been, to work out my atonement!
This pleased and stirred and uplifted me very much when I first thought of it. And even when I remembered Martin, and thought how hard it would be to tear myself away from the love which waited with open arms for me (So near, so sweet, so precious), there seemed to be something majestic, almost sublime, in the sacrifice I was about to make—the sacrifice of everything in the world (except one thing) that was dearer to me than life itself.
A sort of spiritual pride came with the thought of this sacrifice. I saw myself as a woman who, having pledged herself to God in her marriage and sinned against the law in breaking her marriage vows, was now going to accept her fate and to humble herself before the bar of Eternal Justice.
But oh, what a weak, vain thing I was, just when I thought I was so strong and noble!
After a long day in which I had been fighting back the pains of my poor torn heart and almost persuading myself that I had won a victory, a letter came by the evening post which turned all my great plans to dust and ashes.
The letter was from Martin. Only four little pages, written in my darling's rugged hand, half serious and half playful, yet they made the earth rock and reel beneath me.
"MY DEAR LITTLE WOMAN,—_Just back from Windsor. Stunning 'do.' Tell you all about it when I get back home. Meantime up to my eyes in work. Arrangements for next Expedition going ahead splendidly. Had a meeting of the committee yesterday and settled to sail by the 'Orient' third week in August, so as to get down to Winter Quarters in time to start south in October.
"Our own little affair has got to come off first, though, so I'll see the High Bailiff as soon as I return.
"And what do you think, my 'chree'? The boys of the 'Scotia' are all coming over to Ellan for the great event. 'Deed, yes, though, every man-jack of them! Scientific staff included, not to speak of O'Sullivan and old Treacle—who swears you blew a kiss to him. They remember you coming down to Tilbury. Aw, God bless me soul, gel, the way they're talking of you! There's no holding them at all at all!
"Seriously, darling, you have no time to lose in making your preparations. My plan is to take you to New Zealand and leave you at Wellington (good little town, good people, too) while I make my bit of a trip to the Pole.
"We'll arrange about Girlie when I reach home, which will be next week, I hope—or rather fear—for every day is like a month when I'm away from you.
"But never mind, little woman! Once I get this big Expedition over we are not going to be separated any more. Not for a single day as long as we live, dearest! No, by the Lord God—life's too short for it._
ONE HUNDRED AND FOURTEENTH CHAPTER
After I had read this letter I saw that my great battle, which I had supposed to be over, was hardly begun.
Martin was coming home with his big heart full of love for me, and my own heart ran out to meet him.
He intended to sail for New Zealand the second week in August, and he expected to take me with him.
In spite of all my religious fears and misgivings, I asked myself why I should not go? What was to prevent me? What sin had I really committed? What was there for reparation? Was it anything more than the letter of the Divine law that I had defied and broken?
My love was mine and I was his, and I belonged to him for ever. He was going out on a great errand in the service of humanity. Couldn't I go to be his partner and helpmate? And if there had been sin, if the law of God had been broken, wouldn't that, too, be a great atonement?
Thus my heart fought with my soul, or with my instincts as a child of the Church, or whatever else it was that brought me back and back, again and again, in spite of all the struggles of my love, to the firm Commandment of our Lord.
Father Dan had been right—I could not get away from that. The Reverend Mother had been right, too—other women might forget that they had broken the Divine law but I never should. If I married Martin and went away with him, I should always be thinking of the falseness of my position, and that would make me unhappy. It would also make Martin unhappy to witness my unhappiness, and that would be the worst bitterness life could bring.
Then what was left to me? If it was impossible that I should bury myself in a convent it was equally impossible that I should live alone, and Martin in the same world with me.
Not all the spiritual pride I could conjure up in the majesty and solemnity of my self-sacrifice could conquer the yearning of my heart as a woman. Not all my religious fervour could keep me away from Martin. In spite of my conscience, sooner or later I should go to him—I knew quite well I should. And my child, instead of being a barrier dividing us, would be a natural bond calling on us and compelling us to come together.
Then what was left to a woman in my position who believed in the Divine Commandment—who could not get away from it? Were all the doors of life locked to her? Turn which way she would, was there no way out?
Darker and darker every day became this question, but light came at last, a kind of light or the promise of light. It was terrible, and yet it brought me, oh, such immense relief!
I am almost afraid to speak of it, so weak and feeble must any words be in which I attempt to describe that unforgetable change. Already I had met some of the mysteries of a woman's life—now I was to meet the last, the greatest, the most tragic, and yet the kindest of them all.
I suppose the strain of emotion I had been going through had been too much for my physical strength, for three days after the arrival of Martin's letter I seemed to be really ill.
I am ashamed to dwell on my symptoms, but for a moment I am forced to do so. My eyes were bright, my cheeks were coloured, and there was no outward indication of any serious malady. But towards evening I always had a temperature, and in the middle of the night (I was sleeping badly) it rose very high, with a rapid pulse and anxious breathing, and in the morning there was great exhaustion.
Old Doctor Conrad, who had been coming to me twice a day, began to look very grave. At last, after a short examination, he said, rather nervously:
"I should like a colleague from Blackwater to consult with me. Will you receive him?"
I said "Yes" on one condition—that if the new doctor had anything serious to say he should report it first to me.
A little reluctantly Martin's father agreed to my terms and the consulting physician was sent for. He came early the next day—a beautiful Ellan morning with a light breeze from the sea bringing the smell of new-mown hay from the meadows lying between.
He was an elderly man, and I could not help seeing a shadow cross his clean-shaven face the moment his eyes first fell on me. They were those tender but searching eyes which are so often seen in doctors, who are always walking through the Valley of the Shadow and seem to focus their gaze accordingly.
Controlling his expression, he came up to my bed and, taking the hand I held out to him, he said:
"I trust we'll not frighten you, my lady."
I liked that (though I cared nothing about my lost title, I thought it was nice of him to remember it), and said I hoped I should not be too restless.
While he took out and fixed his stethoscope (he had such beautiful soft hands) he told me that he had had a daughter of my own age once.
"Once? Where is she now?" I asked him.
"In the Kingdom. She died like a Saint," he answered.
Then he made a long examination (returning repeatedly to the same place), and when it was over and he raised his face I thought it looked still more serious.
"My child," he said (I liked that too), "you've never spared yourself, have you?"
I admitted that I had not.
"When you've had anything to do you've done it, whatever it might cost you."
I admitted that also. He looked round to see if there was anybody else in the room (there was only the old doctor, who was leaning over the end of the bed, watching the face of his colleague) and then said, in a low voice:
"Has it ever happened that you have suffered from privation and hard work and loss of sleep and bad lodgings and . . . and exposure?"
His great searching eyes seemed to be looking straight into my soul, and I could not have lied to him if I had wished, so I told him a little (just a little) about my life in London—at Bayswater, in the East End and Ilford.
"And did you get wet sometimes, very wet, through all your clothes?" he asked me.
I told him No, but suddenly remembering that during the cold days after baby came (when I could not afford a fire) I had dried her napkins on my body, I felt that I could not keep that fact from him.
"You dried baby's napkins on your own body?" he asked.
"Sometimes I did. Just for a while," I answered, feeling a little ashamed, and my tears rising.
"Ah!" he said, and then turning to the old doctor, "What a mother will do for her child, Conrad!"
The eyes of Doctor Conrad (which seemed to have become swollen) were still fixed on the face of his colleague, and, speaking as if he had forgotten that I was present with them in the room, he said:
"You think she's very ill, don't you?"
"We'll talk of that in your consulting-room," said the strange doctor.
Then, telling me to lie quiet and they would come back presently, he went downstairs and Martin's father followed him.
Nurse came up while they were away (she had taken possession of me during the last few days), and I asked her who were in the parlour-kitchen.