"But my husband does not love me," I said. "Neither do I love him, and therefore the contract between us is broken already."
The Bishop was very severe with me for this, telling me that as a good child of the Church, I must never, never say that again, for though marriage was a contract it differed from all other contracts whatsoever.
"When you married your husband, dear lady, you were bound to him not by your own act alone, but by a mysterious power from which neither of you can ever free yourself. The power that united you was God, and whom God has joined together no man may put asunder."
I felt my head drooping. The Bishop was saying what I had always been taught, though in the torment of my trouble and the fierce fire of my temptation I had forgotten it.
"The civil law might divorce you," continued the Bishop. "I don't know—I can say nothing about that. But it would have no right to do so because the law can have no right to undo what God Himself has done."
Oh, it was cruel! I felt as if the future of my life were darkening before me—as if the iron bars of a prison were closing upon me, and fetters were being fixed on every limb.
"But even if the civil law could and would divorce you," said the Bishop, "think of the injury you would be inflicting on the Church. Yours was what is called a mixed marriage, and the Church does not favour such marriages, but it consented in this case, and why? Because it hoped to bring back an erring family in a second generation to the fold of the faith. Yet what would you be doing? Without waiting for a second generation you would he defeating its purpose."
A cold chill seemed to creep to my heart at these words. Was it the lost opportunity the Bishop was thinking of, instead of the suffering woman with her bruised and bleeding soul?
I rose to go. The Bishop rose with me, and began to counsel forgiveness.
"Even if you have suffered injury, dear lady," he said—"I don't say you haven't—isn't it possible to forgive? Remember, forgiveness is a divine virtue, enjoined on us all, and especially on a woman towards the man she has married. Only think! How many women have to practise it—every day, all the world over!"
"Ah, well!" I said, and walked to the door.
The Bishop walked with me, urging me, as a good daughter of the Church, to live at peace with my husband, whatever his faults, and when my children came (as please God they would) to "instil into them the true faith with all a mother's art, a mother's tenderness," so that the object of my marriage might be fulfilled, and a good Catholic become the heir to Castle Raa.
"So the Church can do nothing for me?" I said.
"Nothing but pray, dear lady," said the Bishop.
When I left him my heart was in fierce rebellion; and, since the Church could do nothing, I determined to see if the law could do anything, so I ordered my chauffeur to drive to the house of my father's advocate at Holmtown.
The trial in the trees was over by this time, and a dead crow tumbled from one of the tall elms as we passed out of the grounds.
Holmtown is a little city on the face of our bleak west coast, dominated by a broad stretch of sea, and having the sound of the waves always rumbling over it. Mr. Curphy's house faced the shore and his office was an upper room plainly furnished with a writing desk, a deal table, laden with law books and foolscap papers, a stiff arm-chair, covered with American leather, three or four coloured engravings of judges in red and ermine, a photograph of the lawyer himself in wig and gown, an illuminated certificate of his membership of a legal society, and a number of lacquered tin boxes, each inscribed with the name of a client—the largest box bearing the name of "Daniel O'Neill."
My father's advocate received me with his usual bland smile, gave me his clammy fat hand, put me to sit in the arm-chair, hoped my unexpected visit did not presage worse news from the Big house, and finally asked me what he could do.
I told my story over again, omitting my sentimental grievances and coming quickly, and with less delicacy, to the grosser facts of my husband's infidelity.
The lawyer listened with his head aside, his eyes looking out on the sea and his white fingers combing his long brown beard, and before I had finished I could see that he too, like the Bishop, had determined to see nothing.
"You may be right," he began. . . .
"I am right!" I answered.
"But even if you are, I am bound to tell you that adultery is not enough of itself as a ground for divorce."
"If you were a man it would be, but being a woman you must establish cruelty as well."
"Cruelty? Isn't it all cruelty?" I asked.
"In the human sense, yes; in the legal sense, no," answered the lawyer.
And then he proceeded to explain to me that in this country, unlike some others, before a woman could obtain a divorce from her husband she had to prove that he had not only been unfaithful to her, but that he had used violence to her, struck her in the face perhaps, threatened her or endangered her life or health.
"Your husband hasn't done that, has he? No? I thought not. After all he's a gentleman. Therefore there is only one other ground on which you could establish a right to divorce, namely desertion, and your husband is not likely to run away. In fact, he couldn't. It isn't to his interest. We've seen to all that—here," and smiling again, the lawyer patted the top of the lacquered box that bore my father's name.
I was dumbfounded. Even more degrading than the fetters whereby the Church bound me to my marriage were the terms on which the law would release me.
"But assuming that you could obtain a divorce," said the lawyer, "what good would it do you? You would have to relinquish your title."
"I care nothing about my title," I replied.
"And your position."
"I care nothing about that either."
"Come, come," said the lawyer, patting my arm as if I had been an angry child on the verge of tears. "Don't let a fit of pique or spleen break up a marriage that is so suitable from the points of property and position. And then think of your good father. Why did he spend all that money in setting a ruined house on its legs again? That he might carry on his name in a noble family, and through your children, and your children's children. . . ."
"Then the law can do nothing for me?" I said, feeling sick and sore.
"Sorry, very sorry, but under present conditions, as far as I can yet see, nothing," said the lawyer.
"Good-day, sir," I said, and before he could have known what I was doing I had leapt up, left the room, and was hurrying downstairs.
My heart was in still fiercer rebellion now. I would go home. I would appeal to my father. Hard as he had always been with me he was at least a man, not a cold abstraction, like the Church and the law, without bowels of compassion or sense of human suffering.
Although I had sent word that I was coming home, there was no one to welcome me when I arrived.
Aunt Bridget was out shopping, and Betsy Beauty (in the sulks with me, as I afterwards heard, for not asking her to the house-party) had run upstairs on hearing our horn, so I went direct to my father's room.
Nessy MacLeod answered my knock, but instead of opening the door to let me in, she slid out like a cat and closed it behind her. Never had her ungainly figure, her irregular features, and her red head seemed to me so repugnant. I saw at once that she was giving herself the airs of housekeeper, and I noticed that she was wearing the bunch of keys which used to dangle from Aunt Bridget's waist when I was a child.
"Your father is ill," she said.
I told her I knew that, and it was one of the reasons I was there.
"Seriously ill," she said, standing with her back to the door. "The doctor says he is to be kept perfectly quiet."
Indignant at the effrontery of the woman who was trying to keep me out of my father's room, I said:
"Let me pass, please."
"S'sh! He has a temperature, and I don't choose that anybody shall disturb him to-day."
"Let me pass," I repeated, and I must have pitched my voice so high that my father heard it.
"Is that Mary?" came from the other side of the door, whereupon Nessy beat a retreat, and at the next moment I was in my father's room.
His massive and powerful head was propped up with pillows in the camp-bed which was all he ever slept on, and he was looking so ill and changed in so short a time that I was shocked, as well as ashamed at the selfishness of having thought only of myself all the morning.
But he would listen to no sympathy, protesting there was little or nothing the matter with him, that "Conrad was croaking about cancer," but the doctor was a fool.
"What about yourself, though?" he said. "Great doings at the Castle, they're telling me."
I thought this a favourable opportunity to speak about my own affairs, so I began on my story again, and though I found it harder to tell now that my listener was my father, I struggled on and on, as well as I could for the emotion that was choking me.
I thought he would pity me. I expected him to be angry. Although he was showing me some of the contemptuous tenderness which he had always assumed towards my mother, yet I was his daughter, and I felt sure that he would want to leap out of bed that he might take my husband by the throat and shake him as a terrier shakes a rat. But what happened was something quite different.
Hardly had I begun when he burst out laughing.
"God bless my soul," he cried, "you're never going to lose your stomach over a thing like that?"
I thought he had not understood me, so I tried to speak plainer.
"I see," he said. "Sweethearting some other woman, is he? Well, what of it? He isn't the first husband who has done the like, and I guess he won't be the last."
Still I thought I had not made myself clear, so I said my husband had been untrue to me, that his infidelities under my own roof had degraded me in my own eyes and everybody else's, that I could not bear to live such a life any longer and consequently. . . .
"Consequently," said my father, "you come to me to fight your battles for you. No, no, fight them yourself, gel. No father-in-law ought to interfere."
It was a man's point of view I suppose, but I was ready to cry with vexation and disappointment, and though I conquered the impulse to do that I could go no farther.
"Who's the woman?" he asked.
I told him it was one of our house-party.
"Then cut her out. I guess you're clever enough to do it, whoever she is. You've got the looks too, and I don't grudge you the money. Cut her out—that's the best advice I can give you. Make your husband see you're the better woman of the two. Cut her out, I'm saying, and don't come whining here like a cry-baby, who runs to her grandmother's apron-strings at the first scratch she gets outside."
He had been reaching forward, but he now fell back on his pillows, saying:
"I see how it is, though. Women without children are always vapouring about their husbands, as if married life ought to be a garden of Eden. One woman, one man, and all the rest of the balderdash. I sot your Aunt Bridget on you before, gel, and I'll have to do it again I'm thinking. But go away now. If I'm to get better I must have rest. Nessy!" (calling) "I've a mort o' things to do and most everything is on my shoulders. Nessy! My medicine! Nessy! Nessy! Where in the world has that girl gone to?"
"I'm here, Daniel," said Nessy MacLeod coming back to the room; and as I went out and passed down the corridor, with a crushed and broken spirit and the tears ready to gush from my eyes, I heard her coaxing him in her submissive and insincere tones, while he blamed and scolded her.
Half an hour afterwards Aunt Bridget came to me in my mother's room. Never in my life before had I been pleased to see her. She, at least, would see my situation with a woman's eyes. But I was doomed to another disappointment.
"Goodness me, girl," she cried, "what's this your father tells me? One of your own guests, is it? That one with the big eyes I'll go bail. Well, serve you right, I say, for bringing a woman like that into the house with your husband—so smart and such a quality toss with her. If you were lonely coming home why didn't you ask your aunt or your first cousin? There would have been no trouble with your husband then—not about me at all events. But what are you thinking of doing?"
"Getting a divorce," I answered, firmly, for my heart was now aflame.
If I had held a revolver in Aunt Bridget's face she could not have looked more shocked.
"Mary O'Neill, are you mad?" she cried. "Divorce indeed! No woman of our family has ever disgraced herself like that. What will your father say? What's to happen to Betsy Beauty? What are people going to think about me?"
I answered that I had not made my marriage, and those who had made it must take the consequences.
"What does that matter now? Hundreds of thousands of women have married the wrong man of their own free will, but if every woman who has made a rue-bargain were to try to get out of it your way where would the world be, I wonder? Perhaps you think you could marry somebody else, but you couldn't. What decent man wants to marry a divorced woman even if she is the injured party?"
"Then you think I ought to submit—tamely submit to such infidelities?" I asked.
"Sakes alive," said Aunt Bridget, "what else can you do? Men are polygamous animals, and we women have to make up our minds to it. Goodness knows I had to when the old colonel used to go hanging around those English barmaids at the 'Cock and Hen.' Be a little blind, girl—that's what nine wives out of ten have to be every day and every night and all the world over."
"Will that make my husband any better?" I asked.
"I don't say it will," said Aunt Bridget. "It will make you better, though. What the eye doesn't see the heart doesn't grieve for. That's something, isn't it?"
When I went to bed that night my whole soul was in revolt. The Church, the law, society, parental power, all the conventions and respectabilities seemed to be in a conspiracy to condone my husband's offence and to make me his scapegoat, doomed to a life of hypocrisy and therefore immorality and shame. I would die rather than endure it. Yes, I would die that very day rather than return to my husband's house and go through the same ordeal again.
But next morning when I thought of Martin, as I always did on first awakening, I told myself that I would live and be a clean woman in my own eyes whatever the World might think of me.
Martin was now my only refuge, so I would tell him everything. It would be hard to do that, but no matter, I would crush down my modesty and tell him everything. And then, whatever he told me to do I should do it.
I knew quite well what my resolution meant, what it implied and involved, but still I thought, "Whatever he tells me to do I will do it."
I remembered what the Countess in Rome had said about a life of "complete emancipation" as an escape from unhappy marriage, and even yet I thought "Whatever he tells me to do I will do it."
After coming to that conclusion I felt more at ease and got up to dress.
It was a beautiful morning, and I looked down into the orchard, where the apples were reddening under the sunshine and the gooseberries were ripening under their hanging boughs, when in the quiet summer air I heard a footstep approaching.
An elderly woman in an old-fashioned quakerish bonnet was coming up the drive. She carried a little bunch of red and white roses, and her face, which was very sweet and simple, wore the pathetic expression of a child in trouble.
It was Martin's mother. She was coming to see me, and at the first sight of her something told me that my brave resolution was about to be broken, and I was going to be shaken to the depths of my being.
I heard the bell of the front door ringing. After a moment a maid came up and said:
"Mrs. Doctor Conrad has called to see your ladyship."
"Bring her here," I answered.
My heart was in my mouth already.
When Martin's mother came into the room she looked nervous and almost frightened, as if she had charged herself with a mission which she was afraid to fulfil. But I put her to sit in my mother's easy chair and sat on the arm of it myself, and then she seemed calmer and more comfortable.
In spite of the silver threads in the smooth hair under her poke bonnet her dear face was still the face of a child, and never before had it seemed to me so helpless and child-like.
After a moment we began to talk of Martin. I said it must be a great happiness to her to have him back after his long and perilous voyage; and she answered that it was, but his visit was so short, only four days altogether, although the doctor and she had looked forward to it so long.
"That's not Martin's fault, though," she said. "He's such a good son. I really, really think no mother ever had such a good son. But when children grow up they can't always be thinking of the old people, can they? That's why I say to the doctor, 'Doctor,' I say, 'perhaps we were the same ourselves when we were young and first loved each other.'"
Already I thought I saw vaguely what the dear soul had come to tell me, but I only said I supposed Martin was still with them.
She told me no, he had gone to King George's. That was his old school, and being prize-giving day the masters had asked him to the sports and to the dinner that was to be given that night before the breaking-up for the holidays.
"The boys will give him a cheer, I know they will," she said.
I said of course he would be back to-morrow, but again she said no; he had gone for good, and they had said good-bye to him. When he left King George's he was to go on to Castle Raa. Didn't I know that? He had said he would telegraph to me. But being from home perhaps I had not yet received his message. Oh yes, he was going on to the Castle to-morrow night and would stay there until it was time to leave the island.
"I'm so glad," I said, hardly knowing with what fervour I had said it, until I saw the same expression of fear come back to the sweet old face.
"Martin will be glad, too," she said, "and that's why I've come to see you."
"You won't be cross with me, will you? But Martin is so fond of you. . . . He always has been fond of you, ever since he was a boy . . . but this time. . . ."
"This time I thought . . . I really, really thought he was too fond of you."
I had to hold my breast to keep down the cry of joy that was rising to my throat, but the dear soul saw nothing.
"Not that he said so—not to say said so, but it's a mother to see things, isn't it? And he was talking and talking so much about Mary O'Neill that I was frightened—really frightened."
"He's so tender-hearted, you see. And then you . . . you're such a wonderful woman grown. Tommy the Mate says there hasn't been the like of you on this island since they laid your mother under the sod. It's truth enough, too—gospel truth. And Martin—Martin says there isn't your equal, no, not in London itself neither. So . . . so," she said, trembling and stammering, "I was thinking . . . I was thinking he was only flesh and blood like the rest of us, poor boy, and if he got to be too fond of you . . . now that you're married and have a husband, you know. . . ."
The trembling and stammering stopped her for a moment.
"They're saying you are not very happy in your marriage neither. Times and times I've heard people saying he isn't kind to you, and they married you against your will. . . . So I was telling myself if that's so, and Martin and you came together now, and you encouraged him, and let him go on and anything came of it . . . any trouble or disgrace or the like of that . . . it would be such a terrible cruel shocking thing for the boy . . . just when everybody's talking about him and speaking so well too."
It was out at last. Her poor broken-hearted story was told. Being a married woman, unhappily married, too, I was a danger to her beloved son, and she had come to me in her sweet, unmindful, motherly selfishness to ask me to protect him against myself.
"Whiles and whiles I've been thinking of it," she said. "'What will I do?' I've been asking myself, and sometimes I've been thinking I would speak to Martin. I didn't dare do it, though. But when I heard last night that you had come home to see your father, I said: 'Doctor, I'll go over and speak to herself.' 'You'll never do that, Christian Ann,' said the doctor. 'Yes, I will,' I said. 'I'll speak to the young mistress herself. She may be a great lady now, but haven't I nursed her on my knee? She'll never do anything to harm my boy, if I ask her not to. No indeed she won't. Not Mary O'Neill. I'll never believe it of her. Never in this world.'"
The sweet old face was beaming but it was wet with tears, too, and while trying to get out her pocket-handkerchief, she was fumbling with the flowers which she was still holding and passing from hand to hand.
"Let me take the roses," I said as well as I could, for I could scarcely say anything.
"I brought them for you," she said, and then she laughed, a little confusedly, at her own forgetfulness.
"To be sure they're nothing to the green-house ones you'll have at the Castle, but I thought you'd like them for all that. They're from the tree outside the window of your own little room. We call it your room still—the one you slept in when you came in your little velvet frock and pinnie, singing carols to my door. 'Mary O'Neill's room,' Martin called it then, and it's been the same to us ever since."
This touched me so deeply that, before I knew what I was doing, I was putting my arm about her waist and asking her to tell me what she wished me to do and I would do it.
"Will you, though?" she said, and then one by one she propounded the artless little schemes she had concocted to cure Martin of what she conceived to be his love for me.
Her first thought was that I might make excuse of my father's illness to remain where I was until the time came for Martin to leave the island; but she repented of this almost immediately, remembering that Martin was set on seeing me, ('I must see her,' he had said) and if he did not see me he would be so downhearted.
Then she thought I might praise up my husband to Martin, saying what a fine man he was to be sure, and how good he had been to me, and what a proud woman I was to be married to him; but she was ashamed of that almost as soon as she had said it, for it might not be true, and Martin might see I was pretending.
Finally, she suggested that in order to create a coolness between Martin and myself I might try not to be so nice to him, speaking short to him sometimes, and even harsh and angry; but no, that would be too cruel, especially from me, after all these years, just when he was going so far away, too, and only the Lord and the blessed saints knew what was to become of him.
It was Martin, Martin, always Martin. Still in her sweet motherly selfishness she could think of nobody else. Fondly as she loved me, it never occurred to her for a moment that if I did what she wished and sent Martin away from me, I too would suffer. But a harder heart than mine would have melted at the sight of her perplexity and distress, and when with a helpless look she said:
"I don't know what you are to do—I really, really don't," I comforted her (needing comfort so much myself), and told her I would find a way of my own to do what she desired.
"Will you, though?" she said.
"Indeed I will."
"And you won't send him away sore-hearted, either?"
"Indeed I won't."
"I knew you would say that. May the Lord and His holy Mother bless you!"
She was weeping tender, copious, blessed tears by this time, but there were smiles behind them.
"Not that there's another woman in the world I would rather give him to if things were as they used to be. But they're different now, are they not?" she asked.
"Yes, they're different now," I answered.
"But are you sure you're not cross with me for coming?"
"Oh, no, no," I said, and it was all I could say for my voice was failing me.
She gave a sigh of inexpressible relief and then rose to go.
"I must be going now. The doctor is digging in the garden and he hasn't had his breakfast. But I put the pot on the slouree to boil and it will be ready for the porridge."
She got as far as the door and then turned and said:
"I wish I had a photo of you—a right one, just as you are at this very minute. I'd hang it in your own room, and times and times in the day I'd be running upstairs to look at it. But it's all as one. I've got a photo of you here," (touching her breast) "and sometimes I can see it as plain as plain."
I could not speak after that, but I kissed her as she was going out, and she said:
"That's nice, now! Good-bye, my chree! You'll not be going home until to-morrow, it's like, so perhaps I'll be putting another sight on you. Good-bye!"
I went to the window to watch her as she walked down the drive. She was wiping her eyes, but her head was up and I thought her step was light, and I was sure her face was shining.
God bless her! The dear sweet woman! Such women as she is, and my mother was—so humble and loving, so guileless and pure, never saying an unkind word or thinking an unkind thought—are the flowers of the world that make the earth smell sweet.
* * * * *
When she was gone and I remembered the promise I had made to her I asked myself what was to become of me. If I could neither divorce my husband under any circumstances without breaking a sacrament of the Church, nor love Martin and be loved by him without breaking the heart of his mother, where was I?
I intended to go home the following morning; I was to meet Martin the following night. What was I to say? What was I to do?
All day long these questions haunted me and I could find no answers. But towards evening I took my troubles where I had often taken them—to Father Dan.
The door of the Presbytery was opened by Father Dan's Irish housekeeper, a good old soul whose attitude to her master was that of a "moithered" mother to a wilful child.
All the way up the narrow staircase to his room, she grumbled about his reverence. Unless he was sickening for the scarlet fever she didn't know in her seven sinses what was a-matter with him these days. He was as white as a ghost, and as thin as a shadder, and no wonder neither, for he didn't eat enough to keep body and soul together.
Yesterday itself she had cooked him a chicken as good as I could get at the Big House; "done to a turn, too, with a nice bit of Irish bacon on top, and a bowl of praties biled in their jackets and a basin of beautiful new buttermilk;" but no, never a taste nor a sup did he take of it.
"It's just timpting Providence his reverence is, and it'll be glory to God if you'll tell him so."
"What's that you're saying about his reverence, Mrs. Cassidy?" cried Father Dan from the upper landing.
"I'm saying you're destroying yourself with your fasting and praying and your midnight calls at mountain cabins, and never a ha'porth of anything in your stomach to do it on."
"Whisht then, Mrs. Cassidy, it's tay-time, isn't it? So just step back to your kitchen and put on your kittle, and bring up two of your best china cups and saucers, and a nice piece of buttered toast, not forgetting a thimbleful of something neat, and then it's the mighty proud woman ye'll be entoirely to be waiting for once on the first lady in the island. . . . Come in, my daughter, come in."
He was laughing as he let loose his Irish tongue, but I could see that his housekeeper had not been wrong and that he looked worn and troubled.
As soon as he had taken me into his cosy study and put me to sit in the big chair before the peat and wood fire, I would have begun on my errand, but not a word would he hear until the tea had come up and I had taken a cup of it.
Then stirring the peats for light as well as warmth, (for the room was dark with its lining of books, and the evening was closing in) he said:
"Now what is it? Something serious—I can see that much."
"It is serious, Father Dan."
"Tell me then," he said, and as well as I could I told him my story.
I told him that since I had seen him last, during that violent scene at Castle Raa, my relations with my husband had become still more painful; I told him that, seeing I could not endure any longer the degradation of the life I was living, I had thought about divorce; I told him that going first to the Bishop and afterwards to my father's advocate I had learned that neither the Church nor the law, for their different reasons, could grant me the relief I required; and finally, in a faint voice (almost afraid to hear myself speak it), I told him my solemn and sacred secret—that whatever happened I could not continue to live where I was now living because I loved somebody else than my husband.
While I was speaking Father Dan was shuffling his feet and plucking at his shabby cassock, and as soon as I had finished he flashed out on me with an anger I had never seen in his face or heard in his voice before.
"I know who it is," he said. "It's Martin Conrad."
I was so startled by this that I was beginning to ask how he knew, when he cried:
"Never mind how I know. Perhaps you think an old priest has no eyes for anything but his breviary, eh? It's young Martin, isn't it?"
"The wretch, the rascal, the scoundrel! If he ever dares to come to this house again, I'll slam the door in his face."
I knew he loved Martin almost as much as I did, so I paid no heed to the names he was calling him, but I tried to say that I alone had been to blame, and that Martin had done nothing.
"Don't tell me he has done nothing," cried Father Dan. "I know what he has done He has told you he loves you, hasn't he?"
"He has been colloguing with you, then, and getting you to say things?"
"Pitying and sympathising with you, anyway, in your relations with your husband?"
"Not for one moment."
"He had better not! Big man as he is in England now, I'll warm his jacket for him if he comes here making mischief with a child of mine. But thank the Lord and the holy saints he's going away soon, so you'll see no more of him."
"But he is coming to Castle Raa," I said, "and I am to see him to-morrow night."
"That too! The young scoundrel!"
I explained that my husband had invited him, being prompted to do so by the other woman.
"Worse and worse!" cried Father Dan. "Don't you see that they're laying a trap for you, and like two young fools you're walking directly into it. But no matter! You mustn't go."
I told him that I should be compelled to do so, for Martin was coming on my account only, and I could neither tell him the truth nor make an excuse that would not be a falsehood.
"Well, well, perhaps you're right there. It's not the best way to meet temptation to be always running away from it. That's Irish, but it's true enough, though. You must conquer this temptation, my child; you must fight it and overcome it."
"But I've tried and tried and I cannot," I said.
And then I told him the story of my struggle—how love had been no happiness to me but only a cruel warfare, how I had suffered and prayed and gone to mass and confession, yet all to no purpose, for my affection for Martin was like a blazing fire which nothing could put out.
Father Dan's hands and lips were trembling while I spoke and I could see that he was shuddering with pity for me, so I went on to say that if God had put this pure and holy love into my heart could it be wrong—
"Stop a minute," cried Father Dan. "Who says God put it there? And who informed you it was pure and holy? Let us see where we are. Come, now. You say the Bishop told you that you could never be divorced under any circumstances?"
"Yet you wish to leave your husband?"
"How can I help it? The life I have been living is too horrible."
"Never mind that now. You wish to leave your husband, don't you?"
"I . . . I must."
"And you want to go to this . . . this young . . . in short, you want to go to Martin Conrad? That's the plain truth, isn't it? Don't deny it. Very well, let us call things by their proper names. What is the fact? You are asking me—me, your spiritual Father—to allow you to live a life of open adultery. That's what it comes to. You know it is, and God and His holy Mother have mercy on your soul!"
I was so startled and shocked by his fierce assault, and by the cruel climax it had come to, that I flung up my hands to my face and kept them there, for I felt as if my brain had been stunned and my heart was bursting.
How long I sat like this, with my hidden face to the fire, I do not know; but after a long silence in which I heard nothing but my own heaving breath, I became aware that Father Dan had drawn one of my hands down to his knee and was smoothing it with his own.
"Don't be angry with your old priest for telling you the truth," he said. "It's hard to bear; I know it's hard; but it's as hard for him as for you, my child. Think—only think what he is trying to save you from. If you do what you wish to do, you will put yourself out of communion. If you put yourself out of communion, you will cease to be a Catholic. What will become of you then, my daughter? What will be left to replace the consolations of the Church—in sorrow, in suffering, in the hour of death? Have you never thought of that?"
I never had. It was thrilling through and through me.
"You say you cannot live any longer with your husband because he has broken the vow he made to you at your marriage. But think how many many thousands of poor women all the world over are doing it every day—living with adulterous husbands for the sake of their homes and children. And not for the sake of their homes and children only, but for the sake of their souls and their religion. Blessed, blessed martyrs, though we know nothing about them, holding society and the Church and the human family together."
I was trembling all over. I felt as if Father Dan were trying to take away from me the only sweet and precious thing in my life that was left.
"Then you think you cannot live without the one you love, because all your heart is full of him. But think of the holy women, the holy saints, who have gone through the same temptation—fighting against it with all the strength of their souls until the very wounds of our blessed Lord have been marked on their bodies."
He was creeping closer to my side. His voice was quivering at my ear. I was struggling hard, and still trembling all over.
"Hold fast by the Church, my child. It is your only refuge. Remember that God made your marriage and you cannot break it without forsaking your faith. Can anything be good that is bought at such a price? Nothing in this world! When you meet to-morrow night—you two children—tell him that. Tell him I told you to say so. . . . I love you both. Don't break your old priest's heart. He's in trouble enough for you already. Don't let him think that he must lose you altogether. And then remember your mother, too—that saint in heaven who suffered so long and was patient . . . Everything will depend upon you, my child. In matters of this kind the woman is the stronger vessel. Be strong for him also. Renounce your guilty love, my daughter—"
"But I cannot, I cannot," I said. "I love him, and I cannot give him up!"
"Let us ask God to help you," said Father Dan, and still holding my hand he drew me down to my knees and knelt beside me. The room was dark by this time, and only the sullen glow from the peat fire was on our faces.
Then in a low voice, so low that it was like his throbbing whisper before the altar, when he raised the Sacred host, Father Dan prayed for me (calling me his dear child whom God had committed to his care) that I might keep my marriage vow and be saved from the temptation to break it.
His beautiful prayer or his throbbing voice, or both together, had a great effect upon me, and when I rose to my feet, I felt stronger. Although Martin was as dear to me as ever, I thought I saw my way at last. If he loved me as I loved him, I had to be brave for both of us. I had to oppose to the carnal instinct of love the spiritual impulse of renunciation. Yes, yes, that was what I had to do.
Father Dan saw me to the door.
"Give my love to my boy," he said, "and don't forget what I told you to tell him."
"I'll tell him," I replied, for though I knew my heart was bleeding I felt calm and more courageous.
It was milking time and the cows were lowing in the byre when I crossed the fields and the farm-yard on my way back to my father's house.
Early next morning I left it for Castle Raa.
Although it was mid-day before I reached the Castle, the gate to the park had not been opened, the drive was deserted and even the great door to the house itself was closed.
And when, in answer to my ringing, one of the maids came after a certain delay, wearing neither apron nor cap, I found the hall empty and no sign of life in the house, except a shrill chorus of laughter which came from the servants' quarters.
"What's the meaning of this?" I asked, but before the girl could reply, Price who had come down to take my wraps said:
"I'll tell your ladyship presently."
As we were going upstairs she told me that the entire house-party had that morning gone off on a cruise in Mr. Eastcliff's yacht, that they would be away several days, and that Madame had left a letter for me which was supposed to explain everything.
I found it on the mantelpiece in my boudoir under an open telegram which had been stuck into the edge of the bevelled glass. The telegram, which was addressed to me, was from Martin.
"Expect to arrive to-morrow evening. Staying until Wednesday afternoon. If not convenient wire Principal's House, King George's College."
"That means to-day," said Price. "The telegram came yesterday. Madame opened it and she told me to say—"
"Let me read her letter first," I said.
The letter ran as follows:
_"My Dearest Mary,
"You will be astonished to find the house empty and all your racketty guests gone. Let me explain, and if you are angry about what has happened you must lay all the blame on me.
"Well, you see, my dear, it was arranged nearly a month ago that before we left your delightful house we should make a little cruise round your charming island. But we had not expected that this would come off so soon, when suddenly and unexpectedly that silly Mr. Eastcliff, who has no more brains than a spring chicken, remembered that he had promised to visit a friend who has taken a shoot in Skye. Result—we had to make the cruise immediately or not at all, and yet behold! our hostess was away on an urgent call of sickness, and what in the world were we to do without her?
"Everybody was in a quandary—that wise Mr. Vivian saying it would be 'jolly bad form by Jove' to go without you, while Mr. Eastcliffs 'deelightfully vicked' little Camilla declared it would be 'vilaynous,' and your husband vowed that his Margaret Mary could not possibly be left behind.
"It was then that a certain friend of yours took the liberty of remembering that you did not like the sea, and that even if you had been here and had consented to go with us it would have been only out of the sweetness of your heart, which I've always known to be the tenderest and most unselfish in the world.
"This seemed to satisfy the whole house and everybody was at ease, when lo! down on us like a thunderbolt came the telegram from Mr. Conrad. Thinking it might require to be repeated, I took the liberty of opening it, and then we were in a plight, I assure you.
"What on earth was he to think of our leaving the house when he was on the point of arriving? And, above all, how were we to support the disappointment of missing him—some of us, the women especially, and myself in particular, being just crazy to see him again?
"This nearly broke down our plans altogether, but once more I came to the rescue by remembering that Mr. Conrad was not coming to see us but you, and that the very kindest thing we could do for a serious person of his kind would be to take our racketty presence out of the way.
"That contented everybody except my mother, who—would you believe it?—had gotten some prudish notions into her head about the impropriety of leaving you alone, and declared her intention of staying behind to keep you in countenance! We soon laughed her out of that, though, and now, to relieve you of her company, we are carrying her away with us—which will be lots of fun, for she's as fond of water as a cat and will fancy she is seasick all the time.
"Good-bye, dearest! We're just off. I envy you. You happy, happy girl! I am sure you will have such a good time. What a man! As natural as nature! I see, by the insular paper that your islanders adore him.
"Hope you found your father better. Another wonderful man! Such an original type, too! Good-bye, my dearest dear_, ALMA.
"P.S. Have missed you so much, darling! Castle Raa wasn't the same place without you—I assure you it wasn't."
While I was turning this letter over in my hand, wondering what the beautiful fiend had meant by it, my maid, who was standing by, was visibly burning with a desire to know its contents and give me the benefit of her own interpretation.
I told her in general what Alma had said and she burst into little screams of indignation.
"Well, the huzzy! The wicked huzzy! That's all she is, my lady, begging your pardon, and there's no other name for her. Arranged a month ago, indeed! It was never thought of until last night after Mr. Conrad's telegram came."
"Then what does it mean?"
"I can tell your ladyship what it means, if you'll promise not to fly out at me again. It means that Madame wants to stand in your shoes, and wouldn't mind going through the divorce court to do so. And seeing that you can't be tempted to divorce your husband because you are a Catholic, she thinks your husband, who isn't, might be tempted to divorce you. So she's setting a trap for you, and she expects you to fall into it while she's away, and if you do. . . ."
"Oh, trust me, your ladyship. I haven't been keeping my ears closed while your ladyship has been away, and if that chatterbox of a maid of hers hadn't been such a fool I suppose she would have been left behind to watch. But there's somebody else in the house who thinks she has a grievance against you, and if listening at keyholes will do anything . . . Hush!"
Price stopped suddenly with her finger to her lip, and then going on tiptoe to the door she opened it with a jerk, when the little housekeeper was to be seen rising to an upright position while pretending that she had slipped.
"I only came to ask if her ladyship had lunched?" she said.
I answered that I had not, and then told her (so as to give her no further excuse for hanging about me) that in future she was to take her orders from Price—an announcement which caused my maid to stand several inches taller in her shoes, and sent the housekeeper hopping downstairs with her beak in the air like an injured cockatoo.
All the afternoon I was in a state of the utmost agitation, sometimes wondering what Martin would think of the bad manners of my husband, who after inviting him had gone away just as he was about to arrive; sometimes asking myself, with a quiver of shame, if he would imagine that this was a scheme of my own contriving; but oftenest remembering my resolution of renunciation and thinking of the much fiercer fight that was before me now that I had to receive and part with him alone.
More than once I had half a mind to telegraph to Martin putting him off, and though I told myself that to do so would not be renunciation but merely flight from temptation, I always knew at the bottom of my heart that I really wanted him to come.
Nevertheless I vowed to my very soul that I should be strong—strong in every word and look—and if Alma was daring me I should defy her, and she would see that I should neither yield nor run away.
Thus I entrenched myself at last in a sort of bright strong faith in my power to resist temptation. But I must leave it to those who know better than I the way to read a woman's heart to say how it came to pass that towards five o'clock, when I heard the sound of wheels and going on to my balcony saw a jaunting-car at the front entrance, and then opening my door heard Martin's great voice in the hall, I flew downstairs—literally flew—in my eagerness to welcome him.
There he was in his brown Harris tweeds and soft slouch hat with such an atmosphere of health and sweep of winds about him as almost took away my breath.
"Helloa!" he cried, and I am sure his eyes brightened at the sight of me for they were like the sea when the sun shines on it.
"You're better, aren't you?" he said. "No need to ask that, though—the colour in your face is wonderful."
In spite of my resolution, and the attempt I made to show him only a kind of glad seriousness, I could not help it if I blushed. Also I could not help it if, while going upstairs and telling him what had happened to the house-party, I said he was doomed to the disappointment of having nobody except myself for company, and then, woman-like, waited eagerly for what he would say.
"So they're all gone except yourself, are they?" he said.
"I'm afraid they are," I answered.
"Well, if it had been the other way about, and you had gone and they had stayed, by the stars of God, I should have been disappointed. But things being as they are, we'll muddle through, shan't we?"
Not all the vows in the world could prevent me from finding that answer delightful, and when, on entering my boudoir, he said:
"Sorry to miss Madame though. I wanted a word with that lady before I went down to the Antarctic," I could not resist the mischievous impulse to show him Alma's letter.
While he read it his bright face darkened (for all the world like a jeweller's window when the shutter comes down on it), and when he had finished it he said once more:
"I hate that woman! She's like a snake. I'd like to put my foot on it."
"She may run away as much as she likes, but I will yet, you go bail, I will."
He was covered with dust and wanted to wash, so I rang for a maid, who told me that Mr. and Mrs. Eastcliff's rooms had been prepared for Mr. Conrad. This announcement (though I tried to seem unmoved) overwhelmed me with confusion, seeing that the rooms in question almost communicated with my own. But Martin only laughed and said:
"Stunning! We'll live in this wing of the house and leave the rest of the old barracks to the cats, should we?"
I was tingling with joy, but all the same I knew that a grim battle was before me.
By the time he returned from his room I had tea served in my boudoir, and while we sat facing the open door to the balcony he told me about his visit to his old school; how at the dinner on the previous night the Principal had proposed his health, and after the lads had sung "Forty Years On" he had told them yarns about his late expedition until they made the long hiss of indrawn breath which is peculiar to boys when they are excited; how they had followed him to his bedroom as if he had been the Pied Piper of Hamelin and questioned him and clambered over him until driven off by the house-master; and how, finally, before he was out of bed this morning the smallest scholar in the junior house, a tiny little cherub with the face of his mother, had come knocking at his door to ask if he wanted a cabin boy.
Martin laughed as if he had been a boy himself (which he always was and always will be) while telling me these stories, and I laughed too, though with a certain tremor, for I was constantly remembering my resolution and feeling afraid to be too happy.
After tea we went out on to the balcony, and leaned side by side over the crumbling stone balustrade to look at the lovely landscape—loveliest when the sun is setting on it—with the flower-garden below and the headland beyond, covered with heather and gorse and with a winding white path lying over it like the lash of a whip until it dipped down to the sea.
"It's a beautiful old world, though, isn't it?" said Martin.
"Isn't it?" I answered, and we looked into each other's eyes and smiled.
Then we heard the light shsh of a garden hose, and looking down saw an old man watering the geraniums.
"Sakes alive! It's Tommy the Mate," cried Martin, and leaving me on the balcony he went leaping down the stone stairway to greet his old comrade.
"God bless me!" said Tommy. "Let me have a right look at ye. Yes, yes, it's himself, for sure."
A little gale of tender memories floated up to me from my childhood at seeing those two together again, with Martin now standing head and shoulders above the old man's Glengarry cap.
"You've been over the highways of the sea, farther than Franklin himself, they're telling me," said Tommy, and when Martin, laughing merrily, admitted that he had been farther south at all events, the old sailor said:
"Well, well! Think of that now! But wasn't I always telling the omadhauns what you'd be doing some day?"
Then with a "glime" of his "starboard eye" in my direction he said:
"You haven't got a woman yet though? . . . No, I thought not. You're like myself, boy—there's not many of them sorts in for you."
After that, and a more undisguised look my way, the old man talked about me, still calling me the "lil misthress" and saying they were putting a power of gold on my fingers, but he would be burning candles to the miracles of God to see the colour of it in my cheeks too.
"She's a plant that doesn't take kindly to a hot-house same as this," (indicating the house) "and she'll not be thriving until somebody's bedding her out, I'm thinking."
It was Saturday, and after dinner Martin proposed that we should walk to the head of the cliff to see Blackwater by night, which was a wonderful spectacle, people said, at the height of the season, so I put a silk wrap over my head and we set out together.
There was no moon and few stars were visible, but it was one of those luminous nights in summer which never forget the day. Therefore we walked without difficulty along the white winding path with its nutty odour of the heather and gorse until we came near the edge of the cliff, and then suddenly the town burst upon our view, with its promenades, theatres, and dancing palaces ablaze with electric light, which was reflected with almost equal brilliance in the smooth water of the bay.
We were five miles from Blackwater, but listening hard we thought we could hear, through the boom of the sea on the dark cliffs below us, the thin sounds of the bands that were playing in the open-air pavilions, and looking steadfastly we thought we could see, in the black patches under the white light, the movement of the thousands of persons who were promenading along "the front."
This led Martin to talk of my father, saying as we walked back, with the dark outlines of the sleeping mountains confronting us, what a marvellous man he had been to transform in twenty years the little fishing and trading port into a great resort for hundreds of thousands of pleasure-seekers.
"But is he any better or happier for the wealth it has brought him, and for the connections he has bought with it? Is anybody any better?" said Martin.
"I know one who isn't," I answered.
I had not meant to say that. It had slipped out unawares, and in my confusion at the self-revelation which it seemed to make, I tripped in the darkness and would have fallen if Martin had not caught me up.
In doing this he had to put his arms about me and to hold me until I was steady on my feet, and having done so he took my hand and drew it through his arm and in this way we walked the rest of the way back.
It would be impossible and perhaps foolish to say what that incident meant to me. I felt a thrill of joy, a quivering flood of delight which, with all the raptures of my spiritual love, had never come to me before.
Every woman who loves her husband must know what it is, but to me it was a great revelation. It was just as if some new passion had sprung into life in me at a single moment. And it had—the mighty passion that lies at the root of our being, the overwhelming instinct of sex which, taking no account of religion and resolutions, sweeps everything before it like a flood.
I think Martin must have felt it too, for all at once he ceased to speak, and I was trembling so much with this new feeling of tenderness that I could not utter a word. So I heard nothing as we walked on but the crackle of our footsteps on the gravel path and the measured boom of the sea which we were leaving behind us—nothing but that and the quick beating in my own breast.
When we came to the garden the frowning face of the old house was in front of us, and it was all in darkness, save for the light in my room which came out on to the balcony. Everything was quiet. The air was breathless. There was not a rustle in the trees.
We took two or three turns on the lawn in front of my windows, saying nothing but feeling terribly, fearfully happy. After a few moments (or they seemed few) a cuckoo clock on my desk struck eleven, and we went up the stone stairway into my boudoir and parted for the night.
Even then we did not speak, but Martin took my hand and lifted my fingers to his lips, and the quivering delight I had been feeling ever since I slipped on the headland rushed through me again.
At the next moment I was in my room. I did not turn on the light. I undressed in the darkness and when my maid came I was in bed. She wanted to tell me about a scene with the housekeeper in the kitchen, but I said:
"I don't want to talk to-night, Price."
I did not know what was happening to me. I only knew, for the first time that night, that above everything else I was a woman, and that my renunciation, if it was ever to come to pass, would be a still more tragic thing than I had expected.
My grim battle had begun.
When I awoke in the morning I took myself severely to task. Was this how I was fulfilling the promise I had made to Martin's mother, or preparing to carry out the counsel of Father Dan?
"I must be more careful," I told myself. "I must keep a stronger hold of myself."
The church bells began to ring, and I determined to go to mass. I wanted to go alone and much as I grudged every minute of Martin's company which I lost, I was almost glad when, on going into the boudoir with my missal in my hand, I found him at a table covered with papers and heard him say:
"Helloa! See these letters and telegrams? Sunday as it is I've got to answer them."
Our church was a little chapel-of-ease on the edge of my husband's estate, opened, after centuries of neglect, by the bad Lord Raa, in his regenerate days, for the benefit of the people of his own village. It was very sweet to see their homely faces as they reverently bowed and rose, and even to hear their creachy voices when they joined in the singing of the Gloria.
Following the gospel there was a sermon on the words "Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil." The preacher was a young curate, the brother of my husband's coachman; and it occurred to me that he could know very little of temptation for himself, but the instruction he gave us was according to the doctrine of our Church, as I had received it from the Reverend Mother and the Cardinals who used to hold retreats at the convent.
"Beware of the temptations of the flesh, my children," said the priest. "The Evil One is very subtle, and not only in our moments of pride and prosperity, but also in our hours of sorrow and affliction, he is for ever waiting and watching to betray us to our downfall and damnation."
In the rustling that followed the sermon a poor woman who sat next to me, with a print handkerchief over her head, whispered in my ear that she was sorry she had not brought her husband, for he had given way to drink, poor fellow, since the island had had such good times and wages had been so high.
But the message came closer home to me. Remembering the emotions of the night before, I prayed fervently to be strengthened against all temptation and preserved from all sin. And when the mass was resumed I recalled some of the good words with which I had been taught to assist at the Holy Sacrifice—praying at the Credo that as I had become a child in the bosom of the Church I might live and die in it.
When the service was over I felt more at ease and I emptied my purse, I remember, partly into the plate and partly to the poor people at the church door.
It was in this spirit that I returned home in the broad sunshine of noonday. But half way up the drive I met Martin walking briskly down to meet me. He was bareheaded and in flannels; and I could not help it if he looked to me so good, so strong, and so well able to protect a woman against every danger, that the instructions I had received in church, and the resolutions I had formed there, seemed to run out of my heart as rapidly as the dry sand of the sea-shore runs through one's fingers.
"Helloa!" he cried, as usual. "The way I've been wasting this wonderful morning over letters and telegrams! But not another minute will I give to anything under the stars of God but you."
If there was any woman in the world who could have resisted that greeting I was not she, and though I was a little confused I was very happy.
As we walked back to the house we talked of my father and his sudden illness, then of his mother and my glimpse of her, and finally of indifferent things, such as the weather, which had been a long drought and might end in a deluge.
By a sort of mutual consent we never once spoke of the central subject of our thoughts—my marriage and its fatal consequences—but I noticed that Martin's voice was soft and caressing, that he was walking close to my side, and that as often as I looked up at him he was looking down at me and smiling.
It was the same after luncheon when we went out into the garden and sat on a seat in the shrubbery almost immediately facing my windows, and he spread a chart on a rustic table and pointing to a red line on it said:
"Look, this is the course of our new cruise, please God."
He talked for a long time, about his captain and crew; the scientific experts who had volunteered to accompany him, his aeronautic outfit, his sledges and his skis; but whatever he talked about—if it was only his dogs and the food he had found for them—it was always in that soft, caressing voice which made me feel as if (though he never said one word of love) he were making love to me, and saying the sweetest things a man could say to a woman.
After a time I found myself answering in the same tones, and even when speaking on the most matter-of-fact subjects I felt as if I were saying the sweetest things a woman could say to a man.
We sat a long time so, and every moment we were together seemed to make our relation more perilous, until at length the sweet seductive twilight of the shortening autumn day began to frighten me, and making excuse of a headache I said I must go indoors.
He walked with me up the stone-stairway and into my boudoir, until we got to the very door of my room, and then suddenly he took up both my hands and kissed them passionately.
I felt the colour rushing to my cheeks and I had an almost irresistible impulse to do something in return. But conquering it with a great effort, I turned quickly into my bedroom, shut the door, pulled down the blinds and then sat and covered my face and asked myself, with many bitter pangs, if it could possibly be true (as I had been taught to believe) that our nature was evil and our senses were always tempting us to our destruction.
Several hours passed while I sat in the darkness with this warfare going on between my love and my religion, and then Price came to dress me for dinner, and she was full of cheerful gossip.
"Men are such children," she said; "they can't help giving themselves away, can they?"
It turned out that after I had left the lawn she had had some conversation with Martin, and I could see that she was eager to tell me what he had said about myself.
"The talk began about your health and altered looks, my lady. 'Don't you think your mistress is looking ill?' said he. 'A little,' I said. 'But her body is not so ill as her heart, if you ask me,' said I."
"You never said that, Price?"
"Well, I could not help saying it if I thought so, could I?"
"And what did he say?"
"He didn't say anything then, my lady, but when I said, 'You see, sir, my lady is tied to a husband she doesn't love,' he said, 'How can she, poor thing? 'Worse than that,' I said, 'her husband loves another woman.' 'The fool! Where does he keep his eyes?' said he. 'Worse still,' said I, 'he flaunts his infidelities in her very face.' 'The brute!' he said, and his face looked so fierce that you would have thought he wanted to take his lordship by the throat and choke him. 'Why doesn't she leave the man?' said he. 'That's what I say, sir, but I think it's her religion,' I said. 'Then God help her, for there's no remedy for that,' said he. And then seeing him so down I said, 'But we women are always ruled by our hearts in the long run.' 'Do you think so?' said he. 'I'm sure of it,' said I, 'only we must have somebody to help us,' I said. 'There's her father,' said he. 'A father is of no use in a case like this,' I said, 'especially such a one as my lady's is, according to all reports. No,' said I, 'it must be somebody else—somebody who cares enough for a woman to risk everything for her, and just take her and make her do what's best for herself whether she likes it or not. Now if somebody like that were to come to my lady, and get her out of her trouble,' I said. . . . 'Somebody will,' said he. 'Make your mind easy about that. Somebody will,' he said, and then he went on walking to and fro."
Price told this story as if she thought she was bringing me the gladdest of glad tidings; but the idea that Martin had come back into my life to master me, to take possession of me, to claim me as his own (just as he did when I was a child) and thereby compel me to do what I had promised his mother and Father Dan not to do—this was terrifying.
But there was a secret joy in it too, and every woman will know what I mean if I say that my heart was beating high with the fierce delight of belonging to somebody when I returned to the boudoir where Martin was waiting to sit down to dinner.
Then came a great surprise.
Martin was standing with his back to the fire-place, and I saw in a moment that the few hours which had intervened had changed him as much as they had changed me.
"Helloa! Better, aren't we?" he cried, but he was now cold, almost distant, and even his hearty voice seemed to have sunk to a kind of nervous treble.
I could not at first understand this, but after a while I began to see that we two had reached the point beyond which it was impossible to go without encountering the most tremendous fact of our lives—my marriage and all that was involved by it.
During dinner we spoke very little. He seemed intentionally not to look at me. The warm glances of his sea-blue eyes, which all the afternoon had been making the colour mount to my cheeks, had gone, and it sent a cold chill to my heart to look across the table at his clouded face. But sometimes when he thought my own face was down I was conscious that his eyes were fixed on me with a questioning, almost an imploring gaze. His nervousness communicated itself to me. It was almost as if we had begun to be afraid of each other and were hovering on the brink of fatal revelations.
When dinner was over, the table cleared and the servants gone, I could bear the strain no longer, so making excuse of a letter I had to write to the Reverend Mother I sat down at my desk, whereupon Martin lit a cigar and said he would stroll over the headland.
I heard his footsteps going down the stone stairway from the balcony; I heard their soft thud on the grass of the lawn; I heard their sharper crackle on the gravel of the white path, and then they mingled with the surge and wash of the flowing tide and died away in the distance.
I rose from the desk, and going over to the balcony door looked out into the darkness. It was a beautiful, pathetic, heart-breaking night. No moon, but a perfect canopy of stars in a deep blue sky. The fragrance of unseen flowers—sweetbriar and rose as well as ripening fruit—came up from the garden. There was no wind either, not even the rustle of a leaf, and the last bird of evening was silent. All the great orchestra of nature was still, save for the light churning of the water running in the glen and the deep organ song of the everlasting sea.
"What can I do?" I asked myself.
Now that Martin was gone I had begun to understand him. His silence had betrayed his heart to me even more than his speech could have done. Towering above him like a frowning mountain was the fact that I was a married woman and he was trying to stand erect in his honour as a man.
"He must be suffering too," I told myself.
That was a new thought to me and it cut me to the quick.
When it came to me first I wanted to run after him and throw myself into his arms, and then I wanted to run away from him altogether.
I felt as if I were on the brink of two madnesses—the madness of breaking my marriage vows and the madness of breaking the heart of the man who loved me.
"Oh, what can I do?" I asked myself again.
I wanted him to go; I wanted him to stay; I did not know what I wanted. At length I remembered that in ordinary course he would be going in two days more, and I said to myself:
"Surely I can hold out that long."
But when I put this thought to my breast, thinking it would comfort me, I found that it burnt like hot iron.
Only two days, and then he would be gone, lost to me perhaps for ever. Did my renunciation require that? It was terrible!
There was a piano in the room, and to strengthen and console myself in my trouble I sat down to it and played and sang. I sang "Ave Maria Stella."
I was singing to myself, so I know I began softly—so softly that my voice must have been a whisper scarcely audible outside the room—
"Hail thou star of ocean, Portal of the sky."
But my heart was full and when I came to the verses which always moved me most—
"Virgin of all virgins, To thy shelter take us"—
my voice, without my knowing it, may have swelled out into the breathless night until it reached Martin, where he walked on the dark headland, and sounded to him like a cry that called him back.
I cannot say. I only know that when with a thickening throat I had come to an end, and my forehead had fallen on to the key-board, and there was no other sound in the air but the far-off surging of the sea. I heard somebody calling me in a soft and tremulous whisper,
It was he. I went out to the balcony and there he was on the lawn below. The light of the room was on him and never before had I seen his strong face so full of agitation.
"Come down," he said. "I have something to say to you."
I could not resist him. He was my master. I had to obey.
When I reached the bottom of the stairway he took my hand, and I did not know whether it was his hand or mine that was trembling. He led me across the lawn to the seat in the shrubbery that almost faced my windows. In the soft and soundless night I could hear his footsteps on the turf and the rustle of my dress over the grass.
We sat, and for a moment he did not speak. Then with a passionate rush of words he said:
"Mary, I hadn't meant to say what I'm going to say now, but I can't do anything else. You are in trouble, and I can't stand by and see you so ill-used. I can't and I won't!"
I tried to answer him, but my throat was fluttering and I could not speak.
"It's only a few days before I ought to sail, but they may be enough in which to do something, and if they're not I'll postpone the expedition or put it off, or send somebody in my place, for go away I cannot and leave you like this."
I tried to say that he should not do that whatever happened to me, but still I could not speak.
"Mary. I want to help you. But I can only do so if you give me the right to do it. Nobody must tell me I'm a meddler, butting in where I have no business. There are people enough about you who would be only too ready to do that—people related to you by blood and by law."
I knew what he was coming to, for his voice was quivering in my ears like the string of a bow.
"There is only one sort of right, Mary, that is above the right of blood, and you know what that is."
My eyes were growing so dim that I could hardly see the face which was so close to mine.
"Mary," he said, "I have always cared for you. Surely you know that. By the saints of God I swear there has never been any other girl for me, and now there never will he. Perhaps I ought to have told you this before, and I wanted to do so when I met you in Rome. But it didn't seem fair, and I couldn't bring myself to do it."
His passionate voice was breaking; I thought my heart was breaking also.
"All I could do I did, but it came to nothing; and now you are here and you are unhappy, and though it is so late I want to help you, to rescue you, to drag you out of this horrible situation before I go away. Let me do it. Give me the right of one you care enough for to allow him to speak on your behalf."
I knew what that meant. I knew that I was tottering on the very edge of a precipice, and to save myself I tried to think of Father Dan, of Martin's mother, of my own mother, and since I could not speak I struggled to pray.
"Don't say you can't. If you do I shall go away a sorrowful man. I shall go at once too—to-night or to-morrow morning at latest, for my heart bleeds to look at you and I can't stay here any longer to see you suffer. It is not torture to me—it's hell!"
And then the irrepressible, overwhelming, inevitable moment came. Martin laid hold of my right hand and said in his tremulous voice:
"Mary . . . Mary . . . I . . . I love you!"
I could hear no more. I could not think or pray or resist any longer. The bitter struggle was at an end. Before I knew what I was doing I was dropping my head on to his breast and he with a cry of joy was gathering me in his arms.
I was his. He had taken his own. Nothing counted in the presence of our love. To be only we two together—that was everything. The world and the world's laws, the Church and the Canons of the Church were blotted out, forgotten, lost.
For some moments I hardly breathed. I was only conscious that over my head Martin was saying something that seemed to come to me with all the deep and wonderful whispers of his heart.
"Then it's true! It's true that you love me! Yes, it's true! It's true! No one shall hurt you again. Never again! No, by the Lord God!"
And then suddenly—as suddenly as the moment of intoxication had come to me—I awoke from my delirium. Some little thing awakened me. I hardly know what it was. Perhaps it was only the striking of the cuckoo clock in my room.
"What are we doing?" I said.
Everything had rolled back on me—my marriage, Father Dan's warning, my promise to Martin's mother.
"Where are we?" I said.
"Hush! Don't speak," said Martin. "Let us think of nothing to-night—nothing except our love."
"Don't say that," I answered. "We are not free to love each other," and then, trying to liberate myself from his encircling arms I cried:
"God help me! God forgive me!"
"Wait!" said Martin, holding me a moment longer. "I know what you feel, and I'm not the man to want a girl to wrong her conscience. But there's one question I must ask you. If you were free, could you love me then?"
"Don't ask me that. I must not answer it."
"You must and shall," said Martin. "Could you?"
"That's enough for me—enough for to-night anyway. Have no fear. All shall be well. Go to your room now."
He raised me to my feet and led me back to the foot of the balcony, and there he kissed my hand and let me go.
"Good night!" he said softly.
"Good night!" I answered.
"God bless you, my pure sweet girl!"
At the next moment I was in my room, lying face down on my bed—seeing no hope on any side, and sobbing my heart out for what might have been but for the hard law of my religion and the cruel tangle of my fate.
Next morning, Monday morning, while I was breakfasting in my bedroom, Price came with a message from Martin to say that he was going into the glen and wished to know if I would go with him.
I knew perfectly what that meant. He wished to tell me what steps he intended to take towards my divorce, and my heart trembled with the thought of the answer I had to give him—that divorce for me, under any circumstances, was quite impossible.
Sorry as I was for myself I was still more sorry for Martin. I felt like a judge who had to pronounce sentence upon him—dooming his dearest hopes to painful and instant death.
I could hear him on the lawn with Tommy the Mate, laughing like a boy let loose from school, and when I went down to him he greeted me with a cry of joy that was almost heart-breaking.
Our way to the glen was through a field of grass, where the dew was thick, and, my boots being thin, Martin in his high spirits wished to carry me across, and it was only with an effort that I prevented him from doing so.
The glen itself when we reached it (it was called Glen Raa) was almost cruelly beautiful that day, and remembering what I had to do in it I thought I should never be able to get it out of my sight—with its slumberous gloom like that of a vast cathedral, its thick arch of overhanging boughs through which the morning sunlight was streaming slantwards like the light through the windows of a clerestory, its running water below, its rustling leaves above, and the chirping of its birds on every side, making a sound that was like the chanting of a choir in some far-off apse and the rumbling of their voices in the roof.
Two or three times, as we walked down the glen towards a port (Port Raa) which lay at the seaward end of it. Martin rallied me on the settled gravity of my face and then I had to smile, though how I did so I do not know, for every other minute my heart was in my mouth, and never more so than when, to make me laugh, he rattled away in the language of his boyhood, saying:
"Isn't this stunning? Splendiferous, eh?"
When we came out at the mouth of the port, where a line of little stunted oaks leaned landward as with the memory of many a winter's storm, Martin said:
"Let us sit down here."
We sat on the sloping bank, with the insects ticking in the grass, the bees humming in the air, the sea fowl screaming in the sky, the broad sea in front, and the little bay below, where the tide, which was going out, had left behind it a sharp reef of black rocks covered with sea-weed.
A pleasure-steamer passed at that moment with its flags flying, its awnings spread, its decks crowded with excursionists, and a brass hand playing one of Sousa's marches, and as soon as it had gone, Martin said:
"I've been thinking about our affair, Mary, how to go to work and all that, and of course the first thing we've got to do is to get a divorce."
I made no answer, and I tried not to look at him by fixing my eyes upon the sea.
"You have evidence enough, you know, and if you haven't there's Price—she has plenty. So, since you've given me the right to speak for you, dear, I'm going to speak to your father first"
I must have made some half-articulate response, for not understanding me he said:
"Oh, I know he'll be a hard nut to crack. He won't want to hear what I've got to say, but he has got to hear it. And after all you're his daughter, and if he has any bowels of compassion . . ."
Again I must have made some effort to speak, for he said:
"Yes, he's ill, but he has only to set Curphy to work and the lawyer will do the rest."
I could not allow him to go any further, so I blurted out somehow that I had seen my father already.
"On this subject?"
"And what did he say?"
I told him as well as I could what my father had said, being ashamed to repeat it.
"That was only bluff, though," said Martin. "The real truth is that you would cease to be Lady Raa and that would be a blow to his pride. Then there would no longer be any possibility of establishing a family and that would disturb his plans. No matter! We can set Curphy to work ourselves."
"But I have seen Mr. Curphy also," I said.
"And what did he say?"
I told him what the lawyer had said and he was aghast.
"Good heavens! What an iniquity! In England too! But never mind! There are other countries where this relic of the barbaric ages doesn't exist. We'll go there. We must get you a divorce somehow."
My time had come. I could keep back the truth no longer.
"But Martin," I said, "divorce is impossible for me—quite impossible."
And then I told him that I had been to see the Bishop also, and he had said what I had known before, though in the pain of my temptation I had forgotten it, that the Catholic Church did not countenance divorce under any circumstances, because God made marriages and therefore no man could dissolve them.
Martin listened intently, and in his eagerness to catch every word he raised himself to a kneeling position by my side, so that he was looking into my face.
"But Mary, my dear Mary," he said, "you don't mean to say you will allow such considerations to influence you?"
"I am a Catholic—what else can I do?" I said.
"But think—my dear, dear girl, think how unreasonable, how untrue, how preposterous it all is in a case like yours? God made your marriage? Yours? God married you to that notorious profligate? Can you believe it?"
His eyes were flaming. I dared not look at them.
"Then think again. They say there's no divorce in the Catholic Church, do they? But what are they talking about? Morally speaking you are a divorced woman already. Anybody with an ounce of brains can see that. When you were married to this man he made a contract with you, and he has broken the terms of it, hasn't he? Then where's the contract now? It doesn't any longer exist. Your husband has destroyed it."
"But isn't marriage different?" I asked.
And then I tried to tell him what the Bishop had said of the contract of marriage being unlike any other contract because God Himself had become a party to it.
"What?" he cried. "God become a party to a marriage like yours? My dear girl, only think! Think of what your marriage has been—the pride and vanity and self-seeking that conceived it, the compulsion that was put upon you to carry it through, and then the shame and the suffering and the wickedness and the sin of it! Was God a party to the making of a marriage like that?"
In his agitation he rose, walked two or three paces in front and came back to me.
"Then think what it means if your marriage may not be dissolved. It means that you must go on living with this man whose life is so degrading. Year in, year out, as long as your life lasts you must let him humiliate and corrupt you with his company, his companions and his example, until you are dragged down, down, down to the filth he lives in himself, and your very soul is contaminated. Is that what the Church asks of you?"
I answered no, and tried to tell him what the Bishop had told me about separation, but he interrupted me with a shout.
"Separation? Did he say that? If the Church has no right to divorce you what right has it to separate you? Oh, I see what it will say—hope of reconciliation. But if you were separated from your husband would you ever go back to him? Never in this world. Then what would your separation be? Only divorce under another name."
I was utterly shaken. Perhaps I wanted to believe what Martin was saying; perhaps I did not know enough to answer him, but I could not help it if I thought Martin's clear mind was making dust and ashes of everything that Father Dan and the Bishop had said to me.
"Then what can I do?" I asked.
I thought his face quivered at that question. He got up again, and stood before me for a moment without speaking. Then he said, with an obvious effort—
"If your Church will not allow you to divorce your husband, and if you and I cannot marry without that, then . . ."
"I didn't mean to propose it . . . God knows I didn't, but when a woman . . . when a woman has been forced into a loveless marriage, and it is crushing the very soul out of her, and the iron law of her Church will not permit her to escape from it, what crime does she commit if she . . ."
"Well?" I asked, though I saw what he was going to say.
"Mary," he said, breathing, hard and fast, "you must come to me."
I made a sudden cry, though I tried not to.
"Oh, I know," he said. "It's not what we could wish. But we'll be open about it. We'll face it out. Why shouldn't we? I shall anyway. And if your father and the Bishop say anything to me I'll tell them what I think of the abominable marriage they forced you into. As for you, dear, I know you'll have to bear something. All the conventional canting hypocrisies! Every man who has bought his wife, and every woman who has sold herself into concubinage—there are thousands and thousands of them all the world over, and they'll try . . . perhaps they'll try . . . but let them try. If they want to trample the life out of you they'll have to walk over me first—yes, by God they will!"
"But Martin . . ."
"Do you mean that I . . . I am . . . to . . . to live with you without marriage?"
"It's the only thing possible, isn't it?" he said. And then he tried to show me that love was everything, and if people loved each other nothing else mattered—religious ceremonies were nothing, the morality of society was nothing, the world and its back-biting was nothing.
The great moment had come for me at last, and though I felt torn between love and pity I had to face it.
"Martin, I . . . I can't do it," I said.
He looked steadfastly into my face for a moment, but I dare not look back, for I knew he was suffering.
"You think it would be wrong?"
I tried to say "Yes" again, but my reply died in my throat.
There was another moment of silence and then, in a faltering voice that nearly broke me down, he said:
"In that case there is nothing more to say. . . . There isn't, is there?"
I made an effort to speak, but my voice would not come.
"I thought . . . as there was no other way of escape from this terrible marriage . . . but if you think . . ."
He stopped, and then coming closer he said:
"I suppose you know what this means for you, Mary—that after all the degradation you have gone through you are shutting the door to a worthier, purer life, and that . . ."
I could bear no more. My heart was yearning for him, yet I was compelled to speak.
"But would it be a purer life, Martin, if it began in sin? No, no, it wouldn't, it couldn't. Oh, you can't think how hard it is to deny myself the happiness you offer me. It's harder than all the miseries my husband has inflicted upon me. But it wouldn't be happiness, because our sin would stand between us. That would always be there, Martin—every day, every night, as long as ever we lived. . . . We should never know one really happy hour. I'm sure we should not. I should be unhappy myself and I should make you unhappy. Oh, I daren't! I daren't! Don't ask me, I beg—I beseech you."
I burst into tears after this, and there was a long silence between us. Then Martin touched my arm and said with a gentleness that nearly broke my heart:
"Don't cry, Mary. I give in. I find I have no will but yours, dear. If you can bear the present condition of things, I ought to be able to. Let us go back to the house."
He raised me to my feet and we turned our faces homeward. All the brightness of the day had gone for both of us by this time. The tide was now far out. Its moaning was only a distant murmur. The shore was a stretch of jagged black rocks covered with sea-weed.
Notwithstanding Martin's tenderness I had a vague fear that he had only pretended to submit to my will, and before the day was over I had proof of it.
During dinner we spoke very little, and after it was over we went out to the balcony to sit on a big oak seat which stood there.
It was another soft and soundless night, without stars, very dark, and with an empty echoing air, which seemed to say that thunder was not far off, for the churning of the nightjar vibrated from the glen, and the distant roar of the tide, now rising, was like the rumble of drums at a soldier's funeral.
Just as we sat down the pleasure-steamer we had seen in the morning re-crossed our breadth of sea on its way back to Blackwater; and lit up on deck and in all its port-holes, it looked like a floating cafe chantant full of happy people, for they were singing in chorus a rugged song which Martin and I had known all our lives—
Ramsey town, Ramsey town, smiling by the sea, Here's a health to my true love, wheresoe'er she be.
When the steamer had passed into darkness, Martin said:
"I don't want to hurt you again, Mary, but before I go there's something I want to know. . . . If you cannot divorce your husband, and if . . . if you cannot come to me what . . . what is left to us?"
I tried to tell him there was only one thing left to us, and (as much for myself as for him) I did my best to picture the spiritual heights and beauties of renunciation.
"Does that mean that we are to . . . to part?" he said. "You going your way and I going mine . . . never to meet again?"
That cut me to the quick, so I said—it was all I could trust myself to say—that the utmost that was expected of us was that we should govern our affections—control and conquer them.
"Do you mean that we are to stamp them out altogether?" he said.
That cut me to the quick too, and I felt like a torn bird that is struggling in the lime, but I contrived to say that if our love was guilty love it was our duty to destroy it.
"Is that possible?" he said.
"We must ask God to help us," I answered, and then, while his head was down and I was looking out into the darkness, I tried to say that though he was suffering now he would soon get over this disappointment.
"Do you wish me to get over it?" he asked.
This confused me terribly, for in spite of all I was saying I knew at the bottom of my heart that in the sense he intended I did not and could not wish it.
"We have known and cared for each other all our lives, Mary—isn't that so? It seems as if there never was a time when we didn't know and care for each other. Are we to pray to God, as you say, that a time may come when we shall feel as if we had never known and cared for each other at all?"
My throat was fluttering—I could not answer him.
"I can't," he said. "I never shall—never as long as I live. No prayers will ever help me to forget you."
I could not speak. I dared not look at him. After a moment he said in a thicker voice:
"And you . . . will you be able to forget me? By praying to God will you be able to wipe me out of your mind?"
I felt as if something were strangling me.
"A woman lives in her heart, doesn't she?" he said. "Love is everything to her . . . everything except her religion. Will it be possible—this renunciation . . . will it be possible for you either?"
I felt as if all the blood in my body were running away from me.
"It will not. You know it will not. You will never be able to renounce your love. Neither of us will he able to renounce it. It isn't possible. It isn't human. . . . Well, what then? If we continue to love each other—you here and I down there—we shall be just as guilty in the eyes of the Church, shan't we?"
I did not answer him, and after a moment he came closer to me on the seat and said almost in a whisper:
"Then think again, Mary. Only give one glance to the horrible life that is before you when I am gone. You have been married a year . . . only a year . . . and you have suffered terribly. But there is worse to come. Your husband's coarse infidelity has been shocking, but there will be something more shocking than his infidelity—his affection. Have you never thought of that?"
I started and shuddered, feeling as if somebody must have told him the most intimate secret of my life. Coming still closer he said:
"Forgive me, dear. I'm bound to speak plainly now. If I didn't I should never forgive myself in the future . . . Listen! Your husband will get over his fancy for this . . . this woman. He'll throw her off, as he has thrown off women of the same kind before. What will happen then? He'll remember that you belong to him . . . that he has rights in you . . . that you are his wife and he is your husband . . . that the infernal law which denies you the position of an equal human being gives him a right—a legal right—to compel your obedience. Have you never thought of that?"
For one moment we looked into each other's eyes; then he took hold of my hand and, speaking very rapidly, said:
"That's the life that is before you when I am gone—to live with this man whom you loathe . . . year after year, as long as life lasts . . . occupying the same house, the same room, the same . . ."
I uttered an involuntary cry and he stopped.
"Martin," I said, "there is something you don't know."
And then, I told him—it was forced out of me—my modesty went down in the fierce battle with a higher pain, and I do not know whether it was my pride or my shame or my love that compelled me to tell him, but I did tell him—God knows how—that I could not run the risk he referred to because I was not in that sense my husband's wife and never had been.
The light was behind me, and my face was in the darkness; but still I covered it with my hands while I stammered out the story of my marriage day and the day after, and of the compact I had entered into with my husband that only when and if I came to love him should he claim my submission as a wife.
While I was speaking I knew that Martin's eyes were fixed on me, for I could feel his breath on the back of my hands, but before I had finished he leapt up and cried excitedly:
"And that compact has been kept?"
"Then it's all right! Don't be afraid. You shall be free. Come in and let me tell you how! Come in, come in!"
He took me back into the boudoir. I had no power to resist him. His face was as pale as death, but his eyes were shining. He made me sit down and then sat on the table in front of me.
"Listen!" he said. "When I bought my ship from the Lieutenant we signed a deed, a contract, as a witness before all men that he would give me his ship and I would give him some money. But if after all he hadn't given me his ship what would our deed have been? Only so much waste paper."
It was the same with my marriage. If it had been an honest contract, the marriage service would have been a witness before God that we meant to live together as man and wife. But I never had, therefore what was the marriage service? Only an empty ceremony!
"That's the plain sense of the matter, isn't it?" he cried. "I defy any priest in the world to prove the contrary."
"Well, don't you see what it comes to? You are free—morally free at all events. You can come to me. You must, too. I daren't leave you in this house any longer. I shall take you to London and fix you up there, and then, when I tome back from the Antarctic . . ."
He was glowing with joy, but a cold hand suddenly seized me, for I had remembered all the terrors of excommunication as Father Dan had described them.
"But Martin," I said, "would the Church accept that?"
"What matter whether it would or wouldn't? Our consciences would be clear. There would be no sin, and what you were saying this morning would not apply."
"But if I left my husband I couldn't marry you, could I?"
"Then the Church would say that I was a sinful woman living a sinful life, wouldn't it?"
"But you wouldn't be."
"All the same the Church would say so, and if it did I should be cut out of communion, and if I were cut out of communion I should be cast out of the Church, and if I were cast out of the Church . . . what would become of me then?"
"But, my dear, dear girl," said Martin, "don't you see that this is not the same thing at all? It is only a case of a ceremony. And why should a mere ceremony—even if we cannot do away with it—darken a woman's life for ever?"
My heart was yearning for love, but my soul was crying out for salvation; and not being able to answer him for myself, I told him what Father Dan had said I was to say.
"Father Dan is a saint and I love him," he said. "But what can he know—what can any priest know of a situation like this? The law of man has tied you to this brute, but the law of God has given you to me. Why should a marriage service stand between us?"