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Waysiders
by Seumas O'Kelly
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It was while Martin Cosgrave walked through the building that Ellen Miscal came to him with the second letter from America. The carpenter was hammering at something below. The letter said that Rose Dempsey and her sister, Sheela, would be home in the late harvest. "With all I saw since I left Kilbeg," Rose Dempsey wrote, "I never saw one that I thought as much of as Martin Cosgrave."

When Ellen Miscal left him, Martin Cosgrave stood very quietly looking through the cut-stone tracery window. The beech trees were swaying slowly outside. Their music was in his ears.

Then he remembered that he was standing in the room where he would take Rose Dempsey in his arms. It was here he would tell her of all the bitter things he had locked up in his heart when she had gone away from him. It was here he would tell her of the day of resurrection, when all the bitter thoughts had burst into flower at the few words that told of her return. It was that day of great tumult within him that thought of the building had come into his mind.

When Martin Cosgrave walked out of the room the carpenter and a neighbour boy were arguing about something at the foot of the stairs.

"It's too steep, I'm telling you," the boy was saying.

"What do you know about it?"

"I know this much about it, that if a little child came running down that stairs he'd be apt to fall and break his neck."

Then the two men went out, still arguing.

Martin Cosgrave sat down on one of the steps of the stairs. A child running down the steps! His child! A child bearing his name! He would be prattling about the building. He would run across that landing, swaying and tottering. His little voice would fill the building. Arms would be reaching out to him. They would be the soft white arms of Rose Dempsey, or maybe, they would be the arms that raised up the building—his own strong arms. Or it might be that he would be carrying down the child and handing him over the rails there into the outspread arms of Rose Dempsey. She would be reaching out for the child with the newly-kindled light of motherhood in her eyes, the passion of a young mother in her welcoming voice. A child with his very name—a child that would grow up to be a man and hand down the name to another, and so on during the generations. And with the name would go down the building, the building that would endure, that would live, that was immortal. Did it all come to him as a sudden revelation, springing from the idle talk of a neighbour boy brought up to work from one season to another? Or was it the same thing that was behind the forces that had fired him while he had worked at the building? Had it not all come into his life the evening he stood among his fields with his eyes on the crest of the hill?

Ah, there had been a great building surely, a building standing up on the hill, a great, a splendid building raised up to the sight of all the world, and with it a greater building, a building raised up from the sight of all men, the building of a name, the moulding of hearts that would beat while Time was, a building of immortal souls, a building into which God would breathe His breath, a building which would be heard of in Heaven, among the angels, through all the eternities, a building living on when all the light was gone out of the sun, when oceans were as if they had never been, a name, a building, living when the story of all the worlds and all the generations would be held written upon a scroll in the lap of God.... The face of the dreamer as he abandoned himself to his thoughts was pallid with a half-fanatical emotion.

The neighbours were more awed than shocked at the change they saw increasing in Martin Cosgrave. He had grown paler and thinner, but his eyes were more tense, had in them, some of the neighbours said, the colour of the limestone. He was more and more removed from the old life. He walked his fields without seeing the things that made up the old companionship. His whole attitude was one of detachment from everything that did not savour of the crunch of stone, the ring of steel on the walls of a building. He only talked rationally when the neighbours spoke to him of the building. They had heard that he had gone to the money-lender, and mortgaged every perch of his land. "It was easy to know how work of the like would end," they said.

One day a stranger was driving by on his car, and when he saw the building he got down, walked up the hill, and made a long study of it. On his way down he met Martin Cosgrave.

"Who built the house on the hill?" he asked.

"A simple man in the neighbourhood," Martin Cosgrave made answer, after a little pause.

"A simple man!" the stranger exclaimed, looking at Martin Cosgrave with some disapproval. "Well, he has attempted something anyway. He may not have, succeeded, but the artist is in him somewhere. He has created a sort of—well, lyric—in stone on that hill. Extraordinary!"

The stranger hesitated before he hit on the word lyric. He got up on his car and drove away muttering something under his breath.

Martin Cosgrave could have run up the hill and shouted. He could have called all the neighbours together and told them of the strange man who had praised the building.

But he did none of these things. He had work waiting to his hand. A hunger was upon him to feel his pulse beating to the throb of steel on stone. From the road he made a sweep of a drive up to the building. The neighbours looked open-mouthed at the work for the days it went on. "Well, that finishes Martin Cosgrave anyway," they said.

Martin Cosgrave rushed the making of the drive; he took all the help he could get. The boys would come up after their day's work and give him a hand. While they worked he was busy with his chisel upon the boulders of limestone which he had set up on either side of the entrance gate. Once more he felt the glamour of life—the impact of forging steel on stone was thrilling through his arms, the stone was being moulded to the direction of his exulting mind.

When he had finished with the boulders at the entrance gate the people marvelled. The gate had a glory of its own, and yet it was connected with the scheme of the building on the hill palpably enough for even their minds to grasp it. When the people looked upon it they forgot to make complaint of the good land that was given to ruin. One of them had expressed the general vague sentiment when he said, "Well, the kite has got its tail."

In the late harvest Martin Cosgrave carried up all the little sticks of furniture from his cabin and put it in the building. Then he sent for Ellen Miscal. When the woman came she looked about the place in amazement.

"Well, of all the sights in the world!" she exclaimed.

Martin Cosgrave was irritated at the woman's attitude.

"We'll have to make the best of it," he said, looking at the furniture. "I will be marrying Rose Dempsey in the town some days after she lands."

"Rose would never like the suddenness of that," her aunt protested. "She can be staying with me and marrying from my house.

"I saw the priest about it," Martin Cosgrave said impatiently. "I will have my way, Ellen Miscal. Rose Dempsey will come up to Kilbeg my wife. We will come in the gate together, we will walk in to the building together. I will have my way."

Martin Cosgrave spoke of having his way in the impassioned voice of the fanatic, of his home-coming with his bride in the half-dreamy voice of the visionary.

"Have your way, Martin, have your way," the woman said. "And," she added, rising, "I will be bringing up a few things to put into your house."

III

Martin Cosgrave spent three days in the town waiting the arrival of Rose Dempsey. The boat was late. He haunted the railway station, with hungry eyes scanned the passengers as each train steamed in. His blood was on fire in his veins for those three days. What peace could a man have who was waiting to get back to his building and to have Rose Dempsey going back with him, his wife?

Sometimes he would sit down on the railway bench on the platform, staring down at the ground, smiling to himself. What a surprise he had in store for Rose! What would he say to her first? Would he say anything of the building? No, he would say nothing at all of the building until they drove across the bridge and right up to the gate! "Rose," he would then say, "do you remember the hill—the place under the beech trees?" She was sure to remember that place. It was there they had spent so much time, there he had first found her lips, there they had quarrelled! And Rose would look up to that old place and see the building! What would she think? Would she feel about it as he felt himself? She would, she would! What sort of look would come into her face? And what would he be able to tell her about it at all?... He would say nothing at all about it; that would be the best way! They would say nothing to each other, but walk in the gate and up the drive across the hill, the hill they often ran across in the old days! They would be quite silent, and walk into the house silently. The building, too, would be silent, and he would take her from one room to another in silence, and when she had seen everything he would look into her eyes and say, "Well?" It would be all so like a wonderful story, a day of magic!... Martin Cosgrave sprang from the bench and went to the edge of the platform, staring down the long level road, with its two rails tapering almost together in the distance. Not a sign of a train. Would it never come in? Had anything happened the boat? He walked up and down with energy, holding the lapel of his coat, saying to himself, "I must not be thinking of things like this. It is foolishness. Whatever is to happen will happen, and that's all about it. I am quite at ease, quite cool!"

At last it came, steaming and blowing. Windows were lowered, carriage doors flew open, people ran up and down. Martin Cosgrave stood a little away, tense, drawn, his eyes sweeping down the people. Suddenly something shot through him; an old sensation, an old thrill, made his whole being tingle, his mind exult, and then there was the most exquisite relaxation. How long it was since he felt like this before! His eyes were burning upon a familiar figure that had come from a carriage, the figure of a girl in a navy blue coat and skirt, her back turned, struggling with parcels, helped by the hands of invisible people from within the carriage. Martin Cosgrave strode down the platform, eagerness, joy, sense of proprietorship, already in his stride.

"Rose!" he exclaimed while the girl's back was still turned to him.

His voice shook in spite of him. The woman turned about sharply.

Martin Cosgrave gave a little start back. It was not Rose Dempsey, but her sister, Sheela. How like Rose she had grown!

"Martin!" she exclaimed, putting out her hand. He gave it a hurried shake and then searched the railway carriage with burning eyes. The people he saw there were all strangers, tired-looking travellers. When he turned from the railway carriage Sheela Dempsey was rushing with her parcels into a waiting-room. He strode after her. He looked at the girl. How unlike Rose she was after all! Nobody—nobody—could ever be like Rose Dempsey!

"Where is Rose?" he asked.

Sheela Dempsey looked up into the face of Martin Cosgrave and saw there what she had half-dreaded to see.

"Martin," she said, "Rose is not coming home."

Martin Cosgrave gripped the door of the waiting-room. The train whistled outside and glided from the station. He heard a woman's cheerful voice cry out a conventional "good-bye, good-bye," and through the window he saw the flutter of a dainty handkerchief. A truck was wheeled past the waiting-room. There was the crack of a whip and some cars rattled away over the road. Then there was silence.

Sheela Dempsey walked over to him and laid a hand upon his shoulder. When she spoke her voice was full of an understanding womanly sympathy.

"Don't be troubling over it, Martin," she said, "Rose is not worth it." She spoke her sister's name with some bitterness.

Vaguely Martin Cosgrave looked into the girl's eyes. He read there in a dim way what the girl could not say of her sister.

It was all so strange! The waiting-room was so bare, so cold, so grey, so like a sepulchre. What could Sheela Dempsey with all her womanly understanding, with all her quick intuition, know of the things that happened beside her? How could she have ears for the crashing down of the pillars of the building that Martin Cosgrave had raised up in his soul? How could she have eyes for the wreck of the structure that was to go on through all the generations? What thought had she of the wiping out of a name that would have lived in the nation and continued for all time in the eternities, a tangible thing in Heaven among the Immortals when the stars had all been burned out in the sky?

Martin Cosgrave drove home from the railway station with Sheela Dempsey. He sat without a word, not really conscious of his surroundings as they covered the miles. The girl reached across the side-car, touching him lightly on the shoulder.

"Look!" she exclaimed.

Martin Cosgrave looked up. The building stood in the moonlight on the crest of the hill. He bade the driver pull up, and then got down from the car.

"Who owns the house?" Sheela Dempsey asked.

"I do. I put it up on the hill for Rose."

There was silence for some time.

"How did you get it built, Martin?" Sheela Dempsey asked, awe in her tone.

"I built it myself," he answered. "I wonder has Rose as good a place? What sort of a building is she in to-night?"

Martin Cosgrave did not notice the sudden quiver in the girl's body as he put the question. But she made no reply, and the car drove on, leaving Martin Cosgrave standing alone at the gate of the building.

The faint sweep of the drive lay before him. It led his eyes up to the crest of the hill. There it was standing shadowy against the sky, every delicate outline clear to his vision. The beech trees were swaying beside it, reaching out like great shapeless arms in the night, blurred and beckoning and ghostly. A little vein of their music sounded in his ears. How often had he listened to that music and the things it had sung to him! It made him conscious of all the emotion he had felt while he had put up the building on the hill.

The joy of the builder swept over him like a wave. He was within the rising walls again, his hands among the grey-blue shapes, the measured stroke of the mallet swinging for the shifting chisel, the throb of steel going through his arms, the grind of stone was under his hands, the stone dust dry upon his lips, his eyes quick and keen, his arms bared, the shirt at his breast open, his whole body tense, tuned, to the desire of the conscious builder.... Once more he moved about the carpet of splinters, the grateful crunch beneath his feet, his world a world of stubborn things, rejoicing in his power of direction and mastery over it all. And always at the back of his mind and blending itself with the work was the thought of a ship forging through the water at the harvest, a ship with white sails spread to the winds. Had not thought for the building come into his mind when dead things sprang to life in the resurrection of his hopes?

Martin Cosgrave turned away from the gate. He walked down where the shadow of the mearing was faint upon the road. He turned up the boreen closed in by the still hedges. He stumbled over the ruts. He stood at the cabin door and looked up at the sky with soulless eyes. The animation, the inspiration, that had vivified his face since the building had been begun had died. The face no longer expressed the idealist, the visionary. His eyes swept the sky for a purpose. It was the look of the man of the fields, the man who had thought for his crops, who was near to the soil.

He had not looked a final and anxious, a peasant look, at the sky from his cabin-door in the night since he had embarked upon the building. He was conscious of that fact after a little. He wondered if it was a vague stirring in his heart that made him do it, a vague craving for the old companionship of the fields this night of bitterness. They were the fields, the sod, the territory of his forefathers, the inheritance of his blood. Who was he that he should put up a great building on the hill? What if he had risen for a little on his wings above the common flock?

The night air was heavy with the scent of the late dry harvest and all that the late dry harvest meant to the man nurtured on the side of a wet hill. The sheaves of corn were stooked in his neighbour's fields. Yesterday he had sacrificed the land to the building; to-morrow he would sacrifice the building to the land. Martin Cosgrave knew, the stars seemed to know, that a message, a voice, a command, would come like a wave through the generations of his blood sweeping him back to a common tradition. The cry for service on the land was beginning to stir somewhere. It would come to him in a word, a word sanctified upon the land by the memory of a thousand sacrifices and a thousand struggles, the only word that held magic for his race, the one word—Redemption! He looked up at the building, made a vague motion of his hand that was like an act of renunciation, and laughed a laugh of terrible bitterness.

"Look," he cried, "at the building Martin Cosgrave put up on the hill!"

He moved to the cabin-door, his feet heavy upon the uneven ground as the feet of any of the generations of men who had ever gone that way before. He pressed the cabin-door with his fist. With a groan it went back shakily over the worn stone threshold, sticking when it was only a little way open. All was quiet, black, damp, terrible as chaos, inside. Martin Cosgrave hitched forward his left shoulder, went in sideways, and closed the crazy door against the pale world of moonlight outside.

THE END

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