Part III

May to August

Chapter I

THUS the weeks went on, one week after the other, all exactly alike, and no new light came to aid Grania in her investigations about the stolen turf. What was hardly less important, however, the depredations themselves ceased. From the night on which she had pursued the thief through the gully and lost him at the mouth of it, no fresh inroads, so far as she could discover, had been made in the stack, and, this being the case, she was content for the present to let the matter be. She had a kindly feeling towards poor Pete Durane, and if he were the culprit would have been sorry to have been forced to bring the guilt home to him. If, on the other hand, it was Shan Daly—the only other person she could think of as likely to be guilty—though she hated that miscreant as she hated no other person in the world, still, there was his wretched wife to be thought of, and his equally wretched family. As well, too, hope to extract blood from flints as get any satisfaction or compensation out of Shan Daly, and, as for the mere vindictive pleasure of punishment, the ties of kinship and acquaintanceship are far too closely drawn in so limited a community as Inishmaan for that sort of pleasure to be often resorted to. If we were on visiting terms with the families of our pickpockets and burglars, those artists would be even less interrupted in the exercise of their vocations than they are at present.

    Meanwhile the work of .the year had to be gone on with. Grania was feeding up a calf, as well as two pigs, to be sold at the Galway spring fair. The freight charges from Inishmaan to Galway were serious—not less than half a crown for every calf and a shilling apiece for the pigs; whereas the freight charges to Ennistimon were much less; but, then, the chances of’ a good sale at the Galway fair were considerably greater, and, on the whole, therefore, she had decided to send them there.

    Her other work was now lighter, for there was nothing to be done to the potatoes till autumn, and she had hardly any oats. In the Aran isles the land is divided into townlands, every townland containing so many ‘quarters,’ every quarters so many ' croggeries,’ every croggery so many acres. Inishmaan possesses but two .townlands, containing six quarters each, with sixteen croggeries to every quarter, and sixteen acres to every croggery. Grania and Honor held a little over one croggery, six acres of which was pure stone, leaving some ten or eleven to be reckoned upon.. Of these, half were laid down in potatoes, while the remainder served as pasturage, eked out, of course, with a good deal of surreptitious aid from the bent-grass below.

    As for the weather, it seemed to be getting daily worse. So wet and miserable a spring had rarely been experienced, even upon Inishmaan. To rain in moderation, nay, something more than moderation, no Aranite, as explained, objects, but, even of the best thing, it is just possible to have too much, and such incessant deluges as followed day after day, and night after night, were this year beyond the recollection of the oldest inhabitant. If the destiny of the islands was sooner or later to be washed away and to vanish from sight in the sea, it seemed as if’ now was the time that destiny was likely to be fulfilled. The rain came down in literal sheets, and in sheets it swept over the surface. There being no earth for it to dry into, it poured over the level slabs, sweeping from slab to slab almost as the sea swept over the rocks between the tide-marks. Watching it at such moments, it would have seemed to you as if the whole island would shortly become one great waterfall, or scarcely perceptible reef for the Atlantic to roll over, the water, as it descended upon the slabs, falling into the troughs or tunnels laid ready for it, and out of them again until it found rest in the final trough awaiting it at, the bottom.

    About a fortnight after her visit to the Duranes, Grania was standing one evening at the door of the cabin looking down the track towards the sea. It had been raining heavily all day, and had now come on to blow hard. Across the nearest sound and above the cliffs of Clare the sky wore a greenish look, especially where it showed between dark roving patches of cloud. At the base of the island the cooses and small bays on the west and north-west were astir with the hissing of waves. The rising wind tore and whistled its way noisily through the sparse hawthorn-bushes and ragged growth of brambles and hemlocks. The night, clearly, was going to be a nasty one.

    The girl leaned against the shelter of the doorway and looked out towards the ‘Old Sea.’ It was growing dark, but there was a pale splinter of white light far away, almost lost on the horizon—a sinister light, like a broken war-arrow. Everywhere else the plain was one mass of leaden-coloured waves, solid and unillumined. The sense of a vast crowd, coming steadily onward,’ struggling together by fits and starts, with many side-battles and cross-currents, but on the whole bearing steadily down upon some devoted foe, pressed upon the mind as you looked out seaward.

    Nearer, the prospect was not much more cheerful. The wind howled viciously, tearing off fragments of scaly stone from the rocks and flinging them against the windows and over the roof like so many forest leaves. Little Phelim Daly was in the O’Malleys’ cabin. He had come, as he often did, to share their evening meal,, and Grania had decided to keep him, finding the night so wild, and had run across in the teeth of the rising gale to tell his mother so. He was not exactly an enlivening guest, and this evening seemed to be even more nerve-ridden than usual. After finishing his share of the potatoes and milk, he sat for some time hunched up, with his knees and his chin together, close to the fire. As the storm rose louder and the gust came faster and faster down the widely-gaping chimney, he grew uneasy, looked furtively round the walls, then up at the narrow slip of sky visible through the small pane of glass, shaking from head to foot as he did so, and seeming to see something out there that he dreaded, something that he was unable to resist staring at, but which scared him with the utterly unreasoning fear of an animal in presence of that which arouses all its latent hereditary terrors.

    Glancing round from her post beside the doorway, Grania saw him staring thus, with parted lips and glassy eyes, agonising fear written in every lineament. Suddenly, as she watched him, a great shiver ran through his whole body, his very shadow thrown by the firelight against the opposite wall vibrating violently as a leaf vibrates in a sudden storm.

    ‘Why, then! Why, then!—God look down on the child!—what ails him to-night? she asked in a tone of astonishment. ‘What is it, Phelim—what do you see out there, sonny, at all, at all?’ she added, going over and stooping down beside him upon the hearth.

    For all answer the boy only shivered the harder, clutching her at the same time, and holding her petticoat tight in his two hands, as if to hinder himself from being forcibly dragged away by someone.

    ‘Tis in his bed he should be at this hour, the creature!’ Honor said from her own corner, where her pale face showed extremely like a ghost’s, framed as it was on two sides by the smoke-stained chocolate walls. ‘It is not a night for anyone to be looking about them, either in or out of the house, so it is not,’ she added, crossing herself fervently. ‘Shut the door, Grania, and put on another sod of the turf. God save us! but it is the wild weather ! There is no end to time bad weather this year, so there is not. Glory be to Him that sent it, wet or fine!’

    Grania obeyed, shut the door and heaped on an additional armful of turf; then stood for awhile beside the fireplace, listening to the wind as it roared down the unprotected chimney.

    It was indeed a night to set even sober brains afloat with nervous terrors. The little house seemed to be an atom lost in the hungry vortex of the storm and oncoming darkness. A sense of vast, uncurtained space—of tossing, interminable vastness—of an aerial ocean without bourne or limits, seemed to press upon the mind as you sat and listened. They were as lonely, those three, as though they had been the only occupants of some star or planet set in the hollow void of space. Even the yellow cat, who was rarely or never friendly, seemed to feel the influence of the weather, and came of her own accord close up to Grania, rubbing against her as if glad to increase the sense of home and shelter by touching someone.

    As Honor had said, the only thing, clearly, to do with Phelim was to put him to bed. Grania accordingly made him lie down close to the wall, upon the sort of make-shift of a bed which filled the corner where she herself slept, telling him, as she did so, to turn his head well away from the light, and to cover his ears close up with her old flannel petticoat, so as not to hear the storm. This done, she returned to her former place beside the fireplace.