Part III

May to August

Chapter XI

IT WAS ONE of those victories, nevertheless, that cost more to the winner than the loser. The first rapture, the first keen tingling saisfaction of her explosion over, Grania was more miserable than ever. What had she done? she asked herself, aghast. Done? She had done the very thing, the mere thought, the momentary dread, of which had all but scared her out of her senses a few nights before. Broken with Murdough! Of her own accord, actually of her own free will, she had broken with him; refused to marry him, refused to see him, refused to speak or have anything more to do with him. Broken with Murdough! Refused to marry Murdough! It was like breaking with life, it was like refusing to breathe the air, refusing to eat or to drink, refusing to move a limb! How could she do it? What! live on, on, and on; thirty, forty, fifty years, perhaps, and in all that time, in all these years, the interminable years that stretched ahead of her, no Murdough! No Murdough? Murdough wiped out of her life?—it was the sun and the stars, it was life itself wiped out! Nothing could make such a vision endurable—nothing could make it even conceivable!

    She went about her work, therefore, like a dazed creature; saw to the house, cared for Honor, fed the beasts; but it was as a body with no soul inside it—a mere shell. Was she herself, she sometimes wondered dully, or was she someone else? She really hardly knew.

    Oddly enough, Honor seemed scarcely to notice that anything was specially amiss with her. This came partly from sheer physical weakness, and partly from that absorption in her own drama which all souls, even the tenderest, seem to feel at the coming on of death. Grania, besides, had always been a bit 'queer’; given to extremes—now elated, now depressed—and it did not seem to her that she was very much more so than usual. As to her being specially unhappy about Murdough Blake, that was a trouble quite out of Honor’s ken, and not one of the things she would have dreamed of worrying herself over. That Murdough was lazy and wasteful, was given occasionally to getting drunk, was rather good for nothing and worthless generally, these were facts which, even if anyone had called her attention to them, she would probably have accepted placidly enough. No doubt he was most of these things. Why not?. Wasn't it only to be expected that he would be, seeing that he was a man and a young one? Why wouldn’t he be ? Didn't God Almighty, for some mysterious reason of His own, make them mostly so?

    A view so general, and at the same time so tolerant in its pessimism, was not likely to be disturbed by any particular illustration of it. If anyone had, further, proceeded to point out that Grania was not likely to be happy, married to such a man, Honor, for all her sisterly devotion, would probably have replied, equally placidly, that no doubt she would not be happy. Why, again, should she be? People as a rule were not happy, nor meant apparently to be happy, and the married state especially stood before her mind as a state of natural and inevitable discomfort—one in which there was always a more or less troublesome and unmanageable male to be fed, looked after, and put up with generally. That it possessed any counterbalancing advantages; that it could, even at the start, be, for a woman, a state of especial happiness, she simply did not, for a moment, believe. She would have been too polite to contradict anyone who had chosen to put forward such an assertion, but in her own mind she scouted it utterly. ‘Arrah, holy Bridget! what could there be in it to make any woman in this earthly world happy?’ she would have said to herself. Her own private opinion was that all that was an invention got up by the men. They persuaded the women to believe there was something pleasant in it, and the silly creatures were fools enough to believe them. That was all. The whole thing was really exceedingly simple!

    This being her standpoint it followed that the pangs of unrequited love were the last that would have been successfully laid bare before her. Of Grania’s future she did, indeed, think incessantly, but it was a future that skipped over the next forty, fifty, or sixty years, and, fixed itself only upon what lay beyond that trifling interregnum. Day and night her thoughts fixed themselves more and more in this direction; hoping, interceding, imploring for the one that had to be left—left in a cold, ugly world—pleading that she might be brought in; that her heart might turn; that, sooner or later, they two might stand together safe—safe, as she put it to herself, in Glory—a place which, if it had no name, no inhabitants, no conceivable whereabouts, was still at least as real and as definite to her as those rocks, as yonder sea that she habitually looked at. It was the one thing that still troubled her; the one thing that kept her from her peace; perturbed her poor soul, and brought the tears into her patient eyes.

    So they went on together; as others beside them have gone on, and will go on, till all things end, till all the books are written, and every story finished; loving one another, that is to say, with a love which, on one side, at least, had gathered to itself all that, under other circumstances, might have spread over a considerable field, understanding one another as much—well, about as much as most of us contrive to understand one another—as much, in other words, as if they had never met, never grown up in the same nest, never eaten off the same loaf, never touched hands, or exchanged a syllable in their lives.

    Poor Honor’s sisterly petitions were not, it must be owned, prospering, for Grania in these weeks was certainly not improving. A new recklessness had got hold of her. It was in her blood—for she came, upon both sides, of a wild, untameable stock—but it had never risen so near to the surface before. Circumstances had tamed her, as they tame most people; a certain sense of responsibility had tamed her; doubts and self- perplexities had tamed her; of late, too, that keen, hungry clutch at the heart had tamed her. Now she no longer cared, or thought that she no longer cared. The barriers were completely broken down; the floods were out and away; there was no knowing yet how far, or how furiously, they might travel.

    One afternoon, about a week after her last interview with Murdough Blake, she had been up to Allyhaloo, the village at the extreme south end of the island, to get some straw for Moonyeen, and was coming down the path with a great load of it on her back. The wind swept round and round her head with a sort of fickle, clamorous insistence, now rising to a wailing climax, then suddenly sinking, then as suddenly wailing out again. The sea was of a uniform grey, a few darker lines being drawn here and there across it as if by somebody’s fingers. The Cashla coast, Spiddal, the whole line of the Connemara hills were lost and muffled in swathing, formless bands of mist.

    Grania fixed her eyes steadily upon the path, which was all she could see, bent down as she was under her bundle. Her mind, except now and then under strong emotion, still worked only as a child’s mind works—vaguely, that is to say, with a sort of dim diffuseness—stirred by what came to her through her senses, but lapsing into vagueness again as soon as that dIrect impression had worn off. In this respect she was just what she had always been. The events that had recently happened had been events belonging to and affecting quite another region. Her mind stood aloof, uninfected, unenlarged, untouched by them.

    A real event, by the way, had happened that afternoon. A party of people—English people, it was reported—had come over from Galway in a pleasure yacht, and had made the tour of the islands, visiting not Aranmore only, but the other two islands as well— a rare event at the present day, twenty-five years’ ago an almost unprecedented one.

    As she came down, picking her way carefully over the stones, her mountain of straw towering behind her, Grania suddenly perceived that this party were coming right towards her up the path. It was the direct way to Dun Connor, the chief, if not the only, lion of the island, which the strangers, no doubt, were then on their way to visit. A ragged tangle of children followed them, shouting and clamouring for half-pence.

    A vehement feeling of annoyance made Grania long to rush away, to hide herself behind a boulder, to do anything rather than have to encounter these strangers—gentry, the sort of’ people that Murdough was always talking about and envying—people who lived in big white houses with staring windows like those she had seen in Galway. Pride, however, and a sort of stubbornness hindered her from running away. She went on accordingly down the path, and, when the contact became imminent, merely stepped a little aside, on to a piece of flat rock beside a stunted thorn-bush, and stood there—her cumbersome burden rising behind her—waiting till the visitors should have passed.

    There were three of them—two ladies, and a young man escorting them. They came up laughing, evidently amused, and enjoying the sense of discovery—for Inishmaan was all but untrodden ground—a flutter of skirts and parasols, of hat-ribands and waterproof cloaks filling up the pathway.

    Grania stood doggedly waiting—her head a little thrown back; something of the stir and stress that filled her visible in her whole look and bearing; a wild, untamed vision of strength and savage beauty standing beside that crooked and stunted thornbush.

    The visitors to the island were a little taken by surprise by it. One of the two ladies put up an eyeglass to look at her, at the same time touching her friend’s arm as to call her attention.

    With an angry sense that she was being stared at, Grania on her side turned and gazed fiercely at them, her great slumberous eyes, so Southern in their darkness, filled with a curious lowering light.

    The visitors passed hastily on up the track.

    ‘Did you notice that girl standing above the pathway?’ one of the ladies said to the other. ‘How she stared! Did you observe? Not quite pleasant, was it?'

    ‘Yes,’ the other answered, clutching rather feverishly at her skirts. ‘Don’t go so quickly, dear. What stones! Yes, I noticed her. A fine, handsome creature, I thought—picturesque, too, in her red petticoat—but, as you say, not exactly pleasant-looking. Generally they have such good manners, poor, creatures—quite decent, you know!'

    They hurried on, for a storm was clearly coming up, and the yacht was not built for heavy weather. Quick, hot gusts of wind kept following one another over the grey, treeless surface of the island. ‘ The sea, too, sent up an occasional growl—a hint as to what might be coming. The visit to Dun Connor had accordingly to be cut short, and, with a hasty glance at the wilderness of stone around them, the visitors iurned down the path again, and betook themselves to the shore.

    From her usual post beside the cabin Grania watched, them stumbling over the stones in their haste and rapidly embarking, with a feeling of satisfaction in her own fierce sea and sky which had scared away these fine people so suddenly.

    A dull wrath, like that of the coming storm itself, was in the girl’s veins. She had passed Murdough early the same day—one of the O’Flaherties and Phil Garry were with him at the time—and he had ostentatiously gone on talking and laughing, without paying the smallest attention to her presence. She, on her side, had passed him without a glance, but it had seemed to her as if every drop of blood in her veins had turned in that instant to boiling lead, and she could have killed all three of them then and there, without ruth or hesitation, ‘had her means been only equal to her wishes. It was still burning dangerously in her, that dull wrath, made up of anger, inarticulate despai., of love turned for the time being into a sort of sombre hatred. The necessity, too, of concealing it from Honor made it all the worse and all the more perilously pent up within her.

    As. it happened, a mode of expending it came that very night, and the long mystery of the stolen turf was at the same time cleared up.

    The promised storm came on to blow unmistakably about six o’clock, and by nine or ten o’clock it had grown to a regular tempest. North and south, east and west, it seemed to come from all directions at once. Warm scuds of rain fell as if from a bucket. Then the Atlantic joined the concert, its hollow, bull-voiced roar, full of suggestions of ship-wreck, terror, and death, coming up unceasingly to them from below.

    Poor Honor was rather frightened. The suddenness of the storm disturbed and distressed her. It seemed unnatural, this combination of heat and of rushing wind. It was a new thing to her experience, and seemed to forebode evil. From time to time the sound of her prayers could be heard coming from her own dusky corner, the words caught and carried off, as it were, before they were half uttered by the rushing wind, which tore down the chimney and seemed to be bent, this time, upon dislodging the sturdy, much-enduring little house from its deeply-set foundations upon the rocks.

    Grania remained huddled beside the hearth, without approaching the bed. She was conscious that she was not good company for Honor that evening, so kept away from her as far as possible. Suddenly, as they sat there, with the width of the cabin dividing them, a loud, piercing scream seemed to break between them. It was so close that both believed for a moment that it was inside the house. It was only the scream of a passing gull or gannet, scared, like the rest of the world, by the suddenness and peculiarity of the storm, but, it had an oddly human, oddly articulate ,sound. It had hardly ceased, too, before, with a thump and creak of its hinges, the door swung suddenly open, with that peculiarly eerie effect characteristic of doors which open of themselves.

    Honor uttered a low wail of dismay, and, clasping her hands together, began nervously to pray aloud—a queer mixture, half of Irish, half of Latin, escaping her lips. Grania got up and went to the door, picking up the iron poker from the hearth, as she did so, and taking it with her, probably from a recollection. of the well-known superstition that iron is a safe thing to have at hand if there is anything uncanny in the air. She was turning back and was about to shut the door, when she noticed, to her surprise, a man’s figure, rather the shadow of a man’s figure, passing behind the low wall which divided the little yard from the unenclosed waste of rock without. Suddenly a thought shot through her, a vivid thought,. a thought which grew like lightning into a certainty. Could it be? was it ?—yes, it was—Murdough! Murdough repenting; Murdough come to see after them in the storm! It was—it must be! A flood of hope, bounding, tumultuous, almost painful; a sudden confused rush, first of vehement love; then of equally vehement anger, then of love again, broke across her brain, making her reel and stagger as she stood upon the threshold.

    Telling Honor that she was only going to see that the beasts were all right, and would be back in a minute, she hurried outside, closing the door softly behind her.

    Sure enough a figure was there, for she could still see it moving, the dim silhouette of a man’s figure thrown hgainst the rock. Grania watched and waited. Her heart was beating now so that it was an agony. The expectation of Murdough’s approach, the thought of his coming, the touch of his hands, the nearness of his presence was so strong, so convincing, that it had already become a reality. A reality, alas and alas! it certainly was not. Another moment showed that no one was coming, no one at least to the door or anywhere near the door. In the dim light she could still distinguish the figure of a man, but it was a small man, consequently it was not Murdough; moreover, this man, whoever he was, was creeping stealthily behind the low wall that enclosed the cabin, and getting round to the back of it—to that part where the turf-stack stood piled.

    Grania remained standing where she was, the poker clutched in her hand—all her hopes dashed; all the thoughts of a moment ago turned forcibly back into a different channel. Her face, could it have been seen in the darkness, would have been a curious study. Passion was written on it, and passionate anger; hungry, baffled love was there, and a not less hungry or less baffled desire for revenge. They were all there; all working and struggling together. Suddenly she made a bound forwards; she had crossed the yard; she had seized the trespasser—had clutched him by the back of his neck—and was holding him as a mastiff holds a burglar. It was like Vengeance descended miraculously from the sky itself, so unexpected was it, so startling in the hurly-burly of that hot, wild night. An involuntary yell of terror broke from the turf-stealer, and he turned, wriggling like a worm, and struggling vainly to escape from her clutch, a clutch which was for the moment like iron. It was, as the reader will hardly need to be told, Shan Daly! An old basket was beside ‘him, already half full of’ turf, and there was a lump of it in each hand. Never was criminal caught more feloniously red-handed.

    Grania’s pent-up wrath had now found its channel. The barriers were all up. The current was at the full. The wild blood of the O’Malleys, the wild blood of the Joyces—neither of them names which, for those who know the West, carry any mild or merciful associations with them—was hot in her veins like fire. Desperate rage, that rage for which killing seems the only alleviation, for the time being possessed her wholly. Her head swam, her teeth were clenched together, her right, arm rose; the storm itself was not more reckless of consequences for the moment than she. A little more, another five minutes, and blood would have flowed over the rocks: for that iron poker in Grania’s hands was no plaything.

    A mere chance hindered it. A plaintive cry broke suddenly from the cabin. It was Honor’s voice calling to her sister to come in, to come back, not to leave her. What was she doing ? It was frightened she was of being alone by herself in the wild night. Grania! where was Grania? What was Grania doing at all?

    The cry, so pitiful in its weakness, reached the other’s ear even in all the height of her fury. What was she to do? she asked herself in the rapidly concentrated thought of the moment. Could she kill Shan Daly without disturbing Honor? That, probably, was the form in which the question practically presented itself to her mind. To kill him, or at least to beat him then and there within an inch of his worthless life, was clearly the thing to do, but to disturb Honor, to frighten Honor, that, under all circumstances, was to be avoided. The result was that in the indecision of the moment her grip probably relaxed, for, with a sudden tug and the wriggle of an escaping conker eel, Shan Daly contrived to shake it off, writhed himself a few inches away over the stones, dragged himself beyond her clutch, half fell over the big boulder in his panic, then, picking himself up, fled down the hill, terror in all his limbs, but an intense sense of escape, of deliverance, tingling through every inch of his frame. For a moment he had seen the figure of Death standing over him with a poker in its hand, and the sight had scared him. If ever that dusky soul of his sent out a genuine ejaculation of thankfulness heavenwards, it was probably at that moment!