Part III

May to August

Chapter II

SHE DREW up her own particular creepy stool, and sat down, staring at the tongues of red flame as they were blown in towards her, every now and then, by a fresh gust from above.

    Her thoughts and the night seemed to her to match one another. She had seen little or nothing of Murdough Blake for the last fortnight, one reason being that he had been away from Inishmaan at Ballyvaughan, in company with Shan Daly and other kindred spirits, sharing in a sort of rude regatta, got up by the hooker and curragh owners of the neighbourhood. A report had come to her through a friendly neighbour that he had been all this time drinking hard—nay, had been seen by someone lying dead drunk in the Ballyvaughan street. Whether this was the case or not, she knew that he was spending money, for the only time she had seen him had been late one evening, when he had come up to beg for a loan—not for the first or the third time either that year. She had given him the money, it being for a debt, he said, and she having a little that she could spare, and had not even reproached him, beyond telling him that it must positively be for the last time.

    Grania suffered as strong people suffer. Not patiently, nor yet with any particular inclination to complain, but with a suffering that was a sort of fire in her veins. She would have liked to have taken the matter, then and there, into her own strong hands; to have beaten Shan Daly—recognised aider and abettor in every misdeed—soundly with her own two fists; to have dragged Murdough by force out of this ditch which his own folly was slowly digging below him. Yet, what could she do? There was only one way of getting any more hold on him, and that was by marrying him. That, however, was at present impossible. Apart from Honor’s increasing illness there was no place ready for them, excepting this cabin, and how could he come there? Besides, even if she did marry him, what then? could she be sure of getting any more hold over him? of stopping him from drinking? of inducing him to do anything she wished? Did he even care much about what she wished?P Did he care much about her in any way, in fact, except so far as he cared for the cows and the pigs, and the other possessions she owned? Did he— Would he— Had he— ?

    She thrust her pampootie-shod foot suddenly into the turf, kicking it to right and left, as these thoughts crowded upon her mind, and making it flare away wildly up the chimney in a tangle of scarlet sparks.

    She had forgotten Honor for the moment, or thought perhaps that she had fallen asleep. This, however, was clearly not the case, for at that moment her soft guttural voice made itself heard from the corner.

    ‘What ails you then to-night, sister dear? she asked gently. ‘What makes you look so wild? Is it the storm that scares you?’

    Grania started, then recovered herself. ‘May be indeed, Honor, it was the storm I was thinking of,’ she said in as indifferent a tone as she could muster. ‘It is a bitter black night and an ugly one, God knows,’ she added, looking up at the square of window, through which a faint drizzle of light still shone. ‘There was a few minutes’ silence in the cabin, broken only by the moaning of the wind, the spitting of the fire, and the soft recurrent sound of the boy’s breathing. Suddenly a hollow, bull-voiced roar came rushing up the gully, followed by the angry thud of the sea against the rocks at the bottom of the slope. It seemed to Grania like a voice outside herself, a voice roaring confirmations of her own thoughts, and, with an impulse of disburdening herself of some at least of these, she went on:

    ‘Isn’t it queer, Honor, to think of all the trouble there is, far and near, over the whole, big world? Sure when one looks out over the sea and the land yonder, and beyond that again, and thinks of it all, there seems to be nothing but trouble and trouble and trouble, and more trouble upon the top of trouble. God help us! what are we brought into it for at all, at all, I sometimes wonder, if there’s to be nothing for us but trouble and trouble and trouble? ‘Tis bad enough for the men, but it’s worse a hundred times for the women! Where’s any happiness coming to any of us from at all, at all, I want to know? I can’t see much of it, look where I will, Honor, so I can’t. Can you?—say, sister allanah—can you?’

    Honor opened her mild brown eyes to their widest possible extent, and half raised herself up in bed in wonder at such questionings.

    ‘Sure, child! isn’t God everywhere?’ she exclaimed simply. ‘And happiness! Why, saints above! who ever heard of such talk! Happiness? God love the child! what were, any of us, and women specially, sent into the world for, except to save our souls and learn to bear what’s given us to bear? Augh, Grania, Grania! don’t be looking for happiness, child, for I tell you you won't get it—not married nor single, sick nor well, rich nor poor, young nor old; for 'tisn't in it at all, at all, so how can you expect to find it? ‘Tis only in heaven there’s any real, right happiness, child, as I’m always telling you, and ‘tis not till you get there that any one need think to find it, nor couldn’t, not though they were to hunt for it the whole world over, and get under the sea-water, too, looking for it! And for a woman!—why, child, ‘tis impossible! To bear and bear, that’s all she’s got to do, so she has, till God sends her rest—nothing else. Isn't that what she has come into the world, for, no other? Oh, but 'tis the priest himself should be telling you all that, and not me that knows so little. If you could only once get your heart to the right way of thinking, child asthore, ‘tisn’t tormenting yourself with any such follies you’d be this night, nor any night, either! Sure, the priest would tell you that there’s no happiness in this world for a man, let alone for a woman; only trouble, and trouble, as you say, on the top of trouble, and will be as long as the grass grows and the rain falls, and the streams run, and the sea goes round Ireland, and that will be till the world itself comes to an end, so it will!'

    Grania for all answer thrust her foot again amongst the turf, making it flare and sputter like a Catherine wheel.

    ‘Then I don’t believe’ it—nor want to believe it—nor to hear it, what’s more—not though every priest in Ireland or the world were, to say it!‘ she suddenly burst out angrily. ‘And it is all very well for you, Honor, a saint born, wanting nothing and caring for nothing, only just the bit to keep you alive and the spot to pray on. But all women are not made like that. My God, no! There's many and many a one would let themselves be cut. in little pieces or burned alive, any day in the week, if so he they were loved back, but, if not, ‘tisn’t better they’d get, but worse and wickeder every day, till they’d be fit to kill themselves or other people,’ so they would. and what good would that do to anyone? Sure, I know ‘tis just nonsense talking like that to you. A nun born you are, Honor, and always have been; but I’m not—so there, I tell you, sister—for what’s the good of me lying to you, and only us two left alone in the world and likely soon, God help me! to be only one of us! Sure, He knows I’d do anything to please you, Honor—you that were a mother to me, and more. But say I’d sit down easy with such a skin and a bones of a life as that, and no happiness till I come to die?—and saints know what I’d be like then!—why, I can’t, Honor, I can't, and that’s the whole truth! The priests may tell all they will of heaven, but what is it to me?—just gosther! ‘Tis here I want a little bit of the happiness, so I do. Maybe ‘tis very wicked, but I could not feel different, not except I was to die first and to be born right over again, so I couldn’t!’

    She looked over at her sister’s corner as she finished speaking, half-defiantly, half with a feeling of apprehension, expecting a fresh, burst of reprobation in response to this outburst. Poor Honor’s remonstrances, however, were exhausted. Her strength was so slight that a very little overset it, and she began to cry helplessly, uttering a soft sobbing sort of wail, more to herself than to Grania, repeating over and over again that it was all her fault—all her fault the child was lost and destroyed, and all through her! What had she been doing? what had she been doing? Oh God! Oh God! what had she been doing?

    Grania’s compunction awoke in a minute at the words. They had far more effect on her than a more finished remonstrance would have had. Leaping up from where she was squatting beside the fire, she ran over to the bed, and, leaning over the sick woman, began trying to soothe her back into quietness, heaping abuse upon herself at the same time for having disturbed her.

    ‘Sorrow take me for a fool! what ailed me at all to be troubling you, and you just beginning to settle down, and enough trouble of your own to bear, God knows! and more than enough?’ she exclaimed penitently. “Tis beat I should be if I got my rights this minute, and if you’d the strength to do it I’d ask you to beat me with a big stick, and welcome, Honor. Bad end to myself if I know what ailed me! ‘Twas just the wild looks of that creature Phelim that put foolish thoughts in my head, that and the storm, ne’er another thing. Sure, sister dear, Honor sweet, you’ll settle to sleep again and be easy, won’t you? Don’t be punishing me by saying you won't, or ‘tis biting off my tongue another ‘time I’ll be, rather than talking to you. Don’t all people have foolish thoughts in their heads some time or other, and you wouldn’t be troubling about any nonsense I’d say? Is it your own foolish little Grania, that always was a troublesome, ignorant little preghaun from the time she could run by herself ?—only you so good and patient ‘twas more like one of the Saints out of heaven than a woman. Will I sing you the "Moderagh rue” then, or “Sheela na guira” till you’ll sleep? Weary upon this wind! ‘Tis that that sets us all mad this night, I think, and puts it into my head to be talking nonsense.’ Hark at it battering against the door, as if it was wanting to burst it in, whether or no! There, there, Honor, you’ll shut your poor eyes, and not be thinking about another thing, good or bad, till the morning. And, maybe, please God! it will be fine then, and you’ll see the sun shining in at the door, and the little boats dancing up and down on the water, the way you like. Sure, ‘tis in May we are now, and the bad weather can’t last for ever and ever, so it can’t.’

    Honor shut her eyes, more to please Grania and satisfy her entreaties, than because she felt any inclination to sleep. Little by little, however, exhaustion crept over her, and she fell into a doze, which passed by degrees into broken, uneasy slumbers. Even in her sleep, however, it was clear that the same thoughts pursued her, for from time to time she would sigh heavily, her lips uttering now a broken prayer; now some tender self-accusing word, while in her eyes, had there been light to see them, the large tears might have been seen gathering slowly, and stealing one after the other down the hollows of her poor thin cheeks.

    Finding that she really was sleeping, Grania presently left her bedside, and sat down again beside the now all but invisible fire, her thoughts wandering first to one thing then to another as she listened to the wind. Once, too, she got up and went over to the door to make sure that there was no danger of its being burst in by the blasts that kept rushing one after the other against it like battering rams through the narrow funnel. Then, having carefully covered up the greeshaugh, or hot embers, so as to be able to light the fire in the morning, she, too, lay down beside little Phelim, pushing him gently over a little nearer to the wall in order to find room for herself upon the same well-worn narrow pallet.