Part III

May to August

Chapter VIII

IT WAS what is called a turning-point, but there are many such turning-points in all lives, and some of them are important, and some not. One thing was lost for Grania, not to be recaptured again. The young exultation, the extraordinary elation of that evening in the boat she never again felt. It had not lasted long certainly, but it had been good while it lasted—very, very good. Why that day of the Galway fair should have killed it, utterly and unrecognisably, she could not have explained, but so it was. Murdough had behaved in much the same fashion often before: left her to herself, gone away, said he would come back and not done so, returned in the end more or less the worse for drink—but what of that? It was the normal state of things, a state to be reckoned with, hardly to be especially aggrieved by or astonished at. Why should the defection of one afternoon count when the defections of many previous ones had hardly counted at all?

    There is no use in asking such questions, no use in such probings. Our probes are too short, and we simply miss the point we aim at. We know them each in our own turn, recognise them more or less silently, more or less unwillingly, and there is an end of the matter. Grania, at any rate, did so. She recognised, silently and unwillingly, that she had been a fool; recognised it grimly and with bitterness. Bitterly too and silently she repeated to herself that Honor’s way of looking at the matter had been the true one. Not as regards the joy, the peace, the glory, that was to be attained; that was as inscrutable, as little believable as ever, at any rate, for herself, whatever it might be in the case of ready-made saints like Honor. Where she had been right was as regards this world. That part was all quite true. Happiness was simply gustho—nonsense—there was no such thing!

    The two sisters clung very closely to one another during those long summer days—days which were to be the last of their life together—closer than they had ever done before. Grania had a curiously strong feeling that Honor’s death would be for herself also the end of all things. It was a period, at any rate, beyond which she did not and would not look. A touch of desperation had got hold of the girl. Honor and Murdough! they had always been her world; she had no other—anywhere—and now both seemed to be crumbling, both to be failing her!

    One of them certainly was. Honor was sinking rapidly. Her emaciation could hardly be greater, but her power of taking food was daily decreasing and her strength, waning; the. end plainly was very near now.

    Towards the middle of August a spell of oddly hot, dull weather fell upon the islands. The sea seemed to go to sleep. The gulls and puffins hung along the edge of the shore like so many tame ducks or other barnyard creatures, bobbing lazily upon the small crestless waves, but without energy apparently to carry them farther. Soon rows of curraghs with barrels stuck upright in them might have been seen passing at intervals to and fro to Cashla Point, going empty, returning full. There had not been any rain for four weeks past—a state of affairs which meant a water-famine for Aran.

    Honor suffered from this warmth and closeness as she had never appeared to suffer from the cold and the blustering winds, a condition of things to one of her rearing too natural probably to have any effect one way or other. Night after night during that hot, dry spell she lay awake, although she always tried to persuade Grania that she was sleeping soundly, so as to induce her to lie down and get some sleep herself. Every now and then, however, a low, dry cough, breaking from her corner, or the feeble sound of her voice raised in some softly-uttered supplication, belied the kindly pretence.

    One night, towards the end of the third week of August, these fits of coughing had been unusually long and bad. From about seven in the evening till long past eleven the hard, hacking sound had never ceased for an instant, and the consequent exhaustion was intense. Grania had sat the whole time with her arms about her, supporting her, and feeling, as she had often done of late, as though she herself was receiving support from that contact as well as giving it. From time to time she gave Honor some water or a little whey to drink, or renewed the dip candle which stood upon the shelf, but they hardly spoke. What, indeed, was there for them to say ?

    Something in the dull warmth of the night, something in her own restless unhappiness, something in the sense of the nearness for Honor of that brink which, to her, too, seemed to be the end of all things made Grania even less able to bear patiently the other's suffering that night than usual. Her love for Honor, which seemed to herself to have increased tenfold of late, her admiration for her extraordinary patience, that sort of wild anger and revolt which the suffering of those we love is apt to awaken in us, they all worked together in the girl’s mind, until at last, when the paroxysms were beginnipg to abate, they broke from her lips in the form of an angry protest.

    ' How you do bear it, Honor—all night and day too—never a bit of ease or comfort! I do not understand it, no, I do not! If it was me I should just fight, and kick, and scream; yes, I should! I should curse everything, yes, everything—and God! I should curse and I should fight till I died fighting, so I would; no other!’

    'Och, then, whist, whist, with your wild talk, child,’ Honor exclaimed, breathlessly. ‘Fight God! Is it sensible of what you’re saying you are, you poor, ignorant child, or gone clean mad you have this hot night? Listen to me, Grania, and come a bit closer, for I can’t speak loud. Don’t think I’m any better than yourself, child, for I’m not, ne’er a bit, and for patience, it is out of all patience I am, often and often, times upon times beyond number, out of all patience, and longing to die and be quit of it all. “What is the use of it, my God,” I say, “what is the good or the sense of it? Is it any glory or honour you can get out of the likes of me, lying here, and coughing my heart away? Sure, my God, isn’t it enough? Won’t you give me the bit of ease, and I suffering so bad and so long? Sure, my God, what is the meaning of it at all, at all? Is it with all the saints about you up there in glory and grandeur, you’d want to be looking down at a sick lone woman lying on her back out on a poor little bit of a bare rock in the middle of the salt, salt sea?” And then, Grania dear—well, ‘tis like this—there’s a feeling, I can’t tell it to you, for I haven’t the words, nor couldn’t if I had them itself. 'Tis for all the world as if someone was saying, “There, there! Whist with you; whist, I tell you! I know how you feel, you poor creature! I know it! I know it! There, there! Be easy a bit longer; it’s coming to you; it’s coming! I’m sending it—the peace, and the joy, and the rest of it.” And ‘then, Grania, I look out towards the Old Sea there, and I say to myself, “It’s coming! It’s coming! It’s on the way! My God, it’s on the way; it’s on the way!”’ Honor crossed her hands, and her white face shone wonderfully.

    Grania’s lips twitched; her eyes filled uncontrollably; she made a violent effort to brave it off, but it was not to be done. All the trouble of the last few weeks, all the bitterness of this new discovery—a discovery which was secretly eating into her very flesh—the sight of the suffering so patiently borne by her sister; it all seemed to come upon her at once. The barriers broke down; the floods carried all before them, and she burst out crying. It was like a child’s crying, so loud, so open, so unconcealed, once it had got free.

    ‘Auch! Auch! Auch! What’ll I do! Auch, my God, what’ll I do?’ she exclaimed, sobbing. ‘Say, Honor agra, what’ll I do at all without you? Is it leaving me you’d be, leaving me all by myself in this big cold world? Auch! Auch! What will I do? Auch, my God, my God, what will I do?’

    Honor turned towards, her, astonishment in her mild eyes.

    ‘Sure, pulse of my soul and, heart of my heart, 'tis well you’ll do,’ she said, coaxingly. ‘Arrah, then, I don’t mean just at first‘—for Grania made an angry gesture of’ denial—‘but after a bit—when the grief is a little easy, as it will be, and when you can think of me as I shall be, well at last, and going with the help of the saints to be better still. Sure, what am I but a charge to you, and have been these years upon years past? And for the house and the creatures and the rest of it, is not it your very own they are and always have been, and you the first in the world for cleverness and management and that not on Inishmaan alone, but the two other islands as well, not to speak of the Continent itself? And for anything else, sure you know there is not a boy on the island that isn’t after you, so that you could marry, you could, if you had six hands for them to be putting rings upon, or seven, instead of one, and Murdough Blake himself at the head and top of them all!’

    By this allusion to Murdough Blake, Honor had thought to touch the right chord, and to remind Grania of all that still remained to her after she herself was gone. It had exactly the opposite’ effect, however.

    'Murdough Blake! Murdough Blake! Wisha! ‘tis little he cares for me, no more than he does for old Moonyeen out yonder!’ she exclaimed, fiercely. ‘‘Tis the house and the beasts and the bit of money he cares for, if he cares for anything, so it is—that and himself!’

    It was the first time she had ever admitted such an idea in words, the first time that the long pent-up bitterness had ever crossed her lips.Pride, modesty, custom—the last the strongest barrier of the three—had hindered her from touching upon such a subject, even to Honor. Even now the words were no sooner uttered than a rush of shame overtook her—of shame and a feeling of self-betrayal. She grew red up to the roots of her hair, got up, stammered something about seeing to the beasts, snatched up her petticoat; which was lying near her, and ran out of the cabin into the darkness before Honor had realised what she was about, or could utter a syllable to detain her.