Part III

May to August

Chapter IX

SHE DID not go very far. Only as far as to the end of the platform, stopping at her usual spot, close to the big granite boulder which blocked the mouth of the gully. Her head was spinning; wild thoughts came and went in it, without, as it seemed to her, her having anything to say to them. She was tingling from head to foot with the sense of self-betrayal, a betrayal not so much to Honor as to herself, to the world at large—to the birds of the air and the stars above them—letting them all know what pride, decency, self-respect required to be kept for ever locked up and hidden away.

    The fact is, though it is difficult for an outsider to believe it, that the whole subject of love, of passion of any kind, especially from a girl and with regard to her own marriage, is such an utterly unheard-of one amongst Grania’s class that the mere fact of giving utterance to a complaint on the subject gave her a sense not merely of having committed a hideous breach of common decency, but of having actually crossed the line that separates sanity from madness. Could she really be going crazy? she asked ‘herself. Would she soon be seen gibbering by the roadside like mad Peggy O’Carroll, who was always laughing to herself at nothing, and being mocked at by the boys as they drove the kelp donkeys to and from the sea-shore?

    ‘What ailed her? she again asked herself. What did ail her? It seemed to be literally like some disease that had got into her bones—this strange unrest, this disturbance—a disease, too, of which she had never heard; which nobody else so far as she knew had ever had; a disease which had no name, and therefore was the more mysterious and horrible. As a matter of fact, she was to some extent ill, or rather her usually perfect health had for the moment partially deserted her. Close attendance on Honor, many sleepless nights, trouble of all kinds, the wear and tear of nursing, all these had broken down those good solid barriers which a life spent eternally in the open air would otherwise have kept up. Sturdy, too, as she was, there was nothing bovine in her strength, on the contrary, like most Irishwomen, she was a nervous creature at bottom, however little she might have seemed so when those barriers were in their proper place. At present they were gone. She was unstrung, and we all know what that means. So completely was this the case that she had even become aware of it herself. She felt worn out, and wrought up to a pitch of desperation. Something she must do, she felt, but what, that was the question, what?

    She went to the edge of the platform and put her head against the big boulder, invisible but still present, a familiar object sustaining and comforting. Stooping down, she pressed her cheek closer and closer against the gritty surface till it began to hurt her. What ailed her? she once again asked herself, what did ail her; what did it all mean? 'Auch, what will I do, my God, what will I do, at all?’ she moaned suddenly, speaking aloud into the friendly deaf ear of the night. ‘Arrah, if I was but dead! if I was but dead! My God, if I was but dead, wouldn’t that be the best way out of it, at all, at all?’

    She did not mean this, by the way, in the least. She did not want to die, to be dead. Life was bounding and beating within her, on the contrary—beating tp the point of pain. It was a protest merely, a voice from the very strength of her youth and her love. She asked for death, as all young creatures ask for death when what they really want is life—only life with a difference.

    By-and-by, as the air began to cool her, or the old stone brought counsel, she tried to think the matter out, to get a little away from her trouble, and to look at it with some degree of reasonableness. Though to one of Grania’s rearing and powers of comparison and deduction is a queer, dim process, very strange in its methods, very mysterious often in its results. In its own fashion, however, it has to be gone through, and is gone through, especially under the stress of strong emotion. Under that stress she now began to try and consider the matter; to try and see if there was not some way to be found of getting rid of this new, this utterly intolerable wretchedness. What if she made up her mind, she asked herself, to give up Murdough—now, at once, to-night—surely that would give her peace if anything would? She was not bound to marry him, and if she were, his tipsiness and ways of going on recently would be excuse enough, if she wanted or cared about an excuse, which she did not. She lifted her head, and tried to think this new idea clearly out;. to see what it was, and where it led to. Yes, to give him up! to be free; completely free. Surely that was the right thing to do—the right thing and the spirited thing! Yes, she would do it, she resolved. She would see him herself—to-morrow morning the very first thing— she would see him and she would tell him so, that she would.

    A glow of tingling satisfaction shot through her as she thought of meeting Murdough the first thing in the morning, and telling him in an easy, off-hand fashion that she had made up her mind and that she was not going to marry him, that he need not think it, for she, had quite made up her mind. Stay, would it not be even better, she next reflected, if she could tell him at the same time that she was going to marry someone else? Someone else, yes; but who else? That had to be decided. Who was there that she could declare on the spur of the moment she intended to marry instead of him? Well, why not Teige O’Shaughnessy? she thought; poor Teige O’Shaughnessy, who was so sober, so industrious, so hardworking, so exactly everything that Murdough was not; who would leap out of his very skin with joy at the bare idea; who would not even need to be informed beforehand; who would do everything she wished: obey her, follow her, worship her all his life, she instinctively knew, just as Pete Durane obeyed, fohlowed, and worshipped Rosha, badly as that termagant treated him.

    The idea seemed for the moment a perfectly brilliant one, a haven of refuge; a complete solution for all the miseries of the past few weeks. It stood out before her as a splendid spirited programme, brimful of satisfaction, brimful, above all, of a delightful promise of vengeance. Murdough’s rage, Murdough’s scorn of poor Teige, Murdough’s fury at herself, Murdough’s attempts to change her resolution, her own air of jaunty indifference—a sort of parody of his former ones—surely, surely it should be done, and done, too, the very next dayl

    She got up and moved about the platform with a sense of having regained her old liberty, with a sense of being once more Grania O’Malley, the cleverest, strongest, richest girl on the whole island. She was about to return to the cabin when—suddenly, like a thunderbolt—the reaction came. She stopped short with a feeling of absolute terror, a feeling of having taken some irrevocable step, a feeling of sheer panic. ' Oh, no, no, no, no, no!’ she cried aloud. ‘Oh, no, no, no, my God! Sure you know I didn’t mean it. You know right well I didn’t. ‘Twas only mad I was! just mad, out and out, no other!'—Mean it? Better be ill used by Murdough; beaten by Murdough; toil, drudge, be killed by Murdough; better have her heart broken; better have to give up the farm, and be ruined by Murdough, than live prosperously and comfortably with anyone else! The thought of the cabin seen a few weeks before at Cashla, rushed back suddenly upon her mind, but now with none of that previous sense of disgust, none of that horror of revolt and loathing which had filled her then. Even in this extremity, even so, dead drunk in a corner, Murdough was still Murdough—the first; the only one. Idle? yes; tipsy? yes; cold, unkind, indifferent even? yes, yes, yes, still he was Murdough, her Murdough, always the same Murdough, and what did anything else matter?

    The love that had come down from the very beginning of things, the love that had never known a break, the love that was a part of herself, a part of everything she saw and touched, of everything she could imagine, the tenderness that had curled itself subtly into every fibre of her body, was not to be dislodged in so summary a fashion. It clung tenaciously; clung only the harder because it ought to be dislodged, because she herself wished to dislodge it. A sudden wave of desperate love, of reckless passion, swept through her, and she stretched out her arms.

    ‘Auch, Murdough, Murdougheen,' she murmured tenderly. 'Where are you, Murdough? where are you then, at all, at all, this dark night? Arrah, come to your poor Grania! Where are you, dear? where are you?’

    She ran back to the edge of the platform, and flinging her arms again about the boulder, pressed her cheek against its gritty irresponsive surface. It was like a reconciliation! There had been a quarrel, and now there was no quarrel; none! She and Murdough; she and Murdough; always, always, always she and Murdough. The warm dark night about her, the scarcely audible note of the sea upon the rocks below, the stars blinking sleepily overhead; they all seemed to be so many witnesses and assurances of that reconciliation.