Part IV

September Again

Chapter I

THE MONTH of September had begun, but the breach between Grania and Murdough was still unhealed. He, on his side, was feeling less at ease than his jaunty air or undisturbed manner might have led anyone to suppose. This unlooked-for decision upon Grania’s part was, he could not but own, startling, So far he had kept the fact to himself, not choosing it to be known, and knowing that she was extremely unlikely to speak of it. It might have entailed unpleasant consequences had it leaked out. In Inishmaan, as in more imposing places, there are inconveniences likely enough to fall upon a brilliant young man when a marriage which is to set him upon his legs is known to be broken off.

    What ailed her? he asked himself again and again. What an extraordinarily queer girl she had grown of late! he next reflected, thinking over the scene of their quarrel. What queer eyes she had!—‘‘Tis as if the devil himself was sitting at the bottom of them, and staring at you—the devil himself, no better—enough to scare a man, so they are! quite enough to scare a man!’ he repeated several times to himself, as he recalled the look of concentrated rage with which she had sprung upon him and swept him, as it were, out of her path in her fury. ‘‘Twasn’t safe she looked, so she didn’t then—not safe at all. And what did I do to make her so mad? Only laughed at her about Teige O’Shaughnessy! My God, and who wouldn’t laugh at her about Teige O’Shaughnessy? Teige O’Shaughnessy, wisha!’

    That Grania would seriously dream of marrying Teige he did not for a moment believe, but that, even in anger, she should throw such a rival in his teeth was an insult very difficult to stomach. Murdough had never asked himself for a moment whether he cared for Grania or not, the question would probably have seemed to him utterly superfluous. Of course he cared for her. Had she not always been there; always, in a fashion, belonged to him? Why in the world wouldn’t he care for her?

    That he had liked her better in the old days when she was still the little Grania of the hooker, before she had shot up into this rather formidable woman she had so suddenly become, there is no denying. The little Grania had. admired him without criticism; the little Grania had no sombre moods; the little Grania never gazed at him with those big, menacing eyes—eyes such as a lioness might turn upon someone whom she loves, but who displeases her—the little Grania was natural, was comprehensible, was just like any other little girsha in the place, not at all like this new Grania, who was quite out of his range and ken; an unaccountable product, one that made him feel vaguely uneasy; who seemed to belong to a region in which he had never travelled; who was 'queer,' in short; the last word summing up concisely the worst and most damning thing that could be said of anyone in Inishmaan.

    He brooded over all this a good deal, sitting and swinging his legs upon the steps of the old villa, which, since his grandmother’s death, he had taken pretty constantly to inhabit, it being preferable, in his mind, despite its bareness, to the overcrowded family cabin up at Alleenageeragh. That there was a sense of relief in being free from Grania and her ‘queerness’ he was aware, but, on the other hand, there was a yet greater sense of failure and of defeat. His vanity was badly hurt by it, likewise his pocket, and the two together acted as a powerful counterpoise, he was ‘used,’ moreover, to Grania. His future had always held her as a matter of course, just as hers had always held him, and use, more than all the other ingredients of existence, possesses a tremendous leverage upon beings of Murdough’s type. The end of his brooding was that one evening, about a fortnight after their quarrel, and a couple of days after the scene between Grania and Shan Daly, he waylaid her as she was coming back from the kelp fire, hiding for that purpose in an old clump of hawthorn bushes till she should pass by.

    This clump stood upon the flattest bit of land in the whole island, so that from it, as from a post of vantage, he could see a long way, miles it seemed, over the dim, still faintly-gleaming surface. Where he had hidden himself was the only spot that broke this flatness, a flatness sloping imperceptibly till it merged into the sea at high-water mark. It was a fine warm evening, though there had been heavy rain in the daytime. A quantity of small brown moths flew round his head, other and much larger white ones kept emerging one after the other from the nettles and brambles that covered the fallen stones, for, like almost every clump on the islands, this too held a well and a scrap of old ruined church hidden somewhere away at the bottom of it.

    After waiting half an hour, he saw Grania coming towards him, the only living thing far as the eye could reach, everything else being either stone, or else vegetation hardly less grey and arid. As she came near an unexpected qualm seized Murdough, a sudden alarm as to what she might be going to say or to do; how she would behave when she saw him there. It was quite a new idea for him to dream of being afraid of Grania, or to doubt his own unquestionable superiority over her; but since their quarrel she had assumed rather a different aspect in his eyes, and this evening she looked, he thought, bigger and more imposing, somehow, than usual, as she came walking slowly towards him, solitary and empty-handed, her eyes staring straight in front of her as if she were seeking something that was not there. The Impression was so strong that it even occurred to him for a moment that he would let her pass, as he easily could do, and stay hidden away in his lair until she had gone by.

    ‘Arrah, great King of Glory, ‘tis the mortal queer-looking girl she has grown to be, sure and certain!’ he muttered uneasily. ‘My soul from the devil, what ails her these times, at all at all? She that used to be the nice, easy, little girsha.'

    Whether he would have called to her or have let her pass unchallenged, it is impossible to say, but it happened that as she drew near to the clump she slackened her already slow pace, and looked directly towards him; her eyes, as it seemed to him, piercing right down to where he stood hidden in the centre of the thorny thicket. Concluding, therefore, that he was discovered, he got up and in rather a quavering voice, called to her, and asked her to stop.

    She started violently, and stopped dead short, then looked again, not directly towards him, but a little farther on, as if doubtful whether she had really heard a voice, or only imagined that she had done so. Murdough’s head and shoulders rising out of the clump was a piece of evidence not to be mistaken. Still she stood rooted to the same spot, staring at him, not speaking; staring as if he had been his own ghost.

    What were they going to say to one another? What, after their stormy parting, after that fortnight of silerce and alienation, was the footing upon which they were to meet? Neither of them knew, and it was probably accident that decided that point. Murdough's inspiration was at any rate a happier one than his last had been.

    ‘Then it was waiting to walk back to the house with you I was—yes, indeed—just waiting to walk back with you, that was all, Grania O'Malley,' he said, with a decided quaver in his voice, and an air of mild deprecation.

    The tone and look, more even than the words, disarmed the girl utterly; further than this, they filled her with a sudden, a delicious sense of happiness. She said nothing, but when he had stepped over the mass of branches, and through an outer circumvallation of nettles, and had come up to her, she was trembling violently, and it was silently and still tremblingly that she turned and walked back beside him through the dusk, as they had so often walked before.

    It was the only explanation between them, but it seemed to suffice. The first awkwardness of the meetiug over, Murdough’s tongue soon regained its nimbleness, and he began telling her a long tale about a curragh which he had bought or proposed to buy, if so be, God willing, he could find the money. It was Malachy O’Flaherty’s own curragh, and the best in the islands, barring one, and that was Phil Garry’s father’s big curragh which had gone to the bottom in the great storm on the twenty-eighth of January last. Poor old Mick Garry’s heart would have broken to lose it, so it would, honest man, only, thank God, he hadn’t long to fret about it, for he was drowned himself at, the same time, and only that Phil Garry and his brother Teddy had stayed at home and hidden themselves, they would have been drowned too, as the little bouchaleen Pat was, who had been the only one of the family the old man could get hold of when he went out in such a hurry to save the nets. But Malachy O’Flaherty’s curragh was a picture, fit for a king, and had been the first in of seven that had started at the Ballyvaughan races last March; at least seven would have started only that two never got off for one of them broke her rudder the day before, and the other had a big hole stove in her side, through Thaddeus Doonan, that owned her, leaping into her in a hurry, the fool, with his boots on. She was the handsomest boat on the whole bay, and had been, newly caulked and canvassed’ by Malachy himself only that very year. There was no curragh like her in Galway or out of it, and it was raging mad the Claddagh men were about it, for whoever owned her would be sure to win the big race that was coming on next month, with twenty boats starting and three shillings down to every boat. Twenty times three shillings would be sixty shillings, that was three pounds, and if he had to sell the coat off his back, and the shirt too, he’d do it rather than not have her to race in, for it was a sin and a shame letting her go to those who didn’t know how to row no more than black crabs down at the bottom of the sea. That was what Malachy O’Flaherty had said, and he had said, too, that he would give it to him dirt cheap, because he’d like to see her coming in first at the big race, and not let everything good go to strangers. What was the good, Malachy had said, of stinting and saving for ever? Was it when a man was old that he wanted the money most? No, it was not, it was when he was young, for how did he know he would ever live to be old at all, at all? Could you take the money into the grave with you? No, you could not, for money was of no use there, nor anything else either, when you would be dead and buried! That was what Malachy O’Flaherty had said, and it was quite true, so it was, quite true. It is not in the grave, nor in heaven either, with all the grandeur and glory, you’d find there, you would be wanting money, whether it was much or whether it was little.

    To all this Grania listened silently, as usual, turning her eyes upon him from time to time with a curiously lingering expression. There was a look of inquiry in her glance, a look of entreaty and expectation, a look of impatience, too, only it was impatience curbed and restrained by something stronger than itself. So they walked on side by side until they had reached the cabin. Here Murdough, whose tale was finished, was turning away, but she made a quick sign to him to stop; went in with resolute steps, came out again and thrust something hurriedly into his hands. It was a bank-note, and all the money that she had at that moment in the world with the exception of a few shillings, and what must be kept absolutely sacred for the expenses of Honor’s funeral..

    Murdough’s astonishment and delight burst out then and there like a fountain; burst into a torrent of’ words—vague, iridescent, incoherent. Projects of every sort—races to be won, victories over rivals, money, much money, to be earned in the future—they all poured forth; flew and hurtled through the air; one golden scheme jostling against another in its hurry to express itself. Grania listened, but her eyes never lost that oddly intent, wistful expression. She stood perfectly still while he capered about the rocks, waving his hands and snapping his fingers as he descanted first on one project then on another. Suddenly she turned, and, leaving him to finish his flights by himself, went in, closing the door behind her; not this time, however, with a bang, but slowly, with a gradual and, as it seemed, a reluctant pressure from within.

    It was with a more conscious strut than usual that, after waiting a minute to see if she would return, Murdough marched off toward the old villa, the note she had given him making sweet music against his pocket as he did so. Money! Not a few, paltry shillings, but a whole large sum at once. He was a king! There were no possibilities that were not open to him, no dream that might not be fulfilled, no hopes that might not suddenly bloom into life. Where was Teige O’Shaughnessy now? he asked himself with derision. How long would it be before anyone gave him money, like that ?—the poor, mean, scraping, saving little boccach.

    Through all this satisfaction there returned, however, from time to time the same, vague uneasiness about Grania. She had only done what she ought; had given him the money right off in a lump, without any lecturings or bargains; that was all quite natural and proper, but, upon the other hand, what sort of wife would she be, this Grania, for a quiet, easy-going boy, who only wanted to live in peace and quietness? Wasn’t she queer? Mother of Moses! she was queer! the queerest girl in the whole world! That was the burden, refrain, summing-up of all his meditations about her.

    Once in the course of these meditations he chanced to look up and catch Shan Daly’s ferrety eyes peering at him from their redrimmed sockets as if he were trying to make out what he was thinking of, for Shan, too, had got into the habit of creeping into the old villa, preferring its shelter to the mud-banks and sides of walls which of late had been his habitual resting-places. The relative standing of these two had become exactly reversed since Murdough had grown to be a man, and a strong one; Formerly, Shan, we know, had bullied him unmercifully whenever he got the chance; now, Shan was his henchman, his jackal, the patient partaker of all his moods. It spoke a good deal for Murdough’s good temper and inherently unresentful way of looking at things, that he never showed the slightest inclination to avenge himself upon Shan, or to pay back his old wrongs as he easily might have done. On the contrary, though he despised him, as everyone did, he seemed rather to enjoy his society than otherwise. He was ‘used’ to him, you see, and that counted for so much. Have we not seen that he was also 'used' to Grania O’Malley? Between a man with no scruples whatever, no character to lose, no qualms of any sort save fear for his own skin, and a mere convivial young gentleman who has never done anything worse than get drunk and run into debt, the sense, too, of superiority is perhaps never wholly upon one side. Murdough knew nothing of Shan’s latest adventure, but he had long had cause to suspect that Shan, for some reason, hated Grania. Several times he had been aware that it was Shan who had prevented him from going to see her, or who had egged him on to doing things she disliked. This, and a slight feeling of embarrassment upon the subject, kept him from telling him of her recent donation. All the same he was genuinely grateful for it, and in the first flush of his gratitude laid out a variety of schemes which he would, could, or might carry out in the course of the next few weeks to gratify her. ‘Queer’ she undoubtedly was, mysteriously, unaccountably queer, but at least her queerness had, this time, taken a right instead of a wrong direction!