Part IV

September Again

Chapter II

AS IT TURNED out, there was no opportunity for any of these amiable schemes to be carried into effect, for the very next day Honor was taken suddenly worse about nine o’clock in the evening, and to all who saw her it seemed clear that the end had at last really come. There was great dismay amongst those who were drawn to the cabin by the news, not so much on account of the fact itself, as on account of the difficulty, the perennial difficulty at Inishmaan, of getting a priest across from the larger island in time. Grania had wanted to send Teige O'Shaugnessy for Father Tom that very morning, but Honor had forbidden her to do so, wishing to delay a little longer, so that the last rites might be received as near the end as possible. Now that end had plainly come, but to get a priest across the sound before the next morning was clearly out of the question.

    It was a thick night, with showers of rain at intervals, but upon the first intimation of the change old Molly Muldoon had travelled faithfully across the rocks from Ballinlisheen, according to her promise, and after the other women had gone she remained to share in the task of nursing, and to aid Grania in what both believed to be the last night of Honor’s life. Towards three o’clock,. every moment, it was thought, must see the end, but the chilly, fatal hours passed by, and Honor still lived. About five o’clock Molly had to go to see after her chickens, which 'would be mad,’ she explained, ' the creatures, with hunger,’ but promised shortly to return. Granca merely nodded. She was sitting, as she had sat all night, close beside the bed, gazing upon her sister with eyes from which even the desire for sleep seemed to be permanently banished.

    About seven o’clock Honor herself sank into a doze of exhaustion, and Grania thereupon stole out of the cabin to go and look for little Phelim Daly, and send him for Murdough Blake, or in default of Murdough, for Teige O'Shaughnessy, so as to get one or other of them to go at once to Aranmore, and implore Father Tom for the love of Heaven to come to Inishmaan without delay.

    She had hitherto been too absorbed to notice or think about the weather, but now, as she stepped outside the cabin and down the gully, she found that a sudden fog had come on, a dense waving curtain of mist, under which front of her was already submerged. It was a fog that seemed to be coming to them from the Connemara side of the bay, and had evidently only recently reached the island, for the sea to the south of it was quite clear. In the direction in which she was going vast cloud armies, still more or less detached one from another, were marching steadily onward to the assault. Height over height, fold upon fold, on they came; clinging to the rocks, following the little indentations of the shore, smothering every object the instant they touched it in a thick, cloying, inextricable embrace. It was curious to see how partial was still this invasion. Here, to the left, the sea was clear, the pale rays of sun lighting up the wash qf the waves as they broke over the outlying rocks and skerries; there, to the right, the bays and cooses were already choked to the very brim. Overhead at one moment she could see a sky, clear, seemingly, to the zenith; another minute and the thick woolly masses had swept over her, lower and lower still, pouring on and on from their inexhaustible fog cauldrons away to the north and the north-west.

    She hastened down the track, and along the lower ridge to the Dalys’ cabin; found the boy and despatched him on his errand, with strict orders not to rest or come back until he had found either Murdough or Teige O’Shaughnessy. Then she returned, to take up her place again beside Honor’s bed.

    So the day wore on. Molly Muldoon did not return for a long, long time, and she remained therefore quite alone in the cabin. There was hardly any change. Honor continued to doze, and Grania, absorbed in watching her, had almost ceased to notice the passage of time. Suddenly, about three in the afternoon, she was startled by an extraordinarily rapid accession of darkness, almost like the coining on of night, a darkness so great as to make it all but impossible to see across the cabin.

    Going to the door and opening it, she found herself facing a solid-looking wall of vapour in which every detail of landscape seemed to be lost. To the south indeed the sea was still visible, but even here the whole surface was covered with a shroud of mist, dense in some places as wool, and curdling momentarily thicker and thicker, as battalion joined battalion, the more scattered ones stretching fleecy arms to one another across the still visible spaces of water! Evidently this was no morning mist, likely to disperse, but a dense sea fog such as now and then in autumn and early spring, rarely at this season, enclosed the islands in its folds, rendering all communication from one to the other wellnigh impossible for days at a time.

    Startled, she turned to look towards the larger island, by this time utterly lost to sight. What was to be done? she thought anxiously. How was Father Tom to be brought, and would he ever be persuaded to venture across the sound in such a fog? What too could have delayed Murdough or Teige? Had Phelim failed to find either of them? Surely, if one happened to be away the other would have been at home? Here was another day passing, and that Honor could survive this night also was hardly to be expected.

    That the nearness of the end was troubling the sick woman herself was clear, for when Grania got back to the bed Honor’s eyes were open and fixed themselves instantly upon her with a longing expression. Seeing that she wished to speak, Grania stooped and leaned over her. Honor’s white lips parted with a great effort.

    Is he coming? allanah?’ she muttered breathlessly. ‘Auch, Grania dear, don’t be delaying! ‘Tisn't long I’ll be in it now, and you wouldn’t let me go without the good words at the last?’

    ‘No, no, Honor; don’t think of it. Don’t be afraid. He'll come, sure enough. lBe easy dear; he’ll come.’

    Honor’s eyes closed again patiently with a satisfied expression, but Grania's mind was a prey to desperate anxiety. What was to be done? Where could Pheliin be? Was noo one coming to them? She hurried back to the entrance and stood there, straining her eyes into the fog, her heart wrung with passionate anxiety.

    Presently a movement made itself seen in it, and a figure was visible dimly struggling up the track towards her. Her whole soul went out in a prayer that it might be Murdough; surely it must be Murdough? But no, another moment showed that it was not a coat but a petticoat that was moving through the fog. It was only, in fact, the faithful Molly Muldoon come back to take her turn at the nursing. Grania beckoned to her eagerly, and, having explained the situation in a few words, picked up her own petticoat and ran off through the fog in the direction of the old villa. If Murdough Blake was to be found anywhere, it would be there, she knew.