Part IV

September Again

Chapter III

SHE WAS out of the cabin and the fog had closed around her almost before the words were uttered. It was like a pall, only a white pall instead of a black one, a pall that seems to get through and through and round and round you, to swathe the limbs, to enfold you to the very skin. Down from the sky in white masses it came, and up from the sea—a new sky, a new sea—the very air appeared to be half solid, air that seemed to choke, yet which was light enough and cool enough as you swallowed it.

    Grania, as she sped along the familiar track, seemed hardly to know where she was, so rolled round and isolated from everything and everyone was she by this strange enveloping fleecy stuff. As she went on something, too, seemed to happen to her. It was as if the fog had got between her and everything she had come out to do. She hardly thought now of Father Tom. The sick bed, with the white drawn face and the anxious eyes so near death, watching, always watching the door; the hot race between death and the priest—all this, that had so filled her mind the whole day and the previous night, seemed to melt now and to disappear. A new set of images had arisen. It was a new goal towards which she seemed to be hurrying, for which she was fighting the fog, to which she was struggling on and on through this blinding whiteness.

    More and more as she warmed with the struggle her old self emerged, as a rock emerges which has been temporarily hidden by the waves. The thought of Murdough rose with it. It was Murdough whom she had so often gone along this path to meet; it was Murdough whom she was going to meet now. The old love, the old dumb, unquenchable desire rose in her, as it had so often risen before. The remembrance of that evening in the boat—the one evening of’ evenings in her life—stood out before her like a vision. With it rose the remembrance of two evenings ago when she had looked up suddenly and seen him standing in the middle of the big thorn clump. In the isolation created by the fog, in the glow of her battling with it, in the stress of her own feelings, he seemed to be already with her, to be beside her, to be touching her; not the every-day indifferent Murdough either; the unsatisfactory, conversational Murdough, the Murdough who got tipsy and mocked at her,, the Murdough who was always wanting money, but the real Murdough, the Murdough she had never ceased to believe in; who looked up at her suddenly, and then stretched out his arms to her; who caught her in them and held her; the Murdough who loved her, even as she loved him.

    If this Murdough had melted a hundred times when confronted with the real one, he had at least grown again a hundred times when the other Murdough had removed himself. To Grania’s mind—to her inmost feelings—he was the real Murdough, ten thousand proofs to the contrary notwithstanding. She had known him, seen him, recognised him twice; once for ten minutes in the boat, again for half a minute the other evening when he called to her upon the rocks, and as for the rest of their time together it was nothing—gustho—not to be accounted.

    That she was going to see this real Murdough became more and more of a conviction with every step she advanced. The emergency seemed to call him into existence. It was now or never! He must and would be found equal to it, it was impossible to believe otherwise. Her faith grew stronger minute by minute, cried aloud in her ears, and pushed itself more and more strenuously upon her with every yard she advanced.

    By the time she reached the villa it had become a certainty. As she came round the last corner and dropped into the ljttle hollow—now a smoke-filled cauldron from which all detail had vanished—she could hear a sound of voices coining up from the invisible depths, below. The house itself was completely lost to sight until she all but touched it, when it suddenly emerged, its massive three-cornered front rising white out of the dimness; She went hurriedly up to the door, which stood wide open. To the left lay the sea, half covering the rocks, invisible but audible, a dull grinding noise rising from time to time, then ceasing altogether. On the other side of the house there were a couple of windows, broken, and patched with dirty bits of paper, but upon this side there were none, and never had been any, only three wide low steps which led up to the door, and which were of granite like the house itself, solid granite steps, the homes of flourishing sea spurreys and saxifrages, springing thickly from a dozen clefts and gaping fissures.

    Something of the dignity of the type to which it belonged, and which had survived all vicissitudes, seemed to be stamped upon it to-day. Grania had always felt this dignity vaguely, and even now in her hurry a dim sensation of respect began to creep over her as she came within sight of those solidly-cut granite steps, that low, solidly-carved doorway. It was a tribute to a different order of things, to a different way of life from her own, a feeling increased, no doubt, by old Durane’s tales of the bygone glory and grandeur of its owner, but also inherent, born in her race, and not, therefore, easily dissevered from it.

    A sudden lull in the tumult of voices showed that her coming had been observed, and the next minute her heart gave a great bound and then seemed to stand still, for Murdough himself came out of the house and stood upon the top of the steps looking down at her.

    For the last half-hour her thoughts had been rushing to meet him; she had been mentally throwing her arms round him; merging all their late differences, appealing to their old love, their old childish affection; telling him all that she had not been able to find words to say the other evening; telling him that she knew he would help her now in her great trouble, that he would come with her to Aranmore; forcing him, in fact, by her urgency to do so. Instead, however, of doing anything of the kind, a sudden feeling of diffidence came over her—a feeling of being there a suppliant, a beggar—of being at a disadvantage, she could not tell how or why. Probably it was something in their mutual attitude which suggested it. She had never in her own person known the feeling of being a suppliant, for in her time there had never been any gentry on Inishmaan, and she and Honor stood quite on the summit of such social altitudes as she was acquainted with. All the same, she did know it instinctively, and it arose without any bidding now. This fine young man standing at ease upon the top of the steps—at his own hall door, as it were— the girl—herself——with her petticoat over her head, appealing from below. Where had she seen those two figures that they seemed so familiar? She did not know, but it had the effect of changing all her previous thoughts, and bringing quite a new element of confusion into her mind.

    Possibly Murdough was similarly affected by the accidental juxtaposition; in any case, all situations of personal importance came naturally to him, and it was with none of the diffidence he had shown the other evening, on the contrary, with an air quite in accordance with this imaginary picture, that he asked her, in a tone of astonishment, what upon earth was the matter, and what had brought her out in such weather? It was not a fit day for decent people to be out of their houses at all; couldn’t she see that for herself?

    Grania put her hand suddenly up to her head. A momentary vertigo seemed to assail her: a feeling of confusion, as if everything, herself and Murdough included, had got wrong, and were out of place. What had happened to them both? she wondered.

    'Arrah, Murdougheen, don’t you know? Didn't the child tell you? Didn’t you get the word from Phelim?’ she stammered at length.

    Murdough looked slightly embarrassed.

    ‘Is it little Phelim Daly you mean?’ he asked, in a. tone of some hesitation. ‘‘Well, yes, Grania; the child did come to me three hours ago, or maybe something better, I will not deny it. But it was not much I could understand of what he said, not much at all. It is no better than a natural he is, you know, and getting worse, I think, the creature, every day, God help him! His father was here at the time, and he said that it was all gustho he was talking, so he did—something about, going to the big island to look for a priest. Arrah, my God! as if any man in his senses, or out of them, would think of going to the big island in such weather, no matter if it was for a. priest, or for anything else! It was just waiting I was for the fog to clear a, bit, and then it was up to your house, Grania, I was going, to see if there was anything I could do, for you. Yes, indeed, up to your very own house I was going, so you may believe me. But it would be walking over the cliffs, or into a hole in the rocks, I would be, if I was to try and go there now, so I just waited till it should clear. That was how it was, and no lie at all—ask the boys inside, and they will tell you. Arrah, how in God’s name did you get here, yourself at all, at all? It was the mad woman you were to come out in such weather. Is it your legs you want to break, or your neck, maybe? There has not been such a fog on Inishinaan not for this seven years back—Moriarty O'Flanaghan was just saying so—not for this seven years back and more.’

    Grania pushed her halr. feverishly off her face,, and let the petticoat she wore as a cloak drop from her shoulders. She felt hot and stifled. Murdough’s words seemed to be coming to her out of a dream; his very personality, as he stood there, big, solid, and self-satisfied, seemed unreal. In this confusion her thoughts had come back to the one fixed and absolute reality—her errand! That, let what would happen, must be carried out.

    It is dying Honor is, that is what she is doing,’ she said, simply. ‘And it is a priest she must have before she can die—yes, a priest now, this very minute, Murdough! And if you cannot go with me, it is someone else I must get, for it is not till the fog clears she can wait, for the fog may not clear, God knows, all the long night through, and it is not till the morning she will last, and she cannot die till she gets the priest, so she cannot. And that is why I have come to you, Murdough, because I do not think you would let my sister Honor die and no priest near her, you would not have the heart. And it is myself will go in the curragh with you to Aranmore, only you must come too, you or someone, for I could not row it all by myself. And as for our not going out in the fog, sure, my God! if we were to be drowned itself the two of us, isn’t that better any day of the week than for her to die and no priest near her—she that is such a real saint, and has always set her heart upon having one at the last? Arrah, ‘tis only joking you are, I know; you wouldn’t refuse me, Murdough, you couldn’t! Haven't we two been always together since the time when we were a pair of’ little prechauns, no higher than a kish—always together, you and me, always? Sure, I wouldn't ask you, God knows, if there wasn’t the need—the burning, burning need. Isn’t your life dearer to me a hundred times than anyone else’s, let alone my own? Arrah! come, then, Murdough, dear, come! Don’t let us be wasting any more, time. ‘Tis dying, I tell you, she is—dying fast. My God! who knows but ‘tis in the death-grips she is this minute up on the rocks yonder, and not a creature nigh her, only Molly Muldoon, and we two not even started yet!’

    Murdough Blake was really to be pitied! He was put in a most unpleasant position, one for which great allowance must be made. To begin with, he was excessively goodnatured, a fact. which even his most casual acquaintances knew well, and knew that nothing in the world was easier than to tease or coax him into doing anything that was required—so long as it did not entail too troublesome an effort upon his part. For Grania, too, if she had filled him several times of late with a sense of discomfort, if her claims and her 'queerness’ had made her irksome and incomprehensible, he had at least a very old feeling of comradeship, one which went back to the very roots of life and was as strong probably as any feeling he was capable of; which had been strengthened and warmed, too, into fresh energy by her unexpected generosity the day before. To refuse her, therefore, now, when she was so extremely urgent, was a real discomfort to him, a real, worry and disturbance. Her will, moreover, was much the stronger of. the two, and he experienced, therefore, a distinct physical inclination to yield to it and, obey without further question. On the other hand, there was something about this particular task to which she was urging him that was peculiarly daunting and disquieting to his mind,, the very thought of which sent cold shivers of discomfort through and through him. Had it been a question of taking out a boat in the middle of a storm, no matter how violent, his manhood would probably have risen to the occasion and he would have gone. He was no coward, certainly no commonplace coward, and it was not, therefore, any prosaic fear of death in itself that held him back. It was something else; something in the look, in the very touch and thought of this dank, close, unnatural whiteness that deterred, and as it were sickened, him by anticipation, He had a sense of its having come there for no good; of its being the abode and hiding-place of who could tell what ugly, malignant spirits. A whole hoard of ancestral terrors, unexplained but unmistakable, awoke and stirred in hjs mind as he looked abroad from the steps, and thought of himself out there, adrift and helpless in a boat; lost and smothered up in this horrible white blanket of a fog; a prey to Heaven alone knew who or what! A cold shiver ran through him from head to heels. No, he could not, he really could not go. Grania must be reasonable. To-morrow, or any time, even in the night, as soon as the fog cleared, he was ready to start. Meanwhile Honor must abstain, for this one evening, from dying, or, if she would be so unreasonable as to die just now, well, die she must for once without a priest, for no priest could he, or any man, in his opinion, bring her in such weather. He set himself to all this clearly before his petitioner. He was really exceedingly vexed to have to refuse her, but plainly there was no help for it.

    ‘Then, indeed and ihdeed, Grania, 'tis mortal sorry I am to go against you, so I am,’ he said, scratching his head with a vigorous gesture, less dignified, but probably a good deal more natural than his previous airs of superiority. ‘And if it was any way possible—any way possible at all—to get to the big island, it is myself would go with you this minute, yes, indeed, and gladly, rather than disappoint you. Why not? it would be only a pleasure. But sure, my God ! how can I, or any man in this mortal world, go out in such weather? It is not in reason to ask such a thing. Merciful powers! only look at it over there!—thicker and thicker, and queerer and queerer, and more wicked-looking every minute it’s getting, curling and gathering itself up into great heaps as if it was a mountain made of smoke—real Hell smoke, it is—yes, indeed, my faith and word—real Hell smoke, no other! God knows that I am not afraid, so you need not think that. God who is up there in glory knows whether I am afraid, or not—right well He knows it, no one upon this earth better, or as well. But there are some things that it is not right for any man to attempt to do, no, nor be asked to do, either, so there are. Arrah! my faith and word, I wonder you can’t see it for yourself? Sure, even if I were to get out the boat to oblige you, how in the name of reason could I find the way to Aranmore in such weather as this? Is it by smelling at it with my nose I would find it? There is no seeing it, no, nor seeing anything else in such unnatural weather, so there is not, no more than if you were looking about you in the middle of a cave in the black inside heart of a mountain. And, if you did get there itself, no priest would come out with you, not one foot of it, so he would not! No, but he would tell you that you had no business to come out at all on such a day, that he would, for there is no knowing what may happen to people if they will do what they are not meant to do. It is straight up out of the boat in the middle of the bay a man would maybe find himself taken, and carried away God knows where, so he might, for there are things about on a day like this that it doesn’t do to speak of, no, nor to think of either, as everyone that is sensible knows right well. And as for Honor dying, sure, what would ail her to die to-night? Isn't it months upon months she has been at it, and why would she choose such weather as this to die in? ‘Twouldn’t be decent of her, so it wouldn’t, and ‘tis the decent woman she has always been! Arrah! then, be a good girl, Grania agra, and just go home and stay quietly in the house till to-morrow, and begorrah! by the first streak of day, or sooner, so long as it’s anyway decent weather, I’ll come to you, and we’ll go off for the priest, sure enough, and bring him back with us in the curragh. Won’t that content you, Grania, dheelish?—say it will, and go home quickly, there’s a good girl, for, indeed, ‘tis wickeder and wickeder looking it’s getting every minute.’

    But Grania’s face was set like a flint. She had picked up the petticoat and gathered it about her shoulders again, her whole air showing a determination utterly defiant of all blandishments.

    ‘It is to look for Teige O'Shaughnessy I am going now,’ she said briefly. ‘And if I do not find him, then I am going to Aranmore by myself, for I will not let my sister Honor die and never a priest near her, so I will not, God help me!'

    Murdough felt the natural displeasure of a man who has taken great pains to explain a matter in the clearest possible manner and who finds that all his explanations have been simply thrown away. He was annoyed, too, by the mention of Teige’s name.

    'Then it is not Teige O'Shaughnessy you will find, for it was over to Allinera he went this morning with his pack, and it is not back he will be able to get home through this fog, the poor boccach, I am thinking,’ he said contemptuously. ‘And as for your going alone, to Aranmore in a curragh this night you will not do that either, I am thinking, so you will not. If you do, ‘tis’ the mad woman you are—the mad woman out and out!' And he turned upon his heel to go back into the house.

    ‘Then it is the mad woman I am, sure and certain,’ she answered, ‘for it is going I am, and so good-night to you, Murdough Blake.’

    There was a mutual pause. Both had now said all that they had got to say. Both had reached a platform from which there was no receding. Murdough was absolutely determined that, let what would happen, nothing should tempt him to stir abroad upon such an evening. Grania was still more absolutely determined that, come what would, a priest for Honor she must and would get. If Murdough would not help her, then Teige should. If Teige proved to be really from home, then she would go by herself, and find her way across the sound as best she could. If every man in Inishmaan was afraid of the fog, she was not afraid. Honor should not die without a priest. That fact, amongst much that was dim and confused, stood out absolutely fixed and certain.

    She turned round resolutely, therefore, to go, and then—and then—-she turned back again ! She was torn in two. Was this the end? the very, very end? Were they parting like this? That it was no everyday parting, not even any everyday quarrel, of that, she felt absolutely certain. Was it, could it be the end of all things? No, it couldn’t be! she told herself. It was not possible! Again her faith in Murdough— the real, the invisible Murdough, rose—rose, too, in the very teeth of evidence. It was not possible, she decIded; he was ,joking, she felt sure of it. She turned therefore; hesitated; went a few steps onward; then again stopped, and again hesitated.

    Suddenly she turned resolutely back with a bound, rushed up the three broad steps of the villa, and stood beside him in the porch on the top of them. It was a tolerably deep porch, and the fog, besides, was now so dense that as they stood there they were to all intents and purposes as isolated as if no other human beings existed in the world. Although there were three men within a very few yards of them, the sense of solitude was for the moment as complete as though they had stood alone together in the centre of the great Sahara. They were encompassed hand and foot by the whiteness; two ghostly figures, cut off and hidden away in a world of their own—hidden, to a great degree, even from one another. For Grania, certainly, there existed no other creatures at the time save only herself and Murdough. Only herself and Murdough, and they were parting; parting, yet for the moment together, for the moment still within reach, touch, and grasp of one another.

    The result was that, almost before he had realised that she had returned and that she was standing beside him, Murdough felt two arms about his neck, clinging tighter, tighter still, pressing about it in a convulsive, panic-stricken embrace, close and clinging as that of the very fog without, only warm, very warm, and very human; desperation in every touch of it, anger, too, but above all love—a love that could kill its object, but that would never fail it; could never entirely cease to believe in it.

    ‘Och, Murdough! Murdough! Murdough!’ she whispered, and her breath fanned his cheek fiercely. ‘Och, Murdough, look at me! Murdougheen, speak to me! Is there never one bit of love for me in all that big strong body of yours? Never one bit of love for your poor Grania, that’s loved you, and none but you, all her life long, ever since she was a little bit of a girsha? Sure, heart of my heart, wouldn’t I die any day in the week gladly just to please you, or any night of it for that matter either, if you asked me? and is there nothing you’d do for me in return— nothing? nothing? Arrah ! say you’ll come with me to Aranmore—only say the word—say you’ll not refuse me. Sure you couldn’t, Murdough, you couldn’t, let me go out alone into the strange wild night without you? Arrah, say you couldn’t, dear; say it! ‘Deed and you needn’t say it, for I wouldn’t believe it of you, not if anyone swore it, so I wouldn’t. Och, ma slanach! ma slanach! who have I in the wide world to look to but you? My God! ‘tis mad, out and out, I think I am going, for my heart feels bursting in the inside of me.’

    Murdough was shocked, more than shocked, he was startled, positively scared and terrified by such an unlooked-for demonstration, such utterly unheard-of vehemence. If Grania had gone mad, he certainly had not done so, and one proof of his sanity was that he was intensely conscious of the presence of those two other men gathered. round the cracked punch-bowl not far off, as well as of the presence of Shan Daly, who was probably hidden away in some obscure corner of the building. He could not see any of them certainly, and therefore presumably they could not see him. Still, they might hear; a thought which filled him with acute discomfort. Had Grania really gone mad, he asked himself; it seemed to be the only possible explanation. Lapses into drunkenness were trifles, a few other obvious slips from the path of absolute rectitude were customary, and therefore forgivable, but such conduct as this was unheard-of, was absolutely unprecedented and inconceivable! His sense of decorum was stirred to its very depths.

    Rapidly disengaging himself from her, he drew her hastily out of the porch, down the steps, and round the nearest corner of the buildihg, where there was a sort of weedy ditch or hollow which ran between the wall of the villa and the bank, ending in a kind of kitchen-midden, made up of all the loose. rubbish wllich had accumulated there from time to time, and beyond which a small, disused back-door opened. Here they again confronted one another.

    Either his, look of dismay had aroused Grania to a sense of the enormity of her conduct, or the mere break in the chain of her ideas had brought her back to everyday life, in any case, she was now blushing hotly. The fiery fit was past. She felt beaten down and subdued by her own vehemence. All she wanted now was to get away—to get, away quickly, and to be alone.

    ‘Then, indeed and indeed, I don’t know what ails me this evening, so I do not, Murdough,’ she said in a tone of confused apology. ‘‘Tis the weather, maybe! God knows it is the queerest, most unnatural sort ever was, and seems to be driving one out of one’s senses’ She paused; then went on: ‘Maybe ‘tis right you are about not going out in it, dear, and I’ll just step back to the house, as you bid me, and, please God, I’ll find Honor something easier, and she’ll hold out till the morning, and if not, why, I must just go look for Teige. Anyway, God won’t desert her, come what will, I’m sure. He couldn’t, could He? He never would have the heart to do such a thing, and she such a real saint!’

    She paused again, and looked at him beseechingly, then added timidly, ‘‘Tisn’t out and out angry you are with me, dear, are you? Arrah! Murdough, it wasn’t me did it at all, at all, you know, only the weather—Just the weather and the fear I was in of Honor dying without the good words at the last.’

    For the third time she paused, and stood looking at him, trying hard to see his face in the fog. But his face was a mere blur, and he himself remained absolutely silent. This silence was so extraordinary, so unprecedented upon his part, that it filled her with a sense of awe, both of awe and of self-dismay. After waiting a minute, therefore, she added, still more humbly, ‘Good-bye, dear. God knows ‘tis sorry I am for vexing you. It won’t happen again, Murdough—never again, dear; never!’ and she turned to go.

    For the first time that evening an unaccountable wave of irresolution swept over Murdough. He was very angry with her, excessively angry; ashamed too, and embarrassed to the last degree; nay, he was inclined as has been said, to think that she really must have gone mad, since no one who was not mad would behave in such a way. All the same, something new seemed to be stirring within him. He, too, felt ‘queer.’ Could it really be the weather, or, if not, what was it? The effect in any case was that he felt suddenly disinclined to let her go. A sudden wish came over him to stop her, to hear again what she had to say; to quarrel with her, perhaps, but not to part with her so suddenly. He made a, step forward. She was still within easy reach; had only gone, in fact, a yard or two up the bank. It was upon the tip of his tongue to call after her, to ask her to stop: to say that, perhaps, after alI, he would go with her, since she had so set her heart upon it—piece of folly as it was!—that, in any case he would go back with her as far as the cabin, and see for himself how Honor was getting on, whether matters were really so desperate as she asserted or not. He had made a couple of steps forward, had opened his lips, his hand was actually outstretched, when out of the dark doorway in the wall behind him another hand suddenly emerged, a lean hand with hairy, clutching fingers, the arm belonging to it clad in a sleeve so ragged that it literally fell away from it in filthy, sooty-coloured ribbons. This other hand caught Murdough’s and held it fast for a minute. Only for a minute, but when it had again released its hold, Grania was already out of reach, half-way up the side, of the bank, and nothing was to be seen far or near but the white all-encompassing shroud of the fog.