Part IV

September Again

Chapter V

Part IV

September Again

Chapter V

SHE HURRIED desperately on, over the flagging, heedless of the cracks, but, keeping always upon the same level which must in time, she knew, bring her to the shore exactly opposite the O'Shaughnessys' cabin. The fog was too thick now to dream of keeping to any path, but the levels of Inishmaan are always the same, so that by following any one of them you are sure to reach a given point sooner or later. From time to time she came to some unusually wide fissure, and had to scramble across as best she could, the edges feeling like ice under her feet, or like some sort of half-melted substance, such as wax or spermaceti. The short thick thorn bushes growing out of the rocks brushed her ankles, and now and then she found herself suddenly out upon the cliff-like edge of the step, and had to work her way back to where the terrace broadened, and the walking was comparatively safe.

    At last she knew by the general look and touch of the rocks that she must be getting close to the narrow tongue of land which led to the smaller islet. This was the most dangerous part of the way, and she stood still a moment, therefore, to make sure of her bearings, before clambering down to the shore and thence on to the tongue of land.

    The fog was absolutely impervious now. It was impossible to see more than a few inches ahead. Every now and then a puff of wind would come and partially clear it for a moment, when the whirling vapour would give her the sense of being surrounded by smoke, so wildly did it fly around her. Then all would close up again,. apd a sense of suffocation encompass her, through which colder breaths blew fitfully, coming from where rain pools lay amongst the rocks, or where some draught, caught from the sea and entangled in the surf, rose to the upper levels.

    Making her way cautiously to the edge of the step, she let herself drop on to the next below. She was now upon the second of the eight steps or platforms of which Inishmaan consists, and there was therefore only one more between her and high-water mark. This one, however, was much more broken and littered with fallen blocks than the upper ones, so that it took her a long time to cross it and longer still to make sure of where she was. At last she got to the edge, and having scrambled down, not without several slips, from not knowing where to set her feet, she reached the bottom, and was thus upon the actual shore at last.

    The tide, she calculated, was by this time half-way in, so that it was necessary to make haste in order to secure Teige, and bring him back to where the curragh was kept. The tongue of rock, at all times narrow and slippery, was to-day all but impassable. Twice she fell, and found herself clinging by her hands to the weed-covered top, her feet and nearly her whole body dangling over the edge, where there was no foothold whatever, and where she could just discern the hungry greenish swell rising noiselessly up, up, up, rising stealthily, as if determined to catch her unawares.

    Almost upon hands and knees she succeeded in reaching the other side, and clambered up the final bit of track which led to the cabin. It was so squat and so low that had the island been much larger it would have been easy to miss it altogether. As she came near, it looked more like some shaggy old beast crouched there in the hollow than a house. No light showed upon the side facing her, but when she reached the door she could see a pale pink splinter, evidently of firelight, stealing out from below. She knocked twice loudly, her heart beating; hoping, praying that Teige himself would come to the door and open to her. No one came near the door, however, although she could hear someone moving to and fro inside, someone who was evidently quite unaware of that clamorous appeal so close at hand. Grania’s heart sank, for it was clear now that Teige was still from home, and only deaf-and-dumb Biddy left in charge, who would not only be utterly useless herself, but would probably not even be able to tell her where Teige was likely to be found.

    She lifted the latch of the door. It opened easily, and she went in. The old woman had her back turned, and did not therefore at first perceive her entrance. It was fairly clear inside, showing that the door had not been opened since the fog had grown so thick. Grania stood for a moment upon the threshold, blinking at the firelight, which seemed painfully hot and red after that unnatural white world she had left outside.

    Biddy, dressed as usual from head to heels in red flannel, and still utterly unconscious of anyone’s entrance, seemed to be engaged in chasing something or somebody round the cabin, uttering queer, inarticulate cries under her breath as she did so. Now she would make a dart at some object, seated apparently on a beam above the hearth, next, seizing the corner of her petticoat, she would turn and flap vigorously behind her, as if she were being followed and pulled by someone at once very small and very persistent, giving utterance as she did so to scolding or remonstrating sounds, such as a nurse might use to some unusually troublesome child.

    So odd was the old creature's behaviour, so utterly unexplained by anything in sight—for not even a cat or a chicken was in the cabin—that Grania, for all her haste, stood still a moment, staring at her as she hopped from side to side of the narrow space. She had seen Biddy behave queerly before, but never quite so queerly as this. Suddenly her reputed powers of seeing and holding communication with the sidh came into her mind, and a chill sensation shot over her. Was there really something in the cabin that she could not see? And if so, whereabouts was it, and what was it like? Biddy, meanwhile,‘in one of her turnings, had, caught sight of her visitor standing ghost-like by the door, and uttered a sudden scream, the odd, discordant, hardly-human scream of the deaf and dumb. Grania thereupon stepped forward to exphain her errand, the old woman, after a moment’s stare of unrecognition, beginning to nod and cluck as she perceived who her visitor was. The girl looked hastily round for something of Teige’s, so as to explain whom she was in search of. She could see nothing but a battered high hat hanging to a hook in the wall which had formerly belonged to dumb Denny, but which his nephew sometimes wore when he went to Aranmore to chapel. This hat she took down, and held towards the old woman with an interrogative gesture, pointing at the same time towards the door.

    Whether she was understood or not it was not easy to tell. In any case, Biddy’s information was not of any very detailed or available character. Dropping down upon the stool which stood beside the hearth; and throwing her withered arms over her head, she uttered a wild cry, something between a croak and a scream, which was intended to mean ‘Gone! Gone!’ an ejaculation she had often made use of since her brother died, and which apparently conveyed to her mind all that sense of departure, of loneliness, and of desertion which we articulate people employ so many, and often such inadequate, words to convey.

    Evidently it was useless to hope for further information, so Grania turned, to go. Upon opening the door a solid, white wall of fog rose in front of her, one in which every detail was lost, and which it needed some little resolution to penetrate, so, opaque and impervious looking was it. Turning for an instant before the fog again swallowed her up, she saw that old Biddy had already forgotten her visit. With eyes fixed upon a spot a little way above her head, she had risen from her stool and was stealthily approaching that spot, evidently with the intention of pouncing upon whoever was seated there before he or she could hope to perceive her approach and make off. Against the dim background of the cabin the single red fantastic figure lit by the firelight made a curiously vivid dot of colour, which seemed to hang for several minutes before Grania’s eyes as she pursued her way across the fog-filled fissures.