Part II

April

Chapter V

HONOR was not asleep. Her cough had kept her awake; the restlessness, too, and weariness of illness making it difficult for her to find any position endurable for more than a minute or two at a time.

    Grania lifted her up and remade the bed. It was a fairly good one, consisting of a mattress stuffed with sea-grass, a small feather bed over that again, with blankets and a single sheet, coarse but clean. This done, and the sick woman settled again, she pulled off her own pampooties and stockings, unfastened her skirt, muttered a prayer, and tossed herself without further ceremony upon her own pallet.

    The howl of the wind grew as the night wore on. It was not as loud as it often was, but it had a peculiarly teasing, ear-wearying wail. Now shrill and menacing; now sinking into a whisper—an angry whisper filled with a deep sense of wrong and injury and complaint. Then, as if that sense of wrong was really too strong to be suppressed any longer, it swelled and swelled into a loud waspish tone—one which, like some scolding tongue, appeared to rise higher and higher the less it was opposed; then, when at its highest pitch, it would suddenly drop again to moanings and mutterings, full, it seemed, of impotent rage and dull unuttered malice.

    Despite her day's work Grania could not sleep. She lay staring up at the blackened rafters, lit here and there by a dim reddish flicker from the almost dead turf. She could hear 'Moonyeen' stirring in her own private cabin hard by. Now and then came the rattle of her horns against a beam, or a pulling noise as the rope slipped up and down the stake to which it was tied. A stealthy scratching, apparently from a mouse, caught her ear, while Honor's laboured breathing, broken now and then by a hard, agonising cough, seemed to fill every pause left momentarily by the wind.

    She was beginning to get drowsy, but she still saw the rafters and heard the scraping noise of the cow on the other side of the partition, only the rafters seemed to be part of a boat, and there were fish now amongst the hay, and nets and tackle dangling overhead. Murdough was there, throwing out a line, and turning round to tell her that he was going to be made king of Ireland. She herself was leaning over the boat's side, looking into the water, deeper, deeper, deeper, watching something like a red spark that was coming up nearer and nearer to meet her. And as it came close she saw that it was a red hat and was upon the head of an old man, and then she knew that it was the Fear Darrig. She tried to turn away her eyes, but could not, for they seemed caught somehow and dragged down. And Murdough shrieked, and pulled her petticoat to draw her back, but, when he found that he couldn't draw her back, he left off pulling, and got out of the boat, and ran away from her across the sea. Then she, too, tried to get out of the boat, and follow him over the water; but something held her fast, and she could only stretch out her arms to him and beg him to come back. But he never once turned his head, only ran faster and faster, and she could hear his feet going patter, patter, patter, and getting farther and farther away from her over the sea as he ran.

    Suddenly she was wide awake, but that patter of footsteps was still going on. She could hear them quite distinctly—bare feet they seemed to be, moving across the flags outside, rapidly and stealthily, as if some one was passing along under a heavy load. Her thoughts instantly flew to the stolen turf, and, leaping from her bed, she applied her face to the little narrow square of window which opened above it. She was not mistaken. The silhouette of a man's figure was clearly distinguishable, showing black for a moment against the white of the granite boulder beyond. He was chose to the mouth of the gully when she first caught sight of him; another instant and he had passed beyond it, and it had swallowed him up from her sight.

    Grania never hesitated. Barefooted as she was, her clothes hanging loosely around her, she opened the door and ran down the track, calling to the man to stop. It was bound to be an invisible chase as long as she was in the gully, but she expected to see the thief, whoever he was, at the other end of it, and possibly to be able to catch him. To her surprise, however, when she emerged breathless on the other side of the gully not a living thing was to be seen. A flare of wild moonlight was gleaming upon the stunted thornbushes; the platform of rock on which she stood stretched away, grey and level, but living creature of any sort or kind there was none. Overhead the clouds swept to and fro in bewildering masses; the wind blew coldly; the moon, which for a moment had shone so vividly, disappearing suddenly between rolling clouds, so that the whole platform became indistinguishable.

    Grania waited a while, peering eagerly round into all the fissures, hoping for another gleam of moonlight which might enable her to discover the delinquent. Instead of this a violent storm of rain suddenly burst upon her as she stood there, drenching her to the skin in a moment. So sudden and violent was it, and so quickly had it followed the former gleam, that it had the effect of momentarily confusing her, almost as if it had formed part of her dream.

    Reluctantly she turned and retraced her steps through the gully. To right and left as she now went up it the rain was beating with a furious pattering noise, dashing upon the flat rocks, shooting out in small spurts of spray, and forcing its way in all directions through a thousand tortuous channels. As she emerged upon the other side of the gully it seemed to her that someone was moving, stealthily in the direction from which she had come. There was so much noise around her, however, that it was impossible to make certain, and, after pausing for a moment, she came to the conclusion that she had been mistaken.

    Turning once more before entering the cabin, it was curious to see how in an instant the whole ground, a minute before dry, had become converted into one vast streaming watercourse. Every little hole and fissure within sight was already choked with water, the supply from above coming down quicker than it could be disposed of, so that hollow groans and chuckles of imprisoned air were heard rising on all sides as from a seashore suddenly invaded by the advancing tide. It seemed as if the fierce little gully itself must at this rate be utterly dissolved and melted away to a mere pulp by the morning.