Part 3 out of 4
"The wren," he says, "is an active songster among the hazel boughs.
Beautifully hooded birds, wood-peckers, fair white birds, herons,
sea-gulls, come to visit me." There is no mournful music in his island;
and as for loneliness, there is no such thing in
"My lowly little abode, hidden in a mane of green-barked yew-tree.
Near is an apple-tree,
Big like a hostel;
A pretty bush thick as a fist of hazel-nuts, a choice spring and
water fit for a Prince to drink.
Round it tame swine lie down,
Wild swine, grazing deer,
A badger's brood,
A peaceful troop, a heavy host of denizens of the soil
A-trysting at my house.
To meet them foxes come.
'The island is about a hundred yards from the shore, and I wondered how
the animals crossed from the mainland as I sat under the porch of the
ruined church. I suppose the water was shallower than it is now. But why
and how the foxes came to meet the wild swine is a matter of little
moment; suffice it that he lived in this island aware of its
loneliness, "without the din of strife, grateful to the Prince who
giveth every good to me in my bower." To which Guaire answered:
'"I would give my glorious kingship
With my share of our father's heritage,--
To the hour of my death let me forfeit it,
So that I may be in thy company, O Marban."
'There are many such beautiful poems in early Irish. I know of another,
and I'll send it to you one of these days. In it is a monk who tells how
he and his cat sit together, himself puzzling out some literary or
historical problem, the cat thinking of hunting mice, and how the
catching of each is difficult and requires much patience.
'Ireland attained certainly to a high degree of civilization in the
seventh and eighth centuries, and if the Danes had not come, Ireland
might have anticipated Italy. The poems I have in mind are the first
written in Europe since classical times, and though Italy and France be
searched, none will be found to match them.
'I write these things to you because I wish you to remember that, when
religion is represented as hard and austere, it is the fault of those
who administer religion, and not of religion itself. Religion in Ireland
in the seventh and eighth centuries was clearly a homely thing, full of
tender joy and hope, and the inspiration not only of poems, but of many
churches and much ornament of all kinds, illuminated missals, carven
porches. If Ireland had been left to herselfif it had not been for the
invasion of the Danes, and the still worse invasion of the
English--there is no saying what high place she might not have taken in
the history of the world. But I am afraid the halcyon light that paused
and passed on in those centuries will never return. We have gotten the
after-glow, and the past should incite us; and I am much obliged to you
for reminding me that the history of the lake and its castles would make
a book. I will try to write this book, and while writing will look
forward to the day when I shall send you a copy of the work, if God
gives me strength and patience to complete it. Little is ever completed
in Ireland.... But I mustn't begin to doubt before I begin the work, and
while you and Mr. Poole are studying dry texts, trying to prove that the
things that men have believed and loved for centuries are false, I shall
be engaged in writing a sympathetic history--the history of natural
things and natural love.
'Very sincerely yours,
_From Miss Nora Glynn to Father Oliver Gogarty._
'_September_ 3, 19--.
'DEAR FATHER GOGARTY,
'You are a very human person after all, and it was very kind of you to
think about my baby and kind of you to write to me about her. My baby is
a little girl, and she has reddish hair like mine, and if ever you see
her I think you will see me in her. The address of the woman who is
looking after her is Mrs. Cust, 25, Henry Street, Guildford. Do go to
see her and write me a long letter, telling me what you think of her. I
am sure a trip to London will do you a great deal of good. Pack up your
portmanteau, Father Gogarty, and go to London at once. Promise me that
you will, and write to me about your impressions of London and Father
O'Grady, and when you are tired of London come abroad. We are going on
to Munich, that is all I know, but I will write again.
'Very sincerely yours,
Father Oliver sat wondering, and then, waking up suddenly, he went about
his business, asking himself if she really meant all she said, for why
should she wish him to go abroad, for his health or in the hope of
meeting him--where? In Munich!
'A riddle, a riddle, which'--he reflected a moment--'which my experience
of life is not sufficient to solve.'
On his way to Derrinrush he was met by a man hurrying towards him. 'Sure
it is I that am in luck this day, meeting your reverence on the road,
for we shall be spared half a mile if you have the sacred elements about
you.' So much the peasant blurted out between the gasps, and when his
breath came easier the priest learnt that Catherine, the man's wife, was
dying. 'Me brother's run for the doctor, but I, being the speedier, came
for yourself, and if your reverence has the sacred elements about you,
we'll go along together by a short cut over the hill.' 'I'm afraid I
have not got the oil and there's nothing for it but to go back to the
house.' 'Then I'm afeard that Catherine will be too late to get the
Sacrament. But she is a good woman, sorra better, and maybe don't need
the oil,' which indeed proved to be a fact, for when they reached the
cabin they found the doctor there before them, who rising from his chair
by the bedside, said, 'The woman is out of danger, if she ever was in
any.' 'All the same,' cried the peasant, 'Catherine wouldn't refuse the
Sacrament.' 'But if she be in no danger, of what use would the Sacrament
be to her?' the doctor asked; the peasant answering, 'Faith, you must
have been a Protestant before you were a Catholic to be talking like
that,' and Father Oliver hesitated, and left the cabin sorrowed by the
unseemliness of the wrangle. He was not, however, many yards down the
road when the dispute regarding the efficacy of the Sacrament
administered out of due time was wiped out by a memory of something Nora
had told him of herself: she had announced to the monitresses, who were
discussing their ambitions, that hers was to be the secretary of a man
of letters. 'So it would seem that she had an instinct of her destiny
from the beginning, just as I had of mine. But had I? Her path took an
odd turn round by Garranard. But she has reached her goal, or nearly.
The end may be marriage--with whom? Poole most likely. Be that as it
may, she will pass on to middle age; we shall grow older and seas and
continents will divide our graves. Why did she come to Garranard?'
_From Father Oliver Gogarty to Miss Nora Glynn._
'_September_ 10, 19--.
'DEAR MISS GLYNN,
'I received your letter this morning, written from Antwerp, and it has
set me thinking that Mr. Poole's interests in scholarship must have
procured for him many acquaintances among Dutch scholars, men with whom
he has been in correspondence. You will meet them and hear them pour
their vast erudition across dinner-tables. Rubens' great picture, "The
Descent from the Cross," is in Antwerp; you will go to see it, and in
Munich Mr. Poole will treat you to the works of Wagner and Mozart. You
are very happy; everything has gone well with you, and it would ill
befit me, who brought so much unhappiness upon you, to complain that you
are too happy, too much intent on the things of this world. Yet, if you
will allow me to speak candidly, I will tell you what I really think.
You are changing; the woman I once knew hardly corresponds with the
woman who writes to me. In reading the letters of the English Nora, I
perceive many traces here and there of the Irish Nora, for the Irish
Nora was not without a sense of duty, of kindness towards others, but
the English Nora seems bent upon a life of pleasure, intellectual and
worldly adventures. She delights in foreign travel, and no doubt places
feelings above ideas, and regards our instincts as our sovereign guides.
Now, when we find ourselves delighting to this extent in the visible,
we may be sure that our lives have wandered far away from spiritual
things. There is ever a divorce between the world of sense and the world
of spirit, and the question of how much love we may expend upon external
things will always arise, and will always be a cause of perplexity to
those who do not choose to abandon themselves to the general drift of
sensual life. This question is as difficult as the cognate question of
what are our duties toward ourselves and our duties toward others. And
your letters raise all these questions. I ponder them in my walks by the
lake in the afternoon. In the evening in my house on the hilltop I sit
thinking, seeing in imagination the country where I have been born and
where I have always lived--the lake winding in and out of headlands, the
highroad shaded by sycamores at one spot, a little further on wandering
like a gray thread among barren lands, with here and there a village;
and I make application of all the suggestions your letters contain to my
own case. Every house in Garranard I know, and I see each gable end and
each doorway as I sit thinking, and all the faces of my parishioners. I
see lights springing up far and near. Wherever there is a light there is
a poor family.
'Upon these people I am dependent for my daily bread, and they are
dependent upon me for spiritual consolation. I baptize them, I marry
them, and I bury them. How they think of me, I know not. I suppose they
hardly think at all. When they return home at night they have little
time for thinking; their bodies are too fatigued with the labour of the
fields. But as I sit thinking of them, I regret to say that my fear
often is that I shall never see any human beings but them; and I dream
of long rambles in the French country, resting at towns, reading in
libraries. A voice whispers, "You could do very well with a little of
her life, but you will never know any other life but your present one."
A great bitterness comes up, a little madness gathers behind the eyes; I
walk about the room and then I sit down, stunned by the sudden
conviction that life is, after all, a very squalid thing--something that
I would like to kick like an old hat down a road.
'The conflict going on within me goes on within every man, but without
this conflict life would be superficial; we shouldn't know the deeper
life. Duty has its rewards as well as its pain, and the knowledge that I
am passing through a time of probationship sustains me. I know I shall
come out of it all a stronger man.
After posting his letter he walked home, congratulating himself that he
had made it plain to her that he was not a man she could dupe. Her
letter was written plainly, and the more he thought of her letter the
clearer did it seem that it was inspired by Poole. But what could
Poole's reason be for wishing him to leave Ireland, to go abroad? It was
certain that if Poole were in love with Nora he would do all in his
power to keep a poor priest (was it thus they spoke of him?) in Ireland.
Poole might wish to make a fool of him, but what was her reason for
advising him to go abroad? Revenge was too strong a word.
In the course of the evening it suddenly struck him that, after all,
she might have written her letter with a view of inducing him to come to
Rome. She was so capricious that it was not impossible that she had
written quite sincerely, and wished him out there with her. She was so
many-sided, and he fell to thinking of her character, without being able
to arrive at any clear estimate of it, with this result, however--that
he could not drive out the belief that she had written him an insincere
letter. Or did she wish to revenge herself? The thought brought him to
his feet, for he could never forget how deeply he had wronged her--it
was through his fault that she had become Mr. Poole's secretary--maybe
his mistress. If he had not preached that sermon, she would be teaching
the choir in his parish. But, good heavens! what use was there in going
over all that again? He walked to the window and stood there watching
the still autumn weather--a dull leaden sky, without a ray of light upon
the grass, or a wind in the trees--thinking that these gray days
deprived him of all courage. And then he remembered suddenly how a
villager's horse coming from market had tripped and fallen by the
roadside. Would that he, too, might fall by the roadside, so weary was
he. 'If I could only make known my suffering, she would take pity on me;
but no one knows another's suffering.' He walked from his window
sighing, and a moment after stopped in front of his writing-table.
Perhaps it was the writing-table that put the thought into his mind that
she might like to read a description of an Irish autumn.
_From Father Oliver Gogarty to Miss Nora Glynn._
'You know the wind is hardly ever at rest about the hilltop on which my
house stands. Even in summer the wind sighs, a long, gentle little sigh,
sometimes not unpleasant to hear. You used to speak of an AEolian harp,
and say that I should place one on my window-sill. A doleful instrument
it must be--loud wailing sound in winter-time, and in the summer a
little sigh. But in these autumn days an AEolian harp would be mute.
There is not wind enough to-day on the hillside to cause the faintest
vibration. Yesterday I went for a long walk in the woods, and I can find
no words that would convey an idea of the stillness. It is easy to speak
of a tomb, but it was more than that. The dead are dead, and
somnambulism is more mysterious than death. The season seemed to stand
on the edge of a precipice, will-less, like a sleep-walker. Now and
then the sound of a falling leaf caught my ear, and I shall always
remember how a crow, flying high overhead towards the mountains, uttered
an ominous "caw"; another crow answered, and there was silence again.
The branches dropped, and the leaves hung out at the end of long stems.
One could not help pitying the trees, though one knew one's pity was
'As I wandered in Derrinrush, I came suddenly upon some blood-red
beech-trees, and the hollow was full of blood-red leaves. You have been
to Derrinrush: you know how mystic and melancholy the wood is, full of
hazels and Druid stones. After wandering a long while I turned into a
path. It led me to a rough western shore, and in front of me stood a
great Scotch fir. The trunk has divided, and the two crowns showed
against the leaden sky. It has two birch-trees on either side, and their
graceful stems and faint foliage, pale like gold, made me think of
dancers with sequins in their hair and sleeves. There seemed to be
nothing but silence in the wood, silence, and leaves ready to fall. I
had not spoken to anyone for a fortnight--I mean I had no conversation
with anyone--and my loneliness helped me to perceive the loneliness of
the wood, and the absence of birds made me feel it. The lake is never
without gulls, but I didn't see one yesterday. "The swallows are gone,"
I said; "the wild geese will soon be here," and I remembered their
doleful cry as I scrambled under some blackthorn bushes, glad to get out
of the wood into the fields. Though I knew the field I was in well, I
didn't remember the young sycamores growing in one corner of it.
Yesterday I could not but notice them, for they seemed to be like
children dying of consumption in a hospital ward--girls of twelve or
thirteen. You will think the comparison far-fetched and unhealthy, one
that could only come out of a morbidly excited imagination. Well, I
cannot help that; like you, I must write as I feel.
'Suddenly I heard the sound of an axe, and I can find no words to tell
you how impressive its sound was in the still autumn day. "How soon
will the tree fall?" I thought; and, desirous of seeing it fall, I
walked on, guided by the sound, till I saw at the end of the glade--whom
do you think? Do you remember an old man called Patsy Murphy? He had
once been a very good carpenter, and had made and saved money. But he is
now ninety-five, and I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw him
trying to cut down a larch. What his object could be in felling the tree
I could not tell, and, feeling some curiosity, I walked forward. He
continued to chip away pieces of the bark till his strength failed him,
and he had to sit down to rest. Seeing me, he took off his hat--you know
the tall hat he wears--a hat given him twenty or thirty years ago by
whom? Patsy Murphy's mind is beginning to wander. He tells stories as
long as you will listen to him, and it appears now that his
daughter-in-law turned him out of his house--the house he had built
himself, and that he had lived in for half a century. This, however, is
not the greatest wrong she had done him. He could forgive her this
wrong, but he cannot forgive her stealing of his sword. "There never was
a Murphy," he said, "who hadn't a sword." Whether this sword is an
imagination of Patsy's fading brain, I cannot say; perhaps he had some
old sword and lost it. The tale he tells to-day differs wholly from the
tale he told yesterday and the tale he will tell to-morrow. He told me
once he had been obliged to give up all his savings to his son. I went
to interview the son, determined to sift the matter to the bottom, and
discovered that Patsy had still one hundred and twenty pounds in the
bank. Ten pounds had been taken out for--I needn't trouble you with
further details. Sufficient has been said to enable you to understand
how affecting it was to meet this old man in the red and yellow woods,
at the end of a breathless autumn day, trying to fell a young larch. He
talked so rapidly, and one story flowed so easily into another, that it
was a long time before I could get in a word. At last I was able to get
out of him that the Colonel had given him leave to build a house on the
shore, where he would be out of everybody's way. "All my old friends are
gone, the Colonel's father and his mother. God be merciful to her! she
was a good woman, the very best. And all I want now is time to think of
them that's gone.... Didn't I know the Colonel's grandfather and his
grandmother? They're all buried in the cemetery yonder in Kiltoon, and
on a fine evenin' I do like to be sittin' on a stone by the lake,
thinking of them all."
'It was at once touching and impressive to see this old man, weak as a
child, the only trembling thing in a moveless day, telling these
wanderings of an almost insane brain. You will say, "But what matter?
They may not be true in fact, but they are his truth, they are himself,
they are his age." His ninety-five years are represented in his confused
talk, half recollection, half complaints about the present. He knew my
father and mother, too, and, peering into my face, he caught sight of a
gray hair, and I heard him mutter:
'"Ah! they grow gray quicker now than they used to."
'As I walked home in the darkening light, I bethought myself of the few
years left to me to live, though I am still a young man, that in a few
years, which would pass like a dream, I should be as frail as Patsy
Murphy, who is ninety-five. "Why should I not live as long?" I asked
myself, losing my teeth one by one and my wits.'
'I was interrupted in my description of the melancholy season, and I
don't know how I should have finished that letter if I had not been
interrupted. The truth is that the season was but a pretext. I did not
dare to write asking you to forgive me for having returned your letter.
I do not do so now. I will merely say that I returned the letter because
it annoyed me, and, shameful as the admission may be, I admit that I
returned it because I wished to annoy you. I said to myself, "If this be
so--if, in return for kind thought--Why shouldn't she suffer? I
suffer." One isn't--one cannot be--held responsible for every base
thought that enters the mind. How long the mind shall entertain a
thought before responsibility is incurred I am not ready to say. One's
mood changes. A storm gathers, rages for a while, and disperses; but the
traces of the storm remain after the storm has passed away. I am
thinking now that perhaps, after all, you were sincere when you asked me
to leave Garranard and take my holiday in Rome, and the baseness of
which for a moment I deemed you capable was the creation of my own soul.
I don't mean that my mind, my soul, is always base. At times we are more
or less unworthy. Our tempers are part of ourselves? I have been
pondering this question lately. Which self is the true self--the
peaceful or the choleric? My wretched temper aggravated my
disappointment, and my failure to write the history of the lake and its
castles no doubt contributed to produce the nervous depression from
which I am suffering. But this is not all; it seems to me that I may
point out that your--I hardly know what word to use: "irrelevancy" does
not express my meaning; "inconsequences" is nearer, yet it isn't the
word I want--well, your inconsequences perplex and distract my thoughts.
If you will look through the letter you sent me last you will find that
you have written many things that might annoy a man living in the
conditions in which I live. You follow the current of your mood, but the
transitions you omit, and the reader is left hopelessly
She seemed so strange, so inconclusive. There seemed to be at least two,
if not three, different women in the letters she had written to him, and
he sat wondering how a woman with cheeks like hers, and a voice like
hers, and laughter like hers, could take an interest in such arid
studies. Her very name, Nora Glynn, seemed so unlike the woman who would
accompany Mr. Poole into National Libraries, and sit by him surrounded
by learned tomes. Moreover a mistress does not read Hebrew in a
National Library with her paramour. But what did he know about such
women? He had heard of them supping in fashionable restaurants covered
with diamonds, and he thought of them with painted faces and dyed hair,
and he was sure that Nora did not dye her hair or paint her face. No,
she was not Poole's mistress. It was only his ignorance of life that
could have led him to think of anything so absurd.... And then, weary of
thinking and debating with himself, he took down a book that was lent
some months ago, a monograph on a learned woman, a learned philosophical
writer and translator of exegetical works from the German. Like Nora,
she came from the middle classes, and, like Nora, she transgressed, how
often he did not know, but with another woman's husband certainly. A
critical writer and exponent of serious literature. Taste for learned
studies did not preclude abstinence from those sins which in his
ignorance of life he had associated with worldlings! Of course, St.
Augustine was such a one. But is a man's truth also woman's truth?
Apparently it is, and if he could believe the book he had been reading,
Nora might very well be Poole's mistress. Therewith the question came up
again, demanding answer: Why did she write declining any correspondence
with him, and three weeks afterwards write another letter inveigling
him, tempting him, bringing him to this last pitch of unhappiness? Was
the letter he returned to her prompted by Mr. Poole and by a spirit of
revenge? Three days after he took up his pen and added this paragraph to
his unfinished letter:
'I laid aside my pen, fearing I should ask what are your relations with
Mr. Poole. I have tried to keep myself from putting this question to
you, but the torture of doubt overcomes me, and even if you should never
write to me again, I must ask it. Remember that I am responsible to God
for the life you lead. Had it not been for me, you would never have
known Poole. You must grant to every man his point of view, and, as a
Christian, I cannot put my responsibility out of mind. If you lose your
soul, I am responsible for it. Should you write that your relations with
Mr. Poole are not innocent, I shall not be relieved of my
responsibility, but it will be a relief to me to know the truth. I shall
pray for you, and you will repent your sins if you are living in sin.
Forgive me the question I am putting to you. I have no right to do so
whatever. Whatever right I had over you when you were in my parish has
passed from me. I exceeded that right, but that is the old story. Maybe
I am repeating my very fault again. It is not unlikely, for what do we
do all through our lives but to repeat ourselves? You have forgiven me,
and, having forgiven me once, maybe you will forgive me again. However
this may be, do not delay writing, for every day will be an agony till I
hear from you. At the end of an autumn day, when the dusk is sinking
into the room, one lacks courage to live. Religion seems to desert one,
and I am thinking of the leaves falling, falling in Derrinrush. All
night long they will be falling, like my hopes. Forgive me this
miserable letter. But if I didn't write it, I should not be able to get
through the evening. Write to me. A letter from Italy will cheer me and
help me to live. All my letters are not like this one. Not very long ago
I wrote to you about a hermit who never wearied of life, though he lived
upon an island in this lake. Did you receive that letter? I wonder. It
is still following you about maybe. It was a pleasant letter, and I
should be sorry if you did not get it. Write to me about Italy--about
sunshine, about statues and pictures.
'Ever sincerely yours,
_From Father Oliver Gogarty to Miss Nora Glynn._
'_October_ 20, 19--.
'DEAR MISS GLYNN,
'I wrote last week apologizing for troubling you again with a letter,
pleading that the melancholy of autumn and the falling of the leaf
forced me to write to someone. I wrote asking for a letter, saying that
a letter about Italian sunshine would help me to live. I am afraid my
letter must have seemed exaggerated. One writes out of a mood. The mood
passes, but when it is with one, one is the victim of it. And this
letter is written to say I have recovered somewhat from my depression of
spirits.... I have found consolation in a book, and I feel that I must
send it to you, for even you may one day feel depressed and lonely. Did
you ever read "The Imitation of Christ"? There is no book more soothing
to the spirit than it; and on the very first page I found some lines
which apply marvellously well to your case:
'"If thou didst know the whole Bible outwardly, and the sayings of all
the philosophers, what would it all profit thee without charity and the
grace of God?"
'Over the page the saint says: "Every man naturally desireth to know;
but what doth knowledge avail without the fear of God?"
'"Truly, a lowly rustic that serveth God is better than a proud
philosopher who pondereth the course of the stars and neglecteth
'"He that knoweth himself becometh vile to himself, and taketh no
delight in the praises of men."
'"If I knew all things that are in the world, and were not in charity,
what would it profit me in the sight of God, who will judge according to
'"Cease from overweening desire of knowledge, because many distractions
are found there, and much delusion."
'I might go on quoting till I reached the end, for on every page I note
something that I would have you read. But why quote when I can send you
the book? You have lost interest in the sentimental side of religion,
but your loss is only momentary. You will never find anyone who will
understand you better than this book. You are engaged now in the vain
pursuit of knowledge, but some day, when you are weary of knowledge, you
will turn to it. I do not ask you to read it now, but promise me that
you will keep it. It will be a great consolation to me to know that it
is by you.
'Very sincerely yours,
'OLIVER GOGARTY, P.P.'
_From Father Oliver Gogarty to Miss Nora Glynn._
'_November_ 3, 19--.
'DEAR MISS GLYNN,
'I sent you--I think it must be a fortnight ago--a copy of "The
Imitation of Christ." The copy I sent is one of the original Elizabethan
edition, a somewhat rare book and difficult to obtain. I sent you this
copy in order to make sure that you would keep it; the English is better
than the English of our modern translations. You must not think that I
feel hurt because you did not write to thank me at once for having sent
you the book. My reason for writing is merely because I should like to
know if it reached you. If you have not received it, I think it would be
better to make inquiries at once in the post. It would be a pity that a
copy of the original Elizabethan edition should be lost. Just write a
little short note saying that you have received it.
'Very sincerely yours,
'OLIVER GOGARTY, P.P.'
'The Imitation' dropped on his knees, and he wondered if the spiritual
impulse it had awakened in him was exhausted, or if the continual
splashing of the rain on the pane had got upon his nerves.
'But it isn't raining in Italy,' he said, getting up from his chair;
'and I am weary of the rain, of myself--I am weary of everything.' And
going to the window, he tried to take ant interest in the weather,
asking himself if it would clear up about 3 o'clock. It cleared usually
late in the afternoon for a short while, and he would be able to go out
for half an hour. But where should he go? He foresaw his walk from end
to end before he began it: the descent of the hill, the cart-track and
the old ruts full of water, the dead reeds on the shore soaking, the
dripping trees. But he knew that about 3 o'clock the clouds would lift,
and the sunset begin in the gaps in the mountains. He might go as far as
the little fields between Derrinrush and the plantations, and from there
he could watch the sunset. But the sunset would soon be over, and he
would have to return home, for a long evening without a book. Terrible!
And he began to feel that he must have an occupation--his book! To write
the story of the island castles would pass the time, and wondering how
he might write it, whether from oral tradition or from the books and
manuscripts which he might find in national libraries, he went out about
3 o'clock and wandered down the old cart-track, getting his feet very
wet, till he came to the pine-wood, into which he went, and stood
looking across the lake, wondering if he should go out to Castle Island
in a boat--there was no boat, but he might borrow one somewhere--and
examine what remained of the castle. But he knew every heap of old
stones, every brown bush, and the thick ivy that twined round the last
corner wall. Castle Hag had an interest Castle Island had not. The
cormorants roosted there; and they must be hungry, for the lake had been
too windy for fishing this long while. A great gust whirled past, and he
stood watching the clouds drifting overhead--the same thick vapour
drifting and going out. For nearly a month he was waiting for a space of
blue sky, and a great sadness fell upon him, a sick longing for a
change; but if he yielded to this longing he would never return to
Garranard. There seemed to be no way out of the difficulty--at least, he
could see none.
A last ray lit up a distant hillside, his shadow floated on the wet
sand. The evening darkened rapidly, and he walked in a vague diffused
light, inexpressibly sad to find Moran waiting for him at the end of an
old cart-track, where the hawthorns grew out of a tumbled wall. He would
keep Moran for supper. Moran was a human being, and--
'I've come to see you, Gogarty; I don't know if I'm welcome.'
'It's joking you are. You'll stay and have some supper with me?'
'Indeed I will, if you give me some drink, for it's drink that I'm
after, and not eating. I'd better get the truth out at once and have
done with it. I've felt the craving coming on me for the last few
days--you know what I mean--and now it's got me by the throat. I must
have drink. Come along, Gogarty, and give me some, and then I'll say
good-bye to you for ever.'
'Now what are you saying?'
'Don't stand arguing with me, for you can't understand, Gogarty--no one
can; I can't myself. But it doesn't matter what anybody understands--I'm
'We'll have a bit of supper together. It will pass from you.'
'Ah, you little know;' and the priests walked up the hill in silence.
'Gogarty, there's no use talking; I'm done for. Let me go.'
'Come in, will you?' and he took him by the arm. 'Come in. I'm a bigger
man than you, Moran; come in!'
'I'm done for,' Father Moran said again.
Father Oliver made a sign of silence, and when they were in the parlour,
and the door shut behind them, he said:
'You mustn't talk like that, and Catherine within a step of you.'
'I've told you, Gogarty, I'm done for, and I've just come here to bid
you good-bye; but before we part I'd like to hear you say that I haven't
been wanting in my duties--that in all the rest, as far as you know,
I've been as good a man as another.'
'In all but one thing I know no better man, and I'll not hear that
there's no hope.'
'Better waste no time talking. Just let me hear you say again that I've
been a good man in everything but one thing.'
'Yes, indeed;' and the priests grasped hands.
And Catherine came into the room to ask if Father Moran was stopping to
supper. Father Oliver answered hurriedly: 'Yes, yes, he's staying. Bring
in supper as soon as you can;' and she went away, to come back soon
after with the cloth. And while she laid it the priests sat looking at
each other, not daring to speak, hoping that Catherine did not suspect
from their silence and manner that anything was wrong. She seemed to be
a long while laying the cloth and bringing in the food; it seemed to
them as if she was delaying on purpose. At last the door was closed, and
they were alone.
'Now, Moran, sit down and eat a bit, won't you?'
'I can't eat anything. Give me some whisky; that is what I want. Give me
some whisky, and I will go away and you'll never see me again. Just a
glass to keep me going, and I will go straight out of your parish, so
that none of the disgrace will fall upon you; or--what do you think? You
could put me up here; no one need know I'm here. All I want are a few
bottles of whisky.'
'You mean that I should put you up here and let you get drunk?'
'You know what I mean well enough. I'm like that. And it's well for you
who don't want whisky. But if it hadn't been for whisky I should have
been in a mad-house long ago. Now, just tell me if you'll give me drink.
If you will, I'll stay and talk with you, for I know you're lonely; if
not, I'll just be off with myself.'
'Moran, you'll be better when you've had something to eat. It will pass
from you. I will give you a glass of beer.'
'A glass of beer! Ah, if I could tell you the truth! We've all our
troubles, Gogarty--trouble that none knows but God. I haven't been
watching you--I've been too tormented about myself to think much of
anyone else--but now and then I've caught sight of a thought passing
across your mind. We all suffer, you like another, and when the ache
becomes too great to be borne we drink. Whisky is the remedy; there's
none better. We drink and forget, and that is the great thing. There are
times, Gogarty, when one doesn't want to think, when one's afraid,
aren't there?--when one wants to forget that one's alive. You've had
that feeling, Gogarty. We all have it. And now I must be off. I must
forget everything. I want to drink and to feel the miles passing under
And on that he got up from the fire.
'Come, Moran, I won't hear you speak like that.'
'Let me go. It's no use; I'm done for;' and Father Oliver saw his eyes
'I'll not keep you against your will, but I'll go a piece of the road
'I'd sooner you didn't come, Gogarty.'
Without answering, Father Oliver caught up his hat and followed Father
Moran out of the house. They walked without speaking, and when they got
to the gate Father Oliver began to wonder which way his unhappy curate
would choose for escape. 'Now why does he take the southern road?' And a
moment after he guessed that Moran was making for Michael Garvey's
public-house, 'and after drinking there,' he said to himself, 'he'll go
on to Tinnick.' After a couple of miles, however, Moran turned into a
by-road leading through the mountains, and they walked on without saying
And they walked mile after mile through the worn mountain road.
'You've come far enough, Gogarty; go back. Regan's public-house is
outside of your parish.'
'If it's outside my parish, it's only the other side of the boundary;
and you said, Moran, that you wouldn't touch whisky till to-morrow
The priests walked on again, and Father Oliver fell to thinking now what
might be the end of this adventure. He could see there was no hope of
persuading Father Moran from the bottle of whisky.
'What time do you be making it, Gogarty?'
'It isn't ten o'clock yet.'
'Then I'll walk up and down till the stroke of twelve ... I'll keep my
promise to you.'
'But they'll all be in bed by twelve. What will you do then?'
Father Moran didn't give Father Gogarty an answer, but started off
again, and this time he was walking very fast; and when they got as far
as Regan's public-house Father Oliver took his friend by the arm,
reminding him again of his promise.
'You promised not to disgrace the parish.'
'I said that.... Well, if it's walking your heart is set upon, you
shall have your bellyful of it.'
And he was off again like a man walking for a wager. But Father Oliver,
who wouldn't be out-walked, kept pace with him, and they went striding
along, walking without speaking.
Full of ruts and broken stones, the road straggled through the hills,
and Father Oliver wondered what would happen when they got to the top of
the hill. For the sea lay beyond the hill. The road bent round a
shoulder of the hill, and when Father Oliver saw the long road before
him his heart began to fail him, and a cry of despair rose to his lips;
but at that moment Moran stopped.
'You've saved me, Gogarty.'
He did not notice that Father Gogarty was breathless, almost fainting,
and he began talking hurriedly, telling Father Oliver how he had
committed himself to the resolution of breaking into a run as soon as
they got to the top of the hill.
'My throat was on fire then, but now all the fire is out of it; your
prayer has been answered. But what's the matter, Gogarty? You're not
'What you say is wonderful indeed, Moran, for I was praying for you. I
prayed as long as I had breath; one can't pray without breath or speak.
We'll talk of this presently.'
The priests turned back, walking very slowly.
'I feel no more wish to drink whisky than I do to drink bog-water. But
I'm a bit hot, and I think I'd like a drink, and a drink of water will
do me first-rate. Now look here, Gogarty: a miracle has happened, and
we should thank God for it. Shall we kneel down?'
The road was very wet, and they thought it would do as well if they
leant over the little wall and said some prayers together.
'I've conquered the devil; I know it. But I've been through a terrible
time, Gogarty. It's all lifted from me now. I'm sorry I've brought you
out for such a walk as this.'
'Never mind the walk, Moran, so long as the temptation has passed from
you--that's the principal thing.'
To speak of ordinary things was impossible, for they believed in the
miracle, and, thanking God for this act of grace, they walked on until
they reached Father Oliver's gate.
'I believe you're right, Moran; I believe that a miracle has happened.
You'll go home straight, won't you?'
Father Moran grasped Father Oliver's hand.
'Indeed I will.'
And Father Oliver stood by his gate looking down the road, and he didn't
open it and go through until Father Moran had passed out of sight.
Pushing it open, he walked up the gravel path, saying to himself, 'A
miracle, without doubt. Moran called it a miracle and it seems like one,
but will it last? Moran believes himself cured, that is certain;' and
Father Oliver thought how his curate had gripped his hand, and felt sure
that the grip meant, 'You've done me a great service, one I can never
It was a pleasure to think that Moran would always think well of him.
'Yes, Moran will always think well of me,' he repeated as he groped his
way into the dark and lonely house in search of a box of matches. When
his lamp was lighted he threw himself into his armchair so that he might
ponder better on what had happened. 'I've been a good friend to him, and
it's a great support to a man to think that he's been a good friend to
another, that he kept him in the straight path, saved him from himself.
Saved himself from himself,' he repeated;' can anybody be saved from
himself?' and he began to wonder if Moran would conquer in the end and
take pride in his conquest over himself.
There was no sound, only an occasional spit of the lamp, and in the
silence Father Oliver asked if it were the end of man's life to trample
upon self or to encourage self. 'Nora,' he said, 'would answer that self
is all we have, and to destroy it and put in its place conventions and
prejudices is to put man's work above God's. But Nora would not answer
in these words till she had spoken with Mr. Walter Poole.' The name
brought a tightening about his heart, and when Father Oliver stumbled to
his feet--he had walked many miles, and was tired--he began to think he
must tell Nora of the miracle that had happened about a mile--he thought
it was just a mile--beyond Patsy Regan's public-house. The miracle would
impress her, and he looked round the room. It was then he caught sight
of a letter--her letter. The envelope and foreign stamp told him that
before he read the address--her writing! His hand trembled and his cheek
paled, for she was telling him the very things he had longed to know.
She was in love with Poole! she was not only in love with him--she was
The room seemed to tumble about him, and he grasped the end of the
chimney-piece. And then, feeling that he must get out into the open air,
he thought of Moran. He began to feel he must speak to him. He couldn't
remember exactly what he had to say to him, but there was something on
his mind which he must speak to Moran about. It seemed to him that he
must go away with Moran to some public-house far away and drink. Hadn't
Moran said that there were times when we all wanted drink? He tried to
collect his thoughts.... Something had gone wrong, but he couldn't
remember what had gone wrong or where he was. It seemed to him that
somebody had lost her soul. He must seek it. It was his duty. Being a
priest, he must go forth and find the soul, and bring it back to God. He
remembered no more until he found himself in the midst of a great wood,
standing in an open space; about him were dripping trees, and a ghostly
sky overhead, and no sound but that of falling leaves. Large leaves
floated down, and each interested him till it reached the wet earth.
And then he began to wonder why he was in the wood at night, and why he
should be waiting there, looking at the glimmering sky, seeing the
oak-leaves falling, remembering suddenly that he was looking for her
soul, for her lost soul, and that something had told him he would find
the soul he was seeking in the wood; so he was drawn from glade to glade
through the underwoods, and through places so thickly overgrown that it
seemed impossible to pass through. And then the thorn-bushes gave way
before him, for he was no longer alone. She had descended from the trees
into his arms, white and cold, and every moment the wood grew dimmer;
but when he expected it to disappear, when he thought he was going to
escape for ever with her, an opening in the trees discovered the lake,
and in fear he turned back into the wood, seeking out paths where there
was little light.
Once he was within the wood, the mist seemed to incorporate again; she
descended again into his arms, and this time he would have lifted the
veil and looked into her face, but she seemed to forbid him to recognize
her under penalty of loss. His desire overcame him, and he put out his
hand to lift the veil. As he did so his eyes opened, he saw the wet
wood, the shining sky, and she sitting by a stone waiting for him. A
little later she came to meet him from behind the hawthorns that grew
along the cart-track--a tall woman with a little bend in her walk.
He wondered why he was so foolish as to disobey her, and besought her to
return to him, and they roamed again in the paths that led round the
rocks overgrown with briars, by the great oak-tree where the leaves were
falling. And wandering they went, smiling gently on each other, till she
began to tell him that he must abide by the shores of the lake--why, he
could not understand, for the wood was much more beautiful, and he was
more alone with her in the wood than by the lake.
The sympathy was so complete that words were not needed, but they had
begun in his ears. He strove to apprehend the dim words sounding in his
ears. Not her words, surely, for there was a roughness in the voice, and
presently he heard somebody asking him why he was about this time of
night, and very slowly he began to understand that one of his
parishioners was by him, asking him whither he was going.
'You'll be catching your death at this hour of the night, Father
And the man told Father Oliver he was on his way to a fair, and for a
short-cut he had come through the wood. And Father Oliver listened,
thinking all the while that he must have been dreaming, for he could
'Now, your reverence, we're at your own door, and the door is open.
When you went out you forgot to close it.'
The priest didn't answer.
'I hope no harm will come to your reverence; and you'll be lucky if you
haven't caught your death.'
He stopped in his undressing to ponder how Moran had come to tell him
that he was going away on a drinking-bout, and all their long walk
together to within a mile of Regan's public-house returned to him bit by
bit, how Moran knelt down by the roadside to drink bog-water, which he
said would take the thirst from him as well as whisky; and after bidding
Moran good-night he had fallen into his armchair. It was not till he
rose to his feet to go to bed that he had caught sight of the letter.
Nora wrote--he could not remember exactly what she wrote, and threw
himself into bed. After sleeping for many hours, his eyes at last
opened, and he awoke wondering, asking himself where he was. Even the
familiar room surprised him. And once more he began the process of
picking his way back, but he couldn't recall what had happened from the
time he left his house in search of Moran till he was overtaken by Alec
in the wood. In some semi-conscious state he must have wandered off to
Derrinrush. He must have wandered a long while--two hours, maybe more
--through the familiar paths, but unaware that he was choosing them. To
escape from the effort of remembrance he was glad to listen to
Catherine, who was telling him that Alec was at the door, come up from
the village to inquire how the priest was.
She waited to hear Father Oliver's account of himself, but not having a
story prepared, he pretended he was too tired to speak; and as he lay
back in his chair he composed a little story, telling how he had been
for a long walk with Father Moran, and, coming back in the dark, had
missed his way on the outskirts of the wood. She began to raise some
objections, but he said she was not to excite herself, and went out to
see Alec, who, not being a quick-witted fellow, was easily persuaded
into an acceptance of a very modified version of the incident, and
Father Oliver lay back in his chair wondering if he had succeeded in
deceiving Catherine. It would seem that he had, for when she came to
visit him again from her kitchen she spoke of something quite different,
which surprised him, for she was a very observant woman of inexhaustible
curiosity. But this time, however, he had managed to keep his secret
from her, and, dismissing her, he thought of Nora's letter.
_From Miss Nora Glynn to Father Oliver Gogarty._
'_December_ 12, 19--.
'DEAR FATHER GOGARTY,
'I received "The Imitation" to-day and your two letters, one asking me
if I had got the book. We had left Munich without giving instructions
about our letters, so please accept my apologies and my best thanks.
The Elizabethan translation, as you point out, is beautiful English, and
I am glad to have the book; it will remind me of you, and I will keep it
by me even if I do not read it very often. I passed the book over to Mr.
Poole; he read it for a few minutes, and then returned it to me. "A
worthy man, no doubt," he said, "but prone to taking things for granted.
'The Imitation,'" he continued, "reminds me of a flower growing in the
shade of a cloister, dying for lack of sun, and this is surely not the
right kind of reading for you or your friend Father Oliver." I feel sure
you want a change. Change of scene brings a change of mind. Why don't
you come to Italy? Italy is the place for you. Italy is your proper
mind. Mr. Poole says that Italy is every man's proper mind, and you're
evidently thinking of Italy, for you ask for a description of where I am
staying, saying that a ray of Italian sunlight will cheer you. Come to
Italy. You can come here without danger of meeting us. We are leaving at
the end of the month.
'But I could go on chattering page after page, telling you about gardens
and orange-trees (the orange-trees are the best part of the decoration;
even now the great fruit hangs in the green leaves); and when I had
described Italy, and you had described all the castles and the islands,
we could turn back and discuss our religious differences. But I doubt if
any good would come of this correspondence. You see, I have got my work
to do, and you have got yours, and, notwithstanding all you say, I do
not believe you to be unable to write the history of the lake and its
castles. Your letters prove that you can, only your mind is unhinged by
fears for my spiritual safety, and depressed by the Irish climate. It is
very depressing, I know. I remember how you used to attribute the
history of Ireland to the climate: a beautiful climate in a way, without
extremes of heat and cold, as you said once, without an accent upon it.
But you are not the ordinary Irishman; there is enough vitality in you
to resist the languor of the climate. Your mood will pass away.... Your
letter about the hermit that lived on Church Island is most beautiful.
You have struck the right note--the wistful Irish note--and if you can
write a book in that strain I am sure it will meet with great success.
Go on with your book, and don't write to me any more--at least, not for
the present. I have got too much to do, and cannot attend to a lengthy
correspondence. We are going to Paris, and are looking forward to
spending a great deal of time reading in the National Library. Some day
we may meet, or take up this correspondence again. At present I feel
that it is better for you and better for me that it should cease. But
you will not think hardly of me because I write you this. I am writing
in your own interests, dear Father Gogarty.
'Very sincerely yours,
He read the letter slowly, pondering every sentence and every word, and
when he had finished it his hand dropped upon his knee; and when the
letter fell upon the hearthrug he did not stoop to pick it up, but sat
looking into the fire, convinced that everything was over and done.
There was nothing to look forward to; his life would drag on from day to
day, from week to week, month to month, year to year, till at last he
would be taken away to the grave. The grave is dreamless! But there
might be a long time before he reached it, living for years without
seeing or even hearing from her, for she would weary of writing to him.
He began to dream of a hunt, the quarry hearing with dying ears the
horns calling to each other in the distance, and cast in his chair, his
arms hanging like dead arms, his senses mercifully benumbed, he lay, how
long he knew not, but it must have been a long time.
Catherine came into the room with some spoons in her hands, and asked
him what was the matter, and, jumping up, he answered her rudely, for
her curiosity annoyed him. It was irritating to have to wait for her to
leave the room, but he did not dare to begin thinking while she was
there. The door closed at last; he was alone again, and his thoughts
fixed themselves at once on the end of her letter, on the words, 'Go on
with your book, and don't write to me any more--at least, not for the
present. I have too much to do, and cannot attend to a lengthy
correspondence.' The evident cruelty of her words surprised him. There
was nothing like this in any of her other letters. She intended these
words as a _coup de grace_. There was little mercy in them, for they
left him living; he still lived--in a way.
There was no use trying to misunderstand her words. To do so would be
foolish, even if it were possible for him to deceive himself, and the
rest of her letter mattered nothing to him. The two little sentences
with which she dismissed him were his sole concern; they were the keys
to the whole of this correspondence which had beguiled him. Fool that he
had been not to see it! Alas! we see only what we want to see. He
wandered about the lake, trying to bring himself to hate her. He even
stopped in his walks to address insulting words to her. Words of common
abuse came to his tongue readily, but there was an unconquerable
tenderness in his heart always; and one day the thought went by that it
was nobler of her to make him suffer than to have meekly forgiven him,
as many women would have done, because he was a priest. He stopped
affrighted, and began to wonder if this were the first time her easy
forgiveness of his mistake had seemed suspicious. No, he felt sure that
some sort of shadow of disappointment had passed at the back of his mind
when he read her first letter, and after having lain for months at the
back of his mind, this idea had come to the surface. An extraordinary
perversion, truly, which he could only account for by the fact that he
had always looked upon her as being more like what the primitive woman
must have been than anybody else in the world; and the first instinct of
the primitive woman would be to revenge any slight on her sexual pride.
He had misread her character, and in this new reading he found a
As he sat thinking of her he heard a mouse gnawing under the boards,
and every night after the mouse came to gnaw. 'The teeth of regret are
the same; my life is being gnawed away. Never shall I see her.' It
seemed impossible that life would close on him without his seeing her
face or hearing her voice again, and he began to think how it would be
if they were to meet on the other side. For he believed in heaven, and
that was a good thing. Without such belief there would be nothing for
him to do but to go down to the lake and make an end of himself. But
believing as he did in heaven and the holy Catholic Church to be the
surest way of getting there, he had a great deal to be thankful for.
Poole's possession of her was but temporary, a few years at most,
whereas his possession of her, if he were so fortunate as to gain
heaven, and by his prayers to bring her back to the true fold, would
endure for ever and ever. The wisest thing, therefore, for him to do
would be to enter a Trappist monastery. But our Lord says that in heaven
there is neither marriage nor giving in marriage, and what would heaven
be to him without Nora? No more than a union of souls, and he wanted her
body as well as her soul. He must pray. He knew the feeling well--a sort
of mental giddiness, a delirium in the brain; and it increased rapidly,
urging him to fall on his knees. If he resisted, it was because he was
ashamed and feared to pray to God to reserve Nora for him. But the whirl
in his brain soon deprived him of all power of resistance, and, looking
round the room hurriedly to assure himself he was not watched, he fell
on his knees and burst into extemporary prayer: '_O my God, whatever
punishment there is to be borne, let me bear it. She sinned, no doubt,
and her sins must be atoned for. Let me bear the punishment that thou,
in thine infinite wisdom, must adjudge to her, poor sinful woman that
she is, poor woman persecuted by men, persecuted by me. O my God,
remember that I lent a willing ear to scandalmongers, that I went down
that day to the school and lost my temper with her, that I spoke against
her in my church. All the sins that have been committed are my sins; let
me bear the punishment. O my Lord Jesus Christ, do thou intercede with
thy Father and ask him to heap all the punishment on my head. Oh, dear
Lord Jesus, if I had only thought of thee when I went down to the
school, if I had remembered thy words, "Let him who is without sin cast
the first stone," I should have been spared this anguish. If I had
remembered thy words, she might have gone to Dublin and had her baby
there, and come back to the parish. O my God, the fault is mine; all the
faults that have been committed can be traced back to me, therefore I
beseech of thee, I call upon thee, to let me bear all the punishment
that she has earned by her sins, poor erring creature that she is. O my
God, do this for me; remember that I served thee well for many years
when I lived among the poor folk in the mountains. For all these years I
ask this thing of thee, that thou wilt let me bear her punishment. Is it
too much I am asking of thee, O my God, is it too much?'_
When he rose from his knees, bells seemed to be ringing in his head,
and he began to wonder if another miracle had befallen him, for it was
as if someone had laid hands on him and forced him on his knees. But to
ask the Almighty to extend his protection to him rather than to Mr.
Poole, who was a Protestant, seemed not a little gross. Father Oliver
experienced a shyness that he had never known before, and he hoped the
Almighty would not be offended at the familiarity of the language, or
the intimate nature of the request, for to ask for Nora's body as well
as her soul did not seem altogether seemly.
It was queer to think like that. Perhaps his brain was giving way. And
he pushed the plates aside; he could not eat any dinner, nor could he
take any interest in his garden.
The dahlias were over, the chrysanthemums were beginning. Never had the
country seemed so still: dead birds in the woods, and the sounds of
leaves, and the fitful December sunlight on the strands--these were his
distractions when he went out for a walk, and when he came in he often
thought it would be well if he did not live to see another day, so heavy
did the days seem, so uneventful, and in these languid autumn days the
desire to write to Nora crept nearer, until it always seemed about him
like some familiar animal.
_From Father Oliver Gogarty to Miss Nora Glynn._
'_December_ 30, 19--.
'DEAR MISS GLYNN,
'I should have written to you before, but I lacked courage. Do you
remember saying that the loneliness of the country sometimes forced you
to kneel down to pray that you might die? I think the loneliness that
overcame you was the loneliness that comes at the end of an autumn day
when the dusk gathers in the room. It seems to steal all one's courage
away, and one looks up from one's work in despair, asking of what value
is one's life. The world goes on just the same, grinding our souls away.
Nobody seems to care; nothing seems to make any difference.
'Human life is a very lonely thing, and for that it is perhaps
religious. But there are days when religion fails us, when we lack
courage, lonesomeness being our national failing. We were always
lonesome, hundreds of years ago as much as to-day. You know it, you have
been through it and will sympathize. A caged bird simply beats its wings
and dies, but a human being does not die of loneliness, even when he
prays for death. You have experienced it all, and will know what I feel
when I tell you that I spend my time watching the rain, thinking of
sunshine, picture-galleries, and libraries.
'But you were right to bid me go on with the book I spoke to you about.
If I had gone away, as you first suggested, I should have been unhappy;
I should have thought continually of the poor people I left behind; my
abandonment of them would have preyed on my mind, for the conviction is
dead in me that I should have been able to return to them; we mayn't
return to places where we have been unhappy. I might have been able to
get a parish in England or a chaplaincy, but I should have always looked
upon the desertion of my poor people as a moral delinquency. A quiet
conscience is, after all, a great possession, and for the sake of a
quiet conscience I will remain here, and you will be able to understand
my scruple when you think how helpless my people are, and how essential
is the kindly guidance of the priest.
'Without a leader, the people are helpless; they wander like sheep on a
mountain-side, falling over rocks or dying amid snowdrifts. Sometimes
the shepherd grows weary of watching, and the question comes, Has a man
no duty towards himself? And then one begins to wonder what is one's
duty and what is duty--if duty is something more than the opinions of
others, something more than a convention which we would not like to hear
called into question, because we feel instinctively that it is well for
everyone to continue in the rut, for, after all, a rut means a road, and
roads are necessary. If one lets one's self go on thinking, one very
soon finds that wrong and right are indistinguishable, so perhaps it is
better to follow the rut if one can. But the rut is beset with
difficulties; there are big holes on either side. Sometimes the road
ends nowhere, and one gets lost in spite of one's self. But why am I
writing all these things to you?'
Why, indeed? If he were to send this letter she would show it to Mr.
Poole, and they would laugh over it together. 'Poor priesty!' they would
say, and the paper was crumpled and thrown into the fire. 'My life is
unendurable, and it will grow worse,' he said, and fell to thinking how
he would grow old, getting every day more like an old stereotyped plate,
the Mass and the rosary at the end of his tongue, and nothing in his
heart. He had seen many priests like this. Could he fall into such
miserable decadence? Could such obedience to rule be any man's duty? But
where should he go? It mattered little whither he went, for he would
never see her any more, and she was, after all, the only real thing in
the world for him.
So did he continue to suffer like an animal, mutely, instinctively,
mourning his life away, forgetful of everything but his grief; unmindful
of his food, and unable to sleep when he lay down, or to distinguish
between familiar things--the birds about his house, the boys and girls
he had baptized. Very often he had to think a moment before he knew
which was Mary and which was Bridget, which was Patsy and which was
Mike, and very often Catherine was in the parlour many minutes before he
noticed her presence. She stood watching him, wondering of what he was
thinking, for he sat in his chair, getting weaker and thinner; and soon
he began to look haggard as an old man or one about to die. He seemed to
grow feebler in mind; his attention wandered away every few minutes from
the book he was reading. Catherine noticed the change, and, thinking
that a little chat would be of help, she often came up from her kitchen
to tell him the gossip of the parish; but he could not listen to her,
her garrulousness seemed to him more than ever tiresome, and he kept a
book by him, an old copy of 'Ivanhoe,' which he pretended he was reading
when he heard her step.
Father Moran came to discuss the business of the parish with him and
insisted on relieving Father Oliver of a great deal of it, saying that
he wanted a rest, and he often urged Father Oliver to go away for a
holiday. He was kind, but his talk was wearisome, and Father Oliver
thought he would prefer to read about the fabulous Rowena than to hear
any more about the Archbishop. But when Father Moran left Rowena bored
him, and so completely that he could not remember at what point he had
left off reading, and his thoughts wandered from the tournament to some
phrase he had made use of in writing to Nora, or, it might be, some
phrase of hers that would suddenly spring into his mind. He sought no
longer to discover her character from her letters, nor did he criticize
the many contradictions which had perplexed him: it seemed to him that
he accepted her now, as the phrase goes, 'as she was,' thinking of her
as he might of some supernatural being whom he had offended, and who had
revenged herself. Her wickedness became in his eyes an added grace, and
from the rack on which he lay he admired his executioner. Even her
liking for Mr. Poole became submerged in a tide of suffering, and of
longing, and weakness of spirit. He no longer had any strength to
question her liking for the minor prophets: there were discrepancies in
everyone, and no doubt there were in him as well as in her. He had once
been very different from what he was to-day. Once he was an ardent
student in Maynooth, he had been an energetic curate; and now what was
he? Worse still, what was he becoming? And he allowed his thoughts to
dwell on the fact that every day she was receding from him. He, too, was
receding. All things were receding--becoming dimmer.
He piled the grate up with turf, and when the blaze came leaned over it,
warming his hands, asking himself why she liked Mr. Poole rather than
him. For he no longer tried to conceal from himself the fact that he
loved her. He had played the hypocrite long enough; he had spoken about
her soul, but it was herself that he wanted. This admission brought some
little relief, but he felt that the relief would only be temporary.
Alas! it was surrender. It was worse than surrender--it was abandonment.
He could sink no deeper. But he could; we can all sink deeper. Now what
would the end be? There is an end to everything; there must be an end
even to humiliation, to self-abasement. It was Moran over again. Moran
was ashamed of his vice, but he had to accept it, and Father Oliver
thought how much it must have cost his curate to come to tell him that
he wanted to lie drunk for some days in an outhouse in order to escape
for a few days from the agony of living. 'That is what he called it, and
I, too, would escape from it.'
His thoughts turned suddenly to a poem written by a peasant in County
Cork a hundred years ago to a woman who inspired a passion that wrecked
his mind altogether in the end. And he wondered if madness would be the
end of his suffering, or if he would go down to the lake and find rest
'Oh, succour me, dear one, give me a kiss from thy mouth,
And lift me up to thee from death,
Or bid them make for me a narrow bed, a coffin of boards,
In the dark neighbourhood of the worm and his friends.
My life is not life but death, my voice is no voice but a wind,
There is no colour in me, nor life, nor richness, nor health;
But in tears and sorrow and weakness, without music, without
sport, without power,
I go into captivity and woe, and in the pain of my love of thee.'
_From Father Oliver Gogarty to Miss Nora Glynn._
'_March_ 12, 19--.
'A long time has passed without your hearing from me, and I am sure you
must have said more than once: "Well, that priest has more sense than I
gave him credit for. He took the hint. He understood that it would be
useless for us to continue to write long letters to each other about
remorse of conscience and Mr. Poole's criticism of the Bible." But the
sight of my handwriting will call into question the opinion you have
formed of my good sense, and you will say: "Here he is, beginning it all
over again." No, I am not. I am a little ashamed of my former letters,
and am writing to tell you so. My letters, if I write any, will be quite
different in the future, thanks to your candour. Your letter from
Rapallo cured me; like a surgeon's knife, it took out the ulcer that was
eating my life away. The expression will seem exaggerated, I know; but
let it remain. You no doubt felt that I was in ignorance of my own state
of feelings regarding you, and you wrote just such a letter as would
force me to look into my heart and to discover who I really was. You
felt that you could help me to some knowledge of myself by telling me
'The shock on reading your confession--for I look upon your Rapallo
letter as one--was very great, for on reading it I felt that a good deal
that I had written to you about the salvation of your soul was inspired,
not by any pure fear that I had done anything that might lose a soul to
God, but by pure selfishness. I did not dare to write boldly that I
loved yourself, and would always love you; I wore a mask and a disguise,
and in order to come to terms with myself I feel it necessary to confess
to you; otherwise all the suffering I have endured would be wasted.
'But this is not all my confession; worse still remains. I have
discovered that when I spoke against you in church, and said things that
caused you to leave the parish, I did not do so, as I thought, because I
believed that the morality of my parish must be maintained at any cost.
I know now that jealousy--yes, sensual jealousy--prompted me. And when I
went to my sisters to ask them to appoint you to the post of
music-teacher in their school, I did not do so for their sake, but for
my own, because I wished to have you back in the parish. But I do not
wish you to think that when I wrote about atonement I wrote what I knew
to be untrue. I did not; the truth was hidden from me. Nor did I wish to
get you back to the parish in order that I might gratify my passion. All
these things were very vague, and I didn't understand myself until now.
I never had any experience of life till I met you. And is it not curious
that one should know so little of one's self, for I might have gone down
to my grave without knowing how false I was at heart, if I had not been
stricken down with a great illness.
'One day, Catherine told me that the lake was frozen over, and, as I had
been within doors a long while, she advised me to go out and see the
boys sliding on the ice. Her advice put an idea into my head, that I
might take out my skates and skate recklessly without trying to avoid
the deeper portions where the ice was likely to be thin, for I was weary
of life, and knowing that I could not go back upon the past, and that no
one would ever love me, I wished to bring my suffering to an end. You
will wonder why I did not think of the sufferings that I might have
earned for myself in the next world. I had suffered so much that I could
think of nothing but the present moment. God was good, and he saved me,
for as I stood irresolute before a piece of ice which I knew wouldn't
bear me, I felt a great sickness creeping over me. I returned home, and
for several days the doctor could not say whether I would live or die.
You remember Catherine, my servant? She told me that the only answer the
doctor would give her was that if I were not better within a certain
time there would be no hope of my recovery. At the end of the week he
came into my room. Catherine was waiting outside, and I hear that she
fell on her knees to thank God when the doctor said: "Yes, he is a
little better; if there's no relapse he'll live."
'After a severe illness one is alone with one's self, the whole of one's
life sings in one's head like a song, and listening to it, I learned
that it was jealousy that prompted me to speak against you, and not any
real care for the morality of my parish. I discovered, too, that my
moral ideas were not my own. They were borrowed from others, and badly
assimilated. I remembered, too, how at Maynooth the tradition was always
to despise women, and in order to convince myself I used to exaggerate
this view, and say things that made my fellow-students look at me
askance, if not with suspicion. But while dozing through long
convalescent hours many things hitherto obscure to me became clear, and
it seems now to me to be clearly wrong to withhold our sympathy from any
side of life. It seems to me that it is only by our sympathy we can do
any good at all. God gave us our human nature; we may misuse and degrade
our nature, but we must never forget that it came originally from God.
'What I am saying may not be in accordance with current theology, but I
am not thinking of theology, but of the things that were revealed to me
during my sickness. It was through my fault that you met Mr. Walter
Poole, and I must pray to God that he will bring you back to the fold. I
shall pray for you both. I wish you all happiness, and I thank you for
the many kind things you have said, for the good advice you have given
me. You are quite right: I want a change. You advise me to go to Italy,
and you are right to advise me to go there, for my heart yearns for
Italy. But I dare not go; for I still feel that if I left my parish I
should never return to it; and if I were to go away and not return a
great scandal would be caused, and I am more than ever resolved not to
do anything to grieve the poor people, who have been very good to me,
and whose interests I have neglected this long while.
'I send this letter to Beechwood Hall, where you will find it on your
return. As I have already said, you need not answer it; no good will
come by answering it. In years to come, perhaps, when we are both
different, we may meet again.
_From Miss Nora Glynn to Father Oliver Gogarty._
'IMPERIAL HOTEL, CAIRO, EGYPT,
'_May_ 5, 19--.
'DEAR FATHER GOGARTY,
'By the address on the top of this sheet of paper you will see that I
have travelled a long way since you last heard from me, and ever since
your letter has been following me about from hotel to hotel. It is lucky
that it has caught me up in Egypt, for we are going East to visit
countries where the postal service has not yet been introduced. We leave
here to-morrow. If your letter had been a day later it would have missed
me; it would have remained here unclaimed--unless, indeed, we come back
this way, which is not likely. You see what a near thing it was; and as
I have much to say to you, I should be sorry not to have had an
opportunity of writing.
'Your last letter put many thoughts into my head, and made me anxious to
explain many things which I feel sure you do not know about my conduct
since I left London, and the letters I have written to you. Has it not
often seemed strange to you that we go through life without ever being
able to reveal the soul that is in us? Is it because we are ashamed, or
is it that we do not know ourselves? It is certainly a hard task to
learn the truth about ourselves, and I appreciate the courage your last
letter shows; you have faced the truth, and having learned it, you write
it to me in all simplicity. I like you better now, Oliver Gogarty, than
I ever did before, and I always liked you. But it seems to me that to
allow you to confess yourself without confessing myself, without
revealing the woman's soul in me as you have revealed the man's soul in
yourself, would be unworthy.
'Our destinies got somehow entangled, there was a wrench, the knot was
broken, and the thread was wound upon another spool. The unravelling of
the piece must have perplexed you, and you must have wondered why the
shape and the pattern should have passed suddenly away into thread
again, and then, after a lapse of time, why the weaving should have
'You must have wondered why I wrote to you, and you must have wondered
why I forgave you for the wrong you did me. I guessed that our
friendship when I was in the parish was a little more than the platonic
friendship that you thought it was, so when you turned against me, and
were unkind, I found an excuse for you. When my hatred was bitterest, I
knew somehow, at the back of my mind--for I only allowed myself to think
of it occasionally--that you acted from--there is but one word--jealousy
(not a pretty word from your point of view); and it must have shocked
you, as a man and as a priest, to find that the woman whom you thought
so much of, and whose society gave you so much pleasure (I know the
times we passed together were as pleasant to you as they were to me),
should suddenly without warning appear in a totally different light, and
in a light which must have seemed to you mean and sordid. The discovery
that I was going to have a baby threw me suddenly down from the pedestal
on which you had placed me; your idol was broken, and your feelings--for
you are one of those men who feel deeply--got the better of you, and you
indulged in a few incautious words in your church.
'I thought of these things sometimes, not often, I admit, in the little
London lodging where I lived till my baby was born, seeing my gown in
front getting shorter, and telling lies to good Mrs. Dent about the
husband whom I said was abroad, whom I was expecting to return. That was
a miserable time, but we won't talk of it any more. When Father O'Grady
showed me the letter that you wrote him, I forgave you in a way. A woman
forgives a man the wrongs he does when these wrongs are prompted by
jealousy, for, after all, a woman is never really satisfied if a man is
not a little jealous. His jealousy may prove inconvenient, and she may
learn to hate it and think it an ugly thing and a crooked thing, but,
from her point of view, love would not be complete without it.
'I smiled, of course, when I got your letter telling me that you had
been to your sisters to ask them if they would take me as a
schoolmistress in the convent, and I walked about smiling, thinking of
your long innocent drive round the lake. I can see it all, dear man that
you are, thinking you could settle everything, and that I would return
to Ireland to teach barefooted little children their Catechism and their
A, B, C. How often has the phrase been used in our letters! It was a
pretty idea of yours to go to your sisters; you did not know then that
you cared for me--you only thought of atonement. I suppose we must
always be deceived. Mr. Poole says self-deception is the very law of
life. We live enveloped in self-deception as in a film; now and again
the film breaks like a cloud and the light shines through. We veil our
eyes, for we do not like the light. It is really very difficult to tell
the truth, Father Gogarty; I find it difficult now to tell you why I
wrote all these letters. Because I liked you? Yes, and a little bit
because I wished you to suffer; I don't think I shall ever get nearer
the truth than that. But when I asked you to meet us abroad, I did so in
good faith, for you are a clever man, and Mr. Poole's studies would
please you. At the back of my mind I suppose I thought to meet him
would do you good; I thought, perhaps, that he might redeem you from
some conventions and prejudices. I don't like priests; the priest was
the only thing about you I never liked. Was it in some vain,
proselytizing idea that I invited you? Candidly, I don't know, and I
don't think I ever shall. We know so very little about this world that
it seems to me waste of time to think about the next. My notion is that
the wisest plan is to follow the mood of the moment, with an object more
or less definite in view.... Nothing is worth more than that. I am at
the present moment genuinely interested in culture, and therefore I did
not like at all the book you sent me, "The Imitation," and I wrote to
tell you to put it by, to come abroad and see pictures and statues in a
beautiful country where people do not drink horrid porter, but nice
wine, and where Sacraments are left to the old people who have nothing
else to interest them. I suppose it was a cruel, callous letter, but I
did not mean it so; I merely wanted to give you a glimpse of my new life
and my new point of view. As for this letter, Heaven knows how you will
take it--whether you will hate me for it or like me; but since you wrote
quite frankly to me, confessing yourself from end to end, I feel bound
to tell you everything I know about myself--and since I left Ireland I
have learned a great deal about myself and about life. Perhaps I should
have gone on writing to you if Mr. Poole had not one day said that no
good would come of this long correspondence; he suspected I was a
disturbing influence, and, as you were determined to live in Ireland,
he said it were better that you should live in conventions and
prejudices, without them your life would be impossible.
'Then came your last letter, and it showed me how right Mr. Poole was.
Nothing remains now but to beg your forgiveness for having disturbed
your life. The disturbance is, perhaps, only a passing one. You may
recover your ideas--the ideas that are necessary to you--or you may go
on discovering the truth, and in the end may perhaps find a way whereby
you may leave your parish without causing scandal. To be quite truthful,
that is what I hope will happen. However this may be, I hope if we ever
meet again it will not be till you have ceased to be a priest. But all
this is a long way ahead. We are going East, and shall not be back for
many months; we are going to visit the buried cities in Turkestan. I do
not know if you have ever heard about these cities. They were buried in
sand somewhere about a thousand years ago, and some parts have been
disinterred lately. Vaults were broken into in search of treasure. Gold
and precious stones were discovered, but far more valuable than the gold
and silver, so says Mr. Poole, are certain papyri now being deciphered
by the learned professors of Berlin.
'You know the name of Mr. Poole's book, "The Source of the Christian
River"? He had not suspected that its source went further back than
Palestine, but now he says that some papyri may be found that will take
it far back into Central Asia.
'I am going with him on this quest. It sounds a little absurd, doesn't
it? my going in quest of the Christian river? But if one thinks for a
moment, one thing is as absurd as another. Do you know, I find it
difficult to take life seriously, and I walk about the streets thinking
of you, Father Gogarty, and the smile that will come over your face,
half angry, half pleased, when you read that your schoolmistress is
going to Central Asia in quest of the Christian river. What will you be
doing all this time? You say that you cannot leave your parish because
you fear to give scandal; you fear to pain the poor people, who have
been good to you and who have given you money, and your scruple is a
noble one; I appreciate and respect it. But we must not think entirely
of our duties to others; we must think of our duties to ourselves. Each
one must try to realize himself--I mean that we must try to bring the
gifts that Nature gave us to fruition. Nature has given you many gifts:
I wonder what will become of you?
'Very sincerely yours,
'Good God, how I love that woman!' the priest said, awaking from his
reverie, for the clock told him that he had sat for nearly
three-quarters of an hour, her letter in his hand, after having read it.
And lying back in his armchair, his hands clasped, his eyes fixed on the
window, listening to the birds singing in the vine--it was already in
leaf, and the shadows of the leaves danced across the carpet--he sought
to define that sense of delight--he could find no other words for
it--which she exhaled unconsciously as a flower exhales its perfume,
that joy of life which she scattered with as little premeditation as the
birds scattered their songs. But though he was constantly seeking some
new form of expression of her charm, he always came back to the words
'sense of delight.' Sometimes he added that sense of delight which we
experience when we go out of the house on an April morning and find
everything growing about us, the sky wilful and blue, and the clouds
going by, saying, 'Be happy, as we are.'
She was so different from every other woman. All other women were plain
instincts, come into the world for the accomplishment of things that
women had accomplished for thousands of years. Other women think as
their mothers thought, and as their daughters will think, expressing the
thoughts of the countless generations behind and in front of them. But
this woman was moved merely by impulses; and what is more inexplicable
than an impulse? What is the spring but an impulse? and this woman was
mysterious, evanescent as its breath, with the same irresponsible
seduction. He was certain that she was at last clear to him, though she
might become dark to him again. One day she had come to gather flowers,
and while arranging her posy she said casually: 'You are a ruler in this
parish; you direct it, the administration of the parish is your
business, and I am the little amusement that you turn to when your
business is done.' He had not known how to answer her. In this way her
remarks often covered him with confusion. She just thought as she
pleased, and spoke as she pleased, and he returned to his idea that she
was more like the primitive woman than anybody else.
Pondering on her words for the hundredth time, they seemed to him
stranger than ever. That any human being should admit that she was but
the delight of another's life seemed at first only extraordinary, but if
one considered her words, it seemed to signify knowledge--latent, no
doubt--that her beauty was part of the great agency. Her words implied
that she was aware of her mission. It was her unconscious self that
spoke, and it was that which gave significance to her words.
His thoughts melted into nothingness, and when he awoke from his reverie
he was thinking that Nora Glynn had come into his life like a fountain,
shedding living water upon it, awakening it. And taking pleasure in the
simile, he said, 'A fountain better than anything else expresses this
natural woman,' controlled, no doubt, by a law, but one hidden from him.
'A fountain springs out of earth into air; it sings a tune that cannot
be caught and written down in notes; the rising and falling water is
full of iridescent colour, and to the wilting roses the fountain must
seem not a natural thing, but a spirit, and I too think of her as a
spirit.' And his thoughts falling away again he became vaguely but
intensely conscious of all the beauty and grace and the enchantment of
the senses that appeared to him in the name of Nora Glynn.
At that moment Catherine came into the room. 'No, not now,' he said; and
he went into the garden and through the wicket at the other end,
thinking tenderly how he had gone out last year on a day just like the
present day, trying to keep thoughts of her out of his mind.
The same fifteenth of May! But last year the sky was low and full of
cotton-like clouds; and he remembered how the lake warbled about the
smooth limestone shingle, and how the ducks talked in the reeds, how the
reeds themselves seemed to be talking. This year the clouds lifted;
there was more blue in the sky, less mist upon the water, and it was
this day last year that sorrow began to lap about his heart like soft
lakewater. He thought then that he was grieving deeply, but since last
year he had learned all that a man could know of grief. For last year he
was able to take an interest in the spring, to watch for the
hawthorn-bloom; but this year he did not trouble to look their way.
What matter whether they bloomed a week earlier or a week later? As a
matter of fact they were late, the frost having thrown them back, and
there would be no flowers till June. How beautifully the tasselled
branches of the larches swayed, throwing shadows on the long May grass!
'And they are not less beautiful this year, though they are less
interesting to me,' he said.
He wandered through the woods, over the country, noting the different
signs of spring, for, in spite of his sorrow, he could not but admire
the slender spring. He could not tell why, perhaps because he had always
associated Nora with the gaiety of the spring-time. She was thin like
the spring, and her laughter was blithe like the spring. She seemed to
him like a spirit, and isn't the spring like a spirit? She was there in
the cow-parsley just coming up, and the sight of the campions between
the white spangles reminded him of the pink flowers she wore in her hat.
The underwood was full of bluebells, but her eyes were not blue. The
aspens were still brown, but in a month the dull green leaves, silvery
underneath, would be fluttering at the end of their long stems. And the
continual agitation of the aspen-leaf seemed to him rather foolish,
reminding him of a weak-minded woman clamouring for sympathy always. The
aspen was an untidy tree; he was not sure that he liked the tree, and if
one is in doubt whether one likes or dislikes, the chances are that one
dislikes. Who would think of asking himself if he liked beech-trees, or
larches, or willows? A little later he stood lost in admiration of a
line of willows all a-row in front of a stream; they seemed to him like
girls curtseying, and the delicacy of the green and yellow buds induced
him to meditate on the mysteries that common things disclose.
Seeing a bird disappear into a hole in the wall, he climbed up. The bird
pecked at him, for she was hatching. 'A starling,' he said. In the field
behind his house, under the old hawthorn-tree, an amiable-looking donkey
had given birth to a foal, and he watched the little thing, no bigger
than a sheep, covered with long gray hair ... There were some
parishioners he would be sorry to part with, and there was Catherine. If
he went away he would never see her again, nor those who lived in the
village. All this present reality would fade, his old church,
surrounded with gravestones and stunted Scotch firs, would become like a
dream, every year losing a little in colour and outline. He was going,
he did not know when, but he was going. For a long time the feeling had
been gathering in him that he was going, and her letter increased that
feeling. He would go just as soon as a reputable way of leaving his
parish was revealed to him.
By the help of his reason he could not hope to find out the way. Nothing
seemed more impossible than that a way should be found for him to leave
his parish without giving scandal; but however impossible things may
seem to us, nothing is impossible to Nature. He must put his confidence
in Nature; he must listen to her. She would tell him. And he lay all the
afternoon listening to the reeds and the ducks talking together in the
lake. Very often the wood was like a harp; a breeze touched the strings,
and every now and then the murmur seemed about to break into a little
tune, and as if in emulation, or because he remembered his part in the
music, a blackbird, perched near to his mate, whose nest was in the
hawthorns growing out of the tumbled wall, began to sing a joyful lay in
a rich round contralto, soft and deep as velvet. 'All nature,' he said,
'is talking or singing. This is talking and singing time. But my heart
can speak to no one, and I seek places where no one will come.' And he
began to ask if God would answer his prayer if he prayed that he might
The sunlit grass, already long and almost ready for the scythe, was
swept by shadows of the larches, those long, shelving boughs hung with
green tassels, moving mysteriously above him. Birds came and went, each
on its special errand. Never was Nature more inveigling, more restful.
He shut his eyes, shapes passed, dreams filled the interspaces. Little
thoughts began. Why had he never brought her here? A memory of her
walking under these larches would be delightful. The murmur of the
boughs dissipated his dreams or changed them, or brought new ones; his
consciousness grew fainter, and he could not remember what his last
thoughts were when he opened his eyes.
And then he wandered out of the wood, into the sunlit country, along the
dusty road, trying to take an interest in everyone whom he met. It was
fairday. He met drovers and chatted to them about the cattle; he heard a
wonderful story about a heifer that one of them had sold, and that found
her way back home again, twenty-five miles, and a little further on a
man came across the fields towards him with a sheep-dog at his heels, a
beautiful bitch who showed her teeth prettily when she was spoken to;
she had long gold hair, and it was easy to see that she liked to be
'They're all alike, the feminine sex,' the priest thought. 'She's as
pretty as Nora, and acts very much the same.'
He walked on again, stopping to speak with everybody, glad to listen to
every story. One was of a man who lived by poaching. He hadn't slept in
a bed for years, but lay down in the mountains and the woods. He
trapped rabbits and beat people; sometimes he enticed boys far away, and
then turned upon them savagely. Well, the police had caught him again,
and this time he wouldn't get off with less than five years. Listening
to Mike Mulroy's talk, Father Oliver forgot his own grief. A little
further on they came upon a cart filled with pigs. The cart broke down
suddenly, and the pigs escaped in all directions, and the efforts of a
great number of country people were directed to collecting them. Father
Oliver joined in the chase, and it proved a difficult one, owing to the
density of the wood that the pigs had taken refuge in. At last he saw
them driven along the road, for it had been found impossible to mend the
cart, and at this moment Father Oliver began to think that he would like
to be a pig-driver, or better still, a poacher like Carmody. A wandering
mood was upon him. Anything were better than to return to his parish,
and the thought of the confessions he would have to hear on Saturday
night and of the Mass he would have to say on Sunday was bitter indeed,
for he had ceased to believe in these things. To say Mass, believing the
Mass to be but a mummery, was detestable. To remain in his parish meant
a constant degradation of himself. When a parishioner sent to ask him to
attend a sick call, he could barely bring himself to anoint the dying
man. Some way out of the dilemma must be found, and stopping suddenly so
that he might think more clearly, he asked himself why he did not wander
out of the parish instead of following the path which led him back to
the lake? thinking that it was because it is hard to break with habits,
convictions, prejudices. The beautiful evening did not engage his
thoughts, and he barely listened to the cuckoo, and altogether forgot to
notice the bluebells, campions, and cow-parsley; and it was not till he
stood on the hilltop overlooking the lake that he began to recover his
'The hills,' he said, 'are turned hither and thither, not all seen in
profile, and that is why they are so beautiful.'
The sunlit crests and the shadow-filled valleys roused him. In the sky a
lake was forming, the very image and likeness of the lake under the
hill. One glittered like silver, the other like gold, and so wonderful
was this celestial lake that he began to think of immortals, of an
assembly of goddesses waiting for their gods, or a goddess waiting on an
island for some mortal, sending bird messengers to him. A sort of pagan
enchantment was put upon him, and he rose up from the ferns to see an
evening as fair as Nora and as fragrant. He tried to think of the colour
of her eyes, which were fervid and oracular, and of her hands, which
were long and curved, with fragile fingers, of her breath, which was
sweet, and her white, even teeth. The evening was like her, as subtle
and as persuasive, and the sensation of her presence became so clear
that he shut his eyes, feeling her about him--as near to him as if she
lay in his arms, just as he had felt her that night in the wood, but
then she was colder and more remote. He walked along the foreshore
feeling like an instrument that had been tuned. His perception seemed to
have been indefinitely increased, and it seemed to him as if he were in
communion with the stones in the earth and the clouds in heaven; it
seemed to him as if the past and the future had become one.
The moment was one of extraordinary sweetness; never might such a moment
happen in his life again. And he watched the earth and sky enfolded in
one tender harmony of rose and blue--blue fading to gray, and the lake
afloat amid vague shores, receding like a dream through sleep.
_From Father Oliver Gogarty to Miss Nora Glynn._
'_June_ 18, 19--.
'Thoughts are rising up in my mind, and I am eager to write them down
quickly, and with as little consideration as possible. Perhaps my
thoughts will seem trivial when I have written them, but the emotion
that inspired them was very wonderful and overpowering. I am, as it
were, propelled to my writing-table. I must write: my emotion must find
expression. Even if I were sure you would not get this letter for
months, I should write it. I believe if I knew you would never get it, I
should write. But if I send it to Beechwood Hall it will be forwarded, I
suppose, for you will not remain whole months without hearing from
Europe.... In any case, you will get this letter on your return, and it
will ease my heart to write it. Above all things, I would have you know
that the report that I was drowned while bathing is not true, for a
report to this effect will certainly find its way into the local papers,
and in these days, once a piece of news gets reported, it flies along
from newspaper to newspaper, and newspapers have a knack of straying
into our hands when they contain a disagreeable item of news.
'You will remember how the interview with Mr. Poole, published in
_Illustrated England_, came into my hands. That was the first number of
_Illustrated England_ I had seen. Father O'Grady brought it here and
left it upon the table, and only the fate that is over us knows why. In
the same way, a paper containing a report of my supposed drowning may
reach you when you return to England, and, as I do not want you to think
that I have gone out of this life, I am writing to tell you that the
report of my death is untrue, or, to speak more exactly, it will not be
true, if my arms and legs can make it a false report. These lines will
set you wondering if I have taken leave of my senses. Read on, and my
sanity will become manifest. Some day next month I intend to swim across
the lake, and you will, I think, appreciate this adventure. You praised
my decision not to leave my parish because of the pain it would give the
poor people. You said that you liked me better for it, and it is just
because my resolve has not wavered that I have decided to swim across
the lake. Only in this way can I quit my parish without leaving a
scandalous name behind me. Moreover, the means whereby I was enlightened
are so strange that I find it difficult to believe that Providence is
not on my side.
'Have not men always believed in bird augury from the beginning of time?
and have not prognostications a knack of coming true? I feel sure that
you would think as I do if what had happened to me happened to you. Yet
when you read this letter you will say, "No sooner has he disentangled
himself from one superstition than he drops into another!" However this
may be, I cannot get it out of my head that the strangely ill-fated bird
that came out of the wood last February was sent for a purpose. But I
have not told you about that bird. In my last letter my mind was
occupied by other things, and there was no reason why I should have
mentioned it, for it seemed at the time merely a curious accident--no
more curious than the hundred and one accidents that happen every day. I
believe these things are called coincidences. But to the story. The day
I went out skating there was a shooting-party in Derrinrush, and at the
close of day, in the dusk, a bird got up from the sedge, and one of the
shooters, mistaking it for a woodcock, fired, wounding the bird.
'We watched it till we saw it fall on the shore of Castle Island, and,
thinking that it would linger there for days, dying by inches, I started
off with the intention of saving it from a lingering death, but a shot
had done that. One pellet would have been enough, for the bird was but a
heap of skin and feathers, not to be wondered at, its legs being tied
together with a piece of stout string, twisted and tied so that it would
last for years. And this strangely ill-fated curlew set me thinking if
it were a tame bird escaped from captivity, but tame birds lose quickly
their instinct of finding food. "It must have been freed yesterday or
the day before," I said to myself, and in pondering how far a bird might
fly in the night, this curlew came to occupy a sort of symbolic
relation towards my past and my future life, and it was in thinking of
it that the idea occurred to me that, if I could cross the lake on the
ice, I might swim it in the summer-time when the weather was warm,
having, of course, hidden a bundle of clothes amid the rocks on the
Joycetown side. My clerical clothes will be found on this side, and the
assumption will be, of course, that I swam out too far.
'This way of escape seemed at first fantastic and unreal, but it has
come to seem to me the only practical way out of my difficulty. In no
other way can I leave the parish without giving pain to the poor people,
who have been very good to me. And you, who appreciated my scruples on
this point, will, I am sure, understand the great pain it would give my
sisters if I were to leave the Church. It would give them so much pain
that I shrink from trying to imagine it. They would look upon themselves
as disgraced, and the whole family. My disappearance from the parish
would ever do them harm--Eliza's school would suffer for sure. This may
seem an exaggeration, but certainly Eliza would never quite get over it.
If this way of escape had not been revealed to me, I don't think I ever
should have found courage to leave, and if I didn't leave I should die.
Life is so ordered that a trace remains of every act, but the trace is
not always discovered, and I trust you implicitly. You will never show
this letter to anyone; you will never tell anyone.
'The Church would allow me, no doubt, to pick up a living as best I
could, and would not interfere with me till I said something or wrote
something that the Church thought would lessen its power; then the cry
of unfrocked priest would be raised against me, and calumny, the great
ecclesiastical weapon, would be used. I do not know what my future life
will be: my past has been so beset with misfortune that, once I reach
the other side, I shall never look back. I cannot find words to tell you
of the impatience with which I wait the summer-time, the fifteenth of
July, when the moon will be full. I cannot think what would have
happened to me if I had stayed at home the afternoon that the curlew was
shot; something would have happened, for we cannot go on always
sacrificing ourselves. We can sacrifice ourselves for a time, but we
cannot sacrifice ourselves all our life long, unless we begin to take
pleasure in the immolation of self, and then it is no longer sacrifice.
Something must have happened, or I should have gone mad.
'I had suffered so much in the parish. I think the places in which we
have suffered become distasteful to us, and the instinct to wander takes
us. A migratory bird goes, or dies of home-sickness; home is not always
where we are born--it is among ideas that are dear to us: and it is
exile to live among people who do not share our ideas. Something must
have happened to me. I can think of nothing except suicide or what did
happen, for I could never have made up my mind to give pain to the poor
people and to leave a scandalous name behind; still less could I
continue to administer Sacraments that I ceased to believe in. I can
imagine nothing more shameful than the life of a man who continues his
administrations after he has ceased to believe in them, especially a
Catholic priest, so precise and explicit are the Roman Sacraments. A
very abject life it is to murmur _Absolve te_ over the heads of
parishioners, and to place wafers on their tongues, when we have ceased
to believe that we have power to forgive sins and to turn biscuits into
God. A layman may have doubts, and continue to live his life as before,
without troubling to take the world into his confidence, but a priest
may not. The priest is a paid agent and the money an unbelieving priest
receives, if he be not inconceivably hardened in sin, must be hateful to
him, and his conscience can leave him no rest.
'At first I used to suspect my conversion, and began to think it
unseemly that a man should cease to believe that we must renounce this
life in order to gain another, without much preliminary study of the
Scriptures; I began to look upon myself as a somewhat superficial person
whose religious beliefs yielded before the charm of a pretty face and
winsome personality, but this view of the question no longer seems
superficial. I believe now that the superficial ones are those who think
that it is only in the Scriptures that we may discover whether we have a
right to live. Our belief in books rather than in Nature is one of
humanity's most curious characteristics, and a very irreligious one, it
seems to me; and I am glad to think that it was your sunny face that
raised up my crushed instincts, that brought me back to life, and ever
since you have been associated in my mind with the sun and the
'One day in the beginning of March, coming back from a long walk on the
hills, I heard the bleat of the lamb and the impatient cawing of the
rook that could not put its nest together in the windy branches, and as
I stopped to listen it seemed to me that something passed by in the
dusk: the spring-tide itself seemed to be fleeting across the tillage
towards the scant fields. As the spring-tide advanced I discovered a new
likeness to you in the daffodil; it is so shapely a flower. I should be
puzzled to give a reason, but it reminds me of antiquity, and you were
always a thing divorced from the Christian ideal. While mourning you, my
poor instincts discovered you in the wind-shaken trees, and in the
gaiety of the sun, and the flowers that May gives us. I shall be gone at
the end of July, when the carnations are in bloom, but were I here I am
certain many of them would remind me of you. There have been saints who
have loved Nature, but I always wondered how it was so, for Nature is
like a woman. I might have read the Scriptures again and again, and all
the arguments that Mr. Poole can put forward, without my faith being in
the least shaken. When the brain alone thinks, the thinking is very thin
and impoverished. It seems to me that the best thinking is done when the
whole man thinks, the flesh and the brain together, and for the whole
man to think the whole man must live; and the life I have lived hitherto
has been a thin life, for my body lived only. And not even all my body.
My mind and body were separated: neither were of any use to me. I owe
everything to you. My case cannot be defined merely as that of a priest
who gave up his religion because a pretty woman came by. He who says
that does not try to understand; he merely contents himself with
uttering facile commonplace. What he has to learn is the great oneness
in Nature. There is but one element, and we but one of its many
manifestations. If this were not so, why should your whiteness and
colour and gaiety remind me always of the spring-time?
'My pen is running fast, I hardly know what I am writing, but it seems
to me that I am beginning to see much clearer. The mists are dissolving,
and life emerges like the world at daybreak. I am thinking now of an old
decrepit house with sagging roof and lichen-covered walls, and all the
doors and windows nailed up. Every generation nailed up a door or a
window till all were nailed up. In the dusty twilight creatures wilt and
pray. About the house the sound of shutters creaking on rusty hinges
never ceases. Your hand touched one, and the shutters fell, and I found
myself looking upon the splendid sun shining on hills and fields, wooded
prospects with rivers winding through the great green expanses. At first
I dared not look, and withdrew into the shadow tremblingly; but the
light drew me forth again, and now I look upon the world without fear. I
am going to leave that decrepit dusty house and mix with my fellows, and
maybe blow a horn on the hillside to call comrades together. My hands
and eyes are eager to know what I have become possessed of. I owe to
you my liberation from prejudices and conventions. Ideas are passed on.
We learn more from each other than from books. I was unconsciously
affected by your example. You dared to stretch out both hands to life
and grasp it; you accepted the spontaneous natural living wisdom of your
instincts when I was rolled up like a dormouse in the dead wisdom of
codes and formulas, dogmas and opinions. I never told you how I became a
priest. I did not know until quite lately. I think I began to suspect my
vocation when you left the parish.
'I remember walking by the lake just this time last year, with the story
of my life singing in my head, and you in the background beating the
time. You know, we had a shop in Tinnick, and I had seen my father
standing before a high desk by a dusty window year after year, selling
half-pounds of tea, hanks of onions, and farm implements, and felt that
if I married my cousin, Annie McGrath, our lives would reproduce those
of my father and mother in every detail. I couldn't undertake the job,
and for that began to believe I had a vocation for the priesthood; but I
can see now that it was not piety that sent me to Maynooth, but a
certain spirit of adventure, a dislike of the commonplace, of the
prosaic--that is to say, of the repetition of the same things. I was
interested in myself, in my own soul, and I did not want to accept
something that was outside of myself, such as the life of a shopman
behind a counter, or that of a clerk of the petty sessions, or the habit
of a policeman. These were the careers that were open to me, and when I
was hesitating, wondering if I should be able to buy up the old mills
and revive the trade in Tinnick, my sister Eliza reminded me that there
had always been a priest in the family. The priesthood seemed to offer
opportunities of realizing myself, of preserving the spirit within me.
It offered no such opportunities to me. I might as well have become a
policeman, and all that I have learned since is that everyone must try
to cling to his own soul; that is the only binding law. If we are here
for anything, it is surely for that.
'But one does not free one's self from habits and ideas, that have grown
almost inveterate, without much pain and struggle; one falls back many
times, and there are always good reasons for following the rut. We
believe that the rutted way leads us somewhere: it leads us nowhere, the
rutted way is only a seeming; for each man received his truth in the
womb. You say in your letter that our destinies got entangled, and that
the piece that was being woven ran out into thread, and was rewound upon
another spool. It seemed to you and it seemed to me that there is no
pattern; we think there is none because Nature's pattern is
undistinguishable to our eyes, her looms are so vast, but sometimes even
our little sight can follow a design here and there. And does it not
seem to you that, after all, there was some design in what has happened?
You came and released me from conventions, just as the spring releases
the world from winter rust.
'A strange idea has come into my mind, and I cannot help smiling at the
topsyturvydom of Nature, or what seems to be topsyturvydom. You, who
began by living in your instincts, are now wandering beyond Palestine in
search of scrolls; and I, who began my life in scrolls, am now going to
try to pick up the lost thread of my instincts in some great commercial
town, in London or New York. My life for a long time will be that of
some poor clerk or some hack journalist, picking up thirty shillings a
week when he is in luck. I imagine myself in a threadbare suit of
clothes edging my way along the pavement, nearing a great building, and
making my way to my desk, and, when the day's work is done, returning
home along the same pavement to a room high up among the rafters, close
to the sky, in some cheap quarter.
'I do not doubt my ability to pick up a living--it will be a shameful
thing indeed if I cannot; for the poor curlew with its legs tied
together managed to live somehow, and cannot I do as much? And I have
taken care that no fetters shall be placed upon my legs or chain about
my neck. Anything may happen--life is full of possibilities--but my
Back to Full Books