George Moore.

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mother-in-law would give way; each was trying to outdo the other. Mrs.
Rean watched Mrs. Egan, and Mrs. Egan watched Mrs. Rean, and the poor
mother lay all day with the baby at her breast, listening to the two of
them quarrelling.

'She's gone behind the hedge for a minute, your reverence, so I whipped
the child out of me daughter's bed; and if your reverence would only
hurry up we could have the poor cratur baptized in the Holy Faith. Only
there's no time to be lost; she do be watchin' every stir, your
reverence.'

'Very well, Mrs. Egan: I'll be waiting for you up at the chapel.'

'A strange rusticity of mind,' he said to himself as he wended his way
along the village street, and at the chapel gate a smile gathered about
his lips, for he couldn't help thinking how Mrs. Rean the elder would
rage when the child was brought back to her a Catholic. So this was
going to be his last priestly act, the baptism of the child, the saving
of the child to the Holy Faith. He told Mike to get the things ready,
and turned into the sacristy to put on his surplice.

The familiar presses gave out a pleasant odour, and the vestments which
he might never wear again interested him, and he stood seemingly lost in
thought. 'But I mustn't keep the child waiting,' he said, waking up
suddenly; and coming out of the sacristy, he found twenty villagers
collected round the font, come up from the cottages to see the child
baptized in the holy religion.

'Where's the child, Mrs. Egan?'

The group began talking suddenly, trying to make plain to him what had
happened.

'Now, if you all talk together, I shall never understand.'

'Will you leave off pushing me?' said one.

'Wasn't it I that saw Patsy? Will your reverence listen to me?' said
Mrs. Egan. 'It was just as I was telling your reverence, if they'd be
letting me alone. Your reverence had only just turned in the chapel gate
when Mrs. Rean ran from behind the hedge, and, getting in front of me
who was going to the chapel with the baby in me arms, she said: "Now
I'll be damned if I'll have that child christened a Catholic!" and
didn't she snatch the child and run away, taking a short-cut across the
fields to the minister's.'

'Patsy Kivel has gone after her, and he'll catch up on her, surely, and
she with six ditches forninst her.'

'If he doesn't itself, maybe the minister isn't there, and then she'll
be bet.'

'All I'm hopin' is that the poor child won't come to any harm between
them; but isn't she a fearful terrible woman, and may the curse of the
Son of God be on her for stealin' away a poor child the like of that!'

'I'd cut the livers out of the likes of them.'

'Now will you mind what you're sayin', and the priest listenin' to you?'

'Your reverence, will the child be always a Protestant? Hasn't the holy
water of the Church more power in it than the water they have? Don't
they only throw it at the child?'

'Now, Mrs. Egan - '

'Ah, your reverence, you're going to say that I shouldn't have given the
child to her, and I wouldn't if I hadn't trod on a stone and fallen
against the wall, and got afeard the child might be hurt.'

'Well, well,' said Father Oliver, 'you see there's no child - '

'But you'll be waitin' a minute for the sake of the poor child, your
reverence? Patsy will be comin' back in a minute.'

On that Mrs. Egan went to the chapel door and stood there, so that she
might catch the first glimpse of him as he came across the fields. And
it was about ten minutes after, when the priest and his parishioners
were talking of other things, that Mrs. Egan began to wave her arm,
crying out that somebody should hurry.

'Will you make haste, and his reverence waitin' here this half-hour to
baptize the innocent child! He'll be here in less than a minute now,
your reverence. Will you have patience, and the poor child will be
safe?'

The child was snatched from Patsy, and so violently that the infant
began to cry, and Mrs. Egan didn't know if it was a hurt it had
received, for the panting Patsy was unable to answer her.

'The child's all right,' he blurted out at last. 'She said I might take
it and welcome, now it was a Protestant.'

'Ah, sure, you great thickhead of a boy! weren't you quick enough for
her?'

'Now, what are you talkin' about? Hadn't she half a mile start of me,
and the minister at the door just as I was gettin' over the last bit of
a wall!'

'And didn't you go in after them?'

'What would I be doin', going into a Protestant church?'

Patsy's sense of his responsibility was discussed violently until Father
Oliver said:

'Now, I can't be waiting any longer. Do you want me to baptize the child
or not?'

'It would be safer, wouldn't it?' said Mrs. Egan.

'It would,' said Father Oliver; 'the parson mightn't have said the words
while he was pouring the water.'

And, going towards the font with the child, Father Oliver took a cup of
water, but, having regard for the child's cries, he was a little sparing
with it.

'Now don't be sparin' with the water, your reverence, and don't be a
mindin' its noise; it's twicest the quantity of holy water it'll be
wanting, and it half an hour a Protestant.'

It was at that moment Mrs. Rean appeared in the doorway, and Patsy
Kivel, who didn't care to enter the Protestant church, rushed to put her
out of his.

'You can do what you like now with the child; it's a Protestant, for all
your tricks.'

'Go along, you old heretic bitch!'

'Now, Patsy, will you behave yourself when you're standing in the
Church of God! Be leaving the woman alone,' said Father Oliver; but
before he got to the door to separate the two, Mrs. Rean was running
down the chapel yard followed by the crowd of disputants, and he heard
the quarrel growing fainter in the village street.

Rose-coloured clouds had just begun to appear midway in the pale
sky - a beautiful sky, all gray and rose - and all this babble about
baptism seemed strangely out of his mind. 'And to think that men are
still seeking scrolls in Turkestan to prove - ' The sentence did not
finish itself in his mind; a ray of western light falling across the
altar steps in the stillness of the church awakened a remembrance in him
of the music that Nora's hands drew from the harmonium, and, leaning
against the Communion-rails, he allowed the music to absorb him. He
could hear it so distinctly in his mind that he refrained from going up
into the gallery and playing it, for in his playing he would perceive
how much he had forgotten, how imperfect was his memory. It were better
to lose himself in the emotion of the memory of the music; it was in his
blood, and he could see her hands playing it, and the music was coloured
with the memory of her hair and her eyes. His teeth clenched a little as
if in pain, and then he feared the enchantment would soon pass away; but
the music preserved it longer than he had expected, and it might have
lasted still longer if he had not become aware that someone was standing
in the doorway.

The feeling suddenly came over him that he was not alone; it was borne
in upon him - he knew not how, neither by sight nor sound - through some
exceptional sense. And turning towards the sunlit doorway, he saw a poor
man standing there, not daring to disturb the priest, thinking, no
doubt, that he was engaged in prayer. The poor man was Pat Kearney. So
the priest was a little overcome, for that Pat Kearney should come to
him at such a time was portentous. 'It is strange, certainly,
coincidence after coincidence,' he said; and he stood looking at Pat as
if he didn't know him, till the poor man was frightened and began to
wonder, for no one had ever looked at him with such interest, not even
the neighbour whom he had asked to marry him three weeks ago. And this
Pat Kearney, who was a short, thick-set man, sinking into years, began
to wonder what new misfortune had tracked him down. His teeth were worn
and yellow as Indian meal, and his rough, ill-shaven cheeks and pale
eyes reminded the priest of the country in which Pat lived, and of the
four acres of land at the end of the boreen that Pat was digging these
many years.

He had come to ask Father Oliver if he would marry him for a pound, but,
as Father Oliver didn't answer him, he fell to thinking that it was his
clothes that the priest was admiring, 'for hadn't his reverence given
him the clothes himself? And if it weren't for the self-same clothes, he
wouldn't have the pound in his pocket to give the priest to marry him,'

'It was yourself, your reverence - '

'Yes, I remember very well.'

Pat had come to tell him that there was work to be had in Tinnick, but
that he didn't dare to show himself in Tinnick for lack of clothes, and
he stood humbly before the priest in a pair of corduroy trousers that
hardly covered his nakedness.

And it was as Father Oliver stood examining and pitying his
parishioner's poverty it had occurred to him that, if he were to buy two
suits of clothes in Tinnick and give one to Pat Kearney, he might wrap
the other one in a bundle, and place it on the rocks on the Joycetown
side. It was not likely that the shopman in Tinnick would remember,
after three months, that he had sold two suits to the priest; but should
he remember this, the explanation would be that he had bought them for
Pat Kearney. Now, looking at this poor man who had come to ask him if he
would marry him for a pound, the priest was lost in wonder.

'So you're going to be married, Pat?'

And Pat, who hadn't spoken to anyone since the woman whose potatoes he
was digging said she'd as soon marry him as another, began to chatter,
and to ramble in his chatter. There was so much to tell that he did not
know how to tell it. There was his rent and the woman's holding, for now
they would have nine acres of land, money would be required to stock it,
and he didn't know if the bank would lend him the money. Perhaps the
priest would help him to get it.

'But why did you come to me to marry you? Aren't you two miles nearer
to Father Moran than you are to me?'

Pat hesitated, not liking to say that he would be hard set to get round
Father Moran. So he began to talk of the Egans and the Reans. For hadn't
he heard, as he came up the street, that Mrs. Rean had stolen the child
from Mrs. Egan, and had had it baptized by the minister? And he hoped to
obtain the priest's sympathy by saying:

'What a terrible thing it was that the police should allow a black
Protestant to steal a Catholic child, and its mother a Catholic and all
her people before her!'

'When Mrs. Rean snatched the child, it hadn't been baptized, and was
neither a Catholic nor a Protestant,' the priest said maliciously.

Pat Kearney, whose theological knowledge did not extend very far,
remained silent, and the priest was glad of his silence, for he was
thinking that in a few minutes he would catch sight of the square
whitewashed school-house on the hillside by the pine-wood, and the
thought came into his mind that he would like to see again the place
where he and Nora once stood talking together. But a long field lay
between his house and the school-house, and what would it avail him to
see the empty room? He looked, instead, for the hawthorn-bush by which
he and Nora had lingered, and it was a sad pleasure to think how she had
gone up the road after bidding him good-bye.

But Pat Kearney began to talk again of how he could get an advance from
the bank.

'I can back no bill for you, Pat, but I'll give you a letter to Father
Moran telling him that you can't afford to pay more than a pound.'

Nora's letters were in the drawer of his writing-table; he unlocked it,
and put the packet into his pocket, and when he had scribbled a little
note to Father Moran, he said:

'Now take this and be off with you; I've other business to attend to
besides you;' and he called to Catherine for his towels.

'Now, is it out bathing you're going, your reverence? You won't be
swimming out to Castle Island, and forgetting that you have confessions
at seven?'

'I shall be back in time,' he answered testily, and soon after he began
to regret his irritation; for he would never see Catherine again, saying
to himself that it was a pity he had answered her testily. But he
couldn't go back. Moran might call. Catherine might send Moran after
him, saying his reverence had gone down to bathe, or any parishioner,
however unwarranted his errand, might try to see him out. 'And all
errands will be unwarranted to-day,' he said as he hurried along the
shore, thinking of the different paths round the rocks and through the
blackthorn-bushes.

His mind was on the big wood; there he could baffle anybody following
him, for while his pursuer would be going round one way he would be
coming back the other. But it would be lonely in the big wood; and as he
hurried down the old cart-track he thought how he might while away an
hour among the ferns in the little spare fields at the end of the
plantation, watching the sunset, for hours would have to pass before the
moon rose, and the time would pass slowly under the melancholy
hazel-thickets into which the sun had not looked for thousands of years.
A wood had always been there. The Welshmen had felled trees in it to
build rafts and boats to reach their island castles. Bears and wolves
had been slain in it; and thinking how it was still a refuge for foxes,
martens and badgers and hawks, he made his way along the shore through
the rough fields. He ran a little, and after waiting a while ran on
again. On reaching the edge of the wood, he hid himself behind a bush,
and did not dare to move, lest there might be somebody about. It was not
till he made sure there was no one that he stooped under the
blackthorns, and followed a trail, thinking the animal, probably a
badger, had its den under the old stones; and to pass the time he sought
for a den, but could find none.

A small bird, a wren, was picking among the moss; every now and then it
fluttered a little way, stopped, and picked again. 'Now what instinct
guided its search for worms?' he asked, and getting up, he followed the
bird, but it escaped into a thicket. There were only hazel-stems in the
interspace he had chosen to hide himself in, but there were thickets
nearly all about it, and it took some time to find a path through these.
After a time one was found, and by noticing everything he tried to pass
the time away and make himself secure against being surprised.

The path soon came to an end, and he walked round to the other side of
the wood, to see if the bushes were thick enough to prevent anyone from
coming upon him suddenly from that side; and when all searches were
finished he came back, thinking of what his future life would be without
Nora. But he must not think of her, he must learn to forget her; for the
time being at least, his consideration must be of himself in his present
circumstances, and he felt that if he did not fix his thoughts on
external things, his courage - or should he say his will? - would desert
him. It did not need much courage to swim across the lake, much more to
leave the parish, and once on the other side he must go any whither, no
whither, for he couldn't return to Catherine in a frieze coat and a pair
of corduroy trousers. Her face when she saw him! But of what use
thinking of these things? He was going; everything was settled. If he
could only restrain his thoughts - they were as wild as bees.

Standing by a hazel-stem, his hand upon a bough, he fell to thinking
what his life would be, and very soon becoming implicated in a dream, he
lost consciousness of time and place, and was borne away as by a
current; he floated down his future life, seeing his garret room more
clearly than he had ever seen it - his bed, his washhand-stand, and the
little table on which he did his writing. No doubt most of it would be
done in the office, but some of it would be done at home; and at
nightfall he would descend from his garret like a bat from the eaves.

Journalists flutter like bats about newspaper offices. The bats haunt
the same eaves, but the journalist drifts from city to city, from county
to county, busying himself with ideas that were not his yesterday, and
will not be his to-morrow. An interview with a statesman is followed by
a review of a book, and the day after he may be thousands of miles away,
describing a great flood or a railway accident. The journalist has no
time to make friends, and he lives in no place long enough to know it
intimately; passing acquaintance and exterior aspects of things are his
share of the world. And it was in quest of such vagrancy of ideas and
affections that he was going.

At that moment a sudden sound in the wood startled him from his reverie,
and he peered, a scared expression on his face, certain that the noise
he had heard was Father Moran's footstep. It was but a hare lolloping
through the underwood, and wondering at the disappointment he felt, he
asked if he were disappointed that Moran had not come again to stop him.
He didn't think he was, only the course of his life had been so long
dependent on a single act of will that a hope had begun in his mind that
some outward event might decide his fate for him. Last month he was full
of courage, his nerves were like iron; to-day he was a poor vacillating
creature, walking in a hazel-wood, uncertain lest delay had taken the
savour out of his adventure, his attention distracted by the sounds of
the wood, by the snapping of a dry twig, by a leaf falling through the
branches.

'Time is passing,' he said, 'and I must decide whether I go to America
to write newspaper articles, or stay at home to say Mass - a simple
matter, surely.'

The ordinary newspaper article he thought he could do as well as
another - in fact, he knew he could. But could he hope that in time his
mind would widen and deepen sufficiently to enable him to write
something worth writing, something that might win her admiration?
Perhaps, when he had shed all his opinions. Many had gone already, more
would follow, and one day he would be as free as she was. She had been a
great intellectual stimulus, and soon he began to wonder how it was that
all the paraphernalia of religion interested him no longer, how he
seemed to have suddenly outgrown the things belonging to the ages of
faith, and the subtle question, if passion were essential to the growth
of the mind, arose. For it seemed to him that his mind had grown, though
he had not read the Scriptures, and he doubted if the reading of the
Scriptures would have taught him as much as Nora's beauty. 'After all,'
he said, 'woman's beauty is more important to the world than a scroll.'
He had begun to love and to put his trust in what was natural,
spontaneous, instinctive, and might succeed in New York better than he
expected. But he would not like to think that it was hope of literary
success that tempted him from Garranard. He would like to think that in
leaving his poor people he was serving their best interests, and this
was surely the case. For hadn't he begun to feel that what they needed
was a really efficient priest, one who would look after their temporal
interests? In Ireland the priest is a temporal as well as a spiritual
need. Who else would take an interest in this forlorn Garranard and its
people, the reeds and rushes of existence?

He had striven to get the Government to build a bridge, but had lost
patience; he had wearied of the task. Certain priests he knew would not
have wearied of it; they would have gone on heckling the Government and
the different Boards until the building of the bridge could no longer be
resisted. His failure to get this bridge was typical, and it proved
beyond doubt that he was right in thinking he had no aptitude for the
temporal direction of his parish.

But a curate had once lived in Bridget Clery's cottage who had served
his people excellently well, had intrigued successfully, and forced the
Government to build houses and advance money for drainage and other
useful works. And this curate had served his people in many
capacities - as scrivener, land-valuer, surveyor, and engineer. It was
not till he came to Garranard that he seemed to get out of touch with
practical affairs, and he began to wonder if it was the comfortable
house he lived in, if it were the wine he drank, the cigars he smoked,
that had produced this degeneracy, if it were degeneracy. Or was it that
he had worn out a certain side of his nature in Bridget Clery's cottage?
It might well be that. Many a man has mistaken a passing tendency for a
vocation. We all write poetry in the beginning of our lives; but most of
us leave off writing poetry after some years, unless the instinct is
very deep or one is a fool. It might well be that his philanthropic
instincts were exhausted; and it might well be that this was not the
case, for one never gets at the root of one's nature.

The only thing he was sure of was that he had changed a great deal, and,
he thought, for the better. He seemed to himself a much more real person
than he was a year ago, being now in full possession of his soul, and
surely the possession of one's soul is a great reality. By the soul he
meant a special way of feeling and seeing. But the soul is more than
that - it is a light; and this inner light, faint at first, had not been
blown out. If he had blown it out, as many priests had done, he would
not have experienced any qualms of conscience. The other priests in the
diocese experienced none when they drove erring women out of their
parishes, and the reason of this was that they followed a light from
without, deliberately shutting out the light of the soul.

The question interested him, and he pondered it a long while, finding
himself at last forced to conclude that there is no moral law except
one's own conscience, and that the moral obligation of every man is to
separate the personal conscience from the impersonal conscience. By the
impersonal conscience he meant the opinions of others, traditional
beliefs, and the rest; and thinking of these things he wandered round
the Druid stones, and when his thoughts returned to Nora's special case
he seemed to understand that if any other priest had acted as he had
acted he would have acted rightly, for in driving a sinful woman out of
the parish he would be giving expression to the moral law as he
understood it and as Garranard understood it. This primitive code of
morals was all Garranard could understand in its present civilization,
and any code is better than no code. Of course, if the priest were a
transgressor himself he could not administer the law. Happily, that was
a circumstance that did not arise often. So it was said; but what did he
know of the souls of the priests with whom he dined, smoked pipes, and
played cards? And he stopped, surprised, for it had never occurred to
him that all a man knows of his fellow is whether he be clean or dirty,
short or tall, thin or stout. 'Even the soul of Moran is obscure to me,'
he said - 'obscure as this wood;' and at that moment the mystery of the
wood seemed to deepen, and he stood for a long while looking through the
twilight of the hazels.

Very likely many of the priests he knew had been tempted by women: some
had resisted temptation, and some had sinned and repented. There might
be a priest who had sinned and lived for years in sin; even so if he
didn't leave his parish, if he didn't become an apostate priest, faith
would return to him in the end. But the apostate priest is anathema in
the eyes of the Church; the doctrine always has been that a sin matters
little if the sinner repent. Father Oliver suddenly saw himself years
hence, still in Garranard, administering the Sacraments, and faith
returning like an incoming tide, covering the weedy shore, lapping round
the high rock of doubt. If he desired faith, all he had to do was to go
on saying Mass, hearing confessions, baptizing the young, burying the
old, and in twenty years - maybe it would take thirty - when his hair was
white and his skin shrivelled, he would be again a good priest, beloved
by his parishioners, and carried in the fulness of time by them to the
green churchyard where Father Peter lay near the green pines.

Only the other day, coming home from his after-noon's walk, he stopped
to admire his house. The long shadow of its familiar trees awakened an
extraordinary love in him, and when he crossed the threshold and sat
down in his armchair, his love for his house had surprised him, and he
sat like one enchanted by his own fireside, lost in admiration of the
old mahogany bookcase with the inlaid panels, that he had bought at an


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Online LibraryGeorge MooreThe Lake → online text (page 16 of 17)