George Moore.

The Lake online

. (page 2 of 17)
Online LibraryGeorge MooreThe Lake → online text (page 2 of 17)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


marriage, he must suppose that some notion of the priesthood was
stirring in him at the time, for one day, as he sat looking at Annie
across the tea-table, he couldn't help thinking that it would be hard to
live alongside of her year in and year out. Although a good and a
pleasant girl, Annie was a bit tiresome to listen to, and she wasn't one
of those who improve with age. As he sat looking at her, he seemed to
understand, as he had never understood before, that if he married her
all that had happened in the years back would happen again - more
children scrambling about the counter, with a shopman (himself) by the
dusty window putting his pen behind his ear, just as his father did when
he came forward to serve some country woman with half a pound of tea or
a hank of onions.

And as these thoughts were passing through his mind, he remembered
hearing his mother say that Annie's sister was thinking of starting
dressmaking in the High Street. 'It would be nice if Eliza were to join
her,' his mother added casually. Eliza laid aside the skirt she was
turning, raised her eyes and stared at mother, as if she were surprised
mother could say anything so stupid. 'I'm going to be a nun,' she said,
and, just as if she didn't wish to answer any questions, went on sewing.
Well might they be surprised, for not one of them suspected Eliza of
religious inclinations. She wasn't more pious than another, and when
they asked her if she were joking, she looked at them as if she thought
the question very stupid, and they didn't ask her any more.

She wasn't more than fifteen at the time, yet she spoke out of her own
mind. At the time they thought she had been thinking on the
matter - considering her future. A child of fifteen doesn't consider, but
a child of fifteen may _know_, and after he had seen the look which
greeted his mother's remarks, and heard Eliza's simple answer, 'I've
decided to be a nun,' he never doubted that what she said was true. From
that day she became for him a different being; and when she told him,
feeling, perhaps, that he sympathized with her more than the others did,
that one day she would be Reverend Mother of the Tinnick Convent, he
felt convinced that she knew what she was saying - how she knew he could
not say.

His childhood had been a slumber, with occasional awakenings or half
awakenings, and Eliza's announcement that she intended to enter the
religious life was the first real awakening; and this awakening first
took the form of an acute interest in Eliza's character, and, persuaded
that she or her prototype had already existed, he searched the lives of
the saints for an account of her, finding many partial portraits of her;
certain typical traits in the lives of three or four saints reminded him
of Eliza, but there was no complete portrait. The strangest part of the
business was that he traced his vocation to his search for Eliza in the
lives of the saints. Everything that happened afterwards was the
emotional sequence of taking down the books from the shelf. He didn't
exaggerate; it was possible his life might have taken a different turn,
for up to that time he had only read books of adventure - stories about
robbers and pirates. As if by magic, his interest in such stories passed
clean out of his mind, or was exchanged for an extraordinary enthusiasm
for saints, who by renouncement of animal life had contrived to steal up
to the last bounds, whence they could see into the eternal life that
lies beyond the grave. Once this power was admitted, what interest could
we find in the feeble ambitions of temporal life, whose scope is limited
to three score and ten years? And who could doubt that saints attained
the eternal life, which is God, while still living in the temporal
flesh? For did not the miracles of the saints prove that they were no
longer subject to natural laws? Ancient Ireland, perhaps, more than any
other country, understood the supremacy of spirit over matter, and
strove to escape through mortifications from the prison of the flesh.
Without doubt great numbers in Ireland had fled from the torment of
actual life into the wilderness. If the shore and the islands on this
lake were dotted with fortress castles, it was the Welsh and the Normans
who built them, and the priest remembered how his mind took fire when he
first heard of the hermit who lived in Church Island, and how
disappointed he was when he heard that Church Island was ten miles away,
at the other end of the lake.

For he could not row himself so far; distance and danger compelled him
to consider the islands facing Tinnick - two large islands covered with
brushwood, ugly brown patches - ugly as their names, Horse Island and Hog
Island, whereas Castle Island had always seemed to him a suitable island
for a hermitage, far more so than Castle Hag. Castle Hag was too small
and bleak to engage the attention of a sixth-century hermit. But there
were trees on Castle Island, and out of the ruins of the castle a
comfortable sheiling could be built, and the ground thus freed from the
ruins of the Welshman's castle might be cultivated. He remembered
commandeering the fisherman's boat, and rowing himself out, taking a
tape to measure, and how, after much application of the tape, he had
satisfied himself that there was enough arable land in the island for a
garden; he had walked down the island certain that a quarter of an acre
could grow enough vegetables to support a hermit, and that a goat would
be able to pick a living among the bushes and the tussocked grass: even
a hermit might have a goat, and he didn't think he could live without
milk. He must have been a long time measuring out his garden, for when
he returned to his boat the appearance of the lake frightened him; it
was full of blustering waves, and it wasn't likely he'd ever forget his
struggle to get the boat back to Tinnick. He left it where he had found
it, at the mouth of the river by the fisherman's hut, and returned home
thinking how he would have to import a little hay occasionally for the
goat. Nor would this be all; he would have to go on shore every Sunday
to hear Mass, unless he built a chapel. The hermit of Church Island had
an oratory in which he said Mass! But if he left his island every Sunday
his hermitage would be a mockery. For the moment he couldn't see how he
was to build a chapel - a sheiling, perhaps; a chapel was out of the
question, he feared.

He would have to have vestments and a chalice, and, immersed in the
difficulty of obtaining these, he walked home, taking the path along the
river from habit, not because he wished to consider afresh the problems
of the ruined mills. The dream of restoring Tinnick to its commerce of
former days was forgotten, and he walked on, thinking of his chalice,
until he heard somebody call him. It was Eliza, and as they leaned over
the parapet of the bridge, he could not keep himself from telling her
that he had rowed out to Castle Island, never thinking that she would
reprove him, and sternly, for taking the fisherman's boat without asking
leave. It was no use to argue with Eliza that the fisherman didn't want
his boat, the day being too rough for fishing. What did she know about
fishing? She had asked very sharply what brought him out to Castle
Island on such a day. There was no use saying he didn't know; he never
was able to keep a secret from Eliza, and feeling that he must confide
in somebody, he told her he was tired of living at home, and was
thinking of building a sheiling on the island.

Eliza didn't understand, and she understood still less when he spoke of
a beehive hut, such as the ancient hermits of Ireland lived in. She was
entirely without imagination; but what surprised him still more than her
lack of sympathy with his dream-project was her inability to understand
an idea so inherent in Christianity as the hermitage, for at that time
Eliza's mind was made up to enter the religious life. He waited a long
time for her answer, but the only answer she made was that in the early
centuries a man was either a bandit or a hermit. This wasn't true: life
was peaceful in Ireland in the sixth and seventh centuries; even if it
weren't, she ought to have understood that change of circumstance cannot
alter an idea so inherent in man as the hermitage, and when he asked her
if she intended to found a new Order, or to go out to Patagonia to teach
the Indians, she laughed, saying she was much more interested in a
laundry than in the Indians. Her plea that the Tinnick Convent was
always in straits for money did not appeal to him then any more than it
did to-day.

'The officers in Tinnick have to send their washing to Dublin. A fine
reason for entering a convent,' he answered.

But quite unmoved by the sarcasm, she replied that a woman can do
nothing unless she be a member of a congregation. He shrank from Eliza's
mind as from the touch of something coarse, and his suggestion that the
object of the religious life is meditation did not embarrass her in the
very least, and he remembered well how she had said:

'Putting aside for the moment the important question whether there may
or may not be hermits in the twentieth century, tell me, Oliver, are you
thinking of marrying Annie McGrath? You know she has rich relations in
America, and you might get them to supply the capital to set the mills
going. The mills would be a great advantage. Annie has a good headpiece,
and would be able to take the shop off your hands, leaving you free to
look after the mills.'

'The mills, Eliza! there are other things in the world beside those
mills!'

'A hermitage on Castle Island?'

Eliza could be very impertinent when she liked. If she had no concern in
what was being said, she looked round, displaying an irritating
curiosity in every passer-by, and true to herself she had drawn his
attention to the ducks on the river while he was telling her of the
great change that had come over him. He had felt like boxing her ears.
But the moment he began to speak of taking Orders she forgot all about
the ducks; her eyes were fixed upon him, she listened to his every word,
and when he finished speaking, she reminded him there had always been a
priest in the family. All her wits were awake. He was the one of the
family who had shown most aptitude for learning, and their cousin the
Bishop would be able to help him. What she would like would be to see
him parish priest of Tinnick. The parish was one of the best in the
diocese. Not a doubt of it, she was thinking at that moment of the
advantage this arrangement would be to her when she was directing the
affairs of the convent.

If there was no other, there was at least one woman in Ireland who was
interested in things. He had never met anybody less interested in
opinions or in ideas than Eliza. They had walked home together in
silence, at all events not saying much, and that very evening she left
the room immediately after supper. And soon after they heard sounds of
trunks being dragged along the passage; furniture was being moved, and
when she came downstairs she just said she was going to sleep with Mary.

'Oliver is going to have my room. He must have a room to himself on
account of his studies.'

On that she gathered up her sewing, and left him to explain. He felt
that it was rather sly of her to go away like that, leaving all the
explanation to him. She wanted him to be a priest, and was full of
little tricks. There was no time for thinking it over. There was only
just time to prepare for the examination. He worked hard, for his work
interested him, especially the Latin language; but what interested him
far more than his aptitude for learning whatever he made up his mind to
learn was the discovery of a religious vocation in himself. Eliza feared
that his interest in hermits sprang from a boyish taste for adventure
rather than from religious feeling, but no sooner had he begun his
studies for the priesthood, than he found himself overtaken and
overpowered by an extraordinary religious fervour and by a desire for
prayer and discipline. Never had a boy left home more zealous, more
desirous to excel in piety and to strive for the honour and glory of the
Church.

An expression of anger, almost of hatred, passed over Father Oliver's
face, and he turned from the lake and walked a few yards rapidly, hoping
to escape from memories of his folly; for he had made a great fool of
himself, no doubt. But, after all, he preferred his enthusiasms, however
exaggerated they might seem to him now, to the commonplace - he could not
call it wisdom - of those whom he had taken into his confidence. It was
foolish of him, no doubt, to have told how he used to go out in a boat
and measure the ground about Castle Island, thinking to build himself a
beehive hut out of the ruins. He knew too little of the world at that
time; he had no idea how incapable the students were of understanding
anything outside the narrow interests of an ecclesiastical career.
Anyhow, he had had the satisfaction of having beaten them in all the
examinations; and if he had cared to go in for advancement, he could
have easily got ahead of them all, for he had better brains and better
interest than any of them. When he last saw that ignorant brute Peter
Fahy, Fahy asked him if he still put pebbles in his shoes. It was to
Fahy he had confided the cause of his lameness, and Fahy had told on
him; he was ridiculously innocent in those days, and he could still see
them gathered about him, pretending not to believe that he kept a
cat-o'-nine-tails in his room, and scourged himself at night. It was Tom
Bryan who said that he wouldn't mind betting a couple of shillings that
Gogarty's whip wouldn't draw a squeal from a pig on the roadside. The
answer to that was: 'A touch will make a pig squeal: you should have
said an ass!' But at the moment he couldn't think of an answer.

No doubt everyone looked on him as a ninny, and they persuaded him to
prove to them that his whip was a real whip by letting Tom Bryan do the
whipping for him. Tom Bryan was a rough fellow, who ought to have been
driving a plough; a ploughman's life was too peaceful an occupation for
him - a drover's life would have suited him best, prodding his cattle
along the road with a goad; it was said that was how he maintained his
authority in the parish. The remembrance of the day he bared his back to
that fellow was still a bitter one. With a gentle smile he had handed
the whip to Tom Bryan, the very smile which he imagined the hermits of
old time used to wear. The first blow had so stunned him that he
couldn't cry out, and this blow was followed by a second which sent the
blood flaming through his veins, and then by another which brought all
the blood into one point in his body. He seemed to lose consciousness of
everything but three inches of back. Nine blows he bore without wincing;
the tenth overcame his fortitude, and he had reeled away from Tom Bryan.

Tom had exchanged the whip he had given him for a great leather belt;
that was why he had been hurt so grievously - hurt till the pain seemed
to reach his very heart. Tom had belted him with all his strength; and
half a dozen of Tom's pals were waiting outside the door, and they came
into the room, their wide mouths agrin, asking him how he liked it. But
they were unready for the pain his face expressed, and in the midst of
his agony he noticed that already they foresaw consequences, and he
heard them reprove Tom Bryan, their intention being to dissociate
themselves from him. Cowards! cowards! cowards!

They tried to help him on with his shirt, but he had been too badly
beaten, and Tom Bryan came up in the evening to ask him not to tell on
him. He promised, and he wouldn't have told if he could have helped it.
But some explanation had to be forthcoming - he couldn't lie on his
back. The doctor was sent for....

And next day he was told the President wished to see him. The President
was Eliza over again; hermits and hermitages were all very well in the
early centuries, but religion had advanced, and nowadays a steadfast
piety was more suited to modern requirements than pebbles in the shoes.
If it had been possible to leave for America that day he thought he
would have gone. But he couldn't leave Maynooth because he had been fool
enough to bare his back to Tom Bryan. He couldn't return home to tell
such a story as that. All Tinnick would be laughing at him, and Eliza,
what would she think of him? He wasn't such a fool as the Maynooth
students thought him, and he realized at once that he must stay in
Maynooth and live down remembrance of his folly. So, as the saying goes,
he took the bit between his teeth.

The necessity of living down his first folly, of creating a new idea of
himself in the minds of the students, forced him to apply all his
intelligence to his studies, and he made extraordinary progress in the
first years. The recollection of the ease with which he outdistanced his
fellow-students was as pleasant as the breezes about the lake, and his
thoughts dwelt on the opinion which he knew was entertained, that for
many years no one at Maynooth had shown such aptitude for scholarship.
He only had to look at a book to know more about it than his
fellow-students would know if they were to spend days over it. He won
honours. He could have won greater honours, but his conscience reminded
him that the gifts he received from God were not bestowed upon him for
the mere purpose of humiliating his fellow-students. He often felt then
that if certain talents had been given to him, they were given to him to
use for the greater glory of God rather than for his own glorification;
and his feeling was that there was nothing more hateful in God's sight
than intellectual, unless perhaps spiritual, pride, and his object
during his last years at Maynooth was to exhibit himself to the least
advantage.

It is strange how an idea enters the soul and remakes it, and when he
left Maynooth he used his influence with his cousin, the Bishop, to get
himself appointed to the poorest parish in Connaught. Eliza had to
dissemble, but he knew that in her heart she was furious with him. We
are all extraordinarily different one from another, and if we seem most
different from those whom we are most like, it is because we know
nothing at all about strangers. He had gone to Kilronan in spite of
Eliza, in spite of everyone, their cousin the Bishop included. He had
been very happy in Bridget Clery's cottage, so happy that he didn't know
himself why he ever consented to leave Kilronan.

No, it was not because he was too happy there. He had to a certain
extent outgrown his very delicate conscience.




II


A breeze rose, the forest murmured, a bird sang, and the sails of the
yacht filled. The priest stood watching her pass behind a rocky
headland, knowing now that her destination was Kilronan Abbey. But was
there water enough in the strait at this season of the year? Hardly
enough to float a boat of her size. If she stuck, the picnic-party would
get into the small boat, and, thus lightened, the yacht might be floated
into the other arm of the lake. 'A pleasant day indeed for a sail,' and
in imagination he followed the yacht down the lake, past its different
castles, Castle Carra and Castle Burke and Church Island, the island on
which Marban - Marban, the famous hermit poet, had lived.

It seemed to him strange that he had never thought of visiting the
ruined church when he lived close by at the northern end of the lake.
His time used to be entirely taken up with attending to the wants of his
poor people, and the first year he spent in Garranard he had thought
only of the possibility of inducing the Government to build a bridge
across the strait. That bridge was badly wanted. All the western side of
the lake was cut off from railway communication. Tinnick was the
terminus, but to get to Tinnick one had to go round the lake, either
by. the northern or the southern end, and it was always a question which
was the longer road - round by Kilronan Abbey or by the Bridge of Keel.
Many people said the southern road was shorter, but the difference
wasn't more than a mile, if that, and Father Oliver preferred the
northern road; for it took him by his curate's house, and he could
always stop there and give his horse a feed and a rest; and he liked to
revisit the abbey in which he had said Mass for so long, and in which
Mass had always been said for a thousand years, even since Cromwell had
unroofed it, the celebrant sheltered by an arch, the congregation
kneeling under the open sky, whether it rained or snowed.

The roofing of the abbey and the bridging of the strait were the two
things that the parish was really interested in. He tried when he was in
Kilronan to obtain the Archbishop's consent and collaboration; Moran was
trying now: he did not know that he was succeeding any better; and
Father Oliver reflected a while on the peculiar temperament of their
diocesan, and jumping down from the rock on which he had been sitting,
he wandered along the sunny shore, thinking of the many letters he had
addressed to the Board of Works on the subject of the bridge. The Board
believed, or pretended to believe, that the parish could not afford the
bridge; as well might it be urged that a cripple could not afford
crutches. Without doubt a public meeting should be held; and in some
little indignation Father Oliver began to think that public opinion
should be roused and organized.

It was for him to do this: he was the people's natural leader; but for
many months he had done nothing in the matter. Why, he didn't know
himself. Perhaps he needed a holiday; perhaps he no longer believed the
Government susceptible to public opinion; perhaps he had lost faith in
the people themselves! The people were the same always; the people never
change, only individuals change.

And at the end of the sandy spit, where some pines had grown and seeded,
he stood looking across the silvery lake wondering if his parishioners
had begun to notice the change that had come over him since Nora Glynn
left the parish, and as her name came into his mind he was startled out
of his reverie by the sound of voices, and turning from the lake, he saw
two wood-gatherers coming down a little path through the juniper-bushes.
He often hid himself in the woods when he saw somebody coming, but he
couldn't do so now without betraying his intention, and he stayed where
he was. The women passed on, bent under their loads. Whether they saw
him or not he couldn't tell; they passed near enough for him to
recognize them, and he remembered that they were in church the day he
alluded to Nora in his sermon. A hundred yards further on the women
unburdened and sat down to rest a while, and Father Oliver began to
consider what their conversation might be. His habit of wandering away
by himself had no doubt been noticed, and once it was noticed it would
become a topic of conversation. 'And what they do be saying now is,
"That he has never been the same man since he preached against the
schoolmistress, for what should he be doing by the lake if he wasn't
afraid that she made away with herself?" And perhaps they are right,' he
said, and walked up the shore, hoping that as soon as he was out of
sight the women would forget to tell when they returned home that they
had seen him walking by the lake.

All the morning he had been trying to keep Nora Glynn out of his mind,
but now, as he rambled, he could not put back the memory of the day he
met her for the first time, nearly two years ago, for to-day was the
fifteenth of May; it was about that time a little later in the year; it
must have been in June, for the day was very hot, and he had been riding
fast, not wishing to keep Catherine's dinner waiting, and as he pushed
his bicycle through the gate, he saw the great cheery man, Father Peter,
with a face like an apple, walking up and down under the sycamores
reading his breviary. It must have been in June, for the mowers were in
the field opposite, in the field known as the priest's field, though
Father Peter had never rented it. There had never been such weather in
Ireland before, and the day he rode his bicycle over to see Father Peter
seemed to him the hottest day of all. But he had heard of the new
schoolmistress's musical talents, and despite the heat of the day had
ridden over, so anxious was he to hear if Father Peter were satisfied
with her in all other respects. 'We shall be able to talk better in the
shade of the sycamores,' Father Peter said, and on this they crossed the
lawn, but not many steps were taken back and forth before Father Peter


2 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17

Online LibraryGeorge MooreThe Lake → online text (page 2 of 17)