Hall Caine.

The Woman Thou Gavest Me Being the Story of Mary O'Neill online

. (page 1 of 52)
Online LibraryHall CaineThe Woman Thou Gavest Me Being the Story of Mary O'Neill → online text (page 1 of 52)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Produced by Rick Niles, Charlie Kirschner and the Online Distributed
Proofreading Team.

The Woman
Thou Gavest Me

Being the Story of Mary O'Neill


Author of "The Prodigal Son," Etc.


Published August, 1913


_How much of the story of Mary O'Neill is a work of my own imagination,
and how much comes from an authentic source I do not consider it
necessary to say. But as I have in this instance drawn more largely and
directly from fact than is usually the practice of the novelist, I have
thought it my duty to defeat all possible attempts at personal
identification by altering and disguising the more important scenes and
characters. Therefore this novel is not to be understood as referring to
any living person or persons, and the convent school described in it is
not to be identified with any similar educational institution in Rome_.


_Here are the Memoranda we have talked about. Do as you like with them.
Alter, amend, add to or take away from them, exactly as you think best.
They were written in the first instance for my own eye alone, and hence
they take much for granted which may need explanation before they can be
put to the more general uses you have designed for them. Make such
explanation in any way you consider suitable. It is my wish that in this
matter your judgment should be accepted as mine. The deep feeling you
could not conceal when I told you the story of my dear one's life gives
me confidence in your discretion.

Whatever the immediate effect may be, I feel that in the end I shall be
justified - fully justified - in allowing the public to look for a little
while into the sacred confessional of my darling's stainless heart.

I heard her voice again to-day. She was right - love is immortal. God
bless her! My ever lovely and beloved one!_




AUTHOR'S NOTE: _The name Raa (of Celtic origin with many variations
among Celtic races) is pronounced Rah in Ellan._





"Out of the depths, O Lord, out of the depths," begins the most
beautiful of the services of our church, and it is out of the depths of
my life that I must bring the incidents of this story.

I was an unwanted child - unwanted as a girl at all events. Father Dan
Donovan, our parish priest, told me all about it. I was born in October.
It had been raining heavily all day long. The rain was beating hard
against the front of our house and running in rivers down the
window-panes. Towards four in the afternoon the wind rose and then the
yellow leaves of the chestnuts in the long drive rustled noisily, and
the sea, which is a mile away, moaned like a dog in pain.

In my father's room, on the ground floor, Father Dan sat by the fire,
fingering his beads and listening to every sound that came from my
mother's room, which was immediately overhead. My father himself, with
his heavy step that made the house tremble, was tramping to and fro,
from the window to the ingle, from the ingle to the opposite wall.
Sometimes Aunt Bridget came down to say that everything was going on
well, and at intervals of half an hour Doctor Conrad entered in his
noiseless way and sat in silence by the fire, took a few puffs from a
long clay pipe and then returned to his charge upstairs.

My father's impatience was consuming him.

"It's long," he said, searching the doctor's face.

"Don't worry - above all don't worry," said Father Dan.

"There's no need," said Doctor Conrad.

"Then hustle back and get it over," said my father. "It will be five
hundred dollars to you if this comes off all right."

I think my father was a great man at that time. I think he is still a
great man. Hard and cruel as he may have been to me, I feel bound to
say that for him. If he had been born a king, he would have made his
nation feared and perhaps respected throughout the world. He was born a
peasant, the poorest of peasants, a crofter. The little homestead of his
family, with its whitewashed walls and straw-thatched roof, still stands
on the bleak ayre-lands of Ellan, like a herd of mottled cattle
crouching together in a storm.

His own father had been a wild creature, full of daring dreams, and the
chief of them had centred in himself. Although brought up in a mud
cabin, and known as Daniel Neale, he believed that he belonged by lineal
descent to the highest aristocracy of his island, the O'Neills of the
Mansion House (commonly called the Big House) and the Barons of Castle
Raa. To prove his claim he spent his days in searching the registers of
the parish churches, and his nights in talking loudly in the village
inn. Half in jest and half in earnest, people called him "Neale the
Lord." One day he was brought home dead, killed in a drunken quarrel
with Captain O'Neill, a dissolute braggart, who had struck him over the
temple with a stick. His wife, my grandmother, hung a herring net across
the only room of her house to hide his body from the children who slept
in the other bed.

There were six of them, and after the death of her husband she had to
fend for all. The little croft was hungry land, and to make a sufficient
living she used to weed for her more prosperous neighbours. It was
ill-paid labour - ninepence a day fine days and sixpence all weathers,
with a can of milk twice a week and a lump of butter thrown in now and
then. The ways were hard and the children were the first to feel them.
Five of them died. "They weren't willing to stay with me," she used to
say. My father alone was left to her, and he was another Daniel. As he
grew up he was a great help to his mother. I feel sure he loved her.
Difficult as it may be to believe it now, I really and truly think that
his natural disposition was lovable and generous to begin with.

There is a story of his boyhood which it would be wrong of me not to
tell. His mother and he had been up in the mountains cutting gorse and
ling, which with turf from the Curragh used to be the crofter's only
fuel. They were dragging down a prickly pile of it by a straw rope when,
dipping into the high road by a bridge, they crossed the path of a
splendid carriage which swirled suddenly out of the drive of the Big
House behind two high-spirited bays driven by an English coachman in
gorgeous livery. The horses reared and shied at the bundle of kindling,
whereupon a gentleman inside the carriage leaned out and swore, and then
the brutal coachman, lashing out at the bare-headed woman with his whip,
struck the boy on his naked legs.

At the next moment the carriage had gone. It had belonged to the head of
the O'Neills, Lord Raa of Castle Raa, whose nearest kinsman, Captain
O'Neill, had killed my grandfather, so my poor grandmother said nothing.
But her little son, as soon as his smarting legs would allow, wiped his
eyes with his ragged sleeve and said:

"Never mind, mammy. You shall have a carriage of your own when I am a
man, and then nobody shall never lash you."

His mother died. He was twenty years of age at that time, a
large-limbed, lusty-lunged fellow, almost destitute of education but
with a big brain and an unconquerable will; so he strapped his chest and
emigrated to America. What work he found at first I never rightly knew.
I can only remember to have heard that it was something dangerous to
human life and that the hands above him dropped off rapidly. Within two
years he was a foreman. Within five years he was a partner. In ten years
he was a rich man. At the end of five-and-twenty years he was a
millionaire, controlling trusts and corporations and carrying out great

I once heard him say that the money tumbled into his chest like crushed
oats out of a crown shaft, but what happened at last was never fully
explained to me. Something I heard of a collision with the law and of a
forced assignment of his interests. All that is material to my story is
that at forty-five years of age he returned to Ellan. He was then a
changed man, with a hard tongue, a stern mouth, and a masterful lift of
the eyebrows. His passion for wealth had left its mark upon him, but the
whole island went down before his face like a flood, and the people who
had made game of his father came crawling to his feet like cockroaches.

The first thing he did on coming home was to buy up his mother's croft,
re-thatch the old house, and put in a poor person to take care of it.

"Guess it may come handy some day," he said.

His next act was worthy of the son of "Neale the Lord." Finding that
Captain O'Neill had fallen deeply into debt, he bought up the braggart's
mortgages, turned him out of the Big House, and took up his own abode in

Twelve months later he made amends, after his own manner, by marrying
one of the Captain's daughters. There were two of them. Isabel, the
elder, was a gentle and beautiful girl, very delicate, very timid, and
most sweet when most submissive, like the woodland herbs which give out
their sweetest fragrance when they are trodden on and crushed. Bridget,
the younger, was rather homely, rather common, proud of her strength of
mind and will.

To the deep chagrin of the younger sister, my father selected the elder
one. I have never heard that my mother's wishes were consulted. Her
father and my father dealt with the marriage as a question of business,
and that was an end of the matter. On the wedding day my father did two
things that were highly significant. He signed the parish register in
the name of Daniel O'Neill by right of Letters Patent; and on taking his
bride back to her early home, he hoisted over the tower of his chill
grey house the stars and stripes of his once adopted country stitched to
the flag of his native island. He had talked less than "Neale the Lord,"
but he had thought and acted more.

Two years passed without offspring, and my father made no disguise of
his disappointment, which almost amounted to disgust. Hitherto he had
occupied himself with improvements in his house and estate, but now his
restless energies required a wider field, and he began to look about
him. Ellan was then a primitive place, and its inhabitants, half
landsmen, half seamen, were a simple pious race living in a sweet
poverty which rarely descended into want. But my father had magnificent
schemes for it. By push, energy and enterprise he would galvanise the
island into new life, build hotels, theatres, casinos, drinking halls
and dancing palaces, lay out race-courses, construct electric railways
to the tops of the mountains, and otherwise transform the place into a
holiday resort for the people of the United Kingdom.

"We'll just sail in and make this old island hum," he said, and a number
of his neighbours, nothing loth to be made rich by magic - advocates,
bankers and insular councillors - joined hands with him in his
adventurous schemes.

But hardly had he begun when a startling incident happened. The old Lord
Raa of Castle Raa, head of the O'Neills, the same that had sworn at my
grandmother, after many years in which he had lived a bad life abroad
where he had contracted fatal maladies, returned to Ellan to die. Being
a bachelor, his heir would have been Captain O'Neill, but my mother's
father had died during the previous winter, and in the absence of direct
male issue it seemed likely that both title and inheritance (which, by
the conditions of an old Patent, might have descended to the nearest
living male through the female line) would go to a distant relative, a
boy, fourteen years of age, a Protestant, who was then at school at

More than ever now my father chewed the cud of his great disappointment.
But it is the unexpected that oftenest happens, and one day in the
spring, Doctor Conrad, being called to see my mother, who was
indisposed, announced that she was about to bear a child.

My father's delight was almost delirious, though at first his happiness
was tempered by the fear that the child that was to be born to him might
not prove a boy. Even this danger disappeared from his mind after a
time, and before long his vanity and his unconquerable will had so
triumphed over his common sense that he began to speak of his unborn
child as a son, just as if the birth of a male child had been
prearranged. With my mother, with Doctor Conrad, and above all with
Father Dan, he sometimes went the length of discussing his son's name.
It was to be Hugh, because that had been the name of the heads of the
O'Neills through all the ages, as far back as the legendary days in
which, as it was believed, they had been the Kings of Ellan.

My mother was no less overjoyed. She had justified herself at last, and
if she was happy enough at the beginning in the tingling delight of the
woman who is about to know the sweetest of human joys, the joy of
bearing a child, she acquiesced at length in the accepted idea that her
child would be a boy. Perhaps she was moved to this merely by a desire
to submit to her husband's will, and to realise his hopes and
expectations. Or perhaps she had another reason, a secret reason, a
reason that came of her own weakness and timidity as a woman, namely,
that the man child to be born of her would be strong and brave and free.

All went well down to the end of autumn, and then alarming news came
from Castle Raa. The old lord had developed some further malady and was
believed to be sinking rapidly. Doctor Conrad was consulted and he gave
it as his opinion that the patient could not live beyond the year. This
threw my father into a fever of anxiety. Sending for his advocate, he
took counsel both with him and with Father Dan.

"Come now, let us get the hang of this business," he said; and when he
realised that (according to the terms of the ancient Patent) if the old
lord died before his child was born, his high-built hopes would be in
the dust, his eagerness became a consuming fire.

For the first time in his life his excitement took forms of religion and
benevolence. He promised that if everything went well he would give a
new altar to Our Lady's Chapel in the parish church of St. Mary, a ton
of coals to every poor person within a radius of five miles, and a
supper to every inhabitant of the neighbouring village who was more than
sixty years of age. It was even rumoured that he went so far in secret
as to provide funds for the fireworks with which some of his flatterers
were to celebrate the forthcoming event, and that one form of
illumination was a gigantic frame which, set upon the Sky Hill,
immediately in front of our house, was intended to display in brilliant
lights the glowing words "God Bless the Happy Heir." Certainly the birth
was to be announced by the ringing of the big bell of the tower as
signal to the country round about that the appointed festivities might

Day by day through September into October, news came from Castle Raa by
secret channels. Morning by morning, Doctor Conrad was sent for to see
my mother. Never had the sun looked down on a more gruesome spectacle.
It was a race between the angel of death and the angel of life, with my
father's masterful soul between, struggling to keep back the one and to
hasten on the other.

My father's impatience affected everybody about him. Especially it
communicated itself to the person chiefly concerned. The result was just
what might have been expected. My mother was brought to bed prematurely,
a full month before her time.


By six o'clock the wind had risen to the force of a hurricane. The last
of the withered leaves of the trees in the drive had fallen and the bare
branches were beating together like bundles of rods. The sea was louder
than ever, and the bell on St. Mary's Rock, a mile away from the shore,
was tolling like a knell under the surging of the waves. Sometimes the
clashing of the rain against the window-panes was like the wash of
billows over the port-holes of a ship at sea.

"Pity for the poor folk with their fireworks," said Father Dan.

"They'll eat their suppers for all that," said my father.

It was now dark, but my father would not allow the lamps to be lighted.
There was therefore no light in his gaunt room except a sullen glow from
the fire of peat and logs. Sometimes, in a momentary lull of the storm,
an intermittent moan would come from the room above, followed by a dull
hum of voices.

"Guess it can't be long now," my father would say.

"Praise the Lord," Father Dan would answer.

By seven the storm was at its height. The roaring of the wind in the
wide chimney was as loud as thunder. Save for this the thunderous noise
of the sea served to drown all sounds on the land. Nevertheless, in the
midst of the clamour a loud rapping was heard at the front door. One of
the maid-servants would have answered it, but my father called her back
and, taking up a lantern, went to the door himself. As quietly as he
could for the rush of wind without, he opened it, and pulling it after
him, he stepped into the porch.

A man in livery was there on horseback, with another saddled horse
beside him. He was drenched through, but steaming with sweat as if he
had ridden long and hard. Shouting above the roar of the storm, he said:

"Doctor Conrad is here, is he?"

"He is - what of it?" said my father.

"Tell him he's wanted and must come away with me at once."

"Who says he must?"

"Lord Raa. His lordship is dangerously ill. He wishes to see the doctor

I think my father must then have gone through a moment of fierce
conflict between his desire to keep the old lord alive and his hope of
the immediate birth of his offspring. But his choice was quickly made.

"Tell the lord," he cried, "that a woman is here in child-birth, and
until she's delivered the doctor cannot come to him."

"But I've brought a horse, and the doctor is to go back with me."

"Give the lord my message and say it is Daniel O'Neill who sends it."

"But his lordship is dying and unless the doctor is there to tap him, he
may not live till morning."

"Unless the doctor is here to deliver my wife, my child may be dead
before midnight."

"What is the birth of your child to the death of his lordship?" cried
the man; but, before the words were well out of his mouth, my father, in
his great strength, had laid hold of the reins and swung both horse and
rider round about.

"Get yourself to the other side of my gate, or I'll fling you into the
road," he cried; and then, returning to the porch, he re-entered the
house and clashed the door behind him.

Father Dan used to say that for some moments more the groom from Castle
Raa could be heard shouting the name of the doctor to the lighted
windows of my mother's room. But his voice was swirled away in the
whistling of the wind, and after a while the hoofs of his horses went
champing over the gravel in the direction of the gate.

When my father returned to his room, shaking the rain from his hair and
beard, he was fuming with indignation. Perhaps a memory of forty years
ago was seething in his excited brain.

"The old scoundrel," he said. "He'd like it, wouldn't he? They'd all
like it! Which of them wants a son of mine amongst them?"

The roaring night outside became yet more terrible. So loud was the
noise from the shore that it was almost as if a wild beast were trying
to liberate itself from the womb of the sea. At one moment Aunt Bridget
came downstairs to say that the storm was frightening my mother. All the
servants of the house were gathered in the hall, full of fear, and
telling each other superstitious stories.

Suddenly there came a lull. Rain and wind seemed to cease in an instant.
The clamour of the sea became less and the tolling of the bell on St.
Mary's Rock died away in the distance. It was almost as if the world,
which had been whirling through space, suddenly stood still.

In that moment of silence a deeper moan than usual came from the room
overhead. My father dropped into a chair, clasped his hands and closed
his eyes. Father Dan rattled his pearl beads and moved his lips, but
uttered no sound.

Then a faint sound came from the room overhead. My father opened his
eyes and listened. Father Dan held his breath. The sound was repeated,
but louder, clearer, shriller than before. There could be no mistaking
it now. It was Nature's eternal signal that out of the womb of silence a
living soul had been born into the world.

"It's over," said my father.

"Glory be to God and all the Saints!" said Father Dan.

"That'll beat 'em," cried my father, and he leapt to his feet and

Going to the door of the room, he flung it open. The servants in the
hall were now whispering eagerly, and one of them, the gardener, Tom
Dug, commonly called Tommy the Mate, stepped out and asked if he ought
to ring the big bell.

"Certainly," said my father. "Isn't that what you've been standing by

A few minutes later the bell of the tower began to ring, and it was
followed almost immediately by the bell of our parish church, which rang
out a merry peal.

"That'll beat 'em, I say," cried my father, and laughing in his triumph
he tramped the flagged floor with a firmer step than ever.

All at once the crying of the child ceased and there was a confused
rumble of voices overhead. My father stopped, his face straightened, and
his voice, which had rung out like a horn, wheezed back like a whistle.

"What's going doing? Where's Conrad? Why doesn't Conrad come to me?"

"Don't worry. He'll be down presently," said Father Dan.

A few minutes passed, in which nothing was said and nothing heard, and
then, unable to bear the suspense any longer, my father went to the foot
of the staircase and shouted the doctor's name.

A moment later the doctor's footsteps were heard on the stone stairs.
They were hesitating, halting, dragging footsteps. Then the doctor
entered my father's room. Even in the sullen light of the peat fire his
face was white, ashen white. He did not speak at first, and there was an
instant of silence, dead silence. Then my father said:

"Well, what is it?"

"It is . . ."

"Speak man! . . . Do you mean it is . . . _dead?_"

"No! Oh no! Not that."

"What then?"

"It is a girl."

"A gir . . . Did you say a girl?"


"My God!" said my father, and he dropped back into the chair. His lips
were parted and his eyes which had been blazing with joy, became fixed
on the dying fire in a stupid stare.

Father Dan tried to console him. There were thistles in everybody's
crop, and after all it was a good thing to have begotten a girl. Girls
were the flowers of life, the joy and comfort of man in his earthly
pilgrimage, and many a father who bemoaned his fate when a daughter had
been born to him, had lived to thank the Lord for her.

All this time the joy bells had been ringing, and now the room began to
be illuminated by fitful flashes of variegated light from the
firework-frame on the top of Sky Hill, which (as well as it could for
the rain that had soaked it) was sputtering out its mocking legend, "God
Bless the Happy Heir."

In his soft Irish voice, which was like a river running over smooth
stones, Father Dan went on with his comforting.

"Yes, women are the salt of the earth, God bless them, and when I think
of what they suffer that the world may go on, that the generations may
not fail, I feel as if I want to go down on my knees and kiss the feet
of the first woman I meet in the street. What would the world be without
women? Think of St. Theresa! Think of the Blessed Margaret Mary! Think
of the Holy Virgin herself. . . ."

"Oh, stow this stuff," cried my father, and leaping to his feet, he
began to curse and swear.

"Stop that accursed bell! Is the fool going to ring for ever? Put out
those damnable lights, too. Put them out. Are the devils of hell trying
to laugh at me?"

With that, and an oath at himself for his folly, my father strode out of
the room.

My mother had heard him. Through the unceiled timbers of the floor
between them the words of his rage had reached her. She was ashamed. She
felt as if she were a guilty thing, and with a low cry of pain she
turned to the wall and fainted.

The old lord died the same night. Somewhere towards the dead reaches of

Online LibraryHall CaineThe Woman Thou Gavest Me Being the Story of Mary O'Neill → online text (page 1 of 52)