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

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"Really," said the Bishop, who had at length recovered from Father Dan's
onslaught. "Really, Sir What-ever-your-name is, this is too
outrageous - that you should come to this lonely house at this time of
night, interrupting most urgent business, not to speak of serious
offices, and make injurious insinuations against the character of a
respectable person - you, sir, who had the audacity to return openly to
the island with the partner of your sin, and to lodge her in the house
of your own mother - your own mother, sir, though Heaven knows what kind
of mother it can be who harbours her son's sin-laden mistress, his
woman, as our sick friend says. . . ."

Lord! how my hands itched! But controlling myself again, with a mighty
effort I said:

"Monsignor, I don't think I should advise you to say that again."

"Why not, sir?"

"Because I have a deep respect for your cloth and should be sorry to see
it soiled."

"Violence!" cried the Bishop, rising to his feet. "You threaten me with
violence? . . . Is there no policeman in this parish, Mr. Curphy?"

"There's one at the corner of the road, Bishop," I said. "I brought him
along with me. I should have brought the High Bailiff too, if there had
been time. You would perhaps be no worse for a few witnesses to the
business that seems to be going on here."

Saying this, as I pointed to the papers on the table, I had hit harder
than I knew, for both the Bishop and the lawyer (who had also risen)
dropped back into their seats and looked at each other with expressions
of surprise.

Then, stepping up to the table, so as to face the four of them, I said,
as calmly and deliberately as I could:

"Now listen to me. I am leaving this island in about three weeks time,
and expect to be two years - perhaps three years - away. Mary O'Neill is
going with me - as my wife. She intends to leave her child in the care of
my mother, and I intend to promise her that she may set her mind at ease
that it shall never under any circumstances be taken away. You seem to
have made up your minds that she is going to die. Please God she may
disappoint your expectations and come back strong and well. But if she
does not, and I have to return alone, and if I find that her child has
been removed from the protection in which she left it, do you know what
I shall do?"

"Go to the courts, I presume," said the lawyer.

"Oh dear, no! I'll go to no courts, Mr. Curphy. I'll go to the people
who have set the courts in motion - which means that I'll go to _you_ and
_you_ and _you_ and _you_. Heaven knows how many of us may be living
when that day comes; but as surely as I am, if I find that the promise I
made to Mary O'Neill has been a vain one, and that her child is under
this woman's control and the subject of a lawsuit about this man's
money, and she in her grave, as surely as the Lord God is above us there
isn't one soul of you here present who will be alive the following

That seemed to be enough for all of them. Even old Daniel O'Neill (the
only man in the house who had an ounce of fight in him) dropped his head
back in his chair, with his mouth wide open and his broken teeth showing
behind his discoloured lips.

I thought Father Dan would have been waiting for me under the trammon on
"the street," but he had gone back to the Presbytery and sent Tommy the
Mate to lead me through the mist and the by-lanes to the main road.

The old salt seemed to have a "skute" into the bad business which had
brought out the Bishop and the lawyer at that late hour, and on parting
from me at the gate of Sunny Lodge he said:

"Lord-a-massy me, what for hasn't ould Tom Dug a fortune coming to him?"

And when I asked him what he would do with a fortune if he had one he

"Do? Have a tunderin' [thundering] good law-shoot and sattle some o'
them big fellas."

Going to bed in the "Plough" that night, I had an ugly vision of the
scene being enacted in the cottage on the curragh (a scene not without
precedent in the history of the world, though the priesthood as a whole
is so pure and noble) - the midnight marriage of a man dying in unnatural
hatred of his own daughter (and she the sweetest woman in the world)
while the priest and the prostitute divided the spoils.



JULY 25. The old doctor brought me such sad and startling news to-day.
My poor father is dead - died yesterday, after an operation which he had
deferred too long, refusing to believe it necessary.

The dreadful fact has hitherto been kept secret not only from me but
from everybody, out of fear of legal proceedings arising from the
failure of banks, &c., which has brought the whole island to the verge
of bankruptcy.

He was buried this morning at old St. Mary's - very early, almost before
daybreak, to suit the convenience of the Bishop, who wished to catch the
first steamer _en route_ for Rome.

As a consequence of these strange arrangements, and the secrecy that has
surrounded my father's life of late, people are saying that he is not
dead at all, that in order to avoid prosecution he has escaped from the
island (going off with the Bishop in a sort of disguise), and that the
coffin put into the grave this morning did not contain a human body.

"But that's all wrong," said the old doctor. "Your father is really dead
and buried, and the strange man who went away with the Bishop was the
London surgeon who performed the operation."

I can hardly realise it - that the strong, stalwart being, the stern old
lion whose heavy foot, tramping through my poor mother's room, used to
make the very house shake, is gone.

He died as he had lived, it seems. To the last self-centred, inflexible,
domineering - a peasant yet a great man (if greatness is to be measured
by power), ranking, I think, in his own little scene of life with the
tragic figures of history.

I have spent the day in bitter grief. Ever since I was a child there has
been a dark shadow between my father and me. He was like a beetling
mountain, always hanging over my head. I wonder whether he wished to see
me at the end. Perhaps he did, and was over-persuaded by the cold and
savourless nature of Nessy MacLeod, who is giving it out, I hear, that
grief and shame for me killed him.

People will say he was a vulgar parvenu, a sycophant, a snob - heaven
knows what. All wrong! For the true reading of his character one has to
go back to the day when he was a ragged boy and the liveried coachman of
the "bad Lord Raa" lashed at his mother on the road, and he swore that
when he was a man she should have a carriage of her own, and then
"nobody should never lash her."

He found Gessler's cap in the market-place and was no more willing than
Tell to bend the knee to it.

My poor father! He did wrong to use another life, another soul, for
either his pride or his revenge. But God knows best how it will be with
him, and if he was the first cause of making my life what it has been, I
send after him (I almost tremble to say it) if not my love, my

* * * * *

JULY 26. I begin to realise that after all I was not romancing when I
told the old dears that Martin and his schemes would collapse if I
failed him. Poor boy, he is always talking as it everything depended
upon me. It is utterly frightening to think what would happen to the
Expedition if he thought I could not sail with him on the sixteenth.

Martin is not one of the men who weep for their wives as if the sun had
suffered eclipse, and then marry again before their graves are green.
So, having begun on my great scheme of pretending that I am getting
better every day, and shall be "ready to go, never fear," I have to keep
it up.

I begin to suspect, though, that I am not such a wonderful actress after
all. Sometimes in the midst of my raptures I see him looking at me
uneasily as if he were conscious of a certain effort. At such moments I
have to avoid his eyes lest anything should happen, for my great love
seems to be always lying in wait to break down my make-believe.

To-day (though I had resolved not to give way to tears) when he was
talking about the voyage out, and how it would "set me up" and how the
invigorating air of the Antarctic would "make another woman of me," I

"How splendid! How glorious!"

"Then why are you crying?" he asked.

"Oh, good gracious, that's nothing - for _me_," I answered.

But if I am throwing dust in Martin's eyes I am deceiving nobody else,
it seems. To-night after he and Dr. O'Sullivan had gone back to the
"Plough," Father Dan came in to ask Christian Ann how she found me, and
being answered rather sadly, I heard him say:

"_Ugh cha nee!_ [Woe is me!] What is life? It is even a vapour which
appeareth for a little while and then vanisheth away."

And half an hour later, when old Tommy came to bring me some lobsters
(he still declares they are the only food for invalids) and to ask
"how's the lil woman now?" I heard him moaning, as he was going out:

"There'll be no shelter for her this voyage, the _vogh!_ She'll carry
the sea in with her to the Head, I'm thinking."

* * * * *

JULY 27. I _must_ keep it up - I must, I must! To allow Martin's hopes
and dreams to be broken in upon now would be enough to kill me outright.

I don't want to be unkind, but some explorers leave the impression that
their highest impulse is the praise of achievement, and once they have
done something all they've got to do next is to stay at home and talk
about it. Martin is not like that. Exploration is a passion with him.
The "lure of the little voices" and the "call of the Unknown" have been
with him from the beginning, and they will be with him to the end.

I cannot possibly think of Martin dying in bed, and being laid to rest
in the green peace of English earth - dear and sweet as that is to tamer
natures, mine for instance. I can only think of that wild heroic soul
going up to God from the broad white wilderness of the stormy South, and
leaving his body under heaving hummocks of snow with blizzards blowing a
requiem over his grave.

Far off may that glorious ending be, but shall my poor failing heart
make it impossible? Never, never, never!

Moral - I'm going to get up every day - whatever my nurse may say.

* * * * *

JULY 28. I was rocking baby to sleep this afternoon when Christian Ann,
who was spinning by the fire, told me of a quarrel between Aunt Bridget
and Nessy MacLeod.

It seems that Nessy (who says she was married to my father immediately
before the operation) claims to be the heiress of all that is left, and
as the estate includes the Big House she is "putting the law on" Aunt
Bridget to obtain possession.

Poor Aunt Bridget! What a pitiful end to all her scheming for Betsy
Beauty, all her cruelties to my long-suffering mother, all her
treatment of me - to be turned out of doors by her own step-daughter!

When old Tommy heard of the lawsuit, he said:

"Chut! Sarves her right, I say! It's the black life the Big Woman lived
before, and it's the black life she'll be living now, and her growing
old, and the Death looking in on her."

* * * * *

JULY 29. We have finished the proofs to-day and Dr. O'Sullivan has gone
back with them. I thought he looked rather _wae_ when he came to say
good-bye to me, and though he made a great deal of noise his voice was
husky when (swearing by his favourite Saints) he talked about "returning
for the tenth with all the boys, including Treacle."

Of course that was nonsense about his being in love with me. But I'm
sure he loves me all the same - many, many people love me. I don't know
what I've done to deserve all this love. I have had a great deal of love
in my life now that I come to think of it.

We worked hard over the last of the proofs, and I suppose I was tired at
the end of them, for when Martin carried me upstairs to-night there was
less laughter than usual, and I thought he looked serious as he set me
down by the bed.

I bantered him about that ("A penny for your thoughts, mister"), but
towards midnight the truth flashed upon me - I am becoming thinner and
therefore lighter every day, and he is beginning to notice it.

Moral - I must try to walk upstairs in future.

* * * * *

JULY 30. Ah, me! it looks as if it were going to be a race between me
and the Expedition - which shall come off first - and sometimes I am
afraid I am going to be the loser!

Martin ought to sail on the sixteenth - only seventeen days! I am
expected to be married on the tenth - only eleven! Oh, Mary O'Neill, what
a strange contradictory war you are waging! Look straight before you,
dear, and don't be afraid.

I had a letter from the Reverend Mother this evening. She is crossing
from Ireland to-morrow, which is earlier than she intended, so I suppose
Father Dan must have sent for her.

I do hope Martin and she will get on comfortably together. A struggle
between my religion and my love would he more than I could bear now.

* * * * *

JULY 31. When I awoke this morning very late (I had slept after
daybreak) I was thinking of the Reverend Mother, but lo! who should
come into the room but the doctor from Blackwater!

He was very nice; said I had promised to let him see me again, so he had
taken me at my word.

I watched him closely while he examined me, and I could see that he was
utterly astonished - couldn't understand how I came to be alive - and said
he would never again deny the truth of the old saying about dying of a
broken heart, because I was clearly living by virtue of a whole one.

I made pretence of wanting something in order to get nurse out of the
room, and then reached lip to the strange doctor and whispered "_When?_"

He wasn't for telling me, talked about the miraculous power of God which
no science could reckon with, but at last I got a word out of him which
made me happy, or at least content.

Perhaps it's sad, but many things look brighter that are far more
sorrowful - dying of a broken heart, for example, and (whatever else is
amiss with me) mine is not broken, but healed, gloriously healed, after
its bruises, so thank God for that, anyway!

* * * * *

Just had some heavenly sleep and such a sweet dream! I thought my
darling mother came to me. "You're cold, my child," she said, and then
covered me up in the bedclothes. I talked about leaving my baby, and she
said she had had to do the same - leaving me. "That's what we mothers
come to - so many of us - but heaven is over all," she whispered.

* * * * *

AUGUST 1. I really cannot understand myself, so it isn't a matter for
much surprise if nobody else understands me. In spite of what the
strange doctor said yesterday I dressed up grandly to-day, not only in
my tea-gown, but some beautiful old white Irish lace which nurse lent me
to wrap about my throat.

I think the effect was rather good, and when I went downstairs leaning
on nurse's shoulder, there was Martin waiting for me, and though he did
not speak (couldn't perhaps), the look that came into his blue eyes was
the same as on that last night at Castle Raa when he said something
about a silvery fir-tree with its dark head against the sky.

Oh, my own darling, I could wish to live for you, such as I am, if I
could be of any use, if I would not be a hindrance rather than a help,
if our union were right, if, in short, God Himself had not already
answered to all such questionings and beseechings, His great;
unalterable, irrevocable No!

* * * * *

AUGUST 2. The Reverend Mother, who arrived in the island last night, has
been with me all day. I think she _knows_, for she has said nothing more
about the convent - only (with her eyes so soft and tender) that she
intends to remain with me a little while, having need of rest herself.

To my surprise and joy, Martin and she have got on famously. This
evening she told me that, in spite of all (I know what she meant by
that), she is willing to believe that he is a true man, and,
notwithstanding his unhappy opinions about the Church, a Christian

Such a touching thing happened to-day. We were all sitting in the
garden, (sun warm, light breeze off the sea, ripe corn chattering in the
field opposite), when I felt a tugging at my skirts, and who should it
be but Isabel, who had been crawling along the dry grass plucking
daisies, and now, dragging herself up to my side, emptied them into my

No, I will not give way to tears any more as long as I live, yet it
rather "touches me up," as Martin says, to see how one's vainest dreams
seem to come to pass.

I don't know if Martin thought I was going to break down, but he rattled
away about Girlie having two other mothers now - Grandma, who would keep
her while we were down South, and the Reverend Mother, who would take
her to school when she was old enough.

So there's nothing more to fear about baby.

But what about Martin himself? Am I dealing fairly in allowing him to go
on with his preparations? isn't it a kind of cruelty not to tell him the

This problem is preying on my mind. If I could only get some real sleep
perhaps I could solve it.

* * * * *

AUGUST 3. I am growing weaker every day. No pain; no cough; nothing but
exhaustion. Father Dan told me this morning that I was growing more than
ever like my mother - that "sweet saint whom the Lord has made his own."
I know what he means - like her as she was at the last.

My poor old priest is such a child! A good old man is always a child - a
woman can see through and through him.

Ah, me! I am cared for now as I never was before, yet I feel like baby
when she is tired after walking round the chairs and comes to be nursed.
What children we all are at the end - just children!

* * * * *

AUGUST 4. Father Dan came across, in breathless excitement to-day. It
seems the poor soul has been living in daily dread of some sort of
censure from Rome through his Bishop - about his toleration of me, I
suppose - but behold! it's the Bishop himself who has suffered censure,
having been sent into quarantine at one of the Roman Colleges and
forbidden to return to his diocese.

And now, lo! a large sum of money comes from Rome for the poor of Ellan,
to be distributed by Father Dan!

I think I know whose money it is that has been returned; but the dear
Father suspects nothing, and is full of a great scheme for a general
thanksgiving, with a procession of our village people to old St. Mary's
and then Rosary and Benediction.

It is to come off on the afternoon of the tenth, it seems, my last day
in Ellan, after my marriage, but before my departure.

How God governs everything!

* * * * *

AUGUST 6. It is really wrong of me to allow Martin to go on. This
morning he told me he had bought the special license for our marriage,
and this evening he showed me our tickets for Sydney - two berths, first
cabin, steadiest part of the ship. Oh, my dear heart, if you only knew
that I have had my ticket these many days, and that it is to take me out
first on the Great Expedition - to the still bigger Unknown, the
Everlasting Sea, the Immeasurable Eternity!

I must be brave. Although I am a little cowardly sometimes, I _can_ be

I have definitely decided to-night that I will tell him. But how can I
look into his face and say. . . .

* * * * *

AUGUST 7. I have made up my mind to write to Martin. One can say things
so much easier in a letter - I can, anyway. Even my voice affects
me - swelling and falling when I am moved, like a billow on the ocean.

I find my writing cannot any longer be done in a sitting position in
bed, but I can prop my book on my breast and write lying down.


_August 9th_, 6 A.M.

MY OWN DARLING, - Strengthen yourself for what I am going to say. It will
be very hard for you - I know that, dear.

To-morrow we were to have gone to the High Bailiff; this day week we
were to have sailed for Sydney, and two months hence we were to have
reached Winter Quarters.

But I cannot go with you to the High Bailiff's; I cannot go with you to
Sydney; I cannot go with you to Winter Quarters; I cannot go anywhere
from here. It is impossible, quite impossible.

I have loved too much, dear, so the power of life is burnt out for me.
My great love - love for my mother, for my darling baby, and above all
for you - has consumed me and I cannot live much longer.

Forgive me for not telling you this before - for deceiving you by saying
that I was getting better and growing stronger when I knew I was not. I
used to think it was cowardice which kept me from telling you the truth,
but I see now that it was love, too.

I was so greedy of the happiness I have had since I came to this house
of love that I could not reconcile myself to the loss of it. You will
try to understand that (won't you, dear?), and so forgive me for keeping
you in the dark down to the very last moment.

This will be a great grief to you. I would die with a glad heart to save
you a moment's pain, yet I could not die at ease if I did not think you
would miss me and grieve for me. I like to think that in the time to
come people will say, "Once he loved Mary O'Neill, and now there is no
other woman in the world for him." I should not be a woman if I did not
feel like that - should I?

But don't grieve too much, dearest. Only think! If I had been strong and
had years and years still to live, what a life would have been before
me - before both of us.

We couldn't have lived apart, could we? And if we had married I should
never have been able to shake off the thought that the world, which
would always be opening its arms to you, did not want me. That would be
so, wouldn't it - after all I have gone through? The world never forgives
a woman for the injuries it inflicts on her itself, and I have had too
many wounds, darling, to stand by your side and be any help to you.

Oh, I know what you would say, dearest. "She gave up everything for love
of me, choosing poverty, obscurity, and pain above wealth and rank and
ease, and therefore I will choose her before everything else in the
world." But I know what would come to us in the end, dear, and I should
always feel that your love for me had dragged you down, closed many of
the doors of life to you. I should know that you were always hearing
behind you the echoing footsteps of my fate, and that is the only thing
I could not bear.

Besides, my darling, there is something else between us in this
world - the Divine Commandment! Our blessed Lord says we can never be man
and wife, and there is no getting beyond that, is there?

Oh, don't think I reproach myself with loving you - that I think it a sin
to do so. I do not now, and never shall. He who made my heart what it is
must know that I am doing no wrong.

And don't think I regret that night at Castle Raa. If I have to answer
to God for that I will do so without fear, because I know He will know
that, when the cruelty and self-seeking of others were trying to control
my most sacred impulses, I was only claiming the right He gave me to be
mistress of myself and sovereign of my soul.

_You_ must not regret it either, dearest, or reproach yourself in any
way, for when we stand together before God's footstool He will see that
from the beginning I was yours and you were mine, and He will cover us
with the wings of His loving mercy.

Then don't think, dear, that I have ever looked upon what happened
afterwards - first in Ellan and then in London - as, in any sense, a
punishment. I have never done that at any time, and now I believe from
the bottom of my heart that, if I suffered while you were away, it was
not for my sin but my salvation.

Think, dear! If you and I had never met again after my marriage, and if
I had gone on living with the man they had married me to, my soul would
have shrivelled up and died. That is what happens to the souls of so
many poor women who are fettered for life to coarse and degrading
husbands. But my soul has not died, dearest, and it is not dying,
whatever my poor body may do, so I thank my gracious God for the sweet
and pure and noble love that has kept it alive.

All the same, my darling, to marry again is another matter. I took my
vow before the altar, dear, and however ignorantly I took it, or under

Online LibraryHall CaineThe Woman Thou Gavest Me Being the Story of Mary O'Neill → online text (page 51 of 52)