SUMMARY. — This is the story of three generations of an Irish family. In the small, crumbling village of Castlerampart, the most prominent man is Theodore Conitfe, the village landlord. He is as penny-pinching as his wife Katherine is vain. Their two daughters, Theresa and Sara, grow up to be young ladies of property, if not of good looks. While they are still in their teens, Katherine dies in giving birth to her third daughter, Lily. The older girls assume the responsibility of Lily s upbringing and she becomes the timid Cinderella of the household.
The household is upset when a young lawyer appears in the village. Old Theodore sees in Cornelius Galloway a potential son-in-law. Cornelius divides his attention between Theresa and Sara, but on an enchanted evening it is to Lily, the sixteen-year-old, that he proposes. After their honeymoon, the newlyweds drive home in their new coach (bought at Theodore’s expense), an extravagance which at first nettles and then tickles the old man. Cornelius is a spender. He buys a spirited mare and rides to hounds with the local gentry. He starts to build a new house outside town, but his career is cut short when in the fifth month of his marriage he is killed in the hunting field. Lily, the young widow, soon sinks back into a feeling of inferiority toward her older sisters, and even the birth of her son, Gabriel, does not restore her authority. When Theodore dies, it is found that little Gabriel, aged six, has inherited his fortune. But it is Theresa, with her iron severity, who rules the roost.
THE places of the scholars in the classroom benches of the National Schools were not altogether indicative of their mental proficiency. There were other factors that had to be taken into consideration, and even these were variable and liable to alteration. On wet days, for example, all who came from a great distance were put sitting near the fire that they might dry out more rapidly; and on days when an inspector was due, the clever boys were dispersed here and there through the room, much as gold threads are sewn into a coarse fabric, which is thus given a false appearance of costliness.
On normal days, however, the setting out of the benches was determined by a very simple factor. It had originally been the custom for each scholar to bring with him each day a sod of turf for the school fire. This habit had persisted into Gabriel Galloway’s time with one important alteration: those who could not easily procure turf were allowed to bring instead a halfpenny piece. Since turf was not so easily procurable in the town, by tacit agreement the town boys brought halfpennies and the country boys brought turf; and the original reason for the distinction having long been forgotten, the town children, handing up their copper piece, had a plutocratic dignity in comparison with the country children who took from under their coats a large flaky sod of turf and, holding it up for the teacher to see, threw it into the reed basket by the chimney place.
Those who brought turf sat on one side of the aisle, and those who brought copper sat on the other side. This difference was further accentuated by the fact that the town boys wore ready-made suits of varying dyes while the country children wore rough tweed suits made oftentimes by their mothers, and sometimes from the same length of tweed, since it was procured from a peddler’s barrow that went from cottage to cottage.
The rough tweeds sat on the left side of the monitor; the serge suits sat upon his right. Gabriel sat in the front row of serge suits and Larry Soraghan at the foot end of the rough tweeds. Larry on the first day had cast many glances at Gabriel, and when the time came for the hoys to take a run in the yard he went up to Gabriel and raised his voice loud enough to be heard by all the others.
“Will you come out this evening after school?” he said.
“Where?” said Gabriel.
“Anywhere,” said Larry. “We could go down to the river.”
“I’ll ask if I can go,” said Gabriel doubtfully.
Larry lowered his voice, “I’ll be waiting for you under the arch of the bridge, he said.
“But the water goes under the arch!” said Gabriel.
“I know a way of getting down over the top of the bridge so you can creep onto a ledge under the arch without getting wet. No one else knows about it. It’s my secret place. I keep a lot of things there in a crack in the wall. But I’ll let you into the secret. And I’ll show you how to get down. You climb onto the top of the bridge and sit on it for a while until you’re sure there’s no one looking; then you turn round and let your legs hang over the water. You have to hang by your hands, but after a bit you feel your feet resting on the ledge under the bridge. Don’t let go then, whatever you do, or you’ll fall back into the water.”
” What will I do?” said Gabriel, as breathlessly as if he were indeed hanging by his hands above the racing river, with his feet slipping and missing their foothold over an unseen ledge.
” You feel with your hand till you find an iron ring that’s sticking out of the stone, and you catch that at the same time as you let go your other hand. Then you slide onto the ledge,” said Larry, “like this!” And swooping his right hand down through the air he slid it to rest, knuckles under, in the palm of the other hand. “I’ll be there,” he said, finishing the instructions, “but don’t shout out. Take three stones and throw them into the water, plop, plop, plop. And I will take three bits of cement off the wall and throw them in after your plop, plop, plop. That’s the secret signal to show the den is safe.”
“Safe from what?” said Gabriel, and again he spoke as if the fears were imminent, and as if he would indeed be permitted to keep this rendezvous, a fact that he had good cause to doubt. As the day advanced, his doubts grew, and when Mary Ellen called for him at the school gate and led him home at a swift pare while the other scholars dawdled along, chalking faces on the pavement and sailing boats in the rivulets of the gutter, he felt that he would not even have the courage to ask permission, much less expect it to he granted him.
When, however, he had been kissed by his mother, pressed to his aunt Sara’s heart, and called up before his aunt Theresa to tell her all about the day, he felt a return of courage.
“Can I go out after dinner, Aunt Theresa?” he said.
Theresa was startled. Gabriel could see this and he could even feel that his mother and his aunt Sara were startled, although they were behind him, with their backs to the light. He felt a rustling of skirts as they agitated their hands and exchanged glances.
“Where do you want to go, Gabriel?” said Theresa.
“ A boy in school asked me to play with him,” said Gabriel.
Aunt Sara advanced. “Isn’t it nice that he made friends so soon,” she said.
“Who is this boy?” said Theresa and his mother, both speaking at the same time. “Are you going to his house to play, or is he coming here to play with you?”
“He told me to meet him down at the river,” said Gabriel.
Theresa stiffened. “Who was this boy?” she said, in quite a different tone.
“Larry Soraghan,” said Gabriel.
“Larry Soraghan!" The three sisters repeated the words, but at slightly different moments and with slightly diflerent speeds, so that all Gabriel heard was a vague sound that filled the air for a moment and left an aghast silence.
“This is what comes of having to send him to the National School,” said his mother at last. “The Soraghans are good children, biddable and clean, and they are good workers, but they’re no company for Gabriel.”
“I thought there was some distinction made,” said Sara timidly.
“There can be no distinction in the National School,” said Theresa, “although I understood they tried to keep the rough element apart.”
Gabriel understood very little of this. He gathered, however, that he was hardly likely to be allowed down to the river; and since he was not to go. the dangers and hazards of reaching the ledge were lessened and he felt that he was being deprived of a wonderful adventure.
“Why can’t I go?” he said, pouting his lips.
The sisters stared at him. Lily opened her mouth to give an explanation and closed it again. Theresa stood up.
“Gabriel, your mother and your aunts do not wish you to play with the Soraghan children. They are good children, but they are not fit companions for you. You will some day own this house and several other houses, and Larry Soraghan will some day have to take up a common position like — ” (she tried to think what demeaning future was likely for Larry Soraghan) “like a railway porter!” she finished.
Gabriel had not acquired the habit of disobedience. He accepted without questioning the discipline laid upon him, and although the fact that Larry Soraghan was destined to be a railway porter when he grew up added, instead of subtracted, from the glory that hung around this hero who made secret lairs in the dark arches of a bridge, Gabriel abandoned all hope of going out and resolved not to become engaged in any more speculative plans.
“But he must have someone to play with,” said Lily. “ It’s the only way to safeguard him against playing with the wrong kind of children.”
I KNEW somebody would turn up,” Sara said, a few days later, when she came in to report a piece of news that Mrs. Molloy had reported to her.
“What are you talking about?” said Theresa.
“I knew a suitable companion would be found for Gabriel. I was talking to Mrs. Molloy and she told me that she is expecting a charming lady to stay with her as a permanent guest, and that this lady has a young boy only two years older than Gabriel. I’m sure he’ll be exactly the right companion for Gabriel. His father was an artist and he died seven years ago. His mother is a perfect lady and she wants above all to give her son Sylvester a chance to fulfill his father’s promise. He’s away at boarding school now, ” she hastened to add. “But he’ll be home at mid-term. We might invite him in to tea with Gabriel?”
The middle of the winter term came around at last and one afternoon as Gabriel sat in the back drawing room with pencils and crayons, filling in the o’s in his schoolbooks, the door was opened and his aunt Sara came running into the room.
“Oh, Gabriel, are your hands clean? Your aunt Theresa and your mother have gone to call on the new visitor at the Central Hotel, and if her son Sylvester is home from school they are going to send him in to visit you. Now you’ll have someone to play with you! Are your hands clean?” And taking out her cambric handkerchief Aunt Sara hastily moistened it with her lips; and lifting up his hands one after the other she wiped certain areas where the pencil might, possibly have left a slight trace of lead.
While this operation was in progress a darkness came over the room, and looking up Gabriel saw a pale face pasted for a second to the outer side of the glass. A moment later there was a loud rat-a-tat on the hall door.
“It’s all right to knock loud when you’re invited,” said his aunt Sara, as if justifying some unspoken criticism; and dusting her own fingers with the moist handkerchief before secreting it under the lace jabot of her bodice, she went out quickly to open the door, without waiting for Mary Ellen.
“This is Sylvester,” she said when she came back a second later, followed by a thin boy about Gabriel’s own height. He had a pale face and straight, fair hair, thin and glossy like pale embroidery floss, and his eyes were a curious yellow color. “I’ll leave you alone,” said Sara, and she nodded brightly at Gabriel, Her hand was shaking so much with excitement that twice it slipped off the glossy white knob of the door before she opened it and went out.
The two boys remained standing for a time. Gabriel felt a great shyness, but while Sylvester moved around the room taking up one object after another and examining it in silence, he recovered his balance if not his speech; and going around in Sylvester’s wake he picked up his own particularly admired curios and thrust them into the older boy’s hand.
There was a large white shell, speckled all over with brown dots, and having a saw-edge to its great pink lip. Gabriel liked it, and when Sylvester put down the ivory elephant with jade tusks, he thrust the speckled shell into his hand.
Sylvester looked at it and then he clicked the fingers of his left hand.
“I have it!” he said, aloud. “A dove — one of those pale doves with small heads darting from side to side.”
Gabriel looked in amazement at the shell in Sylvester’s hand. He failed to see any resemblance. Sylvester saw his amazement and he laughed.
“I don’t mean that this is like a dove,” he said, tossing it up into the air and just succeeding in catching it again as it came down. “I mean your aunt Sara. Don’t you think she’s like a dove?”
“I don’t know,” said Gabriel.
“You’re probably not observant,” said Sylvester, and he picked up the crayon drawing with which Gabriel had been passing the time. Gabriel flushed.
“I never saw red smoke,” said Sylvester, looking at it.
“I had no black,” said Gabriel defensively.
“Smoke is blue,” said Sylvester.
Gabriel looked at the chimney where the dark mounts of slack were pierced in places with a dull smoke. He pointed his finger at the grate.
“But when it comes out at the top of the chimney it’s blue,” said Sylvester, and he went to the window followed by Gabriel. Far off, from one or two chimneys frail streamers of smoke rose up straight like blue quill feathers that had a jaunty twist to the tips.
“Let’s go out,” said Sylvester.
Gabriel looked at him, and his heart beat fast.
“I’11 ask my aunt Sara, ” he said, “but I doubt if she will give me permission without getting the permission of my mother and my aunt Theresa.”
Up to this, Sylvester had treated Gabriel with as scant an interest as that he had bestowed upon the speckled shell and the ivory elephant, but now he stared at him with genuine interest.
“ Do you have to ask permission if you want to go out?” he said.
“My aunts don’t like me to mix with people,” said Gabriel. “That’s why they asked you to come in and play with me.”
“Play with you! What do they think I am — a nursemaid? I’m going out,” he said, and then in the doorway he looked back at the pale and serious child whose face shone white in the dark room as human faces stand out in dark faded oil paintings. “Come on out. I’ll leave you home again and if there’s a row I’ll take the blame.”
Gabriel stared at him.
“Come on,” said Sylvester. “I’m not going to wait here all day!”
Gabriel followed Sylvester into the dark hall, and without glancing backwards went out through the bright doorway into the street. He had only one moment of compunction as he thought of his aunt Sara, Avho was probably at that very moment spreading butter on neat slices of bread, shaking the ironed creases out of the stiff white linen tablecloth, and looking at herself in the silver teapot to make sure its polish was the very brightest polish possible.
“Did you never go out by yourself before?” said Sylvester, as they went slowly up the street.
“No!” said Gabriel.
“Didn’t you ever want to go?”
Gabriel said nothing. He had so seldom contemplated going out that he had no views upon being forbidden to do so. Sylvester seemed to be waiting for an answer. Gabriel remembered the first day he went to school.
“I wanted to go out one day when Larry Soraghan asked me to meet him at the river,” he said, “but I wouldn’t be let go.”
“My aunts didn’t want me to play with Larry Soraghan.”
“They don’t like him,” said Gabriel sedately.
“Do you like him?” said Sylvester.
“I don’t know. You see, I haven’t spoken to him since then.”
Sylvester walked on a few steps. “I never take another person’s opinion of anything. I find out for myself. If I were you, I’d find out for myself about Larry Soraghan. If I didn’t like him, I’d agree with my aunts to save trouble; but if I did like him, I’d face up to them and tell them so.”
Gabriel’s admiration made him sigh. He put his hands into his pockets in the way that Sylvester had his hands in his pockets, and when Sylvester took them out a moment later and began to bite his nails, Gabriel tried to bite his nails but they had been so smoothly and finely rounded by his aunt Sara’s emery board that he could not get a grip upon them with his teeth and he had to forgo this detail in the emulation of his hero.
WHEN the mid-term holiday ended and Sylvester went back to the boarding school, two abiding changes had been made in Gabriel’s life: it was an accepted fact that he could go out to play after school as long as he did not leave Clewe Street; and although he was not allowed to play with him elsewhere, he was allowed to play with Larry Soraghan in the school yard. But for real companionship Gabriel began to depend upon the holidays that brought Sylvester back to Castlerampart.
One day during the long summer holidays, when Gabriel woke up, Sylvester was sitting on the wall that divided the Central Hotel from the Coniffe garden, swinging his legs and whistling for him to come out in the sun. Underneath the wall the spotted dog barked with impatience to be away. Gabriel sprang out of bed and began to put on his trousers. Just as he did so, however, Mary Ellen came into his room.
“Why are you putting on your old clothes?” she asked. “Don’t you know that today is a Holy Day? You have to go to church.” And she went to the cupboard and began to take out his best suit.
Gabriel did not know that it was a Holy Day. A feeling of bitter resentment rose up within him, and he dropped his old clothes to the floor. He felt that he had been imposed upon. It was not a Sunday. He was reconciled to the Sundays. They never took him unawares and interfered with his plans. But this Holy Day was a different matter. However, there was no way out of it. To church he must go. He picked up his serge suit and began to get into it.
But as he dressed, his mind was filled with dismal thoughts. He pictured to himself the interior of the church, with its plain whitewashed walls and its moldering wooden pews. The windows were so high that you could see nothing through them, and although there was a stained-glass window near the altar it was darkened by the high trees outside, and he could never fully follow the story of its colored fragments. Moreover, this stainedglass window, which was intended to throw a colored light inward on the chapel interior, only impeded the ordinary light, and gave the chapel a strange day-darkness such as would be experienced elsewhere only in times of heavy fog.
Gabriel grew more and more dismal. Then he remembered Sylvester. Perhaps Sylvester was going to church too. And at the thought of having his company up the street, and sitting in the same pew with him, he brightened somewhat. But when Gabriel was ready he found that Sylvester had already been to the early service.
“I’ll be up the street with you, though,” Sylvester conceded, and so they set off.
Gabriel walked along reluctantly, half hoping that he would be late for some of the ceremony, and half fearful that the hurrying people who shared the pathway with him might read this intention in his mind and tell his aunts or his mother about him. How shocked they would be to think that he dallied deliberately on the way to church!
Then another thought struck fiim. If his mother and his aunts would be so vexed with him, how would God regard him? Would God be terribly angry?
A further thought struck him. What would happen if he didn’t go to church at all? Would God care? What would He do?
He tried to imagine how God would act, but he could only imagine God as a, vague person, sitting on a great throne, miles and miles away up in the clouds, His arms folded together under a vast white robe and His eyes always shut in magnificent unconcern.
For a moment Gabriel faltered. Then he put his hand in his pocket and drew out his penny for the plate. “Let’s buy oranges,” he said, “and climb into the Friary to eat them!” Sylvester stretched out his hand. “Give me your penny,” he said. “I’ll get the oranges. You wait here.”
When he returned a few minutes later he was holding up two golden globes that shone in the morning sunlight with a bright, illicit glow. And the next thing, with an orange apiece, they were racing through the field behind the church, startling the priest’s cow, and climbing over the Friary wall to jump down intrepidly into the nettles within the ruin.
The Friary enclosure was no longer open for burials. Those who had been laid there might no longer lie in the expectation of new fellows to keep them company. And it was a long time since those who lay there had last seen the light of day. The most vivid imagination could picture nothing beneath the serried headstones but a vast network of bleached bones. Meanwhile all was orderly and rigid, and no tombstone tottered, however sunk the clay under it, for the graves here were so closely packed that they supported one another.
Within the abbey ruins itself, still more massive memorials reared up into the blue air that came down through the roofless arches. The original flagstones of the Friary still remained in places, inscribed with strange archaic letters that baffled the learning of the two lower-bench scholars as they wandered about, their footsteps echoing from the flags and their voices, which they hardly dared raise above a whisper, whispered back from the ghostly gray stones.
As they wandered around reading the lettering on the ancient monuments as if they were reading lessons upon a slate, they began to wonder whether the ceremony in the church was over or only just begun. When they looked back at the green field beyond the wall, it seemed but a moment since they had fled across it; when they peered into the dim recesses of the ruin, it seemed that they had been straying there for hours.
SYLVESTER was the first to climb up on the Friary wall. He sat astraddle on it and stretched out his hand to Gabriel, who was getting a foothold at the side of the wall.
“I can get up by myself,” said Gabriel, anxious to show some capacity.
“Are you sure?” said Sylvester, as he turned to slip dawn on the other side to make way for Gabriel. Just as he turned around, however, and was about to find a foothold on the other side of the wall, he saw something in the distance that caused him to loosen his hands at once and drop to the ground at the other side.
The rattle of loose pebbles that fell with him, and a brief startled exclamation that he gave, were all the warning Gabriel got, but even if he had had a more distinct warning he could not have done anything because he was at that moment hoisting himself to the top and could see or do nothing until he himself was astraddle the wall. From there, however, he lost no time in looking around him.
Coming across the churchyard was his aunt Theresa, making not for the church, but straight for the stile in the wall! She had seen them. Gabriel saw to his horror that his aunt was traveling at such a speed she did not bother even to lift the hem of her dress above the level of the wet blades.
When Theresa got to the foot of the wall she said nothing for a moment, but fixed her eye upon her nephew, who sat speechless atop it. Then she opened her mouth. “I always knew there was a bad streak in you!” she said. She knew all.
Gabriel dropped to the ground, the balls of his feet tingling from the contact with the earth at such force. For a minute he thought that Theresa was going to strike him as she raised her umbrella, but instead of striking him she prodded him in the back with the point of it. When she gave him another and more violent prod it occurred to him that by this method she was urging him into motion. On the other side of the wall he heard a slight stir, and guessed that Sylvester was creeping away. He began to walk across the grass slowly, prodded moment by moment in the small of the back when he showed any reluctance to continue. And several times, indeed, he felt a great reluctance to continue, because one or two people now lingered at the entrance to the chapel in order to see what the unusual scene might mean. They would soon know.
“It’s a bad thing when a boy has to be driven to church with the point of a stick,” said Theresa when she got to the door of the porch.
Gabriel was overcome with shame. He dared not lift his eyes; and as he made his way through the people around the church door, and went into the porch, he had only one thought and that was to hide himself soon in the crowded pews. But he was not to escape yet.
“Since when did you develop this contempt for the holy-water font?” said his aunt, dragging him back by the sleeve; and not waiting for him to dip his fingers into the font, she dipped in her own fingers and sprinkled him with a cold dash of the water. A tendril of the green growth at the bottom came away on her finger and was dashed on his face, from which he dared not remove it.
The people near the door had turned around to stare at the sound of his aunt’s audible whisper. As they looked at him Gabriel felt his checks burn. He looked at his aunt and made a gesture as if he would kneel down in a pew near the door.
“Go down to the front,” she ordered.
And then, while his cheeks burned, she gave him another push fonvard, this time with her hand, and wdien he came to the second seat from the front she put her hand on his shoulder, pressing him to his knee so heavily that he nearly fell.
“Genuflect!” she said, and standing aside she ordered him into the pew.
From then to the end of the service, every time that he moved a fraction of an inch, his aunt shot a glance at him, until it seemed that every eye was upon him. It seemed that every tongue in the church would be busied with talk about him, as soon as the people rose from their knees and made their way out into the street. His mother and his aunt Sara would hear about him. The teachers in the school would hear about him. The Finnertys and the Molloys would look at him queerly. Larry Soraghan would jeer at him.
When the service was over, as he filed out of the church with the congregation, Gabriel saw Sylvester standing with an innocent face by the wall. Sylvester made a sign to him and shrugged his shoulders. Gabriel understood. He had slipped away to put God to the test and Gabriel knew, without being told, that God had not sent him a sign. It had been silly to think that He might. The Deity, with His thunder and His power to walk on the clouds, seemed remote and fantastic beside the fear he now felt at the scene that his aunt would make as soon as they reached Clewe Street and were once inside the door.
When they reached the end of Clewe Street, however, and went into the narrow hallway, instead of turning upon him as he had expected, Theresa Coniffe made her way upstairs just as it was her custom to do upon ordinary Sundays and ordinary Holy Days, when she made it a point of carefully removing the clothes she had worn to church, and replaced in the side pieces of her hair the two metal curling pins which upon the lesser days of the week would not have been removed until the more seemly hour of supper.
Gabriel stared after her, uncertain as to what he should do under these peculiar circumstances. If only he could ask his mother or his aunt Sara. But worse than he dreaded his aunt Theresa’s tongue, he dreaded to see the hurt expression that would come over their faces when they heard of his iniquity. The longer they were without knowing of it the better. Then, as he stood uncertain and perplexed on the mat at the foot of the stairs, he raised his head in surprise.
At that moment there was a sound overhead, and Gabriel heard the door of Theresa’s room open and shut again with a rapidity which would have left one in doubts that a human being could have emerged through it in such short time if, a moment later, Theresa Coniffe had not appeared at the head of the stairs looking thinner than ever, for it was her practice, when she was in haste, to pin her skirts tight to her sides, to suppress all bows and side curls, and to walk with her hands folded in front of her, thus anticipating the theories which in a later day were worked out in the construction of battleships and destroyers: the elimination of as many as possible of the surfaces which might otherwise have caught the wind and impeded the speed of her progress. Thus equipped for speed, Theresa advanced. Gabriel gritted his teeth and kept his stance, right in the middle of the mat at the foot of the stairs. Come what might, he would not flinch.
Step by step Theresa came down. And then on the last step she stopped and looked at him.
“Are you out of your wits?” she demanded. “Or what are you standing there for? How can a person pass up or down?”
And leaving him to gape after her, Theresa brushed him to one side with a sweep of her arm and advanced into the kitchen. For a minute he was baffled. Then he seemed to see clearly again. Why, of course! She was going to tell her sisters about him first. Well, he reflected bitterly, they knew already. But just as he thought this the kitchen door opened and his aunt Sara came out, the two sisters brushing past each other with the indifference of any ordinary day in the year.
And as she passed him, the sinner, his aunt Sara bestovved on him one of her usual sweet smiles. She didn’t know after all! But would his aunt Theresa let it go untold? Ah! he thought not. “Wait a minute, Sara,” said Theresa calling her back, while at the same moment she leaned forward and looked into the kitchen. “Are you there, Lily? Come here a moment, please!” Gabriel gritted his teeth once more. But when Theresa opened her mouth again the words of purely domestic import that issued from it were so incalculable as to be almost incomprehensible.
“Sara! Lily! On no account must we forget the parsley for the soup today. It was most, insipid yesterday without it,” She swung around. “Gabriel, go down the garden and get a handful of parsley this minute. No, wait. Go up and change into your old shoes first, and then get it. You won’t keep us waiting then after dinner.”
Wasn’t that his aunt Sara’s voice that he heard in the kitchen? What was she doing there? Sara was rarely or never to be found at the heart of domestic activity. He listened intently. Wasn’t that his mother’s voice? His mother was in there too! They were all there! That was very strange. His aunt Sara usually made the beds at this hour. And his mother usually sorted the linen at the press on the attic landing.
Instantly he jumped to the conclusion that their presence in the kitchen had something to do with him. Could it be that they already knew of his escapade? Could it be that some rumor of it had already reached Clewe Street, carried there even before he and his aunt Theresa had arrived?
Mrs. Molloy? Suspicion of Mrs. Molloy shot through him and left him quivering.
Mrs. Molloy, as Gabriel knew, frequently had to leave the church before the end of the service because of a complaint from which she suffered at times — a complaint which was known to Gabriel by the familiar name of Pins and Needles, and of which every symptom and manifestation had been laid bare to him by Mary Ellen, the confidante of Mrs. Molloy and herself an occasional sufferer from the same dreadful scourge.
Perhaps Mrs. Molloy had had Pins and Needles that morning! Gabriel shuddered. For, if Mrs. Molloy had hail Pins and Needles it was beyond all doubt that she would have left the church earlier than the rest of the congregation; and if so. it was still further beyond all doubt that she would have put her head inside the Coniffe door as she passed, if only to say that she could tell the inmates something of interest to them were it not for the fact that she made it a practice never to be the bearer of bad news.
Yes, Gabriel felt sure that the news of his guilt had traveled before him. He could picture how his aunt Sara and his mother, having flown to Mary Ellen for comfort after hearing the allegations of Mrs. Molloy, would only await Theresa’s confirmation of the incident before they gave way to the violence of their distress.
But when his aunt made no reference, before the sun went down under the rampart rim, to the incident in the Friary, he believed with absolute finality that all was to be forgotten and forgiven forever.
BUT Theresa Coniffe’s decision to let her nephew go unpunished was drawn from a deeper well than forgiveness or forgetfulness. She had never forgotten that Gabriel was the son of the man who had slighted her to marry her younger sister. But as a matter of fact she had rarely been able to vent her resentment on the child, because a more biddable and obedient child than Gabriel Galloway could hardly have been found. He not only did all that he was told to do, but as often as not he did not wait to be told. True, he was completely under her thumb, but it was a small triumph to have under your thumb a creature who submitted to you no more than he would have submitted to one of half your stature.
It was small satisfaction for Theresa to know that Gabriel would instantly fetch his muffler if she ordered him to do so, when she knew that he would fetch his galoshes just as quickly if his aunt Sara as much as mentioned that it was wet underfoot. When, therefore, she had come upon him in the Friary ruin, and realized that he was absenting himself from church, Theresa had experienced a curious sense of satisfaction. Here was an opportunity to humiliate Lily and to make more painful in the minds of all in Clewe Street the memory of Cornelius Galloway.
It was with this purpose of humiliating Lily that she had driven Gabriel across the churchyard and ordered him down the aisle in front of her; and her mind, for the first few minutes after they knelt down, was a turmoil of sayings and proverbs that pressed themselves forward as being one more appropriate than another for utterance as she opened the door in Clewe Street and led the boy in to his mother with the story of his wickedness.
“Breed will show sooner or later.”
“Like father, like son.”
“You cannot make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.”
She would fling the words out at Lily and Sara, leaving her meaning ambiguous until they were thoroughly ill at ease and then she would taunt them with the conduct of their pet.
Here in this very church she had suffered the humiliation of attending Lily’s wedding; the elderly bridesmaid of a foolish young bride. Well, she was having some satisfaction now. Out of the corner of her eye she threw a glance at Gabriel.
Theresa drew a short, quick breath. This was no attitude to adopt in the house of God. What would people think of him? A new aspect of the affair occurred to her. She looked around her nervously. Perhaps this incident was but the first of a long series of iniquities by which this child would disgrace and abash his family?
She glanced over her shoulder again. Were people looking in their direction? She began to regret that she had made such a display of the boy. What were people thinking, she wondered. Were they laughing up their sleeves? She shot glances to right and left, looking obliquely out from under partially lowered lids.
The congregation was on its knees, engrossed in the service, but as Theresa glanced around the church her eye fell on the gaudy silken banners of the Women’s Sodality, still hanging on their brass poles at the end of the pews from which old Luke had not had time to remove them since the Sodality meeting of the previous evening. At sight of the bright banners of the Sodality over which she presided as leader, and over the members of which she always exercised such a rigid and tireless example, Theresa’s thoughts took another turn. Had the boy been altogether to blame? Had she herself been entirely blameless in the matter? After all, was he not under her care? Was she not responsible for his guidance; for what use in that respect was his poor bird of a mother?
Theresa’s heart grew tight inside her Sunday bombazine, and she fixed her eyes once more on Gabriel. Instantly the fact that he was the son of Cornelius Galloway became insignificant beside the fact that he was also the grandson of Theodore Coniffe.
When the service came to an end, Theresa had therefore suffered a complete change of heart. From being the child s accuser she intended henceforth to be his guardian. But since the first move she made in the new direction was to give him another poke in the back and tell him to get out in the aisle, it was not to be wondered at that Gabriel was for a long time unaware of what had happened. Moreover, even if he had been aware of all that had gone on in his aunt’s mind, it would have been a matter of small concern to him that his aunt Theresa had constituted herself the guardian of his soul. Accustomed to have her examine the soles of his feet after he came in out of the rain in order to see if he had worn his galoshes, it was not much different to have her come info his room at night and take his trousers from the chair beside the bed to see if there was dust on the kneecaps to indicate that he had said his prayers. Accustomed to have her eye upon him at table to make sure that he chewed his food, it was hardly noticeable to him that she began to watch him also during the grace before meals in order to make sure that his lips were moving.
ONCE in a while, however, as the months went by, he got brief shafts of vision upon his new position in the house. For instance one day when Sylvester was home on holidays, and when Gabriel himself was in bed with a chill, Sylvester had come up to his bedroom to see him.
Sitting up in bed, surrounded by books that his mother had bought for him, and complacently surveying the tea tray laden with iced cakes which his aunt Sara had prepared in order that the two boys could have a treat, Gabriel felt, for once, that he was in a superior position to his friend. Remembering that Sylvester and his mother had only exchanged their rooms in the Central Hotel for a small house under the arch of the railway bridge, he looked around with satisfaction at the rich red-papered walls of his room, at the glowing mahogany chests devoted exclusively to his small linens, and at the shelf over the mantelpiece which was burdened only with his own possessions, or such family ornaments as were promoted to that position by his own selection.
Among the latter objects there were two which had been but recently acquired, and upon them Gabriel’s eyes rested proudly. Sylvester would surely he impressed by them; he had given a certain amount of attention to them when they were still down in the parlor upon the first day of all that he had visited the house. These objects were the ivory elephant with the jade tusks, and the large white shell with the saw-edged lip that was speckled all over with brown dots.
This afternoon, overcome by his pride in them, although he was strictly forbidden to put his foot outside the bed, Gabriel was on the point of dashing over to the mantelpiece for one moment to alter the position of these precious ornaments, and make sure that they would not fail to catch the eye of his visitor immediately upon his entry into the room, when there was a sound of footsteps on the stairs and Sylvester’s voice outside the door.
A moment later the door opened and Sylvester was in the room.
When Gabriel had lain complacently surveying his surroundings he had hoped that Sylvester would notice them. He had not dared to hope that his friend would examine the room corner for corner, which as a matter of fact Sylvester proceeded to do the moment the door had closed behind him.
“So this is your room?” said Sylvester, whose preliminary greeting to the invalid had taken the form of a nod. “Do you sleep here all alone?”
Without waiting for an answer, Sylvester ran his eyes over the furniture, resting particularly on the chest of drawers.
“Can you use all the drawers,” he asked, “or are some of them locked?”
Simultaneously with the question he had asked, however, he had obviated the necessity for a reply by pulling out all the drawers one after another and revealing for himself Gabriel’s ownership of the garments folded and piled therein.
At the ornaments on the mantelpiece Sylvester gazed not at all. And his eye when it fell on the rich red wallpaper seemed to darken as if with a frown.
“Don’t you like the wallpaper?” said Gabriel, sitting up higher in the bed. “Don’t you think this is a nice room ? ”
But the mere fact that he was forced to ask the question, and to cast it into a negative form, showed that already some of his complacency had begun to flag.
Sylvester gave up his survey.
“Oh, it’s all right,” he said. “It’s a good thing to have privacy.” He nodded over his shoulder at the chest against the wall. “That’s a good chest you’ve got there,” he said. “ Good, deep drawers; they’d be better, of course, if they had locks and keys to them, but that’s a small job.”
Gabriel allowed himself to slump down more comfortably into the pillows.
“Won’t you sit down?” he said, wuth some remnant of the magnanimity with which he Lad intended to entertain his guest. He indicated a green wicker chair that Sara hail placed beside his bed and on which she had put a fat cushion of red plush embroidered with yellow roses.
Sylvester was not ready to sit down. He had not yet completed his survey of the room.
“On the whole, it’s not a bad room,” he said; and then, just as he was preparing to sit down, an expression of great distaste came over his face.
What was the matter? Gabriel sat up again.
Sylvester’s eye, at the moment when he shuddered, had been fixed on a picture that hung over the mantelpiece, and although he had hurriedly glanced away from it, it was to this picture that Gabriel’s own eyes now flew in search of some reason why Sylvester should have behaved as he did. But the picture that had hung in that position as long as he could remember was so familiar to him that his eyes passed over it now with uncritical tolerance. It was a cheap print of a religious subject, executed in gaudy, facile colors, and differed only from those sold on a huckster’s barrow by reason of the ornate and expensive frame in which it was confined.
Gabriel looked back questioningly at Sylvester.
“Why don’t you take that down?” said Sylvester. “How can you stand it in the room?” And he nodded his left ear at the print, unwilling to submit his eyes to the strain of seeing it again.
Take down the picture! It would have appeared as easy to Gabriel to take down the wall upon which it hung. Immediately the feeling of proprietorship which had filled him with such pride a moment before vanished and left him with the feeling that he was but a miserable tenant in the room with the red wallpaper.
“Will you have some tea?” he asked quickly and valiantly, to keep his spirits from drooping. “We have only to press the bell and Mary Ellen will bring the teapot.”
But the iced cakes, and even the gingerbread men that Mary Ellen brought up, hot from the oven, had lost their taste, and he could not stop his eye from wandering back to the picture, and his mind from dwelling upon Sylvester’s criticism of it.
THE day after Sylvester’s visit Gabriel was well enough to get up and leave his room, and so the picture was not continually under his eye to annoy him, but every night and morning it was there to confront him when he went in with his candle or when he opened his eyes at daylight.
For three or four days Gabriel bore his irritation about the picture, but on the night of the fourth day, after he had blown out the candle and lain in the darkness for a while, it suddenly became insufferable to him to think that, although he could not see it, the picture hung upon the wall directly in front of him, outfacing him, you might say, even in the darkness.
All at once a spirit of daring and adventure came over him and made him tremble with excitement. He would do something about it. He would! With a shaking hand he groped for the matches and lit the candle. “I’ll turn it with its face to the wall,” he said. He jumped out of bed; and catching hold of the old wicker chair on which he laid his clothes at night, he dragged it over to the fireplace and sprang up on the seat of it, regardless of the creaking osiers. Then he caught the frame of the picture.
It seemed but a matter of moments now to turn it around from back to front. But before his hands had rightly grasped the frame, Gabriel became aware that something was wrong.
For a moment he thought that the chair had slipped from under his feet. In the next he thought that the picture had fallen from its cord, and at the next, with greater horror, he thought that the whole side of the wall was crashing down before him. For, no sooner had he put his hands upon the picture than, from under it, there began to scatter to all sides such a shower of leaflets, medallions, old letters, envelopes, and sprigs of faded palm that it would be hard for the steadiest head to be sure of what in that room was stationary and what was in agitation.
At last the shower subsided, and Gabriel looked down at the jackdaw’s collection that lay on the floor below him. Without another thought he stepped down and began to pick up the objects, stowing them away in fistfuls in their original place behind the picture. For what use was there now in thinking to move it? Every time he touched it this shower would be whirled to the floor. Every time? Yes. For need it be said that, although he intended to turn the picture to the wall, he intended to restore it to its original position in the morning. Perhaps it was all for the best, thought Gabriel, as he stowed the last handful of leaflets behind the picture, got down from the wicker chair, and climbed in between the cold sheets with a feeling of defeat. For what would happen if, one morning, he should forget to turn the picture right side out again?
It was all very well for Sylvester to talk. He probably felt that he had to say what he said, because his father was an artist, but this house wasn’t the only one with holy pictures on the walls. Larry Soraghan said their house was filled with them.
“Ma says they bring a blessing on the house,” said Larrv, “and at the same time they help to hide the spots of damp on the wall.”
Somehow or other Larry’s remark marie him feel better about the picture. Some of his former feeling of liking for it returned, sharpened by feelings of defiance. Nevertheless, just before he put out the candle once more, he glanced at the picture again and fancied that in the far upper corner of the frame one fat, pale angel that he had not noticed before looked down at him with a face that wore a smug and secretive smile.
ABOUT a year after the affair of the picture there occurred another small incident of such a similar nature that it would hardly be worth recording were it not that, this time, it was Gabriel himself who, without any hint from Sylvester, felt that Theresa’s interference in some things was going a bit too far.
A mission had been held in the church for two weeks, one week being devoted to men and the other to women; and before the greater humiliation took place at all, Gabriel had the humiliation of seeing Sylvester and Larry, and indeed all the other fellows in his class, going off every evening to the men’s mission, while he was kept back to attend the second week in company with his mother and his aunts.
To this humiliation he had, however, bowed; but one morning, about a week after the closing of the mission, when he was getting up and dressing for school, his aunt Theresa came into his room. He had just finished brushing his hair, which was usually the last item of his preparations for the day.
Theresa looked at him.
“Are you ready?” she asked,
Thinking that she meant he would be late for school, Gabriel gave a hasty glance around him and made for the door.
“Just a minute, Gabriel. Aren’t you forgetting something? ”
Gabriel, who had almost reached the door, came to a stand. As he did so, he saw his aunt glance at the top of the cabinet in the corner of the room and he knew at once the cause of her vexation.
“Were those medals given out to lie about on top of a chest of drawers?” she demanded,pointing her finger at a pair of blessed medals that had been distributed during the mission, and which now lay where she pointed, fastened together with the safety pin by which they had been secured to Gabriel’s clothes upon the previous few days.
Gabriel said nothing, but went over and took up the pin from which the medals dangled. But Theresa put out her hand and snatched them from him.
“Give me your coat! ” she said, jerking it by the collar as she spoke. “I’ll sew them into it in such a way they won’t be found lying about the house again.”
Gabriel took his hands out of the sleeves awkwardly and allowed the coat to be snatched into Theresa’s lap as she sat down abruptly on the side of the bed and, producing a threaded needle from under a pleat in her bodice, began to sew the medals into the lining of the coat. Gabriel stood indifferently at her side as the needle flashed in and out of the dark serge, and the medals hit together with a thin, tinny sound. Then suddenly his eyes settled more steadily on his aunt’s hands.
“Oh, not there!” he cried agonizedly, as he saw that she was stitching the medals so near the flap of his lapel that they would undoubtedly be seen every time he stirred.
“Why not? Are you ashamed to be seen wearing them?” Theresa stopped sewing for long enough to stare at Gabriel — long enough for him to give a reply if he could — and then she resumed her stitching without breaking her thread.
A few minutes later Gabriel went out to school with the medals distinctly visible under his left lapel.
That was not the end of the incident, however, for during the day Theresa took every opportunity of referring to Gabriel’s forgetfulness over the medals; and when dinnertime came and he slipped into his place she saw an excellent opportunity for upbraiding him.
“ I see there are some things you don’t forget,” she said. “I see you don’t forget to come to the table.”
Gabriel moved about on his chair uneasily. Would she never stop talking about those old medals, he wondered.
Now, as Gabriel squirmed about on his chair, although he did not notice it, his aunt Sara seemed to be uneasy about something also, and she exchanged a significant glance with his mother.
Lily and Sara had always felt that Theresa was too bard on Gabriel, even in the matter of his temporal welfare. On one occasion Sara had even ventured to speak to Theresa.
“Aren’t you a little too hard on him, Theresa?” she bad asked timidly.
Theresa, however, had had her answer ready.
“Hard on him?” she said. “I have to be hard on him when you and Lily are so soft with him.” Her face assumed an elaborate expression of patience. “Don’t think I like to be hard. Let me tell you it would be far easier to be all smiles and gentle words. But I have a sense of responsibility if neither of you have one. It would be very nice for me to have Gabriel run to me, and throw his arms around me, and kiss me, but I know that if I encouraged him at the expense of discipline I would be taking the easy path; I would be avoiding my duties. If I am hard on him it is for his own sake. I want him to realize that as he goes through life he need not expect to find everyone as foolish and easygoing as yourself and his mother. I want him to realize that other people will not give way to him as you do. He will meet with reversals like everybody else, and he may as well get used to them at an early age. Of course I know the sacrifices I’m making. I know the boy will grow to dislike me — if he doesn’t dislike me already — but I am ready, as I say, to make sacrifices. Some day he will thank me, and even if he is thankless, as most people in this world turn out to he sooner or later, I will still have the satisfaction of knowing that I acted as I thought right.”
All this was said in the quick staccato sentences which people use when any one of these sentences could have stood alone as an expression of their meaning. Then she sighed. “Ah, Sara,” she said, “you little know how hard it is to be always stiff and stern. There are times when I would like to relax, but I would not permit myself such a luxury when a boy’s character is at stake.” At the sad truth of her own words, Theresa sighed again, a deeper sigh than before. “It’s easy to be all smiles and soft words,” she said.
No more was said for a time about Theresa’s attitude toward Gabriel. Before long, however, Sara began to feel uncomfortable once more as Theresa’s interest in Gabriel’s spiritual welfare doubled her occasions for correction and admonition. And so, on the day of the disturbance over the medals, she felt that something should be said. But this time she was careful to say it to someone other than Theresa.
“Lily,” she said, “I’m worried about Gabriel.” She paused and put her head to one side, choosing her words with extra care out of respect for the matter upon which she was about to speak. “I’m worried at the way Theresa harps on things — for instance, the medals this morning. I’m afraid that Gabriel might form a wrong impression about his religion. He might begin to think that God is harsh and unreasonable.”
“Harsh and unreasonable? God?” Lily did not understand.
“Oh, you know,” said Sara with timid impatience, “like Theresa herself.”
“I see what you mean,” said Lily, and she became very agitated. “But what can we do?”
“Well, I was thinking,” said Sara, “that I might say a few words to him, if I get the opportunity. I might try to let him see that there is another aspect of religion; that God is gentle as well as stern, loving as well as just.” Sara’s face grew soft and happy for a moment, and then the habitual small frown of worry settled upon her faded face. “What do you think?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” said Lily. “I suppose I should say something to him myself?” But she looked very scared at the prospect, and had no sooner made the suggestion than she saw a way for evading its execution. “These matters are so delicate I’d hardly know what to say. But you have a knack of putting things nicely. I think you’d better do it.”
What Sara considered a suitable opportunity was nothing more or less than a moment when Theresa would be absent, or out of earshot, and so, a few minutes after her talk with Lily, when she saw from the window on the landing that Theresa had gone down to the bottom of the garden with a basketful of wet clothes that would take at least ten minutes to spread upon the clothesline, and when she heard at the same moment a sound in the hallway that indicated the return of Gabriel, that was enough for her. With a quick pressure of Lily’s arm which was meant to convey to her sister all that was in her mind, Sara sped lightly down the last steps of the stairs, and into the hall, where in the dim light she appeared suddenly to Gabriel like a wisp of spirit.
“Gabriel,” she said. “I wanted to say something to you. Don’t worry about the medals. God will understand. He will never blame us for forgetfulness. It is only when we do something bad deliberately that He is hurt. Although of course we must remember that He watches over us night and day. ‘Not one leaf shall fall to the ground,’ He said, ‘without My knowing it.’ Isn’t that a beautiful saying, Gabriel?” And then, hearing Theresa’s voice at the back door, Sara turned and sped away again, leaving Gabriel staring after her, surprised, and hardly aware of what she had said to him.
It was not long, however, before he noticed that his aunt Sara had taken upon herself the task of counteracting the possible effect on him of Theresa’s austerity. For as Theresa’s vigilance over his soul grew more intense, Sara’s whispers of balmy consolation grew more frequent, and more and more it became fixed in his mind that religion was another peculiar twist in the minds of the women in Clewe Street.
Theresa’s statement that smiles were easier to bestow than frowns was so indubitably true as applied to themselves that both Sara and Lily did not doubt that it was true when applied by Theresa to herself as well, and for some time after this conversation they tried by muscular contortion to assume the expression which, on their sister’s face, came naturally from within like measle pock. But as milk will not wrinkle unless it is sour, their faces were soon bright and blossomy once more.
(To be continued)
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