THE ATLANTIC SERIAL
by MARY LAYIN
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 Coniffe, 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, who becomes the timid Cinderella of the household.
The household is upset when a young lawyer appears in the village. Fresh from Dublin, Cornelius Galloway knows a good fortune when he sees one; but after flirting with the older sisters, it is young Lily he proposes to. They marry and settle into the house in Clewe Street. But Cornelius’s prosperity is short-lived: he is killed in the hunting field. After his death Lily sinks back into her position of inferiority, and even the birth of her son Gabriel does not restore her authority.
At Theodore’s death it is found that he has willed his entire property to little Gabriel. The boy, a bright but unadventurous youngster, is brought up by his aunts; and when his frail mother dies, he is completely tied to their apron strings. Not until he has begun his studies at the Technical School in Draghead, and has resumed his friendship with Sylvester, a boyhood acquaintance now an art student in Dublin, is Gabriel man enough to rebel. When Gabriel is sixteen, a robust young girl of the village, Onny Soraghan, is hired by Theresa. Propinquity begins to cast its spell. Gabriel meets Onny in the early evening when her chores are over. Together they ford the river on perilous steppingstones, and together they find a trysting place in the ruins of the Friary tower.
AFTER the first evening that they spent in the old tower, Gabriel met Onny Soraghan there every evening when he came back from Draghead and when her work in Clewe Street was done. From the first, Gabriel was aware that his aunts would bitterly disapprove of his meetings with Onny, but he had gradually lost confidence in their judgment of conduct, and his misgivings vanished after a few meetings.
As time went on. however, and their relations became more intimate, Gabriel was no longer able to delude himself that he was innocent. Yet he justified himself; and sometimes as he looked at Onny in the kitchen in Clewe Street and saw her wretched poverty of attire, he asked himself if there was not still something to be said for the way in which they had come together; for if he had not grown familiar with her rich warmth and her impudent vitality in the dark hours in the old tower, he would never have seen in her any more than his aunts saw: a miserable servant girl, unkempt and ill-clad.
It must not be thought that Gabriel had any ideas about free love or the independence of the sexes. He had neither heard of them nor read ot them. He only knew that Onny Soraghan never would have come into his life if his meetings with her had been confined to those that convention permitted.
There was need for a great discretion in their meetings; and so, immediately after supper, Gabriel went out, ostensibly for a walk, and, making his way out of the town, slipped inside the rampart wall. Onny herself had more difficulties in making excuses to get out. When her work at Clewe Street was finished, she ran home and let her mother know she was free. Then upon one pretext or another she evaded the tasks that were awaiting her there and slipped out again. One night she would say she was going for a walk. Another night she would say that she was going down to the church. Whatever excuse Onny made, it was sufficient if it enabled her to escape from the door of the house; for once outside, it was only a matter of a minute to reach the rampart wall and join Gabriel.
Once within the rampart, however, Gabriel and Onny were both secure. And yet so great was the pressure ot their secrecy upon them that hardly a bird stirred in the brushwood, hardly a rabbit ran through the stiff green grasses, and hardly a branch stirred in the far tops ot the trees, without causing them to lift their heads in fright. The dark mists of the night came down around it before Onny was able to break away from him. and wrap her old threadbare coat tighter across her breast, and say that, if she did not go home her mother would be out looking for her.
“She’ll he out at the gate looking up and down the road.”
“Is it the mother of fourteen children? ‘ Gabriel said. “If half of you were to fall in the river, she wouldn’t miss you for a week.”
There were times when Onny could not know from Gabriel’s words whether he was teasing her or whether he was in earnest. If she was able to see his face, she could usually tell from the sparkle that he could not keep out of his eyes; but knowing this, Gabriel always tried to hold her against him so closely that she could not stretch hack her head to look up into his face. However, in the weeks that had passed since they crossed the river on the stones, familiarity had shown them that no matter how numerous or how various the tyrannies they imposed upon each other, they were both subject to some tyrannical influence that made them eager to meet and loath to part.
“It’s early — you don’t need to go so soon,” said Gabriel. “Listen. The birds are not quiet yet. It can’t be very late.”
The birds had long since silenced their songs, hut a faint rustling of the decaying leaves in the treetop near-by would give him a pretext for enforcing his will on her.
“It’s very late. The lights are gone out in the hotel,” Onny would say.
“But the light is burning brighter than ever at the Finnertys’.” Gabriel would hold her closer.
“The lights in the presbytery are gone out.”
“The priests go to bed with the flowers.”
“They do not. They stay up playing cards until all hours. My mother used to wash up the dishes for the Canon when his housekeeper was sick last winter and she said —”
“Yes? What did your mother say?” Gabriel would begin to stroke her hair, absent-mindedly.
Onny would jerk her head. “You don’t care what my mother said. You just want to keep me here. Let me go! They’ll be looking for me, I tell you.”
“It will be a good thing to bring your poor mother out of doors. She looks as if she never got a breath of fresh air. I think sometimes that she’s tied bv the leg to that cottage.”
“A lot you care about my mother!”
WHEN Onny struggled against him, her determination was roused more by his resistance than by real desire to leave him. His struggles to hold her against her will had a sweetness for her that the earlier caresses of the evening lacked entirely. In the intervals between her struggling, when she had to rest, she laid her head against his shoulder and accepted his kisses, but this docility lasted only as long as it took to renew her breath and her strength.
For her, this was the exciting climax of the evening; but when, through the slits in the old tower wall, she saw that not merely windows of the old and cantankerous, but all the windows in the town, were darkening, one after another, steadily, and beyond doubt of their implication as to the lateness of the hour, she made no further attempt to struggle but gave him instead some reminder of the consequences that would attend his foolishness. One evening when she had told her mother that she was going back to help Miss Coniffe with some jam-making, she foretold a particularly dire consequence that might attend them if Gabriel did not release her quickly and let her go home.
“My mother might come out looking for me. She might call to ask Miss Coniffe what time I left Clewe Street.”
Somewhat to her surprise, Gabriel at once released his hold. Her suggestion was one that sounded very credible - if Mrs. Soraghan missed Onny she might indeed call at Clewe Street to inquire about her. But it was not the suggestion itself that made Gabriel drop his hands to his sides and turn away so abruptly; it was a sudden anger that he felt towards Onny for using this threat to force his will. Keeping his hands straight down by his sides, he looked at her coldly.
“Why did you say that, Onny?” he said.
“Say what? Onny felt at once that he was angry, but she did not see why he had been angered, and so she pretended not to remember what she had said.
“You know what I mean. Why did you say that your mother would come to Clewe Street?”
Onny hesitated for a moment. She was tempted to deny that she had said any such thing, and to persuade him that he had not heard her rightly, or at least that he had misunderstood her meaning; but in a spirit of defiance she flew to the opposite extreme and not only answered him that she meant what she said, but proceeded to reaffirm her words.
“What I said is true,” she said, doggedly.
“That’s not important,” said Gabriel. “As a matter of fact it’s very likely that she might come, and you had better get home as quickly as you can, but” - and here he put his hands firmly upon her arms — “before you go, I want to know why you said it just then.”
Onny shrugged her arms to free them. His fingers tightened.
“I forget why I said it. A person doesn’t remember every word he says.”
“Did you say it to have a hold over me?” Gabriel pressed his fingers deeper into her arm.
”You’re hurting me!" said Onny. “I don’t know what you mean.”
“Did you think I would be afraid of what my aunts might think?”
Onny bit her lower lip.
“Did you want to shame me?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” said Onny.
What was the matter with him, she wondered. She knew hate and she knew love; she knew fear and she knew joy. She knew all the simple emotions of the human heart, and she could read their expression in the human face, but before this strange complexity in the heart of Gabriel, which left his cold face inscrutable, Onny was helpless and humbled. She knew nothing of the complexities of the heart that form in the long hours of a lonely childhood. In the Soraghan family, solitude was unknown. Even in the fastness of the night there was always a child tossing and moaning in the dark. And in the Soraghan children, as in their father and mother before them, all traces of temperament and individuality were early brought under the discipline of hard toil and sweat.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, she said again, pitifully. And suddenly Gabriel believed her. He made a great effort and conquered his desire to probe her heart further. “I want to go home,” she said.
“You may go. Onny,” said Gabriel. Then, when she stood hesitatingly without speaking, he took her hands in his again. “I was very hard on you, Onny, but 1 had a reason. I wanted to show you that you must never have any feeling underneath the words you say to me. Say whatever you like to me. Be bitter. Be condemning. Accuse me. Cut me. But never say one thing and mean another. Never say something, as you did tonight, that seems simple and inoffensive at the time that it is said, but which, when it is remembered afterwards, may reveal a sting.”
He looked down at her seriously, doubtful whether she understood him or not, but as he saw her beginning to relax he continued. “I want everything to be clear between us, Onny — as clear as the stars up there above us!” And he lifted her face and tilted it upwards towards the starry sky. Then, patting her cheek and taking her by the hand like a small child, he spoke in a different voice. “I’ll go down first,” he said, “and I’ll lift you down.”
He slipped down over the stone rim of the tower and lowered himself cautiously, seeking a foothold on a ledge beneath. “Give me your hand, he said. “Be careful. And he began to guide her. When he had reached the grass below and she was still on a ledge above him on the level of his ehcst, he called out to her gayly. “Jump!” he commanded. “Jump!”
And then as he set her down in the grass, he put his hand under her cheek again and stared into her face. I m going to walk along the road with you,” he said. “I don t care who sees me.
Usually when they reached the rampart wall they spent some time looking up and down the road to see that they were unobserved, but on this occasion Gabriel strode towards the gap boldly and helped Onny to climb through it. He was just about to follow her when she turned suddenly and gave him a gentle push that put him back into the grass in an effort to balance himself, and when he had clambered up again she was gone, and he could hear her footsteps ringing on the hard road, and hear her voice call out to someone whom she had encountered there.
He waited until he heard the ring of the iron gate in front of the cottage and then he went out onto the road himself and began to walk back towards the town.
His mind was uneasy. He knew that she had had some taunt behind her words and it worried him to think that there might have been some cunning in her heart. The suspicions she had roused threw their shadows over him as he walked along, and he tried to recall her face as she had spoken. But the memory of her impudent face, with the bright peony cheeks and lips and the bold eyes, was as potent as her presence to silence his suspicions. He had given in to the influence of her memory so much that he felt the same humility before her simplicity as she herself had felt before his complexity; and added to the mystery of sex t hat held them together, there was a new and meretricious mystery of mind.
THE winter set in at last. The nights were dark without relief of stars, and even at the hour at which Onny left Clewe Street tiiere was a dark journey ahead of her, out of the town to the cottage.
For this reason Miss Sara Coniffe tried to let her finish her work as early as possible, and urged upon her from time to time, as she went round her tasks, the danger of delaying so long that it would be dark upon the roads.
“I don’t know why you keep urging Onny to hurry,”said Theresa, when they sat sewing, after the girl had gone home. “I never in my life saw anyone more anxious to put off her apron than that girl.”
“I wouldn’t blame her too much for that, Theresa,” said Miss Sara, timidly. “She does a long, hard day’s work, and then she is very young.”
“It’s because she’s young that she’s hired to work,” said Theresa testily. “If she doesn’t work now, she won’t have money when she’s too old to work.”
“But I think she gives all her money to her mother,” said Sara. Theresa Coniffe stared pityingly at her sister.
“What do you expect!” she said. “Do you think she should spend it all on herself, and the family crying for bread!”
“Oh, no. No!” said Miss Sara. “Of course I want, her to give it to her poor mother. How could you imagine that I would want anything else, Theresa? It was only that I thought it hard for the child to work all day long and never have a few hours to rest, or even a few pence to buy hair ribbons.”
“Hair ribbons! Are you getting soft in the head? What would the like of her want with hair ribbons! She’s bold and brassy enough without decking herself out like a circus queen. If you ask me, she gets back a good few of the pence she gives up, and it’s not on her hair she spends it. ,Shc’d go stark naked rather than go without a pair of flashy stockings on those bold legs of hers.”
“I used to love stockings, myself,” said Miss Sara, sighing, “and when we were her age there was hardly anything of our stockings seen at all.”
“Well, let me tell you, there’s more of Onny Soraghan’s seen than fashion caters for — the girl is man-mad.
“You cannot blame her, Theresa, if she thinks of having a home of her own. It’s only natural.”
Theresa tapped her foot on the carpet. “Sara Coniffe, it’s a strange thing to hear a woman of your age romancing about things that ought by right to be beneath your notice. All I can say is that I hope you will keep your romancing to yourself, and not put ideas into the head of one that has too many similar ideas already. ”
“After all, she’s not much younger than Gabriel, and think of all the liberty and pleasure he has, compared with her.”
“Gabriel is a gentleman,”said Theresa. “And there can be no comparison, except in the head of a fool, between the son of a gentleman and a slut of a servant with flashy legs. You don’t open your mouth very often, Sara; but when you do, it’s hard for a person not to say that it’s a good thing you keep it shut for the best part of the time.”
Sara would hardly have made any answer to this criticism had she been listening, but at the moment her attention had been carried away by a sound at the door, “It might be Gabriel.” she thought, and she was about to exclaim her thought when she stopped. There was no use in drawing Theresa’s attention to the hour.
To her relief, however, the sound she heard was made by Gabriel. It was he coming up the passageway. And although it was late, Theresa did not seem to be aware of the time.
“I hope there will be a different topic on your tongue before him,” she said impatiently when Sara started to her feet. And then, as Gabriel walked down the passage and came into the room, she raised her voice in a bright, clear tone, easily recognizable as the tone adopted when hurriedly changing the subject of a conversation.
“Oh, Gabriel, there you are! I didn’t hear you coming in.”
A blush stole over Sara’s face. She bent her head closer to her sewing. Gabriel glanced at her. He needed only to confirm his own suspicions of Theresa by looking at Sara, because, although habit and discipline had long ago brought her words and gestures into harmony with the words and gestures of Theresa, her sensitive heart was still undisciplined; and when there was insincerity in the air, that heart sent out its message of blood to the pale cheeks.
Gabriel smiled mechanically at Theresa and sat down by the fire and held out his hands. After a minute he withdrew them and picked up the end of Sara’s embroidery square.
“Is this a dragon?” he asked. “Why is he green and yellow? Are they the right colors for a dragon?”
“I think they are nice colors for one,” said Sara, striving to justify her choice of embroidery floss without going beyond the limits of truth.
“They may be nice colors, but I am sure they are not the correct colors. I am surprised at you, of all people, Aunt Sara, trying to distort the truth!'’
Miss Theresa Coniffe listened for a moment to this conversation. “There is no such thing as a dragon!” she said emphatically. “There are no real dragons. They arc like unicorns and mermaids. They are only found in fairy tales.”
Gabriel winked at his aunt Sara.
“Oh, they are real enough! Aren’t they, Aunt Sara?” He turned to Theresa with mock seriousness. “Aunt Sara has, in fact, made a study of them. She knows all there is to be known about them, their habitations and their inclinations. Although I regret to say she is terrified out of her wits of them!”
Sara blushed red to the tips of her ears.
“Don’t mind him, Theresa,” she said. “He’s only joking.”
“I can tell a joke when I hear one, as well as anyone, and without help from others,” said Theresa, trying to smile, but not with great success.
THERESA’S remark brought a silence on the room. Gabriel felt the strain of having to talk to them. For the first time since he had begun to meet her in the evenings, Onnv had not turned up at the meeting place.
Since the winter had set in, they no longer went into the old tower. It was sufficient now to meet inside the broken rampart, on the fallen stones of which Gabriel would sit to wait for her. without fear of being seen. They could even venture, on cloudy nights, to walk along the road, as the other strollers that they met there were as anxious as they were themselves to remain unknown. The young men might mutter a greeting in a dulled voice, but the girls always passed with averted heads and did not speak.
Under the new’ circumstances, Gabriel felt happier. The secrecy that had seemed evil when he thought of it himself began to seem better when he thought with Onny’s mind,
“I wouldn’t want to be seen walking with a fellow, even if I was to be married to him in the morning! ” said Onny on those occasions. “I think there is something common about linking a man in the broad daylight. Some girls like it. Some girls would give anything to be seen walking with someone. Agnes Finnerty is always walking slowly coming out of the chapel so that some of the fellows will have to catch up with her unless they walk like snails.”
A mention of Agnes Finnerty always made Gabriel vindictive.
“Perhaps you’d prefer to be out. with some other ‘fellow,’ as you say — someone who would be in such good form that he’d make the moon seem dim, he’d raise such sparks on the road with the tips of his shoes!”
When a person is moody and sullen, it is a step forward for him to become cross. Onny would clap her hands.
“You’re getting into better humor.” she would say, and laugh at him till he laughed himself.
But on this particular moonlit night, when Gabriel went to the meeting place there was no sign of Onny. He waited as usual, thinking that she had been delayed; and then, when more than a reasonable time had passed, he began to wonder if she had come ahead of him, and he stepped deeper into the park to avoid being seen. He jumped down and whistled, with a thin, cautious whistle. There was no reply. The park was as bright as by daylight. The shadows of the trees fell across each other everywhere, and his own shadow, as he came out from under the wall, was outlined on the pale grass.
He wondered with concern if she could have gone to the tower, but as he sprang down and ran across to it he began to wonder, with a still greater concern, if she had remembered his displays of bad humor on other moonlit nights. She might have grown tired of him. He remembered that she had spoken of the other fellows she knew, and of how gay they would be on such a night.
“You couldn’t hold them,” she had said. “They’re half out of their minds on a, moonlight night. They re ready for anything. You’d break your heart listening to the things that they’d want to do. There is no stopping them. They’d want to walk to Draghead one minute, and the next minute they’d want to go to a dance ten miles away!”
He began to run towards the tower, although he did not expect to find her there. The cold dew began to soak into his socks at the ankles when the longer grasses brushed against his running feet. He felt sure that she had grown tired of him. lie was absolutely certain that she had felt the need for gayer company, and then, at the very moment when he put his hands on the chilled ledge of the old tower and drew himself up, calling her name, there was a far away sound of voices — voices of young people, male and female raised in a sound of singing; and when he pulled himself up into the tower, and looked in the direction of the voices, he saw a sidecar, clear as day, with a smart trotting horse, going out along the Draghead road, rocking with the gavety of the occupants, who were singing, their voices raising echoes. He could not see who they were, but he felt an absolute certainty that Onny was with them, and he held hard to the stone until the sound of the singing had died away.
He had no doubt as to Onny’s whereabouts. He felt with absolute certainty that she was one of the singing girls on the tilting sidecar. It also occurred to him that, in the event of Onny’s not returning soon, her mother might indeed be prevailed upon to call at the house in Clewe Street to make an inquiry for her. In that case it would be just as well if he were there when she called.
BY MAKING silly remarks about the embroidered dragon, Gabriel had hoped to distract himself from his thoughts. But soon the silence in the room was as deep as the night outside the windows, and Gabriel’s thoughts intruded themselves upon him once again.
At last, however, his aunts began to look at the clock, and Sara took down the tin alarm-clock that she kept under the mantel border, and began to wind it until its sharp, imperative ticking filled the room. Theresa went upstairs. Sara began to go around the lower rooms, examining the bolts to see that they were shot home.
“I’ll hold the lamp for you, Aunt Sara,” he said, rising to assist her.
“It’s all right, Gabriel, thank you.” said Sara, holding on to the lamp, but shielding it with her hand. The light fell on her face in such a way that her brow, and the tips of her lashes, and the wings of her wide nostrils were lit with the soft light, while the rest of her face was obscured by the shadows these features threw. In the play of light and shade her face took on a swift grace. Gabriel stared at her with sadness. He had never thought of her youth, but lie realized with a rush that she must have been gentle anti lovely.
The expression on Gabriel’s face awakened some lonely dream in Sara’s heart, and she let his eyes revive the illusion of the past in her heart as the lamp revived the illusion of youth on her brow.
Such still moments come to all quiet people, and it is a matter of wonder how long such moments of enchantment would last if interruption did not come from without; for with every moment that passes, the mood of the mind gains power over the body and an inertia possesses one limb after another. So, as Gabriel stared at Sara, blazing with lost beauty in the illusory light of the upheld lamp, and as she gazed back at him. there was all of a sudden a sound of feet outside in the street — feet that ran urgently in the darkness, and ran in the direction of the house.
Before the running feet had reached the door, Gabriel ran towards it, and the sound of the knocker came hardly a second before the door was opened wide, and Gabriel, with Sara beside him. faced Onny’s mother.
“Mrs. Soraghan! What is the matter? Come in.”
Sara put the lamp down on the hall table and ran forward to draw the panting woman into the hall.
“Is Onny here?”
When she had said this, Mrs. Soraghan had to gasp to regain the breath that she had lost in saying it.
“Is she here? Is she here?” she repeated. And as if she would not be able to understand the reply, she ran to the kitchen door and opened it to look into the empty room, where the fire had long died out into a waste of white ashes.
“She’s not here,” she said, answering her own question and relieving the trembling Sara from having to do so. “Oh, where is she at all?” And she sat down on the chair in the kitchen. “My daughter Judy wanted to come two hours ago and ask if she was here, and I wouldn’t let her. I was afraid it might give you and Miss Theresa a bad opinion of the girl. Wasn’t I the wicked woman to put the thought of a few pence above the thought of Onny’s safety!”
Miss Sara put out her hand and rested it on Airs. Soraghan’s shoulder. She gave little timid pats to the shoulder and muttered soothingly whatever came into her head.
“There now, Mrs. Soraghan. Everything will be all right. Calm yourself. Everything will be all right.”
But over the bent head she looked at Gabriel with terrified eyes; and forming some urgent words noiselessly with her lips, she gave him a nod in the direction of the stairs, which indicated that he was to call Theresa.
Gabriel went out to the stairs and went up deliberately and without undue hurry. He felt a great anger and resentment against Onny for having drawn this attention on herself, which would surely result in her being put under a more severe control at home. She would not be able to meet him so often, or to risk staying with him as late as she had done before.
When Theresa came into the room a few minutes afterwards, fully dressed as in the daytime, she was so disconcerted by the way Airs. Soraghan ran up to her with gratitude and dependence that the hard words she had prepared to utter died on her lips and the same impulse that had impelled Sara to offer sympathy took possession of her.
“Sit down, Mrs. Soraghan,” she said, “and tell me the details. Did she not go home at eight o’clock as usual?”
“We didn’t see her since she left the house this morning. Miss Coniffe: and only for my not wanting people to know she was getting into bad habits, and staying out late, I would have sent the children looking for her earlier in the night. But once it went past half-eleven I sent them out all over the town.”
“They didn’t come here,” said Theresa.
“I told them to leave this house until the last, and that if anyone came down to this house I’d be the one to come. I wanted to speak in a way that wouldn’t put you against the girl. Miss .Coniffe, and be the cause of tier being sent from your employment, because, as I and my husband know, it’s a good employment for a girl; and if it was nothing more than the training a girl would get in this house, to say nothing of her pay, it would be worth doing a lot to see that she didn’t lose her job.”
Mrs. Soraghan had spoken with the headlong speediness with which a wheel, once started, will roll down a hill, blit which, once it reaches the flat ground again, will falter and depart from the straight path it followed to wobble now to one side, now to another.
“What will I do?” she said. “Where will I go? When I saw the night thickening every minute, and the lights going out in every house, and the moon itself getting thin and going behind the clouds, I didn’t care if she was never to do another hour’s work if only she was safe and in her bed. Where can she be? What would keep her out till this hour?”
“Is there any house where she might visit? There might he dancing, and she might let the time slip.”
“She uever went anywhere to a dance but at the crossroads, and there was no dancing there this long while back. The priest put a stop to it.”
“Where did she spend her evenings?”
“She spent most evenings in the best place they could be spent,” said Mrs. Soraghan. “She used to be hardly settled down to the table for her evening meal when she’d be up again, she was so anxious to get. to the church. I think she spent the best part of her evening there, and after that she used to go for a bit of a walk.”
“Whom did she go walking with?” said Theresa.
“She went by herself, Miss Coniffe. She was queer and quiet in her ways,” Mrs. Soraghan sobbed.
“I don’t see what is to be done,” said Theresa, and she went over to the windowpane and cleared aside the curtain. “The moon has darkened,” she said. “There was a moon when I was getting ready for bed, but it has gone behind the clouds.”
“Oh, my little girl! My little girl! ” said Mrs. Soraghan, and she rocked backwards and forwards, with her feet pressing now on the ball, now on the heel, as if it were her sorrowful task to threadle an invisible spinning wheel.
GABRIEL remained all during this scene in a state of indiff’erenee which sprang directly from his continued and obstinate belief that Onny was gone off on the carousal with the gay-boys of the town, and a feeling that she deserved all the punishment she would receive, although it would be for a reason which her judges would not suspect: her disloyalty and caprice towards him. The sight of the worn creature before him, however, racked with a grief that he felt it in his power to dispel with a few words, finally prevailed upon him and he decided to mention the sidecar that he had seen canter under the evening stars in the direction of Draghead.
When Gabriel opened his mouth to speak, he realized that he must approach the topic in a careful manner, and let his information emerge as the mere idle speculation of one not greatly interested in the situation, in case it should occur to his listeners that it was a queer thing for him not to have spoken sooner.
Ifis aunt Sara, however, by good luck noticed his silence at the time when her notice of it was most welcome.
“You are saying nothing, Gabriel. Have you no suggestions to offer poor Mrs. Soraghan?”
“Ah, don’t bother poor Master Gabriel,” said the woman, but. she turned her eyes up to him hopefully.
“To tell you the truth, I’m not worried about her,” said Gabriel. “She’s well able to look after herself.” He spoke casually. “She’s probably gone off on some joy ride, and she can’t come home until the rest of the crowd are willing to return.” When he used the words “joy ride” it was impossible to restrain a sneer from appearing on his face. It was this sneer on his lips, as much as his words, that made Mrs. Soraghan stand up.
“Onny is not one to go joy-riding without telling her mother! ”
“There’s always a first time for everything, Mrs. Soraghan,” said Theresa Coniffe.
“That, may be true for some people,” Mrs. Soraghan said, “but I brought up my children in a way different from most people, and God knows I had experience enough in bringing them up before Onny arrived!” She turned to Gabriel. “What makes you think. Master Gabriel, that my Onny would go joy-riding with a crowd of people who could sec no difference between the day and the night when it came to enjoying themselves?”
Gabriel felt, cornered. He saw no way out of the difficulties, so he plungeti deeper into them. “I saw a sidecar laden with fellows and girls going out the Draghead road early this evening, and the car drew up within a few yards of your cottage. It came into my mind at the time, and recent events prove the truth of my suspicion, that Onny must have gone with them.”
His hurt and resentment stirred in him again as he spoke. He did not bother about (he effect of his words upon Mrs. Soraghan. He supposed that the climax of the scene was over, but he became aware suddenly that, instead of easing the tension, his words had heightened it. His aunt Theresa dropped back into a chair behind her. Miss Sara gave a small cry of concern, and Mrs. Soraghan put her hands up to her face, and all that could be heard from between the hard knotted fingers, bitter with dirt and crooked with age, was the name of her daughter Onny.
“Oh, Onny, Onny, Onny!” she kept saying over and over again, “Oh, Onny! Onny! Onny!
Gabriel looked at his aunt. “What is the matter? Did I say something to upset her. I don’t see that it was such great harm after all for the girl to have gone for a ride. The hours slipped by. She didn’t feel the time pass. There’s nothing to be upset about.
Theresa looked at him with contempt. “Didn’t you hear what Mrs. Soraghan said?”
“Onny wasn’t on that sidecar. Mrs. Soraghan saw it when it went past the cot tage and stopped nearly outside the door to pick up Ned Nay Ion. There was no one in it but Joss Carty, the Beales and Lily Bell, and the two Dockery girls. Onny wasn’t on it.”
It was a few minutes before Gabriel was able to take in the significance of this information. It might have been easier for him to relinquish his error had it been an error of the eye, but it is hard to admit the errors of a jealous heart.
“Is that true, Mrs. Soraghan? Are you sure that, she couldn’t have been on the far side of the car, the side away from you, where you mightn’t have seen her so well? She might have kept her head down so that you wouldn’t see her, in case you might stop her going.”
Mrs. Soraghan looked up. “A few minutes ago you were taking her part, saying she surely must have forgotten to tell me where she was going. I saw every inch of the car. Didn’t it drive up almost on a level with the cottage, and the red-headed Dockery girl singing her loudest, and Sammy Beale with his arm around her playing the mouth-organ!” Mrs. Soraghan turned to Theresa. “I’m glad to say that Onny wasn’t with those hooligans.”
But as she realized that she did not know w here Onny was, and she could perhaps be in worse places, she began to moan again. Theresa and Sara looked commiseratingly at her, but when Gabriel ran over and began to shake the woman, pushing her back and pulling her towards him with a fury of temper, they sprang from their chairs.
“Have you gone out of your mind, Gabriel?” said Theresa, trying to pull his sleeve.
But Gabriel was shaking the woman and calling out questions to her as if she were stone-deaf.
“Why didn’t you say that long ago? Why didn’t you mention that when you first came in? Are you keeping hack any more information? God Almighty! Do you realize the seriousness of this? Do you know the time it is? Did you tell the Guards? Did you tell the priests? There should be a search.”
“Gabriel, control yourself. What has come over you?” Miss Collide was stiffened at the thought of the publicity that was t hreatening to lie drawn down upon them. “You took the affair very easy up to now. What’s come over you? Control yourself.”
“I thought she was on the sidecar. I was sure of it!" He ran his hands through his hair. “Why should I blame the poor thing?" he said, looking down at the limp form of Mrs. Soraghan, who moaned with a continual sound that showed that her last effort to cope with the situation had been made. All his former feelings, from the first moment that he had decided that Onny was not coming to the rampart, fell away from him as fast as a flock of starlings at the appearance of the hawk. New feelings of guilt and terror and an itching urgency for action came over him.
“We must do something.” he said, and he threw out his hands to Theresa.
“It’s not for you to do anything. It’s for her brothers to do whatever is to be done,”said Theresa.
“There’s no time for making minor distinctions like that now,” he cried, and ran into the hall to get his coat.
Theresa went after him, and her grip on his arm was as strong as her will.
“This is no small distinction,” she said. “Think of the consequences if you find her —” She faltered for a moment before the harshness of her thoughts, but went on with grim determination: “If you should find her a corpse — God between us and all harm! — what excuse would you make for being the one to go looking for her in the middle of the night?”
For a powerful moment the truth hung on Gabriel’s lips, but he held it back.
“Did your fine preachers below in the church ever get. lime, between asking for money, to make any mention of Christian charity?”
Sara came forward at the sound of the voices.
“Lower your voice, Gabriel, lower your voice,”she said. “You can be heard in the streets.”
“Keep out of this, Sara,” said Theresa, and she turned hack to Gabriel. “Kindly leave religion out of this,” she said.
“It’s you who are doing that!” said Gabriel, and he jerked himself free. “What would you have me do?” he added in a fierce curiosity of anguish.
“There is only one thing to do, although I expect you will sneer at it.” Theresa turned around. “Come, Sara,” she said. “We cannot do any more. Let him go as he chooses. We will give poor Onny the only help that is in our power, and wherever she is, and whatever has befallen her, our help will be the kind that, will avail her most.”
Gabriel pushed his arms into the sleeves ot his coat. His hands, sweaty with fear, went into the sleeves clumsily. One arm caught in a torn lining and he dragged it out again and opened the door without waiting to put his arm out in the right armhole. As he banged the door behind him he just caught the intonation of his aunts’ voices, with the weak voice of Mrs, Soraghan, as they knelt upon the kitchen chairs to pray for Ouuy’s safety.
WHEN Gabriel ran out under the bright night sky he had no clear idea of what he was going to do or where he was going to go. And after he had run through the three or four main streets of the town he came to a standstill. A country town consists of little more than streets. If Onny was not to be found in one of them, where was she?
How small the town looked as it lay under the moon: a few streets, a shabby station, a gaunt church, and the straggling ruin of an ancient friary. That was all. And beyond the town the country stretched out wide to every side, field beyond field, the land rising and sinking with its ancient furrows, visible although unharrowed for hundreds of years. There was no use looking in the fields. The fields were infinite.
“Onny! Onny!” he cried despairingly, and he did not know where to turn.
“I won’t waste any more time in suspense that may he needless,” he said. “I’ll go out to the cottage and make sure that she isn’t safe in her bed while I’m making a fool of myself here.”
lint, just as he was coming near the Soraghan cottage, in which the gleam of a light made his pulse beat faster, because he could not tell whether it was a good or a bad sign, over the high wall of the rampart from the depths of the park within there came the sudden scream of a frightened night fowl.
At once, as the scream pierced the air, Gabriel’s heart was besieged with its desperate implications. His body trembled, suddenly aware in every limb of the savagery anti terror of the earth and its creatures.
He looked up at the towering Avails. Why had he not searched there in the first place! Onny had not been there when he went to meet her at the ordained hour. But might she not have gone there after he had left? Alight she not have waited there thinking that it was he who was late? And while she was waiting there, what might not have happened? He stood still on the road, his heart beating furiously. Once again the strange bird screamed with terror in the dark.
In another moment Gabriel was running towards the familiar fissure in the wall, and before the echo of the bird had died upon the air he had clambered up over the rough stones and dropped down into the inner ring of the keep.
The moon no longer shone out bright and clear and blue, as it had shone earlier in the night, but even behind the banks of cloud that hid it, it still gave some luminous quality to the air. In a few minutes the tower loomed up before him. Gabriel gripped the lower ledge of the stone parapet, put his feet into the familiar footholds, and shafting his arm through a long spy-hole, he drew himself up onto the crumbling platform.
Upon one part of the night scene only did the moon shed light with any permanence, and that was upon the surface of the river that ran so roughly that its broken surface caught the light as brightly as broken glass. Upon this broken river that ran wildly down between its banks, Gabriel gazed with a sad remembrance of the first evening that he had crossed it, and a goading grief came over him to think that in the idle impulse of that evening the seed of this bitter moment was sown. He looked at it, wondering suddenly whether it would be possible to cross back from here in the other direction and avoid retracing his steps through the park.
But lie dismissed the idea as madness, for although the river was not at full peak, it had a wild streak in it that sent it hurrying along jerkily. He gazed at the bright water; a fascination came over him, and he slipped down from the tower and went down through the trees to the nearest point of the river.
Here the river, having passed beyond the reach of those whose back gardens gave them the right to tame it with weeding scythe and water rake, wore a wilder aspect than might be expected at such a short distance from the town. Here too it was diverted from its straight course by heaps of stones from the ruin, which had fallen into the river bed, possibly blown there by one of the first blasts of gunpowder used in Ireland, and never lifted since. Here too the dense shrubbery, ash, and willow, although growing in the dry soil on the bank, had dipped their branches over gradually into the water until they reached the surface and were like woodland girls bending their heads to wash their tresses in the stream.
IT WAS upon one bough in particular that Gabriel’s eye fell as be was turning around to trace his way back along the river bank.
One might almost think it was a human form that was caught in those treacherous boughs, he thought, the body caught in the lower branches, the arms thrown over an upper bough, the head hanging despondent as the water dragged at the heavy, sodden clothing, dragging it more violently and more successfully each moment. The moon shone white again from the kernel of cloud. “It is like a woman’s form,” he thought. And then, with a wilder thought, he started forward frantically. Whatever was caught, on this branch had shape and color, for although the moon is no respecter of color, painting dark things dark, and light things light, he saw with horror that it was Onny’s red skirt that was caught on the weighted branches.
Rushing forward, his heart beating louder than the rabbling of the waters, Gabriel ran to the place on the bank nearest to the spot in the river where the tree hung out over the water. The garments were Onny’s. The human figure that was slung like a rag doll upon the dangerous branch was the body of Onny! But whether the garments clad a cold and sodden corpse, or a body in which the breast still lifted to the living heart, he could not from this distance tell.
His first impulse was to cling, himself, to the horizontal bough, and by its weight support himself while he dragged himself forward towards her. But at a glance he knew that her frail chance of survival depended upon her remaining within his reach; and her remaining within his reach depended on the way her clothes were accidentally caught upon a branch which the slightest stir might dislodge.
Gabriel pushed aside the small, evil fingers of the twigs that, tore at his hair and skin, and plunged his feet into the icy water, tumbling and falling, and catching at boughs. He felt the river rising and his own feet sinking in weedy mud, but he threw the weight of his body forward, and with one arm he flung a wild embrace upon the rough, knotted bough, while with the other he caught at the sodden hem of Onny’s garments that spread taut upon the lesser branches.
Onny’s limp body slipped from its cleft in the fork of the branch, and the well-worn cotton of the dress that had hung taut upon the knots gave way with a tearing sound, and upon his arm that held the other end of the clothing there came such a violent strain that he was nearly dragged from his own security upon the tree. Steadying himself, with muscles that seemed as if they would crack, he dragged the dead weight of the girl towards him, and then, grasping her with his thighs, and using them like a vise, he held the wet form firm until he could put down a hand and catch a secure grip of her arm, afraid to trust the worn wet clothing any further.
From the moment he clasped her wet arm, a flash of triumph had run through him to encourage his perseverance. Even with his scant experience of death, Gabriel knew from the limpness of the body clasped in his arms that he was no longer alone in this terror, but that another living being, breathing and pulsing, was there with him in the darkness.
Slowly, cautiously, he dragged himself along with one arm, and with the other hand he dragged the girl until they came into shallows that made it possible for him to let go his hold of the tree and gather her against his breast so that they both together fell upon the bank.
As they fell upon the river bank, for a long time Gabriel’s breath tore at him as the water had torn his clothing. His hands, which hung down limp, were numbed and unable to lift themselves. But rolling over he managed to lift his head so that he could look at Onny. He stared at the white face in its tangle of wet hair. And then suddenly, while he stared, with a swift lifting of the lids her eyes opened. Deepened and darkened by night and by the terrors of the previous hours, the eyes stared into his for a moment, and there was a recognition in them that could only come from a person still well within the shores of the living.
“Oh, Onny!” he cried. “Onny! Onny!”
And having no knowledge of how to treat a dying woman, he treated her like a living one. He clasped her close and in the warmth of his embrace the glorious vibration of nerves was set up once more in Onny’s numbed body, and as he in his turn felt her responding to him, his own confidence came back and he felt a new ability to cope with the situation. Pulling off his coat, he wrapped it around her; and lifting her in his arms, he began to run across the grass in the direction of the gap in the wall.
Although the Soraghan cottage was only a few paces from the rampart, Gabriel’s only thought was to get the girl home to Clewe Street. For whatever he might think of his aunt Theresa in other respects, there was no one in whom he would have greater confidence when it came to ministering to the sick or wounded.
Although he halted many times in the journey from the ramparts to Clewe Street, he seemed to make the journey in a short time after all. No light shone from any window until he reached Clewe Street. There the light shone out upon the pavement from the yellow blind, and between the light and the window blind a stiff figure knelt, casting her rigid shadow out upon the flagged path. Gabriel freed one hand and struck the window glass. The silhouetted figure of Theresa crossed herself as calmly as if she knelt at casual evening prayers, and an instant later the door was opened.
“Is she all right?” Theresa asked. “Where in the name of God did you find her? ” And looking contemptuously at the other two women, Theresa went over and gave a shake to Sara, who had not heard the knock or noticed her sister leaving the room, but who still knelt up on the deal chairs, her arms propped on the chairback and her head bent over her arms. “Gabriel is back! Get up, and don’t make a fool of yourself.”
And upon Mrs. Soraghan she looked with contempt too great for word or gesture to increase, for after the door had opened and Gabriel had come well within the room with Onny, who still dripped with mud and drops of water, Mrs. Soraghan still knelt on the wooden chair muttering responses to unvoiced prayers.
WHEN Theresa’s harsh voice penetrated the wearied consciousness of Sara, she raised her head and looked around at Gabriel, who still held Onny in his arms, and at whose feet there was now a wide pool of water from their sodden clothes. She stood up from her knees, slowly and stiffly, and went over to Mrs. Soraghan.
“Get up from your knees, Mrs. Soraghan,” she said. “Gabriel has come back. Our prayers are answered; he has brought, back Onny.”
Mrs. Soraghan raised her eyes, scarcely comprehending Sara’s words.
“See! Onny is safe!” Sara said. “Theresa and Gabriel are taking care of her.”
Theresa, who was dragging up a second chair to put under Onny’s feet, swung around at this point.
“Stop wasting your time with that foolish creature,” she said, indicating Mrs. Soraghan with a jerk of her head. “Attend to me. Get me blankets. Get me a hot jar. Put a saucepan of milk to heat on the fire.”
Sara rushed forward to Theresa’s side at the first of these orders, but as the orders multiplied she stood irresolute in the center of the floor.
“Get some blankets, Aunt Sara,” said Gabriel, and he himself began to pour milk into a saucepan.
When Sara came back with the blankets, Theresa began to strip the wet clothes from Onny. After she had bared one shoulder, she seemed to remember something, however, and she swung around angrily.
“Get out of the room,” she said to Gabriel. “You should know enough to go without being told.”
Gabriel, who had been holding the milk over the fire, flushed deeply and went towards the door. He had hardly been conscious, as he stood there in the kitchen, his eyes fastened on Onny, grateful for all the fuss that was being made of her, satisfied to be left alone.
“I’m sorry, Aunt Theresa,” he said, averting his eyes.
She looked at him with irritation. “What possessed you to bring her here at all? Why didn’t you take her home, where she belonged? You can make up a bed for yourself in my room, Sara,” said Theresa. “I want to put Onny in your room.” She flashed a look at Gabriel which he felt was intended to convey more than he had energy to interpret. But when Sara lifted Onny and he made a gesture as if to assist her, Theresa again gave him the same fierce glance. “Keep back, please!" she commanded, and clearing him from her pathway by a gesture, she began to move towards the door, Sara with difficulty helping to support the girl.
With an awkward gait they went down the passage, and when they had entered Sara’s room there was a creak as Onny was left down upon the old bed. A minute later, Theresa came to the door and slammed it shut.
Gabriel sat down on a hard chair by the fire for a few minutes longer, disturbed by the noises that came from behind the closed door. He turned over the details of the evening.
After a time the door opened and his aunt Theresa came in again. “What’s keeping you up?” she said. “Get to your bed!”
When Mrs. Soraghan had gone and Onny was established in the big bed in Sara’s room, Sara carried blankets and bedding and aired them in front of the kitchen fire before making up a bed for herself in Theresa’s room. The sisters prepared to go upstairs.
“This is an unfortunate affair!” said Theresa, as she turned Onny’s wet clothes over before the dying fire.
“The poor child!” said Sara. “I hope she’s all right !”
“She’s all right. Depend upon it!” said Theresa, and she heaped ashes over the remaining blaze in the grate. “Oh, she’s clever. She’s as clever as a fox. She was not half as bad as we thought, but she played up to us nicely till I saw what her game was.”
“I don’t understand,” said Sara.
Theresa drew herself up. “There are several people in this town who might think it worth risking a great deal to have a chance of putting you and me out of this house.”
“Out of this house?” Sara was dismayed.
“Wouldn’t it be a fine thing for Miss Onny to be faking over these keys?” Theresa rattled the keys at her belt. “And how would you feel, Sara Coniffe, if you had to be going to Miss Onny Soraghan and asking her permission to open the larder if you should happen to take a fancy for a cup of tea during the day, as you often do, in your own father’s house? Of course she would not be Miss Onny Soraghan then, but Mrs. Gabriel Galloway. Lord, doesn’t it sound well! It’s the name of a lady. It would sit well on that slut from the rampart cottages!”
“But Gabriel wouldn’t be so foolish,” cried Sara. “Gabriel will have his choice of a score of girls— girls with money; girls with good family connections.”
“It’s the men who have a wide choice that make a narrow picking,” said Theresa.
They went upstairs, and Theresa took the blankets from Sara and began to make up the spare bed in her room.
“I’ve had some suspicions before now that she was trying to shape things to her own designs,” Theresa said, “but I didn’t see through it until tonight.”
“Theresa, what about Gabriel himself?” Sara asked.
“What do you mean?” said Theresa.
“Supposing that he liked Onny? Supposing that it wasn’t only Onny who was fond of him, but that he was fond of Onny?”
Theresa drew herself up.
“What difference would that make?” she inquired, as if Sara had asked a more than usually stupid question. “What difference would that make?” she repeated, and began to give her hair the brushing that Gabriel had interrupted earlier.
Theresa’s question had been merely a flourish of rhetoric, but had it been one that required an answer, it is unlikely that Sara could have given one from her inexperienced heart. Yet it was a question well worth answering, had there been an impartial voice of wisdom in that room. There would have been a great difference in the destiny of both Onny and Gabriel had Gabriel loved her so ardently that he would allow no obstacle to come between him and his right to love her lawfully. And on the other hand, if he had cared less than he did, things might have been better still, but between love and lack of love there are many middle courses, and Gabriel and Onny had involved their impassioned blood and vulnerable nerves in a relationship which knit them together by a thousand bonds of secrecy, guilt, and wretched loyalty.
Through seven issues, the Atlantic has serialized related episodes of Gabriel Galloway. We sincerely regret that the paper shortage left us spare for only 75,000 words of Mary Larin’s novel. The chapters we have printed they constitute about half the book — must convince those who have read them that here is a talent of no small discovery. To her writing Miss Lavin brings the spaciousness of the Victorians, the tranquil beauty of the Irish countryside, the personal turbulence of the Irish character, and, most treasurable of all, the gift of making people live in the mind. We hope that those who have appreciated, the style and the humor and the beauty of this book will wish to read, it in its entirety when it appears this May under its new title, The House in Clewe Street.
Beginning in the June Atlantic
THE EGG AND I, by Betty MacDonald
CONCORD. N H.