A Gentle Soul
One of today’s finest short-story writers, Mary Lavin was born in Massachusetts but has long made Ireland her home. The ATLANTIC printed one of her first stories in 1940, when she was acclaimed as a bright new talent. Since then her work has continued to appear in collections, the most recent being THE BEST AMERICAN SHORT STORIES, 1966.
I HAVE just come back from the graveside where the people of these parts performed their last neighborly duties toward Agatha Darker. She was my sister. After my father died two years ago, we lived alone in this house, we two, in silence and bitterness. And there were times when I used to wish this day upon us, when she would be lowered into the clay that could be no blacker, no colder, no more close, no more silent, than her own black heart.
I suppose it would have served the same ends if I had been the one to die, but perhaps the thought that I would have Jamey Morrow to face kept me from dying many a time in the long decades since I last laid eyes on him, or what was left of him, under the straw and old sacks they put over him in the yard before they carried him down to his sister’s cottage.
I was the only one in the yard when it happened, but I had my back turned, and I didn’t know there was anything wrong until I heard the clatter of the mare’s hooves and the crack of the cart splintering against the iron gate-piers. I got such a fright I didn’t see Jamey at all when I first looked around. I only thought of the mare and of how I could stop her, because after the cart struck the gate, the traces broke and she went off in a mad gallop down the lane. Afterward I often wondered that he didn’t shout or let out a cry, but maybe it was lost in the clatter of the hooves and the iron rattle of the wheels. Or else maybe it all happened so suddenly he didn’t get his breath, but was jolted out of the cart and down onto the cobbles. Then — oh, God, what an awful thing to happen to any man — the wheel of the cart went over him. Over his face, they said, but by God’s mercy I didn’t see that. He must have tried to get up and fallen down again, because when I saw him, he was lying face downward. They said I ran over to him, but I don’t remember any more than just seeing him lying there in the muck and the dirt with his hands stretched out like as if he was still straining after the reins.
But I knew he was dead. They say I gave a scream and fainted; fell down on the wet cobblestones and didn’t come to my senses again until they brought me in the parlor and put me down on the sofa. But do you know the first words I heard when I came to my senses? It was Agatha who was speaking: “If only it hadn’t happened in our yard.” That was what she was saying!
It meant nothing more than that to her, that a man was killed, and that man Jamey Morrow, who had worked for us for fifteen years and whom we knew as long back as we could remember, when we were all of us small children going to school together.
I think there was never a time when I didn’t know Jamey Morrow and his sister, Annie. I remember when their mother was alive, a poor sickly woman. Our own mother used to take us with her when she went down to the cottage with soup or medicine.
“She’s not long for this world,” Mother used to say, and she’d look at Jamey and Annie and sigh, and speak of them as orphans.
Poor Mother: it was she who wasn’t long for this world. It was we who were soon to be orphans. But that is only one of the ways that things seemed to work out the opposite of what might have been expected. Who, for instance, could have thought when this country got its freedom and they began to build ugly concrete houses with hideous redtiled roofs for the laborers and farm workers that a day would come when they would be fitter for human habitation than our farmhouses that were such a source of pride to us.
Then we considered that the countryside was destroyed by these hideous houses, and I remember well my father’s rage when he heard the Morrows had put down their names to get one, and that it was going to be built on the frontage of James Lanigan’s farm at a point just opposite to where our lane opened into the road. Just where it would be an eyesore, he said, every time we came down the lane. Even I, who was glad the Morrows were getting away from the damp hovel in the fields; even I wished they weren’t going to be right at the end of our lane.
We loved the lane so much. We were proud of being nearly a mile back from the road, and apart from the pride of knowing it was our own land to either side of us, we used to love going up and down it on the sidecar, especially in summer, when the hedges were as high as walls and there were pink and white dog roses nodding in the breeze as we tilted to this side and that over the dried ruts in the ground.
I never thought a day would come when places lying back in the fields would be as good as worthless. But then, who among us could have foreseen that even our thatched roofs, in which we took such pride, would be a curiosity and that people passing in cars would point and stare at them. I must admit, of course, that thatch can look very unsightly if it is the least bit neglected, and as time went on, it was not always easy for us to get thatchers. It was a trade that was passing out of existence.
Some of our neighbors had the thatch pulled down and had their places slated. The Lanigans had their roof slated, and I suppose it looked a bit better than ours, which had rotted patches in it and the sprouts of green grass growing up through the straw. But it didn’t look a whole lot for all that, because they couldn’t do anything with the old crooked walls that had somehow or other looked right with the thatch.
Ah, well! I suppose it is kind of comical now to think how we resented the new cottages and complained that they spoiled the view. To do ourselves justice, I must say there was never any attempt to make them fit into the countryside. Places like ours and Lanigans’, and other places like them, were hedged around with privet and laurel, and in summer wreathed all around the windows and doors with woodbine and roses.
And I must admit that the Morrows’ cottage was no better than any other. In fairness to Agatha I must admit that!
THE Morrows didn’t get a council house until Jamey was almost a grown man. I suppose there being only him and a sister, Annie, and both of them unmarried, the council passed over them for a long time. But they got one at last.
I remember Agatha and I were away at boarding school when the building of the cottage began, and it was well started when we came home for our holidays one summer.
“What in the name of Providence is that?” cried Agatha when we came to our lane and she saw the new walls just opposite it.
“The Morrows are getting a place at last,” my father said. “There’s nothing we can do about it,” and he pressed his lips together, and gave the mare a lick of the whip so that she fairly leapt up the lane.
“I wouldn’t mind so much if it was anyone but those Morrows,” said Agatha when she and I were walking down the lane a few days later.
She always hated them. I never knew why, and I don’t know now, unless it was that even then, even before Jamey came to work for us at all, before he was a man, you might say, when we were all only youngsters going to school together, she might have seen something in his eyes when he looked at me that wasn’t in them when he looked at her.
And even in those days, he seemed to be always crossing our path, as if indeed to provoke her. As I have said, we went to the national school when we were little girls, just as all the farmers’ children did, until we were old enough to go to boarding school, but whereas the other scholars often had to come three and four miles to the schoolhouse, and often in their bare feet, we, who lived only a short distance from the village, were brought there and back by the donkey and trap.
And when I said a few minutes ago that Jamey Morrow was always crossing our path, that was literally true, because one of the things I remember best about him in those days was the way he would start up suddenly almost out of nowhere, like a hare, right in front of the donkey’s head, and with a laugh dart across the road to stare at us in what Agatha called an impudent way from the bank on the other side.
“That fool,” she’d cry, and once I remember she snatched the whip from the socket and rose up in the trap to lash out at him. But he only laughed. That day, to goad her, he ran alongside the trap in his bare feet the whole way to the schoolhouse gate. And no matter how she beat the poor animal under the shafts, we could not outdistance his grinning face.
“You fool.” she cried again in a fury as we got to the wall of the schoolyard and with a last grin he vaulted over it. All she could do then was to give a last lash to the wretched donkey, whose legs were plaiting under him from fatigue.
And here I think I should set down another thing I remember about that day. We used to unhitch the donkey and tie him up in a covered shed at the side of the schoolhouse, with a nosebag of oats that we brought with us in the trap. Well, on this particular day when we were in school, I began to feel uneasy about the poor animal after such a gallop as he had, and at the first opportunity I went out to take a look at him. He was all right. Someone had put a bit of old sacking across his back to keep him from getting cold after all he sweated. And someone had given him a fistful of grass because there were green blades on the ground under his feet and stuck between his yellow teeth.
It wasn’t Agatha who put that sack over him. It wasn’t she who gave him the grass. And it wasn’t me. It could only have been one person, and when after a minute I sensed that there was someone else in the yard, I hardly needed to catch a sight of him to know that it was Jamey Morrow.
I SUPPOSE, in a way, you might say we were sweethearts as long ago as that, because when our glances met in the empty yard there was the same look in his eyes that was in them ever after when we were alone.
And I suppose that is why I felt so queer the year we came home from boarding school for good and Father told us that Jamey Morrow had come looking for work.
“Jamey Morrow?” I had to sit down on the lid of my trunk; I felt weak all of a sudden.
And that was nothing to the way I felt the next day when I went into the kitchen for something and there was Jamey standing at the back door with a bucket of calf meal in his hands, waiting for someone to scald it. Agatha was with me, but his eyes were on me. And I, when I saw him, started back into the shadow of a big grain bin we used to keep in the kitchen for the sake of dryness.
Oh, that look! How well I was to know it in the years ahead. And how often I was to tremble in case Agatha too had seen it; or Father.
I know now that Father never saw it, but I think that Agatha was aware of every glance that passed between us, even when she was in another room with the thickness of two walls between her and us. But her silence was part of the plan she pursued from the start to pretend she noticed nothing at all.
Even on the day of the inquest, she kept up a pretense of its not concerning me any more nearly than it would have concerned anyone, to have a man killed in my own yard, in front of my face, you might say.
And at the last minute in the kitchen, when we were dressed and ready to go to the courthouse and Father had the mare hitched to the sidecar, when I pleaded with her again to let me take off my blue silk dress, she only looked at me coldly and asked what else I had that I could wear.
“Anything but this,” I cried in anguish, looking down at the blue dress. It was fitter to wear to a wedding than to an inquest.
But Agatha’s cold eyes compelled me to look up at her. “You know you have nothing else fit to wear on an occasion like this,” she said; “nothing except your old foulard,” she added slowly and deliberately.
My foulard was black, unrelieved except by a bit of jet beading on the bodice. It was part of the mourning clothes Father bought for us when our mother died four years before.
Agatha used to have one like it, but black suited her and she had worn it out in no time. Black never suited me, and I didn’t wear mine very often. It was as good as new.
“You know you look a sight in black,” said Agatha when she saw me still irresolute. “You look bad enough as things are this morning, God knows. Your face is all blotchy, did you know that?”
But I neither knew nor cared how I looked. And Agatha must have known that too, because in spite of her policy of pretending to know nothing, there were times when she could not hide her malevolence.
“Do you want people to say that you went into mourning for your father’s yardman?” she cried.
I suppose I ought to have given her an answer: I ought to have told her how little I cared for what anyone thought about me, least of all her, that was most responsible for keeping Jamey and me apart.
But Father was waiting outside on the sidecar and the door was open, so that he could have heard every word we said, and I was afraid to open my mouth. There didn’t seem to be any gain in upsetting him for nothing, because all the declarations I could ever make would not do Jamey any good, nor could my silence do him any harm. Or so I thought at the time.
That was always my failing, not speaking up to people. But until that day I thought it was a good quality. I used to be proud of what I thought was my gentle nature. I used to think that people admired me for it, particularly when they saw that Agatha was so hard.
She was like Father. But I took after Mother.
Poor, poor Mother. She was always timid, and when she got frail and delicate toward the end of her life, her timidity was almost cowardice. She let Father dominate her in everything, and as for us girls, she was always warning us to avoid saying anything to upset him, in case, as she used to say, her voice sinking to a whisper, in case he would get a stroke and “drop.”
Oh, with what dread and fear I was filled by that simple word “drop,” when it came like that in a whisper from my mother’s lips. Even to this hour, in a storm I never hear the wind drop without feeling greater terror in my heart than the worst fury of the wind can evoke.
But Agatha never had the same fear of provoking Father’s anger. Perhaps she was secure in the knowledge that unless she were to incense him by tales about me, there was nothing in her own life that could provoke him to any great degree of anger.
I don’t suppose I had much to hide either before Jamey came to work for us, but as far back as I can remember I was mortally afraid of my father. But then, I was afraid of Agatha too.
Mother was like that; afraid of everything. Indeed, she hinted as much to me one day shortly before she died. She had taken my hand in hers, that was so thin and white.
“You’re like me, Rose,” she said.
“I’m glad I’m like you, Mother,” I whispered with love and tenderness. She looked at me, as if in pity, as if in remorse. Then she turned her head to one side, and I saw that her face was wet with tears.
“What is the matter, Mother?” I cried, but all she could do was shake her head from side to side as if in admonition.
As if there were anything I could do then, or at any time, to make me other than I was. I suppose what happened at the inquest only proved that if I had a hundred lives to live I would have been the same cowardly creature all the time; and Jamey’s dogged perseverance would have gained him nothing in the end, no matter how long he lived.
I would never have had the courage to face up to Father, to Agatha, to the whole countryside, and let it be thrown in my face that I’d gone down to live in the cottage that I sneered at so much when it was being built. I couldn’t bring myself to think of such a thing, although now the thought of standing in one of those small rooms with Jamey beside me is like thinking of a caress, because, for all our love, we never stood as near together as those close and narrow walls would have brought us.
We were never alone for longer than a few uneasy minutes, while I scoured the milking pails for him perhaps, or worked the handle of the pump while he rinsed them round with spring water. At such times Agatha was never far away; in the dairy, perhaps, or else gone down the passage for something, to return in a few seconds. But they were long terrible moments for all that, when some pull seemed to be exerting itself between us, so that I often had to catch hold of the table or the back of a chair, in order to keep from moving nearer to him, or putting out my hand to touch him. Whether it was something outside us that made me feel this pull toward him, or whether it was exerted upon me deliberately by his eyes that were always full upon me whenever I encountered him, I do not know. I only know that after such moments passed and he had gone, although my heart beat wildly at the thought of what the moment had presaged, I was always glad that for another while things were to remain vague.
AND so one summer after another came and went, and left us as it found us. And the cold, hard winters came, and although they were longer in passing, they too passed and left things unchanged.
Oh, how bitter it was afterward to think of those hard winters Jamey endured, up at all hours of the night with ewes at lambing time, and yet the first astir in the yard at frosty dawn. Many and many a time my heart was stabbed at the sight of him going about his labors, caked to the knees with mud, his clothes shapeless from all the wettings he got and the poor means he had of drying them.
It was some comfort to think of a few times, in the bitterest of weather, that I got a chance to call him to the kitchen window and hand him out a cup of hot tea when Agatha was occupied elsewhere. But for the most part the winters were hard and black for him. And only for me it’s likely he would not have stayed in such a backward place.
Of course in the summer it didn’t seem so backward, and in our part of the world the summer used to come so suddenly that overnight it would seem to reach full tide, the hedges all in blossom, and the cattle in the pastures wading through great billows of grass, as if through water: grass so high indeed that once as we went down the lane in the sidecar I saw a man walking down the path through our meadow, and it was only when the wind swayed the grasses that it could be seen that by the hand he held a little girl in a pink sunbonnet!
Oh, the summers were beautiful; the summers were bountiful: they seemed to be made for lovers.
As each summer broke over the countryside, it seemed to me that surely, surely things would be different, and somehow Jamey and I would get over our difficulties.
I used to forget Agatha. I used to forget Father. Above all, I used to forget that there had been other summers when the hedges were just as thick with roses and the grass then, too, had risen in the fields like a flood. Yet all these summers had passed, and we were as we had always been; no nearer to each other.
So many summers!
Only a few days before Jamey was killed, I was standing at the door of the kitchen, and although the real summer had not yet come, here and there, like a spray of foam breaking before its time, far out upon a distant wave, the hawthorn had broken into blossom.
“Summer is nearly here,” said Jamey, rolling the water slowly round and round in the milk pail and not looking at me at all.
“It makes me sad to think of the summer coming,” I said.
He stopped rolling the can.
“I was thinking of summers long ago,” I said, hastily, “when I was a child.”
And instinctively I drew back into the shelter of the back porch, and the old feeling of nervousness came over me so that I trembled. Agatha had only gone down the passage to the dairy: we could hear the sound of the clappers as she made up the butter. But Jamey seemed reckless that day. He left down the milk can and came a step or two after me as I withdrew still further into the porch.
“Why think of the summers that are gone?” he said. “Why not think of the summers ahead?”
One would have thought those words were simple enough, and harmless too, but I read their deeper import so clearly that, terrified, I glanced over my shoulder in case they might have been overheard. And when I looked again I saw on his face another look with which I was becoming familiar. It was not pity, it was not contempt. Perhaps the nearest I can go to naming it is to say it was a look of accusation. And his voice when he spoke again had lost its eagerness.
“More have gone than are to come,” he said.
Then he lifted the pail from the ground, and going back to the pump, he made a clatter that filled the yard.
As I watched him that day my heart was heavy. That is all there is between us, I thought, or ever like to be: looks of love and looks of accusation.
Agatha was a long time in the dairy that evening.
I need not have been so cautious. Yet when she came back into the kitchen, you’d almost think our voices had left traces in the air from the way she stood on the threshold with the bowl of buttermilk in her arms, looking around her suspiciously.
“Who was here?” she asked, but she knew without being told that it was Jamey. “It’s well for you,” she said, “that you have nothing more to do than give chat to the like of that fellow!”
That was Agatha’s attitude from the start; to ignore the implications of the situation that was developing, and remark only on surface irregularities: the way I idled, or the way Jamey’s boots muddied the floor when he came into the kitchen.
It was indeed hard at times to know whether or not she suspected anything. Sometimes it seemed impossible to think that she did not. On the other hand, what had ever passed between Jamey and me behind Agatha’s back that might not have passed between us in her presence? Nothing; unless perhaps those looks, those inflammable, dangerous looks, that showed how near the surface was the fire that could consume us all. Because, of course, Agatha and Father would never be able to hold up their heads again if I ran away with Jamey Morrow.
Not that our plans had ever been put like that in plain words. Poor Jamey, I had never given him the right to speak plainly. But what was in his mind could not be stifled, and there was a purpose and a meaning behind every word he uttered.
THERE was one day when he came to the door of the kitchen and called me by name, recklessly, not caring if he was overheard. By good chance we were alone.
“Did you hear the news?” he asked, his eyes bright and piercing as they searched my face.
I hadn’t heard anything strange.
“About Molly Lanigan,” said Jamey.
I had heard nothing, but of course I knew at once what was coming.
“And Andy Fagan?” I asked.
Jamey nodded his head excitedly.
“They’ve run away?” I whispered.
Jamey nodded his head again, an exultant look on his face. “Australia!” he cried, and his voice also was exultant.
“But — ”
I was so bewildered, so disturbed. Molly Lanigan was the daughter of James Lanigan, my father’s friend, and the way of life in the Lanigan home was in many respects the same as our own.
Perhaps old Lanigan was not as proud as our father and did not set such a high standard for his womenfolk, allowing them to walk to Mass sometimes rather than take out the trap, even when the day was wet. He took less heed of their appearance in the house, too, and Molly Lanigan went around the kitchen in the morning with old trodden-down slippers on her feet, and she was let go about the yard in muddy weather with a pair of her father’s boots on her feet, unpolished and unlaced. But whatever might have been old Lanigan’s laxity in these respects, he and Father saw eye to eye when it came to estimating the difference between themselves and the laboring class. Old Lanigan had been incensed at the scheme for giving them cottages.
“You’ll see,” he said. “All this will end badly. It will put them above themselves. A day will come when we won’t be able to get one of them to lift a spade. More than that: you’ll see the day when they’ll be so full of themselves they’ll be setting their caps at the farmers’ daughters, and looking for wives among them.”
Molly Lanigan was with her father that day, and how she and I giggled until we saw Agatha looking down her nose at us!
Molly was as pretty as a rose, with her soft mossy hair and soft tinted cheeks, the pink coming and going in them. People often said we were alike, but of course I wasn’t anything like as pretty as Molly. All the same, we were often taken for sisters. We were more alike than Agatha and me anyway, and I suppose that’s what people meant.
I felt more sisterly toward Molly; that was certain.
After we left school, however, we didn’t see each other very often. And then one day Agatha brought up her name with a glitter of malice in her eyes, because Agatha never liked Molly, any more than she liked any friends of mine.
“This is a nice state of affairs,” she said. “I hear people are beginning to talk about Molly Lanigan!”
I had heard some talk. In fact, Jamey had hinted something about her, but I didn’t dream that she would ever go as far as to give people grounds for talking openly about her. Father, who had evidently heard nothing, turned to Agatha with a look of concern and inquiry.
“ They’re talking about the way she’s carrying on with one of the workmen,” said Agatha.
So it was true. All at once I felt a strange feeling in my heart that I could not name. Then, with shame, I realized that the feeling was jealousy.
“Molly and Andy Fagan!” I murmured, more to myself than to the others, more to hear if coupled together their names would seem less ill assorted than their persons.
Hastily I told myself that my Jamey was so different from Andy, because I could not help feeling that for the one thing that united the other couple, there must be a hundred things that would divide them. It would take Andy Fagan a long time to rise above his origins. But anyone would have to admit that even in his old working clothes, up to
his knees in mud, Jamey was a cut above a laborer.
But to go back to Molly and Andy: I thought that whatever was between them had been brought to an end, because not long after Agatha’s malicious gossip, Molly was packed off to Dublin to stay with a sister of her father’s, a woman who had the name of being very strict.
It was easy to see what was at the back of this move. Poor Molly was in Dublin for almost two years, without once being let home. You’d have thought that would have put an end to anything there had been between her and Andy, and that was why I was so taken by surprise when Jamey told me they had run away together to Australia.
“But she was sent to Dublin to get her away from him,” I cried.
Jamey gave a short laugh.
“That was old Lanigan’s mistake,” he said. “If he had left her at home he might have furthered his plans better. It’s likely she’d have come to think poor Fagan was driving too hard a bargain, between what he had to offer and what she would have to give up for him.” He paused for a minute, and then he gave me a look I’ll remember till the day I die. “Like others before her,” he said.
Do you see what I mean now about the way he was always hinting and insinuating, without ever daring to speak outright?
“I wonder, will they ever come back,” I said nervously, stupidly, if you like, because I wanted to change the conversation. I didn’t altogether succeed, for Jamey kept looking at me for another minute, that I thought would never end, and then he looked behind me at the yard and the ramshackle pump against the gable wall, and at the dreary stretches of mud that lay between one shed and another.
“Is it back to a place like this?” he said, because at that time of year one place was like another in the heart of the country. He gave a laugh that I didn’t like. And I didn’t like the look on his face. It was not the dogged look to which I was used, and it was hard to read. I felt a stir of fear because I thought I knew him better than that. It would never have surprised me to see a strange expression on the face of Agatha or my father, but on his face I expected only to see that with which I was familiar all my life. The thought crossed my mind that for all his devotion, he might take a notion someday and walk out of the place — without me. Indeed, when he was killed, I had one gleam of consolation in the thought that it was not by any act of his will or of mine that we were parted.
THAT indeed was the thought that was uppermost in my mind as we rattled along the road to the inquest. It made me feel less bitter toward Agatha for a time, and more pitying, because after all, I had my memories, and no one could take them away from me.
I was thinking of how, in the days to come when twilight began to descend on the countryside, I would wander across the fields to the old cemetery in which Jamey had been laid beside his parents. And kneeling down among the cool grasses, I would whisper to him all the words of love that had never been spoken.
Ah, Jamey, I would cry. Ah, Jamey! And I would tell him all my love; and of how I stifled it, and how I suffered from it. And so greatly was I moved that I thought Agatha or Father must surely notice. I had to clench my hands to keep from pressing them to my heart.
Father noticed something I think, because he looked at me sharply and spoke roughly.
“Hold on to the rails there,”he said. “Do you want to be thrown out on the road?”
I hardly heeded him. I went on dreaming that I was kneeling, penitent, in the moist grasses in the graveyard.
Jamey, forgive me! Ah, Jamey, if only I had you back again I’d go to the ends of the earth with you!
But in spite of my dreaming I became aware at last that we had reached the outskirts of the town, and for the first time I began to apprehend the embarrassment of the occasion.
“There are a lot of people in the town today,” I said, addressing Agatha, although between us two of late there had been a great constraint.
“What did you expect?” she said stonily. “They’re here to gape at us!”
I suppose it was because of my grief that I had not given much thought to the inquest. Now, however, at the last minute, I was filled with a nervous curiosity.
“Will we be asked questions?” I cried.
Agatha looked contemptuously at me.
“Why do you suppose they’re bringing us here?” she said.
All at once my heart began to beat violently. “They won’t ask me anything, will they?” I cried.
Here, however, Father turned around and looked at me in surprise. “You’ll be the principal witness, didn’t you know that?” We were in the town by this time, and the mare had to pick her way carefully in the crowded streets. Father frowned and looked at Agatha. “Didn’t you tell her she’d be the first witness?”
Agatha had told me nothing. And all of a sudden I felt that there was something strange about her silence, as if in it something were breeding, something evil and bad. Even Father looked suspiciously at her.
Agatha only shrugged her shoulders. “She’s not a fool, is she?” she snapped. “Doesn’t she know she was the only one in the yard when it happened?”
But Father didn’t seem satisfied. “All the same,” he said, “I thought you were going to have a word with her.”
We had by this time rounded the corner of the main street, at the end of which was the courthouse. And going down the street, a pathetic figure in her cheap black clothes, was Annie Morrow. I’d have to make an opportunity to speak to her, but it would be for Jamey’s sake I’d do it, because to tell the truth, there was as much difference between him and her as — well, as I suppose people would have said there was between him and me if they had been given the occasion for linking us together.
I felt some pity for Annie all the same, in spite of her appearance and her badly made clothes.
“There’s Annie Morrow,” I said aloud. “I suppose they’ll have to ask her questions too.”
I thought my father at least would have felt pity for her. Instead, he averted his proud hard face as if he did not want to see her.
“You’ll find she’ll be well able to answer all she’s asked,” he said. “Too well,” he added.
“What do you mean?” I said.
“You can’t be so stupid that you don’t know the Morrows and their friends will throw all the blame of this thing upon us,” he said after a minute.
“But it was an accident,” I cried. “How could there be blame put upon anyone?”
He gave a jerk to the reins.
“It’s easily seen you know little about the Morrows or their class,” he said. “They’re always looking out for a chance to put down their betters. Don’t you know they’ll say the whole thing was due to some fault of ours; that the harness was bad, or the mare was wicked, or some such lie?”
I didn’t think that anyone would go out of the way to tell a deliberate lie like that, much less in a courthouse, where you’d be on oath to tell the truth. But I didn’t know either that a lie could take all kinds of forms, and that you could tell one just by saying nothing at all.
“I don’t believe Annie Morrow would tell a lie,”
I cried. “Can’t we prove the harness was all right anyway? And as for the mare, who that knew her would believe anything against her?”
We were at that moment drawing up at the door of the courthouse, and all Father would have to do when we got down from the sidecar would be to make a knot in the reins and throw it into the well of the car. The mare would stand in the shafts all day if we wanted, without being held or tied or anything. There wasn’t a horse in the countryside that was as quiet as all that.
“Everyone knows our mare,” I cried as I prepared to get down onto the footpath. It was not till then that Agatha spoke.
“The best animal in the world would turn sour if she was badly treated,” she said in her cold, cold voice.
Do you know I wasn’t able to step down from the trap. I sank back on the leather cushions. “You don’t mean that Jamey ill-treated her?” I said, almost in a whisper.
Agatha shrugged her shoulders.
“Who knows!” she said.
“Agatha Darker!” I cried. “You know very well that Jamey Morrow never ill-treated an animal in his life!” But when I looked into her sneering face I turned around to Father. “You know it, don’t you, Father?” I cried.
He was putting a knot in the reins. He threw the knotted leather into the well of the car. Then he turned to answer me.
“It isn’t what we know or do not know, but what we saw or did not see that will count in here,” he said, and before he put the whip into its socket, he motioned toward the courthouse with it. “You were the only one in the yard when the accident happened,” he said. “If you say he didn’t kick the animal they’ll take your word for it. That’s all there is to say about the matter. Come on! Get down.”
But I didn’t get down. I was so weak I thought my feet would go from under me if I tried to stand, much less to walk up through the crowd that was gathering at the foot of the steps, and everyone staring at us too, with a hostile kind of stare. I recognized one or two of them as laboring men that were working on farms around about us. And I recognized two girls that were cousins of the Morrows. You’d have thought they would have been sober-looking at such a time, but instead they had a saucy, impudent look, as if the proceedings in the courthouse gave them some sort of importance.
I could not help noticing that when Agatha got down from the sidecar, the pair on the footpath lost a lot of their impudence. Agatha always had an effect upon people. She made them uncomfortable. The girls shrank back from her, as with her head erect she prepared to go into the courthouse.
“Agatha!” I cried. She was my sister after all. Those people crowding around us were not our kind, and although I didn’t want to side with Agatha and Father, I didn’t want to side with them either. After all, I had to live with Agatha and Father, and now that Jamey was gone from me, I’d have to live with them for the rest of my life.
“Oh, Agatha! Why do I have to answer questions?” I cried. “After all, I didn’t see anything that happened. You and Father saw more than me ! It was only when you ran out into the yard and I saw you put your hand up to your face that I looked around and saw him on the ground. And didn’t I faint after that? What good will it do them to ask about it? I saw nothing!”
This was the moment for which Agatha had been waiting all day.
She turned to me immediately. Taking my arm, she helped me down from the sidecar. Then, linking me close, she led me up the steps of the courthouse between the rows of gaping faces on either side.
For the first time in many years I began to think of her as a friend.
“Of course you saw nothing,” she said. “That’s why it was so absurd of you to keep insisting that he couldn’t have done anything to the mare! How did you know what happened? He could have kicked her a dozen times without you seeing him. We all know it is most unlikely that he did anything of the kind, but you couldn’t swear he didn’t, could you? Don’t forget that you’ll be on your oath!”
We were at the door of court at this time, but we had not gone in because we were waiting for Father to join us.
“You couldn’t swear he didn’t, could you?” said the voice beside me.
At that moment Father came up the steps.
“Could you?” said my sister again. And this time I shook my head.
But, oh, the cleverness and malice that led me to that betrayal! Is it any wonder that I hated her from that moment to this moment, and that I will hate her until the last moment of my life on this earth.
And to think that when my last hour comes it will be by her side I will be laid in the earth, and with her dust that mine will mingle. I, Rose Darker, that should by rights be laid alongside Jamey Morrow!