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   Chapter 4 No.4

Hyacinth By George A. Birmingham Characters: 24737

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


Ever since Pitt and Castlerea perpetrated their Act of Union two political parties have struggled together in Ireland. Both of them have been steadily prominent, so prominent that they have sometimes attracted the attention of the English public, and drawn to their contest a little quite unintelligent interest. The simplest and most discernible line of division between them is a religious one. The Protestant party has hitherto been guided and led by the gentry. It has been steadily loyal to England and to the English Government. It has not been greatly concerned about Ireland or Ireland's welfare, but has been consistently anxious to preserve its own privileges, powers, and property. It has not come well out of the struggle of the nineteenth century. Its Church has been disestablished, its privileges and powers abolished, and the last remnants of its property are being filched from it. It is a curious piece of irony that this party should have hastened its own defeat by the very policy adopted to secure victory. No doubt the Irish aristocracy would have suffered less if they had been seditious instead of loyal. The Roman Catholic party has been led by ecclesiastics, and has always included the bulk of the people. Its leaders have not cared for the welfare of Ireland any more than the Protestant party, but they have always pretended that they did, being in this respect much wiser than their opponents. They have pulled the strings of a whole series of political movements, and made puppets dance on and off the stage as they chose. Also they have understood how to deal with England. Unlike the Protestant party, they have never been loyal, because they knew from the first that England gives most to those who bully or worry her. They have kept one object steadily in view, an object quite as selfish in reality as that of the aristocracy-the aggrandisement of their Church. For this they have been prepared at any time to sacrifice the interests of Ireland, and are content at the present moment to watch the country bleeding to death with entire complacency. The leaders of this party enter upon the twentieth century in sight of their promised land. They possess all the power and nearly all the wealth of Ireland. If the Bishops can secure the continuance of English government for the next half-century Ireland will have become the Church's property. Her money will go to propagating the faith. Her children will supply the English-speaking world with a superfluity of priests and nuns.

Outside both parties there have always been a few men united by no ties of policy or religion, unless, as perhaps we may, we call patriotism a kind of religion. Other lands have been loved sincerely, devotedly, passionately, as mothers, wives, and mistresses are loved. Ireland alone has been loved religiously, as men are taught to love God or the saints. Her lovers have called themselves Catholic or Protestant: such distinctions have not mattered to these men. They have scarcely ever been able to form themselves into a party, never into a strong or a wise party. They have been violent, desperate, frequently ridiculous, but always sincere and unselfish. Their great weakness has lain in the fact that they have had no consistent aim. Some of their leaders have looked for a return to Ireland's Constitution, and built upon the watchword of the volunteers, 'The King, the Lords, and the Commons of Ireland.' Some have dreamed of a complete independence, of an Irish republic shaping its own world policy. Some have wholly distrusted politics, and given their strength to the intellectual, spiritual, or material regeneration of the people. Among these men have been found the sanest practical reformers and the wildest revolutionary dreamers. On the outskirts of their company have hung all sorts of people. Parliamentary politicians have leaned towards them, and been driven straightway out of public life. Criminals have claimed fellowship with them, and brought discredit upon honourable men. Poets and men of letters have drawn their inspiration from their strivings, and in return have decked their patriotism with imperishable splendour. In the future, no doubt, the struggle will lie between this party and the hitherto victorious hierarchy, with England for ally, and the fight seems a wholly unequal one. It was into an advanced and vehement group of patriots that Mary O'Dwyer introduced Hyacinth. He became a regular reader of the Croppy, and made the acquaintance of most of the contributors to its pages. He found them clever, enthusiastic, and agreeable men and women, but, as he was forced to admit to himself, occasionally reckless. One evening a discussion took place in Mary O'Dwyer's room which startled and shocked him. Excitement ran high over the events of the war. The sympathies of the 'Independent Irelanders,' as they called themselves, fiercely assertive even in their name, were of course entirely with the Boers, and they received every report of an English reverse with unmixed satisfaction.

When Hyacinth entered the room he found four people there. Mary O'Dwyer herself was making tea at a little table near the fire. Augusta Goold-the famous Finola-was stretched in a deep chair smoking a cigarette. She was a remarkable woman both physically and intellectually. It was her delight to emphasize her splendid figure by draping it in brilliant reds and yellows. To anyone who cared to speculate on such a subject it seemed a mystery why her clothes remained on her when she walked. The laws of gravity seemed to demand that they should loosen with her movements, become detached, and finally drop down. Nothing of the sort had ever happened, so it must be presumed that she had secret and unconventional ways of fastening them. Similarly it was not easy to see why her hair stayed upon her head. It was arranged upon no recognised system, and suggested that she had perfected the art, known generally only to heroines of romances, of twisting her tresses with a single movement into a loose knot. That she affected white frills of immense complexity was frequently evident, owing to the difficulty she experienced in confining her long legs to feminine attitudes. Her complexion put it in the power of her enemies to accuse her of familiarity with cosmetics-a slander, for she had been observed to turn green during an attack of sea-sickness. She had great brilliant eyes, which were capable of expressing intensity of enthusiasm or hatred, but no one had ever seen them soften with any emotion like love. Her attitude towards social conventions was symbolized by her clothes. In the old days, when the houses of 'society' had still been open to her, she was accustomed to challenge criticism by fondling a pet monkey at tea-parties. Since she had lost caste by taking up the cause of 'Independent Ireland' the ape had been discarded, and the same result achieved by occasional bickerings with the police. She was an able public speaker, and could convince her audiences for a time of the reasonableness of opinions which next morning appeared to be the outcome of delirium. She wrote, not, like Mary O'Dwyer, verse in which any sentiment may be excused, but incisive and vigorous prose. Occasionally even the Castle officials got glimmerings of the meaning of one of her articles, and suppressed the whole issue of the Croppy in which it appeared.

Near her sat a much less remarkable person-Thomas Grealy, historian and archaeologist. He had been engaged for many years on a history of Ireland, but no volume of it had as yet appeared. His friends suspected that he had got permanently stuck somewhere about the period of the introduction of Christianity into the island. His essays, published in the Croppy, dwelt with passionate regret on the departed glories of Tara. He held strong views about the historical reality of the Tuath-de-Danaan, and got irritated at the most casual mention of Dr. Petrie's theory of the round towers. He had proved that King Arthur was an Irishman, with whose reputation Malory and Tennyson had taken unwarrantable liberties. The name of Dante brought a smile of contempt to his lips, for he knew that the 'Purgatorio' was stolen shamelessly from the works of a monk of Cong. He nourished a secret passion for Finola. He never ventured to declare it, but his imagination endowed every heroine, from Queen Maev down to the foster daughter of the Leinster farmer who married King Cormac, with Miss Goold's figure, eyes and hair. It was perhaps the burning of this passion which rendered him so cadaverous that his clothes-in other respects also they looked as if they had been bought in far-off happier days-hung round him like the covering of a broken-ribbed umbrella.

The fourth person present was Timothy Halloran, who hovered about Mary O'Dwyer's tea-table. He was what the country people call a 'spoilt priest.' Destined by simple and pious parents to take Holy Orders, he got as far as the inside of Maynooth College. While there he had kicked a fellow-student down the whole length of a long corridor for telling tales to the authorities. A committee of ecclesiastics considered the case, and having come to the conclusion that he lacked vocation for the priesthood, sent him home. Timothy was accustomed to say that his violence might have been passed over, but that his failure to appreciate the devotion to duty which inspired the tale-bearer marked him decisively as unfit for ordination. He never regretted his expulsion, although he complained bitterly that he had been nearly choked before they cast him out. He meant, it is to be supposed, that the effort to instil a proper reverence for dogma had almost destroyed his capacity for thought, not that the fingers of the reverend professors had actually closed around his windpipe. His subsequent experiences had included a period of teaching in an English Board School, a brief, but not wholly unsatisfactory, career as a political organizer in New York, and a return to Ireland, where he earned a precarious living as a journalist.

All four greeted Hyacinth warmly as he entered the room.

'We were just discussing,' said Mary O'Dwyer, 'the failure of our attempt to organize a field hospital and a staff of nurses for the Boers. It is a shame to have to admit that the English garrison in Ireland can raise thousands of pounds for their war funds, and the Irish can't be got to subscribe a few hundreds.'

'The wealth of the country,' said Grealy, 'is in the hands of a minority-the so-called Loyalists.'

'Nonsense,' said Finola sharply. 'If you ever gave a thought to anything more recent than the High-King's Court at Tara you would know that the landlords are not the wealthy part of the community any longer. There's many a provincial publican calling himself a Nationalist who could buy up the nearest landlord and every Protestant in the parish along with him. I'm a Protestant myself, born and bred among the class you speak of, and I know.'

'You're quite right, Miss Goold,' said Tim. 'The people could have given the money if they liked. I attribute the failure of the fund to the apathy or treachery of the priests, call it which you like. There isn't a Protestant church in the country where the parsons don't preach "Give give, give" to their people Sunday after Sunday. And what's the result? Why, they have raised thousands of pounds.'

'After the poem you published in last week's Croppy,' said Hyacinth to Mary O'Dwyer, 'I made sure the subscriptions would have come in. Your appeal was one of the most beautiful things I ever read. It would have touched the heart of a stone.'

'Poetry is all well enough,' said Tim. 'I admire your verses, Mary, as much as anyone, but we want a collection at every church door after Mass. That's what we ought to have, but it's exactly what we won't get, because the priests are West Britons at heart. They would pray for the Queen and the army to-morrow, like Cardinal Vaughan, if they weren't afraid.'

'I believe,' said Finola, 'that we went the wrong way about the thing altogether. We asked for a hospital, and we appealed to the people's pity for the wounded Boers. Nobody in Ireland cares a pin about the Boers. Why on earth should we? From all I can hear they are a narrow-minded, intolerant set of hypocrites. I'd just as soon

read the stuff some fool of an English newspaper man wrote about "our brother the Boer" as listen to the maudlin sentiment our people talk. We don't want to help the Boers. We want to hurt the English.'

'And you think--' said Grealy.

'I think,' went on Finola, 'that we ought to have asked for volunteers to go out and fight, instead of nurses to cocker up the men who are fools enough to get themselves shot. We'd have got them.'

'You would not,' said Tim. 'The clergy would have been dead against you. They would have nipped the whole project in the bud without so much as making a noise in doing it.'

'That's true,' said Grealy. 'Remember, Miss Goold, it was the priests who cursed Tara, and the monks who broke the power of the Irish Kings. I haven't worked the thing out yet, but I mean to show--'

Finola interrupted the poor man ruthlessly:

'Let's try it, anyway. Let's preach a crusade.'

'Not the least bit of good,' said Tim. 'Every blackguard in the country is enlisted already in the Connaught Bangers or the Dublin Fusiliers, or some confounded Militia regiment. There's nobody left but the nice, respectable, goody-goody boys who wouldn't leave their mothers or miss going to confession if you went down on your knees to them.'

'Well, then, the Irish troops ought to shoot their officers, and walk over to the Boer camp,' said Finola savagely.

Hyacinth half smiled at what seemed to him a monstrous jest. Then, when he perceived that she was actually in earnest, the smile froze into a kind of grin. His hands trembled with the violence of his indignation.

'It would be devilish treachery,' he blurted out. 'The name of Irishman will never be disgraced by such an act.'

Augusta Goold flung her cigarette into the grate, and rose from her chair. She stood over Hyacinth, her hands clenched and her bosom heaving rapidly. Her eyes blazed down into his until their scorn cowed him.

'There is no treachery possible for an Irishman,' she said, 'except the one of fighting for England. Any deed against England-yes, any deed-is glorious, and not shameful.'

Hyacinth was utterly quelled. He ventured upon no reply. Indeed, not only did her violence render argument undesirable-and it seemed for the moment that he would find himself in actual grips with a furious Amazon-but her words carried with them a certain conviction. It actually seemed to him while she spoke as if a good defence might be made for Irish soldiers who murdered their officers and deserted to an enemy in the field. It was not until hours afterwards, when the vivid impression of Finola's face had faded from his recollection, when he had begun to forget the flash of her eyes, the poise of her figure, and the glow of her draperies, that his moral sense was able to reassert itself. Then he knew that she had spoken wickedly. It might be right for an Irishman to fight against England when he could. It might be justifiable to seize the opportunity of England's embarrassment to make a bid for freedom by striking a blow at the Empire. So far his conscience went willingly, but that treachery and murder could ever be anything but horrible he refused altogether to believe.

Another conversation in which he took part about this time helped Hyacinth still further to understand the position of his new friends. Tim Halloran and he were smoking and chatting together over the fire when Maguire joined them.

'What's the matter with you?' asked Halloran. 'You look as if you'd been at your mother's funeral.'

'You're not so far out in your guess,' said Maguire grimly. 'I spent the morning at my sister's wedding. Would you like a bit of the cake?' He produced from his pocket a paper containing crushed fragments of white sugar and a shapeless mass of citron and currants. 'With the compliments of the Reverend Mother,' he said. 'Try a bit.'

'What on earth do you mean?' said Hyacinth.

'Oh, I assure you the Sisters of Pity do these things in style,' said Maguire. 'It's a pretty fancy, that of the wedding-cake, isn't it? But you're a Protestant, Conneally; you don't understand this delicate playfulness. I was present to-day at the reception of my only sister into the Institute of the Catholic Sisters of Pity, founded by Honoria Kavanagh. I've lost Birdie Maguire, that's all, the little girl that used to climb on to my knee and kiss me, and instead of her there's a Sister Monica Mary, who will no doubt pray for my soul when she's let.'

'What was the figure in her case?' asked Tim in a perfectly matter-of-fact tone.

'Six hundred pounds,' said Maguire. 'It must have put the old man to the pin of his collar to pay it. The only time he ever talked to me about his affairs he told me he had got four hundred pounds put by for Birdie's fortune, and that I was to have my medical course and whatever the old shop would fetch when he was gone. They must have put the screw on pretty tight to make him spring the extra two hundred. I dare say I shall suffer for it in the end. He must have borrowed the money.'

Hyacinth felt intensely curious about this young nun. Like most Protestants he had grown up to regard monasticism in all its forms as something remote, partly horrible, wholly unintelligible.

'Why did she do it?' he asked. 'What sort of a girl was she? Do you mind telling me?'

'Not in the least,' said Maguire. 'Only I'm not sure that I know. Three years ago-that is, when I left home-she was the last sort of girl you could imagine going into a convent. She was pretty, fond of nice clothes and admiration, as keen as every girl ought to be on a dance. I never supposed she had a thought of religion in her head-I mean, beyond the usual confessions and attendances at Mass.'

'I suppose,' said Hyacinth, 'your people wanted it.'

'I don't think so,' said Maguire. 'Perhaps my mother did. I don't know.'

'You see, Conneally,' said Tim Halloran, 'it is a sort of hall-mark of respectability among people like Maguire's to have a girl in a good convent. A little lower down in the social scale, in the class I come from, the boys are made priests. A doctor is a more expensive article to manufacture, so Maguire's father selected that line of life for him. Not that they could have made a priest of you, Maguire, in any case. You'd have disgraced Maynooth, as I did.'

'I don't understand,' said Hyacinth. 'I thought a vocation for the life was necessary.'

'Oh, so it is,' said Tim Halloran, 'but, you see, there's the period of the novitiate. Given a girl at an impressionable age, the proper convent atmosphere, and a prize of six hundred pounds for the Order, and it will go hard with the Reverend Mother if she can't work the girl up to a vocation. It takes a man a lifetime to make six hundred pounds in a country shop, but there's many a one who does it by hard work and self-denial; then down come the nuns and sweep it away, and it's wasted. It ought to be invested in a local factory or in waterworks, or gas-works, or fifty other things that would benefit the town it's made in. It ought to be fructifying and bearing interest; instead of which off it goes to Munich for stained glass, or to Italy for a marble altar. Is it any wonder Ireland is crying out with poverty?'

'Yes,' said Maguire, 'and that's not the worst of it. I'd be content to let them take the damned money and deck their churches with it, but the girls-there are hundreds of them caught every year for nuns, and swept out of life. It isn't the Irish convents alone that get them. American nuns come over and Australian nuns, and they go round and round the country picking up girls here and there, and carry them off. There, I don't want to talk too much about it. The money is nothing, but the girls and boys--'

'It seems strange to me,' said Hyacinth, 'that when you think that way you should go on belonging to your Church.'

'Desert the Church!' said Maguire. 'We'll never do that. How could we live without religion? And what other religion is there? I grant you that your priests wouldn't rob us, but-but think of the cold of it. You can't realize it, Conneally, but think what it would mean to a Catholic-a religion without saints, without absolution, without sacrifice. Besides, what we complain of is not Catholicism. It's a parasitic growth destroying the true faith, defiling the Church.'

'Yes,' said Tim Halloran, 'and even from my point of view how should we be the better of a change? Your Church is ruled by old women who think the name of Englishman the most glorious in the world. You preach loyalty, and I believe you pray for the Queen in your services. A nice fool I would feel praying that the Queen should have victory over her enemies.'

For a long time afterwards this conversation dwelt in Hyacinth's mind. Tim Halloran he knew to be practically a freethinker, but Maguire regularly heard Mass on Sundays, and often went to confession. It was a puzzle how he could do so, feeling as he did about the religious Orders. So insistent did the problem become to his mind that he found himself continually leading the conversation round to it from one side or another. Mary O'Dwyer told him that she also had a sister in a nunnery.

'She teaches girls to make lace, and wonderful work they do. She is perfectly happy. I think her face is the sweetest and most beautiful thing I have ever seen. There is not a line on it of care or of fretfulness. It seems to me as if her whole life might be described as a quiet smile. I always feel better by the mere recollection of her face for a long time after I have visited her. Oh, I know it wouldn't do for me. I couldn't stand it for a week. I should go mad with the quiet restraint of it all. But my sister is happy. I can't forget that. I suppose she has a vocation.'

'Vocation,' said Hyacinth thoughtfully. 'Yes, I can understand how that would make all the difference. But how many of them have the vocation?'

'Don't you think vocation might be learnt? I mean mightn't one grow into it, if one wished to very much, and if the life was constantly before one's eyes, beautiful and calm?'

It was almost the same thought which Timothy Halloran had suggested. Mary O'Dwyer spoke of growing into vocation, Tim of the working of it up. Was there any difference except a verbal one?

On another occasion he spoke to Dr. Henry about the position of the Church of Ireland in the country.

'We have proved,' said the professor, 'that the Roman claims have no support in Scripture, history, or reason. Our books remain unanswered, because they are unanswerable. We can do no more.'

'We might offer the Irish people a Church which they could join,' said Hyacinth.

'We do. We offer them the Church of St. Patrick, the ancient, historic Church of Ireland. We offer them the two Sacraments of the Gospel, administered by priests duly ordained at the hands of an Episcopate which goes back in an unbroken line to the Apostles. We present them the three great creeds for their assent. We use a liturgy that is at once ancient and pure. The Church of Ireland has all this, is beyond dispute a branch of the great Catholic Church of Christ.'

'It may be all you say,' said Hyacinth, 'but it is not national. In sentiment and sympathy it is English and not Irish.'

'I know what you mean,' said Dr. Henry. 'I think I understand how you feel, but I cannot consent to the conclusion you want to draw. There is no real meaning in the cry for nationality. It is a sentiment, a fashion, and will pass. Even if it were genuine and enduring, I hold it to be better for Ireland to be an integral part of a great Empire than a contemptible and helpless item among the nations of the world, a prey to the intrigues of ambitious foreign statesmen.'

Hyacinth sighed and turned to go, but Dr. Henry laid a hand upon his shoulder and detained him.

'Conneally,' he said kindly, 'let me give you a word of advice. Don't mix yourself up with your new friends too much. You will ruin your own prospects in life if you do. There is nothing more fatal to a man among the people with whom you and I are to live and work than the suspicion of being tainted with Nationalist ideas. You can't be both a rebel and a clergyman. You see,' he added with a smile, 'I take enough interest in you to know who your friends are, and what you are thinking about.'

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