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   Chapter 26 No.26

Hyacinth By George A. Birmingham Characters: 15081

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


It is very hard for a poor man to travel from one side of England to the other side of Ireland, because railway companies, even when, to allure the public, they advertise extraordinary excursions, charge a great deal for their tickets. The journey becomes still more difficult of accomplishment when the poor man is married. Then there are two tickets to be bought, and very likely most of the money which might have bought them has been spent securing the safe arrival of a baby-a third person who in due time will also require a railway-ticket. This was Hyacinth's case. For two summers he had no holiday at all, and it was only by the most fortunate of chances that he found himself during the third summer in a position to go to Ballymoy. He sublet his house to a freshly-arrived supervisor of Inland Revenue, who wanted six weeks to look about for a suitable residence. With the nine pounds paid in advance by this gentleman, Hyacinth and Marion, having with them their baby, a perambulator, and much other luggage, set off for Ballymoy.

The journey is not a very pleasant one, because it is made over the lines of three English railway companies, whose trains refuse to connect with each other at junctions, and because St. George's Channel is generally rough. The discomfort of third-class carriages is more acutely felt when the Irish shore is reached, but the misery of having to feed and tend a year-old child lasts the whole journey through. Therefore, Marion arrived in Dublin dishevelled, weary, and, for all her natural placidness, inclined to be cross. The steamer came to port at an hour which left them just the faint hope of catching the earliest train to Ballymoy. Disappointment followed the nervous strain of a rush across Dublin. Two long hours intervened before the next train started, and the people who keep the refreshment-room in Broadstone Station are not early risers. Marion, without tea or courage, settled herself and the baby in the draughty waiting-room.

Hyacinth was also dishevelled, dirty, and tired, having borne his full share of strife with the child's worst moods. But the sight of Ireland from the steamer's deck filled him with a strange sense of exultation. He wished to shout with gladness when the gray dome of the Custom House rose to view, immense above the low blanket of mist. Even the incredibly hideous iron grating of the railway viaduct set his pulse beating joyfully. He drew deep breaths, inhaling various abominable smells delightedly. The voices of the sleepy porters on the quay roused in him a craving for the gentle slovenliness of Irish speech. He fussed and hustled Marion beyond the limits of her endurance, pretending eagerness to catch the early train, caring in reality not at all whether any train were caught or missed, filled only with a kind of frenzy to keep moving somehow further into Ireland. In the cab he gave utterance to ridiculous pleasantries. He seized the child from Marion, and held him, wailing piteously, half out of the window, that his eyes might rest on the great gilt characters which adorn the offices of the Gaelic League. It was with rapture that he read Irish names, written and spelt in Irish, above the shops, and saw a banner proclaiming the annual festival of Irish Ireland hanging ovei the door of the Rotunda. The city had grown more Irish since he left it. There was no possibility now, even in the early morning, with few people but scavengers and milkmen in the streets, of mistaking for an English town.

While Marion sat torpid in the waiting-room, he paced the platform eagerly from end to end. He saw the train pushed slowly into position beside the platform, watched porters sweep the accumulated débris of yesterday's traffic from the floors of the carriages, and rub with filthy rags the brass doorhandles. Little groups of passengers began to arrive-first a company of cattle-jobbers, four of them, red-faced men with keen, crafty eyes, bound for some Western fair; then a laughing party of tourists, women in short skirts and exaggeratedly protective veils, men with fierce tweed knickerbockers dragging stuffed hold-alls and yellow bags. These were evidently English. Their clear high-pitched voices proclaimed contempt for their surroundings, and left no doubt of their nationality. One of them addressed a bewildered porter in cheerful song:

'Are you right there,

Michael? are you right?

Have you got the parcel there for Mrs. White?'

He felt, and his companions sympathized, that he was entering into the spirit of Irish life. Then, heralded by an obsequious guard, came a great man, proconsular in mien and gait. Bags and rugs were wheeled beside him. In his hand was a despatch-box bearing the tremendous initials of the Local Government Board. He took complete possession of a first-class smoking carriage, scribbled a telegram, perhaps of international importance, handed it to the guard for instant despatch, and lit a finely-odorous cigar. Hyacinth, humbled by the mere view of this incarnation of the Imperial spirit, went meekly to the waiting-room to fetch Marion and his child. He led them across the now crowded platform towards a third-class carriage.

'I will not go with you in your first-class carriage, Father Lavelle; so that's flat. Nor I won't split the difference and go second either, if that's what you're going to propose to me. Is it spend what would keep the family of a poor man in bread and tea for a week, for the sake of easing my back with a cushion? Get away with you. The plain deal board's good enough for me. And, moreover, I doubt very much if I've the money to do it, if I were ever so willing. I'm afraid to look into my purse to count the few coppers that's left in it after paying that murdering bill in the hotel you took me to. Gresham, indeed! A place where they're not ashamed to charge a poor old priest three and sixpence for his breakfast, and me not able to eat the half of what they put before me.'

Hyacinth turned quickly. Two priests stood together near the bookstall. The one, a young man, handsome and well-dressed, he did not know. The other he recognised at once. It seemed to be the same familiarly shabby black coat which he wore, the same many-stained waistcoat, the identical silk hat, ruffled and rain-spotted. The same pads of flesh hung flaccid from his jaws; the red, cracked knuckles of his hands, well remembered, were enormous still. Only the furrows on the face seemed to be ploughed deeper and wider, and a few more stiff hairs curled over the general bushiness of the grizzled eyebrows.

'Father Moran!' cried Hyacinth.

'I am Father Moran. You're right there. But who you are or how you come to know me is more than I can tell. But wait a minute. I've a sort of recollection of your voice. Will you speak to me again, and maybe I'll be able to put a name on you.'

Hyacinth said a few words rapidly in Irish.

'I have you now,' said the priest. 'You're Hyacinth Conneally, the boy that went out to fight for the Boers. Father Lavelle, this is a friend of mine that I've known ever since he was born, and I haven't laid eyes on him these six years or more. You're going West, Mr. Conneally? But of course you are. Where else would you be going? We'll travel together and talk. If it's second-class you're going, Father Lavelle will have to lend me the money to pay the extra on my ticket, so as I can go with you. Seemingly it's a Protestant minister you've grown into. Well now, who'd have thought it? And you so set on fi

ghting the battle of Armageddon and all. It's a come-down for you, so it is. But never mind. You might have got yourself killed in it. There's many a one killed or maimed for life in smaller fights than it. It's better to be a minister any day than a corpse or a cripple. And as you are a minister, it's likely to be third-class you're travelling. Times are changed since I was young. It was the priests travelled third-class then, if they travelled at all, and the ministers were cocked up on the cushions, looking down on the likes of us out of the windows with the little red curtains half-drawn across them. Now it'll be Father Lavelle there, with his grand new coat that he says is Irish manufacture-but I don't believe him-who'll be doing the gentleman. But come along, Mr. Conneally-come along, and tell me all the battles you fought and the Generals you made prisoners of, and how it was you took to preaching afterwards.'

Hyacinth, somewhat shyly, introduced the priest to Marion. Then a ticket-collector drove them into their carriage and locked the door.

Father Moran began to catechize Hyacinth before the train started, and drew from him, as they went westwards, the story of his disappointments, doubts, hopes, veerings, and final despair. Hyacinth spoke unwillingly at first, giving no more than necessary answers to the questions. Then, because he found that reticence called down on him fresh and more detailed inquiries, and also because the priest's evident and sympathetic interest redeemed a prying curiosity from offensiveness, he told his tale more freely. Very soon there was no more need of questioning, and Father Moran's share in the talk took the form of comments interrupting a narrative.

Of Captain Albert Quinn he said:

'I've heard of him, and a nice kind of a boy he seems to have been. I suppose he fought when he got there. He's just the sort that would be splendid at the fighting. Well, God is good, and I suppose it's to do the fighting for the rest of us that He makes the likes of Captain Quinn. Did you hear that they wanted to make him a member of Parliament? Well, they did. Nothing less would please them. But what good would that be, when he couldn't set foot in the country for fear of being arrested?'

Later on he was moved to laughter.

'To think of your going on the road with a bag full of blankets and shawls! I never heard of such a thing, and all the grand notions your head was full of! Why didn't you come my way? I'd have made Rafferty give you an order. I'd have bought the makings of a frieze coat from you myself-I would, indeed.'

Afterwards he became grave again.

'I won't let you say the hard word about the nuns, Mr. Conneally. Don't do it, now. There's plenty of good convents up and down through the country-more than ever you'll know of, being the black Protestant you are. And the ones that ruined your business-supposing they did ruin it, and I've only your word for that-what right have you to be blaming them? They were trying to turn an honest penny by an honest trade, and that's just what you and your friend Mr. Quinn were doing yourselves.'

Hyacinth, conscious of a failure in good taste, shifted his ground, only to be interrupted again.

'Oh, you may abuse the Congested Districts Board to your heart's content. I never could see what the Government made all the Boards for unless it was to keep the people out of mischief. As long as there is a Board of any kind about the country every blackguard will be so busy throwing stones at it that he won't have time nor inclination left to annoy decent people. And I'll say this for the Congested Districts Board: they mean well. Indeed they do; not a doubt of it. There's one good thing they did, anyway, if there isn't another, and that's when they came to Carrowkeel and bought the big Curragh Farm that never supported a Christian, but two herds and some bullocks ever since the famine clearances. They fetched the people down off the mountains and put them on it. Wasn't that a good thing, now? Sure, all Government Boards do more wrong than right. It's the nature of that sort of confederation. But it's all the more thankful we ought to be when once in a while they do something useful.'

Hyacinth came to tell of the choice which Canon Beecher offered him, and dwelt with tragic emphasis on his own decision. The priest listened, a smile on his lips, a look of pity which belied the smile in his eyes.

'So you thought Ireland would be lost altogether unless you wrote articles for Miss Goold in the Croppy? It's no small opinion you have of yourself, Hyacinth Conneally. And you thought you'd save your soul by going to preach the Gospel to the English people? Was that it, now?'

'It was not,' said Hyacinth, 'and you know it wasn't.'

'Of course it wasn't. What was I thinking of to forget the young lady that was in it? A fine wife you've got, any way. God bless her, and make you a good husband to her! By the looks of her she's better than you deserve. I suppose it was to get money you went to England, so as to buy her pretty dresses and a beautiful house to live in? Did you think you'd grow rich over there?'

'Indeed I did not,' said Hyacinth bitterly. 'I knew we'd never be rich.'

'Well, then, couldn't you as well have been poor in Ireland? And better, for everybody's poor here. But there, I know well enough it wasn't money you were after. Don't be getting angry with me, now. It wasn't for the sake of saving your soul you went, nor to get your nice wife, though a man might go a long way for the likes of her. I don't know why you went, and it's my belief you don't know yourself. But you made a mistake, whatever you did it for, going off on that English mission. Is it a mission you call it when you're a Protestant? I don't think it is, but it doesn't matter. You made a mistake. Why don't you come back again?'

'God knows I would if I could. It's hungry I am to get back-just sick with hunger and the great desire that is on me to be back again in Ireland.'

'Well, what's to hinder you? Let me tell you this: There's been four men in your father's place since he died. Never a one of the first three would stay. They tell me the pay's small, and the place is desolate to them for the want of Protestants, there being none, you may say, but the coastguards. After the third of them left it was long enough before they got the fourth. I hear they went scouring and scraping round the four coasts of the country with a trawl-net trying to get a man. And now they've got him he's all for going away. He says there's no work to do, and no people to preach to. But you'd find work, if you were there. I'd find you work myself-work for the people you knew since you were born, that's in the way at last of getting to be the men and women they were meant to be, and that wants all the help can be got for them. Why don't you come back?'

'Indeed, Father Moran, I would if I could.' 'If you could! What's the use of talking? Isn't your wife's father a Canon? And wouldn't that professor in the college that you used to tell me of do something for you? What's the good of having fine friends like that if they won't get you sent to a place like Carrowkeel, that never another minister but yourself would as much as cat his dinner in twice if he could help it?'

Hyacinth glanced doubtfully at Marion. The child lay quiet in her arms. She slept uncomfortably. It was clear that she had not cared to listen to the conversation of the two men.

THE END

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