William Yeats.

John Sherman and Dhoya





GANCONAGHS APOLOGY

The maker of these stories has been told that he must not bring them to you himself. He has asked me to pretend that I am the author. I am an old little Irish spirit, and I sit in the hedges and watch the world go by. I see the boys going to market driving donkeys with creels of turf, and the girls carrying baskets of apples. Sometimes I call to some pretty face, and we chat a little in the shadow, the apple basket before us, for, as my faithful historian OKearney has put it in his now yellow manuscript, I care for nothing in the world but love and idleness. Will not you, too, sit down under the shade of the bushes while I read you the stories? The first I do not care for because it deals with dull persons and the worlds affairs, but the second has to do with my own people. If my voice at whiles grows distant and dreamy when I talk of the worlds affairs, remember that I have seen all from my hole in the hedge. I hear continually the songs of my own people who dance upon the hill-side, and am content. I have never carried apples or driven turf myself, or if I did it was only in a dream. Nor do my kind use any of mans belongings except the little black pipes which the farmers find now and then when they are turning the sods over with a plough.

GANCONAGH.

PART I.
JOHN SHERMAN LEAVES BALLAH

I

In the west of Ireland, on the 9th of December, in the town of Ballah, in the Imperial Hotel there was a single guest, clerical and youthful. With the exception of a stray commercial traveller, who stopped once for a night, there had been nobody for a whole month but this guest, and now he was thinking of going away. The town, full enough in summer of trout and salmon fishers, slept all winter like the bears.

On the evening of the 9th of December, in the coffee-room of the Imperial Hotel, there was nobody but this guest. The guest was irritated. It had rained all day, and now that it was clearing up night had almost fallen. He had packed his portmanteau: his stockings, his clothes-brush, his razor, his dress shoes were each in their corner, and now he had nothing to do. He had tried the paper that was lying on the table. He did not agree with its politics.

The waiter was playing an accordion in a little room over the stairs. The guests irritation increased, for the more he thought about it the more he perceived that the accordion was badly played. There was a piano in the coffee-room; he sat down at it and played the tune correctly, as loudly as possible. The waiter took no notice. He did not know that he was being played for. He was wholly absorbed in his own playing, and besides he was old, obstinate, and deaf. The guest could stand it no longer. He rang for the waiter, and then, remembering that he did not need anything, went out before he came.

He went through Martins Street, and Peters Lane, and turned down by the burnt house at the corner of the fish-market, picking his way towards the bridge.

The town was dripping, but the rain was almost over. The large drops fell seldomer and seldomer into the puddles. It was the hour of ducks. Three or four had squeezed themselves under a gate, and were now splashing about in the gutter of the main street. There was scarcely any one abroad. Once or twice a countryman went by in yellow gaiters covered with mud and looked at the guest. Once an old woman with a basket of clothes, recognizing the Protestant curates locum tenens, made a low curtsey.

The clouds gradually drifted away, the twilight deepened and the stars came out. The guest, having bought some cigarettes, had spread his waterproof on the parapet of the bridge and was now leaning his elbows upon it, looking at the river and feeling at last quite tranquil. His meditations, he repeated, to himself, were plated with silver by the stars. The water slid noiselessly, and one or two of the larger stars made little roadways of fire into the darkness. The light from a distant casement made also its roadway. Once or twice a fish leaped. Along the banks were the vague shadows of houses, seeming like phantoms gathering to drink.

Yes; he felt now quite contented with the world. Amidst his enjoyment of the shadows and the river a veritable festival of silence was mixed pleasantly the knowledge that, as he leant there with the light of a neighbouring gas-jet, flickering faintly on his refined form and nervous face and glancing from the little medal of some Anglican order that hung upon his watch-guard, he must have seemed if there had been any to witness a being of a different kind to the inhabitants at once rough and conventional of this half-deserted town. Between these two feelings the unworldly and the worldly tossed a leaping wave of perfect enjoyment. How pleasantly conscious of his own identity it made him when he thought how he and not those whose birthright it was, felt most the beauty of these shadows and this river? To him who had read much, seen operas and plays, known religious experiences, and written verse to a waterfall in Switzerland, and not to those who dwelt upon its borders for their whole lives, did this river raise a tumult of images and wonders. What meaning it had for them he could not imagine. Some meaning surely it must have!

As he gazed out into the darkness, spinning a web of thoughts from himself to the river, from the river to himself, he saw, with a corner of his eye, a spot of red light moving in the air at the other end of the bridge. He turned towards it. It came closer and closer, there appearing behind it the while a man and a cigar. The man carried in one hand a mass of fishing-line covered with hooks, and in the other a tin porringer full of bait.

Good evening, Howard.

Good evening, answered the guest, taking his elbows off the parapet and looking in a preoccupied way at the man with the hooks. It was only gradually he remembered that he was in Ballah among the barbarians, for his mind had strayed from the last evening gnats, making circles on the water beneath, to the devils song against the little spirits in Mefistofele. Looking down at the stone parapet he considered a moment and then burst out

Sherman, how do you stand this place you who have thoughts above mere eating and sleeping and are not always grinding at the stubble mill? Here everybody lives in the eighteenth century the squalid century. Well, I am going to-morrow, you know. Thank Heaven, I am done with your grey streets and grey minds! The curate must come home, sick or well. I have a religious essay to write, and besides I should die. Think of that old fellow at the corner there, our most important parishioner. There are no more hairs on his head than thoughts in his skull. To merely look at him is to rob life of its dignity. Then there is nothing in the shops but school-books and Sunday-school prizes. Excellent, no doubt, for any one who has not had to read as many as I have. Such a choir! such rain!

You need some occupation peculiar to the place, said the other, baiting his hooks with worms out of the little porringer. I catch eels. You should set some night-lines too. You bait them with worms in this way, and put them among the weeds at the edge of the river. In the morning you find an eel or two, if you have good fortune, turning round and round and making the weeds sway. I shall catch a great many after this rain.

What a suggestion! Do you mean to stay here, said Howard, till your mind rots like our most important parishioners?

No, no! To be quite frank with you, replied the other, I have some good looks and shall try to turn them to account by going away from here pretty soon and trying to persuade some girl with money to fall in love with me. I shall not be altogether a bad match, you see, because after she has made me a little prosperous my uncle will die and make me much more so. I wish to be able always to remain a lounger. Yes, I shall marry money. My mother has set her heart on it, and I am not, you see, the kind of person who falls in love inconveniently. For the present

You are vegetating, interrupted the other.

No, I am seeing the world. In your big towns a man finds his minority and knows nothing outside its border. He knows only the people like himself. But here one chats with the whole world in a days walk, for every man one meets is a class. The knowledge I am picking up may be useful to me when I enter the great cities and their ignorance. But I have lines to set. Come with me. I would ask you home, but you and my mother, you know, do not get on well.

I could not live with any one I did not believe in, said Howard; you are so different from me. You can live with mere facts, and that is why, I suppose, your schemes are so mercenary. Before this beautiful river, these stars, these great purple shadows, do you not feel like an insect in a flower? As for me, I also have planned my future. Not too near or too far from a great city I see myself in a cottage with diamond panes, sitting by the fire. There are books everywhere and etchings on the wall; on the table is a manuscript essay on some religious matter. Perhaps I shall marry some day. Probably not, for I shall ask so much. Certainly I shall not marry for money, for I hold the directness and sincerity of the nature to be its compass. If we once break it the world grows trackless.

Good-bye, said Sherman, briskly; I have baited the last hook. Your schemes suit you, but a sluggish fellow like me, poor devil, who wishes to lounge through the world, would find them expensive.

They parted; Sherman to set his lines and Howard to his hotel in high spirits, for it seemed to him he had been eloquent. The billiard-room, which opened on the street, was lighted up. A few young men came round to play sometimes. He went in, for among these provincial youths he felt recherch?; besides, he was a really good player. As he came in one of the players missed and swore. Howard reproved him with a look. He joined the play for a time, and then catching sight through a distant door of the hotel-keepers wife putting a kettle on the hob he hurried off, and, drawing a chair to the fire, began one of those long gossips about everybodys affairs peculiar to the cloth.

As Sherman, having set his lines, returned home, he passed a tobacconists a sweet-shop and tobacconists in one the only shop in town, except public-houses, that remained open. The tobacconist was standing in his door, and, recognizing one who dealt consistently with a rival at the other end of the town, muttered: There goes that gluggerabunthaun and Jack o Dreams; been fishing most likely. Ugh! Sherman paused for a moment as he repassed the bridge and looked at the water, on which now a new-risen and crescent moon was shining dimly. How full of memories it was to him! what playmates and boyish adventures did it not bring to mind! To him it seemed to say, Stay near to me, as to Howard it had said, Go yonder, to those other joys and other sceneries I have told you of. It bade him who loved stay still and dream, and gave flying feet to him who imagined.

II

The house where Sherman and his mother lived was one of those bare houses so common in country towns. Their dashed fronts mounting above empty pavements have a kind of dignity in their utilitarianism. They seem to say, Fashion has not made us, nor ever do its caprices pass our sand-cleaned doorsteps. On every basement window is the same dingy wire blind; on every door the same brass knocker. Custom everywhere! So much the longer, the blinds seem to say, have eyes glanced through us; and the knockers to murmur, And fingers lifted us.

No. 15, Stephens Row, was in no manner peculiar among its twenty fellows. The chairs in the drawing-room facing the street were of heavy mahogany with horsehair cushions worn at the corners. On the round table was somebodys commentary on the New Testament laid like the spokes of a wheel on a table-cover of American oilcloth with stamped Japanese figures half worn away. The room was seldom used, for Mrs. Sherman was solitary because silent. In this room the dressmaker sat twice a year, and here the rectors wife used every month or so to drink a cup of tea. It was quite clean. There was not a fly-mark on the mirror, and all summer the fern in the grate was constantly changed. Behind this room and overlooking the garden was the parlour, where cane-bottomed chairs took the place of mahogany. Sherman had lived here with his mother all his life, and their old servant hardly remembered having lived anywhere else; and soon she would absolutely cease to remember the world she knew before she saw the four walls of this house, for every day she forgot something fresh. The son was almost thirty, the mother fifty, and the servant near seventy. Every year they had two hundred pounds among them, and once a year the son got a new suit of clothes and went into the drawing-room to look at himself in the mirror.

On the morning of the 20th of December Mrs. Sherman was down before her son. A spare, delicate-featured woman, with somewhat thin lips tightly closed as with silent people, and eyes at once gentle and distrustful, tempering the hardness of the lips. She helped the servant to set the table, and then, for her old-fashioned ideas would not allow her to rest, began to knit, often interrupting her knitting to go into the kitchen or to listen at the foot of the stairs. At last, hearing a sound upstairs, she put the eggs down to boil, muttering the while, and began again to knit. When her son appeared she received him with a smile.

Late again, mother, he said.

The young should sleep, she answered, for to her he seemed still a boy.

She had finished her breakfast some time before the young man, and because it would have appeared very wrong to her to leave the table, she sat on knitting behind the tea-urn: an industry the benefit of which was felt by many poor children almost the only neighbours she had a good word for.

Mother, said the young man, presently, your friend the locum tenens is off to-morrow.

A good riddance.

Why are you so hard on him? He talked intelligently when here, I thought, answered her son.

I do not like his theology, she replied, nor his way of running about and flirting with this body and that body, nor his way of chattering while he buttons and unbuttons his gloves.

You forget he is a man of the great world, and has about him a manner that must seem strange to us.

Oh, he might do very well, she answered, for one of those Carton girls at the rectory.

That eldest girl is a good girl, replied her son.

She looks down on us all, and thinks herself intellectual, she went on. I remember when girls were content with their Catechism and their Bibles and a little practice at the piano, maybe, for an accomplishment. What does any one want more? It is all pride.

You used to like her as a child, said the young man.

I like all children.

Sherman having finished his breakfast, took a book of travels in one hand and a trowel in the other and went out into the garden. Having looked under the parlour window for the first tulip shoots, he went down to the further end and began covering some sea-kale for forcing. He had not been long at work when the servant brought him a letter. There was a stone roller at one side of the grass plot. He sat down upon it, and taking the letter between his finger and thumb began looking at it with an air that said: Well! I know what you mean. He remained long thus without opening it, the book lying beside him on the roller.

The garden the letter the book! You have there the three symbols of his life. Every morning he worked in that garden among the sights and sounds of nature. Month by month he planted and hoed and dug there. In the middle he had set a hedge that divided the garden in two. Above the hedge were flowers; below it, vegetables. At the furthest end from the house, lapping broken masonry full of wallflowers, the river said, month after month to all upon its banks, Hush! He dined at two with perfect regularity, and in the afternoon went out to shoot or walk. At twilight he set night-lines. Later on he read. He had not many books a Shakespeare, Mungo Parks travels, a few two-shilling novels, Percys Reliques, and a volume on etiquette. He seldom varied his occupations. He had no profession. The town talked of it. They said: He lives upon his mother, and were very angry. They never let him see this, however, for it was generally understood he would be a dangerous fellow to rouse; but there was an uncle from whom Sherman had expectations who sometimes wrote remonstrating. Mrs. Sherman resented these letters, for she was afraid of her son going away to seek his fortune perhaps even in America. Now this matter preyed somewhat on Sherman. For three years or so he had been trying to make his mind up and come to some decision. Sometimes when reading he would start and press his lips together and knit his brows for a moment.

It will now be seen why the garden, the book, and the letter were the three symbols of his life, summing up as they did his love of out-of-door doings, his meditations, his anxieties. His life in the garden had granted serenity to his forehead, the reading of his few books had filled his eyes with reverie, and the feeling that he was not quite a good citizen had given a slight and occasional trembling to his lips.

He opened the letter. Its contents were what he had long expected. His uncle offered to take him into his office. He laid it spread out before him a foot on each margin, right and left and looked at it, turning the matter over and over in his mind. Would he go? would he stay? He did not like the idea much. The lounger in him did not enjoy the thought of London. Gradually his mind wandered away into scheming infinite scheming what he would do if he went, what he would do if he did not go.

A beetle, attracted by the faint sunlight, had crawled out of his hole. It saw the paper and crept on to it, the better to catch the sunlight. Sherman saw the beetle but his mind was not occupied with it. Shall I tell Mary Carton? he was thinking. Mary had long been his adviser and friend. She was, indeed, everybodys adviser. Yes, he would ask her what to do. Then again he thought no, he would decide for himself. The beetle began to move. If it goes off the paper by the top I will ask her if by the bottom I will not.

The beetle went off by the top. He got up with an air of decision and went into the tool-house and began sorting seeds and picking out the light ones, sometimes stopping to watch a spider; for he knew he must wait till the afternoon to see Mary Carton. The tool-house was a favourite place with him. He often read there and watched the spiders in the corners.

At dinner he was preoccupied.

Mother, he said, would you much mind if we went away from this?

I have often told you, she answered, I do not like one place better than another. I like them all equally little.

After dinner he went again into the tool-house. This time he did not sort seeds only watched the spiders.

III

Towards evening he went out. The pale sunshine of winter flickered on his path. The wind blew the straws about. He grew more and more melancholy. A dog of his acquaintance was chasing rabbits in a field. He had never been known to catch one, and since his youth had never seen one for he was almost wholly blind. They were his form of the eternal chimera. The dog left the field and followed with a friendly sniff.

They came together to the rectory. Mary Carton was not in. There was a childrens practice in the school-house. They went thither.

A child of four or five with a swelling on its face was sitting under a wall opposite the school door, waiting to make faces at the Protestant children as they came out. Catching sight of the dog she seemed to debate in her mind whether to throw a stone at it or call it to her. She threw the stone and made it run. In after times he remembered all these things as though they were of importance.

He opened the latched green door and went in. About twenty children were singing in shrill voices standing in a row at the further end. At the harmonium he recognized Mary Carton, who nodded to him and went on with her playing. The white-washed walls were covered with glazed prints of animals; at the further end was a large map of Europe; by a fire at the near end was a table with the remains of tea. This tea was an idea of Marys. They had tea and cake first, afterwards the singing. The floor was covered with crumbs. The fire was burning brightly. Sherman sat down beside it. A child with a great deal of oil in her hair was sitting on the end of a form at the other side.

Look, she whispered, I have been sent away. At any rate they are further from the fire. They have to be near the harmonium. I would not sing. Do you like hymns? I dont. Will you have a cup of tea? I can make it quite well. See, I did not spill a drop. Have you enough milk? It was a cup full of milk childrens tea. Look, there is a mouse carrying away a crumb. Hush!





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