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- The Untilled Field - 30/57 -
could see from the way he said the name that the priests were not friends; "and he has told you a great many of my people have gone to America. And perhaps you heard him say that they have not gone to America for the sake of better wages but because my rule is too severe, because I put down cross-road dances. Father O'Hara and I think differently, and I have no doubt he thinks he is quite right."
While we breakfasted Father Madden said some severe things about Father O'Hara, about the church he had built, and the debt that was still upon it. I suppose my face told Father Madden of the interest I took in his opinions, for during breakfast he continued to speak his mind very frankly on all the subjects I wished to hear him speak on, and when breakfast was over I offered him a cigar and proposed that we should go for a walk on his lawn.
"Yes," he said, "there are people who think I am a reactionist because I put down the ball-alley."
"There used to be a ball-alley by the church, but the boys wouldn't stop playing ball during Mass, so I put it down. But you will excuse me a moment." The priest darted off, and I saw him climb down the wall into the road; he ran a little way along the road calling at the top of his voice, and when I got to the wall I saw him coming back. "Let me help you," I said. I pulled him up and we continued our walk; and as soon as he had recovered his breath he told me that he had caught sight of a boy and girl loitering.
"And I hunted them home."
I asked him why, knowing well the reason, and he said:--
"Young people should not loiter along the roads. I don't want bastards in my parish."
It seemed to me that perhaps bastards were better than no children at all, even from a religious point of view--one can't have religion without life, and bastards may be saints.
"In every country," I said, "boys and girls walk together, and the only idealism that comes into the lives of peasants is between the ages of eighteen and twenty, when young people meet in the lanes and linger by the stiles. Afterwards hard work in the fields kills aspiration."
"The idealism of the Irish people does not go into sex, it goes into religion."
"But religion does not help to continue the race, and we're anxious to preserve the race, otherwise there will be no religion, or a different religion in Ireland."
"That is not certain."
Later on I asked him if the people still believed in fairies. He said that traces of such beliefs survived among the mountain folk.
"There is a great deal of Paganism in the language they wish to revive, though it may be as free from Protestantism as Father O'Hara says it is."
For some reason or other I could see that folk-lore was distasteful to him, and he mentioned causally that he had put a stop to the telling of fairy-tales round the fire in the evening, and the conversation came to a pause.
"Now I won't detain you much longer, Father Madden. My horse and car are waiting for me. You will think over the establishment of looms. You don't want the country to disappear."
"No, I don't! And though I do not think the establishment of work- rooms an unmixed blessing I will help you. You must not believe all Father O'Hara says."
The horse began to trot, and I to think. He had said that the idealism of the Irish peasant goes into other things than sex.
"If this be true, the peasant is doomed," I said to myself, and I remembered that Father Madden would not admit that religion is dependent on life, and I pondered. In this country religion is hunting life to the death. In other countries religion has managed to come to terms with Life. In the South men and women indulge their flesh and turn the key on religious inquiry; in the North men and women find sufficient interest in the interpretation of the Bible and the founding of new religious sects. One can have faith or morals, both together seem impossible. Remembering how the priest had chased the lovers, I turned to the driver and asked if there was no courting in the country.
"There used to be courting," he said, "but now it is not the custom of the country any longer."
"How do you make up your marriages?"
"The marriages are made by the parents, and I've often seen it that the young couple did not see each other until the evening before the wedding--sometimes not until the very morning of the wedding. Many a marriage I've seen broken off for a half a sovereign--well," he said, "if not for half a sovereign, for a sovereign. One party will give forty-nine pounds and the other party wants fifty, and they haggle over that pound, and then the boy's father will say, "Well, if you won't give the pound you can keep the girl."
"But do none of you ever want to walk out with a young girl?" I said.
"We're like other people, sir. We would like it well enough, but it isn't the custom of the country, and if we did it we would be talked about."
I began to like my young carman, and his answer to my question pleased me as much as any answer he had yet given me, and I told him that Father Madden objected to the looms because they entailed meetings, etc., and if he were not present the boys would talk on subjects they should not talk about.
"Now, do you think it is right for a priest to prevent men from meeting to discuss their business?" I said, turning to the driver, determined to force him into an expression of opinion.
"It isn't because he thinks the men would talk about things they should not talk about that he is against an organization. Didn't he tell your honour that things would have to take their course. That is why he will do nothing, because he knows well enough that everyone in the parish will have to leave it, that every house will have to fall. Only the chapel will remain standing, and the day will come when Father Tom will say Mass to the blind woman and to no one else. Did you see the blind woman to-day at Mass, sir, in the right-hand corner, with the shawl over her head?"
"Yes," I said, "I saw her. If any one is a saint, that woman seems to be one."
"Yes, sir, she is a very pious woman, and her piety is so well known that she is the only one who dared to brave Father Madden; she was the only one who dared to take Julia Cahill to live with her. It was Julia who put the curse on the parish."
"A curse! But you are joking."
"No, your honour, there was no joke in it. I was only telling you what must come. She put her curse on the village twenty years ago, and every year a roof has fallen in and a family has gone away."
"And you believe that all this happens on account of Julia's curse?"
"To be sure I do," he said. He flicked his horse pensively with the whip, and my disbelief seemed to disincline him for further conversation.
"But," I said, "who is Julia Cahill, and how did she get the power to lay a curse upon the village? Was she a young woman or an old one?"
"A young one, sir."
"How did she get the power?"
"Didn't she go every night into the mountains? She was seen one night over yonder, and the mountains are ten miles off, and whom would she have gone to see except the fairies? And who could have given her the power to curse the village?"
"But who saw her in the mountains? She would never walk so far in one evening."
"A shepherd saw her, sir."
"But he may have been mistaken."
"He saw her speaking to some one, and nobody for the last two years that she was in this village dared to speak to her but the fairies and the old woman you saw at Mass to-day, sir."
"Now, tell me about Julia Cahill; what did she do?"
"It is said, sir, she was the finest girl in these parts. I was only a gossoon at the time, about eight or nine, but I remember that she was tall, sir, nearly as tall as you are, and she was as straight as one of those poplar-trees," he said, pointing to three trees that stood against the sky. "She walked with a little swing in her walk, so that all the boys, I have heard, who were grown up used to look after her, and she had fine black eyes, sir, and she was nearly always laughing. This was the time when Father Madden came to the parish. There was courting in it then, and every young man and every young woman made their own marriages, and their marriages were made at the cross-road dancing, and in the summer evenings under the hedges. There was no dancer like Julia; they used to gather about to see her dance, and whoever walked with her under the hedges in the summer, could never think about another woman. The village was fairly mad about her, many a fight there was over her, so I suppose the priest was right. He had to get rid of her; but I think he might not have been so hard upon her as he was. It is said that he went down to her house one evening; Julia's people were well-to-do people; they kept a shop; you might
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