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- The Untilled Field - 50/57 -
"But your marriage was a love marriage?"
"Yes, but that is a long time ago. It is four years ago."
"I don't think your husband will separate himself from you, but even so I think--"
"You will give me absolution?"
She said this a little defiantly, and the priest wondered, and she left the confessional perplexed and a little ashamed and very much terrified.
There was nothing for her to do in Dublin, she must go home and wait for her husband. He was not coming home until evening, and she rode home wondering how the day would pass, thinking the best time to tell him would be after dinner when he left the piano. If he were very angry with her she would go to her room. He would not go on living with her, she was sure of that, and her heart seemed to stand still when she entered the house and saw the study door open and Ned looking through the papers.
"I have come back to look for some papers," he said. "It is very annoying. I have lost half the day," and he went on looking among his papers and she could see that he suspected nothing. "Do you know when is the next train?"
She looked out the trains for him, and after he had found the papers he wanted they went into the garden.
She talked of her flowers with the same interest as she had done many times before, and when he asked her to go for a walk with him on the hill she consented, although it was almost unbearable to walk with him for the last time through the places where they had walked so often, thinking that their lives would move on to the end unchanged; and they walked about the hill talking of Irish history, their eyes often resting on the slender outlines of Howth, until it was time for Ned to go to the station.
"I shall be back in time for dinner. You will wait dinner a little for me, I may have to come back by a later train."
And they walked down the hill together, Ned bidding her good-bye at the garden gate, saying she had walked enough that day, and she feeling the moment was at hand.
"But, Ned, why are you going to Dublin? You are only going to see people who are anti-Catholic, who hate our religion, who are prejudiced against it."
"But," he said, "why do you talk of these things. We have got on very much better since we have ceased to discuss politics together. We are agreed in everything else."
She did not answer for a long time and then she said:--
"But I don't see how we are to avoid discussing them, for it is my money that supports the agitation."
"I never thought of that. So it is. Do you wish to withdraw it?"
"You are not angry with me, Ned? You won't think it mean of me to withdraw my money? How are you going to go on without my money? You see I am wrecking your political career."
"Oh," he said, "I shall be able to get on without it. Now, good- bye."
"May I go to the station with you?"
"If you like, only let us talk of something else. Everyone's conscience is his own law and you must act accordingly."
She trotted by his side, and she begged of him not to laugh at her when he said that to be truly logical she would have to turn him out of the house, or at least to charge him for his board and lodging.
The intonation of his voice laid her heart waste; she felt she was done for, and she walked home repeating the words, "I am done for."
As she passed through her garden she saw that her flowers were dying for want of water, and she gave them a few cans of water; but she could not do much work, and though the cans were heavy, they were not as heavy as her heart. She sat down under the apple- tree and remembered her life. Her best days were her school-days. Then life was beginning. Now it seemed to her nearly over, and she only five-and-twenty. She never could take the same interest in politics as she had once taken, nor in books. She felt that her intelligence had declined. She was cleverer as a girl than she was as a woman.
Ned was coming home for dinner, and some time that evening she would have to tell him that she had read his manuscript. She would have liked to meet him at the station, but thought it would be better not to go. The day wore away. Ned was in his best humour, and when she told him why she did not go to the station to meet him, he said it was foolish of her not to have come, for there was nothing he liked better than to stroll home with her in the evening, the road was so pleasant, etc.
She could see that he had not noticed her dress or what he was eating, and it was irritating to see him sitting there with his spoon full of soup telling her how the Irish people would have to reduce their expenditure and think a little less of priests--for a while, at least--unless they were minded to pass away, to become absorbed in America.
"I like Brennan," he said, throwing himself back in his chair. "He is a clever man. Brennan knows as well as I do there's too much money spent upon religion in Ireland. But, tell me, did he tell you explicitly that you should give me no more money?"
"Yes. But, Ned--"
"No, no, I am not in the least angry," he said, "I shall always get money to carry on politics. But what a game it is! And I suppose, Ellen, you consult him on every detail of your life?"
Her admission that Father Brennan had taken down books and put on his spectacles delighted him.
"Taking down tomes!" he said. "Splendid! Some of these gentlemen would discuss theology with God. I can see Father Brennan getting up: 'Sire, my reason for entering the said sin as a venal sin, etc.'"
Very often during the evening the sewing dropped from her hands, and she sat thinking. Sooner or later she would nave to tell Ned she had read his manuscript. He would not mind her reading his manuscript, and though he hated the idea that anyone should turn to a priest and ask him for his interpretation regarding right and wrong, he had not, on the whole, been as angry as she had expected.
At last she got up. "I am going to bed, Ned."
"Isn't it very early?"
"There is no use my stopping here. You don't want to talk to me; you'll go on playing till midnight."
"Now, why this petulancy, Ellen? I think it shows a good deal of forgiveness for me to kiss you after the way you have behaved."
She held a long string of grease in her fingers, and was melting it, and when she could no longer hold it in her fingers, she threw the end into the flame.
"I've forgiven you, Ellen.... You never tell me anything of your ideas now; we never talk to each other, and if this last relation is broken there will be nothing ... will there?"
"I sought Father Brennan's advice under the seal of confession, that was all. You don't think that--"
"There are plenty of indirect ways in which he will be able to make use of the information he has got from you."
"You have not yet heard how it happened, and perhaps when you do you will think worse of me. I went into your room to see what books you were reading. There was no harm in looking at a book; but you had put the books so far into the bookcase that I could not see the name of the author. I took up the manuscript from the table and glanced through it. I suppose I ought not to have done that: a manuscript is not the same as a book. And now goodnight."
She had gone to her room and did not expect him. Well, the sensual coil was broken, and if he did not follow her now she would understand that it was broken. He had wanted freedom this long while. They had come to the end of the second period, and there are three--a year of mystery and passion, and then some years of passion without mystery. The third period is one of resignation. The lives of the parents pass into the children, and the mated journey on, carrying their packs. Seldom, indeed, the man and the woman weary of the life of passion at the same time and turn instinctively into the way of resignation like animals. Sometimes it is the man who turns first, sometimes it is the woman. In this case it was the man. He had his work to do, and Ellen had her child to think of, and each must think of his and her task from henceforth. Their tasks were not the same. Each had a different task; she had thrown, or tried to throw, his pack from his shoulders. She had thwarted him, or, tried to thwart him. He grew angry as he thought of what she had done. She had gone into his study and read his papers, and she had then betrayed him to a priest. He lay awake thinking how he had been deceived by Ellen; thinking that he had been mistaken; that her character was not the noble character he had imagined. But at the bottom of his heart he was true to the noble soul that religion could not extinguish nor even his neglect.
She said one day: "Is it because I read your manuscript and told the priest, that you would not come to my room, or is it because you are tired of me?"
"I cannot tell you; and, really, this conversation is very painful. I am engaged upon my work, and I have no thoughts for anything but it." Another time when he came from the piano and sat
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