John Bull's Other Island/Act II, § i
Rosscullen. Westward a hillside of granite rock and heather slopes upward across the prospect from south to north, a huge stone stands on it in a naturally impossible place, as if it had been tossed up there by a giant. Over the brow, in the desolate valley beyond, is a round tower. A lonely white high road trending away westward past the tower loses itself at the foot of the far mountains. It is evening; and there are great breadths of silken green in the Irish sky. The sun is setting.
A man with the face of a young saint, yet with white hair and perhaps 50 years on his back, is standing near the stone in a trance of intense melancholy, looking over the hills as if by mere intensity of gaze he could pierce the glories of the sunset and see into the streets of heaven. He is dressed in black, and is rather more clerical in appearance than most English curates are nowadays; but he does not wear the collar and waistcoat of a parish priest. He is roused from his trance by the chirp of an insect from a tuft of grass in a crevice of the stone. His face relaxes: he turns quietly, and gravely takes off his hat to the tuft, addressing the insect in a brogue which is the jocular assumption of a gentleman and not the natural speech of a peasant.
THE MAN. An is that yourself, Misther Grasshopper? I hope I see you well this fine evenin.
THE GRASSHOPPER [prompt and shrill in answer]. X.X.
THE MAN [encouragingly]. That's right. I suppose now you've come out to make yourself miserable by admyerin the sunset?
THE GRASSHOPPER [sadly]. X.X.
THE MAN. Aye, you're a thrue Irish grasshopper.
THE GRASSHOPPER [loudly]. X.X.X.
THE MAN. Three cheers for ould Ireland, is it? That helps you to face out the misery and the poverty and the torment, doesn't it?
THE GRASSHOPPER [plaintively]. X.X.
THE MAN. Ah, it's no use, me poor little friend. If you could jump as far as a kangaroo you couldn't jump away from your own heart an its punishment. You can only look at Heaven from here: you can't reach it. There! [pointing with his stick to the sunset] that's the gate o glory, isn't it?
THE GRASSHOPPER [assenting]. X.X.
THE MAN. Sure it's the wise grasshopper yar to know that! But tell me this, Misther Unworldly Wiseman: why does the sight of Heaven wring your heart an mine as the sight of holy wather wrings the heart o the divil? What wickedness have you done to bring that curse on you? Here! where are you jumpin to? Where's your manners to go skyrocketin like that out o the box in the middle o your confession [he threatens it with his stick]?
THE GRASSHOPPER [penitently]. X.
THE MAN [lowering the stick]. I accept your apology; but don't do it again. And now tell me one thing before I let you go home to bed. Which would you say this counthry was: hell or purgatory?
THE GRASSHOPPER. X.
THE MAN. Hell! Faith I'm afraid you're right. I wondher what you and me did when we were alive to get sent here.
THE GRASSHOPPER [shrilly]. X.X.
THE MAN [nodding]. Well, as you say, it's a delicate subject; and I won't press it on you. Now off widja.
THE GRASSHOPPER. X.X. [It springs away].
THE MAN [waving his stick] God speed you! [He walks away past the stone towards the brow of the hill. Immediately a young laborer, his face distorted with terror, slips round from behind the stone.
THE LABORER [crossing himself repeatedly]. Oh glory be to God! glory be to God! Oh Holy Mother an all the saints! Oh murdher! murdher! [Beside himself, calling:] Fadher Keegan! Fadher Keegan!
THE MAN [turning]. Who's there? What's that? [He comes back and finds the laborer, who clasps his knees] Patsy Farrell! What are you doing here?
PATSY. O for the love o God don't lave me here wi dhe grasshopper. I hard it spakin to you. Don't let it do me any harm, Father darlint.
KEEGAN. Get up, you foolish man, get up. Are you afraid of a poor insect because I pretended it was talking to me?
PATSY. Oh, it was no pretending, Fadher dear. Didn't it give three cheers n say it was a divil out o hell? Oh say you'll see me safe home, Fadher; n put a blessin on me or somethin [he moans with terror].
KEEGAN. What were you doin there, Patsy, listnin? Were you spyin on me?
PATSY. No, Fadher: on me oath an soul I wasn't: I was waitn to meet Masther Larry n carry his luggage from the car; n I fell asleep on the grass; n you woke me talkin to the grasshopper; n I hard its wicked little voice. Oh, d'ye think I'll die before the year's out, Fadher?
KEEGAN. For shame, Patsy! Is that your religion, to be afraid of a little deeshy grasshopper? Suppose it was a divil, what call have you to fear it? If I could ketch it, I'd make you take it home widja in your hat for a penance.
PATSY. Sure, if you won't let it harm me, I'm not afraid, your riverence. [He gets up, a little reassured. He is a callow, flaxen polled, smoothfaced, downy chinned lad, fully grown but not yet fully filled out, with blue eyes and an instinctively acquired air of helplessness and silliness, indicating, not his real character, but a cunning developed by his constant dread of a hostile dominance, which he habitually tries to disarm and tempt into unmasking by pretending to be a much greater fool than he really is. Englishmen think him half-witted, which is exactly what he intends them to think. He is clad in corduroy trousers, unbuttoned waistcoat, and coarse blue striped shirt].
KEEGAN [admonitorily]. Patsy: what did I tell you about callin me Father Keegan an your reverence? What did Father Dempsey tell you about it?
PATSY. Yis, Fadher.
PATSY [desperately]. Arra, hwat am I to call you? Fadher Dempsey sez you're not a priest; n we all know you're not a man; n how do we know what ud happen to us if we showed any disrespect to you? N sure they say wanse a priest always a priest.
KEEGAN [sternly]. It's not for the like of you, Patsy, to go behind the instruction of your parish priest and set yourself up to judge whether your Church is right or wrong.
PATSY. Sure I know that, sir.
KEEGAN. The Church let me be its priest as long as it thought me fit for its work. When it took away my papers it meant you to know that I was only a poor madman, unfit and unworthy to take charge of the souls of the people.
PATSY. But wasn't it only because you knew more Latn than Father Dempsey that he was jealous of you?
KEEGAN [scolding him to keep himself from smiling]. How dar you, Patsy Farrell, put your own wicked little spites and foolishnesses into the heart of your priest? For two pins I'd tell him what you just said.
PATSY [coaxing] Sure you wouldn't—
KEEGAN. Wouldn't I? God forgive you! You're little better than a heathen.
PATSY. Deedn I am, Fadher: it's me bruddher the tinsmith in Dublin you're thinkin of. Sure he had to be a freethinker when he larnt a thrade and went to live in the town.
KEEGAN. Well, he'll get to Heaven before you if you're not careful, Patsy. And now you listen to me, once and for all. You'll talk to me and pray for me by the name of Pether Keegan, so you will. And when you're angry and tempted to lift your hand agen the donkey or stamp your foot on the little grasshopper, remember that the donkey's Pether Keegan's brother, and the grasshopper Pether Keegan's friend. And when you're tempted to throw a stone at a sinner or a curse at a beggar, remember that Pether Keegan is a worse sinner and a worse beggar, and keep the stone and the curse for him the next time you meet him. Now say God bless you, Pether, to me before I go, just to practise you a bit.
PATSY. Sure it wouldn't be right, Fadher. I can't—
KEEGAN. Yes you can. Now out with it; or I'll put this stick into your hand an make you hit me with it.
PATSY [throwing himself on his knees in an ecstasy of adoration]. Sure it's your blessin I want, Fadher Keegan. I'll have no luck widhout it.
KEEGAN [shocked]. Get up out o that, man. Don't kneel to me: I'm not a saint.
PATSY [with intense conviction]. Oh in throth yar, sir. [The grasshopper chirps. Patsy, terrified, clutches at Keegan's hands] Don't set it on me, Fadher: I'll do anythin you bid me.
KEEGAN [pulling him up]. You bosthoon, you! Don't you see that it only whistled to tell me Miss Reilly's comin? There! Look at her and pull yourself together for shame. Off widja to the road: you'll be late for the car if you don't make haste [bustling him down the hill]. I can see the dust of it in the gap already.
PATSY. The Lord save us! [He goes down the hill towards the road like a haunted man].
Nora Reilly comes down the hill. A slight weak woman in a pretty muslin print gown [her best], she is a figure commonplace enough to Irish eyes; but on the inhabitants of fatter-fed, crowded, hustling and bustling modern countries she makes a very different impression. The absence of any symptoms of coarseness or hardness or appetite in her, her comparative delicacy of manner and sensibility of apprehension, her thin hands and slender figure, her travel accent, with the caressing plaintive Irish melody of her speech, give her a charm which is all the more effective because, being untravelled, she is unconscious of it, and never dreams of deliberately dramatizing and exploiting it, as the Irishwoman in England does. For Tom Broadbent therefore, an attractive woman, whom he would even call ethereal. To Larry Doyle, an everyday woman fit only for the eighteenth century, helpless, useless, almost sexless, an invalid without the excuse of disease, an incarnation of everything in Ireland that drove him out of it. These judgments have little value and no finality; but they are the judgments on which her fate hangs just at present. Keegan touches his hat to her: he does not take it off.
NORA. Mr Keegan: I want to speak to you a minute if you don't mind.
KEEGAN [dropping the broad Irish vernacular of his speech to Patsy]. An hour if you like, Miss Reilly: you're always welcome. Shall we sit down?
NORA. Thank you. [They sit on the heather. She is shy and anxious; but she comes to the point promptly because she can think of nothing else]. They say you did a gradle o travelling at one time.
KEEGAN. Well you see I'm not a Mnooth man [he means that he was not a student at Maynooth College]. When I was young I admired the older generation of priests that had been educated in Salamanca. So when I felt sure of my vocation I went to Salamanca. Then I walked from Salamanca to Rome, an sted in a monastery there for a year. My pilgrimage to Rome taught me that walking is a better way of travelling than the train; so I walked from Rome to the Sorbonne in Paris; and I wish I could have walked from Paris to Oxford; for I was very sick on the sea. After a year of Oxford I had to walk to Jerusalem to walk the Oxford feeling off me. From Jerusalem I came back to Patmos, and spent six months at the monastery of Mount Athos. From that I came to Ireland and settled down as a parish priest until I went mad.
NORA [startled]. Oh dons say that.
KEEGAN. Why not? Don't you know the story? how I confessed a black man and gave him absolution; and how he put a spell on me and drove me mad.
NORA. How can you talk such nonsense about yourself? For shame!
KEEGAN. It's not nonsense at all: it's true—in a way. But never mind the black man. Now that you know what a travelled man I am, what can I do for you? [She hesitates and plucks nervously at the heather. He stays her hand gently]. Dear Miss Nora: don't pluck the little flower. If it was a pretty baby you wouldn't want to pull its head off and stick it in a vawse o water to look at. [The grasshopper chirps: Keegan turns his head and addresses it in the vernacular]. Be aisy, me son: she won't spoil the swing-swong in your little three. [To Nora, resuming his urbane style] You see I'm quite cracked; but never mind: I'm harmless. Now what is it?
NORA [embarrassed]. Oh, only idle curiosity. I wanted to know whether you found Ireland—I mean the country part of Ireland, of course—very small and backwardlike when you came back to it from Rome and Oxford and all the great cities.
KEEGAN. When I went to those great cities I saw wonders I had never seen in Ireland. But when I came back to Ireland I found all the wonders there waiting for me. You see they had been there all the time; but my eyes had never been opened to them. I did not know what my own house was like, because I had never been outside it.
NORA. D'ye think that's the same with everybody?
KEEGAN. With everybody who has eyes in his soul as well as in his head.
NORA. But really and truly now, weren't the people rather disappointing? I should think the girls must have seemed rather coarse and dowdy after the foreign princesses and people? But I suppose a priest wouldn't notice that.
KEEGAN. It's a priest's business to notice everything. I won't tell you all I noticed about women; but I'll tell you this. The more a man knows, and the farther he travels, the more likely he is to marry a country girl afterwards.
NORA [blushing with delight]. You're joking, Mr Keegan: I'm sure yar.
KEEGAN. My way of joking is to tell the truth. It's the funniest joke in the world.
NORA [incredulous]. Galong with you!
KEEGAN [springing up actively]. Shall we go down to the road and meet the car? [She gives him her hand and he helps her up]. Patsy Farrell told me you were expecting young Doyle.
NORA [tossing her chin up at once]. Oh, I'm not expecting him particularly. It's a wonder he's come back at all. After staying away eighteen years he can harly expect us to be very anxious to see him, can he now?
KEEGAN. Well, not anxious perhaps; but you will be curious to see how much he has changed in all these years.
NORA [with a sudden bitter flush]. I suppose that's all that brings him back to look at us, just to see how much WE'VE changed. Well, he can wait and see me be candlelight: I didn't come out to meet him: I'm going to walk to the Round Tower [going west across the hill].
KEEGAN. You couldn't do better this fine evening. [Gravely] I'll tell him where you've gone. [She turns as if to forbid him; but the deep understanding in his eyes makes that impossible; and she only looks at him earnestly and goes. He watches her disappear on the other side of the hill; then says] Aye, he's come to torment you; and you're driven already to torment him. [He shakes his head, and goes slowly away across the hill in the opposite direction, lost in thought].
By this time the car has arrived, and dropped three of its passengers on the high road at the foot of the hill. It is a monster jaunting car, black and dilapidated, one of the last survivors of the public vehicles known to earlier generations as Beeyankiny cars, the Irish having laid violent tongues on the name of their projector, one Bianconi, an enterprising Italian. The three passengers are the parish priest, Father Dempsey; Cornelius Doyle, Larry's father; and Broadbent, all in overcoats and as stiff as only an Irish car could make them.
The priest, stout and fatherly, falls far short of that finest type of countryside pastor which represents the genius of priesthood; but he is equally far above the base type in which a strongminded and unscrupulous peasant uses the Church to extort money, power, and privilege. He is a priest neither by vocation nor ambition, but because the life suits him. He has boundless authority over his flock, and taxes them stiffly enough to be a rich man. The old Protestant ascendency is now too broken to gall him. On the whole, an easygoing, amiable, even modest man as long as his dues are paid and his authority and dignity fully admitted.
Cornelius Doyle is an elder of the small wiry type, with a hardskinned, rather worried face, clean shaven except for sandy whiskers blanching into a lustreless pale yellow and quite white at the roots. His dress is that of a country-town titan of business: that is, an oldish shooting suit, and elastic sided boots quite unconnected with shooting. Feeling shy with Broadbent, he is hasty, which is his way of trying to appear genial.
Broadbent, for reasons which will appear later, has no luggage except a field glass and a guide book. The other two have left theirs to the unfortunate Patsy Farrell, who struggles up the hill after them, loaded with a sack of potatoes, a hamper, a fat goose, a colossal salmon, and several paper parcels.
Cornelius leads the way up the hill, with Broadbent at his heels. The priest follows; and Patsy lags laboriously behind.
CORNELIUS. This is a bit of a climb, Mr. Broadbent; but it's shorter than goin round be the road.
BROADBENT [stopping to examine the great stone]. Just a moment, Mr Doyle: I want to look at this stone. It must be Finian's die-cast.
CORNELIUS [in blank bewilderment]. Hwat?
BROADBENT. Murray describes it. One of your great national heroes—I can't pronounce the name—Finian Somebody, I think.
FATHER DEMPSEY [also perplexed, and rather scandalized]. Is it Fin McCool you mean?
BROADBENT. I daresay it is. [Referring to the guide book]. Murray says that a huge stone, probably of Druidic origin, is still pointed out as the die cast by Fin in his celebrated match with the devil.
CORNELIUS [dubiously]. Jeuce a word I ever heard of it!
FATHER DEMPSEY [very seriously indeed, and even a little severely]. Don't believe any such nonsense, sir. There never was any such thing. When people talk to you about Fin McCool and the like, take no notice of them. It's all idle stories and superstition.
BROADBENT [somewhat indignantly; for to be rebuked by an Irish priest for superstition is more than he can stand]. You don't suppose I believe it, do you?
FATHER DEMPSEY. Oh, I thought you did. D'ye see the top o the Roun Tower there? That's an antiquity worth lookin at.
BROADBENT [deeply interested]. Have you any theory as to what the Round Towers were for?
FATHER DEMPSEY [a little offended]. A theory? Me! [Theories are connected in his mind with the late Professor Tyndall, and with scientific scepticism generally: also perhaps with the view that the Round Towers are phallic symbols].
CORNELIUS [remonstrating]. Father Dempsey is the priest of the parish, Mr Broadbent. What would he be doing with a theory?
FATHER DEMPSEY [with gentle emphasis]. I have a KNOWLEDGE of what the Roun Towers were, if that's what you mean. They are the forefingers of the early Church, pointing us all to God.
Patsy, intolerably overburdened, loses his balance, and sits down involuntarily. His burdens are scattered over the hillside. Cornelius and Father Dempsey turn furiously on him, leaving Broadbent beaming at the stone and the tower with fatuous interest.
CORNELIUS. Oh, be the hokey, the sammin's broke in two! You schoopid ass, what d'ye mean?
FATHER DEMPSEY. Are you drunk, Patsy Farrell? Did I tell you to carry that hamper carefully or did I not?
PATSY [rubbing the back of his head, which has almost dented a slab of granite] Sure me fut slpt. Howkn I carry three men's luggage at wanst?
FATHER DEMPSEY. You were told to leave behind what you couldn't carry, an go back for it.
PATSY. An whose things was I to lave behind? Hwat would your reverence think if I left your hamper behind in the wet grass; n hwat would the masther say if I left the sammin and the goose be the side o the road for annywan to pick up?
CORNELIUS. Oh, you've a dale to say for yourself, you, butther-fingered omadhaun. Wait'll Ant Judy sees the state o that sammin: SHE'LL talk to you. Here! gimme that birdn that fish there; an take Father Dempsey's hamper to his house for him; n then come back for the rest.