The sunlit grass, already long and almost ready for the scythe, was swept by shadows of the larches, those long, shelving boughs hung with green tassels, moving mysteriously above him. Birds came and went, each on its special errand. Never was Nature more inveigling, more restful. He shut his eyes, shapes passed, dreams filled the interspaces. Little thoughts began. Why had he never brought her here? A memory of her walking under these larches would be delightful. The murmur of the boughs dissipated his dreams or changed them, or brought new ones; his consciousness grew fainter, and he could not remember what his last thoughts were when he opened his eyes.
And then he wandered out of the wood, into the sunlit country, along the dusty road, trying to take an interest in everyone whom he met. It was fairday. He met drovers and chatted to them about the cattle; he heard a wonderful story about a heifer that one of them had sold, and that found her way back home again, twenty-five miles, and a little further on a man came across the fields towards him with a sheep-dog at his heels, a beautiful bitch who showed her teeth prettily when she was spoken to; she had long gold hair, and it was easy to see that she liked to be admired.
‘They’re all alike, the feminine sex,’ the priest thought. ’She’s as pretty as Nora, and acts very much the same.’
He walked on again, stopping to speak with everybody, glad to listen to every story. One was of a man who lived by poaching. He hadn’t slept in a bed for years, but lay down in the mountains and the woods. He trapped rabbits and beat people; sometimes he enticed boys far away, and then turned upon them savagely. Well, the police had caught him again, and this time he wouldn’t get off with less than five years. Listening to Mike Mulroy’s talk, Father Oliver forgot his own grief. A little further on they came upon a cart filled with pigs. The cart broke down suddenly, and the pigs escaped in all directions, and the efforts of a great number of country people were directed to collecting them. Father Oliver joined in the chase, and it proved a difficult one, owing to the density of the wood that the pigs had taken refuge in. At last he saw them driven along the road, for it had been found impossible to mend the cart, and at this moment Father Oliver began to think that he would like to be a pig-driver, or better still, a poacher like Carmody. A wandering mood was upon him. Anything were better than to return to his parish,