“Is it true?” they had asked each other. “Is he really, really coming?” “What does he like to eat, mother?” “What does he drink?” “What does he smoke?”
I had to close my eyes as I came near the gate of my father’s house, and, except for the rumbling of the river under the bridge and the cawing of the rooks in the elms, I should not have known when we were there.
The old doctor (his face overflowing with happiness, and his close-cropped white head bare, as if he had torn out of the house at the toot of our horn) met us as we turned into the lane, and for the little that was left of our journey he walked blithely as a boy by the car, at the side on which Martin sat.
I reached forward to catch the first sight of Sunny Lodge, and there it was behind its fuchsia hedge, which was just breaking into bloom.
There was Christian Ann, too, at the gate in her sunbonnet; and before the automobile had come to a stand Martin was out of it and had her in his arms.
I knew what that meant to the dear sweet woman, and for a moment my spirits failed me, because it flashed upon my mind that perhaps her heart had only warmed to me for the sake of her son.
But just as I was stepping out of the car, feeling physically weak and slipping a little, though Father Dan and Sister Mildred were helping me to alight, my Martin’s mother rushed at me and gathered me in her arms, crying:
“Goodness gracious me, doctor—if it isn’t little Mary O’Neill, God bless her!”—just as she did in the old, old days when I came as a child “singing carvals to her door.”
ONE HUNDRED AND EIGHTH CHAPTER
When I awoke next morning in “Mary O’Neill’s little room,” with its odour of clean white linen and sweet-smelling scraas, the sun was shining in at the half-open window, birds were singing, cattle were lowing, young lambs were bleating, a crow was cawing its way across the sky, and under the sounds of the land there was a far-off murmur of the sea.
Through the floor (unceiled beneath) I could hear the Doctor and Christian Ann chortling away in low tones like two cheerful old love-birds; and when I got up and looked out I saw the pink and white blossom of the apple and plum trees, and smelt the smoke of burning peat from the chimney, as well as the salt of the sea-weed from the shore.
Sister Mildred came to help me to dress, and when I went downstairs to the sweet kitchen-parlour, feeling so strong and fresh, Christian Ann, who was tossing an oat-cake she was baking on the griddle, cried to me, as to a child:
“Come your ways, villish; you know the house.”
And when I stepped over the rag-work hearthrug and sat in the “elbow-chair” in the chiollagh, under the silver bowls that stood on the high mantelpiece, she cried again, as if addressing the universe in general, for there was nobody else in the room: