He had always seen this dark hour coming to him, and again and again he had prayed to be delivered from it—in the long nights of his fruitless wanderings when I was lost in London, and again since I had been found and had come home and he had looked on, with many a pang, at our silent hopes and expectations—Martin’s and mine, we two children.
“And when you came into my little den to-day, my daughter, with a face as bright as stars and diamonds, God knows I would have given half of what is left of my life that mine should not be the hand to dash the cup of your happiness away.”
As soon as I was sufficiently composed, within and without, Father Dan led me downstairs (praying God and His Holy Mother to strengthen me on my solitary way), and then stood at the door in his cassock to watch me while I walked up the road.
It was hardly more than half an hour since I had passed over the ground before, yet in that short time the world seemed to have become pale and grey—the sun gone out, the earth grown dark, the still air joyless, nothing left but the everlasting heavens and the heavy song of the sea.
As I approached the doctor’s house Martin came swinging down the road to meet me, with his strong free step and that suggestion of the wind from the mountain-tops which seemed to be always about him.
“Hello!” he cried. “Thought you were lost and been hunting all over the place for you.”
But as he came nearer and saw how white and wan my face was, though I was doing my best to smile, he stopped and said:
“My poor little woman, where have you been, and what have they been doing to you?”
And then, as well as I could, I told him.
“It’s all my fault,” he said.
He had led me to the garden-house, which stood among the bluebells at the end of the orchard, and was striding to and fro in front of it.
“I knew perfectly what the attitude of the Church would be, and I ought to have warned you.”
I had never before seen him so excited. There was a wild look in his eyes and his voice was quivering like the string of a bow.
“Poor old Father Dan! He’s an old angel, with as good a heart as ever beat under a cassock. But what a slave a man may be to the fetish of his faith! Only think what he says, my darling! The guilty party! I’ll never believe you are the guilty party, but consider! The guilty party may never marry! No good clergyman of any Christian Church in the world dare marry her! What an infamy! Ask yourself what the churches are here for. Aren’t they here to bring salvation to the worst of sinners? Yet they cast out the woman who has sinned against her marriage vow—denying her access to the altar and turning her out of doors—though she may have repented a thousand times, with bitter, bitter tears!”