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JULY 23. Oh, Mary O’Neill, what are you coming to?
I told Martin about father’s threat, only I gave it another colour. He had heard of the Reverend Mother’s visit, so I said the rumour had reached my father that I intended to enter a convent, and he had declared that, if I did so, he would claim my child from Christian Ann, being its nearest blood relation.
“Can he do so—when I am . . . when we are gone?” I asked.
I thought Martin’s strong face looked sterner than I had ever seen it. He made a vague reply and left me soon afterwards on some sort of excuse.
About an hour later he came back to carry me upstairs, and just as he was setting me down, and Christian Ann was coming in with the candles, he whispered:
“Don’t worry about Girlie. I’ve settled that matter, I’m thinking.”
What has he done, I wonder?
What I had done is easily told. I had gone straight to Daniel O’Neill himself, intending to know the truth of the story and to act accordingly.
Already I knew enough to scent mischief. I could not be so stupefied into blindness of what was going on under my eyes as not to see that the dirty question of money, and perhaps the dirtier question of the aims and expectations of the woman MacLeod, were at the root of the matter that was distressing my darling.
Daniel O’Neill had left the Big House and gone to live in his mother’s old cottage for two reasons—first, to delude the law into the idea that he was himself utterly ruined by the bankruptcy to which he had brought the whole island; and next, to gratify the greed of his mistress, who wanted to get him to herself at the end, so that he might be persuaded to marry her (if it were only on his death-bed) and so establish, against any claim of his daughter’s, her widow’s rights in what a husband leaves behind him—which is half of everything in Ellan.
What connection this had with the man’s desire to get hold of the child I had yet to learn; but I meant to learn it without another hour’s delay, so I set off for the cottage on the curragh.
It was growing dark, and not being sure of my way through the ever-changing bypaths of the bog land, I called on Father Dan to guide me. The old priest seemed to know my errand (the matter my darling had communicated as a secret being common knowledge), and at first he looked afraid.
“Well . . . yes, yes . . . why shouldn’t I?” he said, and then, “Yes, I will, I will”—with the air of a man who had made up his mind to a daring enterprise.
Our curragh is a stretch of wild marsh lying over against the sea, undrained, only partly cultivated, half covered with sedge and sallow bushes, and consequently liable to heavy mists. There was a mist over it that night, and hence it was not easy even for Father Dan (accustomed to midnight visits to curragh cottages) to find the house which had once been the home of “Neale the Lord.”