She had gradually dropped her habit of prayer, but in one of her dark moods she found herself slipping to her knees and crying: “Oh, Holy Mother, look down on Thy distressed daughter, and deliver her from the body of this death. So many wooers and no spark of love in herself; a woman who sings love-songs with lips no man has touched, a lone-of-soul who can live neither with the respectable nor with the Bohemians, who loves you, sanctissima Maria, without being sure you exist. Oh, Holy Mother of God, advocate of sinners, pray for me. If I had only something solid to cling to—a babe to suckle with its red grotesque little face. You will say cling to the cross, but is not my whole life also a crucifixion? I am rent in twain that a thousand fools may laugh nightly. Oh, Holy Mother, make me at one with myself; it is the atonement I need. Send me the child’s heart, and I will light a hundred candles to you.... Or do you now prefer electricity? Oh, Maria mavourneen, I cannot pray to you, for there is a mocking devil within me, and you will not cast her out.” And she burst into hysteric tears.
As she was about to start one evening for her round, Mrs. Lee Carter’s maid brought up a bombshell. Superficially it looked like a letter with foreign stamps, marked “Private” and readdressed with an English stamp from Ireland. But that one line of unerased writing, her name, threw her into heats and colds, for she remembered the long-forgotten hand of Lieutenant Doherty. She had to sit down on her bed and finish trembling before she broke the seal and set free this voice from the past.
“DEAR MOTHER-CONFESSOR,—You will be wondering why I have been silent all these years and why I write now. Well, I will tell you the truth. It wasn’t that I believed you had really gone into the Convent you wrote me you were joining, it was the new and exciting life and duties that opened up before me when I got to Afghanistan, far from post-offices. Afterwards I was drafted to India and had a lot of skirmishing and tiger-shooting, and your image—forgive me!—became faint, and I excused myself for not writing by making myself believe you were buried in the Convent. ["So, after all, he never got the letter telling him I was going to marry back the Castle!” Eileen mused joyfully through her agitation.] But now that I am at last coming home in a few months, no longer a minor, but nearer a major (that’s like one of your old jokes)—somehow your face seems to be the only thing I am coming back for. It’s no use trying to explain it all, or even apologising. It’s just like that. I’ve confessed, you see, though it is hopeless to get straight with my arrears, so I won’t attempt it. And when I found out how I felt, of course came the horrible thought that you might be in the Convent after all, or, worse still, married and done for, so what do you think I did? I just sent this cable to your mother: