[from 'The Woman of Knockaloe' 1923]
EASTER DAY-one of the God-blest mornings in the sweet of the year when it is happiness enough to be alive.
Mona is setting her house in order and feeling as if she were doing everything for the last time. When she thinks she has finished she suddenly remembers that she has not had breakfast. But that does not matter now. How thirsty she is, though! So she brews herself a pot of tea and drinks two strong cups of it.
The church bells begin to ring, and she determines to go to church-also for the last time. Why not? It is true she intends to do something which good people would condemn, but it is no use thinking of that now.
How sweet the air outside is, with the odour of the violets and the gorse and with that tang of salt that comes up from the
sea! The young birds, too, how merrily they are singing ! It is a pity ! A great pity !
She is late. The bells have ceased to ring, and there is nobody on the road. It had taken her long to dress-she had felt so tired and had had to sit down so often.
The service has begun when she reaches the church. Through the inner door, which is half open, she can see the congregation on their knees and hear the vicar reading the General Confession, with the people repeating it after him. She cannot go in just now, so she stands by the porch and waits.
The Sunday-school children, kneeling together on the right of the pulpit, are bobbing their heads up and down at intervals-they are so happy and proud in their new Easter clothes. She, too, used to be proud and happy in her Easter clothes. It is almost heartbreaking. Life looks sweet now, death being at the door.
When the voices cease and she is about to enter, some of the congregation look
round at her. She feels as if they are thinking of her as the kind of woman-penitent who in the old days used to stand at the door of the church in her shame. That stops her, and she remains where she is standing. The service goes on-the psalms and lessons and hymns appropriate to the day. At length comes the last hymn before the sermon
" Jesu, lover o f my soul,
Let me to thy bosom fly . . ."
Mona has known it all her life, yet it seems as if she had never understood it until now.
" While the gathering waters roll, While the tempest still is high." She is in tears before she is aware of it. The sermon begins, and the vicar's voice comes out to her in the open air and mingles with the twittering of the birds in the trees and the bleating of the lambs in the fields. It is about the last days of Jesus-His
death and resurrection, the hatred of His enemies and the desertion of His friends-all the dreadful yet beautiful story.
He might have avoided His death, but He did not do so. He died of His own free will. Why? Because He was confirmed in the belief that His death would save the world."
Jesus died to show that nothing mattered to man but the welfare of his soul. Riches did not matter, rank did not matter, poverty did not matter. It was nothing to Jesus that He was hated and despised and friendless and homeless and alone and cast out of the family of men. Nothing mattered to Him but love, and because He loved the world He died for it.
" And that is why all suffering souls come to Him-have been coming to Him through all the two thousand years since His pilgrimage here below-will continue to come to Him as long as the world lasts! `Let me to thy bosom fly.' "
Before the vicar's voice has ceased, and while he is pronouncing the blessing, Mona is hurrying home. There are no tears in her eyes now, and in her heart there is only a great exaltation.
Hitherto she has been thinking of what she intends to do as something that God would have to forgive her for. Not so now. If Jesus died of His own free will, if He died for love, why shouldn't she? And if by dying He saved the world, would it not be the same with her also?
In the dizzy whirl of her brain she can see no difference. What she intends to do ceases to be a sin and becomes a sacrifice. If the world is full of hatred, as the consequence of the war, her death may save it. She is only a poor girl, and nobody on earth may ever know what she has done and why she has done it, yet God will know.
But Oskar? She had not intended to tell Oskar. He loved her so much that he might have tried to dissuade her. Just to slip away when the time came for him to go back to his own country-that had been her plan. But she could not reconcile herself to this now-not now, after this great new thought. Oskar must know everything.
Hours pass. She is sure Oskar will come to-day-quite sure. While waiting for him she drinks many cups of tea, forgetting that she has not eaten since yesterday. At last he comes. As usual, it is late at night, and she is so weak from emotion and want of food that she can scarcely reach the door to open it.
" May I come in? "
" Yes, indeed, come."
He steps into the house, never having done so since the night of her father's seizure, and sits by her side before the fire. His face is lividly white, his lips are twitching, and his voice is hoarse.
" What's to do with you, Oskar? "
" Nothing. Don't be afraid. I have come to tell you something."
" What? "
" I've just had my orders. I am to go away in the morning."
" In the morning?"
"Yes, with the last batch. The last of the officers and guard are going too, so the camp will be empty after tomorrow."
Mona's heart is beating hard, and she tries to ease it by asking an irrelevant question.
" What are the men saying? "
He laughs bitterly, and his words spurt out of his mouth.
" The men? Oh, they're saying they'll
soon be here again. They want to stay in England, and if they are to be sent back to their own overburdened country, to suffer and to starve, they will return some day with hatred in their hearts."
" That means another war some day, doesn't it? "
" It does, and when that day comes God
help the poor old world and everything in it."
In her excited mood Mona thinks she knows better, but she cannot speak of that yet; and Oskar, too, as if trying to gain time, goes on talking.
" The world had its great chance at the end of the year, Mona, but then came those damnable old men with their conferences making a peace that was worse than the war itself. And now the churches-look at the churches who have been told to teach that there's no peace under the soldier's sword, standing by while the world is rushing on to destruction! What snares! What hypocrisy! What spiritual harlotry ! Why don't they burn down their altars and shut their doors and be honest? . . . But that is not what I came to say-to tell you."
" What is, Oskar? "
He hesitates for a moment, and then in a flood of words he says
" I don't want to frighten you, Mona.
You must not let me frighten you. I should never forgive myself if . . . But you are all I have now, and . . . I can't go away and leave you behind me. . . . I simply can't. . . . It's impossible, quite impossible."
" But if they force you, Oskar? "
Oskar laughs again-it is wild laughter. " Force me? Nobody can be forced if only he has courage."
" Courage? "
" Yes, courage.... Don't you see what
I've come to tell you, 'Mona? Come, don't you? When the idea came to me first I thought you might be afraid and perhaps faint and even try to turn me from my purpose, so I made up my mind to say nothing. But when the order came to-night I said to myself, 'No, she's not like some women. She's brave; she'll see there's nothing else for it.'"
Mona sees what is coming, and her heart is throbbing hard, but she says
"Tell me. It's better that I should know, Oskar."
With that he gets closer to her and speaks in a whisper, as if afraid the very walls may hear
" When they look for me in the morning I shall be gone. . . . Don't you understand me now?-gone! So I've come to-night to say farewell. We are meeting for the last time, Mona."
He looks at her, thinking she will cry out, perhaps scream, but her eyes are shining. All the pain in the thought of their parting has passed away with a mighty rushing.
" Oskar," she says, " don't you think it would be just as hard for me . . . to stay here after you were . . . gone?"
The tears are in Oskar's eyes now, for flesh is weak and his wild heart is softening. " What would become of me without you, Oskar? "
" Don't say that, Mona."
" But if . . . if it's inevitable that you should go, if there is nothing else for it, can't we ... can't we go together ? "
" Together? " He is looking searchingly into her shining face. " Do you mean ... ? " She takes his hand. It is trembling. Her own is trembling also.
" Oskar, do you remember the fight of the bulls on the cliff-head? "
" When the old ones wouldn't let the young one live, and he had to . . ."
She bows her head. He is breathing rapidly. She lifts her eyes and looks at him. They are silent for a moment, then he says
" My God, Mona ! Do you mean that? . . . Really mean it? "
And then she tells him everything-all her great, divine, delirious project.
He gasps, and then his face also shines, as little by little her dream rises before them. " Do you think that vain and foolish, Oskar .. . . that we should do as He did, of our own free will, to save the world from all this hatred and bitterness? "
Oskar throws up his head; his eyes are streaming.
" No! No! For God's in His heaven, Mona."
And then, these two poor creatures whom the world has cast out, clasped hand in hand, and seeing no difference in the wild confusion and delirium of their whirling thoughts, talk together in whispers of how they are going to save the world from war, and the bitter results of war, by doing as He did who was the great Vanquisher of death and Redeemer of the soul from sin-give up their lives in love and sacrifice.
" So even if the churches are all you say, there's Jesus still. . . ."
" Yes, yes, there's Jesus still, Mona."
Any comments, errors or omissions gratefully received
HTML Transcription © F.Coakley , 2008