The Wooing of Kathie O’Toole
A tale of dark passions, of the love of a woman and a Flaherty who crossed a Maclise
LESLIE GORDON BARNARD
THERE ARE places in this New World where older roots have struck deep; places where language and custom still hold against all comers. Especially is this true where the clannishness of the Gael persists. With the coming of the motoring tourist, this page of regional history is getting torn, and I will not speed its destruction by naming the spot that is background for my tale. Suffice to say that it has hills and shore and tidal waters, and has been known to break the hearts of some who have found it for the likeness it holds and the homesickness it can bring. It is little known, which makes for its own communal life; and whether or not its roads have been kept purposely bad so that few self-respecting motor cars would attempt them, it is certain that any local man would be accounted little short of a traitor if he went back on good horseflesh for love of a thing of metal and machinery.
There may be something of legend about the tale of Kathie O'Toole, of Desmond Flaherty, and of young Terence Maclise, who was son of old Shamus Maclise, but there is authentication for it too, and the man who told it to me ought to know. Whose story it really is may be a question, but it began that evening when a man looked too long not upon wine but upon the lure of horseflesh. That man was Desmond Flaherty himself, and he stood, elbows resting on the fencetop, watching the Widow Rafferty’s colt. This sort of thing Desmond Flaherty could do by the hour, for it was said of him with some truth that as between the love of a woman or a horse, the scales would tip toward any equine thoroughbred. Nor did this cause women to desire him less, and when he walked by with a flash of his eyes and a flirt of his head they had something if he gave ever so oblique a glance and a smile—to last for a day or more.
A dark, restless lad was Desmond, with a roving eye for both of his loves, but just now two objects held him in a grip of steel. One was the colt. The other was Kathie O’Toole. As for the colt, it was like no colt he had ever seen; moreover, it had beaten the one he at present owned in a race that was news for miles about—and nothing went more against the grain of Desmond Flaherty than to be beaten at anything. As for Kathie, she had a wistful magic in the eyes of her that once had been for Terence Maclise, but now was for Desmond alone.
To have Desmond Flaherty give up all women for one was not short of a miracle; and the whole country held its breath to see it. So the rumor passed about, and was confirmed by the lips of Desmond and the shining eyes of Kathie, that they were to be married before the leaves fell.
SHAMUS MACLISE, it became known, had sought out old Grandfather O’Toole, for whom the orphaned Kathie kept house by the side of the sea, and his face was as long as a fiddle.
“It’s not sorrow she’ll need to be fetching from afar,” he said. “Sooner would I trust a girl of mine in the stall with the mare that sent Rafferty to his account—God rest his soul no later than Friday fortnight, as risk her in holy bonds with Desmond Flaherty.”
But Grandfather O'Toole was more concerned that hÿs nets should be mended against the fishing, to which he would never go again, than that lives should be knotted together this way or that, and he, after scrubbing at his beard with stubby fingers, said only: “It’s her own heart for the giving or the taking.”
“Some chance will be ojxming her eyes to it then, please God,” said Shamus, making the sign, “and that before the moon’s gone twice to the full.”
“ ’Tis a habit marriage has,” returned O’Toole, who had had experiences of women for eighty years and held no great opinion of them. He lit his pipe and smoked—so short a thing of clay that one feared for his whiskers—and, looking at Shamus, he spoke again. “The trouble with you, Shamus,” he said, “is that boy of yours.”
“Ah,” nodded Shamus, and sighed. “ ’Tis a sick heart he carries with him, and will forever and a day for I know his kind.”
Such of this as got back to Desmond Flaherty made him only smile his own dark smile; and if he remembered it at all now, the sight of the colt in the meadow with the evening light behind it, made him quickly forget again.
By and by, with the sun dipping low, Desmond took his way toward the village, with an eye and a word for nobody but Rafferty’s widow, who sat in deep black for all to see in her doorway. When he stopped before her and spoke a word, she cast a glance at the neighbors who peered from both sides and stood up, saying the while that he had better come in.
There was need of a light, and she lit it, and, seeing the likeness of Rafferty on the wall, surrounded with pictures of every horse he had ever owned, and himself looking not unlike one about the face—for it is said what we love and live with we grow to resemble—she began to sob.
“You needn’t sob before me,” said Desmond Flaherty, “for it’s business I’m on. It’s glad you’ll be, Mrs. Rafferty, to be rid of your husband’s stock, and there’s a silver-grey colt that, barring a fault or two, might be worth a purchase.”
‘The colt,” said the widow, “was the joy of poor Dan’s heart, so it was, and shall I be selling it when it is like a babe of my own? Besides,” said the widow, ‘‘it’s under offer, and the deal, God willing and all, will be closed before the praties are on for tomorrow’s noon.”
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The Wooing of Kathie O'Toole
Continued from pane 33
Now this was a sort of bargaining Desmond understood, and he was swift to take his part. When he left it was with a heavy heart in him, for the price was above him and he could only believe that the widow would close elsewhere—though she would name no bidder—unless he could fetch her better money.
HE LEFT the village and turned off by the sea toward the house of Kathie O’Toole, for there might be some solace in that. Wind ruffled his dark hair, and the smell of a sea-turn came to his nostrils. The sun dipped behind hills seen only in mirage across the sunset waters; the jagged rocks inshore grew black and sinister, for all that they were commonplaces by day, taking shapes denied them by the sun.
It was so that he came upon the man whom once Kathie had loved, who was the son of Shamus Maclise, and who now stood beyond the dune with his feet in the sea-grass, talking with Kathie herself. For which cause I )esmond Flaherty stood where he could not be seen and listened.
‘‘Kathie,” cried Terence Maclise, looking bronzed under the fair hair of him, for he was just back from a voyage that was to help him forget, and his fingers were tight as a bracelet about her wrist as if the fear was on him she might run from him, “Kathie, they tell me it’s all settled as between him and you. I'll not speak the mind that’s in me about him. Kathie, tor there’s nothing in myself worthy of you but my love. But there is this I will say before 1 let you go, Kathie, and you shall hear me. There was not a star in the ocean’s sky that wasn’t your eyes to me, nor a whisper of wind in the rigging but spoke the name of Kathie, nor a wave strong enough in all the sea to move me as you could be doing with the least of your lingers.”
Maybe it was the way he said it, or the look in the eyes of him, or the way he held on to her, but Kathie cried out as if deep hurt had come.
“You mustn’t be speaking so. It’s Desmond now, and only.”
And she was away, on up toward the village, little knotving that the man to whom she was betrothed was behind the dune eavesdropping, where still he stood, for who should come up the coast walk but Shamus Maclise, save for whose coming Terence might still be rooted there.
They stood with faces to each other father and son—and Terence spoke.
“’Tis Desmond now—and only!” he repeated bitterly.
Shamus fell into step beside him and they walked';
“She’ll find out yet the rights of the matter.” said Shamus.
“She’ll find out too late,” said Terence. “It was into my eyes she first looked love,” he cried, “and the place can be seen for the showing, for it was hard by the meadow where Rafferty—God rest him pastured his colt. But Desmond Flaherty has the devil’s own way with women, and the sjx'll of the man is upon her.”
WHEN THEY had gone. Desmond himself came from behind his sheltering dune and went on, remembering less the triumph of his suit for the hand of Kathie than that which Terence Maclise had also let fall from his lips. For the mention of the colt brought a restless gleam to his dark eyes. He hesitated, then made to go on and sit with old man O’Toole until the return of Kathie.
Evening was now growing apace, and two figures who soon loomed up in the lonely place were hard to make out. But one, it became clear, was O’Toole himself. The other was a rag-bag of a stranger to whom small silver changed hands.
“God’s blessing on all honest men.” said the wayfarer. “And the pains of hell upon all who rob the poor.”
He stood respectfully whilst Desmond Flahert y gave greeting to old O’Toole, who fell into step with him and had words of apology for the act of charity.
“Better to be rid of him at a price of silver than suffer worse at his hands,” said Grandfather O’Toole, “for it’s an old man I am, and there’s more money this night in the house than one in his senses would keep.”
“Money?” said Desmond, the pulse in him quickening.
‘No less,” nodded O’Toole, and looked back anxiously along the darkening road, “and it in a stocking in the lower end of the kitchen cupboard.”
The house rose stark and lonely against a sea grown sullen as lead save for the light in the foreshore pools.
“The tide’ll be high this night,” said O’Toole. “I’ll be going to see to the safety of f he boat
The black jagged rocks swallowed his figure, but Desmond Flaherty moved toward the cottage, and, as one accustomed, went within. I íe told himself he would just discover the truth or otherwise of what the old man had spoken, and, in the gloaming, reached out his hand to this end.
“ ’Tis enough,” he told himself, quickly fingering the hoard. “’Tis enough and more than 1 need.”
I le saw. quick as might be, how it could be done, lie would go down to the rocks and keep the old man tarrying there, and when they came up, the cupboard would be open and the money gone. And the burden he would put upon the wayfarer. “The wind,” he would say, “was toward the fellow, and can a man doubt but that your words carried?”
Quickly now he took the money from the stocking, and was thrusting it into his pocket when a shadow fell athwart him to show there was still light and all from the afterglow.
“So,” said O’Toole, who had come back on some purpose known only to himself, “it’s a thief I am to have for a son-inlaw?”
Desmond Flaherty gulped in his throat , but his wit was ever his friend.
“I feared for the safety—” he began, but O’Toole made a gesture that might have argued a high ancestry.
“ ’Tis not enough,” he said, “for you to be a thief, but you must be gainsaying a man old enough to have put two wives under the sod before you were ever given birth !”
And with that he made at Desmond with a mighty blow.
' I 'MERE ARE things done quickly when the passion is on you, and so it was with Desmond Flaherty; and when he saw what lay at his feet, he knew that the
strong youth in him had triumphed to his own hurt.
The dark tide in him already receding, he knelt beside the still body of the old man. There was no pulse at all in him, not so much as the faint movement of the sea among the kelp when the tide is slack and the wind down. No word came from the white lips of Desmond Flaherty, and the fear was on him as he had never known it. And because of this fear in him, he would hide the thing he had done, as if a closet door could shut in a bloody deed. But at least it was not in the room with him and the wits that must save him yet.
Small help coming to him even then, he went quickly to the door and out upon the springy turf, glad of the dusk; then, at the sight of Kathie already coming, he stepped aside, dodged behind bushes, and became one with the sinister rocks that were black on the underside and blood red on the upper. When the girl was once within the cottage, he made along the beach, came up to the road, and, bracing himself against his need, walked firmly toward the cottage as if he had no knowledge at all of what had gone forward.
Kathie saw him coming and came running; and at the sound of her sobbing he hardened his heart, for there was no thing in life he had set his heart upon that he would give up for this or for that. Moreover, what was done was done; and he saw how he must order things to his own ends, for there was still a girl whose very chasteness enticed him to be made his own; and the Rafferty colt would continue sleek of coat and swift of limb though an O’Toole had been gathered to his fathers.
“It’s great sorrow has come,” she cried, and clung to him. “For grandfather has left the house and gone who knows where, and robbers have been within the place the while.”
With that she dragged him after her, and they went in, where one light was burning, and she pointed to the empty stocking on the floor.
“ ’Tis a bad old man grandfather is,” cried Kathie, sobbing, “for he was not to leave the place this night till my return. It’s a piece of my mind I’ll be giving that old man yet.”
“Say not so!” cried Desmond, with a look he could not help at the door that hid his deed. Then his face went whiter, for the door by some mischance was sagging open.
“Was it his own money,” cried Kathie, “he’d have watched it better, so he would !” And she fell to sobbing again.
The eyes of Desmond Flaherty were drawn from the opened door to her.
“So the money,” he said, breathing hard, “was yours?” “It was—and hard earned these months.”
“Should a man,” he said quickly, for he must find words or perish, “should a man be worrying over a trousseau when he has a bride like yourself and all?” But the while he trembled lest she should turn and see the awful thing his own eyes could now make out.
“Trousseau?” cried Kathie. “But this was not for that at all at all. Only today I got it from the bank, for have you forgotten the morrow’s your own birthday, and the Widow Rafferty expecting me to pay the money over to her? And now there’ll be no silver-grey colt for your birthday present. But why do you look so?”
“The colt!” cried Desmond Flaherty, and the sound of the word caught in his throat.
Kathie looked at him through her tears.
“You’d so set your heart on it,” she said.
It was then that the wits of Desmond Flaherty were less use to him than the power of his tongue, for he stood cursing himself as a fool for the thing he had done.
When it was too late he saw the white face of Kathie, and heard her shrill cry, and knew that she had seen and heard and understood, and was away in the dusk. Then desperately he ran after her, for at any cost she must not cry murder against him; and they ran by rock and road, by the slippery seaweed-festooned rocks, and the dusty thoroughfare. And but for the fact that Terence Maclise could not keep from wounding himself anew by sight of her cottage, that young man would never have been there to catch her in his arms, and have her sob out her news in his ear.
And at sight of this, the road grew empty of pursuit.
THERE WAS this to be said for the love of Terence Maclise: It hid itself that night and for many days, till O’Toole was long within the earth and Desmond Flaherty had fled, no one knew where.
“Something has happened,” Terence told his father, “but let it not be said I intruded on a great sorrow except to serve.” This he told Shamus Maclise on that night when Desmond Flaherty killed a man to get a colt that was already as good as his. And Shamus, who was a quiet man, nodded.
“It’s grieving we must be for O’Toole,” he said, “though as obstinate an old fool he was—God rest him as ever drew breath. And sorrow will be upon Kathie for many days. But there’s a light in your eyes been lit this night that shall not go out. Let it warm your own heart first and hers later.”
And so it fell out—for Terence himself told me this, and I have sought to preserve his idiom—one soft summer night by the sea. How long ago it was that these things happened you may guess, for Desmond Flaherty, so Terence said, had died in a far place from being kicked by a horse but with a full confession on his lips at the last; and the Widow Rafferty’s colt was long since full-grown and would draw the widow to church next month when she wed again —to which day’s eve she would wear black for the sake less of Dan’s memory than economy, for black when shrewdly bought has qualities of wear.
It was while Terence made an end of these things that a young woman came toward us, and there was a breeze from the sea to ruffle her hair, like the wind in the rigging that once spoke a name to a lovesick lad. She was bright-cheeked and happy-eyed, and with a shy smile at the introduction. “This is Kathie.” said Terence, and I knew by the way he looked at her and took the name on his lips how it was with them. To see such things is both to lament for one’s own youth, and to cry out that now and again the immortal thing may lodge in human breasts.
From me she glanced swiftly up again at him, and I did not need to be told that the light that was lit on the night of Desmond Flaherty’s undoing would not go out.