Solitary by Katharine Tynan
There was a difference of twenty years between the brothers, yet, to
look at them, it might have been more. Patrick, the younger, was florid
and hearty; the elder, James, was unpopulara gray, withered old
churl, who carried written on his face the record of his life's
failure. His conversation, when he made any, was cynical. When he came
into a room where young people were enjoying themselves, playing cards
or dancing, his shadow came before him and lay heavily on the
merry-makers. Fortunately, he did not often so intrude; he was happier
in his room at the top of the fine house, where he had his books and
his carpenter's tools. If one of those young people whom his cynicism
withered could have seen him at his carpentry, how different he would
have seemed! They would have seen him with his grimness relaxed, and
his gray face lit up with interest, and would have been amazed to hear
his low, cheery whistle, full and round as the pipe of a bullfinch; at
night, when his telescope swept the stars, and he trembled with the
delight of the visionary and the student, he was a new man. He was a
clever man, born out of his proper sphere, and with only so much
education as he had contrived to get at during a hard life. What came
to him he assimilated eagerly, and every one of those books in his
cupboard, rare old friends, had been read over a hundred times.
He ought to have had a chance in his youth, but his father was the
last man in the world to encourage out-of-the-way ambitions in his
sons. Father and mother were alikehard, grasping, and ungracious. The
father, on the whole, was a pleasanter person than the mother, with her
long, pale, horse-face and ready sneer; he was only uncompromisingly
hard and ungenial to all the world.
There were other children besides these two, all long since dead or
scattered. Two of the boys had run away and gone to America; their
first letters home remained unanswered, and after one or two attempts
they ceased to write. The one girl had slipped into a convent, after a
horrified glimpse at the home-life of her parents when she had returned
from her boarding-school. She had been sent away to a convent in a
distant town while still a mere child. She had come and gone in
recurring vacations, still too childish to be more than vaguely
repelled by the unlovely rule of her home. But at sixteen she came home
'for good'; very much for evil, poor little Eily would have said, as
she realised in its full sordidness the grinding manner of life which
was to be hers. No wonder she wet her pillow night after night with her
tears for the pure and gentle atmosphere of the convent, for the
soft-voiced and mild-eyed nuns, and the life of the spirit which shone
ideally fair by this appalling life of the world. So, after a time, she
had her will and escaped to the convent.
James could never understand why he, too, had not broken bounds, and
run off to America with Tom and Alick. Perhaps he was of a more patient
nature than they. Perhaps the life held him down. It was, indeed, such
a round of hard, unvarying toil that at night he was content to drop
down in his place like a dead man, and sleep as the worn-out horses
sleep, dreaming of a land of endless green pastures, beyond man's
harrying. Alick and Tom were younger. They had not had time to get
broken to hardship like him, and Patrick was yet a baby. Friends or
social pleasures were beyond their maddest dreams. Their parents' idea
of a life for them was one in which hard work should keep them out of
mischief. James could never remember in those days a morning when he
had risen refreshed; he was always heavy with sleep when following the
plough-horses, or feeding the cattle. Food of the coarsest, sleep of
the scantiest, were the rule of the house. Joy, or love, or kindness,
never breathed between those walls.
Meanwhile, the father was getting old, and a time came when he sat
more and more by the fire in winter, sipping his glass of grog and
reading the country papers, or listening to his wife's acrid tattle.
Mrs. Rooney hated with an extreme hatred all the good, easy-going
neighbours who were so soft with their children, and encouraged
dancing, and race-going and card-playingthe amusements of the Irish
middle classes. She had a bitter tongue, and once it was set agoing no
one was safe from itnot the holiest nor purest was beyond its
It was about this time that the labourers began to think the young
master rather more important than the old one; but for their
connivance, James Rooney could never have been drawn into Fenianism.
The conspiracy was just the thing to fascinate the boy's impressionable
heart. The poetry, the glamour of the romantic devotion to Mother
Country fed his starved idealism; the midnight drillings and the danger
were elements in its attraction. James Rooney drilled with the rest,
swore with them their oaths of fealty to Dark Rosaleen, was out with
them one winter night when the hills were covered with snow, and barely
escaped by the skin of his teeth from the capture which sent some of
his friends into penal servitude.
Mrs. Rooney's amazed contempt when she found that her eldest son was
among 'the boys' was a study in character. The lad was not compromised
openly; and though the police had their suspicions, they had nothing to
go upon, and the matter ended in a domiciliary visit which put Mrs.
Rooney in a fine rage, for she had a curious subservient ambition to
stand well with the gentry.
However, soon after that, as she was pottering about the fowl-yard
one bitter dayshe would never trust anybody to collect the eggs from
the locked henhouse but herselfshe took a chill, and not long
afterwards died. If she had lived perhaps James would never have had
the courage to assert himself and take the reins of management as he
did. But with her going the iron strength of the old man seemed to
break down. He fulfilled her last behest, which was that her funeral
was to take place on a Sunday, so that the farm hands should not get a
day off; and then, with some wonder at the new masterful spirit in his
son, he gave himself up to an easy life.
This independence in James Rooney was not altogether the result of
his Fenianism. As a matter of fact, he had fallen in love, with the
overwhelming passion of a lad who had hitherto lived with every
generous emotion repressed. The girl was a gay, sweet, yet impassioned
creature who was the light of her own home. At that home James Rooney
had first realised what a paradise home may be made; and coming from
his own gloomy and horrid surroundings, the sunshine of hers had almost
blinded him. In that white house among the wheatfields love reigned.
And not only love, but charity, hospitality, patriotism, and religion.
There was never a rough word heard there; even the household creatures,
the canary in the south window, the comfortable cats, the friendly
dogs, partook of the general sunniness.
They were rebels of the hottest type. The one son had been out with
the Fenians and was now in America. His exile was a bitter yet proud
grief to his father and mother; but their enthusiasm was whetted rather
than damped by the downfall of the attempted rebellion. At night, when
the curtains were drawn and the door barred against all fear of 'the
peelers,' the papers that had the reports of the Dublin trials were
passed from hand to hand, or read aloud amid intense silence,
accompanied by the flushing cheek, the clenching hand, often the sob,
that told of the passionate feeling of the hearers.
Sometimes Ellen would sing to them, but not the little gay songs she
trilled so delightfully, now when their friends were in prison or the
dock. Mournful, impassioned songs were hers, sung in a rich voice,
trembling with emotion, or again a stave of battle and revenge, which
set hearts beating and blood racing in the veins of the listeners. At
such moments Ellen, with her velvety golden-brown eyes, and the bronze
of her hair, was like the poet's 'Cluster of Nuts.'
I've heard the songs by Liffey's wave
That maidens sung.
They sang their land, the Saxon's slave,
In Saxon tongue.
Oh, bring me here that Gaelic dear
Which cursed the Saxon foe.
When thou didst charm my raptured ear
Mo craoibhin cno!
Among those admitted freely to that loving circle, James Rooney was
one held in affectionate regard. The man who had been the means of
bringing him there, Maurice O'Donnell, was his Jonathan, nay more than
his Jonathan, for to him young Rooney had given all his hero-worship.
He was, indeed, of the heroic stuff, older, graver, wiser than his
James Rooney spoke to no one of his love or his hopes. For he had
hopes. Ellen, kind to every one, singled him out for special kindness.
He had seen in her deep eyes something shy and tender for him. For some
time he was too humble to be sure he had read her gaze aright, but at
last he believed in a flood of wild rapture that she had chosen him.
He did not speak, he was too happy in dallying with his joy, and he
waited on from day to day. One evening he was watching her singing,
with all his heart in his eyes. Among people less held by a great
sincerity than these people were at the time, his secret would have
been an open amusement. But the father and mother heard with eyes dim
with tears; the young sisters about the fire flushed and paled with the
emotion of the song; the hearts of the listeners hung on the singer's
lips, and their eyes were far away.
Suddenly James Rooney looked round the circle with the feeling of a
man who awakes from sleep. His friend was opposite to him, also gazing
at the singer; the revelation in his face turned the younger man cold
with the shock. When the song was done he said 'good-night' quietly,
and went home. It was earlier than usual, and he left his friend behind
him; for this one night he was glad not to have his company; he wanted
a quiet interval in which to think what was to be done.
Now, when he realised that Maurice O'Donnell loved her, he cursed
his own folly that he had dared to think of winning her. What girl with
eyes in her head would take him, gray and square-jawed, before the
gallant-looking fellow who was the ideal patriot. And EllenEllen, of
all women living, was best able to appreciate O'Donnell's qualities.
That night he sat all the night with his head bowed on his hands
thinking his sick thoughts amid the ruin of his castles. When he stood
up shivering in the gray dawn, he had closed that page of his life. He
felt as if already the girl had chosen between them, and that he was
That was not the end of it, however. If he had been left to himself
he might have carried out his high, heroic resolve to go no more to the
house which had become Paradise to him. But his friend followed him,
with the curious tenderness that was between the two, and with an arm
on his shoulder, drew his secret from him. When he had told it he put
his face down on the mantelpiece by which they were standing, ashamed
to look O'Donnell in the face because they loved the same woman. There
was a minute's silence, and then O'Donnell spoke, and his voice, so far
from being cold and angry, was more tender than before.
'So you would have taken yourself off to leave me a clear field, old
'Oh, no,' said the other humbly, 'I never had a chance. If I had had
eyes for any one but her, I would have known your secret, and should
not have dared to love her.'
'Dear lad!' said O'Donnell. 'But now you must take your chance. If
she chooses you rather than meand, by heavens! I'm not sure that she
won'tit will make no difference, I swear, between us. Which of us
shall try our luck first?'
They ended by drawing lots, and it fell to O'Donnell to speak first.
A night or two later he overtook James Rooney as the latter was on his
way to Ellen's house. He put his arm through Rooney's and said, 'Well,
old fellow, I've had my dismissal. I'm not going your way to-night, but
I believe your chance is worth a good deal. Presently I shall be able
to wish you joy, Jim.'
They walked on together in a silence more full of feeling than
speech could be. At the boreen that turned up to the white house they
parted with a hand-clasp that said their love was unchanging, no matter
what happened. That night James Rooney got his chance and spoke. The
girl heard him with a rapt, absent-minded look that chilled him as he
went on. When he had done she answered him:
'I can never be your wife, Jim. I have made my choice.'
'But' stammered the lad.
'I know what you would say,' she answered quietly. 'I gave the same
answer to Maurice O'Donnell. Why did two such men as you care for me? I
am not worth it, no girl is worth it. 'Tis the proud woman I ought to
be and am, but I can't marry the two of you, and perhaps I can't
choose.' She laughed half sadly. 'Put me out of your head, Jim, and
forgive me. I'm away to the Convent at Lady Day.'
And from this resolve it was impossible to move her. Whether she had
really resolved before on the conventual life, or whether she feared to
separate the two friends, no one knew. From that time neither O'Donnell
nor Jim Rooney was seen at the white house, and in the harvest-time
Ellen, as she said she would, entered St. Mary's Convent. Jim Rooney
never loved another woman, and when, in the following year, Maurice
O'Donnell went to New Orleans to take up a position as the editor of a
newspaper, Jim Rooney said good-bye to friendship as lastingly as he
had to love.
The old father died, and left what wealth he had to be divided
between his two sons. For all the pinching and scraping it was not
much; there seemed something unlucky about the farm, poor, damp, and
unkindly as it was. Jim was a good brother to the young lad growing up.
He kept him at a good school during his boyhood, and nursed his share
of the inheritance more carefully than he did his own. They had the
reputation of being far wealthier than they were, and many a girl would
have been well pleased to make a match with Jim Rooney. But he turned
his back on all social overtures, and by and by he got the name of
being a sour old bachelor, 'a cold-hearted naygur,' going the way of
his father before him. But the rule on the farm was very different,
every one admitted; to his men James Rooney was not only just but
Presently the young fellow came home from school, gay and
light-hearted. He was a tall young giant, who presently developed a
fine red moustache, and had a rollicking gait well in keeping with his
bold blue eyes. He was soon as popular as James was the reverse, and
his reputation of being 'a good match' made him welcome in many a house
full of daughters.
One day the youth came to his brother with a plan for bettering
himself. He wanted to draw out his share from the farm and to invest it
in a general shop which was for sale in the country town, close by. Now
Jim Rooney had a queer pride in him that made the thought of the shop
very distasteful. The land was quite another thing, and farming, to his
mind, as ennobling an occupation as any under heaven. But he quite
understood that he could not shape the young fellow to his ways of
thinking. He said, gently: 'And why, Patrick, are you bent on leaving
the farm and bettering yourself?'
The young fellow scratched his head awkwardly, and gave one or two
excuses, but finally the truth came out. He had a fancy for little
Janie Hyland, and she had a fancy for him, but there was a richer man
seeking her, and, said the young fellow simply, 'I'm thinking if the
father knew how little came to my share he'd be showing me the door.'
'Does Janie know, Patrick?' asked the elder brother.
'Oh, divil a thing!' said the younger, with a half-shamed laugh. 'I
don't trust women with too much; but if I had Grady's, I'd soon be a
richer man than they think me. Old Grady cut up for a lot of money, and
he was too old for business. It's a beautiful chance for a young man.'
'Well, Patrick,' said the other at last, with a sigh, 'your share
won't buy Grady's, but yours and mine together will. I'll make it over
to you, and you can keep your share in the farm too. I'll work the farm
for you if you won't ask me to have anything to do with the shop. Tut,
tut, man!' he said, pushing away Patrick's secretly delighted protests,
'all I have would come to you one day, and why not now, when you think
it will make you happy?'
So Patrick bought Grady's and brought home Janie Hyland. He has
prospered exceedingly, and makes the lavish display of his wealth which
is characteristic of the Irishman. They have added to the old house,
thrown out wings and annexe, planted it about with shrubberies, and
made a carriage drive. Young Patrick, growing up, is intended for the
University and one of the learned professions, and Mrs. Patrick has
ideas of a season in Dublin and invitations to the Castle. Her house is
very finely furnished, with heavy pile carpets and many mirrors, and
buhl and ormolu everywhere.
She feels her brother-in-law to be the one blot in all her splendour
and well-being. When Patrick first brought her home, she took a
vehement dislike to James, which has rather waxed than waned during the
years. He minds her as little as may be, working on the farm during the
day-time, and in the evening departing, with his slow, heavy step, to
his sanctum upstairs, where he has his books, his carpenter's tools,
and his telescope. Yet her words worry him like the stinging of gnats,
and the nagging of years has made him bitter.
He turns out delightful bits of carving and cabinet-making from time
to time, and he mends everything broken in the house with infinite
painstaking. Up there in his garret-room the troubles fall away from
him, and he forgets the lash of Mrs. Patrick's tongue. The hardest
thing is that she discourages the children's friendship for him, and he
would dearly love the children if only he might.
The other women are rather down on Mrs. Patrick about it; indeed,
Mrs. Gleeson told her one day that the creature was worth his keep if
it was only for his handiness about the house. Patrick has grown used
to his wife's gibes and flings, which at first used to make him red and
uncomfortable. He has half come to believe in the secret hoard his wife
says old Jim is accumulating.
Meanwhile, the land is as poor as ever, for James has no money to
spend in the necessary drainage that should make it dry and sweet. His
share scarcely pays for his keep, and his money for clothes and books
and tools is little indeed. His shabbiness is another offence to Mrs.
Patrick. She has declared to some of her intimates that she will force
James yet to take his face out of her house, and go live on his money
elsewhere. She expresses her contempt to her husband for his brother's
selfishness in holding his share in the farm, when he must be already,
as she puts it, 'rotten with money.' Patrick is too much afraid of his
wife to tell her now what he has so long kept a secret from her.
But James, in his high attic, looks upon the mountains and the sky,
and shakes off from him with a superb gesture the memory of her taunts.