Chapter IX. When Jimmy Malone Came to Confession
 

Dannie never before had known such anger as possessed him when he trudged homeward across Rainbow Bottom. His brain whirled in a tumult of conflicting passions, and his heart pained worse than his swelling face. In one instant the knowledge that Jimmy had struck him, possessed him with a desire to turn back and do murder. In the next, a sense of profound scorn for the cowardly lie which had driven him to the rage that kills encompassed him, and then in a surge came compassion for Jimmy, at the remberence of the excuse he had offered for saying that thing. How childish! But how like Jimmy! What was the use in trying to deal with him as if he were a man? A great spoiled, selfish baby was all he ever would be.

The fallen leaves rustled about Dannie's feet. The blackbirds above him in chattering debate discussed migration. A stiff breeze swept the fields, topped the embankment, and rushed down circling about Dannie, and setting his teeth chattering, for he was almost as wet as if he had been completely immersed. As the chill struck in, from force of habit he thought of Jimmy. If he was ever going to learn how to take care of himself, a man past thirty-five should know. Would he come home and put on dry clothing? But when had Jimmy taken care of himself? Dannie felt that he should go back, bring him home, and make him dress quickly.

A sharp pain shot across Dannie's swollen face. His lips shut firmly. No! Jimmy had struck him. And Jimmy was in the wrong. The fish was his, and he had a right to it. No man living would have given it up to Jimmy, after he had changed poles. And slipped away with a boy and gotten those minnows, too! And wouldn't offer him even one. Much good they had done him. Caught a catfish on a dead one! Wonder if he would take the catfish to town and have its picture taken! Mighty fine fish, too, that channel cat! If it hadn't been for the Black Bass, they would have wondered and exclaimed over it, and carefully weighed it, and commented on the gamy fight it made. Just the same he was glad, that he landed the Bass. And he got it fairly. If Jimmy's old catfish mixed up with his line, he could not help that. He baited, hooked, played, and landed the Bass all right, and without any minnows either.

When he reached the top of the hill he realized that he was going to look back. In spite of Jimmy's selfishness, in spite of the blow, in spite of the ugly lie, Jimmy had been his lifelong partner, and his only friend, and stiffen his neck as he would, Dannie felt his head turning. He deliberately swung his fish pole into the bushes, and when it caught, as he knew it would, he set down his load, and turned as if to release it. Not a sight of Jimmy anywhere! Dannie started on.

"We are after you, Jimmy Malone!"

A thin, little, wiry thread of a cry, that seemed to come twisting as if wrung from the chill air about him, whispered in his ear, and Dannie jumped, dropped his load, and ran for the river. He couldn't see a sign of Jimmy. He hurried over the shaky little bridge they had built. The catfish lay gasping on the grass, the case and jointed rod lay on a log, but Jimmy was gone.

Dannie gave the catfish a shove that sent it well into the river, and ran for the shoals at the lower curve of Horseshoe Bend. The tracks of Jimmy's crossing were plain, and after him hurried Dannie. He ran up the hill, and as he reached the top he saw Jimmy climb on a wagon out on the road. Dannie called, but the farmer touched up his horses and trotted away without hearing him. "The fool! To ride!" thought Dannie. "Noo he will chill to the bone!".

Dannie cut across the fields to the lane and gathered up his load. With the knowledge that Jimmy had started for town came the thought of Mary. What was he going to say to her? He would have to make a clean breast of it, and he did not like the showing. In fact, he simply could not make a clean breast of it. Tell her? He could not tell her. He would lie to her once more, this one time for himself. He would tell her he fell in the river to account for his wet clothing and bruised face, and wait until Jimmy came home and see what he told her.

He went to the cabin and tapped at the door; there was no answer, so he opened it and set the lunch basket inside. Then he hurried home, built a fire, bathed, and put on dry clothing. He wondered where Mary was. He was ravenously hungry now. He did all the evening work, and as she still did not come, he concluded that she had gone to town, and that Jimmy knew she was there. Of course, that was it! Jimmy could get dry clothing of his brother-in-law. To be sure, Mary had gone to town. That was why Jimmy went.

And he was right. Mary had gone to town. When sense slowly returned to her she sat up in the bushes and stared about her. Then she arose and looked toward the river. The men were gone. Mary guessed the situation rightly. They were too much of river men to drown in a few feet of water; they scarcely would kill each other. They had fought, and Dannie had gone home, and Jimmy to the consolation of Casey's. Where should she go? Mary Malone's lips set in a firm line.

"It's the truth! It's the truth!" she panted over and over, and now that there was no one to hear, she found that she could say it quite plainly. As the sense of her outraged womanhood swept over her she grew almost delirious. "I hope you killed him, Dannie Micnoun," she raved. "I hope you killed him, for if you didn't, I will. Oh! Oh!"

She was almost suffocating with rage. The only thing clear to her was that she never again would live an hour with Jimmy Malone. He might have gone home. Probably he did go for dry clothing. She would go to her sister. She hurried across the bottom, with wavering knees she climbed the embankment, then skirting the fields, she half walked, half ran to the village, and selecting back streets and alleys, tumbled, half distracted, into the home of her sister.

"Holy Vargin!" screamed Katy Dolan. "Whativer do be ailin' you, Mary Malone?"

"Jimmy! Jimmy!" sobbed the shivering Mary.

"I knew it! I knew it! I've ixpicted it for years!" cried Katy.

"They've had a fight----"

"Just what I looked for! I always told you they were too thick to last!"

"And Jimmy told Dannie he'd lied to me and married me himsilf----"

"He did! I saw him do it!" screamed Katy.

"And Dannie tried to kill him----"

"I hope to Hivin he got it done, for if any man iver naded killin'! A carpse named Jimmy Malone would a looked good to me any time these fiftane years. I always said----"

"And he took it back----"

"Just like the rid divil! I knew he'd do it! And of course that mutton-head of a Dannie Micnoun belaved him, whativer he said"

"Of course he did!"

"I knew it! Didn't I say so first?"

"And I tried to scrame and me tongue stuck----"

"Sure! You poor lamb! My tongue always sticks! Just what I ixpicted!"

"And me head just went round and I keeled over in the bushes----"

"I've told Dolan a thousand times! I knew it! It's no news to me!"

"And whin I came to, they were gone, and I don't know where, and I don't care! But I won't go back! I won't go back! I'll not live with him another day. Oh, Katy! Think how you'd feel if some one had siparated you and Dolan before you'd iver been togither!"

Katie Dolan gathered her sister into her arms. "You poor lamb," she wailed. "I've known ivery word of this for fiftane years, and if I'd had the laste idea 'twas so, I'd a busted Jimmy Malone to smithereens before it iver happened!"

"I won't go back! I won't go back!" raved Mary.

"I guess you won't go back," cried Katy, patting every available spot on Mary, or making dashes at her own eyes to stop the flow of tears. "I guess you won't go back! You'll stay right here with me. I've always wanted you! I always said I'd love to have you! I've told thim from the start there was something wrong out there! I've ixpicted you ivry day for years, and I niver was so surprised in all me life as whin you came! Now, don't you shed another tear. The Lord knows this is enough, for anybody. None at all would be too many for Jimmy Malone. You get right into bid, and I'll make you a cup of rid-pipper tay to take the chill out of you. And if Jimmy Malone comes around this house I'll lav him out with the poker, and if Dannie Micnoun comes saft-saddering after him I'll stritch him out too; yis, and if Dolan's got anything to say, he can take his midicine like the rist. The min are all of a pace anyhow! I've always said it! If I wouldn't like to get me fingers on that haythen; never goin' to confission, spindin' ivrything on himself you naded for dacent livin'! Lit him come! Just lit him come!"

Thus forestalled with knowledge, and overwhelmed with kindness, Mary Malone cuddled up in bed and sobbed herself to sleep, and Katy Dolan assured her, as long as she was conscious, that she always had known it, and if Jimmy Malone came near, she had the poker ready.

Dannie did the evening work. When he milked he drank most of it, but that only made him hungrier, so he ate the lunch he had brought back from the river, as he sat before a roaring fire. His heart warmed with his body. Irresponsible Jimmy always had aroused something of the paternal instinct in Dannie. Some one had to be responsible, so Dannie had been. Some way he felt responsible now. With another man like himself, it would have been man to man, but he always had spoiled Jimmy; now who was to blame that he was spoiled?

Dannie was very tired, his face throbbed and ached painfully, and it was a sight to see. His bed never had looked so inviting, and never had the chance to sleep been further away. With a sigh, he buttoned his coat, twisted an old scarf around his neck, and started for the barn. There was going to be a black frost. The cold seemed to pierce him. He hitched to the single buggy, and drove to town. He went to Casey's, and asked for Jimmy.

"He isn't here," said Casey.

"Has he been here?" asked Dannie.

Casey hesitated, and then blurted out, "He said you wasn't his keeper, and if you came after him, to tell you to go to Hell."

Then Dannie was sure that Jimmy was in the back room, drying his clothing. So he drove to Mrs. Dolan's, and asked if Mary were there for the night. Mrs. Dolan said she was, and she was going to stay, and he might tell Jimmy Malone that he need not come near them, unless he wanted his head laid open. She shut the door forcibly.

Dannie waited until Casey closed at eleven, and to his astonishment Jimmy was not among the men who came out. That meant that he had drank lightly after all, slipped from the back door, and gone home. And yet, would he do it, after what he had said about being afraid? If he had not drank heavily, he would not go into the night alone, when he had been afraid in the daytime. Dannie climbed from the buggy once more, and patiently searched the alley and the street leading to the footpath across farms. No Jimmy. Then Dannie drove home, stabled his horse, and tried Jimmy's back door. It was unlocked. If Jimmy were there, he probably would be lying across the bed in his clothing, and Dannie knew that Mary was in town. He made a light, and cautiously entered the sleeping room, intending to undress and cover Jimmy, but Jimmy was not there.

Dannie's mouth fell open. He put out the light, and stood on the back steps. The frost had settled in a silver sheen over the roofs of the barns and the sheds, and a scum of ice had frozen over a tub of drippings at the well. Dannie was bitterly cold. He went home, and hunted out his winter overcoat, lighted his lantern, picked up a heavy cudgel in the corner, and started to town on foot over the path that lay across the fields. He followed it to Casey's back door. He went to Mrs. Dolan's again, but everything was black and silent there. There had been evening trains. He thought of Jimmy's frequent threat to go away. He dismissed that thought grimly. There had been no talk of going away lately, and he knew that Jimmy had little money. Dannie started for home, and for a rod on either side he searched the path. As he came to the back of the barns, he rated himself for not thinking of them first. He searched both of them, and all around them, and then wholly tired, and greatly disgusted, he went home and to bed. He decided that Jimmy had gone to Mrs. Dolan's and that kindly woman had relented and taken him in. Of course that was where he was.

Dannie was up early in the morning. He wanted to have the work done before Mary and Jimmy came home. He fed the stock, milked, built a fire, and began cleaning the stables. As he wheeled the first barrow of manure to the heap, he noticed a rooster giving danger signals behind the straw-stack. At the second load it was still there, and Dannie went to see what alarmed it.

Jimmy lay behind the stack, where he had fallen face down, and as Dannie tried to lift him he saw that he would have to cut him loose, for he had frozen fast in the muck of the barnyard. He had pitched forward among the rough cattle and horse tracks and fallen within a few feet of the entrance to a deep hollow eaten out of the straw by the cattle. Had he reached that shelter he would have been warm enough and safe for the night.

Horrified, Dannie whipped out his knife, cut Jimmy's clothing loose and carried him to his bed. He covered him, and hitching up drove at top speed for a doctor. He sent the physician ahead and then rushed to Mrs. Dolan's. She saw him drive up and came to the door.

"Send Mary home and ye come too," Dannie called before she had time to speak. "Jimmy lay oot all last nicht, and I'm afraid he's dead."

Mrs. Dolan hurried in and repeated the message to Mary. She sat speechless while her sister bustled about putting on her wraps.

"I ain't goin'," she said shortly. "If I got sight of him, I'd kill him if he wasn't dead."

"Oh, yis you are goin'," said Katy Dolan. "If he's dead, you know, it will save you being hanged for killing him. Get on these things of mine and hurry. You got to go for decency sake; and kape a still tongue in your head. Dannie Micnoun is waiting for us."

Together they went out and climbed into the carriage. Mary said nothing, but Dannie was too miserable to notice.

"You didn't find him thin, last night?" asked Mrs. Dolan.

"Na!" shivered Dannie. "I was in town twice. I hunted almost all nicht. At last I made sure you had taken him in and I went to bed. It was three o'clock then. I must have passed often, wi'in a few yards of him."

"Where was he?" asked Katy.

"Behind the straw-stack," replied Dannie.

"Do you think he will die?"

"Dee!" cried Dannie. "Jimmy dee! Oh, my God! We mauna let him!"

Mrs. Dolan took a furtive peep at Mary, who, dry-eyed and white, was staring straight ahead. She was trembling and very pale, but if Katy Dolan knew anything she knew that her sister's face was unforgiving and she did not in the least blame her.

Dannie reached home as soon as the horse could take them, and under the doctor's directions all of them began work. Mary did what she was told, but she did it deliberately, and if Dannie had taken time to notice her he would have seen anything but his idea of a woman facing death for any one she ever had loved. Mary's hurt went so deep, Mrs. Dolan had trouble to keep it covered. Some of the neighbors said Mary was cold-hearted, and some of them that she was stupefied with grief.

Without stopping for food or sleep, Dannie nursed Jimmy. He rubbed, he bathed, he poulticed, he badgered the doctor and cursed his inability to do some good. To every one except Dannie, Jimmy's case was hopeless from the first. He developed double pneumonia in its worst form and he was in no condition to endure it in the lightest. His labored breathing could be heard all over the cabin, and he could speak only in gasps. On the third day he seemed a little better, and when Dannie asked what he could do for him, "Father Michael," Jimmy panted, and clung to Dannie's hand.

Dannie sent a man and remained with Jimmy. He made no offer to go when the priest came.

"This is probably in the nature of a last confession," said Father Michael to Dannie, "I shall have to ask you to leave us alone."

Dannie felt the hand that clung to him relax, and the perspiration broke on his temples. "Shall I go, Jimmy?" he asked.

Jimmy nodded. Dannie arose heavily and left the room. He sat down outside the door and rested his head in his hands.

The priest stood beside Jimmy. "The doctor tells me it is difficult for you to speak," he said, "I will help you all I can. I will ask questions and you need only assent with your head or hand. Do you wish the last sacrament administered, Jimmy Malone?"

The sweat rolled off Jimmy's brow. He assented.

"Do you wish to make final confession?"

A great groan shook Jimmy. The priest remembered a gay, laughing boy, flinging back a shock of auburn hair, his feet twinkling in the lead of the dance. Here was ruin to make the heart of compassion ache. The Father bent and clasped the hand of Jimmy firmly. The question he asked was between Jimmy Malone and his God. The answer almost strangled him.

"Can you confess that mortal sin, Jimmy?" asked the priest.

The drops on Jimmy's face merged in one bath of agony. His hands clenched and his breath seemed to go no lower than his throat.

"Lied--Dannie," he rattled. "Sip-rate him--and Mary."

"Are you trying to confess that you betrayed a confidence of Dannie Macnoun and married the girl who belonged to him, yourself?"

Jimmy assented.

His horrified eyes hung on the priest's face and saw it turn cold and stern. Always the thing he had done had tormented him; but not until the past summer had he begun to realize the depth of it, and it had almost unseated his reason. But not until now had come fullest appreciation, and Jimmy read it in the eyes filled with repulsion above him.

"And with that sin on your soul, you ask the last sacrament and the seal of forgiveness! You have not wronged God and the Holy Catholic Church as you have this man, with whom you have lived for years, while you possessed his rightful wife. Now he is here, in deathless devotion, fighting to save you. You may confess to him. If he will forgive you, God and the Church will ratify it, and set the seal on your brow. If not, you die unshriven! I will call Dannie Macnoun."

One gurgling howl broke from the swollen lips of Jimmy.

As Dannie entered the room, the priest spoke a few words to him, stepped out and closed the door. Dannie hurried to Jimmy's side.

"He said ye wanted to tell me something," said Dannie. "What is it? Do you want me to do anything for you?"

Suddenly Jimmy struggled to a sitting posture. His popping eyes almost burst from their sockets as he clutched Dannie with both hands. The perspiration poured in little streams down his dreadful face.

"Mary," the next word was lost in a strangled gasp. Then came "yours" and then a queer rattle. Something seemed to give way. "The Divils!" he shrieked. "The Divils have got me!"

Snap! his heart failed, and Jimmy Malone went out to face his record, unforgiven by man, and unshriven by priest.