Chapter XI. The Pot of Gold
 

Mary had not been in the Dolan home an hour until Katy knew all she could tell of her trouble. Mrs. Dolan was practical. "Go to see Father Michael," she said. "What's he for but to hilp us. Go ask him what Jimmy told him. Till him how you feel and what you know. He can till you what Dannie knows and thin you will understand where you are at."

Mary was on the way before Mrs. Dolan fully finished. She went to the priest's residence and asked his housekeeper to inquire if he would see her. He would, and Mary entered his presence strangely calm and self-possessed. This was the last fight she knew of that she could make for happiness, and if she lost, happiness was over for her. She had need of all her wit and she knew it. Father Michael began laughing as he shook hands.

"Now look here, Mary," he said, "I've been expecting you. I warn you before you begin that I cannot sanction your marriage to a Protestant."

"Oh, but I'm going to convart him!" cried Mary so quickly that the priest laughed harder than ever.

"So that's the lay of the land!" he chuckled. "Well, if you'll guarantee that, I'll give in. When shall I read the banns?"

"Not until we get Dannie's consint," answered Mary, and for the first her voice wavered.

Father Michael looked his surprise. "Tut! Tut!" he said. "And is Dannie dilatory?"

"Dannie is the finest man that will ever live in this world," said Mary, "but he don't want to marry me."

"To my certain knowledge Dannie has loved you all your life," said Father Michael. "He wants nothing here or hereafter as he wants to marry you."

"Thin why don't he till me so?" sobbed Mary, burying her burning face in her hands.

"Has he said nothing to you?" gravely inquired the priest.

"No, he hasn't and I don't belave he intinds to," answered Mary, wiping her eyes and trying to be composed. "There is something about Jimmy that is holding him back. Mrs. Dolan thought you'd help me."

"What do you want me to do, Mary?" asked Father Michael.

"Two things," answered Mary promptly. "I want you to tell me what Jimmy confissed to you before he died, and then I want you to talk to Dannie and show him that he is free from any promise that Jimmy might have got out of him. Will you?"

"A dying confession--" began the priest.

"Yes, but I know--" broke in Mary. "I saw them fight, and I heard Jimmy till Dannie that he'd lied to him to separate us, but he turned right around and took it back and I knew Dannie belaved him thin; but he can't after Jimmy confissed it again to both of you."

"What do you mean by `saw them fight?'" Father Michael was leaning toward Mary anxiously.

Mary told him.

"Then that is the explanation to the whole thing," said the priest. "Dannie did believe Jimmy when he took it back, and he died before he could repeat to Dannie what he had told me. And I have had the feeling that Dannie thought himself in a way to blame for Jimmy's death."

"He was not! Oh, he was not!" cried Mary Malone. "Didn't I live there with them all those years? Dannie always was good as gold to Jimmy. It was shameful the way Jimmy imposed on him, and spint his money, and took me from him. It was shameful! Shameful!"

"Be calm! Be calm!" cautioned Father Michael. "I agree with you. I am only trying to arrive at Dannie's point of view. He well might feel that he was responsible, if after humoring Jimmy like a child all his life, he at last lost his temper and dealt with him as if he were a man. If that is the case, he is of honor so fine, that he would hesitate to speak to you, no matter what he suffered. And then it is clear to me that he does not understand how Jimmy separated you in the first place."

"And lied me into marrying him, whin I told him over and over how I loved Dannie. Jimmy Malone took iverything I had to give, and he left me alone for fiftane years, with my three little dead babies, that died because I'd no heart to desire life for thim, and he took my youth, and he took my womanhood, and he took my man--" Mary arose in primitive rage. "You naden't bother!" she said. "I'm going straight to Dannie meself."

"Don't!" said Father Michael softly. "Don't do that, Mary! It isn't the accepted way. There is a better! Let him come to you."

"But he won't come! He don't know! He's in Jimmy's grip tighter in death than he was in life." Mary began to sob again.

"He will come," said Father Michael. "Be calm! Wait a little, my child. After all these years, don't spoil a love that has been almost unequaled in holiness and beauty, by anger at the dead. Let me go to Dannie. We are good friends. I can tell him Jimmy made a confession to me, that he was trying to repeat to him, when punishment, far more awful than anything you have suffered, overtook him. Always remember, Mary, he died unshriven!" Mary began to shiver. "Your suffering is over," continued the priest. "You have many good years yet that you may spend with Dannie; God will give you living children, I am sure. Think of the years Jimmy's secret has hounded and driven him! Think of the penalty he must pay before he gets a glimpse of paradise, if he be not eternally lost!"

"I have!" exclaimed Mary. "And it is nothing to the fact that he took Dannie from me, and yet kept him in my home while he possessed me himsilf for years. May he burn----"

"Mary! Let that suffice!" cried the priest. "He will! The question now is, shall I go to Dannie?"

"Will you till him just what Jimmy told you? Will you till him that I have loved him always?"

"Yes," said Father Michael.

"Will you go now?"

"I cannot! I have work. I will come early in the morning."

"You will till him ivirything?" she repeated.

"I will," promised Father Michael.

Mary went back to Mrs. Dolan's comforted. She was anxious to return home at once, but at last consented to spend the day. Now that she was sure Dannie did not know the truth, her heart warmed toward him. She was anxious to comfort and help him in the long struggle which she saw that he must have endured. By late afternoon she could bear it no longer and started back to Rainbow Bottom in time to prepare supper.

For the first hour after Mary had gone Dannie whistled to keep up his courage. By the second he had no courage to keep. By the third he was indulging in the worst fit of despondency he ever had known. He had told her to stay a week. A week! It would be an eternity! There alone again! Could he bear it? He got through to mid- afternoon some way, and then in jealous fear and foreboding he became almost frantic. One way or the other, this thing must be settled. Fiercer raged the storm within him and at last toward evening it became unendurable.

At its height the curling smoke from the chimney told him that Mary had come home. An unreasoning joy seized him. He went to the barn and listened. He could hear her moving about preparing supper. As he watched she came to the well for water and before she returned to the cabin she stood looking over the fields as if trying to locate him. Dannie's blood ran hotly and his pulses were leaping. "Go to her! Go to her now!" demanded passion, struggling to break leash. "You killed Jimmy! You murdered your friend!" cried conscience, with unyielding insistence. Poor Dannie gave one last glance at Mary, and then turned, and for the second time he ran from her as if pursued by demons. But this time he went straight to Five Mile Hill, and the grave of Jimmy Malone.

He sat down on it, and within a few feet of Jimmy's bones, Dannie took his tired head in his hands, and tried to think, and for the life of him, he could think but two things. That he had killed Jimmy, and that to live longer without Mary would kill him. Hour after hour he fought with his lifelong love for Jimmy and his lifelong love for Mary. Night came on, the frost bit, the wind chilled, and the little brown owls screeched among the gravestones, and Dannie battled on. Morning came, the sun arose, and shone on Dannie, sitting numb with drawn face and bleeding heart.

Mary prepared a fine supper the night before, and patiently waited, and when Dannie did not come, she concluded that he had gone to town, without knowing that she had returned. Tilly grew sleepy, so she put the child to bed, and presently she went herself. Father Michael would make everything right in the morning. But in the morning Dannie was not there, and had not been. Mary became alarmed. She was very nervous by the time Father Michael arrived. He decided to go to the nearest neighbor, and ask when Dannie had been seen last. As he turned from the lane into the road a man of that neighborhood was passing on his wagon, and the priest hailed him, and asked if he knew where Dannie Macnoun was.

"Back in Five Mile Hill, a man with his head on his knees, is a- settin' on the grave of Jimmy Malone, and I allow that would be Dannie Macnoun, the damn fool!" he said.

Father Michael went back to the cabin, and told Mary he had learned where Dannie was, and to have no uneasiness, and he would go to see him immediately.

"And first of all you'll tell him how Jimmy lied to him?"

"I will!" said the priest.

He entered the cemetery, and walked slowly to the grave of Jimmy Malone. Dannie lifted his head, and stared at him.

"I saw you," said Father Michael, "and I came in to speak with you." He took Dannie's hand. "You are here at this hour to my surprise."

"I dinna know that ye should be surprised at my comin' to sit by Jimmy at ony time," coldly replied Dannie. "He was my only friend in life, and another mon so fine I'll never know. I often come here."

The priest shifted his weight from one foot to the other, and then he sat down on a grave near Dannie. "For a year I have been waiting to talk with you," he said.

Dannie wiped his face, and lifting his hat, ran his fingers through his hair, as if to arouse himself. His eyes were dull and listless. "I am afraid I am no fit to talk sensibly," he said. "I am much troubled. Some other time----"

"Could you tell me your trouble?" asked Father Michael.

Dannie shook his head.

"I have known Mary Malone all her life," said the priest softly, "and been her confessor. I have known Jimmy Malone all his life, and heard his dying confession. I know what it was he was trying to tell you when he died. Think again!"

Dannie Macnoun stood up. He looked at the priest intently. "Did ye come here purposely to find me?"

"Yes."

"What do ye want?"

"To clear your mind of all trouble, and fill your heart with love, and great peace, and rest. Our Heavenly Father knows that you need peace of heart, and rest, Dannie."

"To fill my heart wi' peace, ye will have to prove to me that I'm no responsible fra the death of Jimmy Malone; and to give it rest, ye will have to prove to me that I'm free to marry his wife. Ye can do neither of those things."

"I can do both," said the priest calmly. "My son, that is what I came to do."

Dannie's face grew whiter and whiter, as the blood receded, and his big hands gripped at his sides.

"Aye, but ye canna!" he cried desperately. "Ye canna!"

"I can," said the priest. "Listen to me! Did Jimmy get anything at all said to you?"

"He said, `Mary,' then he choked on the next word, then he gasped out `yours,' and it was over."

"Have you any idea what he was trying to tell you?"

"Na!" answered Dannie. "He was mortal sick, and half delirious, and I paid little heed. If he lived, he would tell me when he was better. If he died, nothing mattered, fra I was responsible, and better friend mon never had. There was nothing on earth Jimmy would na have done for me. He was so big hearted, so generous! My God, how I have missed him! How I have missed him!"

"Your faith in Jimmy is strong," ventured the bewildered priest, for he did not see his way.

Dannie lifted his head. The sunshine was warming him, and his thoughts were beginning to clear.

"My faith in Jimmy Malone is so strong," he said, "that if I lost it, I never should trust another living mon. He had his faults to others, I admit that, but he never had ony to me. He was my friend, and above my life I loved him. I wad gladly have died to save him."

"And yet you say you are responsible for his death!"

"Let me tell ye!" cried Dannie eagerly, and began on the story the priest wanted to hear from him. As he finished Father Michael's face lighted.

"What folly!" he said, "that a man of your intelligence should torture yourself with the thought of responsibility in a case like that. Any one would have claimed the fish in those circumstances. Priest that I am, I would have had it, even if I fought for it. Any man would! And as for what followed, it was bound to come! He was a tortured man, and a broken one. If he had not lain out that night, he would a few nights later. It was not in your power to save him. No man can be saved from himself, Dannie. Did what he said make no impression on you?"

"Enough that I would have killed him with my naked hands if he had na taken it back. Of course he had to retract! If I believed that of Jimmy, after the life we lived together, I would curse God and mon, and break fra the woods, and live and dee there alone."

"Then what was he trying to tell you when he died?" asked the bewildered priest.

"To take care of Mary, I judge."

"Not to marry her; and take her for your own?"

Dannie began to tremble.

"Remember, I talked with him first," said Father Michael, "and what he confessed to me, he knew was final. He died before he could talk to you, but I think it is time to tell you what he wanted to say. He--he--was trying--trying to tell you, that there was nothing but love in his heart for you. That he did not in any way blame you. That--that Mary was yours. That you were free to take her. That----"

"What!" cried Dannie wildly. "Are ye sure? Oh, my God!"

"Perfectly sure!" answered Father Michael. "Jimmy knew how long and faithfully you had loved Mary, and she had loved you----"

"Mary had loved me? Carefu', mon! Are ye sure?"

"I know," said Father Michael convincingly. "I give you my priestly word, I know, and Jimmy knew, and was altogether willing. He loved you deeply, as he could love any one, Dannie, and he blamed you for nothing at all. The only thing that would have brought Jimmy any comfort in dying, was to know that you would end your life with Mary, and not hate his memory."

"Hate!" cried Dannie. "Hate! Father Michael, if ye have come to tell me that Jimmy na held me responsible fra his death, and was willing fra me to have Mary, your face looks like the face of God to me!" Dannie gripped the priest's hand. "Are ye sure? Are ye sure, mon?" He almost lifted Father Michael from the ground.

"I tell you, I know! Go and be happy!"

"Some ither day I will try to thank ye," said Dannie, turning away. "Noo, I'm in a little of a hurry." He was half way to the gate when he turned back. "Does Mary know this?" he asked.

"She does," said the priest. "You are one good man, Dannie, go and be happy, and may the blessing of God go with you."

Dannie lifted his hat.

"And Jimmy, too," he said, "put Jimmy in, Father Michael."

"May the peace of God rest the troubled soul of Jimmy Malone," said Father Michael, and not being a Catholic, Dannie did not know that from the blessing for which he asked.

He hurried away with the brightness of dawn on his lined face, which looked almost boyish under his whitening hair.

Mary Malone was at the window, and turmoil and bitterness were beginning to burn in her heart again. Maybe the priest had not found Dannie. Maybe he was not coming. Maybe a thousand things. Then he was coming. Coming straight and sure. Coming across the fields, and leaping fences at a bound. Coming with such speed and force as comes the strong man, fifteen years denied. Mary's heart began to jar, and thump, and waves of happiness surged over her. And then she saw that look of dawn, of serene delight on the face of the man, and she stood aghast. Dannie threw wide the door, and crossed her threshold with outstretched arms.

"Is it true?" he panted. "That thing Father Michael told me, is it true? Will ye be mine, Mary Malone? At last will you be mine? Oh, my girl, is the beautiful thing that the priest told me true?"

"The beautiful thing that the priest told him!"

Mary Malone swung a chair before her, and stepped back. "Wait!" she cried sharply. "There must be some mistake. Till me ixactly what Father Michael told you?"

"He told me that Jimmy na held me responsible fra his death. That he loved me when he died. That he was willing I should have ye! Oh, Mary, wasna that splendid of him. Wasna he a grand mon? Mary, come to me. Say that it's true! Tell me, if ye love me."

Mary Malone stared wide-eyed at Dannie, and gasped for breath.

Dannie came closer. At last he had found his tongue. "Fra the love of mercy, if ye are comin' to me, come noo, Mary" he begged. "My arms will split if they dinna get round ye soon, dear. Jimmy told ye fra me, sixteen years ago, how I loved ye, and he told me when he came back how sorry ye were fra me, and he--he almost cried when he told me. I never saw a mon feel so. Grand old Jimmy! No other mon like him!"

Mary drew back in desperation.

"You see here, Dannie Micnoun!" she screamed. "You see here----"

"I do," broke in Dannie. "I'm lookin'! All I ever saw, or see now, or shall see till I dee is `here,' when `here' is ye, Mary Malone. Oh! If a woman ever could understand what passion means to a mon! If ye knew what I have suffered through all these years, you'd end it, Mary Malone."

Mary gave the chair a shove. "Come here, Dannie," she said. Dannie cleared the space between them. Mary set her hands against his breast. "One minute," she panted. "Just one! I have loved you all me life, me man. I niver loved any one but you. I niver wanted any one but you. I niver hoped for any Hivin better than I knew I'd find in your arms. There was a mistake. There was an awful mistake, when I married Jimmy. I'm not tillin' you now, and I niver will, but you must realize that! Do you understand me?"

"Hardly," breathed Dannie. "Hardly!"

"Will, you can take your time if you want to think it out, because that's all I'll iver till you. There was a horrible mistake. It was you I loved, and wanted to marry. Now bend down to me, Dannie Micnoun, because I'm going to take your head on me breast and kiss your dear face until I'm tired," said Mary Malone.

An hour later Father Michael came leisurely down the lane, and the peace of God was with him.

A radiant Mary went out to meet him.

"You didn't till him!" she cried accusingly. "You didn't till him!"

The priest laid a hand on her head.

"Mary, the greatest thing in the whole world is self-sacrifice," he said. "The pot at the foot of the rainbow is just now running over with the pure gold of perfect contentment. But had you and I done such a dreadful thing as to destroy the confidence of a good man in his friend, your heart never could know such joy as it now knows in this sacrifice of yours; and no such blessed, shining light could illumine your face. That is what I wanted to see. I said to myself as I came along, `She will try, but she will learn, as I did, that she cannot look in his eyes and undeceive him. And when she becomes reconciled, her face will be so good to see.' And it is. You did not tell him either, Mary Malone!"