'It's a bad little boy you are.'

“It’s a bad little boy you are,” Aengus murmured. “It’s a wee devil you are.”

Benedict stopped his kicking to stare at his father’s face. His own was wrinkled in concentration and insulted dignity, as if he thought he ought not to be expected to comprehend the mysteries of the Gaelic language, but made an effort nonetheless. Finally he decided that the words probably represented a rare compliment, and he smiled.

“Don’t be a-​wheedling me and a-​grinning at me with your gummy face,” Aengus laughed. “It’s time for bed, not for play.”

Aengus made no move to return him to his cradle, however. As soon as he put Benedict to bed, he would have to go.

'It's time for bed, not for play.'

The three of them had not been alone together since the day of the baby’s birth. Paul had never failed to offer to leave them for a while, but the nonchalance with which he offered it troubled Aengus more than any winks or knowing grins. Paul had once said with the same nonchalance that Lena was never meant to be anything more than a concubine.

“If you had been awake just one of the times I came to see you this evening, young devil, we would have had a good play. But now it’s time for good night.”

'Good night!'

“Good night!” Lena repeated, delighted to have heard some of the little Gaelic she knew. Suddenly he regretted having taught it to her.

“Aye, Lena,” he sighed, switching to English. “It is ‘good night’ for Penedict, ‘good night’ for Lena, ‘good night’ for Aengus.”

Having said that, he could no longer stand and gloat over the baby, and he went to lay him in the cradle.

“Today it is good day,” Lena sighed happily. “Tonight it is good night. Tomorrow it is good… morrow!”

'Tomorrow it is good... morrow!'

She laughed at her joke, heartily, for she had never been told that it was more refined not to find oneself funny.

Aengus, however, was free to laugh as much as he liked.

“Aengus,” she said thoughtfully after a moment, “why we don’t say ‘tomorning’? We do say ‘good morning’.”

“Don’t hold me responsible for the shortcomings of the English language, Lena.”

She giggled wickedly. “‘To–morrow’ I wake, I say to Penedict, ‘What shall we do to–morning?’”

“Don’t let Paul hear you,” Aengus warned her. “He will correct your English. But you ask Alred when he returns, and he’ll tell you you’re a natural poet.”

'Don't let Paul hear you.'

To–morrow I tell Paul, I have poet nature! I say every nonsense!”

Aengus laughed. “That’s your idea of a poet? You’ve been spending too much time with Alred.”

Any other woman would have thought—or even replied—that it was only because she did not spend enough time with Aengus himself, but he did not think Lena capable of even the thought.

However, Aengus was no poet, and now he did not know what to say.

Now he did not know what to say.

He no longer had the excuse of Benedict to keep him in the little bedroom. Indeed, Benedict was so cheerily wide awake that it was plain Lena had not woken him merely to have an excuse to invite Aengus into her room. Nor did he think Lena capable of such ruses. If Lena had sent for him to see Benedict, she only meant for him to see Benedict.

Perhaps that was all she wanted.

“But you don’t say nonsense, Lena,” he said weakly. “You’re quite clever, in your way. And your English is getting so much better.”

'Is that a compliment?'

“Is that a compliment?” she asked gravely.

He smiled in bewilderment. “Aye…”

Lena curtsied. “Thank you, sir, and yourself likewise.”

He laughed, and she lifted her head and snickered. At first he had thought she was thoughtlessly doing as she had been taught to do when complimented by a gentleman, but that conspiratorial glance made him wonder.

'It is good English, no?'

“It is good English, no?” she asked. “And good manners.”

“Aye, Lena. But don’t become a perfect English lady just yet,” he said wistfully. “I like the funny things you say.”

She giggled. “You like every nonsense I say?”

“I remember all the funny things you used to say. Do you remember? Even now, whenever I mount my horse I’m thinking ‘It is up for me!’”

'Even now, whenever I mount my horse I think 'It is up for me!''

“It is up for you, up for me!” she cried gleefully.

Aengus hung his head. She seemed unable to see the tragedy in the words.

But once again he had underestimated her. She murmured, “Whenever time I see a hole on the ground I think ‘I go down, maybe in the night Aengus comes like one time. I wait.’”

“Lena!” he croaked.

She looked at him expectantly, and he was able to watch as her face flushed pink in the candlelight.

She looked at him expectantly.

But he had promised Maire he would ride home that night, even if it rained. In the end he only said, “Your English is so much better now.”

She took a sharp breath, but in the end she only laughed again. “Thank you, sir, and yourself likewise.”

“I wish we could have talked like this when we… had the time…”

Aengus smoothed back his hair and looked around the room in search of something to say besides what he feared was about to come out of his mouth.

'I would have told you some things.'

“I would have told you some things,” he said to the chair, “but you didn’t know the words.” He shrugged helplessly at the candle. “And I didn’t know how to explain.”

“Now I have the words,” Lena said with a hushed eagerness. “Not too big words. Also some too big words like ‘compliment’. Now you say everything, not too big.”

'Now you say everything, not too big.'


He looked over at Benedict, wishing the baby would cry a little more often. But Benedict was content merely to lie on his back and watch the flickering shadows of the candlelight.

“Do you know the word ‘love’?” Aengus asked her.

'Do you know the word 'love'?'

“Ach!” She gave a sharp, giddy laugh. “With Paul, it is love all the time, love, love! Months and months I hear love. And why she doesn’t come? And why she doesn’t love me? These words I have.”

She stopped laughing as abruptly as she began.

Aengus wondered whether she ever applied them to herself. Certainly her eyes glimmered as if she saw the tragedy in them.

Certainly her eyes glimmered as if she saw the tragedy in them.

“I do love you, Lena,” he whispered.

But he had long known that anything difficult was easier to say in another language and therefore counted less—and less still if it was only whispered. Therefore he repeated it in Gaelic, aloud.

He often said it to Maire, but it had been a long while since the words had carried such weight. He was as startled as a man who swings a sack up onto his shoulder, thinking it empty, and finds it full of stones.

But it was more than a mere sack of stones that he had cleared away with the words. It was an entire wall.

It was an entire wall.