STRANGERS AT LISCONNEL
A SECOND SERIES OF IRISH IDYLLS
NEW YORK DODD, MEAD AND COMPANY 1895
Dodd, Mead and Company.
M. L. B.
[Gaelic: Is fada me beo do dhiaigh.]
OUT OF THE WAY 1
JERRY DUNNE'S BASKET 14
MRS. KILFOYLE'S CLOAK 31
A GOOD TURN 53
A FAIRING 112
MR. POLYMATHERS 139
HONORIS CAUSA 168
BOYS' WAGES 211
CON THE QUARE ONE 235
MAD BELL 271
A FLITTING 303
A RETURN 324
GOOD LUCK 340
OUT OF THE WAY
To Lisconnel, our very small hamlet in the middle of a wide bogland, the days that break over the dim blue hill-line, faint and far off, seldom bring a stranger's face; but then they seldom take a familiar one away, beyond reach, at any rate of return before nightfall. In fact, there are few places amid this mortal change to which we may come back after any reasonable interval with more confidence of finding things just as we left them, due allowance being made for the inevitable fingering of Time. We shall find some old people who have aged under it, and some who, as certain philosophers would hold, have grown younger again. The latter may be seen just beginning, perhaps, to sit up stiff on a woman's arm, or starting for a trial crawl over mother earth; and of them we remark that there is another little Ryan or Quigley; while the former stay sunning themselves so inertly, or totter about so shakily, that we notice at once how much old Sheridan, or the Widow Joyce, has failed since last year. These babies and grandparents often associate a good deal with one another at the stage when the old body is still capable of "keepin' an eye on the child," and the child still resorts to all fours if it wants to get up its highest speed. But this companionship does not last long in any given case. Very soon the expanding and the contracting sphere cease to touch closely. On the one hand, the world widens into more spacious tracts for nimbler and bolder ranging over with all manner of remarkable things growing and living upon it, to be gathered and captured, or at least sought and chased, among pools, and hillocks and swampy places. On the other, it shrinks to within the limits of a few dwindling furlongs and perches, traversed ever more feebly, until at length even the nearest stone, on which the warm rays can be basked in, seems to have moved too far off, and the flicker-haunted nook by the hearth-fire becomes the end of the whole day's journey.
Thus the generations, as they succeed one another, wave-like preserve a well-marked rhythm in their coming and going—play, work, rest—not to be interrupted by anything less peremptory than death or disablement. This wag-by-the-wall swings and swings its bobbed pendulum without pause, but one swing is much like the other, and their background never varies. Little Pat out stravading of a fine morning on the great brown-wigged bog, and, it may be hoped, enjoying himself thoroughly, is taking the same first steps in life as young Pat his father, now busy cutting turf-sods, and old Pat, his grandfather, idly watching them burn, with a pipe, if in luck, to keep alight. And the Lisconnel folk, therefore, because the changes wrought by human agency come to them in unimposing forms, are strongly impressed by the vast natural vicissitudes of things which rule their destinies. The melting of season into season, and year into year, the leaf-like withering and drifting away of the old from among the fresh springing growths, are ever before their eyes, and the contemplation steeps them in a sense of the transitoriness of things good and bad. Even the black soil they tread on may next year flutter up into a vanishing blue column through a smoke-hole in somebody's thatch. They carry this sense with a light and heavy heart. In like manner they make the very most of all unusual events. They find materials for half-an-hour's talk in the passage by their doors of one of those rarely coming strangers, who do appear from time to time, as frequently, indeed, as anybody would expect, having surveyed the thoroughfare that links us with humanity. For if we follow it southward, where, like the unvanishing wake of some vessel, it streaks the level plain, that is lonely as a wide water, but stiller, we pass by Dan O'Beirne's forge, now neighbourless, and through humble Duffclane, and on to Ballybrosna, our Town; but we must go many a mile further to reach anything upon which you would bestow that title. Or, if we turn northward, we only find it seaming another ample fold of bogland, outspread far and far beyond Lisconnel before a grey hill-range begins to rise in slow undulations, crested with furze and broom. Here we smell turf-smoke again, and see a cabin-row that is Sallinbeg, and hence the road strikes north-westward in among the mountains, where a few mottled-faced sheep peer down over it from their smooth green walks, but do not care to trust their black velvet legs upon it. And then, by the time that the air has become sea-scented, the road climbs to the top of a hill, and stops there abruptly, as if it had been travelling all the while merely to look at the view. The truth is that the funds for its construction would go no further, and, in consequence, wayfarers coming along by the shore still have to tread out a path for themselves across a gap of moorland, if they are bound for Lisconnel.
You may perceive, therefore, that Lisconnel lies out of the way, on the route to no places of importance, and as its own ten or a dozen little houses are, I fear, collectively altogether insignificant, it has small reason to expect many visitors. The Widow M'Gurk said one day that you might as well be living at the bottom of the boghole for any company you got the chance of seeing; but this was an exaggeration. She was vexed when she made the remark, because Mrs. Dooley, old Dan O'Beirne's married daughter, then staying at the forge, had promised to come and inspect a pair of marketable chickens, in anticipation of which Mrs. M'Gurk had wetted a cup of tea and used up her last handful of wholemeal for a cake, that Mrs. Dooley, who was in rather affluent circumstances, might not think them "too poorly off altogether." But, after all, the hours had slipped blankly by, and nobody had arrived. So the widow had ruefully put her teapot to sit on the hob until himself came in—for, properly speaking, she was at this time not yet a widow—and had stepped down her tussocky slope with her double disappointment to Mrs. Kilfoyle.
Mrs. Kilfoyle was knitting at her door and not looking out over the bog, where the flushed light of the sunset drowsed on the black sod in an almost tangible fire-film. Against it the poppies stood up dark and opaque, but the large white daisies had caught the wraith of the glow on their glimmering discs. She had been thinking how not so long ago her son Thady used to come whistling home to her across the bog when the shadows stretched their longest. The sunset still came punctually every evening, but had grown wonderfully lonesome since the kick of a cross-tempered cart-horse had silenced his whistling and stopped his home-coming for ever. Thady's whistling had been indifferent, considered as music, yet it had sounded pleasant in her ears, and Mrs. M'Gurk's trouble seemed to her not very serious. However, she replied to her complaint: "Ah, sure, woman dear, like enough she might be here to-morra."
"And if she is, she'll be very apt to not get e'er a chuck or a chucken off of me—not the feather of a one," said Mrs. M'Gurk, resentfully, "plenty of other things I have to do besides wastin' me time waitin' for people that don't know their own minds from one minyit to the next, and makin' a fool of meself star-gazin' along the road, and ne'er a fut stirrin' on it no more than if it was desolit wildernesses."
She would not for the world have alluded to her expenditure of more material resources, and accordingly had to explain her vexation by putting a fictitious value upon her time, which, in reality, was just then drearily superabundant.
"Sure," suggested Mrs. Kilfoyle, "the poor woman maybe was kep' at home some way, and she wid ivery intintion to be comin'. I declare, now, you'd whiles think things knew what you was manin' in your mind, and riz themselves up agin it a' purpose to prevint you, they happen that conthrary."
As Mrs. M'Gurk's experience did not dispose her to gainsay this proposition, and she was nevertheless disinclined to be mollified by it, she likewise had recourse to generalities, and said:
"'Deed then it's welcome anybody is to stop away if they're wishful, hindered or no. Long sorry I'd be to have people disthressin' themselves streelin' after me." And she added, rather inconsistently, the remark already mentioned: "But the likes of this place I never witnessed. You might as well be livin' at the bottom of the blackest ould boghoule there, for e'er a chance you have to be seein' a bit of company."
"And it's yourself 'ud make the fine sizeable waterask, ma'am," a high-pitched voice said suddenly from within doors, causing Mrs. M'Gurk to start and peer into the dark opening behind her, somewhat taken aback at finding that she had had an unsuspected audience, which is always more or less of a shock. The first object she descried through the hazy dusk was the figure of the old woman known to Lisconnel as Ody Rafferty's aunt, but in fact so related to his father, sitting with her short black dudeen by the delicate pink and white embers, for the evening was warm and the fire low. Ody himself was leaning against the wall, critically examining Brian Kilfoyle's blackthorn, and forming a poor opinion of it with considerable satisfaction. Not that he bore Brian any ill-will, but because this is his method of attaining to contentment with his own possessions.
"Whethen now and is it yourself that's in it, Ody Rafferty?" said Mrs. M'Gurk, as she recognised him. "And what talk have you out of you about waterasks? You're the great man, bedad."
"Me aunt's lookin' in on Mrs. Kilfoyle, ma'am," said Ody, "be raison of Brian bein' off to the Town. And right enough you and me knows what's took him there; and so does Norah Finegan. Och, good luck to the pair of thim."
"Coortin'," said his aunt, who preferred to put things briefly and clearly. "But I was tellin' Mrs. Kilfoyle to not be frettin', for sure God is good, and they'll be apt to keep her in it all's one."
"Goodness may pity you, woman," said Mrs. M'Gurk. "Brian 'ud as lief take and bring home a she hyenna, and it ravin' mad, as anybody 'ud look crooked at his mother, I very well know."
"Norah's a rael dacint little slip of a girl," Mrs. Kilfoyle said tranquilly, considering that her son's character needed no certificate. But the old woman only grunted doubtfully, and said: "Och, is she?" For she had been a superfluous aunt so long that she found it hard to believe in anything better than toleration.
"Talkin' of company," said Ody, to change the subject—which his aunt's remarks often disposed people to do—"Mad Bell's just after shankin' back wid herself; she's below colloguin' wid Big Anne. It's a fine long tramp she's took this time; so if she was in the humour she'd a right to ha' plinty to be tellin' us."
"Well, now, I'm glad the crathur's home," said Mrs. Kilfoyle. "It's lonesome in a manner to think of the little ould bein' rovin' about the world like a wisp of hay gathered up on the win'; for all, tubbe sure, it's her own fancy starts her off."
"I won'er where to she wint this time," said Mrs. M'Gurk.
"You might as well," said Ody, "be won'erin' where a one of thim saygulls goes, when it gives a flourish of its ould flippers and away wid itself head foremost—barrin', in coorse, that Mad Bell's bound to keep on the dhry land at all ivents. But from Sallinbeg ways she come this evenin', singin' 'Garry Owen' most powerful—I know that much."
"Ah, then she might be chance ha' been as far as Laraghmena, and ha' seen a sight of me brother Mick and Theresa," Mrs. Kilfoyle said, with wistful interest. For at Lisconnel we still look not a little to the reports brought by stray travellers for news of absent friends, much as we did before the days of penny posts and mail trains. And our geographical lore is vague enough to impede us but slightly in our hopes of obtaining information from any quarter. Only the probability seems to be increased if the newcomer arrives from the direction in which our friend departed.
"Sure she might so," said Ody. "But niver a tell she'll tell onless she happens to take the notion in the quare ould head of her. It's just be the road of humouring her now and agin, and piecin' her odd stories together, you git e'er a discovery, so to spake, of the places she's after bein' in."
The scenes of Mad Bell's wanderings did indeed reveal themselves to her neighbours confusedly and dispersedly in her fitful and capricious narrative, like glimpses of a landscape caught through a shifting mist. As this sometimes distorts the objects that loom within it, so Mad Bell's statements were occasionally misleading. Once, for example, she threw the Quigley family into most distracted concern by her accounts of the terrific "shootin' and murdherin' and massacreein'" she had seen in progress down away at Glasgannon, where Joe Quigley had taken service with a strong farmer; these disturbances being in reality nothing more than a muster of the county militia.
"But I can tell you how she thravelled a good step of the way home," Ody now continued, "for she tould me herself. The Tinkers gave her a lift in their ould cart. Somewheres beyant Rosbride she met wid them; glory be to goodness 'twasn't any nearer here they were, the ould thieves of sin. Howane'er, Mrs. M'Gurk belike 'ud be wishful to see thim comin' along. Fine company they'd be for anybody begorrah. Troth, it's the quare ugly boghoule she'd find the aquil of thim at the bottom of."
Mrs. M'Gurk, however, said protestingly, "Och, wirrasthrew, man, don't be talkin' of the Tinkers. They'd a right to not be let set fut widin tin mile of any dacint place. Thim or the likes of any such rogues."
And Mrs. Kilfoyle said, "I'd liefer than a great deal they kep' out of it. Ne'er a one of the lot of them I ever beheld but had the eyes rowlin' in his head wid villiny. And the childer, goodness help them, do be worse than the grown people."
And Ody Rafferty's aunt said, "Bad cess to the whole of them."
For in Lisconnel nobody has a good word to say of the Tinkers.
The tribe and their many delinquencies have even supplied us with a bit of the proverbial philosophy in which not a little of our local history is epitomised. The saying, "As pat as thievin' to a tinker" is probably quoted among us as frequently as any other, except, perhaps, one which refers to Jerry Dunne's basket. This latter had its origin in a certain event, not like the former in the long-accumulating observation of habits and propensities, and to explain it therefore is to write a chapter of our chronicles. Moreover, the event in question is otherwise not unimportant from a sociological point of view, because it is very likely to have been the first morning call ever made at Lisconnel.
JERRY DUNNE'S BASKET
So it is worth while to tell the reason why people at Lisconnel sometimes respond with irony to a question: "What have I got? Sure, all that Jerry Dunne had in his basket." The saying is of respectable antiquity, for it originated while Bessy Joyce, who died a year or so back, at "a great ould age entirely," was still but a slip of a girl. In those days her mother used often to say regretfully that she didn't know when she was well off, like Rody O'Rourke's pigs, quoting a proverb of obscurer antecedents. When she did so she was generally thinking of the fine little farm in the county Clare, which they had not long since exchanged for the poor tiny holding away in the heart of the black bog; and of how, among the green fields, and thriving beasts, and other good things of Clonmena, she had allowed her content to be marred by such a detail as her Bessy's refusal to favour the suit of Jerry Dunne.
Mrs. Joyce eagerly desired a brilliant alliance for Bessy, who was rather an important daughter, being the only grown-up girl, and a very pretty one, among a troop of younger brethren; so it seemed contrary enough that she wouldn't look the same side of the road as young Jerry, who was farming prosperously on his own account, and whose family were old friends and neighbours, and real respectable people, including a first cousin nothing less than a parish priest. Yet Bessy ran away and hid herself in as ingeniously unlikely places as a strayed calf whenever she heard of his approach, and if brought by chance into his society became most discouragingly deaf and dumb.
It is true that at the time I speak of Bessy's prospects fully entitled her to as opulent a match, and no one apparently foresaw how speedily they would be overcast by her father's improvidence. But Andy Joyce had an ill-advised predilection for seeing things what he called "dacint and proper" about him, and it led him into several imprudent acts. For instance, he built some highly superior sheds in the bawn, to the bettering, no doubt, of his cattle's condition, but very little to his own purpose, which he would indeed have served more advantageously by spending the money they cost him at Moriarty's shebeen. Nor was he left without due warning of the consequences likely to result from such courses. The abrupt raising of his rent by fifty per cent, was a broad hint which most men would have taken; and it did keep Andy quiet, ruefully, for a season or two. Then, however, having again saved up a trifle, he could not resist the temptation to drain the swampy corner of the farthest river-field, which was as kind a bit of land as you could wish, only for the water lying on it, and in which he afterwards raised himself a remarkably fine crop of white oats. The sight of them "done his heart good," he said, exultantly, nothing recking that it was the last touch of farmer's pride he would ever feel. Yet on the next quarter-day the Joyces received notice to quit, and their landlord determined to keep the vacated holding in his own hands; those new sheds were just the thing for his young stock. Andy, in fact, had done his best to improve himself off the face of the earth, and he should therefore have been thankful to retain a foothold, even in a loose-jointed, rush-roofed cabin away at stony Lisconnel. Whether thankful or no, there, at any rate, he presently found himself established with all his family, and the meagre remnant of his hastily sold-off gear, and the black doors of the "house" seeming to loom ahead whenever he looked into the murky future.
The first weeks and months of their new adversity passed slowly and heavily for the transplanted household, more especially for Andy and his wife, who had outgrown a love of paddling in bogholes, and had acquired a habit of wondering "what at all 'ud become of the childer, the crathurs." One shrill-blasted March morning Andy trudged off to the fair down below at Duffclane—not that he had any business to transact there, unless we reckon as such a desire to gain a respite from regretful boredom. He but partially succeeded in doing this, and returned at dusk so fagged and dispirited that he had not energy to relate his scraps of news until he was half through his plate of stirabout. Then he observed "I seen a couple of boys from home in it."
"Whethen now, to think of that," said Mrs. Joyce with mournful interest, "which of them was it?"
"The one of them was Terence Kilfoyle," said Andy.
Mrs. Joyce's interest flagged, for young Kilfoyle was merely a good-looking lad with the name of being rather wild. "Ah sure he might as well be in one place as another," she said indifferently. "Bessy, honey, as you're done, just throw the scraps to the white hin where she's sittin'."
"He sez he's thinkin' to settle hereabouts," said Andy; "I tould him he'd a right to go thry his fortin somewhere outlandish, but he didn't seem to fancy the idee, and small blame to him. A man's bound to get his heart broke one way or the other anywheres, as far as I can see. I met Jerry Dunne too."
"Och and did you indeed?" said Mrs. Joyce, kindling into eagerness again.
Jerry had been absent from Clonmena at the time of their flitting, and they had heard nothing of him since; but she still cherished a flicker of hope in his connection, which the tidings of his appearance in the neighbourhood fanned and fed.
"And he's quit out of it himself," Andy continued, "for the ould uncle of his he's been stoppin' wid this while back at Duffclane's after dyin' and lavin' him a fine farm and a hantle of money, and I dunno what all besides. So it's there he's goin' to live, and he's gave up the ould place at Clonmena, as well he may, and no loss to him on it, for he sez himself he niver spent a pinny over it beyont what he'd be druv to, if he wanted to get e'er a crop out of it at all, and keep things together in any fashion: he wasn't such a fool." Andy hesitated, as if on the brink of a painful theme, and resumed with an effort: "He's bought Magpie and the two two-year-olds off of Peter Martin. Chape enough he got them, too, though he had to give ten shillin's a head more for them than Martin ped me."
"Mavrone, but some people have the luck," said Mrs. Joyce.
"And Jerry bid me tell you," said Andy, the memory of his lost cattle still saddening his tone, "that he might be steppin' up here to see you to-morra or next day."
At this Mrs. Joyce's face suddenly brightened, as if she had been summoned to share Jerry Dunne's good luck. She felt almost as if that had actually happened. For his visit could surely signify nothing else than that he meant to continue his suit; and under the circumstances, Bessy's misliking was a piece of folly not to be taken into account. Besides that, the girl, she thought, looked quite heartened up by the news. So she replied to her husband: "'Deed then, he'll be very welcome," and the sparkle was in her eyes all the rest of the evening.
On the morrow, which was a bright morning with a far-off pale blue sky, Mrs. Joyce hurried over her readying-up, that she might be prepared for her possible visitor. She put on her best clothes, and as her wardrobe had not yet fallen to a level with her fortune, she was able to array herself in a strong steel-grey mohair gown, a black silk apron with three rows of velvet ribbon on it besides the binding, a fine small woollen shawl of very brilliant scarlet and black plaid, with a pinkish cornelian brooch to pin it at the throat, all surmounted by a snowy high-caul cap, in those days not yet out of date at Lisconnel, where fashions lag somewhat. She noticed, well-pleased, Bessy's willingness to fall in with the suggestion that she should re-arrange her hair and change her gown after the morning's work was done; and the inference drawn grew stronger, when, for the first time since their troubles, the girl began to sing "Moll Dhuv in Glanna" while she coiled up her long tresses.
All that forenoon Mrs. Joyce had happy dreams about the mending of the family fortunes, which would be effected by Bessy's marriage with Jerry Dunne. When her neighbour, Mrs. Ryan, looked in, she could not forbear mentioning the expected call, and was further elated because Mrs. Ryan at once remarked: "Sure, 'twill be Bessy he's after," though she herself, of course, disclaimed the idea, saying: "Och musha, ma'am, not at all." The Ryans were tenants who had also been put out of Clonmena, and they occupied a cabin adjoining the Joyces', these two dwellings, backed by the slopes of the Knockawn, forming the nucleus of Lisconnel.
About noon, Paddy, the eldest boy, approached at a hand gallop, bestriding a donkey which belonged to the gang of men who were still working on the unfinished road. As soon as the beast reached the open-work stone wall of the potato-field it resolutely scraped its rider off, a thing it had been vainly wishing to do all along the fenceless track. Paddy, however, alighted unconcerned among the clattering stones, and ran on with his tidings. These were to the effect that he was "after seein' Jerry Dunne shankin' up from Duffclane ways, a goodish bit below the indin' of the road, and he wid a great big basket carryin', fit to hould a young turf-stack."
The intelligence created an agreeable excitement, which was undoubtedly heightened by the fact of the basket. "Very belike," said Mrs. Ryan, "he's bringin' somethin' to you, or it might be Bessy." And while Mrs. Joyce rejoined deprecatingly: "Ah sure, woman alive, what would the poor lad be troublin' himself to bring us all this way?" she was really answering her own question with a dozen flattering conjectures. The basket must certainly contain something, and there were so few by any means probable things that would not at this pinch have come acceptably to the Joyces' household, where the heavy pitaty sack grew light with such alarming rapidity, and the little hoard of corn dwindled, and the childer's appetites seemed to wax larger day by day. She had not quite made up her mind, when Jerry arrived, whether she would wish for a bit of bacon—poor Andy missed an odd taste of it so bad—or for another couple of hens, which would be uncommonly useful now that her own few had all left off laying.
Mrs. Ryan having discreetly withdrawn, Mrs. Joyce stood alone in her dark doorway to receive her guest, and, through all her flutter of hope, she felt a bitter twinge of housewifely chagrin at being discovered in such miserable quarters. The black earth flooring at her threshold gritted hatefully under her feet, and the gusts whistling through the many chinks of her rough walls seemed to skirl derisively. She was nevertheless resolved to put the best possible face upon the situation.
"Well, Mrs. Joyce, ma'am, and how's yourself this long while?" said Jerry Dunne, coming up. "Bedad I'm glad to see you so finely, and it's an iligant place you've got up here."
"Ah, it's not too bad whatever," said Mrs. Joyce, "on'y 'twas a great upset on us turnin' out of the ould house at home. Himself had a right to ha' left things the way he found them, and then it mightn't iver ha' happened him. But sure, poor man, he niver thought he'd be ruinatin' us wid his conthrivances. It's God's will. Be steppin' inside to the fire, Jerry lad; there's a thin feel yet in the win'."
Jerry, stepping inside, deposited his basket, which did not appear to be very heavy, rather disregardfully by him on the floor. Mrs. Joyce would not allow herself to glance in its direction. It struck her that the young man seemed awkward and flustered, and she considered this a favourable symptom.
"And what way's Mr. Joyce?" said Jerry. "He was lookin' grand whin I seen him yisterday."
"'Deed, he gits his health middlin' well enough, glory be to goodness," she said; "somewhiles he'll be frettin' a bit, thinkin' of diff'rent things, and when I tell him he'd better lave botherin' his head wid them, he sez he might as aisy bid a blast of win' to not be blowin' through a houle. Och, Andy's a quare man. He's out and about now somewheres on the farm."
Mrs. Joyce put a spaciousness into her tone wholly disproportionate to their screed of tussocks and boulders; and then paused, hoping that the next inquiry might relate to Bessy.
But what young Jerry said was, "You've got a great run, anyway, for the fowls."
The irrelevance of the remark disappointed Mrs. Joyce, and she replied a little tartly: "A great run you may call it, for begorrah our hearts is broke huntin' after the crathurs, and they strayin' off wid themselves over the width of the bog there, till you've as much chance of catchin' them as the sparks flyin' up the chimney."
"That's unhandy, now," said Jerry. He sat for some moments reflectively ruffling up his flaxen hair with both hands, and then he said, "Have you the big white hin yit that you got from me a while ago?"
"We have so bedad," said Mrs. Joyce, not loth to enlarge upon this subject. "Sure we made a shift to bring a few of the best chickens we had along wid us, and sorry we'd ha' been to lose her, and she a won'erful layer, and after you a-givin' her to us in a prisint that way."
"There was some talk that time," said Jerry, "about me and Bessy."
"Ay, true for you, there was," said Mrs. Joyce, in eager assent, "plinty of talk." She would have added more, but he was evidently in a hurry to speak again.
"Well, there's none now," he said. "Things is diff'rent altogether. If I'd ha' known, I'd ha' kep' the hin. The fact of the matter is I'm about gettin' married to Sally Coghlan, that's me poor uncle's wife's niece. He's after leavin' her what he had saved up. She's a fine figure of a girl as iver you saw, and as good as gould, and the bit of lan' and the bit of money had a right to go the one way. So I was thinkin', Mrs. Joyce, I might as well be takin' home the ould him wid me—things bein' diff'rent now, and no talk of Bessy. Sally has a great wish for a white hin, and we've ne'er a one of that sort at our place. I've brought a wad of hay in the basket meself, for 'fraid yous might be short of it up here." Jerry gave a kick to the basket, which betrayed the flimsy nature of its contents by rolling over with a wobble on its side.
At this critical moment Mrs. Joyce's pride rallied loyally to the rescue of her dignity and self-respect, proving as effectual as the ice-film which keeps the bleakest pool unruffled by the wildest storm wing. With the knell of all her hope clanging harshly in her ears, she smiled serenely, and said gaily: "Ay bedad, himself was tellin' us somethin' about it last night. Sure, I'm rael glad to hear tell of your good luck, and I wish you joy of it. And will you be gettin' married agin Shrovetide? Och, that's grand. But the white hin now—the on'y thing is the crathur's been sittin' on a clutch of eggs since Monday week. So what are we to do at all?"
"There's hapes of room for the whole of them in the basket, for that matter," Jerry suggested promptly.
"Ah, sure, it's distroyed they'd be, jogglin' along, and the crathur herself 'ud go distracted entirely; sorra a bit of good you'd get of her. But look here, Mr. Dunne, I've got another out there as like her as if the both of them had come out of the one egg, and you could be takin' that instid. It's a lucky thing I didn't set her to sit the way I was intendin'; on'y I niver could get a clutch gathered for her, be raison of the lads aitin' up the eggs on me. Sure, I can't keep them from the little bosthoons when they be hungry."
"'Twould be all the same thing to me, in coorse, supposin' she was equally so good," Jerry admitted with caution.
"Ivery feather she is," said Mrs. Joyce. "I seen her runnin' about there just this minute; you can be lookin' at her yourself."
She went towards the door as she spoke, and was somewhat taken aback to perceive her husband leaning against the wall close outside. How much of the discussion he might have heard, she could not tell. The white hen also appeared within easy reach, daintily resplendent under the sunshine on a background of black turf. And Mrs. Ryan, standing darkly framed in her doorway, was very certain to be an interested observer of events. For the moment Mrs. Joyce's uppermost anxiety was to avoid any betrayal of discomfiture, and she accordingly said in a loud and cheerful tone:
"Och, and are you there, Andy? Jerry Dunne's wishful for the loan of a clockin' hin, so I'm about catchin' him the young white one to take home wid him."
But, to her intense disgust, Jerry, who had followed her with his basket, said remonstrantly: "Whethen now, Mrs. Joyce, the way I understand the matter there's no talk in it of borryin' at all. I'm on'y takin' her back instid of the ould one, and I question would any raisonable body stand me out I don't own her be rights. It's an unjust thing to be spakin' of loans."
Mrs. Joyce was so dumbfounded by this rebuff that she could only hide her confusion by displaying an exaggerated activity in the capture of the hen.
Her husband, however, said blandly, "Och, don't make yourself onaisy, man. Loan or no loan, you needn't be under any apperhinsion we'll be comin' after her wid a basket. Divil a much. Stir yourself, Kitty, and be clappin' her in under the lid. He's in a hurry to get home to his sweetheart wid the iligant prisint he's after pickin' up for her. Ay, that's right, woman alive; give a tie to the bit of string, and then there's nothin' to be delayin' him."
After this everybody said good-bye with much politeness and affability, though withal a certain air of despatch, as if they were conscious of handling rather perishable goods. And when Jerry was beyond earshot, Andy, looking after him, remarked, "I niver liked a bone in that fellow's skin. Himself and his ould basket. The lads 'ill be prisintly comin' in to their dinners."
"D'you know where Bessy is?" said Mrs. Joyce, her heart sinking still lower at the thought of the disappointment, which she had presumably been helping to prepare for her daughter.
"When I seen her a while back, she was out there wid the childer, discoorsin' to Terence Kilfoyle," Andy said contentedly.
"Musha, good gracious, Terence Kilfoyle, and what's he come after?" she said in a bitter tone.
"He stepped up wid a couple of pounds of fresh butter and a dozen of eggs. He said he minded Bessy havin' a fancy for duck-eggs, and he thought we mightn't happen to have e'er a one up here. She seemed as pleased as anythin'. But if you ax me, Kitty," he said with a twinkle, "I've a notion he's come after somethin' more than our ould hin."
"He's a great young rogue," said Mrs. Joyce. Yet there was an accent of relief in her voice, and on her face a reflection of her husband's smile.
And Jerry Dunne's basket still occupies its niche in the stores of our proverbial philosophy.
MRS. KILFOYLE'S CLOAK
The opprobrious proverb already mentioned is not the only permanent mark of unpopularity that the Tinkers have earned for themselves at Lisconnel. Their very name has become a term of reproach among us, so that "an ould tinker" is recognised as an appropriate epithet for any troublesome beast or disagreeable neighbour. If they were not case-hardened by long experience, they would surely be mortified sometimes at the reception with which they meet almost wherever they go. The approach of the two queer vehicles in which they now generally travel is watched by displeased eyes all over our countryside, and they are so to speak lighted on their way by the gleam of suspicious or resentful glances. And it must be admitted that their evil reputation has not been bestowed upon them gratuitously. According to Ody Rafferty, "The like of such a clanjamfry of thievin' drunken miscreants, you wouldn't aisy get together, if you had a spring-trap set for them at the Ould Fellow's front door for a month of Sundays. And if himself didn't do a hard day's work the time he was consthructin' them, he niver done one in his life, and that's a fac'." But Ody is apt to be particularly severe in his strictures upon the Tinkers, because he feels an aggravated form of rivalry existing between him and them. For the wiliness which is understood to be Ody's forte also pre-eminently characterises many of the Tinkers' nefarious proceedings, and this makes it seem to him that they not only set their wits against his, but throw discredit upon his favourite quality by the glaring moral defects which they exhibit in conjunction with it. One's pleasure in being described admiringly as "the ould boyo that's in it," is much diminished when one hears the same thing said bitterly of some slieveen who has filched a poor body's meal bag, or run off with a lone widdy woman's fowl.
Still, although the Tinkers' name has become a by-word among us through a long series of petty offences rather than any one flagrant crime, there is a notable misdeed on record against them, which has never been forgotten in the lapse of many years. It was perpetrated soon after the death of Mrs. Kilfoyle's mother, the Widow Joyce, an event which is but dimly recollected now at Lisconnel, as nearly half a century has gone by. She did not very long survive her husband, and he had left his roots behind in his little place at Clonmena, where, as we know, he had farmed not wisely, but too well, and had been put out of it for his pains to expend his energy upon our oozy black sods and stark-white boulders. But instead he moped about fretting for his fair green fields and few proudly-cherished beasts—especially the little old Kerry cow. And at his funeral the neighbours said: "Ah bedad, poor man, God help him, he niver held up his head agin from that good day to this."
When Mrs. Joyce felt that it behoved her to settle her affairs, she found that the most important possession she had to dispose of was her large cloak. She had acquired it at the prosperous time of her marriage, and it was a very superior specimen of its kind, its dark-blue cloth being superfine, and its ample capes and capacious hood being double-lined and quilted, and stitched in a way which I cannot pretend to describe, but which made it a most substantial and handsome garment. If Mrs. Joyce had been left entirely to her own choice in the matter, I think she would have bequeathed it to her younger daughter Theresa, notwithstanding that custom clearly designated Bessy Kilfoyle, the eldest of the family, as the heiress. For she said to herself that poor Bessy had her husband and childer to consowl her, any way, but little Theresa, the crathur, had ne'er such a thing at all, and wouldn't have, not she, God love her. "And the back of me hand to some I could name." It seemed to her that to leave the child the cloak would be almost like keeping a warm wing spread over her in the cold wide world; and there was no fear that Bessy would take it amiss.
But Theresa herself protested strongly against such a disposition, urging for one thing that sure she'd be lost in it entirely if ever she put it on, a not unfounded objection, as Theresa was several sizes smaller than Bessy, and even she fell far short of her mother in stature and portliness. Theresa also said confidently with a sinking heart: "But sure, anyhow, mother jewel, what matter about it? 'Twill be all gone to houles and flitters and thraneens, and so it will, plase goodness, afore there's any talk of anybody else wearin' it except your own ould self." And she expressed much the same conviction one day to her next-door neighbour, old Biddy Ryan, to whom she had run in for the loan of a sup of sour milk, which Mrs. Joyce fancied. To Biddy's sincere regret she could offer Theresa barely a skimpy noggin of milk, and only a meagre shred of encouragement; and by way of eking out the latter with its sorry substitute consolation, she said as she tilted the jug perpendicularly to extract its last drop:
"Well, sure, me dear, I do be sayin' me prayers for her every sun goes over our heads that she might be left wid you this great while yet; 'deed I do so. But ah, acushla, if we could be keepin' people that-a-way, would there be e'er a funeral iver goin' black on the road at all at all? I'm thinkin' there's scarce a one livin', and he as ould and foolish and little-good-for as you plase, but some crathur'ill be grudgin' him to his grave, that's himself may be all the while wishin' he was in it. Or, morebetoken, how can we tell what quare ugly misfortin thim that's took is took out of the road of, that we should be as good as biddin' thim stay till it comes to ruinate them? So it's prayin' away I am, honey," said old Biddy, whom Theresa could not help hating heart sickly. "But like enough the Lord might know better than to be mindin' a word I say."
And it seemed that He did; at any way the day soon came when the heavy blue cloak passed into Mrs. Kilfoyle's possession.
At that time it was clear, still autumn weather, with just a sprinkle of frost, white on the wayside grass, like the wraith of belated moonlight, when the sun rose, and shimmering into rainbow stars by noon. But about a month later the winter swooped suddenly on Lisconnel: with wild winds and cold rain that made crystal-silver streaks down the purple of the great mountain-heads peering in over our bogland.
So one perishing Saturday Mrs. Kilfoyle made up her mind that she would wear her warm legacy on the bleak walk to Mass next morning, and reaching it down from where it was stowed away among the rafters wrapped in an old sack, she shook it respectfully out of its straight-creased folds. As she did so she noticed that the binding of the hood had ripped in one place, and that the lining was fraying out, a mishap which should be promptly remedied before it spread any further. She was not a very expert needlewoman, and she thought she had better run over the way to consult Mrs. O'Driscoll, then a young matron, esteemed the handiest and most helpful person in Lisconnel.
"It's the nathur of her to be settin' things straight wherever she goes," Mrs. Kilfoyle said to herself as she stood in her doorway waiting for the rain to clear off, and looking across the road to the sodden roof which sheltered her neighbour's head. It has long been lying low, vanquished by a trouble which even she could not set to rights, and some of the older people say that things have gone a little crookeder in Lisconnel ever since.
The shower was a vicious one, with the sting of sleet and hail in its drops, pelted about by gusts that ruffled up the puddles into ripples, all set on end, like the feathers of a frightened hen. The hens themselves stood disconsolately sheltering under the bank, mostly on one leg, as if they preferred to keep up the slightest possible connection with such a very damp and disagreeable earth. You could not see far in any direction for the fluttering sheets of mist, and a stranger who had been coming along the road from Duffclane, stepped out of them abruptly quite close, to Mrs. Kilfoyle's door, before she knew that there was anybody near. He was a tall, elderly man, gaunt and grizzled, very ragged, and so miserable-looking that Mrs. Kilfoyle could have felt nothing but compassion for him had he not carried over his shoulder a bunch of shiny cans, which was to her mind as satisfactory a passport as a ticket-of-leave. For although these were yet rather early days at Lisconnel, the Tinkers had already begun to establish their reputation. So when he stopped in front of her and said: "Good-day, ma'am," she only replied distantly, "It's a hardy mornin'," and hoped he would move on. But he said: "It's cruel could, ma'am," and continued to stand looking at her with wide and woful eyes, in which she conjectured—erroneously as it happened—hunger for warmth or food. Under these circumstances what could be done by a woman who was conscious of owning a redly-glowing hearth with a big black pot, fairly well filled, clucking and bobbing upon it? To possess such wealth as this, and think seriously of withholding a share from anybody who urges the incontestable claim of wanting it, is a mood altogether foreign to Lisconnel, where the responsibilities of property are, no doubt, very imperfectly understood. Accordingly Mrs. Kilfoyle said to the tattered tramp: "Ah, thin, step inside and have a couple of hot pitaties." And when he accepted the invitation without much alacrity, as if he had something else on his mind, she picked for him out of the steam two of the biggest potatoes, whose earth-coloured skins, cracking, showed a fair flouriness within; and she shook a little heap of salt, the only relish she had, on to the chipped white plate as she handed it to him, saying, "Sit you down be the fire there, and git a taste of the heat."
Then she lifted her old shawl over her head, and ran out to see where at all Brian and Thady were gettin' their deaths on her under the pours of rain; and as she passed the Keoghs' adjacent door—which was afterwards the Sheridan's, whence their Larry departed so reluctantly—young Mrs. Keogh called her to come in and look at "the child," who being a new and unique possession was liable to develop alarmingly strange symptoms, and had now "woke up wid his head that hot, you might as well put your hand on the hob of the grate." Mrs. Kilfoyle stayed only long enough to suggest, as a possible remedy, a drop of two-milk whey. "But ah sure, woman dear, where at all 'ud we come by that, wid the crathur of a goat scarce wettin' the bottom of the pan?" and to draw reassuring omens from the avidity with which the invalid grabbed at a sugared crust. In fact, she was less than five minutes out of her house; but when she returned to it, she found it empty. First she noted with a moderate thrill of surprise that her visitor had gone away leaving his potatoes untouched, and next, with a rough shock of dismay, that her cloak no longer lay on the window seat where she had left it. From that moment she never felt any real doubts about what had befallen her, though for some time she kept on trying to conjure them up, and searched wildly round and round and round her little room, like a distracted bee strayed into a hollow furze-bush, before she sped over to Mrs. O'Driscoll with the news of her loss.
It spread rapidly through Lisconnel, and brought the neighbours together exclaiming and condoling, though not in great force, as there was a fair going on down beyant, which nearly all the men and some of the women had attended. This was accounted cruel unlucky, as it left the place without any one able-bodied and active enough to go in pursuit of the thief. A prompt start might have overtaken him, especially as he was said to be "a thrifle lame-futted," though Mrs. M'Gurk, who had seen him come down the hill, opined that "'twasn't the sort of lameness 'ud hinder the miscreant of steppin' out, on'y a quare manner of flourish he had in a one of his knees, as if he was gatherin' himself up to make an offer at a grasshopper's lep, and then thinkin' better of it."
Little Thady Kilfoyle reported that he had met the strange man a bit down the road, "leggin' it along at a great rate, wid a black rowl of somethin' under his arm that he looked to be crumplin' up as small as he could"—the word "crumpling" went acutely to Mrs. Kilfoyle's heart—and some long-sighted people declared that they could still catch glimpses of a receding figure through the hovering fog on the way towards Sallinbeg.
"I'd think he'd be beyant seein' afore now," said Mrs. Kilfoyle, who stood in the rain, the disconsolate centre of the group about her door; all women and children except old Johnny Keogh, who was so bothered and deaf, that he grasped new situations slowly and feebly, and had now an impression of somebody's house being on fire. "He must ha' took off wid himself the instiant me back was turned, for ne'er a crumb had he touched of the pitaties."
"Maybe he'd that much shame in him," said Mrs. O'Driscoll.
"They'd a right to ha' choked him, troth and they had," said Ody Rafferty's aunt.
"Is it chokin'?" said young Mrs. M'Gurk, bitterly. "Sure the bigger thief a body is the more he'll thrive on whatever he gits—you might think villiny was as good as butter to people's pitaties—you might so. Shame how are you? Liker he'd ate all he could swally in the last place he got the chance of layin' his hands on anythin'."
"Och, woman alive, but it's the fool you were to let him out of your sight," said Ody Rafferty's aunt. "If it had been me, I'd niver ha' took me eyes off him, for the look of him on'y goin' by made me flesh creep upon me bones."
"'Deed was I," said Mrs. Kilfoyle, sorrowfully, "a fine fool. And vexed she'd be, real vexed, if she guessed the way it was gone on us, for the dear knows what dirty ould rapscallions 'ill get the wearin' of it now. Rael vexed she'd be."
This speculation was more saddening than the actual loss of the cloak, though that bereft her wardrobe of far and away its most valuable property, which should have descended as an heirloom to her little Katty, who, however, being at present but three months old, lay sleeping happily unaware of the cloud that had come over her prospects.
"I wish to goodness a couple of the lads 'ud step home wid themselves this minit of time," said Mrs. M'Gurk. "They'd come up wid him yet, and take it off of him ready enough. And smash his ugly head for him if he would be givin' them any impidence."
"Aye, and 'twould be a rael charity—the mane baste—or sling him in one of the boghoules," said the elder Mrs. Keogh, a mild-looking little old woman. "I'd liefer than nine nine-pennies see thim comin' along. But I'm afeard it's early for thim yet."
Everybody's eyes turned, as she spoke, towards the ridge of the Knockawn, though with no particular expectation of seeing what they wished upon it. But, behold, just at that moment three figures, blurred among the grey rain-mists, looming into view.
"Be the powers," said Mrs. M'Gurk, jubilantly, "it's Ody Rafferty himself. To your sowls! Now you've a great good chance, ma'am, to be gettin' it back. He's the boy 'ill leg it over all before him"—for in those days Ody was lithe and limber—"and it's hard-set the thievin' Turk 'ill be to get the better of him at a racin' match—Hi—Och." She had begun to hail him with a call eager and shrill, which broke off in a strangled croak, like a young cock's unsuccessful effort. "Och, murdher, murdher, murdher," she said to the bystanders, in a disgusted undertone. "I'll give you me misfort'nit word thim other two is the polis."
Now it might seem on the face of things that the arrival of those two active and stalwart civil servants would have been welcomed as happening just in the nick of time; yet it argues an alien ignorance to suppose such a view of the matter by any means possible. The men in invisible green tunics belonged completely to the category of pitaty-blights, rint-warnin's, fevers, and the like devastators of life, that dog a man more or less all through it, but close in on him, a pitiful quarry, when the bad seasons come and the childer and the old crathurs are starvin' wid the hunger, and his own heart is broke; therefore to accept assistance from them in their official capacity would have been a proceeding most reprehensibly unnatural. To put a private quarrel or injury into the hands of the peelers were a disloyal making of terms with the public foe; a condoning of great permanent wrongs for the sake of a trivial temporary convenience. Lisconnel has never been skilled in the profitable and ignoble art of utilising its enemies. Not that anybody was more than vaguely conscious of these sentiments, much less attempted to express them in set terms. When a policeman appeared there in an inquiring mood, what people said among themselves was: "Musha cock him up. I hope he'll get his health till I would be tellin' him," or words to that effect; while in reply to his questions they made statements superficially so clear and simple, and essentially so bewilderingly involved, that the longest experience could do little more for a constable than teach him the futility of wasting his time in attempts to disentangle them.
Thus it was that when Mrs. Kilfoyle saw who Ody's companions were, she bade a regretful adieu to her hopes of recovering her stolen property. For how could she set him on the Tinker's felonious track without apprising them likewise? You might as well try to huroosh one chicken off a rafter and not scare the couple that were huddled beside it. The impossibility became more obvious presently as the constables striding quickly down to where the group of women stood in the rain and wind with fluttering shawls and flapping cap-borders, said briskly, "Good-day to you all. Did any of yous happen to see e'er a one of them tinkerin' people goin' by here this mornin'?"
It was a moment of strong temptation to everybody, but especially to Mrs. Kilfoyle, who had in her mind that vivid picture of her precious cloak receding from her along the wet road, recklessly wisped up in the grasp of as thankless a thievin' black-hearted slieveen as ever stepped, and not yet, perhaps, utterly out of reach, though every fleeting instant carried it nearer to that hopeless point. However, she and her neighbours stood the test unshaken. Mrs. Ryan rolled her eyes deliberatively, and said to Mrs. M'Gurk, "The saints bless us, was it yisterday or the day before, me dear, you said you seen a couple of them below near ould O'Beirne's?"
And Mrs. M'Gurk replied, "Ah, sure, not at all, ma'am, glory be to goodness. I couldn't ha' tould you such a thing, for I wasn't next or nigh the place. Would it ha' been Ody Rafferty's aunt? She was below there fetchin' up a bag of male, and bedad she came home that dhreeped, the crathur, you might ha' thought she'd been after fishin' it up out of the botthom of one of thim boghoules."
And Mrs. Kilfoyle heroically hustled her Thady into the house as she saw him on the brink of beginning loudly to relate his encounter with the strange man, and desired him to whisht and stay where he was in a manner so sternly repressive that he actually remained there as if he had been a pebble dropped into a pool, and not, as usual, a cork to bob up again immediately.
Then Mrs. M'Gurk made a bold stroke, designed to shake off the hampering presence of the professionals, and enable Ody's amateur services to be utilised while there was yet time.
"I declare," she said, "now that I think of it, I seen a feller crossin' the ridge along there a while ago, like as if he was comin' from Sallinbeg ways, and accordin' to the apparence of him I wouldn't won'er if he was a one of thim tinker crathurs—carryin' a big clump of cans he was, at any rate—I noticed the shine of thim. And he couldn't ha' got any great way yet to spake of, supposin' there was anybody lookin' to folly after him."
But Constable Black crushed her hopes as he replied, "Ah, it's nobody comin' from Sallinbeg that we've anything to say to. There's after bein' a robbery last night down below at Jerry Dunne's—a shawl as good as new took, that his wife's ragin' over frantic, along wid a sight of fowl and other things. And the Tinkers that was settled this long while in the boreen at the back of his haggard is quit out of it afore daylight this mornin', every rogue of them. So we'd have more than a notion where the property's went to if we could tell the road they've took. We thought like enough some of them might ha' come this way."
Now Mr. Jerry Dunne was not a popular person in Lisconnel, where he has even become, as we have seen, proverbial for what we call "ould naygurliness." So there was a general tendency to say, "The divil's cure to him," and listen complacently to any details their visitors could impart. For in his private capacity a policeman, provided that he be otherwise "a dacint lad," which, to do him justice, is commonly the case, may join, with a few unobtrusive restrictions, in our neighbourly gossips; the rule, in fact, being—Free admission except on business.
Only Mrs. Kilfoyle was so much cast down by her misfortune that she could not raise herself to the level of an interest in the affairs of her thrifty suitor, and the babble of voices relating and commenting sounded as meaningless as the patter of the drops which jumped like little fishes in the large puddle at their feet. It had spread considerably before Constable Black said to his comrade—
"Well, Daly, we'd better be steppin' home wid ourselves as wise as we come, as the man said when he'd axed his road of the ould black horse in the dark lane. There's no good goin' further, for the whole gang of them's scattered over the counthry agin now like a seedin' thistle in a high win'."
"Ay bedad," said Constable Daly, "and be the same token, this win' ud skin a tanned elephant. It's on'y bogged and drenched we'd git. Look at what's comin' up over there. That rain's snow on the hills, every could drop of it; I seen Ben Bawn this mornin' as white as the top of a musharoon, and it's thickenin' wid sleet here this minute, and so it is."
The landscape did indeed frown upon further explorations. In quarters where the rain had abated it seemed as if the mists had curdled on the breath of the bitter air, and they lay floating in long white bars and reefs low on the track of their own shadow, which threw down upon the sombre bogland deeper stains of gloom. Here and there one caught on the crest of some grey-bouldered knoll, and was teazed into fleecy threads that trailed melting instead of tangling. But towards the north the horizon was all blank, with one vast, smooth slant of slate colour, like a pent-house roof, which had a sliding motion onwards.
Ody Rafferty pointed to it and said, "Troth, it's teemin' powerful this instiant up there in the mountains. 'Twill be much if you land home afore it's atop of you; for 'twould be the most I could do myself."
And as the constables departed hastily, most people forgot the stolen cloak for a while to wonder whether their friends would escape being entirely drownded on the way back from the fair.
Mrs. Kilfoyle, however, still stood in deep dejection at her door, and said, "Och, but she was the great fool to go let the likes of him set fut widin her house."
To console her Mrs. O'Driscoll said, "Ah, sure, sorra a fool were you, woman dear; how would you know the villiny of him? And if you'd turned the man away widout givin' him e'er a bit, it's bad you'd be thinkin' of it all the day after."
And to improve the occasion for her juniors, old Mrs. Keogh added, "Ay, and morebetoken you'd ha' been committin' a sin."
But Mrs. Kilfoyle replied with much candour, "'Deed, then, I'd a dale liefer be after committin' a sin, or a dozen sins, than to have me poor mother's good cloak thieved away on me, and walkin' wild about the world."
As it happened the fate of Mrs. Kilfoyle's cloak was very different from her forecast. But I do not think that a knowledge of it would have been consolatory to her by any means. If she had heard of it, she would probably have said, "The cross of Christ upon us. God be good to the misfort'nit crathur." For she was not of at all an implacable temper, and would, under the circumstances, have condoned even the injury that obliged her to appear at Mass with a flannel petticoat over her head until the end of her days. Yet she did hold the Tinkers in a perhaps somewhat too unqualified reprobation. For there are tinkers and tinkers. Some of them, indeed, are stout and sturdy thieves, veritable birds of prey, whose rapacity is continually questing for plunder. But some of them have merely the magpies' and jackdaws' thievish propensity for picking up what lies temptingly in their way. And some few are so honest that they pass by as harmlessly as a wedge of high-flying wild duck. And I have heard it said that to places like Lisconnel their pickings and stealings have at worst never been so serious a matter as those of another flock, finer of feather, but not less predacious in their habits, who roosted, for the most part, a long way off, and made their collections by deputy.
A GOOD TURN
Along the road to Sallinbeg little seemed to be abroad besides foul weather, but there was a great deal of that. The gusts that came flapping wide-winged over the bog met the wayfarer with a furious hurtle and grapple, as if for want of better sport they had concentrated all their forces upon his sole repulse; and the drops they dashed into his blinded eyes and against his benumbed hands were as icy as they could be without ceasing to be wet. Their combined assaults were calculated feelingly to persuade a man of his uninfluential position in the scheme of things—his voice in this matter was so tyrannically howled down—or, if of less philosophic mind, to bring home to him the special disadvantages of going half-starved and clad in threadbare tatters. This was the plight of Thady Quinlan as, leaving Lisconnel, soon lapt out of sight behind him amid the grey web of the rain-mists, he tramped haltingly away, with Mrs. Kilfoyle's cloak bundled under his arm, and the dread of pursuit on his mind, and in his heart a great remorse, the object of which you are perhaps guessing wrongly. But he had also a hope and a purpose, and is therefore not wholly to be pitied, although the one did wane until the other looked impossible, as mile after mile unrolled its drenched and dreary length without bringing him apparently nearer to his goal.
All the while, however, he was slowly gaining upon a traveller, who had taken the same road a few hours earlier, hopelessly and aimlessly, and even more inadequately equipped than he. It was his sister Judy Quinlan, from whom he had parted on the worst of terms about three o'clock that morning. The fact is that the Tinkers' raid upon Jerry Dunne's premises, although carried out with unusual success, had led, not at all unusually, to complications when it was time to divide the spoil. Over Mrs. Dunne's second-best shawl it was that the difficulty arose. Mrs. Dunne, despite her husband's thrifty turn, owned many shawls, few of them inferior enough to be worn at all frequently, and she had pinned on this one three times only during the half-dozen years of her proprietresship. So it was certainly bitter bad luck that she should by chance have worn it to Confession on Friday, and got it soaked coming home, and hung it up in the passage by the back door to dry slowly, "instead of to be all cockled into gathers wid the heat of the fire blazin' on it, you stookawn," as she explained with exasperation to Ellen Roe, her servant-girl, who had officiously suggested the kitchen hearth. For this precaution proved tragically self-defeating, and put its object into the very hands of Thady Quinlan and Joe Smith, when, under cover of the wild, wet night, they forced the feeble lock, and made a clean sweep of all portable property that lay within easy reach. The shawl formed the most valuable prize. It was very admirable, indeed, being of a dappled fawn colour, with an arabesque border of shaded chocolate and amber; but in the eyes of its new owners its greatest charm was its weight and thickness. Judy Quinlan declared, pinching a fold fondly between a finger and thumb, that just the feel of it done your heart good. Her own shawl was really only a ragged cotton table-cover, and had, as she often remarked, "no more warmth in it than an ould dish-clout." I should observe, to make the situation clear, that the Tinkers' confraternity at this time consisted of Thady Quinlan and his sister Judy, and their married sister Maggie Smith, with her husband, and his brother, and his father, and three or four children. Hence it is obvious that in any dispute which might arise between Judy and Maggie, the latter was likely to have numbers preponderantly upon her side. And this was what now actually took place, the place being the driest end of the un-roofed cabin in Dunne's boreen, where the Tinkers had for some time past made their camp.
The screed of thatch still adhering to the wall sheltered their fire of purloined sods, and it burned steadily and strongly between the blasts which made its red flame duck and sweel, and sent the white ash-flakes fluttering. So there was light enough to show how covetous gleams from the sisters' eyes flashed together on the shawl, of which each held a corner. And no great wisdom was needed to forecast a storm. Mrs. Smith's shawl was undeniably better than Judy's by many degrees but she had not the magnanimity to consider this, even so far as to propose that Judy should at any rate enjoy the reversion of her own. On the contrary, she had rapidly planned its division between her two little ragged girls. Judy, for her part, had set her heart desperately upon the acquisition, and she deemed it her best policy to say in a tone studiously matter-of-course:
"Faix, now, it's glad enough I'll be to get shut of this ould wad that's on me. Every breath of win' goes thro' it as ready as if it was a crevice in a wall, fit to freeze you into mortar."
A very vain device, for her sister promptly rejoined with a sarcastic laugh and a tightened grip: "Musha moyah, how bad you are entirely. Don't you wish you may?" which intimated plainly that the shawl was not to be had uncontested.
At this crisis Judy had fully expected to be backed up by Thady; but he naturally taking a more dispassionate view of the matter, recognised with reluctance the futility of pitting himself singly against three opponents, two of them better men than he, who was "no great things at all, let alone havin' one knee quare." Therefore he turned his back upon the controversy, and feigned unconsciousness of it, instead of bouncing up and saying with appropriate action, "And I'd like to know who at all's got a better right to it than herself has?"
His defection aggrieved her so bitterly, that the fiercest of her wrath turned upon him; and after a wrangle wherein all the parties concerned had made liberal use of those "aculeate and proper" words against which the wary Bacon warns his quarrelling readers, she flounced away into the darkness of the small hours of the stormy December morning, loudly avowing her determination never to see a sight of the ugly, dirty, mane-spirited poltroon, or open her lips to him as long as she had an eye or a tongue in her head. Jeering laughter followed her exit on a skirl of sleet-fledged wind.
She seethed over her anger for many a long mile, to such fierceness was its flame fed by disappointment and more potent jealousy. For had not Thady, the only person she cared much about in all the world, turned against her and sided with Maggie, "who was always a greedy grabbin' little toad ever since she stood the height of a creepy stool?" It was an hour or so before daybreak when she sat down to rest under an immense bulging boulder that loomed dimly on her beside the road a little way beyond Lisconnel. Then she began to look backwards and forwards. Far back to the time when her father kept a little shop in Bantry, before he was stone broke one bad year and took to carrying the remnant of his stock-in-trade about in a basket as a higgler, which eventually led other members of his family to wander, less reputably, for their livelihoods. She remembered that even in those days Thady was always her ally, and had lamed himself for life by a fall on the road when running to rescue her from the Hutchinsons' wicked mastiff, who had knocked her down near their gate, and was standing over her with a growl and a grin of which she still sometimes dreamed. And again she remembered how once she had been laid up for a long while with the fever, and had crept out of the Union infirmary to find that her relations, supposing her dead, had all "tuk off wid thimselves to the States," and was keening like one demented over her desertion outside McNeight's public, when what should come familiarly round the corner but Thady himself, who had stopped behind, foregoing his assisted passage, because the divil a fut of him would stir out of it so long as there might be e'er a chance at all of Judy coming back. Whereupon it recurred vividly to her mind how she had just called him, among other things, "a great dirty, good-for-nothin' hulk of a poltroon," and had expressed a hope that she might never again see sign nor sight of any such a hijjis baste hobblin' anywheres on her road; to which he had rejoined that she might go to blazes and welcome for anythin' he had to say agin it, and that bedad a crosser-tempered ould weasel of a wizened-up ould witch wouldn't be apt to land there in a hurry. At last, being very tired, she escaped for a while from these fluctuations of wrath and ruth into a nook of sleep, but the bitter cold routed her out of it soon after sunrise, and she took the road again, cramped and numbed, in the teeth of the gusty showers that were still stalking over the bogland.
As she went, the hills beyond Sallinbeg rose up frowning before her through rifts in the cold white fleece trailed and knotted about their front of harsh purple gloom, on which the streaks and patches of ravines and fences and fields, with here and there a cabin gleaming, began by degrees to be traced dimly as if a fragment of the countryside were reflected on a dark thunder-cloud. But she was now thinking more about her journey's end than about anything she saw on the way thither—the bleak many-windowed workhouse at Moynalone that she well knew must be presently her fate. Since she had thrown herself on her own resources, three ha'pence was all she could command for ransom from the durance into which self-preservation assuredly would not forbear to betray her. Experience gave a dreary definiteness to anticipation. Once again she would morning by morning awaken in the grim whitewashed ward to all the old hardness and roughness of existence with a tyrannous restraint and monotony superadded. She said to herself, it is true, that she might as well be in one place as another, since she would not have Thady to go along with anymore—the black-hearted, thievin' miscreant—and if she had as much wit in her as an ould water-rat, she'd just creep away into some dry ditch, and be done with the whole of it. Still, as she did come short of that wisdom, the alternative continued to lie across her path, a murky shadow, which she could by no means evade nor disperse.
The invisible sun was low when Judy came to a place where the road forks, sending one branch to creep across the level bogland towards Sallinbeg, and one to climb up among the first tilted slopes of the mountains. Here the Rosbride river comes jostling its way down a rocky ravine spanned at the mouth by a bridge, past which the swift, brown stream darts along in a more spacious and smoother channel, bound for Rosbride Bay. Judy stood for a while and looked down over the parapet at the swirls of creamy foam that swept under the arch. Then she took out of her pocket a battered-looking heel of a loaf, and began to munch it. But before she had half finished it, she tossed the crust away into the river, being too heartsick to go on eating once the rage of hunger was subdued. She wished sincerely that she dared fling herself after it, but she was far too much cowed by cold and weariness to muster the courage for such a resolve. Perhaps there was not under Irish skies that December day, a more miserable woman than Judy Quinlan as she stood all alone in the world on Rosbride bridge, while a black mountain rampart lifted itself slowly against the shrouded west, and the dusk thickened on the long, shelterless road, whence eager blasts whistled a summons to her, nearer and nearer, till they fluttered her rags, and keened about her ears, and chilled her to the bone.
Suddenly something heavy and soft seemed to grasp her by the shoulders, and thence fall around her in long, wide folds, covering her from head to foot, much as if a small tent had been blown down on her. Of course she screamed shrilly, and almost in the same breath she saw that Thady was at her elbow. He had for some little time been stalking her warily, with the great coat expanded ready to throw over her, and having done so, was now holding it on with a rough hug. The joy with which he had at last caught sight of the forlorn, bedraggled figure had overflowed irrepressibly into this joke, and its successful accomplishment put the finishing touch to his happiness. As for Judy, if the sun had leaped up again in a fiery flurry, till the hills and the plain and the river were all flooded with flushed light, gleaming and glowing, it would have but dimly symbolised the transfiguration of her world. In the twinkling of an eye her stark despair was changed into rapturous relief, a miracle which just at first made the marvellous cloak seem almost a matter of course. Any good thing might naturally be expected to befall her since Thady was not estranged and lost to her after all. "Whethen now, and is it yourself come streelin' along?" she said. "You tuk your time, bedad. I'm here this half-hour."
"Sure, I stopped till I would get a thrifle of things together," said Thady. "And what d'you call that for an ould flitterjig?"
"It's not too bad," said Judy, stroking down the cape with caressing fingers. "A grand weight there's in it, to be sure. But where at all did you come by it? You're not after gettin' it off of thim thievin' rapscallions of Smiths, anyway?"
"Thim or the likes of thim—sure not at all," said Thady, loftily. "'Twas in a house away down below there at Lisconnel. A young woman bid me step in to ait a pitaty, and, tellin' you the truth, I'd no fancy to be delayin', for I'd a mistrust in me mind that the polis was follyin'. The notion I had was to ax her had she seen you goin' by, on'y I wasn't wishful to be lettin' on I was anythin' to you, in case they come along. So I thought she might be chance pass the remark herself. But out she ran, and the first thing I noticed was this consarn lyin' convanient to me hand in the windy. And wid that I whipped it up and made off. For anythin' I could tell, I might ha' met me fine gintleman full tilt at the door; and begorrah, it's as heavy to carry as a pair of fat geese. Howane'er, I knew it's distressed you were entirely for the want of such a thing, and bejabers, you've got it now."
"Troth have I," said Judy, delightedly groping her way about her new garment. "Rael dacint it was of you to be bringin' it to me, for perished and lost I did be, and that's no lie. Och but it's the grand one. Look at the hood there is to it. Sure it's as good as a little house of your own. You might be out under buckets of wet in it, and ne'er a tint you'd git whatever."
"Ay, or, for that matter, takin' a rowl through the river there, and sorra the harm it 'ud do you wid that on," said Thady, with pride. "But we'd better be quittin' out o' this," he added, with a shrug and a shiver, "for the win's tarrible, and there's a shower comin' up on us yonder as thick as thatch. I was thinkin' you'd maybe had thrampin' enough for this day. 'Twill be as dark prisintly as the inside of a cow, and we'd see daylight agin before we come to Moynalone. So we might put the night over under th'ould bridge. There's a good dry strip along the one side of it, and the way the rain's dhrivin' we'd git a grand shelter."
Judy readily agreed, and they descended the little stony footpath which led down to the river. Beneath the arch, where Thady's booted steps reverberated hollowly, they found, as he had said, a broadish strip of dry ground, for the bridge had allowed the stream ample measure in its stride. The little platform was bordered by a scattering of stones and boulders, amongst which the shallow water gurgled. It seemed to Thady and Judy that their quarters would be very tolerable; but they soon made a discovery which promised luxury indeed. This was a dead branch, which lay at one end of the arch, having evidently been floated down the current, and perhaps hauled out of the water by some thrifty body, who, however, had made no further use of it. Long ago that must have been, for it was dried and bleached till it glimmered through the dusk like an intricate white skeleton. Better fuel no one could desire. Thady made for it at once with knife and matchbox, and in a few minutes crackling flames were crunching up the twigs and gnawing at a log. The red light washed flickering over the wet walls, and was caught on the glancing of the water as it fled by, rapid and dark. Blue smoke trailed up lazily against the frame of the arch, blurring gleams of tossed foam as it melted out into the mist.
But a fire naturally suggested food, and Judy said ruefully, after feeling in her empty pocket: "It's starved wid the hunger you'll be, Thady, and the sorra a taste of anythin' have I in the world. 'Deed now, if I'd on'y known the way it 'ud be, and I passin' thim houses below in the boreen a while ago! I seen where there was a big cake of griddle-bread coolin' itself, laned agin the windy-ledge, and man nor mortal near it. I might ha' raiched it down as aisy as puttin' me fut to the ground. But sure I was that knocked about wid one thing and another, I thought I wouldn't be bothered wid it, so I just left it where it was, I did so—may God forgive me," she said, with unfeigned contrition.
Thady, however, did not seem to share in her regrets. He was lifting his cluster of cans off his shoulders, and extracting from one of them a bundle tied up in a red handkerchief. "Is it starved you'd have us?" he said as he untied the first corner. "Starved! How are you?" And he continued to repeat: "Is it starvin' she said?" while he was undoing the several knots. When they were all unfastened, the handkerchief was seen to hold a number of eggs and a fair supply of broken bread. Thady might well scout the possibility of famishing. "That's somethin' like," he said, as he saw Judy surveying his stores, "and I've a shillin' somewheres besides."
"Glory be!" said Judy, looking as if she could scarcely realise a world with which they were so much beforehand.
"And we'll be givin' them a boil in a one of the little saucepans," said Thady. "Raw eggs do be ugly could brashes, and we've plinty of wather handy—lashins and lavins of dhrink runnin' on tap there, so to spake."
Supper was accordingly prepared on these simple lines with much success. They boiled many eggs and ate them, using their scraps of bread for plates—an expedient not unknown at far earlier banquets—and they scooped up water to drink out of the palms of their hands—also in an old-fashioned manner. But when they had finished Thady gave a comparatively modern touch to the entertainment by lighting his pipe. He occupied the nearest place to the fire, in consideration for the scarecrow-like raggedness of his garments, which now began to weigh upon Judy's mind amid the comfort of her magnificent wrap.
"Froze stiff you'll be in thim ould tatters, man alive," she said despondently. "Sure, you might as well be slingin' yourself round wid the ould wisps of spiders' webs up over your head for any substance there is in thim. I won'er, now, could I conthrive to reive the top-cape off of this. 'Twould be as good that way as a cloak apiece for the two of us."
Thady, however, said decidedly: "Blathers, not at all. Is it destroyin' it you'd be after? I'm plinty warm enough." And he rolled the big red handkerchief which had held the eggs into many folds about his neck, tucking it down under his coat-collar all round. "There was a surprisin' hate in it," he said.
By this time the dusk far and near had gloomed into darkness—the black beetle had scared away the grey moth. As Thady and Judy sat with their backs to the curving wall, they caught only fitful glimpses of the opposite one when any long-fronded flickers of the fire-light waved across and touched it. More often they fell short, and made quivering circles shine where they struck the broken water in the mid-stream. Without, beyond either arch, nothing was distinguishable except glimmers of white foam shaken and tossing. On the left, looking up the river, it seemed as if many spectral hands, borne nearer and nearer, came waving and beckoning out of the night, to pass by and away down the river, still beckoning and waving, carried further and further, on into the night again. Every now and then a waft of the wind sighed in on them along with the river, puffing about the flame and smoke, and blowing ice-cold in their faces. When it had passed Thady always inquired: "Is it warm at all, Jude?" and she always answered, drawing "its" folds together with ostentatious satisfaction: "Och scaldin'."
But between whiles there was little conversation to interrupt the monologue of the river, which seemed to find itself many voices under the bridge. The one unceasing rustle of the main stream was frayed along its margin into a myriad finer noises of murmuring and plashing, as the massed foliage on a bough dwindles at its edges into more delicate traceries of distinct sprays and leaves. Round some stones the water whispered mysteriously, coiling in and out of gurgling recesses, and against others it broke with a clear chiming tinkle as if elfin anvils rang; here it droned on with a bee's hum soft and steady, and here it chuckled and chirped, bubbling up in sudden little rapids and cascades. At Judy's feet was a thin flat stone, which rested loosely on the top of another, and flap-flapped, bobbing up and down as the ripple rose and fell. Sitting idle in the firelight, warmed and fed to unwonted contentment, Judy watched it half drowsily for a while. Presently she said:
"That's the very way the lid of our ould kettle would be goin' at home when it was on the boil, and me poor mother 'ud bid us keep an eye on it—like enough to keep us out of divilmint. Och, but that was a cosy little room of a could night. D'you mind it, Thady?"
"Ay, sure," said Thady, "but it's one while ago."
"It is that. A matter of thirty year and more, anyway, since we owned the little shop. Sure now I remimber the day they shut it up, and put us out of it, as plain as if it was on'y this mornin'. Grand we that was childer thought it, because of somebody givin' us the ind of an ould jar of sweets out of the windy to pacify us. Bedad the fightin' we had over it was fit to ha' raised the town. But I grabbed meself a biggish lump of peppermint twist, and would be slinkin' behind me mother to finish it, and she talkin' at the door to ould Mrs. McClenaghan, and I heard her sayin' her heart was broke. So I got wond'rin' to myself if the raison was maybe that we'd ate it all on her. Och, but it's the quare foolishness people does be remimberin'!"
"Belike the raison of that is because it's as plinty as anythin' else wid thim," said Thady, cynically, "or maybe a trifle plintier."
"Sure we was on'y brats thim times," said Judy, apologetically. "For anythin' we could tell we might as well be streelin' about under the width of the sky like a string of wild duck, as stoppin' at home wid a roof over our misfort'nit heads. Ould Mrs. McClenaghan next door had a cloak the same pattern as this," Judy continued, selecting her memories with better judgment. "But 'twas all tatters at the bottom, not worth a bawbee to mine."
And Thady said with interest: "Had she now?"
"And as for me ould shawl," Judy went on, "it's been a scandal and a caution this last three or four year; droppin' in bits it is, and small blame to it. I wish I'd a penny for every mile I've tramped in it. Do you remimber the joke me mother had about it's bein' a conthrary thing that people thravellin' 'ud always begin a mile at the wrong ind? She'd be talkin' that way to hearten up me father; but as often as not he'd on'y let a roar at her to whisht, he was that discouraged. 'Twas a great wish he had, poor man, to git her back settled in a little place of her own before he was took. But 'twas in the big barracks of a Union at Monaghan——"
"Well, it's all one to the two of thim now anyway," said Thady, finding that Judy's reminiscences of their family history did not tend to enliven his meditations over his pipe.
"Ah sure, everythin' will be all one to the whole of us, plase God, one of these days," said Judy, who in her present mood could not easily have realised the keen contentions and scorching jealousies of the night before; "and when we get done with the thrampin', 'twill make little enough differ whether it's one mile we wint or twinty hunderd. On'y I'd liefer than a good dale thim two had had better luck wid it all. Cruel put about they were many a time, and wantin' the bit to keep the life in thim, and it just fretted out of thim in the ind I'm thinkin'. The thought of it comes agin a body when one's sittin' warm and snug," Judy said, gazing remorsefully round her shadowy, gusty lodging, and then into the flames, lighting up a bare earth-patch, and down at the dark folds that fell about her as she crouched on it. She seemed sunk into a reverie. But after a while she looked up and said without apparent relevance: "Heaven be her bed this night, the cratur. Thady, you heathen, we'd a right to be sayin' the Rosary before we git too stupid altogether. The eyes of you are droppin' into your head wid sleep this minnit."
"And me just after lightin' me pipe," remonstrated Thady.
"Ah thin, hurry up and finish it," said Judy, betraying by this injunction an invincible ignorance touching a man's sentiments towards his last screw of tobacco, "or else I'll be off sound. It's the fine warmth makes me sleepy. Sure wid this on me sorra a breath of could gits next or nigh me to be keepin' me awake."
"Och thin, wait till it's out," said Thady.
"I will so," said Judy. "Sling another stick on the fire, lad, the way you won't be perished sittin' there in thim woful ould rags. I've plinty of prayers I might be sayin' till you're ready."
But in a little while, Thady, lingering over his pipe, became aware, somewhat to his relief, that she had gone fast asleep, muffled up to the chin in her cloak, with her head leaning back against the stone wall. He sat and looked at her for some moments with an expression partly complacent and partly compunctious. "Bedad now the crathur was bein' perished alive before I brought that to her," he said to himself. "Very apt she was to be gettin' her death. 'Twas great luck I had entirely to pick it up. It's the hard life the likes of her has whatever thrampin' around. Ay, glory be to God, 'twas the best good turn iver I done her."
Just at the time when Thady the Tinker was making these reflections while the firelight flickered and the waters fleeted under Rosbride bridge, some mile or so higher up the stream, where the long mountain slopes are folded closer and steeper about it, a great turmoil had arisen in a deep hollow among walls of the bare rock. Down one face of these, a huge glistering slab, the river had for certain thousands of years been taking a foamy leap; but to-night it happened that the rains, beating for many days on the mountains, had eaten away the clay setting which cemented a ponderous lump of rock into a niche immediately over the fall, and the mass had now crashed down into the channel on the very verge, blocking all the waterway. This, however, was a door hard to keep shut, when every affluent rill and runnel out on the broad mountain shoulders went darting swift and white, so that every minute swelled the forces gathering pent in the barred passage. As the bridled torrent seethed and climbed, hissing, behind that barrier, the great stone tottered and swayed, and before the first foam-crest could overpeer it, yielded to the weight of waters leaned against it, and rocks and flood, thunderously roaring, rushed down together.
The sound of it, dulled into a moan, came through Rosbride bridge, and Thady, who had grown very drowsy, thought to himself that the wind was getting up, and that they couldn't have done better than stop where they were, instead of to be setting off tramping on such a dirty wild night. God knew where they might have got to.
The flood that broke away, with wave tumbled over wave, out of the whirling pool, had not far to race down its stony stairs before it reached a place with a turbulent floor, where the white mouths of other two streams foamed into it through rock-rifts, loud-throated on either hand. Thenceforward the water which had threaded the large boulders in heavy strands coiled like monstrous braids of snaky locks, rose up and drew together above their tallest heads into a single obliterating fold, as it slid on smoothly with only now and then a quiver puckering its surface, as if it had rolled over some live creature that writhed. Its mounded solidity made its rapid motion look strange and terrible. Where circles of thin froth swam round on it slowly, it was as black and white as a bit of the bog in a snowstorm or under a drift of summer daisies. At the turn of the ravine's last winding above the bridge, it plucked away as it passed a small company of fir-trees, that long had dropped their cones and needles into the river from a coign of vantage on a jutting crag, and a minute after, anybody who had looked up from beneath the arch would have seen the glimmering points of foam extinguished like lights, further and nearer, lost amid the shadowy onsweeping of something that set all the darkness astir as if it were one vast wing unfurling. And then for a moment, in the narrow space lit by the fading fire, he would have known that he was cut off from the world by chaos, which poised towards him a formless surging front, and stooped and fell. But as it happened nobody was keeping a watch there.
What wakened Thady was the clang of his cluster of tinware, which the wave dashed against the wall behind him. But before he knew this, it had gathered him up and swung him across with it over to the other side of the arch. There he caught hold of a twisted ivy-tod and a bough of mountain-ash, whence he dropped on the bank, and crawled up it out of reach, commenting in forcible language upon the occurrence, by which he was still astoundedly bewildered.
Judy, who was aroused in like manner, had her chance too. For a branch of the same tree crooked a friendly arm towards her as she was borne past, and she would have grasped it only that the weight of her heavy cloth cloak dragged her down. So that instead of returning to dry land for many a long day's tramp, she went out to sea in company with sundry wrenched-off boughs, and mats of heather, and bundles of withered bracken, and other such waifs and strays, none of which were ever again heard tidings of any more than they were inquired after in the lonely places they had left. Only for some stormy days the wrecked and sodden banks of the Rosbride river were haunted by a forlorn-looking object of a lame tramp, who sought vainly what his despair hoped to find. As he roamed about in it, he had just one spell of consolation, which he was often muttering over to himself. It was something he called, "The best turn, anyway, I iver done the crathur in her life. Little enough, God knows, little enough, but the best good turn."
When Mrs. Joyce used in her last days to predict regretfully that her youngest daughter would never marry, she said a bold word, for at this time still Theresa's years fell short of twenty, and she was generally recognised as the prettiest girl to be seen at Mass in the small, ugly chapel down beyant near Ballybrosna. Some people, it is true, said that she was "just a fairy of a crathur, and too little for anythin'," and she was, no doubt, diminutive in size. Nor had she any brilliancy of colouring to make amends in a humming-bird's fashion for the insignificance of her proportions, resembling rather, with her dark eyes and hair, one of those filmy white blossoms which look the paler and frailer for their knots of ebon stamens, or the delicate moth who shows fine black pencillings among his pearly down. Still, nobody denied that she had "an uncommon purty face of her own," and the neighbours, moreover, always found her "plisant and frindly and gay enough," when they found her at all. But they remarked among themselves that one seldom seen e'er a sight of Therasa Joyce these times anywheres about. They supposed she was took up wid lookin' after her mother, who wasn't gettin' her health over well this good while back. I think myself that Theresa's invisibility could be only in part accounted for thus, as the explanation does not cover the fact that to slip the wrong side of the dyke, or turn aside among screening hillocks and hollows when she noticed the approach of her acquaintances, was the course she always adopted if she could achieve it without hurting anybody's feelings. Theresa much disliked doing this, as a rule, though she broke it on one occasion in a way that surprised and puzzled those who knew her best.
But whether Mrs. Joyce forecast the future rightly or wrongly, she had certainly an erroneous impression on her mind when, as often happened, she wound up her disconsolate musings by saying resentfully, "And the back of me hand to some I could name." If she had proceeded to do so, she would probably have mentioned persons who had done nothing to bring about the result she was deploring, and she never thought of connecting it with the events which had accompanied Ody Rafferty's flitting from the Three Mile Farm more than a twelvemonth before Denis O'Meara came to the place.