Stories of Connacht
Author of "The Shuiler's Child," "The Lady of Deerpark," "The Bribe," &c.
The Can with the Diamond Notch
Both Sides of the Pond
The White Goat
The Sick Call
A Wayside Burial
The Gray Lake
THE CAN WITH THE DIAMOND NOTCH
The name stood out in chaste white letters from the black background of the signboard. Indeed the name might be said to spring from the landscape, for this shop jumped from its rural setting with an air of aggression. It was a commercial oasis on a desert of grass. It proclaimed the clash of two civilisations. There were the hills, pitched round it like the galleries of some vast amphitheatre, rising tier upon tier to the blue of the sky. There was the yellow road, fantastic in its frolic down to the valley. And at one of its wayward curves was the shop, the shop of Festus Clasby, a foreign growth upon the landscape, its one long window crowded with sombre merchandise, its air that of established, cob-web respectability.
Inside the shop was Festus Clasby himself, like some great masterpiece in its ancient frame. He was the product of the two civilisations, a charioteer who drove the two fiery steeds of Agricolo and Trade with a hand of authority. He was a man of lands and of shops. His dark face, framed in darker hair and beard, was massive and square. Behind the luxurious growth of hair the rich blood glowed on the clear skin. His chest had breadth, his limbs were great, showing girth at the hips and power at the calves. His eyes were large and dark, smouldering in soft velvety tones. The nose was long, the nostrils expressive of a certain animalism, the mouth looked eloquent. His voice was low, of an agreeable even quality, floating over the boxes and barrels of his shop like a chant. His words never jarred, his views were vaguely comforting, based on accepted conventions, expressed in round, soft, lulling platitudes. His manner was serious, his movements deliberate, the great bulk of the shoulders looming up in unconscious but dramatic poses in the curiously uneven lighting of the shop. His hands gave the impression of slowness and a moderate skill; they could make up a parcel on the counter without leaving ugly laps; they could perform a minor surgical operation on a beast in the fields without degenerating to butchery; and they would always be doing something, even if it were only rolling up a ball of twine. His clothes exuded a faint suggestion of cinnamon, nutmeg and caraway seeds.
Festus Clasby would have looked the part in any notorious position in life; his shoulders would have carried with dignity the golden chain of office of the mayoralty of a considerable city; he would have looked a perfect chairman of a jury at a Coroner's inquest; as the Head of a pious Guild in a church he might almost be confused with the figures of the stained glass windows; marching at the head of a brass band he would symbolise the conquering hero; as an undertaker he would have reconciled one to death. There was no technical trust which men would not have reposed in him, so perfectly was he wrought as a human casket. As it was, Festus Clasby filled the most fatal of all occupations to dignity without losing his tremendous illusion of respectability. The hands which cut the bacon and the tobacco, turned the taps over pint measures, scooped bran and flour into scales, took herrings out of their barrels, rolled up sugarsticks in shreds of paper for children, were hands whose movements the eyes of no saucy customer dared follow with a gleam of suspicion. Not once in a lifetime was that casket tarnished; the nearest he ever went to it was when he bought up—very cheaply, as was his custom—a broken man's insurance policy a day after the law made such a practice illegal. There was no haggling at Festus Clasby's counter. There was only conversation, agreeable conversation about things which Festus Clasby did not sell, such as the weather, the diseases of animals, the results of races, and the scandals of the Royal Families of Europe. These conversations were not hurried or yet protracted. They came to a happy ending at much the same moment as Festus Clasby made the knot on the twine of your parcel. But to stand in the devotional lights in front of his counter, wedged in between divisions and subdivisions of his boxes and barrels, and to scent the good scents which exhaled from his shelves, and to get served by Festus Clasby in person, was to feel that you had been indeed served.
The small farmers and herds and the hardy little dark mountainy men had this reverential feeling about the good man and his shop. They approached the establishment as holy pilgrims might approach a shrine. They stood at his counter with the air of devotees. Festus Clasby waited on them with patience and benignity. He might be some warm-blooded god handing gifts out over the counter. When he brought forth his great account book and entered up their purchases with a carpenter's pencil—having first moistened the tip of it with his flexible lips—they had strongly, deep down in their souls, the conviction that they were then and for all time debtors to Festus Clasby. Which, indeed and in truth, they were. From year's end to year's end their accounts remained in that book; in the course of their lives various figures rose and faded after their names, recording the ups and downs of their financial histories. It was only when Festus Clasby had supplied the materials for their wakes that the great pencil, with one mighty stroke of terrible finality, ran like a sword through their names, wiping their very memories from the hillsides. All purchases were entered up in Festus Clasby's mighty record without vulgar discussions as to price. The business of the establishment was conducted on the basis of a belief in the man who sold and acquiescence in that belief on the part of the man who purchased. The customers of Festus Clasby would as soon have thought of questioning his prices as they would of questioning the right of the earth to revolve round the sun. Festus Clasby was the planet around which this constellation of small farmers, herds, and hardy little dark mountainy men revolved; from his shop they drew the light and heat and food which kept them going. Their very emotions were registered at his counter. To the man with a religious turn he was able, at a price, to hand down from his shelves the Key of Heaven; the other side of the box he comforted the man who came panting to his taps to drown the memory of some chronic impertinence. He gave a very long credit, and a very long credit, in his philosophy, justified a very, very long profit. As to security, if Festus Clasby's customers had not a great deal of money they had grass which grew every year, and the beasts which Festus Clasby fattened and sold at the fairs had sometimes to eat his debtors out of his book. If his bullocks were not able to do even this, then Festus Clasby talked to the small farmer about a mortgage on the land, so that now and again small farmers became herds for Festus Clasby. In this way was he able to maintain his position with his back to the hills and his toes in the valley, striding his territory like a Colossus. When you saw his name on the signboard standing stark from the landscape, and when you saw Festus Clasby behind his counter, you knew instinctively that both had always stood for at least twenty shillings in the pound.
Now, it came to pass that on a certain day Festus Clasby was passing through the outskirts of the nearest country town on his homeward journey, his cart laden with provisions. At the same moment the spare figure of a tinker whose name was Mac-an-Ward, the Son of the Bard, veered around the corner of a street with a new tin can under his arm. It was the Can with the Diamond Notch.
Mac-an-Ward approached Festus Clasby, who pulled up his cart.
"Well, my good man?" queried Festus Clasby, a phrase usually addressed across his counter, his hands outspread, to longstanding customers.
"The last of a rare lot," said Mac-an-Ward, deftly poising the tin can on the top of his fingers, so that it stood level with Festus Clasby's great face. Festus Clasby took this as a business proposition, and the soul of the trader revolved within him. Why not buy the tin can from this tinker and sell it at a profit across his counter, even as he would sell the flitches of bacon that were wrapped in sacking upon his cart? He was in mellow mood, and laid down the reins in the cart beside him.
"And so she is the last?" he said, eyeing the tin can.
"She is the Can with the Diamond Notch."
"Odds and ends go cheap," said Festus Clasby.
"She is the last, but the flower of the flock."
"Remnants must go as bargains or else remain as remnants."
"My wallet!" protested Mac-an-Ward, "you wound me. Don't speak as if I picked it off a scrap heap."
"I will not, but I will say that, being a tail end and an odd one, it must go at a sacrifice."
The Son of the Bard tapped the side of the can gently with his knuckles.
"Listen to him, the hard man from the country! He has no regard for my feelings. I had the soldering iron in my hand in face of it before the larks stirred this morning. I had my back to the East, but through the bottom of that can there I saw the sun rise in its glory. The brightness of it is as the harvest moon."
"I don't want it for its brightness."
"Dear heart, listen to the man who would not have brightness. He would pluck the light from the moon, quench the heat in the heart of the sun. He would draw a screen across the aurora borealis and paint out the rainbow with lamp black. He might do such things, but he cannot deny the brightness of this can. Look upon it! When the world is coming to an end it will shine up at the sky and it will say: 'Ah, where are all the great stars now that made a boast of their brightness?' And there will be no star left to answer. They will all be dead things in the heaven, buried in the forgotten graves of the skies."
"Don't mind the skies. Let me see if there may not be a leakage in it." Festus Clasby held up the can between his handsome face and the bright sky.
"Leakages!" exclaimed Mac-an-Ward. "A leakage in a can that I soldered as if with my own heart's blood. Holy Kilcock, what a mind has this man from the country! He sees no value in its brightness; now he will tell me that there is no virtue in its music."
"I like music," said Festus Clasby. "No fiddler has ever stood at my door but had the good word to say of me. Not one of them could ever say that he went thirsty from my counter."
Said the Son of the Bard: "Fiddlers, what are fiddlers? What sound have they like the music of the sweet milk going into that can from the yellow teats of the red cow? Morning and evening there will be a hymn played upon it in the haggard. Was not the finest song ever made called Cailin deas cruidhte na mbo? Music! Do you think that the water in the holy well will not improve in its sparkle to have such a can as this dipped into it? It will be welcome everywhere for its clearness and its cleanness. Heavenly Father, look at the manner in which I rounded the edge of that can with the clippers! Cut clean and clever, soldered at the dawn of day, the dew falling upon the hands that moulded it, the parings scattered about my feet like jewels. And now you would bargain over it. I will not sell it to you at all. I will put it in a holy shrine."
Festus Clasby turned the can over in his hands, a little bewildered. "It looks an ordinary can enough," he said.
"It is the Can with the Diamond Notch," declared Mac-an-Ward.
"Would it be worth a shilling now?"
"He puts a price upon it! It is blasphemy. The man has no religion; he will lose his soul. The devils will have him by the heels. They will tear his red soul through the roof. Give me the can; don't hold it in those hands any longer. They are coarse; the hair is standing about the purple knuckles like stubbles in an ill-cut meadow. That can was made for the hands of a delicate woman or for the angels that carry water to the Court of Heaven. I saw it in a vision the night before I made it; it was on the head of a maiden with golden hair. Her feet were bare and like shells. She walked across a field where daisies rose out of young grass; she had the can resting on her head like one coming from the milking. So I rose up then and said, 'Now, I will make a can fit for this maiden's head.' And I made it out of the rising sun and the falling dew. And now you ask me if it is worth a shilling."
"For all your talk, it is only made of tin, and not such good tin."
"Not good tin! I held it in my hand in the piece before ever the clippers was laid upon it. I bent it and it curved, supple as a young snake. I shook it, and the ripples ran down the length of it like silver waves in a little lake. The strength of the ages was in its voice. It has gathered its power in the womb of the earth. It was smelted from the precious metal taken from the mines of the Peninsula of Malacca, and it will have its gleam when the sparkle of the diamond is spent."
"I'll give you a shilling for it, and hold your tongue."
"No! I will not have it on my conscience. God is my judge, I will break it up first. I will cut it into pieces. From one of them will yet be made a breastplate, and in time to come it will be nailed to your own coffin, with your name and your age and the date of your death painted upon it. And when the paint is faded upon it it will shine over the dust of the bone of your breast. It will be dug up and preserved when all graveyards are abolished. They will say, 'We will keep this breastplate, for who knows but that it bore the name of the man who refused to buy the Can with the Diamond Notch.'"
"How much will you take for it?"
"Now you are respectful. Let me put a price upon it, for it was I who fashioned it into this shape. It will hold three gallons and a half from now until the time that swallows wear shoes. But for all that I will part with it, because I am poor and hungry and have a delicate wife. It breaks my heart to say it, but pay into my hands two shillings and it is yours. Pay quickly or I may repent. It galls me to part with it; in your charity pay quickly and begone."
"I will not. I will give you one-and-six."
"Assassin! You stab me. What a mind you have! Look at the greed of your eyes; they would devour the grass of the fields from this place up to the Devil's Bit. You would lock up the air and sell it in gasping breaths. You are disgusting. But give me the one-and-six and to Connacht with you! I am damning my soul standing beside you and your cart, smelling its contents. How can a man talk with the smell of fat bacon going between him and the wind? One-and-six and the dew that fell at the making hardly dry upon my hands yet. Farewell, a long farewell, my Shining One; we may never meet again."
The shawl of Mac-an-Ward's wife had been blowing around the near-by corner while this discussion had been in progress. It flapped against the wall in the wind like a loose sail in the rigging. The head of the woman herself came gradually into view, one eye spying around the masonry, half-closing as it measured the comfortable proportions of Festus Clasby seated upon his cart. As the one-and-six was counted out penny by penny into the palm of the brown hand of the Son of the Bard, the figure of his wife floated out on the open road, tossing and tacking and undecided in its direction to the eye of those who understood not the language of gestures and motions. By a series of giddy evolutions she arrived at the cart as the last of the coppers was counted out.
"I have parted with my inheritance," said Mac-an-Ward. "I have sold my soul and the angels have folded their wings, weeping."
"In other words, I have bought a tin can," said Festus Clasby, and his frame and the entire cart shook with his chuckling.
The tinker's wife chuckled with him in harmony. Then she reached out her hand with a gesture that claimed a sympathetic examination of the purchase. Festus Clasby hesitated, looking into the eyes of the woman. Was she to be trusted? Her eyes were clear, grey, and open, almost babyish in their rounded innocence. Festus Clasby handed her the tin can, and she examined it slowly.
"Who sold you the Can with the Diamond Notch?" she asked.
"The man standing by your side."
"He has wronged you. The can is not his."
"He says he made it."
"Liar! He never curved it in the piece."
"I don't much care whether he did or not. It is mine now, anyhow."
"It is my brother's can. No other hand made it. Look! Do you see this notch on the piece of sheet iron where the handle is fastened to the sides?"
"Is it not shaped like a diamond?"
"By that mark I identify it. My brother cuts that diamond-shaped notch in all the work he puts out from his hands. It is his private mark. The shopkeepers have knowledge of it. There is a value on the cans with that notch shaped like a diamond. This man here makes cans when he is not drunk, but the notch to them is square. The shopkeepers have knowledge of them, too, for they do not last. The handles fall out of them. He has never given his time to the art, and so does not know how to rivet them."
"She vilifies me," said Mac-an-Ward, sotto voce.
"Then I am glad he has not sold me one of his own," said Festus Clasby. "I have a fancy for the lasting article."
"You may be able to buy it yet," said the woman. "My brother is lying sick of the fever, and I have his right to sell the Cans with the Diamond Notch on the handles where they are riveted."
"But I have bought it already."
"This man," said the damsel, in a tone which discounted the husband, "had no right to sell it. If it is not his property, but the property of my brother, won't you say that he nor no other man has a right to sell it?"
Festus Clasby felt puzzled. He was unaccustomed to dealing with people who raised questions of title. His black brows knit.
"How can a man who doesn't own a thing sell a thing?" she persisted. "Is it a habit of yours to sell that which you do not own?"
"It is not," Festus Clasby said, feeling that an assault had been wantonly made on his integrity as a trader. "No one could ever say that of me. Honest value was ever my motto."
"And the motto of my brother who is sick with the fever. I will go to him and say, 'I met the most respectable-looking man in all Europe, who put a value on your can because of the diamond notch.' I will pay into his hands the one-and-six which is its price."
Festus Clasby had, when taken out of his own peculiar province, a heavy mind, and the type of mind that will range along side-issues and get lost in them if they are raised often enough and long enough. The diamond notch on the handle, the brother who was sick of the fever, the alleged non-title of Mac-an-Ward, the interposition of the woman, the cans with the handles which fall out, and the cans with the handles which do not fall out, the equity of selling that which does not belong to you—all these things chased each other across Festus Clasby's mind. The Son of the Bard stood silent by the cart, looking away down the road with a pensive look on his long, narrow face.
"Pay me the one-and-six to put into the hands of my brother," the woman said.
Festus Clasby's mind was brought back at once to his pocket. "No," he said, "but this man can give you my money to pay into the hand of your brother."
"This man," she said airily, "has no interest for me. Whatever took place between the two of you in regard to my brother's can I will have nothing to say to."
"Then if you won't," said Festus Clasby, "I will have nothing to do with you. If he had no right to the can you can put the police on to him; that's what police are for."
"And upon you," the woman added. "The police are also for that."
"Upon me?" Festus Clasby exclaimed, his chest swelling. "My name has never crossed the mind of a policeman, except, maybe, for what he might owe me at the end of the month for pigs' heads. I never stood in the shadow of the law. And to this man standing by your side I have nothing to say."
"You have. You bought from him that which did not belong to him. You received, and the receiver is as bad as the rogue. So the law has it. The shadow of the law is great."
Festus Clasby came down from his cart, his face troubled. "I am not used to this," he said.
"You are a handsome man, a man thought well of. You have great provisions upon your cart. This man has nothing but the unwashed shirt which hangs on his slack back. It will not become you to march handcuffed with his like, going between two policemen to the bridewell."
"What are you saying of me, woman?"
"It will be no token of business to see your cart and the provisions it contains driven into the yard of the barracks. All the people of this town will see it, for they have many eyes. The people of trade will be coming to their doors, speaking of it. 'A man's property was molested,' they will say. 'What property?' will be asked. 'The Can with the Diamond Notch,' they will answer; 'the man of substance conspired with the thief to make away with it.' These are the words that will be spoken in the streets."
Festus Clasby set great store on his name, the name he had got painted for the eye of the country over his door.
"I will be known to the police as one extensive in my dealings," he said. "They will not couple me with this man who is known as one living outside of the law."
"It is not for the Peelers to put the honest man on one side and the thief on the other. That will be for the court. You will stand with him upon my charge. The Peelers will say to you, 'We know you to be a man of great worth, and the law will uphold you.' But the law is slow, and a man's good name goes fast.'"
Festus Clasby fingered his money in his pocket, and the touch of it made him struggle. "The can may be this man's for all I know. You have no brother, and I believe you to be a fraud."
"That, too, will be for the law to decide. If I have a brother, the law will produce him when his fever is ended. If I have no brother the law will so declare it. If my brother makes a Can with the Diamond Notch, the law will hear of its value. If my brother does not make a Can with the Diamond Notch you will know me as one deficient in truth. There is no point under the stars that the law cannot be got to declare upon. But as is right, the law is slow, and will wait for a man to come out of his fever. Before it can decide, another man's good name, like a little cloud riding across the sky, is gone from the memory of the people and will not come riding back upon the crest of any wind."
"It will be a great price to be paying for a tin can," said Festus Clasby. He was turning around with his fingers the coins in his pocket.
The woman put the can on her arm, then covered it up with her shawl, like a hen taking a chick under the protection of her wing.
"I have given you many words," she said, "because you are a man sizeable and good to the eye of a foolish woman. If I had not a sick brother I might be induced to let slip his right in the Can with the Diamond Notch for the pleasure I have found in the look of your face. When I saw you on the cart I said, 'There is the build of a man which is to my fancy.' When I heard your voice I said, 'That is good music to the ear of a woman.' When I saw your eye I said, 'There is danger to the heart of a woman.' When I saw your beard I said, 'There is a great growth from the strength of a man.' When you spoke to me and gave me your laugh I said, 'Ah, what a place that would be for a woman to be seated, driving the roads of the country on a cart laden with provisions beside one so much to the female liking.' But my sick brother waits, and now I go to do that which may make away with the goodness of your name. I must seek those who will throw the shadow of the law over many."
She moved away, sighing a quick sigh, as one might who was setting out on a disagreeable mission. Festus Clasby called to her and she came back, her eyes pained as they sought his face. Festus Clasby paid the money, a bright shilling and two threepenny bits, into her hand, wondering vaguely, but virtuously, as he did so, what hardy little dark mountainy man he would later charge up the can to at the double price.
"Now," said the wife of Mac-an-Ward, putting the money away, "you have paid me for my brother's can and you would be within your right in getting back your one-and-six from this bad man." She hitched her shawl contemptuously in the direction of Mac-an-Ward.
Festus Clasby looked at the Son of the Bard with his velvety soft eyes. "Come, sir," said he, his tone a little nervous. "My money!"
Mac-an-Ward hitched his trousers at the hips like a sailor, spat through his teeth, end eyed Festus Clasby through a slit in his half-closed eyes. There was a little patter of the feet on the road on the part of Mac-an-Ward, and Festus Clasby knew enough of the world and its ways to gather that these were scientific movements invented to throw a man in a struggle. He did not like the look of the Son of the Bard.
"I will go home and leave him to God," he said. "Hand me the can and I will be shortening my road."
At this moment three small boys, ragged, eager, their faces hard and weather-beaten, bounded up to the cart. They were breathless as they stood about the woman.
"Mother!" they cried in chorus. "The man in the big shop! He is looking for a can."
"What can?" cried the woman.
The three young voices rose like a great cry: "The Can with the Diamond Notch."
The woman caught her face in her hands as if some terrible thing had been said. She stared at the youngsters intently.
"He wants one more to make up an order," they chanted. "He says he will pay—"
The woman shrank from them with a cry. "How much?" she asked.
The wife of Mac-an-Ward threw out her arms in a wild gesture of despair. "My God!" she cried. "I sold it. I wronged my sick brother."
"Where did you sell it, mother?"
"Here, to this handsome dark man."
"How much did he pay?"
The three youngsters raised their hard faces to the sky and raised a long howl, like beagles who had lost their quarry.
Suddenly the woman's face brightened. She looked eagerly at Festus Clasby, then laid the hand of friendship, of appeal, on his arm.
"I have it!" she cried, joyfully.
"Have what?" asked Festus Clasby.
"A way out of the trouble," she said. "A means of saving my brother from wrong. A way of bringing him his own for the Can with the Diamond Notch."
"What way might that be?" asked Festus Clasby, his manner growing sceptical.
"I will go to the shopman with it and get the half-crown. Having got the half-crown I will hurry back here—or you can come with me—and I will pay you back your one-and-six. In that way I will make another shilling and do you no wrong. Is that agreed?"
"It is not agreed," said Festus Clasby. "Give me out the tin can. I am done with you now."
"It's robbery!" cried the woman, her eyes full of a blazing sudden anger.
"What is robbery?" asked Festus Clasby.
"Doing me out of a shilling. Wronging my sick brother out of his earnings. A man worth hundreds, maybe thousands, to stand between a poor woman and a shilling. I am deceived in you."
"Out with the can," said Festus Clasby.
"Let the woman earn her shilling," said Mac-an-Ward. His voice came from behind Festus Clasby.
"Our mother must get her shilling," cried the three youngsters.
Festus Clasby turned about to Mac-an-Ward, and as he did so he noticed that two men had come and set their backs against a wall hard by; they leaned limply, casually, against it, but they were, he noticed, of the same tribe as the Mac-an-Wards.
"It was always lucky, the Can with the Diamond Notch," said the woman. "This offer of the man in the big shop is a sign of it. I will not allow you to break my brother's luck and he lying in his fever."
"By heaven!" cried Festus Clasby. "I will have you all arrested. I will have the law of you now."
He wheeled about the horse and cart, setting his face for the police barrack, which could be seen shining in the distance in the plumage of a magpie. The two men who stood by came over, and from the other side another man and three old women. With Mac-an-Ward, Mrs. Mac-an-Ward, and the three young Mac-an-Wards, they grouped themselves around Festus Clasby, and he was vaguely conscious that they were grouped with some military art. A low murmur of a dispute arose among them, rising steadily. He could only hear snatches of their words: 'Give it back to him,' 'He won't get it,' 'How can he be travelling without the Can with the Diamond Notch?' 'Is it the Can with the Diamond Notch?' 'No,' 'Maybe it is, maybe it is not,' 'Who knows that?' 'I say yes,' 'Hold your tongue,' 'Be off, you slut,' 'Rattle away.'
People from the town were attracted to the place. Festus Clasby, the dispute stirring something in his own blood, shook his fist in the long narrow face of Mac-an-Ward. As he did so he got a tip on the heels and a pressure upon the chest sent him staggering a few steps back. One of the old women held him up in her arms and another old woman stood before him, striking her breast. Festus Clasby saw the wisps of hair hanging about the bony face and froth at the corners of her mouth. Vaguely he saw the working of the bones of her wasted neck, and below it a long V-shaped gleam of the yellow tanned breast, which she thumped with her fist. Afterwards the memory of this ugly old trollop remained with him. The youngsters were shooting in and out through the group, sending up unearthly shrieks. Two of the men peeled off their coats and were sparring at each other wickedly, shouting all the time, while Mac-an-Ward was making a tumultuous peace. The commotion and the strife, or the illusion of strife, increased. "Oh," an onlooker cried, "the tinkers are murdering each other!"
The patient horse at last raised its head with a toss and a snort over the rabble, and then wheeled about to break away. With the instinct of his kind, Festus Clasby rushed to the animal's head and held him. As he did so the striped petticoats and the tossing shawls of the women flashed about the shafts and the body of the cart. The men raised a hoarse roar.
A neighbour of Festus Clasby, driving up the street at this moment, was amazed to see the great man of lands and shops in the midst of the wrangling tinkers. He pulled up, marvelling, then went to him.
"What is this, Festus?" he asked.
"They have robbed me," cried Festus Clasby.
"Ay, of money and of property."
"Good God! How much money?"
"I don't rightly know—I forget—some shillings, maybe."
"Oh! And of property?"
"No matter. It is only one article, but property."
"Come home, Festus; in the name of God get out of this," advised the good neighbour.
But Festus Clasby was strangely moved. He was behaving like a man who had drink taken. Something had happened wounding to his soul. "I will not go," he cried. "I must have back my money."
The tinkers had now ceased disputing among themselves. They were grouped about the two men as if they were only spectators of an interesting dispute.
"Back I must have my money!" cried Festus Clasby, his great hand going up in a mighty threat. The tinkers clicked their tongues on the roofs of their mouths in a sound of amazement, as much as to say, "What a terrible thing! What a wonderful and a mighty man!"
"I advise you to come," persuaded his neighbour.
"Never! God is my judge, never!" cried Festus Clasby.
Again the tinkers clicked their tongues, looked at each other in wonder.
"You will be thankful you brought your life out of this," said the neighbour. "Let it not be said of you on the countryside that you were seen wrangling with the tinkers in this town."
"Shame! Shame! Shame!" broke out like a shocked murmur among the attentive tinkers.
Festus Clasby faced his audience in all his splendid proportions. Never was he seen so moved. Never had such a great passion seized him. The soft tones of his eyes were no longer soft. They shone in fiery wroth. "I will at least have that which I bought twice over!" he cried. "I will have my tin can!"
Immediately the group of tinkers broke up in the greatest disorder. Hoarse cries broke out among them. They behaved like people upon whom some fearful doom had been suddenly pronounced. The old women threw themselves about, racked with pain and terror. They beat their hands together, threw wild arms in despairing gestures to the sky, raising a harrowing lamentation. The men growled in sullen gutturals. The youngsters knelt on the road, giving out the wild beagle-like howl. Voices cried above the uproar: "Where is it? Where is the Can with the Diamond Notch? Get him the Can with the Diamond Notch! He must have the can with the Diamond Notch! How can he travel without the Can with the Diamond Notch? He'll die without the Can with the Diamond Notch!"
Festus Clasby was endeavouring to deliver his soul of impassioned protests when his neighbour, assisted by a bystander or two, forcibly hoisted him up on his cart and he was driven away amid a great howling from the tinkers.
It was twilight when he reached his place among the hills, and the good white letters under the thatch showed clear to his eyes. Pulling himself together he drove with an air about the gable and into the wide open yard at the back, fowls clearing out of his way, a sheep-dog coming to welcome him, a calf mewing mournfully over the half-door of a stable. Festus Clasby was soothed by this homely, this worshipful, environment, and got off the cart with a sigh. Inside the kitchen he could hear the faithful women trotting about preparing the great master's meal. He made ready to carry the provisions into the shop. When he unwrapped the sacking from the bacon, something like a sudden stab went through his breast. Perspiration came out on his forehead. Several large long slices had been cut off in jagged slashes from the flitches. They lay like wounded things on the body of the cart. He pulled down the other purchases feverishly, horror in his face. How many loaves had been torn off his batch of bread? Where were all the packets of tea and sugar, the currants and raisins, the flour, the tobacco, the cream-of-tartar, the caraway seeds, the nutmeg, the lemon peel, the hair oil, the—
Festus Clasby wiped the perspiration from his forehead. He stumbled out of the yard, sat up on a ditch, and looked across the silent, peaceful, innocent country. How good it was! How lovely were the beasts grazing, fattening, in the fields! His soft velvety eyes were suddenly flooded with a bitter emotion and he wept.
The loaves of bread were under the shawl of the woman who had supported Festus Clasby when he stumbled; the bacon was under another bright shawl; the tobacco and flour fell to the lot of her whose yellow breast showed the play of much sun and many winds; the tea and sugar and the nutmeg and caraway seeds were under the wing of the wife of the Son of the Bard in the Can with the Diamond Notch.
BOTH SIDES OF THE POND
Mrs. Donohoe marked the clearness of the sky, the number and brightness of the stars.
"There will be a share of frost to-night, Denis," she said.
Denis Donohoe, her son, adjusted a primitive bolt on the stable door, then sniffed at the air, his broad nostrils quivering sensitively as he raised his head.
"There is ice in the wind," he said.
"Make a start with the turf to the market to-morrow," his mother advised. "People in town will be wanting fires now."
Denis Donohoe walked over to the dim stack of brown turf piled at the back of the stable. It was there since the early fall, the dry earth cut from the bog, the turf that would make bright and pleasant fires in the open grates of Connacht for the winter months. Away from it spread the level bogland, a sweep of country that had, they said, in the infancy of the earth been a great oak forest, across which in later times had roved packs of hungry wolves, and which could at this day claim the most primitive form of industry in Western Europe. Out into this bogland in the summer had come from their cabins the peasantry, men and women, Denis Donohoe among them; they had dug up slices of the spongy, wet sod, cut it into pieces rather larger than bricks, licked it into shape by stamping upon it with their bare feet, stacked it about in little rows to dry in the sun, one sod leaning against the other, looking in the moonlight like a great host of wee brown fairies grouped in couples for a midnight dance on the carpet of purple heather. Now the time had come to convert it into such money as it would fetch.
Denis Donohoe whistled merrily that night as he piled the donkey cart, or "creel," with the sods of turf. Long before daybreak next morning he was about, his movements quick like one who had great business on hands. The kitchen of the cabin was illuminated by a rushlight, the rays of which did not go much beyond a small deal table, scrubbed white, where he sat at his breakfast, an unusually good repast, for he had tea, home-made bread and a boiled egg. His mother moved about the dim kitchen, waiting on him, her bare feet almost noiseless on the black earthen floor. He ate heartily and silently, making the Sign of the Cross when he had finished. His mother followed him out on the dark road to bid him good luck, standing beside the creel of turf.
"There should be a brisk demand now that the winter is upon us," she said hopefully. "God be with you."
"God and Mary be with you, mother," Denis Donohoe made answer as he took the donkey by the head and led him along the dark road. The little animal drew his burden very slowly, the cart creaking and rocking noisily over the uneven road. Now and then Denis Donohoe spoke to him encouragingly, softly, his gaze at the same time going to the east, searching the blank sky for a hint of the dawn to come.
But they had gone rocking and swaying along the winding road for a long time before the day dawned. Denis Donohoe marked the spread of the light, the slow looming up of a range of hills, the sweep of brown patches of bog, then grey and green fields, broken by the glimmer of blue fakes, slopes of brown furze making for them a dull frame.
"Now that we have the blessed light we won't feel the journey at all," Denis Donohoe said to the donkey.
The ass drew the creel of turf more briskly, shook his winkers and swished his tail. When they struck very sharp hills Denis Donohoe got to the back of the cart, put his hands to the shafts, and, lowering his head, helped to push up the load, the muscles springing taut at the back of his thick limbs as he pressed hard against the bright frosty ground.
As they came down from the hills he already felt very hungry, his fingers tenderly fondling the slices of oaten bread he had put away in the pocket of his grey homespun coat. But he checked the impulse to eat, the long jaw of his swarthy face set, his strong teeth tight together awaiting the right hour to play their eager part. If he ate all the oaten bread now—splendid, dry, hard stuff, made of oat meal and water, baked on a gridiron—it would leave too long a fast afterwards. Denis Donohoe had been brought up to practise caution in these matters, to subject his stomach to a rigorous discipline, for life on the verge of a bog is an exacting business. Instead of obeying the impulse to eat Denis Donohoe blew warm breaths into his purple hands, beat his arms about his body to deaden the bitter cold, whistled, took some steps of an odd dance along the road, and went on talking to the donkey as if he were making pleasant conversation to a companion. The only sign of life to be seen on earth or air was a thin line of wild duck high up in the sky, one group making wide circles over a vivid mountain lake.
Half way on his journey to the country town Denis Donohoe pulled up his little establishment. It was outside a lonely cottage exactly like his own home. There was the same brown thatch on the roof, a garland of verdant wild creepers drooping from a spot at the gable, the same two small windows without any sashes in the front wall, the same narrow rutty pathway from the road, the same sort of yellow hen cackling heatedly, her legs quivering as she clutched the drab half door, the same scent of decayed cabbage leaves in the air. Denis Donohoe took a sack of hay from the top of the creel of turf, and spread some of it on the side of the road for the donkey. While he did so a woman who wore a white cap, a grey bodice, a thick woollen red petticoat, under which her bare lean legs showed, came to the door, waving the yellow hen off her perch.
"Good day to you, Mrs. Deely," Denis Donohoe said, showing his strong teeth.
"Welcome, Denis. Won't you step in and warm yourself at the fire, for the day is sharp, and you are early on the road?"
Denis Donohoe sat with the woman by the fire for some time, their exchange of family gossip quiet and agreeable. The young man was, however, uneasy, glancing about the house now and then like one who missed something. The woman, dropping her calm eyes on him, divined his thoughts.
"Agnes is not about," she said. "She started off for the Cappa Post Office an hour gone, for we had tidings that a letter is there for us from Sydney."
"A letter from her sister?"
"Yes, Mary is married there and doing well."
Denis Donohoe resumed his journey.
At the appointed spot he ravenously devoured the oaten bread, then stretched himself on his stomach on the ground and took some draughts of water from a roadside stream, drawing it up with a slow sucking noise, his teeth chattering, his eyes on the bright pebbles that glittered between some green cress at the bottom. When he had finished the donkey also laved his thirst at the spot.
He reached the market town while it was yet morning. He led the creel of turf through the straggling streets, where some people with the sleep in their eyes were moving about. The only sound he made was a low word of encouragement to the donkey.
"How much for the creel?" a man asked, standing at his shop door.
"Six shilling," Denis Donohoe replied, and waited, for it was above the business of a decent turf-seller to praise his wares or press for a sale.
"Good luck to you, son," said the merchant, "I hope you'll get it." He smiled, folded his hands one over the other, and retired to his shop.
Denis Donohoe moved on, saying in an undertone to the donkey, "Gee-up, Patsy. That old fellow is no good."
There were other inquiries, but nobody purchased. They said that money was very scarce. Denis Donohoe said nothing; money was too remote a thing for him to imagine how it could be ever anything else except scarce. He grew tired of going up and down past shops where there was no sign of business, so he drew the side streets and laneways, places where children screamed about the road, where there was a scent of soapy water, where women came to their doors and looked at him with eyes that expressed a slow resentment, their arms bare above the elbows, their hair hanging dankly about their ears, their voices, when they spoke, monotonous, and always sounding a note of tired complaint.
On the rise of a little bridge Denis Donohoe met a red-haired woman, a family of children skirmishing about her; there was a battle light in her wolfish eyes, her idle hands were folded over her stomach.
"How much, gossoon?" she asked.
"Six devils!" She walked over to the creel, handling some of the sods of turf Denis Donohoe knew she was searching a constitutionally abusive mind for some word contemptuous of his wares. She found it at last, for she smacked her lips. It was in the Gaelic. "Spairteach!" she cried—a word that was eloquent of bad turf, stuff dug from the first layer of the bog, a mere covering for the correct vein beneath it.
"It's good stone turf," Denis Donohoe protested, a little nettled.
The woman was joined by some people who were hanging about, anxious to take part in bargaining which involved no personal liability. They argued, made jokes, shouted, and finally began to bully Denis Donohoe, the woman leading, her voice half a scream, her stomach heaving, her eyes dancing with excitement, a yellow froth gathering at the corners of her angry mouth, her hand gripping a sod of the turf, for the only dissipation life now offered her was this haggling with and shouting down of turf sellers. Denis Donohoe stood immovable beside his cart, patient as his donkey, his swarthy face stolid under the shadow of his broad-brimmed black hat, his intelligent eyes quietly measuring his noisy antagonists. When the woman's anger had quite spent itself the turf was purchased for five shillings.
Denis Donohoe carried the sods in his arms to the kitchen of the purchaser's house. It entailed a great many journeys in and out, the sods being piled up on his hooked left arm with a certain skill. His route lay through a small shop, down a semi-dark hallway, across a kitchen, the sods being stowed under a stairway where cockroaches scampered from the thudding of the falling sods.
Women were moving about the kitchen, talking incessantly, fumbling about tables, always appearing to search for something that had been lost, one crooning over a cradle that she rocked before the fire. The smell of cooking, the sound of something fatty hissing on a pan, brought a sense of faintness to Denis Donohoe, for he was ravenously hungry again.
He stumbled awkwardly in and out of the place with his armfuls of brown sods The women moved with reluctance out of his way. Once a servant girl raised the most melancholy pair of wide brown eyes he had ever seen, saying to him, "It always goes through me to hear the turf falling in the stair-hole. It reminds me of the day I heard the clay falling on me father's coffin, God be with him and forgive him, for he died in the horrors."
By the time Denis Donohoe had delivered the cartload of turf the little donkey had eaten all the hay in the sack. In the small shop Denis purchased some bacon, flour and tea, so that he had only some coppers to bring home with him. After some hesitation he handed back one penny for some biscuits, and these he ate as soon as he set out on the return journey.
The little donkey went over the road through the hills on the way back with spirit, for donkeys are good homers. Denis Donohoe sat up on the front of the cart, his legs dangling down beside the shaft. The donkey trotted down the slopes gayly, the harness rattling, the cart swaying, jolting, making an amazing noise.
The donkey cocked his ears, flecked his tail, even indulged in one or two buck-jumps, as he rattled down the hilly roads. Denis Donohoe once or twice leaned out over the shaft, and brought his open hand down on the haunch of the donkey, but it was more a caress than a whack.
The light began to fade, the landscape to grow more obscure. Suddenly Denis Donohoe broke into song. They were going over a level stretch of ground. The donkey walked quietly. The quivering voice rang out over the darkening landscape, gaining in quality and in steadiness, a clear light voice, the notes coming with the instinctive intonation, the perfect order of the born folk singer. It was some old Gaelic song, a refrain that had been preserved like the trunks of the primeval oaks in the bogs, such a refrain as might claim kinship with the Dresden Amen, sung by generations of German peasants until at last it reached the ears of Richard Wagner, giving birth to a classic. As he sang Denis Donohoe raised his swarthy face, his profile sharp against the pale sky, his eyes, half in rapture like all folk singers, ranging over the hills, his long throat palpitating, swelling and slackening like the throat of a bird quivering in song. Then a light from the sash-less windows of Mrs. Deely's cabin shone faintly and silence again brooded over the place. When he reached the cabin Denis Donohoe dismounted and walked into the kitchen, his eyes bright, his steps so eager that he became conscious of it and pulled up at once.
Mrs. Deely was sitting by the fire, her knitting needles busy. Denis Donohoe sat down beside her. While they were speaking a young girl came from the only room in the house, and, crossing the kitchen, stood beside the open fireplace.
"Agnes had great news from Australia from Mary," Mrs. Deely said. "She enclosed the price of the passage from this place to Sydney."
"I will be making the voyage the end of this month," the girl herself added.
There was an awkward silence, during which Mrs. Deely carefully piloted one of her needles through an intricate turn in the heel of the sock.
"Well, I wish you luck, Agnes," Denis Donohoe said at last, and then gave a queer odd little laugh, a little laugh that made Mrs. Deely regard him quickly and seriously. She noticed that he had his eyes fixed on the ground.
"It will be a great change from this place," the girl said, fingering something on the mantelpiece. "Mary says Sydney is a wonderful big city."
Denis Donohoe slowly lifted his eyes, taking in the shape of the girl from the bare feet to the bright ribbon that was tied in her hair. What he saw was a slim girl, her limbs showing faintly in the folds of a cheap, thin skirt, a loose, small shawl resting on the shoulders, her bosom heaving gently where the shawl did not meet, her profile delicate and faint in the light of the fire, her eyes, suddenly turned upon him, being the eyes of a girl conscious of his eyes, her low breath the sweet breath of a girl stepping into her womanhood.
"Well, God prosper you, Agnes Deely," Denis Donohoe said after some time, and rose from his seat.
The two women came out on the road to see him off. He did not dally, jumped on to the front of the cart and rattled away.
Overhead the sky was winter clear, the stars merry, eternal, the whole heaven brilliant in its silent, stupendous song, its perpetual Magnificat; but Denis Donohoe made the rest of the journey in a black silence, gloom in the rigid figure, the stooping shoulders, the dangling legs; and the hills seemed to draw their grim shadows around his tragic ride to the lonely light in his mother's cabin on the verge of the dead brown bog.
There was a continuous clatter of conversation that rose and fell and broke like the waves on the beach, there was the dull shuffling of uneasy feet on the ground, the tinkling of glasses, the rattle of bottles, and over it all the half hysterical laugh of a tipsy woman. Above the racket a penetrating, quivering voice was raised in song.
Now and again bleary eyes were raised to, the stage, shadowy in a fog of tobacco smoke. The figure on the boards strutted about, made some fantastic steps, the face pallid in the streaky light, the mouth scarlet as a tulip for a moment as it opened wide, the muscles about the lips wiry and distinct from much practice, the words of the song coming in a vehement nasal falsetto and in a brogue acquired in the Bowery. The white face of the man who accompanied the singer on the piano was raised for a moment in a tired gesture that was also a protest; in the eyes of the singer as they met those of the accompanist was an expression of cynical Celtic humour; in the smouldering gaze of the pianist was the patient, stubborn soul of the Slav. The look between these entertainers, one from Connacht the other from Poland, was a little act of mutual commiseration and a mutual expression of contempt for the noisy descendants of the Lost Tribes who made merry in the place.
A Cockney who had exchanged Houndsditch for the Bowery leered up broadly at the Celt prancing about the stage. He turned to the companion who sat drinking with him, a tall, bony half-caste, her black eyes dancing in a head that quivered from an ague acquired in Illinois.
"'E's all ryght, is Paddy," said the voice from Houndsditch. He pointed a thumb that was a certificate of villainy in the direction of the stage.
"Sure," said the coloured lady, whose ancestry rambled back away Alabama. She looked up at the stage with her bold eyes.
"I know him," she said, thoughtfully. "And I like him," she added grinning. "We all like him. He's one of the boys."
"Wot price me?" said the Houndsditch man.
"Oh, you're good, too," said the coloured lady. "Blow in another cocktail, honey." She struck her breast where the uneasy bone showed through the dusky skin. "I've a fearful thirst right there."
Little puckers gathered about the small, humorous eyes of the Cockney as he looked at her. "My," he said, "you 'ave got a thirst and a capacity, Ole Sahara!"
The coloured lady raised the cocktail to her fat lips, and as she did so there was a sudden racket, men shouting, women clapping their hands, the voice of the tipsy woman dominant in its hysteria over the uproar. The singer was bowing profuse acknowledgments from the stage, his eyes, sly in their cynical humour, upon the face of the Slav at the piano, his head thrown back, the pallor of his face ghastly.
The lady from Alabama joined in the tribute to the singer.
"'Core, 'core," cried Ole Sahara, raising her glass in the dim vapour. "Here's to Denis Donohoe!"
THE WHITE GOAT
The white goat stood in a little clearing closed in by a ring of whins on the hillside. Her head swayed from side to side like the slow motion of the pendulum of a great clock. The legs were a little spread, the knees bent, the sides slack, the snout grey and dry, the udder limp.
The Herd knew the white goat was in great agony. She had refused the share of bran he had brought her, had turned away from the armful of fresh ivy leaves his little daughter held out to her. He had desisted from the milking, she had moaned so continuously.
Some days before the Herd had found the animal injured on the hill; the previous night he had heard the labourers making a noise, shouting and singing, as they crossed from the tillage fields. He knew what had happened when he had seen the marks of their hob-nailed boots on her body. She was always a sensitive brute, of a breed that came from the lowlands. The sombre eyes of the Herd glowed in a smouldering passion as he stood helplessly by while the white goat swung her head from side to side.
He gathered some dry bracken and spread a bed of it near the white goat. It would be unkind to allow her to lie on the wet grass when the time came that she could no longer stand. He looked up at the sky and marked the direction of the wind. It had gone round to the west. Clouds were beginning to move across the sky. There was a vivid light behind the mountains. The air was still. It would rain in the night. He had thought for the white goat standing there in the darkness, swaying her head in agony, the bracken growing sodden at her feet, the rain beating into her eyes. It was a cold place and wind-swept. Whenever the white goat had broken her tether she had flown from it to the lowlands. He remembered how, while leading her across a field once, she had drawn back in some terror when they had come to a pool of water.
The Herd looked at his little daughter. The child had drawn some distance away, the ivy leaves fallen from her bare arms. He was conscious that some fear had made her eyes round and bright. What was it that the child feared? He guessed, and marvelled that a child should understand the strange thing that was about to happen up there on the hill. The knowledge of Death was shining instinctively in the child's eyes. She was part of the stillness and greyness that was creeping over the hillside.
"We will take the white goat to the shelter of the stable," the Herd said.
The child nodded, the fear still lingering in her eyes. He untied the tether and laid his hand on the horn of the goat. She answered to the touch, walking patiently but unsteadily beside him.
After a while the child followed, taking the other horn, gently, like her father, for she had all his understanding of and nearness to the dumb animals of the fields. They came slowly and silently. The light failed rapidly as they came down the hill. Everything was merged in a shadowy vagueness, the colour of the white goat between the two dim figures alone proclaiming itself. A kid bleated somewhere in the distance. It was the cry of a young thing for its suckle, and the Herd saw that for a moment the white goat raised her head, the instinct of her nature moving her. Then she tottered down the hill in the darkness.
When they reached the front of the stable the white goat backed painfully from the place. The Herd was puzzled for a moment. Then he saw the little pool of water in a faint glimmer before their feet. He brought the animal to one side, avoiding it, and she followed the pressure of his directing hand.
He took down a lantern that swung from the rafters of the stable and lighted it. In a corner he made a bed of fresh straw. The animal leaned over a little against the wall, and they knew she was grateful for the shelter and the support. Then the head began to sway in a weary rhythm from side to side as if the pain drove it on. Her breath quickened, broke into little pants. He noted the thin vapour that steamed from about her body. The Herd laid his hand on her snout. It was dry and red hot. He turned away leading the child by the hand, the lantern swinging from the other, throwing long yellow streaks of light about the gloom of the stable. He closed the door softly behind him.
It was late that night when the Herd got back from his rounds of the pastures. His boots soaked in the wet ground and the clothes clung to his limbs, for the rain had come down heavily. A rumble of thunder sounded over the hills as he raised the latch of his door. He felt glad he had not left the white goat tethered in the whins on the hill.
His little daughter had gone to sleep. His wife told him the child on being put to bed had wept bitterly, but refused to confess the cause of her grief. The Herd said nothing, but he knew the child had wept for the white goat. The thought of the child's emotion moved him, and he turned out of the house again, standing in the darkness and the rain. Why had they attacked the poor brute? He asked the question over and over again, but only the rain beat in his face and around him was darkness, mystery. Then he heard the voices higher up on the side of the hill, first a laugh, then some shouts and cries. A thick voice raised the refrain of a song, and it came booming through the murky atmosphere. The Herd could hear the words:
Where are the legs with which you run? Hurroo! Hurroo! Where are the legs with which you run? Hurroo! Hurroo! Where are the legs with which you run When first you went to carry a gun? Indeed, your dancing days are done! Och, Johnny, I hardly knew ye!
And then came the chorus like a roar down the hills:
With drums and guns, and, guns and drum The enemy nearly slew ye; My darling dear, you look so queer, Och, Johnny, I hardly knew ye!
The voices of the labourers passing from the tillage fields died away, and the rumble of thunder came down more frequently from the hills. The Herd crossed his garden, his boots sinking in the soft ground. Half way across he paused, for a loud cry had dominated the fury of the breaking storm. His ears were quick for the cries of animals in distress. He went on rapidly toward the stable.
The ground grew more sloppy and a thin stream of water came from the rim of his soft black hat, streaming down his face. He noted the flashes of lightning overhead. Through it all the cry of the white goat sounded, with that weird, vibrating "mag-gag" that was the traditional note of her race. It had a powerful appeal for the Herd. It stirred a feeling of passion within him as he hurried through the rain.
How they must have lacerated her, a poor brute chained to the sod, at the mercy of their abuse! The red row of marks along her gams, raw and terrible, sprang to his sight out of the darkness. Vengeance, vengeance! He gripped his powerful hands, opening and closing the fists. Then he was conscious of something in the storm and the darkness that robbed him of his craving for personal vengeance. All that belonged to the primitive man welled up in him. He knew that in the heart of the future there lurked a reckoning—something, somebody—that would count the tally at the appointed time. Then he had turned round the gable of the stable. He saw the ghostly white thing, shadowy in the blackness, lying prostrate before the door. He stood still, his breath drawn inward.
There was a movement in the white shape. He could discern the blurred outline of the head of the animal as she raised it up a little. There was a low moan followed by a great cry. The Herd stood still, terror in his heart. For he interpreted that cry in all the terrible inarticulate consciousness of his own being. That cry sounded in his ears like an appeal to all the generations of wronged dumb things that had ever come under the lash of the tyranny of men. It was the protest of the brute creation against humanity, and to the Herd it was a judgment. Then his eyes caught a murky gleam beside the fallen white shape, and the physical sense of things jumped back to his mind.
He remembered that in wet weather a pool of water always gathered before the stable door. He remembered that there was a glimmer of it there when he had led the white goat into the stable. He remembered how she had shown fear of it.
He stooped down over the white goat where she lay. Thin wisps of her hair floated about looking like dim wraiths against the blackness of the pool. He caught a look of the brown eyes and was aware that the udder and teats bulged up from the water. He sank down beside her, the water making a splash as his knees dropped into the place. The animal raised her head a little and with pain, for the horns seemed to weigh like lead. But it was an acknowledgment that she was conscious of his presence; then the head fell back, a gurgle sounding over one of the ears.
The Herd knew what had happened, and it was all very tragical to his mind. His wife had come out to the stable for something, and had left the door open behind her. The white goat, goaded by the growing pain, had staggered out the door, perhaps feeling some desire for the open fields in her agony. Then she had seen before the threshold of the door that which had always been a horror to her—a pool of water. The Herd could see her tottering and swaying and then falling into it with a cry, fulfilling her destiny. He wondered if he himself had the same instinct for the things that would prove fatal to him? Why was he always so nervous when he stooped to or lay upon the ground? Why did it always give him a feeling that he would be trampled under the hooves of stampeding cattle rounded up for treatment for the warble fly? He trembled as he heard the beat of hooves on the ground behind him. He peered about and for a while did not recognise the shape that moved restlessly about in the darkness. He heard the neigh of the brood mare. He knew then she had been hovering about the stable afraid to go in out of the storm. She was afraid to go in because of the thing that lay before the stable door. He heard the answering call of the young foal in the stable, and he knew that it, too, was afraid to come out even at the call of its dam. Death was about in that night of storm, and all things seemed conscious of it.
He stooped down over the white goat and worked his hands under her shoulders. He lifted her up and felt the strain all over his frame, the muscles springing tense on his arms. She was a dead weight, and he had always prided on her size. His knees dug into the puddle in the bottom of the pool as he felt the pressure on his haunches. He strained hard as he got one of his feet under him. With a quick effort he got the other foot into position and rose slowly, lifting the white form out of the pool. The shaggy hair hung from the white goat, limp and reeking, numerous thin streams of water making a little ripple as they fell. The limbs of the Herd quivered under the weight, he staggered back, his heavy boots grinding in the gravel; then he set his teeth, the limbs steadied themselves, he swayed uncertainly for a moment, then staggered across the stable door, conscious of the hammer strokes of the heart of the white goat beating against his own heart. He laid her down in the bed of straw and heard the young foal bounding out of the stable in terror. The Herd stood in the place, the sweat breaking out on his forehead, then dropping in great beads.
The white goat began to moan. The Herd was aware from the rustling of the straw that her limbs were working convulsively. He knew from the nature of her wounds that her death would be prolonged, her agonies extreme. What if he put her out of pain? It would be all over in a moment. His hand went to his pocket, feeling it on the outside. He made out the shape of the knife, but hesitated.
One of the hooves of the white goat struck him on the ankle as her limbs worked convulsively. His hand went into his pocket and closed around the weapon. He would need to be quick and sure, to have a steady hand, to make a swift movement. He allowed himself some moments to decide. Then the blade of the knife shot back with a snap.
The sound seemed to reach the white goat in all its grim significance. She struggled to her feet, moaning more loudly. The Herd began to breathe hard. He was afraid she would cry out even as she had cried out as she lay in the pool before the stable door. The terror of the things that made up that cry broke in upon the Herd. He shook with fear of it. Then he stooped swiftly, his fingers nervously feeling over the delicate course of the throat of the white goat. His hands moved a little backwards and forwards in the darkness. He felt the hot stream on his hands, then the animal fell without a sound, her horns striking against the wall. He stood over her for a moment and was conscious that his hands were wet. Then he remembered with a shudder that the whole tragedy of the night had been one of rains and pools and water and clinging damp things, of puddles and sweats and blood. Even now the knife he held in his fingers was dripping. He let it fall. It fell with a queer thud, sounding of flesh, of a dead body. It had fallen on the dead body of the white goat. He turned with a groan and made his way uncertainly for the stable door.
At the door he stood, thoughts crowding in upon him, questions beating upon his brain and giving no time for answer. Around him was darkness, mystery, Death. What right had he to thrust his hand blindly into the heart of this mystery? Who had given him the power to hasten the end, to summon Death before its time? Had not Nature her own way for counting out the hours and the minutes? Had not she, or some other power, appointed an hour for the white goat to die? She would live, even in agony, until they could bear her up no longer; and having died Nature would pass her through whatever channel her laws had ordained. Had not the white goat made her last protest against his interference when she had risen to her feet in her death agony? And if the white goat, dumb beast that she was, had suffered wrong at the hands of man, then there was, the Herd now knew, a Power deliberate and inexorable, scrupulous in its delicate adjustment of right and wrong, that would balance the account at the appointed audit.
He had an inarticulate understanding of these things as he moved from the stable door. He tripped over a barrow unseen in the darkness and fell forward on his face into the field. As he lay there he heard the thudding of hooves on the ground. He rose, dizzy and unnerved, to see the dim shapes of some cattle that had gathered down about the place from the upland. He felt the rain beating upon his face, the clothes hung dank and clammy to his limbs. His boots soaked and slopped when he stepped. A boom of thunder sounded overhead and a vivid flash of lightning lit up for an instant a great elm tree. He saw all its branches shining with water, drops glistening along a thousand stray twigs. Then the voices of the labourers returning over the hills broke in upon his ears. He heard their shouts, the snatches of their songs, their noise, all the ribaldry of men merry in their drink.
The Herd groped through the darkness for his house like a half-blind man, his arms out before him, and a sudden gust of wind that swept the hillside shrieked about the blood of the white goat that was still wet upon his hands.
THE SICK CALL
A man wearing the grey frieze coat and the soft black hat of the peasantry rode up to the Monastery gate on a wiry, long-tailed nag. When he rang the bell at the hall-door there was a clatter of sandals on a flagged hall inside.
The door was opened by a lay Brother in a brown habit, a girdle about the waist from which a great Rosary beads was suspended. The peasant turned a soft black hat nervously in his hands as he delivered his message. The Friar who visited ailing people was, he said, wanted. A young man was lying very ill away up on the hills. Nothing that had been done for him was of any account. He was now very low, and his people were troubled. Maybe the Friar would come and raise his holy hands over Kevin Hooban?
The peasant gave some account of how the place might be reached. Half an hour later the Spanish Friar was on a side-car on his way to the mountain. I was on the other side of the car. The Spanish Friar spoke English badly. The peasantry—most of whom had what they called Bearla briste (broken English)—could understand only an occasional word of what he said. At moments of complete deadlock I, a Mass server, acted as a sort of interpreter. For this, and for whatever poor companionship I afforded, I found myself on the sick call.
The road brought us by a lake which gave a chilly air to the landscape in the winter day, then past a strip of country meagrely wooded. We turned into a narrow road that struck the hills at once, skirting a sloping place covered with scrub and quite dark, like a black patch on the landscape. After that it was a barren pasture, prolific only in bleached boulders of rocks, of bracken that lay wasted, of broom that was sere. It was a very still afternoon, not a breath of wind stirring. Sheep looking bulky in their heavy fleeces lay about in the grass, so motionless that they might be the work of a vigorous sculptor. The branches of the trees were so still, so delicate in their outlines against the pale sky, that they made one uneasy; they seemed to have lost the art of waving, as if leaves should never again flutter upon them. A net-work of low stone walls put loosely together, marking off the absurdly small fields, straggled over the face of the landscape, looking in the curious evening light like a great grey web fantastically spun by some humorous spider. The brown figure of a shepherd with a sheep crook in his hand rose up on a distant hill. He might be a sacred figure in the red chancel of the western sky. In a moment he was gone, leaving one doubtful if he had not been an illusion. A long army of starlings trailed rapidly across the horizon, a wriggling motion marking their course like the motion in the body of a gigantic snake. Everything on the hills seemed, as the light reddened and failed, to grow vast, grotesque. The silence which reigned over it all was oppressive.
Stray cabins skirted the roadside. Some people moved about them, leaving one the impression of a remoteness that was melancholy. The women in their bare feet made little curtesies to the Friar. Children in long dresses ran into the cabins at sight of the strangers, like rabbits scuttling back to their burrows. Having found refuge they looked out over the half-doors as the car passed, their eyes sparkling, humorous, full of an alert inquisitiveness, their faces fresh as the wind.
A group of people swung along the road, speaking volubly in Irish, giving one the impression that they had made a great journey across the range of hills. They gave us a salutation that was also a blessing. We pulled up the car and they gathered about the Friar, looking up at him from under their broad-brimmed black hats, the countenances for the most part dark and primitive, the type more of Firbolg than Milesian origin.
When the Friar spoke to them they paused, shuffled, looked at each other, puzzled. Half unconsciously I repeated the priest's words for them.
"Oh, you are heading for the house where Kevin Hooban is lying sick?"
"The priest is going to read over him?"
"And maybe they are expecting him?"
"We heard it said he is very low, a strangeness coming over him."
"Is the house far?"
"No, not too far when you are once a-past the demesne wall, with the ivy upon it. Keep on the straight road. You will come to a stream and a gullet and a road clipping into the hills from it to the right; go past that road. West of that you will see two poplar trees. Beyond them you will come to a boreen. Turn down that boreen; it is very narrow, and you had best turn up one side of the car and both sit together, or maybe the thorny hedges would be slashing you on the face in the darkness of the place. At the end of the boreen you will come to a shallow river, and it having a shingle bottom. Put the mare to it and across with you. Will you be able to remember all that?"
"Very well. Listen now. When you are across the river with the shingly bottom draw up on the back meadow. You will see a light shining to the north. Let one bawl out of you and Patch Keetly will be at hand to take the mare by the head. He will bring you to the house where Kevin Hooban is lying in his trouble. And God grant, Father, that you will be able to reach out a helping hand to him, and to put your strength in holy words between him and them that has a hold of him; he is a fine young man without fault or blemish, and the grandest maker of music that ever put a lip to the fideog. Keep an eye out for the poplar trees."
"Very good. God be with you."
"God speed you kindly."
We drove on. As we did so we tried to piece the directions together. The two poplar trees appeared to touch some curious strain of humour in the Spanish Friar. But it all came to pass as the prophet had spoken. We came to the ivy wall, to the stream, the gullet, the road that clipped into the hills to the right, and a long way beyond it the two poplar trees, tall, shadowy, great in their loneliness on the hills, sentinels that appeared to guard some mountain frontier. The light had rapidly gone. The whole landscape had swooned away into a vague, dark chaos. Overhead the stars began to show, the air was cutting; it bit with frost. And then we turned down the dark boreen, the mare venturing into it with some misgiving. I think the Friar was praying in an undertone in his native Basque as we passed through the narrow mountain boreen. At the end of it we came to the shallow river with the shingly bottom. Again the mare required some persuasion before she ventured in, the wheels crunching on the gravel, her fetlocks splashing the slow-moving, chocolate-coloured water. On the opposite bank we reached a sort of plateau, seen vaguely in the light. I "let a bawl out of me." It was like the cry of some lonely, lost bird on the wing. The Friar shook with laughter. I could feel the little rock of his body on the springs of the car. A figure came suddenly out of the darkness and silently took the mare by the head. The car moved on across the vague back meadow. Patch Keetly was piloting us to a light that shone in the north.
People were standing about the front of the long, low-thatched house. Lights shone in all the windows, the door stood open. The people did not speak or draw near as we got down from the car. There was a fearful silence about the place. The grouping of the people expressed mystery. They eyed us from their curiously aloof angles. They seemed as much a part of the atmosphere of the hills, as fixed in the landscape as the little clumps of furze or the two lonely poplars that mounted guard over the mouth of the boreen.
"Won't the holy Father be going into the house?" Patch Keetly asked. "I will unyoke the mare and give her a share of oats in the stable."
The Friar spoke to me in an undertone, and we crossed to the open door of the house.
The door led directly into the kitchen. Two women were standing well back from the door, something respectful, a little mysterious and a little fearful in their attitude. Their eyes were upon the Friar, and from their expressions they might have expected some sort of apparition to cross the threshold. They made a curtesy to him, dipping their bodies in a little sudden jerk. Nobody else was in the kitchen, and, despite the almost oppressive formality of their attitude, they somehow conveyed a sense of the power of women in the household in time of crisis. They were in supreme command, the men all outside, when a life had to be battled for. The elder of the women came forward and spoke to the priest, bidding him welcome. The reception looked as if it had been rehearsed, both women painfully anxious to do what was right.
There appeared some little misunderstanding, and I was too dazed with the cold—which I had only fully felt when I got off the car and found my legs cramped—to come to the rescue as interpreter. The Spanish Friar was accustomed to these little embarrassments, and he had a manner of meeting them with a smile. The misunderstanding and the embarrassment seemed to thaw the formality of the reception. The women looked relieved. They were obviously not expected to say anything, and they had no fear now that they would be put to the ordeal of meeting a possibly superior person, one who might patronise them, make a flutter in their home, appal them by expecting a great deal of attention, in short, be "very Englified." The Spanish Friar had very quick intuitions and some subtle way of his own for conveying his emotions and his requirements. He was in spirit nearer to the peasantry than many of the Friars who themselves came from the flesh of the peasantry. And these two peasant women, very quick in both their intuitions and their intelligence, seemed at the very moment of the breakdown of the first attempt at conversation to understand him and he to understand them. The elder of the women led the priest into a room off the kitchen where I knew Kevin Hooban lay ill.
The younger woman put a chair before the fire and invited me to sit there. While I sat before the fire I could hear the quick but quiet step of her feet about the kitchen, the little swish of her garments. Presently she drew near to the fire and held out a glass. It contained what looked like discoloured water, very like the water in the shallow river with the shingly bottom. I must have expressed some little surprise, even doubt, in my face, for she held the glass closer, as if reassuring me. There was something that inspired confidence in her manner. I took the glass and sipped the liquid. It left a half-burned, peaty taste in the mouth, and somehow smacked very native in its flavour. I thought of the hills, the lonely bushes, the slow movement of the chocolate-coloured river, the men with the primitive dark faces under the broad-brimmed hats, their mysterious, even dramatic way of grouping themselves around the lighted house. The peaty liquid seemed a brew out of the same atmosphere. I knew it was poteen. And in a moment I felt it coursing through my body, warming my blood. The young woman stood by the fire, half in shadow, half in the yellow flame of the turf fire, her attitude quiet but tense, very alert for any movement in the sick room.
The door of the room stood slightly open, and the low murmur of the Friar's voice reciting a prayer in Latin could be heard. The young woman sighed, her bosom rising and falling in a quick breath of pain. Then she made the sign of the Cross.
"My brother is very low," she said, sitting down by the fire after a time. Her eyes were upon the fire. Her face was less hard than the faces I had seen on the hills. She looked good-natured.
"Is he long ill?"
"This long while. But to look at him you would conceit he was as sound as a trout. First he was moody, moping about the place, and no way wishful for company. Hours he would spend below at the butt of the meadow, nearby the water, sitting under the thorn bush and he playing upon the fideog. Then he began to lose the use of his limbs, and crying he used to be within in the room. Some of the people who have knowledge say he is lying under a certain influence. He cannot speak now. The holy Friar will know what is best to be done."
When the Friar came out of the room he was divesting himself of the embroidered stole he had put over his shoulders.
The white-capped old woman had excitement in her face as she followed him.
"Kevin spoke," she said to the other. "He looked up at the blessed man and he made an offer to cross himself. I could not hear the words he was speaking, that soft they come from his lips."
"Kevin will live," said the younger woman, catching some of the excitement of her mother. She stood tensely, drawn up near the fire, gazing vacantly but intently across the kitchen, as if she would will it so passionately that Kevin should live that he would live. She moved suddenly, swiftly, noiselessly across the floor and disappeared into the room.
The priest sat by the fire for some time, the old woman standing by, respectful, but her eyes riveted upon him as if she would pluck from him all the secrets of existence. The priest was conscious, a little uneasy, and a little amused, at this abnormal scrutiny. Some shuffling sounded outside the house as if a drove of shy animals had come down from the mountain and approached the dwelling. Presently the door creaked. I looked at it uneasily. The atmosphere of the place, the fumes of the poteen in my head, the heat of the fire, had given me a more powerful impression of the mysterious, the weird. Nothing showed at the door for some time, but I kept my eye upon it. I was rewarded. A cluster of heads and shoulders of men, swarthy, gloomy, some awful foreboding in the expression of their faces, hung round the door and peered silently down at the Friar seated at the fire. Again I had the sense that they would not be surprised to see any sort of apparition. The heads disappeared, and there was more shuffling outside the windows as if shy animals were hovering around the house. The door creaked again, and another bunch of heads and shoulders made a cluster about it. They looked, as far as I could see them, the same group of heads, but I had the feeling that they were fresh spectators. They were taking their view in turn.
The priest ventured some conversation with the woman of the house.
"Do you think will Kevin live, Father?"
"He should have more courage," the Friar said.
"We will all have more courage now that you have read over him."
"Keep the faith. It is all in the hands of God. It is only what is pleasing to Him that will come to pass."
"Blessed be His Holy Name." The woman inclined her head as she spoke the words. The priest rose to go.
The young girl came out of the room. "Kevin will live," she said. "He spoke to me." Her eyes were shining as she gazed at her mother.
"Could you tell what words he spoke?"
"I could. He said, 'In the month of April, when the water runs clear in the river, I will be playing the fideog.' That is what Kevin said."
"When the river is clear—playing the fideog," the elder woman repeated, some look of trouble, almost terror, in her face. "The cross of Christ between him and that fideog!"
The priest was moving to the door and I followed. As I did so I got a glimpse, through the partly open room door, of the invalid. I saw the long, pallid, nervous-looking face of a young man on the pillow. A light fell on his brow, and I thought it had the height, and the arch, the good shape sloping backward to the long head, of a musician. The eyes were shining with an unnatural brightness. It was the face of an artist, an idealist, intensified, idealised, by illness, by suffering, by excitement, and I wondered if the vision which Kevin Hooban had of playing the fideog by the river, when it ran clear in April, were a vision of his heaven or his earth.
We left the house. Patch Keetly was taking the loop from a trace as he harnessed the mare in the yellow light of a stable lantern. We mounted the car. The groups of men drew about us, their movements again sounding like the shuffling of shy animals on the sod, and they broke silence for the first time.
There was more said about Kevin Hooban. From various allusions, vague and unsubstantial, little touches in the kind, musical voices, I gathered that they believed him to be under the influence of the Good People. The sense of mystery and ill-omen came back to me, and I carried away a memory of the dark figures of the people grouped about the lonely lighted house, standing there in sorrow for the flute-player, the grass at their feet sparkling with frost.
Obeying a domestic mandate, Padna wrapped a pair of boots in paper and took them to the shoemaker, who operated behind a window in a quiet street.
The shoemaker seemed to Padna a melancholy man. He wore great spectacles, had a white patch of forehead, and two great bumps upon it. Padna concluded that the bumps had been encouraged by the professional necessity of constantly hanging his head over his knees.
The shoemaker invited Padna to sit down in his workshop, which he did. Padna thought it must be very dreary to sit there all day among old and new boots, pieces of leather, boxes of brass eyelets, awls, knives, and punchers. No wonder the shoemaker was a melancholy-looking man.
Padna maintained a discreet silence while the shoemaker turned his critical glasses upon the boots he had brought him for repair. Suddenly the great glasses were turned upon Padna himself, and the shoemaker addressed him in a voice of amazing pleasantness.
"When did you hear the cuckoo?" he asked.
Padna, at first startled, pulled himself together. "Yesterday," he replied.
"Did you look at the sole of your boot when you heard him?" the shoemaker asked.
"No," said Padna.
"Well," said the shoemaker, "whenever you hear the cuckoo for the first time in the spring always look at the sole of your right boot. There you will find a hair. And that hair will tell you the kind of a wife you will get."
The shoemaker picked a long hair from the sole of Padna's boot and held it up in the light of the window.
"You'll be married to a brown-haired woman," he said. Padna looked at the hair without fear, favour, or affection, and said nothing.
The shoemaker took his place on his bench, selected a half-made shoe, got it between his knees, and began to stitch with great gusto. Padna admired the skilful manner in which he made the holes with his awl and drew the wax-end with rapid strokes. Padna abandoned the impression that the shoemaker was a melancholy man. He thought he never sat near a man so optimistic, so mentally emancipated, so detached from the indignity of his occupation.
"These are very small shoes you are stitching," said Padna, making himself agreeable.
"They are," said the shoemaker. "But do you know who makes the smallest shoes in the world? You don't? Well, well!... The smallest shoes in the world are made by the clurichaun, a cousin of the leprechaun. If you creep up on the west side of a fairy fort after the sun has set and put your ear to the grass you'll hear the tapping of his hammer. And do you know who the clurichaun makes shoes for? You don't? Well, well!... He makes shoes for the swallows. Oh, indeed they do, swallows wear shoes. Twice a year swallows wear shoes. They wear them in the spring, and again at the fall of the year. They wear them when they fly from one world to another. And they cross the Dead Sea. Did you ever hear tell of the Dead Sea? You did. Well, well!... No bird ever yet flew across the Dead Sea. Any of them that tried it dropped and sank like a stone. So the swallows, when they come to the Dead Sea, get down on the bank, and there the clurichauns have millions of shoes waiting for them. The swallows put on their shoes and walk across the Dead Sea, stepping on bright yellow and black stepping-stones that shine across the water like a lovely carpet. And do you know what the stepping-stones across the Dead Sea are? They are the backs of sleeping frogs. And when the swallows are all safe across the frogs waken up and begin to sing, for then it is known the summer will come. Did you never hear that before? No? Well, well!"
A cat, friendly as the shoemaker himself, leapt on to Padna's lap. The shoemaker shifted the shoe he was stitching between his knees, putting the heel where the toe had been.
"Do you know where they first discovered electricity?" he asked.
"In America," Padna ventured.
"No. In the back of a cat. He was a big buck Chinese cat. Every hair on him was seven inches long, in colour gold, and thick as copper wire. He was the only cat who ever looked on the face of the Empress of China without blinking, and when the Emperor saw that he called him over and stroked him on the back. No sooner did the Emperor of China stroke the buck cat than back he fell on his plush throne, as dead as his ancestors. So they called in seven wise doctors from the seven wise countries of the East to find out what it was killed the Emperor. And after seven years they discovered electricity in the backbone of the cat, and signed a proclamation that it was from the shock of it the Emperor had died. When the Americans read the proclamation they decided to do whatever killing had to be done as the cat had killed the Emperor of China. The Americans are like that—all for imitating royal families."
"Has this cat any electricity in her?" Padna asked.
"She has," said the shoemaker, drawing his wax-end. "But she's a civilised cat, not like the vulgar fellow in China, and civilised cats hide their electricity much as civilised people hide their feelings. But one day last summer I saw her showing her electricity. A monstrous black rat came prowling from the brewery, a bald patch on his head and a piece missing from his left haunch. To see that fellow coming up out of a gullet and stepping up the street, in the middle of the broad daylight, you'd imagine he was the county inspector of police."
"And did she fight the rat?" Padna asked.
The shoemaker put the shoe on a last and began to tap with his hammer. "She did fight him," he said. "She went out to him twirling her moustaches. He lay down on his back. She lay down on her side. They kept grinning and sparring at each other like that for half an hour. At last the monstrous rat got up in a fury and come at her, the fangs stripped. She swung round the yard, doubled in two, making circles like a Catherine-wheel about him until the old blackguard was mesmerised. And if you were to see the bulk of her tail then, all her electricity gone into it! She caught him with a blow of it under the jowl, and he fell in a swoon. She stood over him, her back like the bend of a hoop, the tail beating about her, and a smile on the side of her face. And that was the end of the monstrous brewery rat."
Padna said nothing, but put the cat down on the floor. When she made some effort to regain his lap he surreptitiously suggested, with the tip of his boot, that their entente was at an end.
A few drops of rain beat on the window, and the shoemaker looked up, his glasses shining, the bumps on his forehead gleaming. "Do you know the reason God makes it rain?" he asked.
Padna, who had been listening to the conversation of two farmers the evening before, replied, "I do. To make turnips grow."
"Nonsense!" said the shoemaker, reaching out for an awl. "God makes it rain to remind us of the Deluge. And I don't mean the Deluge that was at all at all. I mean the Deluge that is to come. The world will be drowned again. The belly-band of the sky will give, for that's what the rainbow is, and it only made of colours. Did you never know until now what the rainbow was? No? Well, well!... As I was saying, when the belly-band of the sky bursts the Deluge will come. In one minute all the valleys of the earth will be filled up. In the second minute the mountains will be topped. In the third minute the sky will be emptied and its skin gone, and the earth will be no more. There will be no ark, no Noah, and no dove. There will be nothing only one great waste of grey water and in the middle of it one green leaf. The green leaf will be a sign that God has gone to sleep, the trouble of the world banished from His mind. So whenever it rains remember my words."
Padna said he would, and then went home.
When Padna called on the shoemaker for the boots that had been left for repair they were almost ready. The tips only remained to be put on the heels. Padna sat down in the little workshop, and under the agreeable influence of the place he made bold to ask the shoemaker if he had grown up to be a shoemaker as the geranium had grown up to be a geranium in its pot on the window.
"What!" exclaimed the shoemaker. "Did you never hear tell that I was found in the country under a head of cabbage? No! Well, well! What do they talk to you at home about at all?"
"The most thing they tell me," said Padna, "is to go to bed and get up in the morning. What is the name of the place in the country where they found you?"
"Gobstown," said the shoemaker. "It was the most miserable place within the ring of Ireland. It lay under the blight of a good landlord, no better. That was its misfortune, and especially my misfortune. If the Gobstown landlord was not such a good landlord it's driving on the box of an empire I would be to-day instead of whacking tips on the heels of your boots. How could that be? I'll tell you that.