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Barlow, Jane / Strangers at Lisconnel
STRANGERS AT LISCONNEL

_A SECOND SERIES OF IRISH IDYLLS_


BY

JANE BARLOW




NEW YORK
DODD, MEAD AND COMPANY
1895


_Copyright, 1895_,

by

Dodd, Mead and Company.




TO

M. L. B.

[Gaelic: Is fada mé beo do dhiaigh.]




CONTENTS


PAGE

CHAPTER I.

OUT OF THE WAY 1


CHAPTER II.

JERRY DUNNE'S BASKET 14


CHAPTER III.

MRS. KILFOYLE'S CLOAK 31


CHAPTER IV.

A GOOD TURN 53


CHAPTER V.

FORECASTS 80


CHAPTER VI.

A FAIRING 112


CHAPTER VII.

MR. POLYMATHERS 139


CHAPTER VIII.

HONORIS CAUSA 168


CHAPTER IX.

BOYS' WAGES 211


CHAPTER X.

CON THE QUARE ONE 235


CHAPTER XI.

MAD BELL 271


CHAPTER XII.

A FLITTING 303


CHAPTER XIII.

A RETURN 324


CHAPTER XIV.

GOOD LUCK 340




CHAPTER I

OUT OF THE WAY


To Lisconnel, our very small hamlet in the middle of a wide bogland, the
days that break over the dim blue hill-line, faint and far off, seldom
bring a stranger's face; but then they seldom take a familiar one away,
beyond reach, at any rate of return before nightfall. In fact, there are
few places amid this mortal change to which we may come back after any
reasonable interval with more confidence of finding things just as we
left them, due allowance being made for the inevitable fingering of
Time. We shall find some old people who have aged under it, and some
who, as certain philosophers would hold, have grown younger again. The
latter may be seen just beginning, perhaps, to sit up stiff on a woman's
arm, or starting for a trial crawl over mother earth; and of them we
remark that there is another little Ryan or Quigley; while the former
stay sunning themselves so inertly, or totter about so shakily, that we
notice at once how much old Sheridan, or the Widow Joyce, has failed
since last year. These babies and grandparents often associate a good
deal with one another at the stage when the old body is still capable of
"keepin' an eye on the child," and the child still resorts to all fours
if it wants to get up its highest speed. But this companionship does not
last long in any given case. Very soon the expanding and the contracting
sphere cease to touch closely. On the one hand, the world widens into
more spacious tracts for nimbler and bolder ranging over with all manner
of remarkable things growing and living upon it, to be gathered and
captured, or at least sought and chased, among pools, and hillocks and
swampy places. On the other, it shrinks to within the limits of a few
dwindling furlongs and perches, traversed ever more feebly, until at
length even the nearest stone, on which the warm rays can be basked in,
seems to have moved too far off, and the flicker-haunted nook by the
hearth-fire becomes the end of the whole day's journey.

Thus the generations, as they succeed one another, wave-like preserve a
well-marked rhythm in their coming and going--play, work, rest--not to
be interrupted by anything less peremptory than death or disablement.
This wag-by-the-wall swings and swings its bobbed pendulum without
pause, but one swing is much like the other, and their background never
varies. Little Pat out stravading of a fine morning on the great
brown-wigged bog, and, it may be hoped, enjoying himself thoroughly, is
taking the same first steps in life as young Pat his father, now busy
cutting turf-sods, and old Pat, his grandfather, idly watching them
burn, with a pipe, if in luck, to keep alight. And the Lisconnel folk,
therefore, because the changes wrought by human agency come to them in
unimposing forms, are strongly impressed by the vast natural
vicissitudes of things which rule their destinies. The melting of season
into season, and year into year, the leaf-like withering and drifting
away of the old from among the fresh springing growths, are ever before
their eyes, and the contemplation steeps them in a sense of the
transitoriness of things good and bad. Even the black soil they tread on
may next year flutter up into a vanishing blue column through a
smoke-hole in somebody's thatch. They carry this sense with a light and
heavy heart. In like manner they make the very most of all unusual
events. They find materials for half-an-hour's talk in the passage by
their doors of one of those rarely coming strangers, who do appear from
time to time, as frequently, indeed, as anybody would expect, having
surveyed the thoroughfare that links us with humanity. For if we follow
it southward, where, like the unvanishing wake of some vessel, it
streaks the level plain, that is lonely as a wide water, but stiller, we
pass by Dan O'Beirne's forge, now neighbourless, and through humble
Duffclane, and on to Ballybrosna, our Town; but we must go many a mile
further to reach anything upon which you would bestow that title. Or, if
we turn northward, we only find it seaming another ample fold of
bogland, outspread far and far beyond Lisconnel before a grey hill-range
begins to rise in slow undulations, crested with furze and broom. Here
we smell turf-smoke again, and see a cabin-row that is Sallinbeg, and
hence the road strikes north-westward in among the mountains, where a
few mottled-faced sheep peer down over it from their smooth green walks,
but do not care to trust their black velvet legs upon it. And then, by
the time that the air has become sea-scented, the road climbs to the
top of a hill, and stops there abruptly, as if it had been travelling
all the while merely to look at the view. The truth is that the funds
for its construction would go no further, and, in consequence, wayfarers
coming along by the shore still have to tread out a path for themselves
across a gap of moorland, if they are bound for Lisconnel.

You may perceive, therefore, that Lisconnel lies out of the way, on the
route to no places of importance, and as its own ten or a dozen little
houses are, I fear, collectively altogether insignificant, it has small
reason to expect many visitors. The Widow M'Gurk said one day that you
might as well be living at the bottom of the boghole for any company you
got the chance of seeing; but this was an exaggeration. She was vexed
when she made the remark, because Mrs. Dooley, old Dan O'Beirne's
married daughter, then staying at the forge, had promised to come and
inspect a pair of marketable chickens, in anticipation of which Mrs.
M'Gurk had wetted a cup of tea and used up her last handful of wholemeal
for a cake, that Mrs. Dooley, who was in rather affluent circumstances,
might not think them "too poorly off altogether." But, after all, the
hours had slipped blankly by, and nobody had arrived. So the widow had
ruefully put her teapot to sit on the hob until himself came in--for,
properly speaking, she was at this time not yet a widow--and had stepped
down her tussocky slope with her double disappointment to Mrs. Kilfoyle.

Mrs. Kilfoyle was knitting at her door and not looking out over the bog,
where the flushed light of the sunset drowsed on the black sod in an
almost tangible fire-film. Against it the poppies stood up dark and
opaque, but the large white daisies had caught the wraith of the glow on
their glimmering discs. She had been thinking how not so long ago her
son Thady used to come whistling home to her across the bog when the
shadows stretched their longest. The sunset still came punctually every
evening, but had grown wonderfully lonesome since the kick of a
cross-tempered cart-horse had silenced his whistling and stopped his
home-coming for ever. Thady's whistling had been indifferent, considered
as music, yet it had sounded pleasant in her ears, and Mrs. M'Gurk's
trouble seemed to her not very serious. However, she replied to her
complaint: "Ah, sure, woman dear, like enough she might be here
to-morra."

"And if she is, she'll be very apt to not get e'er a chuck or a chucken
off of me--not the feather of a one," said Mrs. M'Gurk, resentfully,
"plenty of other things I have to do besides wastin' me time waitin' for
people that don't know their own minds from one minyit to the next, and
makin' a fool of meself star-gazin' along the road, and ne'er a fut
stirrin' on it no more than if it was desolit wildernesses."

She would not for the world have alluded to her expenditure of more
material resources, and accordingly had to explain her vexation by
putting a fictitious value upon her time, which, in reality, was just
then drearily superabundant.

"Sure," suggested Mrs. Kilfoyle, "the poor woman maybe was kep' at home
some way, and she wid ivery intintion to be comin'. I declare, now,
you'd whiles think things knew what you was manin' in your mind, and riz
themselves up agin it a' purpose to prevint you, they happen that
conthráry."

As Mrs. M'Gurk's experience did not dispose her to gainsay this
proposition, and she was nevertheless disinclined to be mollified by it,
she likewise had recourse to generalities, and said:

"'Deed then it's welcome anybody is to stop away if they're wishful,
hindered or no. Long sorry I'd be to have people disthressin' themselves
streelin' after _me_." And she added, rather inconsistently, the remark
already mentioned: "But the likes of this place I never witnessed. You
might as well be livin' at the bottom of the blackest ould boghoule
there, for e'er a chance you have to be seein' a bit of company."

"And it's yourself 'ud make the fine sizeable waterask, ma'am," a
high-pitched voice said suddenly from within doors, causing Mrs. M'Gurk
to start and peer into the dark opening behind her, somewhat taken aback
at finding that she had had an unsuspected audience, which is always
more or less of a shock. The first object she descried through the hazy
dusk was the figure of the old woman known to Lisconnel as Ody
Rafferty's aunt, but in fact so related to his father, sitting with her
short black dudeen by the delicate pink and white embers, for the
evening was warm and the fire low. Ody himself was leaning against the
wall, critically examining Brian Kilfoyle's blackthorn, and forming a
poor opinion of it with considerable satisfaction. Not that he bore
Brian any ill-will, but because this is his method of attaining to
contentment with his own possessions.

"Whethen now and is it yourself that's in it, Ody Rafferty?" said Mrs.
M'Gurk, as she recognised him. "And what talk have you out of you about
waterasks? You're the great man, bedad."

"Me aunt's lookin' in on Mrs. Kilfoyle, ma'am," said Ody, "be raison of
Brian bein' off to the Town. And right enough you and me knows what's
took him there; and so does Norah Finegan. Och, good luck to the pair of
thim."

"Coortin'," said his aunt, who preferred to put things briefly and
clearly. "But I was tellin' Mrs. Kilfoyle to not be frettin', for sure
God is good, and they'll be apt to keep her in it all's one."

"Goodness may pity you, woman," said Mrs. M'Gurk. "Brian 'ud as lief
take and bring home a she _hyenna_, and it ravin' mad, as anybody 'ud
look crooked at his mother, I very well know."

"Norah's a rael dacint little slip of a girl," Mrs. Kilfoyle said
tranquilly, considering that her son's character needed no certificate.
But the old woman only grunted doubtfully, and said: "Och, is she?" For
she had been a superfluous aunt so long that she found it hard to
believe in anything better than toleration.

"Talkin' of company," said Ody, to change the subject--which his aunt's
remarks often disposed people to do--"Mad Bell's just after shankin'
back wid herself; she's below colloguin' wid Big Anne. It's a fine long
tramp she's took this time; so if she was in the humour she'd a right to
ha' plinty to be tellin' us."

"Well, now, I'm glad the crathur's home," said Mrs. Kilfoyle. "It's
lonesome in a manner to think of the little ould bein' rovin' about the
world like a wisp of hay gathered up on the win'; for all, tubbe sure,
it's her own fancy starts her off."

"I won'er where to she wint this time," said Mrs. M'Gurk.

"You might as well," said Ody, "be won'erin' where a one of thim
saygulls goes, when it gives a flourish of its ould flippers and away
wid itself head foremost--barrin', in coorse, that Mad Bell's bound to
keep on the dhry land at all ivents. But from Sallinbeg ways she come
this evenin', singin' 'Garry Owen' most powerful--I know that much."

"Ah, then she might be chance ha' been as far as Laraghmena, and ha'
seen a sight of me brother Mick and Theresa," Mrs. Kilfoyle said, with
wistful interest. For at Lisconnel we still look not a little to the
reports brought by stray travellers for news of absent friends, much as
we did before the days of penny posts and mail trains. And our
geographical lore is vague enough to impede us but slightly in our hopes
of obtaining information from any quarter. Only the probability seems to
be increased if the newcomer arrives from the direction in which our
friend departed.

"Sure she might so," said Ody. "But niver a tell she'll tell onless she
happens to take the notion in the quare ould head of her. It's just be
the road of humouring her now and agin, and piecin' her odd stories
together, you git e'er a discovery, so to spake, of the places she's
after bein' in."

The scenes of Mad Bell's wanderings did indeed reveal themselves to her
neighbours confusedly and dispersedly in her fitful and capricious
narrative, like glimpses of a landscape caught through a shifting mist.
As this sometimes distorts the objects that loom within it, so Mad
Bell's statements were occasionally misleading. Once, for example, she
threw the Quigley family into most distracted concern by her accounts of
the terrific "shootin' and murdherin' and massacreein'" she had seen in
progress down away at Glasgannon, where Joe Quigley had taken service
with a strong farmer; these disturbances being in reality nothing more
than a muster of the county militia.

"But I can tell you how she thravelled a good step of the way home," Ody
now continued, "for she tould me herself. The Tinkers gave her a lift in
their ould cart. Somewheres beyant Rosbride she met wid them; glory be
to goodness 'twasn't any nearer here they were, the ould thieves of sin.
Howane'er, _Mrs. M'Gurk_ belike 'ud be wishful to see thim comin' along.
Fine company they'd be for anybody begorrah. Troth, it's the quare ugly
boghoule she'd find the aquil of thim at the bottom of."

Mrs. M'Gurk, however, said protestingly, "Och, wirrasthrew, man, don't
be talkin' of the Tinkers. They'd a right to not be let set fut widin
tin mile of any dacint place. Thim or the likes of any such rogues."

And Mrs. Kilfoyle said, "I'd liefer than a great deal they kep' out of
it. Ne'er a one of the lot of them I ever beheld but had the eyes
rowlin' in his head wid villiny. And the childer, goodness help them, do
be worse than the grown people."

And Ody Rafferty's aunt said, "Bad cess to the whole of them."

For in Lisconnel nobody has a good word to say of the Tinkers.

The tribe and their many delinquencies have even supplied us with a bit
of the proverbial philosophy in which not a little of our local history
is epitomised. The saying, "As pat as thievin' to a tinker" is probably
quoted among us as frequently as any other, except, perhaps, one which
refers to Jerry Dunne's basket. This latter had its origin in a certain
event, not like the former in the long-accumulating observation of
habits and propensities, and to explain it therefore is to write a
chapter of our chronicles. Moreover, the event in question is otherwise
not unimportant from a sociological point of view, because it is very
likely to have been the first morning call ever made at Lisconnel.




CHAPTER II

JERRY DUNNE'S BASKET


So it is worth while to tell the reason why people at Lisconnel
sometimes respond with irony to a question: "What have I got? Sure, all
that Jerry Dunne had in his basket." The saying is of respectable
antiquity, for it originated while Bessy Joyce, who died a year or so
back, at "a great ould age entirely," was still but a slip of a girl. In
those days her mother used often to say regretfully that she didn't know
when she was well off, like Rody O'Rourke's pigs, quoting a proverb of
obscurer antecedents. When she did so she was generally thinking of the
fine little farm in the county Clare, which they had not long since
exchanged for the poor tiny holding away in the heart of the black bog;
and of how, among the green fields, and thriving beasts, and other good
things of Clonmena, she had allowed her content to be marred by such a
detail as her Bessy's refusal to favour the suit of Jerry Dunne.

Mrs. Joyce eagerly desired a brilliant alliance for Bessy, who was
rather an important daughter, being the only grown-up girl, and a very
pretty one, among a troop of younger brethren; so it seemed contrary
enough that she wouldn't look the same side of the road as young Jerry,
who was farming prosperously on his own account, and whose family were
old friends and neighbours, and real respectable people, including a
first cousin nothing less than a parish priest. Yet Bessy ran away and
hid herself in as ingeniously unlikely places as a strayed calf whenever
she heard of his approach, and if brought by chance into his society
became most discouragingly deaf and dumb.

It is true that at the time I speak of Bessy's prospects fully entitled
her to as opulent a match, and no one apparently foresaw how speedily
they would be overcast by her father's improvidence. But Andy Joyce had
an ill-advised predilection for seeing things what he called "dacint and
proper" about him, and it led him into several imprudent acts. For
instance, he built some highly superior sheds in the bawn, to the
bettering, no doubt, of his cattle's condition, but very little to his
own purpose, which he would indeed have served more advantageously by
spending the money they cost him at Moriarty's shebeen. Nor was he left
without due warning of the consequences likely to result from such
courses. The abrupt raising of his rent by fifty per cent, was a broad
hint which most men would have taken; and it did keep Andy quiet,
ruefully, for a season or two. Then, however, having again saved up a
trifle, he could not resist the temptation to drain the swampy corner of
the farthest river-field, which was as kind a bit of land as you could
wish, only for the water lying on it, and in which he afterwards raised
himself a remarkably fine crop of white oats. The sight of them "done
his heart good," he said, exultantly, nothing recking that it was the
last touch of farmer's pride he would ever feel. Yet on the next
quarter-day the Joyces received notice to quit, and their landlord
determined to keep the vacated holding in his own hands; those new sheds
were just the thing for his young stock. Andy, in fact, had done his
best to improve himself off the face of the earth, and he should
therefore have been thankful to retain a foothold, even in a
loose-jointed, rush-roofed cabin away at stony Lisconnel. Whether
thankful or no, there, at any rate, he presently found himself
established with all his family, and the meagre remnant of his hastily
sold-off gear, and the black doors of the "house" seeming to loom ahead
whenever he looked into the murky future.

The first weeks and months of their new adversity passed slowly and
heavily for the transplanted household, more especially for Andy and his
wife, who had outgrown a love of paddling in bogholes, and had acquired
a habit of wondering "what at all 'ud become of the childer, the
crathurs." One shrill-blasted March morning Andy trudged off to the fair
down below at Duffclane--not that he had any business to transact there,
unless we reckon as such a desire to gain a respite from regretful
boredom. He but partially succeeded in doing this, and returned at dusk
so fagged and dispirited that he had not energy to relate his scraps of
news until he was half through his plate of stirabout. Then he observed
"I seen a couple of boys from home in it."

"Whethen now, to think of that," said Mrs. Joyce with mournful interest,
"which of them was it?"

"The one of them was Terence Kilfoyle," said Andy.

Mrs. Joyce's interest flagged, for young Kilfoyle was merely a
good-looking lad with the name of being rather wild. "Ah sure _he_ might
as well be in one place as another," she said indifferently. "Bessy,
honey, as you're done, just throw the scraps to the white hin where
she's sittin'."

"He sez he's thinkin' to settle hereabouts," said Andy; "I tould him
he'd a right to go thry his fortin somewhere outlandish, but he didn't
seem to fancy the idee, and small blame to him. A man's bound to get his
heart broke one way or the other anywheres, as far as I can see. I met
Jerry Dunne too."

"Och and did you indeed?" said Mrs. Joyce, kindling into eagerness
again.

Jerry had been absent from Clonmena at the time of their flitting, and
they had heard nothing of him since; but she still cherished a flicker
of hope in his connection, which the tidings of his appearance in the
neighbourhood fanned and fed.

"And he's quit out of it himself," Andy continued, "for the ould uncle
of his he's been stoppin' wid this while back at Duffclane's after dyin'
and lavin' him a fine farm and a hantle of money, and I dunno what all
besides. So it's there he's goin' to live, and he's gave up the ould
place at Clonmena, as well he may, and no loss to him on it, for he sez
himself he niver spent a pinny over it beyont what he'd be druv to, if
he wanted to get e'er a crop out of it at all, and keep things together
in any fashion: he wasn't such a fool." Andy hesitated, as if on the
brink of a painful theme, and resumed with an effort: "He's bought
Magpie and the two two-year-olds off of Peter Martin. Chape enough he
got them, too, though he had to give ten shillin's a head more for them
than Martin ped me."

"Mavrone, but some people have the luck," said Mrs. Joyce.

"And Jerry bid me tell you," said Andy, the memory of his lost cattle
still saddening his tone, "that he might be steppin' up here to see you
to-morra or next day."

At this Mrs. Joyce's face suddenly brightened, as if she had been
summoned to share Jerry Dunne's good luck. She felt almost as if that
had actually happened. For his visit could surely signify nothing else
than that he meant to continue his suit; and under the circumstances,
Bessy's misliking was a piece of folly not to be taken into account.
Besides that, the girl, she thought, looked quite heartened up by the
news. So she replied to her husband: "'Deed then, he'll be very
welcome," and the sparkle was in her eyes all the rest of the evening.

On the morrow, which was a bright morning with a far-off pale blue sky,
Mrs. Joyce hurried over her readying-up, that she might be prepared for
her possible visitor. She put on her best clothes, and as her wardrobe
had not yet fallen to a level with her fortune, she was able to array
herself in a strong steel-grey mohair gown, a black silk apron with
three rows of velvet ribbon on it besides the binding, a fine small
woollen shawl of very brilliant scarlet and black plaid, with a pinkish
cornelian brooch to pin it at the throat, all surmounted by a snowy
high-caul cap, in those days not yet out of date at Lisconnel, where
fashions lag somewhat. She noticed, well-pleased, Bessy's willingness to
fall in with the suggestion that she should re-arrange her hair and
change her gown after the morning's work was done; and the inference
drawn grew stronger, when, for the first time since their troubles, the
girl began to sing "Moll Dhuv in Glanna" while she coiled up her long
tresses.

All that forenoon Mrs. Joyce had happy dreams about the mending of the
family fortunes, which would be effected by Bessy's marriage with Jerry
Dunne. When her neighbour, Mrs. Ryan, looked in, she could not forbear
mentioning the expected call, and was further elated because Mrs. Ryan
at once remarked: "Sure, 'twill be Bessy he's after," though she
herself, of course, disclaimed the idea, saying: "Och musha, ma'am, not
at all." The Ryans were tenants who had also been put out of Clonmena,
and they occupied a cabin adjoining the Joyces', these two dwellings,
backed by the slopes of the Knockawn, forming the nucleus of Lisconnel.

About noon, Paddy, the eldest boy, approached at a hand gallop,
bestriding a donkey which belonged to the gang of men who were still
working on the unfinished road. As soon as the beast reached the
open-work stone wall of the potato-field it resolutely scraped its rider
off, a thing it had been vainly wishing to do all along the fenceless
track. Paddy, however, alighted unconcerned among the clattering stones,
and ran on with his tidings. These were to the effect that he was "after
seein' Jerry Dunne shankin' up from Duffclane ways, a goodish bit below
the indin' of the road, and he wid a great big basket carryin', fit to
hould a young turf-stack."

The intelligence created an agreeable excitement, which was undoubtedly
heightened by the fact of the basket. "Very belike," said Mrs. Ryan,
"he's bringin' somethin' to you, or it might be Bessy." And while Mrs.
Joyce rejoined deprecatingly: "Ah sure, woman alive, what would the poor
lad be troublin' himself to bring us all this way?" she was really
answering her own question with a dozen flattering conjectures. The
basket must certainly contain _something_, and there were so few by any
means probable things that would not at this pinch have come acceptably
to the Joyces' household, where the heavy pitaty sack grew light with
such alarming rapidity, and the little hoard of corn dwindled, and the
childer's appetites seemed to wax larger day by day. She had not quite
made up her mind, when Jerry arrived, whether she would wish for a bit
of bacon--poor Andy missed an odd taste of it so bad--or for another
couple of hens, which would be uncommonly useful now that her own few
had all left off laying.

Mrs. Ryan having discreetly withdrawn, Mrs. Joyce stood alone in her
dark doorway to receive her guest, and, through all her flutter of hope,
she felt a bitter twinge of housewifely chagrin at being discovered in
such miserable quarters. The black earth flooring at her threshold
gritted hatefully under her feet, and the gusts whistling through the
many chinks of her rough walls seemed to skirl derisively. She was
nevertheless resolved to put the best possible face upon the situation.

"Well, Mrs. Joyce, ma'am, and how's yourself this long while?" said
Jerry Dunne, coming up. "Bedad I'm glad to see you so finely, and it's
an iligant place you've got up here."

"Ah, it's not too bad whatever," said Mrs. Joyce, "on'y 'twas a great
upset on us turnin' out of the ould house at home. Himself had a right
to ha' left things the way he found them, and then it mightn't iver ha'
happened him. But sure, poor man, he niver thought he'd be ruinatin' us
wid his conthrivances. It's God's will. Be steppin' inside to the fire,
Jerry lad; there's a thin feel yet in the win'."

Jerry, stepping inside, deposited his basket, which did not appear to be
very heavy, rather disregardfully by him on the floor. Mrs. Joyce would
not allow herself to glance in its direction. It struck her that the
young man seemed awkward and flustered, and she considered this a
favourable symptom.

"And what way's Mr. Joyce?" said Jerry. "He was lookin' grand whin I
seen him yisterday."

"'Deed, he gits his health middlin' well enough, glory be to goodness,"
she said; "somewhiles he'll be frettin' a bit, thinkin' of diff'rent
things, and when I tell him he'd better lave botherin' his head wid
them, he sez he might as aisy bid a blast of win' to not be blowin'
through a houle. Och, Andy's a quare man. He's out and about now
somewheres on the farm."

Mrs. Joyce put a spaciousness into her tone wholly disproportionate to
their screed of tussocks and boulders; and then paused, hoping that the
next inquiry might relate to Bessy.

But what young Jerry said was, "You've got a great run, anyway, for the
fowls."

The irrelevance of the remark disappointed Mrs. Joyce, and she replied a
little tartly: "A great run you may call it, for begorrah our hearts is
broke huntin' after the crathurs, and they strayin' off wid themselves
over the width of the bog there, till you've as much chance of catchin'
them as the sparks flyin' up the chimney."

"That's unhandy, now," said Jerry. He sat for some moments reflectively
ruffling up his flaxen hair with both hands, and then he said, "Have you
the big white hin yit that you got from me a while ago?"

"We have so bedad," said Mrs. Joyce, not loth to enlarge upon this
subject. "Sure we made a shift to bring a few of the best chickens we
had along wid us, and sorry we'd ha' been to lose her, and she a
won'erful layer, and after you a-givin' her to us in a prisint that
way."

"There was some talk that time," said Jerry, "about me and Bessy."

"Ay, true for you, there was," said Mrs. Joyce, in eager assent, "plinty
of talk." She would have added more, but he was evidently in a hurry to
speak again.

"Well, there's none now," he said. "Things is diff'rent altogether. If
I'd ha' known, I'd ha' kep' the hin. The fact of the matter is I'm about
gettin' married to Sally Coghlan, that's me poor uncle's wife's niece.
He's after leavin' her what he had saved up. She's a fine figure of a
girl as iver you saw, and as good as gould, and the bit of lan' and the
bit of money had a right to go the one way. So I was thinkin', Mrs.
Joyce, I might as well be takin' home the ould him wid me--things bein'
diff'rent now, and no talk of Bessy. Sally has a great wish for a white
hin, and we've ne'er a one of that sort at our place. I've brought a wad
of hay in the basket meself, for 'fraid yous might be short of it up
here." Jerry gave a kick to the basket, which betrayed the flimsy nature
of its contents by rolling over with a wobble on its side.

At this critical moment Mrs. Joyce's pride rallied loyally to the rescue
of her dignity and self-respect, proving as effectual as the ice-film
which keeps the bleakest pool unruffled by the wildest storm wing. With
the knell of all her hope clanging harshly in her ears, she smiled
serenely, and said gaily: "Ay bedad, himself was tellin' us somethin'
about it last night. Sure, I'm rael glad to hear tell of your good luck,
and I wish you joy of it. And will you be gettin' married agin
Shrovetide? Och, that's grand. But the white hin now--the on'y thing is
the crathur's been sittin' on a clutch of eggs since Monday week. So
what are we to do at all?"

"There's hapes of room for the whole of them in the basket, for that
matter," Jerry suggested promptly.

"Ah, sure, it's distroyed they'd be, jogglin' along, and the crathur
herself 'ud go distracted entirely; sorra a bit of good you'd get of
her. But look here, Mr. Dunne, I've got another out there as like her as
if the both of them had come out of the one egg, and you could be takin'
that instid. It's a lucky thing I didn't set her to sit the way I was
intendin'; on'y I niver could get a clutch gathered for her, be raison
of the lads aitin' up the eggs on me. Sure, I can't keep them from the
little bosthoons when they be hungry."

"'Twould be all the same thing to me, in coorse, supposin' she was
equally so good," Jerry admitted with caution.

"Ivery feather she is," said Mrs. Joyce. "I seen her runnin' about there
just this minute; you can be lookin' at her yourself."

She went towards the door as she spoke, and was somewhat taken aback to
perceive her husband leaning against the wall close outside. How much of
the discussion he might have heard, she could not tell. The white hen
also appeared within easy reach, daintily resplendent under the sunshine
on a background of black turf. And Mrs. Ryan, standing darkly framed in
her doorway, was very certain to be an interested observer of events.
For the moment Mrs. Joyce's uppermost anxiety was to avoid any betrayal
of discomfiture, and she accordingly said in a loud and cheerful tone:

"Och, and are you there, Andy? Jerry Dunne's wishful for the loan of a
clockin' hin, so I'm about catchin' him the young white one to take home
wid him."

But, to her intense disgust, Jerry, who had followed her with his
basket, said remonstrantly: "Whethen now, Mrs. Joyce, the way I
understand the matter there's no talk in it of borryin' at all. I'm on'y
takin' her back instid of the ould one, and I question would any
raisonable body stand me out I don't own her be rights. It's an unjust
thing to be spakin' of loans."

Mrs. Joyce was so dumbfounded by this rebuff that she could only hide
her confusion by displaying an exaggerated activity in the capture of
the hen.

Her husband, however, said blandly, "Och, don't make yourself onaisy,
man. Loan or no loan, you needn't be under any apperhinsion we'll be
comin' after her wid a basket. Divil a much. Stir yourself, Kitty, and
be clappin' her in under the lid. He's in a hurry to get home to his
sweetheart wid the iligant prisint he's after pickin' up for her. Ay,
that's right, woman alive; give a tie to the bit of string, and then
there's nothin' to be delayin' him."

After this everybody said good-bye with much politeness and affability,
though withal a certain air of despatch, as if they were conscious of
handling rather perishable goods. And when Jerry was beyond earshot,
Andy, looking after him, remarked, "I niver liked a bone in that
fellow's skin. Himself and his ould basket. The lads 'ill be prisintly
comin' in to their dinners."

"D'you know where Bessy is?" said Mrs. Joyce, her heart sinking still
lower at the thought of the disappointment, which she had presumably
been helping to prepare for her daughter.

"When I seen her a while back, she was out there wid the childer,
discoorsin' to Terence Kilfoyle," Andy said contentedly.

"Musha, good gracious, Terence Kilfoyle, and what's _he_ come after?"
she said in a bitter tone.

"He stepped up wid a couple of pounds of fresh butter and a dozen of
eggs. He said he minded Bessy havin' a fancy for duck-eggs, and he
thought we mightn't happen to have e'er a one up here. She seemed as
pleased as anythin'. But if you ax _me_, Kitty," he said with a
twinkle, "I've a notion he's come after somethin' more than our ould
hin."

"He's a great young rogue," said Mrs. Joyce. Yet there was an accent of
relief in her voice, and on her face a reflection of her husband's
smile.

And Jerry Dunne's basket still occupies its niche in the stores of our
proverbial philosophy.




CHAPTER III

MRS. KILFOYLE'S CLOAK


The opprobrious proverb already mentioned is not the only permanent mark
of unpopularity that the Tinkers have earned for themselves at
Lisconnel. Their very name has become a term of reproach among us, so
that "an ould tinker" is recognised as an appropriate epithet for any
troublesome beast or disagreeable neighbour. If they were not
case-hardened by long experience, they would surely be mortified
sometimes at the reception with which they meet almost wherever they go.
The approach of the two queer vehicles in which they now generally
travel is watched by displeased eyes all over our countryside, and they
are so to speak lighted on their way by the gleam of suspicious or
resentful glances. And it must be admitted that their evil reputation
has not been bestowed upon them gratuitously. According to Ody Rafferty,
"The like of such a clanjamfry of thievin' drunken miscreants, you
wouldn't aisy get together, if you had a spring-trap set for them at the
Ould Fellow's front door for a month of Sundays. And if himself didn't
do a hard day's work the time he was consthructin' them, he niver done
one in his life, and that's a fac'." But Ody is apt to be particularly
severe in his strictures upon the Tinkers, because he feels an
aggravated form of rivalry existing between him and them. For the
wiliness which is understood to be Ody's forte also pre-eminently
characterises many of the Tinkers' nefarious proceedings, and this makes
it seem to him that they not only set their wits against his, but throw
discredit upon his favourite quality by the glaring moral defects which
they exhibit in conjunction with it. One's pleasure in being described
admiringly as "the ould boyo that's in it," is much diminished when one
hears the same thing said bitterly of some slieveen who has filched a
poor body's meal bag, or run off with a lone widdy woman's fowl.

Still, although the Tinkers' name has become a by-word among us through
a long series of petty offences rather than any one flagrant crime,
there is a notable misdeed on record against them, which has never been
forgotten in the lapse of many years. It was perpetrated soon after the
death of Mrs. Kilfoyle's mother, the Widow Joyce, an event which is but
dimly recollected now at Lisconnel, as nearly half a century has gone
by. She did not very long survive her husband, and he had left his roots
behind in his little place at Clonmena, where, as we know, he had farmed
not wisely, but too well, and had been put out of it for his pains to
expend his energy upon our oozy black sods and stark-white boulders. But
instead he moped about fretting for his fair green fields and few
proudly-cherished beasts--especially the little old Kerry cow. And at
his funeral the neighbours said: "Ah bedad, poor man, God help him, he
niver held up his head agin from that good day to this."

When Mrs. Joyce felt that it behoved her to settle her affairs, she
found that the most important possession she had to dispose of was her
large cloak. She had acquired it at the prosperous time of her marriage,
and it was a very superior specimen of its kind, its dark-blue cloth
being superfine, and its ample capes and capacious hood being
double-lined and quilted, and stitched in a way which I cannot pretend
to describe, but which made it a most substantial and handsome garment.
If Mrs. Joyce had been left entirely to her own choice in the matter, I
think she would have bequeathed it to her younger daughter Theresa,
notwithstanding that custom clearly designated Bessy Kilfoyle, the
eldest of the family, as the heiress. For she said to herself that poor
Bessy had her husband and childer to consowl her, any way, but little
Theresa, the crathur, had ne'er such a thing at all, and wouldn't have,
not she, God love her. "And the back of me hand to some I could name."
It seemed to her that to leave the child the cloak would be almost like
keeping a warm wing spread over her in the cold wide world; and there
was no fear that Bessy would take it amiss.

But Theresa herself protested strongly against such a disposition,
urging for one thing that sure she'd be lost in it entirely if ever she
put it on, a not unfounded objection, as Theresa was several sizes
smaller than Bessy, and even she fell far short of her mother in stature
and portliness. Theresa also said confidently with a sinking heart: "But
sure, anyhow, mother jewel, what matter about it? 'Twill be all gone to
houles and flitters and thraneens, and so it will, plase goodness,
afore there's any talk of anybody else wearin' it except your own ould
self." And she expressed much the same conviction one day to her
next-door neighbour, old Biddy Ryan, to whom she had run in for the loan
of a sup of sour milk, which Mrs. Joyce fancied. To Biddy's sincere
regret she could offer Theresa barely a skimpy noggin of milk, and only
a meagre shred of encouragement; and by way of eking out the latter with
its sorry substitute consolation, she said as she tilted the jug
perpendicularly to extract its last drop:

"Well, sure, me dear, I do be sayin' me prayers for her every sun goes
over our heads that she might be left wid you this great while yet;
'deed I do so. But ah, acushla, if we could be keepin' people
that-a-way, would there be e'er a funeral iver goin' black on the road
at all at all?



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