My Lady of the Chimney Corner
by Alexander Irvine
A STORY OF LOVE AND POVERTY IN IRISH PEASANT LIFE
MY LADY OF THE CHIMNEY CORNER
BY ALEXANDER IRVINE
AUTHOR OF FROM THE BOTTOM UP, ETC.
NEW YORK THE CENTURY CO. 1914
Copyright, 1913, by THE CENTURY CO. Published, August, 1913
TO LADY GREGORY AND THE PLAYERS OF THE ABBEY THEATRE DUBLIN
CHAPTER I. LOVE
CHAPTER II. THE
WOLF AND THE
CHAPTER V. HIS
ARM IS NOT
CHAPTER VI. THE
CHAPTER VII. IN
THE GLOW OF A
THE WIND BLOWETH
WHERE IT LISTETH
MEADOWS AN' TH'
CHAPTER X. THE
This book is the torn manuscript of the most beautiful life I ever
knew. I have merely pieced and patched it together, and have not even
changed or disguised the names of the little group of neighbors who
lived with us, at the bottom of the world. A. I.
MY LADY OF THE CHIMNEY-CORNER
A STORY OF LOVE AND POVERTY IN IRISH PEASANT LIFE
CHAPTER I. LOVE IS ENOUGH
Anna's purty, an' she's good as well as purty, but th' beauty an'
goodness that's hers is short lived, I'm thinkin', said old Bridget
McGrady to her neighbor Mrs. Tierney, as Mrs. Gilmore passed the door,
leading her five-year-old girl, Anna, by the hand. The old women were
sitting on the doorstep as the worshipers came down the lane from early
mass on a summer morning.
Thrue for you, Bridget, for th' do say that th' Virgin takes all
sich childther before they're ten.
Musha, but Mrs. Gilmore'll take on terrible, continued Mrs.
Tierney, but th' will of God must be done.
Anna was dressed in a dainty pink dress. A wide blue ribbon kept her
wealth of jet black hair in order as it hung down her back and the
squeaking of her little shoes drew attention to the fact that they were
new and in the fashion.
It's a mortal pity she's a girl, said Bridget, bekase she might
hev been an althar boy before she goes.
Aye, but if she was a bhoy shure there's no tellin' what divilmint
she'd get into; so maybe it's just as well.
The Gilmores lived on a small farm near Crumlin in County Antrim.
They were not considered well to do, neither were they poor. They
worked hard and by dint of economy managed to keep their children at
school. Anna was a favorite child. Her quiet demeanor and gentle
disposition drew to her many considerations denied the rest of the
family. She was a favorite in the community. By the old women she was
considered too good to live; she took kindly to the house of God.
Her teacher said, Anna has a great head for learning. This
expression, oft repeated, gave the Gilmores an ambition to prepare Anna
for teaching. Despite the schedule arranged for her she was confirmed
in the parish chapel at the age of ten. At fifteen she had exhausted
the educational facilities of the community and set her heart on
institutions of higher learning in the larger cities. While her parents
were figuring that way the boys of the parish were figuring in a
different direction. Before Anna was seventeen there was scarcely a boy
living within miles who had not at one time or another lingered around
the gate of the Gilmore garden. Mrs. Gilmore watched Anna carefully.
She warned her against the danger of an alliance with a boy of a lower
station. The girl was devoted to the Church. She knew her Book of
Devotions as few of the older people knew it, and before she was twelve
she had read the Lives of the Saints. None of these things made her an
ascetic. She could laugh heartily and had a keen sense of humor.
The old women revised their prophecies. They now spoke of her
takin' th' veil. Some said she would make a gey good
schoolmisthress, for she was fond of children.
While waiting the completion of arrangements to continue her
schooling, she helped her mother with the household work. She spent a
good deal of her time, too, in helping the old and disabled of the
village. She carried water to them from the village well and tidied up
their cottages at least once a week.
The village well was the point of departure in many a romance. There
the boys and girls met several times a day. Many a boy's first act of
chivalry was to take the girl's place under the hoop that kept the cans
apart and carry home the supply of water.
Half a century after the incident that played havoc with the dreams
and visions of which she was the central figure, Anna said to me:
I was fillin' my cans at th' well. He was standin' there lukin' at
'Wud ye mind,' says he, 'if I helped ye?'
'Deed no, not at all,' says I. So he filled my cans an' then says
he: 'I would give you a nice wee cow if I cud carry thim home fur ye.'
'It's not home I'm goin',' says I, 'but to an' oul neighbor who
can't carry it herself.'
'So much th' betther fur me,' says he, an' off he walked between
the cans. At Mary McKinstry's doore that afthernoon we stood till the
shadows began t' fall.
From the accounts rendered, old Mary did not lack for water-carriers
for months after that. One evening Mary made tea for the water-carriers
and after tea she tossed th' cups for them.
Here's two roads, dear, she said to Anna, an' wan day ye'll haave
t' choose betwixt thim. On wan road there's love an' clane teeth
(poverty), an' on t'other riches an' hell on earth.
What else do you see on the roads, Mary? Anna asked.
Plenty ov childther on th' road t' clane teeth, an' dogs an' cats
on th' road t' good livin'.
What haave ye fur me, Mary? Jamie Irvine, Anna's friend, asked.
She took his cup, gave it a shake, looked wise and said: Begorra, I
see a big cup, me bhoyit's a cup o' grief I'm thinkin' it is.
Oul Mary was jist bletherin', he said, as they walked down the
road in the gloaming, hand in hand.
A cup of sorrow isn't so bad, Jamie, when there's two to drink it,
Anna said. He pressed her hand tighter and replied:
Aye, that's thrue, fur then it's only half a cup.
Jamie was a shoemaker's apprentice. His parents were very poor. The
struggle for existence left time for nothing else. As the children
reached the age of eight or nine they entered the struggle. Jamie began
when he was eight. He had never spent a day at school. His family
considered him fortunate, however, that he could be an apprentice.
The cup that old Mary saw in the tea leaves seemed something more
than blether when it was noised abroad that Anna and Jamie were to be
The Gilmores strenuously objected. They objected because they had
another career mapped out for Anna. Jamie was illiterate, too, and she
was well educated. He was a Protestant and she an ardent Catholic.
Illiteracy was common enough and might be overlooked, but a mixed
marriage was unthinkable.
The Irvines, on the other hand, although very poor, could see
nothing but disaster in marriage with a Catholic, even though she was
as pure and beautiful as the Virgin.
It's a shame an' a scandal, others said, that a young fella who
can't read his own name shud marry sich a nice girl wi' sich larnin'.
Jamie made some defense but it wasn't convincing.
Doesn't the Bible say maan an' wife are wan? he asked Mrs. Gilmore
in discussing the question with her.
Well, when Anna an' me are wan won't she haave a thrade an' won't I
haave an education?
That's wan way ov lukin' at a vexed question, but you're th' only
wan that luks at it that way!
There's two, Anna said. That's how I see it.
When Jamie became a journeyman shoemaker, the priest was asked to
perform the marriage ceremony. He refused and there was nothing left to
do but get a man who would give love as big a place as religion, and
they were married by the vicar of the parish church.
Not in the memory of man in that community had a wedding created so
little interest in one way and so much in another. They were both
turncoats, the people said, and they were shunned by both sides. So
they drank their first big draft of the cup o' grief on their
Sufferin' will be yer portion in this world, Anna's mother told
her, an' in th' world t' come separation from yer maan.
Anna kissed her mother and said:
I've made my choice, mother, I've made it before God, and as for
Jamie's welfare in the next world, I'm sure that love like his would
turn either Limbo, Purgatory or Hell into a very nice place to live
A few days after the wedding the young couple went out to the four
cross-roads. Jamie stood his staff on end and said:
Are ye ready, dear?
Aye, I'm ready, but don't tip it in the direction of your
preference! He was inclined toward Dublin, she toward Belfast. They
laughed. Jamie suddenly took his hand from the staff and it fell,
neither toward Belfast nor Dublin, but toward the town of Antrim, and
toward Antrim they set out on foot. It was a distance of less than ten
miles, but it was the longest journey she ever tookand the shortest,
for she had all the world beside her, and so had Jamie. It was in June,
and they had all the time there was. There was no hurry. They were as
care-free as children and utilized their freedom in full. Between Moira
and Antrim they came to Willie Withero's stone pile. Willie was
Antrim's most noted stone-breaker in those days. He was one of the
town's news centers. At his stone-pile he got the news going and
coming. He was a strange mixture of philosophy and cynicism. He had a
rough exterior and spoke in short, curt, snappish sentences, but behind
it all he had a big heart full of kindly human feeling.
Anthrim's a purty good place fur pigs an' sich to live in, he told
the travelers. Ye see, pigs is naither Fenians nor Orangemen. I get
along purty well m'self bekase I sit on both sides ov th' fence at th'
How do you do it, Misther Withero? Anna asked demurely.
Don't call me 'Misther,' Willie said; only quality calls me
'Misther' an' I don't like itit doesn't fit an honest stone breaker.
The question was repeated and he said: I wear a green ribbon on
Pathrick's Day an' an orange cockade on th' Twelfth ov July, an' if th'
ax m' why, I tell thim t' go t' hl! That's Withero fur ye an' wan ov
'im is enough fur Anthrim, that's why I niver married, an' that'll save
ye the throuble ov axin' me whither I've got a wife or no!
What church d'ye attend, Willie? Jamie asked.
Church is it, ye're axin' about? Luk here, me bhoy, step over th'
stile. Willie led the way over into the field.
Step over here, me girl. Anna followed. A few yards from the hedge
there was an ant-hill.
See thim ants?
Now if Withero thought thim ants hated aych other like th' men ov
Anthrim d'ye know what I'd do?
I'd pour a kittle ov boilin' wather on thim an' roast th' hides off
ivery mother's son ov thim. Aye, that's what I'd do, shure as gun's
That would be a sure and speedy cure, Anna said, smiling.
What's this world but an ant-hill? he asked. Jist a big ant-hill
an' we're ants begorra an' uncles, but instead ov workin' like these
wee fellas dohelp aych other an' shouldther aych other's burdens, an'
build up th' town, an' forage fur fodder, begobs we cut aych other's
throats over th' color ov ribbon or th' kind ov a church we attind!
Ugh, what balderdash!
The stone-breaker dropped on his knees beside the ant-hill and eyed
the manoeuvering of the ants.
Luk here! he said.
They looked in the direction of his pointed finger and observed an
ant dragging a dead fly over the hill.
Jist watch that wee fella! They watched. The ant had a big job,
but it pulled and pushed the big awkward carcass over the side of the
hill. A second ant came along, sized up the situation, and took a hand.
Ha, ha! he chortled, that's th' ticket, now kape yez eye on him!
The ants dragged the fly over the top of the hill and stuffed it
down a hole.
Now, said Withero, if a fella in Anthrim wanted a han' th' other
fellah wud say: 'Where d'ye hing yer hat up on Sunday?' or some other
sich fool question!
He wud that.
Now mind ye, I'm not huffed at th' churches, aither Orange or
Green, or th' praychers aithertho 'pon m' sowl ivery time I luk at
wan o' thim I think ov God as a first class journeyman tailor! But I
get more good switherin' over an ant-hill than whin wan o' thim wee
praychers thry t' make me feel as miserable as th' divil!
There's somethin' in that, Jamie said.
Aye, ye kin bate a pair ov oul boots there is!
What will th' ants do wi' th' fly? Jamie asked.
Huh! he grunted with an air of authority, they'll haave rump
steaks fur tay and fly broth fur breakvist th' morra!
Th' don't need praychers down there, do th', Willie?
Don't need thim up here! he said. They're sign-boards t' point
th' way that iverybody knows as well as th' nose on his face!
Good-by, Anna said, as they prepared to leave.
Good-by, an' God save ye both kindly, were Willie's parting words.
He adjusted the wire protectors to his eyes and the sojourners went on
down the road.
They found a mossy bank and unpacked their dinner.
Quare, isn't he? Jamie said.
He has more sense than any of our people.
That's no compliment t' Withero, Anna, but I was jist thinkin'
about our case; we've got t' decide somethin' an' we might as well
decide it here as aanywhere.
About religion, Jamie?
At the ant-hill.
Ye cudn't be Withero?
No, dear, Willie sees only half th' world. There's love in it
that's bigger than color of ribbon or creed of church. We've proven
that, Jamie, haven't we?
But what haave ye decided?
That love is bigger than religion. That two things are sure. One is
love of God. He loves all His children and gets huffed at none. The
other is that the love we have for each other is of the same warp and
woof as His for us, and love is enough, Jamie.
Aye, love is shure enough an' enough's as good as a faste, but what
about childther if th' come, Anna?
We don't cross a stile till we come to it, do we?
That's right, that's right, acushla; now we're as rich as lords,
aren't we, but I'm th' richest, amn't I? I've got you an' you've only
I've got book learning, but you've got love and a trade, what more
do I want? You've got more love than any man that ever wooed a
womanso I'm richer, amn't I?
Oh, God, Jamie said, but isn't this th' lovely world, eh, Anna?
Within a mile of Antrim they saw a cottage, perched on a high bluff
by the roadside. It was reached by stone steps. They climbed the steps
to ask for a drink of water. They were kindly received. The owner was a
follower of Wesley and his conversation at the well was in sharp
contrast to the philosophy at the stone-pile. The young journeyman and
his wife were profoundly impressed with the place. The stone cottage
was vine-clad. There were beautiful trees and a garden. The June
flowers were in bloom and a cow grazed in the pasture near by.
Some day we'll haave a home like this, Jamie said as they
descended the steps. Anna named it The Mount of Temptation, for it
was the nearest she had ever been to the sin of envy. A one-armed
Crimean pensioner named Steele occupied it during my youth. It could be
seen from Pogue's entry and Anna used to point it out and tell the
story of that memorable journey. In days when clouds were heavy and low
and the gaunt wolf stood at the door she would say: Do you mind the
journey to Antrim, Jamie?
Aye, he would say with a sigh, an' we've been in love ever since,
haven't we, Anna?
CHAPTER II. THE WOLF AND THE
For a year after their arrival in Antrim they lived in the home of
the master-shoemaker for whom Jamie worked as journeyman. It was a
great hardship, for there was no privacy and their daily walk and
conversation, in front of strangers, was of the yea, yea and nay,
nay order. In the summer time they spent their Sundays on the banks of
Lough Neagh, taking whatever food they needed and cooking it on the
sand. They continued their courting in that way. They watched the
water-fowl on the great wide marsh, they waded in the water and played
as children play. In more serious moods she read to him Moore's poems
and went over the later lessons of her school life. Even with but part
of a day in each week together they were very happy. The world was full
of sunshine for them then. There were no clouds, no regrets, no fears.
It was a perioda brief periodthat for the rest of their lives they
looked back upon as a time when they really lived. I am not sure, but I
am of the impression that the chief reason she could not be persuaded
to visit the Lough in later life was because she wanted to remember it
as she had seen it in that first year of their married life.
Their first child was two years of age when the famine camethe
famine that swept over Ireland like a plague, leaving in its wake over
a million new-made graves. They had been in their own house for over a
year. It was scantily furnished, but it was home. As the ravages
of the famine spread, nearly every family in the town mourned the
absence of some member. Men and women met on the street one day, were
gone the next. Jamie put his bench to one side and sought work at
anything he could get to do. Prices ran up beyond the possibilities of
the poor. The potato crop only failed. The other crops were reaped and
the proceeds sent to England as rent and interest, and the reapers
having sent the last farthing, lay down with their wives and children
and died. Of the million who died four hundred thousand were
able-bodied men. The wolf stood at every door. The carpenter alone was
busy. Of course it was the poor who diedthe poor only. In her three
years of married life Anna realized in a measure that the future held
little change for her or her husband, but she saw a ray of hope for the
boy in the cradle. When the foodless days came and the child was not
getting food enough to survive, she gave vent to her feelings of
despair. Jamie did not quite understand when she spoke of the death of
Spake what's in yer heart plainly, Anna! he said plaintively.
Jamie, we must not blame each other for anything, but we must face
the factwe live at the bottom of the world where every hope has a
headstonea headstone that only waits for the name.
Aye, dear, God help us, I know, I know what ye mane.
Above and beyond us, she continued, there is a world of nice
thingsbooks, furniture, picturesa world where people and things can
be kept clean, but it's a world we could never reach. But I had hope
She buried her face in her hands and was silent.
Aye, aye, acushla, I know yer hope's in the boy, but don't give up.
We'll fight it out together if th' worst comes to th' worst. The boy'll
live, shure he will!
He could not bear the agony on her face. It distracted him. He went
out and sought solitude on a pile of stones back of the house. There
was no solitude there, nor could he have remained long if there had
been. He returned and drawing a stool up close beside her he sat down
and put an arm tenderly over her shoulder.
Cheer up, wee girl, he said, our ship's comin' in soon.
If we can only save him! she said, pointing to the cradle.
Well, we won't cry over spilt milk, dearnot at laste until it's
Ah, she exclaimed, I had such hopes for him!
Aye, so haave I, but thin again I've thought t' myself, suppose th'
wee fella did get t' be kind-a quality like, wudn't he be ashamed ov me
an' you maybe, an' shure an ingrate that's somethin' is worse than
A child born in pure love couldn't be an ingrate, Jamie; that isn't
Ah, who knows what a chile will be, Anna?
The child awoke and began to cry. It was a cry for food. There was
nothing in the house; there had been nothing all that day. They looked
at each other. Jamie turned away his face. He arose and left the house.
He went aimlessly down the street wondering where he should try for
something to eat for the child. There were several old friends whom he
supposed were in the same predicament, but to whom he had not appealed.
It was getting to be an old story. A score of as good children as his
had been buried. Everybody was polite, full of sympathy, but the child
was losing his vitality, so was the mother. Something desperate must be
done and done at once. For the third time he importuned a grocer at
whose shop he had spent much money. The grocer was just putting up the
window shutters for the night.
If ye cud jist spare us a ha'p'orth ov milk to keep th' life in th'
chile fur th' night? he pleaded.
It wudn't be a thimbleful if I had it, Jamie, but I haven'twe
haave childther ov our own, ye know, an' life is life!
Aye, aye, he said, I know, I know, and shuffled out again. Back
to the house he went. He lifted the latch gently and tiptoed in. Anna
was rocking the child to sleep. He went softly to the table and took up
a tin can and turned again toward the door.
Anna divined his stealthy movement. She was beside him in an
Where are you going, Jamie? He hesitated. She forced an answer.
Jamie, she said in a tone new to her, there's been nothing but
truth and love between us; I must know.
I'm goin' out wi' that can to get somethin' fur that chile, Anna,
if I haave t' swing fur it. That's what's in my mind an' God help me!
God help us both, she said.
He moved toward the street. She planted herself between him and the
No, we must stand together. They'll put you in jail and then the
child and I will die anyway. Let's wait another day!
They sat down together in the corner. It was dark now and they had
no candle. The last handful of turf was on the fire. They watched the
sparks play and the fitful spurts of flame light up for an instant at a
time the darkened home. It was a picture of despairthe first of a
long series that ran down the years with them. They sat in silence for
a long time. Then they whispered to each other with many a break the
words they had spoken in what now seemed to them the long ago. The fire
died out. They retired, but not to sleep. They were too hungry. There
was an insatiable gnawing at their vitals that made sleep impossible.
It was like a cancer with excruciating pain added. Sheer exhaustion
only, stilled the cries of the starving child. There were no more tears
in their eyes, but anguish has by-valves more keen, poignant and
In agony they lay in silence and counted time by the repercussion of
pain until the welcome dawn came with its new supply of hope. The
scream of a frenzied mother who had lost a child in the night was the
prelude to a tragic day. Anna dressed quickly and in a few minutes
stood by the side of the woman. There was nothing to say. Nothing to
do. It was her turn. It would be Anna's next. All over the town the
specter hovered. Every day the reaper garnered a new harvest of human
sheaves. Every day the wolf barked. Every day the carpenter came.
When Anna returned Jamie had gone. She took her station by the
child. Jamie took the tin can and went out along the Gray-stone road
for about a mile and entered a pasture where three cows were grazing.
He was weak and nervous. His eyes were bloodshot and his hands
trembled. He had never milked a cow. He had no idea of the difficulty
involved in catching a cow and milking her in a pasture. There was the
milk and yonder his child, who without it would not survive the day.
Desperation dominated and directed every movement.
The cows walked away as he approached. He followed. He drove them
into a corner of the field and managed to get his hand on one. He tried
to pet her, but the jingling of the can frightened her and off they
wentall of themon a fast trot along the side of the field. He
became cautious as he cornered them a second time. This time he
succeeded in reaching an udder. He got a tit in his hand. He lowered
himself to his haunches and proceeded to tug vigorously. His hand was
waxy and stuck as if glued to the flesh. Before there was any sign of
milk the cow gave him a swift kick that sent him flat on his back. By
the time he pulled himself together again the cows were galloping to
the other end of the pasture.
God! he muttered as he mopped the sweat from his face with his
sleeve, if ye've got aany pity or kindly feelin' giv me a sup ov that
milk fur m' chile! Come on!
His legs trembled so that he could scarcely stand. Again he
approached. The cows eyed him with sullen concern. They were thoroughly
scared now and he couldn't get near enough to lay a hand on any of
them. He stood in despair, trembling from head to foot. He realized
that what he would do he must do quickly.
The morning had swift wingsit was flying away. Some one would be
out for the cows ere long and his last chance would be gone. He dropped
the can and ran to the farm-house. There was a stack-yard in the rear.
He entered and took a rope from a stack. It was a long ropetoo long
for his use, but he did not want to destroy its usefulness. He dragged
it through the hedge after him. This time with care and caution he got
near enough to throw the rope over the horns of a cow. Leading her to a
fence he tied her to it and began again. It came slowly. His strength
was almost gone. He went from one side to the othernow at one tit,
now at another. From his haunches he went to his knees and from that
position he stretched out his legs and sat flat on the grass. He no
sooner had a good position than the cow would change hers. She trampled
on his legs and swerved from side to side, but he held on. It was a
life and death struggle. The little milk at the bottom of the can gave
him strength and courage. As he literally pulled it out of her his
strength increased. When the can was half full he turned the cow loose
and made for the gap in the hedge. Within a yard of it he heard the
loud report of a gun and the can dropped to the ground. The ball had
plowed through both lugs of the can disconnecting the wire handle. Not
much of the milk was lost. He picked up the can and started down the
road as fast as his legs could take him. He had only gone a hundred
yards when a man stepped out into the road and leveled a gun at him.
Another yard an' I'll blow yer brains out! the man said.
Is this yer milk? Jamie asked.
Aye, an' well ye know it's m' milk!
Jamie put the can down on the road and stood silent. The farmer
delivered himself of a volume of profane abuse. Jamie did not reply. He
stood with his head bowed and to all appearances in a mood of
When the man finished his threats and abuse he stooped to pick up
the can. Before his hand touched it Jamie sprang at him with the
ferocity of a panther. There was a life and death tussle for a few
seconds and both men went down on the roadJamie on top. Sitting on
the man's chest he took a wrist in each hand and pinned him to the
Ye think I'm a thief, he said to the man as he looked at him with
eyes that burned like live coals. I'm not, I'm an honest maan, but I
haave a chile dying wi' hungernow it's your life or his, by an'
I think yer a liar as well as a thief, the man said, but if we
can prove what ye say I'm yer friend.
Will ye go with me?
D'ye mane it?
Aye, I do!
I'll carry th' gun.
Ye may, there's nothin' in it.
There's enough in th' butt t' batther a maan's brains out.
Jamie seized the gun and the can and the man got up.
They walked down the road in silence, each watching the other out of
the corners of his eyes.
D'ye believe in God? Jamie asked abruptly. The farmer hesitated
Why d'ye ask?
I'd like t' see a maan in these times that believed wi' his heart
insted ov his mouth!
Wud he let other people milk his cows? asked the man, sneeringly.
He mightn't haave cows t' milk, Jamie said. But he'd be kind and
not a glutton!
They arrived at the house. The man went in first. He stopped near
the door and Jamie instinctively and in fear shot past him. What he saw
dazed him. Ah, God! he exclaimed. She's dead!
Anna lay on her back on the floor and the boy was asleep by the
hearth with his head in the ashes. The neighbors were alarmed and came
to assist. The farmer felt Anna's pulse. It was feebly fluttering.
She's not dead, he said. Get some cold wather quickly! They
dashed the water in her face and brought her back to consciousness.
When she looked around she said:
Who 's this kind man come in to help, Jamie?
He's a farmer, Jamie said, an' he's brot ye a pint ov nice fresh
milk! The man had filled a cup with milk and put it to Anna's lips.
She refused. He's dying, she said, pointing to the boy, who lay limp
on the lap of a neighbor. The child was drowsy and listless. They gave
him the cup of milk. He had scarcely enough strength to drink. Anna
drank what was left, which was very little.
God bless you! Anna said as she held out her hand to the farmer.
God save you kindly, he answered as he took her hand and bowed his
I've a wife an' wains myself, he continued, but we're not s' bad
off on a farm. Turning to Jamie he said: Yer a Protestant!
An' I'm a Fenian, but we're in t' face ov bigger things!
He extended his hand. Jamie clasped it, the men looked into each
other's faces and understood.
That night in the dusk, the Fenian farmer brought a sack of potatoes
and a quart of fresh milk and the spark of life was prolonged.
CHAPTER III. REHEARSING FOR THE SHOW
Famine not only carried off a million of the living, but it claimed
also the unborn. Anna's second child was born a few months after the
siege was broken, but the child had been starved in its mother's womb
and lived only three months. There was no wake. Wakes are for older
people. There were no candles to burn, no extra sheet to put over the
old dresser, and no clock to stop at the moment of death.
The little wasted thing lay in its undressed pine coffin on the
table and the neighbors came in and had a look. Custom said it should
be kept the allotted time and the tyrant was obeyed. A dozen of those
to whom a wake was a means of change and recreation came late and
planted themselves for the night.
Ye didn't haave a hard time wi' th' second, did ye, Anna? asked
No, Anna said quietly.
Th' hard times play'd th' divil wi' it before it was born, I'll be
bound, said a second.
A third averred that the child was the very spit out of its
father's mouth. Ghost stories, stories of the famine, of hard luck, of
hunger, of pain and the thousand and one aspects of social and personal
sorrow had the changes rung on them.
Anna sat in the corner. She had to listen, she had to answer when
directly addressed and the prevailing idea of politeness made her the
center of every story and the object of every moral!
The refreshments were all distributed and diplomatically the
mourners were informed that there was nothing more; nevertheless they
stayed on and on. Nerve-racked and unstrung, Anna staggered to her feet
and took Jamie to the door.
I'll go mad, dear, if I have to stand it all night!
They dared not be discourteous. A reputation for heartlessness would
have followed Anna to the grave if she had gone to bed while the dead
child lay there.
Withero had been at old William Farren's wake and was going home
when he saw Anna and Jamie at the door. They explained the situation.
Take a dandther down toward th' church, he said, an' then come
Willie entered the house in an apparently breathless condition.
Yer takin' it purty aisy here, he said, whin 'Jowler' Hainey's
killin' his wife an' wreckin' th' house!
In about two minutes he was alone. He put a coal in his pipe and
smoked for a minute. Then he went over to the little coffin. He took
his pipe out of his mouth, laid it on the mantel-shelf and returned.
The little hands were folded. He unclasped them, took one of them in
his rough calloused palm.
Poore wee thing, he said in an undertone, poore wee thing. He
put the hands as he found them. Still looking at the little baby face
Heigho, heigho, it's bad, purty bad, but it's worse where there
isn't even a dead wan!
When Anna returned she lay down on her bed, dressed as she was, and
Jamie and Withero kept the vigilwith the door barred. Next morning at
the earliest respectable hour Withero carried the little coffin under
his arm and Jamie walked beside him to the graveyard.
During the fifteen years that followed the burial of the famine
child they buried three others and saved threefour living and four
I was the ninth child. Anna gave me a Greek name which means Helper
Shortly after my arrival in Scott's entry, they moved to Pogue's
entry. The stone cabin was thatch-covered and measured about twelve by
sixteen feet. The space comprised three apartments. One, a bedroom;
over the bedroom and beneath the thatch a little loft that served as a
bedroom to those of climbing age. The rest of it was workshop,
dining-room, sitting-room, parlor and general community news center.
The old folks slept in a bed, the rest of us slept on the floor and
beneath the thatch. Between the bedroom door and the open fireplace was
the chimney-corner. Near the door stood an old pine table and some
dressers. They stood against the wall and were filled with crockery. We
never owned a chair. There were several pine stools, a few creepies
(small stools), and a long bench that ran along the bedroom wall, from
the chimney corner to the bedroom door. The mud floor never had the
luxury of a covering, nor did a picture ever adorn the bare walls. When
the floor needed patching, Jamie went to somebody's garden, brought a
shovelful of earth, mixed it and filled the holes. The stools and
creepies were scrubbed once a week, the table once a day. I could draw
an outline of that old table now and accurately mark every dent and
crack in it. I do not know where it came from, but each of us had a
hope that one day we should possess a pig. We built around the hope
a sty and placed it against the end of the cabin. The pig never turned
up, but the hope lived there throughout a generation!
We owned a goat once. In three months it reduced the smooth kindly
feeling in Pogue's entry to the point of total eclipse. We sold it and
spent a year in winning back old friends. We had a garden. It measured
thirty-six by sixteen inches, and was just outside the front window. At
one end was a small currant bush and in the rest of the space Anna grew
an annual crop of nasturtiums.
Once we were prosperous. That was when two older brothers worked
with my father at shoemaking. I remember them, on winter nights,
sitting around the big candlestickone of the three always singing
folk-songs as he worked. As they worked near the window, Anna sat in
her corner and by the light of a candle in her little sconce made waxed
ends for the men. I browsed among the lasts, clipping, cutting and
scratching old leather parings and dreaming of the wonderful days
beyond when I too could make a boot and sing Black-eyed Susan.
Then the news camenews of a revolution.
They're making boots by machinery now, Anna said one day.
It's dotin' ye are, Anna, Jamie replied. She read the account.
How cud a machine make a boot, Anna? he asked in bewilderment.
I don't know, dear.
Barney McQuillan was the village authority on such things. When he
told Jamie, he looked aghast and said, How quare!
Then makers became mendersshoemakers became cobblers. There was
something of magic and romance in the news that a machine could turn
out as much work as twenty-five men, but when my brothers moved away to
other parts of the world to find work, the romance was rubbed off.
Maybe we can get a machine? Jamie said.
Aye, but shure ye'd have to get a factory to put it in!
Is that so?
Aye, an' we find it hard enough t' pay fur what we're in now!
Barney McQuillan was the master-shoe-maker in our town who was best
able to readjust himself to changed conditions. He became a
master-cobbler and doled out what he took in to men like Jamie. He kept
a dozen men at work, making a little off each, just as the owner of the
machine did in the factory. In each case the need of skill vanished and
the power of capital advanced. Jamie dumbly took what was
leftcobbling for Barney. To Anna the whole thing meant merely the
death of a few more hopes. For over twenty years she had fought a good
fight, a fight in which she played a losing part, though she was never
Her first fight was against slang and slovenly speech. She started
early in their married life to correct Jamie. He tried hard and often,
but he found it difficult to speak one language to his wife and another
to his customers. From the lips of Anna, it sounded all right, but the
same pronunciation by Jamie seemed affected and his customers gaped at
Then she directed her efforts anew to the children. One after
another she corrected their grammar and pronunciation, corrected them
every day and every hour of the day that they were in her presence.
Here again she was doomed to failure. The children lived on the street
and spoke its language. It seemed a hopeless task. She never whined
over it. She was too busy cleaning, cooking, sewing and at odd times
helping Jamie, but night after night for nearly a generation she took
stock of a life's effort and each milestone on the way spelt failure.
She could see no lightnot a glimmer. Not only had she failed to
impress her language upon others, but she found herself gradually
succumbing to her environment and actually lapsing into vulgar forms
herself. There was a larger and more vital conflict than the one she
had lost. It was the fight against dirt. In such small quarters, with
so many children and such activity in work she fought against great
odds. Bathing facilities were almost impossible: water had to be
brought from the town well, except what fell on the roof, and that was
saved for washing clothes. Whatever bathing there was, was done in the
tub in which Jamie steeped his leather. We children were suspicious
that when Jamie bathed Anna had a hand in it. They had a joke between
them that could only be explained on that basis. She called it
grooming the elephant.
Jist wait, m' boy, she would say in a spirit of kindly banter,
till the elephant has to be groomed, and I'll bring ye down a peg or
There was a difference of opinion among them as to the training of
No chile iver thrived on saft words, he said; a wet welt is
Aye, yer wet welt stings th' flesh, Jamie, but it niver gets at a
Thrue for you, but who th' kin get at a chile's mind?
One day I was chased into the house by a bigger boy. I had found a
farthing. He said it was his. The money was handed over and the boy
left with his tongue in his cheek. I was ordered to strip. When ready
he laid me across his knee and applied the wet welt.
An hour later it was discovered that a week had elapsed between the
losing and finding of the farthing. No sane person would believe that a
farthing could lie for a whole week on the streets of Antrim.
Well, he said, ye need a warmin' like that ivery day, an' ye had
nown yestherday, did ye?
On another occasion I found a ball, one that had never been lost. A
boy, hoping to get me in front of my father, claimed the ball. My
mother on this occasion sat in judgment.
Where did you get the ball? she asked the boy. He couldn't
remember. She probed for the truth, but neither of us would give in.
When all efforts failed she cut the ball in half and gave each a piece!
Nixt time I'll tell yer Dah, the boy said when he got outside, he
makes you squeal like a pig.
When times were goodwhen work and wages got a little ahead of
hunger, which was seldom, Anna baked her own bread. Three kinds of
bread she baked. Soda,common flour bread, never in the shape of a
loaf, but bread that lay flat on the griddle; pirta oatenmade of
flour and oatmeal; and fadgepotato bread. She always sung while
baking and she sang the most melancholy and plaintive airs. As she
baked and sang I stood beside her on a creepie watching the process and
awaiting the end, for at the close of each batch of bread I always had
my duraghan extra piece.
When hunger got ahead of wages the family bread was bought at Sam
Johnson's bakery. The journey to Sam's was full of temptation to me.
Hungry and with a vested interest in the loaf on my arm, I was not over
punctilious in details of the moral law. Anna pointed out the
opportunities of such a journey. It was a chance to try my mettle with
the arch tempter. It was a mental gymnasium in which moral muscle got
strength. There wasn't in all Ireland a mile of highway so well paved
with good intentions. I used to start out, well keyed up morally and
humming over and over the order of the day. When, on the home stretch,
I had made a dent in Sam's architecture, I would lay the loaf down on
the table, good side toward my mother. While I was doing that she had
read the story of the fall on my face. I could feel her penetrating
So he got ye, did he?
Aye, I would say in a voice too low to be heard by my father.
The order at Sam's was usually a sixpenny loaf, three ha'pence worth
of tea and sugar and half an ounce of tobacco.
There were times when Barney had no work for my father, and on such
occasions I came home empty-handed. Then Jamie would go out to find
work as a day laborer. Periods like these were glossed over by Anna's
humor and wit. As they sat around the table, eating stir-about
without milk, or bread without tea, Jamie would grunt and complain.
Aye, faith, Anna would say, it's purty bad, but it's worse where
there's none at all!
When the wolf lingered long at the door I went foragingforaging as
forages a hungry dog and in the same places. Around the hovels of the
poor where dogs have clean teeth a boy has little chance. One day,
having exhausted the ordinary channels of relief without success, I
betook myself to the old swimming-hole on the mill race. The boys had a
custom of taking a shiverin' bite when they went bathing. It was on a
Sunday afternoon in July and quite a crowd sat around the hole. I
neither needed nor wanted a bathI wanted a bite. No one offered a
share of his crust. A big boy named Healy was telling of his prowess as
I'll fight ye fur a penny! said I.
Where's yer penny? said Healy.
I'll get it th' morra.
A man seeing the difficulty and willing to invest in a scrap
advanced the wager. I was utterly outclassed and beaten. Peeling my
clothes off I went into the race for a swim and to wash the blood off.
When I came out Healy had hidden my trousers. I searched for hours in
vain. The man who paid the wager gave me an extra penny and I went home
holding my jacket in front of my legs. The penny saved me from a
warming, but Anna, feeling that some extra discipline was necessary,
made me a pair of trousers out of an old potato sack.
That's sackcloth, dear, she said, an' ye can aither sit in th'
ashes in them or wear them in earning another pair! Hold fast t' yer
In this penitential outfit I had to sell my papers. Every fiber of
my being tingled with shame and humiliation. I didn't complain of the
penance, but I swore vengeance on Healy. She worked the desire for
vengeance out of my system in her chimney-corner by reading to me often
enough, so that I memorized the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah. Miss
McGee, the postmistress, gave me sixpence for the accomplishment and
that went toward a new pair of trousers. Concerning Healy, Anna said:
Bate 'im with a betther brain, dear!
Despite my fistic encounters, my dents in the family loaves, my
shinny, my marbles and the various signs of total or at least partial
depravity, Anna clung to the hope that out of this thing might finally
come what she was looking, praying and hoping for.
An item on the credit side of my ledger was that I was born in a
caula thin filmy veil that covered me at birth. Of her twelve I was
the only one born in luck. In a little purse she kept the caul, and
on special occasions she would exhibit it and enumerate the benefits
and privileges that went with it. Persons born in a caul were immune
from being hung, drawn and quartered, burned to death or lost at sea.
It was on the basis of the caul I was rented to old Mary McDonagh.
My duty was to meet her every Monday morning. The meeting insured her
luck for the week. Mary was a huckster. She carried her shop on her
arma wicker basket in which she had thread, needles, ribbons and
other things which she sold to the farmers and folks away from the
shopping center. No one is lucky while bare-footed. Having no shoes I
clattered down Sandy Somerville's entry in my father's. At the first
clatter, she came out, basket on arm, and said:
Morra, bhoy, God's blessin' on ye!
Morra, Mary, an' good luck t' ye, was my answer.
I used to express my wonder that I couldn't turn this luck of a
dead-sure variety into a pair of shoes for myself.
Anna said: Yer luck, dear, isn't in what ye can get, but in what ye
When Antrim opened its first flower show I was a boy of all work at
old Mrs. Chaine's. The gardener was pleased with my work and gave me a
hothouse plant to put in competition. I carried it home proudly and
laid it down beside her in the chimney-corner.
The gerd'ner says it'll bate th' brains out on aany geranium in the
show! I said.
Throth it will that, dear, she said, but sure ye couldn't take a
prize fur it!
Why? I growled.
Ah, honey, shure everybody would know that ye didn't grow itforby
they know that th' smoke in here would kill it in a few days.
I sulked and protested.
That's a nice way t' throw cowld wather on th' chile, Jamie said.
Why don't ye let 'im go on an' take his chances at the show?
A pained look overspread her features. It was as if he had struck
her with his fist. Her eyes filled with tears and she said huskily:
The whole world's a show, Jamie, an' this is the only place the wee
fella has to rehearse in.
I sat down beside her and laid my head in her lap. She stroked it in
silence for a minute or two. I couldn't quite see, however, how I could
miss that show! She saw that after all I was determined to enter the
lists. She offered to put a card on it for me so that they would know
the name of the owner. This is what she wrote on the card:
This plant is lent for decorative purposes.
That night there was an unusual atmosphere in her corner. She had a
newly tallied cap on her head and her little Sunday shawl over her
shoulders. Her candle was burning and the hearthstones had an extra
coat of whitewash. She drew me up close beside her and told me a story.
Once, a long, long time ago, God, feelin' tired, went to sleep an'
had a nice wee nap on His throne. His head was in His han's an' a wee
white cloud came down an' covered him up. Purty soon He wakes up an'
'Here I am, Father!' said Michael.
'Michael, me boy,' says God, 'I want a chariot and a charioteer!'
'Right ye are!' says he. Up comes the purtiest chariot in the city
of Heaven an' finest charioteer.
'Me boy,' says God, 'take a million tons ov th' choicest seeds of
th' flowers of Heaven an' take a trip around th' world wi' them.
Scatther them,' says He, 'be th' roadsides an' th' wild places of th'
earth where my poor live.'
'Aye,' says the charioteer, 'that's jist like ye, Father. It's th'
purtiest job of m' afther-life an' I'll do it finely.'
'It's jist come t' Me in a dream,' says th' Father, 'that th' rich
have all the flowers down there and th' poor haave nown at all. If a
million tons isn't enough take a billion tons!'
At this point I got in some questions about God's language and the
kind of flowers.
Well, dear, she said, He spakes Irish t' Irish people and the
charioteer was an Irishman.
Maybe it was a wuman! I ventured.
Aye, but there's no difference up there.
Th' flowers, she said, were primroses, butthercups an' daisies
an' th' flowers that be handy t' th' poor, an' from that day to this
there's been flowers a-plenty for all of us everywhere!
Now you go to-morra an' gether a basketful an' we'll fix them up in
th' shape of th' Pryamid of Egypt an' maybe ye'll get a prize.
I spent the whole of the following day, from dawn to dark, roaming
over the wild places near Antrim gathering the flowers of the poor. My
mother arranged them in a novel bouqueta bouquet of wild flowers, the
base of it yellow primroses, the apex of pink shepherd's sundials, and
between the base and the apex one of the greatest variety of wild
flowers ever gotten together in that part of the world.
It created a sensation and took first prize. At the close of the
exhibition Mrs. James Chaine distributed the prizes. When my name was
called I went forward slowly, blushing in my rags, and received a
twenty-four piece set of china! It gave me a fit! I took it home, put
it in her lap and danced. We held open house for a week, so that every
man, woman and child in the community could come in and handle it.
Withero said we ought to save up and build a house to keep it in!
She thought that a propitious time to explain the inscription she
put on the card.
Ah, thin, I said, shure it's thrue what ye always say.
What's that, dear?
It's nice t' be nice.
CHAPTER IV. SUNDAY IN POGUE'S ENTRY
Jamie and Anna kept the Sabbath. It was a habit with them and the
children got it, one after another, as they came along. When the town
clock struck twelve on Saturday night the week's work was done. The
customers were given fair warning that at the hour of midnight the
bench would be put away until Monday morning. There was nothing
theological about the observance. It was a custom, not a code. Anna
looked upon it as an over-punctilious notion. More than once she was
heard to say: The Sabbath was made for maan, Jamie, and not maan for
th' Sabbath. His answer had brevity and point. I don't care a damn
what it was made for, Anna, I'll quit at twelve. And he quit.
Sometimes Anna would take an unfinished job and finish it herself.
There were things in cobbling she could do as well as Jamie. Her
defense of doing it in the early hours of the Sabbath was: Sure God
has more important work to do than to sit up late to watch us mend the
boots of the poor; forby it's better to haave ye're boots mended an' go
to church than to sit in th' ashes on Sunday an' swallow the smoke of
Aye, Jamie would say, it's jist wondtherful what we can do if we
haave th' right kind ov a conscience!
Jamie's first duty on Sunday was to clean out the thrush's cage. He
was very proud of Dicky and gave him a bath every morning and a house
cleaning on Sunday. We children loved Sunday. On that day Anna reigned.
She wore her little shawl over her shoulders and her hair was enclosed
in a newly tallied white cap. She smoked little, but on Sundays after
dinner she always had her dhraw with Jamie. Anna's Sunday chore was
to whitewash the hearthstones and clean the house. When the table was
laid for Sunday breakfast and the kettle hung on the chain singing and
Anna was in her glory of white linen, the children were supremely
happy. In their wildest dreams there was nothing quite as beautiful as
that. Whatever hunger, disappointment, or petty quarrel happened during
the week it was forgotten on Sunday. It was a day of supreme peace.
Sunday breakfast was what she called a puttiby, something light to
tide them over until dinner time. Dinner was the big meal of the week.
At every meal I sat beside my mother. If we had stir-about, I was
favored, but not enough to arouse jealousy: I scraped the pot. If it
was tay, I got a few bits of the crust of Anna's bread. We called it
About ten o'clock the preparations for the big dinner began. We had
meat once a week. At least it was the plan to have it so often. Of
course there were times when the plan didn't work, but when it did
Sunday was meat day. The word meat was never used. It was kitchen
or beef. Both words meant the same thing, and bacon might be meant by
either of them.
In nine cases out of ten, Sunday kitchen was a cow's head, a
calf's head and pluck, a pair of cow's feet, a few sheep's trotters
or a quart of sheep's blood. Sometimes it was the entrails of a pig.
Only when there was no money for kitchen did we have blood. It was at
first fried and then made part of the broth.
The broth-pot on Sunday was the center. The economic status of a
family could be as easily gaged by tasting their broth as by counting
the weekly income. Big money, good broth; little money, thin broth. The
slimmer the resource the fewer the ingredients. The pot was an index to
every condition and the talisman of every family. It was an opportunity
to show off. When Jamie donned a dickey once to attend a funeral and
came home with it in his pocket, no comment was made; but if Anna made
poor broth it was the talk of the entry for a week.
Good broth consisted of kitchen, barley, greens and lithing. Next
to kitchen barley was the most expensive ingredient. Folks in Pogue's
entry didn't always have it, but there were a number of cheap
substitutes, such as hard peas or horse beans. Amongst half a dozen
families in and around the entry there was a broth exchange. Each
family made a few extra quarts and exchanged them. They were
distributed in quart tin cans. Each can was emptied, washed, refilled
and returned. Ann O'Hare, the chimneysweep's wife, was usually first on
hand. She had the unenviable reputation of being the dhirtiest
craither in the community. Jamie called her Sooty Ann.
There's a gey good smell from yer pot, Anna, she said; what haave
ye in it th' day?
Oh, jist a few sheep's throtters and a wheen of nettles.
Who gethered th' nettles?
Anna pointed to me.
Did th' sting bad, me baughal?
Ded no, not aany, I said.
Did ye squeeze thim tight?
I put m' Dah's socks on m' han's.
Aye, that's a good thrick.
Anna had a mouth that looked like a torn pocket. She could pucker it
into the queerest shapes. She smacked her thin blue lips, puckered her
mouth a number of times while Anna emptied and refilled the can.
If this is as good as it smells, she said as she went out, I'll
jist sup it myself and let oul Billy go chase himself!
Jamie was the family connoisseur in matters relating to broth. He
tasted Ann's. The family waited for the verdict.
Purty good barley an' lithin', he said, but it smells like
Billy's oul boots.
Shame on ye, Jamie, Anna said.
Well, give us your highfalutin' opinion ov it! Anna sipped a
spoonful and remarked: It might be worse.
Aye, it's worse where there's nown, but on yer oath now d'ye think
Sooty Ann washed her han's?
Good clane dhirt will poison no one, Jamie.
Thrue, but this isn't clane dhirt, it's sootbitther soot!
It was agreed to pass the O'Hare delection. When it cooled I quietly
gave it to my friend RoverMrs. Lorimer's dog.
Hen Cassidy came next. Hen's mother was a widow who lived on the
edge of want. Hen and I did a little barter and exchange on the side,
while Anna emptied and refilled his can. He had scarcely gone when the
verdict was rendered:
Bacon an' nettles, Jamie said, she's as hard up as we are, this
Poor craither, Anna said; I wondther if she's got aanything
besides broth? Nobody knew. Anna thought she knew a way to find out.
Haave ye aany marbles, dear? she asked me.
Aye, a wheen.
Wud ye give a wheen to me?
Aye, are ye goin' t' shoot awhile? If ye are I'll give ye half an'
shoot ye fur thim! I said.
No, I jist want t' borra some. I handed out a handful of marbles.
Now don't glunch, dear, when I tell ye what I want thim fur. I
Whistle fur Hen, she said, and give him that han'ful of marbles
if he'll tell ye what his mother haas fur dinner th' day.
I whistled and Hen responded.
I'll bate ye two chanies, Hen, that I know what ye've got fur
I'll bate ye! said Hen, show yer chanies!
Show yours! said I.
Hen had none, but I volunteered to trust him.
Go on now, guess! said he.
Pirtas an' broth! said I.
Yer blinked, ye cabbage head, we've got two yards ov thripe forby!
I carried two quarts to as many neighbors. Mary carried three. As
they were settling down to dinner Arthur Gainer arrived with his
mother's contribution. Jamie sampled it and laughed outright.
An oul cow put 'er feet in it, he said. Anna took a taste.
She didn't keep it in long aither, was her comment.
D'ye iver mind seein' barley in Gainer's broth? Jamie asked.
I haave no recollection.
If there isn't a kink in m' power of remembrance, Jamie said,
they've had nothin' but bacon an' nettles since th' big famine.
What did th' haave before that? Anna asked.
Bacon an' nettles, he said.
Did ye ever think, Jamie, how like folks are to th' broth they
No, he said, but there's no raisin why people should sting jist
because they've got nothin' but nettles in their broth!
The potatoes were emptied out of the pot on the bare table, my
father encircling it with his arms to prevent them from rolling off. A
little pile of salt was placed beside each person and each had a big
bowl full of broth. The different kinds had lost their identity in the
In the midst of the meal came visitors.
Much good may it do ye! said Billy Baxter as he walked in with his
hands in his pockets.
Thank ye, Billy, haave a good bowl of broth?
Thank ye, thank ye, he said. I don't mind a good bowl ov broth,
Anna, but I'd prefer a bowljist a bowl of good broth!
Ye've had larks for breakvist surely, haaven't ye, Billy? Anna
No, I didn't, but there's a famine of good broth these days. When I
was young we had the rale McKie! Billy took a bowl, nevertheless, and
went to Jamie's bench to sup it.
Eliza Wallace, the fish woman, came in.
Much good may it do ye, she said.
Thank ye kindly, 'Liza, sit down an' haave a bowl of broth! It was
baled out and Eliza sat down on the floor near the window.
McGrath, the rag man, dhrapped in. Much good may it do ye! he
Thank ye kindly, Tom, Anna said, ye'll surely have a bowl ov
Jist wan spoonful, McGrath said. I emptied my bowl at a nod from
Anna, rinsed it out at the tub and filled it with broth. McGrath sat on
After the dinner Anna read a story from the Weekly Budget and
the family and guests sat around and listened. Then came the weekly
function, over which there invariably arose an altercation amongst the
children. It was the Sunday visit of the Methodist tract
distributorMiss Clarke. It was not an unmixed dread, for sometimes
she brought a good story and the family enjoyed it. The usual row took
place as to who should go to the door and return the tract. It was
finally decided that I should face the ordeal. My preparation was to
wash my feet, rake my hair into order and soap it down, cover up a few
holes and await the gentle knock on the doorpost. It came and I bounded
to the door, tract in hand.
Good afternoon, she began, did your mother read the tract this
Yis, mem, an' she says it's fine.
Do you remember the name of it?
'Get yer own Cherries,' said I.
B-u-y, came the correction in clear tones from behind the
'Buy yer own Cherries,' it is, mem.
That's better, the lady said. Some people get cherries,
other people buy them.
I never bought any. I knew every wild-cherry tree within twenty
miles of Antrim. The lady saw an opening and went in. Did you ever get
caught? she asked. I hung my head. Then followed a brief lecture on
private propertybrief, for it was cut short by Anna, who, without any
apology or introduction, said as she confronted the slum evangel:
Is God our Father?
Yes, indeed, the lady answered.
An' we are all His childther?
Would ye starve yer brother Tom?
Of course not.
But ye don't mind s' much th' starvation of all yer other wee
brothers an' sisters on th' streets, do ye?
There was a commotion behind the paper partition. The group stood in
breathless silence until the hunger question was put, then they
dunched each other and made faces. My father took a handful of my
hair, and gave it a good-natured but vigorous tug to prevent an
Oh, Anna! she said, you are mistaken; I would starve nobodyand
far be it from me to accuse
Accuse, said Anna, raising her gentle voice. Why, acushla, nobody
needs t' accuse th' poor; th' guilty need no accuser. We're convicted
by bein' poor, by bein' born poor an' dying poor, aren't we now?
With the Lord there is neither rich nor poor, Anna.
Aye, an' that's no news to me, but with good folks like you it's
No, indeed, I assure you I think that exactly.
Well, now, if it makes no diff'rence, dear, why do ye come down
Pogue's entry like a bailiff or a process-sarver?
I didn't, I just hinted
Aye, ye hinted an' a wink's as good as a nod to a blind horse. Now
tell me truly an' cross yer heartwud ye go to Ballycraigie doore an'
talk t' wee Willie Chaine as ye talked t' my bhoy jist now?
No, 'deed ye wudn't for th' wudn't let ye, but because we've no
choice ye come down here like a petty sessions-magistrate an' make my
bhoy feel like a thief because he goes like a crow an' picks a wild
cherry or a sloe that wud rot on the tree. D'ye know Luke thirteen an'
The lady opened her Bible, but before she found the passage Anna was
reading from her old yellow backless Bible about the birds that lodged
in the branches of the trees.
Did they pay aany rent? she asked as she closed the book. Did th'
foxes have leases fur their holes?
No, indeed, an' d'ye think He cares less fur boys than birds?
Oh, no, an' ye know rightly that everything aroun' Antrim is jist a
demesne full o' pheasants an' rabbits for them quality t' shoot, an' we
git thransported if we get a male whin we're hungry!
The lady was tender-hearted and full of sympathy, but she hadn't
traveled along the same road as Anna and didn't know. Behind the screen
the group was jubilant, but when they saw the sympathy on the tract
woman's face they sobered and looked sad.
I must go, she said, and God bless you, Anna, and Anna replied,
God bless you kindly, dear.
When Anna went behind the screen Jamie grabbed her and pressed her
closely to him. Ye're a match for John Rae any day, ye are that,
The kettle was lowered to the burning turf and there was a round of
tea. The children and visitors sat on the floor.
Now that ye're in sich fine fettle, Anna, Jamie said, jist toss
th' cups for us!
She took her own cup, gave it a peculiar twist and placed it mouth
down on the saucer. Then she took it up and examined it quizzically.
The leaves straggled hieroglyphically over the inside. The group got
their heads together and looked with serious faces at the cup.
There's a ship comin' across th' seaan' I see a letther!
It's for me, I'll bate, Jamie said.
No, dear, it's fur me.
Take it, Jamie said, it's maybe a dispossess from oul Savage th'
She took Jamie's cup.
There's a wee bit of a garden wi' a fence aroun' it.
Wud that be Savage givin' us a bit of groun' next year t' raise
Maybe we're goin' t' flit, where there's a perch or two wi' th'
A low whistle outside attracted my attention and I stole quietly
away. It was Sonny Johnson, the baker's son, and he had a little bundle
under his arm. We boys were discussing a very serious proposition when
Anna appeared on the scene.
Aany day but Sunday he may go, dear, but not th' day.
That was all that was needed. Sonny wanted me to take him
bird-nesting. He had the price in the bundle.
If I give ye this now, he said, will ye come some other
day fur nothin'?
In the bundle was a bapa diamond-shaped, flat, penny piece of
bread. I rejoined the cup-tossers.
Another whistle. That's Arthur, Anna said. No shinny th' day,
I joined Arthur and we sat on the wall of Gainer's pigsty. We hadn't
been there long when Chisty McDowell, the superintendent of the
Methodist Sunday School, was seen over in Scott's garden rounding up
his scholars. We were in his line of vision and he made for us. We saw
him coming and hid in the inner sanctum of the sty. The pig was in the
little outer yard. Chisty was a wiry little man of great zeal but
little humor. It was his minor talent that came into play on this
Come, boys, come, he said, I know ye're in there. We've got a
beautiful lesson to-day. We crouched in a corner, still silent.
Come, boys, he urged, don't keep me waiting. The lesson is about
the Prodigal Son.
Say somethin', Arthur, I urged. He did.
T' hell wi' the Prodigal Son! he said, whereupon the little man
jumped the low wall into the outer yard and drove the big, grunting,
wallowing sow in on top of us! Our yells could be heard a mile away. We
came out and were collared and taken off to Sunday School.
When I returned, the cups were all tossed and the visitors had gone,
but Willie Withero had dropped in and was invited to stap for tea. He
was our most welcome visitor and there was but one house where he felt
Tay that evening consisted of stir-about, Sonny Johnson's
unearned bap and buttermilk. Willie made more noise suppin' his
stir-about than Jamie did, and I said:
Did ye iver hear ov th' cow that got her foot stuck in a bog,
No, boy, what did she do?
She got it out! A stern look from Jamie prevented the application.
Tell me, Willie, Anna said, is it thrue that ye can blink a cow
so that she can give no milk at all?
It's jist a hoax, Anna, some oul bitch said it an' th' others
cackle it from doore to doore. I've naither wife nor wain, chick nor
chile, I ate th' bread ov loneliness an' keep m' own company an' jist
bekase I don't blether wi' th' gossoons th' think I'm uncanny. Isn't
that it, Jamie, eh!
Aye, ye're right, Willie, it's quare what bletherin' fools there
are in this town!
Willie held his full spoon in front of his mouth while he replied:
It's you that's the dacent maan, Jamie, 'deed it is.
The crocks are empty, dear, Anna said to me. After tay, to the
town well I went for the night's supply of water. When I returned the
dishes were washed and on the dresser. The floor was swept and the
family were swappin' stories with Withero. Sunday was ever the day of
Broth and Romance. Anna made the best broth and told the best stories.
No Sunday was complete without a good story. On the doorstep that night
she told one of her best. As she finished the church bell tolled the
curfew. Then the days of the month were tolled off.
Sammy's arm is gey shtrong th' night, Willie said.
Aye, Jamie said, an' th' oul bell's got a fine ring.
CHAPTER V. HIS ARM IS NOT SHORTENED
When Anna had to choose between love and religionthe religion of
an institutionshe chose love. Her faith in God remained unshaken, but
her methods of approach were the forms of love rather than the symbols
or ceremonies of a sect. Twelve times in a quarter of a century she
appeared publicly in the parish church. Each time it was to lay on the
altar of religion the fruit of her love. Nine-tenths of those twelve
congregations would not have known her if they had met her on the
street. One-tenth were those who occupied the charity pews.
Religion in our town had arrayed the inhabitants into two hostile
camps. She never had any sympathy with the fight. She was neutral. She
pointed out to the fanatics around her that the basis of religion was
love and that religion that expressed itself in faction fights must
have hate at the bottom of it, not love. She had a philosophy of
religion that worked. To the sects it would have been rank
heresy, but the sects didn't know she existed and those who were
benefited by her quaint and unique application of religion to life were
almost as obscure as she was. I was the first to discover her heresy
and oppose it. She lived to see me repent of my folly.
In a town of two thousand people less than two hundred were familiar
with her face, and half of them knew her because at one time or another
they had been to Jamie's to have their shoes made or mended, or
because they lived in our immediate vicinity. Of the hundred who knew
her face, less than half of them were familiar enough to call her
Anna. Of all the people who had lived in Antrim as long as she had,
she was the least known.
No feast or function could budge her out of her corner. There came a
time when her family became as accustomed to her refusal as she had to
her environment and we ceased to coax or urge her. She never attended a
picnic, a soirée or a dance in Antrim. One big opportunity for social
intercourse amongst the poor is a wakeshe never attended a wake. She
often took entire charge of a wake for a neighbor, but she directed the
affair from her corner.
She had a slim sort of acquaintance with three intellectual men.
They were John Galt, William Green and John Gordon Holmes, vicars in
that order of the parish of Antrim. They visited her once a year and at
funeralsthe funerals of her own dead. None of them knew her. They
hadn't time, but there were members of our own family who knew as
little of her mind as they did.
She did not seek obscurity. It seemed to have sought and found her.
One avenue of escape after another was closed and she settled down at
last to her lot in the chimney-corner. Her hopes, beliefs and
aspirations were expressed in what she did rather than in what she
said, though she said much, much that is still treasured, long after
she has passed away.
Henry Lecky was a young fisherman on Lough Neagh. He was a great
favorite with the children of the entries. He loved to bring us a small
trout each when he returned after a long fishing trip. He died
suddenly, and Eliza, his mother, came at once for help to the chimney
He's gone, Anna, he's gone! she said as she dropped on the floor
An' ye want me t' do for yer dead what ye'd do for mine, 'Liza?
Aye, aye, Anna, yer God's angel to yer frien's.
Go an' fetch 'Liza Conlon, Jane Burrows and Marget Houston! was
Anna's order to Jamie.
The women came at once. The plan was outlined, the labor apportioned
and they went to work. Jamie went for the carpenter and hired William
Gainer to dig the grave. Eliza Conlon made the shroud, Jane Burrows and
Anna washed and laid out the corpse, and Mrs. Houston kept Eliza in
Anna's bed until the preliminaries for the wake were completed.
Ye can go now, Mrs. Houston, Anna said, an' I'll mind 'Liza.
The light's gone out o' m' home an' darkness fills m' heart, Anna,
an' it's the sun that'll shine for m' no more! Ochone, ochone!
'Liza dear, I've been where ye are now, too often not t' know that
aanything that aanybody says is jist like spittin' at a burnin' house
t' put it out. Yer boy's gonewe can't bring 'im back. Fate's cut yer
heart in two an' oul Docther Time an' the care of God are about the
only shure cures goin'.
Cudn't the ministher help a little if he was here, Anna?
If ye think so I'll get him, 'Liza!
He might put th' love of God in me!
Puttin' th' love of God in ye isn't like stuffin' yer mouth with a
That's so, it is, but he might thry, Anna!
Well, ye'll haave 'im.
Mr. Green came and gave 'Liza what consolation he could. He read the
appropriate prayer, repeated the customary words. He did it all in a
tender tone and departed.
Ye feel fine afther that, don't ye, 'Liza?
Aye, but Henry's dead an' will no come back!
Did ye expect Mr. Green t' bring 'im?
What did ye expect, 'Liza?
Shure ye don't. Ye didn't expect aanything an' ye got jist what ye
expected. Ah, wuman, God isn't a printed book t' be carried aroun' b' a
man in fine clothes, nor a gold cross t' be danglin' at the watch chain
ov a priest.
What is he, Anna, yer wiser nor me; tell a poor craither in
If ye'll lie very quiet, 'Lizajist cross yer hands and listenif
ye do, I'll thry!
Aye, bless ye, I'll blirt no more; go on!
Wee Henry is over there in his shroud, isn't he?
Aye, God rest his soul.
He'll rest Henry's, 'Liza, but He'll haave the divil's own job wi'
yours if ye don't help 'im.
Och, aye, thin I'll be at pace.
As I was sayin', Henry's body is jist as it was yesterday, han's,
legs, heart an' head, aren't they?
Aye, 'cept cold an' stiff.
What's missin' then?
His blessed soul, God love it.
That's right. Now when the spirit laves th' body we say th' body's
dead, but it's jist a partnership gone broke, wan goes up an' wan goes
down. I've always thot that kissin' a corpse was like kissin' a cage
whin the bird's deadthere's nothin' in it. Now answer me this,
'Liza Lecky: Is Henry a livin' spirit or a dead body?
A livin' spirit, God prosper it.
Aye, an' God is th' same kind, but Henry's can be at but wan point
at once, while God's is everywhere at once. He's so big He can cover
the world an' so small He can get in be a crack in th' glass or a
I've got four panes broke, Anna!
Well, they're jist like four doores.
Feeries can come in that way too.
Aye, but feeries can't sew up a broken heart, acushla.
Where's Henry's soul, Anna? Eliza asked, as if the said soul was a
naavy over whom Anna stood as gaffer.
It may be here at yer bedhead now, but yer more in need of knowin'
where God's Spirit is, 'Liza.
Jamie entered with a cup of tea.
For a throubled heart, he said, there's nothin' in this world
like a rale good cup o' tay.
God bless ye kindly, Jamie, I've a sore heart an' I'm as dhry as a
Now Jamie, put th' cups down on th' bed, Anna said, an' then get
out, like a good bhoy!
I want a crack wi' Anna, Jamie, Eliza said.
Well, ye'll go farther an' fare worseshe's a buffer at that!
Eliza sat up in bed while she drank the tea. When she drained her
cup she handed it over to Anna.
Toss it, Anna, maybe there's good luck in it fur me.
No, dear, it's a hoax at best; jist now it wud be pure blasphemy.
Ye don't need luck, ye need at this minute th' help of God.
Och, aye, ye're right; jist talk t' me ov Him.
I was talkin' about His Spirit when Jamie came in.
It comes in as many ways as there's need fur its comin', an' that's
quite a wheen.
Ye'll haave t' be calm, dear, before He'd come t' ye in aany way.
Aye, but I'm at pace now, Anna, amn't I?
Well, now, get out here an' get down on th' floor on yer bare knees
and haave a talk wi' 'im.
Eliza obeyed implicitly. Anna knelt beside her.
I don't know what t' say.
Say afther me, and Anna told of an empty home and a sore heart.
When she paused, Eliza groaned.
Now tell 'im to lay 'is hand on yer tired head in token that He's
wi' ye in yer disthress!
Even to a dull intellect like Eliza's the suggestion was startling.
Wud He do it, Anna?
Well, jist ask 'im an' then wait an' see!
In faltering tones Eliza made her request and waited. As gently as
falls an autumn leaf Anna laid her hand on Eliza's head, held it there
for a moment and removed it.
Oh, oh, oh, He's done it, Anna, He's done it, glory be t' God, He's
Rise up, dear, Anna said, an' tell me about it.
There was a nice feelin' went down through me, Anna, an' th' han'
was jist like yours!
The han' was mine, but it was God's too.
Anna wiped her spectacles and took Eliza over close to the window
while she read a text of the Bible. Listen, dear, Anna said, God's
arm is not shortened.
Did ye think that an arm could be stretched from beyont th' clouds
t' Pogue's entry?
No, dear, but God takes a han' where ever He can find it and jist
diz what He likes wi' it. Sometimes He takes a bishop's and lays it on
a child's head in benediction, then He takes the han' of a dochter t'
relieve pain, th' han' of a mother t' guide her chile, an' sometimes He
takes th' han' of an aul craither like me t' give a bit comfort to a
neighbor. But they're all han's touch't be His Spirit, an' His Spirit
is everywhere lukin' fur han's to use.
Eliza looked at her open-mouthed for a moment.
Tell me, Anna, she said, as she put her hands on her shoulders,
was th' han' that bro't home trouts fur th' childther God's han' too?
Aye, 'deed it was.
Oh, glory be t' Godthin I'm at paceisn't it gran' t' think
onisn't it now?
Eliza Conlon abruptly terminated the conversation by announcing that
all was ready for the wake.
Ah, but it's the purty corpse he is, she said, luks jist like
life! The three women went over to the Lecky home. It was a one-room
place. The big bed stood in the corner. The corpse was laid out with
the hands clasped.
The moment Eliza entered she rushed to the bed and fell on her knees
beside it. She was quiet, however, and after a moment's pause she
raised her head and laying a hand on the folded hands said: Ah, han's
ov God t' be so cold an' still!
Anna stood beside her until she thought she had stayed long enough,
then led her gently away. From that moment Anna directed the wake and
the funeral from her chimney-corner.
Here's a basket ov flowers for Henry, Anna, the childther gethered
thim th' day, Maggie McKinstry said as she laid them down on the
hearthstones beside Anna.
Ye've got some time, Maggie?
Make a chain ov them an' let it go all th' way aroun' th' body,
they'll look purty that way, don't ye think so?
Illigant, indeed, to be shure! 'Deed I'll do it. And it was done.
To Eliza Conlon was given the task of providing refreshments. I say
task, for after the carpenter was paid for the coffin and Jamie Scott
for the hearse there was only six shillings left.
Get whey for th' childther, Anna said, and childther in this
catalog ran up into the twenties.
For the older childther there was something from Mrs. Lorimer's
public housesomething that was kept under cover and passed around
late, and later still diluted and passed around again. Concerning this
item Anna said: Wather it well, dear, an' save their wits; they've got
little enough now, God save us all!
Anna, said Sam Johnson, I am told you have charge of Henry's
wake. Is there anything I can do?
Sam was the tall, imperious precentor of the Mill Row meeting-house.
He was also the chief baker of the town and looked up to in matters
relating to morals as well as loaves.
Mister Gwynn has promised t' read a chapther, Mister Johnson. He'll
read, maybe, the fourteenth of John. If he diz, tell him t' go aisy
over th' twelth verse an' explain that th' works He did can be done in
Antrim by any poor craither who's got th' Spirit.
Sam straightened up to his full height and in measured words said:
Ye know, no doubt, Anna, that Misther Gwynn is a Churchman an' I'm
a Presbyterian. He wouldn't take kindly to a hint from a Mill Row maan,
I fear, especially on a disputed text.
Well, dear knows if there's aanything this oul world needs more
than another it's an undisputed text. Couldn't ye find us wan, Misther
All texts are disputed, he said, but there are texts not in
I think I could name wan at laste, Mister Johnson.
'Deed no, not maybe at all, but sure-be. Jamie dear, get m'
th' Bible if ye plaze.
While Jamie got the Bible she wiped her glasses and complained in a
gentle voice about the mortal pity of it that texts were pins for
Christians to stick in each other's flesh.
Here it is, she said, 'Th' poor ye haave always with ye.'
Aye, Sam said, an' how true it is.
'Deed it's true, but who did He mane by 'ye'?
Th' world, I suppose.
Not all th' world, by a spoonful, but a wheen of thim like Sandy
Somerville, who's got a signboard in front of his back that tells he
ates too much while the rest of us haave backbones that could as aisily
be felt before as behine!
So that's what you call an undisputed text?
She looked over the rim of her spectacles at him for a moment in
silence, and then said, slowly:
Ochanew-e-l-ltell Mister Gwynn t' read what he likes, it'll
mane th' same aanyway.
Kitty Coyle came in. Henry and she were engaged. They had known each
other since childhood. Her eyes were red with weeping. Henry's mother
led her by the arm.
Anna, dear, Eliza said, she needs ye as much as me. Give 'er a
bit ov comfort.
They went into the little bedroom and the door was shut. Jamie stood
When they came out young Johnny Murdock, Henry's chum, was sitting
on Jamie's workbench.
I want ye t' take good care of Kitty th' night, Johnny. Keep close
t' 'er and when th' moon comes out take 'er down the garden t' get
fresh air. It'll be stuffy wi' all th' people an' the corpse in
Aye, he said, I'll do all I can. To Kitty she said, I've asked
Johnny t' keep gey close t' ye till it's all over, Kitty. Ye'll
Aye, Kitty said, Henry loved 'im more'n aany maan on th' Lough!
Had tay yit? Willie Withero asked as he blundered in on the scene.
No, Willie, 'deed we haaven't thought ov it!
Well, t' haave yer bowels think yer throat's cut isn't sauncy! he
The fire was low and the kettle cold.
Here, Johnny, Withero said, jist run over t' Farren's for a
ha'p'orth ov turf an' we'll haave a cup o' tay fur these folks who're
workin' overtime palaverin' about th' dead! Moses alive, wan corpse is
enough fur a week or twodon't kill us all entirely!
Shortly after midnight Anna went over to see how things were at the
wake. They told her of the singing of the children, of the beautiful
chapther by Misther Gwynn, and the feelin' by Graham Shannon. The
whey was sufficient and nearly everybody had a dhrap o' th' craither
and a bite of fadge.
Ah, Anna dear, Eliza said, shure it's yerself that knows how t'
make a moi'ty go th' longest distance over dhry throats an' empty
stomachs! 'Deed it was a revival an' a faste in wan, an' th' only pity
is that poor Henry cudn't enjoy it!
The candles were burned low in the sconces, the flowers around the
corpse had faded, a few tongues, loosened by stimulation, were still
wagging, but the laughter had died down and the stories were all told.
There had been a hair-raising ghost story that had sent a dozen home
before the respectable time of departure. The empty stools had
been carried outside and were largely occupied by lovers.
Anna drew Eliza's head to her breast and pressing it gently to her
said, I'm proud of ye, dear, ye've borne up bravely! Now I'm goin' t'
haave a few winks in th' corner, for there'll be much to do th' morra.
Scarcely had the words died on her lips when Kitty Coyle gave vent
to a scream of terror that brought the mourners to the door and
terrified those outside.
What ails ye, in th' name of God? Anna asked. She was too
terrified to speak at once. The mourners crowded closely together.
Watch! Kitty said as she pointed with her finger toward Conlon's
pigsty. Johnny Murdock had his arm around Kitty's waist to keep her
steady and assure her of protection. They watched and waited. It was a
bright moonlight night, and save for the deep shadows of the houses and
hedges as clear as day. Tensely nerve-strung, open-mouthed and
wild-eyed stood the group for what seemed to them hours. In a few
minutes a white figure was seen emerging from the pigsty. The watchers
were transfixed in terror. Most of them clutched at each other
nervously. Old Mrs. Houston, the midwife who had told the ghost story
at the wake, dropped in a heap. Peter Hannen and Jamie Wilson carried
The white figure stood on the pathway leading through the gardens
for a moment and then returned to the sty. Most of the watchers fled to
their homes. Some didn't move because they had lost the power to do so.
Others just stood.
It's a hoax an' a joke, Anna said. Now wan of you men go down
there an' see!
No one moved. Every eye was fixed on the pigsty. A long-drawn-out,
mournful cry was heard. It was all that tradition had described as the
cry of the Banshee.
The Banshee it is! Ah, merciful God, which ov us is t' b' tuk, I
wondther? It was Eliza who spoke, and she continued, directing her
talk to Anna, An' it's th' long arm ov th' Almighty it is raychin'
down t' give us a warnin', don't ye think so now, Anna?
If it's wan arm of God, I know where th' other is, 'Liza!
Addressing the terror-stricken watchers, Anna said:
Stand here, don't budge, wan of ye!
Along the sides of the houses in the deep shadow Anna walked until
she got to the end of the row; just around the corner stood the sty. In
the shadow she stood with her back to the wall and waited. The watchers
were breathless and what they saw a minute later gave them a syncope of
the heart that they never forgot. They saw the white figure emerge
again and they saw Anna stealthily approach and enter into what they
thought was a struggle with it. They gasped when they saw her a moment
later bring the white figure along with her. As she came nearer it
looked limp and pliable, for it hung over her arm.
It's that divil, Ben Green! she said as she threw a white sheet at
Hell roast 'im on a brandther! said one.
The divil gut 'im like a herrin'! said another. Four of the
younger men, having been shamed by their own cowardice, made a raid on
the sty, and next day when Ben came to the funeral he looked very much
the worse for wear.
Ben was a friend of Henry's and a good deal of a practical joker.
Anna heard of what happened and she directed that he be one of the four
men to lower the coffin into the grave, as a moiety of consolation.
Johnny Murdock made strenuous objections to this.
Why? Anna asked.
Bekase, he said, shure th' divil nearly kilt Kitty be th'
But she was purty comfortable th' rest of th' time?
Ye lifted a gey big burden from 'er heart last night, didn't ye,
Aye; an' if ye won't let on I'll tell ye, Anna. He came close and
whispered into her ear: Am goin' t' thry danged hard t' take th' heart
as well as th' throuble!
What diz Kitty think?
CHAPTER VI. THE APOTHEOSIS OF HUGHIE
Anna was an epistle to Pogue's entry and my only excuse for dragging
Hughie Thornton into this narrative is that he was a commentary on
Anna. He was only once in our house, but that was an occasion, and
for many years we dated things that happened about that time as
about, before or after the night Hughie stayed in the pigsty.
We lived in the social cellar; Hughie led a precarious existence in
the sub-cellar. He was the beggar-man of several towns, of which
Antrim was the largest. He was a short, thick-set man with a
pock-marked face, eyes like a mouse, eyebrows that looked like
well-worn scrubbing brushes, and a beard cropped close with scissors or
a knife. He wore two coats, two pairs of trousers and several
waistcoatsall at the same time, winter and summer. His old battered
hat looked like a crow's nest. His wardrobe was so elaborately patched
that practically nothing at all of the originals remained; even then
patches of his old, withered skin could be seen at various angles. The
thing that attracted my attention more than anything else about him was
his pockets. He had dozens of them and they were always full of bread
crusts, scraps of meat and cooking utensils, for like a snail he
carried his domicile on his back. His boots looked as if a blacksmith
had made them, and for whangs (laces) he used strong wire.
He was preëminently a citizen of the world. He had not lived in a
house in half a century. A haystack in summer and a pigsty in winter
sufficed him. He had a deep graphophone voice and when he spoke the
sound was like the creaking of a barn door on rusty hinges. When he
came to town he was to us what a circus is to boys of more highly
favored communities. There were several interpretations of Hughie. One
was that he was a sent back. That is, he had gone to the gates of a
less cumbersome life and Peter or the porter at the other gate had sent
him back to perform some unfulfilled task. Another was that he was a
nobleman of an ancient line who was wandering over the earth in
disguise in search of the Grail. A third, and the most popular one, was
that he was just a common beggar and an unmitigated liar. The second
interpretation was made more plausible by the fact that he rather
enjoyed his reputation as a liar, for wise ones said: He's jist
On one of his semi-annual visits to Antrim, Hughie got into a barrel
of trouble. He was chargedrumor charged himwith having blinked a
widow's cow. It was noised abroad that he had been caught in the act of
skellyin' at her. The story gathered in volume as it went from mouth
to mouth until it crystallized as a crime in the minds of half a dozen
of our toughest citizensboys who hankered for excitement as a hungry
stomach hankers for food. He was finally rounded up in a field
adjoining the Mill Row meeting-house and pelted with stones. I was of
the gallery that watched the fun. I watched until a track of blood
streaked down Hughie's pock-marked face. Then I ran home and told Anna.
Ma! I yelled breathlessly, they're killin' Hughie Thornton!
Jamie threw his work down and accompanied Anna over the little
garden patches to the wall that protected the field. Through the gap
they went and found poor Hughie in bad shape. He was crying and he
cried like a brass band. His head and face had been cut in several
places and his face and clothes were red.
They brought him home. A crowd followed and filled Pogue's entry, a
crowd that was about equally divided in sentiment against Hughie and
against the toughs.
I borrowed a can of water from Mrs. McGrath and another from the
Gainers and Anna washed old Hughie's wounds in Jamie's tub. It was a
great operation. Hughie of course refused to divest himself of any
clothing, and as she said afterwards it was like dhressin' th' woonds
of a haystack.
One of my older brothers came home and cleared the entry, and we sat
down to our stir-about and buttermilk. An extra cup of good hot strong
tea was the finishing touch to the Samaritan act. Jamie had scant
sympathy with the beggar-man. He had always called him hard names in
language not lawful to utter, and even in this critical exigency was
not over tender. Anna saw a human need and tried to supply it.
Did ye blink th' cow? Jamie asked as we sat around the candle
Divil a blink, said Hughie.
What did th' raise a hue-an'-cry fur? was the next question.
I was fixin' m' galluses, over Crawford's hedge, whin a gomeral
luked over an' says, says he:
'Morra, bhoy!' says I.
'Luks like snow,' says he (it was in July).
'Aye,' says I, 'we're goin' t' haave more weather; th' sky's in a
bad art' (direction).
Anna arose, put her little Sunday shawl around her shoulders,
tightened the strings of her cap under her chin and went out. We gasped
with astonishment! What on earth could she be going out for? She never
went out at night. Everybody came to her. There was something so
mysterious in that sudden exit that we just looked at our guest without
understanding a word he said.
Jamie opened up another line of inquiry.
Th' say yer a terrible liar, Hughie.
I am that, Hughie said without the slightest hesitation. I'm th'
champ'yun liar ov County Anthrim.
How did ye get th' belt?
Aisy, as aisy as tellin' th' thruth.
That's harder nor ye think.
So's lyin', Jamie!
Tell us how ye won th' champ'yunship.
Whin I finish this dhraw.
He took a live coal and stoked up the bowl of his old cutty-pipe.
The smacking of his lips could have been heard at the mouth of Pogue's
entry. We waited with breathless interest. When he had finished he
knocked the ashes out on the toe of his brogue and talked for nearly an
hour of the great event in which he covered himself with glory.
It was a fierce encounter according to Hughie, the then champion
being a Ballymena man by the name of Jack Rooney. Jack and a bunch of
vagabonds sat on a stone pile near Ballyclare when Hughie hove in
sight. The beggar-man was at once challenged to divest himself of half
his clothes or enter the contest. He entered, with the result that
Ballymena lost the championship! The concluding round as Hughie recited
it was as follows:
I dhruv a nail throo th' moon wanst, said Jack.
Ye did, did ye, said Hughie, but did ye iver hear ov the maan
that climbed up over th' clouds wid a hammer in his han' an' clinched
it on th' other side?
No, said the champion.
I'm him! said Hughie.
I'm bate! said Jack Rooney, an' begobs if I wor St. Peether I'd
kape ye outside th' gate till ye tuk it out agin!
Anna returned with a blanket rolled up under her arm. She gave
Hughie his choice between sleeping in Jamie's corner among the lasts or
occupying the pigsty. He chose the pigsty, but before he retired I
begged Anna to ask him about the Banshee.
Did ye ever really see a Banshee, Hughie?
Is there aanythin' a champ'yun liar haasn't seen? Jamie
Aye, Hughie said, 'deed there is, he niver seen a maan who'd
believe 'im even whin he was tellin' th' thruth!
That's broth for your noggin', Jamie, Anna said. Encouraged by
Anna, Hughie came back with a thrust that increased Jamie's sympathy
I'm undther yer roof an' beholdin' t' yer kindness, but I'd like t'
ax ye a civil quest'yun if I may be so bowld.
Aye, go on.
Did ye blow a farmer's brains out in th' famine fur a pint ov
It's a lie! Jamie said, indignantly.
Well, me bhoy, there must b' quite a wheen, thrainin' fur me belt
There's something in that, Hughie!
Aye, somethin' Hughie Thornton didn't put in it!
We youngsters were irritated and impatient over what seemed to us
useless palaver about minor details. We wanted the story and wanted it
at once, for we understood that Hughie went to bed with the crows and
we stood in terror lest this huge bundle of pockets with its unearthly
voice should vanish into thin air.
D'ye know McShane? he asked.
Ax 'im what Hughie Thornton towld 'im wan night be th' hour ov
midnight an' afther. Ax 'im, I say, an' he'll swear be th' Holy Virgin
an' St. Peether t' it!
Jist tell us aanyway, Hughie, Anna urged and the beggar-man
I was be th' oul Quaker graveyard be Moylena wan night whin th'
shadows fell an' bein' more tired than most I slipt in an' lay down be
th' big wall t' slape. I cros't m'self seven times an' says I'God
rest th' sowls ov all here, an' God prosper th' sowl ov Hughie
Thornton.' I wint t' slape an' slept th' slape ov th' just till twelve
be th' clock. I was shuk out ov slape be a screech that waked th' dead!
Och, be th' powers, Jamie, me hair stud like th' brisels on
O'Hara's hog. I lukt and what m' eyes lukt upon froze me blood like
icicles hingin' frum th' thatch. It was a woman in a white shift, young
an' beautiful, wid hair stramin' down her back. She sat on th' wall wid
her head in her han's keenin' an' moanin': 'Ochone, ochone!' I thried
to spake but m' tongue cluv t' th' roof ov m' mouth. I thried t' move a
han' but it wudn't budge. M' legs an' feet wor as stiff and shtrait as
th' legs ov thim tongs in yer chimley. Och, but it's th' prackus I was
frum top t' toe! Dead intirely was I but fur th' eyes an' th' wit
behint thim. She ariz an' walked up an' down, back an' fort', up an'
down, back an' fort', keenin' an' cryin' an' wringin' her han's! Maan
alive, didn't she carry on terrible! Purty soon wid a yell she lept
into the graveyard, thin she lept on th' wall, thin I heerd her on th'
road, keenin'; an' iverywhere she wint wor long bars of light like
sunbames streamin' throo th' holes in a barn. Th' keenin' become waker
an' waker till it died down like the cheep ov a willy-wag-tail far off
be the ind ov th' road.
I got up an' ran like a red shank t' McShane's house. I dundthered
at his doore till he opened it, thin I towld him I'd seen th' Banshee!
'That bates Bannagher!' says he.
'It bates th' divil,' says I. 'But whose fur above th' night is
what I'd like t' know.'
'Oul Misther Chaine,' says he, 'as sure as gun's iron!'
The narrative stopped abruptly, stopped at McShane's door.
Did oul Misther Chaine die that night? Anna asked.
Ax McShane! was all the answer he gave and we were sent off to
Hughie was escorted to the pigsty with his blanket and candle. What
Jamie saw on the way to the pigsty made the perspiration stand in big
beads on his furrowed brow. Silhouetted against the sky were several
figures. Some were within a dozen yards, others were farther away. Two
sat on a low wall that divided the Adair and Mulholland gardens. They
were silent and motionless, but there was no mistake about it. He
directed Anna's attention to them and she made light of it. When they
returned to the house Jamie expressed fear for the life of the
beggar-man. Anna whispered something into his ear, for she knew that we
were wide-awake. They went into their room conversing in an undertone.
The thing was so uncanny to me that it was three o'clock next
morning before I went to sleep. As early as six there was an unusual
shuffling and clattering of feet over the cobblestones in Pogue's
entry. We knew everybody in the entry by the sound of their footfall.
The clatter was by the feet of strangers.
I dunched my brother, who lay beside me, with my elbow.
Go an' see if oul Hughie's livin' or dead, I said.
Ye cudn't kill 'im, he said.
How d'ye know?
I heerd a quare story about 'im last night!
In th' barber's shop.
Is he a feerie?
What is he?
Close yer thrap an' lie still!
Somebody opened the door and walked in.
I slid into my clothes and climbed down. It was Withero. He shook
Anna and Jamie in their bed and asked in a loud voice:
What's all this palaver about an' oul throllop what niver earned
salt t' 'is pirtas?
Go on t' yer stone pile, Willie, Anna said, as she sat up in bed;
what ye don't know will save docther's bills.
If I catch m'self thinkin' aanythin' sauncy ov that aul haythen
baste I'll change m' name! he said, as he turned and left in high
When I got to the pigsty there were several early callers lounging
around. Jowler Hainey sat on a big stone near the slit. Mary
McConnaughy stood with her arms akimbo, within a yard of the door, and
Tommy Wilson was peeping into the sty through a knot-hole on the side.
I took my turn at the hole. Hughie had evidently been awakened early.
He was sitting arranging his pockets. Con Mulholland came down the
entry with his gun over his shoulder. He had just returned from his
vigil as night watchman at the Greens and was going the longest way
around to his home.
He leaned his gun against the house side and lit his pipe. Then he
opened the sty door, softly, and said:
Morra, Con, came the answer, in calliope tones from our guest.
Haave ye a good stock ov tubacca? Con asked Hughie.
I cud shtart a pipe shap, Con, fur be th' first strake ov dawn I
found five new pipes an' five half ounces ov tubacca inside th' doore
ov th' sty!
Take this bit too. Avic, ye don't come ofen, and he gave him a
small package and took his departure.
Eliza Conlon brought a cup of tea. Without even looking in, she
pushed the little door ajar, laid it just inside, and went away without
a word. Mulholland and Hainey seemed supremely concerned about the
weather. From all they said it was quite evident that each of them had
jist dhrapped aroun' t' find out what Jamie thought ov th' prospects
fur a fine day! Old Sandy Somerville came hatless and in his
shirt-sleeves, his hands deep in his pockets and his big watchchain
dangling across what Anna called the front of his back. Sandy was
some quality, too, and owned three houses.
Did aany o' ye see my big orange cat? he asked the callers.
Without waiting for an answer he opened the door of the pigsty and
By the time Hughie scrambled out there were a dozen men, women and
boys around the sty. As the beggar-man struggled up through his freight
to his feet the eyes of the crowd were scrutinizing him. Sandy shook
hands with him and wished him a pleasant journey.
Hainey hoped he would live long and prosper. As he expressed the
hope he furtively stuffed into one of Hughie's pockets a small package.
Anna came out and led Hughie into the house for breakfast. The
little crowd moved toward the door. On the doorstep she turned around
and said: Hughie's goin' t' haave a cup an' a slice an' go. Ye can all
see him in a few minutes. Excuse me if I shut the doore, but Jamie's
givin' the thrush its mornin' bath an' it might fly out.
She gently closed the door and we were again alone with the guest.
The luck ov God is m' portion here, he said, looking at Anna.
Nothing was more evident. His pockets were taxed to their full
capacity and those who gathered around the table that morning wished
that the luck of God would spread a little.
Th' feeries must haave been t' see ye, Jamie said, eyeing his
Aye, gey sauncy feeries, too!
Did ye see aany, Hughie? Anna asked.
No, but I had a wondtherful dhrame. The announcement was a
disappointment to us. We had dreams of our own and to have right at our
fireside the one man in all the world who saw things and get
merely a dream from him was, to say the least, discouraging.
I thocht I heer'd th' rat, tap; rat, tap, ov th' Lepracaunth'
'Is that th' Lepracaun?' says I. 'If it is I want m' three wishes.'
'Get thim out,' says he, 'fur I'm gey busy th' night.'
'Soun' slape th' night an' safe journey th' morra,' says I.
'Get yer third out or I'm gone,' says he.
I scratched m' head an' swithered, but divil a third cud I think
ov. Jist as he was goin', 'Oh,' says I, 'I want a pig fur this sty!'
'Ye'll git him!' says he, an' off he wint.
Here was something, after all, that gave us more excitement than a
Banshee story. We had a sty. We had hoped for years for a pig. We had
been forced often to use some of the sty for fuel, but in good times
Jamie had always replaced the boards. This was a real vision and we
were satisfied. Jamie's faith in Hughie soared high at the time, but a
few months later it fell to zero. Anna with a twinkle in her eye would
remind us of Hughie's prophecy. One day he wiped the vision off the
T' hl wi' Hughie! he said. Some night he'll come back an' slape
there, thin we'll haave a pig in th' sty shure!
As he left our house that morning he was greeted in a most unusual
manner by a score of people who crowded the entry. Men and women
gathered around him. They inspected the wounds. They gave their
blessing in as many varieties as there were people present. The new
attitude toward the beggar baffled us. Generally he was considered a
good deal of a nuisance and something of a fraud, but that morning he
was looked upon as a saintas one inspired, as one capable of
bestowing benedictions on the young and giving luck to the old. Out
of their penury and want they brought gifts of food, tobacco, cloth for
patches and needles and thread. He was overwhelmed and over-burdened,
and as his mission of gathering food for a few weeks was accomplished,
he made for the town head when he left the entry.
The small crowd grew into a big one and he was the center of a
throng as he made his way north. When he reached the town well, Maggie
McKinstry had several small children in waiting and Hughie was asked to
give them a blessing. It was a new atmosphere to him, but he bungled
through it. The more unintelligible his jabbering, the more assured
were the recipients of his power to bless. One of the boys who stoned
him was brought by his father to ask forgiveness.
God save ye kindly, Hughie said to him. Th' woonds ye made haave
been turned into blessin's galore! He came in despised. He went out a
It proved to be Hughie's last visit to Antrim. His going out of life
was a mystery, and as the years went by tradition accorded him an exit
not unlike that of Moses. I was amongst those the current of whose
lives were supposed to have been changed by the touch of his hand on
that last visit. Anna alone knew the secret of his alleged sainthood.
She was the author and publisher of it. That night when she left us
with Hughie she gathered together in 'Liza Conlon's a few hand-picked
people whose minds were as an open book to her. She told them that the
beggar-man was of an ancient line, wandering the earth in search of the
Holy Grail, but that as he wandered he was recording in a secret book
the deeds of the poor. She knew exactly how the news would travel and
where. One superstition stoned him and another canonized him.
Dear, she said to me, many, many years afterwards. A good thought
will thravel as fast an' as far as a bad wan if it gets th' right
CHAPTER VII. IN THE GLOW OF A PEAT
It's a quare world, Jamie said one night as we sat in the glow of
a peat fire.
Aye, 'deed yer right, Jamie, Anna replied as she gazed into the
He took his short black pipe out of his mouth, spat into the burning
sods and added: I wondther if it's as quare t' everybody, Anna?
Ochane, she replied, it's quare t' poor craithers who haave
naither mate, money nor marbles, nor chalk t' make th' ring.
There had been but one job that daya pair of McGuckin's boots.
They had been half-soled and heeled and my sister had taken them home,
with orders what to bring home for supper.
The last handful of peat had been put on the fire. The cobbler's
bench had been put aside for the night and we gathered closely around
The town clock struck eight.
What th' hl's kapin' th' hussy! Jamie said petulantly.
Hugh's at a Fenian meeting more 'n likely an' it's worth a black
eye for th' wife t' handle money when he's gone, Anna suggested.
More likely he's sleepin' off a dhrunk, he said.
No, Jamie, he laves that t' the craithers who give 'im a livin'.
Yer no judge o' human naiture, Anna. A squint out o' th' tail o'
yer eye at what McGuckin carries in front ov 'im wud tell ye betther if
ye had th' wits to obsarve.
Over the fire hung a pot on the chain and close to the turf coals
sat the kettle singing. Nothing of that far-off life has left a more
lasting impression than the singing of the kettle. It sang a dirge that
night, but it usually sang of hope. It was ever the harbinger of the
thing that was most indispensable in that home of wanta cup of tea.
Often it was tea without milk, sometimes without sugar, but always tea.
If it came to a choice between tea and bread, we went without bread.
Anna did not relish the reflection on her judgment and remained
There was a loud noise at the door.
Jazus! Jamie exclaimed, it's snowin'. Some one was kicking the
snow off against the door-post. The latch was lifted and in walked
Felix Boyle the bogman.
What th' blazes are ye in th' dark fur? Felix asked in a deep,
hoarse voice. His old rabbit-skin cap was pulled down over his ears,
his head and shoulders were covered with snow. As he shook it off we
shivered. We were in debt to Felix for a load of turf and we suspected
he had called for the money. Anna lit the candle she was saving for
supper-time. The bogman threw his cap and overcoat over in the corner
on the lasts and sat down.
I'm frozen t' death! he said as he proceeded to take off his
brogues. As he came up close to the coals, we were smitten with his
foul breath and in consequence gave him a wider berth. He had been
Where's th' mare? Anna asked.
Gone home, th' bitch o' hl, he said, an' she's got m' load o'
turf wid 'er, bad cess t' 'er dhirty sowl!
The town clock struck nine.
Felix removed his socks, pushed his stool aside and sat down on the
mud floor. A few minutes later he was flat on his back, fast asleep and
The fire grew smaller. Anna husbanded the diminishing embers by
keeping them closely together with the long tongs. The wind howled and
screamed. The window rattled, the door creaked on its hinges and every
few minutes a gust of wind came down the chimney and blew the ashes
into our faces. We huddled nearer the fire.
Can't ye fix up that oul craither's head a bit? Jamie asked. I
brought over the bogman's coat. Anna made a pillow of it and placed it
under his head. He turned over on his side. As he did so a handful of
small change rolled out of his pocket.
Think of that now, Jamie said as he gathered it up and stuffed it
back where it belonged, an oul dhrunken turf dhriver wi' money t'
waste while we're starvin'.
From that moment we were acutely hungry.
This new incident rendered the condition poignant.
Maybe Mrs. Boyle an' th' wains are as hungry as we are, Anna
Wi' a bogful o' turf at th' doore?
Th' can't eat turf, Jamie!
Th' can warm their shins, that's more'n we can do, in a minute or
The rapidly diminishing coals were arranged once more. They were a
mere handful now and the house was cold.
There were two big holes in the chimney where Jamie kept old pipes,
pipe cleaners, bits of rags and scraps of tobacco. He liked to hide a
scrap or two there and in times of scarcity make himself believe he
found them. His last puff of smoke had gone up the chimney hours
ago. He searched both holes without success. A bright idea struck him.
He searched for Boyle's pipe. He searched in vain.
Holy Moses! he exclaimed, what a breath; a pint ov that wud make
a mule dhrunk!
Thry it, Jamie, Anna said, laughing.
Thry it yerself,yer a good dale more ov a judge! he said
A wild gust of wind came down the chimney and blew the loose ashes
off the hearth. Jamie ensconced himself in his cornera picture of
I wondther if Billy O'Hare's in bed? he said.
Ye'd need fumigatin' afther smokin' Billy's tobacco, Jamie!
I'd smoke tobacco scraped out o' the breeches-pocket ov th' oul
divil in hell! he replied.
He arose, put on his muffler and made ready to visit the sweep. On
the way to the door another idea turned him back. He put on the
bogman's overcoat and rabbit-skin cap. Anna, divining his intention,
That's th' first sign of sense I've see in you for a month of
Ye cudn't see it in a month ov Easther Sundays, aanyway, he
retorted with a superior toss of his head.
Anna kept up a rapid fire of witty remarks. She injected humor into
the situation and laughed like a girl, and although she felt the pangs
more keenly than any of us, her laughter was genuine and natural.
Jamie had his empty pipe in his mouth and by force of habit he
picked up in the tongs a little bit of live coal to light it. We all
Th' hl! he muttered, as he made for the door. Before he reached
it my sister walked in. McGuckin wasn't at home. His wife couldn't pay.
We saw the whole story on her face, every pang of it. Her eyes were red
and swollen. Before she got out a sentence of the tale of woe, she
noticed the old man in Boyle's clothing and burst out laughing. So
hearty and boisterous was it that we all again caught the contagion and
laughed with her. Sorrow was deep-seated. It had its roots away down at
the bottom of things, but laughter was always up near the surface and
could be tapped on the slightest provocation. It was a by-valvea way
of escape for the overflow. There were times when sorrow was too deep
for tears. But there never was a time when we couldn't laugh!
People in our town who expected visitors to knock provided a
knocker. The knocker was a distinct line of social demarcation. We
lived below the line. The minister and the tract distributor were the
only persons who ever knocked at our door.
Scarcely had our laughter died away when the door opened and there
entered in the sweep of a blizzard's tail Billy O'Hare. The gust of
cold winter wind made us shiver again and we drew up closer to the
dying fireso small now as to be seen with difficulty.
Be th' seven crosses ov Arbow, Jamie, he said, I'm glad yer
awake, me bhoy, if ye hadn't I'd haave pulled ye out be th' tail ov yer
I was jist within an ace ov goin' over an' pullin' ye out be th'
The chimney-sweep stepped forward and, tapping Jamie on the
Two great minds workin' on th' same thought shud projuce
wondtherful results, Jamie; lend me a chew ov tobacco!
Ye've had larks for supper, Billy; yer jokin'! Jamie said.
Larks be damned, Billy said, m' tongue's stickin' t' th' roof ov
Again we laughed, while the two men stood looking at each
Ye can do switherin' as easy sittin' as standin', Anna said, and
Billy sat down. The bogman's story was repeated in minutest detail. The
sweep scratched his sooty head and looked wise.
It's gone! Anna said quietly, and we all looked toward the fire.
It was dead. The last spark had been extinguished. We shivered.
We don't need so many stools aanyway, Jamie said. I'll get a
hatchet an' we'll haave a fire in no time.
T' be freezin' t' death wi a bogman goin' t' waste is unchristian,
t' say th' laste, Billy ventured.
Every time we get to th' end of th' tether God appears! Anna said
reassuringly, as she pinned her shawl closer around her neck.
There's nothin' but empty bowels and empty pipes in our house, the
sweep said, but we've got half a dozen good turf left!
Well, it's a long lane that's got no turnin'ye might lend us
thim, Jamie suggested.
If ye'll excuse m' fur a minit, I'll warm this house, an' may the
Virgin choke m' in th' nixt chimley I sweep if I don't!
In a few minutes he returned with six black turf. The fire was
rebuilt and we basked in its warm white glow. The bogman snored on.
Billy inquired about the amount of his change. Then he became
solicitous about his comfort on the floor. Each suggestion was a
furtive flank movement on Boyle's loose change.
Anna saw the bent of his mind and tried to divert his attention.
Did ye ever hear, Billy, she said, that if we stand a dhrunk maan
on his head it sobers him?
Be the powers, no.
They say, she said with a twinkle in her eyes, that it empties
him of his contents.
Aye, sighed the sweep, there's something in that, Anna; let's
thry it on Boyle.
There was an element of excitement in the suggestion and we
youngsters hoped it would be carried out. Billy made a move to suit the
action to the thought, but Anna pushed him gently back. Jamie's mouth
is as wathry as yours, Billy, but we'll take no short cuts, we'll go
th' long way around.
That seemed a death-blow to hope. My sisters began to whimper and
sniffle. We had many devices for diverting hunger. The one always used
as a last resort was the stories of the great famine. We were
particularly helped by one about a family half of whom died around a
pot of stir-about that had come too late. When we heard Jamie say,
Things are purty bad, but they're not as bad as they might be, we
knew a famine story was on the way.
Hould yer horses there a minute! Billy O'Hare broke in. He took
the step-ladder and before we knew what he was about he had taken a
bunch of dried rosemary from the roof-beams and was rubbing it in his
hands as a substitute for tobacco.
After rubbing it between his hands he filled his pipe and began to
Wud ye luk at 'im! Jamie exclaimed.
I've lived with th' mother ov invintion since I was th' size ov a
mushroom, he said between the puffs, an begorra she's betther nor a
wife. The odor filled the house. It was like the sweet incense of a
censer. The men laughed and joked over the discovery. The sweep
indulged himself in some extravagant, self-laudatory statements, one of
which became a household word with us.
Jamie, he said as he removed his pipe and looked seriously at my
father, who was that poltroon that discovered tobacco? Anna informed
What'll become ov 'im whin compared wid O'Hare, th' inventor of th'
rosemary delection? I ax ye, Jamie, bekase ye're an honest maan.
Heaven knows, Billy.
Aye, heaven only knows, fur I'll hand down t' m' future ancestors
the O'Hara brand ov rosemary tobacco!
Wondtherful, wondtherful! Jamie said, in mock solemnity.
Aye, t' think, Anna said, that ye invinted it in our house!
We forgot our hunger pangs in the excitement. Jamie filled his pipe
and the two men smoked for a few minutes. Then a fly appeared in the
precious ointment. My father took his pipe out of his mouth and looked
inquisitively at Billy.
M' head's spinnin' 'round like a peerie! he exclaimed.
Whin did ye ate aanything? asked the sweep.
Aye, well, it's th' mate ye haaven't in yer bowels that's makin' ye
What's th' matther wi th' invintor? Anna asked.
Billy had removed his pipe and was staring vacantly into space.
I'm seein' things two at a time, b' Jazus! he answered.
We've got plenty of nothin' but wather, maybe ye'd like a good
Before he could reply the bogman raised himself to a half-sitting
posture, and yelled with all the power of his lungs:
Whoa! back, ye dhirty baste, back! The wild yell chilled the blood
in our veins.
He sat up, looked at the black figure of the sweep for a moment,
then made a spring at Billy, and before any one could interfere poor
Billy had been felled to the floor with a terrible smash on the jaw.
Then he jumped on him. We youngsters raised a howl that awoke the
sleepers in Pogue's entry. Jamie and Billy soon overpowered Boyle. When
the neighbors arrived they found O'Hare sitting on Boyle's neck and
Jamie on his legs.
Where am I? Boyle asked.
In the home of friends, Anna answered.
Wud th' frien's donate a mouthful ov breath?
He was let up. The story of the night was told to him. He listened
attentively. When the story was told he thrust his hand into his pocket
and brought forth some change.
Hould yer han' out, ye black imp o' hell, he said to O'Hare. The
sweep obeyed, but remarked that the town clock had already struck
twelve. I don't care a damn if it's thirteen! he said. That's fur
bread, that's fur tay, that's fur tobacco an' that's fur somethin' that
runs down yer throat like a rasp, fur me. Now don't let th'
grass grow undther yer flat feet, ye divil.
After some minor instructions from Anna, the sweep went off on his
midnight errand. The neighbors were sent home. The kettle replaced the
pot on the chain, and we gathered full of ecstasy close to the fire.
Whisht! Anna said. We listened. Above the roar of the wind and the
rattling of the casement we heard a loud noise.
It's Billy thunderin' at Marget Hurll's doore, Jamie said.
O'Hare arrived with a bang! He put his bundles down on the table and
vigorously swung his arms like flails around him to thaw himself out.
Anna arranged the table and prepared the meal. Billy and Jamie went at
the tobacco. Boyle took the whiskey and said:
I thank my God an' the holy angels that I'm in th' house ov
timperance payple! Then looking at Jamie, he said:
Here's t' ye, Jamie, an' ye, Anna, an' th' scoundthrel O'Hare, an'
here's t' th' three that niver bred, th' priest, th' pope, an' th'
Then at a draft he emptied the bottle and threw it behind the fire,
grunting his satisfaction.
Wudn't that make a corpse turn 'round in his coffin? Billy said.
Keep yer eye on that loaf, Billy, or he'll be dhrinkin' our health
in it! Jamie remarked humorously.
Boyle stretched himself on the floor and yawned. The little table
was brought near the fire, the loaf was cut in slices and divided. It
was a scene that brought us to the edge of tearstears of joy. Anna's
face particularly beamed. She talked as she prepared, and her talk was
of God's appearance at the end of every tether, and of the silver
lining on the edge of every cloud. She had a penchant for mottoes, but
she never used them in a siege. It was when the siege was broken she
poured them in and they found a welcome. As she spoke of God bringing
relief, Boyle got up on his haunches.
Anna, he said, if aanybody brot me here th' night it was th' oul
divil in hell.
'Deed yer mistaken, Felix, she answered sweetly. When God sends a
maan aanywhere he always gets there, even if he has to be taken there
by th' divil.
When all was ready we gathered around the table. How I wish we
could sing! she said as she looked at us. The answer was on every
face. Hunger would not wait on ceremony. We were awed into stillness
and silence, however, when she raised her hand in benediction. We bowed
our heads. Boyle crossed himself.
Father, she said, we thank Thee for sendin' our friend Felix here
th' night. Bless his wife an' wains, bless them in basket an' store an'
take good care of his oul mare. Amen!
CHAPTER VIII. THE WIND BLOWETH WHERE
I sat on a fence in a potato field, whittling an alder stick into a
pea-blower one afternoon in the early autumn when I noticed at the
other end of the field the well-known figure of the master. He was
dressed as usual in light gray and as usual rode a fine horse. I
dropped off the fence as if I had been shot. He urged the horse to a
gallop. I pushed the clumps of red hair under my cap and pressed it
down tightly on my head. Then I adjusted the string that served as a
suspender. On came the galloping horse. A few more lightning touches to
what covered my nakedness and he reined up in front of me! I
straightened up like a piece of whalebone!
What are you doing? he asked in that far-off imperious voice of
Kapin' th' crows off th' pirtas, yer honor!
You need a new shirt! he said. The blood rushed to my face. I
tried to answer, but the attempt seemed to choke me.
You need a new shirt! he almost yelled at me. I saw a smile
playing about the corners of his fine large eyes. It gave me courage.
Aye, yer honor, 'deed that's thrue.
Why don't you get one? The answer left my mind and traveled like a
flash to the glottis, but that part of the machinery was out of order
and the answer hung fire. I paused, drew a long breath that strained
the string. Then matching his thin smile with a thick grin I replied:
Did yer honor iver work fur four shillin's a week and share it wid
No! he said and the imprisoned smile was released.
Well, if ye iver do, shure ye'll be lucky to haave skin, let alone
You consider yourself lucky, then?
He galloped away and I lay down flat on my back, wiped the sweat
from my brow with the sleeve of my jacket, turned the hair loose and
eased up the string.
That night at the first sound of the farm-yard bell I took to my
heels through the fields, through the yard and down the Belfast road to
Withero's stone-pile. Willie was just quitting for the day. I was
almost breathless, but I blurted out what then seemed to me the most
important happening in my life.
Willie took his eye-protectors off and looked at me.
So ye had a crack wi' the masther, did ye?
Aye, quite a crack.
He mistuk ye fur a horse! he said. This damper on my enthusiasm
drew an instant reply.
'Deed no, nor an ass naither.
Willie bundled up his hammers and prepared to go home. He took out
his flint and steel. Over the flint he laid a piece of brown paper,
chemically treated, then he struck the flint a sharp blow with the
steel, a spark was produced, the spark ignited the paper, it began to
burn in a smoldering, blazeless way, he stuffed the paper into the bowl
of his pipe, and began the smoke that was to carry him over the journey
home. I shouldered some of his hammers and we trudged along the road
Throth, I know yer no ass, me bhoy, though Jamie's a good dale ov a
mule, but yer Ma's got wit enough fur the family. That answer ye gave
Misther Chaine was frum yer Ma. It was gey cute an'll git ye a job,
I had something else to tell him, but I dreaded his critical mind.
When we got to the railway bridge he laid his hammers on the wall while
he relit his pipe. I saw my last opportunity and seized it.
Say, Willie, did ye iver haave a feelin' that made ye feel fine all
over andandmade ye pray?
I niver pray, he said. These wathery-mouthed gossoons who pray
air jist like oul Hughie Thornton wi' his pockets bulgin' wi' scroof
(crusts). They're naggin at God from Aysther t' Christmas t' fill their
pockets! A good day's stone breakin's my prayer. At night I jist say,
'Thank ye, Father!' In th' mornin' I say 'Morra, Father, how's all up
aroun' th' throne this mornin'?'
An' does He spake t' ye back?
Ov coorse, d'ye think He's got worse manners nor me? He says,
'Hello, Willie,' says He. 'How's it wi' ye this fine mornin'?' 'Purty
fine, Father, purty fine,' says I. But tell me, bhoy, was there a girl
aroun' whin that feelin' struck ye?
Divil a girl, at all!
Them feelin's sometimes comes frum a girl, ye know. I had wan
wanst, but that's a long story, heigh ho; aye, that's a long story!
Did she die, Willie?
Never mind her. That feelin' may haave been from God. Yer Ma hes a
quare notion that wan chile o' her'n will be inclined that way. She's
dhrawn eleven blanks, maybe she's dhrawn a prize, afther all; who
Old McCabe, the road mender, overtook us and for the rest of the
journey I was seen but not heard.
That night I sat by her side in the chimney-corner and recited the
events of the day. It had been full of magic, mystery and meaning to
me. The meaning was a little clearer to me after the recital.
Withero sometimes talks like a ha'penny book wi' no laves in it,
she said. But most of the time he's nearer the facts than most of us.
It isn't all blether, dear.
We sat up late, long after the others had gone to sleep. She read
softly a chapter of Pilgrim's Progress, the chapter in which he is
relieved of his burden. I see now that woodcut of a gate and over the
gate the words: Knock and it shall be opened unto you. She had read
it before. I was familiar with it, but in the light of that day's
experience it had a new meaning. She warned me, however, that my name
was neither Pilgrim nor Withero, and in elucidating her meaning she
explained the phrase, The wind bloweth where it listeth. I learned to
listen for the sound thereof and I wondered from whence it came, not
only the wind of the heavens, but the spirit that moved men in so many
The last act of that memorable night was the making of a picture. It
took many years to find out its meaning, but every stroke of the brush
is as plain to me now as they were then.
Ye'll do somethin' for me?
Aye, aanything in th' world.
Ye won't glunch nor ask questions?
Not a question.
Shut yer eyes an' stan' close t' th' table. I obeyed. She put into
each hand a smooth stick with which Jamie had smoothed the soles of
Jist for th' now these are the handles of a plow. Keep yer eyes
shut tight. Ye've seen a maan plowin' a field?
Think that ye see a long, long field. Ye're plowin' it. The other
end is so far away ye can't see it. Ye see a wee bit of the furrow,
jist a wee bit. Squeeze th' plow handles. I squeezed.
D'ye see th' trees yonder?
An' th' birds pickin' in th' furrow?
She took the sticks away and gently pushed me on a stool and told me
I might open my eyes.
That's quare, I said.
Listen, dear, ye've put yer han' t' th' plow; ye must niver, niver
take it away. All through life ye'll haave thim plow handles in yer
han's an' ye'll be goin' down th' furrow. Ye'll crack a stone here and
there, th' plow'll stick often an' things'll be out of gear, but yer in
th' furrow all the time. Ye'll change horses, ye'll change clothes,
ye'll change yerself, but ye'll always be in the furrow, plowin',
plowin', plowin'! I'll go a bit of th' way, Jamie'll go a bit, yer
brothers an' sisters a bit, but we'll dhrap out wan b' wan. Ye're God's
As I stood to say good-night she put her hand on my head and
muttered something that was not intended for me to hear. Then she
kissed me good night and I climbed to my pallet under the thatch.
I was afraid to sleep, lest the feelin' should take wings. When I
was convinced that some of it, at least, would remain, I tried to sleep
and couldn't. The mingled ecstasy and excitement was too intense. I
heard the town clock strike the hours far into the morning.
Before she awoke next morning I had exhausted every agency in the
house that would coördinate flesh and spirit. When I was ready I
tiptoed to her bedside and touched her on the cheek. Instantly she
awoke and sat upright. I put my hands on my hips and danced before her.
It was a noiseless dance with bare feet on the mud floor.
Her long thin arms shot out toward me and I buried myself in them.
So it stayed, she whispered in my ear.
Aye, an' there's more of it.
She arose and dressed quickly. A live coal was scraped out of the
ashes and a turf fire built around it. My feet were winged as I flew to
the town well for water. When I returned she had several slices of
toast ready. Toast was a luxury. Of course there was alwaysor nearly
alwaysbread, and often there was butter, but toast to the very poor
in those days wasn't merely a matter of bread and butter, fire and
time! It was more often inclination that turned the balance for or
against it, and inclination always came on the back of some emotion,
chance or circumstance. Here all the elements met and the result was
I took a mouthful of her tea out of her cup; she reciprocated. We
were like children. Maybe we were. Love tipped our tongues, winged our
feet, opened our hearts and hands and permeated every thought and act.
She stood at the mouth of the entry until I disappeared at the town
head. While I was yet within sight I looked back half a dozen times and
we waved our hands.
It was nearly a year before a dark line entered this spiritual
spectrum. It was inevitable that such a mental conditionever in
search of a larger expressionshould gravitate toward the Church. It
has seemed also that it was just as inevitable that the best thought of
which the Church has been the custodian should be crystallized into a
creed. I was promoted to the big house. There, of course, I was
overhauled and put in touch with the fittings and furniture. As a
flunkey I had my first dose of boiled linen and I liked it.
I was enabled now to attend church and Sunday School. Indeed, I
would have gone there, religion or no religion, for where else could I
have sported a white shirt and collar? With my boiled linen and my
brain stuffed with texts I gradually drew away from the chimney-corner
and never again did I help Willie Withero to carry his hammers. Ah, if
one could only go back over life and correct the mistakes.
Gradually I lost the warm human feeling and substituted for it a
theology. I began to look upon my mother as one about whose salvation
there was some doubt. I urged her to attend church. Forms and
ceremonies became the all-important things and the life and the spirit
were proportionately unimportant. I became mildewed with the blight of
respectability. I became the possessor of a hard hat that I might ape
the respectables. I walked home every night from Ballycraigie with
Jamie Wallace, and Jamie was the best-dressed working man in the town.
I was treading a well-worn pathway. I was getting on. A good slice of
my new religion consisted in excellency of service to my employersmy
betters. Preacher, priest and peasant thought alike on these topics.
Anna was pleased to see me in a new garb, but she noticed and I noticed
that I had grown away from the corner. In the light of my new
adjustment I saw duties plainer, but duty may become a hammer by
which affection may be beaten to death.
I imagined the plow was going nicely in the furrow, for I wasn't
conscious of striking any snags or stones, but Anna said:
A plowman who skims th' surface of th' sod strikes no stones, dear,
but it's because he isn't plowin' deep!
I have plowed deep enough since, but too late to go back and compare
She was pained, but tried to hide it. If she was on the point of
tears she would tell a funny story.
Acushla, she said to me one night after a theological discussion,
sure ye remind me of a ducklin' hatched by a hen.
We're at home in conthrary elements. Ye use texts t' fight with an'
I use thim to get pace of heart!
Are you wiser nor Mr. Holmes, an' William Brennan an' Miss McGee?
I asked. Them's th' ones that think as I doI mane I think as they
No, 'deed I'm not as wise as aany of thim, but standin' outside a
wee bit I can see things that can't be seen inside. Forby they haave no
special pathway t' God that's shut t' me, nor yer oul father nor Willie
Sometimes Jamie took a hand. Once when he thought Anna was going to
cry, in an argument, he wheeled around in his seat and delivered
I'll tell ye, Anna, that whelp needs a good argyment wi' th' tongs!
Jist take thim an' hit 'im a skite on the jaw wi' thim an' I'll say,
That's no clinch to an argyment, I said, an thruth is thruth!
Aye, an' tongs is tongs! An' some o' ye young upstarts whin ye get
a dickey on an' a choke-me-tight collar think yer jist ready t' sit
down t' tay wi' God!
Anna explained and gave me more credit than was due me. So Jamie
ended the colloquy by the usual cap to his every climax.
Well, what th' do I know about thim things, aanyway. Let's
haave a good cup o' tay an' say no more about it!
The more texts I knew the more fanatical I became. And the more of a
fanatic I was the wider grew the chasm that divided me from my mother.
I talked as if I knew every saint in heaven and every divil in hell.
She was more than patient with me, though my spiritual conceit must
have given her many a pang. Antrim was just beginning to get accustomed
to my new habiliments of boots, boiled linen and hat when I left to
push my fortune in other parts. My enthusiasm had its good qualities
too, and she was quick to recognize them, quicker than to notice its
blemishes. My last hours in the townon the eve of my first
departureI spent with her. I feel about you, dear, she said,
laughing, as Micky Free did about the soul of his father in Purgatory.
He had been payin' for masses for what seemed to him an uncommonly long
time. 'How's th' oul bhoy gettin' on?' Micky asked the priest. 'Purty
well, Micky, his head is out.' 'Begorra, thin, I know th' rist ov 'im
will be out soonI'll pay for no more masses!' Your head is up and out
from the bottom of th' world, and I haave faith that ye'll purty soon
be all out, an' some day ye'll get the larger view, for ye'll be in a
larger place an' ye'll haave seen more of people an' more of the
I have two letters of that period. One I wrote her from Jerusalem in
the year 1884. As I read the yellow, childish epistle I am stung with
remorse that it is full of the narrow sectarianism that still held me
in its grip. The other is dated Antrim, July, 1884, and is her answer
to my sectarian appeal.
Dear boy, she says, Antrim has had many soldier sons in far-off
lands, but you are the first, I think, to have the privilege of
visiting the Holy Land. Jamie and I are proud of you. All the old
friends have read your letter. They can hardly believe it. Don't worry
about our souls. When we come one by one in the twilight of life, each
of us, Jamie and I, will have our sheaves. They will be little ones,
but we are little people. I want no glory here or hereafter that Jamie
cannot share. I gave God a plowman, but your father says I must chalk
half of that to his account. Hold tight the handles and plow deep. We
watch the candle and every wee spark thrills our hearts, for we know
it's a letter from you.
Your loving mother.
CHAPTER IX. BEYOND TH' MEADOWS AN'
When the bill-boards announced that I was to deliver a lecture on
England in the Soudan in the only hall in the town, Antrim turned out
to satisfy its curiosity. How doth this man know, not having learned,
the wise ones said, for when I shook the dust of its blessed streets
from my brogues seven years previously I was an illiterate.
Anna could have told them, but none of the wise knew her, for
curiously enough to those who knew of her existence, but had never seen
her, she was known as Jamie's wife. Butchers and bakers and
candlestick makers were there; several ministers, some quality, near
quality, the inhabitants of the entries in the Scotch quarter and all
the newsboys in town. The fact that I personally bribed the newsboys
accounted for their presence. I bought them out and reserved the front
seats for them. It was in the way of a class reunion with me. Billy
O'Hare had gone beyondwhere there are no chimneys, and Ann where she
could keep clean: they were both dead. Many of the old familiar faces
were absent, they too had gonesome to other lands, some to another
world. Jamie was there. He sat between Willie Withero and Ben Baxter.
He heard little of what was said and understood less of what he heard.
The vicar, Mr. Holmes, presided. There was a vote of thanks, followed
by the customary seconding by public men, then God save the Queen,
and I went home to tell Anna about it.
Jamie took one arm and Withero clung to the other.
Jamie! shouted Withero in a voice that could be heard by the crowd
that followed us, d'ye mind th' first time I seen ye wi' Anna?
Aye, 'deed I do!
Ye didn't know it was in 'er, did ye, Jamie?
Yer a liar, Willie; I know'd frum th' minute I clapped eyes on 'er
that she was th' finest wuman on God's futstool!
Ye can haave whativer benefit ov th' doubt there is, Jamie, but
jist th' same any oul throllop can be a father, but by Git takes a
rale wuman t' be th' mother ov a rale maan! Put that in yer pipe an'
He seems t' think, said Jamie, appealing to me, that only quality
can projuce fine childther!
Yer spakin' ov clothes, Jamie; I'm spakin' ov mind, an' ye wor
behind th' doore whin th' wor givin' it out, but begorra, Anna was at
th' head ov th' class, an' that's no feerie story, naither, is it, me
At the head of Pogue's entry, Bob Dougherty, Tommy Wilson, Sam
Manderson, Lucinda Gordon and a dozen others stopped for a partin'
The kettle was boiling on the chain. The hearth had been swept and a
new coat of whitening applied. There was a candle burning in her sconce
and the thin yellow rays lit up the glory on her facea glory that was
encased in a newly tallied white cap. My sister sat on one side of the
fireplace and she on the otherin her corner. I did not wonder, I did
not ask why they did not make a supreme effort to attend the lectureI
knew. They were more supremely interested than I was. They had never
heard a member of the family or a relative speak in public, and their
last chance had passed by. There they were, in the light of a peat fire
and the tallow dip, supremely happy.
The neighbors came in for a word with Anna. They filled the space.
The stools and creepies were all occupied.
Sit down, Willie, my father said. Take a nice cushioned chair an'
be at home. Withero was leaning against the table. He saw and was
equal to the joke.
Whin nature put a pilla on maan, it was intinded fur t' sit on th'
groun', Jamie! And down he sat on the mud floor.
It's th' proud wuman ye shud be th' night, Marget Hurll said, an
Misther Armstrong it was that said it was proud th' town shud be t'
turn out a boy like him!
Withero took his pipe out of his mouth and spat in the ashesas a
preface to a few remarks.
Aye, he grunted, I cocked m' ears up an' dunched oul Jamie whin
Armshtrong said that. Jamie cudn't hear it, so I whispered t' m'self,
'Begorra, if a wee fella turns up whin Anthrim turns 'im out
it's little credit t' Anthrim I'm thinkin'!'
Anna laughed and Jamie, putting his hand behind his ear, asked:
What's thatwhat's that?
The name and remarks of the gentleman who seconded the vote of
thanks were repeated to him.
Ha, ha, ha! he laughed as he slapped me on the knee. Well, well,
well, if that wudn't make a brass monkey laugh!
Say, he said to me, d'ye mind th' night ye come home covered wi'
Whisht! I said, as I put my mouth to his ear. I only want to mind
that he had three very beautiful daughters!
Did ye iver spake t' aany o' thim? Jamie asked.
When I sold them papers.
Ha, ha, a ha'penny connection, eh?
It's betther t' mind three fine things about a maan than wan mean
thing, Jamie, Anna said.
If both o' ye's on me I'm bate, he said.
Stop yer palaver an' let's haave a story ov th' war wi' th' naygars
in Egypt, Mrs. Hurll said.
Aye, that's right, one of the Gainer boys said. Tell us what th'
queen give ye a medal fur!
They wanted a story of blood, so I smeared the tale red. When I
finished Anna said, Now tell thim, dear, what ye tuk th' shillin'
You tell them, mother.
Ye tuk it t' fight ignorance an' not naygars, didn't ye?
Yes, but that fight continues.
Aye, with you, but
Ah, never mind, mother, I have taken it up where you laid it down,
and long after that was far as I got, for Jamie exploded just then
Now get t' hl home, ivery wan o' ye, an' give 's a minute wi' 'im
jist for ourselves, will ye?
He said it with laughter in his voice and it sounded in the ears of
those present as polite and pleasing as anything in the domain of their
They arose as one, all except Withero, and he couldn't, for Jamie
gripped him by a leg and held him on the floor just as he sat.
In their good-night expressions the neighbors unconsciously revealed
what the lecture and the story meant to them. Summed up it meant, Sure
it's jist wondtherful ye warn't shot!
When we were alone, alone with Withero, Mary wet a pot of tea and
warmed up a few farrels of fadges! and we commenced. Little was said,
but feeling ran high. It was like a midnight mass. Anna was silent, but
there were tears, and as I held her in my arms and kissed them away
Jamie was saying to Withero:
Ye might take 'im fur a dandther out where ye broke whin we first
met ye, Willie!
Aye, Willie said, I'm m' own gaffer, I will that.
I slept at Jamie Wallace's that night, and next morning took the
dandther with Withero up the Dublin road, past The Mount of
Temptation to the old stone-pile that was no longer a pile, but a hole
in the side of the road. It was a sentimental journey that gave Willie
a chance to say some things I knew he wanted to say.
D'ye mind the pirta sack throusers Anna made ye onct?
Yes, what of them?
Did ye iver think ye cud git used t' aanything if ye wor forced t'
haave nothin' else fur a while?
What's the point, Willie?
Sit down here awhile an' I'll tell ye.
We sat down on the bank of the roadside. He took out his pipe, steel
and flint, filled his pipe and talked as he filled.
Me an' Jamie wor pirta sack people, purty damned rough, too, but
yer Ma was a piece ov fine linen frum th' day she walked down this road
wi' yer Dah till this minit whin she's waitin' fur ye in the corner.
Ivery Sunday I've gone in jist t' hai a crack wi' 'er an' d' ye know,
bhoy, I got out o' that crack somethin' good fur th' week. She was i'
hell on sayin' words purcisely, but me an' Jamie wor too thick, an'
begorra she got used t' pirta sack words herself, but she was i' fine
linen jist th' same.
Wan day she says t' me, 'Willie,' says she, 'ye see people through
dirty specs.' 'How's that?' says I. 'I don't know,' says she, 'fur I
don't wear yer specs, but I think it's jist a poor habit ov yer mind.
Aych poor craither is made up ov some good an' much that isn't s' good,
an' ye see only what isn't s' good!'
Thin she towld m' somethin' which she niver towld aanyone else,
'cept yer Dah, ov coorse. 'Willie,' says she, 'fur twenty years I've
seen th' Son ov Maan ivery day ov m' life!'
'How's that?' says I.
'I've more'n seen 'm. I've made tay fur 'im, an' broth on Sunday.
I've mended 'is oul duds, washed 'is dhirty clothes, shuk 'is han',
stroked 'is hair an' said kind words to 'im!'
'God Almighty!' says I, 'yer goin' mad, Anna!' She tuk her oul
Bible an' read t' me these words; I mind thim well:
'Whin ye do it t' wan o' these craithers ye do it t' me!'
Well, me bhoy, I thunk an' I thunk over thim words an' wud ye
believe itI begun t' clane m' specs. Wan day th' 'Dummy' came along
t' m' stone-pile. Ye mind 'er, don't ye? (The Dummy was a harlot, who
lived in the woods up the Dublin road in summer, and Heaven only knows
where in winter.)
Th' Dummy, Willie continued, came over t' th' pile an' acted
purty gay, but says I, 'Dummy, if there's anythin' I kin give ye I'll
give it, but there's nothin' ye kin give me!'
'Ye break stones fur a livin',' says she.
'Aye,' says I.
'What wud ye do if ye wor a lone wuman an' cudn't get nothin' at
all t' do?'
'I dunno,' says I.
'I don't want to argufy or palaver wi' a dacent maan,' says she,
'but I'm terrible hungry.'
'Luk here,' says I, 'I've got a dozen pirtas I'm goin' t' roast fur
m' dinner. I'll roast thim down there be that gate, an' I'll lave ye
six an' a dhrink ov butthermilk. Whin ye see m' lave th' gate ye'll
know yer dinner's ready.'
'God save ye,' says she, 'may yer meal barrel niver run empty an'
may yer bread foriver be roughcasted wi' butther!'
I begun t' swither whin she left. Says I, 'Withero, is yer specs
clane? Kin ye see th' Son ov Maan in th' Dummy?' 'Begorra, I dunno,'
says I t' m'self. I scratched m' head an' swithered till I thought m'
brains wud turn t' stone.
Says I t' m'self at last, 'Aye, 'deed there must be th' spark there
what Anna talks about!' Jist then I heard yer mother's voice as plain
as I hear m' own now at this minutean' what d'ye think Anna says?
I don't know, Willie.
'So ye haave th' Son ov Maan t' dinner th' day?' 'Aye,' says I.
'An' givin' 'im yer lavins!'
It was like a piece ov stone cuttin' the ball ov m' eye. It cut
I ran down th' road an' says I t' th' Dummy, 'I'll tie a rag on a
stick an' whin ye see m' wavin' it come an' take yer dinner an' I'll
take what's left!'
I didn't wait fur no answer, but went and did what I shud.
That summer whin she was hungry she hung an oul rag on th' thorn
hedge down be the wee plantain where she camped, and I answered be a
rag on a stick that she cud share mine and take hers first. One day I
towld 'er yer mother's story about th' Son ov Maan. It was th' only
time I ever talked wi' 'er. That winther she died in th' poorhouse and
before she died she sint me this. He pulled out of an inside pocket a
piece of paper yellow with age and so scuffed with handling that the
scrawl was scarcely legible:
I seen Him in the ward last night and I'm content to go now. God
save you kindly.
Withero having unburdened, we dandered down the road, through
Masserene and home.
I proposed to Anna a little trip to Lough Neagh in a jaunting car.
No, dear, it's no use; I want to mind it jist as Jamie and I saw it
years an' years ago. I see it here in th' corner jist as plain as I saw
it then; forby Antrim wud never get over th' shock of seein' me in a
Then I'll tell you of a shorter journey. You have never seen the
Steeple. It's the most perfect of all the Round Towers in Ireland and
just one mile from this corner. Now don't deny me the joy of taking you
there. I'll guide you over the strand and away back of the poorhouse,
out at the station, and then it's just a hundred yards or so!
It took the combined efforts of Jamie, Withero, Mary and me to
persuade her, but she was finally persuaded, and dressed in a borrowed
black knitted cap and her wee Sunday shawl, she set out with us.
This is like a weddin', Jamie said, as he tied the ribbons under
Oh, it's worse, dear. It's a circus an' wake in wan, fur I'm about
dead an' he's turned clown for a while. In five minutes everybody in
Pogue's entry heard the news. They stood at the door waiting to have a
Matty McGrath came in to see if there was aanythin' she could do.
Aye, Anna said, smiling, ye can go over an' tell oul Ann Agnew
where I'm goin' so she won't worry herself t' death findin' out!
She won't see ye, Jamie said.
She'd see a fly if it lit within a hundred yards of her!
We went down the Kill entry and over the rivulet we called the
strand. There were stepping stones in the water and the passage was
easy. As we crossed she said:
Right here was th' first place ye ever came t' see th' sun dance on
th' water on Easter Sunday mornin'.
We turned to the right and walked by the old burying ground of the
Unitarian meeting-house and past Mr. Smith's garden. Next to Smith's
garden was the garden of a cooperI think his name was Farren. Right
here, I said, is where I commited my first crime!
What was it? she asked.
Aye, what a townful of criminals we had then!
We reached the back of the poorhouse. James Gardner was the master
of it, and goin' t' Jamie Gardner was understood as the last march of
many of the inhabitants of Antrim, beginning with Totther Jack Welch,
who was a sort of pauper primus inter pares of the town.
As we passed the little graveyard, we stood and looked over the
fence at the little boards, all of one size and one pattern, that
marked each grave.
God in Heaven! she exclaimed, isn't it fearful not to git rid of
poverty even in death! I saw a shudder pass over her face and I turned
Ten minutes later we emerged from the fields at the railway station.
You've never seen Mr. McKillop, the station master, have you? I
Let us wait here for a minute, we may see him.
Oh, no, let's hurry on t' th' Steeple! So on we hurried.
It took a good deal of courage to enter when we got there, for the
far-famed Round Tower of Antrim is private property. Around it
is a stone wall enclosing the grounds of an estate. The Tower stands
near the house of the owner, and it takes temerity in the poor to
enter. They seldom do enter, as a matter of fact, for they are not
particularly interested in archeology.
We timidly entered and walked up to the Tower.
So that's th' Steeple!
Isn't it fine?
Aye, it's wondtherful, but wudn't it be nice t' take our boots off
an' jist walk aroun' on this soft nice grass on our bare feet?
The lawn was closely clipped and as level as a billiard table. The
trees were dressed in their best summer clothing. Away in the distance
we caught glimpses of an abundance of flowers. The air was full of the
perfume of honeysuckle and sweet clover. Anna drank in the scenery with
almost childish delight.
D'ye think heaven will be as nice? she asked.
If it is, we will take our boots off an' sit down, won't we? And
she laughed like a girl.
If there are boots in the next world, I said, there will be
cobblers, and you wouldn't want our old man to be a cobbler to all
You're right, she said, nor afther spending seventy-five years
here without bein' able to take my boots off an' walk on a nice lawn
like this wud I care to spend eternity without that joy!
Do we miss what we've never had?
Aye, 'deed we do. I miss most what I've never had!
What, for instance?
Oh, I'll tell ye th' night when we're alone!
We walked around the Tower and ventured once beneath the branches of
a big tree.
If we lived here, d'ye know what I'd like t' do?
Jist take our boots off an' play hide and go seekwudn't it be
I laughed loudly.
Whisht! she said. They'll catch us if you make a noise!
You seem bent on getting your boots off! I said laughingly. Her
reply struck me dumb.
Honey, she said, so softly and looking into my eyes, do ye
realize that I have never stood on a patch of lawn in my life before?
Hand in hand we walked toward the gate, taking an occasional,
wistful glance back at the glory of the few, and thinking, both of us,
of the millions of tired feet that never felt the softness of a smooth
At eight o'clock that night the door was shut and barred.
Jamie tacked several copies of the Weekly Budget over the
window and we were alone.
We talked of old times. We brought back the dead and smiled or
sighed over them. Old tales, of the winter nights of long ago, were
retold with a new interest.
The town clock struck nine.
We sat in silence as we used to sit, while another sexton tolled off
the days of the month after the ringing of the curfew.
Many's th' time ye've helter-skeltered home at th' sound of that
bell! she said.
Yes, because the sound of the bell was always accompanied by a
vision of a wet welt hanging over the edge of the tub!
Jamie laughed and became reminiscent.
D'ye mind what ye said wan time whin I bate ye wi' th' stirrup?
No, but I used to think a good deal more than I said.
Aye, but wan time I laid ye across m' knee an' give ye a good
shtrappin', then stud ye up an' says I, 'It hurts me worse than it
hurts ye, ye divil!'
'Aye,' says you, 'but it dizn't hurt ye in th' same place!'
I don't remember, but from time immemorial boys have thought and
said the same thing.
D'ye mind when I bate ye? Anna asked with a smile.
Yes, I remember you solemnly promised Jamie you would punish me and
when he went down to Barney's you took a long straw and lashed me
fearfully with it!
The town clock struck ten.
Mary, who had sat silent all evening, kissed us all good night and
went to bed.
I was at the point of departure for the New World. Jamie wanted to
know what I was going to do. I outlined an ambition, but its outworking
was a problem. It was beyond his ken. He could not take in the scope of
it. Anna could, for she had it from the day she first felt the movement
of life in me. It was unpretentiousnothing the world would call
Och, maan, but that wud be th' proud day fur Anna if ye cud do it.
When the town clock struck eleven, Anna trembled.
Yer cowld, Anna, he said. I'll put on a few more turf.
There's plenty on, dear; I'm not cold in my body.
Acushla, m' oul hide's like a buffalo's or I'd see that ye want 'im
t' yerself. I'm off t' bed!
We sat in silence gazing into the peat fire. Memory led me back down
the road to yesterday. She was out in the future and wandering in an
unknown continent with only hope to guide her. Yet we must get
together, and that quickly.
Minutes are like fine gold now, she said, an' my tongue seems
glued, but I jist must spake.
We have plenty of time, mother.
Plenty! she exclaimed. Every clang of th' town clock is a knife
cuttin' th' cordswan afther anotherthat bind me t' ye.
I want to know about your hope, your outlook, your religion, I
Th' biggest hope I've ever had was t' bear a chile that would love
everybody as yer father loved me!
A sort of John-three-sixteen in miniature.
The aim is high enough to begin with!
Not too high!
And your religion?
All in all, it's bein' kind an' lovin' kindness. That takes
in God an' maan an' Pogue's entry an' th' world.
The town clock struck twelve. Each clang a knife cutting a cord
and each heavier and sharper than the last. Each one vibrating,
tingling, jarring along every nerve, sinew and muscle. A feeling of
numbness crept over me.
That's the end of life for me, she said slowly. There was a pause,
longer and more intense than all the others.
Maybe ye'll get rich an' forget.
Yes, I shall be rich. I shall be a millionairea millionaire of
love, but no one shall ever take your place, dear!
My overcoat served as a pillow. An old quilt made a pallet on the
hard floor. I found myself being pressed gently down from the low
creepie to the floor. I pretended to sleep. Her hot tears fell on my
face. Her dear toil-worn fingers were run gently through my hair. She
was on her knees by my side. The tender mysticism of her youth came
back and expressed itself in prayer. It was interspersed with tears and
When the first streak of dawn penetrated the old window we had our
last cup of tea together and later, when I held her in a long,
lingering embrace, there were no tearswe had shed them all in the
silence of the last vigil. When I was ready to go, she stood with her
arm on the old yellow mantel-shelf. She was rigid and pale as death,
but around her eyes and her mouth there played a smile. There was a
look ineffable of maternal love.
We shall meet again, mother, I said.
Aye, dearie, I know rightly we'll meet, but ochanee, it'll be out
there beyond th' meadows an' th' clouds.
CHAPTER X. THE EMPTY CORNER
When I walked into Pogue's entry about fifteen years later, it
seemed like walking into another worldI was a foreigner.
How quare ye spake! Jamie said, and Mary added demurely:
Is it quality ye are that ye spake like it?
No, faith, not at all, I said, but it's the quality of America
that makes me!
Think of that, now, she exclaimed.
The neighbors came, new neighborsa new generation, to most of whom
I was a tradition. Other boys and girls had left Antrim for America,
scores of them in the course of the years. There was a popular
supposition that we all knew each other.
Ye see th' Wilson bhoys ivery day, I'll bate, Mrs. Hainey said.
No, I have never seen any of them.
Saints alive, how's that?
Because we live three thousand miles apart.
Aye, well, shure that 'ud be quite a dandther!
It didn't take ye long t' git a fortune, did it? another asked.
I never acquired a fortune such as you are thinking of.
Anna said ye wor rich!
Anna was right, I am rich, but I was the richest boy in Antrim when
I lived here.
They looked dumbfounded.
How's that? Mrs. Conner queried.
Because Anna was my mother.
I didn't want to discuss Anna at that time or to that gathering, so
I gave the conversation a sudden turn and diplomatically led them in
another direction. I explained how much easier it was for a policeman
than a minister to make a fortune and most Irishmen in America had a
special bias toward law! Jamie had grown so deaf that he could only
hear when I shouted into his ear. Visitors kept on coming, until the
little house was uncomfortably full.
Wouldn't it be fine, I shouted into Jamie's ear, if Billy O'Hare
or Withero could just drop in now?
God save us all, he said, th' oul days an' oul faces are gone
foriver. After some hours of entertainment the uninvited guests were
invited to go home.
I pulled Jamie's old tub out into the center of the floor and,
taking my coat off, said gently: Now, good neighbors, I have traveled
a long distance and need a bath, and if you don't mind I'll have one at
They took it quite seriously and went home quickly. As soon as the
house was cleared I shut and barred the door and Mary and I proceeded
to prepare the evening meal.
I brought over the table and put it in its place near the fire. In
looking over the old dresser I noticed several additions to the
inventory I knew. The same old plates were there, many of them broken
and arranged to appear whole. All holes, gashes, dents and cracks were
turned back or down to deceive the beholder. There were few whole
pieces on the dresser.
Great guns, Mary, I exclaimed, here are two new plates and a new
cup! Well, well, and you never said a word in any of your letters about
Ye needn't get huffed if we don't tell ye all the startlin'
things! Mary said.
Ah! I exclaimed, there's her cup! I took the precious
thing from the shelf. The handle was gone, there was a gash at the lip
and a few new cracks circling around the one I was familiar with twenty
What visions of the past came to me in front of that old dresser!
How often in the long ago she had pushed that old cup gently toward me
along the edge of the tablegently, to escape notice and avoid
jealousy. Always at the bottom of it a teaspoonful of her tea
and beneath the tea a bird's-eye-full of sugar. Each fairy picture of
straggling tea leaves was our moving picture show of those old days. We
all had tea leaves, but she had imagination. How we laughed and sighed
and swithered over the fortunes spread out all over the inner surface
of that cup!
If ye stand there affrontin' our poor oul delf all night we won't
haave aany tea at all! Mary said. The humor had gone from my face and
speech from my tongue. I felt as one feels when he looks for the last
time upon the face of his best friend. Mary laughed when I laid the old
cup on a comparatively new saucer at my place. There was another laugh
when I laid it out for customs inspection in the port of New York. I
had a set of rather delicate after-dinner coffee cups. One bore the
arms of Coventry in colors; another had the seal of St. John's College,
Oxford; one was from Edinburgh and another from Paris. They looked
aristocratic. I laid them out in a row and at the end of the row sat
the proletarian, forlorn and batteredAnna's old tea-cup.
What did you pay for this? asked the inspector as he touched it
contemptuously with his official toe.
Never mind what I paid for it, I replied, it's valued at a
million dollars! The officer laughed and I think the other cups
laughed also, but they were not contemptuous; they were simply jealous.
Leisurely I went over the dresser, noting the new chips and cracks,
handling them, maybe fondling some of them and putting them as I found
I'll jist take a cup o' tay, Jamie said, I'm not feelin' fine.
I had less appetite than he had, and Mary had less than either of
us. So we sipped our tea for awhile in silence.
She didn't stay long afther ye left, Jamie said, without looking
up. Turning to Mary he continued, How long was it, aanyway, Mary?
Jist a wee while.
Aye, I know it wasn't long.
Did she suffer much? I asked.
She didn't suffer aany at all, he said, she jist withered like
th' laves on th' threes.
She jist hankered t' go, Mary added.
Wan night whin Mary was asleep, Jamie continued, she read over
again yer lettherth' wan where ye wor spakin' so much about fishin'.
Aye, I said, I had just been appointed missionary to a place
called the Bowery, in New York, and I wrote her that I was no longer
her plowman, but her fisher of men.
Och, maan, if ye cud haave heard her laugh over th' different kinds
ov fishes ye wor catchin'! Iv'ry day for weeks she read it an' laughed
an' cried over it. That night she says t' me, 'Jamie,' says she, 'I
don't care s' much fur fishers ov men as I do for th' plowman.' 'Why?'
'Because,' says she, 'a gey good voice an' nice clothes will catch
men, an' wimen too, but it takes brains t' plow up th' superstitions ov
'There's somethin' in that,' says I.
'Tell 'im whin he comes,' says she, 'that I put th' handles ov a
plow in his han's an' he's t' let go ov thim only in death.'
'I'll tell 'm,' says I, 'but it's yerself that'll be here whin he
comes,' says I. She smiled like an' says she, 'What ye don't know,
Jamie, wud make a pretty big library.' 'Aye,' says I, 'I haaven't aany
doubt ov that, Anna.'
There was a loud knock at the door.
Let thim dundther, Mary said. He put his hand behind his ear and
What is 't?
Let thim go t' h, he said angrily.
Th' tuk 'im frum Anna last time, th' won't take 'im frum me an'
Another and louder knock.
It's Misthress Healy, came a voice. Again his hand was behind his
ear. The name was repeated to him.
Misthress Healy, is it; well, I don't care a dn if it was
For a quarter of a century my sister has occupied my mother's
chimney-corner, but it was vacant that night. She sat on my father's
side of the fire. He and I sat opposite each other at the tableI on
the same spot, on the same stool where I used to sit when her cup
toward the close of the meal came traveling along the edge of the table
and where her hand with a crust in it would sometimes blindly grope for
But she was not there. In all my life I have never seen a space so
My father was a peasant, with all the mental and physical
characteristics of his class. My sister is a peasant woman who has been
cursed with the same grinding poverty that cursed my mother's life.
About my mother there was a subtlety of intellect and a spiritual
quality that even in my ignorance was fascinating to me. I returned
equipped to appreciate it and she was gone. Gone, and a wide gulf lay
between those left behind, a gulf bridged by the relation we have to
the absent one more than by the relation we bore to each other.
We felt as keenly as others the kinship of the flesh, but there are
kinships transcendentally higher, nobler and of a purer nature than the
nexus of the flesh. There were things to say that had to be left
unsaid. They had not traveled that way. The language of my experience
would have been a foreign tongue to them. She would have
Wan night be th' fire here, Jamie said, taking the pipe out of his
mouth, she says t' me, 'Jamie,' says she, 'I'm clane done, jist clane
done, an' I won't be long here.'
'Och, don't spake s' downmouth'd, Anna,' says I. 'Shure ye'll feel
fine in th' mornin'.'
'Don't palaver,' says she, an' she lukt terrible serious.
'My God, Anna,' says I, 'ye wudn't be lavin' me alone,' says I, 'I
can't thole it.'
'Yer more strong,' says she, 'an' ye'll live till he comes
backthin we'll be t'gether.'
He stopped there. He could go no farther for several minutes.
I hate a maan that gowls, but
Go on, I said, have a good one and Mary and I will wash the cups
D'ye know what he wants t' help me fur? Mary asked, with her mouth
close to his ear.
He wants t' dhry thim so he can kiss her cup whin he wipes
it! Kiss her cup, ye mind; and right content with that!
I don't blame 'im, said he, I'd kiss th' very groun' she walked
As we proceeded to wash the cups, Mary asked:
Diz th' ministhers in America wash dishes?
Some of them.
What do th' others do?
The big ones lay corner-stones and the little ones lay
Saints alive, she said, an' what do th' hens do?
They clock (hatch).
I didn't say pavin' stones!
Oh, aye, she laughed loudly.
Luk here, Jamie said, I want t' laugh too. Now what th' is't
yer gigglin' at?
He smiled and said:
Jazus, bhoy, that reminds me ov Anna, she cud say more funny things
than aany wan I iver know'd.
And that reminds me, I said, that the word you have just misused
she always pronounced with a caress!
Aye, I know rightly, but ye know I mane no harm, don't ye?
I know, but you remember when she used that word every
letter in it was dressed in its best Sunday clothes, wasn't it?
Och, aye, an' I'd thravel twinty miles jist t' hear aany wan say it
Well, I have traveled tens of thousands of miles and I have heard
the greatest preachers of the age, but I never heard any one pronounce
it so beautifully!
But as I was a-sayin' bhoy, I haaven't had a rale good laugh since
she died; haave I, Mary?
I haaven't naither, Mary said.
Aye, but ye've had double throuble, dear.
We never let trouble rob us of laughter when I was here.
Because whin ye wor here she was here too. In thim days whin
throuble came she'd tear it t' pieces an' make fun ov aych piece,
begorra. Ye might glour an' glunch, but ye'd haave t' laugh before th'
finishshure ye wud!
The neighbors began to knock again. Some of the knocks were vocal
and as plain as language. Some of the more familiar gaped in the
Hes he hed 'is bath yit? asked McGrath, the ragman.
We opened the door and in marched the inhabitants of our vicinity
for the second crack.
This right of mine own people to come and go as they pleased
suggested to me the thought that if I wanted to have a private
conversation with my father I would have to take him to another town.
The following day we went to the churchyard togetherJamie and I.
Over her grave he had dragged a rough boulder and on it in a
straggling, unsteady, amateur hand were painted her initials and below
them his own. He was unable to speak there, and maybe it was just as
well. I knew everything he wanted to say. It was written on his deeply
furrowed face. I took his arm and led him away.
Our next call was at Willie Withero's stone-pile. There, when I
remembered the nights that I passed in my new world of starched linen,
too good to shoulder a bundle of his old hammers, I was filled with
remorse. I uncovered my head and in an undertone muttered, God forgive
Great oul bhoy was Willie, he said.
Och, thim wor purty nice times whin he'd come in o' nights an' him
an' Anna wud argie; but they're gone, clane gone, an' I'll soon be wi'
I bade farewell to Mary and took him to Belfastfor a private talk.
Every day for a week we went out to the Cave hillto a wild and lonely
spot where I had a radius of a mile for the sound of my voice. The
thing of all things that I wanted him to know was that in America I had
been engaged in the same fight with poverty that they were familiar
with at home. It was hard for him to think of a wolf of hunger at the
door of any home beyond the sea. It was astounding to him to learn that
around me always there were thousands of ragged, starving people. He
just gaped and exclaimed:
It's quare, isn't it?
We sat on the grass on the hillside, conscious each of us that we
were saying the things one wants to say on the edge of the grave.
She speyed I'd live t' see ye, he said.
She speyed well, I answered.
Th' night she died somethin' wontherful happened t' me. I wasn't as
deef as I am now, but I was purty deef. D'ye know, that night I cud
hear th' aisiest whisper frum her lipsI cud that. She groped fur m'
han; 'Jamie,' says she, 'it's nearly over, dear.'
'God love ye,' says I.
'Aye,' says she, 'if He'll jist love me as ye've done it'll be
fine.' Knowin' what a rough maan I'd been, I cudn't thole it.
'Th' road's been gey rocky an' we've made many mistakes.'
'Aye,' I said, 'we've barged (scolded) a lot, Anna, but we didn't
'No,' says she, 'our crock ov love was niver dhrained.'
I brot a candle in an' stuck it in th' sconce so 's I cud see 'er
'We might haave done betther,' says she, 'but sich a wee house, so
many childther an' so little money.'
'We war i' hard up,' says I.
'We wor niver hard up in love, wor we?'
'No, Anna,' says I, 'but love dizn't boil th' kittle.'
'Wud ye rather haave a boilin' kittle than love if ye had t'
'Och, no, not at all, ye know rightly I wudn't.'
'Forby, Jamie, we've given Antrim more'n such men as Lord
'What's that?' says I.
'A maan that loves th' poorest craithers on earth an' serves thim.'
She had a gey good sleep afther that.
'Jamie,' says she whin she awoke, 'was I ravin'?'
'Deed no, Anna,' says I.
'I'm not ravin' now, am I?'
'Acushla, why do ye ask sich a question?'
'Tell 'im I didn't like fisher ov men as well as th' plowman.
It's aisy t' catch thim fish, it's hard t' plow up ignorance an'
superstitiontell 'im that fur me, Jamie?'
'Aye, I'll tell 'im, dear.'
'Ye mind what I say'd t' ye on th' road t' Antrim, Jamie? That
love is Enough?'
'I tell ye again wi' my dyin' breath.'
I leaned over an' kiss't 'er an' she smiled at me. Ah, bhoy, if ye
could haave seen that luk on 'er face, it was like a picture ov th'
Virgin, it was that.
'Tell th' childther there's only wan kind ov poverty, Jamie, an'
that's t' haave no love in th' heart,' says she.
'Aye, I'll tell thim, Anna,' says I.
He choked up. The next thought that suggested itself for expression
failed of utterance. The deep furrows on his face grew deeper. His lips
trembled. When he could speak, he said:
My God, bhoy, we had to beg a coffin t' bury 'er in!
If I had died at the same time, I said, they would have had to do
the same for me!
How quare! he said.
I persuaded him to accompany me to one of the largest churches in
Belfast. I was to preach there. That was more than he expected and the
joy of it was overpowering.
I do not remember the text, nor could I give at this distance of
time an outline of the discourse: it was one of those occasions when a
man stands on the borderland of another world. I felt distinctly the
spiritual guidance of an unseen hand. I took her theme and spoke more
for her approval than for the approval of the crowd.
He could not hear, but he listened with his eyes. On the street,
after the service, he became oblivious of time and place and people. He
threw his long lean arms around my neck and kissed me before a crowd.
He hoped Anna was around listening. I told him she was and he said he
would like to be happed up beside her, as he had nothing further to
hope for in life.
In fear and trembling he crossed the Channel with me. In fear lest
he should die in Scotland and they would not bury him in Antrim
churchyard beside Anna. We visited my brothers and sisters for several
days. Every day we took long walks along the country roads. These walks
were full of questionings. Big vital questions of life and death and
immorality. They were quaintly put:
There's a lot of balderdash about another world, bhoy. On yer oath
now, d'ye think there is wan?
If there is wud He keep me frum Anna jist because I've been kinda
I am sure He wouldn't!
He wudn't be s' dd niggardly, wud He?
Never! God is love and love doesn't work that way!
At the railway station he was still pouring in his questions.
D'ye believe in prayer?
Well, jist ax sometimes that Anna an' me be together, will ye?
A little group of curious bystanders stood on the platform watching
the little trembling old man clinging to me as the tendril of a vine
clings to the trunk of a tree.
We have just one minute, Father!
Aye, aye, wan minutemy God, why cudn't ye stay?
There are so many voices calling me over the sea.
Aye, that's thrue.
He saw them watching him and he feebly dragged me away from the
crowd. He kissed me passionately, again and again, on the lips. The
All aboard! the guard shouted. He clutched me tightly and clung to
me with the clutch of a drowning man. I had to extricate myself and
spring on board. I caught a glimpse of him as the train moved out;
despair and a picture of death was on his face. His lips were trembling
and his eyes were full of tears.
* * * * *
A few months later they lowered him to rest beside my mother. I want
to go back some day and cover them with a slab of marble, on which
their names will be cut, and these words:
Love is Enough.