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"The Spider and the Gout" by Mrs. Francis Blundell

 

Old Pat Clancy lived in a small cabin immediately beneath the Rock of Donoughmor, and looked upon the ruined castle on the top as his especial property, the legends concerning them being treasured by him as jealously as though they were traditions of his own ancestors. A proud man was Pat when piloting the occasional strangers who wished to inspect the keep up the steep and slippery path which led to the ancient portcullis, and conducting them thence to the banqueting-hall, sparing the luckless pilgrim, in fact, no corner of the edifice or its surroundings, and pausing only on the mossy slope to the rear, where, his charge having duly admired "the view over three counties," he would proudly point out the precise spots where Fin-ma-coul had "wrastled" with and overthrown another "monsthrous joynt" of name unknown, the traces of the encounter being yet visible in the short turf.

"Ne'er a blade o' grass at all 'ud grow on them," Pat would cry, pointing triumphantly to the irregular hollows in the soil supposed to be the traces of the giant's mighty feet. These, by the way, occasionally varied oddly in extent; during the summertime, when most visitors were to be expected, being noticeably large, and much deeper than at other seasons.

Poor Pat's devotion to his beloved ruins was the cause of his undoing. One spring morning, when a late frost had made the grass unusually slippery, just as he was expounding to an interested audience how the Danes used to shoot "arrers through them little slits of windies in the wall beyant," his foot slipped, and after rolling for a little distance down the steep incline, he went over the precipitous side of the crag, and fell some twenty feet on to the stones below. Many bones were broken, and as surgical aid was difficult to obtain, and but of poor quality when at last secured, most of them were badly set, and the poor old fellow remained to the end of his days a cripple. How he and his wife and their last remaining child, a son born to them when Pat was already old, managed thenceforth to eke out a living would have been a marvel to their neighbours, if similar problems of existence had not been so common in the countryside. There was the pig, of course, and a few chickens, and "herself" did a day's work now and then in the fields, and escorted the visitors over the ruins, well primed and prompted by Patrick as to the "laygends and tragedies" (traditions) of those sacred precincts; and little Mike minded the sheep, and frightened crows and picked turnips for their landlord, "ould Pether Rorke beyant at Monavoe," but "Goodness knows," as the neighbours would say, shaking their heads at each other, "it was not much of a livin' the poor child 'ud make out of him--the ould villain! Didn't he let his own flesh and blood go cold and hungry--'twasn't to be expected he'd do more nor he could help for a stranger. Aye indeed, he was a great ould villain! To think of him with lashin's and lavin's of everything an' money untold laid by, an' his only son's widdy livin' down there with a half-witted lodger in a little black hole of a place that was not fit for a pig, let alone a Christian, an' the beautiful little cratur', his grandchild, Roseen, runnin' about barefut, with her dotey little hands an' feet black an' blue wid the cowld--sure what sort of a heart had the man at all?"

Old Pat was sitting alone one summer's afternoon, "herself" having gone up to Donoughmor with some Quality, and Mike not having yet returned from work, when little Roseen Rorke poked her sunny face in at the door.

"Is that yourself?" said Pat pleasantly. He was fond of the child, as was every one in the neighbourhood, and being a fellow-sufferer from the hard-heartedness of her grandfather, who was, as has been said, his landlord, was perhaps the most violent of her champions.

Roseen's blue eyes, peering through her tangled sheaf of golden-brown curls, took a hasty and discontented survey of the small kitchen.

"Isn't Mike here?" she inquired.

"He's not, asthore, an' won't be home this hour most likely; but come in out o' the scorching sun, an' sit down on the little creepy stool. Herself will be in in a few minutes, an' maybe she'll give ye a bit o' griddle cake."

Roseen unfastened the half-door and came in, her little bare brown feet making no sound on the mud floor. She was a pretty child for all her sunburnt face and scanty unkempt attire. Poor Widow Rorke has long ceased to take pride in the fact that her husband had been the son of the richest farmer in all the countryside, and did not care to keep up appearances, all her energies being devoted to the struggle for daily bread; nevertheless, the short red flannel frock was as becoming to Roseen as any more elegant garment could have been, and when she approached the hearth and sat down on the three-legged stool by Pat's side, he breathed a blessing on her pretty face that was as admiring as it was fervent.

Crossing one shapely sunburnt leg over the other, and gazing pensively at the smouldering turf sods, she heaved a deep sigh.

"They're afther goin' out an' lavin' me," she lamented.

"Did they, asthore? Sure they had a right to have taken ye along wid them. Where are they gone to at all, alanna?"

"Me mother's after goin' to the town to buy a bit o' bread, an' Judy's streeled off with herself, goodness knows where, wid her ould pipe in her pocket. Dear knows when she'll be back; an' she bid me stop at home an' mind the fire, but I come away out o' that as soon as her back was turned."

The bright eyes glanced defiantly at the old man and then suddenly clouded over; the corners of the little mouth began to droop, and the small bare shoulders to heave.

"They'd no call to go lavin' me all by meself."

"Troth they hadn't, mavourneen," agreed Pat, clackling his tongue sympathetically. "It was too hard on ye, altogether, but sure you won't cry now, there's a good little girl; crying never done any one a ha'porth o' good yit. Look at me here wid all my ould bones broke; I might cry the two eyes out o' my head an' never a wan at all ud' get mended for me."

Roseen sat up blinking. "Did it hurt ye much, Misther Clancy, when your bones was broke on ye?"

"Is it hurt, bedad! Ye'd hear me bawlin' up at the crass roads. Sure I thought it was killed I was! My ancistor couldn't have shouted louder when he had the Earl Strongbow's spear stuck in him. Will I tell ye about that, alanna, to pass the time till herself comes in?"

Roseen shook her head discontentedly.

"I know that story," she said. "I wisht ye'd tell me about the Spider an' the Gout though, Misther Clancy. Ah do, an' I'll sit here listenin' as quiet as a mouse."

Pat rubbed his unshaven chin with the lean fingers of his one serviceable hand, the bristles of his week-old beard making a rasping sound the while, and glanced down sideways at the eager little petitioner.

"Is it the Spider an' the Gout?" he said, knitting his brows with affected reluctance. "Sure I am sick an' tired tellin' ye that. No, but I'll tell ye 'The little man and the little woman that lived in the vinegar bottle.' ... Wanst upon a time, there was a weeshy-dawshy little man--'"

"Ah no, Misther Clancy, I don't care for that," interrupted Roseen, jumping up and clapping her hands to her ears. "It's a horrible ould story. They'd have been drownded," she added seriously.

Pat chuckled. "Well, sit down, an' don't offer to say a word unless you hear me goin' out. Sure maybe I disremember it altogether."

Roseen sat down obediently and fixed her eyes on the old man's face.

[Illustration: THE SPIDER AND THE GOUT "Wanst upon a time," began Dan]

"Wanst upon a time," began Dan, with a twinkle in his eye, "the pigs were swine." Roseen gave an impatient wriggle. "Well, well, it's too bad to be tormentin' ye that way. I'll begin right now.--Well, very well then. There was wan time the Spider an' the Gout was thravellin' together, goin' to seek their fortun's. Well, they come to the crass roads. 'Lookit here,' says the Spider, 'it's time for you an' me to be partin' company,' says he; 'I'm goin' up along here to the right,' says he, 'to that great big house on the hill. A very rich man lives there,' says he, 'an' I think the quarthers 'ull suit me. You can go down that little boreen to the left,' he says; 'there's a little cabin there that belongs to some poor fellow or other. The door is cracked,' says the Spider, 'and the windy is broke. Ye can slip in aisy,' he says, 'an' creep into the poor fellow's toe before he knows where he is.'--'Is that so?' says the Gout. 'Oh, that indeed!' says he; 'it'll suit me very well,' says he, 'if that's the way it is. An' I'll tell you what we'll do,' says the Gout, 'you an' me'll meet here this time to-morrow night an' tell each other how we're gettin' on,' says he."

Pat paused, rubbing his knotted fingers up and down the ragged knees of his corduroys. Roseen heaved a deep sigh, and folded one dimpled hand over the other, her eyes meanwhile fixed unwinkingly on the face of the narrator. The interest of the tale was now growing absorbing.

"Well, the Spider went off wid himself up to the rich man's house, an' what do ye think the poor fellow found when he got there?"

Roseen was perfectly aware of the state of affairs which the Spider discovered, knowing as she did every word of the story by heart, but deemed it her duty to shake her head slightly and raise her eyebrows in a manner which denoted that she was absolutely at fault.

"Well," pursued Pat, "every door in the whole place was shut up, an' every windy was bolted an' barred, an' though the poor Spider ran this way an' that way, an' round the house an' round the house, not a hole nor a crack could he find; an' there he had to stop outside in the wind an' the rain."

Roseen's face betokened extreme compassion for the Spider. Pat went on, drawing in his breath with a sucking sound.

"Well then, very well then; next mornin' the sarvants was sweepin' and clanin' an' dustin', here an' there an' everywhere, the way they do in the houses of Quality. One o' them left the hall door open an' in creeps the little Spider, an' away wid him acrass the hall, an' never stops till he gets to the great big parlour. Up the wall wid him then as fast as he could leg it, an' there if he doesn't go and make his web in a corner of a great big gould pictur' frame. Well, there he sat, the poor fellow, but ne'er a fly at all come next or nigh him, an' by-an'-by in walks the housemaid wid her great big broom, an' if she didn't--"

"You are afther forgettin'!" interrupted Roseen, quickly seizing the opportunity of using her tongue, and proceeding with as close an imitation of Pat's manner as she could muster. "In walks the housemaid. 'Och,' says she, 'what brings you here at all, ye dirty little spalpeen!'"

"To be sure," said Pat, "I was near forgettin' that altogether. 'Och,' says she (in shrill tones of horror supposed to proceed from the startled housemaid), 'what brings you here at all, ye dirty little spalpeen? You infarnal little sckamer,' says she."

Roseen gave a delighted little cackle, this being an addition on Pat's part and charming her by its vigour and originality.

"'You infarnal little sckamer, what brings you here at all?' And she whips out her duster an' hot the poor Spider such a crack that his web was destroyed on him altogether, an' it was on'y by the greatest good luck he was able to creep out of her way behind the corner of the frame, or she'd have had him killed as well. Well, the poor fellow, there he sat the whole livelong day, niver so much as offerin' to spin another web; an' sure if he had it 'ud have been no use, for there wasn't the sign of a fly at all. When evenin' come the masther of the house had company, an' there was atin' an' drinkin' an' the best of everything but the poor little Spider was lookin' on, very near perishin' wid hunger an' fright. Well, at the long and the last, when he thought there was nobody lookin', he crept down the wall an' folleyed wan o' the sarvants out o' the room, an' by good luck, the hall door was open, so the poor fellow made off wid himself as fast as he could. Down the road wid him till he come to where the Gout was sittin' waitin' for him at the crass roads. 'Is that yourself?' says the Spider. 'How did you get on?' says he. 'Och,' says the poor Gout"--and here Pat assumed a tone of extreme weakness and exhaustion--"'it's near killed I am altogether; I never put in such a time in me life.' 'Well, for that matther,' says the Spider, 'I might say the same; but what happened to ye at all? Tell me all about it in the name of goodness,' says he.

"'Well,' says the Gout, 'I went off down the boreen the same as ye told me, an' I come to the little cabin beyant; the door was open an' in I walked, but o--o--oh! Wh--o--o--oh!' (Pat indulged in a prolonged shiver, while Roseen chuckled and clapped her hands.) 'The cowld of that place was near bein' the death o' me! Sure the wind blew into it,' says he, 'an' the rain was comin' through the roof, an' there wasn't as much fire on the hearth as 'ud warm a fly itself. Well, the poor man come in afther a bit,' says the Gout, 'an' I slipped in through a crack in his owld wore-out brogue, an' into his toe. "Och, Mary," says the poor man to his wife, "I have a terrible bad pain in me toe! What'll I do in the world?" says he; "I'll never be able to stir a fut to-morrow." "Whisht, sure it's maybe a bit of a cramp ye've got. Wait a bit," she says, "an' I'll fetch ye a sup o' the wather I'm afther bilin' the pitaties in, maybe that'll do ye good," she says. 'Well,' says the Gout, 'if the fellow didn't go an' put his fut, an' me in it, into an owld rusty bucket full of pitaty-wather! I thought he'd have destroyed me altogether. An' such a night as I passed, wid scarcely a blanket at all on the bed! An' nothin' 'ud sarve the man but to get up before light, an' go thrampin' off through the mud an' rain till I was nearly perished. There he was draggin' me up an' down at the tail of a plough, wid the wet soakin' in through the holes in his brogues, till I couldn't stand it any more, an' I come away wid meself, an' I've been waitin' for ye this two hours.' 'Ho then, indeed,' says the Spider, 'I'd have been glad enough to be out of it before this; I never was so put about in me life as I was up there,' says he. 'Sure they had all their windies shut up,' says he, 'and the doors too, an' ne'er a sign of a fly at all in it when I did get in,' he says; 'an' the whole place that clane, an' sarvants running about, till I couldn't so much as find a corner to spin my web,' says he. 'Och, dear,' says the Gout, 'that's a poor case entirely; what sort of a place was it at all, an' what were they doin' in it?'

"'Ah, 'twas a great big place--altogether too big for my taste; an' they had roarin' fires in the grates. I was near killed wid the hate.'

"'That indeed!' says the Gout, pricking up his ears." Roseen listened solemnly, not in the least astonished to be told that the personage in question was possessed of ears; she supposed "a Gout" to be a living thing, an insect probably, of a more noxious kind than a spider.

"'Fires!' says the Gout; 'an' was they atin' an' drinkin' at all?' says he.

"'Atin' an' drinkin'!' says the Spider. 'Bedad, they're afther spendin' hours at it, an' were in the thick of it when I come away. If ye were to see the j'ints that was in it, ye wouldn't believe your own eyes; an' chickens an' turkeys,' he says, 'was nothin' at all to them, and they was swalleyin' down pigeons an' partridges an' them sorts o' little birds, the same as if they wasn't worth counting.'

"'Oh, oh!' says the Gout, smacking his lips, 'an' did ye chanst to see any dhrinkin' at all?' 'Goodness gracious!' says the Spider, 'sure there was rivers of wine goin' down every man's throat!'

"'That'll do,' says the Gout. 'I'll bid ye good evening,' he says, 'an' I'll be off wid meself up there; an' I'll tell ye what,' says he, 'I'll be in no hurry to lave it!' he says, winking acrass at the other, 'an' you thry the cabin,' he says, lookin' back over his shoulder; 'maybe it'll suit ye betther nor me.' Well, the poor Spider ran off as fast as he could, an' when he come to the poor man's housheen, in he walked, widout a bit o' throuble at all, an' sure there was plenty of flies there waitin' for him. They used to come buzzing in an' out through the broken windies all day long.

"'Och, bedad! I am in luck,' says the Spider to himself, 'if on'y the ould woman 'ull let me stop in it an' not be thryin' to desthroy me wid her duster, the way the girl up beyant at the Coort did.' But sure, the poor ould woman had other things to be thinkin' of nor to be goin' afther Spiders. She left him alone in peace an' comfort, an' the poor fellow thought he was in heaven, afther all he had to put up wid at the other place. Well, there he lived till he died, an' he got so fat wid all the flies he was afther killin' that it was an apple-complex that carried him off at the end!

"Well, Misther Gout went marching up the hill at a fine rate, an' when he come to the rich man's house, who should he see, by the greatest good luck, but the masther himself, standin' on the steps o' the hall door, sayin' good-bye to the company. He lay quiet till the last of the illigant carr'ages had drove off, an' the master stepped inside again.

"'I think I'll have a smoke,' says he--here Pat assumed an aristocratic air and spoke in refined and mincing tones--'before I go to bed. William,' says he to one of the futmen, 'bring me me slippers.' Well, the gentleman sat down in a grand soft armchair, an' the futman brought his slippers--an' if the Gout didn't take the opportunity an' pop into his big toe!"

Roseen jumped up from her stool with a chuckle of anticipation. Pat proceeded to give utterance to a series of hollow and extraordinary groans, and to writhe in a manner intended to convey the extreme agony of the rich man. Roseen fairly danced about, imitating Pat's moanings to the best of her ability. "Ou-ou-ou-ough! Ugh!" "'By this an' by that,' says the gentleman, 'tare an' ages!' says he, 'thunder an' turf!' he says, 'what in the world is the matter wid me big toe?'

"Well, the misthress comes runnin' down in a great state. 'My dear,' she says (here Pat affected an extremely Englified falsetto), 'I am afeard you are very sick,' says she; 'ye'd best have a sup of port wine,' says she.

"'Ou-ou-ough!' says the masther, 'maybe it would do me good. Fetch it there, quick,' he says to the sarvants, 'or I'll be the death o' some of yez!'

"Well, they brought him port wine, an' they brought him whisky, an' they brought a beautiful velvet cushion an' put it under the gentleman's fut; an' the Gout winks to himself, an' says he, 'Troth, I'll not be in a hurry to quit out o' this. Sure it's in clover altogether I am,' he says.

"Well, there ye have the story now, alanna, an' here's herself comin' down the hill an' Mike afther her."

But Roseen was too much excited to heed the last announcement. "Was it this way, the way the rich man was groanin'?" she asked, once more imitating Pat's extraordinary utterances. The old man nodded, and Roseen stood still meditatively scratching one little brown leg with the curved-in toes of the other. "I wisht," she observed presently, in a pensive tone, "that a Gout 'ud get into me gran'father's big toe; it 'ud sarve him right!"

Pat was rubbing his hands and chuckling to himself over this remark when his wife entered, hot and weary after her peregrinations over the ruins.

"Sixpence is all they're afther givin' me," she observed plaintively. "Dear knows, it's hard set we are to live these times at all."

"Is it sixpence, woman alive!" cried Pat; "I wonder they had the face to offer it to ye. Well, well, I was looking for a shillin' now, or maybe two. Here, cut the child a bit o' griddle cake; she's been keepin' me company this long while, haven't ye, Roseen? An' it's starvin' she is out-an'-out."

"Come here, alanna," said Mrs. Clancy, taking down the flat loaf from the shelf in the corner; "wait till I put a pinch o' sugar on it. I'm sorry I haven't butther for ye, but there isn't a bit in the house at all. There now."

"Thank you, ma'am," said Roseen, extending an eager hand.

"Ye're welcome, darlint. Here, Mike, ye'd like a bit too, wouldn't ye?"

"Aye," said Mike, drawing near likewise.

He was a sturdy little fellow of about eleven, with an open sunburnt face, hair bleached almost lint-white by the sun, and twinkling blue eyes like his father's. The mother passed her thin knotted hand lovingly over his tangled head and smilingly bade him "be off out o' that with Roseen."

The two little figures darted out in the sunlight, and soon were to be seen bounding like deer up the steep golden-green slope that led to the "Rock."

"What do ye think the little one there is afther sayin' to me?" asked Pat, shading his eyes with his hand as he peered after them. "'I wisht,' says she, 'a Gout 'ud get into me gran'father's fut,' says she; 'it 'ud sarve him right,' she says. I was afther tellin' her the 'Story of the Spider an' the Gout,' ye know."

"Did she now?" cried Mrs. Clancy, sinking down on the stool which Roseen had vacated and clapping her hands together. "Well now, that bates all! But she's the 'cutest little thing--I never seen her aiqual."

"'I wisht,' quoted Dan meditatively, 'a Gout 'ud get into me gran'father's big toe an' stay there,' says she. Ha, ha; bedad I wisht it would too, the ould naygur."

Meanwhile the children pattered up the hill and spoke no word until they reached the summit. Sitting down under the great portcullis, they munched their bread and sugar amicably together, Mike's eyes pensively gazing in front of him the while, and Roseen's roving hither and thither with quick, eager glances. Suddenly she tilted her head backward, gazing at a narrow horizontal slit in the masonry high over their heads. "That's where they used to throw the bilin' lead down in ould ancient times when anybody wanted to come fightin' them."

Mike gazed upwards likewise, still slowly munching, but said nothing.

"When you an' me grows up an' gets married to each other, the way we always said we would," pursued Roseen, "this 'ud be a gran' place to live."

Mike's face brightened, and he nodded enthusiastically. "It would so," he agreed.

"There's lots o' beau'ful rooms that we could live in," resumed Roseen, "an' we'd make a fire in that great big enormous stone hearth beyant, an' we'd ate off o' that big stone table, an' when anybody 'ud offer to come annoyin' us, we'd just melt a bit o' lead an' throw it down on them."

Mike looked astonished and perturbed. "Sure it 'ud burn the flesh off o' their bones. I wouldn't like to be doin' that, Roseen."

"If they was rale bad people," said Roseen persuasively; "rale wicked, crule people, the same as me gran'father beyant, it 'ud sarve them right,--or we might throw down a sup of bilin' wather," she added as a concession.

Mike appeared unconvinced.

"I don't think ye have a right to be talkin' that way of your gran'father," he said reprovingly; "an' he isn't that bad. He never offered to lay a finger on me as long as I am in it, barring the time I let the sheep into the hay-field."

"He's a crule ould villain!" returned Roseen conclusively. "Look at all he done on me mother. Come on now," with a sudden change of tone, "whistle a tune an' we'll have a dance."

Mike looked lovingly at the last fragments of his griddle cake, the enjoyment of which he had been anxious to prolong as much as possible, and then after a little sigh, crammed them into his mouth and led the way to the giant's wrestling ground.

"Wait a bit," he cried, as Roseen took hold of the folds of her ragged skirt daintily in the finger and thumb of each hand, and looked expectantly towards him, "I'm just goin' to thramp a bit in the joynt's steps."

"What are ye doin' that for at all?" asked Roseen, knitting her brows.

"Sure me father bid me never go past this way widout stampin' them down a bit to keep them from gettin' smaller," answered Mike, hammering diligently with his bare heel at the corners of the "futprints" of the mighty Fin-ma-coul.

The operation at last concluded, he rejoined the little girl on a small grassy plateau surrounded by low growing Irish gorse. The heather, mingling with these furze bushes, was just beginning to bloom, and here and there a tall foxglove towered above the undulating irregular mass of purple and gold. Taking her place in the centre of her ball-room, Roseen again looped up her skirt and pointed her shapely little foot. Mike began to whistle a jig tune, his sturdy brown legs twinkling the while in time to the measure. Now and then his piping grew faint, and was interrupted by gasps for breath, whereupon Roseen, still vigorously footing it, would take up the tune after a fashion of her own, her voice imitating as nearly as might be the sound of a fiddle. Overhead a lark was soaring, and his trill, wafted down to them, mingled with their quaint human music; far away over that brown and purple stretch of bog the plovers were circling, their faint melancholy call sounding every now and then. The sun would soon set, the air was already turning a little chilly, and the dew was falling. The shadow of the ruined tower fell obliquely across the golden-green carpet of their ball-room; but the children danced on, Roseen's curls shaken into a light feathery nimbus round her brow, a beautiful colour in her cheeks, and her little white teeth parted in a smile of delight; while Mike pranced and capered, as though old Peter's stick had never fallen about his shoulders, and there were no holes in the roof at home.