Lost Recruit by
When Mick Doherty heard that there was to be route-marching next
day in the neighbourhood of Kilmacrone, he determined upon going
off for a long "stravade" coastward over the bog, where there were
no roads worth mentioning, and no risks of an encounter with the
military. In this he acted differently from all his neighbours,
most of whom, upon learning the news, began to speculate and plan
how they might see and hear as much as possible of their unwonted
visitors. Opinions were chiefly divided as to whether the Murghadeen
cross-roads would be the best station to take up, or the fork of
the lane at Berrisbawn House. People who, for one reason or another,
could not go so far afield, consoled themselves by reflecting that
the band, at any rate, would be likely to come through the village,
and would no doubt strike up a tune while passing, as it had done
a couple of years ago, the last time the redcoats had appeared
in Kilmacrone. And, och, but that was the grand playin' intirely!
It done your heart good just to be hearin' the sound of it,
bedad it did so. Old Mrs. Geoghegan said it was liker the sort of
thunder-storms they might be apt to have in heaven above than aught
else she could think of, might goodness forgive her for sayin' such
a thing; and Molly Joyce said she'd as lief as not have sat down
and cried when't was passed beyond her listenin', it went that
delightful thumpety-thump, wid the tune flyin' up over it.
The military authorities at Fortbrack were not ignorant of this
popular sentiment, and had considered it in the order of that
day. For experience had shown that a progress of troops through the
surrounding country districts generally conduced to the appearance
before the recruiting officer of sundry long-limbed, loose-jointed
Pats, Micks, and Joes; and a recent scarcity of this raw material
made it seem expedient to bring such an influence to bear upon the
new ground of remote Kilmacrone. Certain brigades and squadrons
were accordingly directed to move thitherward, under the general
idea that an invading force from the southeast had occupied Ballybeg
Allan, while in pursuance of another general idea, really more
to the purpose, though not officially announced, the accompanying
band received instructions to be liberal and lively in its
performances by the way.
All along their route through the wide brown land the soldiers might
be sure of drawing as much sympathetic attention as that lonesome
west country could concentrate on any given line. Probably there
would be no one disposed, like Mick Doherty, to get out of the
way, unless some very small child roared and ran, if of a size to
have acquired the latter accomplishment, at the sound of the booming
drums. To the great majority of these onlookers the spectacle
would be a rare and gorgeous pageant, a memory resplendent across
twilight-hued time-tracts as a vision of scarlet and golden gleams,
and proudly pacing horses, and music that made you feel you had
never known how much life there was in you all the while. Some
toll, it is true, had to be paid for this enjoyment. When it had
passed by things suddenly grew very flat and colourless, and there
was a tendency to feel more or less vaguely aggrieved because
you could not go a-soldiering yourself. In cases, however, where
circumstances rendered that obviously impossible, as when people
were too old or infirm, or were women or girls, this thrill of
discontent, seldom very acute, soon subsided, by virtue of the
self-preserving instinct which forbids us to persist in knocking
our heads hard against our stone walls. But it was different where
the beholder was so situated that he could imagine himself riding
or striding after the rapturous march-music to fields of peril
and valour and glory, without diminishing the vividness of the
picture by simultaneously supposing himself some quite other person.
The gleam in young Felix M'Guinness's eyes, as he watched the red
files dwindle and twinkle out of sight, was to the brightening up
beneath his grandfather's shaggy brows as the forked flash is to
the shimmering sheet-lightnings, that are but a harmless reflection
from far-off storms. And there, indeed, pleasure paid a ruinous
duty. If those who were liable to it did not imitate Mick Doherty's
prudence and hold aloof, the reason may have been that they had
not fortitude enough to turn away from excitement offered on any
terms, or that their position was less desperately tantalising than
his; and the latter explanation is the more probable one, since few
lads in and about Kilmacrone can have had their martial aspirations
baulked by an impediment so flimsy and yet so effectual.
There was nothing in the world to hinder Mick from enlisting
except just the unreasonableness of his mother, and that was an
unreasonableness so unreasonable as to verge upon hat her neighbours
would hare called "quare ould conthrariness." For, though a widow
woman, and therefore entitled to occupy a pathetic position, its
privileges were defined by the opinion that "she was not so badly
off intirely as she might ha' been." Mick's departure need not
have left her desolate, since she had another son and daughter at
home, besides Essie married in the village, and Brian settled down
at Murghadeen, here he was doing well, and times and again asking
her to come and live with him. Then Mick would have been able to
help her out of his pay much more efficaciously than he could do
by his earnings at Kilmacrone, where work was slack and its wage
low, so that the result of a lad's daily labour sometimes seemed
mainly the putting of a fine edge on a superfluous appetite. All these
points were most clearly seen by Mick in the light of a fiercely
burning desire; but that availed him nothing unless he could set
them as plainly before some one else who was not thus illuminated.
And not far from two years back he had resolved that he would
attempt to do so no more.
The soldiers had been about in the district on the day before,
scattered like poppy beds over the bog, and signalling and firing
till the misty October air tingled with excitement. When you have
lived your life among wide-bounded solitudes, where the silence is
oftenest broken by the plover's pipe or the croak of some heavily
flapping bird, you will know the meaning of a bugle-call. Mick
and his contemporaries had acted as camp-followers from early till
late with ever intensifying ardour; one outcome whereof was that he
heard his especial crony, Paddy Joyce, definitely decide to go and
enlist at Fortbrack next Monday, which gave a turn more to the
pinching screw of his own banned wish. It was with a concerted
scheme for ascertaining whether there were any chance of bringing
his mother round to a rational view of the matter that he and his
friend dropped into her cabin next morning on the way to carry up
a load of turf. Mrs. Doherty was washing her couple of blue-checked
aprons in an old brown butter-crock, and Mick thought he had
introduced the subject rather happily when he told her "she had a
right to be takin' her hands out of the suds, and dippin' the finest
curtsey she could conthrive, and she wid the Commander-in-Gineral
of the Army Forces steppin' in to pay her a visit." Of course this
statement required, as it was intended to require, elucidation,
so Mick proceeded to announce: "It's himself's off to Fortbrack
a-Monday, 'listin' he'll be in the Edenderry Light Infantry; so the
next time we set eyes on him it's blazin' along the street we'll
see him, like the boys we had here yisterday."
"Ah! sure now, that'll be grand," said Mrs. Doherty, unwarily
complaisant; "we'll all be proud to behold him that way. 'T is a
fine thing far any young man who's got a fancy to take up wid it."
"Och, then, bedad it is so!" said Mick, with emphasis, promptly
making for the opening given to him.
"Bedad it is," said Paddy.
"There's nothin' like it," said Mick.
"Ah, nothin' at all," said Paddy.
Mrs. Doherty made no remark as she twisted a dripping apron into
a sausage-shaped roll to wring the water out.
"How much was it you were sayin' you'd have in the week, Paddy,
just to put in your pocket for your divarsion like?" inquired Mick,
with a convenient lapse of memory.
"Och, seven or eight shillin's anyway," said Paddy, in the tone of
one to whom shillings had already become trivial coins; "and that,
mind you, after you've ped for the best of aitin' and dhrinkin',
and your kit free, and no call to be spendin' another penny unless
you plase. Sure, Long Murphy was tellin' me he was up in the town
awhile ago, on a day when they were just after gettin' their pay,
and he said the Post-Office was that thick wid the soldier lads
sendin' home the money to their friends, he couldn't get speech of
a clerk to buy his stamp be no manner of manes, not if he'd wrecked
the place. 'T was the Sidmouth Fusileers was in at that time;
they're off to Limerick now."
"But that's a grand regulation they have," said Mick, "wid the
short service nowadays. Where's the hardship in it when a man can
quit at the ind of three year, if he's so plased? Three year's no
time to speak of."
"Sure, not at all; you'd scarce notice it passin' by. Like Barney
Bralligan's song that finished before it begun—isn't that the way
of it, ma'am?"
"It's a goodish len'th of a while," said Mrs. Doherty.
"But thin there's the lave; don't be forgettin' the lave, Paddy
man. Supposin' we—"
"Tub be sure, there's the lave. Why, it's skytin' home on lave they
do be most continial. And the Edenderrys is movin' no farther than
just to Athlone; that's as handy a place as you could get."
"You'd not thravel from this to Athlone in the inside of a week,
if it was iver so handy," said Mrs. Doherty.
"Is it a week? Och! blathershins, Mrs. Doherty, ma'am, you're
mistook intirely. Sure, onst you've stepped into the town yonder,
the train'll take you there in a flash. And the trains do be oncommon
"Free passes!" prompted Mick.
"Ay, bedad, and free passes they'll give to any souldier takin'
his furlough; so sorra the expense 't would be supposin' Mick here
had a notion to slip home of an odd day and see you."
"MICK!" said Mrs. Doherty.
"Och well, I was just supposin'. But I'm tould" —the many remarkable
facts which Paddy had been tould lost nothing in repetition—"that
they'll sometimes have out a special train for a man in the army,
if he wants to go anywhere partic'lar in a hurry; there's iligance
for you. And as for promotion, it's that plinty you'll scarce git
time to remimber your rank from one day to the next, whether it's
a full private you are, or a lance-corporal, or maybe somethin'
greater. Troth, there's nothin' a man mayn't rise to. And then,
Mrs. Doherty, it's the proud woman you'd be—ANYBODY'D be—that they
hadn't stood in the way of it. And pensions—he might be pensioned
off wid as much as a couple of shillin's a day."
"Not this long while yet, plase the pigs," broke out Mick, squaring
his shoulders, as if Time were a visible antagonist, and momentarily
forgetting the matter immediately in hand. "But there's chances in
it—splendid—och, it's somethin' you may call livin'."
"And," said his friend, "the rations, I'm tould, is surprisin' these
times. The top of everythin' that's to be got, uncooked, widout
Paddy and Mick discoursed for a good while in this strain about the
dignities and amenities of a military life, and Mrs. Doherty had
not much to say on the subject. During the conversation, however,
she continued to rinse one of her aprons, and wring it dry very
carefully, and drop it back into the water, like a machine slightly
out of gear, which goes on repeating some process ineffectually. The
two friends read in her silence an omen of acquiescent conviction,
and congratulated each other upon it with furtive nods and winks.
Mick went off to the bog in high feather, believing that the
interview had been a great success, and that his mother was, as
Paddy put it, "comin' round to the notion gradual, like an ould
goat grazin' round its tetherin' stump." His hopes, indeed, were
so completely in the ascendant that he summed up his most serious
uneasiness when he said to himself: "She'll do right enough,
no fear, or I'd niver think of it, if Thady was just somethin'
steadier. But sure he might happen to git a thrifle more wit yet;
he's no great age to spake of."
But when he came home about sunsetting, his mother was feeding her
few hens outside their cabin, the end one of a mossy-roofed row,
with its door turned at right angles to the others, looking out
across the purple brown of the bog-land to the far-off hills, faint,
like a blue mist with a waved pattern in it, against the horizon.
Mick, brought up short by the group, woke out of his walking dream,
in which he had been performing acts of valour to the tune of the
"Soldier's Chorus" in Gounod's Faust, the last thing the band had
played yesterday; and he noticed a diminution in the select circle
of fowls, who crooned and crawked and pecked round the broken dish
"I see the specklety pullet's after strayin' on you agin," he said;
"herself's the conthrary little bein'; I must take a look about
for her prisintly."
"Ah, sure she's sold," said his mother; "it's too many I had
altogether. I was torminted thryin' to git feedin' for them. So
I sold her this mornin' to Mrs. Dunne at Loughmore, that gave me a
fine price for her. 'Deed she'd have took her off of me this while
back, on'y I'd just a sort of notion agin' partin' from the crathur.
But be comin' in to your supper, child alive; it's ready waitin'
this good while. Molly's below at her sister's, and I dunno were
Thady's off to, so there's on'y you and me in it to-night."
In the room the more familiar odour of turf-smoke was overborne
by a crisp smell of baking, and Mrs. Doherty picked up a steaming
plate which had been keeping warm on the hearth. "Isn't that somethin'
like, now?" she said, setting it on the table triumphantly. "Rale
grand they turned out this time, niver a scorch on the whole of
them. I was afeard me hand might maybe ha' got out o' mixin' them,'t
is so long since I had e'er a one for you; but sure I bought a
half-stone of seconds wid the price of the little hin, and that'll
make a good few, so it will, jewel avic, and then we must see after
some more. Take one of the thick bits, honey."
Probably most of us have had experience of the unceremonious
methods which Fate often chooses when communicating to us important
arrangements. We have seen by what a little seeming triviality
of an incident she may intimate that our cherished hope has been
struck dead, or that the execution of some other decree has turned
the current of our life away. It is sometimes as if she contemptuously
sent us a grotesque and dwarfish messenger, who makes grimaces at
us while telling us the bad news, which is ungenerous and scarcely
dignified. So we need not wonder if Mick Doherty had to read the
death-warrant of his darling ambition in a pile of three-cornered
griddle-cakes. At any rate, he did read it there swiftly as clearly.
Most likely he knew it all before the plate was set on the table,
and his heart had already gone down with a run when he replied
to his mother's commendations that they looked first-rate. As he
indorsed this praise with what appetite he could, being, indeed,
mechanically hungry, the uppermost thought in his mind was how he
should at once let his mother understand that she had got the price
she hoped for her pet hen; and after considering for a while, he
said: "Did you ever notice the quare sort of lane-over the turf-stack
out there's takin' on it? I question hadn't we done righter to have
took a leveller bit of ground for under it. But I was thinkin' this
mornin'"—of what a different subject he had been thinking!—"that
next year I'd thry buildin' it agin' the back o' th' ould shed,
where there does be ne'er a slant at all."
"Ay, sure that 'ud be grand," said Mrs. Doherty, much more elated
than if she had heard of a large fortune; "you couldn't find an
iliganter place for it in the width of this world." She felt quite
satisfied that her craftily timed treat had dispelled the dreaded
danger, which actually was the case in a way. But if Mick would
stay at home with her, she was perfectly content to suppose that she
came after a griddle-cake in his estimation. Her relief made her
unusually talkative; but Mick was reflecting between his answers
how he must now tell Paddy Joyce that they were never to be comrades
He went out on this mission immediately after supper. The sun had
gone down, and the cold clearness left showed things plainly, yet
was not light. In front of the cabin-rows the small children of the
place were screeching over their final romp and quarrel, as they
did every evening; fowls and goats and pigs were settling down for
the night with the squawks and bleats and squeals which also took
place every evening; on the brown-hollowed grass-bank between
Colgan's and O'Reilly's, old Morissy, the blind fiddler, was feebly
scraping and twangling, according to his custom every evening, and,
for that matter, all day long. Even the wisps of straw and scraps
of paper blowing down the middle of the wide roadway seemed to
have whirled over and over and caught in the rough patches of stone
just so, as often as the sun had set. Close to the Joyces', Mick
met Peter Maclean driving home a brood of ducklings. A broad and
burly man, who says "shoo-shoo" to a high-piping cluster of tiny
yellow ducks, and flourishes a long willow wand to keep them from
straggling out of their compacted trot, does undoubtedly present
rather an absurd appearance; yet I cannot explain why the sight
should have seemed to prick like a sting through the wide weary
disgust which Mick experienced as he stood in the twilit boreen
waiting for Paddy to come out. He had scarcely a grunt to exchange
for Peter's cheerful "Fine evenin'." What does it signify in a
universal desert whether evenings be fine or foul? Altogether, it
was a bad time; and Mick acted wisely in taking precautions against
its recurrence, especially as the obstacles which had confronted
him nearly two years back were now more hope-baffling than ever.
For the intervening months had not brought the desirable "thrifle
more wit" to his unsteady brother Thady, who, on the contrary,
was developing into one of those people whose good-for-nothingness
is taken as a matter of course even by themselves; and a bolt was
thus, so to speak, drawn across Mick's locked door.
He set off betimes on his long ramble. It was a cloudless July
morning—the noon of summer by air and light as well as by the
calendar. Even the barest tracts of the bog-land, which vary their
aspect as little as may be from shifting season to season, were
flecked with golden furze-blossom, and whitened with streaming
tufts of fairy-cotton, and sun-warmed herbs were fragrant underfoot.
Mick rather hurried over this stage of his "stravade," partly
because he foresaw a blazing hot day, and he wished to be among
more broken ground, where there are sheltered hollows scooped in
the "knockawns," and cool patches under their bushes and boulders.
He entered the region of these things before his shadow had shrunk
to its briefest; for not so very far beyond Kilmacrone the smooth
floor of the big bog crumples itself into crusts and ridges, as if
it had caught the trick from its bounding ocean; and the nearer
it comes to the shore the higher it heaves itself, until at last
it is cut short by a sheer cliff wall, with storm-stunted brambles
and furzes cowering along the edge, fathoms above a base-line of
exuberant weed and foam. The long sea-frontage of this rock-rampart
is fissured by only a few narrow clefts. On the left hand, facing
oceanward, the coast is a labyrinth of mountain fiords, straits,
and bays, where you may see great craggy shoulders and domed summits
waver in their crystal calm at the flick of a gull's dipping wing,
or add to the terror of the tempest as they start out black and
unmoved behind rifts of swirling mists. On the right there is the
same fretwork of land and water, but wrought in less high relief—a
tract of lonely strands, where shells and daisies whiten the grass,
and pink-belled creepers trail, entangled with tawny-podded wrack,
across the shingle. You are apt thereabouts to happen on clattering
pebble-banks and curling foam when you are apparently deep among
meadows and corn-land, or to come on sturdy green potato-drills
round some corner where you had confidently supposed the unstable
furrows of the sea. And the intricate ground-plan of the district
must be long studied before you can always feel sure whether the
low-shelving swarded edges by which you are walking frame salt or
Mick was bound eventually for one of those ravines which cleave
the cliffs' precipitous wall and give access to the shore, generally
by a deep-sunken sandy boreen. Here, under a tall bank, there are
a couple of cabins, besides another which, having lost its roof,
may be reckoned as a half; so that Tullykillagin is not a large
place, even as places go in its neighbourhood. He knew, however,
that he could count upon getting something to eat at either of
the two cabins first mentioned, and, indeed, at the bare-raftered
one also, if, as often chanced, it was occupied by Tim Fottrel,
the gatheremup; and this prospect served for an incentive, feeble
enough, though it strengthened a little as the hours wore on. So
languid, in fact, was his resolution that at one moment he thought
he would just sthreel home again without going any farther; if he
went aisy everybody would have cleared out of Kilmacrone before he
got back. But at this time he was sitting among some broom-bushes,
under which last year's withered black pods were strewn, and he
determined that if there were an odd number of seeds in the first
one he opened he would go on to Tullykillagin. There were nine in
it, and he logically continued to loiter seaward.
He dawdled so much that when he came to the cliff the sun already
hung low over the water, and as he walked along the edge his shadow
stretched away far inland across the dappled pale and dark green
of the furze-fretted sward. The sea unrolled a ceaseless scroll
of faint wild-hyacinth colour, on which invisible breeze-wafts
inscribed and erased mysterious curves and strokes like hieroglyphics.
Here and there it showed deep purple stains; for a flight of little
snowflake clouds were fluttering in from the Atlantic, followed
at leisure by deep-folded, glistering drifts, now massed on the
horizon-rim to muffle the descending sun. Yet that tide, with all
its smoothness, showed a broad band of foam wherever it touched
the pebbles, which lay dry before its sliding, for it was on its
way in. It had nearly reached the cliff's foot in most places;
but Mick presently came to a point where he looked down on a small
field of very green grass, set as an oasis between the waves and
the walling rock, with a miniature chaos of heaped-up boulders
to left and right. A few of them were scattered over it, and even
the highest of these wore a scarf of leathery flat sea-ribbon, in
token of occasional submergence; but amongst them grew hawthorn and
sloe bushes, and a clump of scarlet-tasselled fuchsia. To heighten
the incongruity of its aspect, this pasture was inhabited by a large
strawberry cow, who seemed to be enjoying the alternate mouthfuls
of seaweed and woodbine, which she munched off a thickly wreathed
boulder, untroubled by the fact that the meal bade fair to be her
last, since the rising spring tide had already all but cut off
access on either hand, and would still flow for some hours.
"Musha, now I'll be skivered," said Mick, standing still, "if that's
not Joe McEvoy's ould cow. You 'll be apt to experience a dampin',
ould woman, if you don't quit out of there. Whethen, it's a quare
man he is to lave the baste sthrayin' about permiscuous in the
welther of the tide."
He peered over the edge of the cliff, evidently mistrusting its
smooth face; and then he threw several stones and clods at the
cow, with shouts of "Hi, out of that!" and "Shoo along!" But his
missiles fell short of their mark, and if his voice reached her,
she treated it with the placid disregard of which her kind are
mistress on such occasions, and never raised her crumple-horned
"Have it your own way, then," said Mick, cynically; "it's nothin'
to me if you've a mind to thry a taste of swimmin' under wather."
He had not, however, strolled much farther when he met with somebody
who was vastly more concerned about the animal's impending fate.
This was old Joe McEvoy himself, who, out of the mouth of a steep,
sandy boreen, sprang up suddenly, like a jack-fn-the-box-one of the
shock-wigged, saturnine-complexioned pattern. But no jack-in-the-box
could have looked so flurriedly distracted, or have muttered to
itself such queer execrations as he did, hobbling along.
"A year's loadin' of bad luck to the whoule of thim!" he was saying
with gasps when Mick approached; "there's not a one of thim but
'ud do desthruction on herself sooner than lose a chanst to be
annoyin' anybody, if she could conthrive it no other way."
"If it's th' ould cow you're cursin'," said Mick, "she's down below
"Och, tell me somethin' I dunno, you gomeral, not but what I'm nigh
as big a one meself as can be, to go thrust her wid that little
imp of mischief. Bad scran to it, I must give me stiff leg a rest,
and she 'll be up here blatherin' after me before you can look
round, you may bet your brogues she will."
"Gomeral yourself and save your penny," said Mick, whose temper
was not at its best after his long day of hungry discontent. "And
the divil a call you have to be onaisy about the crathur follyin'
you anywheres. Stayin' where she is she's apt to be, until she
gets the chanst of goin' out to say wid the turn of the tide, and
that's like enough to happen her."
"And who at all was talkin' of the cow follyin'? It's ould Biddy
Duggan down below that nivir has her tongue off of me, nagglin' at
me for lettin' the poor crathur pick her bit along the beach, and
it a strip of the finest grass in the townland, when it's above
wather, just goin' to loss. A couple of pints differ extry it does
be makin' in the milkin' of a day she's grazed there. But it's
threatenin' dhrowndin' and disthruction over it th' ould banshee
is this great while; and plased she 'll be, rale plased and sot
up. Sure, that's what goes agin' me, to be so far gratifyin' her,
and herself as mischevious, harm-hopin' an ould toad as iver I hated
the sight of—Och, bejabers, didn't I tell you so? It's herself
comin' gabble-gobblin' up."
As he spoke, a very small, meagre, raggged old woman emerged
swiftly from the lane, accompanied by one younger and stouter and
less nimble of foot, her temporary neighbour, Mrs. Gatheremup.
Mrs. Duggan seemed to bear out Joe's character of her; for now, like
Spenser's hag Occasion, "ever as she went her tongue did walk," and
the path it took was not one of peace. "Maybe, after this happenin',
some she could name might have the wit to believe what other people
tould thim, who knew bitter than to be thinkin' to feed a misfortnit
crathur of an ould cow on sand and sayweed as if she was a sayl or
a saygull, and it a scandal to the place to behould her foostherin'
along down there wid the waves' edges slitherin' up to her nose,
and she sthrivin' to graze, and the slippery stones fit to break
her neck." Such was the purport of Mrs. Duggan's remarks, which
were punctuated by Joe McEvoy's peremptory requests that she would
lave gabbin' and givin' impidence, and his appeals to the others
to inform him whether they weren't all to be pitied for havin' to
put up wid the ould screech-owl's foolish talk.
"Sure, that's the way they do be keepin' it up continial, Micky
lad," Mrs. Fottrel called to him, shrilly, as if athwart gusts of
high wind. "I'll pass yon me word the two of thim 'll stand at their
doors of an evenin" and give bad langwidge to aich other across
the breadth of the road till they have us all fairly moidhered wid
the bawls of thim, and I on'y wonder the thatch doesn't take and
slip down on their ould heads."
"Belike it's lave of the likes of YOU I ought to be axin' where I'm
to git grazin' for me own cattle?" a growl of sarcastic thunder
was just then observing, to which flashed a scathing response: "And,
bedad, then, it's lave you had a right to be axin' afore you sent
off me poor son Hughey's bit of a Pat, to be wastin' his time
mindin' your ould scarecrow and gettin' himself dhrownded in the
tide. It's no thanks to you if the innicent child isn't as like
as not lyin' this minute under six fut of could wather, instead of
fetchin' me in the full of me kettle that I'm roarin' to him for
this half-hour, and niver a livin' sinner widin sight or—"
"Saints above! is little Pat strayin' along wid the cow?" said Mrs.
Fottrel, much aghast. "I was noticin' I didn't see him anywheres
this evenin'. What's to become of him down there, and it risin'
beyond the heighth of iverythin' as fast as it can flow? Sure, this
mornin' 't was wallopin' itself agin' the wall, back of our place,
fit to swally all before it."
"Why didn't you tell me the child was below?" said Mick. "I'd lep
down there and fetch him up aisy enough; on'y there was no mortial
use goin' after the cow, for niver a crathur that took its stand
on four hoofs 'ud git its own len'th up the cliff, unless it might
be some little divil of a goat. And the wather's dhrowndin'-deep
alongside it afore now."
"Musha, good gracious! sure, all I done was to bid the spalpeen be
keepin' an eye on her now and agin while he would be playin' about
there," said Joe; "and it's twinty chances if ivir he did at all.
Trapesed off wid himself somewheres; he'll be right enough be this
time. 'T is n't the likes of him to go to loss, it's the quare
five-poun' note he'd fetch at Athenry fair."
"He might ha' broke his legs climbin' disp'rit on the rocks," said
Mrs. Fottrel, unconvinced by the argument from unsaleability," and
be lyin' there now waitin' for the say-waves to wash the life out
of him. Heaven pity the crathur!"
"Sure, I 'll step down and see what's gone wid him," said Mick.
The descent of the cliff, though not riskless, was no great feat
for an active youth, and Mick accomplished it safely, but to little
purpose, he thought at first, since the irreclaimable cow appeared
to be the sole denizen of the shrinking beach. However, when he
had shouted and scrambled for some time without result, he came
abruptly upon a nook among the piled-up rocks, where a very small
black-headed boy in tattered petticoats was digging the sandy floor
with a razor-shell.
"Och, it's there you are," said Mick, stepping down from a weedy
ledge; "and what have you in it at all that you didn't hear me
bawlin' to you?"
"Throops," said Pat, gloatingly, almost too absorbed t o glance
off his work; "it's Ballyclavvy, the way it did be in the school
readin'-book at Duffclane. There's the Roossian guns" (he pointed
to a row of black-mouthed mussel-shells, mounted on periwinkle
carriages), "and here's the sides of the valley I'm makin'; long
and narrer it was. Just step round and look at it from where I am,
Micky, but don't be clumpin' your fut on the French cavalary."
"The divil's in it all," said Mick, with a sudden bitter vehemence,
which he accounted for to himself by adding, as he pointed toward
the seething white line: "D' you see where that's come to, you
little bosthoon? And you sittin' grubbin' away here as if you were
pitaty-diggin' a dozen mile inland."
Pat looked in the desired direction, but misapprehended the object
to be the western sky, where an overblown fiery rose seemed to have
scattered all its petals broadcast. "Sure, that's on'y the sun settin'
red like," he explained, indifferently, and would have resumed his
excavations if he had not been seized and hustled half-way up the
cliff before he could disengage his mind from his brigades and
batteries. Both heads soon bobbed up over the edge without accident;
for Pat climbed like a monkey when once he had grasped the situation.
His grandmother's attitude toward Joe McEvoy constrained her to
receive him effusively as prey snatched from the foaming jaws of
death; but it was out of Mrs. Fottrel's pocket that a peppermint-drop
came to sweetly seal his new lease of life.
"And what are you after now, Mick?" she said, observing that,
instead of drawing himself up to level ground, he stood poised on
an uncomfortable perch, and looked back the steep way he had come.
"I'm thinkin' to slip down agin," he said, "and see if be any manner
of manes I could huroosha th' ould baste round the rocks yonder.
The wather mightn't be altogither too deep there yit; at all evints,
she's between the divil and the deep say where she is now; it's
just a chanst."
"Sorra a much," said Joe, disconsolately; "scarce worth breakin'
your bones after, any way."
"Bones, how are you? Sure, there's no call to be breakin' bones in
the matter," said Mick, beginning to descend. This was true enough,
if he had minded what he was about; but then he did not. So far from
it, he was saying to himself, "One 'ud ha' thought now she might
ha' took a sort of pride in it," when the bottom of the world seemed
to drop away from under his feet, and his irrelevant meditations
ended in a shattering thud down on the rocky pavement a long way
below. He never heard the shouts and shrieks which the incident
occasioned above his head. Once only he became dimly conscious of
a quivering network of prismatic flashes, which he could not see
through, and a booming throb in his ears, which made him murmur
dazedly: "Wirra, I thought I'd got beyond hearin' of them drums."
In another moment: "What's took me?" he said, with a start. But
the depths he sank among remain always dark and silent.
Next day messengers from Tullykillagin told Mrs. Doherty that the
Lord had "took" her son Mick, and that "he had gone out to say wid
the tide, before they could get anybody to him, and there was no
tellin' where he might be swep' up, if ever he came to shore at
"And the quarest part of it was that Joe McEvoy's ould cow that
he went after had legged herself up, somehow, on the rocks out of
reach, and niver a harm on her when they found her in the mornin'.
But she'd been all of a could quiver ever since, and himself doubted
if she'd rightly git over it—might the divil mend her, and she
after bein' the death of a fine young man. Sure, every sowl up at
Tullykillagin was rale annoyed about it. Even ould Biddy Duggan,
that was as cross-tempered as a weasel, did be frettin' for the
lad; and Joe McEvoy was sittin' crooched like an ould wet hen, over
his fire block out, that he hadn't the heart to be lightin'."
Mrs. Doherty said she didn't know what talk they had of the Lord
and the say and the ould cow; but she'd known well enough the way
it was when Mick niver come home last night. He'd just took off
after the souldiers, as he'd a great notion one time.
She was, as may have been observed, rather a dull-witted woman,
and proportionately hard to convince against her will.
"A great notion intirely," she said; "on'y she'd scarce have
thought he'd go do such a thing on her in airnest. And I runnin'
away indoors yisterday out of the heighth of the divarsion, when
the band-music was a thrate to be hearin', just to see his bit of
supper wouldn't be late on him. And the grand little pitaty-cake
I had for him; I may be throwin' it to the hins now, unless Molly
might fancy a bit; for we 'll not be apt to set eyes on him this
three year. Och, wirra! and he that contint at home, and niver a
word out of him about the souldierin' this long while. If it had
been poor Thady itself, 't would ha' been diff'rint; but Mick—I'd
scarce ha' thought it of him; for he'd a dale of good-nature, Mrs.
"He had so, tub-be sure, woman dear," said Mrs. Geoghegan, "or he
might be sittin' warm in here this minnit."
"The back of me hand to thim blamed ould throopers," said Mrs.
Doherty, "that sets the lads wild wid their thrampin' around."
"Poor Mick would be better wid them than where he is now—God have
mercy on his soul!" said a neighbour, solemnly.
But Mick's mother continued to bewail herself: "And I missin' the
best of all the tunes they played, so Molly was tellin' me, for
'fraid he 'd be kep' waitin' for his supper, and he comin' home
to me hungry; and now—There's a terrible len'th of time in three
year. I wouldn't ha' believed he'd ha' done it on me."