A Lost Recruit by Jane Barlow
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 convenient."
"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 bone."
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 of scraps.
"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 after all.
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 fresh water.
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 head.
"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 yonder."
"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 all."
"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. Geoghegan, ma'am."
"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."