It seems that Lady Rowardennan of the Castle had promised the orphans, en bloc, that those who passed through an entire year without once falling into falsehood should have a treat or festival of their own choosing. On the eventful day of decision, those orphans, male and female, who had not for a twelve-month deviated from the truth by a hair’s-breadth, raised their little white hands (emblematic of their pure hearts and lips), and were solemnly counted. Then came the unhappy moment when a scattering of small grimy paws was timidly put up, and their falsifying owners confessed that they had fibbed more than once during the year. These tearful fibbers were also counted, and sent from the room, while the non-fibbers chose their reward, which was to sail around the Bass Rock and the Isle of May in a steam tug.
On the festival day, the matron of the orphanage chanced on the happy thought that it might have a moral effect on the said fibbers to see the non-fibbers depart in a blaze of glory; so they were taken to the beach to watch the tug start on its voyage. The confessed criminals looked wretched enough, Ronald wrote, when forsaken by their virtuous playmates, who stepped jauntily on board, holding their sailor hats on their heads and carrying nice little luncheon baskets; so miserably unhappy, indeed, did they seem that certain sympathetic and ill-balanced persons sprang to their relief, providing them with sandwiches, sweeties, and pennies. It was a lovely day, and when the fibbers’ tears were dried they played merrily on the sand, their games directed and shared by the aforesaid misguided persons.
Meantime a high wind had sprung up at sea, and the tug was tossed to and fro upon the foamy deep. So many and so varied were the ills of the righteous orphans that the matron could not attend to all of them properly, and they were laid on benches or on the deck, where they languidly declined luncheon, and wept for a sight of the land. At five the tug steamed up to the home landing. A few of the voyagers were able to walk ashore, some were assisted, others were carried; and as the pale, haggard, truthful company gathered on the beach, they were met by a boisterous, happy crowd of Ananiases and Sapphiras, sunburned, warm, full of tea and cakes and high spirits, and with the moral law already so uncertain in their minds that at the sight of the suffering non-liars it tottered to its fall.
Ronald hopes that Lady Rowardennan and the matron may perhaps have gained some useful experience by the incident, though the orphans, truthful and untruthful, are hopelessly mixed in their views of right-doing.
He is staying now at the great house of the neighbourhood, while his new manse is being put in order. Roderick, the piper, he says, has a grand collection of pipe tunes given him by an officer of the Black Watch. Francesca, when she and Ronald visit the Castle on their wedding journey, is to have ‘Johnnie Cope’ to wake her in the morning, ‘Brose and Butter’ just before dinner is served, a reel, a strathspey, and a march while the meal is going on, and, last of all, the ‘Highland Wedding.’ Ronald does not know whether there are any Lowland Scots or English words to this pipe tune, but it is always played in the Highlands after the actual marriage, and the words in Gaelic are, ‘Alas for me if the wife I have married is not a good one, for she will eat the food and not do the work!’
“You don’t think Ronald meant anything personal in quoting that?” I asked Francesca teasingly; but she shot me such a reproachful look that I hadn’t the heart to persist, her face was so full of self-distrust and love and longing.
What creatures of sense we are, after all; and in certain moods, of what avail is it if the beloved object is alive, safe, loyal, so long as he is absent? He may write letters like Horace Walpole or Chesterfield–better still, like Alfred de Musset, or George Sand, or the Brownings; but one clasp of the hand that moved the pen is worth an ocean of words! You believe only in the etherealised, the spiritualised passion of love; you know that it can exist through years of separation, can live and grow where a coarser feeling would die for lack of nourishment; still though your spirit should be strong enough to meet its spirit mate somewhere in the realms of imagination, and the bodily presence ought not really to be necessary, your stubborn heart of flesh craves sight and sound and touch. That is the only pitiless part of death, it seems to me. We have had the friendship, the love, the sympathy, and these are things that can never die; they have made us what we are, and they are by their very nature immortal; yet we would come near to bartering all these spiritual possessions for the ‘touch of a vanished hand, and the sound of a voice that is still.’
How could I ever think life easy enough to be ventured on alone! It is so beautiful to feel oneself of infinite value to one other human creature; to hear beside one’s own step the tread of a chosen companion on the same road. And if the way be dusty or the hills difficult to climb, each can say to the other, ‘I love you, dear; lean on me and walk in confidence. I can always be counted on, whatever happens.’
Chapter 19 ‘In Ould Donegal’
‘Here’s a health to you, Father O’Flynn!
Slainte, and slainte, and slainte agin;
Pow’rfulest preacher and tenderest teacher,
And kindliest creature in ould Donegal.’
Alfred Perceval Graves.
In Ould Donegal.
It is a far cry from the kingdom of Kerry to ‘ould Donegal,’ where we have been travelling for a week, chiefly in the hope of meeting Father O’Flynn. We miss our careless, genial, ragged, southern Paddy just a bit; for he was a picturesque, likable figure, on the whole, and easier to know than this Ulster Irishman, the product of a mixed descent.
We did not stop long in Belfast; for if there is anything we detest, when on our journeys, it is to mix too much with people of industry, thrift, and business sagacity. Sturdy, prosperous, calculating, well-to-do Pro nike air max 1 testants are well enough in their way, and undoubtedly they make a very good backbone for Ireland; but we crave something more romantic than the citizen virtues, or we should have remained in our own country, where they are tolerably common, although we have not as yet anything approaching over-production.
Belfast, it seems, is, and has always been, a centre of Presbyterianism. The members of the Presbytery protested against the execution of Charles I., and received an irate reply from Milton, who said that ‘the blockish presbyters of Clandeboy’ were ‘egregious liars and impostors,’ who meant to stir up rebellion ‘from their unchristian synagogue at Belfast in a barbarous nook of Ireland.’
Dr. La Touche writes to Salemina that we need not try to understand all the religious and political complications which surround us. They are by no means as viole nike air max sale nt or as many as in Thackeray’s day, when the great English author found nine shades of politico-religious differences in the Irish Liverpool. As the impartial observer must, in such a case, necessarily displease eight parties, and probably the whole nine, Thackeray advised a rigid abstinence from all intellectual curiosity. Dr. La Touche says, if we wish to know the north better, it will do us no harm to study the Plantation of Ulster, the United Irish movement, Orangeism, Irish Jacobitism, the effect of French and Swiss Republicanism in the evolution of public sentiment, and the close relation and affection that formerly existed between the north of Ireland and New England. (This last topic seems to appeal to Salemina particularly.) He also alludes to Tories and Rapparees, Rousseau and Thomas Paine and Owen Roe O’Neill, but I have entirely forgotten their connection with t http://nike.guildwars2vip.com/ he subject. Francesca and I are thoroughly enjoying ourselves, as only those people can who never take notes, and never try, when Pandora’s box is opened in their neighbourhood, to seize the heterogeneous contents and put them back properly, with nice little labels on them.
Ireland is no longer a battlefield of English parties, neither is it wholly a laboratory for political experiment; but from having been both the one and the other, its features are a bit knocked out of shape and proportion, as it were. We have bought two hideous engravings of the Battle of the Boyne and the Secret of England’s Greatness; and whenever we stay for a night in any inn where perchance these are not, we pin them on the wall, and are received into the landlady’s heart at once. I don’t know which is the finer study: the picture of his Majesty William III. crossing the Boyne, or the plump little Queen presenting a huge family Bible to an apparently uninterested black youth. In the latter work of cheap nike air max art the eye is confused at first as the three principal features approach each other very nearly in size, and Francesca asked innocently, “Which IS the secret of England’s greatness–the Bible, the Queen, or the black man?”
This is a thriving town, and we are at a smart hotel which had for two years an English manager. The scent of the roses hangs round it still, but it is gradually growing fainter under the stress of small patronage and other adverse circumstances. The table linen is a trifle ragged, though clean; but the circle of red and green wineglasses by each plate, an array not borne out by the number of vintages on the wine-list, the tiny ferns scattered everywhere in innumerable pots, and the dozens of minute glass vases, each holding a few blue hyacinths, give an air of urban elegance to the dining-room. The guests are requested, in printed placards, to be punctual at meals, especially at the seven-thirty table d’hote dinner, and the management itself is punctual at this function about seven forty-five. This is much better than in the south, where we, and sixty othe nike air max sale r travellers, were once kept waiting fifteen minutes between the soup and the fish course. When we were finally served with half-cooked turbot, a pleasant-spoken waitress went about to each table, explaining to the irate guests that the cook was ‘not at her best.’ We caught a glimpse of her as she was being borne aloft, struggling and eloquent, and were able to understand the reason of her unachieved ideals.
There is nothing sacred about dinner to the average Irishman; he is willing to take anything that comes, as a rule, and cooking is not regarded as a fine ar nike air max 90 t here. Perhaps occasional flashes of starvation and seasons of famine have rendered the Irish palate easier to please; at all events, wherever the national god may be, its pedestal is not in the stomach. Our breakfast, day after day, week after week, has been bacon and eggs. One morning we had tomatoes on bacon, and concluded that the cook had experienced religion or fallen in love, since both these operations send a flush of blood to the brain and stimulate the mental processes. But no; we found simply that the eggs had not been brought in time for breakfast. There is no consciousness of monotony–far from it; the nobility and gentry can at least eat what they choose, and they choose bacon and eggs. There is no running of the family gamut, either, from plain boiled to omelet; poached or fried eggs on bacon it is, weekdays and Sundays. The luncheon, too, is rarely inspired: they eat cold joint of beef with pickled beetroot, or mutton and boiled potatoes, with unfailing regularity, finishing off at most hotels with semolina pudding, a concoction intended for, and app nike air max ealing solely to, the taste of the toothless infant, who, having just graduated from rubber rings, has not a jaded palate.
How the long breakfast bill at an up-to-date Belfast hostelry awed us, after weeks of bacon and eggs! The viands on the menu swam together before our dazed eyes.
Fillets of Plaice
Kidneys and Bacon
I looked at this array like one in a dream, realising that I had lost the power of selection, and remembering the sci nike air max classic entific fact that unused faculties perish for want of exercise. The man who was serving us rattled his tray, shifted his weight wearily from one foot to the other and cleared his throat suggestively; until at last I said hastily, “Bacon and eggs, please,” and Salemina, the most critical person in the party, murmured, “The same.”
It is odd to see how soon, if one has a strong sense of humanity, one feels at home in a foreign country. I, at least, am never impressed by the differences, but only by the similarities, between English-speaking peoples. We take part in the life about us here, living each experience as fully as we can, whether it be a ‘hiring fair’ in Donegal or a pilgrimage to the Doon ‘Well of Healing.’ Not the least part of the pleasure is to watch its effect upon the Derelict. Where, or in what way, could three persons hope to gain as much return from a monthly expenditure of twenty dollars, added to her living and travelling expenses, as we have had in Miss Benell cheap nike air max a Dusenberry? We sometimes ask ourselves what we found to do with our time before she came into the family, and yet she is as busy as possible herself.
Having twice singed Francesca’s beautiful locks, she no longer attempts hair-dressing; while she never accomplishes the lacing of an evening dress without putting her knee in the centre of your back once, at least, during the operation. She can button shoes, and she can mend and patch and darn to perfection; she has a frenzy for small laundry operations, and, after washing the windows of her room, she adorns every pane of glass with a fine cambric handkerchief, and, stretching a line between the bedpost and the bureau knob, she hangs out her white neckties and her bonnet strings to dry. She has learned to pack reasonably well, too. But if she has another passion beside those of washing and mending, it is for making bags. She buys scraps of gingham and print, and makes cases of every possible size and for every possible purpose; so that all our personal property, roughly speaking–hair-brushes, shoes, writing materials, pincushions, photographs, underclothing, gloves, medicines,–is nike air max 90 sale bagged. The strings in the bags pull both ways, and nothing is commoner than to see Benella open and close seventeen or eighteen of them when she is searching for Francesca’s rubbers or my gold thimble. But what other lady’s-maid or travelling companion ever had half the Derelict’s unique charm and interest, half her conversational power, her unusual and original defects and virtues? Put her in a third-class carriage when we go ‘first,’ and she makes friends with all her fellow-travellers, discussing Home Rule or Free Silver with the utmost prejudice and vehemence, and freeing her mind on any point, to the delight of the natives. Occasionally, when borne along by the jo cheap nike air max trainers y of argument, she forgets to change at the point of junction, and has to be found and dragged out of the railway carriage; occasionally, too, she is left behind when taking a cheerful cup of tea at a way station, but this is comparatively seldom. Her stories of life belowstairs in the various inns and hotels, her altercations with housemaid or boots or landlady in our behalf, all add a zest to the day’s doings.
Benella’s father was an itinerant preacher, her mothe nike air max 95 r the daughter of a Vermont farmer; and although she was left an orphan at ten years, educating and supporting herself as best she could after that, she is as truly a combination of both parents as her name is a union of their two names.
“I’m so ‘fraid I shan’t run across any of grandmother’s folks over here, after all,” she said yesterday, “though I ask every nice-appearin’ person I meet anywheres if he or she’s any kin to Mary Boyce of Trim; and then, again, I’m scared to death for fear I shall find I’m own cousin to one of these here critters that ain’t brushed their hair nor washed their apurns for a month o’ Sundays! I declare, it keeps me real nerved up… I think it’s partly the climate that makes ’em so slack,” she philosophised, pinning a new bag on her knee, and preparing to backstitch the seam. “There’s nothin’ like a Massachusetts winter for puttin’ the git-up-an’-git into you. Land! you’ve got to move round smart nike air max , or you’d freeze in your tracks. These warm, moist places always makes folks lazy; and when they’re hot enough, if you take notice, it makes heathen of ’em. It always seems so queer to me that real hot weather and the Christian religion don’t seem to git along together. P’r’aps it’s just as well that the idol-worshippers should get used to heat in this world, for they’ll have it consid’able hot in the next one, I guess! And see here, Mrs. Beresford, will you get me ten cents’–I mean sixpence–worth o’ red gingham to make Miss Monroe a bag for Mr. Macdonald’s letters? They go sprawlin’ all over her trunk; and there’s so many of ’em I wish to the land she’d send ’em to the bank while she’s travellin’!”
Chapter 20 We Evict A Tenant
‘Soon as you lift the latch, little ones are meeting you,
Soon as you’re ‘neath the thatch, kindly looks are greeting you;
Scarcely have you time to be holding out the fist to them–
Down by the fireside you’re sitting in the midst of them.’
Knockcool, County Tyro cheap nike air max ne.
Of course, we have always intended sooner or later to forsake this life of hotels and lodgings, and become either Irish landlords or tenants, or both, with a view to the better understanding of one burning Irish question. We heard of a charming house in County Down, which could be secured by renting it the first of May for the season; but as we could occupy it only for a month at most we were obliged to forego the opportunity.
“We have been told from time immemorial that absenteeism has been one of the curses of Ireland,” I remarked to Salemina; “so, whatever the charms of the cottage in Rostrevor, do not let us take it, and in so doing become absentee landlords.”
“It was you two who hired the ‘wee theekit hoosie’ in Pettybaw,” said Francesca. “I am going to be in the vanguard of the next house-hunting expedition; in fact, I have almost made up my mind to take my third of Benella and be an independent householder for a time. If I am ever to learn the management of an establishment before beginning to experiment on Ronald’s, now is the proper moment.”
“Ronald must have looked the future in the face when he asked you to marry him,” I replied, “although it is possible that he looked only at you, and therefore it is his duty to endure your maiden incapacities; but why should Salemina and I suffer you to experiment upon us, pray?”
It was Benella, after all, who inveigled us into making our first political misstep; for, after avoiding the sin of absenteeism, we fell into one almost as black, inasmuch as we evicted a tenant. It is part of Benella’s heterogeneous and unusual duty to take a bicycle and scour the country in search of information for us: to find out where shops are, post-office, lodgings, places for good sketches, ruins, pretty roads for walks and drives, and many other things, too numerous to mention. She came home from one of these expeditions flushed with triumph.
“I’ve got you a house!” she exclaimed proudly. “There’s a lady in it now, but she’ll move out to-morrow when we move in; and we are to pay seventeen dollars fifty–I mean three pound ten–a week for the house, with privilege of renewal, and she throws in the hired girl.” (Benella is hopelessly provincial in the matter of language: butler, chef, boots, footman, scullery-maid, all come under the generic term of ‘help.’)
“I knew our week at this hotel was out to-morrow,” she continued, “and we’ve about used up this place, anyway, and the new village that I’ve b’en to is the prettiest place we’ve seen yet; it’s got an up-and-down hill to it, just like home, and the house I’ve partly rented is opposite a fair green, where there’s a market every week, and Wednesday’s the day; and we’ll save money, for I shan’t cost you so much when we can housekeep.”
“Would you mind explaining a little more in detail,” asked Salemina quietly, “and telling me whether you have hired the house for yourself or for us?”
“For us all,” she replied genially–“you don’t suppose I’d leave you? I liked the looks of this cottage the first time I passed it, and I got acquainted with the hired girl by going in the side yard and asking for a drink. The next time I went I got acquainted with the lady, who’s got the most outlandish name that ever was wrote down, and here it is on a paper; and to-day I asked her if she didn’t want to rent her house for a week to three quiet ladies without children and only one of them married and him away. She said it wa’n’t her own, and I asked her if she couldn’t sublet to desirable parties–I knew she was as poor as Job’s turkey by her looks; and she said it would suit her well enough, if she had any place to go. I asked her if she wouldn’t like to travel, and she said no. Then I says, ‘Wouldn’t you like to go to visit some of your folks?’ And she said she s’posed she could stop a week with her son’s wife, just to oblige us. So I engaged a car to drive you down this afternoon just to look at the place; and if you like it we can easy move over to-morrow. The sun’s so hot I asked the stableman if he hadn’t got a top buggy, or a surrey, or a carryall; but he never heard tell of any of ’em; he didn’t even know a shay. I forgot to tell you the lady is a Protestant, and the hired girl’s name is Bridget Thunder, and she’s a Roman Catholic, but she seems extra smart and neat. I was kind of in hopes she wouldn’t be, for I thought I should enjoy trainin’ her, and doin’ that much for the country.”
And so we drove over to this village of Knockcool (Knockcool, by the way, means ‘Hill of Sleep’), as much to make amends for Benella’s eccentricities as with any idea of falling in with her proposal. The house proved everything she said, and in Mrs. Wogan Odevaine Benella had found a person every whit as remarkable as herself. She is evidently an Irish gentlewoman of very small means, very flexible in her views and convictions, very talkative and amusing, and very much impressed with Benella as a product of New England institutions. We all took a fancy to one another at first sight, and we heard with real pleasure that her son’s wife lived only a few miles away. We insisted on paying the evicted lady the three pounds ten in advance for the first week. She seemed surprised, and we remembered that Irish tenants, though often capable of shedding blood for a good landlord, are generally averse to paying him rent. Mrs. Wogan Odevaine then drove away in high good humour, taking some personal belongings with her, and promising to drink tea with us some time during the week. She kissed Francesca good-bye, told her she was the prettiest creature she had ever seen, and asked if she might have a peep at all her hats and frocks when she came to visit us.
Salemina says that Rhododendron Cottage (pronounced by Bridget Thunder ‘Roothythanthrum’) being the property of one landlord and the residence of four tenants at the same time makes us in a sense participators in the old system of rundale tenure, long since abolished. The good-will or tenant-right was infinitely subdivided, and the tiniest holdings sometimes existed in thirty-two pieces. The result of this joint tenure was an extraordinary tangle, particularly when it went so far as the subdivision of ‘one cow’s grass,’ or even of a horse, which, being owned jointly by three men, ultimately went lame, because none of them would pay for shoeing the fourth foot.
We have been here five days, and instead of reproving Benella, as we intended, for gross assumption of authority in the matter, we are more than ever her bond-slaves. The place is altogether charming, and here it is for you.
Knockcool Street is Knockcool village itself, as with almost all Irish towns; but the line of little thatched cabins is brightened at the far end by the neat house of Mrs. Wogan Odevaine, set a trifle back in its own garden, by the pillared porch of a modest hotel, and by the barracks of the Royal Irish Constabulary. The sign of the Provincial Bank of Ireland almost faces our windows; and although it is used as a meal-shop the rest of the week, they tell us that two thousand pounds in money is needed there on fair-days. Next to it is a little house, the upper part of which is used as a Methodist chapel; and old Nancy, the caretaker, is already a good friend of ours. It is a humble house of prayer, but Nancy takes much pride in it, and showed us the melodeon, ‘worked by a young lady from Rossantach,’ the Sunday-school rooms, and even the cupboard where she keeps the jugs for the love-feast and the linen and wine for the sacrament, which is administered once in three years. Next comes the Hoeys’ cabin, where we have always a cordial welcome, but where we never go all together, for fear of embarrassing the family, which is a large one–three generations under one roof, and plenty of children in the last. Old Mrs. Hoey does not rightly know her age, she says; but her daughter Ellen was born the year of the Big Wind, and she herself was twenty-two when she was married, and you might allow a year between that and when Ellen was born, and make your own calculation.
She tells many stories of the Big Wind, which we learn was in 1839, making Ellen’s age about sixty-one and her mother’s eighty-four. The fury of the storm was such that it forced the water of the Lough far ashore, stranding the fish among the rocks, where they were found dead by hundreds. When next morning dawned there was confusion and ruin on every side: the cross had tumbled from the chapel, the tombstones were overturned in the graveyard, trees and branches blocked the roadways, cabins were stripped of their thatches, and cattle found dead in the fields; so it is small wonder old Mrs. Hoey remembers the day of Ellen’s birth, weak as she is on all other dates.
Ellen’s husband, Miles M’Gillan, is the carpenter on an estate in the neighbourhood. His shop opens out of the cabin, and I love to sit by the Hoey fireside, where the fan bellows, turned by a crank, brings in an instant a fresh flame to the sods of smouldering turf, and watch a wee Colleen Bawn playing among her daddy’s shavings, tying them about her waist and fat wrists, hanging them on her ears and in among her brown curls. Mother Hoey says that I do not speak like an American–that I have not so many ‘caperin’s’ in my language, whatever they may be; and so we have long delightful chats together when I go in for a taste of Ellen’s griddle bread, cooked over the peat coals. Francesca, meantime, is calling on Mrs. O’Rourke, whose son has taken more than fifty bicycle prizes; and no stranger can come to Knockcool without inspecting the brave show of silver, medals, and china that adorn the bedroom, and make the O’Rourkes the proudest couple in ould Donegal. Phelim O’Rourke smokes his dudeen on a bench by the door, and invites the passer-by to enter and examine the trophies. His trousers are held up with bits of rope arranged as suspenders; indeed, his toilet is so much a matter of strings that it must be a work of time to tie on his clothing in the morning, in case he takes it off at night, which is open to doubt; nevertheless it is he that’s the satisfied man, and the luck would be on him as well as on e’er a man alive, were he not kilt wid the cough intirely! Mrs. Phelim’s skirt shows a triangle of red flannel behind, where the two ends of the waistband fail to meet by about six inches, but are held together by a piece of white ball fringe. Any informality in this part of her costume is, however, more than atoned for by the presence of a dingy bonnet of magenta velvet, which she always dons for visitors.
The O’Rourke family is the essence of hospitality, so their kitchen is generally full of children and visitors; and on the occasion when Salemina issued from the prize bedroom, the guests were so busy with conversation that, to use their own language, divil a wan of thim clapt eyes on the O’Rourke puppy, and they did not notice that the baste was floundering in a tub of soft, newly made butter standing on the floor. He was indeed desperately involved, being so completely wound up in the waxy mass that he could not climb over the tub’s edge. He looked comical and miserable enough in his plight: the children and the visitors thought so, and so did Francesca and I; but Salemina went directly home, and kept her room for an hour. She is so sensitive! Och, thin, it’s herself that’s the marthyr intirely! We cannot see that the incident affects us so long as we avoid the O’Rourkes’ butter; but she says, covering her eyes with her handkerchief and shuddering: “Suppose there are other tubs and other pup–Oh, I cannot bear the thought of it, dears! Please change the subject, and order me two hard-boiled eggs for dinner.”
Leaving Knockcool behind us, we walk along the country road between high, thick hedges: here a clump of weather-beaten trees, there a stretch of bog with silver pools and piles of black turf, then a sudden view of hazy hills, a grove of beeches, a great house with a splendid gateway, and sometimes, riding through it, a figure new to our eyes, a Lady Master of the Hounds, handsome in her habit with red facings. We pass many an ‘evicted farm,’ the ruined house with the rushes growing all about it, and a lonely goat browsing near; and on we walk, until we can see the roofs of Lisdara’s solitary cabin row, huddled under the shadow of a gloomy hill topped by the ruins of an old fort. All is silent, and the blue haze of the peat smoke curls up from the thatch. Lisdara’s young people have mostly gone to the Big Country; and how many tears have dropped on the path we are treading, as Peggy and Mary, Cormac and Miles, with a wooden box in the donkey cart behind them, or perhaps with only a bundle hanging from a blackthorn stick, have come down the hill to seek their fortune! Perhaps Peggy is barefooted; perhaps Mary has little luggage beyond a pot of shamrock or a mountain thrush in a wicker cage; but what matter for that? They are used to poverty and hardship and hunger, and although they are going quite penniless to a new country, sure it can be no worse than the old. This is the happy-go-lucky Irish philosophy, and there is mixed with it a deal of simple trust in God.
How many exiles and wanderers, both those who have no fortune and those who have failed to win it, dream of these cabin rows, these sweet-scented boreens with their ‘banks of furze unprofitably gay,’ these leaking thatches with the purple loosestrife growing in their ragged seams, and, looking backward across the distance of time and space, give the humble spot a tender thought, because after all it was in their dear native isle!
‘Pearly are the skies in the country of my fathers,
Purple are thy mountains, home of my heart;
Mother of my yearning, love of all my longings,
Keep me in remembrance long leagues apart.’
I have been thinking in this strain because of an old dame in the first cabin in Lisdara row, whose daughter is in America, and who can talk of nothing else. She shows us the last letter, with its postal order for sixteen shillings, that Mida sent from New York, with little presents for blind Timsy, ‘dark since he were three years old,’ and for lame Dan, or the ‘Bocca,’ as he is called in Lisdara. Mida was named for the virgin saint of Killeedy in Limerick. [*] “And it’s she that’s good enough to bear a saint’s name, glory be to God!” exclaims the old mother returning Mida’s photograph to a hole in the wall where the pig cannot possibly molest it.
* Saint Mide, the Brigit of Munster.
At the far end of the row lives ‘Omadhaun Pat.’ He is a ‘little sthrange,’ you understand; not because he was born with too small a share of wit, but because he fell asleep one evening when he was lying on the grass up by the old fort, and–‘well, he was niver the same thing since.’ There are places in Ireland, you must know, where if you lie down upon the green earth and sink into untimely slumber, you will ‘wake silly’; or, for that matter, although it is doubtless a risk, you may escape the fate of waking silly, and wake a poet! Carolan fell asleep upon a faery rath, and it was the faeries who filled his ears with music, so that he was haunted by the tunes ever afterward; and perhaps all poets, whether they are conscious of it or not, fall asleep on faery raths before they write sweet songs.
Little Omadhaun Pat is pale, hollow-eyed, and thin; but that, his mother says, is ‘because he is over-studyin’ for his confirmation.’ The great day is many weeks away, but to me it seems likely that, when the examination comes, Pat will be where he will know more than the priests!
Next door lives old Biddy Tuke. She is too aged to work, and she sits in her doorway, always a pleasant figure in her short woollen petticoat, her little shawl, and her neat white cap. She has pitaties for food, with stirabout of Indian meal once a day (oatmeal is too dear), tea occasionally when there is sixpence left from the rent, and she has more than once tasted bacon in her eighty years of life; more than once, she tells me proudly, for it’s she that’s had the good sons to help her a bit now and then,–four to carry her and one to walk after, which is the Irish notion of an ideal family.
“It’s no chuckens I do be havin’ now, ma’am,” she says, “but it’s a darlin’ flock I had ten year ago, whin Dinnis was harvestin’ in Scotland! Sure it was two-and-twinty chuckens I had on the floore wid meself that year, ma’am.”
“Oh, it’s a conthrary world, that’s a mortial fact!” as Phelim O’Rourke is wont to say when his cough is bad; and for my life I can frame no better wish for ould Biddy Tuke and Omadhaun Pat, dark Timsy and the Bocca, than that they might wake, one of these summer mornings, in the harvest-field of the seventh heaven. That place is reserved for the saints, and surely these unfortunates, acquainted with grief like Another, might without difficulty find entrance there.
I am not wise enough to say how much of all this squalor and wretchedness and hunger is the fault of the people themselves, how much of it belongs to circumstances and environment, how much is the result of past errors of government, how much is race, how much is religion. I only know that children should never be hungry, that there are ignorant human creatures to be taught how to live; and if it is a hard task, the sooner it is begun the better, both for teachers and pupils. It is comparatively easy to form opinions and devise remedies, when one knows the absolute truth of things; but it is so difficult to find the truth here, or at least there are so many and such different truths to weigh in the balance,–the Protestant and the Roman Catholic truth, the landlord’s and the tenant’s, the Nationalist’s and the Unionist’s truth! I am sadly befogged, and so, pushing the vexing questions all aside, I take dark Timsy, Bocca Lynch, and Omadhaun Pat up on the green hillside near the ruined fort, to tell them stories, and teach them some of the thousand things that happier, luckier children know.
This is an island of anomalies: the Irish peasants will puzzle you, perplex you, disappoint you with their inconsistencies, but keep from liking them if you can! There are a few cleaner and more comfortable homes in Lisdara and Knockcool than when we came, and Benella has been invaluable, although her reforms, as might be expected, are of an unusual character, and with her the wheels of progress never move silently, as they should, but always squeak. With the two golden sovereigns given her to spend, she has bought scissors, knives, hammers, boards, sewing materials, knitting needles, and yarn,–everything to work with, and nothing to eat, drink, or wear, though Heaven knows there is little enough of such things in Lisdara.
“The quicker you wear ’em out, the better you’ll suit me,” she says to the awestricken Lisdarians. “I’m a workin’ woman myself, an’ it’s my ladies’ money I’ve spent this time; but I’ll make out to keep you in brooms and scrubbin’ brushes, if only you’ll use ’em! You mustn’t take offence at anything I say to you, for I’m part Irish–my grandmother was Mary Boyce of Trim; and if she hadn’t come away and settled in Salem, Massachusetts, mebbe I wouldn’t have known a scrubbin’ brush by sight myself!”
Chapter 21 Lachrymae Hibernicae
‘What ails you, Sister Erin, that your face
Is, like your mountains, still bedewed with tears?
. . . . . . .
Forgive! forget! lest harsher lips should say,
Like your turf fire, your rancour smoulders long,
And let Oblivion strew Time’s ashes o’er your wrong.’
At tea-time, and again after our simple dinner–for Bridget Thunder’s repertory is not large, and Benella’s is quite unsuited to the Knockcool markets–we wend our way to a certain house that stands by itself on the road to Lisdara. It is only a whitewashed cabin with green window trimmings, but it is a larger and more comfortable one than we commonly see, and it is the perfection of neatness within and without. The stone wall that encloses it is whitewashed too, and the iron picket railing at the top is painted bright green; the stones on the posts are green also, and there is the prettiest possible garden, with nicely cut borders of box. In fine, if ever there was a cheery place to look at, Sarsfield Cottage is that one; and if ever there was a cheerless gentleman, it is Mr. Jordan, who dwells there. Mrs. Wogan Odevaine commended him to us as the man of all others with whom to discuss Irish questions, if we wanted, for once in a way, to hear a thoroughly disaffected, outraged, wrong-headed, and rancorous view of things.
“He is an encyclopaedia, and he is perfectly delightful on any topic in the universe but the wrongs of Ireland,” said she; “not entirely sane and yet a good father, and a good neighbour, and a good talker. Faith, he can abuse the English government with any man alive! He has a smaller grudge against you Americans, perhaps, than against most of the other nations, so possibly he may elect to discuss something more cheerful than our national grievances; if he does, and you want a livelier topic, just mention–let me see–you might speak of Wentworth, who destroyed Ireland’s woollen industry, though it is true he laid the foundation of the linen trade, so he wouldn’t do, though Mr. Jordan is likely to remember the former point and forget the latter. Well, just breathe the words ‘Catholic Disqualification’ or ‘Ulster Confiscation,’ and you will have as pretty a burst of oratory as you’d care to hear. You remember that exasperated Englishman who asked in the House why Irishmen were always laying bare their grievances. And Major O’Gorman bawled across the floor, ‘Because they want them redressed!'”
Salemina and I went to call on Mr. Jordan the very next day after our arrival at Knockcool. Over the sitting-room or library door at Sarsfield Cottage is a coat of arms with the motto of the Jordans, ‘Percussus surgam’; and as our friend is descended from Richard Jordan of Knock, who died on the scaffold at Claremorris in the memorable year 1798, I find that he is related to me, for one of the De Exeter Jordans married Penelope O’Connor, daughter of the king of Connaught. He took her to wife, too, when the espousal of anything Irish, names, language, apparel, customs, or daughters, was high treason, and meant instant confiscation of estates. I never thought of mentioning the relationship, for obviously a family cannot hold grievances for hundreds of years and bequeath a sense of humour at the same time.
The name Jordan is derived, it appears, from a noble ancestor who was banner-bearer in the Crusades and who distinguished himself in many battles, but particularly in one fought against the infidels on the banks of the River Jordan in the Holy Land. In this conflict he was felled to the ground three times during the day, but owing to his gigantic strength, his great valour, and the number of the Saracens prostrated by his sword, he succeeded in escaping death and keeping the banner of the Cross hoisted; hence by way of eminence he was called Jordan; and the motto of this illustrious family ever since has been, ‘Though I fall I rise.’
Mr. Jordan’s wife has been long dead, but he has four sons, only one of them, Napper Tandy, living at home. Theobald Wolfe Tone is practising law in Dublin; Hamilton Rowan is a physician in Cork; and Daniel O’Connell, commonly called ‘Lib’ (a delicate reference to the Liberator), is still a lad at Trinity. It is a great pity that Mr. Jordan could not have had a larger family, that he might have kept fresh in the national heart the names of a few more patriots; for his library walls, ‘where Memory sits by the altar she has raised to Woe,’ are hung with engravings and prints of celebrated insurgents, rebels, agitators, demagogues, denunciators, conspirators,–pictures of anybody, in a word, who ever struck a blow, right or wrong, well or ill judged, for the green isle. That gallant Jacobite, Patrick Sarsfield, Burke, Grattan, Flood, and Robert Emmet stand shoulder to shoulder with three Fenian gentlemen, names Allan, Larkin, and O’Brien, known in ultra-Nationalist circles as the ‘Manchester martyrs.’ For some years after this trio was hanged in Salford jail, it appears that the infant mind was sadly mixed in its attempt to separate knowledge in the concrete from the more or less abstract information contained in the Catechism; and many a bishop was shocked, when asking in the confirmation service, “Who are the martyrs?” to be told, “Allan, Larkin, and O’Brien, me lord!”
Francesca says she longs to smuggle into Mr. Jordan’s library a picture of Tom Steele, one of Daniel O’Connell’s henchmen, to whom he gave the title of Head Pacificator of Ireland. Many amusing stories are told of this official, of his gaudy uniform, his strut and swagger, and his pompous language. At a political meeting on one occasion, he attacked, it seems, one Peter Purcell, a Dublin tradesman who had fallen out with the Liberator on some minor question. “Say no more on the subject, Tom,” cried O’Connell, who was in the chair, “I forgive Peter from the bottom of my heart.”
“You may forgive him, liberator and saviour of my country,” rejoined Steele, in a characteristic burst of his amazingly fervent rhetoric. “Yes, you, in the discharge of your ethereal functions as the moral regenerator of Ireland, may forgive him; but, revered leader, I also have functions of my own to perform; and I tell you that, as Head Pacificator of Ireland, I can never forgive the diabolical villain that dared to dispute your august will.”
The doughty Steele, who appears to have been but poorly fitted by nature for his office, was considered at the time to be half a madman, but as Sir James O’Connell, Daniel’s candid brother, said, “And who the divil else would take such a job?” At any rate, when we gaze at Mr. Jordan’s gallery, imagining the scene that would ensue were the breath of life breathed into the patriots’ quivering nostrils, we feel sure that the Head Pacificator would be kept busy.
Dear old white-haired Mr. Jordan, known in select circles as ‘Grievance Jordan,’ sitting in his library surrounded by his denunciators, conspirators, and martyrs, with incendiary documents piled mountains high on his desk–what a pathetic anachronism he is after all!
The shillelagh is hung on the wall now, for the most part, and faction fighting is at an end; but in the very last moments of it there were still ‘ructions’ between the Fitzgeralds and the Moriartys, and the age-old reason of the quarrel was, according to the Fitzgeralds, the betrayal of the ‘Cause of Ireland.’ The particular instance occurred in the sixteenth century, but no Fitzgerald could ever afterward meet any Moriarty at a fair without crying, “Who dare tread on the tail of me coat?” and inviting him to join in the dishcussion with shticks. This practically is Mr. Jordan’s position; and if an Irishman desires to live entirely in the past, he can be as unhappy as any man alive. He is writing a book, which Mrs. Wogan Odevaine insists is to be called The Groans of Ireland; but after a glance at a page of memoranda pencilled in a collection of Swift’s Irish Tracts that he lent to me (the volume containing that ghastly piece of irony, The Modest Proposal for Preventing the Poor of Ireland from being a Burden to their Parents and Country), I have concluded that he is editing a Catalogue of Irish Wrongs, Alphabetically Arranged. This idea pleased Mrs. Wogan Odevaine extremely; and when she drove over to tea, bringing several cheerful young people to call upon us, she proposed, in the most light-hearted way in the world, to play what she termed the Grievance Game, an intellectual diversion which she had invented on the instant. She proposed it, apparently, with a view of showing us how small a knowledge of Ireland’s ancient wrongs is the property of the modern Irish girl, and how slight a hold on her memory and imagination have the unspeakably bitter days of the long ago.
We were each given pencil and paper, and two or three letters of the alphabet, and bidden to arrange the wrongs of Ireland neatly under them, as we supposed Mr. Jordan to be doing for the instruction and the depression of posterity. The result proved that Mrs. Odevaine was a true prophet, for the youngest members of the coterie came off badly enough, and read their brief list of grievances with much chagrin at their lack of knowledge; the only piece of information they possessed in common being the inherited idea that England never had understood Ireland, never would, never could, never should, never might understand her.
Rosetta Odevaine succeeded in remembering, for A, F, and H, Absenteeism, Flight of the Earls, Famine, and Hunger; her elder sister, Eileen, fresh from college, was rather triumphant with O and P, giving us Oppression of the Irish Tenantry, Penal Laws, Protestant Supremacy, Poynings’ Law, Potato Rot, and Plantations. Their friend, Rhona Burke, had V, W, X, Y, Z, and succeeded only in finding Wentworth and Woollen Trade Destroyed, until Miss Odevaine helped her with Wood’s Halfpence, about which everybody else had to be enlightened; and there was plenty of laughter when Francesca suggested for V, Vipers Expelled by St. Patrick. Salemina carried off the first prize; but we insisted C and D were the easiest letters; at any rate, her list showed great erudition, and would certainly have pleased Mr. Jordan. C, Church Cess, Catholic Disqualification, Crimes Act of 1887, Confiscations, Cromwell, Carrying Away of Lia Fail (Stone of Destiny) from Tara. D, Destruction of Trees on Confiscated Lands, Discoverers (of flaws in Irish titles), Debasing of the Coinage by James I.
Mrs. Odevaine came next with R and S. R, Recall of Lord Fitzwilliams by Pitt, Rundale Land Tenure, Rack-Rents, Ribbonism. S, Schism Act, Supremacy Act, Sixth Act of George I.
I followed with T and U, having unearthed Tithes and the Test Act for the first, and Undertakers, the Acts of Union and Uniformity, for the second; while Francesca, who had been given I, J, K, L, and M, disgraced herself by failing on all the letters but the last, under which she finally catalogued one particularly obnoxious wrong in Middlemen.
This ignorance of the past may have its bright side, after all, though to speak truthfully, it did show a too scanty knowledge of national history. But if one must forget, it is as well to begin with the wrongs of far-off years, those ‘done to your ancient name or wreaked upon your race.’
Chatper 22 The Weeping West
‘Veiled in your mist, and diamonded with showers.’
Shan Van Vocht Hotel,
Heart of Connemara.
Shan Van Vocht means in English the ‘Poor Little Old Woman,’ one of the many endearing names given to Ireland in the Gaelic. There is, too, a well-known rebel song called by this title–one which was not only written in Irish and English, but which was translated into French for the soldiers at Brest who were to invade Ireland under Hoche.
We had come from Knockcool, Donegal, to Westport, in County Mayo, and the day was enlivened by two purely Irish touches, one at the beginning and one at the end. We alighted at a certain railway junction to await our train, and were interested in a large detachment of soldiers–leaving for a long journey, we judged, by the number of railway carriages and the amount of luggage and stores. In every crowded compartment there were two or three men leaning out over the locked doors; for the guard was making ready to start. All were chatting gaily with their sweethearts, wives, and daughters, save one gloomy fellow sitting alone in a corner, searching the crowd with sad eyes for a wished-for face or a last greeting. The bell rang, the engine stirred; suddenly a pretty, rosy girl flew breathlessly down the platform, pushing her way through the groups of onlookers. The man’s eyes lighted; he rose to his feet, but the other fellows blocked the way; the door was locked, and he had but one precious moment. Still he was equal to the emergency, for he raised his fist and with one blow shattered the window, got his kiss, and the train rumbled away, with his victorious smile set in a frame of broken glass! I liked that man better than any one I’ve seen since Himself deserted me for his Duty! How I hope the pretty girl will be faithful, and how I hope that an ideal lover will not be shot in South Africa!
And if he was truly Irish, so was the porter at a little way station where we stopped in the dark, after being delayed interminably at Claremorris by some trifling accident. We were eight persons packed into a second-class carriage, and totally ignorant of our whereabouts; but the porter, opening the door hastily, shouted, “Is there anny one there for here?”–a question so vague and illogical that none of us said anything in reply, but simply gazed at one another, and then laughed as the train went on.
We are on a here-to-day-and-gone-to-morrow journey, determined to avoid the railways, and travel by private conveyance and the public ‘long cars,’ just for a glimpse of the Weeping West before we settle down quietly in County Meath for our last few weeks of Irish life.
Thus far it has been a pursuit of the picturesque under umbrellas; in fact, we’re desthroyed wid the dint of the damp! ‘Moist and agreeable–that’s the Irish notion both for climate and company.’ If the barometer bore any relation to the weather, we could plan our drives with more discretion; but it sometimes remains as steady as a rock during two days of sea mist, and Francesca, finding it wholly regardless of gentle tapping, lost her temper on one occasion and rapped it so severely as to crack the glass. That this peculiarity of Irish barometers has been noted before we are sure, because of this verse written by a native bard:–
‘When the glass is up to thirty,
Be sure the weather will be dirty.
When the glass is high, O very!
There’ll be rain in Cork and Kerry.
When the glass is low, O Lork!
There’ll be rain in Kerry and Cork!’
I might add:–
And when the glass has climbed its best,
The sky is weeping in the West.
The national rainbow is as deceitful as the barometer, and it is no uncommon thing for us to have half a dozen of them in a day, between heavy showers, like the smiles and tears of Irish character; though, to be sure, one does not need to be an Irish patriot to declare that a fine day in this country is worth three fine days anywhere else. The present weather is accounted for partially by the fact that, as Horace Walpole said, summer has set in with its usual severity, and the tourist is abroad in the land.
I am not sure but that we belong to the hated class for the moment, though at least we try to emulate tourist virtues, if there are any, and avoid tourist vices, which is next to impossible, as they are the fruit of the tour itself. It is the circular tour which, in its effect upon the great middle class, is the most virulent and contagious, and which breeds the most offensive habits of thought and speech. The circular tour is a magnificent idea, a praiseworthy business scheme; it has educated the minds of millions and why it should have ruined their manners is a mystery, unless indeed they had none when they were at home. Some of our fellow-travellers with whom we originally started disappear every day or two, to join us again. We lose them temporarily when we take a private conveyance or when they stop at a cheap hotel, but we come altogether again on coach or long car; and although they have torn off many coupons in the interval, their remaining stock seems to assure us of their society for days to come.
We have a Protestant clergyman who is travelling for his health, but beguiling his time by observations for a volume to be called The Relation between Priests and Pauperism. It seems, at first thought, as if the circular coupon system were ill fitted to furnish him with corroborative detail; but inasmuch as every traveller finds in a country only, so to speak, what he brings to it, he will gather statistics enough. Those persons who start with a certain bias of mind in one direction seldom notice any facts that would throw out of joint those previously amassed; they instinctively collect the ones that ‘match,’ all others having a tendency to disturb the harmony of the original scheme. The clergyman’s travelling companion is a person who possesses not a single opinion, conviction, or trait in common with him; so we conclude that they joined forces for economy’s sake. This comrade we call ‘the man with the evergreen heart,’ for we can hardly tell by his appearance whether he is an old young man or a young old one. With his hat on he is juvenile; when he removes it, he is so distinctly elderly that we do not know whether to regard him as damaged youth or well-preserved old age; but he transfers his solicitous attentions to lady after lady, rebuffs not having the slightest effect upon his warm, susceptible, ardent nature. We suppose that he is single, but we know that he can be married at a moment’s notice by anybody who is willing to accept the risks of the situation. Then we have a nice schoolmaster, so agreeable that Salemina, Francesca, and I draw lots every evening as to who shall sit beside him next day. He has just had seventy boys down with measles at the same time, giving prizes to those who could show the best rash! Salemina is no friend to the competitive system in education, but this appealed to her as being as wise as it was whimsical.
We have also in our company an indiscreet and inflammable Irishman from Wexford and a cutler from Birmingham, who lose no opportunity to have a conversational scrimmage. When the car stops to change or water the horses (and as for this last operation, our steeds might always manage it without loss of time by keeping their mouths open), we generally hear something like this; for although the two gentlemen have never met before, they fight as if they had known each other all their lives.
Mr. Shamrock. “Faith, then, if you don’t like the hotels and the railroads, go to Paris or London; we’ve done widout you up to now, and we can kape on doing widout you! We’d have more money to spind in entertainin’ you if the government hadn’t taken three million of pounds out of us to build fortifications in China.”
Mr. Rose. “That’s all bosh and nonsense; you wouldn’t know how to manage an hotel if you had the money.”
Mr. Shamrock. “If we can’t make hotel-kapers, it’s soldiers we can make; and be the same token you can’t manage India or Canada widout our help! Faith, England owes Ireland more than she can pay, and it’s not her business to be thravelin’ round criticisin’ the throubles she’s helped to projuce.”
Mr. Rose. “William Ewart Gladstone did enough for your island to make up for all the harm that the other statesmen may or may not have done.”
Mr. Shamrock, touched in his most vulnerable point, shrieks above the rattle of the wheels: “The wurrst statesman that iver put his name to paper was William Ewart Gladstone!”
Mr. Rose. “The best, I say!”
Mr. Shamrock. “I say the wurrst!”
Mr. Rose. “The best!!”
Mr. Shamrock. “The wurrst!!”
Mr. Rose (after a pause). “It’s your absentee landlords that have done the mischief. I’d hang every one of them, if I had my way.”
Mr. Shamrock. “Faith, they’d be absent thin, sure enough!”
And at this everybody laughs, and the trouble is over for a brief space, much to the relief of Mrs. Shamrock, until her husband finds himself, after a little, sufficiently calm to repeat a Cockney anecdote, which is received by Mr. Rose in resentful silence, it being merely a description of the common bat, an unfortunate animal that, according to Mr. Shamrock, “‘as no ‘ole to ‘ide in, no ‘ands to ‘old by, no ‘orns to ‘urt with, though Nature ‘as given ‘im ‘ooks be’ind to ‘itch ‘imself up by.”
The last two noteworthy personages in our party are a dapper Frenchman, who is in business at Manchester, and a portly Londoner, both of whom are seeing Ireland for the first time. The Frenchman does not grumble at the weather, for he says that in Manchester it rains twice a day all the year round, save during the winter, when it commonly rains all day.
Sir James Paget, in an address on recreation, defined its chief element to be surprise. If that is true, the portly Londoner must be exhilarated beyond words. But with him the sensation does not stop with surprise: it speedily becomes amazement, and then horror; for he is of the comparative type, and therefore sees things done and hears things said, on every hand, that are not said and done at all in the same way in London. He sees people–ay, and policemen–bicycling on footpaths and riding without lamps, and is horrified to learn that they are seldom, if ever, prosecuted. He is shocked at the cabins, and the rocks, and the beggar children, and the lack of trees; at the lack of logic, also, and the lack of shoes; at the prevalence of the brogue; above all, at the presence of the pig in the parlour. He is outraged at the weather, and he minds getting wet the more because he hates Irish whisky. He keeps a little notebook, and he can hardly wait for dinner to be over, he is so anxious to send a communication (probably signed ‘Veritas’) to the London Times.
The multiplicity of rocks and the absence of trees are indeed the two most striking features of the landscape; and yet Boate says, ‘In ancient times as long as the land was in full possession of the Irish themselves, all Ireland was very full of woods on every side, as evidently appeareth by the writings of Giraldus Cambrensis.’ But this was long ago,–
‘Ere the emerald gem of the western world
Was set in the brow of a stranger.’
In the long wars with the English these forests were the favourite refuge of the natives, and it was a common saying that the Irish could never be tamed while the leaves were upon the trees. Then passages were cut through the woods, and the policy of felling them, as a military measure, was begun and carried forward on a gigantic scale in Elizabeth’s reign.
At one of the cabins along the road they were making great preparations, which we understood from having seen the same thing in Lisdara. There are wee villages and solitary cabins so far from chapel that the priests establish ‘stations’ for confession. A certain house is selected, and all the old, infirm, and feeble ones come there to confess and hear Mass. The priest afterwards eats breakfast with the family; and there is great pride in this function, and great rivalry in the humble arrangements. Mrs. Odevaine often lends a linen cloth and flowers to one of her neighbours, she tells us; to another a knife and fork, or a silver teapot; and so on. This cabin was at the foot of a long hill, and the driver gave me permission to walk; so Francesca and I slipped down, I with a parcel which chanced to have in it some small purchases made at the last hotel. We asked if we might help a bit, and give a little teapot of Belleek ware and a linen doily trimmed with Irish lace. Both the articles were trumpery bits of souvenirs, but the old dame was inclined to think that the angels and saints had taken her in charge, and nothing could exceed her gratitude. She offered us a potato from the pot, a cup of tea or goat’s milk, and a bunch of wildflowers from a cracked cup; and this last we accepted as we departed in a shower of blessings, the most interesting of them being, “May the Blessed Virgin twine your brow with roses when ye sit in the sates of glory!” and “The Lord be good to ye, and sind ye a duke for a husband!” We felt more than repaid for our impulsive interest, and as we disappeared from sight a last ‘Bannact dea leat!’ (‘God’s blessing be on your way!’) was wafted to our ears.
I seem to have known all these people before, and indeed I have met them between the covers of a book; for Connemara has one prophet, and her name is Jane Barlow. In how many of these wild bog-lands of Connaught have we seen a huddle of desolate cabins on a rocky hillside, turf stacks looking darkly at the doors, and empty black pots sitting on the thresholds, and fancied we have found Lisconnel! I should recognise Ody Rafferty, the widow M’Gurk, Mad Bell, old Mrs. Kilfoyle, or Stacey Doyne, if I met them face to face, just as I should know other real human creatures of a higher type,–Beatrix Esmond, Becky Sharp, Meg Merrilies, or Di Vernon.
Chapter 23 Beams And Motes
‘Mud cabins swarm in
This place so charming,
With sailor garments
Hung out to dry;
And each abode is
Snug and commodious,
With pigs melodious
In their straw-built sty.’
‘”Did the Irish elves ever explain themselves to you, Red Rose?”
‘”I can’t say that they did,” said the English Elf. “You can’t call it an explanation to say that a thing has always been that way, just: or that a thing would be a heap more bother any other way.”‘
The west of Ireland is depressing, but it is very beautiful; at least if your taste includes an appreciation of what is wild, magnificent, and sombre. Oppressed you must be, even if you are an artist, by its bleakness and its dreariness, its lonely lakes reflecting a dull, grey sky, its desolate boglands, its solitary chapels, its wretched cabins perched on hillsides that are very wildernesses of rocks. But for cloud effects, for wonderful shadows, for fantastic and unbelievable sunsets, when the mountains are violet, the lakes silver with red flashes, the islets gold and crimson and purple, and the whole cloudy west in a flame, it is unsurpassed; only your standard of beauty must not be a velvet lawn studded with copper beeches, or a primary-hued landscape bathed in American sunshine. Connemara is austere and gloomy under a dull sky, but it has the poetic charm that belongs to all mystery, and its bare cliffs and ridges are delicately pencilled on a violet background, in a way peculiar to itself and enchantingly lovely.
The waste of all God’s gifts; the incredible poverty; the miserable huts, often without window or chimney; the sad-eyed women, sometimes nothing but ‘skins, bones, and grief’; the wild, beautiful children, springing up like startled deer from behind piles of rocks or growths of underbrush; the stony little bits of earth which the peasants cling to with such passion, while good grasslands lie unused, yet seem for ever out of reach,–all this makes one dream, and wonder, and speculate, and hope against hope that the worst is over and a better day dawning. We passed within sight of a hill village without a single road to connect it with the outer world. The only supply of turf was on the mountain-top, and from thence it had to be brought, basket by basket, even in the snow. The only manure for such land is seaweed, and that must be carried from the shore to the tiny plats of sterile earth on the hillside. I remember it all, for I refused to buy a pair of stockings of a woman along the road. We had taken so many that my courage failed; but I saw her climbing the slopes patiently, wearily, a shawl over her white hair,–knitting, knitting, knitting, as she walked in the rain to her cabin somewhere behind the high hills. We never give to beggars in any case, but we buy whatever we can as we are able; and why did I draw the line at that particular pair of stockings, only to be haunted by that pathetic figure for the rest of my life? Beggars there are by the score, chiefly in the tourist districts; but it is only fair to add that there are hundreds of huts where it would be a dire insult to offer a penny for a glass of water, a sup of milk, or the shelter of a turf fire.
As we drive along the road, we see, if the umbrellas can be closed for a half-hour, flocks of sheep grazing on the tops of the hills, where it is sunnier, where food is better and flies less numerous. Crystal streams and waterfalls are pouring down the hillsides to lose themselves in one of Connemara’s many bays, and we have a glimpse of osmunda fern, golden green and beautiful. It was under a branch of this Osmunda regalis that the Irish princess lay hidden, they say, till she had evaded her pursuers. The blue turf smoke rises here and there,–now from a cabin with house-leek growing on the crumbling thatch, now from one whose roof is held on by ropes and stones,–and there is always a turf bog, stacks and stacks of the cut blocks, a woman in a gown of dark-red flannel resting for a moment, with the empty creel beside her, and a man cutting in the distance. After climbing the long hill beyond the ‘station’ we are rewarded by a glimpse of more fertile fields; the clumps of ragwort and purple loosestrife are reinforced with kingcups and lilies growing near the wayside, and the rare sight, first of a pot of geraniums in the window, and then of a garden all aglow with red fuchsias, torch plants, and huge dahlias, so cheers Veritas that he takes heart again. “This is something like home!” he exclaims breezily; whereupon Mr. Shamrock murmurs that if people find nothing to admire in a foreign country save what resembles their own, he wonders that they take the trouble to be travelling.
“It is a darlin’ year for the pitaties,” the drivers says; and there are plenty of them planted hereabouts, even in stony spots not worth a keenogue for anything else, for “pitaties doesn’t require anny inTHRICKet farmin’, you see, ma’am.”
The clergyman remarks that only three things are required to make Ireland the most attractive country in the world: “Protestantism, cleanliness, and gardens”; and Mr. Shamrock, who is of course a Roman Catholic, answers this tactful speech in a way that surprises the speaker and keeps him silent for hours.
The Birmingham cutler, who has a copy of Ismay’s Children in his pocket, triumphantly reads aloud, at this moment, a remark put into the mouth of an Irish character: “The low Irish are quite destitute of all notion of beauty,–have not the remotest particle of artistic sentiment or taste; their cabins are exactly as they were six hundred years ago, for they never want to improve themselves.”
Then Mr. Shamrock asserts that any show of prosperity on a tenant’s part would only mean an advance of rent on the landlord’s; and Mr. Rose retorts that while that might have been true in former times, it is utterly false to-day.
Mrs. Shamrock, who is a natural apologist, pleads that the Irish gentry have the most beautiful gardens in the world and the greatest natural taste in gardening, and there must be some reason why the lower classes are so different in this respect. May it not be due partly to lack of ground, lack of money to spend on seeds and fertilisers, lack of all refining, civilising and educating influences? Mr. Shamrock adds that the dwellers in cabins cannot successfully train creepers against the walls or flowers in the dooryard, because of the goat, pig, donkey, ducks, hens, and chickens; and Veritas asks triumphantly, “Why don’t you keep the pig in a sty, then?”
The man with the evergreen heart (who has already been told this morning that I am happily married, Francesca engaged, Salemina a determined celibate, but Benella quite at liberty) peeps under Salemina’s umbrella at this juncture, and says tenderly, “And what do you think about these vexed questions, dear madam?” Which gives her a chance to reply with some distinctness, “I shall not know what I think for several months to come; and at any rate there are various things more needed on this coach than opinions.”
At this the Frenchman murmurs, “Ah, she has right!” and the Birmingham cutler says, “‘Ear! ‘ear!”
On another day the parson began to tell the man with the evergreen heart some interesting things about America. He had never been there himself, but he had a cousin who had travelled extensively in that country, and had brought back much unusual information. “The Americans are an extraordinary people on the practical side,” he remarked; “but having said that, you have said all, for they are sordid, and absolutely devoid of ideality. Take an American at his roller-top desk, a telephone at one side and a typewriter at the other, talk to him of pork and dollars, and you have him at his very best. He always keeps on his Panama hat at business, and sits in a rocking-chair smoking a long cigar. The American woman wears a blue dress with a red lining, or a black dress with orange trimmings, showing a survival of African taste; while another exhibits the American-Indian type,–sallow, with high cheekbones. The manners of the servant classes are extraordinary. I believe they are called ‘the help,’ and they commonly sit in the drawing-room after the work is finished.”
“You surprise me!” said Mrs. Shamrock.
“It is indeed amazing,” he continued; “and there are other extraordinary customs, among them the habit of mixing ices with all beverages. They plunge ices into mugs of ale, beer, porter, lemonade, or Apollinaris, and sip the mixture with a long ladle at the chemist’s counter, where it is usually served.”
“You surprise me!” exclaimed the cutler.
“You surprise me too!” I echoed in my inmost heart. Francesca would not have confined herself to that blameless mode of expression, you may be sure, and I was glad that she was on the back seat of the car. I did not know it at the time, but Veritas, who is a man of intelligence, had identified her as an American, and wishing to inform himself on all possible points, had asked her frankly why it was that the people of her nation gave him the impression of never being restful or quiet, but always so excessively and abnormally quick in motion and speech and thought.
“Casual impressions are not worth anything,” she replied nonchalantly. “As a nation, you might sometimes give us the impression of being phlegmatic and slow-witted. Both ideas may have some basis of fact, yet not be absolutely true. We are not all abnormally quick in America. Look at our messenger boys, for example.”
“We! Phlegmatic and slow-witted!” exclaimed Veritas. “You surprise me! And why do you not reward these government messengers for speed, and stimulate them in that way?”
“We do,” Francesca answered; “that is the only way in which we ever get them to arrive anywhere–by rewarding and stimulating them at both ends of the journey, and sometimes, in extreme cases, at a halfway station.”
“This is most interesting,” said Veritas, as he took out his damp notebook; “and perhaps you can tell me why your newspapers are so poorly edited, so cheap, so sensational?”
“I confess I can’t explain it,” she sighed, as if sorely puzzled. “Can it be that we have expended our strength on magazines, where you are so lamentably weak?”
At this moment the rain began as if there had been a long drought and the sky had just determined to make up the deficiency. It fell in sheets, and the wind blew I know not how many Irish miles an hour. The Frenchman put on a silk macintosh with a cape, and was berated by everybody in the same seat because he stood up a moment and let the water in under the lap covers. His umbrella was a dainty en-tout-cas with a mother-of-pearl handle, that had answered well enough in heavy mist or soft drizzle. His hat of fine straw was tied with a neat cord to his buttonhole; but although that precaution insured its ultimate safety, it did not prevent its soaring from his head and descending on Mrs. Shamrock’s bonnet. He conscientiously tried holding it on with one hand, but was then reproved by both neighbours because his macintosh dripped over them.
“How are your spirits, Frenchy?” asked the cutler jocosely.
“I am not too greatly sad,” said the poor gentleman, “but I will be glad it should be finished; far more joyfully would I be at Manchester, triste as it may be.”
Just then a gust of wind blew his cape over his head and snapped his parasol.
“It is evidently it has been made in Ireland,” he sighed, with a desperate attempt at gaiety. “It should have had a grosser stem, and helas! it must not be easy to have it mended in these barbarous veelages.”
We stopped at four o’clock at a wayside hostelry, and I had quietly made up my mind to descend from the car, and take rooms for the night, whatever the place might be. Unfortunately, the same idea occurred to three or four of the soaked travellers; and as men could leap down, while ladies must wait for the steps, the chivalrous sex, their manners obscured by the circular tour system, secured the rooms, and I was obliged to ascend again, wetter than ever, to my perch beside the driver.
“Can I get the box seat, do you think, if I pay extra for it?” I had asked one of the stablemen before breakfast.
“You don’t need to be payin’, miss! Just confront the driver, and you’ll get it aisy!” If, by the way, I had confronted him at the end instead of at the beginning of the journey, my charms certainly would not have been all-powerful, for my coat had been leaked upon by red and green umbrellas, my hat was a shapeless jelly, and my face imprinted with the spots from a drenched blue veil.
After two hours more of this we reached the Shan Van Vocht Hotel, where we had engaged apartments; but we found to our consternation that it was full, and that we had been put in lodgings a half-mile away.
Salemina, whose patience was quite exhausted by the discomforts of the day, groaned aloud when we were deposited at the door of a village shop, and ushered upstairs to our tiny quarters; but she ceased abruptly when she really took note of our surroundings. Everything was humble, but clean and shining–glass, crockery, bedding, floor, on the which we were dripping pools of water, while our landlady’s daughter tried to make us more comfortable.
“It’s a soft night we’re havin’,” she said, in a dove’s voice, “but we’ll do right enough if the win’ doesn’t rise up on us.”
Left to ourselves, we walked about the wee rooms on ever new and more joyful voyages of discovery. The curtains rolled up and down easily; the windows were propped upon nice clean sticks instead of tennis rackets and hearth brushes; there was a well-washed stone to keep the curtain down on the sill; and just outside were tiny window gardens, in each of which grew three marigolds and three asters, in a box fenced about with little green pickets. There were well-dusted books on the tables, and Francesca wanted to sit down immediately to The Charming Cora, reprinted from The Girl’s Own Paper. Salemina meantime had tempted fate by looking under the bed, where she found the floor so exquisitely neat that she patted it affectionately with her hand.
We had scarcely donned our dry clothing when the hotel proprietor sent a jaunting-car for our drive to the seven-o’clock table d’hote dinner. We carefully avoided our travelling companions that night, but learned the next morning that the Frenchman had slept on four chairs, and rejected the hotel coffee with the remark that it was not ‘veritable’–a criticism in which he was quite justified. Our comparative Englishman had occupied a cot in a room where the tin bathtubs were kept. He was writing to The Times at the moment of telling me his woes, and, without seeing the letter, I could divine his impassioned advice never to travel in the west of Ireland in rainy weather. He remarked (as if quoting from his own communication) that the scenery was magnificent, but that there was an entirely insufficient supply of hot water; that the waiters had the appearance of being low comedians, and their service was of the character one might expect from that description; that he had been talking before breakfast with a German gentleman, who had sat on a wall opposite the village of Dugort, in the island of Achill, from six o’clock in the morning until nine, and in that time he had seen coming out of an Irish hut three geese, eight goslings, six hens, fifteen chickens, two pigs, two cows, two barefooted girls, the master of the house leading a horse, three small children carrying cloth bags filled with school-books, and finally a strapping mother leading a donkey loaded with peat-baskets; that all this poverty and ignorance and indolence and filth was spoiling his holiday; and finally, that if he should be as greatly disappointed in the fishing as he had been in the hotel accommodations–here we almost fainted from suspense–he should be obliged to go home! And not only that, but he should feel it his duty to warn others of what they might expect.
“Perhaps you are justified,” said Francesca sympathetically. “People who are used to the dry, sunny climate and the clear atmosphere of London ought not to expose themselves to Irish rain without due consideration.”
He agreed with her, glancing over his spectacles to see if she by any possibility could be amusing herself at his expense–good, old, fussy, fault-finding Veritas; but indeed Francesca’s eyes were so soft and lovely and honest that the more he looked at her, the less he could do her the injustice of suspecting her sincerity.
But mind you, although I would never confess it to Veritas,8