Tobacco Road Part III

It was early on a clear sunny morning, soon after this, that a man with a pony and cart was seen entering the town of Kilferns from the west. He walked slowly in front of the animal, which appeared to be very reluctant to allow himself to be dragged along at the full length of his halter. On the small cart was laid a quantity of straw, upon which lay a human form. It was a long body of a grown man being, whose feet extended over the rear of the cart, and was covered with old flannel quilt. The man’s face, as it appeared above the tattered hem of the quilt, looked to very ill and malnourished, which seemed to be causing him some pain. His distorted features showed the terrible pain he was enduring, and as the small cart jolted along that rugged path, he groaned hideously. This miserable human being was, indeed, Shane Fee, and he who was leading the pony was none other than Paddy Corr. By this manner, Paddy was trying to smuggle his “bit of baccy,” which he had concealed in well-packed bales beneath the sick-bed upon which Shane lay, simulating his grevious illness.

As they continued along the road, Shane uttered a loud groan, and with such a sound of real agony that it startled Paddy. He was so sure that Shane’s cry of pain was real, that he rushed to the back of the cart to see for himself if his companion was still alive. Shane, however, was very much alive and none too pleased that Paddy had left his post. “For God’s sake, Paddy,” he growled in a deep voice, “it’s not that far now until we come across that thieveing and scheming guager. Back to your post now and make ready to carry out our plan. Don’t forget now, that it is the spotted fever I have.”

As Shane had said, a short time later, they came upon the ‘Excise Man’ on the street. Nervous about being able to act out his role caused Paddy to avoid looking at the man. This aroused the suspicions of the guager, who brought the traveller and his cart to a halt. “Well, wee man,” he greeted Paddy, “where are you from, and just where would you be heading?”

O, sir, may the good Lord bless you, for you must be one of the good ones, asking after the health of a poor shore fisherman like me. But, sir, it isn’t so much where I come from as where the body in the cart will die on me.”

How far are you taking him?” asked the ‘Excise Man’.

Sure, wouldn’t I like to know that myself. I would get down on my two bended knees and pray for your soul, sir, if you could give the answer to that question. Didn’t I forget to ask the poor creature where he should be buried when we came away, and now he can’t string two words together.”

The guager listened intently to what Paddy told him, but he was becoming very suspicious of the way he was delaying in answering his questions.“Come on now, where is it that you live?”

Ah, Jaysus, sure it’s your way of talking that has me entirely confused. But if you want to know where my woman and children are, it is that way. To the west in Ballintee, Surely you have heard of Ballintee, Sir?”

No,” came the reply.

Well, no matter, sir, for if you had been there you might have got the sickness, God forbid. Stay away from that place, for it would be better if you talked to the man there and ask him to offer up a rosary for you. It would be cheaper than having to send for Doctor Crummy.”

Perhaps I should just search the cart. Maybe you have some soft goods concealed under that sick man,” said the guager, as he came closer to the cart. “It wouldn’t be the first time that I caught a smuggler and his wares in such a situation.”

There’s not even the smell or taste of any goods under that man, but your welcome to look if you wish to disturb him. As for catching a smuggler, I would say the only thing you’ll catch under him is the spotted fever.”

Fever!” repeated the startled guager, taking a step or two backwards.

Aye, the fever, sir! Didn’t Father Brody prepare him, and tell us that he had the spotted. He said he had never seen worse, and that it could destroy a thousand men! Come on, sir, take a wee look in the poor man’s face, and then lift the dying creature out of his resting place. He that came that came all the way from the hill country to fulfil a dream of his, to sort out a Mass for the soul of his wife at Ballintee. Aye, sure just you go ahead and throw him out of the cart and on to the road, and let his blood, a stranger’s blood be on your conscience, and his fever in your body.”

Paddy Corr had played his role very well and had brought out the guager’s fear of the dreaded fever, which saved his load of ‘baccy’ from being discovered and confiscated. Nevertheless, both men decided it was too dangerous to search for a buyer in Kilferns and directed their path toward the nearby coastal town of Carnbay, that lay further east.

It was late in the evening as the small party entered the town. Fortunately, Shane could read quite well and it was he who noticed a sign for a guest-house with adjacent stable for the pony. He told Paddy that they would spend the night there, and then told Paddy to visit the only tobacconist in town. But, Paddy felt it strange that Shane chose not to accompany him.

The shop owner, Mister Parsons, had just finished dealing with several customers, as Paddy entered. He waited until the customers had exited the store before greeting the owner,“Well, big man, how’s business?” Mister Parsons was startled by such a rude greeting from some person unknown to him, when a more formal greeting would have been appropriate. The shopkeeper looked at the new visitor with an expression that showed his distaste for those he considered to be of a lower class. At first he ignored the small man’s presence in the shop, but, after a moment he acknowledged Paddy and asked, “What can I do for you?”

Paddy Corr said nothing, but stood there with his mouth gaping widely. Mister Parsons immediately added, “I believe you have come from the west?”

Paddy now came to his senses again and replied, “Sure enough, from the westernmost part of the west. By the grace of God, I have made it this far on honest business and would like to speak to you.”

Mr. Parsons now showed a great deal of interest in what this strange, short visitor and asked him, “I have no doubt that you have brought something in my line of business with you?”

Indeed I have,” replied Paddy. “I have the best bit of tobacco that you have ever seen, or smoked, and that’s no idle brag. The man from whom I received it that a sweeter taste had never left the hold of his ship. Now, I will give it to you dog cheap, only because it has travelled such a long way.”

I don’t think you you have been very long in this business,” said Mister Parsons.

That’s true. This is not something I have done before, in all my life, short though it has been,” Paddy told him.

Mister Parsons smiled inwardly to himself, because if the man before him was inexperienced in running smuggled goods, there might just be a profitable deal to be made. He told Paddy that he should bring the goods privately to the back door of his premises. Paddy, with his fear of the guager still very much on his mind, wasted no time in carrying out the instructions. But, when Mr Parsons examined the packages brought by Paddy, the shopkeeper had a deeply disappointed expression upon his face, and exclaimed, “This stuff is no good, young man! It is entirely damaged by sea water, and will never do.”

Sea water? I don’t think so!” replied Paddy. “Not one drop of water, salt or fresh, did ever touch my ‘baccy’. The boat, ‘The Black Widow’ that brought it could skim along the waves like a seagull, and I can assure you that there are two things she never yet let in, namely water or ‘water-guards’. Water drips off her as it does a duck’s back, and the great wolfhound on her deck keeps the at a good distance.” This was information that Paddy had simply gleaned from talking to Shane as they journeyed along the road, and in the smugglers’ cave.

Ah, don’t you be trying to hoodwink me with your knowledge of the sea, for you cannot teach me anthing about my own business. So, take it away, for no man in this trade would take it on. But I’ll tell you this, I will do you you a favour rather than let a poor, ignorant man fall into the hands of the guager. I shall give you five pounds for the lot.”

Author: weebush

I am an author of Irish Short Story books and have two books currently in publication i.e. "Across the Sheugh" and "Short Stories and Tall Tales." other new stories can be previewed on my blog

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