The Water Carrier

In Ireland, even today, there are so many superstitions, rituals and traditions in the day to day life of its people. This is especially true when it comes to the passing of dear friends and relatives, their funeral arrangements, and their final interment. These superstitions and traditions might vary slightly from family to family, but each holds strongly to their own. In fact they hold so faithfully to their own family rituals that on occasions they can lead to anger and physical violence when different families come together to mourn in different ways.

When I was a young man my favourite way of spending my leisure time was to take long walks through the countryside and sketch many of the interesting sites that I would come across. Over the years I had filled my artist’s sketch book with pictures of beautifully sited thatched cottages, old barns, ruins, and old churches. On one particular sunny day, I was sitting alone on a grassy embankment at the edge of the desolate graveyard and church in Drumm. In that beautifully quiet place I became almost totally lost in my efforts to capture, on paper, that special scene that lay before me. Occasionally I would lift up my eyes from my sketchbook to look directly at the detail that was present in this interesting ruin which I was attempting to paint. It was also an opportunity wipe the perspiration from my brow, that was caused by the heat of the sun radiating down upon my head.

The quiet stillness that had prevailed all that particular day was suddenly broken by a faint and wild sound that was quite unlike anything I had ever heard before in my life. Admittedly, the strange sound startled me and caused me to stop my sketching for a moment or two. Alone in that graveyard I began to listen nervously, waiting for that strange sound to repeat itself. I didn’t have to wait very long for this weird, unearthly sound to once again vibrate through the still air of the evening. It was now even more loud than it had been at first and, as I listened to its strange vibration and tone, I decided that it could be likened to the sound made by many glasses, ringing and tinkling as they are crowded in together.

I stood up, rising from the place where I had been seated, and I began to search around for the possible source of this strange noise. There was not another body in my vicinity when, once again, this heart-chilling sound suddenly filled the air about me with its wild and wailing intonation. At first the sound reminded me somewhat of a tune being played upon an aged harp. When another burst of the sound came forth, it became quite obvious to me that it was the sound of many human voices that were being raised in lamentation somewhere close by. It was a loud, heart-chilling, wail of sorrow about which, before this occasion, I had only ever heard only rumours. Now, for the first time in my life I heard that wild and terrifying sound and shivered with cold fear. Those who read this tale, and who have already heard the same sound, will surely understand just how anxious I was when I heard it in the silence of that day in Drumm.

funeral (1)As my eyes scanned the area outside of the graveyard I could clearly see, in the light of that day, a crowd of local people, both male and female. In an orderly line they wound their way along a low path that led them toward the churchyard where I was standing, and among them the strong men carried the coffin of someone who was a dear departed friend or relative. As they came closer toward me, occasion I heard a loud and pitiful wail of sorrow that arose from the mourners in that crowd. The voices rang loudly, in a wild and startling unison, as they moved up the hill, until the sound gradually descended in its volume, finally becoming little more than a subdued wail. Diligently, these local people continued to carry their loved one’s body onward, but not in the same measured and solemn step as before. Now, they were moving in a much more rapid and irregular manner, almost as if the pain of their grief was hurrying them on to the graveside, which was the much hoped for culmination of all their efforts.

The overall effect of this large local rural funeral was, I must admit, certainly more impressive than any of the other funerals I had ever seen in my short life. There was very little of the pomp and circumstance of other funerals I had observed, such as a hearse, or large commemorative wreaths. But, the equal of the pallbearers could never have been found as they steadily bore along the body of their dear departed friend on their shoulders in the stillness of evening until they reached the cemetery. The male friends and relatives of the deceased person carried the coffin into the interior of the ruin. There the women had gathered to continue their mourning for the dead, and half-a-dozen athletic young men immediately began to prepare a grave. I can honestly say that I have seldom seen men more full of activity. But, scarcely had the spade upturned the green sod of the burial-ground, than the loud peal of the pipes was heard at some distance. The young men paused in their work, and they turned their heads, as did all the bystanders, towards the point from where the sound appeared to originate.

As I looked up I clearly observed that another funeral procession was winding its way slowly around the foot of the hill. Immediately the young men at the graveside returned to their work with greater effort than before. As the spades dug into the black soil anxious shouts from onlookers constantly encouraged them to complete their work as quickly as possible. Some of the more polite followers shouted, “For Jaysus sake, hurry boys, hurry.

Shift your big arse, Paddy!” others called.

Friends of some of the men shouted out to them, “Put your back into it, Mike!

If you could shift the sod as quick as you shift the ‘Guinness’, it would suit you better,” others laughed aloud.

By this time the second funeral party, that was approaching, could see ahead of them that the churchyard to which they were going was already filled with people. Almost immediately this second funeral party quickened their pace, and their sounds of mourning rose more loudly in the morning air as they came nearer to the churchyard. Quite unexpectedly, a small detachment of men, carrying a variety of picks and spades, came forward out of the main party. Then, without warning, this group of armed men rushed headlong up the hill toward the churchyard, accompanied by loud shouting. At the same time an elderly woman, her eyes streaming with tears and her hair dishevelled, rushed wildly from the ruin where the first party had taken their coffin. Arms raised, she ran towards the young men who were digging at the ground with all their might and, passionately, she begged them to do their work more quickly. “Ahh Boys! Sure you wouldn’t let them beat you to the job and have my sweet boy wandering about, alone on these long, dark nights. Please dig hard boys. Lay into it with all your power and gain, for yourselves, a sorrowful mother’s blessing for ensuring my wee Paddy will have rest.

Standing among those men in her bedraggled appearance, and the intensity of her manner as she pleaded with them, I thought the poor woman was crazy. In fact, such was her condition, that I could barely  make out what she was saying to the young men, and I was obliged to inquire off one of the bystanders if they could fill in the blank spaces.

Are you asking me because you believe she is going crazy? ” said the person that I had asked, as he looked at me in a very puzzling manner. “Sure, I thought everyone knew the answer to that. Especially someone who looks as well learned as you. The poor woman doesn’t want her dead son to be walking about in the night, as he must, unless those boys are smart.

What do you mean, walking about in the night?” I asked him. “I don’t understand what you mean.”

“Whisht! whisht!” he urged me to be quiet. “Here they come now and, in the name of God, they have Joe Gallagher at their head,” he said  to me as he anxiously looked towards the advanced-guard of the second funeral, which had now gained the summit of the hill. They quickly leaped over the boundary-ditch of the cemetery and advanced towards the group that surrounded the newly excavated grave, with rapid strides and a resolute air.

Stop what you are doing there, I tell you!” shouted Joe Gallagher to those men who were working at opening the ground and were still using their implements with great energy.

Stop it now, or it’ll be worse for you! Did you not hear me, Rooney?” said Gallagher again, as he laid his muscular hand on the arm of one of the young men who were digging, suddenly stopping him from continuing his work.

Of course I heard you, Gallagher,” said Rooney; “but I just chose not to listen to you.”

Just you keep a civil tongue in your head, wee man” Gallagher warned him.

By God, Gallagher, but you’re a brave man and very fond of giving people advice that you should listen to yourself,” Rooney retorted and, once again, plunged his spade into the earth.

“Didn’t I tell you to stop, you Gobshite?” Gallagher roared, “or, I’ll  put my boot so far up your arse, Rooney, that you’ll be chewing leather for six months!”

“Get away out of this, Gallagher! What brings you here at all?” interrupted another of the men by the graveside. “Just looking for trouble is it?”

“Sure what else would bring the likes of him here, but to cause mischief?” said a grey-haired man, who was standing just a couple of yards away from the graveside. “Sure, don’t you know by now that there’s always a quarrel whenever there’s a Gallagher about?”

“You may thank your grey hair, you old goat, that I don’t make you take those words back with some pain,” Gallagher told the old man as he glared at him.

There was a time,” warned the old man, “when I had something more than just these grey hairs to make such as you respect me.” As he spoke the old man drew himself up with an air of great dignity. He wanted everyone to see that he was still a tall man and had retained a broad chest, which would bear the truth of the statement that he had made. There was a bright, but briefly lived flame, that was kindled in his eyes as he spoke, and his expression of pride and defiance quickly gave way to an expression of coldness and contempt toward Gallagher.

Listen to me, old man, I’d have beaten you more stupid than you already are, even on the best day you ever had,”  sneered Gallagher, with an impudent swagger.

Don’t you believe it, Gallagher!” said a contemporary of the old man, who had known him in his younger days. “You have plenty of conceit, and a big mouth that you use to bully those weaker than you!

Isn’t that the truth,” said Rooney. “He’s a great man in his own mind. By God I could be a rich man if I could buy Gallagher at what I thought he was worth, and sell him at what he thinks he’s worth.

A loud, mocking laughter rose up among those gathered at the graveside, causing Gallagher’s agitation to increase tenfold. There was a deep darkness that came across the big man’s features, and Gallagher immediately took up a posture so threatening that a man standing close to me turned to his companion and told him, “By God, Eddie there’s going to be ‘wigs on the green’ before too long!

The man was to be proved quite right in his prediction. Scarcely had the words been uttered by him, than I began to see many of the men around me taking off their heavy coats and jackets, and rolling up the sleeves of their jumpers and shirts. The entire scenario turned much more menacing when the men began looking around them for anything that they might use as a weapon. With their weapons in hand there was a general closing-in of the bystanders around this group, which made it perfectly clear to me that a huge and bloody conflict would soon begin between the opposing groups.

It did not take long before the entire world seemed to come crashing in around me. There was a general melée that began in the centre of the gathering, with the main antagonists passing through the whole group until, finally a mass battle began. Such was the speed of events that within very few minutes the belligerents had dispersed themselves throughout the ruined churchyard in various battling groups. As a spectator, I stood back from the topmost step of a style that led into the burial-ground. It was obvious to me that it was better, for my continued good health, not to stand too closely to where the action was happening. As I stood watching the battle my attention was attracted by the sudden appearance of a man, who was exclaiming at the top of his voice: “Oh, you evil people! Stop this, I tell you, you heathen people! Are you even Christians at all?

This loud intruder was a tall, thin, pale man, who was wearing a hat which, from exposure to bad weather, had its broad, slouching brim crimped into many fantastic shapes. The crown of the hat was depressed in the middle, and the edges showed the paleness of wear, that was very far removed from its original black. He wore no collared shirt and had a narrow white scarf drawn tightly around his neck. A single-breasted overcoat of rusty black, with standing collar, was tightly buttoned nearly up to his chin, and hung over his frame to the knees of his black trousers, beneath which peeped well polished black leather shoes. He pushed his way through the fighting men and quickly climbed the stile upon which I was standing, politely saying, “Excuse me, sir,” as he pushed by.

From the top of the stile he jumped to the ground, and he proceeded with long and rapid strides, towards the groups of combatants. In his hand the man brandished a heavy bullwhip with which he began to lay about each and every one of the brawlers. In equal measure and with total impartiality, he began dealing out a heavy-handed justice. I was also greatly impressed by the fact that all these blows inflicted on them by this newcomer were not at all resented by those whom he assaulted. It almost appeared as if they had decided resistance against this man was futile, choosing instead to begin fleeing quickly before his blows. They looked like so many frightened school-boys before an angry teacher and they gathered together in one large group, which immediately became pacified by his presence.

As I watched these events happening I stepped down from my perch at the top of the stile and ran, towards the place the man was admonishing the crowd. There I found this tall, thin man delivering a severe reproof to the crowd he had quietened down. The more he reproved them for their “unchristian acts” the more evident it became that he was a religious leader of this group of troubled people. But his reproval of them was short, sharp and certainly impressive. His speech was well delivered in simple terms for the audience to whom it was directed. It was simple in the language it used and solemn in the way his deep, gritty voice spoke the words. “And now,” added the clergyman, “let me ask you why you are all fighting like so many wild savages? Your conduct makes me think that you are more likely to be savage animals  rather than intelligent human beings who have been raised within the hearing of God’s word.

There were a few moments of silence following his question until someone among the crowd mustered enough courage to answer the cleric. He told him that the entire fracas was, “due to the burying.”

There is no more solemn a sight,” replied the priest, “But, is the burial of the departed not enough to keep the evil passions of your hearts in check?

The truth of the matter, if it pleases your reverence, is that there was nothing ill-natured in it. It was only a good-natured turn we were doing for poor Paddy Mooney that’s departed this life. You know it’s to yourself that we will be going for masses to be said for the poor boy’s soul.

Now!” answered the priest. He was anxious to nip this appeal to his own interest in the bud. “Don’t you dare talk to me about doing a good-natured turn for any person.” He stared at them all sternly, telling them, “Prayers for the souls of the faithful departed are taken up by the whole Church. But, what has such a good act have to do with your scandalous and lawless actions that I have just witnessed you all committing.

He now turned to the last speaker, “You were one of the busiest with your weapon and you are the most riotous of the group, Rooney. You had better take care that I don’t speak out against you from the altar.

Oh, God forbid that your reverence would have to do the like of that!” cried out the mother of the deceased, imploring him as big teardrops chased each other down her cheeks. “Sure it was only that they wanted to put my poor son in the ground first. It’s just, as your reverence knows, that they did not want to have my poor Paddy-

“Tut, tut! woman!” interrupted the priest, waving his hand rather impatiently, “don’t you let me hear any nonsense.”

I ask your reverence’s pardon for I am not the type of woman who would knowingly offend my very own clergy — may God’s blessing be upon them night and day! But I was only going to put in a good word for Mick Rooney. He and everyone else of us wish for nothing but peace, but it is Joe Gallagher, who just would not leave us to do our peaceful duty.

Gallagher!” said the priest, in a deeply reproachful tone. “Where is he?

Gallagher did not come forward when called, but the crowd drew back, and left him revealed to the priest. On his face he wore and expression of sullen indifference, and he also seemed to be the only person in the crowd who was totally unfazed by the presence of the cleric. The priest now moved towards him and, extending his hand in the attitude of denunciation towards Gallagher, he spoke very solemnly, “I have already spoken to you in the chapel and now, once again, I find myself having to warn you to be careful. Wherever you go trouble and strife seems to always follow you. You are a disgrace and if you do not quickly reform your life I will have no choice but to seek your expulsion from the Church. Make no mistake, Gallagher, I shall pronounce a sentence of excommunication upon you from the altar, if I feel it is necessary.

Everyone within hearing distance was overcome by the solemnity and severity of the priest’s words. When the word “excommunication” was uttered by the cleric, a thrill of horror seemed to run through the assembled crowd. It appeared to me that even Gallagher betrayed some emotion when he heard that terrible word. Yet, for a moment he managed to show no emotion and, turning on his heel, he retired from the scene with some of the swagger with which he had entered it. The crowd opened to let him pass, giving him a wide space, as if they sought to avoid contact with one who had been so fearfully denounced.

Calling upon the entire crowd to hear him the priest told them, “You have two coffins here. Now you will immediately begin to dig two graves, and allow both bodies to be interred at the same time, and I will read the service for the dead over them.” With these instructions ringing in their ears the crowd wasted very little time in carrying them out. The narrow graves were quickly dug and the bodies of the dead were consigned to their last long sleep, as the deep, solemn voice of the priest was raised in the “De Profundis”. When he had concluded this short and beautiful psalm, the friends of the deceased closed the graves, and covered them neatly with fresh cut sods.

You know things have been done right,” said Rooney, “when you see that the ‘Daisy Quilt’ is finally put over them.

The priest, now that his job was done, retired from the churchyard and I followed him with the sole purpose of introducing myself to him. I was seeking from him a clear and simple explanation of what was still a most intriguing mystery to me, namely, the actual cause of the quarrel with Gallagher. From certain passages in his address to the crowd I could grasp that he understood the cause and could, perhaps explain it to me. I quickly caught up with the cleric and introduced myself to him. Thankfully, he received me with a great deal of courtesy and politeness, which was to be expected from a man with such a good heart. Now, having gained his attention, I tried to assure him that my curiosity was simply because I wished to understand the reasons for the fight that had taken place, and to which he had put a stop. I was hoping that he would not think that I was overbearing when I asked him for an explanation.

It is no intrusion, sir,” answered the priest very frankly. He spoke with a rich, soft brogue, whose intonation expressed his inbuilt good nature. The brogue, with which he spoke, reminded me of someone from an upper middle-class and well educated family. There was no trace of the more vulgar expressions that is usually found in the manner in which the ordinary working class speak. There are those, of course, who try to sound more genteel than they really are by grafting a posh English accent to their brogue. But they often trip themselves up because the accents of the two countries can never be truly blended together. Far from making a pleasing accent, it conveys to the listener that the speaker is trying very hard to escape from his own accent, which they consider to be inferior. It is a vain attempt to demonstrate some finesse, which fails because their vulgarity is so deeply inbred.

This was not the case with the way in which Father Donnachadh Ryan spoke to me. His voice was both deep and rich in tone, a true manly voice that had boomed when he had admonished the crowd for their violent attitude. Even when he was engaged in a less formal conversation his voice lost little of its richness or depth. Still, I listened intently while the priest proceeded to enlighten me on the subject of the funerals’ etiquette, and the reason behind the quarrel that had arisen between the two groups. “The truth of the matter is, sir, that these poor people are possessed of many foolish superstitions. We might, as men, pardon their errors and simply look upon them as fictional tales that take hold in fertile imaginations. Just because we can understand how such suspicions take hold in the minds of the less educated and more susceptible, we cannot, as their spiritual leaders allow ourselves to admit openly to them that such superstitions are in error.

His explanation, however, quite surprised me. I did not think I would find a clergyman, especially a Catholic priest, say such a thing. “The superstition that I speak of,” he continued to explain, “is just one of the many that these warm hearted people indulge in, and it is not a particularly evil one.” Then he suddenly ended his discourse and pulled out a richly cased, antique gold watch of great workmanship. “Now, sir, I must ask your pardon; I have an engagement to keep at my home, which obliges me to immediately make my way there as quickly as I possibly can. But, if you have enough time to spare, you can walk with me to the end of this little road and I shall be able to make you well acquainted with the nature of the superstition in question.

I was happy to agree with his proposal and we set off together. As we wound our way down the little stony path that led to the main road, Father Ryan began to give me an account of the cause behind all the previous trouble. “There is a belief among the local people here that the ghost of the last person interred in the churchyard is obliged to travel, unceasingly, the road between this earth and purgatory, carrying water to slake the burning thirst of those who are confined in that terrible place. The ghost is, therefore, obliged to walk through the wasteland during the middle of the night, until some fresh body is placed in the grave and supplies a fresh ghost to relieve the guard. In this way the supply of water to the sufferers in purgatory is kept up unceasingly.

This was the reason why the violent encounter had come about, and why the old mother had called out that her,  “darling boy should not be left to wander about the churchyard dark and alone in the long nights.”  In his explanation, furthermore, Father Ryan gave me some curious illustrations of the different ways in which this superstition influenced his “poor people,” as he constantly called them. But I suppose you have already had quite enough. I shall, therefore, say no more of these other cases and I am happy that I have at least provided you with this one example. Sadly, even in these more modern times such wild superstitions still exist in our land and undoubtedly owe their continued existence to the goodness of the Irish heart and the poetic imagination of our people.

Cailleach of Ballygran Part IV

 

Maura

Maura Despair

In the local health centre there was a new, young, female doctor attached to the practice that Maura attended. Being young and new to the practice she, not surprisingly, wanted to make a good impression, and so conducted a thorough examination of Maura. Fortunately, on this occasion, Fiona decided to accompany her to the doctor’s surgery and she listened attentively to what the doctor had to say. After the examination was complete, the young doctor told Maura that she would make arrangements for her to attend the hospital for a series of tests. At the same time, the doctor also promised that she would do everything in her power to ensure that the tests would be carried out as soon as possible, and, in the meantime, she would take some blood samples. Maura was, of course, concerned and a little upset when she was told that hospital tests would be required and she asked, nervously, “Is it something very serious, doctor?”

“To be honest, Mrs. Magowan, I will not know anything until the test results are returned to me,” the doctor smiled reassuringly. “Once we know exactly what we are dealing with, then we shall be able to treat it rapidly and efficiently so we can get you back to full health.”

“She’s right, Mammy,” added Fiona comfortingly. “Let us get these tests over and done with so we can treat you before it becomes any worse. Sure, I’ll come with you to the hospital, for you know what Daddy’s like about those places.”

It came as a great surprise when, barely two weeks after seeing the doctor, Maura received a letter from the hospital offering her an appointment ten days time. Fiona was excited for her mother and she urged Maura to call the hospital on the phone and confirm the appointment by telling them that she would be attending. Encouraged by this piece of good news Maura and her two daughters went out shopping for some new clothes that she might need if she was going into the hospital. Then, later that same evening, Maura sat down with Johnny and told him that she would be going into hospital to undergo some tests.

“Sure, Maura, it might not be that bad of a thing,” Johnny tried to assure his wife. “It will, probably, only be that IBS thing that has got so popular, or just an ulcer of one kind or another.”

“I think it might just be a little more serious than that Johnny!” she said, but appreciated his efforts at trying to comfort her.

“You worry too much Maura, as you always do. I’ll bet you that when you get these tests they will say you’re as fit as a fiddle.”

Later that same evening, as was his usual custom, Johnny went to the club, where he met Luig in the snug. They talked in whispers to each other, and Johnny told her about Maura’s impending hospital appointment and how worried she was. But, as they talked quietly, unknown to them, a close work colleague of Maura, called Dympna Murphy, saw the couple getting rather cosy with each other, and she decided that this was more than just an innocent friendship. She had come to the club with one of her friends and asked her, “Who is that with Johnny Magowan?”

“Oh, you haven’t heard the gossip have you?” the friend replied quietly.

“Now, would I be asking you such a question if I knew who she was?”

“Hush, for Jesus’ sake! Not so loud,” Dympna’s friend urged. “That’s Johnny’s fancy piece.”

“His what?” exclaimed Dympna, in shock and disbelief at this sudden revelation. “She’s not that bloody fancy!”

“It’s that girl with the odd name, Luigseach. But, she just calls herself Luig. Luig McGirr and she’s Johnny Magowan’s bit on the side,” explained the friend. “It has been going on for quite a while now. I’m surprised you haven’t heard about it until now.”

“What, in the name                                                                                                                                                                           God, does the like of Johnny Magowan see in that witch?” sighed Dympna despairingly.

“Typical man, he’s always looking for his comforts. I would say it’s not what he sees in her, but what she does for him,” laughed Dympna’s friend loudly and gathering attention from around the room.

“The dirty old bitch! How could he prefer the like of that instead of his wife, Maura?”

“I don’t believe that Maura knows anything about the affair, to be honest. I definitely would not like to be the one who tells the poor woman, if you know what I mean.”

“I know exactly what you mean,” sighed Dympna. She knew already that Maura was going to attend the hospital for tests. She was of the opinion that any such disclosure should be left until after the results of those tests were known. But, Dympna was equally determined that, as Maura’s friend since childhood, she should let her know the secret.

When the day for attending the hospital finally came, Fiona, as promised, accompanied her to the hospital and Johnny drove them to the appointment. As is usual in all hospitals, Maura was called and brought to an area where she and Fiona were told to await the doctor’s call before they could go into the consulting room. After another lengthy period of waiting both ladies were brought into the room by a nurse.

As Maura walked into the office, the doctor greeted her courteously, “Hello Mrs. Magowan. Sorry for keeping you waiting so long.”

“It’s fine,” she told him politely.

“Well, we have several tests to be done and we may have to keep you in overnight on the ward,” the doctor began. “First I have some questions to ask and then the nurse will take you to the ward and help prepare you for what lies ahead. Now, the first test will not be carried out until this afternoon, and there will be a short wait until the next test. We will make every effort to ensure that you know what we are doing it, and when.”

After thanking the young doctor, Maura and Fiona were shown up to the ward, where she undressed and put on a nightdress and a dressing gown. Almost immediately nurse followed nurse, as question followed question, and they checked this and they checked that. Temperature, blood pressure observations were taken, along with a heart trace carried out on a portable ECG machine. Finally, a nurse inserted a ‘butterfly’ connection to the vein in Maura’s left arm. This was to be used only if further medication had to be delivered intravenously. With such attention from the nursing staff the time appeared to fly past until lunch arrived in the ward. Maura, however, was not interested in eating food, being too nervous even to eat a morsel.

Almost immediately after lunch Maura’s first test was carried out, involving a body scan rather than an X-ray. Once the scan was complete, Maura was taken to another department in the hospital, where she was given an ultra-sound sweep of her abdomen. Because of the waiting times in between scans these procedures took up most of the afternoon. When Maura returned o the ward she was served a light tea, but she could only nibble at a slice of wheaten bread and drink the cup of tea provided. She was tired and bored. So far all that had been done was answer questions and have scans completed. There was not, much to her frustration, one word about what they were actually testing her for. Fiona, however, continued to support her mother and to keep her spirits up by ensuring that any dark thoughts of her mortality did not linger in Maura’s mind.

There were no more tests that evening and Maura suggested that Fiona go home and get some rest. Eight O’clock was the start of visiting time, but Fiona did not stay and an exhausted Maura prepared to get some sleep. For several weeks she had become very concerned about her health, and she had said prayers to every possible saint asking them to protect her from her worst fear, which was contracting cancer. Maura had seen people die as a result of this devastating disease, and she had no wish for her family to witness her waste away in a painful journey toward death. Despite the positive messages from others, the reality of becoming yet another statistic in the fight against cancer played heavily on Maura’s mind.

Maura did not sleep well that night in hospital. Her mind was filled with negative thoughts and she cried quietly to herself as she lay in the hospital bed. When the ward came back to life the next morning, Maura was still wide awake. Yawning widely with exhaustion she watched on as the nursing staff began preparing for the changeover of personnel. She got out of the bed and made her way to the nearby bathroom, where she showered and prepared herself for the day ahead. After breakfast, Maura sat in the bedside chair awaiting her next test, but no person came and the doctors began their patient rounds. Meanwhile, Fiona had been allowed into the ward just after breakfast and together they waited patiently for the doctors to come to them.

There were two doctors who eventually came to the bedside, accompanied by a senior nurse. The taller of the two doctors, also appeared to be the youngest, while the other doctor was a small man, wore glasses and looked to be much older than his colleague. The taller doctor pulled the curtains around the bed to give them a little privacy, while the smaller of the two sat on the bed to talk to Maura. “Is this your daughter. Mrs. Magowan?”

“Yes, Doctor,” replied Maura. “This my eldest girl.” 

“Is it alright to discuss your case in her presence?”

“Yes, of course, she can stay,” Maura assured him,and the doctor began to explain to Maura that they had examined the results of the previous day’s tests. He told her that they had discovered an aberration of sorts in her pancreas that required further investigation. From what he had seen on those tests, he explained, he felt it was important that she should be made aware of it. He also wanted to mention the need for a swift, exploratory procedure to determine what type of growth it was. The plan was to bring her down to the theatre that very afternoon and, until that time, she would just have to fast.

Maura signed all the necessary papers that she needed to allow the procedure to take place. As she was signing her name, Maura felt like she should ask what the doctor’s prognosis was. But, Maura was too nervous to speak and left it to Fiona, who asked, “Doctor, what do you think this growth is?”

“It is hard to give you an answer to such a question without first doing the investigation. There is, it must be said, as much chance of the growth being nothing serious, as there is that it might be cancerous,” the doctor told her.

“But, what are you investigating?”

“Your mother appears to have a mass of tissue in her pancreas. It is not a big lump but neither is it small. We need to go in and see if that lump is benign or not,” replied the doctor.

“Malignant?”

“Well, yes. But, we cannot be sure. If it is not benign, however, we will immediately arrange for its removal,” the doctor assured Fiona.

Maura’s heart pounded heavily in her chest when she heard that dreaded word, “Cancer.” The heartbeat increased its rate, as tears of fear filled her eyes, and Fiona threw her arms around her mother to comfort her at this moment of shock. “Don’t be crying, Mammy,” said Fiona softly. “We will get through this together as a family.” But, Maura said nothing in reply and quietly watched as the two doctors moved away from her bed. It was as if she was numb, because she could feel nothing anymore. She felt that every emotion she had was frozen, or replaced by a numbness of the body

**** —****

Maura’s friend, Dympna Murphy, had called to the house earlier that morning, but it was Johnny who answered the door, much to her surprise. “Good morning, Dympna!” Johnny greeted her, “What’s happening?

“Nothing much, Johnny, I just called up to see how Maura was, and when she might be back at work,” Dympna told him.

“Well, she went into hospital yesterday and was kept in overnight. It’s nothing serious, she is just getting some more tests done today.”

“Are you going over?” Dympna asked.

“No. You know I can’t stand hospitals, and Fiona is with her anyway. She’ll be home late I’m sure and I’ll get her to ring you,” Johnny replied.

“Thanks, Johnny,” she smiled at him and the, turning her head said, “There’s Frances. Sure, I’ll walk into work with her. See you later, Johnny.”

“Aye,” smiled Johnny as he watched Dympna move swiftly away, before closing the front door.

Dympna quickly caught up with Frances Conlon, another work colleague, and greeted her with a bright, “Good Morning!”

“I saw you up at Maura’s house, what’s happening there? Is she any better?” questioned Frances.

“Well, Johnny says she has been taken into the hospital and is being kept in for some sort of tests,” Dympna told her.

“That doesn’t sound too good, does it?” remarked Frances.

“No, Frances, it doesn’t sound good and that useless lump of flesh isn’t even going over to visit her,” said Dympna. “But, he says, she might get out tonight.”

I bet you if that Jezebel, Luig, was in the hospital he would be over there in double quick time,” Frances sneered.

“Do you know about her?”

“Sure half the country knows about him and her, the dirty old sod. And his wife not well. But, sure there is no fool like an old fool and Johnny Magowan is proving the truth of that. The man must be stupid, as well as blind, if he can’t see that Luig is just after his money. Anyway, she’s not exactly Nicole Kidman, and the old boot is not fit to lick Maura’s shoelaces. Have you seen that neck of hers, and the wrinkles in it. She’ll definitely not tear in the plucking!”

“Now Frances, don’t hold back. Say what you mean woman, for there is nothing I dislike more than someone who sits on the fence,” laughed Dympna.

The two women began to walk a little faster so that they would not be late for work. “You know, I was going to tell Maura about this carry on,” Dympna declared.

“Rather you than me,” replied Frances. “But the woman should be told the truth.”

“I’ll tell her the first chance that I get,” Dympna promised.

**** —****

It was lunch time when Fiona reached her parents’ house and entered through the front door. “Are you in, Daddy?” she called out.

“I’m in the bathroom,” came the reply, “I will be down in a minute.”

Fiona moved into the kitchen and switched the electric kettle on so that she could make a pot of tea for the two of them. When Johnny came down the stairs he walked into the kitchen and greeted his oldest daughter. “And how is your mother?” he asked.

“She has all her tests done, but we will not know until later about when she’ll get home, “Fiona told him. “Are you going over to see her this afternoon?” she asked him.

“Ah now, Fiona, you know that I can’t stand hospitals. Sure I will wait here until she comes home,” he told her.

“This is your wife dad! You should go over and see her. She needs you,” Fiona pleaded with a tear in her eye.

“Is there something wrong?” he asked.

“Well, they’re going to check her out this afternoon, but she might just have some form of cancer.”

“Cancer?” he gasped and felt the blood drain from his face. “Oh, my God!”

“Aye, and she will need you by her side if they give her confirmation of that,” Fiona told him sternly.

“I’m no good with sick people, Fiona, and I cannot stand being in hospitals. It would be much better for her if you go, and you can keep in touch with me,” Johnny replied.

“And just what are you going to do? Will you just sit here moping around all day, or maybe it will be over a couple of pints in the club?” she sneered at him.

“Don’t be like that, Fiona, try to understand what I’m going through, especially now that I have heard this terrible news. But she will be alright. She has always had a fear of cancer since her brother died, so she’ll be terrified. Bring her a wee box of chocolates from me and tell her I said everything will be okay,” Johnny told her.

“That will be a great comfort to her,” snapped Fiona. “Just you enjoy your afternoon, for I am away to the hospital to see Mammy!” She jumped up from the seat and moved toward the back door. Taking her car keys, she went around the side of the house, where she had parked her car.

Almost as soon as Fiona had gone out of the back door, Johnny went to the hall where he lifted the telephone off its receiver and began to dial a number. The call was picked up at the other end of the line and Johnny asked, “Luig, is that you?”

“I am just ringing to tell you that I can’t make it this afternoon. Maura is in hospital still, and it could be very serious.”

He listened for a few moments to what Luig said, and then told her, “Well, she might not get out tonight at all. Okay, I will try to be there about five o’clock -.”

“Where at five?” asked Fiona and caused Johnny to jump with surprise. “Who are you talking to?”

“No one!” he replied quickly. Then speaking into the phone he told Luig, ”Thanks for calling. Sure we’ll talk later.”

When he had hung up the phone Johnny found that Fiona was still waiting for an answer. “It was Seamus. He was looking to know if I was up for a drink. I told him no, of course, but you know how persistent he can be. I told him I would maybe there about five o’clock.”

“That’s right Dad, make sure you get your two pints and forget about everything else!”

“But, Fiona -,” he began, but Fiona wasn’t listening anymore and just lifted her purse that she had left behind her before storming out again.

**** —****

When Fiona got back to the ward she discovered that her mother had already been moved down to theatre. The ward manager invited her to wait in the “Relative’s Room”, where she brought a cup of tea for the anxious girl to drink. It was the first time, since the doctor had spoken to her mother, that Fiona had time to consider what had been said. Before this moment she had never considered the possibility that the family might lose their mother, and she might lose the woman who was also her best friend.

Maura was a woman who had never experienced serious illness in her life, but had always taken great care of her family when illness would strike. Fiona could not visualise a time without her mother, and she sat in that waiting room praying in a manner that she had not prayed in many years. Fiona was a mother herself now, and it began to dawn on her the great difficulties that her mother would have when confronted with the possibility of leaving her children motherless. Bitter tears came into Fiona’s eyes and, as was normal with her on such occasions, she had no tissues in her bag.

The door of the room opened slowly, and the head of a young man peeped in. “It’s only me sis,” said the young man, who was actually Fiona’s younger brother, John.

“John!” gasped Fiona, “How did you know where I was?”

John moved into the room and sat down beside his sister. “I rang the house and Dad answered. I was ringing up to find out how Mam’s tests had gone, and he told me that you were both still here. He also told me that it could be more serious than first thought, so I came straight out of work.”

“Thank God you did,” she sighed and gave her brother a comforting hug. They could now wait together for Maura to return to the ward.

**** —****

Meanwhile, in Luig’s house, the telephone rang again and she lifted the receiver to her ear. “I’m glad you rang again Johnny. What is Happening? You sounded so strange the last time you rang.”

She tutted and shook her head as she listened to Johnny explain the likelihood of his wife having cancer. It was not an appropriate topic to be talking to his ‘lover’ about, Luig thought. He, however, was so wrapped in this woman that he was not thinking about propriety. “Don’t worry, sweetheart,” Luig told him in a false maternal tone, “if she is that ill there is nothing you can do for her. It’s sad, of course, but it is all too common these days, you know. I’m sure it will be a difficult time for you Johnny, but I will always be there to help you through it. Now, I’ve bought two lovely steaks for our tea tonight and maybe you could get down here for five. Well, if they do ring, you can say that you had to go out for a walk to clear your mind. I’ll see you later then, love you!” She hung up the phone with a large, contented smile upon her face, and with a new and lively skip in her step, Luig moved into the kitchen to prepare the steaks she had bought an intimate meal with Johnny.

**** —****

In the hospital the minutes passed slowly into an hour, then two hours. Finally, however, the ward manager came into the waiting room to tell them that their mother was back on the ward, and that she was awake. She also told the two young people that the doctor was on his way up to the ward to speak to their mother. “Can we see her?” John asked.

“Of course you can,” said the ward manager. “She is moved into a side-ward for a bit of privacy.”

When she heard the news Fiona glanced at her brother and she could see that he, too, was concerned at this news.

Holding hands, Fiona and John walked slowly toward the side-ward, where their mother had been placed. They were both eager to see Maura, but neither of them was in a hurry to find out the results of the investigation. Their steps were slow, but they eventually came to the door of the private ward and opened it. Before them, Maura lay on the bed, awake, but obviously exhausted by her experience. Her face was very pale, and her lips a purplish-blue colour. Fiona was frightened and gripped John’s hand. “Well mother, decided to give us all a bit of a fright are you?” smiled John in a jocular way.

Weakly, Maura moved her head to look at her son. “John, what took you here?”

“I came to keep Fiona company, and to see you. So, tell me, what’s happening with you?”

“I don’t know son. I have had some kind of an investigation done, and I’ve been told the doctor is on his way to see me,” Maura told him in a low, weak voice. But, before anything more could be said the ward door opened and the doctor entered.

He was still dressed in his blue theatre clothing as he addressed Maura, “Mrs. Magowan, how are you now?”

“Just a little weak, doctor,” replied Maura, “but anxious to find out what you discovered.”

That is what I wish to discuss with you now,” the doctor explained. “Maybe in private if you prefer?”

“It’s perfectly alright,” she told him, ”this is my son, John, and that’s my eldest daughter, Fiona. I would prefer it if they stayed.”

“That, of course, is your decision, Mrs. Magowan,” replied the doctor, as he pulled up another chair to the bedside. “Now, there is no easy way to speak about these things, so I will keep simply to facts. You, Mrs. Magowan, have an inoperable growth in your pancreas, which appears to be very aggressive. I’m sorry that I have to be the one to tell you –.“

Maura had stopped listening. Her thoughts were already numbed by those terrible words, “inoperable, malignant growth.”

“Unfortunately the cancerous cells are not confined to one organ, but they have spread,“ the doctor continued to explain. “This is terminal, Mrs. Magowan.”

After those words were spoken, you could have heard a pin drop. The silence in that room was so intense. Fiona was already wailing, and had her arms clasped around her mother in the bed. John was frozen to his seat with shock, but he managed to mumble, “What can we expect?”

The doctor shook his head sadly and took a moment or two before he felt able to answer the question that John had posed him. “I know Mrs. Magowan that you are already feeling quite weak and are suffering some pain with your illness. These symptoms will not lessen, but will increase. We will, nonetheless, make every effort to relieve your pain …”

“How long?” asked Maura, almost in a whisper.

“That, I am afraid, is a question that I can’t answer. The growth is quite large and aggressive. All that I can tell you is that it could be months, or weeks, instead of years. We just don’t know, but it might be an idea if you began to settle your affairs.”

There was no reply from Maura, or any of her children. “I have asked for a MacMillan nurse to come and discuss things with you,” the doctor added.

“Thank you, doctor,” Maura spoke with a half-hearted smile. “You have been very good to me.” The doctor nodded his head toward his patient and silently left the room.

King Billy – Part III

Station

Every day Mrs. Farquahar, was leaner, fiercer, paler, and more resolute in ignoring the stationmaster’s presence, as she continued to flaunt her principles up and down the station platform. Every day Jim hurried the departure of the trains and swept the customers out of the buffet. In fact, never in its history had there been such punctuality known at Maryborough. Being situated upon an easy-going line it was not unusual for the train guard not to worry about tardiness. When an indignant customer decided to point out that the express train was already some twenty minutes’ late, it was not unknown for the guard or the stationmaster to agree, saying, “By God, you’re right. That’s a good timekeeping watch you have there, you should keep a hold of it.

One day, however, Mrs. Farquahar did not appear on the platform when the trains stopped. She had come out to greet the arrival of the first train, but she was walking with a little difficulty, and her usual strong, clear voice quavered as she tried to raise her normal war cry. Then, to everyone’s surprise, when the next train came, there was no Mrs. Farquahar to greet it.

Even Jim O’Brien himself was concerned, and a little upset that she had not shown herself. He had grown used to the daily battle between them, and he missed the excitement of retaliating against his long-time foe. “Maybe she has tired of it all,” he thought to himself. “Finally given up, now that she knows she won’t have things all her own way anymore. Serves her right, for she’s too domineering by half.

What’s wrong with the old one, sir?” Joe Kelly asked Jim when they met on the platform

She never made a move to get out when she heard the train arriving.”

I don’t know what she’s up to,” said Jim. “She’s probably hatching more disturbances, I’ll bet. Sure, she has more twists than a bag full of weasels, and she’s never content unless she’s doing some sort of mischief, Joe,” he replied, “maybe you should look in and see if there is anything wrong with the old one.”

A moment later the stationmaster could hear Joe shouting, “Mister O’Brien, Mister O’Brien!

Jim ran toward the sound of the shouting and there, in a tumbled heap, lay Mrs. Farquahar. She no longer was the defiant, bad-tempered woman, that he had known, but was a weak, sickly, elderly woman, partly supported on Joe Kelly’s knee. The poor woman’s face was a ghostly pale, and her arms were hanging limp.

Ah, good Jaysus, I think the poor old soul is dying,” Kelly cried. “She only had the strength to raise her head when she saw me, and then she went off in a faint.”

Lay her down flat, Joe. Gently lay her flat,” Jim told him and the porter eased her down off his knee. “Now, Joe, leave her to me, and you run and tell my missus to come here at once. Maybe Mary will know what to do for the best.”

When Mary arrived, she came in to the buffet she found her husband gazing at the prostrate old woman in bewilderment, and immediately took command of the situation in such a way that she excited her husband’s admiration. “Here,” she said, “give me a hand to move her on to the seat. Jim, darling, you run home and get Biddy to fill two or three jars with boiling water, and bring them along with a blanket. The poor old woman is as cold as death. Joe, get off with you as quick as you can and fetch the doctor.

“What doctor will I go for, ma’am?”

The first one you can get the hold of,” said Mary, as she immediately began rubbing the unmoving woman’s hands and loosened her clothes.

When the doctor finally arrived, he found Mrs. Farquahar laid out on an improvised couch that was made up of two of the buffet’s cushioned benches placed side by side. She was wrapped warmly in blankets, and had hot bottles to her feet and sides, as well as a mustard plaster over her heart. “Bravo! Mrs. O’Brien,” said the doctor, “I couldn’t have done better myself. I believe you have saved her life by being so quick, saved it for the moment at least, for I think she has been struck down by a severe illness. The poor woman will need careful nursing to pull her through.

“She looks really bad,” agreed Mary.

“What are we to do with her?” asked the doctor. “Is there no place where they would take her in?”

Mary took a quick glance at Jim, but he did not speak. “Sure, there’s a room in our house that she could use,” she offered, after an awkward pause.

“The very thing,” said the relieved doctor, “if you don’t mind the trouble, and if Mr. O’Brien does not object.”

Jim chose not to answer, and silently walked out. “He doesn’t object, doctur,” said Mary. “Sure, that man has the real good heart. I’ll just run off now, and get the bed ready for her.” As she passed Jim, who was standing sulkily at the door, she took hold of his hand for a moment and squeezed it softly. “God bless you, my darling man. You’ll be none the worse for your kindness. Sure, this is no time for bearing people ill will, and our Blessed Lady will pray for you this day.”

Jim said nothing. But, when Mary had disappeared from view he muttered quietly to himself, “It’s a terrible thing that the care of that old devil should fall on us.” This, however, was the only form of resistance he offered to his wife’s decision.

Under the directions of the doctor Jim, Joe and Finnerty created a a makeshift stretcher, upon which all four men carried Mrs. Farquahar to the stationmaster’s house. Mary gently undressed the old woman, and put her to bed in a spotlessly clean, whitewashed upper room. Although the cold and shivering she had been experiencing had passed, Mrs. Farquahar was burning with what the doctor said was, Nervous fever. In her fever she began to rave about her dog, about Jim, about the passengers, her rent, and a large number of things that made it clear that her circumstances had preyed upon her mind. The ravings frightened Mary at times, but there were no trained nurses in Maryborough at this time. Guided by the directions of Doctor Dorrity, Mary did the best she could for the patient and managed things very well.

There was not a person who could have doubted that Jim did not like having the invalided old woman in his house. At the same time, however, he began to feel very concerned about the activity around him. He now became very anxious that Mrs. Farquahar should not die in his wife’s care. Mary as surprised and astonished when Jim brought home a selection of jellies and meat extracts, that he was convinced would be good for the patient. Surprisingly, Jim did this act of kindness with a shy and hang-dog air, which was by no means natural to him, for he always made some ungracious speech as to the trouble he had gone to. It was a disguise he used to prevent Mary thinking that he was feeling some sorrow for the part he had played in causing Mrs. Farquahar’s injury. Meanwhile, with a downcast expression, Jim ignored all enquiries from outsiders as to Mrs. Farquahar’s health. He did, nevertheless, bring in the old woman’s dog into the house and fed it well. “Not for her sake, God knows,” he explained, “but because the poor beast was fretting and I couldn’t see him alone, with no one to look to him.” At this time, however, Jim absolutely refused to call the dog, ‘King William.’ Instead, he chose to call it “Billy”, a name to which it soon learned to answer.

One evening, when the whitewashed room was all aglow with the crimson light of sunset that flooded through the western window, Mrs. Farquahar regained her consciousness. Mary was sitting by the bedside, sewing, having sent the children outside to ensure there was quiet in the house. For a long time, and unobserved by her nurse, the sick woman lay feebly trying to understand what as happening. Suddenly she spoke — “What is the matter?”

Surprised by her voice, Mary jumped, but quickly regained her senses. She laid her sewing down on the bed and leaned over the sickly patient. “Sure, you were very bad ma’am. But, thanks be to God, you’re better now.”

“Where am I?” Mrs. Farquahar asked weakly, after a considerable pause.

“You’re in the station house, ma’am. Sure, don’t you know me? I’m Mary O’Brien.”

“Mary O’Brien, O’Brien?”

“Yes, you know! The wife of Jim O’Brien.”

“And this is Jim O’Brien’s house?”

“Whose else would it be? But there now, don’t talk any more. Sure, we’ll tell, ye all about it when you’re better. For now, the doctor says, you’re to be kept quiet.”

“But who brought me here?”

“You were carried in, and you were in a bad state. Now, just hush up, and rest will you? Take a drop of this, and try to go to sleep.”

When Jim came into the house for his supper, Mary said to him, “That woman upstairs is in a hurry to get away from us. She thinks we begrudge her the bit of comfort we have provided.”

Jim was silent for a moment and then told his wife, “Sure, anything that’s bad she’ll believe of us.”

“But you have never even been up to see her. Slip into the room now, and ask her how she’s getting on. Just let bygones be bygones, in the name of God.”

“I will not,” said Jim.

“Oh, yes, you will. Sure, after all, although you didn’t mean it, you’re the cause of her trouble. Go to her now.”

“I don’t like to.”

“Ah, go. It is your place, and you have more sense than she has. Now, go and tell her to stay until she’s well again. Do you know, I think that under all that attitude of hers she’s a lot softer than she appears to be. I tell you, Jim, I have seen her crying over that dog, because she thought it was the only thing that truly loved her.” Now, half pushed by Mary, Jim made his way up the steep stairway, and knocked at the door of Mrs. Farquahar’s attic room.

“Come in,” said a feeble voice, and Jim sort of half-stumbled into the room.

When Mrs. Farquahar saw who it was coming into the room, there was a flame that appeared to come to life in her hollow eyes. “I’m sorry,” she said, with a grim politeness, “that you find me here, Mister O’Brien, but it isn’t my fault. I wanted to go a while ago, and your wife wouldn’t let me.”

“And very right she was! Sure, you’re not fit for leaving, and don’t be talking about going until you’re better, ma’am,” Jim told her, awkwardly. “You’re heartily welcome here, as far as I am concerned. I just came up to say, well to say, I hope you will be in no hurry to move.”

You’re very kind, but I don’t think I could find myself resting easy under this roof, where, I can assure you, I would never have come of my own free will. I apologise to you, Mister O’Brien, for giving so much trouble, not that I could help myself.”

“Sure, It is myself that should apologise to you,” Jim blurted out to her, “and I am really sorry, though, maybe, you won’t believe me, that I ever drove out your customers.”

For a long time Mrs. Macfarlane did not speak. “I could forgive that easier than your rooting up my lilies,” she said, at last.

“But I never did that. God knows the truth of it, and He knows that I never laid a finger on those lilies. I came out, and found the dog there in the flower beds, scratching at them, and if this was my last dying word, It is the truth.”

And it was really the wee dog?”

“It was! Although I admit I did wrong in laughing at him, and cheering him on. But, you didn’t pay any attention to me when I told you that he was at my roses, and I thought it served you right, and that you had only called him ‘King William’ to spite me.”

“So I did,” said Mrs. Farquahar, and, she added, more gently, “But, I’m sorry now.”

“Are you, really?” asked Jim, his face brightening. “Well, I’m glad to hear you say it. We were both in the wrong, you see, and if you don’t bear any malice, I don’t.”

“You have been very good to me, Mr. O’Brien, especially after how badly I misjudged you,” said Mrs. Farquahar.

“Not a bit of it, and anyway it was the wife who has been good, for, by God, I was very much against you, so I was.”

“An’ you’ve spent your money on me, and I ——”

“Sure, don’t say another word about it. I owed it to you, so I did. But, by God, you won’t have to complain of needing customers once you’re well again.”

A warm smile broke across Mrs. Farquahar’s pale face at these words. “There’s no chance of that happening, I’m afraid. What with my illness and all that went before it, the business is gone. Look at the place. It has been shut up this three weeks and more.”

“Not at all,” said Jim. “Sure, since you’ve been sick I put our little Kitty, the slip of a girl, in charge of the place, and she’s made a pile of money for you. It has come as a big surprise for she is only coming sixteen, and she has been helping her mother at the same time. She’s a clever wee girl, so she is, even though I say it myself, and she increased the prices all round. She couldn’t manage with the cakes, because she didn’t know how to bake them like you did. But, sure, I bought her plenty of biscuits at ‘Connolly’s Store’, and her mother cut her sandwiches, and made tea, and the drinks weres all there as you left them. Kitty kept a close account of all that she should.”

Mrs. Farquahar looked at Jim in an odd fashion for a moment, then she drew the sheet over her face, and began to sob. Jim didn’t know what to do and, feeling uncomfortable, he crept downstairs. “Go up to that poor woman, Mary,” he said. “Sure, she’s crying very bitterly. We’ve made it up, and I don’t want her to want for nothing.”

Mary now ran upstairs, took the grim Mrs. Farquahar in her arms, and actually kissed her comfortingly. Quickly Mrs. Farquahar’s grimness began melting away, and the two women cried happily together.

*******

Now, as the trains come into Maryborough station, Jim goes from carriage to carriage making himself a perfect nuisance to those passengers with well-filled luncheon baskets. “Won’t ye have a cup of tea, my lady? There’s plenty of time, and sure, everyone says we have the finest tea here that you’ll get anywhere on the line. There’s nothing like it this side of Dublin. Will you have a wee glass of whiskey, sir? It is only the best, ‘John Jameson’, that’s kept. Or, perhaps, you prefer sherry wine? You won’t be stopping again anywhere that you’ll like it as well. Sure, if you don’t feel you want to get out, don’t concern yourself, there’s plenty of time for me to give in your order and have it sent over to you. There are cakes, ma’am, for the little ladies. It is a long journey, and maybe they’ll be hungry? Maybe they prefer apples? Sure, apples are mighty good for children. She keeps fine apples if ye like them.”

As for Mrs. Farquahar, she has grown quite fat, is at peace with the world. She takes a great interest in the O’Brien family, and she now calls her dog “Billy.”

King Billy – Part II

King Billy DogLet her come ahead,” O’Brien chuckled, “I’m ready for her.”

He had hardly gotten the words out of his mouth when, with a loud bang, the office door violently burst open. Into the office strode Mrs. Farquahar like an avenging angel, dressed in her best Sunday costume of a bonnet, black gloves, and umbrella. Underneath that bonnet she glowered down at O’Brien. He face was very pale, except for her cheek bones, where two bright pink spots burned with a seething anger. “Mister O’Brien,” she snarled at him in a high, stilted voice that was trembling with rage, “will you please to tell me what is the meaning of this dastardly outrage that has been carried out upon my flower beds?”

Outrage? In the name of God, woman, what outrage are you talking about?” asked O’Brien, innocently. “I can see, by the looks of you, that something terrible has upset you. Indeed, you’re looking as angry as a weasel caught in a trap. Is it that you’re vexed about something?”

Oh, of course, wee man. Why would I have cause to be so vexed? You know rightly what that cause is!” interrupted Mrs Farquahar with angry sneer. “But, you’re not deceiving me, Mr. O’Brien. You are not fooling me by pretending you are the innocent one. Let me assure you that if there’s any law in this land, or justice, I’ll have it of you!”

Hold on a wee minute,” said O’Brien calmly. He was so delighted at what had happened that he was feeling much calmer than this angry woman standing before him. “Would ye mind, ma’am, stating in your best, plain English, just what you are talking about, because I don’t have a clue as to what is causing all this grief?”

Judas! You snake in the grass! Oh, you are a deceiving old devil of a man! Sitting there as calm as you like, as if it wasn’t you that is just after destroying my flower-beds!”

Ah, I see now! It is your old flower-beds that’s causing you to make all this row? Those dirty orange lilies. Well, I told you long ago that they should have been cleared out of the place altogether, just as you would to any weed. I will tell you no lie, Mrs. Farquahar. As for myself, I am glad they’re gone. But, as for me destroying them, I can tell you that I never laid a finger on them; I wouldn’t lower myself to do so.

And, Mister O’Brien, if you didn’t do the deed” Mrs. Farquahar said politely, but with anger still in her voice, “will you kindly tell me who did this awful thing?

She was surprised by the loudness of the laugh that came from the stationmaster. “Sure, isn’t that where the joke comes in,” said O’Brien, after he managed to settle himself a little. “It was that very same beast of a dog that ruined my lovely rose bushes, your wee pet ‘King Billy”, may bad luck follow him!

Oh! You’re blaming it all on the wee dog, are you? You’re a traitorous Fenian, O’Brien, blaming it on a poor wee dog that never harmed you? Sure, it is only a Papist who would think of a mean trick like that to shift the blame from himself!”

The angry woman had stepped over the line as far as O’Brien was concerned and his face began to flush with colour as his own anger built.

Mrs. Farquahar,” Jim addressed her in a manner that showed how far his civility was being stretched, “if you will permit me, I suggest we leave my religion out of all this. Because, I warn you, that if you say much more it might just be the cause of me losing my temper with you.”

Does it look like I mind what you lose,” cried Mrs. Farquahar. “The likes of you should be jailed for life, for you are all a group of robbing, murdering, destructive traitors.

Now, you had better have a care how you speak to your betters, madam. You call me and my friends robbing, deceiving, murdering, destructive traitors, indeed! By Jaysus,I like that! What brought over your lot to Ireland? Williamites and Cromwellians, English and Scottish came to rob us, deceive us,  destroy our homes, murder us, steal our land from us, and tell us to go to hell or to Connaught, while you all grew fat on what was ours before you people ever came; and then you give us the worst word in our mouth for being poor. Traitors! Traitor yourself, for that’s exactly what the whole lot of you are. Tell me, who wants you here at all?

Mrs. Farquahar could stand no more. She began to lose control of herself and lashed out at the stationmaster with her neat black umbrella. Her quick action had given Jim a nasty cut across his brow. Attracted by the noise coming from the office, Kelly rushed in, with Finnerty and Mrs. O’Brien in tow. Together they interfered with the combatants, holding them away from each other. O’Brien, however, continued to come under a shower of blows from the umbrella, even as the angry woman hustled outside. Once on the platform, Mrs. Farquahar immediately retreated to her own quarters, still muttering oaths and threats as she moved.

Jim, darling man, you’re bleeding!” shrieked a very anxious Mary, as she wildly threw her arms into the air. “Oh, dear God, why would you event think of antagonising that old devil? Sure, didn’t I tell you what would happen? As sure as there’s an eye in a goat, that one will get you lifted by the police, and she has the backing of all the ‘big-knobs’ in the district to help her.

Ah, sure, let her do her worst,” said Jim, “she’ll not get much good out of it. She was making me out to be a liar, after I had told her that I had not touched her bloody old orange lilies. If she tries to get me arrested, sure, I’ll sue her for assaulting and battering me. You all saw her, and I didn’t even raise a finger against her, the old ‘calliagh’!

By Jesus, isn’t that the damn truth he’s telling? That old witch,” insisted Kelly, shaking his head. “Sure, she beat the living crap out of him with her bloody umbrella, and she never missed a blow until I pulled her away. I swear that if I hadn’t jumped into the middle of it all, grabbing both arms, she would have had his life, and maybe mine too.”

Not even for one instant did Mrs. Farquahar forget the reason why she acted in the manner she did, nor did she believe O’Brien’s story that it was the dog that had destroyed her orange lilies. Then, after some consideration on the matter, she hit on an ingenious device that would satisfy her as being supremely annoying to Jim O’Brien while, at the same time, remaining well within the law. Mrs. Farquahar’s lilies were the emblems of her very deeply held religious and political faith, and now they were gone. But, the woman still had the means to let her beliefs be widely known, and the ability to protest against O’Brien and all that he represented to her mind.

The next day, when the midday train had just steamed into the station, Jim was startled when he heard a wild cheer — “Hi, ‘King William’! Hi, ‘King William’! Come back, ‘King William’! ‘King William’ my darling, ‘King William’!

The morning air was filled with this shrill party cry, and when Jim rushed out of his office he discovered that Mrs. Farquahar had allowed her dog to run down the platform, just as the passengers were alighting from the train. She was now pretending to be in pursuit of the dog and she was calling him back at the top of her voice. There was, however, nothing that he could do to stop the repulsive din. The dog’s name certainly was “King William,” and Mrs. Farquahar was quite at liberty to call out his name in an effort to recover him if he strayed.

Jim simply stood for a moment, as if he had been transfixed. “You know?” he suddenly exclaimed to himself, “I’ll swear that old bitch is the devil’s grandmother!

Mrs. Farquahar passed by him and deliberately ignored the fact that he was standing there. If he had been the gate-post, she couldn’t have taken any less notice of his presence. She just made her way to the extreme end of the station platform, cheering her “King William,” where she picked up her dog, and strode proudly back in triumph. But, very quickly, it became apparent that Mrs. Farquahar was definitely pursuing a regular plan of campaign against the stationmaster. As every train arrived at the station that particular day Mrs. Farquahar went through exactly the same performance of letting her dog loose and then pursuing him down the platform, waving her arms in the air and yelling for “King William” at the top of her voice.

By the third occasion when Mrs. Farquahar chased her dog down the platform, Jim O’Brien rose to the challenge and had formed a counterplot in his head. The stationmaster watched and heard the old woman without saying a word, apparently as indifferent to her tactics as she was to his presence. But, Jim was only biding his time and awaiting his opportunity. No sooner had the passengers alighted from the train and entered the refreshment room, when he made his move. Giving the passengers just enough time to get themselves comfortably seated, O’Brien threw open the doors of the buffet room, rushed in and began to loudly call out. “Take your places immediately, ladies and gentlemen. The train’s just about ready to move. So, hurry yourselves before she’s gone. Come on, all of you!”

The hungry and very upset passengers left their seat all at once and hurried out, leaving Mrs. Farquahar speechless with anger. “I bet I’ve got the whip hand over her this time,” chuckled Jim, as he gave the signal to start to the engine driver. Mrs. Farquahar’s spirit, however, was not broken by the action of the stationmaster. From morning until night, whether the day was wet or fine, she greeted the arrival of each train with loud cries for “King William”. And, on every one of those occasions, Jim O’Brien responded by hurrying out all her customers before they could touch bite or sip at a drink. In this manner the bitter feud continued.