Biddy’s – The Old Man and the Nervous Cow.

An Old Tale of the West of Ireland.

“There once was an old man who said,

“How Shall I escape from this horrible cow?

“I will sit on the stile,

“and continue to smile, “

which may soften the heart of the cow.'”

The old man was walking thoughtfully through the field, with his hands behind his back, when the nervous cow saw him. She wasn’t ordinarily a bad-natured cow, but she was very angry just then, for an aggravating fly had been biting her half the morning. Then, on top of all that aggravation, just as she was drinking at the stream, a frog had jumped up with a cry and bitten her on the nose. These things had completely unsettled her nerves, and she was ready to run at anything. With the old man being the only living thing in sight, she rushed toward him.

What could the old man do? He was a short, stout old man, and could not run very fast. Although he tried his best, the old man just managed to reach the stile and plump himself down on it, all out of breath, as the cow neared him. Then he suddenly recalled reading somewhere that if you were to look an animal directly in its eyes, it would run away from you. “Ah!” he thought to himself, “I’ll look her straight in the eye, and if I smile at the same time, she won’t have the heart to hurt me.” So, he put a smile on his face, even though it was not a very attractive smile, and he stared straight into the cow’s eyes. When the cow saw that smile, ugly though it was, it so touched her heart that she stopped in her tracks. She sauntered back a little way, but the memory of that aggravating fly, and that awful frog, proved too much for her poor nerves and, turning around, she dashed madly forward again. Within a minute, the poor old man; his cane, little legs, smile and all, was up in the air.

He landed on top of a chestnut-tree. One branch grazed his eye, while two ran into his legs, and another held his smile stiff and straight. The old man stayed this way until he was sighted by an eagle, which immediately pounced down on the poor man, and flew off with him to her nest, built on a huge rock that rose straight up into the cold air and reached the summit of a mountain. Can you imagine how astonished the eagle’s chicks were when the old eagle dumped the little old man down into their nest? They opened their beaks as well as their eyes, and cried out to her, “What’s this, mother? What is this?”

Oh! it’s only a man,” cried the old eagle. “I found him roosting in the top of a tree. I don’t know how he got there. Maybe he thought that he could fly, and suddenly discovered he couldn’t. Tell us how it was, old man.

Can he talk?

Talk!” said the eagle. “Of course, he can talk. And I bet he can tell all sorts of stories. So, if you like, you may keep him to tell you stories.”

Oh, wont that be nice! Tell us a story, right now,” the chicks all screamed at the old man, as they pulled the old man down into the nest.

But it’s so dirty here,” complained the old man, looking around, with his nose turned up a little. “Just let me sit on the edge of the nest, won’t you? And I’ll tell you all the stories you want.”

You’ll fall over.”

Oh no, I won’t. I’ll hold on with my cane and my legs. Now just shut your beaks, so you won’t look so savage, and listen carefully.” So, the old man perched himself on the edge of the nest and the eaglets took strong hold of his coat with their beaks, to prevent him from falling. Then, sitting comfortably, he began to tell them the story of “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves“. and when that was ended, another, and then another. The old man did not eat much supper that night, for there was nothing he cook on, and he didn’t sleep well, for whenever one of the eaglets woke up during the night, it always pinched him with its beak, to make sure he was there. Tired of this, the old man quickly resolved to get away as soon as it was possible. But he didn’t seem to have any chance of escape, and so he stayed where he was and told stories until he began to yearn to wring the necks of the gaping birds that kept asking him for more.

Now, all this time, the cow had been getting more and more nervous. Every day she thought of the poor old man and his meek little legs, and his sweet old smile, and just how his coat-tails looked as he went up in the air. Finally, she sadly laid her head down on a tuft of grass by the stream and began to cry. After relieving her sadness in this way, she became calm, and, getting up from the ground said, “I’ll go to his house and find out how and where he is, if I can.” So off she started. But the house was closed, and there was no one there except for the cat, which became very frightened when the cow pushed up the pantry window with her horns.

Through the window she bellowed, “Where’s your master?

I don’t know,” replied the cat nervously as he retreated into a far corner, with his back up. “I haven’t set eyes on him since last Sunday.

Oh dear!” sighed the cow, dropping the window with a crash that broke two panes of glass. “What shall I do?

What’s the matter with you? And what do you want of the old man?” asked Tabby, bounding out through one of the broken panes. The cow told him.

Well,” said Tabby, stroking his whiskers reflectively, “I guess I’ll go with you and help you look for the kindly old man.” So, they walked on, asking everybody they met about the old man. But nobody knew where he was, until finally they came across an old crow who knew everybody’s business.

An old man?” he asked. “Sure, the eagle took an old man the other day. Did your old man have thin legs?

Yes, yes!” said the cat and the cow together. “With a sweet smile on his face?”

Yes, yes!” cried the cow. “He went up with that smile, and it has been haunting me ever since,” she said as she burst into floods of tears.

Well,” said the crow, “he’s in the eagle’s nest telling stories to the eaglets, and I’m sure the man sore and tired of that business by now, if I’m not mistaken.”

Where is the nest?—and how can we get there?”

It’s up at the very top of that mountain over there. Go straight ahead, and you can’t miss it.

So straight ahead they went until they came to the rock where the eagle’s nest was, and wondered what should they do next? They could hear the old man’s little, thin voice telling stories to the birds, but they knew he wouldn’t chance to come where the cow was, even if he could clamber down that steep rock. Finally, Tabby suggested that the cow should hide herself, while he climbed up into the nest and persuaded the old man to come down. So, as the cow hid, the cat scrambled his way up to the nest and carefully poked his head into it. “Ah, master!” he whispered, “climb down the rock to-night, and I’ll show you the way home.” And then he disappeared. But his visit bolstered the old man’s courage, and when the mother-bird came home he calmly told her that he thought he would sleep at the foot of the rock that night, and she unsuspectingly took him in her talons and dropped him gently on the ground.

As soon as the Eagle had gone, the old man looked all about him, and called “Tabby, Tabby,” very softly. Tabby came out from under the roots of a tree and bounded on his shoulder, and told him how sorry the cow was, and how she was waiting in a thicket ready to carry him home, if he wanted to go. Of course, the old man wanted to go home, and in a moment the cow had come out from her hiding-place, had cried a little. But she took the old man on her back, and started down the mountain at full speed, with the cat chasing after her. It was a long way to the old man’s house, and tired out they finally reached it, got something to eat, and then they went to bed, where they slept right through the next two days. On the morning of the third day they all got up together, full of life, and, after eating a hearty breakfast, they all agreed that they would live together for the rest of their lives. This is the way that they have lived ever since that day, in perfect peace and harmony.

The Speed of Light

Jimmy Joe was not exactly a young man though he would be much aggrieved if you honestly considered him to be old. The youngest of three sons he had lived at home all of his fifty years and now, with the passing of his father, the home place belonged to him. Although many who knew him never considered him to be “the sharpest knife in the box”, Jimmy Joe had done well for himself and was now a Clerk of Works for the Housing Executive of Northern Ireland. But, Jimmy Joe had been a Clerk of Works for the past eight years and it certainly appeared that he had risen through the ranks to the highest level he was ever going to achieve.

Now that his father was dead, Jimmy Joe was preparing to marry the love of his life, Nellie Maguire. She too was mature in age but still held some of the beauty that had first attracted Jimmy Joe almost thirty years ago. He could clearly recall the night that he plucked up the courage to ask Nellie for a dance at the weekly Ceilidh that was held in the local parish hall. It was something of a shock to the system when the popular Nellie Maguire agreed, not only to a dance but to allowing Jimmy Joe to escort her home when the Ceilidh ended.

Jimmy Joe & Nellie

Nellie was a natural blond with her long, yellow hair flowing over her shapely shoulders like corn-silk. Her skin was as smooth and unblemished as the finest of porcelain. Her hazel coloured eyes warm and inviting, like those of a movie actress. There was not a man in the Parish that had not lost his heart to Nellie at some stage. She, however, was a woman who knew what she wanted and, so far, only Jimmy Joe had been chosen from among the many. There were those who knew them both at this time and said that the relationship would not last. “Sure she will never go mad, that one. She’s never in the same mind long enough”, seemed to be the popular comment at the time. So far the relationship had lasted almost thirty years, and now they were getting married.

Jimmy Joe was the shy and quiet type of boy that didn’t quite know what to say in the company of women. But, after they had been dating eighteen months he took his courage in his hands and asked her to marry him. She was thrilled to be asked, of course, but there were several things that Nellie needed to clear up before she agreed to his proposal. Her main concern at the time was what the living arrangements would be. When Jimmy Joe told her that they would be living with his father in the home place, Nellie emphatically said, “No!”

It was not, however, a total rejection. Nellie told him that she would marry him but only when his father, Old “Joe Boy” Marley, had passed away. “Joe Boy” was a well known local character and not very much liked by anybody because of the way he treated others. There were those who said that he had worked his poor wife to death, and that he had made her life such a total misery that death was a blessing for her. She had died only a couple of years before Nellie and Jimmy Joe had got together, and her passing appeared only to encourage “Joe Boy’s” bad habits, bad language and rude behaviour. “If you think that I would live in the same house as that ill-mannered old man, lifting and laying for him every day, and listening to his foul mouth, then you have another thought coming!” Nellie told Jimmy Joe bluntly. “He is an ignorant, crude, drunkard of a man and I would not be caught dead in the same house as him.”

Jimmy Joe was neither shocked or annoyed when Nellie told him that they would marry only when “Joe Boy” was dead. After all, thought Jimmy Joe, the amount of alcohol his father drank was bound to kill him sooner rather than later. He did not expect that it would take twenty-eight years for the old man to die. Nevertheless, only a month after “Joe Boy’s” funeral the church was booked and the invitations sent out for the wedding. It was, of course, the talk of the entire parish.

“I wouldn’t think its a ‘shotgun wedding’!” laughed Mary Jane as she served the customer from behind the shop’s counter.
“Still, it is all a bit quick,” Sarah Gill remarked.

“Quick?” exclaimed Mary Jane, almost choking on the word. “It has been almost thirty years in the making! Not exactly the speed of light, is it?”