Chapter 17 - Game Set and Match
Kathleen had a great fancy for Policemen since they seemed to be particularly big and handsome men, like her own Daddy, and she wasn't above giving them the glad eye. It amused her to see the look of bewilderment and surprise on their faces because she was flirting so young. One big policeman had a special place in her heart. It was, perhaps, a bit mercenary, but sure she told herself,
"You don't turn down gifts if you've worked hard to get them".
There is no doubt she did work hard.
[ Chapter 18 ] or [ Table of Contents ]
The police barracks stood back about twenty yards from the road that led to Culloville. It had a very nice grass tennis court in front with a railing running along the road. In fine weather this court was rolled and marked out with white paint contrasting sharply with the green turf. The Policemen, dressed in their white tennis attire, played with their friends. They looked very elegant and eye catching indeed. Sure there wasn't another tennis court in Crossmaglen and some of the schoolchildren used the O'Hara forecourt to practice their tennis. This was not always appreciated and many a pane of broken glass brought furious comments from the householders.
On her way home from school she often paused to watch the games and ran after balls that went astray. When her favourite was playing, there was no telling when she might arrive home. She sat atop the railing and as the ball bounced out of court on to the road she was there to run and fetch it. This was a favourite pastime with many of the youngsters and there was sure to be a payment at the end of it. For the lucky ones who were agile and quick enough to catch the pennies thrown in the air by the policemen it was easy money. Mary Ann Martin and Brigid Flynn were often there, competing with the boys and after on of these scrambles it wasn't unusual to see the boys emerging triumphant while the girls went off without a penny.
Girls just didn't get a chance.
Kathleen fought harder than the other girls for her little rewards, Sean Rafferty, with the long gangling legs and a shock of black curly hair, didn't come out unscathed. She fought him penny for penny, lashing out with stinging slaps across the face. She found she had very strong wrists and could hold on to his wrists until the penny finally fell out of his hand. Thank God for them. That was all that was strong about her at the moment but they were like pennies from heaven. Often when a penny fell there was another mad dash to retrieve it and the contest was on again.
The result of these battles was that generally Kathleen and Sean were not on speaking terms. The only time a truce was called was when she found a shopping bag too heavy to carry and needed help. Then Sean was useful. A sweet smile brought him running. It was well known he had a fancy for her and she had heard he fought battles over her at school. Not that she was really aware of it. Her heart, at the moment, belonged to one of the tall fascinating men of the law, a certain Mr Gregg. She thought,
"I wonder what me Daddy would think if he knew I was casting me eye at a policeman and him not even a Catholic?"
After all, her father had been a policeman but that was back in the "troubled times" before she was born. The past was just a fairy tale to Kathleen. She kept her secret and went on worshipping her he-man.
When he played a game of tennis she was sure of one thing. She wouldn't have to make an exhibition of herself. All she had to do was to stand quietly and demurely in the background while the others rushed and fought over the pennies he flung into the air. Afterwards he would make his way over to Kathleen and place a sixpenny piece in her hand. That was enough to make Mary Ann and Brigid livid, while she walked home with her sixpence tight in her fist, secure in the knowledge that he must like her. He certainly singled her out and brought a blush to her little apple cheeks. How could she look at Sean Rafferty now? Him with long skinny legs and short pants, his knees black and covered with the scars of school battles fought on the football field. No, her hero was a man of the law.
Their next door neighbour, Mrs Kelly, received a visit from her young sister who came all the way from Wales. Mr Kelly was a policeman and the driver of the police car that patrolled the Border. They were kind and friendly neighbours and the children all played together. Mrs Kelly's two children attended the Protestant School at Creggan, which was considered right and proper. How would you expect them to know about the Missa de Angelis which they sang most days in Crossmaglen School or the Veni Creator Spiritus sang when preparing for Confirmation. All Kathleen ever heard them singing was, "Neared my God to Thee".
When the Catholic Church at Glassdrummond was built, they offered to drive Kathleen over there to have a look at it. She went off in their little black car, chattering away as the quiet, taciturn Mr Kelly got on with his driving.
"You're some driver Mr Kelly".
""Don't I get plenty of practice at it Kathleen".
Then there was a long silence. His gang behaved well and would have put their gang to shame any time.
The Church stood high on elevated ground. It had a windswept view of all the little villages dotting the landscape. Slieve Gullion was close and the lovely Mournes filled in the background. It made a lovely panoramic scene. She had to admit Mr Kelly was quite an authority on Museums and Churches, the way he described the architecture, stained glass windows, the finish of the Christening Font, the polish of the new wood in the pews, and the love an effort that went into the making of the Stations of the Cross - and him a Protestant! From then on she held him in very high respect.
With the coming of Mrs Kelly's sister there was great excitement in both households, since she was coming loaded with presents and some of these were for the O'Hara family. She was also known to be a good looker who wore fashionable clothes and these were not seen too often around Crossmaglen. Mrs Kelly's one big worry was the bathroom. She had one but no tapped water. It was the same in the O'Hara's house but they knew how lucky they were since they had a well at the bottom of their own garden. Their mother saw to it that Mrs Kelly never went short of water.
"I suppose the lady from Wales is used to modern pipes and taps and doesn't have to use a well" - mused Kathleen, "That will mean more work for all of us. We'll be like mules working our way up and down the garden to the well the keep Bathsheba clean".
As far as that was concerned, Crossmaglen was a bit behind the times and in no hurry to introduce the modern idea of running water. People said, "If they were good enough for our fathers and grandfathers then they're good enough for us".
Sure enough the young lady arrived and divil a word about baths and water passed her lips. She was a stunner, small and dark haired with dark brown eyes and a sallow, creamy complexion. She also had a very good figure. Beauties like her weren't seen around too often and the local boys couldn't see enough of her as they paraded by daily.
"Petite you'd call her", Kathleen informed her friends, "with a figure like Venus de Milo with arms".
She began to spend a great deal of time in their house. Didn't Mrs Kelly make lovely buns ands home-made sweets and always had a supply in the cupboard. Things like that never stood a chance of being stored in the O'Hara house. All too quickly, they would be discovered and wolfed down by any one of the tribe.
Mrs Kelly's two children were both quite grown up, yet they always seemed to be complaining of aches, pains, colds and chills.
"They're hot-house plants, needing constant care and attention", Kathleen thought. Their mother wasn't strong either and it was quite common for Mrs O'Hara to be called in the night to fetch a Doctor for one or other of them. Unlike the O'Hara's spartan way of life, theirs was luxury indeed.
On entering their front door, a wave of heat met you from the kitchen stove. The smell of soap and disinfectant permeated the kitchen. Medicine bottles stood prominently on the dresser and windowsill. All windows were tightly closed and fresh air seemed to be an unwelcome guest. Toys and books filled the room. The children's bathrobes lay draped over a chair close to the fire, so they never knew what it was like to step into a cold garment. Mrs Kelly cosseted and spoiled her children and this may have been one of the reasons why one or the other was always ailing.
The Kelly children were always popular around their birthdays. It was because their mother was such a good cook and knew how to give the children invited to a birthday party a real good spread. She was very kind and her house always had an open door for the O'Hara family.
With the arrival of Gwen Williams, Kathleen found opportunities for going into their house, if only to stare at Gwen as she made up her face, or to admire her wonderful clothes. She was usually upstairs, taking in Gwen's every movement, watching her in the mirror.
"Sure with a face like yours, what need have you for puttin' on that stuff?"
Gwen's reply was revealing,
"An artist is never happy with his work and spends hours trying to improve it. That's what I'm doing".
Kathleen wasn't likely to forget that remark.
One sunny afternoon, the Kelly family took Gwen out for a ride in their car to see the lovely mountain scenery around the villages of Forkhill and Camlough, with its lovely lake. Forkhill, nestling between two peaks of the Mourne Mountains and lying in the shadow of Slieve Gullion, would greet them today in the golden sunshine. Camlough Lake, at the foot of Slieve Gullion was breathtaking cool blue on that sunny day with swans gliding gracefully across its surface. Yet in winter, when storms blew up, it looked almost like the sea with waves breaking across the rocks and boulders and sea birds screeching overhead.
There was no room in the car for Kathleen so she busied herself dressing up. Somehow today this gave her little satisfaction. They were the same old clothes, won and shabby, comparing unfavourably with the lovely, modern clothes Gwen always wore. As she though of Gwen's wardrobe the answer came to her. She would borrow some of her clothes in her absence. She knew there was a very nice tweed costume for country walks and a grand pair of brogue shoes with overlapping tongues. Just right for golf!
Doors were seldom locked around these parts and today was no exception. Kathleen walked right into Mrs Kelly's house, up the stairs and straight to the guest bedroom. True enough, there was the costume. It was a bit on the large size for her but sure that was no problem. With a length of cord and a few safety pins the skirt was safe and secure. Hurriedly she put the shoes on and left the house quickly. Once inside her own front door she found her father's favourite walking stick with a ribbon of silver entwining the handle. This was taken out very secretly as her father had forbidden the children to play with it. His last walking stick had come to a sad end when used for pulling down awkwardly resisting sloe branches and all the children had been warned the new stick was sacrosanct. His exact words were,
"If I find one of you so much as touching that stick you'll get a tanning you won't forget in a long time!"
The stick had hung untouched until that day.
Kathleen had decided to take the stick along as it would be grand as a golf club. She chose the field beyond the house. It was a large field with a certain amount of rock outcrop exposed on the side of the hill. It was the same hill they rolled their coloured Easter Eggs down. She and her sisters played "house" there too. There were small spaces between the rocks which they called rooms. They had a kitchen and a sitting room on the ground floor and further up among the rocks, a bedroom and a bathroom. All this was screened by shrubs and golden whin bushes. Today these spaces would be used as bunkers.
She paraded around the field, engaged in animated conversation with herself and every now and then, taking stance and hitting out at an imaginary golf ball with the walking stick. Finally, her Mammy discovered and yelled at her from the bedroom window,
"Come in at once Kathleen O'Hara, before your father gets home and leaves the welt of his stick on your bottom".
"Shure I'm only playin'".
"Now you heard what I said".
That was enough. After an anxious and indecisive pause, she took to her heels with alacrity. She had to climb over a hedge to get back to the road and this was not too easy. That beautiful tweed skirt had become quite cumbersome and to add to her discomfiture, it slipped down and was hanging round her ankles. What with the walking stick and the awkward skirt and the panic of her sudden haste, the difficulty of scrambling over the stone wall was much increased. Finally, she fought her way through the hedge and traversed the treacherous ditch. Thorns were sticking in her fingers, arms and legs and pulling at her clothes.
When she reached the road, she discovered the skirt of the costume had been caught and a small piece of material was still clinging to the bushes. She was mortified.
"Glory be. They'll burn me at the stake. How am I going to face the Kelly family after this?"
Just then, Mr Quigley, a delightful old, retired gentleman, happened to pass by.
"Ah Kathleen", he said gravely, "It's a beautiful day for a game of golf", with barely a glimmer of a smile. At this precise moment the skirt finally fell all the way to the ground. Barely a flicker passed over his face as he doffed his hat and passed on his way.
"How could this happen to me a second time?" She stamped her foot with temper.
"I suppose they'll have a great laugh about me in the Billiards Room tonight. I only hope me Daddy doesn't decide to go down there for a game of cards or billiards".
As soon as Mr Quigley had moved off in his polite way, she climbed back and tried to retrieve the piece of skirt still clinging to the hedge. She caught it and toppled over in the process, landing back in the field among the briars and the nettles. She was a sorry sight when her mother found her, crumpled up and still hanging on to the patch of skirt.
"I was only playing games", she cried, but this time the look on her mother's face told her she had gone too far.
"To think you invaded the privacy of Gwen's bedroom without as much as a 'please or may I'".
"Shure there's no one in the house mammy".
"God knows what they'll think of us now. You'll have us the talk of the place. Come to think of it, you've done that already".
Kathleen would remember that night for a long, long, time. Punishment was duly delivered by her father and then there was the humbling experience of explaining to the Kellys how the accident happened and how she came to be in possession of the skirt in the first place. As always, Mrs Kelly was most understanding.
"She's been punished enough already. I didn't think she'll do it again".
Her mother did a good job of repairing the skirt and all in all, she told herself, she got off lightly.
More indirect punishment was on the way when romance came to Gwen. It was inevitable her good looks would bring her a host of admirers and one or two of those boy friends were invited to the house. Kathleen was surprised one evening to see the Police Car parked outside the Kelly's door. Only two men drove the Patrol Car, Mr Kelly and Constable Gregg. Her heart raced as she watched from their front door. If it was Constable Gregg she might have a little chat with him. Her vigil lasted half an hour before the Kelly's front door opened and she had the shock of her young life. There was Gwen Williams, poised and beautifully groomed, coming out on the arm of Constable Gregg. That was the last straw! How dare that Welsh Englishwoman come over here and take our men! Most hurtful of all, Constable Gregg didn't even notice Kathleen.
"The shame of it. If only I was a wee bit older I'd give her a run for her money".
Still, she comforted herself with the thought that Gwen's holiday would soon be over and then things would be back to normal.
It didn't work out that way. Gwen's holiday was a prolonged affair ending in her engagement to Constable Gregg. By the time this happened she had reconciled herself to the fact. At first she found it painful to look at their courtship. Jealousy tugged at her heart strings each time she saw them walk by. She could see them holding hands and laughing into each other's eyes as if sharing some wonderful secret. They were young and they were in love. As weeks went by she found herself accepting the situation. She even managed to return their smiles and answer their greeting.
Gwen eventually returned to Wales but by the time the high summer had arrived she was back in Crossmaglen and this time to be married. Shortly afterwards they left to make their home in the beautiful Glens of Antrim, while Kathleen set about looking for another man in uniform.