Chapter 18 - Patrick Proves Cheats Can Win
When Spring came around there was always a resurgence of interest in nature in the family. The children were sitting in the kitchen with their mother, watching the little tadpoles Patrick had brought in. He had about eight or nine swimming around in a jam jar and the children found them fascinating.
[ Chapter 19 ] or [ Table of Contents ]
A peremptory knock on their front door brought Kathleen to her feet.
"Stay where you are, Mammy, I'll go".
She opened the front door and almost froze with fright at the sight of the big woman darkening the entrance and cutting off the sunlight. When she stood her ground, Mrs McGinty said,
"Well what are you standin' there for? Away with you gersha and get your Mammy".
This was one lady you didn't tangle with but her coming meant trouble.
"What on earth have I done to deserve this?", she asked herself. She felt guilty as she beckoned her Mammy out to the door and then took her stand, partially hidden behind her mother's skirts. It was trouble all right and it came fast.
"Well Mrs O'Hara, I've no doubt you'll be the last one to know your son has taken to midgin".
She didn't wait for a reply
"Him and that scut of a gossoon, young Shields, and me own grandson along with them. D'em were the t'ree I noticed but there were others there as well. A'clare to God, I don't know what this country's coming to. I'm fed up with the School Master knocking on me door all the time. Now they have a recruit to swell their numbers and put more grey hairs on me puir head".
"How do you know all this Mrs McGinty?"
Mrs McGinty tightened the black shawl around her and pushed herself up to her great height.
"How do I know? Isn't it at the bottom of me garden that they do all their midgin'. Playing in the little stream and catching tadpoles. When they get hungry, they send Mickey up to the house to raid me larder and me a puir widow woman with little or nuttin' to live on".
Kathleen held her tongue. She knew well where Mrs McGinty's money went, swigging whiskey to be sure, spending half her days holding up Hanratty's Bar, the ould hypocrite. She could see her mother was shocked.
"Has he done it before?"
"No he hasn't. Isn't that why I'm telling ye. I know Mr O'Hara is a great man for the education and won't be takin' kindly for dat sort of t'ing".
She drew nearer to Mrs O'Hara to give her a confidential whisper, flinging her shawl over her shoulder.
"It's not the tadpoles those lads are really after, it's the young lassies in the school grounds. They do be watchin' them as they walk down to the toilets".
Her mother drew back a step and breathed in sharply.
"It's disgraceful", continued Mrs McGinty, "Dem innocent girls don't even know they're being watched. They're larning about nature alright. Tadpoles be damned".
By now Kathleen was breathing more freely. She was sure that was right. She knew the boys spent part of their time down Mrs McGinty's garden and they weren't averse to the odd whistle at the girls either. She wasn't the culprit this time but poor Patrick would know all about it when their father got home.
During the course of the one-sided conversation, she had time to observe the lady. She had heard about her alright. A gay one in her day, it was said, with an eye for the men, a liking for the snuff or a good chaw of tobacco and a great love for porter and whiskey. She clutched her large shawl about her covering a frame of goodly proportions. A flamboyant character, she had a penchant for wearing garments of garish colours that nature would have frowned upon. At one stage the shawl slipped from her head exposing a wonderful sight. Thick, black shiny hair falling around her face and matching so well her dark brown eyes, fringed by lashes that looked as though they had been dipped in black ink. If she wasn't of gypsy stock, then surely there was some of the Spanish arrogance in her. She must have been a real good looker in her youth, even thought the cares of life and carousing had left their marks in her lined face and full-blown bosom. Layers of cardigans and waistcoats tried to meet somewhere round her waist but must have given up the struggle years ago. Now she was content to encircle it all in the voluminous shawl, even covering that glorious head of hair.
"I'll bid ye good day, Mrs O'Hara. Tell that young scallywag of yours to keep to his books and larnin'. I'll sort out Mickey in me own time".
Kathleen didn't doubt she would. She was some targer alright. Then she was gone and the sun streamed through the open door once more.
They turned their backs on it to face Patrick who had come out ready to face the music. While their mother remonstrated, he kept telling her,
"It was nature study. We were supposed to study all about tadpoles and frogs that day so we decided to go to the source and find out for ourselves. Anyway, I was only one of many and I didn't enjoy it that much".
He was sharp that fellow.
Kathleen thought he was getting away with things and took over from her mother, questioning him and giving him a piece of advice the way her father would do. He wouldn't have any of it.
"Why don't you mind your own business. Pushin' your nose into everything! Do you know what's wrong with you Kathleen, You're too pugnacious".
Then he slammed the kitchen door and climbed the stairs to his bedroom. She knew he was good with the English but didn't like the tone of his voice. It didn't sound much like a compliment. Now she would have to go to the dictionary again and find out what pugnacious meant.
Sunday was the only day their father was around when he had the pleasure of taking the family for their walk to Mobane. Then they all stepped out, the black pram prominent and often holding a second passenger. Their father twirled his silver-ribboned walking stick, enjoying the company of his large family, one hand on the pram helping his wife to push it. Once you got to the top of John Aisy's hill the going was easy as then the road went for a mile downhill.
It had become part of the routine now to make a race for the three eldest children. That was when trouble started and today was no exception. It was a lovely afternoon and their Daddy waited until they were walking past Mary Finnegan's house and then suggested a race for a penny, as far as the top of John Aisy's hill. He took a penny out of his pocket and showed it to them and then commenced to organise them for the race.
It was a handicap. First he insisted on making marks on the road with his stick. The three were positioned at different stages according to their ages. Patrick the eldest was furthest back, Kathleen next and then Aileen about twenty yards ahead of her. Their Daddy told them to take their marks. Being in the middle, Kathleen was at the mercy of her competitors, both of whom cheated. She turned around and found Patrick moving up behind her. While she complained about this Aileen was stealing ahead in front. It didn't take much of this to get her dander up. She started to remonstrate with her father.
"You can't", was as far as she got.
"On your marks", he shouted.
"But Daddy they're cheating".
Patrick streaked by her like lightning. That put the going on her and there she was fighting it out shoulder to shoulder with him. Somehow, as always, he managed to get to the winning post just ahead of her. Aileen didn't seem to worry. She came in at her own pace.
There was bound to be a post mortem. There always was. Old Jamsie Duffy from the Cottages across the way, an interested spectator of most of their races came over to console her while Mary just stood at her garden gate holding a baby and shouting encouragement to her.
"Ah Kathleen if you keep runnin' like that you'll have the batin' of him yet. You ran like a gazelle. They'll be pinning a medal on you one of these days."
"It was a fiasco of a race Jamsie. I never had a chance to win. Medal is it? Are you sure it won't be a leather one? Why don't you tell all that to me Daddy? He's the one who starts all the trouble. He just doesn't appreciate me".
She grabbed his arm and pulled him along until she had him standing opposite her father. She looked up at him.
"Now tell him Jamsie".
They were both big men, looking eye to eye and taking it all very affably. She saw her father give a penny to Patrick, the winner, and then take one to Aileen, the gallant loser. It was enough to try the patience of a saint.
"What about me?", she cried, "always squashed between the two. I never get a fair chance and I never cheat. Isn't that right Jamsie?"
She tugged on his hand, giving him an imploring look.
"Sure Mr O'Hara, you're not thinking of leaving the poor gersha without a penny after the way I've seen her run today".
"Ah Kathleen darlin'. I almost forgot about you".
Then he slipped a penny into her hand. She felt she had earned it.
"Next time you decide to have a race leave me out of it".
"Now sure it wouldn't be the same without you Pet".
"Amen to that", said Jamsie as he slowly made his way back to his cottage, a gentle smile on his face, knowing he would see the race repeated on many a Sunday to come, with similar cheating and a similar outcome.
It was a lovely day and after a while, Kathleen felt it was too good to spend all her time indoors in her uncle's house. She stepped out on to the road, where the sun was melting the tar. After a quick glance around, she discarded her sandals and left the imprint of her feet in the soft tar. It was a lovely feeling and she loved the smell too. She stood listening to the telegraph wires making their summer music. How often she had stood before to listen to the high pitched sound coming from the wires. It reminded her of other summers. Somehow, there was a touch of sadness about it all. Perhaps the wires were singing a Requiem as the good weather was nearing its end.
She found pleasure too in gazing at the lovely Slieve Gullion standing sentinal over the small fields around her. Nature was looking at her best. Then her eye fell on Owney Loye's front door and she was very surprised to see a pram standing outside. As she walked towards it Owen wandered out from the field behind the house.
"I didn't know you got married Owney".
"Oh I did, I did, I found myself a nice wee wife from up the country and we're a happy wee family now".
"I can see that you've had a visit from Nurse Morris". Nodding in the direction of the pram. Owney looked a bit perplexed.
"How did you know that. She was the midwife alright".
"You wouldn't have a baby if it wasn't for her. Sure she populates half the country around"
Owney scratched his head and stammered a bit.
Just then her Aunt Eileen appeared on the scene and remarked,
"Haven't you been learning about the birds and the bees at school?"
"Of course I have Eileen, but I'm not interested in entomology, or, or..."
"Ornithology, that's the word you're looking for".
"Anyway, I prefer Mother Nature". She moved back towards the house.
"Forget about your funny words", said Eileen. "When you get your Mammy on her own at home, you should ask her about the birds and the bees".
During the rest of the family's visit, Kathleen gave the conversation some thought. In the end she decided she would tell her Mammy that suddenly Eileen seemed to be taking a great interest in the birds and the bees and yet she rarely left the house!
The family walked back together to Crossmaglen. As they passed the Police Barracks corner, their Daddy passed the time of day with Sergeant Boyd. It was his favourite stand from which he observed all the comings and goings in The Square. The Sergeant seemed all for talking but most of the children were tired and wanted nothing better than to get back home.
"I see that good lookin' cousin of yours is home from England, Mrs O'Hara", nodding in the direction of Aunt Rosie's house.
"She is indeed".
Kathleen was shocked and the words slipped out before she could stop them.
"You should be ashamed of yourself and you a married man at that".
"Ah bad cess to ye gersha. If a fella has a pair of eyes in his head he is supposed to use them. Anyway why should you worry? You're not likely to be blessed with her good looks".
He grinned as he sauntered off round The Square.
Their Daddy told them that when he was stationed with the Police at Crossmaglen, the house on the corner was the Barracks than and many a good night they'd had in it. She thought he was going to reminisce and she wasn't in the humour for it. They all had a look at the impressive building and agreed Mrs Murtagh was a lucky woman to have such a lovely home. Mind you they only said it for politeness sake. Some of the lofty windows of the house looked out on to The Square while its imposing front was on the Culloville Road. It was about two hundred yards from the present Barracks which they passed on their way home. Well they could have their Georgian house and its funny porch. It wouldn't touch their house for comfort, warmth and fun.