Chapter 24 - Perhaps Another Minor Miracle
She had a nice name. They called her Colleen but when it came to looks she didn't have the delicacy that one would associate with her name. All the same she was a fine strapping lassie. They said Mickey McEnteggart used to fancy her and said she was "a foine tight lassie" and he wasn't overgenerous with his compliments. Kathleen was walking by as Coleen emerged from one of her family's fields, closing the iron gate behind her.
[ Chapter 25 ] or [ Table of Contents ]
There was mud at the entrance to the field, and on Colleen's boots and she walked in mud across the road to her home, towing Kathleen along with her.
"You're the very one we're looking for", she said, staring towards their closed half-door.
"Mother, for God's sake look who's here. I thought you must have us at the bottom of your visiting list. Of course we all hear about your matchmaking. Ah poor Noddin' Tim's worse than ever. When I think of all those lost years. You know Kathleen, one time I thought he'd make an honest woman out of me but sure he always carried a "gra" for wee Biddy".
She gave Coleen a good deal of scrutiny, just to see whether Noddin' Tim had done the right thing or not. The milking done and the cattle contented in the field, Coleen had the sweet smell of fresh milk about her. She was a big-framed lass, broad of shoulder and well upholstered. Her short, straight, black hair was pinned back with one hairgrip. She had glowing rosy cheeks and good strong hands, well accustomed to outdoor work. Her apron was fairly clean, not as crisp and clean as Biddy's she thought, but those damnable hobnailed boots she wore all the time did nothing to enhance her appearance but just drew attention to her big, broad feet.
She caught Kathleen's glance.
"We can't all be Miss Nices you know. Imagine me tramping the fields and this mud in fancy shoes, cleaning out the byre, feeding the pigs and puttin' fresh straw down for the hens. I'd look a fine sight and no mistake.. With no man around the house I just have to do the best I can".
"And very well you do it Coleen", said Kathleen, diplomatic for once, "Your mother's lucky to have you".
Kathleen was propelled towards the door and received a warm handshake from Colleen's mother.
"Kathleen O'Hara, 'tis well you're lookin' and a blessing you called on us today. I'm just makin' a nice cup of tay and you'll have a nice fresh boiled egg".
"That would be very kind of you but do you mind if I help Coleen first?"
"Ah, she can't come in 'til she's had a good wash".
"Do you mean in the yard?"
Coleen was already pumping water into a basin which she took around to the side of the house and dumped on an empty table. She followed her, anxious to see this unusual ritual. There was Coleen, removing her apron, pulling off her blouse to reveal a lot of clean underwear. She had a bar of Sunlight Soap in her hand and then scrubbed her face and neck with much force, splashing the cold water freely and over Kathleen who took a few steps backwards, almost falling into the arms of the mother coming round the corner with a kettle of hot water. Coleen flung the cold water across the hedge and replaced it with the hot water. Within seconds she was removing those awful boots, peeling off her stockings and was standing in the water, washing her feet and legs, scrubbing away as forcefully as ever. She asked Kathleen to get her some more water from the pump which she promptly did and was then told to get lost until she finished her ablutions. That was a new one on her but she took the hint. Glory be, that was a bath in the open air and it made her shiver as she entered the house.
The old lady had set to and cut some fresh bread. The eggs were boiling in the saucepan on part of the burning turf. Hanging from the hob, the big black pot was full to the brim with creamy porridge, bubbling away. That, she was sure, was for their supper. Coleen entered with the clean smell of soap permeating the kitchen. She was glowing with health and vitality and if it wasn't for those hobnailed boots there was no doubt she was a fine broth of a girl, who should have made a lot more of her looks. She'd have made Micky a good wife too.
Coleen poured out the strong black tea and Kathleen had time to observe her mother. It was the first time she had seen her wear a patch over one eye and it was a bit disconcerting though she did all in her power not to notice it. Coleen wasn't slow.
"I see you're lookin' at me mother's eye. Do you know Kathleen she has been plagued with eye trouble these last few weeks. She got ointment from the Chemist but it doesn't seem to get any better. So it was a miracle you walkin' by our place today as only yesterday we talked about callin' on your mother for the use of your services".
Kathleen's eyes opened wide.
"How can I possibly help you?"
"Well aren't you known to have the cure for the stye?"
She hoped the shock didn't register on her face but her knees were trembling and for once she was at a loss for words.
"Come on Kathleen. She'll be no trouble and I'll have the gooseberry ready for you when you call".
"Do you realise I'll have to ask me Mammy first and then me teacher?"
They hung on her words.
"I'll have to have the time off each day to come here and it will take all of nine days".
"We understand and we'll do everything to help".
It was the look on the old lady's face. She had complete trust in Kathleen. She couldn't wait to tell her mother.
"I'll have to do it Mammy and you know it's for nine days".
Her mother was just as stunned but after a few words with their father, she went down the road to visit the schoolteacher. Permission was granted. Kathleen started on her daily journey, more than a mile down the Dundalk Road, and on arrival, entered the house with a blessing.
"God bless all here".
Coleen steered her towards the waiting mother sitting in an upright chair, neat and clean and minus the eyeshade. The eye was weeping badly and she had the feeling a visit to Dr O'Brian was needed. Coleen hovered around and then handed her the plate with the nine gooseberry thorns. She did it so reverently, that Kathleen felt a fraud. She made the sign of the cross, pointing the thorn towards the old lady's eye, then threw the used thorn over her left shoulder. She wasn't sure why she did that but it impressed the old lady. When it was finished, she walked towards the door with Coleen whispering,
"The same time tomorrow, Kathleen. We'll be waitin' for you".
This visit was repeated for the following eight days and by now she knew the ritual well. On the last day as she walked towards the door, Coleen slipped an envelope into her hand and squeezed it as much as to say "You deserve it". Kathleen glanced back and for the first time she could really see a pronounced improvement in the eye. It wasn't closed, it wasn't weeping and all the swelling around it had gone. She was flabbergasted.
She rushed home with her envelope and felt she was floating on air. She felt like knocking on Dr O'Brien's door to tell him about her miracle cure. Her mother met her at the door. Her eyes were shining too.
"I have the cure Mammy, I have the cure".
The little Carrickmacross Lace collar was placed behind glass and soon it had a "thank you" message beside it.
"Well done Kathleen. Thanks from Coleen and Mother".