Chapter 5 - The Right Medicine
Kathleen paid a weekly visit to Dr O'Brien who kept a check on her heart and provided her with her bottle of red medicine. She had great faith in this "red bottle" and told Dr O'Brien so, frequently.
"Whatever you put in that red bottle does me a power of good. The wee Doctor down by the Church has a lot to learn from you. He didn't get to colouring his medicine yet".
"How can you say that Kathleen. If it wasn't for that wee Doctor, I might not be treating you now. I learned an awful lot from him and I will always be grateful for his help. And so should you my lass".
"Anyway it's easy to see that you must be perking up alright".
Sometimes if he had a mind to, he's have her jumping on and off chairs to test her ticker. That was only when he had time on his hands.
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She was inquisitive about his surgery, which was upstairs while his dispensary was just inside the front door to the right. This was where he saw Kathleen while he prepared her medicine. It was worth looking at with shelves all around the place. Large glass containers and bottles all held different liquids. There were jars of tablets all colours and sizes, sitting on shelves straight as soldiers with others lying on their sides as though they had given up the ghost. It was a room of disarray with a large counter below the shelves and two sets of weighing scales, one showing the remains of a white powder. A bottle of baby talc had rolled across the counter, stopping when it reached the inevitable bottle of gripe water. Babies again! Could she never get away from them?
There were scales to stand on and weigh yourself and an open brown case full of cotton wool, smelling salts, that stethoscope he uses every time he tested her heart, and loads of delicate instruments you would expect to find in a Dentist's Surgery. If she had time she wouldn't have minded tidying the place up for him and straightening up those framed certificates which were hanging on the walls at crazy drunken angles. Like other patients, she had to wait her turn in the ground floor waiting room. With her restless nature she found it very hard to occupy her time. It was a dark room that looked out on an old stone wall. A dismal outlook indeed. If she could climb the wall she would be in Coyne's Drapery yard. The waiting room was distempered dark green and here and there a lighter patch showed where the distemper had flaked off. There were several hard chairs and one black, horse haired sofa which occupied one side of the room. She generally used the sofa though she found it uncomfortable as the horsehair pricked her leg and bottom.
As they were called, the patients walked from the room, drew aside the stair curtains and slowly made their way up the stairs. Kathleen knew when they arrived in the Surgery because she could hear the footsteps overhead and Dr O'Brien's gruff greeting.
One day there was only one patient left besides herself and she decided to find out what the Surgery was like. When the other patient was called, she jumped up and followed, keeping at a discreet distance. As the footsteps ahead of her reached the landing she drew aside the heavy brown curtain smelling of age and decay. It was a surprise to find the stairs devoid of any covering. They had been stained once but the stain had almost disappeared in the centre, no doubt worn away by the passage of many feet.
The boards creaked and groaned underfoot and exposed the shiny, worn heads of nails. She thought,
"Glory be. Wouldn't you think he'd have carpet on his stairs and him supposed to be rollin' in money. The least he could have done was to put down some strong oilcloth. She turned and walked back down the stairs and was walking back into the Waiting Room when she was surprised to see Dr O'Brien standing at the top of the stairs looking down at her. He scolded he, saying,
"Child dear, you aren't strong enough for mountaineering - climbing up stairs like these. Haven't I always told you to take it easy and slow up".
"Sure he doesn't know what he's talkin' about. Now the pains have gone from my legs, I don't walk up stairs. I run!"
They walked into the Dispensary hand-in-hand. Here, under her discerning eye, he prepared her medicine. She was always astonished at the number of ingredients that went into her bottle but she wasn't complaining. It was always a lovely cherry red. Today, however, was different. There was the Doctor placidly pouring a green mixture into her bottle. A dirty dark green at that!
"You must have made a mistake Doctor. Me bottle is always red and very good it is too".
"This bottle is a little bit different but I know it will do you a world of good and I think you're ready for it. I've added something special to it just for you".
Kathleen took the bottle very reluctantly and left, taking care to thank Dr O'Brien and doing her best to hide her dismay. When the door closed behind her she stood looking across The Square to her own house. Taking the bottle out of its newspaper wrapping she dashed it quickly to the pavement. She gazed at the liquid as it flowed around her feet and rushed in little rivulets on to the road. Broken glass lay all around her,
Calmly she surveyed the scene and just as calmly knocked at the Surgery door and re-entered.
"I'm sorry. I've had an accident Doctor".
His eyes pierced hers and he took her by the hand and almost pulled her back into the Dispensary. He left her sitting on a high stool and growled,
"Don't you dare move my young Miss!"
A little later, Kathleen emerged triumphantly carrying a new bottle of medicine, but this time it was red!" As she walked home she thought to herself,
"One can never be too careful".
Winter had now returned again to Crossmaglen. Slieve Gullion, cold and forbidding, looked down on The Square where icy winds whipped up the dust, scattering papers and ripping slates from the rooftops. At times like these, people venturing forth kept close to the houses, avoiding the centre of The Square where the flying slates hit the ground and shattered into small pieces.
The water pump was completely deserted. People preferred to walk down one of the roads leading from the four corners of Thw Square, as there were plenty of spring wells about. Anyone fetching water carried two buckets and knelt on the clean white stone overlooking the well. If the well as steep and iron crook was used to lift out a bucket of fresh, clean, clear spring water. The "Keeper of The Crook" usually lived close by and hung it in the kitchen. If "The keeper " wasn't around it was quite usual to open the door, take the crook off the nail and then return it on the way back.
Kathleen pressed he nose against the windowpane and surveyed the wintry scent. When the front door of the house was opened, the wind rushed through the house, billowing out curtains and sending smoke down the chimney. It screeched around the windows and whistled under the door.
At times like these, the O'Hara children undressed by the warm fire and Said their prayers at their mother's knee with Mary helping to tuck them into their beds. Because she was a poor sleeper, Kathleen was allowed to stay up longer and she liked to lie on the hearth rug and gaze into the fire, conjuring up scenes from the sparks cling to the soot on the flue. Usually she glanced through the page of a "Book of Knowledge", visiting in her imagination sunny climes or high mountains cloaked with eternal snow.
Tonight, however, her attention was drawn to Mary. Every night Mary told them a story about the local fairies and there were many since there was no shortage of such stories around Crossmaglen. Kathleen had noticed of late that Mary seemed preoccupied. There she was tonight, looking dreamy and far away. Kathleen thought,
"I bet she's in love".
Sure enough she was on the right track as the following months proved.
Kathleen kept her eyes and ears open and noticed that nowadays, Mary spent much more time in front of the mirror, applying lipstick and putting curls in her hair. Normally Mary was not a great one for cosmetics nor for going out. Suddenly she was eager to do the shopping and never missed an opportunity of going to the Butcher's Shop or at least passing by it. This was a great annoyance to Kathleen who normally did the shopping for her mother. Mary was getting the "glad eye" that was for sure or why was she doing all that blushing? It was time to do some detective work.
Eventually she discovered the man of Mary's choice and that floored her altogether, for who should he be but the local Butcher. Glory be! He was one of the men she spent her life fighting when she when doing her shopping, accusing him of giving her mother tough roasts, old fowl and keeping all the liver for his favourite customers! Kathleen had to admit Ned Finnegan was a fine looking man with his rosy cheeks aglow with health. Most people said he had a heart of gold and he was well respected in the community. Mary just said,
"No wonder most of the housewives give him their custom. He's well deservin' of it".
She wondered what on earth they would do without Mary if she did decide to marry Ned. She was a great favourite in the house, a topping worker with a great sense of humour and Mrs O'Hara's "right hand man". She often sat close by and watched her doing the family wash out in the scullery. They had a large oval wooden tub, a wash board and a scrubbing ladder used to wash out the dirt. Mary took it all in her stride, singing away as she washed, using plenty of Sunlight soap and wringing out the clothes with her big capable hands. Her mother often said,
"It will be well for the man that gets her",
And it looked as though she had found her man.
Ned had a nice wee house, white washed and clean, with rambling roses and wild woodbine round his door. He has a bush of wild Fuchsia too, lilac trees near his front gate and a long garden at the back with apple and plum trees. His house was outside the town. It stood on a high hill overlooking the countryside and facing Slieve Gullion. It was altogether a well-situated cottage in Kathleen's opinion and just waiting for a good capable wife, to complete it.
It was Mary's custom to walk home to Mobane every Sunday afternoon, and since she had to pass Ned Finnegan's house, it was quite natural to stop and chat with him. He always appeared to be waiting or her. Most Sundays she took Kathleen with her for the walk and the company. When they arrived at Mary's house there was always a nice tea prepared with bread just off the griddle. Kathleen ate heartily of this warm bread covered with home made country butter that melted in your mouth, all washed down with a good strong mug of "tay".
She warmed her feet at the open hearth where a heavy black kettle hung from a crook. It was turf fire, bight enough to light up the dark kitchen. The ceiling was low and the walls whitewashed with two little windows, facing each other, which were just big enough to let in a little light. The floor was cemented and level and the half door let in both air and light. Chickens and turkeys sat on the half door and invaded the kitchen whenever there were tit bits about or when the three-legged pot of potatoes was put on the floor. The potatoes were boiled and usually mashed up including the skins, with a can of milk and given to the hens and pigs outside.
Mary's family were devout people and a little red lamp was always burning in front of a picture of the Sacred Heart. Furniture was sparse. Just a table and a settle that seated three people, a few wooded chairs scattered about and a dresser that held loaves, eggs, milk, mugs, plates and cups some of which were chipped and an alarm clock that kept time lying down on its back.
When the large figure of Mary's father darkened the doorway all looked in that direction.
"Blessings on ye young Kathleen. You're a welcome sight for sore eyes".
"Thank you Mr Connor, I'm always glad to come here with Mary and I do enjoy your tea".
"Sure there's nothin' to bate the tay and the home baked bread. That's the reason most of our family are tall, like young saplings".
She believed him alright and could see it with her own eyes. She wasn't quite sure if she liked him. In fact, she was a wee bit scared of him. Mary told her he was very strict and didn't approve of her courting.
"He'd lock me up in me room if I wasn't working in your house. You can see God works in mysterious ways".
It was hard to imagine him as a farmer and the father of a large family. He was tall and thin, with a sallow complexion and he always wore a grey of black suit on Sundays. He had long, slender, well kept hands and Kathleen thought he should have been a pianist or an undertaker.
She followed the courtship step by step. She saw the shy Mary brighten up every time she saw her Ned. Now they had reached the stage where they walked out shyly hand in hand, completely oblivious to Kathleen's presence or interest. She kept her distance behind them and stopped when they stopped. It was hard pretending not to notice. They stood, looked very serious and chatted. She thought,
"I wonder why he doesn't kiss her. Go on man - kiss her. Can't you see she loves you?"
Then she saw Ned put his hand in his pocket and take out a small box. He unwrapped and placed a ring on her finger and claimed Mary's lips in a gentle kiss. "Glory be", thought Kathleen. "They're engaged". She took to her heels at high speed. She couldn't wait to get home an tell her parents and there was great excitement in the house when she broke the news.
"Mammy, I'm afraid we'll have to look for another maid. Mary's getting married".
"And a better man she couldn't have chosen", said her mother and the all agreed.
It wasn't long before Mary did marry Ned and went straight away to live in his house. They didn't bother with a honeymoon. Kathleen was a welcome guest from the start. Mary showed her proudly all over the house.
"You can see how happy I am Kathleen. I have everything I ever needed and Ned is so good to me. I wonder why I ever waited so long".
"To be sure he's a lucky man to get you Mary. He won't have to cook any more or do any of his washing", said Kathleen, bouncing up and down on the bed at the same time. All her questions about them sleeping together met with a silent smile from Mary who knew how to be evasive without upsetting her.
The kitchen was quite large, bright and airy with a warm open fire and the overhanging kettle always on the boil. She would sit there turning the wheel of the bellows. This always brought the turf fire to life and flames leaped up around the black kettle. The dresser displayed a wonderful collection of blue and white china.
"The willow pattern", Mary said and right proud she was of it.
"Imagine Kathleen, walking into a house and even having your own china and linen". This was an unusual kitchen with a second door leading to another bedroom.
"Sure they won't be needing that for a long time", thought Kathleen.
Right over the fireplace a low ceiling protruded and it had a small wooden ladder to reach it. She couldn't contain herself, she had to see what as up there. When she climbed up she was surprised to see a large mattress and bed clothing snug over the warmth of the fire and quite secure under the high roof. This was Ned's winter bedroom and he couldn't have chosen a warmer one.
"With me around Kathleen, he won't be needin' to go up there any more. I'll provide all the warmth he needs".
She couldn't have said a truer word. Mary was all loving anyway.