from Irish Idylls


Jane Barlow

Jane Barlow

Taken from the Hodder & Stroughton edition, 1893

(First published 1892)

All spellings are as they appeared in the original book, including misspellings in narrative

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The widow M’Gurk has managed her own farm of more than half an acre ever since her husband’s death, which took place one spring several years ago, just when he was about to get in his seed potatoes. They weighed very much on his mind during his final hours, for he gravely doubted the success of his wife’s unsupervised operations, and how was she going to live at all if the crop failed on her? She tried to pacify him by assuring him that the ground was frozen as hard as bullets, and all the men in Connaught couldn’t work a stroke if they were outside in the field; but he was not deceived, and would have got up if he had been able to stand on his feet. Pitaties were all that day the burden of so much discourse as it was possible to any one with double pneumonia, which his neighbours diagnosed as “a quare wakeness on his chest”; but about sunsetting Father Rooney, summoned by Mad Bell, rode up on his old cream-coloured pony, and he gave the sick man some consolation.

“Well, well, M’Gurk,” he said, “she’ll have good neighbours to assist her any way, and she’ll do grandly, with the blessing of God. When I was coming along just now, I think I noticed one of the boys getting across the dyke into your field there, with a graip over his shoulder, like as if he was about doing a job for you.”

M’Gurk sought to verify this cheering news by looking through the span of window, which was near his head, but as it happened to be glazed with the lid of a tin biscuit-canister he could not do so, and had to take the statement on trust. However he said, “Glory be,” and thenceforward seemed “aisier like” until the small hours next morning, when he grew easier still.

Mrs. M’Gurk’s subsequent career, though not exactly grand, even for Lisconnel, has in a measure, at least, justified Father Rooney’s prognostications. The people have been ready enough to do good turns for a neighbour who takes high social rank as a lone widdy, without chick or child belongin’ to her in this world, the crathur. But her own peculiarities sometimes ran counter to their kind intentions. She was not a native of that country side, and had travelled to it along a path declining from better days, most grievous for her to tread, as she had the proud and independent spirit through which the steps of those coming down in the world are vexed with a thousand thorns. After more than half a lifetime, her heart still turned to the place where she had spent her long young  years of comparative prosperity, before her father “got drinking.” She could not bring herself to accept the lower level as a permanent one, or to abandon an absurdly palpable fiction, according to which she was recognised as well-to-do and in want of nobody’s help. Hence, whenever she was known to be in straits, the neighbours had to consider not only their own ways and means, generally a puzzling question, but also susceptibilities on the widow’s part, which often proved no less embarrassing and restrictive. A little too much outspokenness, a little over-precipitancy in taking the hint which she was sometimes lothfully constrained to let fall, would convert any attempted relief into grounds of dire offence.

It would not do, for example, to come bouncing in, as Judy Ryan did one evening, bringing a pailful of potatoes, culled cautiously, though in no grudging mood, from a slender store – if Judy threw back a handful at the last moment, it was not her will consented – and saying: “Och sure, Mrs. M’Gurk, I’ve heard you’re run out o’ pitaties; why, it’s starved you must be, woman alive, cliver and clane. Here’s an odd few I’ve brought you in th’ould bucket, and they’d be more, on’y we’re getting’ shortish ourselves.” Judy was immediately informed, with a lamentable disregard of truth, that Mrs. M’Gurk had more pitaties than she could use in a month of Sundays, and was at the same time given to understand, with an impolite absence of circumlocution, that the sooner she removed herself and her ould bucket, the better it would be. After which the Pat Ryans and the widow M’Gurk were not on speaking terms for many a long day. Then, on another occasion, she gloomily dug her steep potato-patch all over again from top to bottom, and in consequence had her potatoes a good fortnight late, whereby half of them rotted in a spell of very wet weather, which occurred before they were fit to lift, simply because Hugh Quigley had finished trenching the ground for them without consulting her, thinking that since she seemed whiles troubled with the rheumatics, forby not being altogether so soople as she was, she would deem it a pleasant surprise to find the task unbeknownst taken off her hands.

Incidents such as these led Lisconnel to opine that the widow M’Gurk was “as conthrary as the two inds of a rapin-hook,” and their tendency was, not unnaturally, to diminish her friends’ zeal upon her behalf. Yet she never so far alienated their sympathies but that she found some of them ready to stand by her at a pinch, and, as they said, “humour her the best way they could.”

Perhaps Mrs. Kilfoyle, the old woman who remembered impossible things, was most successful in this respect; which needs not be wondered at, since people regarded her as a person who possessed more gifts than a turn for romancing. These were at times summed up in a statement that she had a way with her. The way which she commonly used in her delicate transactions with the widow M’Gurk was to borrow the loan from her of a jug or a mug. What she could want with one it would have been difficult to conjecture plausibly, for she had an assortment of them, much more numerous than any imaginable emergencies could demand, ranged upon her own smoke-blackened shelves. Small articles of coarse crockery would seem to be the one thing in which Lisconnel is sometimes superfluous. However, the fact is that Mrs. Kilfoyle ever and anon toiled up the rush-tussocked slope to Mrs. M’Gurk’s abode on the hillside – which she certainly would not have done for nothing, being old, and, though a light weight, less nimble of foot than of wit – with no ostensible purpose other than to negotiate such a loan. It is true that on these occasions she was apt to be struck by a sudden thought just as she took leave.

“Well, I must be shankin’ off wid oneself, Mrs. M’Gurk, and thank you kindly, ma’am. Sure it’s troublin’ you I am too often.”

“Not at all, not at all,” from Mrs. M’Gurk, whose gaunt head rose two inches higher with the consciousness of conferring a favour – “don’t think to be mentionin’ it, Mrs. Kilfoyle; you’re as welcome as the light o’ day to any sticks of things I’ve got.”

“I suppose now, ma’am, you couldn’t be takin’ a couple o’ stone o’ praties off of us? Ours do be keepin’ that badly, we can’t use them quick enough, and you could be payin’ us back when the new ones come in, accordin’ as was convenient. If you would, I’d send one o’ the childer up wid them as soon as I git home. Sorra the trouble in it at all, and thank you kindly, Mrs. M’Gurk, and good evenin’ to you, ma’am.” Then, trotting down the hill: “I’ll bid the lads to be stirrin’ themselves. Nivir a bit the cratur’s after gittin’ this day.”

Or it might be: “Good evenin’, then, Mrs. M’Gurk, and I’ll be careful wid your jug. I was thinkin’, be the way, you maybe wouldn’t object to the lads lavin’ you up a few creels of turf now our stack’s finished buildin’, just to keep them quite, for it’s beyond themselves they git entirely, if they’re not at some job. They do have their mother distracted wid their devilments, the little spalpeens.”

I believe the widow was never known to take offence at any of these after-thoughts, though I am not sure that she did not now and then dimly surmise a stratagem, which she would have resented fiercely had the contriver been anybody else than this little old woman with her white hair like carded bog-cotton, and a sweet high-piping voice like a small chicken’s. But even the other neighbours sometimes managed things adroitly, for Lisconnel is not deficient in tact when it takes time to consider. Still, that tug-of-war between pride and penury could not fail to produce harassing incidents, and the widow M’Gurk swallowed many an ungrudgingly bestowed morsel with bitter feelings of reluctance, which rather more or less magnanimity would have spared her.

But one day she found herself elevated above these mortifications by a little wave of affluence, which swelled up suddenly under her feet. It was a still November morning, with a smooth leaden sky, and wisps of paler mist hardly moving on the sombre face of the bog in the distance; not a morning that seemed to promise anything out of the common, yet it brought a letter to the widow M’Gurk. A letter is almost as infrequent an occurrence in Lisconnel as a burglary in the village of average liveliness, and it usually gets there by circuitous and dilatory modes of conveyance, for which the postal regulations are not responsible.

But the contents of Mrs. M’Gurk’s blue envelope were fully as astonishing as its appearance had been. They consisted of a money-order accompanied by a document which explained that this was the share accruing to her from the divided estate of some unknown kinsman, who had died, possessed, as was apparent, of property, in Connecticut, U.S.A. And the money-order was for the amount of fifteen shillings.

Do not suppose that Mrs. M’Gurk ascertained these things at a glance, as we might read a paragraph in a newspaper; the deciphering of them proved a stiff task for a more knowledgable person than herself – though, mind you, it was a quare piece of print would bother her, or handwriting either, if it was wrote anyways raisonable. Her first impression, in truth, was that she had received some ominous notice or “warnin’” about her rent, which would imply that she stood in imminent danger of being “put out of it,” an apprehension prone to haunt the mind of the dweller in Lisconnel;  and winged with this mirk-feathered fear she sped down to consult her nearest neighbours, the Kilfoyles. So great was her hurry that Mrs. Brian Kilfoyle, rinsing a pot outside their door, remarked to her mother-in-law within:

“Here’s the widdy M’Gurk leppin’ down the hill like an ould spancelled goat. Be the powers she was narely on her head that time over a wisp of bent-grass. It’s much if she’s not after scaldin’ her hand wid the kettle, for she seems to have got a bit o’ white rag on it.”

As neither of them could enlighten or reassure her, Brian was shouted for from his adjacent digging, and even he had to sit for a considerable time on the dyke, with the paper spread down in front of him between two broad thumbs, and with a little breeze blowing through his red beard, before he solved the problem. A small crowd had assembled to hear the result, and was properly impressed by the magnitude of the riches which had flowed into Lisconnel. People are generally loth to be in any way baulked of a strong sensation, and so when Mrs. Sheridan said, after prolonged calculatory mutterings, “Fifteen shillin’s – sure that’s somethin’ short of a pound, isn’t it now?” there was a disposition to resent the remark, albeit she really spoke with no wish to belittle, but merely from a habit of estimating things negatively.

“It’s more than her half-year’s rent, so it is, anyhow, whatever it may be short of,” said Pat Ryan sententiously.

“May the devil dance upon the rint,” rejoined his brother Tim, “but I’m wishin’ you good luck along wid your disthribited fortune, Mrs. M’Gurk.”

Public sentiment was on the whole with Tim. Of course if this phenomenal influx of wealth had confined itself less exclusively to a single channel, satisfaction would have been livelier; pennies jingling in your own pocket ring more silverly than shillings in that of your neighbour, and will do so until coins may bear the date of the millennium. Still, the widow’s legacy was a popular measure in Lisconnel, and for the time being created among its inhabitants a strong feeling in favour of Fortune’s administration of affairs. Their motives, however, were not purely disinterested, because some of them, more especially the women and girls, would for several ensuing weeks retain an irrational conviction that the probabilities of such a letter coming to their own address had been materially heightened. Only by degrees would these illogical persons cease to experience a faint twinge of disappointment when some casual Pat or Mick, returning from the Town, appeared, as might have been expected, empty-handed. It was so easy now to imagine some one again bawling along the road: “Where’s Mrs. So-and-so? Sure there’s a letter for her they gave me down beyant.”

There were a few exceptions to this prevalence of generous sympathy. I fear that Mrs. Quigley cannot be acquitted of an attempt to dull an envious pang by rubbing the edge off Mrs. M’Gurk’s joy, when she said, after a critical survey of the flimsy paper-scrap in which it was at present enfolded: “Well now, I’d liefer ha’ had the money down straight, or at all ivints one of them blue-and-white  pattron, wid the plain black figures. I’ve heard tell there does be ivery manner of botheration sometimes afore you can git that sort ped – if you iver git it at all.”

Mrs. M’Gurk’s face fell as rapidly as a barometer in a hurricane, but before it had time to lengthen more than an inch or so: “Divil the botheration,” Brian said. “Herself below at the office ‘ll just sling the amount at you out of her little windy-box, same as if it was a penn’orth of brown sugar over the counter at Corr’s. They might be axin’ you to put your name to somethin’, but sure any ould scrawm ‘ll do, and they’ll settle it up themselves inside. That’s all the trouble’s in it.”

“Och well, they’ll be takin’ something off of it for sartin’,” persisted Mrs. Quigley, reduced to a but paltry and meagre solace; “they’re niver for payin’ one the full amount of anythin’. Pennies they’ll be takin’ off.”

But Brian said with confidence: “I question will they. And at all ivints a pinny or so’s but a trifle here or there. It’s yourself ‘ud be countin’ the spillins when they were pourin’ you out a sup o’ drink.”

So Mrs. Quigley returned, out of humour, to her morning’s occupation, which happened to be minding a small baby, patching an old red woollen petticoat with bits of an older blay calico shirt, wishing that the rheumatiz hadn’t got such a hould on her right elbow, and wondering by what manner of manes they could contrive to use only the full of the big pot of potatoes daily, when every other potato was bad in the middle, while Mrs. M’Gurk, her faith in her windfall not appreciably shaken, resumed possession of her postal-order, now imprinted blackly with many unofficial stamps.

When Aeschlyean Hermes said that Prometheus would not be tolerable if he were prosperous, he voiced a sentiment which most of us have felt at times, though we may never have expressed it so frankly, and which appears rather melancholy and rather grotesque, if one considers it deeply enough. Not that this remark has any special application to the widow M’Gurk, whatever may have been the case with regard to the pioneer philanthropist. Two or three of her neighbours, it is true, did suspect her of seeming “sot up like” by her accession of wealth. But this was merely their imagination. She really was not unduly up-lifted, being indeed one of the people in whom a sudden shock of good-luck awakens a keen and compunctious sense of their neighbours’ less happy circumstances. When this half remorseful feeling is retrospective in its action, linking itself with memories of those who can be no longer touched by any freak of fortune, it serves as a very effectual safeguard against over-elation. And that is not at all an uncommon experience among the dwellers in places like Lisconnel.

The widow M’Gurk, then, bore her fifteen shillings meekly, and even listened with patience to the conflicting advice which her neighbours liberally gave her on the urgent question of their investment. Four shillings must go “body and bones” to pay off a long-standing account at Corr’s – that was one fixed point; but with respect to laying out the remainder of the sum there were as many minds as there were women in Lisconnel, and rather more. On the whole she seemed most inclined to adopt the suggestion offered by old Mrs. Kilfoyle.

“If I was in your coat, Mrs. M’Gurk,” she said, “I’ve a great notion I’d be gittin’ meself three or four stone, or maybe half a barrel, of male – oaten-male, I mane, ma’am, not the yella Injin thrash, that’s fitter for pigs than human craturs – God forgive me for sayin’ so. That ‘ud come expinsive on you, ma’am, I know; but then ‘twould put you over the worst of the winter grand. Sure there’s nothin’ more delightful of a perishin’ night than a sup of oatmale gruel wid a taste o’ sour milk through it – nothin’ so iligant, unless it might be a hot cup o’ tay.”

Nobody believed Peter Sheridan when he alleged that if the money were his, he’d just slip it away somewhere safe, and have it ready to hand towards the Lady-Day rent. Such unnatural prudence could be supposed in no one when actually brought to the test. “It was aisy talkin’, and he himself niver before the world wid a thruppeny bit.”

Be that as it may, Mrs. M’Gurk had long before sunset planned a shopping expedition to the Town for the very next day; and it was arranged that the widow Doyne’s Stacey should accompany her, and help her with her load, which people understood would consist mainly of a heavy meal-bag. An early start was necessary, for daylight had shrunk nearly to its shortest measure, and the Town lies a good step beyond even far-off Duffclane, which, scarcely surpassing Lisconnel in size, and making no better attempt at a shop than a cabin with two loaves filling one window, and half a dozen shrivelled oranges and a glass of sugar-sticks enriching the other, gives little scope for the operations of the capitalist. If you live at Lisconnel, it is convenient to understand that “down below” means Duffclane, and “down beyant,” Ballybrosna, pre-eminently the Town.

There were still thin fiery lines quivering low down on the rim of the ashen-grey eastern sky, and to the westward the shadow of a great dark wing still seemed to brood over the bog, when Mrs. M’Gurk, wearing a hooded cloak, borrowed from Mrs. Sheridan, and bearing a battered osier-basket with a cord handle, loaned by Big Anne, stood ready equipped for her journey. Before she could start, however, she had to make a round of calls upon her acquaintances to inquire whether she could do e’er a thing for them down beyant. This is a long-established social observance, which to omit would have been a grave breach of etiquette; yet, like other social observances, it sometimes becomes rather trying. On the present occasion one might almost have fancied a touch of irony in the polite question. There were so many things she could have done for them if – but there was much virtue in that “if.” More just then than usual, for the harvest had been indifferent, and an early spell of cold weather had brought keenly home to the inhabitants of Lisconnel the fact that they stood on the verge of the long winter. And the people were afraid of it. In the face of those white starving days and black perishing nights they durst not break into their queer little hoards of pence – corners of “hankerchers,” or high-hung jugs, or even chinks in the wall – any more than they would have opened their door with an unmetaphorical wolf howling expectantly somewhere fast by. So the widow M’Gurk received only few and trivial commissions: a penn’orth of housewife thread, a couple of farthing match-boxes, and the like. Mrs. Quigley was on the point of bespeaking half a stone of meal, but drew back at the last moment, and resolved to do with potatoes, though her husband, who had begun to scent stirabout for breakfast, looked cast down as he tramped off with his graip. And Mrs. Pat Ryan knew that her children were expecting a penny among them to send for sugarsticks, so she told them angrily to quit out of that from under her feet and be minding the goat. For at such times the heart of the head of affairs has to be hardened, and the process often incidentally gives a rough edge to the temper.

The last people Mrs. M’Gurk called upon were the Mick Ryans. Old Mick, who had long been past his work, and indeed “past himself entirely,” as his neighbours put it, was seated on the dyke near the door, waiting till “they were a bit redded up inside,” and thinking vaguely that the wind felt cold. His smoke-dried, furrowed face had hardly more expression in it than the little potato patch that sloped up behind him; but all at once a gleam came into his eyes, and he said very alertly:

“And is it to the Town ye’re goin’, ma’am?”

“Ah, well now, father, what ‘ud you be after at all?” said Mrs. Mick, his daughter-in-law, uneasily; for old Ryan was fumbling in his pockets, where in bygone days there used sometimes to be pennies, but where there never were any now.

“Tobaccy,” he said, after a pause, and fumbled on.

“Whethen now, goodness grant me patience, what talk have you about tobaccy these times, man alive?” said Mrs. Mick, with slightly threadbare good humour. “Where’d you be gittin’ a notion of tobaccy? Sure Mrs. M’Gurk” – here signalling with a gutta-percha grimace to her visitor for corroboration – “won’t be settin’ fut within miles of a tobaccy-shop. She’s just goin’ after a bag o’ male. And Himself might be gittin’ you a bit comin’ on the New Year. Didn’t he bring you a grand twist on’y last Lady Day?”

The old man, partly discouraged by the fruitlessness of his researches in his pocket, and partly by the haziness of the prospect held out to him, seemed to let the idea drop, and his face became nearly as vacant a tract as before, with perhaps a shadow on the furrows. And his unmarried daughter, who had also been groping in her pocket but had found nothing to the purpose there, said, under her breath, “The crathur” – two words, which in Lisconnel so often sum up one’s judgment upon a neighbour’s character and condition.

The widow M’Gurk and Stacey Doyne could not be expected home much before dark, and nobody began to look out for them until quite one o’clock. The ridge of the knockawn behind the widow’s cabin commands an ample stretch of the road in both directions, and from that point of vantage there is generally some one on the look-out, most likely for a mere pastime, though watchers there may be sorely in earnest. But the probable proceedings of the two travellers, the various stages of their journey, and all the circumstances connected therewith, furnished unusually abundant material for discussion about the doors and beneath the thatch of Lisconnel all through this quiet November day, not otherwise rich in incident, as nothing more noteworthy occurred than a slight difference of opinion between Mrs. Quigley and Judy Ryan respecting some hens, and an acute yet transitory excitement roused when Mrs. Sheridan’s two-year-old Joe was almost swept over the black edge of a bog-hole by the trailing tether-rope of an unruly goat. Neighbours meeting were at no loss for a remark when they could say: “They’ll be better than half-ways there by now”, or “I wonder what Corr’ll  be chargin’ her the stone for the male,” or “I’m after axin’ her to try was there a chanst of anybody wantin’ me couple of speckletty pullets. They’ve given over layin’ on me, and I’ve scarce a bit o’ feedin’ for them up here at all; when they smell our pitaties boiled, they’re in after them like aigles, fit to swally them out o’ the pot.”

As time wore on, these speculations began to take a gloomy tone, for Mrs. M’Gurk was much later returning than had been anticipated, which naturally suggested some mishap. They might have lost the money-order, that was the favourite hypothesis; or maybe the people at the post-office – Mrs. Quigley reverted, but now without malign intent, to her original theory – would have nothing to say to it good or bad. About five o’clock, when it was quite dark, a gossoon at the Mick Ryans’ supposed, with a grin, that they might “ha’ met somethin’ quare comin’ by Classon’s Boreen.” Whereupon Mrs Mick, sitting in the dusky background, might have been seen to bless herself hurriedly, while Sally Sheridan, who stood near the open door, edged several steps further into the room: for the place mentioned is an ill-reputed bit of road. And the next time the rising wind came round the hill with a hoot and a keen, all the women started and said: “Och! the Laws bless us, what was that!”

At last, just as Mrs. Doyne was pointing out how easily one of them might have happened to put her foot in a hole in the dark, and break the leg of her, the same way that O’Hanlon’s son did a twelvemonth since, bringing back a heifer from the fair, and he lying out on the roadside all night, and the baste trapesed off home with herself as contented as you please – hailing shouts, which softened into a gabbling hum at a closer range, put an end to all such surmises.

Mrs. M’Gurk’s shopping had been done on liberal lines, to judge by the bulging of the basket, which she set down on the first sufficiently flat-topped dyke of Lisconnel, while she took a temporary rest, and her friends skimmed the cream of the day’s adventures. The ill-fitting lid covered an interesting miscellany, which the uncertain moonlight made it difficult to inspect and “price” satisfactorily: in Lisconnel no newly-imported article can be contemplated with equanimity until everybody who is qualified to form an opinion has guessed how much it cost. The first parcel that came out was the cause of the expedition’s late return, having been accidentally laid down on a counter, and only remembered when Mrs. M’Gurk and her companion were a long mile and a half on their homeward way. But the widow felt that she would have tramped back wearily twice as far rather than left it behind, when Biddy, old Mick Ryan’s daughter, whispered to her: “Sure, he was lookin’ out for something’, in a manner, the whoule day; I knew by the face of him wheniver there would be a fut goin’ past the door, though what got such an idee into his head bangs me. But I’ll give you me word, this livin’ minyit the crathur has a couple o’ matches slipped up the sleeve of his ould coat that he axed the loan of from Larry Sheridan this mornin’; belike he - ”

“Arrah now, look at the size o’ the lump that is,” interposed his daughter-in-law; “I’m rael ashamed, bedad. He’d no call to be talkin’ of such things. Faith, ma’am, ‘twill ha’ stood you in - - ”

“Whisht then, whisht, you stookawn,” protested Mrs. M’Gurk, “and don’t go for to be puttin’ him out of consait wid his little bit of enjoyment, size or no size.”

Meanwhile old Mick sat with the expression of one rapt away in a soothing reverie, and slowly fingered his dark twist of tobaccy, lingering gloatingly over the moist newly-cut end. When Biddy offered to fetch him down his little black pipe, he said, “No begob; I’ll just be keepin’ the feel of it in me hand for this night.” Which he did.

There were other delights in the basket. A bundle of portly brown-and-white sugarsticks made some full-grown people secretly wish that they were children too, and left the children themselves, for the time being, without an unsatisfied wish in the peppermint-scented world. It was on this occasion that a reconciliation between Mrs. M’Gurk and Judy Ryan, who, it may be remembered, had offensively obtruded an offering of potatoes, was cemented – durably, to draw omens from intense adhesiveness – by the number and length of the sticks bestowed upon the youthful Pat Ryans. Then there was a large blue bottle with a red-and-yellow label, which contained a “linyeement” warranted to cure the very worst of rheumatics. This was to be divided between Mrs. Quigley and Peter Sheridan, sufferers of many twinges, who would now command, at any rate, the not despised consolation diffused by strong odours of turpentine and camphorated oil. The only pity was that “such powerful smellin’ stuff” should be marked Poison so very plainly as to scare any one from trying it “in‘ards.” And in one parcel was a coarse warm woollen skirt for Stacey, instead of the thin rag in which she had shivered along many a mile that day; while another swelled with the knitting-yarn that Peg Sheridan, who was “lame-futted, and lost widout a bit of work in her hand,” had been fretting for time out of mind. But the purchases whence Mrs. M’Gurk herself derived the keenest pleasure were the two dark-purple papered packets which she left at the Kilfoyle’s cabin, on her way up to her own; no meagre funnel-shaped wisps, screwed up to receive skimpy ounces and quarters, but capacious bags, that would stand squarely on end when filled and corded, and that you would not err in describing as one pound of two-and-tuppenny tea, and four of tuppenny-ha’penny soft sugar.

This was, of course, magnificent; still one might have thought that old Mrs. Kilfoyle’s recollections of earlier days, remote though they were, would have prevented her from being so taken aback as to sit with the packages in her lap remarking nothing more appropriate than, “Musha, then – well to goodness – sure woman dear – och now begorrah – why, what at all” – treble-noted incoherencies, which were borne down by the gruffer tones of Mrs. M’Gurk, who at the same time was saying, over-earnestly for a mere conventional disclaimer : “Ah now, Mrs. Kilfoyle, honey, don’t let there be a word out of your head. Sure it was just to gratify meself I done it, for I’m rael annoyed – devil a lie I’m tellin’ you – it’s downright annoyed I do be to see the little tay-pot sittin’ cocked up there on the shelf, and niver a dhrop to go in it for you this great while back.”

“Ay, that’s so,” said Mrs. Brian, “nary a grain o’ tay she’s had sin’ poor Thady went, that would be after getting’ a job of work anywheres. But these times, what wid this thing and the other – Howane’er it’s a grand tays she’ll be takin’ now entirely,” continued Mrs. Brian, who was inwardly calling herself a big stupid gomach for alluding to Thady, “and the goat’s milkin’ finely yet awhile, so as there’ll be a sup o’ milk for her. You’ll be havin’ great tay drinkins now, mother, won’t you, wid what all Mrs. M’Gurk’s after bringin’ you?”

But: “The paice of heaven be his sowl’s rest,” Mrs Kilfoyle said, as if to herself, with an irrelevancy which showed that her daughter-in-law had failed to turn back the current of her thoughts.

“I’m sure it was oncommon friendly of you, ma’am,” Mrs. Brian said to Mrs. M’Gurk, with a semi-reproachful emphasis, which was addressed to some one else.

“’Deed, and that it was,” the little old woman responded, remembering her manners, which she very seldom forgot, and hastening back from – who knows where? “There’s nothin’ I fancy like me cup o’ tay; and you to be thinkin’ of that. Why, I’ll get Norah here to wet us a drop this mortial instiant.”

“But Mrs. M’Gurk – why musha Mrs. M’Gurk,” an exciting possibility had just occurred to one of the neighbours who were seeing her home – “what’s gone wid your bag of male all this while? Where have you it at all? Glory be to goodness, woman alive, it’s not after lavin’ it behind you anywheres you are?”

“Set it down out of her hand belike – or Stacey it was maybe – and it’s twinty-siven chances if iver she sees sight or light of it agin.”

“Well, well, well, begorrah, to think of that happenin’ the crathur.”

“Male is it?” said the widow with calm. “Sure was it breakin’ me own back or the girl’s I’d be carryin’ a load of male that far? I could git one of the lads to bring me up a stone handy the next time he’s down beyant – That’s to say, if I’d make me mind up to spendin’ money on it at all,” Mrs. M’Gurk hastened to add, being well aware that thruppince farthin’ was at present the amount of her capital; “I’ve no great opinion of male meself. It’s a brash. A good hot pitaty’s a dale tastier any day.”

When Mrs. M’Gurk finally completed her unpacking in the seclusion of her own cabin, it appeared that she had brought nothing home with her except a penn-orth of salt. The small brown-paper bag did not present an imposing appearance, set solitary on the bare deal table, and she stood looking at it with a somewhat regretful expression for a few moments. She was saying to herself: “If they’d axed an anyways raisonable price for them red woolly wads” – she meant knitted comforters – “hangin’ up at Corr’s, I might ha’ got one for Mrs. Sheridan’s Joe. It’s starved wid the could the imp of a crathur does be, and she’s hard set to keep a stitch to its back. But sivenpence-ha’penny’s beyond me altogether.”

However, perfect satisfaction is unattainable, and few women have felt more contented, on the whole, with the result of a day’s shopping than did Mrs. M’Gurk as she tumbled into the rushes and rags of her curiously constructed lair, where she began to dream of tobacco, and yarn, and alluring bakers’ windows in the middle of her first strangely worded Hail Mary.

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