Part III

May to August

Chapter III

ABOUT the still more exposed cabin of the Duranes the storm raged yet more furiously, and awoke, one after the other, all its inhabitants, no less than nine of whom were sleeping under its roof that night. It blew the white turf-ashes out from the, chimney in such a shower over Pete himself, who was sleeping upon the right-hand side of the fireplace, and whose mouth happened to be wide open at the time, that it became filled with them, in getting rid of which he tittered a succession of sputtering sounds which had the undesirable effect of arousing his wife and exciting her never, very distant wrath.

    'Monnum a Dhea! is it waking the children you want to be after now?’ she asked in a tone all the more acrid from its enforced lowness. Then, with a ‘Whist! whist! whist!‘ addressed to the baby, she began, gently but rapidly, thumping that important personage’s back, so as to hinder it, if possible, from awaking.

    Unfortunately the action brought her elbow into sudden sharp contact with the head of the youngest little girl who had nestled close up to her for warmth, and who immediately responded with a loud howl, which in its turn aroused Juggy Kelly, Pete’s niece and the general servant of the establishment, who slept with the chickens in a sort of loft overhead, and who, with a vague idea that something was suddenly being required of her, began, half awake, to hist and hoost vigorously, as, if she were driving in geese or turkeys to roost.

    ‘Auch! listen to that creature!’ muttered the mistress of the house in a tone of yet more acrid displeasure—a displeasure only kept low by the fear of awakening the rest of the still slumbering flock. 'Bedhe husth! Bedhe husth!‘ she called up in a shrill whisper in the direction of the offender. ‘Troth, and I might speak to the chickens themselves and better,’ she added to herself in a mutter of indignation. ‘A fool that Juggy came into the world, and a fool she’ll stop in it as long as the head stays on her! What ails me to be letting myself be troubled with her, I wonder? Isn’t one fool enough for a decent woman to have on her hands at the same time?—yes, indeed, and more than enough! ‘Tis the right baulyore I am with my easygoing ways, slaving and slaving from morning till night, and getting no thanks, only feeding them that never yet did a day’s work—nor couldn’t either, I believe, though you covered them with gold from head to foot, and promised them all Ireland in return for doing it. Whist! whist! whist, I tell you! Will you whist, I say?’ she continued to the baby, who had by this time joined its plaintive howls to the other confusion of noises within and without the cabin. ‘Whist this very minute! Arrah, will you hold the tongue of you then, and stop bawling? What! and will nothing else content ye? There, then, there, then; now be easy, and let me hear no more of you.' Then, as the baby’s voice sank into a chuckle and murmur of content, ‘Weary on you, one and all, for torments! my life’s destroyed amongst you, late and early! Never a day’s peace or quiet upon this earth, God knows!’

    'Dada, my foot’s sore! There’s a big thorn sticking out of the top of it!’ suddenly exclaimed the youngest child but two, a small, red-headed, lively creature called Norah, its father’s, chief favourite, who was sleeping in an obscure corner of the cabin along with a brother of about a year older.

    ‘Arrah, hush. my dotey! Be easy, now, there’s a good child, and don’t be crossing your mother!’ Pete answered apprehensively, creeping out of his own bed and feeling his way over in the darkness to where the child’s voice came from. ‘There, there; go to sleep quick, acushla agus, and sure dada will look for the ugly devil of a thorn in the morning and pull it out, never fear,’ he whispered soothingly, whereupon the child, satisfied by his assurance, put up her little face to be kissed and then settled down again, curling her little legs under her as a small drowsy bird curls itself into its own corner of the nest.

    ‘Man Above! it is the terrible night it is, and no mistake!’ Pete added to himself in a tone of apprehension, looking round him with a terrified glance as a wilder gust than ever swept down the chimney, rattling the ill-fitting woodwork, once more filling the cabin with white ashes, and threatening to bring the whole crazy construction about their ears.

    'Wild weather! God save all mariners upon the sea, far and near, this night, amen!’ muttered old Durane from his own corner behind the door, the one most out of the draught, and partially protected also by the corrag, or screen of dry branches of furze and alder. He was only half awake, but the formula was so familiar that it rose unbidden to his lips even in his sleep.

    ‘True to you, father, the same, amen!’ dutifully responded his son, as he skipped back across the cabin and into his own lair, pulling the great coat which was his chief covering by night as well as by day close up to his chin.

    'Yerra ! you’re the nice pair, the two of you, talking and carrying on in the black heart of the night as if it was the broad middle of the day!’ his wife exclaimed angrily. ‘And I that have not had one taste of sleep yet, and my two arms broke with holding up the child! I take the holy Mother of God to witness that ‘tis enough to make any woman curse the hour she was born, let alone the day she ever laid her two eyes upon such a man—not to say he is a man at all, for he isn’t, nor hasn’t the spirit nor the courage nor the sense of a man, only clever at putting upon one that’s too soft and easy ever to say a ‘no’ to him ! Yerra! give him his bit and his sup and his bed, and his easy life, and ‘tis all he wants. Wurrah deelish! Wurrah deelish! ‘tis the queer husband I have, anyhow! God, He knows that, so He does!'

    To all this, Pete the submissive made no reply, only rolled himself up into a ball, trying to get his feet out of the piercing draught, a performance which, despite the shortness of his legs, he utterly failed to accomplish. By degrees the scolding voice died away for mere lack of anything to feed upon; the baby, too, slept; little red-headed Norah crept closer and closer to her brother, pushing him against another sister who lay just beyond, till the three became an indistinguishable mass of small mottled arms and legs. The old man had relapsed into the placid dreamless slumbers of old age. Up in the chicken-loft poor, much-abused Juggy Kelly lay,, her troubles and stupidities alike forgotten, one fat arm, utterly bare of covering, hanging outside the thin coverlet, her mouth wide open, amid deep snores heaving her capacious chest.

    Thus, despite the blasts which unceasingly shook it, all the inmates of the cabin ‘little by little fell asleep. In other cabins scattered over the face of the island the inhabitants, too, slept, notwithstanding the storm, till, towards daybreak, the wind itself— sweeping over and over, and round and round its unprotected top; playing mad pranks along the steep perpendicular cliffs; rushing vociferously through the narrow fluted channels and fissures, in at one end, out at the other; loosening the thin flakes of limestone and dropping them with a hollow or tinkling clatter upon the next ledge—producing, in short, every variety Of sound of which that not very responsive musical instrument was capable—was the only thing left awake and astir upon Inishmaan.