Part II

April

Chapter VIII

HER SILENCE did not hinder her from becoming the subject of vigorous controversy and criticism the instant her back was turned.

    'Auch, my word, just look at the length of her! My word, she is the big girl that Grania O'Malley, the big girl out and out!' Rosha exclaimed, looking after her as she ran down the steep path, her tall vigorous figure framed for a few minutes by the doorway of the room she had just left. 'It is the mighty queer girl that she is, though! God look down upon us this day, but she is the queerest girl ever I knew on this earth yet, that same Grania O'Malley. Yes, indeed, yes!' A long-drawn smack of the palate gave emphasis and expansion to the words.

    'Auch, Rosha Durane, don't be overlooking the girl! 'Tis a decent father's child she is any way,' said the aunt from the other side of the island, apparently from an impulse of amiability, in reality by way of stimulating Rosha to a further exposition of what Grania's special queerness consisted in.

    'Did I say Con O'Malley was not a decent man? Saints make his bed in heaven this day, when did I say it?' the other answered, apparently in her turn in hot indignation, but in reality perfectly understanding the motive of her aunt's remark. 'What I do say, and what is well known to all Inishmaan, and that it is no invention of mine nor yet thought of by me, is that he was a very wild queer man. And Grania is just the same; she is a very wild queer girl, and a bold one too, and so I suppose I may say even in my own house and before you, Mrs. O'Flanagan, though you are my poor mother's sister that's these seven years back gone to glory! I tell you there is no end to the queerness, and to the bold things she does be doing. It is well known to all Inishmaan, yes and to Aranmore, too, that she goes out to the fishing just like a man, so she does, just like a man, catching the plaice and the mullets, and the conger eels, and many another fish beside I shouldn't wonder; and if that is not a very bold thing for a young girl to do, then I do not know what a bold thing is, although I am your own niece, Mrs. O'Flanagan. But that is only the half of it. She has no fear of anything, not of anything at all, I tell you, neither upon the earth nor under it either—God keep us from speaking of harm, amen! She will as soon cross a fairies' ring as not! just the same and sooner, and it is not two months, or barely three at the most, that I saw her with my own eyes walk past a red jackass on the road, and it braying hard enough to split at the time, and not crossing herself, no, nor a bend of the head, nor spitting even! It is the truth I am telling you, Mrs. O'Flanagan, ma'am, though you may not choose to believe me, the truth and no lie!'

    'Ugh ! ugh! ugh! 'Tis a bad end comes to such ways as those, a bad end, a bad end,' said old Peggy Dowd, who up to this had been busily occupied in eating up the scraps left in the pot, but had now leisure to take her part, and accordingly entered upon the subject with all the recognised weight of her years and authority. 'Did I ever tell you women both, about Katty O'Callaghan, that lived over near Aillyhaloo when I was a girl? From the time she was the height of that turf kish there she would not be bid by anyone, no, not by the priest himself. The first time ever I saw her she was close upon eighteen years old, for she was not born on the island, but came from Cashla way to help an uncle of hers that had a small farm up near Aillyhaloo. A fine big girl she was, just the moral of that Grania there, with a straight back, and a wide chest, and the two eyes of her staring up big and bold at you—the very same. But, Man Above, the impudence of her! She had no proper respect not for anything, so she had not. She would laugh when you talked of the good people, and she would say that she would as soon go up at night to the Phooka's hole as not, which everyone knows is all but the same as death. As for the cohullen druith, with my own two ears I heard her say she did not believe that there was such a thing! though my grandfather, God save his soul! saw one once on the head of a merrow hard by the Glassen rock. But, faith! I haven't the time nor the strength to be telling you the half of her folly and nonsense, nor couldn't if I took the night to do it! Anyhow, there she was, straight and strong, a fine handsome girl just like that Grania there; and her uncle was to give her two cows when she married, and her father at Cashla, I heard too there was talk of his giving something, I don't know whether it was pigs or what. In any case there was nothing to hinder her settling, only you may guess if any decent quiet-reared boy would like to go marrying a wife with such ways and such talk in her mouth as that same Katty O'Callaghan! However, she was bid for at last by a harmless easy-going young fellow of the name of Phil Mulcahy, and married him, and went up to live a quarter of a mile or so beyond Aillyhaloo, at the edge of the big west cliff yonder, and a year after she had a child, as fine a boy at the start as you'd see in a day's walk. Well!, you may think she was going to get off clean and clever, after her goings on; but not a bit of it—so just wait till you hear. One day she went down the rocks by Mweeleenareeava for the sea-wrack, and I dare say she was carrying on as usual with her nonsense and folly, anyway, when she got back, the first thing she noticed was that the child looked mighty queer, and second shrunk half its size, and its face all weazened up like a little old man's, and the eyes of it as sharp and wicked as you please. Well, women both of you, from that hour that creature grew smaller and smaller, and queerer and queerer, and its eyes wickeder and wickeder, and the bawl never out of its mouth, and it wanting the breast night and day, and never easy when it got it either, but kicking and fighting and playing the devil's own bad work. Of course the neighbours saw right enough what had happened, and told Natty plainly the child was changed—and why not? Sure who could wonder at it after her goings on, which were just as if she'd laid them out for that very purpose! But she wouldn't hear a word of it, so she wouldn't, and said it was the teeth, or the wind in its stomach, and God only knows what nonsense besides. But one day a woman was coming along from Aillinera to Aillyhaloo, a real right-knowing woman she was by the name of Nora Cronohan, and as she was going she stopped to ask for a potato and a sup of milk, for she was stravoging the country at the time. So she looked up and down the cabin; and presently she cast eyes on the creature, which was laid in a basket by the fire, that being the place it stayed easiest in, and—

    '"Arrah! what's that you've got at all in there?" says she, staring at it, and it staring back at her with its two eyes as wicked as wicked.

    '"My child, what else'?" says Katty, speaking quite angrily.

    'With that the woman gave a screech of laughter so that you could have heard her across the Foul Sound with the wind blowing west, and "Your child!" says she. "Your child! Sure, God save you, woman, you might as well call a black arth-looghra a salmon any day in the week as that thing there a child!"

    'Well, Katty was going to throw her into the sea, she was so mad! But first she looked at the basket, and with that she began to shake and tremble all over, for the creature was winking up so knowing at her, and opening and shutting its mouth as no Christian child in this world or any other ever would or could.

    '"Why, what ails it now, at all, at all?" says she, turning to the other, and her face growing as white as the inside of a potato.

    '"Listen to me, woman," says Nora Cronohan, holding up her hand at her. "That's not your child at all, you ignorant creature, as anyone can see, and there's but two ways for you to get your own right child back again. You must either take that up the next time there's a south wind blowing and set it to roast on the gridiron with the door open, or if you won't do that you must gather a handful of the boliaun bwee and another handful of the boliaun dhas, and put them down to boil, and boil them both in the pot for an hour, and then throw the whole potful right over it; and if you'll do either of those things I'll be your warrant but it will be glad to be quit of you, and you'll get your own fine child again!"

    'Well, you'd think that would be enough for any reasonable woman! But no. Katty wouldn't do either the one thing nor the other, but held to it that it was her own child, not changed at all, only sick; such fool's talk! as if anyone with half an eye, and that one blind, couldn't have told the difference! She had ne'er another child, you see, nor the sign of one, and that perhaps was what made her so set on it. Anyhow the neighbours tried to get her to see reason, and her husband, too, though he was but a poor shadow of a man, did what he could. At last her mother-in-law, that was a decent well-reared woman, and knew what was right, tried to get at the creature one day when Katty was out on the rocks, so as to serve it the right way, and have her own fine grandchild back. But if she did Katty was in on her before she could do a thing, and set upon the decent woman and tore the good clothes off her back, and scratched her face with her nails so that there was blood running along her two cheeks when the neighbours came up, and but for their getting between them in time, God knows but she'd have had her life. After that no one, you may believe, would have hand, act, or part with Katty Mulcahy! Indeed, it, soon came to this, that her husband durstn't stop with her in the cabin, what between her goings on and the screeches of the creature, which got worse and worse till you could hear them upon the road to Ballintemple, a good half-mile away. Yarra! the whole of that side of the island got a bad name through her, and there's many doesn't care even now to walk from Aillinera to Aillyhaloo, specially towards evening, not knowing what they might hear!

    'Well, one day—' here the narrator paused, looked first at one and then at the other of her listeners, coughed, spat, twitched the big cloak higher round her shoulders, and settled herself down again in her chair with an air of intense satisfaction. 'One day, it was a desperate wild afternoon just beginning December, and the wind up at Aillyhaloo enough to blow the head of you off your two shoulders. Most of the people were at home and the houses shut, but there were a few of us colleens colloguing together outside the doors, talking of one thing and another, when all of a sudden who should come running up the road but Katty Mulcahy, with the bawl in her mouth, and a look on her, face would frighten the life out of an Inishboffin pig.

    '"Och! och! och!" says she, screeching. "Och! och! och! my child's dying! It's got the fits. It's turning blue. Where's Phil? Where's its father? Run, some of you, for God's sake, and see if he's in yet from the fishing."

    'Well, at first we all stared, wondering like, and one or two of the little girshas ran off home to their mothers, being scared at her looks. But at last some of us began laughing—I was one that did myself, and so I tell you women both—you see we knew of course all the time that it wasn't her own child at all, only a changeling, and that as for Phil he had never been near the fishing, but was just keeping out of the way, not wishing, honest man, to be mixed up with any such doings. Well, when she heard us laughing she stopped in the middle of her screeching, and she just gave us one look, and before anyone knew what was coming there she was in the very thick of us, and her arms going up and down like two flails beating the corn!

    'Och, Mary Queen of Heaven, but that was a hubbuboo! We turned and we run, and our blood was like sea-water down our backs, for we made sure we'd carry the marks of her to our graves, for she had a bitter hard hand, and God knows I'm speaking the truth, had Katty Mulcahy when you roused her! Well, at the screams of us a heap more people came running out of the houses, and amongst them who should put his head out of one of the doors but Phil Mulcahy himself, with no hat to his head and a pipe to his mouth, for he had no time to take it out, and she thinking, you know, he was away at the fishing!

    'At that Katty stood still like one struck, and the eyes of her growing that round you'd think they must fall out of her head, so big were they, and her mouth working like a sea pool in the wind. And presently she let out another bawl, and she made for him! I was the nearest to him, and there was some three or four more between the two, but you may believe me, we didn't stop long! It was something awful, women both, and so I tell you, to see her coming up the road with that rage on her face, and it as white as the foam on the sea. Phil stood shaking and shaking, staring at her and his knees knocking, thinking his hour was come, till just as she was within touch of him, when he turned and he ran for his life. He ran amid he ran, and she ran after him. Now there's no place at all, as everyone knows, to run on that side of Aillyhaloo only along by the cliff, for the rest is all torn and destroyed, with great cracks running down God knows where to the heart of the earth. So he kept along by the edge, and she after him, and we after the two of them presently to see the end of it. Phil ran as a man runs for his life, but Katty, she ran like a woman possessed! Holy Bridget! you could hardly see the feet of her as she raced over the ground! The boy's cried out that she'd have him for sure, and if she had caught him and this rage still on her God knows she'd have thrown him over the cliff, and you know 'tis hundreds of feet deep there, and never an inch of landing. Poor Phil thought himself done for, and kept turning and turning, and far away as he was now we could see the terror on the face of him, and we all screeched to him to turn away from the edge, but he did not know where he was going, he was that dazed. Well, she was just within grip of him when she stopped all at once as if she was shot, and lifted her head in the air like that! Whether she heard something, or what ailed her I can't tell, but she gathered herself up and began running in the opposite way, not along by the sea but over the rocks, the nearest way back to her own house. How she got across nobody knows, for the cracks there are something awful, but you'd think it was wings she had to see the leaps she threw in the air, for all the world like a bird! Anyhow, she got over them at last, and into her house with her, and the door shut with a bang you might have heard across the Sound at Killeany.

    'Nobody, you may believe me, troubled to go after her or near her that night, and the wind being so cold, after a bit we all went home and Phil, too, by-and-by come creeping back, looking like a pullet that had had its neck wrung, and the boys all laughing at him for being 'fraid of a woman—as if it was only a woman Katty was, with that black look on her face and she leaping and going on as no woman in this world ever could, if she was left to herself! That night there was no more about it one way or another, nor the next morning either, but by the middle of the afternoon a man that was passing brought us word that he heard a noise of hammering inside of the house. Well, at that we all wondered what was doing now, and some said one thing and some another. But a boy—a young devil's imp he was by the name of Mick Caroll—peeped in at the end window and came running up to say he had seen something like a coffin standing on the floor, only no bigger he said than the top of a keg of butter. Well, that was the queerest start of all! For who, I ask you both, could have made that coffin for her, and what could she have wanted with a coffin either? For you're not so ignorant, women, either of you, as need to be told there wouldn't be anything to put into it! 'Twasn't likely that thing she had in the house with her would stop to be put into any coffin! 'Tis out of the window or up the chimney it would have been long before it came to that, as everyone knows that knows anything. Anyhow, 'twas the truth it seems he told, for the very next day out she came from the house herself, and the coffin or the box or whatever it was under her arm, and carried it down did she sure enough to the shore, and paid a man handsome to let her put it in a curragh—as well she'd need, And him losing his soul on her!—and away with her to Cashla over the "Old Sea"! And whether she found a priest to bury it for her is more than I can tell you, but they do say out there on the Continent there're none so particular, so long as they get their dues. As for Phil, he went over only the very next week to her father's house, the poor foolish innocent creature, but all he got for his pains was a pailful of pig's wash over his head, and back he came to Inishmaan complaining bitterly, though it was thankful on his two knees to Almighty God he ought to have been it was no worse, and so we all told him. However, there was no putting sense into his head, and not a word would he say good or bad, only cried and talked of his Katty! Lucky for him his troubles didn't last very long for the next thing we heard of her was that she was dead, and about a year after that, or maybe two years, he married a decent little girl, a cousin of my own, and took her to live with him up at the house at Aillyhaloo. And, but that he was killed through having his head broke one dark night by Larry Connel in mistake for the youngest of the Lynches, 'tis likely he'd be in it still! Any way, he had a grand wake, the finest money could buy, for Larry Connel, that had always a good heart, paid for it himself, and got upon a stool, so he did, and spoke very handsomely of poor Phil, so that Molly Mulcahy the widow didn't know whether it was crying she should be or laughing, the creature, with glory! And for eating and drinking and fiddling and jig-dancing, it was like nothing either of you ever saw in your lives, and a pride and satisfaction to all concerned. But,'—here Peggy Dowd hitched her cloak once more about her shoulders and spat straight in front of her with an air of reprobation—' but—there was never a man nor yet a woman either, living upon Inishmaan at the time, that would have danced one foot, and so I tell you, women both—not if you'd have paid them for doing it—at Katty Mulcahy's wake.'