Графични страници
PDF файл
ePub

candid gaze. Yet there are those who say that Mary Ann can turn a crooked penny with the best. Be that as it may, she is a valuable asset in our present condition, for she unravels for us the mysteries of our sugar ration, that one and only article of food which an alien and brutal Government insists upon rationing in persecuted and defenceless Ireland. Mary Ann's capable hand doles out the sugar, and whisper it not in Whitehallis able now and then to “do' her favourite customers an extra quantity. It is useless to ask her how she manages this, for she is as close as wax, and her sole response to all such questions is silence and a hardening and brightening of her eyes. A certain hard, bright capability is indeed the dominant note of her personality. Probably this is why she is not popular. Capability is an admirable quality, but it is not always an engaging one. Moreover, if Mary Ann is less than popular she is completely prosperous, and prosperity is not a passport to favour in Ireland.

At least it used not to be in old Ireland, but to-day there is a new Ireland, to which Mary Ann and her sort belong. She is indeed one of its bright particular products. By that it need not be supposed that Mary Ann is a Sinn Feineron the contrary, Mary Ann is invariably on the safe side: but she walks the new paths with a firm tread, and her eyes look straight in front of her. There are no dreams in Mary

Ann's eyes-they are filled with the main chance.

No wonder wonder her borders enlarge themselves day by day. Not so long ago she began with the little ten-footsquare shop and shop and a bioyole. She still has both, but I can see her in the near future in larger rooms and the chief seat in her own motor-car.

The latest news is that she has bought "Drumgoole's"! These reverberating tidings flutter not merely the village but the entire neighbourhood. Bought Drumgoole's! And at a price that never was heard of since the world began!

Drumgoole's is a strong farm with quite a large and imposing dwelling-house upon it. Glory be to God! what could a lone woman want with all that? The question finds its own answer. For what but the one fixed object of every female breast!

The first time I see her after this portentous announcement, I inquire whether it is not to be followed by another more interesting still.

"So, Mary Ann, you have bought Drumgoole's," I say invitingly.

"Ay!" Mary Ann is no more improvident of speech than of anything else belonging to her.

"Well," I persist with what archness I am mistress of, "I think we all know what that means."

She is silent, but the blue eyes show that hardening and brightening which indicates that she has heard, and does not intend to make any ad

missions; still, if a face whose every feature is opposed to what we call coyness could express that emotion, hers does so now.

"Anyhow," I continue in the same key, "I wish you good luck, Mary Ann, with the new house, and I'm sure 'himself' when he comes along to hang up his hat there will be a lucky

man."

The merest reflection of a smile wavers in her eyes for a second, but her accents are as dry and cool as usual when she makes reply"There are more married than keep good houses."

And with that I have to be content.

Gossip couples various names with hers, but so far she has held the balance between the aspirants as competently as she holds the sugar scales. Still I think that before long she

will throw the handkerohief, and where she throws it it will assuredly rest; for Mary Ann's aim is as capable as herself-she'll see to it that it gets there. He will be a fortunate young man, no doubt; nevertheless, if I were compelled to choose between the two for a wife, I think I would choose-Mies Oriel.

III. MRS DELIA MURPHY,

Mrs Delia Murphy was slightly drunk-not badly, if one can admit any question of degree in that vice, but at all events not quite sober. She had had, in fact, a "sup o' porter" with Mary Fogarty. On leaving the hospitable house of refreshment where, contrary to the law as at present enacted, her friend had "treated" her, she was able to walk homewards alone with steady steps, the "sup sup" manifesting itself merely in a desire to talk, irrespective of place or suitability, to laugh for no apparent reason, and to make much play with a large, white, and not over-clean pookethandkerchief. Her way lay along Wolfe Tone Street, renamed thus in lieu of George Street, after an eighteenth-cen tury monarch of that name. For Dunsealy (pronounced by

the majority of its inhabitants Dunsayly) is a town of shining disloyalty, and lives up (or down) to its reputation with notable perseverance. Like nearly every country town in Ireland, its houses and buildings are of soulless and depressing ugliness, with, in its ease, the single exception of the Roman Catholic Cathedral, which is-architecturally-a more or less effective copy of the chapel of King's College, Cambridge.

Wolfe Tone Street is a somewhat squalid thoroughfare, having at one end the large bleak edifice dedicated to the county jail. The high grimy wall of the latter, which runs flush with the street, bears upon it a legend boldly painted in rude white letters, and in the English language, "Vote for the Man in prison

[ocr errors]

- an

exordium entirely superfluous the colour of its posters, reto any person who knows tailed the following item of Ireland, and the strength of news:

attachment whieh knits 8 "Holland refuses to give up the Kaiser to England.

large portion of the population of the Island of Saints to the inmates of jails. Other legends of seditious or, if you prefer, patriotio patriotic sentiment are similarly insoribed on other walls and hoardingssuch as: "Tipperary leads the way!" "Up the Boys of Cork!" "Up Sinn Fein!"

Mrs Delia Murphy's eye lighting upon these, glowed with a feeling compounded of love, hate, and malt love for Ireland, hate for England, malt for a general sense of wellbeing. Under these conditions her feelings usually found vent in the expression of an ardent and sincere hope that England might be defeated, nay, even utterly destroyed! The lauds of victory lately chanted in Whitehall have never reached Mrs Delia Murphy, and, even if they had, she would still have gone on hoping and praying that, if not the Germans, some one else-it mattered not who would speedily compass the destruction of her Enemy! Apart from this obsession, Mrs Delia Murphy harboured no ill-will towards anybody.

There are in Wolfe Tone Street, besides many publichouses, several tobacconists' shops. Outside one of the smallest of these, boards were displayed bearing upon them newspaper posters. A bright green sheet belonging to a Dublin evening paper, whose politios are aptly expressed in

Mrs Delia Murphy, who was not unintelligent or at all averse to being au courant with topios of the day, halted in front of this and read it aloud twice.

"An' why would they?" she inquired blandly of some invisible auditor, "why would they? Oh, blessed hour! look at the way them English is persecutin' and tormintin' that poor good man. The Lord save us! but them English are the vil-lians of the worrld an' no mistake. Faith, I'd like the Kayzer meself as well as any wan, an' I don't care who hears me say it."

Her voice rose a semitone on the last sentence, possibly because a stalwart and pompous sergeant of Royal Irish Constabulary had drawn near. He, however, stood composedly indifferent to these utterances. He adjudged it no part of his duty to "take cognisance" as, in his best official phraseology, he would have expressed it, of Mrs Delia Murphy's opinion of the ex-Kaiser, or of any other European potentate, past er present. Moreover, he knew who she was, and that she was a "decent respectable woman,' while long and wide experience enabled him to calculate to an infinitesimal drop the amount of the "sup" and the probable extent of its effects.

[ocr errors]

With a certain subtle affeetation, not unworthy of a wider stage, Mrs Delia Murphy,

seemingly still in ignorance the Sergeant with unblushing of the Sergeant's proximity, familiarity. flourished the pocket-handkerchief and resumed her conversation on a more argumentative note.

[merged small][ocr errors]

But at this the representative of the Law fixed upon the speaker a curiously steady gaze. Mrs Delia Murphy was clearly heading for forbidden ground. Still the Sergeant was a kindly as well as a shrewd man, and he held firmly that in dealing with certain classes of offenders everything was to be gained by leniency. Meeting the fixity of the policeman's gaze as if she had now become aware of his presence for the first time, Mrs Delia Murphy burst into a paroxysm of incontinent laughter.

"Arrah, Sergeant, ye're the good man yerself, and yer better nor wan o' them Kayzers or un-Kayzers so ye are." Her eyes twinkled, and she made another almost coquettish flourish of the handkerchief in his direction.

The Sergeant unolasped his hands from behind his back and gave his thick stubbly moustache an upward twist.

"Here now," he said goodhumouredly, "let ye go home, it's time for ye. The day's changing: there's rain on the sun. He stared at her as he said it with solemn pomp.

[ocr errors]

Mrs Delia Murphy looked up at the sun and winked at

"The Lord love ye!" she remarked cordially, "an' if ye live long enough maybe ye'll see the rain fall."

The irony was not unmerited, for the sun shone in a clear heaven of blue, and there was not a cloud in the sky.

The next moment her air of familiarity changed into one of delicate flattery. She stood, the pooket-handkerchief-for the moment out of action— floating down from her hand.

"Well, ye're the lovely fine man yerself, so ye are anny way," she remarked, "and I don't wonder yer wife had ye."

Once more the Sergeant fixed her with a comprehensive stare, nevertheless far down below the surface of his eyes a smile lurked. Perhaps she saw it, perhaps not; but she turned from the newspaper posters and resumed her way, though not without a parting flutter of the handkerchief, a laugh, and a languishing wink. The Sergeant's eyes followed her ruminatively as she went. Her bonnet had slipped just & shade off the front of her head, the flat bands of her hair had loosened ever SO

slightly. The expression of his face showed that he had noticed these blemishes: it also showed regret. He was not without a sense of the fitness of things: there is something particularly unfit and altogether displeasing in untidy grey hair. He gave her about fifty feet start and then followed, keeping her in view. Her progress was quite event

less, but it was enlivened by conversational outbursts of irregular intensity. The "sup," as the Sergeant knew, would be responsible for that. "Guinness" is a potent beverage, and if, of late, its price has gone up, its strength nevertheless has not gone down.

"An' what I say is this," he overheard, "why don't the worrld go for them vil-lians and get the poor good man out of prison." Apparently Mrs Delia Murphy's mind was still dwelling upon international affairs, "An' little Willy!" She stood still and rocked herself in a frenzy of laughter. "Augh! that's the lad for me when Ireland's a nation once more. 'Tis me own boy he'll be, an' we'll show the like o' them English who we

are!"

The Sergeant had slackened his pace when Mrs Delia Murphy halted. He did not wish to overtake her overtake her at least, so long as she behaved within permissible bounds; nor did he wish her to discover that she was being followed. He was too prudent to provoke, though too humane to abandon her, even though he had no desire at all to intervene, and only hoped that such would not be necessary. He had a mother just about Mrs Delia Murphy's age. It made him kind to elderly women.

After this ebullition she resumed her way more quietly, the watchful Sergeant following sedately.

The street was somewhat empty, and she walked on without meeting any acquaint

anoe.

her.

Nor did any one notice It would need yet another "sup" to have made Mrs Delia Murphy conspicuous in an Irish thoroughfare.

The

All went well-and the Sergeant was even beginning to think of retiring from the scene- till she was within a stone's throw of the turn leading to the small sidestreet wherein she lived. At the corner of this there is a large and much-favoured ginpalace, known to its clients as Hegarty's "Big House." Dunsealy is a garrison town, and the "Big House" is beloved of the troops. latter are traditionally loathsome to the rest of the population; and none say more abusive things of them than the proprietor of the "Big House," Hegarty himself, in his capacity as Chairman of the Dunsealy Town Council. Yet when a dastardly Government withdrew the cavalry from Dunsealy, Hegarty uplifted his voice in the marketplace and called down the wrath of outraged Heaven upon another injustice to Ireland!

Mrs Delia Murphy, with her police escort, approached the front entrance to the "Big House." The hour of closing had not long since arrived; but open or shut, there always lingered about the door habitués who seemed unable to tear themselves away from its charmed portals. Among them on this occasion was a good-looking young corporal of infantry in khaki uniform. He bore upon his

« ПредишнаНапред »