Protestant young gentlemen — The Greek letters — Open chimney — Murtagh — Paris and Salamanca — Nothing to do — To whit, to whoo! — The pack of cards — Before Christmas.
We continued at this place for some months, during which time the soldiers performed their duties, whatever they were; and I, having no duties to perform, was sent to school. I had been to English schools, and to the celebrated one of Edinburgh; but my education, at the present day, would not be what it is — perfect, had I never had the honour of being alumnus in an Irish seminary.
‘Captain,’ said our kind host, ‘you would, no doubt, wish that the young gentleman should enjoy every advantage which the town may afford towards helping him on in the path of genteel learning. It’s a great pity that he should waste his time in idleness — doing nothing else than what he says he has been doing for the last fortnight — fishing in the river for trouts which he never catches; and wandering up the glen in the mountain, in search of the hips that grow there. Now, we have a school here, where he can learn the most elegant Latin, and get an insight into the Greek letters, which is desirable; and where, moreover, he will have an opportunity of making acquaintance with all the Protestant young gentlemen of the place, the handsome well-dressed young persons whom your honour sees in the church on the Sundays, when your honour goes there in the morning, with the rest of the Protestant military; for it is no Papist school, though there may be a Papist or two there — a few poor farmers’ sons from the country, with whom there is no necessity for your honour’s child to form any acquaintance at all, at all!’
And to the school I went, where I read the Latin tongue and the Greek letters, with a nice old clergyman, who sat behind a black oaken desk, with a huge Elzevir Flaccus before him, in a long gloomy kind of hall, with a broken stone floor, the roof festooned with cobwebs, the walls considerably dilapidated, and covered over with strange figures and hieroglyphics, evidently produced by the application of burnt stick; and there I made acquaintance with the Protestant young gentlemen of the place, who, with whatever eclat they might appear at church on a Sunday, did assuredly not exhibit to much advantage in the schoolroom on the week days, either with respect to clothes or looks. And there I was in the habit of sitting on a large stone, before the roaring fire in the huge open chimney, and entertaining certain of the Protestant young gentlemen of my own age, seated on similar stones, with extraordinary accounts of my own adventures, and those of the corps, with an occasional anecdote extracted from the story-books of Hickathrift and Wight Wallace, pretending to be conning the lesson all the while.
And there I made acquaintance, notwithstanding the hint of the landlord, with the Papist ‘gossoons,’ as they were called, the farmers’ sons from the country; and of these gossoons, of whom there were three, two might be reckoned as nothing at all; in the third, however, I soon discovered that there was something extraordinary.
He was about sixteen years old, and above six feet high, dressed in a gray suit; the coat, from its size, appeared to have been made for him some ten years before. He was remarkably narrow-chested and round-shouldered, owing, perhaps as much to the tightness of his garment as to the hand of nature. His face was long, and his complexion swarthy, relieved, however, by certain freckles, with which the skin was plentifully studded. He had strange wandering eyes, gray, and somewhat unequal in size; they seldom rested on the book, but were generally wandering about the room, from one object to another. Sometimes he would fix them intently on the wall, and then suddenly starting, as if from a reverie, he would commence making certain mysterious movements with his thumbs and forefingers, as if he were shuffling something from him.
One morning, as he sat by himself on a bench, engaged in this manner, I went up to him, and said, ‘Good-day, Murtagh; you do not seem to have much to do?’
‘Faith, you may say that, Shorsha dear! — it is seldom much to do that I have.’
‘And what are you doing with your hands?’
‘Faith, then, if I must tell you, I was e’en dealing with the cards.’
‘Do you play much at cards?’
‘Sorra a game, Shorsha, have I played with the cards since my uncle Phelim, the thief, stole away the ould pack, when he went to settle in the county Waterford!’
‘But you have other things to do?’
‘Sorra anything else has Murtagh to do that he cares about and that makes me dread so going home at nights.’
‘I should like to know all about you; where do you live, joy?’
‘Faith, then, ye shall know all about me, and where I live. It is at a place called the Wilderness that I live, and they call it so, because it is a fearful wild place, without any house near it but my father’s own; and that’s where I live when at home.’
‘And your father is a farmer, I suppose?’
‘You may say that; and it is a farmer I should have been, like my brother Denis, had not my uncle Phelim, the thief, tould my father to send me to school, to learn Greek letters, that I might be made a saggart of, and sent to Paris and Salamanca.’
‘And you would rather be a farmer than a priest?’
‘You may say that! — for, were I a farmer, like the rest, I should have something to do, like the rest — something that I cared for — and I should come home tired at night, and fall asleep, as the rest do, before the fire; but when I comes home at night I am not tired, for I have been doing nothing all day that I care for; and then I sits down and stares about me, and at the fire, till I become frighted; and then I shouts to my brother Denis, or to the gossoons, “Get up, I say, and let’s be doing something; tell us the tale of Finn-ma-Coul, and how he lay down in the Shannon’s bed, and let the river flow down his jaws!” Arrah, Shorsha! I wish you would come and stay with us, and tell us some o’ your sweet stories of your own self and the snake ye carried about wid ye. Faith, Shorsha dear! that snake bates anything about Finn-ma-Coul or Brian Boroo, the thieves two, bad luck to them!’
‘And do they get up and tell you stories?’
‘Sometimes they does, but oftenmost they curses me, and bids me be quiet! But I can’t be quiet, either before the fire or abed; so I runs out of the house, and stares at the rocks, at the trees, and sometimes at the clouds, as they run a race across the bright moon; and, the more I stares, the more frighted I grows, till I screeches and holloas. And last night I went into the barn, and hid my face in the straw; and there, as I lay and shivered in the straw, I heard a voice above my head singing out “To whit, to whoo!” and then up I starts, and runs into the house, and falls over my brother Denis, as he lies at the fire. “What’s that for?” says he. “Get up, you thief!” says I, “and be helping me. I have been out into the barn, and an owl has crow’d at me!”’
‘And what has this to do with playing cards?’
‘Little enough, Shorsha dear! — If there were card-playing, I should not be frighted.’
‘And why do you not play at cards?’
‘Did I not tell you that the thief, my uncle Phelim, stole away the pack? If we had the pack, my brother Denis and the gossoons would be ready enough to get up from their sleep before the fire, and play cards with me for ha’pence, or eggs, or nothing at all; but the pack is gone — bad luck to the thief who took it!’
‘And why don’t you buy another?’
‘Is it of buying you are speaking? And where am I to get the money?’
‘Ah! that’s another thing!’
‘Faith it is, honey! — And now the Christmas holidays is coming, when I shall be at home by day as well as night, and then what am I to do? Since I have been a saggarting, I have been good for nothing at all — neither for work nor Greek — only to play cards! Faith, it’s going mad I will be!’
‘I say, Murtagh!’
‘Yes, Shorsha dear!’
‘I have a pack of cards.’
‘You don’t say so, Shorsha ma vourneen? — you don’t say that you have cards fifty-two?’
‘I do, though; and they are quite new — never been once used.’
‘And you’ll be lending them to me, I warrant?’
‘Don’t think it! — But I’ll sell them to you, joy, if you like.’
‘Hanam mon Dioul! am I not after telling you that I have no money at all!’
‘But you have as good as money, to me, at least; and I’ll take it in exchange.’
‘What’s that, Shorsha dear?’
‘Yes, you speak Irish; I heard you talking it the other day to the cripple. You shall teach me Irish.’
‘And is it a language-master you’d be making of me?’
‘To be sure! — what better can you do? — it would help you to pass your time at school. You can’t learn Greek, so you must teach Irish!’
Before Christmas, Murtagh was playing at cards with his brother Denis, and I could speak a considerable quantity of broken Irish.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:51