Mrs. Martin's Company

Mrs. Martin lived down a high-banked lane, which, as it led no whither in particular, was subject to little traffic, and which she occupied all by herself, though her cabin stood the middle one in a row of three. You could see at a glance that the left-hand dwelling was vacant, for the browned thatch had fallen in helplessly, and the rafters stuck up through it like the ribs of a stranded wreck. The other was less obviously deserted; still its plight could be easily perceived in weedy threshold and cobwebcurtained window. It testified strongly to the lonesomeness of the neighbourhood that no child had yet enjoyed the bliss of sending a stone crash through the flawed greenish pane. Both of them had, in fact, been empty for many months. From the ruined one the Egan family had gone piecemeal, following each other westward in detachments, until even the wrinkled parents were settled in California, where they blinked by day at the strange fierce sunshine, and dreamed by night back again under the soft-shadowed skies of the ould counthry. Soon after that, the O’Keefes had made a more abrupt flitting from next door, departing on the same day, all together, except little Kate and Joe, whose death of the fever was what had “given their poor mother, the crathur, a turn like agin the place.” Since then no new tenants had succeeded them in the row, which was, to be sure, out of the way, and out of repair, and not in any respect a desirable residence.

The loss of her neighbours was a very serious misfortune to Mrs. Martin, as she had long depended upon them for a variety of things, which she would have herself summed up in the term “company.” She had been early widowed and left quite alone in the world, so that through most of the inexorable years which turned an eager-eyed girl into a regretful-looking little old woman, she had found herself obliged to seek much of her interest in life outside her own small domestic circle—all forlorn centre. This was practicable enough while she lived under one thatch with two large families, who were friendlily content that their solitary neighbour should take cognisance of their goings out and comings in. Upon occasion, indeed, she had unforebodingly grumbled that the young Egans and O’Keefes “had her moidhered wid the whillaballoo they would be risin’ continyal.” But when they were gone a terrible blank and silence filled up their place, as well might be, since her kind had thus suddenly receded far beyond her daily ken. A weary Irish mile intervened between her and the nearest cottages of Clonmacreevagh, and it was only “of a very odd while” her rheumatics had allowed her to hobble that far, even to Mass. Seldom or never now did she make her way at all down the windings of the lane, where the grass from its tall banks encroached monthly more and more upon the ancient ruts; and other passengers were hardly less infrequent. The lands about lay waste, or in sheep-walks, so that there was nothing to bring farm-carts and horses and men lumbering and plodding along it, and to attract anybody else what was there but a mournful little old woman in a dark cavernous kitchen, where the only bright objects were the fire-blink and the few bits of shining crockery on the dresser, which she had not often the heart these times to polish up? So week out and week in, never a foot went past her door, as a rule with just one exception.

Michael O’Toole, a farmer on the townland, did her the kindness of letting his cart drive out of its way every Saturday and leave at her house the “loaves and male and grains of tay,” which her lameness would have otherwise made it difficult for her to come by. This was, of course, a great convenience, and ensured her one weekly caller. But, unluckily for her, Tim Doran the carter was a man quite singularly devoid of conversational gifts, and so grimly unsociable besides, that her provisions might almost as well have been washed up by the sea, or conveyed to her by inarticulate ravens. If he possibly could, he would always dump down the parcels on the road before her door, and jog along hurriedly unaccosted; and though Mrs. Martin could generally prevent that by keeping a look-out for him, she never succeeded in attaining to the leisurely gossip after which she hungered. Beyond monosyllables Tim would not go, and the poor little wiles by which she sought to inveigle him into discourse failed of detaining him as signally as if they had been gossamer threads stretched across his road. She had so often tried, for instance, to lengthen his halt by telling him she thought “the horse was after pickin’ up a stone,” that at least he ceased even to glance at the beast’s feet for verification, but merely grunted and said: “Oh, git along out of that, mare.” Then the mud-splashed blue cart, and sorrel horse, and whity-brown jacket, would pass out of sight round the turn of the lane, and the chances were that she would not again set eyes on a human face, until they reappeared jogging from the opposite direction that day week.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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