rather a hero of mine He was as tall, muscular, and broad-shouldered as
the men whom Mr Kingsley delights to paint, and his heart was as tender as
his head was shrewd. A loquacious knave could not take him in, and from
his door a beggar would not be sent empty away. The pressure of his mighty
hand when he met you gave you some idea of what the clenched fist would be
with its iron ridge of knuckles. He was the healthiest-minded man I have
ever met in my walk through life. He was strong yet gentle, pious yet
without the slightest tincture of cant or dogmatism; and his mind was no
more infested with megrims, or vanity, or hypochondriasis, or
sentimentality, than the windswept sky of June with vapours. He was loyal
and affectionate to the backbone: he stuck to his friends to the last Pen
was like the run of ordinary mortals while your day of prosperity
remained, but when your night of difficulty fell he came out like a
lighthouse, and sent you rays of encouragement and help.
Pen had farms in Ireland as
well as in Skye, and it was when on a visit to him in Ulster some years
since that I became acquainted with his homely but enduring merits. For
years I had not seen such a man. There was a reality and honest stuff in
him, which in living with him and watching his daily goings on revealed
itself hour by hour, quite new to me. The people I had been accustomed to
meet, talk with, live with, were different. The tendency of each of these
was towards art in one form or other. And there was a certain sadness
somehow in the contemplation of them. They fought and strove bravely; but
like the Old Guard at Waterloo, it was brave fighting on a lost field.
After years of toil there were irremediable defects in that mans
picture; fatal flaws in that mans book. In all their efforts were
failure and repulse, apparent to some extent to themselves, plain enough
to the passionless looker-on. That resolute, hopeless climbing of heaven
was, according to the mood, a thing to provoke a jest or a sigh. With
Penruddock all was different. What he strove after he accomplished. He had
a cheerful mastery over circumstances. All things went well with him. His
horses ploughed for him, his servants reaped for him, his mills ground for
him, successfully. The very winds and dews of heaven were to him helps and
aids. Year after year his crops grew, yellowed, were cut down and gathered
into barns, and men fed thereupon; and year after year there lay an
increasing balance at his bankers. This continual, ever-victorious
activity seemed strange to me a new thing under the sun. We usually
think that poets, painters, and the like, are finer, more heroical, than
cultivators of the ground. But does the production of a questionable
book really surpass in merit the production of a field of unquestionable
turnips? Perhaps in the severe eyes of the gods the production of a wooden
porringer, water-tight, and fit for househould uses, is of more account
than the rearing of a tower of Babel, meant to reach to heaven. Alas! that
so many must work on these Babel towers; cannot help toiling on them to
the very death, though every stone is heaved into its place with weariness
and mortal pain; though when the life of the builder is wasted out on it,
it is fit habitation for no creature, can shelter no one from rain or snowbut
towering in the eyes of men a Folly (as the Scotch phrase it) after
I like to recall my six
weeks sojourn in sunny Ulster with my friend. I like to recall the rows
of whity-green willows that bordered the slow streams; the yellow flax
fields with their azure flowers, reminding one of the maidens in German
ballads; the flax tanks and windmills; the dark-haired girls embroidering
muslins before the doors, and stealing the while the hearts of sheepish
sweethearts leaning against the cottage walls, by soft blarney and quick
glances; the fields in which a cow, a donkey, half a dozen long-legged
porkerslooking for all the world like pigs on stiltscocks and hens,
ducks and geese promiscuously fed; and, above all, I like to recall that
somnolent Sunday afternoon in the little uncomfortably-seated Presbyterian
church, whentwo-thirds of the congregation asleep, the precentor
soundest of all, and the good clergyman illustrating the doctrine of the
Perseverance of the Saints by a toddler at its mothers knee attempting
to walk, falling and bumping its forehead, getting picked up, and in a
little while, although the bump had grown to the size of an egg, spurring
and struggling to get to the floor once againmy eye wandered to the
open church door, and in the sunshine saw a feeding bee fold its wings on
a flower and swing there in the wind, and I forgot for a while drawling
shepherd and slumbering flock. These are trifles, but they are pleasant
trifles. Staying with Pen, however, an event of importance did occur.
It was arranged that we
should go to the fair at Keady; but Pen was obliged on the day immediately
preceding to leave his farm at Arranmore on matter of important business.
It was a wretched day of rain, and I began to tremble for the morrow.
After dinner the storm abated, and the dull dripping afternoon set in.
While a distempered sunset flushed the west the heavy carts from the
fields came rolling into the courtyard, the horses fetlock-deep in clay
and steaming like ovens. Then, at the sound of the bell, the labourers
came, wet, weary, sickles hanging over their arms, yet with spirits merry
enough. These the capacious kitchen received, where they found supper
spread. It grew dark earlier than usual, and more silent. The mill-wheel
rushed louder in the swollen stream, and lights began to glimmer here and
there in the dusty windows. Penruddock had not yet come; he was not due
for a couple of hours. Time began to hang heavily; so slipping to bed I
solved every difficulty by falling soundly asleep.
The lowing of cattle, the
bleating of sheep, the barking of dogs, and the loud voices of men in the
courtyard beneath, awoke me shortly after dawn. In the silence that
followed I again fell asleep, and was roused at last by the clangour of
the breakfast bell. When I got up the sun was streaming gloriously through
the latticed window; heaven was all the gayer and brighter for yesterdays
gloom and sulky tears, and the rooks were cawing and flapping cheerfully
in the trees above. When I entered the breakfast-room Pen was already
there, and the tea-urn was bubbling on the table.
At the close of the meal
Tim brought the dogcart to the door. Pen glanced at his watch. "We
have hit the time exactly, and will arrive as soon as Mick and the cattle?
There was an encouraging chir-r-r, a flick of the whip, and in a trice we
were across the bridge and pegging along the highway at a great pace.
about a mile, we turned into a narrow path which gradually led us up into
a wild irregular country. Corn-fields, flax-tanks, and sunny pasture
lands, dotted with sheep, were left behind as up-hill we tugged, and
reached at last a level stretch of purple moor and black peat bog.
Sometimes for a mile the ground was black with pyramids of peat; at other
times the road wriggled before us through a dark olive morass, enlivened
here and there with patches of treacherous green; the sound of our wheels
startling into flight the shy and solitary birds native to the region.
Ever and anon, too, when we gained sufficient elevation, we could see the
great waves of the landscape rolling in clear morning light away to the
horizon; each wave crested with farms and belts of woodland, and here and
there wreaths of smoke rising up from hollows where towns and villages lay
hid. After a while the road grew smoother, and afar the little town of
Keady sparkled in the sun, backed by a range of smelting furnaces, the
flames tamed by the sunlight, making a restless shimmer in the air, and
blotting out everything beyond. Beneath the high road was covered with
sheep and cows, and vehicles of every description, pushing forward to one
point; the hill paths also which led down to it were moving threads of
life. On the brow of the hill, just before we began to descend, John
pulled up for a moment. It was a pretty sight. A few minutes drive
brought us into Keady, and such a busy scene I had never before witnessed.
The narrow streets and open spaces were crowded with stalls, cattle, and
people, and the press and confusion was so great that our passage to the
inn where our machine was to be put up was matter of considerable
difficulty. Men, stripped to trousers and shirt, with red hair streaming
in the wind, rushed backwards and forwards with horses, giving vent at the
same time to the wildest vociferations, while clumps of sporting
gentlemen, with straws in their mouths, were inspecting, with critical
eyes, the points of the animals. Travelling auctioneers set up their
little carts in the streets, and with astonishing effrontery and power of
lung harangued the crowd on the worth and cheapness of the articles which
they held in their hands. Beggars were very plentifuldisease and
deformity their stock-in-trade. Fragments of humanity crawled about upon
crutches. Women stretched out shrunken arms. Blind men rolled sightless
eyeballs, blessing the passenger when a copper tinkled in their iron jugscursing
yet more fervently when disappointed in their expectation. In one place a
melancholy acrobat in dirty tights and faded tinsel was performing
evolutions with a crazy chair on a bit of ragged carpet; he threw
somersaults over it; he embraced it firmly, and began spinning along the
ground like a wheel, in which performance man and chair seemed to lose
their individuality and become one as it were; and at the close of every
feat he stood erect with that indescribable curve of the right hand which
should always be followed by thunders of applause, the clown meanwhile
rolling in ecstasies of admiration in the sawdust Alas ! no applause
followed the exertions of the artist. The tights were getting more
threadbare and dingy. His hollow face was covered with perspiration, and
there was but the sparsest sprinkling of halfpence. I threw him a
shilling, but it rolled among the spectators feet, and was lost in the
dust. He groped about in search of it for some little time, and then came
back to his carpet and his crazy chair. Poor fellow! he looked as if he
were used to that kind of thing. There were many pretty faces among the
girls, and scores of them were walking about in holiday dresses
rosy-faced lasses, with black hair, and blue eyes shadowed by long dark
eyelashes. How they laughed, and how sweetly the brogue melted from their
lips in reply to the ardent blarney of their sweethearts. At last we
reached an open square, or cross, as it would be called in Scotland, more
crowded, if possible, than the narrow streets. Hordes of cattle bellowed
here. Here were sheep from the large farms standing in clusters of fifties
and hundreds; there a clump of five or six, with the widow in her clean
cap sitting beside them. Many an hour ago she and they started from the
turf hut and the pasture beyond the hills. Heaven send her a ready sale
and good prices! In the centre of this open space great benches were
erected, heaped with eggs, butter, cheeses, the proprietors standing
behind anxiously awaiting the advances of customers. One section was
crowded with sweetmeat stalls, much frequented by girls and their
sweethearts. Many a rustic compliment there had for reply a quick glance
or a scarlet cheek. Another was devoted to poultry; geese stood about in
flocks; bunches of hens were scattered on the ground, their legs tied
together; and turkeys, enclosed in wicker baskets, surveyed the scene with
quick eyes, their wattles all the while burning with indignation. On
reaching the inn which displayed for ensign a swan with two heads afloat
on an azure stream, we ordered dinner at three oclock, and thereafter
started on foot to where Penruddocks stock was stationed. It was no
easy matter to force a path; cows and sheep were always getting in the
way. Now and then an escaped hen would come clucking and flapping among
our feet, and once a huge bull, with horns levelled to the charge, came
dashing down the street, scattering everything before him. Finally, we
reached the spot where Mick and his dogs were keeping watch over the cows
"Got here all safe,
Mick, I see."
"All safe, sir, not a
quarter o an hour ago?
"Well, I have opened
my shop. Well see how we get on."
By this time the
dealers had gathered about, and were closely examining the sheep, and
holding whispered consultations. At length an excited-looking man came
running forward; plunging his hand into his breeches pocket, he produced
therefrom half-a-crown, which he slapped into Penruddocks hand, at the
same time crying out "Ten-and-six a head." "Fifteen,"
said John, returning the coin. "Twelve shillings," said the man,
bringing down the coin with tremendous energy; "an may I niver
stir if Ill give another farthin for the best sheep in Keady."
"Fifteen," said John, flinging the half-crown on the ground;
"and I dont care whether you stir again or not" By this time
a crowd had gathered about, and the chorus began. "There isnt a
dacenter man than Mr Penruddock in the market Ive known him iver since
he came to the counthry." "Shure an he is," began
another; "hes a jintleman ivery inch. He always gives to the poor
man a bit o baccy, or a glass. Ach, Mr Loney, hes not the one to ax
you too high a price. Shure, Mr Penruddock, youll come down a six-pence
jist to make a bargain." "Ist Mr Loney thats goin to
buy?" cried a lame man from the opposite side, and in the opposite
interest "There isnt sich a dealer in county Monaghan as Mr Loney.
Of coorse youll come down something, Mr Penruddock." "Hes
a rich one, too, is Mr Loney," said the lame man, sidling up to John,
and winking in a knowing manner, "an a power o notes he has in
his pocket-book" Mr Loney, who had been whispering with his group a
little apart, and who had again made an inspection of the stock, returned
the second time to the charge. "Twelve-an-six," cried he, and
again the half-crown was slapped into Penruddocks palm. "Twelve-an-six,
an not another farthin to save my soul." "Fifteen,"
said John, returning the half-crown with equal emphasis; "you know my
price, and if you wont take it you can let it stand." The dealer
disappeared in huge wrath, and the chorus broke out in praises of both. By
this time Mr Loney was again among the sheep; it was plain his heart was
set upon the purchase. Every now and then he caught one, got it between
his legs, examined the markings on its face, and tested the depth and
quality of its wool. He appeared for the third time, while the lame man
and the leader of the opposing chorus seemed coming to blows, so zealous
were they in the praises of their respective heroes "Fourteen,"
said Mr Loney, again producing the half-crown, spitting into his hand at
the same time, as much as to say, he would do the business now.
"Fourteen; he cried, crushing the half-crown into Penruddocks
hand, and holding it there. "Fourteen, an divil a rap more Ill
give." "Fourteen," said John, as if considering, then
throwing back the coin, "Fourteen-and-six and let it be a
"Didnt I say,"
quoth Johns chorus leader, looking round him with an air of triumph,
"didnt I say that Mr Penruddock s a jintleman? Ye see how he
drops the sixpence. I niver saw him do a mane thing yet. Ach, he s the
jintleman ivery inch, an that s saying a dale, considerin his
it then," said the dealer, bringing down the coin for the last time.
"An if I take the lot youll give me two pounds in t
"Well, Loney, I
dont care although I do," said Penruddock, pocketing the coin at
last. A roll of notes was produced, the sum counted out, and the bargain
concluded. The next moment Loney was among the sheep, scoring some mark or
other on their backs with a piece of red chalk. Penruddock scattered what
spare coppers he possessed among the bystanders, and away they went to
sing the praises of the next bargain-maker.
Pen turned to me laughing.
"This is a nice occupation for a gentleman of respectable birth and
liberal education, is it not?"
"Odd. It is amusing to
watch the process by which your sheep are converted into bank-notes.
Does your friend, Mr Loney,
buy the animals for himself ?"
"Oh, dear, no. We must
have middlemen of one kind or another in this country. Loney is
commissioned to purchase, and is allowed so much on the transaction."
By this time a young
handsome fellow pushed his horse through the crowd and approached us.
"Good morning," cried he to Penruddock. "Any business doing
"I have just sold my
"Fair. Fourteen and
"Ah, not so bad. These
cattle, I suppose, are yours? We must try if we cant come to a bargain
about them." Dismounting, he gave his horse in keeping to a lad, and
he and John went off to inspect the stock.
Business was proceeding
briskly on all sides. There was great higgling as to prices, and shillings
and half-crowns were tossed in a wonderful manner from palm to palm.
Apparently, nothing could be transacted without that ceremony, whatever it
might mean. Idlers were everywhere celebrating the merits and "dacency"
of the various buyers and sellers. Huge greasy leather pocket-books, of
undoubted antiquity, were to be seen in many a hand, and rolls of
bank-notes were deftly changing owners. The ground, too, was beginning to
clear, and purchasers were driving oft their cattle. Many of the dealers
who had disposed of stock were taking their ease in the inns. You could
see them looking out of the open windows; and occasionally a man whose
potations had been early and excessive went whooping through the crowd. In
a short time John returned with his friend.
said John, presenting him, "has promised to dine with us at three.
Sharp at the hour, mind, for we wish to leave early."
"Ill be punctual as
clockwork," said the captain, turning to look after his purchases.
We strolled up and down
till three oclock, and then bent our steps to the inn, where we found
Broster waiting. In honour to his guests the landlord himself brought in
dinner, and waited with great diligence. When the table was cleared we had
punch and cigars, and sat chatting at the open window. The space in front
was tolerably clear of cattle now, but dealers were hovering about,
standing in clumps, or promenading in parties of twos and threes. But at
this point a new element had entered into the scene. It was dinner hour,
and many of the forgemen from the furnaces above had come down to see what
was going on. Huge, hulking, swarthy-featured fellows they were. Welshmen,
chiefly, as I was afterwards told, who, confident in their strength, were
at no pains to conceal their contempt for the natives. They, too, mingled
in the crowd, but the greater number leaned lazily against the houses,
smoking their short pipes, and indulging in the dangerous luxury of
"chaffing" the farmers. Many a rude wit-combat was going on,
accompanied by roars of laughter, snatches of which we occasionally heard.
Broster had been in the Crimea, was wounded at Alma, recovered, went
through all the work and privation of the first winter of the siege, got
knocked up, came home on sick leave, and having had enough of it, as he
frankly confessed, took the opportunity on his fathers death, which
happened then, to sell out and settle as a farmer on a small property to
which he fell heir. He chatted about the events of the war in an easy
familiar way, quietly, as if the whole affair had been a game at football;
and when courage, strength, and splendid prospects were changed by unseen
bullet, or grim bayonet stab, into a rude grave on the bleak plateau, the
thing was mentioned as a mere matter of course! Sometimes a comrades
fate met with an expression of soldierly regret, slight and indifferent
enough, yet with a certain pathos which no high-flown oration could reach.
For the indifferent tone seemed to acquiesce in destiny, to consider that
disappointment had been too common in the life of every man during the
last six thousand years to warrant any raving or passionate surprise at
this time of day; that in any case our ordinary pulse and breath beat our
march to the grave; passion the double-quick; and when it is all over,
there is little need for outcry and the shedding of tears over the eternal
rest. In the midst of his talk voices rose in one of the apartments below;
the noise became altercation, and immediately a kind of struggling or
dragging was heard in the flagged passage, and then a tipsy forgeman was
unceremoniously shot out into the square, and the inn door closed with an
angry bang. The individual seemed to take the indignity in very good part;
along he staggered, his hands in his pockets, heedless of the satirical
gibes and remarks of his companions, who were smoking beneath our windows.
Looking out, we could see that his eyes were closed, as if he scorned the
outer world, possessing one so much more satisfactory within himself. As
he went he began to sing from sheer excess of happiness, the following
stanza coming distinctly to our ears:-
"When I was a chicken
as big as a hen,
My mother ot me, an I ot her agen;
My father came in for to see the r.r-rrow,
So I lifted my fist, an I ot him a clow."
"I hope that fellow
wont come to grief," said Broster, as the forgeman lurched through
a group of countrymen intent on a bargain, and passed on without notice or
apology, his eyes closed, and singing as before:-
"Ses my mother, ses
she, Theres a peeler at hand."
"By Jove, hes down
at last, and therell be the devil to pay !" We looked out, the
forgeman was prone in the dust, singing, and apparently unconscious that
he had changed his position. A party of farmers were standing around
laughing; one of them had put out his foot and tripped the forge-man as he
passed. The next moment a bare-armed black-browed hammersmith strode out
from the wall, and, without so much as taking the pipe from his mouth,
felled the dealer at a blow, and then looked at his companions as if
wishing to be informed if he could do anything in the same way for them.
The blow was a match dropped in a powder magazine. Alelu! to the combat.
There were shouts and yells. Insult had been rankling long in the breasts
of both parties. Old scores had to be paid off. From every quarter, out of
the inns, leaving potheen and ale, down the streets from among the cattle,
the dealers came rushing to the fray. The forgemen mustered with alacrity,
as if battle were the breath of their nostrils. In a few seconds the
square was the scene of a general mêlée. The dealers fought with
their short heavy sticks; the forgemen had but the weapons nature gave,
but their arms were sinewed with iron, and every blow told like a hammer.
These last were overpowered for a while, but the alarm had already spread
to the furnaces above, and parties of twos and threes came at a run, and
flung themselves in to the assistance of their companions. Just at this
moment a couple of constables pressed forward into the yelling crowd. A
hammersmith came behind one, and seizing his arms, held him, despite his
struggles, firmly as in a vice. The other was knocked over and trampled
under foot "Good heavens, murder will be done," cried Broster,
lifting his heavy whip from the table; "we must try and put an end to
this disgraceful scene. Will you join me ?" "With heart and
soul," said Penruddock, "and there is no time to be lost. Come
along." At the foot of the stair we found the landlord shaking in
every limb. He had locked the door, and was standing in the passage with
the key in his hand. "MQueen, we want out; open the door."
"Shure, jintlemen, you
re not goin just now. Youll be torn to paces if you go."
"If you wont open
the door, give me the key, and Ill open it myself."
The landlord passively
yielded. Broster unlocked the door, and flung the key down on the flagged
passage. "Now, my lads," cried he to half-a-dozen countrymen who
were hanging-on spectators on the skirts of the combat, and at the same
time twisting his whiplash tightly round his right hand till the
heavy-leaded head became a formidable weapon, a blow from which would be
effective on any skull of ordinary susceptibility; "Now, my lads, we
are resolved to put an end to this; will you assist us?" The
captains family had been long resident in the county, he was himself
personally known to all of them, and a cheerful "Ay, ay," was
the response. "Penruddock, separate them when you can, knock them
over when you cant, Welshman or Irishman, its quite the same."
So saying, in we drove. Broster clove a way for himself, distributing his
blows with great impartiality, and knocking over the combatants like
nine-pins. We soon reached the middle of the square, where the fight was
hottest The captain was swept away in an eddy for a moment, and right in
front of Penruddock and myself two men were grappling on the ground. As
they rolled over, we saw that one was the hammersmith who had caused the
whole affray. We flung ourselves upon them, and dragged them up. The
dealer, with whom I was more particularly engaged, had got the worst of
it, and plainly wasnt sorry to be released from the clutches of his
antagonist. With his foe it was different. His slow sullen blood was
fairly in a blaze, and when Pen pushed him aside, he dashed at him and
struck him a severe blow on the face. In a twinkling Penruddocks coat
was off, while the faintest stream of blood trickled from his upper lip.
"Well, my man," said he, as he stood up ready for action,
"if thats the game you mean to play at, I hope to give you a
bellyful before Ive done." "Seize that man, knock him
over," said Broster; "youre surely not going to fight him,
Penruddock, its sheer madness; knock him over." "I tell
you what it is," said Penruddock, turning savagely, "you
shant deprive me of the luxury of giving this fellow a sound
hiding." Broster shrugged his shoulders, as if giving up the case. By
this time the cry arose, "Black Jems goin to fight the
gentleman;" and a wide enough ring was formed. Many who were
prosecuting small combats of their own desisted, that they might behold
the greater one. Broster stood beside John. "Hes an ugly mass of
strength," whispered he, "and will hug you like a bear; keep him
well off, and remain cool for Heavens sake." "Ready?"
said John, stepping forward. "As a lark i the mornin,"
growled Jem, as he took up his ground. The men were very waryJem
retreating round and round, John advancing. Now and then one or other
darted out a blow, but it was generally stopped, and no harm done. At last
the blows went home; the blood began to rise. The men drew closer, and
struck with greater rapidity. They are at it at last, hammer and tongs. No
shirking or flinching now. Jems blood was flowing. He was evidently
getting severely punished. He couldnt last long at that rate. He fought
desperately for a close, when a blinding blow full in the face brought him
to the earth. He got up again like a madman, the whole bull-dog nature of
him possessed and mastered by brutal rage. He cursed and struggled in the
arms of his supporters to get at his enemy, but by main force they held
him back till he recovered himself. "Hell be worked off in another
round," I heard Broster whisper in my ear. Ah ! here they come ! I
glanced at Pen for a moment as he stood with his eye on his foe. There was
that in his face that boded no good. The features had hardened into iron
somehow; the pitiless mouth was clenched, the eye cruel. A hitherto
unknown part of his nature revealed itself to me as he stood there
perhaps unknown to himself. God help us, what strangers we are to
ourselves! In every mans nature there is an interior unexplored as that
of Africa, and over that region what wild beasts may roam! But they are at
it again; Jem still fights for a close, and every time his rush is stopped
by a damaging blow. They are telling rapidly; his countenance, by no means
charming at the best, is rapidly transforming. Look at that hideously
gashed lip! But he has dodged Penruddocks left this time, and clutched
him in his brawny arms. Now comes the tug of war, skill pitted against
skill, strength against strength. They breathe for a little in each
others grip, as if summoning every energy. They are at it now, broad
chest to chest. Now they seem motionless, but by the quiver of their
frames you can guess the terrific strain going on. Now one has the better,
now the other, as they twine round each other, lithe and supple as
serpents. Penruddock yields! No! Thats a bad dodge of Jems. By Jove
he loses his grip. All is over with him. Pens brow grows dark; the
veins start out on it; and the next moment Black Jem, the hero of fifty
fights, slung over his shoulder, falls heavily to the ground.
At his fall a cheer rose
from the dealers. "You blacksmith fellows had better make off,"
cried Broster; "your man has got the thrashing he deserves, and
you can carry him home with you. I am resolved to put a stop to these
disturbancesthere have been too many of late." The furnacemen hung
for a moment irresolute, seemingly half-inclined to renew the combat, but
a formidable array of cattle-dealers pressed forward and turned the scale.
They decided on a retreat. Black Jem, who had now come to himself, was
lifted up, and, supported by two men, retired toward the works and
dwellings on the upper grounds, accompanied by his companions, who
muttered many a surly oath and vow of future vengeance.
When we got back to the
inn, Pen was very anxious about his face. He washed, and carefully perused
his features in the little looking-glass. Luckily, with the exception of
the upper lip slightly cut by Jims first blow, no mark of the combat
presented itself. At this happy result of his investigations he expressed
great satisfaction Broster laughing the meanwhile, and telling him that
he was as careful of his face as a young lady.
The captain came down to
see us off. The fair was over now, and the little streets were almost
deserted. The dealersapprehensive of another descent from the
furnaceshad hurried off as soon as their transactions could in any way
permit. Groups of villagers, however, were standing about the doors
discussing the event of the day; and when Penruddock appeared he became,
for a quarter of an hour, an object of public interest for the first time
in his life, and so far as he has yet lived for the last; an honour to
which he did not seem to attach any particular value.
We shook hands with the
captain; then, at a touch of the whip, the horse started at a gallant
pace, scattering a brood of ducks in all directions; and in a few minutes
Keadywith its whitewashed houses and dark row of furnaces, tipped with
tongues of flame, pale and shrunken yet in the lustre of the afternoon,
but which would rush out wild and lurid when the evening felllay a
rapidly dwindling speck behind.
I am induced to set down
this business of the Irish market and market fight in order that the
reader may gather some idea of the kind of man Penruddock was. He was not
particularly witty, although on occasion he could say a good and neat
thing enough; on no subject was he profoundly read; I dont think that
he ever attempted to turn a stanza, even when a boy and in love; he did
not care for art; he was only conscious of a blind and obscure delight in
music, and even for that the music had to be of the simplest
kind melody, not harmony. He had his limitations, you see: but as a man
I have seldom met his equal. He was sagacious, kindly, affectionate,
docile, patient, and unthinking of self. There was a peculiar deference in
his ordinary manner, as if he were continually in the presence of a lady.
Above all things, he was sincere, and you trusted Pen when you came to
know him as implicitly as you would a law of nature. If you were out in a
small boat in a storm with him; if you were ascending or descending a
steep rocky hill-face with him, and got giddy on his hands; if you were in
the heart of a snow-storm on the hills with him, when all traces of the
road were lost, and the cold began to make thick your blood with the
deadly pleasure of sleepin such circumstances you found out what he
was: cool, courageous, helpful; full of resource, with a quick brain, an
iron nerve, a giants strength. To the possessor of such solid worth and
manhood your merely brilliant talker, your epigrammatist, your sayer of
smart things, is essentially a poor creature. What is wit ?a sounding
brass and a tinkling cymbal. What is epigram? Penruddock did not paint
pictures or write poems; it was his business "to make good
sheep," as the Skye people say, and magnificent sheep he did make.
Pen had an ideal sheep in
his mind, and to reach that ideal he was continually striving. At the
yearly winnowings of his stock he selected his breeding ewes with the
utmost care, and these ewes, without spot or blemish, he crossed with
wonderfully-horned and far-brought rams, for which he sometimes paid
enormous pricesso at least his neighbours said. His sheep he bred in
Skye for the most part, and then he sent them over to Ulster to fatten.
There, on pasture and turnips, they throve amazingly, all their good
points coming into prominence, all their bad points stealing modestly into
the shade. At markets, Penruddocks sheep always brought excellent
prices, and his lot was certain to be about the best shown.
Pen and the Landlord had
business relations. In partnership, they brought over meal from Ireland,
they speculated in turnips, they dealt in curious manures which were to
the sour Skye soil what plum-pudding is to a charity boy: above all, he
was confederate in a scheme of emigration which the Landlord had
concocted, and was in the course of carrying out. Pens visit at this
time was purely a business one: he wished to see me, but that was far from
his sole motive in comingso he frankly said. But I did not care for
that; I was quite able to bear the truth, and was glad to have him on any