Penruddock was 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 man's picture; fatal flaws in that man's 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 banker's. 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 pro'duction 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 snow - but towering in the eyes of men a Folly (as the Scotch phrase it) after all.
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 porkers - looking for all the world like pigs on stilts - cocks 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, when - two-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 mother's 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 again - my 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 yesterday's 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.
After proceeding 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 plentiful - disease 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 jugs - cursing 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 o'clock, and thereafter started on foot to where Penruddock's 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 and sheep.
"Got here all safe, Mick, I see."
"All safe, sir, not a quarter o' an hour ago?'
"Well, I have opened my shop. We'll 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 Penruddock's 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 I'll give another farthin' for the best sheep in Keady." "Fifteen," said John, flinging the half-crown on the ground; "and I don't care whether you stir again or not" By this time a crowd had gathered about, and the chorus began. "There isn't a dacenter man than Mr Penruddock in the market I've known him iver since he came to the counthry." "Shure an' he is," began another; "he's a jintleman ivery inch. He always gives to the poor man a bit o' baccy, or a glass. Ach, Mr Loney, he's not the one to ax you too high a price. Shure, Mr Penruddock, you'll come down a six-pence jist to make a bargain." "Is't Mr Loney that's goin' to buy?" cried a lame man from the opposite side, and in the opposite interest "There isn't sich a dealer in county Monaghan as Mr Loney. Of coorse you'll come down something, Mr Penruddock." "He's 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 Penruddock's 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 won't 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 Penruddock's hand, and holding it there. "Fourteen, an' divil a rap more I'll give." "Fourteen," said John, as if considering, then throwing back the coin, "Fourteen-and-six and let it be a bargain."
"Didn't I say," quoth John's chorus leader, looking round him with an air of triumph, "didn't 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 size."
"Fourteen-and-six be it then," said the dealer, bringing down the coin for the last time. "An' if I take the lot you'll give me two pounds in t' my-self?"
"Well, Loney, I don't 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 sheep."
"Fair. Fourteen and six."
"Ah, not so bad. These cattle, I suppose, are yours? We must try if we can't 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.
"Captain Broster," said John, presenting him, "has promised to dine with us at three. Sharp at the hour, mind, for we wish to leave early."
"I'll be punctual as clockwork," said the captain, turning to look after his purchases.
We strolled up and down till three o'clock, 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 father's 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 comrade's 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 won't 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, There's a peeler at hand."
"By Jove, he's down at last, and there'll 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. "M'Queen, we want out; open the door."
"Shure, jintlemen, you 're not goin' just now. You'll be torn to paces if you go."
"If you won't open the door, give me the key, and I'll 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 captain's 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 can't, Welshman or Irishman, it's 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 wasn't 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 Penruddock's 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 that's the game you mean to play at, I hope to give you a bellyful before I've done." "Seize that man, knock him over," said Broster; "you're surely not going to fight him, Penruddock, it's sheer madness; knock him over." "I tell you what it is," said Penruddock, turning savagely, "you shan't 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 Jem's 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. "He's an ugly mass of strength," whispered he, "and will hug you like a bear; keep him well off, and remain cool for Heaven's sake." "Ready?" said John, stepping forward. "As a lark i' the mornin'," growled Jem, as he took up his ground. The men were very wary - Jem 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. Jem's blood was flowing. He was evidently getting severely punished. He couldn't 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.
"He'll 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 man's 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 Penruddock's 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 other's 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! That's a bad dodge of Jem's. By Jove he loses his grip. All is over with him. Pen's 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 disturbances - there 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 Jim's 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 dealers - apprehensive of another descent from the furnaces - had 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 Keady - with 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 fell - lay 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 don't 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 sleep - in such circumstances you found out what he was: cool, courageous, helpful; full of resource, with a quick brain, an iron nerve, a giant's 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 prices - so 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, Penruddock's 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. Pen's visit at this time was purely a business one: he wished to see me, but that was far from his sole motive in coming - so 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 conditions.
|To Next Chapter|