Fair Day. Since dawn, a deafening clamour of sheep, pigs, horses and cattle, and shouting drovers and the town reeking with the pungent healthy smell of steaming cowdung and sheep crowded together. Everywhere little groups of bargaining men, their breath smelling of porter or potcheen and their homespuns and corduroys of cabbage and bacon, peat fires and stale urine. Smooth persuasive voices, voices gradually increasing in volume as bargaining becomes heated, bargaining that keeps the Mother of God working overtime, called upon incessantly to witness that every preposterous claim is 'Thrue as the Thrue Cross'. The public houses doing a lively trade, the thirsty crowded at the doors awaiting their turns.
From one of these pubs come shouts and the crash of glass and a man staggering out into the street, his face dripping blood from the scalp wound where the glass struck. Another man follows. He is stooping now for the handy stone. But the first man has wiped off the blood with his sleeve. He sees clear again. His supple ashplant is ready. Thwack-thwack! The second man drops to the dungclogged gutter, his cheek laid open to the bone from nose to ear. The stone slips from his hand.
Two stallions pass, a dapplegrey and a black. They are like the Géricault horses in the engraving in the drawing-room, their tails knotted, everything swinging.
Smoking clay pipes, spitting men are seated on the sills outside our parlor windows. Bridget is with me in the open halldoor, my brother hanging onto a corner of her apron. Her latest 'case', constable Rierdan, is talking to her. I run upstairs to the playroom window to catch another glimpse of the grey stallion. Bridget follows, my brother in her arms. We lean out of the window....The stallion is rearing to the act now, whinnying with more volume than the church organ with all the stops pulled out. The stablehand at his head swings in the air on the end of the leading rein as the grey mounts the widow Rafferty's roan mare. Everyone watches with interest and calls advice, but no one makes a move to help the stablehand, who is cursing every animal on four feet, and Mrs. Rafferty is hitting her halfwit son, Joe, with her umbrella for taking the roan mare out of the 'thrap'. The roan mare pays little attention, tired, after the six mile drive from this side of Borrisokane, or maybe just blasé.
"Wather!" yells the dangling stablehand, dropping his whip.
Then shouts, oaths, the crash of wooden hurdles that pen up sheep and bullocks on either side of the road, and the wild rush of escaping animals. The black stallion has bolted. He is charging the grey, screaming, teeth bared, chest lathered with foam....
Constable Rierdan shouts orders that are drowned in the uproar, he hits a few animals and people with his baton to make them pay attention. The black stallion has the grey by the throat. The roan mare is now as mad as Mrs. Rafferty, and lashing out with both heels against the flanks of the fighting stallions. Men, sheep, hurdles fall, are trampled by these stamping hoofs. Mrs. Rafferty's trap is nearly demolished. Everyone is on the walls, out of danger, but Mrs. Rafferty and Joe and the stablehand and Constable Rierdan, but the dust hides everything. Too late, two men with buckets of water disappear into the dust cloud, which presently subsides ....The little stablehand has recovered his whip. It whistles in the air and curls around the legs of the black stallion as he stands pawing, trembling, water dripping off him and a red stream pouring from his throat, under his hoofs the crushed skull of the grand dapplegrey.
I feel as if I were going to cry.
"Biddy, the horsies are all bluggy!" says my brother.
But Bridget and I are staring at something that is lying in a crumpled heap across the road from Sally Cooley's dairy: the widow Rafferty's halfwit son, Joe. Fear of his mother's umbrella had got him too near the lashing heels of the stallions.
"Biddy, the man is all bluggy!" says my brother.
"Come away from the window," she says.
My mother has come in from the garden at the back of the house. She still has her gardening gloves on. She is carrying a bunch of yellow roses.
"Mumsy, the man is all bluggy!" crows my brother, and begins to dance up and down.
Harry Lewis came around after lunch and wanted me to go out with him. On fair days my mother liked me to stay home, and suggested that he stay and play in the garden with me. Harry declined the invitation, but intimated that if I went along with him he would come back with me at teatime, having visited the kitchen and seen a sultana cake going into the oven. Not yet graduated from sailor-suits, I envied Harry Lewis because he had a Norfolk jacket with a belt and two pleats fore and aft, and knickers with box-cloth continuations; and because he had a knife with a corkscrew and a gimlet and a file and a hook for pulling stones out of horses' hoofs in it; and because he was two years older and two inches taller than I was. I liked everything about him better than I liked anything about myself, and so, accepted his leadership.
When I showed him where the horse had killed Joe Rafferty he did not believe me until he saw the earth between the cobblestones was brown and damp. Even then, he did not act impressed.
"I saw a man run down by a train and his brains all over the track," he said.
But my account of the horse-fight interested him after he saw Mrs. Rafferty's trap with the back kicked out of it and one of the shafts smashed. When he had talked with some of the drovers he said to me:
"I saw a priest gored to death by a Poll-Angus bull at the Banagher Fair once."
We stopped at one of the fair booths where they sold everything from crucifixes to bootlaces. For tuppence, Harry bought a sheet of sole-protectors that varied in form from crescents to isosceles triangles. Then we went to Bill Carrol, the shoemaker, and Harry took off his boots and borrowed a hammer and a last from Bill and nailed as many protectors as he could onto his soles. What remained over he nailed onto mine. Though Harry said he did this to help our parents, as the soles lasted much longer that way, I knew when we got outside it was for another reason entirely: it sounded much more important on the asphalt sidewalk with sole-protectors. They made more noise than clanking spurs and people turned to look after us as we clinked along, slipping a little now and then, but feeling pleased on account of the noise. When we came to the cemetery behind the Catholic church Harry said there was a Stare's nest in the waterspout by the vestry door and he was going up the spout after it. The cemetery gate was open but he insisted on climbing the wall and I had to bend down while he stood on my back with the sole-protectors and hoisted himself up. Then there was the problem of getting me up without someone's back to stand on. He reached down and tried to give me a hand, but all he did was bark my knees on the wall, so I went around by the gate. Harry led the way across the graveyard, hurdling the graves with varying success, as they were not all the same size. I tried to follow him and landed on top of a wreath of permanent flowers and cut my shin, so I took my time and went around the graves after that.
Then Harry's voice, but it did not sound like his voice;
When I got to where he was standing there was a man lying on the ground. His mouth was open and his face very blue and swollen, His hands were around his throat and there was a brown stain on his shirt. Harry was very pale and there was a smell that made me think of a w.c. It came from a bottle that lay beside the man. Carbolic Acid was marked on the label. I moved the bottle with my foot, but there was nothing in it.
"He—he's d-dead," said Harry in a hushed voice.
But I did not feel sorry the way I did when the stallion was killed. This corpse did not impress me like the dead dapplegrey or even Joe Rafferty. But I had seen the stallion in his glory first and the man was just unpleasant to look at. And then, that w.c. smell.
"Look out, there's the dean!" whispered Harry.
We ducked down and when the dean had gone into the chapel we sneaked away, keeping well in the lee of the tombstones. The wall was much lower on the cemetery side so we got over it without any trouble and dropped on to the white dusty road and ran all the way back to my house.