Before Bessy, the donkey, died someone murdered an old woman with a poker and stole the money she had hidden in the thatch. She lived by herself in a lonely cottage out on the edge of the bog, and it was two days before they found her. They found her the same day I found Bessy on her back with her belly swelled up fit to burst and her legs stiff in the air. The constabulary suspected a man named Lynch Ahorne who had been stacking peat for the old woman and had not been seen since the crime. There were notices with a picture of him posted on the trees, saying he was an escaped convict, and offering a reward of £100 for his capture. It was believed he had taken to the bog.
Captain Saunders was upset when he heard about Bessy. He had known her well and used to feed carrots to her. He said something would have to be done on account of the saddle he had given me, and the riding breeches with buckskin strappings and the leather leggings—which had all belonged to Owen when he was a boy. So we went out to the stables to ask Kieran Rigney if the chestnut pony was in from grass. When Kieran said she had been in for a couple of days Captain Saunders said for him to take the trap and go down to the rectory for my saddle. I told Kieran where to find it in the coach house, and to ask Bill Hogan for my spurs and the airgun. When Kieran had gone Captain Saunders had Mike, the stableboy, take the pony out to the ring, and I took the rope and kept her going around till she got rid of the freshness she had from being out on grass.
By the time Kieran came back with the saddle she had quieted down, So we saddled her and I started putting on my spurs.
"Now that you have a mount, where are you going?"" Captain Saunders said.
"I'm going out after Lynch Ahorne," I said. "You'd better leave those spurs with Kieran," he said.
But when he saw I did not feel complete without them he told me to give them to Kieran to file down the rowels. Otherwise, we'd end up in the Queen's County and miss Lynch Ahorne entirely, he said.
When I got on that pony I knew I would never want to get off her. She was rangy and had a long mane and tail and was high in the withers so the saddle did not slip forward like it did on the donkey, and needed no crupper to hold it in place. She had a way of her own, too, of stepping out and tossing her head, and looked like a little racehorse, not like the potbellied Shetland ponies you saw other people with, and her name was Lady.
Then I slung the airgun over my back and Captain Saunders called after me to be sure and not fire at anyone without asking him if his name was Lynch Ahorne, for if I hit someone else by mistake I would have to take to the bog myself.
I had a hat like Baden Powell and a khaki shirt and a bowieknife and felt very fine on the pony. I tore down one of the notices from a tree with Lynch Ahorne's picture on it to avoid any confusion, and then turned off onto the bog road.
I rode out a couple of miles or more but there was no sign of Lynch Ahorne or anyone else. And then I saw an old man coming in across the bog on an ass. The wattled creels that hung on either side of the ass's back in front of him were filled with sods of turf that had been cut in May and left out to dry. He was hitting the ass over the head with an ashplant and saying: "Hub-up, hub-up!" I hollered to him, but he did not answer. So I rode out to him and said: "Goodmorra to you". But all he said was "hub-up" to the ass. So, as he was acting in a suspicious manner, I pulled up Lady across his path and his ass had to stop. Then I asked had he seen Lynch Ahorne. And when he said hub-up again I knew he was deaf. But he kept on hitting the ass and saying hub-up and then I realised I had just been wasting time for his eyesockets were empty.
After that I saw a cart coming along the road with a little black ass between the shafts and a girl sitting in front with her legs hanging down. There was hay in the cart so I stopped her and showed her the picture of Lynch Ahorne and asked if she had seen him. She said I was the only man she had seen that morning. I said:
"You're sure he's not in the back of the cart under the hay? She started to laugh.
"Take a look fer yerself," she said. "Sorra a man there is in me house let alone in me cart," and kept on laughing.
She had black hair and dark eyes and a brown skin and her teeth were white. Then I saw there was no room in her cart for a man, but all the same, I got down and hitched Lady to the back-board and got into the cart and stamped on the hay.
"Faith, an' it's the lucky man he is this minute, Lynch Ahorne," she said, still laughing.
"Why so?" I said.
"That he ain't in me cart," she said, "wid a sojer afther him."
I was pleased when she said that, so I sat down next to her in the cart and she pulled up her legs and looked at my airgun, and the ass started grazing on the side of the road and got off it and onto the bogland, for there were no ditches and the bog was level with the road, but she did not try to stop the ass and neither did I. And I opened the breech of the gun and put in a slug and let her fire. And when she had fired she put down the gun and leaned back against the side of the cart and ran her fingers through her hair, looking at me in a way that started me wondering what she would do if I kissed her. There was a smell of earth and hay and perspiration off her, and a freshness about her that made me want to. It gave me a tingling sensation which began at the knees and in the thighs and spread all over me. I wanted to say something to her before I tried, but I could not find any words, I could only look back at her. And then, without her saying a word, I was sure I could kiss her, and that she wanted me to. I was just as sure of it as though she had asked me to. I wondered if she kissed like Girlie did the last time, on the lips, and I was sure she did...and she did, and her mouth was open. And this time everything was different, for when Girlie had kissed me on the lips it had taken me by surprise; but now I knew first what I was going to do, and did it....
Then we realized that the ass had been going all the time and we were well off the road into the bogland. But she did nothing about it and neither did I. We soon heard hoofs on the stones where the road was filled in—it had been swept away when the bog moved the year before. The ass between the shafts started braying and the girl tried to pull away from me, but I held her tight and I was wiry for my age and stronger than she was. And though she was scared that she had been caught that way I did not even turn, for I had heard a voice and the voice was saying: "Hub-up, hub-up".
"He's blind," I said without letting go of her.
When I got down off the cart she sat up and fixed her hair and her shawl. I caught the ass by the blinkers, for the bit was broken, and led him back onto the road. When I had mounted again I asked the girl what her name was and where she lived.
"Norah," she said. "In the white cottage back of Cleary's two-acre field ferninst Misther Grey's farm, wid meowl mother, and good-day to ye."
"I'm going along with you till you're off the boglands," I said, "for it's around here Lynch Ahorne is hiding."
When summer came Bridget left us for Courtown and wedlock.
"God bless her, the poor girl," Bill Hogan said, "she's saved a few pounds and needs a man to spend them for her, which is as it should be."
We got a girl to replace her called Mary-Kate when she came, but later, Jehoiakim, after the king in the Old Testament who spread desolation wherever he went, because she never came up the kitchen stairs without breaking something. She was a hefty-bosomed girl with red hair. Mary had red hair too, so they got along fine—when they were on speaking terms. Mary had a boy who was from Nenagh called Con Delaney. He had gone to America where he was working in a bakery and making fifteen dollars a week. Con wanted Mary to go to Philadelphia where they could get married after a while, and she was figuring on doing it.
In a couple of weeks Jehoiakim had broken most of our plates, vegetable dishes and glasses, and two souptureens. So my mother had to start going to auctions to replenish our supply. But that proved only a temporary expedient, as Jehoiakim started in on the new ones without loss of time. Bill Hogan, whose only drawback was that nobody ever listened to him, said the only place for Jehoiakim to work in was a rubber factory.