My father used to give me lessons in the morning from nine till twelve and, in the afternoons, from two till five, except Wednesdays and Saturdays when I was free at midday.
He did his best to teach me a lot of Latin and Greek, and not quite so much history and geography, and even less arithmetic, algebra and Euclid which he was not so good at himself, and did not consider important anyway, believing that only classical scholarship really counted in fitting you for the battle of life.
The fly-leaves and margins of all my lesson books were covered with drawings of horses and friends. My attention never stayed long on the text before me, and if my father was not there at my elbow, my pencil seemed to draw of its own accord; and though he would make me stay in after study hours rubbing these drawings out, in due time others took their place.
Though Borrisokane was only a village, I never seemed to have enough time for all the things I wanted to do. What with my lessons, and spearing eels in the millpond from the miller's flatbottomed boat with a kitchen fork tied on the end of a pole, and looking for birds' nests and visiting with my friends, I was tired enough when I went to bed. The mill took up a good deal of my spare time. The biggest mill wheel was inside the mill, that is to say, it had three walls around it and a roof over it and a ledge all the way along the walls, close to the water. The rats used to run along this ledge and I shot them with an airgun or pelted them with stones. The water in here was twenty feet deep on account of the wheel, and to get into the storehouse there was a long narrow plank that you had to cross. The mill hands used to wheel barrows with sacks of flour over it very fast. I was always scared walking over that plank, especially when the wheel was going, which made as much noise as Cecil's traction engine, and I thought to myself, some day one of those millhands is going to fall in. And one of them did, and they nearly let him drown trying to close the sluice and get the barrow out of the wheel before it smashed anything. And so after that he went slower.
The miller had a pretty daughter. I saw her nearly every day, and I had a hard time trying to make up my mind whether to fall in love with her or not. But finally I did not, though it would have been convenient as the mill was just below our house.
After Captain Saunders and Cecil and Father Maher, the parish priest, the miller was my best friend. He had a black beard but most people thought it was grey as there was a lot of flour in it, even on Sundays. Father Maher was a stout man with a tall hat who ate grapes on Thursdays and talked French. Like a lot of Irish priests in those days he had been educated in France. His house was just down the road from the rectory and every Thursday the grapes arrived from France and I went down in the afternoon and helped him with them. He had a cook who never used underwear. She was called 'The Queen'. On windy days, when the flue was not drawing and her kitchen would be full of smoke, she used to get up on the roof with a chimney-sweep's brush and ram it down the chimney. So if you saw a crowd in front of the priest's house you could tell The Queen was cleaning her flue. Some one asked Father Maher one day why she did not wear it, and said they would give her some. But he said The Queen said she had high bloodpressure and needed air. They said they would give her some anyway.
"Didn't Mrs. Halleran make her a pair, and what did she do but change them into a Sunday blouse for herself with the legs for sleeves," said Father Maher.
So after that they left The Queen alone.
When we had eaten as many grapes as we could, Father Maher would take the cork out of the barrel of his muzzleloading shot gun, and, after he had got his tall hat, we would go out in the big haggard between the river and the chapel where there were rooks' nests in the lime trees. I held his hat while he fired. He always took a deep breath first, and looked to see if there were any stones on the ground near him because the gun had a kick to it. I would pick out a crow and then he would fire and then all the crows would fly up in the air, but come right back, as they were used to it. Then we would load up again, which took a long time. But we never had much luck. It may have been because Father Maher had a habit of shutting both eyes before firing. I said to our gardner, Bill Hogan, once, that Father Maher's gun had a powerful kick to it, and Bill said:
"Faith, I'm only surprised it don't kick him into the river, what with the charge thoul bugger puts in it."
I told Father Maher and he was very indignant.
"Is it telling me how to load me gun he is, after it's meself has been loading it for thirty years?" he said.
So next time, just to show what he thought of Bill Hogan, he put in a double charge. After that we could not go shooting for three weeks on account of his shoulder, which turned black and swelled up. And he hurt his coccyx too, Doctor Daley said, when he fell, because he had forgotten to allow for the extra charge when he looked at the stones.
To get him back to the house I had to run for the Queen, and she ran all the way down after me, and Father Maher was still on the ground with his hand on his coccyx.
"In the name o'God, what ails ye, now?" cried the Queen, though I had already explained to her what had happened. Father Maher only groaned a little and said in Latin, which he often lapsed into:
"Infandum regina jubes renovare dolorem," which is what Æneas said to Queen Dido when she asked him to tell her about the fall of Troy: 'A distressful calamity you are telling me to relate, O Queen'.
But he was too much hurt to walk, and after we got him on his feet he had to lie down again. So I went and got the wheelbarrow that was in the shed behind the chapel where the gravedigger's tools were kept and we wheeled Father Maher home in it, taking turns.
One day I had a fight with a hunchback who rode a bicycle and had very long arms. He was older than me and called me a bloody Protestant. He was winning the fight on account of his arms being too long, so I hit him below the belt and he had to stop, though nobody knew I did it on purpose. He called me a bloody Protestant again; but I did not feel much like starting all over just then because my nose was bleeding, and neither did he, so I ignored him and walked away. But I waited for him the next day behind a tree and, when he rode past on his bicycle, threw a stick at his wheels. As his feet were on the handlebars and he was going downhill he had a nice fall. When I saw he could not get up I ran out and said:
"Now, who's a bloody Protestant?"
He did not say anything. But when he saw the spokes in his front wheel were bent he looked so distressed that I got sorry. He said he had no money to get the bike fixed, so I told him to find out how much it would cost. They wanted a shilling at the bicycle shop opposite Danny Cleary's pub, he told me later. I had sevenpence myself, and I made my brother lend me three pennies he used to be polishing all the time. Then, when I passed around the collection plate at Sunday evening service, which I did when there were only women in church, I put the three penny bit my mother had given me to put in myself, in the plate, and took out two pennies. So the matter was settled very nicely. I gave the hunchback a crib as well that someone had set for blackbirds in our haggard, and I had confiscated. All the boys in the village made cribs. They made them out of sally switches or ashsprouts, cutting these and tying them together in the form of a pyramid. At the bottom of the crib, a very thin switch bent into a semicircular perch was attached to two corners. There was another switch a few inches long called a trigger, and a forked stick called a gowldaugh, which held the crib up on one side by the trigger that turned back and caught in the perch. When the bird hopped on the perch to get the potato scraps its weight forced the perch down and released the trigger that held the gowldaugh in place, and the crib fell on the bird. The hunchback was very pleased when he got the crib, and we shook hands and were good friends after that, though later on I found out it had only cost ninepence to fix the bicycle. If I had known that first he would never have gotten the crib. He caught a blackbird the first day he set it and I was there and he wrung its neck before I could stop him. So after that I used to get up early and let all the birds out of the cribs that the boys set in our ditches. If the birds they caught were stares or blackbirds the boys ate them, though sometimes they kept a stare and split its tongue so it could talk. The thrushes and bullfinches and goldfinches they put in cages and kept to sing, or sold them. The only animals I killed were rats, because they used to eat our young pigeons and chickens, and the miller told me if a flea off a rat bit you, you could get typhus and die. Of course there were the crows, but there was no danger with Father Maher, except to himself, though he told me he had once killed four in the same day before we came to Borrisokane.
Then one day a lot of things happened. Someone had left the gate to the schoolhouse grove open the night before, and Bessy, the donkey, got in and ate the berries off a yew tree. In the morning I found her lying on her back dead with her belly all swelled out and her four legs stuck straight in the air. And right on top of that the Queen came near drowning where the millhand fell in with the barrow. She was walking across the plank and when she got in the middle she saw a big rat coming along the plank toward her from the other side. Knowing how she was dressed, she let out a yell and lost her balance. I got the boat hook and the millhands grappled her with it and then pulled her out by the feet.
In the afternoon we found my brother had the croup, like the chickens got, only when they got it it was called the pip. When the chickens got the pip you took them up to old Tim Fogarty, and he used to spit down their throats for a ha'penny, and always cured them. So I went up and got Tim and he looked down my brother's throat and said it was the pip he had, sure enough. But when I told my brother to open his mouth he got obstinate and refused. So, for his own sake, I held his nose and Tim spat down his throat. Then my brother started crying and kicked me on the shins and ran in and told my mother. I stayed to pay Tim, and had to give him tuppence because he said Protestants were more expensive than chickens and, anyway, he had come all the way from the poorhouse and the chickens were always brought to him. While I was paying Tim my brother had been in the house making mischief. The result was that my mother would not speak to me for three days, which I minded more than the caning I got from my father.
They sent for Doctor Daley, which cost five shillings, and he washed out my brother's throat with something. My brother was all right again in a couple of days. Of course no one thanked me for having Tim cure him. Doctor Daley got all the credit.