When the football season came round again it was found that I had a turn of speed. The discovery was made by Mr. Steede, under whose eye the mediocre material that made up our lst
Scott, our short-tempered football captain, who walked on his heels without bending his knees, like a person being jerked along on wires, decided to improve my tackling by his own methods. After I had muffed a couple of tackles through not going low enough, he left the opposing scrum and came out on the wing to mark me. When he got the ball I flung myself at his knees and brought him down. But he began to hit my head with his clenched fist and made one of my ears bleed. A prefect named Lawder, who, after Scott, was the best forward on the 1st
"Dave, why did you hit him? He made a jolly good tackle."
Scott told Lawder to mind his own business. Lawder walked away from him and came over to me.
"Next time, let him pass you and then tackle him around the neck and choke the bloody blazes out of him."
When Scott got the ball again and rushed toward me, his clenched fist stuck out to hand me off, I let him pass, knowing I could overtake him without any trouble. The moment he got by I started after him and tackled him round the neck from behind. He fell back on top of me letting the ball drop, but I just kept a strangle hold on him till the whistle blew for a scrum.
When he got up he came after me.
"I'll teach you to tackle low, you bloody little funk!" he shouted as I backed away.
But the warden, his elephant legs encased in funny old fashioned footer bags that came down below his knees, intervened and told Scott to keep his temper.
In the next loose the opposing forwards, the ponderous warden among them, bucked the ball in my direction. I fell on it to stop the rush. The warden tripped and fell on top of me. It was Scott's chance, I saw him coming and rolled over just in time to miss a vicious kick that landed full in the seat of the warden's pants as he was groping his way out of the loose on his hands and knees.
"Oh! oh!" he shouted, staggering to his feet. I never saw anyone look quite so furious.
"Scott, you will see me in my study after football," he said, holding his bottom with both hands. And then the final whistle blew and Scott jerked himself off the field scowling hard thoughts.
After a couple of try-outs on the 2nd
When the matches were on home ground the school attended en masse, and relatives of boys who lived in Dublin came along too, pretty sisters and cousins among them. One afternoon, the match was against Belvedere College, I noticed a girl standing on the touchline with a new boy. She looked so like him I guessed it was his sister, so I spoke to him. That day there were several goodlooking girls at the match, but I did not glance at them again after setting eyes on the new boy's sister. And she had buckteeth, and was not in a class with some of the other girls when it came to looks. Several times during the match I glanced at her and she was looking at me, and I made a mental note to bring pressure to bear on her small brother to introduce me.
Before the end of the match I got kicked where I had kicked Bones major, and was laid out longer than the allotted three minutes, so they had to take a man out of our scrum to replace the center next to me and put the center on my wing. As I could not walk I was put down on an overcoat while the match went on. Then the girl with buckteeth came along with her brother and, without any introduction knelt down beside me and said:
"Isn't it a shame, now! And where is it?"
I could not answer at once for the pain, and also because some of the fellows on the touchline had turned around and were watching us and they know where it was, and one of them sniggered. So I said quickly:
"The solar plexus."
"Oh, is that so," she said. "No wonder it's so painful."
After she had gone I kept thinking about her. One of the boys who had seen her helped me back to the Cadogan dormitory and on the way we talked about her. He said she would be quite all right if it was not for her buckteeth. But wait till I saw her sister, he said. The sister was very like her except for the buckteeth.
The next match both of them came out. The sister was very pretty, but there was something she lacked. I decided in the end it was the buckteeth; and I realized for the first time that in spite of buckteeth or the cast in an eye or a mouth that is too big or too little, or lips that are too thin or too thick, or weak chins, or flat faces, girls with these defects can make girls who are conventionally beautiful look like nothing at all. The discovery puzzled me, for I was yet to learn that the girl who attracts you most is the girl whose eyes tell you that she is thinking the same thoughts that you are thinking yourself.
Every year started with a series of weekly paper-chases and cross country runs. The entire school took part in them, handicaps being arranged according to age or past performance. The winner enjoyed, for the period of a week, the privilege of drinking from a silver goblet at lunch time; and one week it would be a team captain, another, some youngster from the second form who had been given a whale of a handicap and had made the most of it. The meets took place a few miles from Saint Columba's, at the cromlechs behind Woodtown School or under the ruined walls of the old Jacobite Hell Fire Club on Mount Pelier, and the runs would be back to the school, ending at the wicket gate that led to the open lot behind the Cadogan dormitory. One day, the meet was scheduled for the Hell Fire Club, I skipped lunch and, with a boy named Dillon, who claimed to have heard voices and seen a ghost, beat it off a good hour before everyone else to investigate the ruins which were said to be haunted. By the time we got to the top of Mount Pelier the sky had darkened over and a strong wind was blowing along a storm that appeared ready to break at any moment. As we climbed down into the debris that blocked the roofless halls of the Hell Fire Club, the blackened sinister walls towering four stories above us, the wind was howling with enough eeriness to give me gooseflesh. I followed Dillon up a stairway, the loosened stone slabs rocking under our weight, and from it we climbed onto the walls themselves. My own wind was up, for there was a sheer drop of fifty feet on either side of us and a regular gale was blowing. But I was scared to be left alone, so I followed Dillon, whose voices seemed to be calling to him to come on and break his neck—and mine as well. The wall was not more than a yard wide, and a couple of times we had to get down on our bellies and grab tufts of grass and jagged ledges to keep from being blown off it. I continued on my hands and knees, but Dillon seemed unaware of the danger and was stepping out like a sleepwalker. As we approached the end of the wall, another wall, higher still, shut us off from the violence of the gale. I managed to get to my feet, and advanced, trying not to look down. And then we heard a long-drawn piercing shriek. Up there on the wall, with the sky dark and the wind howling and the fire-gutted yawning ruins below us, that shriek sounded like nothing earthly to me. My breath stopped and I could feel my knees giving way. Even Dillon seemed impressed, for he turned back, his lips very white. As though by mutual understanding we lay down close together, shutting our eyes....I gripped his arm:
"What was that?"
"A woman the Jacobites took prisoner!" he said hoarsely.
"What are they doing to her?"
"Nothing yet. They've rolled her husband down the mountain in a barrel with nails driven into it from the outside."
"And if they find us?" I stammered, recalling stories of the terrible goings-on at the Hell Fire Club.
"They're ghosts. They can't do anything to us," said psychical proselyte Dillon, "At least, not in the daytime," he added. "That was a vibration we heard."
But I was far from reassured, for with the sky black and the storm on us it was more like night than day. And then, the thought that there were ghosts around!...I managed to turn about, always on my hands and knees, and by the time I got to where I could regain my feet without danger of being blown off the wall, Dillon was at my elbow. He suddenly gripped my shoulder so that I could feel his nails through my football jersey:
"You saw it?"
"The woman's arm."
"Over there, on the other side of the wall—it's gone now."
Now, a woman's arm is not a terrible thing, but the thought of it in the ruins of the Hell Fire Club in a storm—and from Dillon's tone I concluded it was detached from the body—started my teeth chattering. And then the rain came. The wind drove it across the walls in bursts that lashed our faces like sleet. We looked around for shelter. Dillon pointed to a charred door far below us that opened outward and was ajar. Clambering down toward it, we stopped short. A weird sound, like they make at night in the boglands when there is an eviction, by blowing through a bottle with the end knocked out of it, or like a moaning buoy, was approaching. I say approaching, because whatever was making it was not pausing for breath, though the sound varied in volume, rising and falling...coming nearer all the time....
Dillon sprang back.
"The Banshee!" he cried, and then: "My God, there she is!"
As we looked, a slender white arm emerged from behind the door we were heading for, and the door was pulled to.
We waited no longer; and though the paper-chase was called off on account of the storm, I would have been willing to bet that the time record for the run from the Hell Fire Club to Saint Columba's was broken that afternoon by Dillon and me.