THE PIG IN THE PARLOR
THE honey smell of whin-bloom and the pine-apple scent of gorse blew faintly into John Magill’s thin face as he turned in at his new gate and faced up the steps to his new two-storey, clap-board house.
Behind him was the dying clangour of shop-bells that had to do with the hook coming imperceptibly over his shoulders. Before him was he knew not what—he never knew what until he opened his grained front door. But here, in one nail-keg half, on one side of the shiny steps, was his whin-bloom, and, in the other half of the nail-keg, on the opposite side of the shiny steps, was his heady yellow gorse, both brought him by Felix O’Heyne on his way out from the old sod, white from above came the remote fragrance of Mary Kate’s yellow primroses tucked into their crumpled green leaves. Canada was a good country entirely where a man could attain to a grand clapboard house instead of a leaning cabin, but God save Ireland!
Then he mounted the steps and opened his door to a woman’s scolding and a child’s sobs.
“Begannies, Mary Kate, y’ar mad altogether,” he expostulated. “About what do yee be tearin’ iron?”
“An’ why wouldn’t I be mad?” she stormed. “ ’Tis that Dutch bye again pairsecutin’ Honor.
The divvle is busy wid him the whole of the day.”
“Leave cryin’, Honor,” her father commanded, laying a weary, kind hand on the child’s curls as he went towards the wash-basin. “It do be makin’ your face quare an’ ugly. What has that tom-fool been sayin’ to yee now?”
“Singin’ his same old song,” copper-toed boot matched the passion of her curls— “‘Irish, Irish, Irish’, he points, and then jigs around and after me and sings,
‘Yer father and mother are Irish,
And you are Irish, too.
You keep the pig in the parlour,
And it is Irish, too.’ ”
THE mocking lilt of the song brought a savage flush to the dark, thin face John was burying in the roller towel.
“Ye said last time ye’d give him a drubbin’ he wouldn’t forget,” accused Mary Kate.
“He put a hardy face on,” defended John. “I told him he was blue-molded for want of a batin’ and if he tarmented the child again I’d leather him well.”
“ ’Twas no true word. Y’ar wake as a piece of wet paper. Be this he’ll be home. Will ye folly him an’ give him a good welting?”
“I’ve me pick of dinner to eat and the shop to get back to. There do be a big order for the new bolts and that omadhaun, Sandy M’Cann, hoppin’ around like mad.” “Well an’ good!” Mary Kate’s dignity was fearsome. “I’ll on with me shawl and leg it away over there meself. There’s a pot o’ broth on the stove and Honor’ll dish up the pytatees. Oona’s hid herself off with one o’ them novel-books—I haven’t one to do a hand’s turn for me. Honor, ye’ll stay from school, y’ar an object, anyway, yer pug-nose red with yer cryin’. Mind the baby if he wakens and keep Roxana off the street. Y’ar a dunkey, John, and here’s yer daughter, Oona, kindly cornin’ to put in her lip. ‘Una’, she wants to be called, out o’ one o’ them novel-books and their pack o’ lies, something about Una and a knight, English if you please, and she Irish-born.” “You’re not always so keen about being Irish yourself, Mother,” retorted the supercilious Oona. “You’re always telling us about your Scotch grandfather. “You’re only so Irish when the uncles come or when you’re mad. What do you want to go making a show of yourself for after that silly Willie Bligh for teasing Honor?”
“You barge, you!” Her mother turned on her a face black as winter. “Keep your tongue off me. There’s black drop in yee and a wild drop. Y’ar a heart-scald an’—”
“Murther! Murther!” moaned John, half-humourously. “Hold your prate, Oona. Sure, the Scotch does be Irish, anyway. Away on with ye, Mary Kate, else ye’ll be missin’ yer chance at Willie Bligh.”
And little Honor, finally left alone with the baby and the near-baby, Roxana, and the dishes, thrilled down to her
copper-toes with the drama she had unwittingly evoked, her mother going off in her cherished Paisley shawl in the middle of the day to do battle for Ireland, her comely, busy, uncertain mother who never went out except once a year to the Oddfellows’ Ball and to church for the christening of the babies and on Saturdays for the marketing. Little Honor thrilled all afternoon to the drama and forgot to feed the baby when he awoke and to keep the gate fastened on Roxana.
^/^T supper-time the drama still held the element of suspense. Curiosity, with some prescience of a happy ending, glimmered behind the family faces bent demurely over their plates. The house shone amazingly from every plane surface. Roxana and the baby, fed and soothed and scrubbed, beamed rosy from their high-chairs. Honor’s rebellious curls were tied as decorously and tightly as possible back from her
freckled little face. Oona, the fifth commandment emphasizing every subdued line of her, assisted at the supperrites and was silent. Mary Kate stepped about in a high
manner, two red spots aflame on her cheek-bones. A fresh soda-cake finished a highly satisfactory meal and as Mary Kate passed John’s chair on some final errand to the stove, he was moved to invade her majestic apartness.
“There’s a taste on that cake, Mary Kate,” he praised as his arm stayed her progress. “There isn’t many goin’ could do betther. Y’ar the brag i’ Ireland, aroon.”
“Ye had always the slipping tongue, Shane,” she mocked. “Galong!”
But she returned his kiss before she gathered up her baby in a sudden softening, burying her flushed face in its soft neck with a crooned “The love of my heart, y’ar!”
The moment seemed propitious.
“What did you do to Willie Bligh, Mother?” prompted Honor, her pride still smarting under the little song of mocking.
“Did ye massacree him?” twinkled John, as he gathered up needle and saw and lap-stone preparatory to a cobbling of the family holes.
“He’ve a whole skin.” Mary Kate’s admission was rueful. “Sight nor light of him did I have. He saw me turn in at the gate, the vagabone, and he out o’ the back door with him ere ever I could lay hand or tongue on him. But I told the Dutch woman what I thought of her bringing-up of him. A little stump of a woman she is, fat as a fule, and never opened her gob but to say, ‘Dat is too badt. Villie only teest. Villie is a goodt boy.’ ‘Sharp blame to him,’ said I, ‘for a coward and a bully!’
“Himself was there, the Englishman, Daniel the name was on him. ‘Tanial’ whines the Dutchie when I called a born villyn the base-born boy she found one night in a basket on her front steps. And Daniel grinned impidently at me. He’ve the same age as yourself, John, but he’s thin as a cat’s ear, with a long noddle and a nose reaching down to meet his chin.
“ ‘Ye old hunk!’ I says, ‘sittin’ there in yer gansey and a decent woman in the room! Y’ar an object to grin! Irish, is it? An’ the pig in the parlour! He’s a grand young pig and in his nice clean sty at the foot of the gyarden. Irish, is she, my Honor? Yes, please God, well-born and not left on the steps like the wrong week’s wash. Tell yer hayjus young gawm I’ll give him a jacketful o' sore bones if he tarments Honor again, the child that has him bet in the class at school. I’d be heart-sorry for ye wid him if ye weren't English yerself. Murtherin English!’ I says and went out past the little Dutch woman, each of her eyes as big as a plate, but never a word, good or bad, she spoke.
“Daniel was follyin’ me, saying something sour. But I lifted me shawl around me and swung out the gate like Queen Maeve.
“ ‘Murtherin’ English!’ I called over me shoulder
and left him standin’ in a state of impercep-
“Man alive, that was a skinful!” chuckled TERS the mild John, sorting out his sole-leather. Honor, her smart eased, embraced her mother’s knees. Even Oona, preparing dutifully to take the little stand-aloney, Roxana, to bed, Ooona with her literary tastes alternating between melodrama and romance, approved her mother’s verbal inventions with the gamin grin of her earlier tree-climbing years.
JOHN, tapping on his lap-stone, now took stage centre. To Honor especially, in a flutter of pinafore, the pantomine of her father’s cobbling held a perennial fascination. Drawing out waxends on his knee, softening pieces of leather in a bucket of water, were all incidentals to the legerdemain of the wooden pegs that he hammered into a sole on the last between his knees. He put all the -pegs into his mouth, blew one at a time into his hand miraculously right end up, and hit it twice with his hammer. The tune that John hummed while his mouth encompassed the pegs burst into words at the exodus of the final peg:
“Big boots a-hunting, Sandals in the hall, 4 White for a wedding-feast, And pink for a ball. This way, that way, So we make a shoe, Getting rich, every stitch, Tick-tack-too.”
Honor’s shrill little voice and Mary Kate’s'mezzo and the baby’s crow and even Oona’s staccato caught up the chorus to the boom of John’s bass:
“Tip-tap, rip-rap, Tick-a-tack-too! Scarlet leather sewn together, This will make a shoe.”
To-night John’s stirring memories produced the fragment of another verse:
“Buskins for a fairy prince, Brogues for his son, Pay me well, pay me well, When the job’s done—”
He held out a comic hand at the length of a wax-end. Honor dropped her small paw into it. “A hai’p’ny,” he said, then held out the other. Mary Kate slapped it. “A York shilling,” he grinned.
“You’re a pack of loonies,” scorned Oona, dreeing her weird at the dish-pan and borrowing her mother’s phrase. “Now a story, Daddy,” begged Honor. “A new story!” “What’ll I tell her, Mary Kate?” appealed John.
“An Irish story!” demanded Honor.
“Tell her about Macha—Macha of the Red Tresses, like her own little nob,” said Mary Kate.
“She’ve been teased enough this day,” decided John, honey in his tones, as a copper-toed foot threatened a stamp. “Would ‘The Cattle Raid o’ Cooly' do?”
“ ’Tis too bloody for a child,” objected her mother. “Deirdre?” John vent ured.
“Honor do be too young. Tell her —”—she paused to think, then her grave eyes danced—’“Tell her ‘Mac Datho’s Pig’.”
WITH a chorus of chuckles t hat admitted the peculiar fittingness of a pig story on this particular evening, the family entered into t he spirit of the saga of Mac Datho.
“Well, boys,” began John, girding up his memory, “Mac Datho was Quality and lived in Leinster in a big house and owned great lands. He’d a gran’ hound could run around Leinster in a day, and all Ireland talked of that hound.”
"You said ’twas a pig,” objected Honor.
"Whisht!” warned her mother, watching John wrestling with memory and expression. "The pig’s cornin’.”
“The King and Queen of Connacht sent to ask Mac Datho for the hound, but, becripes, Connor, ;
King of Ulster, thought he would like it too. /«■ And, begob, when the Ulster messengers kem in at one of Mac Datho’s seven doors, who but the ■crowd from Connacht came in opposite.
And they stood, all of them, before Mac Datho’s bed.
“ ‘Sixty hundred milch cows and a ■chariot with two swift horses will Connacht give for the hound,’ says one, ‘and as much again at the end of the year.’
“ ‘More ner that from the North,’ says Ulster, ‘and the good friendship of Connor contin’ally’.
“The length o’ the forenoon they talked.
Mac Datho said nayther here ner thefe to them for three days and three nights and he did not eat and he could not sleep.”
“Then he asked Herself,” prompted Mary Kate.
“She offered the advice, the deludin’ woman,” parried John, “and it med ruination. ‘Man, dear,’ she said, the •shkamer, ‘promise it till them both and good riddance to them.’
“ ‘Blood an’ Turf!’ roared Mac Datho. ‘My soul from the divvle!’
•said he, and was there cursin’ black and blue full long. But he promised ït to both and they were to come for it theirselves, the kings and the quality and the warriors and he made tryst with Connacht and Ulster for one and the same day.
" ’Twas a big house, I'm afther tellin’ ye, seven doors and fifty beds bechune each two doors. Half the house was ■for the men of Connacht and half for the men of Ulster and they were throng as three in a bed. They looked black across at each other, for there had been war bechune them since three hundred years before our Lord was born.
“’Tis a dint o’ people. Let the pig be killed for them’, :said Mac Datho.”
“The pig!” Honor clapped her hands. “Will he be in the parlour?”
“He will,” said John grimly, “and aal over the house. Harken! He was a grán’ fine porker, that, fed for seven years on the milk of three score cows, the silk o’ the kine, and sixty men were hard put to it to draw him when slain. Nine men alone it took to carry the tail.”
Honor’s eyes popped and Oona distinctly sniffed as she hung up the dish-towel and took off her kitchen apron. •John waxed a thread.
“ ‘The pig is good,’ said Oilioll, king of Connacht.
“ ‘It is so,’ said Connor, king of Ulster, ‘a well-looking Pig-’
“ ‘Who’s to divide it?’ said Maeve, queen of Connacht. She’d jewels on her forehead and seven colors in her clothes an’ ye’d as soon be lookin’ at her as atin’ yer dinner.
“Troth, then the trouble began. ’Twas a rule them whiles the best warrior to divide the pig. A villyun, Bricriu, up in the gallery, sang out to settle who’d divide it by contest of arms.
“There were strings of gab that time, Connacht first raising his prowess and then Ulster until they came to one man that had every one bet, even Cet mac Magach of Connacht. Each man that rose against Cet as he sat by the pig with his knife in his hand was put down by what Cet had done to him or his. One was a stammerer from Cet’s spear in his throat. The father of another was called ‘Hand-wail’—for why?—Cet’s lance had struck off his hand. Cet had made a third as blind in one eye as the sole of yer boot, and had cut off the head of the firstborn son of a fourth.
“ ‘Blast me, thou shalt not divide it,’ said Mend, son of Sword-heel.
“ ‘Demm you,’asked Cet, ‘that sons of churls with nicknames should contend with me? I gave thy father that name, more betoken, since ’twas I cut off his heel.’
“So Cet laid disgrace and a blow on the whole Ulster province until Conall the Victorious sprang on the floor of the house and claimed to divide the pig, as he had never been a day since he first took spear and weapons without having slain a Connachtman, nor a night without plundering, nor had he ever slept without the head of Connachtman under his knee.
“ ’Twas then King Connor threw his helmet from his head and shook himself for joy in his own place and the Ulstermen yelled till they were black in the face.
Well, me bhoy,’ said Cet, “tis a pity me own brother, Anluan mac Magach, is not in the house, for ’tis he would match you, contest for contest.’
“ ‘Sorra fear!’ chuckled Conal. ‘The little fella is in the house . And he took the head of Anluan from his belt and threw it at Cet’s breast.
Then Cet up wid him from the pig, all his prate gone
and bare grief on his lips. Conul! sat down he it, taking the end of the tail in his mouth until he had finished dividing, while the men of Ulster made a cover around him with their shields, there being an evil custom in the house, ^ the people of one side throwing stones at the
“But, Och Saints, the men of Connacht did not be please.d wid their share and there follyed a battle in that hostelry, you wouldn’t know what to make of it, till seven streams of blood burst through its seven doors, and the sta’nch hound they set such store by was dead on them in the close outside. Queen Maeve and King Oilioll fled back into Connacht with many adventures by the way, and the daws, sitting two and two on ash-trees, looked down on the dissolute slain.
“Gorry,” John scratched his head, “that was pretty bloody, too, for a child. Look at the eyes stiekin’ out of her head. Let you dance, Mary Kate, and let her forget it.”
“Please, please,” coaxed Honor. “ ‘Fine Heather Bisoms’.”
CO Mary Kate laid down her sleeping baby, ^ picked up her skirts and, with the lingering bloom of her husband’s love-making laid over her stormy face, twinkled through a gay dance to the lilt of:
“Fine heather bisoms,
Fine, fine and new.
Fine heather bisoms,
Finer never grew.
“Sell them out in dozens,
Sell them while they’re new. Castleblainey bisoms,
Better never grew. ”
Suddenly aware of little grins on the faces of her audience turned from her thrall towards the hall-door, Mary Kate whirled and froze on one toe.
Glory be to God!” she gasped. “’Tis yer brother Teig, John, at this time o’ night.”
Who but he?” agreed Uncle Teig. “Did ye think to be seem Ould Horney? And here’s Aunt Bridget Ellen Evans from Greenhill way.” Bridget Ellen advanced.
Me to be makin’ a big show o’ meself, Shane, before yer strand yer brother!” grieved Mary Kate.
Y’ar soople still,” grudged Aunt Bridget Ellen.
J^n' why wouldn’t she be soople?” defended John.
She’ve no age on her.”
There’s little hurt getting old,” maintained Bridget Ellen, who was ever inclined to be rancorous.
Should ye be out with yer nagy-fever so late, Teig?” Mary Kate deftly switched the conversation.
_ ’Tis a night of fine texture and I walked along up to bring Breedeen and for a mouthful o’ air,” stated Uncle Teig. _
fei ^°W an' w^en did ye come to town, Bridget Ellen?” Mary Kate politely inquired of her arch enemy, noting askance the bit of carpet-bag that meant a visit over night at least.
“Yestreen in the shandrydan wit Evans,” said Bridget Ellen. “He was cornin’ to some lodge meeting—it is himself will be sittin’ in it now—and I kem to see the doctor about me fut, me awak all the night before hearin’ the pain in it And to be away from that farm that I grow dead of with its thrifle o’ fields and its few tatters o’ cows.”
Bridget Ellen’s life with Evans was not all harmony, the f]
family knew, but were not sure if their circu mstan ces were as pinched as her statement of them.
“Ye’ve full and plenty here,’’ she sighed,looking around the cosy room,
“though the dear knows I wouldn’t begrudge it to yee.”
“We’ve nothing to be makin’ a big mouth over,” deprecated John. “Take yer ant’s shawl,
“Ye’ll soon be a full woman, Oona,” commented he*"
“Ay, the gerrl is in her comely growing power,” added Uncle Teig.
Oona, flushing resentfully at the too personal comment, put away the shawl with a vicious fling, whispering to her mother, “She’s the lookinest thing!” Oona and her mother were at one in their feelings toward Aunt Breedeen and drew close together when the aunt came on her annual pilgrimages, angry with herself and all the world, or rocking rythmically for hours at a time, resigned as a bee-hive after a swarm. “A borrun visitor!” Mary Kate was wont to comment.
WHEN all had settled down to a “colloquy” with a drop of ceremonial whiskey that Uncle Teig praised as pliable—“pliable as new milk”—the talk drifted on from personal and family matters to news from the old country and reminiscences of early days together, and around them were again the tang of peat and the keen mountain wind and rush-cotton waving little white flags over the bogs. In the wake of Mac Datho’s pig came more legend and history, and little Honor, against her father’s knee, listened with her ears all she might, but listened more with her blood, while Oona, neither body nor mind definitely interested in anything Irish, studied what was ostensibly geography at the remote edge of the table. Some reference to the Red Knights marched all at once in step with the romance tucked between the leaves of to-morrow’s lesson and heavy with heraldry and family crests, and she raised a dusty blond head to inquire languidly, “Have the Magills any family tree?”
“It’s much ye want knowledge,” snubbed Aunt Bridget Ellen. “Only them at the Big House sets much store by family trees.”
“But we must have ancestors,” persisted Oona. “I know about mother’s Scotch grandfather, but who were back of the Magills? What was your mother’s name and your father’s mother’s name? And who were the mothers of the grandfathers? Let’s make branches like the history books do. Grandma Magill was a—?”
“Wright,” said Aunt Bride. “She always said ’twas the wild way of yer gran’dad she could not resist.”
“ ‘And all the girls liked him,
For he could speak civil,
An’ sweet when he liked it;
For he was the divvle’,” quoted Uncle Teig.
His sister scowled at him and went on.
“Her mother was a Butts and his mother was a Hoban. Wrights and Buttses and Hobans were all about us on their forty-acre farms. An’ never the bit of another ansister do I be knowin’ or tellin’ ye. That’s enough. If ye know’ too much, ye’ll grow old.”
“Hold yerWprate!” chided Uncle Teig. “There be’s
Continued on Page 71
The Pig in the Parlor
Continued from page 12
more. We go furdher ner that, Oona. The first Magill I know about kem over from Holland wid William of Orange, him that killed the Gaelic academies. Robin Magill the name was on him, an’ that^ould Dutch sardine was the fadher of
THERE was a very dismal sound from the hall-door where little Honor hung on a sleepy foot preparatory to departure up-stairs, a long dismal sound as she disappeared. Her mother, concerned at the devastated little face glimpsed as Honor vanished, and still unwontedly tender from the sweetness of John’s kisses on her rebellious mouth, followed quickly with a lamp and comfort, while John explained to Teig the havoc he had wrought.
“I won’t be Dutch” screamed Honor. “I’ll not be Dutch like that wicked Willie Bligh.”
“’Tis not of that he is,” argued Mary Kate. “Tis Dutch, the man is Dutch. She does not be his own mother. They won’t be knowin’ what he is.”
“He is Dutch, he is Dutch,” wailed Honor. “The Dutch boy—’ isn’t that what they call him at school? I’m Irish. I will be Irish, I won’t have Robin from Holland for a family tree. I’ll never hold up my head again.”
“Arrah, listen then!” Mary Kate laid the firm hand of authority on the kickling little body for whom the high strains and varied emotions and unusual excitements of the day had been too much. Hysteria was mounting in the ■ red-haired little temperament, but Honor quieted a bit under the barometric indications of the pressing hand.
t “Are ye listenin’? Y’ar not Dutch, I’m tellin’ yee. I haven’t much learnin’, for I walked bare-fut three mile to school every day I went, and ped my penny a week
or carried my turf for the fire. Paddy M’Kye was the drowsy old masther an’ I mind little o’ what he taught us, but this I remember. An oysther, desthroyed wid a grain o’ sand in his inside, turns it grad’lly into a pairl and eases the trouble. An’ in Ireland there was cornin’ ever foreign people, as ye heard yer uncle an’ yer father talkin’ about to-night. There kem white strangers, Swedes and Norsemen that drowned the beautiful Irish books, and black foreigners, the Danes, and Norman-French from England and the follyers o’ Cromwell an’ these yella johns o’ William of Orange, and every mother’s son of them, Quality most of all, took on Irish names and Irish speech and Irish ways and became more Irish than the Irish theirselves, like the sand in the oysther became a pairl. Who’s there?” Appeared Uncle Teig, penitent at having caused to culminate in tragedy for Honor the drama of the day.
“I’m a blockhead,” he whispered to Mary Kate, “an’ I’m heart-sorry for what I tould. I’ll be giving her this and then I’ll be legging it away home.”
Honor, cogitating the miracle and "the balm of the Irish and the oyster, took a knuckle out of one eye and regarded him defensively. She could bear no more. Heavy-shouldered old Uncle Teig tiptoe awkwardly to the child’s bed and looked down at her as she squirmed out of her tight little “shimmy.”
“Y’ar a clean-made little gerrl,” he admired. “Be dom to Willie Bligh and his goin’s-on! Hold out yer hand.”
“Is it mine, mine to keep?”
“It’s yours, every rap.”
“Oh, Mother,” crowed Honor with delight, “Oh, Mother!” and held up a little carven bog-oak pig with a gold ring in his back for a chain to slip through.
“Honor’s much beholden to yee, I’m sure . Teigeen,” thanked Mary¿Kate.
'‘T’ould mother, seventy-eight God save her, sent it out be Felix G’Heyne that time wid me blackthorn stick an’ John’s gorse i an’ it goes to just as sta’nch a little Irisli gerrl as ever t’ould mother was.” Teig i blew a loud nose.
“Mother,” piped Honor, as she slipped ! a tousled red-curled head through the neck of the waiting night-gown and turned up to Uncle Teig a face full of whim, “Mother, isn’t Uncle Teig even a little bit Dutch either?”
“Him Dutch, is it?” laughed Mary Kate, pushing Uncle Teig out of the room ahead of lier and laying Honor’s last Dutch ghost. “Him Dutch? The first bit o’ bread-and-butther yer Uncle Teig ever ate was a petaty.”