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WAYSIDERS

Stories of Connacht

by

SEUMAS O'KELLY

Author of "The Shuiler's Child," "The Lady of Deerpark,"
"The Bribe," &c.

New York

MCMXVIII







Contents


The Can with the Diamond Notch

Both Sides of the Pond

The White Goat

The Sick Call

The Shoemaker

The Rector

The Home-Coming

A Wayside Burial

The Gray Lake

The Building




THE CAN WITH THE DIAMOND NOTCH

I

[Illustration: _Festus Clasby_]


The name stood out in chaste white letters from the black background of
the signboard. Indeed the name might be said to spring from the
landscape, for this shop jumped from its rural setting with an air of
aggression. It was a commercial oasis on a desert of grass. It
proclaimed the clash of two civilisations. There were the hills, pitched
round it like the galleries of some vast amphitheatre, rising tier upon
tier to the blue of the sky. There was the yellow road, fantastic in its
frolic down to the valley. And at one of its wayward curves was the
shop, the shop of Festus Clasby, a foreign growth upon the landscape,
its one long window crowded with sombre merchandise, its air that of
established, cob-web respectability.

Inside the shop was Festus Clasby himself, like some great masterpiece
in its ancient frame. He was the product of the two civilisations, a
charioteer who drove the two fiery steeds of Agricolo and Trade with a
hand of authority. He was a man of lands and of shops. His dark face,
framed in darker hair and beard, was massive and square. Behind the
luxurious growth of hair the rich blood glowed on the clear skin. His
chest had breadth, his limbs were great, showing girth at the hips and
power at the calves. His eyes were large and dark, smouldering in soft
velvety tones. The nose was long, the nostrils expressive of a certain
animalism, the mouth looked eloquent. His voice was low, of an agreeable
even quality, floating over the boxes and barrels of his shop like a
chant. His words never jarred, his views were vaguely comforting, based
on accepted conventions, expressed in round, soft, lulling platitudes.
His manner was serious, his movements deliberate, the great bulk of the
shoulders looming up in unconscious but dramatic poses in the curiously
uneven lighting of the shop. His hands gave the impression of slowness
and a moderate skill; they could make up a parcel on the counter without
leaving ugly laps; they could perform a minor surgical operation on a
beast in the fields without degenerating to butchery; and they would
always be doing something, even if it were only rolling up a ball of
twine. His clothes exuded a faint suggestion of cinnamon, nutmeg and
caraway seeds.

Festus Clasby would have looked the part in any notorious position in
life; his shoulders would have carried with dignity the golden chain of
office of the mayoralty of a considerable city; he would have looked a
perfect chairman of a jury at a Coroner's inquest; as the Head of a
pious Guild in a church he might almost be confused with the figures of
the stained glass windows; marching at the head of a brass band he would
symbolise the conquering hero; as an undertaker he would have reconciled
one to death. There was no technical trust which men would not have
reposed in him, so perfectly was he wrought as a human casket. As it
was, Festus Clasby filled the most fatal of all occupations to dignity
without losing his tremendous illusion of respectability. The hands
which cut the bacon and the tobacco, turned the taps over pint measures,
scooped bran and flour into scales, took herrings out of their barrels,
rolled up sugarsticks in shreds of paper for children, were hands whose
movements the eyes of no saucy customer dared follow with a gleam of
suspicion. Not once in a lifetime was that casket tarnished; the nearest
he ever went to it was when he bought up--very cheaply, as was his
custom--a broken man's insurance policy a day after the law made such a
practice illegal. There was no haggling at Festus Clasby's counter.
There was only conversation, agreeable conversation about things which
Festus Clasby did not sell, such as the weather, the diseases of
animals, the results of races, and the scandals of the Royal Families of
Europe. These conversations were not hurried or yet protracted. They
came to a happy ending at much the same moment as Festus Clasby made the
knot on the twine of your parcel. But to stand in the devotional lights
in front of his counter, wedged in between divisions and subdivisions of
his boxes and barrels, and to scent the good scents which exhaled from
his shelves, and to get served by Festus Clasby in person, was to feel
that you had been indeed served.

The small farmers and herds and the hardy little dark mountainy men had
this reverential feeling about the good man and his shop. They
approached the establishment as holy pilgrims might approach a shrine.
They stood at his counter with the air of devotees. Festus Clasby
waited on them with patience and benignity. He might be some
warm-blooded god handing gifts out over the counter. When he brought
forth his great account book and entered up their purchases with a
carpenter's pencil--having first moistened the tip of it with his
flexible lips--they had strongly, deep down in their souls, the
conviction that they were then and for all time debtors to Festus
Clasby. Which, indeed and in truth, they were. From year's end to year's
end their accounts remained in that book; in the course of their lives
various figures rose and faded after their names, recording the ups and
downs of their financial histories. It was only when Festus Clasby had
supplied the materials for their wakes that the great pencil, with one
mighty stroke of terrible finality, ran like a sword through their
names, wiping their very memories from the hillsides. All purchases were
entered up in Festus Clasby's mighty record without vulgar discussions
as to price. The business of the establishment was conducted on the
basis of a belief in the man who sold and acquiescence in that belief on
the part of the man who purchased. The customers of Festus Clasby would
as soon have thought of questioning his prices as they would of
questioning the right of the earth to revolve round the sun. Festus
Clasby was the planet around which this constellation of small farmers,
herds, and hardy little dark mountainy men revolved; from his shop they
drew the light and heat and food which kept them going. Their very
emotions were registered at his counter. To the man with a religious
turn he was able, at a price, to hand down from his shelves the _Key of
Heaven_; the other side of the box he comforted the man who came panting
to his taps to drown the memory of some chronic impertinence. He gave a
very long credit, and a very long credit, in his philosophy, justified a
very, very long profit. As to security, if Festus Clasby's customers had
not a great deal of money they had grass which grew every year, and the
beasts which Festus Clasby fattened and sold at the fairs had sometimes
to eat his debtors out of his book. If his bullocks were not able to do
even this, then Festus Clasby talked to the small farmer about a
mortgage on the land, so that now and again small farmers became herds
for Festus Clasby. In this way was he able to maintain his position with
his back to the hills and his toes in the valley, striding his territory
like a Colossus. When you saw his name on the signboard standing stark
from the landscape, and when you saw Festus Clasby behind his counter,
you knew instinctively that both had always stood for at least twenty
shillings in the pound.


II

Now, it came to pass that on a certain day Festus Clasby was passing
through the outskirts of the nearest country town on his homeward
journey, his cart laden with provisions. At the same moment the spare
figure of a tinker whose name was Mac-an-Ward, the Son of the Bard,
veered around the corner of a street with a new tin can under his arm.
It was the Can with the Diamond Notch.

Mac-an-Ward approached Festus Clasby, who pulled up his cart.

"Well, my good man?" queried Festus Clasby, a phrase usually addressed
across his counter, his hands outspread, to longstanding customers.

"The last of a rare lot," said Mac-an-Ward, deftly poising the tin can
on the top of his fingers, so that it stood level with Festus Clasby's
great face. Festus Clasby took this as a business proposition, and the
soul of the trader revolved within him. Why not buy the tin can from
this tinker and sell it at a profit across his counter, even as he
would sell the flitches of bacon that were wrapped in sacking upon his
cart? He was in mellow mood, and laid down the reins in the cart beside
him.

"And so she is the last?" he said, eyeing the tin can.

"She is the Can with the Diamond Notch."

"Odds and ends go cheap," said Festus Clasby.

"She is the last, but the flower of the flock."

"Remnants must go as bargains or else remain as remnants."

"My wallet!" protested Mac-an-Ward, "you wound me. Don't speak as if I
picked it off a scrap heap."

"I will not, but I will say that, being a tail end and an odd one, it
must go at a sacrifice."

The Son of the Bard tapped the side of the can gently with his
knuckles.

"Listen to him, the hard man from the country! He has no regard for my
feelings. I had the soldering iron in my hand in face of it before the
larks stirred this morning. I had my back to the East, but through the
bottom of that can there I saw the sun rise in its glory. The brightness
of it is as the harvest moon."

"I don't want it for its brightness."

"Dear heart, listen to the man who would not have brightness. He would
pluck the light from the moon, quench the heat in the heart of the sun.
He would draw a screen across the aurora borealis and paint out the
rainbow with lamp black. He might do such things, but he cannot deny the
brightness of this can. Look upon it!



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