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- The Untilled Field - 20/57 -


And his father said:--

"You are not smoking, Peter."

"No," he said; "I've given up smoking."

"Will you drink something?" said James. "We have got a drain of whiskey in the house."

"No, I have had to give up spirits. It doesn't agree with me. And I don't take tea in the morning. Have you got any cocoa in the house?"

It was not the cocoa he liked, but he said he would be able to manage.

IV

And when the old man came through the doorway in the morning buttoning his braces, he saw Peter stirring his cocoa. There was something absurd as well as something attractive in Peter, and his father had to laugh when he said he couldn't eat American bacon.

"My stomach wouldn't retain it. I require very little, but that little must be the best."

And when James took him into the farmyard, he noticed that Peter crossed the yard like one who had never been in a farmyard before; he looked less like a farmer than ever, and when he looked at the cows, James wondered if he could be taught to see the difference between an Alderney and a Durham.

"There's Kate," he said; "she's a good cow; as good a cow as we have, and we can't get any price for her because of that hump on her back."

They went to the styes; there were three pigs there and a great sow with twelve little bonhams, and the little ones were white with silky hair, and Peter asked how old they were, and when they would be fit for killing. And James told Peter there were seven acres in the Big field.

"Last year we had oats in the Holly field; next year you'll sow potatoes there." And he explained the rotation of crops. "And, now," he said, "we will go down to Crow's Oak. You have never done any ploughing, Peter; I will show you."

It was extraordinary how little Peter knew. He could not put the harness on the horse, and he reminded James that he had gone into the post-office when he left school. James gave in to him that the old red horse was hard to drive, but James could drive him better than Peter could lead him; and Peter marvelled at the skill with which James raised his hand from the shaft of the plough and struck the horse with the rein whilst he kept the plough steady with the other hand.

"Now, Peter, you must try again."

At the end of the headland where the plough turned, Peter always wanted to stop and talk about something; but James said they would have to get on with the work, and Peter walked after the plough, straining after it for three hours, and then he said: "James, let me drive the horse. I can do no more."

"You won't feel it so much when you are accustomed to it," said James.

Anything seemed to him better than a day's ploughing: even getting up at three in the morning to go to a fair.

He went to bed early, as he used to, and they talked of him over the fire, as they used to. But however much they talked, they never seemed to find what they were seeking--his vocation--until one evening an idea suddenly rose out of their talk.

"A good wife is the only thing for Peter," said Pat.

And they went on thinking.

"A husband would be better for her," said Pat Phelan, "than a convent."

"I cannot say I agree with you there. Think of all the good them nuns are doing."

"She isn't a nun yet," said Pat Phelan.

And the men smoked on a while, and they ruminated as they smoked.

"It would be better, James, that Peter got her than that she should stay in a convent."

"I wouldn't say that," said James.

"You see," said his father, "she did not go into the convent because she had a calling, but because she was crossed in love."

And after another long while James said, "It is a bitter dose, I am thinking, father, but you must go and tell her that Peter has left Maynooth."

"And what would the Reverend Mother be saying to me if I went to her with such a story as that? Isn't your heart broken enough already, James, without wanting me to be breaking it still more? Sure, James, you could never see her married to Peter?"

"If she were to marry Peter I should be able to go to America, and that is the only thing for me."

"That would be poor consolation for you, James."

"Well, it is the best I shall get, to see Peter settled, and to know that there will be some one to look after you, father."

"You are a good son, James."

They talked on, and as they talked it became clearer to them that some one must go to-morrow to the convent and tell Catherine that Peter had left Maynooth.

"But wouldn't it be a pity," said Pat Phelan, "to tell her this if Peter is not going to marry her in the end?"

"I'll have him out of his bed," said James, "and he'll tell us before this fire if he will or won't."

"It's a serious thing you are doing, James, to get a girl out of a convent, I am thinking."

"It will be on my advice that you will be doing this, father; and now I'll go and get Peter out of his bed."

And Peter was brought in, asking what they wanted of him at this hour of the night; and when they told him what they had been talking about and the plans they had been making, he said he would be catching his death of cold, and they threw some sods of turf on the fire.

"It is against myself that I am asking a girl to leave the convent, even for you, Peter," said James. "But we can think of nothing else."

"Peter will be able to tell us if it is a sin that we'd be doing."

"It is only right that Catherine should know the truth before she made her vows," Peter said. "But this is very unexpected, father. I really--"

"Peter, I'd take it as a great kindness. I shall never do a hand's turn in this country. I want to get to America. It will be the saving of me."

"And now, Peter," said his father, "tell us for sure if you will have the girl?"

"Faith I will, though I never thought of marriage, if it be to please James." Seeing how heart-sick his brother was, he said, "I can't say I like her as you like her; but if she likes me I will promise to do right by her. James, you're going away; we may never see you again. It is all very sad. And now you'll let me go back to bed."

"Peter, I knew you would not say no to me; I can't bear this any longer."

"And now," said Peter, "let me go back to bed. I am catching my death."

And he ran back to his room, and left his brother and father talking by the fire.

V

Pat thought the grey mare would take him in faster than the old red horse; and the old man sat, his legs swinging over the shaft, wondering what he should say to the Reverend Mother, and how she would listen to his story; and when he came to the priest's house a great wish came upon him to ask the priest's advice. The priest was walking up his little lawn reading his breviary, and a great fear came on Pat Phelan, and he thought he must ask the priest what he should do.

The priest heard the story over the little wall, and he was sorry for the old man.

It took him a long time to tell the story, and when he was finished the priest said:--

"But where are you going, Pat?"

"That's what I stopped to tell you, your reverence. I was thinking I might be going to the convent to tell Catherine that Peter has come back."

"Well it wasn't yourself that thought of doing such a thing as that, Pat Phelan."


The Untilled Field - 20/57

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