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- The Untilled Field - 40/57 -
The boy turned away his head and nodded it.
"Does she beat you if she catches you here?"
"Oh, no, mother never beats me."
"Is she kind to you?"
"Yes, she's very kind, she lives up there, and there's a garden to our cottage, and the name 'Hill Cottage' is painted up on the gate post."
"Now," said Ulick, "tell me your name."
"My name is Ulick."
"Ulick! And what's your other name?"
"Ulick Burke!" said the big Ulick. "Well, my name is the same. And I used to live at Hill Cottage too."
The boy did not answer.
"Whom do you live with?"
"I live with mother."
"And what's her name?"
"Well, Burke is her name," said the boy.
"But her front name?"
"And where's your father?"
"Oh, father's a soldier; he's away."
"But my father was a soldier too, and I used to live in that cottage."
"And where have you been ever since?"
"Oh," he said, "I've been a sailor. I think I will go to the cottage with you."
"Yes," said little Ulick, "come up and see mother, and you'll tell me where you've been sailing," and he put his hand into the seafarer's.
And now the seafarer began to lose his reckoning; the compass no longer pointed north. He had been away for ten years, and coming back he had found his own self, the self that had jumped into the water at this place ten years ago. Why had not the little boy done as he had done, and been pulled into the barge and gone away? If this had happened Ulick would have believed he was dreaming or that he was mad. But the little boy was leading him, yes, he remembered the way, there was the cottage, and its paling, and its hollyhocks. And there was his mother coming out of the house and very little changed.
"Ulick, where have you been? Oh, you naughty boy," and she caught the little boy up and kissed him. And so engrossed was her attention in her little son that she had not noticed the man he had brought home with him.
"Now who is this?" she said.
"Oh, mother, he jumped from the boat to the bank, and he will tell you, mother, that I was not near the bank."
"Yes, mother, he was ten yards from the bank; and now tell me, do you think you ever saw me before?"... She looked at him.
"Oh, it's you! Why we thought you were drowned."
"I was picked up by a bargeman."
"Well, come into the house and tell us what you've been doing."
"I've been seafaring," he said, taking a chair. "But what about this Ulick?"
"He's your brother, that's all."
His mother asked him of what he was thinking, and Ulick told her how greatly astonished he had been to find a little boy exactly like himself, waiting at the same place.
"Your father is away."
"So," he said, "this little boy is my brother. I should like to see father. When is he coming back?"
"Oh," she said, "he won't be back for another three years. He enlisted again."
"Mother," said Ulick, "you don't seem very glad to see me."
"I shall never forget the evening we spent when you threw yourself into the canal. You were a wicked child."
"And why did you think I was drowned?"
"Well, your cap was picked up in the bulrushes."
He thought that whatever wickedness he had been guilty of might have been forgiven, and he began to feel that if he had known how his mother would receive him he would not have come home.
"Well, the dinner is nearly ready. You'll stay and have some with us, and we can make you up a bed in the kitchen."
He could see that his mother wished to welcome him, but her heart was set against him now as it had always been. Her dislike had survived ten years of absence. He had gone away and had met with a mother who loved him, and had done ten years' hard seafaring. He had forgotten his real mother--forgotten everything except the bee and the hatred that gathered in her eyes when she put it down his back; and that same ugly look he could now see gathering in her eyes, and it grew deeper every hour he remained in the cottage. His little brother asked him to tell him tales about the sailing ships, and he wanted to go down to the canal with Ulick, but their mother said he was to bide here with her. The day had begun to decline, his brother was crying, and he had to tell him a sea- story to stop his crying. "But mother hates to hear my voice," he said to himself, and he went out into the garden when the story was done. It would be better to go away, and he took one turn round the garden and got over the paling at the end of the dry ditch, at the place he had got over it before, and he walked through the old wood, where the trees were overgrown with ivy, and the stones with moss. In this second experience there was neither terror nor mystery--only bitterness. It seemed to him a pity that he had ever been taken out of the canal, and he thought how easy it would be to throw himself in again, but only children drown themselves because their mothers do not love them; life had taken a hold upon him, and he stood watching the canal, though not waiting for a boat. But when a boat appeared he called to the man who was driving the horse to stop, for it was the same boat that had brought him from the Shannon.
"Well, was it all right?" the steersman said. "Did you find the house? How were they at home?"
"They're all right at home," he said; "but father is still away. I am going back. Can you take me?"
The evening sky opened calm and benedictive, and the green country flowed on, the boat passed by ruins, castles and churches, and every day was alike until they reached the Shannon.
CHAPTER XII THE WILD GOOSE
He remembered a green undulating country out of which the trees seemed to emerge like vapours, and a line of pearl-coloured mountains showing above the horizon on fine days. And this was all. But this slight colour-memory had followed him all through his wanderings. His parents had emigrated to Manchester when he was nine, and when he was sixteen he felt that he must escape from Manchester, from the overwhelming dreariness of the brick chimneys and their smoke cloud. He had joined a travelling circus on its way to the Continent, and he crossed with it from New Haven to Dieppe in charge of the lions. The circus crossed in a great storm; Ned was not able to get about, and the tossing of the vessel closed the ventilating slides, and when they arrived at Dieppe the finest lion was dead.
"Well, there are other things to do in life besides feeding lions," he said; and taking up his fiddle he became interested in it. He played it all the way across the Atlantic, and everyone said there was no reason why he should not play in the opera house. But an interview with the music conductor dispelled illusions. Ned learnt from him that improvisations were not admissible in an opera house; and when the conductor told him what would be required of him he began to lose interest in his musical career. As he stood jingling his pence on the steps of the opera house a man went by who had crossed with Ned, and the two getting into conversation, Ned was asked if he could draw a map according to scale. It would profit him nothing to say no; he remembered he had drawn maps in the school in Manchester. A bargain was struck! he was to get ten pounds for his map! He ordered a table; he pinned out the paper, and the map was finished in a fortnight. It was of a mining district, and having nothing to do when it was finished he thought he would like to see the mine; the owners encouraged him to go there, and he did some mining in the morning-- in the evenings he played his fiddle. Eventually he became a journalist.
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