My brother, as I have said, always extracted the most exquisite pleasure from his own blunders. Here is an instance I remember very well.
Willie and I were producing at St Enda’s a farce called ‘The Skull,’ written by our nephew Alfred. Before the curtain rose I was near the stage in the big Study Hall dressed as a rough old countrywoman, my face very dirty and greatly changed with grease paint.
Pat came swinging along in his best Head Master style and stopped short when he saw the strange figure. Then he demanded with great indignation: ‘Who is this woman?’
I knew that my disguise was fairly good; but I never imagined that it could be as effective as it apparently was. Of course, the light was dim at the time, which helped my ‘make up.’ I was too amazed to speak, and Pat again inquired in still more truculent tones: ‘Who is this woman, and what does she want here?’
Willie, who was passing, dressed still more preposterously than I, found voice to say: ‘Why, it’s Mary Brigid!’
Pat uttered a sudden exclamation, something between a chuckle and a war whoop, and faded away from the hall. When he re-appeared he was exhausted and very red, and his eyes were moist. He had been seized with irresistible mirth, which had necessitated his strict seclusion for a time.
I remember a fine ‘howler’ which stands to his credit. He was proudly telling some visitor about the many glories of his beloved Hermitage. The conversation turned on the different forms of vegetation found there, wild flowers, and others. My brother had a good working knowledge of botany, but his knowledge or ordinary horticulture was vague and limited. With a magnificent gesture of his arm to indicate space, he remarked:
‘You see, all the grass at the Hermitage is pampas grass!’
The visitor appeared slightly stunned.
‘What—All?’ he stammered, quite shaken.
Evidently he was wondering how the boys could possibly play hurley in a field covered with tall canes, fully five feet high, each surmounted with enormous feather tufts.
‘Oh, certainly!’ my brother assured him, airily; ‘Even the playing fields. It’s all the finest pampas grass.’
The visitor became very thoughtful, reflecting, no doubt, on the amazing place that Pearse’s school must be!
My brother’s whole-hearted enjoyment over the affair, when I afterwards explained what pampas grass really is, passed the bounds of moderation. There were times, however, when no one could possibly know whether my brother was in jest or in earnest! His dry wit was quite baffling.
He would come and tell us, with a perfectly serious face: ‘I must make a dart for the capital at once’; or, ‘I must make a bee-line into the city instantly!’ Then he would quietly start to read, leaving us all nonplussed. Regularly he would gravely warn his mother that if the tea were not on the table at six, precisely, his whole career would be blasted. The fond and trustful lady used to bustle round and have tea to the second. Yet at eight o’clock he would be leisurely drinking stone-cold tea and calmly perusing some book. When reminded of the time, he would appear mildly surprised, and then remark in the most casual manner:
‘How annoying! I ought to have been delivering a lecture in the city at eight sharp!’
Then he would flash his mother a quizzical smile, and rush out like a whirlwind.
It was literally true that he ought to have been lecturing at eight o’clock! I, myself, have sometimes been sitting in a crowded hall, waiting for this very casual lecturer, who, I knew, could not possibly arrive for at least half an hour, the reason being that I had left him at home peacefully drinking tea or correcting proofs.
Our nephew Alfred remembers some amusing examples of Pat’s idiosyncrasies.
‘I could tell,’ he writes, ‘many humorous instances of his antics with an alarm clock which he got to make him rise in time to catch the printers. At this time he was editor of An Claidheamh Soluis. At 7.30 when the alarm clock rang out, he would start throwing pillows, books, boots—anything, in fact, at the clock, in order to stop the noise so that he might go to sleep again. At 8.30 he would reawaken, spring from the bed, and cry frantically: ‘There are twenty printers cursing me now!’ Madly he would scramble into his clothes, bolt his breakfast, and rush from the house.’
At one time we lived in Sandymount, our house being just a few minutes’ walk from the railway station. On Sunday mornings my mother and Maggie would start calling Pat at eight o’clock for the 11.55 train. From that until a quarter to twelve, each of us would take a turn in striving to rouse the somnolent editor for twelve o’clock Mass. When the signals dropped at seven minutes to twelve, we would all rush from the house, with a last frantic call to the sleeper upstairs.
But never once was Pat late for that train! As the shrill whistle sounded, and the train steamed into the station, he would be sprinting up the platform, triumphant and breathless. Once or twice he just hung on, and was hauled into the guard’s van. The porters all got to know the eccentric gentleman who was always late, and would courteously keep a door open, and push the flying figure into the carriage in the nick of time.
I remember once Pat came home, and, stretching himself on a sofa, remarked in a detached manner: ‘This complicated piece of machinery called P. H. Pearse has gone out of order.’ Then he sighed, and observed that he thought he was dying.
My brother’s extraordinary sense of humour always flashed out at its brightest in moments of danger. Alfred gives us a little incident which will illustrate just what I mean:
‘My most vivid recollection of Pat,’ he tells us—‘apart from political connections with him—is of a fire which occurred in Maggie’s bedroom. Maggie was always very particular about her nice near furniture; and I can still hear in my mind Pat’s vast laugh, as, seizing a hearthrug and a bundle of bedclothes, he crushed the whole against the window sash, where the fire had started. By this means he succeeded in quenching the flames.
‘I don’t know which was the more ludicrous: Pat’s loud laughter in the midst of smoke and fire, or Maggie’s woe-begone face as she surveyed her bedraggled apartment afterwards.’
I myself remember this episode clearly. My brother’s laugh was ringing with exultation. Always a good fight—whether moral or physical—was a sheer joy to him: a kind on intoxication; a glorying in danger, and in the testing if his own powers to meet danger. His laughter at those times was deep and strong; the careless laughter of a sportsman, whether he wins or loses, so long as the combat is good!
Foremost among my brother’s many brilliant gifts was that of good reading. Even when he was quite a little lad, his reading was a revelation—a sheer delight! He possessed every qualification of the good reader. Sympathetic appreciation of the text; suitable inflection; musical intonation; popular pitch, and a clear, concise enunciation. That immortal story Uncle Tom’s Cabin became to me, as my brother read it, a pulsing, heart-thrilling reality.
I was a pitifully delicate child, always ailing and nearly always confined to bed. One of my strongest and pleasantest recollections is that of my brother reading to me every evening when he came home from school. Oh, how I used to yearn for my brother’s return! How many times would I ask my mother: ‘Are the boys in yet?’ How my childish heart would throb tumultuously when at last Pat’s quick light step was heard on the stairs, and his eager face appeared in the doorway!
And then came the long delightful hours of supreme content and quiet rapture, when I could forget my pain and weariness in listening to that tireless fresh young voice. Very often Pat would not even wait to take his dinner, and then my mother used to carry both dinners up to my room, and we would eat the meal cosily together, Pat reading and eating at the same time! We used not to speak much, excepting when my brother would explain a word or passage, for both of us were curiously shy. But there was a close bond of sympathy between us, notwithstanding, and we enjoyed our readings immensely.
Pat went over a wide range of literature, for our taste in this matter was universal. One special favourite was that fine old English tale Robin Hood the Yeoman. Father had bought it for my brother, and we simply revelled in its quaintness and freshness. We were also extremely fond of Little Folks. I remember when Pat was quite a big lad, both he and I were much affected by a story in Little Folks, called ‘Doctor Spider,’ and by another delightful tale about a dog and a cat, into which we threw ourselves whole-heartedly. Both of us were exceedingly fond of animals, and we used to actually live the stories which we read.
This trait in my brother showed itself very strongly in the stories which he himself wrote afterwards for children. He created live children; but with a still finer genius he created for these children live toys, and animal friends with perfect understanding. In ‘Eoineen of the Birds,’ he says that ‘the song-thrush and the yellow bunting heard the story, and he thinks they told it to their friends the swallows, and that the swallows then told the story to him.’
All his life my brother loved the swallows. Every spring he watched for them, and I used to watch also. He would come to me radiantly and tell me when he had heard the first glad twitter of ‘his friends.’ I always think of him when the summer brings the swallows, and when the sombre autumn takes them away again.
Eoineen tells his mother about the swallows in a most engaging manner:
‘I was coming up from the well when I heard their twittering—a sweet joyful twittering, as they’d be saying: “We’ve come to you again, Eoineen. News to you from the Southern World!” and then one of them flew past me, rubbing his wing to my cheek.’ And again Eoineen says, when the swallows have left him: ‘I’m very lonely since they left me in the harvest. They had so much to say to me. They see everything coming over, and they don’t forget anything. I think long, wanting them.’
And in the lovely little story called ‘Barbara,’ the author shows how a doll saved a little girl’s life, by falling from a dresser. The little child had been lying near the fire, and her coat had blazed up, and the noise of the falling doll had brought the mother—only just in time.
‘In front of the dresser she (the mother) took notice of a thing fallen on the floor. What was it? A little body without a head—a doll’s body.
‘“Barbara fallen from the dresser again,” says the mother. “My conscience, it’s she saved your life to you, Brideen.”
‘“Not falling she did it at all,” says the little girl, “but it’s how she saw I was in danger, and she threw a leap from the top of the dresser to save me. Oh, poor Barbara! You gave your life for my sake!”’