Barbara wasn’t too well-favoured, the best day she was. Anybody would admit that much. The first cause of it, – she was purblind. You’d say, to look at her, she was one-eyed. Brideen never gave in that she was, however. Once when another little girl said, out of sheer spite on them both, that Barbara had only ‘one blind little eye, like the tailor’s cat,’ Brideen said angrily that Barbara had her two eyes as good as anybody, but it’s how she’d have one eye shut, for the one was enough for her (let it be blind), to do her share of work. However it was, it couldn’t be hidden that she was bald; and I declare a bald head isn’t a nice thing in a young woman. Another thing, she was a dummy; or it would be more correct for me to say, that she didn’t ever speak with anybody, but with Brideen only. If Brideen told truth, she had a tasty tongue of Irish, and her share of thoughts were the loveliest in the world. It’s not well she could walk, for she was one-legged, and that one leg itself broken. She had two legs on a time, but the dog ate one of them, and the other was broken where she fell from the top of the dresser.
But who’s Barbara, say you, or who’s Brideen? Brideen is the little girl, or, as she’d say herself, the little slip of a woman, that lives in the house next the master’s, – on the left-hand side, I think, going up the road. It’s likely you know her now? If you don’t, I can’t help you. I never heard who her people were, and she herself said to me that her father has ne’er a name but ‘Daddy.’ As for Barbara, – well, it’s as good for me to tell you her adventures and travels from start to finish.
THE ADVENTURES OF BARBARA HERE.
One day when Brideen’s mother got up, she gave their breakfasts to Brideen and to her father, to the dog, to the little cat, to the calves, to the hens, to the geese, to the ducks, and to the little robin redbreast that would come to the door at breakfast-time every morning. When she had that much done, she ate her own breakfast. Then she began readying herself for the road.
Brideen was sitting on her own little stool without a word out of her, but she putting the eyes through her mother. At long last she spoke:
‘Is mama going from Brideen?’
‘She’s not, a stóir. Mama will come again in the evening. She’s going to Galway.’
‘Is Brideen going there, too?’
‘She’s not, a chuid. The road’s too long, and my little girl would be tired. She’ll stay at home making sport for herself, like a good little girl would. Won’t she stay?’
‘She won’t run out on the street?’
‘Daddy’ll come in at dinner-time, and ye’ll have a meal together. Give mama a kiss, now.’
The kiss was given, and the mother was going. Brideen started up.
‘What is it a ruin?’
‘Won’t you bring home a fairing to Brideen?’
‘I will, a chuid. A pretty fairing.’
The mother went off, and Brideen remained contented at home. She sat down on her little stool. The dog was curled before the fire, and he snoring. Brideen woke him up, and put a whisper in his ear:
‘Mama will bring home a fairing to Brideen!’
‘Wuff!”, says the dog, and went asleep to himself again. Brideen knew that ‘Wuff!’ was the same as ‘Good news!’
The little cat was sitting on the hearth. Brideen lifted it in her own two arms, rubbed its face to her cheeks, and put a whisper in its ear:
‘Mama will bring home a fairing to Brideen!’
‘Mee-ow!’, says the little cat. Brideen knew that ‘Mee-ow!’ was the same as ‘Good news!’
She laid the little cat from her, and went about the house singing to herself. She made a little song as follows:
‘O little dog, and O little dog!
Sleep a while till my mama comes!
O little cat, and O little cat!
Be purring till she comes home!
O little dog, and O little cat!
At the fair O! my mama is,
But she’ll come again in the little evening O!
And she’ll bring home a fairing with her!’
She tried to teach this song to the dog, but it’s greater the wish the dog had for sleep than for music. She tried to teach it to the little cat, but the little cat thought its own purring sweeter. When her father came in at midday, nothing would do her but to say this song to him, and make him to learn it by heart.
The mother returned home before evening. The first word Brideen said was:
‘Did you bring the fairing with you, mama?’
‘I did, a chuisle.’
‘What did you bring with you?’
‘Guess!’ The mother was standing in the middle of the floor. She had her bag laid on the floor, and her hands behind her.
‘A sugar cake?’
‘No, muise! I have a sugar cake in my bag, but that’s not the fairing.’
‘A pair of stockings?’ Brideen never wore shoes or stockings, and she had been long coveting them.
‘No, indeed! You’re too young for stockings a little while yet.’
‘A prayer book?’ There’s no need for me to say that Brideen wasn’t able to read (for she hadn’t put in a day at school in her life), but she thought she was. ‘A prayer book?’, says she.
‘Not at all!’
‘What is it, then?’
The mother spread out her two hands, and what did she lay bare but a little doll! A little wooden doll that was bald, and it purblind; but its two cheeks were as red as a berry, and there was a smile on its mouth. Anybody who’d have an affection for dolls, he would give affection and love to it. Brideen’s eyes lit up with joy.
‘Ora, isn’t it pretty! Ara, mama, heart, where did you get it? Ora ó! I’ll have a child of my very own now, – a child of my very owneen own! Brideen will have a child!’
She snatched the little doll, and she squeezed it to her heart. She kissed its little bald head, and its two red cheeks. She kissed its little mouth, and its little snub nose. Then she remembered herself, raised her head, and says she to her mother:
‘Kith!’ (like that Brideen would say ‘Kiss.’)
The mother stooped down till the little girl kissed her. Then she must kiss the little doll. The father came in at that moment, and he was made do the same.
There wasn’t a thing making Brideen anxious that evening but what name she’d christen the doll. Her mother praised ‘Molly’ for it, and her father thought the name ‘Peggy’ would be apt. But none of these were grand enough, it seemed to Brideen.
‘Why was I called Brideen, daddy?’, says she after supper.
‘The old women said that you were like your uncle Padraic, and since we couldn’t christen you ‘Padraic,’ you were christened ‘Brigid,’ as that, we thought, was the thing nearest it.’
‘Do you think is she here’ (the doll), ‘like my uncle Padraic, daddy?’
‘O, not like a bit. Your uncle Padraic is fair-haired, – and, I believe, he has a beard on him now.’
‘Who’s she like, then?’
‘Muise, ‘twould be hard to say, girl! – ‘twould be hard, that.’
Brideen meditated for a while. Her father was stripping her clothes from her in front of the fire during this time, for it was time for her to be going to sleep. When she was stripped, she went on her knees, put her two little hands together, and she began like this:
‘O Jesus Christ, bless us and save us! O Jesus Christ, bless daddy and mama and Brideen, and keep us safe and well from accident, and from the harm of the year, if it is the will of my Saviour. O God, bless my uncle Padraic that’s now in America, and my Aunt Barbara—.’ She stopped, suddenly, and put a shout of joy out of her.
‘I have it! I have it, daddy!’, says she.
‘What have you, love? Wait till you finish your share of prayers.’
‘My Aunt Barbara! She’s like my Aunt Barbara!’
‘Who’s like your Aunt Barbara?’
‘The little doll! That’s the name I’ll give her! Barbara!’
The father let a great shout of laughter before he remembered that the prayers weren’t finished. Brideen didn’t laugh, at all, but followed on like this:
‘O God, bless my Uncle Padraic that’s now in America, and my Aunt Barbara, and (this is an addition she put to it herself), and bless my own little Barbara, and keep her from mortal sin! Amen, O Lord!’
The father burst laughing again. Brideen looked at him, and wonder on her.
‘Brush off, now, and in into your bed with you!’, says he, as soon as he could speak for the laughing. ‘And don’t forget Barbara!’, says he.
‘Little fear!’ West with her into the room, and into the bed with her with a leap. Be sure she didn’t forget Barbara.
From that night out Brideen wouldn’t go to sleep, for gold nor for silver, without Barbara being in the bed with her. She wouldn’t sit to take food without Barbara sitting beside her. She wouldn’t go out making fun to herself without Barbara being along with her. One Sunday that her mother brought her with her to Mass, Brideen wasn’t satisfied till Barbara was brought, too. A neighbour woman wouldn’t come in visiting, but Barbara would be introduced to her. One day that the priest struck in to them, Brideen asked him to give Barbara his blessing. He gave his blessing to Brideen herself. She thought it was to the doll he gave it, and she was full-satisfied.
Brideen settled a nice little parlour for Barbara on top of the dresser. She heard that her Aunt Barbara had a parlour (in Uachtar Ard she was living), and she thought that it wasn’t too much for Barbara to have a parlour as good as anybody. My poor Barbara fell from the top of the dresser one day, as I have told already, and one of her legs was broken. It’s many a disaster over that happened her. Another day the dog grabbed her, and was tearing her joint from joint till Brideen’s mother came to help her. The one leg remained safe with the dog. She fell into the river another time, and she had like to be drowned. It’s Brideen’s father that came to her help this journey. Brideen herself was almost drowned, and she trying to save her from the riverbank.
If Barbara wasn’t too well-favoured the first day she came, it stands to nature it’s not better the appearance was on her after putting a year by her. But ‘twas all the same to Brideen whether she was well-favoured or ill-favoured. She gave the love of her heart to her from the first minute she laid an eye on her, and it’s increasing that love was from day to day. Isn’t it the two of them used to have the fun when the mother would leave the house to their care, times she’d be visiting in a neighbour’s house! They would have the floor swept and the plates washed before her, when she’d return. And isn’t it on the mother would be the wonder, mor ‘eadh!
‘Is it Brideen cleaned the floor for her mama?’, she’d say.
‘Brideen and Barbara,’ the little girl would say.
‘Muise, I don’t know what I’d do, if it weren’t for the pair of you!’, the mother would say. And isn’t it on Brideen would be the delight and the pride!
And the long days of summer they would put from them on the hillside, among the ferns and flowers! – Brideen gathering daisies and fairy-thimbles and buttercups, and Barbara reckoning them for her (so she’d say); Brideen forever talking and telling tales that a human being (not to say a little doll) never heard the likes of before or since, and Barbara listening to her; it must be she’d be listening attentively, for there wouldn’t come a word out of her mouth.
It’s my opinion that there wasn’t a little girl in Connacht, or if I might say it, in the Continent of Europe, that was more contented and happy-like, than Brideen was those days; and, I declare, there wasn’t a little doll under the hollow of the sun that was more contented and happy-like than Barbara.
That’s how it stood till Niamh Goldy-Head came.
Niamh Goldy-Head was a native of Dublin. A lady that came to Gortmore learning Irish promised before leaving that she’d send some valuable to Brideen. And, sure, she did. One day, about a week after her departure, Bartly the Postman walked in into the middle of the kitchen and laid a big box on the floor.
‘For you, young woman,’ says he to Brideen.
‘Ara, what’s in it, Bartly?’
‘How do I know? A fairy, maybe.’
‘O bhó! Where did you get it?’
‘From a little green maneen, with a long blue beard on him, a red cap on his nob, and he riding a hare.’
‘Ora, daddy! And what did he say to you, Bartly?’
‘Devil a thing did he say only, ‘Give this to Brideen, and my blessing,’ and off with him while you’d be winking.’
I am doubtful if this story of Bartly’s was all true, but Brideen believed every word of it. She called to her mother, where she was inside in the room tidying the place for breakfast.
‘Mama, mama, a big box for Brideen! A little green maneen, with a long blue beard on him, that gave it to Bartly the Postman!’
The mother came out and Bartly gathered off.
‘Mameen, mameen, open the box quick! Bartly thinks it’s maybe a fairy is in it! Hurry, mameen, or how do we know he won’t be smothered inside in the box?’
The mother cut the string. She tore the paper from the box. She lifted the lid. What should be in it, lying nice and comfortably in the box, like a child would be in a cradle, but the grandest and the beautifullest doll that eye ever saw! There was yellow-golden hair on it, and it falling in ringleted tresses over its breast and over its shoulders. There was the blush of the rose on its cheek. It’s the likeness I’d compare its little mouth to – two rowanberries; and ‘twas like pearls its teeth were. Its eyes were closed. There was a bright suit of silk covering its body, and a red mantle of satin over that outside. There was a glittering necklace of noble stones about its throat, and, as a top on all the wonders, there was a royal crown on its head.
‘A Queen!’, says Brideen in a whisper, for there was a kind of dread on her before this glorious fairy. ‘A Queen from Tir-na-nOg! Look, mama, she’s asleep. Do you think will she waken?’
‘Take her in your hand,’ says the mother.
The little girl stretched out her two hands timidly, laid them reverently on the wonderful doll, and at last lifted it out of the box. No sooner did she take it than the doll opened its eyes, and said in a sweet, weeny voice:
‘God bless us!’, says the mother, making the sign of the cross on herself, ‘she can talk!’
There was a queer edge in Brideen’s eyes, and there was a queer light in her features. But I don’t think she was half as scared as the mother was. Children do be expecting wonders always, and when a wonderful thing happens it doesn’t put as much astonishment on them as it does on grown people.
‘Why wouldn’t she talk?’, says Brideen. ‘Can’t Barbara talk? But it’s sweeter entirely this voice than Barbara’s voice.’
My grief, you are, Barbara! Where were you all this time? Lying on the floor where you fell from Brideen’s hand when Bartly came in. I don’t know did you hear these words from your friend’s mouth. If you did, it’s surely they’d go like a stitch through your heart.
Brideen continued speaking. She spoke quickly, her two eyes dancing in her head:
‘A Queen this is,’ says she. ‘A fairy Queen! Look at the fine suit she’s wearing! Look at the mantle of satin is on her! Look at the beautiful crown she has! She’s like yon Queen that Stephen of the Stories was discoursing about the other night, – the Queen that came over sea from Tir-na-nOg riding on the white steed. What’s the name that was on that Queen, mama?’
‘Niamh of the Golden Head.’
‘This is Niamh Goldy-Head!’, says the little girl. ‘I’ll show her to Stephen the first other time she comes! Isn’t it he will be glad to see her, mama? He was angry the other night when my daddy said there are no fairies at all in it. I knew my daddy was only joking.’
I wouldn’t like to say that Niamh Goldy-Head was a fairy, as Brideen thought, but I’m sure there was some magic to do with her; and I’m full-sure that Brideen herself was under a spell from the moment she came into the house. If she weren’t, she wouldn’t leave Barbara lying by herself on the floor through the evening, without saying a word to her, or even remembering her, till sleep-time; nor would she go to sleep without bringing Barbara into the bed with her, as was her habit. It’s with trouble you’d believe it, but it’s the young Queen that slept along with Brideen that night, instead of the faithful little companion that used sleep with her every night for a year.
Barbara remained lying on the floor, till Brideen’s mother found her, and lifted and put her on top of the dresser where her own little parlour was. Barbara spent that night on the top of the dresser. I didn’t hear that Brideen or her mother or her father noticed any lamenting from the kitchen in the middle of the night, and, to say truth, I don’t think that Barbara shed a tear. But it’s certain she was sad enough, lying up yonder by herself, without her friend’s arm about her, without the heat of her friend’s body warming her, without man or mortal near her, without hearing a sound but the faint, truly-lonesome sounds that do be heard in a house in the dead time of the night.
It’s sitting or lying on the top of the dresser that Barbara spent the greater part of the next quarter. ‘Twas seldom Brideen used speak to her; and when she would speak, she’d only say, ‘Be a good girl, Barbara. You see I’m busy. I must give attention to Niamh Goldy-Head. She’s a Queen, you know, and she must be attended well.’ Brideen was getting older now (I believe she was five years past, or, maybe, five and a-half), and she was rising out of a share of the habits she learned at the start of her babyhood. It’s not ‘Brideen’ she’d call herself now, for she knew the meaning that was in the little word ‘I,’ and in those little tails ‘am’ and ‘am not’ when they’re put after ‘I.’ She knew, too, that it’s great the respect and the honour due to a Queen, over what is due to a poor, little creatureen like Barbara.
I’m afraid Barbara didn’t understand this story at all. She was only a little wooden doll, and, sure, ‘twould be hard for its likes to understand the heart of a girl. It was plain to her that she was cast to one side. It’s Niamh Goldy-Head would sleep along with Brideen now; it’s Niamh Goldy-Head would sit beside her at meal-time; its Niamh Goldy-head would go out on the hill, foot to foot with her, that would lie with her among the fern, and would go with her gathering daisies and fairy-thimbles. It’s Niamh Goldy-Head she’d press to her breast. It’s Niamh Goldy-Head she’d kiss. Some other body to be in the place you’d be, some other body to be walking with the person you’d walk with, some other body to be kissing the mouth you’d long to kiss, – that’s the greatest pain is to be suffered in this world; and that’s the pain was in Barbara’s heart now, torturing her from morning till night, and tormenting her from night till morning.
I suppose it’ll be said to me that it’s not possible for these thoughts, or any other thoughts, to be in Barbara’s heart, for wasn’t she only a wooden toy, without feeling, without mind, without understanding, without strength? My answer to anybody who’d speak like this to me would be: – How do we know? How do you or I know that dolls, and wooden toys, and the tree, and the hill, and the river, and the waterfall, and the little blossoms of the field, and the little stones of the strand haven’t their own feeling, and mind, and understanding, and guidance? – aye, and the hundred other things we see about us? I don’t say they have; but ‘twould be daring for me or for anybody else to say that they haven’t. The children think they have; and it’s my opinion that the children are more discerning in things of this sort than you or I.
One day that Barbara was sitting up lonesomely by herself in her parlour, Brideen and Niamh Goldy-Head were in earnest conversation by the fireside; or, I ought to say, Brideen was in earnest conversation with herself, and Niamh listening to her; for nobody ever heard a word out of the Queen’s mouth but only ‘Mam-a.’ Brideen’s mother was outside the door washing. The father was setting potatoes in the garden. There only remained in the house Brideen and the two dolls.
It’s like the little girl was tired, for she’d spent the morning washing (she’d wash the Queen’s sheet and blanket every week). It was short till sleep came on her. It was short, after that, till she dropped her head on her breast and she was in deep slumber. I don’t rightly understand what happened after that, but, by all accounts, Brideen was falling down and down, till she was stretched on the hearth-flag within the nearness of an inch to the fire. She didn’t waken, for she was sound asleep. It’s like that Niamh Goldy-Head was asleep, too, but, however, or whatever, the story is, she didn’t stir. There wasn’t a soul in the house to protect the darling little child from the death that was faring on her. Nobody knew her to be in peril, but only God and – Barbara.
The mother was working without, and she not thinking that death was that near the child of her heart. She was turning a tune to herself, and lifting it finely, when she heard a ‘plop’ – a sound as if something was falling on the floor.
‘What’s that, now?’, says she to herself. ‘Something that fell from the wall, it’s a chance. It can’t be that Brideen meddled with it?’
In with her in a hurry. It’s barely the life didn’t drop out of her, with the dint of fright. And what wonder? Her darling child was stretched on the hearth, and her little coateen blazing in the fire!
The mother rushed to her across the kitchen, lifted her in her arms, and pulled the coat from her. She only just saved her. If she’d waited another little half-moment, she was too late.
Brideen was awake now, and her two arms about the neck of her mother. She was trembling with the dint of fear, and, sure enough, crying, though it isn’t too well she understood the story yet. Her mother was ‘smothering her with kisses and drowning her with tears.’
‘What happened me, mama? I was dreaming. I felt hot, and I thought I was going up, up in the sky, and that the sun was burning me? What happened me?’
‘It’s the will of God that my stóirín wasn’t burnt, – not with the sun, but with the fire. O, Brideen, your mother’s little pet, what would I do if they’d kill you on me? What would your father do? ‘Twas God spoke to me coming in that minute! – I don’t know what sort of noise I heard? If it weren’t for that, I mightn’t have come in at all.’
She looked round her. Everything was in its own place on the table, and on the walls, and on the dresser, – but stay! In front of the dresser she took notice of a thing 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. O, poor Barbara, you gave your life for my sake!’
She went on her knees, lifted the little corpse of the doll, and kissed it softly and fondly.
‘Mama,’ says she, sadly, ‘since Niamh Goldy-Head came, I’m afraid I forgot poor Barbara, and it’s greater the liking I put in Niamh Goldy-Head than in her; and see, it’s she was most true to me in the end. And she’s dead now on me, and I won’t be able to speak with her ever again, nor to say to her that I’d rather her a thousand times, – aye, a hundred thousand times – than Niamh.’
‘It’s not dead she is at all,’ says the mother, ‘but hurted. Your father will put the head on her again when he comes in.’
‘If I’d fall from the top of the dresser, mama, and lose my head, would he be able to put it on me again?’
‘He wouldn’t. But you’re not the same as Barbara.’
‘I am the same. She’s dead. Don’t you see she’s not moving or speaking?’
The mother had to admit this much.
Nothing would convince Brideen that Barbara wasn’t killed, and that it wasn’t to save her she gave her life. I myself wouldn’t say she was right, but I wouldn’t say she wasn’t. I can only say what I said before: How do I know? How do you know?
Barbara was buried that evening on the side of the hill in the place where she and Brideen spent those long days of summer among the fern and the flowers. There are fairy-thimbles growing at the head of the grave, and daisies and buttercups plentifully about it.
Before going to sleep that night, Brideen called over to her mother.
‘Do you think, mama,’ says she, ‘will I see Barbara in heaven?’
‘Maybe, by the King of Glory, you might,’ says the mother.
‘Do you think will I, daddy?’, says she to her father.
‘I know well you will,’ says the father.
Those were the Adventures and Tragic Fate of Barbara up to that time.