One day when the boys of Gortmore were let out from school, after the Glencaha boys and the Derrybanniv boys had gone east, the Turlagh boys and the Inver boys stayed to have a while’s chat before separating at the Rossnageeragh road. The master’s house is exactly at the head of the road, its back to the hill and its face to Loch Ellery.
‘I heard that the master’s bees were swarming,’ says Michileen Bartly Enda.
‘In with you into the garden till we look at them,’ says Daragh Barbara of the Bridge.
‘I’m afraid,’ says Michileen.
‘What are you afraid of?’, says Daragh.
‘By my word, the master and the mistress will be out presently.’
‘Who’ll stay to give us word when the master will be coming?’, says Daragh.
‘I will,’ says little Anthony Manning.
‘That’ll do,’ says Daragh. ‘Let a whistle when you see him leaving the school.’
In over the fence with him. In over the fence with the other boys after him.
‘Have a care that none of you will get a sting,’ says Anthony.
‘Little fear,’ says Daragh. And off forever with them.
Anthony sat on the fence, and his back to the road. He could see the master over his right shoulder if he’d leave the schoolhouse. What a nice garden the master had, thought Anthony. He had rose-trees and gooseberry-trees and apple-trees. He had little white stones round the path. He had big white stones in a pretty rockery, and moss and maiden-hair fern and common fern growing between them. He had…
Anthony saw a wonder greater than any wonder the master had in the garden. He saw a little, beautiful wee house under the shade of one of the rose-trees; it made of wood; two storys in it; white colour on the lower story and red colour on the upper story; a little green door on it; three windows of glass on it, one downstairs and two upstairs; house furniture in it, between tables and chairs and beds and delf, and the rest; and, says Anthony to himself, look at the lady of the house sitting in the door!
Anthony never saw a doll’s house before, and it was a wonder to him, its neatness and order, for a toy. He knew that it belonged to the master’s little girl, little Nance. A pity that his own little sister hadn’t one like it – Eibhlin, the creature, that was stretched on her bed for a long three months, and she weak and sick! A pity she hadn’t the doll itself! Anthony put the covetousness of his heart in that doll for Eibhlin. He looked over his right shoulder – neither master nor mistress was to be seen. He looked over his left shoulder – the other boys were out of sight. He didn’t think the second thought. He gave his best leap from the fence; he seized the doll; he stuck it under his jacket; he clambered out over the ditch again, and away with him home.
‘I have a present for you,’ says he to Eibhlin, when he reached the house. ‘Look!’, and with that he showed her the doll.
There came a blush on the wasted cheeks of the little sick girl, and a light into her eyes.
‘Ora, Anthony, love, where did you get it?’, says she.
‘The master’s little Nance, that sent it to you for a present,’ says Anthony.
Their mother came in.
‘Oh, mameen, treasure,’ says Eibhlin, ‘look at the present that the master’s little Nance sent me!’
‘In earnest?’, says the mother.
‘Surely,’ says Eibhlin, ‘Anthony, it was, that brought it in to me now.’
Anthony looked down at his feet, and began counting the toes that were on them.
‘My own pet,’ says the mother, ‘isn’t it she that was good to you! Muise, Nance! I’ll go bail that that present will put great impoverishment on my little girl.’
And there came tears in the mother’s eyes out of gratitude to little Nance because she remembered the sick child. Though he wasn’t able to look his mother between the eyes, or at Eibhlin, with the dint of fear, Anthony was glad that he committed the theft.
He was afraid to say his prayers that night, and he lay down on his bed without as much as an ‘Our Father.’ He couldn’t say the Act of Contrition, for it wasn’t truthfully he’d be able to say to God that he was sorry for that sin. It’s often he started in the night, imagining that little Nance was coming seeking the doll from Eibhlin, that the master was taxing him with the robbery before the school, that there was a miraculous swarm of bees rising against him, and Daragh Barbara of the Bridge and the other boys exciting them with shouts and with the music of drums. But the next morning he said to himself: ‘I don’t care. The doll will make Eibhlin better.’
When he went to school the boys asked him why he went off unawares the evening before that, and he after promising them he’d keep watch.
‘My mother sent for me,’ says Anthony. ‘She’d a task for me.’
When little Nance came into the school, Anthony looked at her under his brows. He fancied that she was after being crying; he thought that he saw the track of the tears on her cheeks. The first time the master called him by his name he jumped, because he thought that he was going to tax him with the fault or to cross-question him about the doll. He never put in as miserable a day as that day at school. But when he went home and saw the great improvement on Eibhlin, and she sitting up in the bed for the first time for a month, and the doll clasped in her arms, says he to himself: ‘I don’t care. The doll is making Eibhlin better.’
In his bed in the night-time he had bad dreams again. He thought that the master was after telling the police that he stole the doll, and that they were on his track; he imagined one time that there was a policeman hiding under the bed and that there was another hunkering behind the window-curtain. He screamed out in his sleep.
‘What’s on you?’, says the father to him.
‘The peeler that’s going to take me,’ says Anthony.
‘You’re only rambling, boy,’ says his father to him. ‘There’s no peeler in it. Go to sleep.’
There was the misery of the world on the poor fellow from that out. He used think they would be pointing fingers at him, and he going the road. He used think they would be shaking their heads and saying to each other, ‘There’s a thief,’ or, ‘Did you hear what Anthony Pharaig Manning did? Her doll he stole from the master’s little Nance. Now what do you say?’ But he didn’t suffer rightly till he went to Mass on Sunday and till Father Ronan started preaching a sermon on the Seventh Commandment: ‘Thou shalt not steal; and if you commit a theft it will not be forgiven you until you make restitution.’ Anthony was full sure that it was a mortal sin. He knew that he ought to go to confession and tell the sin to the priest. But he couldn’t go to confession, for he knew that the priest would say to him that he must give the doll back. And he wouldn’t give the doll back. He hardened his heart and he said that he’d never give the doll back, for that the doll was making Eibhlin better every day.
One evening he was sitting by the bed-foot in serious talk with Eibhlin when his mother ran in in a hurry, and says she –
‘Here’s the mistress and little Nance coming up the bohereen!’
Anthony wished the earth would open and swallow him. His face was red up to his two ears. He was in a sweat. He wasn’t able to say a word or to think a thought. But these words were running through his head: ‘They’ll take the doll from Eibhlin.’ It was all the same to him what they’d say or what they’d do to himself. The only answer he’d have would be, ‘The doll’s making Eibhlin better.’
The mistress and little Nance came into the room. Anthony got up. He couldn’t look them in the face. He began at his old clatter, counting the toes of his feet. Five on each foot; four toes and a big toe; or three toes, a big toe, and a little toe; that’s five; twice five are ten; ten in all. He couldn’t add to their number or take from them. His mother was talking, the mistress was talking, but Anthony paid no heed to them. He was waiting till something would be said about the doll. There was nothing for him to do till that but count his toes. One, two, three…
What was that? Eibhlin was referring to the doll. Anthony listened now.
‘Wasn’t it good of you to send me the doll?’, she was saying to Nance. ‘From the day Anthony brought it in to me a change began coming on me.’
‘It did that,’ says her mother. ‘We’ll be forever grateful to you for that same doll you sent to her. May God increase your store, and may He requite you for it a thousand times.’
Neither Nance nor the mistress spoke. Anthony looked at Nance shyly. His two eyes were stuck in the doll, for the doll was lying cosy in the bed beside Eibhlin. It had its mouth half open, and the wonder of the world on it at the sayings of Eibhlin and her mother.
‘It’s with trouble I believed Anthony when he brought it into me,’ says Eibhlin, ‘and when he told me you sent it to me as a present.’
Nance looked over at Anthony. Anthony lifted his head slowly, and their eyes met. It will never be known what Nance read in Anthony’s eyes. What Anthony read in Nance’s eyes was mercy, love and sweetness. Nance spoke to Eibhlin.
‘Do you like it?’, says she.
‘Over anything,’ says Eibhlin. ‘I’d rather it than anything I have in the world.’
‘I have the little house it lives in,’ says Nance. ‘I must send it to you. Anthony will bring it to you to-morrow.’
‘Ora!’, says Eibhlin, and she clapping her two little thin palms together.
‘You’ll miss it, love,’ says Eibhlin’s mother to Nance.
‘No,’ said Nance. ‘It will put more improvement on Eibhlin. I have lots of things.’
‘Let her do it, Cait,’ said the mistress to the mother.
‘Ye are too good,’ says the poor woman.
Anthony thought that it’s dreaming he was. Or he thought that it’s not a person of this world little Nance was at all, but an angel come down out of heaven. He wanted to go on his knees to her.
When the mistress and little Nance went off, Anthony ran out the back door and tore across the garden, so that he’d be before them at the bohereen-foot, and they going out on the road.
‘Nance,’ says he, ‘I s-stole it,—the d-doll.’
‘Never mind, Anthony,’ says Nance, ‘you did good to Eibhlin.’
Anthony stood like a stake in the road, and he couldn’t speak another word.
Isn’t it he was proud bringing the doll’s house home to Eibhlin after school the next day! And isn’t it they had the fun that evening settling the house and polishing the furniture and putting the doll to sleep on its little bed!
The Saturday following Anthony went to confession, and told his sin to the priest. The penance the priest put on him was to clean the doll’s house once in the week for Eibhlin, till she would be strong enough to clean it herself. Eibhlin was strong enough for it by the end of a month. By the end of another month she was at school again.
There wasn’t a Saturday evening from that out that they wouldn’t hear a little, light tapping at the master’s door. On the mistress going out Anthony would be standing at the door.
‘Here’s a little present for Nance,’ he’d say, stretching towards her half-a-dozen duck’s eggs, or a bunch of heather, or, at the least, the full of his fist of duileasg, and then he’d brush off with him without giving the mistress time to say ‘thank you.’