An evening at The Ten Bells (by j.r-ahde)
An evening at the Ten Bells
Father Sullivan had just left the train station and was heading over the street. A carriage with black horses stopped at the last moment, the carriage-driver in his black suit shouting: “Bugger off, you black-cape Paddy!” Father Sullivan passed the carriage as if not noticing it at all. He started to walk towards the pub he knew. Before the pub there was a big white church, as if reminding Father Sullivan of the surroundings he was living in. The columns of the church entrance didn’t... But the greyish pilar of the gate did and even more so the tower of the church. The whole white colour of the building brought the two white towers into his mind. Though those towers were round on the tops. They were isolated from the water by a tall wall, which had a bit more awkward arches than this protestant church. The protestant countrymen had caused some friction within his family. He had only been living in his Dublin suburb and in London in his whole lifetime. He scratched his wide jaw, which effected a little to his chubby cheeks. A meaningless muttering disappeared from his wide, slightly grey moustache.
The pub beside the church had decorational white pillars and wide windows. The women outside the pub were as decorational as they could. They saw Father Sullivan without noticing him. Usually he was only drunk in the Ten Bells, but on occasion he had had a belle from there.
He entered to the counter at the back of the pub, noticing the black-board on the wall. The prices were written with chalk. A tall man coughed in to his moustache, after noticing Father Sullivan. When the priest got seated, the barman said:
-I haven’t seen you for a long time, Father Sullivan!
Father Sullivan gave a wide smile and said with a polite, reporter-like voice:
-Yes, I do have visited your pub a long time ago, sir!
-Yes indeed. And I hope, that this time there won’t be smoke or fire!
Father Sullivan just smiled his smile, being friendly to everyone. At least outside, he had always been a kind boy. Unlike Patrick, his twin-brother back in Ireland. Besides their similar outlook, their paths had been totally different. Patrick had always shouted out loud, whatever he thought. Even, when it wasn’t pleasant or tactful. His brother, five minutes younger than him, was noticed as a kid being the quiet and thoughtful. At least seemingly so, he had been impressive with his utmost polite behaviour. People seldom bothered to read between the lines.
For a while he was looking at the ornaments on the wall and the brown pillar of the counter. He noticed a woman with dark, curly hair tying a knot to her red neck scarf. She turned her head to look at Father Sullivan. He noticed the oval face and grey eyes. The woman smiled at him, showing her upper gums. Though the smile seemed to be sincere, Father Sullivan clearly noticed her to be a street-woman. Father Sullivan turned his face away, only drinking his beer.
After a while he noticed this woman still sitting next to him and giving kind of clues. This thing got Father Sullivan embarrassed. Despite knowing the way of life with these women, he usually had to say something himself, mostly while drunk. Father Sullivan saw a black crepe bonnet on her knee, right on the black skirt. The dark brown velveteen bodice reminded him of Helen. Feeling evermore bothered he flinched. As if being careful the woman turned her face at him, saying:
-I’ve just got out of a slammer! Could you kindly offer me a drink, after being sober for this long time?
-My impression has been, that they arrest drunks in the evening! Father Sullivan replied with his nicest expression on his face. But he knew, that sooner or later these women would start to talk humbug about their broken relationships. Sometimes even being intrusive, because he was a priest and thought to swallow without biting everything.
-No, Sir! I’ve just had a row with my man back home.
-My truest impression is, that the coppers don’t mind that much about the domestic issues round these quarters...
She dragged the left side of her mouth down with a few of her fingers. Father Sullivan was shocked, though it only could be seen from his eyes. The woman’s left lower jaw had no teeth at all.
-I do hope, anyway, that your man doesn’t have a fist-fight right now! he said and got her a beer.
They were drinking their beers in silence. In fact, Father Sullivan liked it. Though he was keeping up his polite appearance, he didn’t like to talk too much to the woman. The very slight resemblance reminded him a bit too much of the deeds of Helen. This small, buxom governess he knew all too well.
He had noticed, that the oval-faced woman had already gone with an elderly upper-class gentleman. Based on his tan, he had been in India or somewhere. Looking for adventures there... Patrick had once told, he would go overseas some day.
Father Sullivan was thinking to himself about his past life, giving a friendly smile at everyone, when someone noticed him. He had been smiling all his life to move on. When Maureen, his elder sister, had become a governess and moved away from home. When Sheila, her loyal kid-sister, found the love of her life and moved away from the Sullivan family-home too. When...
-Another Irish dreamweaver!
The woman interrupting his thoughts was a small one with high cheek-bones. She had a sharp nose. Under the eye-brows were two striking brown eyes.
-Goddamn it, I know the Irish. I lived with one soldier and sold his books for years.
-I am sorry, madam, but I really wasn’t dreaming about anything. It is an early evening right now! He smiled his way to get rid of this woman bothering him. She put her glasses on to sow her sleeve. Father Sullivan got even more bothered to notice, that the auburn hair above the high forehead was just like Helen’s.
-I am like a walking wardrobe, since I don’t have spirits...
This sentence caused Father Sullivan a bitter aftermath. He hadn’t chosen his profession. His parents, especially his mother, had always wanted their sons to become priests. Her plait was shaking in its own way, when she repeated her demands with a stubborn voice. But Patrick, ever since they were eleven, started to protest against such thoughts. “I want to see life” he had said. People in their suburb had said about him... To prevent any deep memories he told this woman:
- I really have noticed, what a women’s situation here seems to be!
The woman’s eyes were lit on fire. She said with a fast tone:
-My situation is being beaten by my mate or sleeping in a shed. You are just seeking a shell for your **** and drinking your head off!
Father Sullivan hardly covered up his astonishment and drank his beer, not taking his eyes off the woman. He could hardly turn his mind off about the talks of Patrick visiting the wife of a local railwayman. To the parents he had always told about “getting help in geometry...” and he never made any more comments to his brother either. He stopped listening to his parents hopes in his adolescence. So, they emphasized his brother to be loyal to the family.
-At least my father survived with his children, though sacked for strike. The eyes showed a sign of grief, trying to seek something from Father Sullivan’s blue eyes. Father Sullivan showed his friendly face, thinking about his words. He already guessed, that next there would be even more family tragedy. On the other hand, the woman already smelled like cheap liquor and so seemed like an easy prey.
-We cannot be striking! Father Sullivan said, trying to get a luring gaze to his eyes.
-Ghit! The woman hissed between her teeth and turned away. Father Sullivan sunk even moore deeply into his thoughts and took even more beers. The bartender already told him to be careful. The noise of the crowd had grown stronger and the evening had gone forward. He was again a priest, not being noticed. Unlike Patrick, who had been a noisy and arrogant student already at their small village school. After their years being saved from the evil world at home, they had a very ideal view of school and the pupils there, fed by the stories told by their much elder sisters. That was crushed the very first day. Later Patrick had even borrowed money from their grand-mother to go to a school preparing for university. This caused the turmoil from their parents at him, but he remained stubborn. He made very clear, that he didn’t even care about being excommunicated. This caused his mother not to talk to him for some years. After that his brother was high-pressured to stick with the family’s plans. For some reason, he was less determined and thus became Father Sullivan.
He was only staring at the brown pilar and the brown decorations on the light yellow tapestry. Thinking about the feud, when their parents had found out about Patrick’s deeds. He had forged father’s and mother’s signatures to go to higher education. Mother had never accepted it and threatened to tell the authorities, whenever it became possible. Patrick had made sure, that such an occasion could never take place. Father, when Father Sullivan had asked, had told him: “What can I do? She’s an orphan, having her obsessions under her strawberry-blonde hair”.
Now there was a strange-looking man next to Father Sullivan. He could sense the ever increasing noise of the crowd. Beneath the stranger’s black hair Father Sullivan could see high black eye-brows with the purest blue eyes he had ever seen. The strikingly long arms and fingers were tight, as if from manual labour. But the clothing looked to some extent lower middle-class. The long overcoat was black, with a flower at the left buttonhole in the collar. On the white collarless shirt there was a black vest with a watch-chain on the waist. Rimmed spectacles didn’t seem to fit to the narrow and pale face. He had a bluish grey cap with a small peak.
Father Sullivan noticed one bird of the evening approaching the man with her usual mannerisms, adding the gibberish she always used in her efforts to attract men. She bent over to the stranger. Saying:
-T’in gwybod y gwahaniaeth rhwng Gwyddeles a Chymraes?
-Damn well I know the difference between an Irish tart and a Taffy tart! The stranger’s reply surprised Father Sullivan completely. He had never thought, that this young girl’s talks were nothing but a made-up nonsense.The girl was clearly both astonished and hurt, though only showing it from her eyes.
-You want to die young and painfully?! Get out to sell your ****, you stupid pit-pony! The stranger’s voice was as rough as with his first sentence. Now the girl seemed almost to burst into tears. She turned her back and shouted with an insulted tone:
-You bastard!!! Her accent sounded strange, compared to the soft-spoken slow tone she usually had. The heels of her shoes made a fast trotting sound to the floor.
-Handling the spicy tarts, hrrrm... the man was more talking to himself than anyone else. Then he noticed Father Sullivan and said offensively:
-And you damn priest should be in your church caring for people instead of drinking ale and playing with whores...
Father Sullivan got stunned about this rudeness. He turned his head away, waiting for words to his mouth. Wondering at the same time, that how come a person speaking with a western Irish accent could know a Welsh-speaker. Father Sullivan turned to the barman saying:
-Could I have a whiskey, please?
-Are you sure?! We cannot afford another renovation here, Father Sullivan!
-I can handle it, Sir! It was the only time the troubled troubled me... here!
When Father Sullivan got his glass, he heard the stranger muttering with the same rough tone:
-A jackeen priest, hmmmh!!!
Though being cautious with the stranger, Father Sullivan couldn’t help being curious at the same time. He was thinking about, how to start the conversation. The only thing in his mind: “What have you against the dubliners, calling me a jackeen?” didn’t seem right. The stranger didn’t seem to care either, drinking his whiskey and being deep in his thoughts.
After a long moment Father Sullivan finally said:
-Excuse me, Sir! But what made you think the woman being Welsh?!
-Hhhhmmmhhh... You definitely have been here longer than me, Jackeen! God damn it, you don’t even know Welsh! You know their ways, but not their language, hahaha!!! The laughter was as rude as his speech in general.
-I have to know the living of my congregation, Sir! You seem to know the Welsh ladies rather well too! Father Sullivan was looking at his glass, while drinking his spirits. The barman giving another one raised his eye-brows with a kind of suspicion.
-Damn, I know the Taffies! Being in an iron-foundry there you can contact people. The toning of the last word seemed to emphasize: “not all the ordinary people”.
-There are tarts like that there as well! Causing all trouble... hrrrm!!!
-Strange, I didnt’t know the Welsh homes spoke like a Culchie! The stranger looked at him strangely. As if “what do you have against the western-Irish?!”
-Too stout to starve, hrrmh... I took my family even to America, but things didn’t quite work out there. I had to be back in Ireland, and then I headed to Wales. Giving the bairns a chance like...
Father Sullivan was thinking about the opportunities given for him by his family. The only options given were priesthood, priesthood and priesthood. His sisters had only told him to be pleased with the contemporary situation, since he didn’t revolt. Not since the very first day at school. Patrick fought back after a few days, unlike his kid-brother. Maybe this was the result of their father favouring him slightly more. Though Patrick soon became known as “The Raging Sullivan”, he opened totally to those few, who broke his defence and managed to become his friends. Especially, when he had graduated and even reached the university. Not with significant degrees, but anyway he shut the mouths of those telling him to be just a big-mouth person. Father Sullivan could only tell himself, being honest, that he only shared his brother’s friends. Even to them he only smiled at the backround.
He returned little by little to the present. The least Father Sullivan could say, was, that this person here seemed to be far from modest too. He seemed to get a fit of depression and said:
-I’m looking for my lost daughter, he said with a low voice.
-You can find a lot of lost daughters here, sir! Father Sullivan replied, with expecting intonation.
-Mine is definitely noticed! he continued, with a determined voice.
-She is tall and has a distinctive hair. Father Sullivan listened to the voice of the ever-increasing crowd, and said:
-There are all kinds of hair-colours here! You just pick one and then there is another one to be found...
-But you have definitely never seen the one like hers... Not even with the greasy tarts with henna look like that, hrrmmhhh... Father Sullivan couldn’t quite get the thought of the stranger.
The stranger was just drinking his beer and closed his eyes. After a moment he seemed to have got his thoughts together. He started to talk:
-I’ve been looking for her all the way from Cunafhvon, Wales... I owe her an apology and I am trying to bring her home! Ma is sick and I’m doing even worse... The stranger seemed to have a kind of fever.
-I knew she had some sort of talent. She was with-drawing from the rest of the world, reading and reading all the time. She was even sacked from cleaning the castle, because she had taken books to our house. She always insisted, that she had been allowed to do so...
-Well, sir! Did you allow her to do so?! Father Sullivan replied with a smiling face. He hadn’t been listening to this talk and wanted to shut him down, in fact.
-Indeed I did, Father! I have done everything to get the kids forward. I will ‘til the last moment! he said with an insulted toning.
-She wanted to become a show-girl. With all her wittiness she wanted to the stage. She should have made friends with the locals, getting married with a good man. The toning seemed to emphasize the word “good”. In a sense, that some notable person.
-She has pretty obviously already staged some wild shows then! Father Sullivan told with his half-low voice. Raising another eye-brow, knowing, that then there would be a story about a suitable boy. The rough voice had a very tiny confused tone, when the stranger started to talk:
-She did meet some times an engineer’s son. When they were playing in the yard and she should have met him even more! But that stubborn gal started to meet a miner, after getting to know his queer sister!...The really worst thing of all was, when she got intensely interested into that Taffy-boy. There was no means to stop her going all the way. As if to tease me. Bloody headaches!
-Well, sir, did you tease her?! Father Sullivan asked the stranger with his polite voice. The stranger looked back with the weirdest kind of glance one could ever imagine. He turned his head to look at the round decoration of the window at the street end of the pub. Then he watched at his feet, raising his head little by little, while talking:
-She even did that thing and got ... with the first time. The condemning voice turned to grief, when he continued:
-Don’t they think Irish to be weird in Wales?! Father Sullivan interrupted, smiling even now. He had heard this story so many times. He had tried to avoid Helen many times, but she just kept her manner going on. When Patrick had brought her home, their mother had found all the possible faults in her. Even, when sisters were trying to convince the parents about her good things. Being a governess, etc. For a short moment Father Sullivan had a blank mind, nothing to think. He was quite pleased with it, when...
-I’m here to take her home. There is a chance for her still. I can still get our family together! Before I’m gone and the Ma later. No tart can stop that!
The toning sounded more like “my family”.
-The last thing I knew for a long time, is, that she was at her cousin’s. That... slut... told me, that my girl is heading for London. Too much sluts!!! God knows, what she has been up to... She knew pretty little about the world outside home...
-You can find the world of sluts here, Sir! Father Sullivan talked back, with an expression neutral in his scale, turning his head slightly and keeping his eyes on the man from Wales.
The stranger was quiet for a long time. Meanwhile Father Sullivan insisted getting another whiskey. He smiled widely, being relieved not to hear this same rubbish, that he had to almost on a daily basis. Nevermind, if they were Irish, French, Belgian, the story had the same guidelines. He could imagine Mother...
-Damn well, I’ve noticed that, you Jackeen Father! Though my head is aching, I’ve still got my eyes open and sense in my head! But you are like a race-horse, not even noticing the tiniest details. If you would become sick...
-I might start looking for a lost daughter! Father Sullivan said smiling. He knew, he had had his chances, now totally gone. He would never have children. This thought brought the image of Helen to his mind, but he only smiled outside.
-A smart guy, ha?! Do you know, what potassium cyanide is?!
Father Sullivan kept his face with a standard politeness, only lifting his eye-brow. Then he continued to drink his whiskey.
-Just as I thought, hahahaha!!! A Jackeen, pretentious and thinking a lot about himself. Now Father Sullivan got really upset. Only staring at the glass, while it got emptier. Then he said the thing coming immediately from his mind:
-Well, Sir. Can you tell, how potassium cyanide will help your lost daughter? That’s not the thing, they will get here! Father Sullivan smiled even wider than ever, clearly irritating the stranger. He seemed to get murkier and murkier.
The stranger had his whiskey too. One could really see, how he got really insulted for Father Sullivan’s talk. In the backround, they could hear the Welsh girl coming back in. She had had a quick look at the men. Father Sullivan gave a quick look back, noticing her glance not being a very polite one. If looks could really kill, the Welsh stranger would have a knife in his back now, Father Sullivan thought to himself.
-Potassium cyanide is a chemical used in gold-mining, Jackeen! Now the stranger talked for the second time with a low voice, having a very sad tone.
-At least she had her golden ring, when I last saw her! The low voice continued.
-Her mother gave it to her as a gift a year before! That kind-hearted fool...
Now the voice had the same, rugged sound again:
-It is bloody valuable, but at least none of them had something like that in the region!!!
Father Sullivan was just too much in the mood to change his phase. First he gave a hiccough, then he said:
-Well, Shir, the girls here don’t wearr... ringsh... thhere are pawn-shops doing vhery wehll... Burp!!!
-And you know the tarts going there, hrrmmhhh!!! Have you ever saved any tart here from liquor or anything???!!! I bet you have caused them even more misery, Jackeen! A whiskey immediately, lad! The barman whinced his teeth, but gave the stranger his drink. At the same time he gave an angry glance at Father Sullivan. He was busy, wondering, what to say...
-I... thinkk... everyone here... hash... caused... oooh... misery... even you for your slutshhh... your daughter... Burrppp!!!!
For a moment Father Sullivan had that much sense left, that he thought about his next sentence carefully. Finally he got himself enough together to say:
-Well, Sir, can you tell me then about your ending up here, to the sluts and liquor?! Father Sullivan noticed, that the stranger got very irritated about the smiling face saying a sentence like his.
-She met her cousin. That vegetable-selling twat told my ma an address in a letter. My ma has worries a lot for me now... My gal lives in that bloody address, but she’s never at home, when I’m visiting! Father Sullivan sensed the strict moralizing tone in the man’s voice. He couldn’t help saying:
-Don’t worry... She’sh... very exsh... peerienced now! He was leering a kind of smile, he knew was meaning trouble. He knew these people, under strict home-life. After living such for years. This feeling was reflecting from his eyes. The miserable man seemed to get furious in his eyes. With a threatening undertone he said:
-You damn Jackeen! His strikingly long arms clearly became tense. He stood up and hit his fist to Father Sullivan’s cheek. Father Sullivan stood up too. He gave a punch with his left hand, suprising the stranger. The stranger seemed to be a bit ill, though.
The fight was over in a short time. The strange man from Wales beat Father Sullivan down and then started kicking him to the ribs, as if being feared for his life. The long barman with a moustache wasn’t quite strong enough to hold him alone. It took two others to hold the Welshman still. Father Sullivan, being strongly in liquor, was just lying on the floor.
-Don’t bother, mister! He has always been like that. Father Sullivan, you said, no trouble this time!
The stranger started to calm down. But the complexion remained slightly feverish. When he had been watching his wallet, his rough voice started to rise again. He shouted with a loud voice:
-You damn thieves! I’ve been robbed here. This is the last straw. Now the man needed even more people to hold him still. The young Welsh girl took the wallet thrown to the floor. She opened it up and shouted:
-You damn bastard! At least you’ve got enough to travel home!!!
If the stranger had been loose, he would have very probably beaten the small girl all too badly. The crowd waited for a long moment in silence. When the stranger seemed to calm down, he was let loose. First he straightened his glasses. Then he angrily grasped the wallet from the girl’s small fingers and one could see them getting hurt very badly. He walked out of the pub, scratching the rash on his face.
The next moment they glanced at Father Sullivan. He felt lower than a worm, trying to save himself still with his standard-smile.
He was thrown out in the next instant.
-And this time, Father Sullivan, it will take even longer to come here for the next time! A robbery here... And it’s your damn cause!!! the barman told with a loud and bitter tone of voice.
Lying on the pavement, he noticed slender legs covered by a black long skirt.
He remembered the moment in Dublin. Patrick had gone to finish his studies in the university. Despite mother had told about his faults and mistakes, he finally made a degree and got a job. Helen was at home, though.
She was watching Father Sullivan reading a book about a captain hunting an exceptional looking whale. Right at the window she told him:
-A priest must be a lonely person.
-Yes, indeed. Sometime you wish to have another kind of life! he said, smiling the smile, that kept everyone outside from his mind. But his mind was already then full of hopes of the others, he had none.
-You should really need a friend! Helen had told him with a lulling voice.
-Well, I have collagues and siblings with their espouses! Father Sullivan replied, still reading the book, but waiting for her next words.
-No, a real friend! Helen had opened the back-buttons of her dress.
-My friend! She said, while dropping off the dress. Father Sullivan saw her right at the window, trying to keep his eyes on the book. Helen had only her white corset and her long, white pants. She held her breath.
-My friend, you don’t have to react too much... he said. But Helen turned at him, bowing on front of him.
-No, my friend! I have been watching you. You look like Patrick and no-one else would know about this! She was smiling wide, the blue eyes were glowing.
Father Sullivan noticed the reddish complexion of the bust, the blue eyes and the expression. But he couldn’t go further. The strict ruling of the family had become too strongly to his backbone. Immediately after this event he moved to London, unable to break his loyalty to his maverick twin-brother. He didn’t answer his letters, only telling his parents about his things going well.
But that hadn’t been true for sometime. Once, facing a confession from a street-girl from Liegé, he went a lot further than with Helen. He swore, that he would be stronger for the next time. For the next time, that didn’t seem to occur...
-Oh oh...! The Black-Cape is on the run! This was said by a slender, blonde street-girl. Her accent had always been peculiarly soft and atonal. The bundle of her hair above looked a bit like a beehive. Oval, small elegant face seemed to be still. Maybe the blue eyes too.
Father Sullivan didn’t pay any attention to this. He was staring at the woman in a long, black coat and a long skirt. The woman had probably been thin, but the way of living had made her stout. The blue eyes under the dark, brown hair seemed to reflect a long-time misery, that couldn’t be wiped out anymore. Father Sullivan had a faint memory about hearing a story of a daughter dying of meningitis and another one being in a circus, not caring about her mother. The dark-clothed woman, breathing extremely uneasily, tried to help Father Sullivan up. The slender girl came too to do the best that she could.
-Hhhhmmm... beware, Black-Cape, Dark-Annie’s lungs are ****... the blonde girl said with an arrogant tone of voice. Her thin mouth-line had tightened and the vein in a thin, slender neck could clearly be seen beating.
-I will be dead anyway... Hhhhmmm... he replied, and started walking with the black-coat woman, both of them leaning on each other. The slender girl straightened her deep blue dress with black decorational patterns. Seemingly she didn’t care anymore.
When Father Sullivan and Dark-Annie were walking further away from the Ten Bells, he thought to have heard some conversation.
-So, why do you never steal all?
-I don’t want them to get into trouble... the high-pitched voice of the slender blonde replied. –Not even some Irish pricks from Wales... This time she spoke with the Welsh accent, that she had only used tonight.
The next thing Father Sullivan remembered was walking on a street somewhere, looking at a tall building. The corners were concrete-gray and the middle-sections too. Between them were red sections. Above each red section there was a balcony. Above the rails of the roof there were growing trees. It took some seconds for him to realize, that he really was awake. He was cursing to himself not to have been noticed like Patrick had been more able to do.
The exeptionally cold and damp August together with liquor was taking its toll on Father Sullivan. He was trembling, while walking forward. A cigar in his mouth tasted surprisingly bad. He couldn’t stand any noises.
But there was a little boy with a bunch of news-papers. He was shouting: “Brutal murder in Whitechapel. Read all about it!”
Father Sullivan was blowing strongly air to his moustache. He mumbled for himself: “Now hell has broken loose!” He hadn’t been writing letters to Ireland for some time. Four days before he had got a letter from Dublin, his father telling the mother to have died. He felt nothing but relief, this tall strawberry-blonde woman with a tremendous will finally gone away. With his shaky hands he opened his wallet to notice, that there was hardly enough money to buy a ticket home. If he could spot a station...
Despite the plea of the siblings, Father Sullivan didn’t even intend to go the funeral. He got especially bothered by the end of Patrick’s letter’s final words: “Helen is also telling, that the kids would like to see you”.
For some reason this man with a hang-over started to think about his first days in London. It had been interesting to see catholics around the big city, not all of them from Ireland. Some were from Belgium, some from Germany. There had even been French women in some suburb those days. Her confession had been so confusing, that Father Sullivan really enjoyed to come back from the box. Somehow this sunny day appeared to his mind.
Father Sullivan was walking on Cleveland Street, enjoying a bright early spring day. The weather making a contrast to the reason for him being there. He was watching the specimen on a small-shop show window, thinking to buy a rarity he wanted. The small shop had a palisander-framed show window and the boarding under the window was of the same colour too.
Father Sullivan opened the door of the tobacconist. He noticed the shop being very clean. In fact, it was a small room with shelves on the two walls, filled with different brands of cigarettes and cigars. Opposite to the entrance there was a counter, made of palisander. Behind it were the shells, one of them containing the rarity he wanted. A tall thin man wearing a top hat passed Father Sullivan, giving him a steely glance, while he entered the small shop. A sales-woman said: “Good day to you, Sir!” with a polite family-girl voice. But while closing the cash register, the young girl hit her left fore-finger to the box before it got closed.
- Shyte! she said with a slightly louder voice before taking her finger to her mouth. She noticed Father Sullivan with her sea-blue eyes, the fair skin of her face blushing completely. After taking her finger out of her mouth, she blew to it for a second. Then she said calmly:
- I’m very sorry, Father. I have fiddler’s fingers with a rabbit’s palm. Father Sullivan rose the ends of his mouth, giving a laugh. Then he gave this fair-skinned family-girl a kind of standard smile that he always used, even when facing a confession from the West End whores.
Though the tall girl was definitely a full-grown woman, there was something child-like in her wide, but good-looking face. She was wearing a white dress with maroon vertical stripes. On front there was a wide stripe with black buttons. The collar round her neck was auburn and the ribs of the sleeves too. The belt being of the same colour. Father Sullivan said with his politest voice:
-Nice to see Irish here! The girl looked back with a very delicately worried-looking expression, that took place only for less than a second, before she was saying:
-T’in gwybod y gwahaniaeth rhwng Gwyddeleg a Chymraeg? with a blush on her face. Though filled with astonishment, Father Sullivan kept his face as nice as it ever was for all people. He had no idea, what she was talking about. The girl gave a faint smile and rose her high eye-brows a little, while continuing immediately:
-What would you like to have, Sir? As far as Father Sullivan could reckon, the accent was western-Irish. Beneath the girl’s high-pitched and nasal toning accent, which made a contradiction to her calm speaking-voice. He said, smiling:
-The Dutch import cigar from East-India. It’s been sometime since I’ve been smoking that. He lifted a bit the astrakhan collar of his overcoat.
-Are you sure?! The way the last word was pronounced, astonished Father Sullivan. Who would ever tone a word like that? he thought. It didn’t seem to fit even to the strange general accent of the girl at all. Not to mention western-Irish. Still keeping his polite exterior he said:
-Sure I’m sure. They’re packed in hay and are thinner and smaller than the others and they are presented on your show window. I think, that they are meant to be sold, he said with a smile on his face. The girl gave a funny smile back, before saying:
-All right, Sir. I will look for them, but it will be taking a while. I wish, the rarities will be sold out soon!
The girl didn’t seem to notice the right box of cigars for a while. She seemed to tap another one of her brand new black boots to the floor. Father Sullivan liked to watch her from the back. But he noticed, he preferred a smaller and not as buxom woman as this one. Her light-red hair was thick, the plait being attached round her head. Strange enough, Father Sullivan thought he would have noticed a bit of black colour under the plait. Finally the sales-woman came to him and showed the box.
-No, not this one, darling. I think you don’t know enough Dutch, dear girl? Father Sullivan said with a smiling face. The girl whinced her teeth and went to the shelves, coming back after a while with another box, this time the right one. Father Sullivan gave the note he had in his pocket. While the sales-woman was picking coins, he noticed her being a bit worried. Getting the change back, Father Sullivan counted it and said:
-I didn’t get quite enough back, dear girl.
-Sorry, Sir. I’m a bit new here, so if you don’t mind! She took the money to the palm of her hand, stroking them like children. Smiling a family-girl smile for Father Sullivan she dropped the coins to different sections, then giving the right change for him.
-I really must have mixed some pennies and half-pennies, Sir! That’s the trouble of being penniless! she said, blushed slightly and smiled gently, while asking:
-Anything else, Sir?
-Maybe some glasses for some poor families here somewhere! Father Sullivan said with his ever-smiling face. -I hope the London-Irish mothers could keep both love and children. The sales-woman’s eyes seemed to become furious. Father Sullivan continued, though, his own talk: -Then there would be more time to a rare cigar on front of a fire-place. The girl had a stoic face saying:
-T’in gwybod y gwahaniaeth rhwng Gwyddel a Chymro? Guessing from the tone of her voice meaning something about him, Father Sullivan still kept his face as smiling as usual, saying:
-That is all, dear girl. I have met some madames today, so it was nice to see a more ordinary girl. Despite her playing with strange words. Like a missing child... Father Sullivan tried to correct his slip with his professional smile. The girl’s answer to Father Sullivan was a short furious glance.
-Good day to you, Sir. The formal compliment was toned like “I say this only, because I have to say...”
“Holy Mother, that girl was speaking Welsh!” Father Sullivan thought now. Chilling under his overcoat he started to look for a station somewhere. There would be some people nagging at him for his late return to his congregation. Especially, when a new priest would arrive any day now.
With the image of his mother in a coffin, with that familiar face of hers in mind he roamed. Thinking not to go to her funeral...
Headmaster Patrick Sullivan didn’t spare his savings, getting the best possible resting-place for his brother as possible. But their father had died and the children were too young to travel to London. Though this seemed to be an excuse for explaining mental distance, Father Murphy didn’t ask too many questions.
He blessed his collague in the cemetery. For the past few years Father Sullivan had been using the money of the congregation for his own purposes. On Christmas eve six years ago he had been driven over by a horse-cart. He never recovered fully from his injuries and this caused him to drink even more. The tuberculosis beginning about at the same time took its toll in the last few years too. When buried, he was slimmer than Father Murphy had ever been.
His thin, oval face had wrinkled a long time ago and the temples had grown grey. After the ceremony he passed a woman’s grave, that gave him the creeps. He had to think about the phrase “Rest in piece” word by word, not by the letters of the shortened form. He was too tired to notice his error in spelling.
-God damn you, Jack Sullivan! he couldn’t help saying, while passing the woman’s grave.
This story is copyrighted by ăJukka Ruskeeahde, Huittinen, Finland
"When I know all about everything, I am old. And it's a very, very long way to go!"