Girl Auction


Part 1

It was about seventy-five years ago, sitting beside the fire in old Baurscoobe, in the County of Kilkenny, that I heard this story of ‘The Girl Auction’, or ‘Fair’. This story is laced with more truth than merriment. In this particular ‘girl auction’ story, there was only the one bidder… In with a chance, that is. We’d have been all perched on blocks of wood, or up on the hob – if the cranky mongrel dog hadn’t got there first. This mutt would have no qualms at all about sinking his yellow fangs into anyone naive or foolish enough to question his ownership of the warm spot, on top of the slab of iron that surrounded the smokey green-stick fire. Where that flat iron slab came from, I know not – it was always there in my time.

The old people would be ‘telling the tale’ and chawin’ the rag about what passed {and still passes} in Ireland for politics; that, and the odd neighbour in for the cuairdioch {chat} was the established – the only way – of passing the long winter night.

In our house, there was seldom even an oil lamp to light proceedings. The yellow tallow candle was the Sun King of our dark and smokey realms. Knowing no different, we were as content as any poverty-stricken frails could hope to be. Were you to displace the sagging slate roof and seriously bulging walls of our ancient house, and peer in at us from the cold ebony of the banshee-infested dark, you would see little difference or improvement in human existence from the Dark Ages. One could excuse staring-eyed visitors from a faraway land, or even Space, imagining that they had happened on a colony of talking bears, clustered around a fire in their fumey den.

It was cold in the bedroom, with flowers of frost on the window. Down in the yard, and on the lane running beside it, shiny black blots showed the iced-over puddles. The sickly glow of a dying wintry half-moon didn’t even cast a shadow amongst the twisted shanks of the skeochs in the ditches – long naked to the knife of a bitter north wind. The evening star was a cold blue fire, low in the sky, away, far.

Along the lane, this thoroughfare of joy, and around the corner of our silent barn, a light came a-bobbing and a-weaving. Attached to it was a man who moved like he was on a mission. He was. We could tell from the walk of him that it was Paudhaun, a farmer from down the road. He also rejoiced in that other deeply ironic old Irish nickname – “The Dacent Boy”. Always attached to those who ‘still had their Communion shilling.’ …

Anyone who thought there was even a smidgeon of truth in that Dacent Boy nom de plume would be – on meeting this cute boyo – swiftly disabused of such naive ideas.

Swinging a ‘lantern’ of the times – and mine – a jam jar with a candle glued to the bottom with its own melt – the handle being old twine – he shambled, as confidently as his odd lurching crab-like motion would allow – along towards the ramshackle gate of our yard. His rather startling method of locomotion wasn’t inherited, as he’d been born with two tolerably sound spags. Why he was restricted to the full use of only one lower limb, I’ll explain.

Years before, a young lad from a far parish had unwisely taken up Paudhaun’s offer of a job.

Being the owner of a vicious temper, P hit him a few educational slaps in the gob one day when they were ‘laying’ a skeoch ditch. The cub found these antics not much to his liking – not quite the stuff of dreams – and delivered the P a phenomenal belt on the knee with the butt-end of his ‘slasher’ {a fearsome hedging tool} – and then legged it for distant parts. It took Paudhaun several hours to crawl across two fields, and only for the postman hearing his demented howls inside the roadside ditch, the world might have been deprived of his illustrious presence.

In those days of cruel nick-names, he acquired a second charming sobriquet – ‘The Hopper.’ That this was the name given to a hated jumping black flea, denizen of many beds, was purely coincidental…

Molly and myself, the only girls of the house – the only children of the house – watched his every move from behind our dark panes. What door would he go on to shake? Would he pass the gate, and go up to Rochfort’s place, further along the lane from our home?

We had slipped out of our bed to see what was going on, when we’d heard his hobnails in the frosty night – well before he’d heaved himself into sight. {Strange it may seem now, reader, but in those far-off nights the identity of most people could be defined by the way they walked, or sang, or whistled. And the few with bikes could be told by the rattle of a chain or chain-guard, the clack of a pedal, or the squeak of a saddle.}

“What’s that mane oul cursa-god divil looking for, at this time of night?” I whispered to my big sister. “We’ll find out soon enough,” was the grim reply, “you know well his mother is laid up this good while – and I think it’s to do with that. He might be looking for someone to look after her. “Will he want you to go work for them, Molly?” “Aye – work is right – and maybe a lot more”, came the hard answer, “the bauhoc {louser} hasn’t come up at this unearthly hour for just a washer-girl, or a chamber pot {night-waste receptacle} emptier, I’ll tell you that.” Paudhaun’s old mother was well known to be a shrewish skinflint, and not even the poorest girls could be enticed to look after her. She had a notoriously savage tongue; in her enforced idleness she was undiluted rat poison; an oul divil, a crithacaun – an oinseach.

“Bad cess to that bloody Paudhaun, but he didn’t pass the gate – he shoved it in, and crabbed across the yard…….

To be Continued…

Ned E.

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