The Thrush and the
A stranger meeting Sally Cavanagh, as she tripped
along the mountain road, would consider her a contented
and happy young matron, and might be inclined to set
her down as a proud one; for Sally Cavanagh held her
head rather high, and occasionally elevated it still
higher with a toss which had something decidedly
haughty about it. She turned up a short boreen for
the purpose of calling upon the gruff blacksmith’s
wife, who had been very useful to her for some time
before. The smith’s habits were so irregular that his
wife was often obliged to visit the pawn office in the next
town, and poor Sally Cavanagh availed herself of Nancy
Ryan’s experience in pledging almost everything pledgeable
she possessed. The new cloak, of which even a
rich farmer’s wife might feel proud, was the last thing
left. It was a present from Connor, and was only worn
on rare occasions, and to part with it was a sore trial.
Loud screams and cries for help made Sally Cavanagh
start. She stopped for a moment, and then ran forward
and rushed breathless into the smith’s house. The
first sight that met her eyes was our friend Shawn Gow
choking his wife. A heavy three-legged stool came
down with such force upon the part of Shawn Gow’s
person which happened to be the most elevated as he
bent over the prostrate woman, that, uttering an exclamation
between a grunt and a growl, he bounded into the
air, and, striking his shins against a chair, tumbled
head over heels into the corner. When Shawn found
that he was more frightened than hurt, and saw Sally
with the three-legged stool in her hand, a sense of the
ludicrous overcame him, and, turning his face to the wall,
he relieved his feelings by giving way to a fit of laughter.
It was of the silent, inward sort, however, and neither
his wife nor Sally Cavanagh had any notion of the
pleasant mood he was in. The bright idea of pretending
to be “kilt” occurred to the overthrown son of Vulcan,
and with a fearful groan he stretched out his huge limbs
and remained motionless on the broad of his back.
Sally’s sympathy for the ill-used woman prevented
her from giving a thought to her husband. Great was
her astonishment then when Nancy flew at her like a
wild cat. “You kilt my husband,” she screamed.
Sally retreated backwards, defending herself as best
she could with the stool. “For God’s sake, Nancy,
be quiet. Wouldn’t he have destroyed you on’y for
me?” But Nancy followed up the attack like a fury.
“There’s nothing the matter with him,” Sally cried
out, on finding herself literally driven to the wall.
“What harm could a little touch of a stool on the back
do the big brute?”
Nancy’s feelings appeared to rush suddenly into
another channel, for she turned round quickly, and
kneeling down by her husband, lifted up his head.
“Och! Shawn, avourneen, machree,” she exclaimed,
“won’t you spake to me?” Shawn condescended
to open his eyes. “Sally,” she continued, “he’s
comin’ to—glory be to God! Hurry over and hould
up his head while I’m runnin’ for somethin’ to rewive
him. Or stay, bring me the boulster.”
The bolster was brought, and Nancy placed it under the
patient’s head; then, snatching her shawl from the
peg where it hung, she disappeared. She was back
again in five minutes, without the shawl, but with half-a-pint
of whiskey in a bottle.
“Take a taste av this, Shawn, an’ ‘twill warm your
Shawn Gow sat up and took the bottle in his hand.
“Nancy,” says he, “I believe, afther all, you’re
fond o’ me.”
“Wisha, Shawn, achora, what else’d I be but fond
“I thought, Nancy, you couldn’t care for a divil that
thrated you so bad.”
“Och, Shawn, Shawn, don’t talk that way to me.
Sure, I thought my heart was broke when I see you
sthretched there ‘idout a stir in you.”
“An’ you left your shawl in pledge again to get this
“To be sure I did; an’ a good right I had; an’ sorry
I’d be to see you in want of a dhrop of nourishment.”
“I was a baste, Nancy. But if I was, this is what
made a baste av me.”
And Shawn Gow fixed his eyes upon the bottle with
a look in which hatred and fascination were strangely
blended. He turned quickly to his wife.
“Will you give in it was a blackbird?” he said.
“A blackbird,” she repeated, irresolutely.
“Yes, a blackbird. Will you give in it was a blackbird?”
Shawn Gow was evidently relapsing into his savage
“Well,” said his wife, after some hesitation, “’twas a
blackbird. Will that plase you?”
“An’ you’ll never say ’twas a thrish agin?”
“Never. An’ sure, on’y for the speckles on the
breast, I’d never say ’twas a thrish; but sure, you ought
to know betther than me—an’—an’—’twas a blackbird,”
she exclaimed, with a desperate effort.
Shawn Gow swung the bottle round his head and flung
it with all his strength against the hob. The whole
fireplace was for a moment one blaze of light.
“The Divil was in id,” says the smith, smiling
grimly; “an’ there he’s off in a flash of fire. I’m done
wid him, any way.”
“Well, I wish you a happy Christmas, Nancy,” said
“I wish you the same, Sally, an’ a great many av
‘em. I suppose you’re goin’ to first Mass? Shawn
and me’ll wait for second.”
Sally took her leave of this remarkable couple, and
proceeded on her way to the village. She met
Tim Croak and his wife, Betty, who were also
going to Mass. After the usual interchange of greetings,
Betty surveyed Sally from head to foot with a look of
“Look at her, Tim,” she exclaimed, “an’ isn’t she
as young an’ as hearty as ever? Bad cess to me but
you’re the same Sally that danced wid the master at my
weddin’, next Thursday fortnight’ll be eleven years.”
“Begob, you’re a great woman,” says Tim.
Sally Cavanagh changed the subject by describing
the scene she had witnessed at the blacksmith’s.
“But, Tim,” said she, after finishing the story, “how
did the dispute about the blackbird come first? I
heard something about it, but I forget it.”
“I’ll tell you that, then,” said Tim. “Begob, ay,”
he exclaimed abruptly, after thinking for a moment;
“’twas this day seven years, for all the world—the year o’
the hard frost. Shawn Gow set a crib in his haggard
the evenin’ afore, and when he went out in the mornin’
he had a hen blackbird. He put the goulogue1 on her
nick, and tuk her in his hand; and wud’ one smulluck
av his finger knocked the life out av her; he walked
in an’ threw the blackbird on the table.
“‘Oh, Shawn,’ siz Nancy, ‘you’re afther ketchin’
a fine thrish.’ Nancy tuk the bird in her hand an’
began rubbin’ the feathers on her breast. ‘A fine
thrish,’ siz Nancy.
“‘’Tisn’t a thrish, but a blackbird,’ siz Shawn.
“‘Wisha, in throth, Shawn,’ siz Nancy, ‘’tis a thrish;
do you want to take the sight o’ my eyes from me?’
“‘I tell you ’tis a blackbird,” siz he.
“‘Indeed, then, it isn’t, but a thrish,’ siz she.
“Anyway, one word borrowed another, an’ the end
av it was, Shawn flailed at her an’ gev her the father
av a batin’.
“The Christmas Day afther, Nancy opened the
door an’ looked out.
“‘God be wud this day twelve months,’ siz she, ‘do
you remimber the fine thrish you caught in the crib?’
“‘’Twas a blackbird,’ siz Shawn.
“‘Och,’ siz Nancy, beginnin’ to laugh, ‘that was a
“‘Whisht, now, Nancy, ’twas a blackbird,’ siz Shawn.
“‘Och,’ siz Nancy, beginnin’ to laugh, ‘that was the
“Wud that, one word borrowed another, an’ Shawn
stood up an’ gev her the father av a batin’.
“The third Christmas Day kem, an’ they wor in the
best o’ good humour afther the tay, an’ Shawn, puttin’
on his ridin’-coat to go to Mass.
“‘Well, Shawn,’ siz Nancy, I’m thinkin’ av what an
unhappy Christmas mornin’ we had this day twelve
months, all on account of the thrish you caught in the
crib, bad cess to her.’
“‘’Twas a blackbird,’ siz Shawn.
“‘Wisha, good luck to you, an’ don’t be talkin’
foolish,’ siz Nancy; ‘an’ you’re betther not get into a
passion agin, on account av an ould thrish. My heavy
curse on the same thrish,’ siz Nancy.
“‘I tell you ’twas a blackbird,’ siz Shawn.
“‘An’ I tell you ’twas a thrish,’ siz Nancy.
“‘Wud that, Shawn took a bunnaun he had saisonin’
in the chimley, and whaled at Nancy, an’ gev her the
father av a batin’. An’ every Christmas morning from
that day to this ’twas the same story, for as sure as the sun,
Nancy’d draw down the thrish. But do you tell me,
Sally, she’s afther givin’ in it was a blackbird?”
“She is,” replied Sally.
“Begob,” said Tim Croak, after a minute’s serious
reflection, “it ought to be put in the papers. I never
h’ard afore av a wrong notion bein’ got out av a woman’s
head. But Shawn Gow is no joke to dale wud, and it
took him seven years to do id.”