The Thrush and the Blackbird

by Charles J. Kickham

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 heart.”

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 av you?”

“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 for me?”

“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 mood.

“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 Sally.

“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 delighted wonder.

“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 quare blackbird.’

“‘Whisht, now, Nancy, ’twas a blackbird,’ siz Shawn.

“‘Och,’ siz Nancy, beginnin’ to laugh, ‘that was the quare blackbird.’

“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.”

 A forked stick