Old Tummus and the Battle of Scarva

by Eleanor Alexander

From “Lady Anne’s Walk.”

I found old Tummus scuffling Lady Anne’s walk; that is to say, he was busy looking pensively at the weeds as he leaned on his hoe. He never suddenly pretends to be at work when he is not at work, but always retains the same calm dignity of carriage. He too frankly despises his employers to admit that either his occasional lapses into action, or his more frequent attitude of storing his reserve force are any concern of theirs.

Gathering that he was graciously inclined for conversation by a not unfriendly glance which he cast in my direction after he had spat on the ground, I settled myself to listen.

“Do ye know what I’m goin’ te tell ye?”

With this he generally prefaces his remarks. It is, however, merely rhetorical. He does not expect an answer; unless one were at least a minor prophet it would be impossible to give one, except in the negative. “Do ye know what I’m goin’ te tell ye?” he repeated, gently, raising a weed with his hoe into what looked like a sitting position, where he held it as if he were supporting it in bed to receive its last communion. “There’s not a hair’s differ betwixt onny two weemen.” I was speechless, and he continued: “There is thon boy o’ mine, and though I say it that shouldn’t, he’s a fine boy, so he is, and no ways blate, and as brave a  boy as you’d wish for te see. From the time he was six year old he was that old-fashioned he wouldn’t go to church without his boots was right jergers (creakers) that ye’d hear all over the church when he cum in a wee bit late: and he cud say off all the responses as bowld as brass. Did I no’ learn him his releegion mesel, and bid him foller after him that has gone before?”

A solemn pause seemed only appropriate here, though I had my doubts.

“But whiles he tuk te colloque-in’ with the wee fellers round the corner there in Irish street. That’s so. But I soon quet him o’ that. Says I te him: ‘Do ye know what I’m goin’ te tell ye? Me heart’s broke with ye, so it is. I’ll have no colloque-in’ from onny boy o’ mine, so I won’t. Ye’ll have no traffickin’, no, nor passin’ o’ the time o’ day with them that’s not yer own sort, and that differs from the Reverend Crampsey; him and me and Johnston of Ballykilbeg, and the Great Example. What’s that ye say? Who is the Great Example? Now! Now! Who wud it be, but him on the white horse?’”

This is not, as might be supposed, from the vision of the Apocalypse, but is easily recognised by those who are in the know, as an allusion to William of Orange, of “Glorious, pious, and immortal memory,” who is always represented on a white horse.

“But,” I argued, “he did traffic with those who disagreed with him; it is even said, you know, that when he came to England he subsidised the Pope.”

Tummus appeared not to have heard this remark.

“As I was sayin’, thon boy o’ mine, he has a mind to get hisself marriet. So says I te him, ‘There’s not  a hair’s differ between onny two o’ them.’ Ye see, it’s this way. He has the two o’ them courted down to the askin’, and he’s afeard that if he asks the wan he’ll think long for the other, or maybe he’ll think he’d sooner have had the other.”

“He is not behaving well. He can’t, of course, marry them both, and yet he has raised hopes which must in one case be disappointed; he might break the poor girl’s heart.”

“Break her heart! Hoot. Blethers. Heart is it?”

“But,” I interjected again, merely, of course, to make conversation, for I have many times and oft heard his opinion on the subject, and it is not favourable, “Don’t you believe in love?”

Tummus had been twice married. His first wife was called Peggy-Anne, and only lived a year after her marriage. I try to persuade myself and him that this was the romance of his life, but it is up-hill work. The present Mrs. Thomas, who has been his wife for five-and-twenty-years, he always speaks of as “Thon widdy wumman.” She was the relict of one John M‘Adam, whose simple annal in this world seems to be, that he was the first husband of Tummus’s second wife; for the other world, his successor considers that, owing to his theological views, he is certainly—well—not in heaven.

“Do I no believe in love? Why, wumman, dear, have I no seen it mesel? Sure, and I had an uncle o’ me own, me own mother’s brother, that was tuk that way, and what did he do? but went and got the whole o’ Paul’s wickedest Epistle off, so he did, and offered for te tell it till her, all at the wan sitting. Boys, oh! but he was the quare poet! And she got marriet on a boy  out o’ Ballinahone on him, and do ye know what I’m goin’ te tell ye? he tuk to the hills and never did a hand’s turn after.”

“Surely, Thomas, you have been in love yourself, too, now, with Peggy-Anne, and your present wife? When you asked them to marry you, you had to pretend it anyhow. What did you say to them?”

“Is it me? Well it was this way; me and Peggy-Anne, we went the pair of us to Scarva on the twelfth. Did ever ye hear tell of the battle o’ Scarva? I mind it well. I had a wheen o’ cloves in me pocket, and Peggy-Anne she had a wee screw o’ pepperment sweeties. Says I te her:

“‘Peggy-Anne, wud ye conceit a clove?’

“And says she te me:

“‘Tak a sweetie, Tummus!’

“And I went in the mornin’ and giv in the names till the Reverend Crampsey; so I did.”

After all, there are many worse ways of concluding the business, and few that would be more full of symbol. There is the mutual help; the inevitable “give and take” of married life; the strength and pungency of the manly clove; the melting sweetness of the maidenly peppermint; two souls united in the savour of both scents combined rising to heaven on the summer air.

I could not recall in the tale or history, or the varied reminiscences of married friends on this interesting topic, any manner of “proposal” more delicate and less ostentatious. Tummus graciously accepted my congratulations on his elegant good taste, but when I inquired about the preliminaries of his second alliance, he only shook his head and muttered, “Them widdies! Them widdies!”

In this there is almost a suggestion that, like Captain Cuttle, he was taken at a disadvantage, but one can scarcely credit it. It seems impossible that he would not have extricated himself with the inspired dexterity of a Sherlock Holmes, or the happy resource of a Stanley Weyman hero, from whatever dilemma.

“As I was sayin’,” he resumed, “Did ever ye hear tell o’ the battle o’ Scarva?”

Of course I had heard of it. Who has not heard of the Oberammergau of the North? There, in a gentleman’s prettily wooded park, on a large open meadow sloping down to a clear running brook, is yearly enacted a veritable Passion Play of the Battle of the Boyne.

“I suppose you have often seen it, Thomas.”

“I have that; many and many’s a time. But there was wan battle that bate all—do ye know what I’m goin’ te tell ye? I would give a hundred pounds te see thon agin—so I wud. Boys, oh! it was gran’. There was me own aunt’s nephew was King William, and him on the top of the beautifullest white horse ever ye seen, with the mane o’ him tied with wee loops o’ braid, or’nge and bleue. Himself had an or’nge scarfe on him and bleue feathers te his hat, just like one o’ them for’n Princes, and his Field-marshal and Ginerals just the same, only not so gran’. And King James, they had a fine young horse for him that Dan Cooke bought off the Reverend Captain Jack in Moy Fair. But he set his ears back, and let a squeal out o’ him, and got on with quare maneuvers whenever Andy Wilson came near him, and Andy—that was King James—he says:

“‘I am no used with horse exercise, and I misdoubt thon baste.’

“‘But,’ says Dan Cooke, ‘up with ye sonny, and no more about it.’

“Well, with that Andy turned about, and, says he, ‘I’ll ride no blooded horse out of Moy. I’d sooner travel. I’ll ride none, without I have me own mare that drawed me and hersel’ and the childer out of Poyntzpass—so I won’t.’

“With that the Field-marshals and the Ginerals and the Aiden-scampses away with them, and they found Andy’s mare takin’ her piece by the roadside, and not agreeable to comin’ forbye. Howsumever she was coaxed along with an Aiden-scamp sootherin’ her and complimentin’ her: ‘There’s a daughter, and a wee jooel,’ and a Field-marshal holdin’ a bite o’ grass in the front o’ her, and a Gineral persuadin’ her in the rare; and they got King James ontil her, and the two armies was drawed up on the banks o’ the wee burn that stood for the Boyne Watter. Then they began, quite friendly and agreeable-ike, temptin’ other.

“‘Come on, ye thirsty tyrant ye,’ says William.

“‘Come on, ye low, mane usurper,’ says James.

“‘Come on ye heedious enemy to ceevil and releegious liberty, ye,’ says William.

“‘Come on, ye glorious, pious, and immortal humbug, ye,’ says James.

“‘Come on ye Glad-stone ye, and Parnell, and Judas, and Koran—and Dathan—and Abiram,’ says William.

“‘Come on ye onnatural parasite ye, and Crumwell, and Shadrach—and Mesech—and Abednego,’ says James.

“‘Come on ye auld Puseyite, and no more about it,’ says William. With that he joined to go forrard, and James he should have come forrard fornenst him, but  Andy’s mare, she just planted the fore-feet o’ her and stud there the same as she was growed in the ground. With that there was two of the Aiden-scampses come on, and of all the pullin’ and haulin’! But de’il a toe would she budge, and all the boys began larfin’, so they did, and William says, says he:

“‘Come on till I pull the neck out o’ ye.... Come on, me brave boy.... Fetch her a clip on the lug. Hit her a skelp behint. Jab her with yer knee, man alive. Och, come on, ye Bap, ye.’

“Well, the skin o’ a pig couldn’t stand that, and Andy, he was middlin’ smart at a repartee, so ‘Bap yersel’,’ says he, and with that he let a growl out o’ him ye might have heared te Portadown. Ye never heared the like, nor what’s more, Andy Wilson’s mare, she never heared the like, and she just made the wan lep and landed in the strame fornenst William; then James he tuk a howlt o’ William, and ‘Bap yersel’, says he; and with that he coped him off his gran’ white horse, and he drooked him in the watter.

“Then there was the fine play, and the best divarsion ever ye seen. Some they were for William, and some they were for James, and every wan he up with his fut or his fist, or onny other weepon that come convenient, and the boys they were all bloodin’ other, and murder and all sorts.”

“I thought you were all friends at Scarva?”

“And so we were—just friends fightin’ through other.”

“Was any one hurt?”

“Was anyone hurted? Sure, they were just trailin’ theirselves off the ground. Ye wud have died larfin’. There’s Jimmy Hanlon was never his own man since, and I had me nose broke on me—I find it yet—and some  says there was a wee girl from Tanderagee got herself killed.”

“What became of William?”

“He was clean drowned.”

“And King James?”

“He’s in hell with Johnny M‘Adam.”

I tried to explain that I had not meant the King himself, but the actor in whom nature had been stronger than dramatic instinct, but Tummus either could not or would not dissociate the two. He really was not attending to me: I had perceived for some time that his thoughts were wandering far from our conversation. Suddenly a spasm convulsed his features. With one hand he raised his hoe in the air like a tomahawk, disregarding the weed of his afternoon’s toil, which was left limp and helpless on the gravel; with the other he grasped his side. I feared the old man was going to have a fit, but it was only uncontrollable laughter at some joke as yet hidden from me.

“Well, do ye know what I’m goin’ te tell ye? I wud just allow William was a middlin’ polished boy, so he was. He subsidised the Pope o’ Rome, did he? Man, oh! Do ye tell me that? That bates all, and him goin’ to take just twiste what he let on.”

Old Tummus unquestionably was absolutely sober at the beginning of our interview, and had remained “dry” during it, but he now became gradually intoxicated with what had appeared to him to be his hero’s splendid cunning. The thought of a genius which could overreach someone else in a bargain rose to his brain like champagne. He swayed on his feet; he ran his words into each other; he assumed a gaiety of manner and expression quite unusual to him.

I watched him lurch down the walk, and then pause on the bridge. He supported himself by the wooden railing, which creaked as he swayed to and fro, and addressed the stream and the trees—

“Do ye know what I’m goin’ to tell ye? I wud just allow he was a middlin’ polished boy—so he was.”