The Game Leg by K. F. Purdon
From “The Furry Farm.”
Heffernan’s house at the Furry Farm stood very backwards
from the roadside, hiding itself, you’d really
think, from anyone that might be happening by. As
if it need do that! Why, there was no more snug,
well-looked-after place in the whole of Ardenoo than
Heffernan’s always was, with full and plenty in it for
man and beast, though it wasn’t to say too tasty-looking.
And it was terrible lonesome. There wasn’t a neighbour
within the bawl of an ass of it. Heffernan, of
course, had always been used to it, so that he didn’t
so much mind; still, he missed Art, after he going
off with little Rosy Rafferty. That was nigh hand
as bad upon him as losing the girl herself. He had got
to depend on Art for every hand’s turn, a thing that
left him worse, when he was without him. And he
was very slow-going. As long as Julia was there, she
did all, and Heffernan might stand to one side and look
at her. And so he missed her now, more than ever;
and still he had no wish to see her back, though even to
milk the cows came awkward to him.
He was contending with the work one evening, and the
calves in particular were leaving him distracted; above
all, a small little white one that he designed for Rosy,
when he’d have her Woman of the House at the Furry
Farm. That calf, I needn’t say, was not the pick of
the bunch, but as Mickey thought to himself, a girl
wouldn’t know any better than choose a calf by the
colour, and there would be no good wasting anything
of value on her. At all events, it would be “child’s
pig and Daddy’s bacon” most likely with that calf.
But sure, what matter! Rosy was never to have any
call to it, or anything else at the Furry Farm.
Those calves were a very sweet lot, so that Mickey
might have been feeling all the pleasure in life, just
watching them, with their soft, little muzzles down in
the warm, sweet milk, snorting with the pure enjoyment.
But Mickey was only grousing to get done, and vexed
at the way the big calves were shoving the little ones
away, and still he couldn’t hinder them. Art used to
regulate them very simple by means of a little ash quick
he kept, to slap the forward calves across the face when
they’d get too impudent. But as often as Mickey had
seen him do that, he couldn’t do the same. The ash
quick was so close to him that if it had been any nearer
it would have bitten him. Stuck up in a corner of the
bit of ruin that had once been Castle Heffernan it was.
But it might as well have been in America for all the good
it was to Mickey.
“I wish to God I was rid of the whole of yous, this
minute!” says he to himself, and he with his face all
red and steamy, and the milk slobbering out of the
pail down upon the ground, the way the calves were
butting him about the legs.
That very minute, he heard a sound behind him.
He turned about, and, my dear! the heart jumped
into his mouth, as he saw a great, immense red face,
just peeping over the wall that shut in his yard from
the boreen. That wall was no more than four feet
high. Wouldn’t anyone think it strange to see such a
face, only that far from the ground! and it with a
bushy, black beard around it, and big rolling eyes,
and a wide, old hat cocked back upon it? You’d have
to think it was something “not right”; an Appearance
or Witchery work of some kind.
But, let alone that, isn’t there something very terrifying
and frightful in finding yourself being watched,
when you think you’re alone; and of all things, by a
man? The worst of a wild beast wouldn’t put the same
bad fear in your heart.
“Good evening, Mr. Heffernan,” says the newcomer,
with a grin upon him, free and pleasant; “that’s a
fine lot of calves you have there!”
Heffernan was so put about that he made no answer,
and the man went on to say, “Is it that you don’t know
me? Sure, you couldn’t forget poor old Hopping
Hughie as simple as that!”
And he gave himself a shove, so that he raised his
shoulders above the wall. A brave, big pair they were,
too, but they were only just held up on crutches.
Hughie could balance himself upon them, and get
about, as handy as you please. But he was dead of his
“Oh, Hughie...!” says Heffernan, pretty stiff;
“well, and what do you want here?”
“Och, nothing in life....”
“Take it, then, and let you be off about your
business!” says Mickey, as quick as a flash, for once;
and he that was proud when he had it said!
Hughie had a most notorious tongue himself, but he
knew when to keep it quiet, and he thought it as good to
appear very mild and down in himself now, so he said,
“My business! sure, what word is that to say to a poor
old fellah on chrutches! Not like you, Mr. Heffernan,
that’ll be off to the fair of Balloch to-morrow morning,
bright and early, with them grand fine calves of yours.
The price they’ll go! There isn’t the peel of them in
“Do you tell me that?” says Heffernan, that a child
“That’s what they do be telling me,” says Hughie.
He could build a nest in your ear, he was that cunning.
He thought he saw a chance of getting to the fair himself,
and a night’s lodging as well, if he managed right.
“I wish to goodness I could get them there, so,”
says Mickey, “and hasn’t one to drive them for me!”
“Would I do?” says Hughie.
Heffernan looked at him up and down.
“Sure you’d not be able!”
“Whoo! me not able? Maybe I’m like the singed
cat, better than I look! I’m slow, but fair and easy
goes far in a day! Never you fear but I’ll get your
calves to Balloch the same way the boy ate the cake,
The simplest thing would have been for Heffernan
to take and drive the calves himself. But he never had
the fashion of doing such things. Anyway, it wouldn’t
answer for the people to see a man with a good means of
his own, like Mickey, turning drover that way.
So he thought again, while Hughie watched him, and
then says he, “You’ll have to be off out of this before
the stars have left the sky!”
“And why wouldn’t I?” says Hughie; “only give
me a bit of supper and a shakedown for the night, the
way I’ll be fresh for the road to-morrow.”
Hughie was looking to be put sitting down in the
kitchen alongside Heffernan himself, and to have the
settle-bed foreninst the fire to sleep in. But he had to
content himself with the straw in the barn and a plateful
carried out to him. Queer and slow-going Heffernan
might be, but he wasn’t thinking of having the likes of
Hopping Hughie in his chimney-corner, where he had
often thought to see little Rosy Rafferty and she smiling
Hughie took it all very contented. Gay and happy
he was after his supper, and soon fell asleep on the
straw, with his ragged pockets that empty that the divil
could dance a hornpipe in them and not strike a copper
there; while Mickey above in bed in his own house,
with his fine farm and all his stock about him, calves and
cows and pigs, not to speak of the money in the old
stocking under the thatch ... Mickey couldn’t
sleep, only worrying, thinking was he right to go to sell
the calves at all; and to be letting Hughie drive them!
“I had little to do,” he thought, “to be letting him in
about the place at all, and couldn’t tell what divilment
he might be up to, as soon as he gets me asleep! Hughie’s
terrible wicked, and as strong as a ditch! I done well
to speak him civil, anyway. But I’ll not let them calves
stir one peg out of this with him! I’d sooner risk
keeping them longer....”
There’s the way he was going on, tossing and tumbling
and tormenting himself, as if bed wasn’t a place to rest
yourself in and not be raking up annoyances.
So it wasn’t till near morning that Mickey dozed off,
and never wakened till it was more than time to be off to
Up he jumped and out to stop Hughie. But the yard
was silent and empty. Hughie and the calves were gone.
Mickey was more uneasy than ever.
“A nice bosthoon I must be,” he thought, “to go
trust my good-looking calves to a k’nat like Hughie!
And he to go off without any breakfast, too...!”
Heffernan was a good warrant to feed man or beast.
But he mightn’t have minded about Hughie, that had
plenty of little ways of providing for himself. His
pockets would be like sideboards, the way he would have
them stuck out with meat and eggs, and so on, that he
would be given along the road. Hughie was better fed
than plenty that bestowed food upon him.
Balloch, where the fair is held, is the wildest and most
lonesome place in Ardenoo, with a steep, rough bit of
road leading up to it, very awkward to drive along.
Up this comes Heffernan, on his sidecar, driving his best,
and in a great hurry to know where he would come on
Hughie. He had it laid out in his own mind that sight nor
light of his calves he never would get in this world again.
So it was a great surprise to him to find them there
before him, safe and sound. His heart lightened at
that as if a mill-stone was lifted off it.
And the fine appearance there was upon them.
Not a better spot in the fair-green than where Hughie
had them, opposite a drink-tent where the people would
be thronging most! And it was a choice spot for
Hughie too. Happy and contented he was, his back
against a tree, leaning his weight on one crutch and the
other convenient to his hand.
“So there’s where you are,” says Hughie, a bit
scornful. Sure it was a foolish remark to pass and the
man there before him, as plain as the nose on your face.
But Hughie was puzzled too by the look of relief he saw
on Mickey’s face. He understood nothing of what
Heffernan was passing through. It’s an old saying and
a true one, “Them that has the world has care!” but
them that hasn’t it, what do they know about it?
While Hughie was turning this over in his mind,
Mickey was throwing an eye upon the calves, and then,
seeing they were all right, he was bandying off with
himself, when Hughie said, “Terrible dry work it is,
driving stock along them dusty roads since the early
morning,” and he rubbed the back of his hand across
his mouth with a grin.
At that, Mickey put his hand into his pocket and felt
round about, and then pulled it out empty.
“I’ll see you later, Hughie,” says he, “I’ll not forget
you, never fear! Just let you wait here till I have the
poor mare attended to that drew me here....”
So he went off to do this, and then into the drink-tent
with him, the way he could be getting a sup himself.
But no sign of he to give anything to Hughie. And
there now is where Mickey made a big mistake.
He met up with a couple or three that he was
acquainted with in the tent, and they began to talk of
this thing and that thing, so that it was a gay little while
before Mickey came out again.
When he did: “What sort is the drink in there, Mr.
Heffernan?” says Hughie.
Now what Mickey had taken at that time was no more
than would warm the cockles of his heart. So he
looked quite pleasant and said, “Go in yourself, Hughie,
and here’s what will enable you to judge it!”
And he held out a shilling to Hughie.
“A bird never yet flew upon the one wing, Mr.
Heffernan!” said Hughie, that was looking to get another
shilling, and that would be only his due for driving
Mickey said nothing one way or the other, only went
off, and left Hughie standing there, holding out his hand
in front of him with the shilling in it, lonesome.
He that was vexed! He got redder in the face than
ever, and gave out a few curses, till he remembered there
wasn’t one to hear him. So he stopped and went into
the tent and I needn’t say he got the best value he could
But all the time he was thinking how badly Heffernan
was after treating him, putting him off without enough
to see him through the fair even, let alone with a trifle
in his pockets to help him on his rounds. He began
planning how he could pay out Mickey.
He got himself back to the same spot, near the calves,
to see what would happen. After a time, he saw
Heffernan coming back, and little Barney Maguire with
him. A very decent boy Barney was, quiet and agreeable;
never too anxious for work, but very knowledgable
about how things should be done, from a wake to a
sheep-shearing. Heffernan always liked to have Barney
with him at a fair.
The two of them stood near the calves, careless-like,
as if they took no interest in them at all.
A dealer came up.
“How much for them calves? Not that I’m in need
of the like,” says he.
“Nobody wants you to take them, so,” says Barney,
“but the price is three pounds ... or was it
guineas you’re after saying, Mr. Heffernan?”
Heffernan said nothing, and the dealer spoke up very
fierce; “Three pounds! Put thirty shillings on them,
and I’ll be talking to ye!”
Mickey again only looked at his adviser, and says
Barney, “Thirty shillings! ’Tis you that’s bidding
wide, this day! May the Lord forgive you! Is it
wanting a present you are of the finest calves in
Heffernan swelled out with delight at that; as if
Barney’s word could make his calves either better or
“Wasn’t it fifty-seven and sixpence you’re after telling
me you were offered only yesterday, Mr. Heffernan,”
says Barney, “just for the small ones of the lot?”
“Och! I dare say! don’t you?” says the dealer;
“the woman that owns you it was that made you that
bid, to save your word!”
Poor Mickey! and he hadn’t a woman at all! The
dealer of course being strange couldn’t know that, nor
why Hughie gave a laugh out of him.
But that didn’t matter. Mickey took no notice. A
man that’s a bit “thick” escapes many a prod that
another would feel sharp. So in all things you can see
how them that are afflicted are looked after in some little
way we don’t know.
The dealer looked at the calves again.
“Troth, I’m thinking it’s the wrong ones yous have
here! Yous must have forgotten them fine three-pound
calves at home!”
And Mickey began looking very anxiously at them, as
he thought maybe he had made some mistake.
“Them calves,” says the dealer, slowly, “isn’t like
a pretty girl, that everyone will be looking to get! And,
besides, they’re no size! A terrible small calf they are!”
“Small!” said Barney, “It’s too big they are! And
if they’re little itself, what harm! Isn’t a mouse the
prettiest animal you might ask to see?”
“Ay, it is,” says the dealer, “but it’ll take a power of
mice to stock a farm!” and off with him in a real passion—by
the way of.
But Barney knew better than to mind. The dealer
came back, and at long last the calves were sold and paid
for. Then the lucky-penny had to be given. Hard-set
Barney was to get Heffernan to do that. In the end
Mickey was so bothered over it that he dropped a shilling
just where Hughie was standing leaning his weight on
the one crutch as usual.
As quick as a flash, he had the other up, and made a
kind of a lurch forward, as if to look for the money. But
he managed to get the second crutch down upon the
shilling, to hide it; and then he looked round about
the ground as innocent as a child, as if he was striving
his best to find the money for Mickey.
“Where should it be, at all, at all?” says Mickey;
“bewitched it should be, to say it’s gone like that!”
And Heffernan, standing there with his mouth open,
looked as if he had lost all belonging to him. Then he
began searching about a good piece off from where the
“It’s not there you’ll get it!” said Barney, “sure
you ought always look for a thing where you lost it!”
He went over to Hughie.
“None of your tricks, now! It’s you has Mr.
Heffernan’s money, and let you give it up to him!”
“Is it me have it? Sure if I had, what would I do,
only hand it over to the man that owns it!” says Hughie.
On the word, he let himself down upon the ground,
and slithered over on top of the shilling.
But, quick and all as he was, Barney was quicker.
“Sure, you have it there, you vagabone, you!
Give it up, and get off out of this with yourself!”
And he caught Hughie a clip on the side of the head that
sent him sprawling on the broad of his back. And there,
right enough, under him, was the shilling.
So Barney picked it up, and for fear of any other
mistake, he handed it to the dealer.
“It’s an ugly turn whatever, to be knocking a poor
cripple about that-a-way!” said the dealer, dropping
the lucky-penny into his pocket.
“Ach, how poor he is, and let him be crippled,
itself!” says Barney; “it’s easy seeing you’re strange
to Ardenoo, or you’d not be compassionating Hughie
No more was said then, only in the tent with them
again to wet the bargain. Hughie gathered himself
up. He was in the divil’s own temper. Small blame
to him, too! Let alone the disappointment about the
shilling, and the knock Barney gave him, the people
all had a laugh at him. And he liked that as little as
the next one. You’d think he’d curse down the stars
out of the skies this time, the way he went on.
And it wasn’t Barney’s clout he cared about, half as
much as Mickey’s meanness. It was that had him so
mad. He felt he must pay Heffernan out.
He considered a bit; then he gave his leg a slap.
“I have it now!” he said to himself.
He beckoned two young boys up to him, that were
striving to sell a load of cabbage plants they had there
upon the donkey’s back, and getting bad call for them.
“It’s a poor trade yous are doing to-day,” said
Hughie; “and I was thinking in meself yous should be
very dry. You wouldn’t care to earn the price of a pint?”
“How could we?” says the boys.
“I’ll tell you! Do you see that car?” and Hughie
pointed to where Heffernan had left his yoke drawn up,
and the old mare cropping a bit as well as she could,
being tied by the head; “well, anyone that will pull
the linch-pin out of the wheel, on the far side of the car,
needn’t be without tuppence to wet his whistle....”
and Hughie gave a rattle to a few coppers he had left in
“Yous’ll have to be smart about it, too,” said he,
“or maybe whoever owns that car will have gone off
upon it, afore yous have time to do the primest bit of
fun that ever was seen upon this fair green!”
“Whose is the car?”
“Och, if I know!” says Hughie; “but what matter
for that? One man is as good as another at the bottom
of a ditch! ay, and better. It will be the height of
divarshin to see the roll-off they’ll get below there at
the foot of the hill....”
“Maybe they’d get hurted!” said the boys.
“Hurted, how-are-ye!” says Hughie; “how could
anyone get hurted so simple as that? I’d be the last
in the world to speak of such a thing in that case! But
if yous are afraid of doing it....”
“Afraid! that’s queer talk to be having!” says one
of them, very stiff, for like all boys, he thought nothing
so bad as to have “afraid” said to him; “no, but
we’re ready to do as much as the next one!”
“I wouldn’t doubt yiz!” said Hughie; “h-away
with the two of you, now! Only mind! don’t let
on a word of this to any sons of man....”
Off they went, and Hughie turned his back on them and
the car, and stared at whatever was going on the other
end of the fair. He hadn’t long to wait, before Heffernan
and Barney and the dealer came out of the drink-tent.
Hughie took a look at them out of the corner of his eye.
“Ah!” he said to himself, “all ‘purty-well-I-thank-ye!’
after what they drank inside! But, wait a bit,
The three men went over to where Heffernan’s
car was waiting. The boys were gone. The other two
men helped Mickey to get his yoke ready. Then he
got up, and they shook hands a good many times.
Heffernan chucked at the reins and started off.
Hughie was watching, and when he saw how steadily
the old mare picked her way down the steep boreen,
he began to be afraid he hadn’t hit on such a very fine
plan at all. And if Mickey had only had the wit to leave
it all to the poor dumb beast, she might have brought
him home safe enough.
But nothing would to him, only give a shout and a
flourish of the whip, half-way down the hill. The mare
started and gave a jump. She was big and awk’ard,
much like Mickey himself. Still it was no fault of her
that, when she got to the turn, the wheel came off,
and rolled away to one side. Down came the car,
Mickey fell off, and there he lay, till some people that saw
what was going on ran down the hill after him, and got
the mare on to her feet, and not a scratch on her.
But poor Mickey! It was easy to see with half an
eye that he was badly hurt.
“Someone will have to drive him home, whatever,”
said Barney, coming up the hill to look for more help,
after doing his best to get Mickey to stand up; and sure,
how was he to do that, upon a broken leg? “A poor
thing it is, too, to see how a thing of the kind could occur
so simple! and a decent man like Heffernan to be
nigh hand killed....”
“‘Deed, and he is a decent man!” said Hughie;
“and why wouldn’t he? I’d be a decent man meself
if I had the Furry Farm and it stocked....”
“He’s in a poor way now, in any case,” said Barney.
“I doubt will he ever get over this rightly! That’s apt
to be a leg to him all his life!”
“Well, and so, itself!” said Hughie; “haven’t
I two of them lame legs? and who thinks to pity
“It’s another matter altogether, with a man like Mr.
Heffernan,” said Barney; “what does the like of you
miss, by not being able to get about, compared with a
man that might spend his time walking a-through his
cattle, and looking at his crops growing, every day in the
“To be sure, he could be doing all that!” said
Hughie, “but when a thing of this kind happens out
so awkward, it’s the will of God, and the will of man
can’t abate that!”