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 two legs.

“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 Ardenoo!”

“Do you tell me that?” says Heffernan, that a child could cheat.

“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, very handy....”

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 at him.

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 the fair.

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 the calves.

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 there.

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 Ardenoo?”

Heffernan swelled out with delight at that; as if Barney’s word could make his calves either better or worse.

“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 shilling fell.

“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 so tender!”

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 his pocket.

“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, Mickey Heffernan....”

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 Hughie?”

“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 week?”

“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!”