Our Tommy by Anonymous

We'd often be frightened out of our lives a'most, did we know, while we were about them, what mighty events, to ourselves or somebody else, would spring from some of our every-day doings. But it's right we shouldn't. If it wasn't so, Paddy Doolan might be breaking his heart, for the sow that's going to be choaked next Monday, by a bone he'll throw into her trough to-night. There's none of our actions, big or little, in my mind, goes off, without leaving a family: something I did three days,—or, may be, three years ago, was the grandmother of something I'm doing, or that may befall me, to-day. Peg Dwyer's husband threw his can at the head of a cow, that wouldn't give out her milk as she ought, and one of her horns made a hole in its side. That happened him on a Wednesday;—very well;—he wetted his floor, through carrying water in the can with the hole in it, on Thursday; it froze in the night; and early on Friday he got such a bruise, through slipping up on the floor, which he'd wetted by carrying water in the can that he'd thrown on the horn of the cow, because she wouldn't give milk, that it laid him up for a month, and killed him outright in the long run. A boy quarrels with his home and quits it, because he fancies he don't get as much buttermilk to his peeathees, or peeathees to his buttermilk, as some of his brothers; he walks off with himself to the next town; and, a year after, to the next to that, may be: by-and-by he gets taken by the tar, as birds are by birdlime; and, after being aboard ship awhile, casts anchor in foreign parts. Before he can whistle, he's pushed another move further: and something or other continues to poke him from place to place, and from post to pillar, till he reaches the wild Indians at last, and marries Hullamullaloo, the king's youngest daughter, or gets roasted and devoured—just as it may happen—by that lady and her iligant maids of honour. And, supposing he'd a good memory, and could look back, while he stood tied to the stake, or about to be tied to Hullamullaloo at the altar, as the case might be, he'd find each of the moves he made through life was owing, one way or another, to something as simple as his quarrelling, when a boy with his peeathees and buttermilk, at his mother's mud cabin here at home in ould Ireland.

Poor Tommy Maloe got his liking for martial music, through thumping a drum, which he'd stolen from young Veogh, when they were both little boys, and didn't know right from wrong; or if they did, wouldn't make a shew of what they knew, by doing as they ought. Though Pierce's parents were rich, and Tommy's were poor, Tommy was Pierce's playmate: they spent most of their time together, and were always at war, and frequently fighting. Tommy was the sole and only boy far or near, that would dare stand up before Master Pierce, when he clenched his little fist; and there was few that Tommy would demean himself to thump or play tricks with but Pierce.

Tommy, as I said, stole a drum from little Pierce, or may be carried it off as booty after a fray; and it was from the delight he got by bating it with the drumstick of an ould goose, that years after, he bartered a new hat for a bad fife from which time, for six months and more, morning, noon, and night, the fife was at Tommy's lips, and he trying to coax marches out of it, but couldn't. At last he threw it away in a pet; and took to trapesing after Mick Maguire when he'd be going out to fire at, and sometimes shoot, the water-birds. Tommy, who was now grown a man a'most, never felt happier than when Mick would allow him to carry the gun; and one day, while Mick's back was turned, something or other tempted him to fire it off. By chance, I suppose, he shot a little bird—a tern, or a petrel it was—and from that time, Tommy talked of nothing but shouldering a musket, and getting a pelt at a Frenchman. He walked thirty miles over mountains and bogs, without a shoe to his foot, (for his father had hid them that he mightn't go,) to see a review of two companies of the North Cork, and three dozen of beggarly volunteers.

Our Tommy—for that's the name he is best known by—from his father's always calling him so—though it was only to himself, a poor doating ould widower, he belonged;—our Tommy, I say, at last determined to enlist. He wouldn't be satisfied, he said, until, as every one ought, he'd killed at least two or three of the enemies of his king and country. His father begged of him not to go for a souldier and leave him alone, when he could get good bread at home: but, though Tommy in other things was as dutiful as most sons, he wouldn't mind his father in this. At one time, however, it was thought he would forget the Frenchmen, and behave himself; for he fell in love with one of the prettiest little girls in these parts, and offered to give up all thoughts of campaigning, and killing his share of the foreigners, if she'd have him. But the little girl gave him a downright denial; and a week after that he got picked up by a recruiting-party at a fair.

Tommy was all on fire to go abroad; and it wasn't long before he got his wish granted of being sent on foreign service. You'll think of the little drum, and the goose's leg, and the bad fife, and Mick Maguire's gun, and the review of the North Cork with the volunteers, and feel sad, for a moment, may be, when I tell you, that the very first Frenchman he saw, run his baggonet right through poor Tommy, in a skirmish, before he could even pull his trigger, and killed him on the spot.

When I say that Tommy was killed on the spot, I mane that he never stirred from the place where he fell; though he lived long enough to see the enemy driven back; and then,—as we heard from a disabled dragoon, who passed through this place on his way home a year after,—poor Tommy Maloe, though he'd been disappointed so sorely,—like a good boy as he was in the main,—departed this life with a smiling eye and a prayer on his lips. And I trust I may do no worse;—though, I must confess, I'd rather die on a bad bed, than on the finest field of battle,—for I'm not heroic; and in my own mud cabin, than a grand hospital,—for I'm not ambitious. And yet I don't know, upon giving the thing a thought dying is dying all the world over, and it don't matter much where we do it. I was going to say too, that I'd prefer a natural death in ould age, to the honour of being cut off by a dragoon's sabre in my prime: but there's a riddle about death no one can solve; and it isn't often we see even the ould people go off and melt away like a mist. We may prate and preach as much as we plaze about hard deaths and aisy deaths;—the horror and agony of going off one way, compared with another:—but there isn't a living soul on the face of the earth knows any thing about dying at last. Drowning is spoken of as being the least disagreeable by some; others prefer a bullet; one says one thing, and another says another; even hanging isn't without advocates but I say, there's no knowing which is best, and which is worst; and we never shall know, that's certain, until some of us is dead, and gets brought to life again;—and that you know never can be: for it's nothing but blarney an honest man tells you about the feelings of death, who has been relieved from suffocation by a lancet; or, to go further, it's foolish to listen to what one that has been some time under water, and gets picked up, and restored, as they call it,—to hear such a one tell what little or what much he suffered, with an idea of your gathering enough from his story to know what death by drowning is. If you do that, it's mighty mistaken you are; and I'll tell you why:—them people that gets restored that way or any other, no matter how, know but little about the thing, not much more than-myself or you and why don't they?—because they never have died. You never met with a man in your life, that had died, out and out. You couldn't; for them that dies completely never breathes mortal breath again. My father—rest his soul!—thought as I do; and he'd say, when the fire of existence is once extinguished, it's gone for ever and ever. When death has entirely done his work, the body is clay; then the spirit departs, and nothing human can ever bring it back. A man may lie motionless, breathless, and, what's more, senseless, at the bottom of a well, for an hour, or, may be, more,—who can tell?—and yet not die. In that case, by clever means and much work, the dying embers of life may be brought to a flame again; but once fairly dead, we're dead for ever. And so, I say, that the man who gets taken out of the water and recovers, can't say that he was dead. It's true, he has gone to the door; but has he passed over the threshold?—answer me that! If he had, he wouldn't have come back to us again, I'll engage! Don't you see, that we can't take a pair of compasses or a piece of tape, and measure exactly where life ends and death begins? And how do we know, when we take leave of a friend, because he don't move, and there's none o' the dew of life on the glass we put to his lips,—that he's dead?—Tossing the arms, or gnashing the teeth, shews pain, but there may be greater agony without it; for if we're violent, it shews we're strong; and it's suffer we may, much worse perhaps, when we're so weak that we can't wag a finger. Well, then,—and this is what I've been coming to all through my rigmarole, but I couldn't before,—how do we know that,—after the breath goes, and the limbs lose their power, and all is still,—the dying man, without breathing or moving, or his heart beating, don't feel the true grapple of death—the parting of soul and body?—Therefore, I say, as nobody ever came back, as I think, in body,—I don't spake of ghosts,—from the clutch of our enemy, we don't know anything much about him; and it's well we don't:—God be praised! all things in this world is ordered for the best!

It's little or nothing that's left me to add to my story:—poor Tommy Maloe's father, when he heard of the death of his son, got quite childish at once, and unable to help himself any way: so that he'd have had little to look to, but his poor neighbours, if my lady hadn't put him down on her little list of pensioners, and paid Peg Dwyer to mind the poor soul, and make him as comfortable, considering all things, as he well could be. You may still see ould Darby—that's his name—strolling about, from house to house, as he did on the morning after the disabled dragoon brought us news of his son's death, and telling every one who'll listen to him, how his beautiful boy was struck through and through by a baggonet, like a souldier's loaf,—or a tommy, as it's called in the army,—when he wint to fight the French, in foreign parts.