The Dentist by Anonymous

Malachi Hoe is known, for twenty miles round his house, as a cow-doctor, and a rat-catcher, and a man of tip-top talent in two or three dozen useful arts and sciences,—as he himself calls tooth-drawing, and dog-cropping, and all the things he's famous for. He has the finest terriers and traps in the whole country; and if there isn't a fox to be found by the subscription pack, that Squire Lawless, and the rest of them has, nine miles off, at the brook of Ballyfaddin, they've only to send a dog-boy to Malachi, before sun-set, and he'll have one in a bag, ready to turn out before them, by the morning. He's very sparing of talk, and when he spakes, it's in short bits; and he'll look all the while as if he'd a right to be paid for his words: and it's well paid he is for them too, sure enough, by them that can do it. There isn't a hair's-breadth of a horse, from the crown down to the coronet, or below that again, to the head of the nail in his shoe, but Malachi knows: he's as much at home in the inside of a cow as that of his own cabin, and can tell where any thing is, as well in one as the other,—-just as if he'd put it there himself. But Malachi prides himself most on his skill in tooth-drawing; and if you ask him what he is, he'll tell you—a dentist.

It's full thirty years ago, since Malachi came to settle among us. You hadn't then to send for him if he was wanted, for he seemed to scent sickness like a raven; and if your cow was taken ill, the next news you heard was, that Malachi's horn was blowing on the hill; and, in ten minutes more, he stood at your door, with a drench if you wished it.

Malachi now keeps closer to his nest: still he's to be had, if you'll pay him his bill. He's looked upon as an oracle in most things, by every body except Ileen, his wife, who thinks one of her opinions worth two of his, any day; and though Malachi Roe is a wise man, I won't say but Ileen is right. If you knew him, you'd as soon think of saying black was white, as contradicting the dentist: but Ileen don't care a bawbee for him, and often tells him right up to his face that he's wrong. Malachi wishes she'd bide at home; but she'd rather be busy on the beach, having an eye to the girls and women she employs to gather the dillosk: and, though feared, her goodness of heart secures her the love of every one of her neighbours—high and low. By all accounts, she must be the exact temper of her grandmother and namesake Ileen, the Meal-woman; who, though left a widow, at eighteen, with a child looking up to her for support, never got married again; but kept herself dacent, and brought up her little one, without a ha'p'orth of help from man, woman, or child. She put on the manners and resolution of a man, with her weeds;—the mills which her husband had occupied she kept going; and managed so well, that she got more and more grist by degrees, till at last, the name of Ileen the Meal-woman, was known all over the country.

Her child—it was a boy—grew up, got married, and did well, until about the time of his turning the awkward corner of fifty; then it was that his wife, who was three or four years younger than himself,—as wives should be, you know,—fell sick, and died away suddenly. No man could well grieve much more for the loss of his wife, than ould Ileen the Meal-woman's son did for his: he wouldn't allow her to be carried away up the country, and buried among her own kin, but insisted that she should be laid in his father's grave; so that, one day or other, his own remains might be placed by her side.

If you reckon the age of his son, and remember how soon after his marriage he died, you'll find that Ileen the Meal-woman's husband, at the time his daughter-in-law departed this life, must have been buried hard upon half a century. When the grave was opened, his coffin crumbled beneath the pickaxe some of his dry bones were carelessly shovelled up by the digger, and there they lay among the earth, which so long had covered him. Ileen knew nothing of this: she had heard of the death of her son's wife, and made all the haste she could away from a distant part, where she was buying wheat, or selling meal, I don't know which, so as to be at the funeral. When she got near home, two or three people tould her that her husband's grave had been opened, to receive the body of her daughter-in-law; but she wouldn't believe them: for all that though, she quickened her horse's pace, and made direct for the spot. The memory of her husband was still fresh within her, long as she'd lost him,—for her heart had never known a second affection. She didn't remember and so see him, in her waking dreams, a poor, broken-down, grey-headed old man, tottering gradually under a load of infirmities, to death's door, with his temper soured by time and pain, and his affections froze up by age: but whenever his form came across her mind,—and it's often she looked back to the two short years of happiness, she'd passed with him,—he started up to her thoughts in all the pride of his manhood,—handsome, high-spirited, and affectionate, as he was a week before she parted from him for ever.

The people were just going to lower the coffin of the Meal-woman's daughter-in-law into the earth, when Ileen reached the outer circle of them that came to the funeral. Without spaking a word she made a lane for herself through the crowd, and at that awful moment, she suddenly appeared, speechless with fury, at the head of the grave. Her son shrunk from her terrible glance; and every one within view of her, stood without motion, gaping in fear and wonder at the tall, gaunt figure of Ileen, and the features of her, distorted as they were by the grief—-the rage—the horror—the agony she felt,—and wondered what was going to be the matter. After some little time, during which not a word was spoke, and nobody scarcely dared breathe, Ileen began to tremble from head to foot; big tears gushed out of her eyes; and says she:—"Is that you I see there, Patrick?—Are you my son?—And is this your father's grave?"

"Mother," says Patrick, "what, in the name of the holy Saints, ails you?—Don't you see it's me?—And ar'nt you sure it's my poor father's last home?—Where else would I bury my wife?"

"Your wife!—And was it to bury your wife, that you broke open my husband's grave?"

"Of course it is, mother what harm?—Go on, friends."

"Stand back!" cried Ileen, in a loud and determined tone, placing herself betuxt the coffin and the brink of the grave;—"I'd like to see the man who dare pollute the dust of my husband, with that of a strange woman! I am the wife of him whose grave is here—of him, and of none but him: I lay in his bosom when he was alive—and do you think, any of you, I'll stand by, while there's a drop of blood left in my veins, to see another be put in my place, now that he's dead? Have I lived for fifty long years with the hope of one day being united in death to the joy of my life, to have another laid by his side at last?—Who broke this holy earth?—What accursed wretch was it?—Where is he?—Shew him to me—that I may grip him by the throat?"

"Mother, mother!" said Patrick, "for the sake of him you spake of, be not so violent! If I've done wrong—"

"If you've done wrong?—Thank God, Patrick, it wasn't your own hand did this!"

"Well! I'm sorry now that any hand did it: but it's too late to waste time in words: and I must have the remains of my wife respected."

"Wretched—unnatural child!—what respect have you shown to those of my husband—my husband, and your father, Patrick?—Oh! this earth which covered him," continued Ileen, stooping to pick up a handful of the mould she stood upon,—and at that moment, for the first time, she saw the bones!—She shrieked out at the sight, and no tongue could describe the look of agony which she cast at her son.

Patrick, however, who'd more love for the wife he'd lived thirty years with, than the father he couldn't remember, much as he was grieved at the sorrow and anger of his mother, resolved that the corpse shouldn't be treated with a shew of insult: so says he to those about him, "Come, let us make an end of this; I will set you an example."

The words were scarcely out of his mouth, when Ileen snatched up one of her husband's bones, and gave her son so violent a blow with it on his head, that he staggered and fell nearly senseless into the grave.

His friends got Patrick out again as quick as they could: but before he recovered, Ileen had carefully gathered up the bones, folded them in a kerchief, which she tore off her bosom, dropped them into the grave, and proceeded to throw in the earth again with her hands. No one attempted to hinder her—but it was only when she had made the ground level, and cast herself, moaning, upon it, that the people persuaded her son to let them carry his wife's coffin away, and bury it elsewhere.

Just such a one as Ileen the Meal-woman, in temper and heart, is her grand-daughter Ileen, the second wife of Malachi Roe: he'd a son by his first; but has had no children by Ileen. If Malachi's boy was a fool all his young days,—and he's not so now he's grown up—it wasn't Ileen's fault; for she behaved like a mother to him, and tried all she could to make him know a duck from a drawbridge, but in vain. At last, when he was about eighteen, Malachi got him a place in my lady's stables, under the grooms and coachmen she'd just had down with fine horses and new liveries from Dublin—why, nobody could guess, except that she was going to give up being a widow.

The first day Malachi's boy got into the stables, the grooms and postillions persuaded him they were much finer dentists than his father; and, to convince him, they tied a piece of whipcord round one of his teeth, and fastened the other end of it to a stall-post: then one of them came and threatened the end of his nose with the prong of a pitchfork, so that the stripling drew back his head with a jerk, and out came the tooth. This, and two or three other of the usual jokes that boys gets played in a stable, put young Malachi on his mettle; so that, after awhile, his father, and even ould Ileen herself, began to glory in him;—thanks to the dentist whose only instrument was the prong of a pitchfork.