Stephen had turned his smiling eyes towards his friend’s face, flattered by his confidence and won over to sympathy by the speaker’s simple accent.
—I was away all that day from my own place over in Buttevant.
—I don’t know if you know where that is—at a hurling match between the Croke’s Own Boys and the Fearless Thurles and by God, Stevie, that was the hard fight. My first cousin, Fonsy Davin, was stripped to his buff that day minding cool for the Limericks but he was up with the forwards half the time and shouting like mad. I never will forget that day. One of the Crokes made a woeful wipe at him one time with his caman and I declare to God he was within an aim’s ace of getting it at the side of his temple. Oh, honest to God, if the crook of it caught him that time he was done for.
—I am glad he escaped, Stephen had said with a laugh, but surely that’s not the strange thing that happened you?
—Well, I suppose that doesn’t interest you, but leastways there was such noise after the match that I missed the train home and I couldn’t get any kind of a yoke to give me a lift for, as luck would have it, there was a mass meeting that same day over in Castletownroche and all the cars in the country were there. So there was nothing for it only to stay the night or to foot it out. Well, I started to walk and on I went and it was coming on night when I got into the Ballyhoura hills, that’s better than ten miles from Kilmallock and there’s a long lonely road after that. You wouldn’t see the sign of a christian house along the road or hear a sound. It was pitch dark almost. Once or twice I stopped by the way under a bush to redden my pipe and only for the dew was thick I’d have stretched out there and slept. At last, after a bend of the road, I spied a little cottage with a light in the window. I went up and knocked at the door. A voice asked who was there and I answered I was over at the match in Buttevant and was walking back and that I’d be thankful for a glass of water. After a while a young woman opened the door and brought me out a big mug of milk. She was half undressed as if she was going to bed when I knocked and she had her hair hanging and I thought by her figure and by something in the look of her eyes that she must be carrying a child. She kept me in talk a long while at the door, and I thought it strange because her breast and her shoulders were bare. She asked me was I tired and would I like to stop the night there. She said she was all alone in the house and that her husband had gone that morning to Queenstown with his sister to see her off. And all the time she was talking, Stevie, she had her eyes fixed on my face and she stood so close to me I could hear her breathing. When I handed her back the mug at last she took my hand to draw me in over the threshold and said: ‘COME IN AND STAY THE NIGHT HERE. YOU’VE NO CALL TO BE FRIGHTENED. THERE’S NO ONE IN IT BUT OURSELVES…’ I didn’t go in, Stevie. I thanked her and went on my way again, all in a fever. At the first bend of the road I looked back and she was standing at the door.