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Seumas MacManus

Nanny and Conn

Once on a time there was a woman and her man named Nanny and Conn, and they lived together quiet and agreeable, in peace, comfort and contentment for eighteen years, when one day, Conn coming from the potato field to get a bit of brakwust, he found my brave Nanny sitting in the chimney corner whillilew-ing and pillillew-ing, crying the very eyes out of her head. When Conn came in she put her apron to her eyes and fell to it like a man to a day's work. "Och, Conn, Conn! Conn darling!" says she. "Why Nanny ahasky," says Conn, says he, "what's the matter with you?" "Och, Conn, Conn, darling!" says she, "but it's me has the sore heart this morning, thinking how it's now eighteen years again' Patrickmas since we were made man and wife, and yet Providence hasn't sent me a son to be a comfort to me now in my old age! Och, Conn, Conn darling!" says she, "but it's the sore pity of me this morning! Ochon! Ochon!" "Well, by my boots," says Conn, says he, "but this beats me entirely; such foolishness I never saw; and I hope," says he, "that I'll see no more of it—for if I did, Nanny," says he, "I couldn't live in the house with you, if you were a princess," and with that Conn turns on his heels and away out he goes to his work again, brakwustless, and whistling, "Father Jack Walsh." My brave Conn wrought away hard at his spade till he said to himself it was a fair dinner time, and then, sticking the spade in the ridge, he starts, whistling, for the house again, wondering to himself all the time if Nanny had done crying yet for her son. But, what would you have of it, when Conn puts his foot on the threshel there was Nanny on one side and a neighbour woman on the other; their two knees met across the fire, with no sign of pot or pan on it, or any thing else that a hungry man would be expecting, and the both of them—och, och, och!—keening and ochoning, one louder nor another, that you'd think the roof would fly off with itself away off the house, and hard to tell which of the two of them was the worst. Conn gave a sigh and sat down on a creepy stool in the draught of the door, with his chin on his fists and his elbows on his knees, and he looking wonderingly from the one to the other. At last, when he let them get a wee bit out of breath, he found his opportunity, and says he, that way quiet and easy like, "Ma'am," says he, "haven't ye done with your foolish crying yet because ye didn't get a son?" says he. "Och, no, Conn, Conn, Conn darling!" says she, "that's not what we're crying about now at all," says she; "but—och! och! och! ochon! Sheelah dear! Sheelah dear! Conn asthore! Conn asthore!—it's something worse! it's something worse!" "Well, troth," says Conn, relieved, "I'm glad to know it's worse. What is it Nanny, ahasky?" says he. "Why, you see," says Nanny, "och, och! ye see, it was Sheelah here, good woman, that come into me in the morning to know what I was crying about, and ochon! ochon! just as I was describing it to her doesn't the marly hen come stepping in of the door there and fly up on the roost there, and just as she gets on the roost doesn't—och! och! ochon! Conn, Conn, machree! I can't tell it to ye! Ochon, ochon! As the hen lit on the roost doesn't the roost, bad cess take it this morning, and the Lord pardon me for cursing, doesn't the roost ochone, Conn, Conn! how can I tell it to ye?—doesn't the big roost come tumbling down, and och, Conn, ochon! if I had a had the son I was crying for all the morning the poor child's cradle would have been maybe in that very spot that the roost came down on, and the poor innocent craythur asleep in it, an'—och, Conn, Conn, darling! there the crathur would have been killed as dead as a sthone. Och, Conn, Conn, Conn! Conn, ochone! What's this to do at all at all? Sheelah a mhilis! Sheelah a mhilis! what's this to do?" And there the two of them set up the keen again, wringing their hands and rocking back and forward across the fire. Conn looked on dumbfounded for a minute, and then jumping up off the creepy and standing in the middle of the floor, "Well," says he, "that bangs Banagher! Such two foolish idiots I never saw in my life! And by this and by that," says he, "if I don't start out this minute, and I'll never dirty a spade in the ground again, nor neither of ye will never see my face more till after I have met three foolisher people than yous. After I have met them I'll come home; but if I don't meet them I'll never come back—and that's the most likely. Good-bye to yous, and God be with yous!" So spitting on his stick, he stepped out and travelled away before him. He travelled on, and on, and on, till he come to a cabin, where there was the dirtiest and wrinkledest and wizenedest old woman you ever saw, sitting on the roadside before it, and she trying to sing a love song with a cracked voice; but she was dressed out with ribbons that had all the colours of the rainbow. "God save ye, ma'am," says Conn, "God save yerself, kindly," says she; "did ye see ever a king coming along that road?" "A what?" says Conn. "A king," says the old hag. "The king of Ireland," says she, "is now travelling over the land to pick out the beautifullest girl he can get to be his wife, and I'm sitting here waiting till he'll pass, not knowing but what he'd take a notion of myself. For ye must know," says she, "that I was told I was the most beautifullest girl in the three parishes." "When was that?" says Conn, "and who told it to you?" "It was three and sixty years ago," says she, "and the lame beggarman told it to me." "And how long, my good woman, have you been sitting there?" "Seven weeks, exactly, again' the morrow night," says she. "Well, ma'am," says Conn, "I'm the king of Ireland travelling in disguise, and I have now travelled over the whole of my dominions, and I saw many rare beauties, every one of them nicer than the other, but I never saw them I'd put before yerself. It fails me to describe," says he, "the beauty of them silver locks of yours, and them lovely eyes, and your figure and face is beyond compare; the like of your grace I never saw except in a born queen, while as for your complexion, it's like couldn't be found in Ireland again," and there he was telling no lie sure enough. The old hag was all overcome with delight over this. She curtseyed herself down to the ground, and she then threw her skinny arms around Conn's neck and said she was his for evermore. "And now," says she, "wouldn't you like to have some nice sweet kisses?" For she couldn't get at Conn's mouth, for he was striving to keep it as far away from her as he could. "Well, I don't know," says Conn. "You see the truth of it is, I've been so accustomed to kissing plain, ornery looking girls since I set on my journey—that's plain and ornery when put in comparison with your great beauty—I have been so accustomed kissing this sort of girls that I would be timorous. The sweetest of your kisses," says Conn, "might turn my head intirely, and leave me a raving man for the rest of my life." "Oh, don't be afraid of that," says she, "you know you must accustom yourself to mine anyhow, and one wee one will do ye no harm." "All right then," says Conn, "let it be a wee one." And then he held his cheek to her, and she gave him such a rousing smack as was echoed up on the hills and sent the wild goats running helter-skelter over the rocks thinking someone was shooting at them. "Now ma'am," says Conn, says he, "I'm a bit hungry, seeing meat didn't cross my mouth for the last ten hours, and I would feel obliged if you'd take me in and make me a bit of something, for fasting doesn't agree with a king." "Ah my poor dear," says she, "it's dead with the hunger you must be entirely. Come in, a mhic, and ye're welcome to the best my poor house can afford." So she took him in, and killed her fattest lamb, and put on a blazing big fire of fir and bog-oak, and roasted the lamb whole, and set it and a jar of whiskey before Conn. And my brave Conn ate like a man who had been fasting, not ten hours, but ten days, and he drunk like a man that hadn't drunk since he was wearied, and then he got up, and brushing down the crumbs off himself said he was going away straight back to his palace now to get on a daicent suit of clothes, and come back with a bishop and a rajimint of soldiers to marry her. She was delighted, and she wanted to kiss Conn going away, but Conn staggered with all the whiskey he had in him, and "No, no, ma'am," says he, "don't ye see that first kiss is in my head yet." So off he started, himself and his stick, and says he to himself as he went along, "Well, Nanny," says he, "there's one foolisher body in the world than you anyhow, but still I much misdoubt me if I can get another." Conn travelled on, and on, and on, till he come to a house where he found a man having his son helping him to get under a mule and lift it up. "God save yez, and good luck to the work," says Conn. "God save ye kindly," says the man back again to him, "and thank ye." "Could I be of any sarvice to ye?" says Conn. "If I can ye have only to say it." "Thank ye, kindly," says the man back again to him, "ye can." "May I ax what do ye want to do," says Conn. "Why," says the man, "it's in regards of them fine long bunches of grass ye see growing across the roof of the house; it's a sin, sure, to see them going to loss, and I want to put up the mule till he eats it." "And," says Conn, says he, "could ye find no more convaynient way of letting the mule eat the grass than that?" "I could not," says the man. "What do ye think," says Conn, says he, "if I could point out a way that would make your mule benefit from the grass without any trouble to you." "Well," says the man, says he, "I would think you would be a mighty great genius entirely; and it would be mortal obligating to me if you could." "What will you give me, and I will?" says Conn. "Why," says the man, "it would be of very great use to me entirely, and save me all the trouble in the world; for, at least half a dozen times in the year, every year, I have to do this, and I have killed five of my sons at it already, and there's the sixth and the last, and he'll soon go too, and I'll be dead myself next with the weight of that mule lifting him, and holding him up till he eats the grass. I'll give ye the mule and the slide-car," says he, "if ye take it, and tell me an easier plan." "It's a bargain," says Conn. And then and there he told him to go up on the house himself and cut the grass, and carry it down, and give it to the mule. "By the hokey," says the man, says he, "but you're right." Then Conn took the mule and the man and his son hooked him into the slide-car for him, and into the slide-car he got, and started off. "Well, Nanny," says Conn to himself, as he drove along—"Well, Nanny," says he to himself, "there's two foolisher people in the world than you anyhow, but I misdoubt me much if I'll be able to find a third." So he drove on, and on, and on, till he come to a wee cabin on the roadside after night, and pulling up the mule he went in, and found no one but an old woman in the house, and she was so busy down on her knees blowing the fire that she didn't see Conn coming in. So down he sat on a seat till she would be done. "Well, musha, on ye for a fire," says she, "that ye can't light; I must put a bit of tallow into ye." So getting up to get the tallow she sees Conn seated on the chair. "The Lord protect me," says she, frightened, "where did you come from?" "From Heaven," says Conn. "What, from Heaven?" says she—"and did you see my Manis up there?" "Yes, I did, ma'am, surely," says he. "I'll warrant ye, he's as contentious as ever?" says she. "Troth, and he is," says Conn, "there isn't a door in it he hasn't in smithereens." "See that now," says she, "looking for whiskey, I suppose?" "The very thing," says Conn; "how did ye know." "Ah, poor Manis," says she, "was always fond of the wee dhrap. I suppose I will have to send him up some," says she; "Is there any allowed in?" "Oh, sartinly, sartinly," says Conn, "we must allow it in for him, or he won't leave a sound boord about the whole establishment he won't smash." "Oh, every stick and stave," says she; "that's him. I have just got a wee five gallon here," says she; "do you think you could manage it up?" "As right as the mail, ma'am," says Conn; "I have a mule and a slide-car down with me." "Oh, then, if ye have," says she, "maybe ye could fetch him some other little things, too." "With every pleasure, ma'am," says Conn. "Does Manis complain of the cold?" says she. "He's just parishing, ma'am," says Conn. "Oh, that's just Manis for ye," says she; "he was never done complaining of the cold. Don't ye think hadn't ye better take him up his overcoat?" "I think it would be no harm," says Conn. "Is he as fond of butter as ever?" says she. "He couldn't live without it, ma'am," says Conn. "Oh, that's just him—that's just Manis on the sod," says she; "ye had better take him up that little firkin." "Surely, ma'am," says Conn. "He used to be very fond of a rasher of bacon," says she. "It's the very last thing he mentioned to me not to forget," says Conn. "He's shouting," says he, "for a rasher and eggs yonder every morning he rises; but the sorra saize the like of either is to be found in that country." "Poor man," says she, "that place doesn't agree with him at all, at all. There, just take up that side of a pig with you, and here's a couple of dozen of eggs, too. I'm troubling you too much, good man," says she, "or I'd be after asking ye to take a few other wee things." "Don't mention the trouble at all, ma'am," says Conn; "I assure ye it's only a pleasure to me. As far as the mule can draw don't spare him, and after that, pile on to myself," says he. "Well I must say," says she, stirring herself about the house and getting together a lot of wee needcessities, eatables and drinkables and clothes, "I must say," says she, "you're a mighty obliging man," and she commenced piling the things on the mule till his back was bending down with the load. "Now," says she, "I think that should keep Manis's month shut for a month of Sundays, anyhow. God speed ye," says she to Conn, "and thanky, and remember me to Manis." "Thank yourself, good woman," says Conn, "and the grace of God be about ye. Manis won't forget ye easy, I'll warrant ye, and he'll be surely thankful for these things—when he gets them." So off my brave Conn starts, now in the direction of his home; and he travelled on, and on, and on, whistling and singing, and eating and drinking and going on, and on, and on, till at length when he was coming near home he finds the thiraw coming behind him, and looking back on the top of a hill he sees the old woman he met at first, and the man he took the mule from, and the last woman he met, all hurry-skurrying behind him with sticks and staves. So he saw they had found out he was tricking them, and were coming after him to take his life. Conn drew the mule and cart into a thick wood, where he hid them; and then turning his coat he commenced cutting scollops. It wasn't many minutes till the hunt was up with him. "My good man," said they, "did you see a man with a mule and cart passing this way a couple of minutes ago?" "I did," says Conn; "a daicent-looking man with a brown coat." "Oh that's him," says they, "but his looks belies him; he isn't as daicent as he is daicent-looking. So signs on it ye had nothing to do with him or ye'd have another story to tell. Tell us what way he went till we take his life." "Oh," says Conn, "yez are too late for that now, for just as he was passing by here—do ye see that black cloud off there to the nor'aist?" "We do, we do," says they; "what about that?" "Why that same cloud," says Conn, says he, "just as he was passing by here, that very same cloud came down and carried himself, the mule and cart right away up to heaven before my eyes," says Conn. "See that now," says they; and they threw down their sticks, and turned and went away home again. Then Conn got out his mule and his load, and started afresh for home, and it's Nanny was delighted to see him, and maybe, too, it's him wasn't delighted to see Nanny, and he unpacked his load and gave Nanny as much as would feed the two of them for twelve months to come. "And now," says he, "Nanny, I'm back content and willing to live with you for the remainder of my days, for I met three such fools that you would be a wise woman compared with them—foolish and all as ye are." And Nanny and Conn lived a happy life ever afther; and Conn was never tired of telling that no matter how foolish anyone was there was far foolisher to be met in the world, and them was the truest words ever he omitted.