This is a story that happened in the decade prior to Ireland’s War of Independence and the division of the country. It was a time when Britain still ruled and the aristocracy stood at the head of society -
Mrs Farquahar was quite a tall, thin, and very respectable lady who had just turned fifty years old, and she was possessed of many rigid virtues. This is not surprising, since she was a native of the northern counties of Ireland and a staunch Protestant. She had come originally to ‘Maryborough’ as a personal maid to the Dowager Lady Dundas and seved her well for many years. Then, when her mistress died, Mrs. Farquahar’s faithfulness was well rewarded by Lord Dundas, who offered to establish her in a business of her own. At the time of our story, Mrs Farquahar had been owner of the station buffet for almost two years, and she made a decent living for herself through the business. This was to be expected since ‘Maryborough’ itself is situated on one of the main Railway lines in Ireland and there is always a fair amount of traffic that passes through it.
In command of the station was the stationmaster, who was familiarly known as “Jim” O’Brien. He had been born in Maryborough and had worked his way up the ladder of promotions from being a lowly porter on that same railway line. He was a very intelligent, easy-going man, who could become very bad-tempered, very quickly. He could have been described as being a typical Irishman with his round, good-natured face, humorous mouth, shrewd, twinkling eyes, and immensely loud voice.
As you can well imagine, between Jim and Mrs. Farquahar there appeared to be a deadly battle of wits that seemed to be never ending. She was a cold hearted woman, who had a sense of her own superiority, and constantly felt that she was in the right even when she was in the wrong. She had an unpleasant habit of pointing out Jim’s deficiencies whenever she saw them and, unfortunately for him, she saw them all too often for his taste. All day long, every day, she would sit in her refreshment room, with her spectacles resting on her nose, and her Bible open before her. While she read she would knit, and rise from her seat only when a customer entered the buffet room. Jim tried to go about his business in a calm manner, but he could not but help being conscious of the fact that nothing escaped that woman’s ever vigilant eyes. Her presence made him feel tense and uneasy, and her critical remarks were always reported to him.
“She’s a bitter old biddy!” he often told his wife. “Why, the very look of her would turn a whole can of fresh cream sour. There are more twists and turns in her than you’d find in a bag of weasels.”
Jim was Catholic, and he had deeply held Nationalist aspirations. He belonged to the local group of “The Irish League,” and often spoke at various public meetings when his duties as stationmaster allowed him. Not surprising then that he deeply objected to being referred to as a “Papish” and a “Rebel,” by Mrs. Farquahar.
“Papish, indeed!” he would complain. “Rebel, indeed! You had better keep a more civil tongue in your head, or it will be the worse for you, madam!”
On several occasions he would turn on her and bitterly ask, “How did the likes of you ever get a husband?” Then he would state, “Seeing and hearing you, sure it is no wonder the poor man died young.”
But, Mrs. Farquahar was a good match for Jim. She, like him, was full of fight and courage. It was her proudest boast that she was the granddaughter, daughter, sister, and widow of proud ‘Orangemen’. While living in Maryborough, which was predominantly Catholic, she considered herself to be a child of Israel abandoned among the Babylonians, and she felt that it was entirely up to her to uphold the standard of her faith. As part of this she would sing out the praises of the ‘Battle of the Boyne’ in such a triumphal manner that it deeply aggravated O’Brien almost to madness.
“Ah, God Almighty, will you not help this daft woman! Is she Irish at all, or what? It’s terrible heartbreaking to see her making so merry because of a bunch of bloody Dutchmen——! Sure, does she not know that it was Irish blood that they spilled that day at the Boyne? And now, to see her taking such pride in that bloodshed makes me sick to my heart, so it does. Now, if she was an English woman, I could maybe understand it, but she’s forever calling herself an Irishwoman! She’s full of poison, so she is, if she is so happy to be celebrating her country’s misfortunes.”
Jim O’Brien’s anger was made all the worse because Mrs. Farquahar, whatever she said, spoke to him very rarely if ever. She would pass by him with a lofty scorn and an indifference pretending not to see him. At the same time, it must be said, that while she did many things that O’Brien found extremely annoying, they were things that were strictly within her rights.
Despite all their bitter feuding, it has to be said that their differences had not reached such a point all at one time. Their feud had begun in earnest when Mrs. Farquahar decided to adopt a small, black, mongrel dog, on which she lavished all of her affection. The problem arose, between her and the stationmaster, when she decided that the most endearing name that she could give her little pet was “King William.” This was, of course, nobody’s business except hers. In any other environment, but Ireland, Mrs. Farquahar would have been allowed to amuse herself unheeded. But, she was in Ireland and Jim O’Brien was not the type of Irishman to allow her to play fun and games with patriots.
Jim O’Brien was a different type of Irishman in many ways. The man had a great love for growing flowers, and he worked hard to keep his garden in beautiful condition. In fact, O’Brien was prouder of his roses than of anything on earth, except for his eldest daughter, Kitty, who was almost sixteen-years-old. The reader can only imagine his anger and frustration when, one day Jim found his rose-beds scratched into holes and his prized roses were uprooted by “King William”. The spoiled little dog had developed a destructive habit for hiding away his bones in the soil that created Jim’s flower-beds. O’Brien, irritated and frustrated by the destruction created by the dog, made loud and angry complaints to the Mrs Farquahar, who received them with a degree of disdain and disbelief.
“Oh please, Mr. O’Brien!” she said, with a tone of superiority in her voice, “don’t attempt to put the blame upon my innocent wee dog. Even if you dislike the name that I gave him, that is no reason at all for accusing him of being in your garden. He knows better, so he does. He won’t go to where he’s not wanted.” After such words the relationship between O’Brien and Mrs. Farquahar became open war.
Under the windows of the refreshment room stretched two narrow flower-beds, which Jim took care never to touch. It was his opinion that these flower beds were the exclusive property of Mrs. Macfarlane, and that it was up to her to look after them. They were, however, left uncultivated for a long period of time and became an eyesore in the mind of the stationmaster. Then, one day the station porter, Kelly, approached Jim with a certain air of mystery. “The old one,” he said quietly, “has begun to set something in those old flower beds over there”. The term, “The old one”, had become one that indicated Mrs. Farquahar and anything to do with her was of interest to the stationmaster.
Without hesitation Jim came out of his office and began to walk up and down the station platform, pretending that he was examining the station’s condition and being seen to apparently neglect the flower beds. But, just as Kelly had told him, Mrs. Farquahar was at the beds and attempting to do some gardening. She had put some old gloves on her hands and was wearing a clean checked apron to help protect her clothes. In one hand she held a trowel, with which she was breaking up the caked earth as a means, it would seem, of preparing the ground to set some plants. “In the name of God, what is that damn villain of a woman doing now?” Jim asked, when he got back to his office.
“Devil the bit of me knows what she’s at,” replied Kelly. “The old fool has been grubbing in that soil since nine o’clock this morning.”
From this day onward Mrs. Farquahar was committed to the care of her two flower-beds. Every day she could be seen weeding or watering, and although Jim steadily avoided showing interest in her activity, he was almost eaten up with curiosity about what the probable results of her would be. He was totally puzzled about what she wanted to grow in the flower beds. As the weeks passed by, the tiny green seedlings finally began to push their way through the soil. As they began to grow the type of plants that Mrs. Farquahar had set in the flower beds quickly became recognisable, and a highly excited stationmaster rushed home to tell his wife.
“By God, but that woman is an old devil, Mary,” he said almost breathlessly. “Would you believe that it is lilies that she has planted there, in those flower beds. And, as sure as there is an eye in a goat, I am sure they are damned orange lilies. I swear, if that’s what they are, I’ll pull every one of them out by the root. Every one of them, I tell you, even if it kills me!”
“For Jaysus sake, Jim, be quiet, for you don’t know who will hear you,” said Mary. “Anyway, how do you know that they are lilies at all? Now, for the love of God keep her tongue still. Say nothing and keep yourself out of that woman’s way.”
“Ah Wheesht, woman! Do you think I’m an eejit? Those are lilies that old devil has planted, for sure. Only time will tell if they’re orange or not. But, be you certain that if they are orange lillies, I won’t stand it! I will complain to the Railway Board.”
“And what good will that serve? Sure the Board will be on her side, man. Don’t you know the backing she has? They will just ask you why she shouldn’t be able to grow orange lilies if she wants to?”
“Ah, Mary, you are always the sensible one. But, woman dear, Have you no spirit left in you? Dear God, woman, why would you let her ride rough-shod over us in such a way? If you make a mouse out of yourself, then the cat will snap you up. Well I tell you I won’t be snapped up. Sure, Saint Peter himself wouldn’t stand for it, and as sure as a pig’s arse is pork, I won’t either!”
“You’re a ignorant man, Jim! You should not be bringing down any misfortune on your head, for you have children to care for. You have better things to do than troubling yourself over what the likes of her does. She is over the moon every time she sees that she can annoy and make you mad. So, man dear, take no notice of her and, perhaps she’ll stop her nonsense.”
“Ah, to the devil with her for being a bitter old serpent. Sure, the venom’s flowing thick in her. But, why should I put up with her, I’d like to know?”
“Would you keep your tongue still, Jim? You show absolutely no prudence when ou open that big gob of yours. Don’t you know that not a word you say is not brought back to her ears by someone or other. Would you have just a wee bit of sense, ou buck-eejit. You’ll be saying things like that to Joe Kelly, and he’ll have it spread throughout the town in no time, and ther will be someone who will carry it to her.”
“And do ye think I care a damn for the likes of that old serpent? Not at all! But, Mary, if you had your way you would have me hung, like the man that was hung for saying nothing. Sure, did I ever do a hand’s turn of harm against her? No! And it is a low, mean trick she had done by setting orange lilies in those flower beds, to bloom before my eyes, and her knowing my opinions.”
“Well, I’ll not say it wasn’t, Jim, if they are orange lilies. But sure, you don’t know for certain what they are, and all I ask is in God’s name please keep quiet until you do.”
The days went by slowly, but the lilies grew taller and taller in the flower beds outside the station buffet. They budded, they bloomed, and, sure enough, they were orange in colour, just as Jim had predicted they would be. “They are beautiful and they will make a fine show for the twelfth of July, I’m thinking,” said Mrs. Macfarlane to herself with a huge smile, as she walked past her flower beds, swinging a dripping watering-can.
At the time when the orange lilies blossomed, Jim O’Brien was not at home. He had been sent about twenty miles down the line to conduct some official business for the Railway Company. The flowers that he detested so much appeared to take advantage of the stationmaster’s absence to put on a bright, colourful show. When Jim returned home, however, he discovered that Mrs. Farquahar was away. She had shut up the station’s refreshment room, though she had not locked it. It was a time in Maryborough when few if any people locked their doors, unless they were going to be away a considerable period of time. She had left “King William” behind her, and she had told Joe Kelly to look after the dog, in case he should get lonely. Joe was told that she had been invited to the wedding of a friend she had met when she was a maid to her ladyship. The man who had been butler to the house at the time was to be married that very day to the steward’s daughter, who was a lovely woman.
When Jim returned to work in the station, Joe Kelly had told him all the news about Mrs. Farquahar, but he did not say a single word about the orange lilies. Joe was just a little afraid that the stationmaster would explode into a rage, and he thought it was better if he did not mention anything about the lillies, but just to allow him find it out himself. For quite a bit of time, however, Jim found himself engrossed in a lot of paperwork that he needed to attend to. Finally, Jim’s paperwork was finished, just as his attention was being distracted b the almost incessant howling, barking and yelping of a dog. “Would you let that beast out, for God’s sake?” he shouted out to Joe Kelly. “I can’t listen to that racket much longer. It is doing my head in!”
“Ah, sure I was afraid that the bloody thing would be run over before the old woman came back and I decided to shut him in,” explained Kelly.
“Well there’s no danger of that happening any way soon,” said Jim, ”There won’t be a train in for the next two hours. Anyway, if that cur was run over, God knows he’d be no big loss. I tell you that I for one will not be grieving for that ill-named excuse for a dog!”
Kelly did not say another thing, but went to release “King William”. Meanwhile, having finished his task, O’Brien stood for a time near the office door. His hands were crossed behind him, as he warmed his backside against the pot-belly stove, and he fixed his eyes abstractedly on the sky. After a few minutes Jim made ready to begin his usual walk, up and down the platform, when his eye were suddenly attracted to the flare of the rows of orange lilies, standing as if at attention.
“By the Sacred Heart of Jesus!” exclaimed O’Brien. “But I was right. It is orange they are, sure enough. What will Mary say now? By God isn’t it all lies they do be telling us, when they say there are no reptiles in Ireland. That old woman is the biggest reptile I have ever seen and she could even poison the life of the devil, himself.”
As he walked along the platform, Jim stopped in front of the flowers as they danced merrily in the breeze. “Christ, isn’t it an awful pity that there’s nothing I can plant to annoy her. No, she has the definitely got one over me entirely. Shamerocks are something that don’t make a great show at all, and you would pass by without giving them a sideways glance. Now, orange lilies, that’s a flower that you can see a mile off. That old serpent, who, but her, would be up to the likes of planting such flowers there?”
Then, just at that moment, Jim became aware of an extraordinary commotion occurring among the lilies. When he looked closer at the flowers he saw “King William” in the middle of them. There he was scratching madly at the soil, scattering mould, leaves, and bulbs in every possible direction. With every stroke of his hind legs, “King William” dealt absolute destruction to the flowers that his owner had so carefully-tended.
The sight of all this carnage filled Jim’s heart with great gladness. “More power to the dog!” he cried out, accompanied with loud laughter. “Aye! More power to him! Sure, hasn’t he more bloody sense than his mistress. ‘King William,’ she named him, and him now digging up her orange lilies by the roots! Ho, ho! By all that’s holy, isn’t it the biggest joke that I ever seen or hear in all my life. More power to you, dog! Good on you!”
Rubbing his hands together in an ecstasy of delight, O’Brien watched as “King William” indulged in his frantic and devastating work. Whenever the dog paused he was urged on to even more destruction by Jim’s constant cries of “Rats!” With each cry, “King William” would scamper wildly here and there, running from end to end of the flower beds, snapping the delicate lily stems, and scattering the blossoms to the four winds.
“By Jaysus, but this is great fun! Would you just look at him now? Bad luck to any man who would say he has seen better fun than this in his life. Go to it, ‘King William!’ Smash them, my wee man! Good dog! Out with them all!” Jim roared, as tears of laughter streamed down his cheeks. “Oh, my God! But that old Biddy will be as mad as hell. I would give a sixpence just to be able to see her face when she returns. O Lord! Lord! Sure, it’s the biggest joke that there ever was.”
But, as with all good things, they have to come to an end. An exhausted “King William” could do no more and lay down in the flower bed, but only when every lily had been laid low. As Jim O’Brien looked upon the devastation, Mrs. Farquahar’s carefully tended flower beds were a scene of chaos, with broken flower stalks and trampled blossoms. O’Brien, could not wait to share the news with others at the station and, with a great smile on his face, he explained what had happened to Mary and Finnerty. Then, in a very good humour, he returned to the office and began working on the account books.
After what seemed a short period of time, Kelly came entered the office. “She’s back,” he whispered, “and she’s fit to be tied. I was watching out for her, and when she did arrive she almost fainted in a heap on the platform when she saw what had happened to those lilies. I swear to God that she’s going to come here any minute, for her eyes are burning with rage and she is spitting fire. I don’t think I have ever seen such a frightening sight, Jim!”
“Let her come ahead,” O’Brien chuckled, “I’m ready for her.”
He had hardly gotten the words out of his mouth when, with a loud bang, the office door violently burst open. Into the office strode Mrs. Farquahar like an avenging angel, dressed in her best Sunday costume of a bonnet, black gloves, and umbrella. Underneath that bonnet she glowered down at O’Brien. He face was very pale, except for her cheek bones, where two bright pink spots burned with a seething anger. “Mister O’Brien,” she snarled at him in a high, stilted voice that was trembling with rage, “will you please to tell me what is the meaning of this dastardly outrage that has been carried out upon my flower beds?”
“Outrage? In the name of God, woman, what outrage are you talking about?” asked O’Brien, innocently. “I can see, by the looks of you, that something terrible has upset you. Indeed, you’re looking as angry as a weasel caught in a trap. Is it that you’re vexed about something?”
“Oh, of course, wee man. Why would I have cause to be so vexed? You know rightly what that cause is!” interrupted Mrs Farquahar with angry sneer. “But, you’re not deceiving me, Mr. O’Brien. You are not fooling me by pretending you are the innocent one. Let me assure you that if there’s any law in this land, or justice, I’ll have it of you!”
“Hold on a wee minute,” said O’Brien calmly. He was so delighted at what had happened that he was feeling much calmer than this angry woman standing before him. “Would ye mind, ma’am, stating in your best, plain English, just what you are talking about, because I don’t have a clue as to what is causing all this grief?”
“Judas! You snake in the grass! Oh, you are a deceiving old devil of a man! Sitting there as calm as you like, as if it wasn’t you that is just after destroying my flower-beds!”
“Ah, I see now! It is your old flower-beds that’s causing you to make all this row? Those dirty orange lilies. Well, I told you long ago that they should have been cleared out of the place altogether, just as you would to any weed. I will tell you no lie, Mrs. Farquahar. As for myself, I am glad they’re gone. But, as for me destroying them, I can tell you that I never laid a finger on them; I wouldn’t lower myself to do so.”
“And, Mister O’Brien, if you didn’t do the deed” Mrs. Farquahar said politely, but with anger still in her voice, “will you kindly tell me who did this awful thing?”
She was surprised by the loudness of the laugh that came from the stationmaster. “Sure, isn’t that where the joke comes in,” said O’Brien, after he managed to settle himself a little. “It was that very same beast of a dog that ruined my lovely rose bushes, your wee pet ‘King Billy”, may bad luck follow him!”
“Oh! You’re blaming it all on the wee dog, are you? You’re a traitorous Fenian, O’Brien, blaming it on a poor wee dog that never harmed you? Sure, it is only a Papist who would think of a mean trick like that to shift the blame from himself!”
The angry woman had stepped over the line as far as O’Brien was concerned and his face began to flush with colour as his own anger built.
“Mrs. Farquahar,” Jim addressed her in a manner that showed how far his civility was being stretched, “if you will permit me, I suggest we leave my religion out of all this. Because, I warn you, that if you say much more it might just be the cause of me losing my temper with you.”
“Does it look like I mind what you lose,” cried Mrs. Farquahar. “The likes of you should be jailed for life, for you are all a group of robbing, murdering, destructive traitors.”
“Now, you had better have a care how you speak to your betters, madam. You call me and my friends robbing, deceiving, murdering, destructive traitors, indeed! By Jaysus,I like that! What brought over your lot to Ireland? Williamites and Cromwellians, English and Scottish came to rob us, deceive us, destroy our homes, murder us, steal our land from us, and tell us to go to hell or to Connaught, while you all grew fat on what was ours before you people ever came; and then you give us the worst word in our mouth for being poor. Traitors! Traitor yourself, for that’s exactly what the whole lot of you are. Tell me, who wants you here at all?”
Mrs. Farquahar could stand no more. She began to lose control of herself and lashed out at the stationmaster with her neat black umbrella. Her quick action had given Jim a nasty cut across his brow. Attracted by the noise coming from the office, Kelly rushed in, with Finnerty and Mrs. O’Brien in tow. Together they interfered with the combatants, holding them away from each other. O’Brien, however, continued to come under a shower of blows from the umbrella, even as the angry woman hustled outside. Once on the platform, Mrs. Farquahar immediately retreated to her own quarters, still muttering oaths and threats as she moved.
“Jim, darling man, you’re bleeding!” shrieked a very anxious Mary, as she wildly threw her arms into the air. “Oh, dear God, why would you event think of antagonising that old devil? Sure, didn’t I tell you what would happen? As sure as there’s an eye in a goat, that one will get you lifted by the police, and she has the backing of all the ‘big-knobs’ in the district to help her.”
“Ah, sure, let her do her worst,” said Jim, “she’ll not get much good out of it. She was making me out to be a liar, after I had told her that I had not touched her bloody old orange lilies. If she tries to get me arrested, sure, I’ll sue her for assaulting and battering me. You all saw her, and I didn’t even raise a finger against her, the old ‘calliagh’!”
“By Jesus, isn’t that the damn truth he’s telling? That old witch,” insisted Kelly, shaking his head. “Sure, she beat the living crap out of him with her bloody umbrella, and she never missed a blow until I pulled her away. I swear that if I hadn’t jumped into the middle of it all, grabbing both arms, she would have had his life, and maybe mine too.”
Not even for one instant did Mrs. Farquahar forget the reason why she acted in the manner she did, nor did she believe O’Brien’s story that it was the dog that had destroyed her orange lilies. Then, after some consideration on the matter, she hit on an ingenious device that would satisfy her as being supremely annoying to Jim O’Brien while, at the same time, remaining well within the law. Mrs. Farquahar’s lilies were the emblems of her very deeply held religious and political faith, and now they were gone. But, the woman still had the means to let her beliefs be widely known, and the ability to protest against O’Brien and all that he represented to her mind.
The next day, when the midday train had just steamed into the station, Jim was startled when he heard a wild cheer — “Hi, ‘King William’! Hi, ‘King William’! Come back, ‘King William’! ‘King William’ my darling, ‘King William’!”
The morning air was filled with this shrill party cry, and when Jim rushed out of his office he discovered that Mrs. Farquahar had allowed her dog to run down the platform, just as the passengers were alighting from the train. She was now pretending to be in pursuit of the dog and she was calling him back at the top of her voice. There was, however, nothing that he could do to stop the repulsive din. The dog’s name certainly was “King William,” and Mrs. Farquahar was quite at liberty to call out his name in an effort to recover him if he strayed.
Jim simply stood for a moment, as if he had been transfixed. “You know?” he suddenly exclaimed to himself, “I’ll swear that old bitch is the devil’s grandmother!”
Mrs. Farquahar passed by him and deliberately ignored the fact that he was standing there. If he had been the gate-post, she couldn’t have taken any less notice of his presence. She just made her way to the extreme end of the station platform, cheering her “King William,” where she picked up her dog, and strode proudly back in triumph. But, very quickly, it became apparent that Mrs. Farquahar was definitely pursuing a regular plan of campaign against the stationmaster. As every train arrived at the station that particular day Mrs. Farquahar went through exactly the same performance of letting her dog loose and then pursuing him down the platform, waving her arms in the air and yelling for “King William” at the top of her voice.
By the third occasion when Mrs. Farquahar chased her dog down the platform, Jim O’Brien rose to the challenge and had formed a counterplot in his head. The stationmaster watched and heard the old woman without saying a word, apparently as indifferent to her tactics as she was to his presence. But, Jim was only biding his time and awaiting his opportunity. No sooner had the passengers alighted from the train and entered the refreshment room, when he made his move. Giving the passengers just enough time to get themselves comfortably seated, O’Brien threw open the doors of the buffet room, rushed in and began to loudly call out. “Take your places immediately, ladies and gentlemen. The train’s just about ready to move. So, hurry yourselves before she’s gone. Come on, all of you!”
The hungry and very upset passengers left their seat all at once and hurried out, leaving Mrs. Farquahar speechless with anger. “I bet I’ve got the whip hand over her this time,” chuckled Jim, as he gave the signal to start to the engine driver. Mrs. Farquahar’s spirit, however, was not broken by the action of the stationmaster. From morning until night, whether the day was wet or fine, she greeted the arrival of each train with loud cries for “King William”. And, on every one of those occasions, Jim O’Brien responded by hurrying out all her customers before they could touch bite or sip at a drink. In this manner the bitter feud continued.
Every day Mrs. Farquahar, was leaner, fiercer, paler, and more resolute in ignoring the stationmaster’s presence, as she continued to flaunt her principles up and down the station platform. Every day Jim hurried the departure of the trains and swept the customers out of the buffet. In fact, never in its history had there been such punctuality known at Maryborough. Being situated upon an easy-going line it was not unusual for the train guard not to worry about tardiness. When an indignant customer decided to point out that the express train was already some twenty minutes’ late, it was not unknown for the guard or the stationmaster to agree, saying, “By God, you’re right. That’s a good timekeeping watch you have there, you should keep a hold of it.”
One day, however, Mrs. Farquahar did not appear on the platform when the trains stopped. She had come out to greet the arrival of the first train, but she was walking with a little difficulty, and her usual strong, clear voice quavered as she tried to raise her normal war cry. Then, to everyone’s surprise, when the next train came, there was no Mrs. Farquahar to greet it.
Even Jim O’Brien himself was concerned, and a little upset that she had not shown herself. He had grown used to the daily battle between them, and he missed the excitement of retaliating against his long-time foe. “Maybe she has tired of it all,” he thought to himself. “Finally given up, now that she knows she won’t have things all her own way anymore. Serves her right, for she’s too domineering by half.”
“What’s wrong with the old one, sir?” Joe Kelly asked Jim when they met on the platform
“She never made a move to get out when she heard the train arriving.”
“I don’t know what she’s up to,” said Jim. “She’s probably hatching more disturbances, I’ll bet. Sure, she has more twists than a bag full of weasels, and she’s never content unless she’s doing some sort of mischief, Joe,” he replied, “maybe you should look in and see if there is anything wrong with the old one.”
A moment later the stationmaster could hear Joe shouting, “Mister O’Brien, Mister O’Brien!”
Jim ran toward the sound of the shouting and there, in a tumbled heap, lay Mrs. Farquahar. She no longer was the defiant, bad-tempered woman, that he had known, but was a weak, sickly, elderly woman, partly supported on Joe Kelly’s knee. The poor woman’s face was a ghostly pale, and her arms were hanging limp.
“Ah, good Jaysus, I think the poor old soul is dying,” Kelly cried. “She only had the strength to raise her head when she saw me, and then she went off in a faint.”
“Lay her down flat, Joe. Gently lay her flat,” Jim told him and the porter eased her down off his knee. “Now, Joe, leave her to me, and you run and tell my missus to come here at once. Maybe Mary will know what to do for the best.”
When Mary arrived, she came in to the buffet she found her husband gazing at the prostrate old woman in bewilderment, and immediately took command of the situation in such a way that she excited her husband’s admiration. “Here,” she said, “give me a hand to move her on to the seat. Jim, darling, you run home and get Biddy to fill two or three jars with boiling water, and bring them along with a blanket. The poor old woman is as cold as death. Joe, get off with you as quick as you can and fetch the doctor.”
“What doctor will I go for, ma’am?”
“The first one you can get the hold of,” said Mary, as she immediately began rubbing the unmoving woman’s hands and loosened her clothes.
When the doctor finally arrived, he found Mrs. Farquahar laid out on an improvised couch that was made up of two of the buffet’s cushioned benches placed side by side. She was wrapped warmly in blankets, and had hot bottles to her feet and sides, as well as a mustard plaster over her heart. “Bravo! Mrs. O’Brien,” said the doctor, “I couldn’t have done better myself. I believe you have saved her life by being so quick, saved it for the moment at least, for I think she has been struck down by a severe illness. The poor woman will need careful nursing to pull her through.”
“She looks really bad,” agreed Mary.
“What are we to do with her?” asked the doctor. “Is there no place where they would take her in?”
Mary took a quick glance at Jim, but he did not speak. “Sure, there’s a room in our house that she could use,” she offered, after an awkward pause.
“The very thing,” said the relieved doctor, “if you don’t mind the trouble, and if Mr. O’Brien does not object.”
Jim chose not to answer, and silently walked out. “He doesn’t object, doctur,” said Mary. “Sure, that man has the real good heart. I’ll just run off now, and get the bed ready for her.” As she passed Jim, who was standing sulkily at the door, she took hold of his hand for a moment and squeezed it softly. “God bless you, my darling man. You’ll be none the worse for your kindness. Sure, this is no time for bearing people ill will, and our Blessed Lady will pray for you this day.”
Jim said nothing. But, when Mary had disappeared from view he muttered quietly to himself, “It’s a terrible thing that the care of that old devil should fall on us.” This, however, was the only form of resistance he offered to his wife’s decision.
Under the directions of the doctor Jim, Joe and Finnerty created a a makeshift stretcher, upon which all four men carried Mrs. Farquahar to the stationmaster’s house. Mary gently undressed the old woman, and put her to bed in a spotlessly clean, whitewashed upper room. Although the cold and shivering she had been experiencing had passed, Mrs. Farquahar was burning with what the doctor said was, Nervous fever. In her fever she began to rave about her dog, about Jim, about the passengers, her rent, and a large number of things that made it clear that her circumstances had preyed upon her mind. The ravings frightened Mary at times, but there were no trained nurses in Maryborough at this time. Guided by the directions of Doctor Dorrity, Mary did the best she could for the patient and managed things very well.
There was not a person who could have doubted that Jim did not like having the invalided old woman in his house. At the same time, however, he began to feel very concerned about the activity around him. He now became very anxious that Mrs. Farquahar should not die in his wife’s care. Mary as surprised and astonished when Jim brought home a selection of jellies and meat extracts, that he was convinced would be good for the patient. Surprisingly, Jim did this act of kindness with a shy and hang-dog air, which was by no means natural to him, for he always made some ungracious speech as to the trouble he had gone to. It was a disguise he used to prevent Mary thinking that he was feeling some sorrow for the part he had played in causing Mrs. Farquahar’s injury. Meanwhile, with a downcast expression, Jim ignored all enquiries from outsiders as to Mrs. Farquahar’s health. He did, nevertheless, bring in the old woman’s dog into the house and fed it well. “Not for her sake, God knows,” he explained, “but because the poor beast was fretting and I couldn’t see him alone, with no one to look to him.” At this time, however, Jim absolutely refused to call the dog, ‘King William.’ Instead, he chose to call it “Billy”, a name to which it soon learned to answer.
One evening, when the whitewashed room was all aglow with the crimson light of sunset that flooded through the western window, Mrs. Farquahar regained her consciousness. Mary was sitting by the bedside, sewing, having sent the children outside to ensure there was quiet in the house. For a long time, and unobserved by her nurse, the sick woman lay feebly trying to understand what as happening. Suddenly she spoke — “What is the matter?”
Surprised by her voice, Mary jumped, but quickly regained her senses. She laid her sewing down on the bed and leaned over the sickly patient. “Sure, you were very bad ma’am. But, thanks be to God, you’re better now.”
“Where am I?” Mrs. Farquahar asked weakly, after a considerable pause.
“You’re in the station house, ma’am. Sure, don’t you know me? I’m Mary O’Brien.”
“Mary O’Brien, O’Brien?”
“Yes, you know! The wife of Jim O’Brien.”
“And this is Jim O’Brien’s house?”
“Whose else would it be? But there now, don’t talk any more. Sure, we’ll tell, ye all about it when you’re better. For now, the doctor says, you’re to be kept quiet.”
“But who brought me here?”
“You were carried in, and you were in a bad state. Now, just hush up, and rest will you? Take a drop of this, and try to go to sleep.”
When Jim came into the house for his supper, Mary said to him, “That woman upstairs is in a hurry to get away from us. She thinks we begrudge her the bit of comfort we have provided.”
Jim was silent for a moment and then told his wife, “Sure, anything that’s bad she’ll believe of us.”
“But you have never even been up to see her. Slip into the room now, and ask her how she’s getting on. Just let bygones be bygones, in the name of God.”
“I will not,” said Jim.
“Oh, yes, you will. Sure, after all, although you didn’t mean it, you’re the cause of her trouble. Go to her now.”
“I don’t like to.”
“Ah, go. It is your place, and you have more sense than she has. Now, go and tell her to stay until she’s well again. Do you know, I think that under all that attitude of hers she’s a lot softer than she appears to be. I tell you, Jim, I have seen her crying over that dog, because she thought it was the only thing that truly loved her.” Now, half pushed by Mary, Jim made his way up the steep stairway, and knocked at the door of Mrs. Farquahar’s attic room.
“Come in,” said a feeble voice, and Jim sort of half-stumbled into the room.
When Mrs. Farquahar saw who it was coming into the room, there was a flame that appeared to come to life in her hollow eyes. “I’m sorry,” she said, with a grim politeness, “that you find me here, Mister O’Brien, but it isn’t my fault. I wanted to go a while ago, and your wife wouldn’t let me.”
“And very right she was! Sure, you’re not fit for leaving, and don’t be talking about going until you’re better, ma’am,” Jim told her, awkwardly. “You’re heartily welcome here, as far as I am concerned. I just came up to say, well to say, I hope you will be in no hurry to move.”
“You’re very kind, but I don’t think I could find myself resting easy under this roof, where, I can assure you, I would never have come of my own free will. I apologise to you, Mister O’Brien, for giving so much trouble, not that I could help myself.”
“Sure, It is myself that should apologise to you,” Jim blurted out to her, “and I am really sorry, though, maybe, you won’t believe me, that I ever drove out your customers.”
For a long time Mrs. Macfarlane did not speak. “I could forgive that easier than your rooting up my lilies,” she said, at last.
“But I never did that. God knows the truth of it, and He knows that I never laid a finger on those lilies. I came out, and found the dog there in the flower beds, scratching at them, and if this was my last dying word, It is the truth.”
“And it was really the wee dog?”
“It was! Although I admit I did wrong in laughing at him, and cheering him on. But, you didn’t pay any attention to me when I told you that he was at my roses, and I thought it served you right, and that you had only called him ‘King William’ to spite me.”
“So I did,” said Mrs. Farquahar, and, she added, more gently, “But, I’m sorry now.”
“Are you, really?” asked Jim, his face brightening. “Well, I’m glad to hear you say it. We were both in the wrong, you see, and if you don’t bear any malice, I don’t.”
“You have been very good to me, Mr. O’Brien, especially after how badly I misjudged you,” said Mrs. Farquahar.
“Not a bit of it, and anyway it was the wife who has been good, for, by God, I was very much against you, so I was.”
“An’ you’ve spent your money on me, and I ——”
“Sure, don’t say another word about it. I owed it to you, so I did. But, by God, you won’t have to complain of needing customers once you’re well again.”
A warm smile broke across Mrs. Farquahar’s pale face at these words. “There’s no chance of that happening, I’m afraid. What with my illness and all that went before it, the business is gone. Look at the place. It has been shut up this three weeks and more.”
“Not at all,” said Jim. “Sure, since you’ve been sick I put our little Kitty, the slip of a girl, in charge of the place, and she’s made a pile of money for you. It has come as a big surprise for she is only coming sixteen, and she has been helping her mother at the same time. She’s a clever wee girl, so she is, even though I say it myself, and she increased the prices all round. She couldn’t manage with the cakes, because she didn’t know how to bake them like you did. But, sure, I bought her plenty of biscuits at ‘Connolly’s Store’, and her mother cut her sandwiches, and made tea, and the drinks weres all there as you left them. Kitty kept a close account of all that she should.”
Mrs. Farquahar looked at Jim in an odd fashion for a moment, then she drew the sheet over her face, and began to sob. Jim didn’t know what to do and, feeling uncomfortable, he crept downstairs. “Go up to that poor woman, Mary,” he said. “Sure, she’s crying very bitterly. We’ve made it up, and I don’t want her to want for nothing.”
Mary now ran upstairs, took the grim Mrs. Farquahar in her arms, and actually kissed her comfortingly. Quickly Mrs. Farquahar’s grimness began melting away, and the two women cried happily together.
Now, as the trains come into Maryborough station, Jim goes from carriage to carriage making himself a perfect nuisance to those passengers with well-filled luncheon baskets. “Won’t ye have a cup of tea, my lady? There’s plenty of time, and sure, everyone says we have the finest tea here that you’ll get anywhere on the line. There’s nothing like it this side of Dublin. Will you have a wee glass of whiskey, sir? It is only the best, ‘John Jameson’, that’s kept. Or, perhaps, you prefer sherry wine? You won’t be stopping again anywhere that you’ll like it as well. Sure, if you don’t feel you want to get out, don’t concern yourself, there’s plenty of time for me to give in your order and have it sent over to you. There are cakes, ma’am, for the little ladies. It is a long journey, and maybe they’ll be hungry? Maybe they prefer apples? Sure, apples are mighty good for children. She keeps fine apples if ye like them.”
As for Mrs. Farquahar, she has grown quite fat, is at peace with the world. She takes a great interest in the O’Brien family, and she now calls her dog “Billy.”