Lament in the Wind
from the lament of the wind, there was silence in the gloomy kitchen.
Cassie íConnor, looked across at the silent figure of her mother Ellen,
huddled over the dying embers of the fire.
She was still sitting in the same position, when Johnny Molly came in ten minutes later. Bending down, he took her small hand in his and gently pulled her to her feet.When she had eaten her own bread and drank the milk, she looked across to where her mother sat. She hadnít touched her bread or drank the milk, she just stared at the whin sticks as they crackled and flamed, lighting up her pale drawn face. Going over to where she sat, Johnny stood between her and the fire.
"What happened? Are they going to evict you?" she nodded. "He gave us a week to get the rent. He says we will have to go to the workhouse. Said we would be fed there."
"Damn him to hell. Damned bastards." Nodding towards her mother, he asked, "has she spoken yet?"
"Not a word."
"Poor wee Cassie, poor wee Cassie," he repeated, rubbing her head. "I brought some milk, and a bit of bread. Weíll get the fire lit and see if we canít get some life back into her, eh."
"Listen to me," he said, grabbing her shoulders. "You are going to eat this bread and drink the milk. By God you are, even if I have to stay here all night. Itís your duty to live, and look after your waine. Do you hear me?" he half shouted. Suddenly, she lifted her eyes to meet his. He handed her the milk, and she lifted it slowly to her mouth and drank. "Thatís more like it. Now eat this bread. Iím not leaving ítill you do." She took the piece of bread from his outstretched hand, and began to eat it slowly. When she had finished eating he said, "I want to help you more than anything else I ever wanted to do before. But I donít know how. I have no money to pay your rent for you, and I have barely enough food to feed my own six mouths."
Before the pangs of hunger began again, Cassie got into bed, closed her eyes, and let blessed sleep blot out her fears.When she awoke, her mother was standing in front of the open door, staring straight ahead. A blast of cold wind made her grab the door to steady her fragile frame. The light from the door lit up her fatherís straw bag of books. For a moment, she almost forgot that he was dead. Suddenly turning around, her mother spoke. The sound of her voice made Cassie jump; she had almost forgotten what her voice sounded like, and the surprise of it caused her not to hear what she actually said.
"What did you say?" she asked her.
"I said I want you to get up and wash yourself. We will go to the workhouse while we have the strength to make it."
Jumping out of bed, Cassie ran to her and threw her arms around her waist.
"Youíve come back, youíve come back."
"Save your strength Cassie. We have a seven mile walk ahead of us."Carrying the small bag of books in one hand and Cassie their few other possessions they set off up the laneway. At the top of the hill, Ellen stood looking back at the small cluster of cabins huddled under the hillside. Turning her head to the right, she gazed at the rugged windswept shore, far below the white foamy waves lashed against the rocks in a fury. Cassie watched while her motherís lips moved. But there was no sound.
Three miles along the way, they sat down sandwiching themselves between the fuchsia hedge for shelter against the biting wind. Feeling too weak to go on, they became aware of someone standing over them.
"Where you heading for?" a male voice asked. Looking up they saw a thin bearded man eyeing them curiously.
"The workhouse.... If we make it," Ellen answered meeting his steady gaze. "Youíll need a bite to eat, or you wonít make it. If you follow me home Iíll get something in your stomachs."
Getting up slowly, the cold biting wind making them hunch deeper into their ragged coats, they stumbled along behind him. At the foot of a rocky hill he turned right along a grass track, that led to his home; a cave, almost hidden under the rocks.
Inside it was warm with a glowing turf fire.
"Sit down, and get warmed up. When you get some of this fish soup inside you, youíll feel revived." They watched him put pieces of fish and green herbs into the pot, then, hang it over the glowing coals. "I have lived here for six years now. Itís hardly a palace. But at least I have no rent to pay; no fear of the dreaded bailiff." Turning his head around to face them he asked, "were you evicted?" Ellen nodded. Turning back to stir the pot, he muttered inaudibly in Irish before turning to face them again. "Itís a bad time that has come on our proud and noble race. But, our time will come again. The workhouse isnít a good place to be heading for. But it will keep you living ítill the spring." Then he carefully poured the fish broth into three bowls, and handing one to each of them, he said, "drink every drop. It will put new life into you." He sat silently staring into space while they drank the broth. Ellen remembered the last time she had been to this place, and Michael telling her about the man who lived in the cave who, had been evicted. He had also told her that his wife and child died in childbirth. As they sat in the dark cave, Ellen sensed his pain. She could not think of any words of comfort, so they sat in a rather uncertain silence.They rested for an hour before going on their way. Along the way, they saw endless deserted homesteads, here and there ragged hungry children scavenged berries from the bushes by the roadside. The devastation of the past five years, since the potato blight first struck was all around them, making their spirits sink even lower