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  ― 84 ―

A Night at Kelly's.

IT looked like rain as I got off the coach. Leaving my bags and rug on the road, I climbed the hillside, on which Pat Kelly's pub. was fastened in some mysterious way that kept it from being blown over by the tornadoes which rushed up and down the narrow cleft between the hills.

Arrived on the verandah, I said to the landlord, “Those are my bags at the foot of the hill.” The information did not seem to interest him much, as he made no reply, but went into the bar and began rubbing a dirty glass with a dirty towel, as if expecting an order; also, he wiped his sore eyes with that towel. No business eventuating, he called a servant to show me a room.

While waiting, I noticed that the passage was sprinkled with straw and stable litter, which the wind had blown in at the back door and had not strength to blow out at the front, so the refuse lay there waiting for the next squall. A crowd of dirty, bare-legged children ran about, crying and fighting, and, as I stood in the passage, a lady with a fat, bloated face and swollen eyelids came to a bedroom-door and looked at me with that serious intentness assumed by most drunken people when trying to appear perfectly sober. I was not sure whether she was my hostess until she clouted one or two of the howling children in an absent sort of way, as if it were a matter of habit. After this she shut the door with a lofty look that seemed to say she thought it would be unladylike to speak to me without an introduction.

The servant now appeared, a fat girl, with uncombed hair and bare feet. Her dress was open for two or three hooks at the neck, and, as if that did not display her charms sufficiently, there was a spacious rent above the collar-bone. She


  ― 85 ―
showed me to my room with many smirks and coquettish looks, and —though her dress reached only to her ankles, and had a placket-gap three inches across—grabbed a handful of it at the back and lifted it up, after the fashion of a lady crossing a muddy street.

By this time it was raining heavily, and I congratulated myself on being housed for the night. After half-an-hour I thought of something I wanted in my bags, but, on going to the room, they were nowhere to be found. I then went to the bar and asked Kelly. He looked astonished:

“Bags, is it? Shure I dunno; barrin' they're wher' ye lift thim.”

“But why were they not brought in?”

“Ye niver said annythin' about wantin' thim in.”

“But I told you where they were.”

“Yis, ye did; but I t'ought ye only mintioned it t' make the conversation interestin' loike. But hould an; I'll call Mike.… Mick! Mickee!!” he shouted; but there was no response. “Ah, niver moint; I'll sind him for thim bine-boi. He'll be afther gettin' the cows now.” And, as if the matter were finally settled, he languidly wiped another glass.

Not being willing to wait, I went out through the driving rain and brought up my sodden properties. As I climbed the slippery bank, I heard loud peals of laughter above me, and, looking up, saw a girl about seventeen who was evidently enjoying my struggles with the luggage and the mud. She was the landlord's daughter— as she told me after she had laughed sufficiently at the appearance of the wet luggage. Her name was Gladys Ethel, and, even in this house of wild disorder, she was a unique figure. Jet-black masses of tangled, touzled hair fell upon her shoulders and straggled over her face. Her mane had probably never been combed, and nothing but a garden rake would have gone through it. Her face was dirty, and the unlaced boots that hung on her unstockinged feet had the tongues hanging out, while the laces went clickety-clack as she stamped along the echoing floor. Large teeth, a loose, thick-lipped,


  ― 86 ―
open mouth, and large, staring blue eyes completed Gladys Ethel's outward personality.

I fled to my room to wait for tea, but when it came, it was not an unmixed joy. Pat Kelly stood at the head of the table clashing a knife and fork together with a sound like a broadsword combat. In front of him were corned and roast beef, and, as I came in, he was shouting loudly, “Now then, ye chaps; come in to tay, or divil a bite ye'll get.” Mrs. Kelly, whose only toilette had been evidently a couple of “snifters,” sat at her husband's right, and was comporting herself with much dignity. As Pat carved the food he cried out, “Now, what'll ye hov, misther? Cornbafe or mate?” but Mrs. Kelly corrected him sharply:

“Pat Kelly, why d'ye be comincin' to ate like wan o' thim blackfellys? Why the divil don't ye be afther puttin' the Crass o' Christ an the beautiful mate ye have forninst ye? Annybuddy 'd think ye wuz brung up like a haythen, so they wud. Put an the Crass o' Christ this minit, I tell ye, Pat Kelly!”

“Och, I can't be bothered; let thim that wants put it an the'rselves.” But Mrs. Kelly's company manners were not satisfied until Pat mumbled a “grace”—“For what we are about to resave”—“Daddy, make Johnny kape still; he wants to go out an' play futball”—“may the Lord make us”—“Ye're a liar!” said Johnny, in reply to the football accusation—“Amin. If ye don't kape quite, ye divil, I'll trow the kyarvin'-knife at the head o' yez!”

Then the feeding began. Mick, who had got back with the cows, sat next me. He was aged, deaf, and dilapidated, and he shovelled his food into his mouth with a knife and a stolid determination to lose no time Utterly oblivious of what was going on around him, he did not hear Reginald Kelly, aged five, saying, “Mick, my soup too 'ot.” Mick took no notice, so the boy, to prove his words, ladled up a spoonful, and held it to the old man as a sample, but it spilled down his shirt-front. Again the boy said, “Mickee, my soup too 'ot,” and held out another spoonful, which was spilt also. At last the hot soup penetrated the old man's clothing,


  ― 87 ―
and, looking down, he discovered the boy giving him a soup bath. A sounding whack sent Reginald to the floor, and the veteran resumed his shovelling unmoved till the boy came at him under the table and bit his leg. Mick replied to this with a terrific kick, and Reginald was led howling away by Gladys Ethel, who promised him his tea in the kitchen.

After tea a young man came to see Gladys Ethel, and sat beside her in a dark room off the bar. He was evidently a very devoted young man, for loud smacks, as of kissing, were heard frequently, especially when footsteps approached the door of the room. Everybody knows that a kiss broken off suddenly in the middle gives forth a sound like the first efforts of a pump-sucker to draw water when the well is low. Kelly apparently disliked the youth, for he left the bar several times, and “hunted” him with much bad language and some cuffs on the ear. But the lover was not the sort to be discouraged by any little thing like that, for he invariably came back, and he and Gladys Ethel resumed their affectionate communings with renewed ardour. When parent Kelly had “hunted” the young man for the fifth time, I judged a little fresh air would do me good. I came back from my walk an hour later, to find Gladys Ethel's parent kicking the lover out for the last time, while Gladys stood at the door and laughed loudly.

I went to my room and found, in addition to my luggage, a large, greasy swag and a black tin billy. This seemed to indicate a room-mate, and was a distinct violation of my agreement, which was for a room to myself. I called Kelly, but he made light of it: “'Tis only an ould frind of moine that kem in afther tay; he's a very ‘quite’ man, and shure he may as well be usin' the spare bed as it layin' oidle.” So, making the best of it, I turned in and was soon asleep, dreaming that wild mermaids, with snaky hair, were chasing me all through Kelly's premises for a kiss.

I was awakened by Kelly's voice:

“For Gawd's sake, Rine! do be quite; ye'll be wakin' the jintleman there.”




  ― 88 ―

“T'hell wid the jintleman! Shure, I'm as good a man as him, an' betther too, for all I bruk me leg; wake him up an' I'll fight him.”

“No, no! Go to bid, Rine, that's a dear man.”

“Wait till I show ye how I bruk me leg,” said Ryan, whom I judged was the “quiet” man Kelly had told me of. He took off his trousers and showed his skinny leg—bent, stiff, and knobby at the knee like that of a 'bus-horse. He danced around, clad only in his shirt, begging Kelly to let him get at me. He would show me his leg, and then fight me for drinks all round. I thought it best to sham sleep. Eventually he fell into slumber, and I followed suit. Kelly came in half-an-hour later and woke me up to say that Ryan was now quiet, and that I might go to sleep without fear of further disturbance. I daresay I should have found that out myself, but Kelly evidently meant well. About five in the morning, loud shouts and sounds as of someone being strangled awoke me, but, to my relief, it was only Ryan snoring and probably fighting me in his sleep.

Finding it impossible to doze off again, I got up, dressed, and went to the parlour to read. An hour later Gladys Ethel, mooning sleepily down the passage, saw me and came in smiling, showing a wealth of mouth that in the morning light looked appalling. She had not washed her face, and her hair was even wilder and more matted than before. Also there were some bits of straw and feathers among the locks—which, no doubt, the wind would blow out later in the day.

The next time I went that way I camped out, but a passing swagman told me Gladys Ethel was married. It seems that Kelly, being very busy in the bar one night, neglected to kick the lover out as often as usual, and when he did go into the room the pair had eloped together. I also heard on bad authority that Gladys unaccountably reformed after marriage, and kept herself reasonably clean, and wore stockings, and fixed her mane in a knob at the back of her head. But this statement rests on no satisfactory evidence.

PERCE ABBOTT.

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