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A short story by Harriet S. Caswell

Terry Dolan

Title:     Terry Dolan
Author: Harriet S. Caswell [More Titles by Caswell]

Some years since circumstances caused me to spend the summer months in a farming district, a few miles from the village of E., and it was there I met with Terry Dolan. He had a short time previous come over from Ireland, and was engaged as a sort of chore boy by Mr. L., in whose family I resided during my stay in the neighborhood. This Terry was the oddest being with whom I ever chanced to meet. Would that I could describe him!--but most of us, I believe, occasionally meet with people, whom we find to be indescribable, and Terry was one of those. He called himself sixteen years of age; but, excepting that he was low of stature, you would about as soon have taken him for sixty as sixteen. His countenance looked anything but youthful, and there was altogether a sort of queer, ancient look about him which caused him to appear very remarkable. When he first came to reside with Mr. L. the boys in the neighborhood nicknamed him "The Little Old Man," but they soon learned by experience that their wisest plan was to place a safe distance between Terry and themselves before applying that name to him, for the implied taunt regarding his peculiar appearance enraged him beyond measure. Whenever he entered the room, specially if he ventured a remark--and no matter how serious you might have been a moment before--the laugh would come, do your best to repress it. When I first became an inmate with the family, I was too often inclined to laugh at the oddities of Terry--and I believe a much graver person than I was at that time would have done the same--but after a time, when I learned something of his past life, I regarded him with a feeling of pity, although to avoid laughing at him, at times, were next to impossible.

One evening in midsummer I found him seated alone upon the piazza, with a most dejected countenance. Taking a seat by his side I enquired why he looked so sad;--his eyes filled with tears as he replied--"its of ould Ireland I'm thinkin' to-night, sure." I had never before seen Terry look sober, and I felt a deep sympathy for the homesick boy. I asked him how it happened that he left all his friends in Ireland and came to this country alone. From his reply I learned that his mother died when he was only ten years old, and, also, that his father soon after married a second wife, who, to use Terry's own words, "bate him unmarcifully." "It's a wonder," said he, "that iver I lived to grow up, at all, at all, wid all the batins I got from that cruel woman, and all the times she sint me to bed widout iver a bite uv supper, bad luck to her and the like uv her!" He did live, however, but he certainly did not grow up to be very tall. "Times grew worse an' worse for me at home," continued he, "and a quare time I had of it till I was fourteen years of age, when one day says I to mesilf, 'flesh and blood can bear it no longer,' and I ran away to the city uv Dublin where an aunt by me mother's side lived. Me aunt was a poor woman, but she gave a warm welcim to her sister's motherless boy; she trated me kindly, and allowed me to share her home, although she could ill afford it, till I got a place as sarvant in a gintleman's family. As for my father, he niver throubled his head about me any more; indade I think he was glad to be rid uv me, an' all by manes of that wicked woman. It was near two years afther I lift home that I took the notion of going to Ameriky; me aunt advised me against going, but, whin she saw that me mind was set on it, she consinted, and did her best, poor woman, to sind me away lookin' dacent and respectable. I niver saw me father or me stepmother agin. I had no wish to see her; but, although I knew me father no longer loved me, I had still some natral-like feelin's for him; but, as I had run away from home, I durst not go back, an' so I lift Ireland widout a sight uv him. But I could not lave it foriver, as it might be, widout one more sight uv me mother's grave. I rached the small village where me father lived about nightfall, and lodged in the house uv a kind neighbor who befrinded me, an' he promised, at my earnest wish, to say nothing to any one uv my wish. Early in the morning, before any one was astir in the village, I stole away to the churchyard where they buried me mother. I knelt down, I did, an' kissed the sods which covered her grave, an' prayed that the blessin' which she pronounced before she died, wid her hand restin' on me head, might follow me wheriver I might go." The boy took from his pocket a small parcel, carefully inclosed in a paper, which he handed to me, saying "I gathered these shamrocks from off me mother's grave, before I lift it forever." My own eyes grew moist as I gazed upon the now withered shamrock leaves which the poor boy prized so highly. Would that they had proved as a talisman to guard him from evil! I listened with much interest to Terry's story till our conversation was suddenly interrupted by Mr. ---- calling him, in no very gentle tones, to go and drive home the cows from the pasture. To reach this pasture he must needs pass through about a quarter of a mile of thick woods. He had a great dread of walking alone in the woods, which his imagination filled with wild animals. When he returned that evening he seemed very much terrified, and when questioned as to the cause, he replied that he "had met with a wild baste in the woods, and was kilt entirely wid the fright uv it."

We endeavoured to gain from him a description of the animal he had seen, but for some time were unable. "What color was the animal?" enquired Mrs. ----. "Indade Ma'am, an' its jist the color uv a dog he was," answered Terry. This reply was greeted with a burst of laughter from all present, at which he was highly offended. In order to pacify him I said, "we would not laugh at you, Terry, only that dogs are of so many different colors that we are as much in the dark as ever regarding the color of the animal you saw." "Well thin," replied he, "if you must know, he was a dirthy brown, the varmint, that he was." From what we could learn from him we were led to suppose that he had met with one of those harmless little creatures, called the "Woodchuck," which his nervous terror, aided by the deepening twilight, had magnified into a formidable wild beast.

A few evenings after, two or three friends of the family chanced to call; and in course of conversation some one mentioned an encampment of Indians, who had recently located themselves in our vicinity, for the purpose of gathering material for the manufacture of baskets, and other works of Indian handicraft. Terry had never seen an Indian, and curiosity, not unmixed with fear, was excited in his mind, when he learned that a number of those dark people were within three miles of us. He asked many questions regarding their personal appearance, habits, &c.; It was evident that he entertained some very comical ideas upon the subject. After sitting for a time silent, he suddenly enquired, "Do they ate pratees like other people?" A lady, present, in order to impose upon his credulity, replied, "Indeed Terry they not only eat potatoes, but they sometimes eat people." His countenance expressed much alarm, as he replied, "Faix thin, but I'll kape out o' their way." After a short time he began to suspect they were making game of him, and applied to me for information, saying, "Tell me, sir, if what Mrs. ---- says is true?" "Do not be alarmed, Terry," I replied, "for if you live till the Indians eat you, you will look even older than you now do."

This allusion to his ancient appearance was very mischievous on my part, and I regretted it a moment after; but he was so much pleased to learn that he had nothing to fear from the Indians that he readily forgave me for alluding to a subject upon which he was usually very sensitive. I remember taking a walk one afternoon during the haymaking season to the field where Terry was at work. Mr. ---- had driven to the village with the farm horses, leaving Terry to draw in hay with a rheumatic old animal that was well nigh unfit for use. But as the hay was in good condition for getting in, and the sky betokened rain, he told Terry, upon leaving home, to accomplish as much as possible during his absence, and he would, if the rain kept off, draw in the remainder upon his return. As I drew nigh I spied Terry perched upon the top of a load of hay holding the reins, and urging forward the horse, in the ascent of a very steep hill. First he tried coaxing, and as that proved of little avail, he next tried the effect of a few vigorous strokes with a long switch which he carried in his hand. When the poor old horse had dragged the heavy load about half way up the hill, he seemed incapable of further exertion, and horse, cart, Terry and all began a rapid backward descent down the hill.

Here the boy's patience gave way entirely. "Musha thin, bad luck to ye for one harse," said he as he applied the switch with renewed energy. Just then I arrived within speaking distance and said, "Do you think, Terry you would be any better off if you had two of them." "Not if they were both like this one," answered he. I advised Terry to come down from his elevated position, and not add his weight to the load drawn by the overburdened animal. He followed my advice, and when with some difficulty we had checked the descending motion of the cart-wheels, we took a fair start, and the summit of the hill was finally gained.

"Its often," said Terry, "that I've seen a horse draw a cart, but I niver before saw a cart drawing a horse." There was one trait in the character of the boy which pleased me much; he was very grateful for any little act of kindness. He often got into difficulties with the family, owing to his rashness and want of consideration, and I often succeeded in smoothing down for him many rough places in his daily path; and when he observed that I interested myself in his behalf, his gratitude knew no bounds. I believe he would have made almost any sacrifice to please me. He surprised me one day by saying suddenly, "Don't I wish you'd only be tuck sick." "Why Terry," replied I, "I am surprised indeed that you should wish evil to me." "Indade thin," answered he, "its not for evil that I wish it, but for your good jist to let ye see how tinderly I would take care uv ye." I thanked him for his kind intentions, saying that I was very willing to take the will for the deed in this case, and had no wish to test his kindness by a fit of sickness.

He came in one evening fatigued with a hard day's work, and retired early to bed. His sleeping apartment adjoined the sitting-room. I had several letters to write which occupied me till a late hour; the family had all retired. I finished writing just as the clock struck twelve. At that moment, I was almost startled by Terry's voice singing in a very high key. My first thought was that he had gone suddenly crazy. With a light in my hand I stepped softly into the room, to find Terry sitting up in bed and singing at the top of his voice, a song in the "Native Irish Tongue." By this time he had roused every one in the house; and others of the family entered the room. By the pauses which he made, we knew when he reached the end of each verse. He sang several verses; at the time I knew how many, but am unable now to recall the exact number. He must surely have been a sound sleeper or the loud laughter which filled the room would have waked him, for the scene was ludicrous in the extreme: Terry sitting up in bed, sound asleep, at the hour of midnight, and singing with a loud voice and very earnest manner, to an audience who were unable to understand one word of the song. At the close of the last verse he lay quietly down, all unconscious of the Musical Entertainment he had given. The next morning some of the family began teasing him about the song he had sung in his sleep. He was loth to believe them, and as usual enquired of me if they were telling him the truth. "I'll believe whatever you say," said he, "for its you that niver toult me a lie yet." "You may believe them this time," said I, "for you certainly did sing a song. The air was very fine, and I have no doubt the words were equally so, if we could only have understood them."

"Well thin," replied he, "but I niver heard more than that; and if I raaly did sing, I may as well tell yee's how it happint. I dramed, ye see, that I was at a ball in Ireland, an' I thought that about twelve o'clock we got tired wid dancin and sated ourselves on the binches which were ranged round the walls uv the room, and ache one was to sing a song in their turn, an' its I that thought my turn had come for sure." "Well Terry," said I, "you hit upon the time exact at any rate, for it was just twelve o'clock when you favoured us with the song." Soon after this time I left the neighbourhood, and removed to some distance. Terry remained for a considerable time with the same family; after a time I learned that he had obtained employment in a distant village. The next tidings I heard of him was that he had been implicated in a petty robbery, and had run away. His impulsive disposition rendered him very easy of persuasion, for either good or evil; and he seldom paused to consider the consequences of any act. From what I could learn of the matter, it seemed he had been enticed into the affair by some designing fellows, who judged that, owing to his simplicity, he would be well adapted to carry out their wicked plans; and, when suspicion was excited, they managed in some way to throw all the blame upon Terry, who fearing an arrest, fled no one knew whither. Many years have passed since I saw or heard of Terry Dolan; but often, as memory recalls past scenes and those who participated in them, I think of him, and wonder if he is yet among the living, and, if so, in what quarter of the world he has fixed his abode.

[The end]
Harriet S. Caswell's short story: Terry Dolan