The Dearly Departed

Brigid hiked her skirt with one hand and carried the pail of milk with the other as she trudged up the hill to the house. Himself will be wantin’ the té when she got there, if she was any judge. Good thing she had half a cake from last night. Wouldn’t be long til sundown when she could finish her mending by the fire while her Papa smoked his pipe and tattled about the doings of the men at the pub.

“Brigid, me girl. Where would you be with the te?” Sean O’Farrell called as he heard his daughter enter the kitchen door. He enjoyed stirring her up now and again. There be times when she got a bit uppity though now, not so much. After the fire his darlin’ girl seemed a might skittish around the folk. The burns had healed on the outside but he knew deep down she still felt the fear and smelt the scorched flesh. Still she was a handsome lass and would make a right proper wife once the Maguire returned from the war in Spain.

“Hush now, Papa! You know I must strain and put the milk away,” she called into the parlor. Having finished that chore she spooned the tea into the pot and poured the water that had been kept hot on the stove. Cutting the cake and gathering the cups, she made her way to her father’s side.

“Aught I know it, girl! Sit yourself down and pass the cake if you please,” he smiled at her as she blew a tendril of hair from her forehead. “I heard from Ian Dougal that Patrick Joyce had returned. Wasn’t he in Danny’s regiment?”

You could hear Brigid’s sharp intake of breath at the name. Patrick returned? That must mean Danny was soon to be here as well, she thought. How can I face him when he expects to see what he remembers and not what has become her reality. “Did Ian see Patrick or did he hear it from another?” asked Brigid.

“Lost a shilling in a card game to him night a’fore last so I’m supposin’ he saw him in the flesh.” at the sight of the panic in her eyes he sought to sooth her worries, “Now darlin’ girl. Don’t you worry your handsome head. Danny Maguire will be here like a shot when he gets off the boat,” he filled his pipe again and lit the tobacco before he went on, “He hasna forgot you. Once he gets settled, it’ll be right as rain, just you wait.”

Brigid wasn’t so sure of that welcomed site. A lot had changed in the two years he had gone from Enniskillen to join the dragoons on the peninsula. She had heard Spanish women were a lovely site to behold. It could be that she wouldn’t compare well to what he had been surrounded by of late. The girl he knew was no longer. Would he even give a second look to the one who took her place?

~

Daniel Maguire adjusted his crutches as he made his slow way down the wharf to the awaiting coach. His dear mother stood by the road and after seeing him, allowed the tears of relief flow like a river down her softly wrinkled face. My boy is home now. It will be alright, she thought as she watched him, head down as he took each step closer. The right pants leg pinned up at the knee was jarring to see but he was home and that was all that mattered. Daniel looked up to catch his breath when he saw his mother coming to meet him. He waited for her to get closer then said, “Mama. Sorry I’m a bit late. Couldn’t get the boat to go any faster” he joked when he saw her tears. “I’ll be usin’ less fabric for me trews from now on but I’ll take less time at the bathin’ as well.” His mama held him and cried as he leaned against her and steadied himself with the crutches. He was home and that was all that mattered. Time enough for worries on the morrow.

He had to wait on the boat for two days until the quartermaster kitted him out with clothing that fit and the paymaster set up his pension. Four-pence a day wasn’t much but it kept hunger at bay. He had the shilling Patrick had given that he won off Ian Dougal so he wasn’t entirely broke. The King’s service wasn’t known for making a man of his station rich nor was it known for keeping’em whole. He wasn’t sure if those that died in battle weren’t better off. None of that could be said to his mother so he lifted his head and gathered his courage. A few more steps and he could rest until he got home. Then his new life, such as it appeared to be, would begin.

~

Brigid opened the worn letter, the last she received from Danny a month ago. It was a short note in contrast to the ones sent before. All it said is that he was headed home and he would see her soon. There were no words of love or anticipation just the bald words on the page. On the desk was the request from Danny’s mother to come to tea on Saturday, just two days hence. Brigid knew Danny was home now but hadn’t been out and about with his friends. Indeed he had not had any callers as his mother kept all at bay telling folks that Danny needed a chance to rest and adjust to being home.

She fretted as to what to wear. Long sleeves of course though the June weather proved warm. The pretty scarves in the dresser were brought out and looked through. Her father had had them made for her so she wouldn’t feel self-conscious among others. The blue would do well. It matched the blue in her eyes and the pink calico looked fine with the scarf. Wearing her hair low on her neck in its usual bun would complete her toilet. She would then feel ready to face whatever Daniel Maguire would say or do.

~

If Danny had felt steady enough, he would have paced the room. Instead he tapped his crutch on the floor in a drummers tattoo as he waited for Brigid to come. What would she say when she saw him? Would she feel she made a bad bargain when she promised to wait for his return? He never should have come home. No one wants damaged goods. What was he to do? How would they live? She could do so much better, he was sure.

~

Brigid walked the two miles to Danny’s home. She felt dusty and cross but mostly with herself. She stepped up on the porch then hesitated and stepped back down. She turned as she heard the door creak open. Too late. I lost my chance to leave now, she thought. Putting on her best smile, she looked up into the face of Mrs. Maguire.

“Brigid, dear! Come in! Come in! We have been waiting for you.” The older woman led her into the parlor and indicated a chair for her to sit on. Danny stood a bit wobbly on his crutches before he looked at Brigid. She was just as he remembered. Chestnut hair, blue eyes, dimples as she smiled, her trim figure looked a bit more wane and she looked at him with panic. I’ve made a mistake, he thought. She has taken a disgust o’ me. I can see it.

Brigid froze as she saw Danny rise from the chair. All her fears came to the fore. He is only doing this out of pity. Surely his mother told him what happened. I see his brave face. He must have been injured since she saw the crutches out of the corner of her eye. His expression consumed her. He doesn’t like what he sees. I have lost him. Now what do I do?

“Brigid, dear, please sit down. Let me get the tea while you two get to know one another again.” Mrs. Maguire left them alone and went to the kitchen.

“Brigid,” Danny managed to squeak out, “its good to see you.” Is that all you can say Danny Boy? How can I act normal when I don’t feel that way?

“Its good to see you too, Danny” she somehow got the words said without falling in a faint. “I thank you both for the invitation.” The words were stilted as they filled the air between them. Both of them talked for hours before he left to fight Napoleon. What happened? Blessed St. Patrick, she thought. She knew what happened. It will never be the same.

Mrs. Maguire came back with a laden tray. She glanced from one to the other. Danny with panic in his eyes, Brigid with what seemed like shame. I must do something to help them, she thought. But what?

“I’m sorry, Mrs Maguire but I must go now. It was good of you to ask me to come but I can see that Danny is not happy I’m here,” she hurriedly spoke as she quickly stood to walk back to the door. Mrs. Maguire protested her leaving and looked at her son as he rose from his chair. Before she knew what was happening, Danny fell and toppled the tea tray splashing the hot beverage onto the floor and the back of Brigid’s dress.

Feeling the hot water touch her leg, Brigid screamed and collapsed in a faint onto the floor near Danny. He was struggling to a sitting position as his mother helped Brigid by straightening her gown and lifting her head from the broken pottery and spilled tea. If it wasn’t so tragic the scene would have been comical with people sprawled on the floor in such a fashion. Brigid was coming around as Mrs Maguire held her. Danny scooted himself over to her. He looked at his poor mama and gathered Brigid in his arms. Mrs. Maguire moved out of the way to pick up the broken items and retreat to the kitchen to find a wet rag to clean the floor.

“Brigid, oh, Brigid. Speak to me. Tell me you’re alright.” Danny crooned in her ear as Brigid felt the strength of his arms and the warmth of his breath. Was that tears she felt on her cheek?

“Danny. Why are you crying?” she asked when she could turn slightly to see his face.

“Brigid, my love. I thought I lost you. I can’t lose you. I can’t go on if you aren’t by my side” Danny confessed. He sat up next to her and helped her to lean against the nearby chair she had been sitting in. He straightened out his legs then looked into her face. “This is the man I have become, darlin’ Brigid. Not quite the man you promised to wait for. I won’t hold you to that promise if you don’t feel the same about me now” Danny looked at what was left of his legs and waited for her response.

She looked at the left leg, strong and straight then at the right, foreshortened and empty in his pants below the knee. After an eternity she spoke, “Oh, Danny! I don’t know what to say,” she fumbled with her sleeve and scarf. “Danny look at me” she commanded. “I won’t hold you to that promise either.”

Danny looked at the red and pink twisted flesh on her arm and could see that it went up to her neck and hairline on the left side. It puckered in some places while it was tight and shiny in others. “There is a patch like this on me side as well,” she said as she rolled the sleeve back down. Danny caught her hand and held it tight in his grasp. He looked in her eyes and recognized the disgust he thought he saw before was the same pain he was feeling for the changes the last years had wrought on them both.

“I will tell you my story if you share yours with me,” Brigid said after a time. They both scooted on the floor into a more comfortable position. He placed his arm about her and she leaned her head against his shoulder. Mrs Maguire, good woman that she was, heard their soft murmurs and settled in the kitchen until taking herself off to bed when the hour grew late.

“I was with the 4th Regiment of the Queen’s Own Dragoons at Talavera. We had left Vitoria a month before. Our supplies were late and food was scarce but the Army and Boney waits on no man,” Danny began. “What did you eat?” asked Brigid.

“Is maith an t-anlann an t-ocras*, as they say. When your hungry, anything to put in your belly is more than you had. Don’t worry, we made do and shared what was there to be et,” Danny philosophically said.

“We rode our horses into the thick of the battle, good lads all of them, and dismounted to fight slashing all who came near with our sabers. I caught a bayonet in the calf when I cut a frog down but he got the last laugh. The cut became infected and turned gangrene. The doctor did what he had to do to save me life. God knows how many didn’t make it through those butchers they called surgeons. When I was well enough to travel they sent me home,” Danny finished and blew out a long held breath. He had been dreading telling that to anyone. Now it was done. He could see it for what it was. He could now mourn his dearly departed leg.

“Our milk cow had a difficult birth and was in the stall trying with all her might to push out the calf. I heard her thrashing about and went out with my lantern. One of the little goats became untethered and got up under me skirts causing me to stumble. Well the lantern went one way and I went the other. My dress caught a spark and before I could get the fabric off, it stuck to my arm and neck. Papa heard the commotion and came running but too late to keep me from being badly burnt. I was so scared I fainted so only knew what happened after it was over. One of the field hands helped put out the fire before it did much damage to the barn,” Brigid said as she held Danny’s hand.

“We’re a pair, ain’t we now. I lost a leg and you now have a scarred arm. Maybe we’re luckier than we know,” Danny mused. “I’m willing to keep my promise. What say you, Brigid O’Farrell?”

“Aye! I promised to wait for you, Danny Boy. Where do we go from here? How will we live?” Brigid wondered out loud.

“I may have a solution. When we weren’t fighting Bony’s men, I helped out with the Major’s reports and accounts. There’s a chance he would give me a character so I could be a secretary. I won’t need two good legs for that,” shouted Danny as he gave the offending appendage a slap. They laughed and held each other far into the night. Plans were made, words of love were spoken and pent up emotions were finally spent. Two years was a short span for so much to happen. The people they were had departed from this life. Now was their chance to begin anew.

~~~

*(Iss maw on tan-lan on tuc-rass) Hunger is a good sauce.

~ artwork by By François Gérard

This story was inspired by the song- Fare Thee Well Enniskillen

~ Catherine Denton is currently transferring her book, Metaphysical Girl: How I Recovered My Mental Health to another publisher. Please stay tuned for a re-launch in the near future. Thank you for your support!

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