Welcome to the third chapter of The House by the Sea. We left Patrick Noone coming to terms with life with his Aunt Biddy and Uncle Pat. At seven years old he took over the chores for his ill uncle and has learned the value of hard work. Paul Andruss picks up the story.
THE HOUSE BY THE SEA – Part Three – Paul Andruss
At the age of fourteen, Biddy put a word in and Patrick got the gardener’s boy’s job up the big house. The gardener, an amiable old chap who headed a team of ten good natured fellas, took bright eager Patrick under his wing, intending to teach him all he knew. Perhaps he felt sorry for him because he was quiet. At the end of his second year the old man sat Patrick down, knocked out his pipe on the heel of his boot and slowly shook his head.
‘By the holy Jeasus an all o’ his saints lad, you’ve a aul rare gift. No matter what I gives yer, by Jeasus, if it don’t curl up an die. I might as well save meself the trouble an dip it in saltwater. Now I likes yer, I do, an there is no doubt yer can graft, but it can’t go on. I’m supposed ta be fillin the place like the Garden o’ Eden, not leaving it scorched as the hobs a Hell.
‘Now Paddy lad, don’t be lookin at me like a dog off to be whipped, I spake to Danny, that’s Mr McEnery ta yer, an yer fixed ta join is timber gang, if he likes the cut of yer jib. It’s a good life lad, an yer gift for killin plants ain’t such a handicap to them, what with the business the’re in,’ he chortled.
That afternoon the gardener took him to be looked over by the Estates Manager Mr McEnery, or ‘that miserable aul’ get’ as everyone else referred to him. The estate had a logging team and its own timber mill, each run by a foreman under McEnery. At first Patrick was put in the timber mill, which he hated; especially with McEnery living up to his nickname, barking out his orders with a puss on him like he’d been slapped round the face with an aul kipper.
Lucky for Patrick within a fortnight one of the logging men had an accident and he was sent to the team, temporary mind, to help load and drive the cart. It was a wet cold miserable week. None of the other fellas were keen on moving out of the comfort of the factory.
Patrick loved the freedom, loved no one checking on you every five minutes. Most of all, he loved being in the woods with the scattered diffused light breaking through the dark green canopy and the rain on his face. He thought it was the closest he’d ever come to being underwater. It was like living in the sea.
Before long he was wielding an axe as good as any of them and loving every minute. The rest of the lads were like Uncle Pat, except fit and full of laughter. Even the foreman Ron, only got stiff when aul McEnery came sniffing round, which wasn’t that often as long as you got your quota to the mill on time.
In summer they would stay out for days on end, working dawn ‘til dusk and sleeping on canvass cots under tarpaulins stretched between branches like tents. They kept a roaring log fire on the go, cooking up a big aul frying pans a bacon, sausage, eggs n bread, n spuds roast in the ashes. With a big aul billie a tea, strong n sweet with condensed milk, stewing away night and day.
He worked six and half days, and it was hard, hard labour, but it filled him out. By the age of twenty he was weathered as seasoned oak, with muscles like ripcords, a strong back and broad across the shoulders. A quiet man, each Saturday afternoon instead of staying in the pub with the lads, he’d head back to Aunt Biddy to turn over the bulk of his wages and help out with the chores. On the way home he always made sure to pick up a couple a pint bottles of the black stuff from the pub and a pack of ciggies from the tobacconists for Uncle Pat along with a bag of boiled sweets for Biddy.
There was Mass on Sunday morning followed by a slap up breakfast and a slap up dinner. By suppertime he was heading back to camp with a week’s worth of clean clothes and a couple of large meat and potato pies in his backpack to share with the lads.
Winter was different. It was too cold to be sleeping rough. With the short days the lads headed off early to their homes or lodgings in the town. At one point, Patrick even suggested Auntie Biddy take in a few for the extra money, but by this time Big Pat wasn’t well enough. The poor aul sod looked like death, propped up in the big aul armchair by the grate day and night; asleep more often than not, with a burned down ciggie hangin’ from his lips.
He’d joke the doctor told him to stay away from the ciggies. ‘But I said to him,’ he’d say, ‘by Jeasus Doc, and where am I goin’ a get one a them fancy ciggie holders when I’m buggered walking ta the privy?’
Then he’d laugh, which would start the hacking cough, which wouldn’t stop. Biddy or Patrick would have to bend him forward and rub his back trying to loosen the congestion. Sometimes after a bad attack, Patrick saw Biddy bent over the stove, or doing the ironing, quietly crying. He knew better than to say something.
It was an early spring afternoon, one of them days with just a promise of what’s to come in the air. Patrick was walking home before twilight. There had been a filthy big storm the day before that left the logging camp like a sea of mud, with nothing movin’. The foremen sent them home saying they’d get an early start tomorra.
As Patrick hit the coast path leading down to the house, didn’t he see the strangest thing on the beach? At first, he didn’t know what to make of it. Then thought his eyes was deceiving him. There was something black and white caught in the surf. It couldn’t be; but it was. Jesus Christ and all his saints in heaven! There was a body washed up, all white, broken and naked: a woman judging by the long dark hair tangled by the crashing waves.
His first thought was she must have drowned. There were stories he’d heard, what with living by the sea all his life, how the riptide could strip a body naked. Holy Mary Mother of God, what a hideous way to go! He was debating what to do when he saw her move. He knew it wasn’t the waves, when she moved again. Jesus Christ she was alive!
Yelling like a mad man he tore down the cliff path. Within twenty or thirty wards there was a way down to the beach: he knew it well. He hit the sand running so fast he went tumbling arse over tip. As he struggled to his feet, he looked again. He was too late. She was gone.
A cry of anguish was ripped out of the heart of him. Patrick pelted into the crashing white surf, looking right and left, hoping to find some trace. Anything!
He was shocked to see the top of a head appear from beneath the waves. A slim pale hand wiped away the long dark hair plastered across her face to reveal large brown liquid eyes looking at him, full of curiosity.
He stared back uncomprehending.
‘You’re alive?’ he muttered after a moment.
Slowly the rest of her head emerged, a delicate nose and full lips, pinched and blue with the cold.
‘I heard you coming, I had no clothes.’
‘I thought you was dead!’
‘Me? No.’ she laughed.
‘You looked dead’, he protested, biting his lip, scared to offend her. But she had looked dead; lying white and broken; cast up like flotsam.
Slowly she rose from the water, her long sleek hair sticking like a pelt to her narrow shoulders as she broke surface. Under the water it floated like strands of kelp, obscuring the swell of her breasts.
Patrick blushed to see her rising naked. He turned away. He had never seen a woman and was desperate to look. But not like this. It wasn’t decent.
He felt a peck on his cheek. ‘You are gallant,’ she said, sounding as if she was laughing at him.
Before he could stop himself, he’d looked. She was holding something to protect her modesty, lank and dark like a wet blanket, or perhaps wet leather, or maybe moleskin, for it looked slick and glossy.
‘I was swimming.’ She took his hand in her icy one and led him from the water. ‘You will catch your death.’
‘And what about you?’
‘I never feel the cold’.
She saw him puzzling over this. ‘I swim every day.’
‘It must be marvellous… to swim’
He shook his head.
‘Perhaps I could teach you. Would you like that?’
They were out of the swell now. The waves crashing no more than calf deep still wanted to drag him under. She began to adjust her blanket, draping it over her breasts and torso, leaving her white arms and shoulders bare.
He must have been staring for she was laughed. ‘Go home. I have a long swim a head of me and you will catch your death.’
Obediently he waded out of the cold grey water. Reaching the beach he heard her say,
He looked back.
‘Your swimming lesson. When?’
Saturday,’ he hesitantly replied, ‘afternoon. Two?’
‘I am Muireann.’ She smiled. ‘And I will wear something more appropriate.’
‘I’m Patrick.’ He returned her smile.
‘What a lovely name.’
He walked up the beach, feeling her eyes on him. Reaching the dunes he turned to wave goodbye. She was gone.
©Paul Andruss 2018
©Images The Colour of Life Geoff Cronin
The mystery deepens.. who is the strange woman who is brave enough to swim in such wintery seas…. pop in tomorrow to find out more.
About Paul Andruss
Paul Andruss is a writer whose primary focus is to take a subject, research every element thoroughly and then bring the pieces back together in a unique and thought provoking way. His desire to understand the origins of man, history, religion, politics and the minds of legends who rocked the world is inspiring. He does not hesitate to question, refute or make you rethink your own belief system and his work is always interesting and entertaining. Whilst is reluctant to talk about his own achievements he offers a warm and generous support and friendship to those he comes into contact with.
Paul is the author of two books and you can find out more by clicking the image.
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Thanks again for dropping in and hope to see you tomorrow for the next episode…Sally.