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Ocean Echoes - I Conquer My Enemy

( Originally Published 1922 )

I WAS sent to another school in another village, but my time there was short also, for the hounds and the huntsmen passed that way, too, and I had learned nothing from my former experience. I rode a donkey to and from that school. The distance was far, although you could count the Irish miles on three fingers of the left hand.

One afternoon I was coming home feeling happy. I had been promoted to a higher grade and was beginning to like the school. My young enemy of the other school, Thomas Coulter, who had laughed when the master whipped me, was also riding a donkey that afternoon. The two animals met in the road, head on. They stopped and exchanged sniffs of greeting. Thomas and I growled at each other like two strange bulldogs, and, without a word, dismounted, pulled off our coats, an flew at each other's throats.

Thomas was older and heavier, and, as usual, he blackened both my eyes and made my nose bleed. I rode home, horrible to look at. My mother bathed my face and washed the blood off, saying, in her gallant way :

"Oh, how I wish that sometime you could whip that boy."

She cooked me two eggs, and had me drink a pitcher of fresh buttermilk. Then she asked me where Thomas was. I told her up by the Four Roads. I knew that she wanted me to go back and see if I couldn't get even with him. Mother was prudent, but her actions carried meaning.

"Go out to the bog," said she, "and bring me four leeches. I must have your eyes fixed up before school tomorrow."

I didn't go near the bogs. Up to the Four Roads I strode, and met Thomas, the boss of the village boys.

"Come on," I said, "I'm going to whip you this time."

He was whipped, and well whipped. I have often wondered since whether my success was due to the eggs and buttermilk, or to my mother's daring words : "I wish that sometime you could whip that boy."

When I was twelve years old I had a childish fondness for girls of my age. I liked to be with them, to play with them, caress them, and which often happened to fight with them.

One girl in particular, Anne Bailey, interested me. Dressed in starched aprons and polished shoes, she would meet me at the stile and swing with me on the gate. I would carry her books from school, and fight her fights, which were many. Anne, for a child of thirteen years, had a terrible temper. Few boys in the village had any use for her. I liked her because she fought for what she thought was right. The smaller children always had a square deal where Anne was concerned, even if she had to trim a boy to get it.

My fondness for her, I suppose, grew out of the fact that she never lost a fight. If she got into a tight place where she couldn't win with her fists, she would resort to cobble-stones, and Anne could throw those gray granite, ragged stones, so common on the country roads in Ireland, with unerring accuracy. Her enemies would run before her for the cover of the haw-thorn hedges. Yet she had characteristics that belong to her sex. She admired well-dressed boys. On Sunday mornings she would give me her most coquettish smile, for then I was togged in my best.

When I was fifteen, mother had me join a band, and while I remained at home I learned to play the cornet, clarionet, and flute. Music develops imagination in the imaginative. In Le, perhaps because I was over-imaginative, music wrought agonies of adventurousness and rainbow-tinted, velvet harmonies of the sights and sounds that lay beyond my ken over there, north, south, east, and west; over there beyond the sea. Only a few rolling green waves to cross, in that winged ship, flitting through the gauzy haze, and strange lands would emerge from the horizon, lands of color and music. So different, so much more beautiful than my world. Surely I was. a strange boy at once bad and harmless, and full, as I have always been, of the spirit of poetry. Others I have known like myself, fighters of wave and man, also full of t he essence of poetry many of them, unbelivably many.

I was soon to test the beauties of that other world of my yearning. By the time I reached it, hardship had relegated the poetry of my nature to the safest confines of my heart, and my surface sentiment was not easily hurt, as sometimes is the case with others. I loved every phase of the sea-going life, and longed for more. Now it lives on in my thoughts.

I often think of the bandmaster, and how different he was from my first schoolmaster. What a sense of humor he had, and what pains he took to teach me ! What long rides he took on his old white mule ! He came on Thursday evenings. His breath was always strong with whiskey, but he seemed none the worse on that account in his teaching.

Our maids, at home, were with us so long that they were part of the household. Only the dairymaid was changed from time to time, for her position seemed to be one that inevitably led to matrimony. There would be a great discussion as to the next one to fill the place, on these occasions. But Maggie, the cook, never changed. She had been with us for years and years. She ruled our goings-out and our com ings in, and woe betide us if we did not do justice to the good things that were set before us; no mean task when one considers the three hearty meals and the three between-meals that punctuated the Irish farmer's day.

Maggie thought a great deal of the music-master; perhaps because he was good to me, who was her prime favorite, perhaps because he ate most unsparingly of everything that she placed before him on those hungry Thursday nights, perhaps because her soul was also full of music, surcharged with the ceaseless din of pots and pans.

The bandmaster was always kind and smiling, and made light of our mistakes, sticking his fingers into his ears most comically to listen for discords. For the life of me I could not see how that process could facilitate his perception, but he seemed to locate discords with unerring accuracy.

Surely he had a difficult task teaching us county boys to play together, but he did, and rode his mule over twenty miles of cobblestones once a week to do it. How excited and happy the old fellow was, when, at last, after four months of practice and effort, we played "The Minstrel Boy" without a hitch. That was his favorite piece, and he felt that if a band could play that, it could master anything in music.

Many years ago he and the old mule have gone up the Long Trail to return no more. Only in an occasional thought, like the memory of springtime, can they return the mule and the Music Master.

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