Called One Summer In Cork, this story was written by Christine Kannapel, from the MA in Creative Writing Programme at UCC. Catch up with previous episodes at echolive.ie. In this sixth episode, Julia and Rory meet the master of the house for dinner.
“YE finished?” Kate asked, as she re-entered the Blue Room, causing Rory and I to start, “Dinner is ready. The master of the house will be dinning with ye. Do you need help with your hair, madam? It’s a nest to be had.”
“Ah,” I started, but Kate threw the finely embroidered jacket and shoes at Rory and urged him out: “Go on down, Sir. It’s the door to the left at the bottom of the stairs.”
Rory mouthed, “my hell,” and then shut the door behind him.
I sat down on a stool by the hearth and Kate combed through my hair.
“Do ye mind me asking were ye are from? Ye have an odd way of sounding. I thought maybe English, but no.”
“I’m from America,” I said.
“Ah, sure. Did ye hear about the caning?”
“The caning! Oh, the master of the house was discussing it all week,” Kate pulled down on my hair as she spoke. “Two men in the American government quarrelled. One was Irish, ye see. That’s why the master had such a care. The Irish man canned the other nearly to death, like. America is a sure wild place, madam.”
I knew that story. Yes. It was discussed in my general history course during high school. The caning of... of someone important. During John Adams’ presidency I was sure. I wanted to ask Kate if Adams was the current president, but decided not to. It sounded like the master of the house would bring up American politics on his own and I could weasel my way into knowing what year it was. My behaviour was already odd... appearing in the countryside, out of nowhere, and with a half naked man. I doubted that witch trails were in fact still “a thing”, but I didn’t want to be labelled as mad.
There was a mirror on the mantelplace and I couldn’t help but look at myself. Kate scurried away, insisting on washing our wet, smelly, clothes, etc.
As I looked at myself, the girl floundering for her sunglasses and sipping on a Beamish watching Maeve’s bonfire sequence felt like an entirely different person.
The dining room was dark and windowless.
“This is the oldest part of the house,” Sarah said, taking a seat. “It’s from the era of Elizabeth I of England.”
The panelling was the colour of wet earth and the fire from the stony hearth enlivened the tapestries hanging from the walls.
“My father won those tapestries in a bet against an English lord,” Sarah said proudly.
I turned to look at Rory to find him staring at me, his pupils dilated. He looked down at his plate, clearing his throat.
The dinning room doors flung open, and a man half my height came burling in like a bull. He sat at the head of the table and threw a cloth napkin over his shoulder.
“Well, have a seat,” he said to me, gesturing at the chair to his right, and so I did with haste. “Ah,” he sighed, sliding a white, meaty fish onto his plate from one of the platters at the centre of the table. “My favourite.”
“My Sarah told me she found ye wondering half naked around the countryside,” Sarah’s father said between mouthfuls.
“Father! Introductions first.”
“Aye, aye, if ye didn’t know already, I’m William Martin, proud owner of the Martin Distillery. And ye are Mr and Mrs who?”
Rory and I looked at one another, panicked.
“McCormick is what ye said?” Sarah chimed in.
“Yeah, ” Rory and I said at the same time, what else were we to do? We couldn’t pretend to be brother or sister, and in this century, it probably wasn’t a good idea to be together without being family or married.
“Well, Sarah said you owe me carriage fare, but no bother. Ye were in clear need of help. What brings ye here?”
William Martin was already helping himself to a second serving of fish. I wondered if he chewed at all, or only swallowed.
“We, ah,” I started, looking at Rory for help. Why hadn’t we come up with a story to tell before dinner?
Rory and I did not have time to answer. Loud rapping sounded from the front door. Kate could be heard shrieking something. Four men, in uniform holding rifles appeared in an orderly line.
William Martin didn’t flinch. He wiped the corners of his mouth and cracked his knuckles.
“We are here to make an arrest,” one of the men announced.
“Of who?” William replied.
“That lad. A carriage driver reported indecency.”
“Beggars are indecent half the time and they’re not being arrested.”
“He has been accused of making pilgrimage to and bathing in a holy well.”
So there was such thing as witch trials still, but only in the form of religious constriction. But why wasn’t I being arrested too?
William Martin made a smacking sound, rubbing a hand across his lips.
“What can I do to help the lad?”
“Unless it can be proven otherwise, we must arrest him and take him to trial.”
The guards made no further comment, they came towards Rory and nearly shoved him from the chair. He looked at me wide-eyed, asking me for help.
“So be it,” William Martin said, leaning on his elbows.
“Wait!” I cried as they carried Rory away. “Wait! He was with me! Take me, too! ”
They did not wait. I chased them out of the house, but they were too fast, too efficient. Rory was thrown into what looked like half a wagon and half a cage.