NOLIE CAROL found small comfort in his pockets as he sauntered through the fields, his hands thrust into them, seeking it. He was nearly a man; but he had n’t his full growth yet, and there was a boyishness about him, in the carriage of his shoulders and the loose spring of his step. The warm wind rumpled his Irish crop of curls, which had now for many days and one despairing night been rumpled by his own unquiet fingers.
He came on Ellen sitting in the paddock. The tall grass was waving almost over her head, bright now with the joys of ten bright summers. The sun was yellow on her hair, and in and out among the bare, brown toes of her. Her figure in its little, faded frock was limp with distress. She was in tears.
‘What are you doing, child?’
’I’m crying,’ Ellen said.
He sat on the grass and stroked her tumbled head.
‘Can’t I see that. But what’s making you cry?’
‘I ’ve been reading sad, beautiful verses, Nolie.’ She raised her wet eyes to his, and sent a pang through him because they were like Kathleen’s. She waved a bit of paper at him, and broke down again. ‘ It’s verses a boy wrote to Kathleen before she was married.’
‘Wrote to Kathleen?’ he exclaimed; ‘give it here to me.’
The frown disappeared as he read. He blushed, and read again. He held his head on one side and ducked his chin to emphasize the cadence. A smile looked out of his eyes.
‘Sure, there’s no sadness in them lines,’ he asserted with pride. ‘They ’re beauties.’ He read them once more, slowly. ‘I ’ll keep this.’ He tucked it away in his coat.
‘Oh,’ she explained, ‘it is n’t the lines that’s sad. It’s the man that set them down.’
‘The one that wrote them!' he exclaimed in consternation. ‘And what’s sad about the man that wrote them ? I think there’s a mistake in this.’
‘No.’ Ellen shook her head. ‘Kathleen was telling me. He was fond of Kathleen, but she would n’t have him. She said he was too young!’
Nolie reddened instantly. He rubbed one hand through his curly mop and dug deep into those comfortless pockets.
‘It’s a pity about her,’ he muttered, ‘He was a handsome man, and a man that wrote verses, and a man that has a good chance to rise out of the place he’s in. Kathleen thought a pretty face would bring a duke itself from London. But is Johnnie Fahey from Ennis a duke? Or is he — ’
‘ But Nolie,’ said Ellen, with the tears still running down, ‘this man is a sad man. He said to Kathleen himself, and Kathleen give it in to me, that there was nothing in him would make a woman want to be kind to him. It was for that I was crying. I think it is sad.'
And Ellen began to weep again, pressing her pale little face against the crook of her arm. Quick tears gushed into Nolie’s eyes and were beaten steadily back. He gulped a bit, and hesitated, and ended up by swaggering.
‘Ho! Don’t be so simple, Ellen. Sure, I know the feller myself, and he’s as gay as a bee. He was only foolish, and he saying that. He’s a big, handsome lad, I tell you, and the girls is mad for him. Sure, he could walk out with a different one every night if he liked. There’s not one in the place would n’t have him. Nellie Frawley would give her eyes for a smile from him — and Margaret McGinnis—Nonsense, child! What are you talking about?’
’He does n’t want them other girls. He wants Kathleen.’
Her pointed chin still trembled, and Nolie’s trembled with it.
‘Ah, sure, Kathleen would n’t take him. What would she want with him at all? Sure, he’s a big gawk of a man. He’s as clumsy as an old horse. What would he do with a wife at all, or what would she do with him?’ He kicked the clumps of daisies at his feet. ‘He was a fool to think of Kathleen. There’s nothing in him a woman would care about.’
‘Did n’t I tell you that?’ sobbed Ellen. ‘And you said it was n’t true?’
‘It’s God’s truth itself,’ said the broken voice at her side.
‘Why, Nolie!’ she cried. ‘I knew it was sad. You’re crying yourself. I see your eyes have tears in them. What’s making you cry now?’
‘I ’m lonely for Kathleen,’ he whispered, ‘ the same as yourself. I was mad for Kathleen to marry me.’
He rubbed his sleeve across his eyes.
‘But are you old enough to be married?’ asked the child in surprise. ‘I thought you were young!’
‘What do you know of ages, y’ oldfashioned piece! I’m as old as Kerry Croon was, and he marrying Michael Casey’s daughter. I ’m old enough for Margaret Dolan, that ’s as old as my mother, to want a kiss off, times I ’m passing her door.’
He waited for this to sink in.
‘But Nolie! Old Margaret Dolan! Margaret Dolan would not get a kiss off Jingle that’s Thomas McDonagh’s doggeen.’
‘Well, did I say I give it to her?’ he demanded angrily, ‘or did I say she asked me, just?’
‘ But did you write the verses? ’ asked Ellen, as the thought came to her.
‘I did,’ he replied, ‘and better ones.’
‘Nolie!’ Ellen caught her breath. ‘Nolie, I did n’t know you could write verses. Who ever learned you?'
‘ I learned myself, for the most part,’ he told her shyly, ‘and I met a man one time that told me the rest.’
‘Where did you see him? Do you think he was one of Them?’
‘I thought of that,’ said Nolie, ‘and I don’t think he was. I seen him one time and he stopping the night in the old barn is down by the side of Michael Casey’s field. I heard a sound in it, and I going home from Patrick Shanahan’s place. Like running water, it was, and like falling water. I went in to see what was it, and there was the man before me, lying on his back on fresh grasses, saying his verses loud, and singing them, like. I stayed there all the night with him, and part of the day after. He showed me verses of his own, away better than these. They ’d draw out the heart of you the same as Nicholas Sheridan, and he playing an air on his flute.’
‘What did they tell about?’
‘What would they? They were like any verses, but better — about love and about magic and about fighting. I repeated him verses of my own, and he praised them, and faulted them, and showed me great kindness. He was off on a journey, he told me. He asked would I come along with him.’
‘Nolle!’ exclaimed Ellen with open mouth and eyes, ‘it’s well for you you did n’t go. You’d not get back so easy.’
‘Maybe I would n’t want to get back. I ’ll see him again and go with him.’
‘Don’t, Nolie. Don’t say such a thing even for fun.’
‘It’s no joke. I’d go with him the last time, only for thinking of Kathleen.’
Ellen burst into tears.
‘You won’t come back and you go. I’ll never see you again.’
’Much you would care, Ellen,’ he said, running a lock of her hair between his fingers. ‘I was no favorite of yours. You’d sooner John Fahey than me, or Joseph Croon, or Paddy Wince.’
‘ I did n’t know then it was you wrote the verses.’
‘And you ’d be sorry now to lose me?'
‘If Kathleen won’t have you, Nolie, then I ’ll have you. I '11 be bigger soon. But don’t go off with that man. It might be he is n’t right.’
Nolie laughed, and passed the smooth hair again and again through his hands.
‘He’s as right as myself. It’s not one of Them he is, but a play-boy or a mummer or some sort of a wanderer. I might go with him. I ’d go the last time if it was n’t for Kathleen.’
Ellen put her hands to her eyes. Tears slipped between her fingers.
‘But you ’re only a child, Ellen.’
‘I ’d grow very fast.’
‘And would you keep pretty, and hold me in your mind?’
‘Oh, I would! I would!’
Nolie drew a long sigh.
‘If you really would,’ he said, ‘I’d not be near so lonely.’
‘And would you make your verses for me?’
Nolie thought a minute, and nodded.
‘I have some for you ready.’
‘For me?’ Her eyes were like stars.
‘Yes, for you. There ’s only one or two little changes I must put in them, and they ’ll do you as good as another. I’ll bring them to-morrow.’
‘Oh! Oh! And will I show them to Kathleen the time she comes up from Ennis?’
‘No!’ There was a Sudden change in Nolie, and a dark look on his face. ‘ You ’ll not show them to Kathleen at all. If you ’re to show them to her, you ’ll not get them.’
‘Well, I ’ll not, then, Nolie, I promise.’
Nolie rose and flung his hair back.
‘Now, mind, Ellen. I ’ll give you the verses, and maybe I ’ll make some more. But if you show them away to anyone, I ’ll destroy them on you, every one.’
‘ I ’ll show them to no one at all, then.’
‘Will you promise that, now?’
‘I will. I ’ll show them to no one at all, only myself.’
He nodded, and started briskly off. Ellen reached a hand after him.
‘Leave me that one you took away from me. That one’s mine, Nolie.’
‘Yours!’ He turned about quickly. ‘What makes you say it’s yours? It’s not yours it is at all.’
‘It is mine, Nolie. Kathleen gave me it.’ She fluttered her hand fearfully.
‘Kathleen! Kathleen hadn’t the right to be giving it away. Kathleen should know better than to do such a thing. Would n’t you think she’d know better than that, Ellen?’ He drove down his hands into his pockets, and set his teeth on his lip.
‘ Give it to me now, Nolie. I’d never give it away.’
‘Here.’ He tossed it beside her.
Ellen pounced on it.
‘Can I think it’s for me?’
‘Think what you like,’ called Nolie over his shoulder, ‘and I’ll bring you some others that will be for you.’
She smoothed the paper on her knee, and fell to reading with shining eyes.
He walked backwards for a step or two, shouting out, ‘I’ll show Kathleen she’s not the only one. There’s as good fish in the sea as ever was caught.’
He swung away out of the broad field then, and by the thin path through the woods. As he went, he mournfully rumpled his hair.