‘Now, Christy, which do you reckon to be the shorter road?’
’The shorter road, your reverence, is the Joycetown road, but I doubt if we can get the car through it.’
‘How is that?’
And the boy answered that since the Big House had been burnt the road hadn’t been kept in repair.
‘But,’ said Father Oliver, ‘the Big House was burnt seventy years ago.’
’Well, your reverence, you see, it was a good road then, but the last time I heard of a car going that way was last February.’
’And if a car got through in February, why can’t we get through on the first of June?’
’Well, your reverence, there was the storm, and I do be hearing that the trees that fell across the road then haven’t been removed yet.’
’I think we might try the road, for all that, for though if we have to walk the greater part of it, there will be a saving in the end.’
’That’s true, your reverence, if we can get the car through; but if we can’t we may have to come all the way back again.’
’Well, Christy, we’ll have to risk that. Now, will you be turning the horse up the road? And I’ll stop at the Big House—I’ve never been inside it. I’d like to see what it is like.’
Joycetown House was the last link between the present time and the past. In the beginning of the century a duellist lived there; the terror of the countryside he, for he was never known to miss his man. For the slightest offence, real or imaginary, he sent seconds demanding redress. No more than his ancestors, who had doubtless lived on the islands, in Castle Island and Castle Hag, could he live without fighting. But when he completed his round dozen, a priest said, ’If we don’t put a stop to his fighting, there won’t be a gentleman left in the country,’ and wrote to him to that effect.
The story runs how Joyce, knowing the feeling of the country was against him, tried to keep the peace. But the blood fever came on him again, and he called out his nearest neighbour, Browne of the Neale, the only friend he had in the world. Browne lived at Neale House, just over the border, in County Galway, so the gentlemen arranged to fight in a certain field near the mearing. It was Browne of Neale who was the first to arrive. Joyce, having to come a dozen miles, was a few minutes late. As soon as his gig was seen, the people, who were in hiding, came out, and they put themselves between him and Browne, telling him up to his face there was to be no fighting that day! And the priest, who was at the head of them, said the same; but Joyce, who knew his countrymen, paid no heed, but stood up in the gig, and, looking round him, said, ‘Now, boys, which is it to be? The Mayo cock or the Galway cock?’ No sooner did he speak these words than they began to cheer him, and in spite of all the priest could say they carried him into the field in which he shot Browne of the Neale.
‘A queer people, the queerest in the world,’ Father Oliver thought, as he pulled a thorn-bush out of the doorway and stood looking round. There were some rough chimney-pieces high up in the grass-grown walls, but beyond these really nothing to be seen, and he wandered out seeking traces of terraces along the hillside.