I am dedicating this story to my mother, Gerry Lois Portis Bartlett. I told her a very primitive & G-rated version of this story when I was a small child. She was my number one fan back then, and even though she has gone onto the other side, I feel like she just might still be.
This one is for you, Mom, I love you & always will.
“Two pigs and a chicken,” Grace’s father, a tall, dark haired man, told the young man that stood at his door.
Grace peeked out from behind her father to see the young man that stood at the door. He had dark reddish brown hair and a sprinkling of light freckles on his face. He was a bit shorter than her father and had skin that was pale and eyes of green. The pants he wore were too short for him. A grimy shirt hung loosely on his broad shoulders and his skin was smudged with dirt.
“I only have this pig. Can’t you take that and let me get you the rest later?” The young man asked Grace’s father.
“No, the first one to bring me two pigs and a chicken gets that one. I have one more, a little bit older than that one, I’ll give you, for a pig and a chicken.”
“I only want the one I asked about. I’ll not be taking the other off of your hands. You may be stuck with that one,” the young man said, then laughed a little.
“Well the one you want is the one that many want, that is why the price is so high. Truth be told, young Muldoon, I don’t much care for your appearance, either. Who comes to a man’s home and asks for what you have and doesn't bother to clean themselves up first?” Grace’s father asked the young man.
“I was cleaned up, Mr. McDalton. I fell from my horse on my way here. He stumbled over some rocks as I crossed a brook. It is a long ride to where I live. I built a nice home for us, close enough to the forest to hunt and near a stream for water and not far from the sea for fishing. I traveled this far for her, please I beg of you to reconsider, my father told me that a pig would be enough.”
“Your father’s opinion of how much I should charge is not a thing to me, Muldoon. I’ll not have any more of this conversation. Get thee gone, now. I am done,” Grace’s father said, ending his sentence with the slamming of the door in the young man’s face.
Grace had to scuttle out of her father’s way, as he made his way back into the house, going to the kitchen. The young girl was curious and watched as her father disappeared into the kitchen, then she opened the door a crack to peek out at the stranger. He walked with his head down as he led his reddish brown horse with a long black mane and tail, followed by a rather large pig, away from their home. A sadness was about him and she wondered what he had wanted to purchase from her father so bad that it made him sad that he could not strike a bargain with him to get it. He said that he came a long way. What could he have come a long way for?
Grace scampered to the kitchen and hid just outside of it, so she could hear her parents talking. She didn't often listen in on them, as they usually had nothing interesting to say. Curiosity seemed to be taking her over though and she gave in to it.
“One pig?” Grace’s mother asked.
“Aye, can ya believe that? His old man told him that she was worth one pig. One pig, he said. I wouldn't take one pig for anything that I own. Fools, they are, nothin’ but fools. That family is cheap. They have never added to their land in forever. All of them live scattered about on the land outside of Dublin, too far out of the city to make any use of it. A rough way to live. I doubt that she would have liked it anyway,” Grace’s father answered.
Grace’s ears perked up as she heard the word, ‘she’. Who they were talking about, she wondered?
Settling in a squat along the wall and listened to her parents as they continued their conversation, Grace’s attention was held by her parents’ words.
“That is so far from here. I wonder why he came all this way. What tales have been told about her, I wonder?” Grace’s mother pondered.
“I wonder that me self. You know how small Ireland is. A pretty girl here, at an age to marry, with her fair hair and blue eyes makes her worth a lot.”
Grace moved her body up the wall, slowly, blinking her eyes a couple of times at what she had heard. She had fair hair and blue eyes, her sister had dark hair and brown eyes. Could her father be talking about her? Did he say something about being at the age to marry?
Grace turned and tiptoed away, back to the door and opened it a crack, to take a longer look at the young man. He was much further away and almost out of sight. Looking behind her to be sure that her parents nor her sister were going to see her, she slipped out of the door and closed it silently behind her. Then broke into a hard run, going after the young man. She ran as hard as she could, but it was of no use, she could not catch up to him. Finally she stopped trying, and turned to walk back home, disappointment filled her soul.
The sun was setting, so she knew it was getting late. Her father was waiting outside for her as she approached their home, holding a thin branch from the tree that was in the front of their house. He was slapping it against his palm.
The first strike was always the worst. Grace and her sister, Rebecca had experienced many of their father’s punishments in their short lives. It burned like fire and immediately a welt could be felt, swelling up on the back of her thigh. Grace cried out, as her father hit her repeatedly across her bottom and the back of her legs. Screams filled the air with each strike, then she fell to the ground.
The punishment over, he dragged her into the house, leaving her on the floor, just inside the door. Crying softly, Grace wished that she had caught up to the young man, so he could have taken her away with him. Her sister, Rebecca, came to help her to stand up, putting her arm around Grace’s waist and taking her to their room.
“Why did you run off?” Rebecca asked her as she took a cool, wet cloth and held it to some of the welts on Grace’s backside.
Grace laid down on the bed, on her stomach. “I wasn't running off. I overheard Ma and Da talking. I think that man was here to marry me. I was running to ask him and to get a better look at him. I never could catch up to him, though.”
“You? I doubt that. I am the next one to marry, not ya.”
Grace took the wet cloth from her sister as she rolled over and winced as she sat up, wiping her eyes, then blowing her nose with it. Weakly, she stood up, and went to wash it out in the small bowl on the table in between their beds. The words that the young man said about her sister being less than desirable came back to her, but she would never share them with Rebecca.
“Aye, I know ya are. I’m probably mistaken. I’m foolish, I know that now,” Grace said.
“That ya are, Grace. I will draw you a warm bath to soothe your bottom. He made sure that it will be sore for a week, didn't he?”
A smile crossed Grace’s lips. The thought that one day someone would come and take her away from this place, made her hopeful and therefore happy. Grace waited for her sister to heat water and pour it into the tub in their room. It was a painstaking process that took an hour to do, leaving her time to daydream about how life would be, once someone chose her to be his wife. Sometime soon, she would have her own little house. A yellow one would be nice. There are so many white ones, yellow would stand out, she thought to herself.
As Grace soaked in the tiny tub Rebecca washed the streaks of blood from Grace’s tan dress. “I will hate the day when I have to leave you here, all alone, pet.”
“I’ll hate that day as well, sister,” Grace said.
“It won’t be long now, ya know?” Rebecca said.
“Aye, you are about to turn fifteen. It could happen anytime. Do you feel ready, sister?”
“I am, Grace. I pray every night for some handsome man to come and rescue me from this God forsaken place. I’ll tell you now that I’ll never put up with the things that our mother has. No man will be beatin’ me or my children.”
“How could you stop him?” Grace asked.
“I’d find a way. A log to the side of the head, maybe,” Rebecca laughed and Grace joined her.
“I wonder if all men beat their wives,” Grace said.
“Nah, not all of them, Grace. There are some good ones out there. I just know there are. There has to be. I hope one finds me.”
Grace got out of the tub and dried off, then put on a long white, cotton nightgown. “I hope one finds you too, Rebecca. You deserve a good one.”
The night went by way too fast for Grace. She woke to the sound of a rooster and knew that she had to get up and start the endless chores that filled her days. Moving her body out of bed proved painful, and a moan escaped her lips as the wounds from the lashing actually felt worse than when they were inflicted. The memory of the unnecessary punishment, as she was not trying to run away at all, began to form another stone that made up the wall, housing her heart from her cruel father.
Grace dressed and went to feed the chickens and gather their eggs. The sun had not broken the sky with its rays yet, the air was still heavy with moisture. A daydream began to form in her mind as she cast out the chicken’s feed. A yellow house, she dreamed of, a trickling stream ran in front of it. The dark green trees that filled the forest were visible from her front door. Birds chirped merrily, as she looked up into a blue sky and breathed in the wonderful earthy smell. A handsome man walked out to join her, wrapping his strong arms around her and kissing her cheek, gently. She felt safe and happy.
“Grace!” her mother’s voice cried out, shattering her day dream.
“Grace, you are taking too long, bringing in the eggs. You don’t want your father to punish you again, do ya?”
The threat of more punishments made Grace hurry to pluck the eggs from the chickens’ nests and tucked them into the bucket that had held the chickens’ feed. “I've got them, Ma.”
Her mother grabbed the bucket out of Grace’s hand and began to rush back into the house. “Get the milk from your sister and bring it in, hurry now girl, he’s in a foul mood, already.”
Grace ran to the small, shabby barn, where her sister was milking one of their cows. “Hurry, Rebecca. Ma told me that he is in a foul mood.”
“Here, run this in. I still need to feed the other cows. He knows how to get the day started, don’t he?”
Grace took the pail of milk and ran into the house. “Here, Ma. Good morning, Da.”
“How’s your arse, lass?” Her father asked her.
Grace dropped her head and gritted her teeth at how callously he said things. “It still hurts, Da.”
“Good, the pain will remind you that you belong here, until I say that you go. You have some value to you. I can’t have you running off and getting lost or stolen or messing yourself up somehow.”
“Sorry, Da. It won’t happen again,” Grace replied.
“See that it doesn't or next time I won’t be so easy on ya.”
Grace sat the milk down on the table, then went back outside to go on about her chores. Thinking to herself how she should have told her father that she was not running away at all, and the punishment was unwarranted. A rock tripped her as she went to help Rebecca clean the stalls in the barn, leaving her knee stinging, she looked down to find that there was a little bit of blood on it. With a limp, she made her way back to the barn.
“Now you’re limpin’ what’s he done to you this time?” Rebecca asked her.
“Nah, I tripped and did this to me self. Clumsy girl, I am. He’ll be mad if he sees this, so don’t tell him, promise me.”
“I’ll not be tellin’ Grace. Why would he be mad at you, though? He left lashes all over your backside, after all.”
“He told me that I had value. I heard him say that yesterday, too. If some lad comes for me with what he wants and they won’t give it to him, because I’m a mess, well he’ll probably kill me.”
“I hadn't thought about that. I best be keeping myself in better stands, then, as well. Maybe you can help me wash my hair and braid it, so it won’t be so scraggly. I would hate for someone to come for me and I look like I usually do after a hard day of chores,” Rebecca said.
“Aye, we can get you prettied up. Now let’s hurry with the chores so we’ll have time to do just that.”
The day dragged on and on, as the girls finished one chore only to go to the next one. They stopped only for a few minutes in the morning to grab a chunk of bread and a glass of milk. Grace swept the floors of the house as Rebecca mopped them behind her, finally finishing the chores for the day.
“Girls, come get your dinner. Your father has gone to town and won’t be back until tomorrow,” their mother called out from the kitchen.
The girls smiled at each other and ran to the kitchen. The absence of their father meant that they could relax and have a little bit of fun. They quickly made their bowls of broth with potatoes in it and grabbed a chunk of bread, then sat down at the table with their mother.
“Grace is going to help me wash my hair, Ma. I've decided to make myself more presentable,” Rebecca said.
“Not a day too early, daughter. Your father is in town making a deal for you. I was going to talk to you about that this evening. He may have found you a husband.”
“So it was me that the red haired boy came for. I told you, Grace,” Rebecca chided her.
“Nah, not that one. There is a man, he lives in town, his wife died and he needs a new one, quickly. They had eight children and he can’t take care of them alone,” their mother corrected Rebecca.
“Eight children!” Rebecca cried.
“Is he an old man, Ma?” Grace asked.
“Not terribly old. I think he’s about thirty-five.”
“Thirty-five? I am but fifteen, Ma. Can’t you find someone younger? I don’t want to go take care of an old man and eight children. Am I not expected to have any children of my own?”
“That’s not so old. He’s only a year or so older than your father. As for having your own children, you can still have them. Men don’t get too old to make them, ya know.”
“I don’t want to make children with an old man. This is awful news, Ma.”
“Now, see here, miss. You take what you can get. Most girls are married by your age, ya can’t be choosy. It’s lucky for you that his wife died, giving birth to her eighth child or he wouldn't need you either. Now get your head right, lass. We will fix you up, so he has something to look at when he comes for you tomorrow. You will behave like you've been taught to or your father will beat you until you do.”
Rebecca dropped her eyes, knowing that there would be no point in doing battle with her mother over this, it was out of her mother’s control, anyway. “Do you know if he beat his wife, before she died?”
“I don’t know, child. Be a good wife and he won’t have to punish you. Take good care of his children and keep him well fed. When he takes you to his bed, do whatever he asks of you. Most of the time they won’t want to punish you, if you keep them satisfied.”
Grace stood up and pulled at her sister to follow her. “Come, let’s wash your hair. I’ll braid it up, really pretty for you, sister.”
Rebecca leaned up against her smaller sister as they walked to their bedroom, then she threw herself onto her bed and began to weep. “I wished for this day and now that it has come, I don’t want it, I don’t want it, at all,” she cried.