Malachi and his mother sat staring at each other across their kitchen table. A mug of milky tea, remained untouched in front of the mother. Both appeared very troubled. Malachi sighed and shifted, causing his mother to look at him hopefully, but the hope disappeared as he just settled into a new position and the staring continued. Malachi sighed again and scratched his three day stubble.
“Well mother, I’m a feared you were right all a long”
“Ah sure, being right isn’t always a comfort Malachi my boy. We’re damned goosed and so we are. It’ll be the Poor House for us.”
Malachi nodded at his mother mournfully. He felt both anger and guilt. Anger that he had been so easily played and guilt that his naiveté would cost them both their house and the gruesome prospect of the Poor House. It had started, as these misfortunes usually do, with drink. He had stopped by The Widow McCarthy’s Shebeen, on his way back from town and he had gotten into deep conversation with a drover from out Knocknagoshel way.
The drover had a bullock left over from the Market and if he hadn’t been booked on a boat the America the next day, he’d keep the thing for himself. Fatten it up for six months and there would be clear profit at the Market or enough cured meat to do a family a whole winter. Malachi was well away by the time he was introduced to the beast in question and handed over every penny he had belonging to him and his mother. So proud was he of his purchase that he named the animal, Luke, after his sainted father. He led Luke home, his voice joining the singing in his heart. His mother would be proud of him this day.
That had been four nights ago. His mother, a patient and ever loving mother, had allowed him one day to recover from his Poitín, before gently taking him by the hand and leading him to the gable of the house, where Luke stood tethered and shivering. No words were necessary. Malachi could see the poor animal was worth less than the string that tied him to the wall.
Malachi spent the next two days trying to track the Drover down, but no sign of him could he find. Malachi uttered a curse against all Kerry men and looked at his mother apologetically.
“That’s grand, sometimes a curse is better out than in.”
He nodded at her and stood to make her a fresh mug of tea. As he lent over the kettle he was distracted by a noise from outside. His mother looked out a window and turned a pale face to him.
“Tis only herself from the Big House.”
Malachi dropped the mug in shock.
“But isn’t she out foreign?”
“Well she’s standing out there now Malachi, so out foreign she ain’t”
Malachi nodded and took a few deep breaths. His mother patted her hair and reached for her good shawl. They stood at the door and looked at each and nodded. Malachi opened the door and they both stepped out. There was no one there. They looked left and right and then at each other in confusion. Malachi raised an enquiring eyebrow.
“Whist now boy, I saw what I saw.”
They heard a hum from the gable of the house, where Luke was still shivering his life away. They walked to it and discovered Lady Lannigan running her hands over the animal, though being careful to not actually touch it. There was a look of intense concentration on her face. They watched the young, well dressed woman in silence. Her face was unfashionably tanned and her bustle scandalously small, but then she did own several thousand acres of land, so who would call her to task.
After several moments she stopped and slumped exhausted against the animal, unconcerned by her clothes getting soiled.
“Come away now Lady Lannigan, your beautiful dress will be ruined.”
Lady Lannigan smiled at her concern and pushed herself off of Luke, who lowed at her enthusiastically. His ears perking up with renewed energy. She cooed at him gently and patted him on the rump.
“I do apologise for the liberty of attending to your poor animal, my good people but I am powerless in the face of suffering.”
Malachi and his mother dragged their eyes away from Luke and nodded at her, before walking her into the house. Malachi returned to making the tea while his mother sat next to Lady Lannigan.
“We had thought you out foreign My Lady.”
“Oh I was. Two years traveling the marvels of The Orient. I would have stayed longer but the natives picked a war with our gallant army. When they have been quelled I shall return with all haste.”
Malachi set out the mugs.
“Sorry M’Lady we’ve nothing grand here for the tea.”
“Oh my good man, when I was in The Orient a mug such as this, with good honest tea, would have been a luxury.”
Malachi poured the tea and fetched the milk. He sat down and waited awkwardly for one of the women to speak. His mother eventually broke the lengthening silence.
“Tell me Lady Lannigan, what were you doing with poor Luke just now.”
Lady Lannigan gave the mother a conspiratorial and even triumphant look.
“I learned some of the secrets of The Orient and I could not resist applying my new gift to that sorry looking cow.”
Lady Lannigan glanced at Malachi.
“Luke is a bullock M’Lady on account of him being castrated. A cow is a whole different order of animal.”
“Whist now Malachi, there’s such a thing as knowing enough and knowing too much.”
“Sorry mother, sorry M’Lady.”
“That’s quite alright I’m sure. I grew up round horses, so one cannot be too delicate about such things.”
She sipped her black tea in silence, Malachi cowering under the reproachful stare of his mother. When she relented her silent admonishment she looked at Lady Lannigan and asked again.
“You were at what exactly Lady Lannigan? With Luke that is.”
Lady Lannigan smiled mysteriously and set her mug down and took the jug of milk, and Malachi’s untouched black tea and placed them side by side on the table. She looked at Malachi.
“Your mother is partial to milky tea, is she not?”
He nodded, but on being tutted at by his mother, he spoke quickly.
“Yes she is M’Lady. Loves her milky tea she does.”
“Well imagine Luke as a mug of milky tea.”
Lady Lannigan poured a few drops of milk into the mug.
“Would this mug of tea meet your mother’s satisfaction?”
“Indeed and it wouldn’t M’Lady”
“That is how Luke is at the moment. Unsatisfactory. There’s not enough tea in the mix. But a skilled person, a person with true sight, can pour more milk through him and make him better.”
She poured more milk into the tea.
“This is closer to how your mother likes her tea, is it not? But still not perfect?”
Malachi nodded, but wasn’t tutted at this time.
“I will return tomorrow and I will direct more of the milk of the universe through Luke. I may have to return several times. He is a sickly cow.”
“Yes, a sickly bullock, but I have the power to see him cured.”
The mother stood up and gave an apologetic nod to Lady Lannigan.
“Excuse me My Lady, I have to attend to the Out House.”
Lady Lannigan smiled at her absently, before returning to the mug of tea. She poured more milk into it.
“Just like this.”
She smiled at Malachi as she lifted up the mug of milky tea. The mother quietly returned and retook her place at the table. Lady Lannigan was about to hand the mug to Malachi, when her face froze. Malachi quickly reached for the mug. She collapsed, face first into the table. The handle of the bread knife, jutting out of the base of her skull. Malachi handed the mug to his mother.
“She got your tea right anyway. Though it took her so long it’s probably cold.”
“Well the likes of us don’t rush Lords and Ladies. It ain’t done.”
“Did you see her necklace?”
“Worth a pretty penny I’d say, though you’ll have to travel a bit to sell it safely.”
“At least we won’t have to suffer eating Luke now.”
“Bad news there Malachi. I’m after finding him dead, just now.”
“Faith and he’ll take some burying.”
“Ah sure, call it a lesson to you. There’s one thing worrying be though Malachi.”
“What’s that mother?”
“With all her traveling in foreign parts, I hope it don’t leave a taste.”
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