by Victor Sullivan © 2015 Fair Day
Cattle and drovers filled the roads leading to Castletown Bere for the Autumn Fair Day. The town square was filled with grim-faced farmers, shifty-looking cattle buyers, steaming cattle, horse-carts with sheep in them, horse-carts with pigs in them, horses with riders on saddles, horses with riders without saddles, donkey-carts, a bull being led by a rope attached to his nose-ring. The ground was awash with cow-dung and soft and gentle rain fell steadily upon the smelly scene. Buyers were trying to strike early bargains in the hope of securing space on one of the two small ships that waited at the nearby pier. Their purchases would be ferried to Bantry, from where the animals would continue their journey by rail.
The Gill family had six bullocks to sell and while his father herded the cattle along the road, Johnnie followed behind on the floor of the horse-cart, driving Nancy. Autumn Fair Day, or any other Fair Day for that matter, was no place for Eureka to be, down there among all those hooves and legs and shit! Although there was no formal allocation of space for individual farmers on the town square, or anywhere else, each family had a traditional patch to which they tended to gravitate with their animals on a fair day, there to await the attention of the cattle buyers. So it was with the Gills. With Nancy's reins tied to one of the rings on the wall of The Corner Bar, the six bullocks formed a tight group beside the cart.
The bullocks were in prime condition and were quickly spotted by the cattle- buyers who then delayed making any approach as they did not wish to be seen as keen to buy and thus risk pushing the price up. Eventually a cattle-buyer approached, grunted a lot, but soon the deal was done and Thomas Gill was asked to drive the animals to the pier, which he did. Then he visited the Bank to deposit the fruits of the transaction.
In the upstairs window of The Corner Bar a curtain moved. An eye peeped out at the scene spread out below on the town square. Men with caps and hats, very few bare heads, occasional sticks waving in the air, cattle everywhere, several horses, a few carts with pigs and several with sheep. Since opening time, her uncle had been serving the few early drinkers. The bar had not yet filled with men who had sold their produce and had immediately developed a thirst.
Aged nineteen, Brenda, a farmer's daughter who lived quite close to the town, had been begged and cajoled to come to help her uncle behind the bar occasionally, especially on Fair Days or other busy occasions. The bar was beginning to get busy and she would be called down to assist at any moment. The curtain was pulled back further as the curious girl pressed her blonde head against the glass, trying to get a better view of something odd that had caught her eye on the horse-cart immediately below the window. Someone was lying on the cart in an un-natural position. Then, just as she realised that she was looking at the cripple, Johnnie Gill, Brenda saw two youths with sticks approach the cart and to her horror, they appeared to prod the occupant with their sticks. Then they moved, one to each side of the horse where they quickly undid the britchen and draft chains and hoisted the shafts of the cart into the air, causing the crippled occupant to slide helplessly onto the filthy ground. Brenda had seen enough. She dashed down the stairs and into the bar, shouting at the top of her voice:
"There are two blackguards beating up poor Johnnie Gill outside the door!"
Glasses were instantly put down and there was a rush for the door. Outside, two bullys were shouting,
"Where's your old blacksmith now?" as they began to kick Johnnie repeatedly. That was the very moment when the bar customers reached them. Painfully, very painfully, they realised that it was now their turn to lie down beside their victim to be rolled over and over in the cowdung while very rough justice rained down upon them from boots, sticks and a horse-whip. They had to promise to never, ever again, never, never, NEVER, NEVER, interfere in any way with Johnnie Gill and that God might strike them blind if they ever did such a thing again. Furthermore, if they mistreated the cripple again, the pair of them would be taken out to sea on a fishing trip….
"Can you swim?"
"So much the better for you! 'Tis quicker if you can't swim."
And with that chilling threat, the rescuers returned to their drinks, while a few stayed to help Johnnie and ensure that his two humiliated, filthy and battered attackers left the busy town square without delay. Johnnie had suffered a few bruises from the kicks but he made light of it as, thankfully, he had been wearing Cromwell. A concerned Brenda brought a bucket of water and Johnnie, with much good-humoured encouragement, persuaded her to throw it over him. They laughed about it and he told her jokes. After three or four more buckets of water and several more laughs, she had him looking reasonably presentable, just as his non-drinking father returned from the Bank, seeking an explanation as to why Nancy had been un-tackled from her cart.
Brenda watched the horse being re-tackled and she clapped at Johnnie's agile, rope-assisted climb onto its flat floor. What had surprised her most about the entire incident was how naturally and nicely Johnnie had spoken to her. He had thanked her for pouring water over him and for cleaning up the cloak thing he called Cromwell. In spite of the odd circumstances, it had been quite a friendly sort of chat that they had, not in the least like the incoherent mutterings she had expected from a cow-dung covered cripple. She would have to alter her opinion of cripples, well, some of them anyway. Johnnie had been so polite, respectable and well-spoken, even when covered in cow-dung! A gentleman cripple!
Thomas Gill hoisted himself onto the setlock of the horse-cart and turned Nancy towards home. Brenda went and scrubbed her hands clean, wiped her face, tidied her hair and returned to the bar to assist her uncle behind the counter. Her hands and face may have been clean but the hem of her skirt bore generous bovine evidence that she had been squatting beside the cripple, Johnnie Gill, in the town square, on Fair Day.