by Victor Sullivan © 2015 Brenda, Love, Hate and Wills
Johnnie Gill returned twice to the bar 'just to have his face looked over' but on each occasion Brenda's father was present. Then, on his third visit Brenda was serving alone behind the bar counter and her father was absent. Johnnie ordered his usual pint with his usual gesture on entering, positioned Eureka in its usual place and waited for the usual sideways nod from Brenda to one of the usual customers to pass his drink down to him. He waited, longer than usual. Nobody handed his glass down. Then the flap of the bar counter was raised and he watched his drink approaching… in the hand of… Brenda! She squatted down beside him and handed him the glass. Taking his head between her hands she pretended to examine her handiwork on his face but they both knew that there was insufficient light to see anything. Johnnie's free hand touched hers for a moment and she returned to her work-station behind the bar counter. Impossible? A dream? He had vowed to keep his one-pint rule after Ribbon had so embarrassingly taken him to her former home while slept on the cart.
To hell with vows! He ordered a second pint… just to see if Brenda would repeat the personal delivery service… and… SHE DID!
It was the beginning of an unusual relationship that was destined to end in tears as they both knew it would. In the early weeks, Brenda's long chats with Johnnie in the bar were thought to be a mere symptom of the girl's kind nature towards the unfortunate cripple and her interest in the progress of his facial scar. As their warm friendship became more obvious, not only to the bar customers but to the entire town, whispers became more audible:
'What would her poor mother have said had she had lived to see her precious daughter falling for with that crankie cripple?'
'You'd expect her father to put a stop to it! How could he allow his only daughter to carry on like that while working in her uncle's pub. He'd surely want his only child to do better than Johnnie Wheels!'
'I wonder… could they… ya know… God forgive me!… breed?'
The strange friendship of the couple attracted considerable attention and it required strong determination to ignore the innuendo and often cruel, offensive remarks. Brenda, well accustomed to bar-room teasing and scurrilous taunts, would notice Johnnie's knuckles turn white as his grip tightened on his spiked Horses and she would tactfully defuse the situation. Brenda knew there was a limit to his endurance. She had witnessed Johnnie Gill's explosive temper and the consequences of his leg-breaking fury. In miners' jargon, Johnnie was like a blasting charge with a very short fuse. Antagonise him if you dare!
Before long the pair were to be seen sharing Ribbon's cart. Together they attended the wake of a popular bar customer who had dropped dead in the street for no apparent reason. Richard also attended the same wake and grew angrier and angrier as his opinion was repeatedly sought regarding the antics of the bar-maid and the cripple.
Richard confronted Johnnie on the matter when he stopped Eureka by placing his boot on one wheel as they met on the lane beside the Gill's spring well.
"Why do you keep disgracing our family by carrying on with that girl from the bar in town?"
"Why do you keep disgracing our family by drinking far too much in that same bar?"
Richard's boot came off the wheel and swung back, but the kick did not make contact with Johnnie's face as intended. Instead, the shin met the prong of one of Johnnie's Horses and it pierced deep into Richard's leg as Johnnie quickly raised his arms to protect himself. Richard bellowed in pain while his intended target backed quickly away to a safer distance.
"Ask for my permission before you try to kick me in the face again, unless you want the same lesson I gave that sailor!" Johnnie taunted his limping eldest brother. It was mutual open hatred from that moment.
Their father, Thomas Gill, having stretched denial as far as could be expected of anyone, had to admit that his eyesight was deteriorating quite rapidly. He could no longer read a newspaper. He announced that he was 'about to put his affairs in order so as to leave everything neat and tidy when he passed on.' A trip to the solicitor was arranged and he went alone, carrying with him a few documents, one of which was a sealed letter written by his second son, Tommy, who had emigrated to America some years earlier.
According to an earlier will, (drafted not long after Johnnie's cripling accident with the sheep), on the death of his father, the eldest male heir, Richard, would inherit the farm, the house and the income from half of the peat-bog that formed a large part of the Gill's property. Tommy, the second son, was to receive the income from his half-share in the peat-bog. Financial arrangements were made for the widow and for each daughter. It was a condition that the entire family would have the obligation to jointly care for their crippled brother, Johnnie. That document was drafted before Johnnie surprised everyone with his survival, mobility and independence.
The solicitor read the earlier draft will aloud to Thomas Gill and then opened Tommy's sealed letter addressed to 'Thomas Gill's Legal Advisor when making his will.'
"This changes things." was his first comment.
"According to this letter, written in the presence of, and witnessed by, a Lawyer, your second son, Tommy, who now resides in America, relinquishes all his rights to his inheritance, assigning it instead to the person he refers to as: 'My disadvantaged brother, Johnnie, whose injuries will be for ever on my concience as it was I who encouraged him to ride that sheep. May God forgive me! Signed Thomas Gill. Born in Ardgroom, Ireland on 9th October, 1857.'
There was a long, head-nodding silence before the letter-writer's elderly father answered.
"Do as he wishes. Make it legal. The money from that half of the bog will keep Johnnie into his old age. The night before Tommy left for America he said to me that it would be a relief not to see Johnnie dragging himself around on his trolley, day after day. Poor Tommy. I never suspected he was to blame for the sheep accident. We all believed it was Johnnie's own childish mistake. Tommy couldn't stand the guilt any longer."