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Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Part 5: Cradle Songs and Distant Melodies, The Highwayman's Daughter

part 5: The Highwayman’s Daughter
“So we can do a touch now … as well as you grand gentlemen on the high toby.”—Boldrewood: Robbery under Arms, chap. xxvi.

Back in Ireland Dolly had not been old enough to question the source of the sparkling coins that had filled her Da’s pockets. She had one vague memory of a time when Mam fed Dolly and Owen their supper early, then flitted back and forth to the door in a constant state of agitation. Even thought she was quite a little girl, only four perhaps, Dolly had known that something wasn’t quite right.

Later, tucked up beneath a pile of quilts, she’d woken to a small explosion as the door banged open. Fion MacLiam had burst in laughing and calling to his wife. Peeking around the blanket that hung from the ceiling to separate the cot where she and her brother slept, from the rest of the tiny house, she’d seen Da pouring a stream of golden guineas into his wife’s hands. But Mam was not looking at the coins. 

“I thought you’d been taken, Fionn!” Her voice was thick with unshed tears.

“It would take a brave legion of muskro to capture your man, Rudju.

That was all there was to the memory. She must have gone back to sleep. Dolly often wished she could recall more of her mother, beyond that once scene and some snatches of a song about a highwayman.

Mam had died on the boat to America, and the tiny baby she carried inside her had gone with her. That left the sole care of Dolly and her little brother to Fionn. It had been no easy feat for Da to get work in the great city where they landed. And it had been even harder for a man burdened with two small children. There had been attempts to find a woman to care for them, and even one horrible day when he left the six year old girl to care for small Owen alone. He had returned after a long day of backbreaking labor, to find them shaking with fear from fighting off the rats that had invaded the tenement room and hiding from the drunkard next door, who’d pounded on their door after knocking down his wife.

Fion had sat holding his children on his knee, close to his heart for a long while and then he’d packed their few possessions and the three of them had left the filthy little room behind, and headed off to follow the footpath out of town. Da was not only a tender-hearted man he was no fool. His children would never survive city life without two parents.

Next Time: The High Toby

Listen to this entire story in the April Edition of "Unpolished Performances", a free podcast in the iTunes Store. Download it by clicking on this link.

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