Andrew Echlin sent word to Mrs Gomartin that he would have her come up
to Rathard at her convenience. Accordingly, the next evening, Martha and
her daughter entered the close before the Echlin's farmhouse. A collie rose
dustily from a corner of the close and stretching out his neck, barked at
the two women. They heard the screech of a chair pushed back on the tiled
floor of the kitchen, and Andrew appeared on the threshold, twisting his
fingers in his beard. “Come in, Martha" he said smiling at his neighbour
and her daughter.
The Echlins had worked late at some distance from the farmhouse and were
now seated at their evenly meal. When Martha had spoken to the two sons, who
ducked their head in answer, she and Sarah took seats along the wall close to
the door. Andrew reached down cups and saucers from the dresser and filled
them with dark pungent tea. ..hen he added milk the tea turned to a bright
unappetising brown. Only the faintest thread of vapour rose from the cups.
He watched Martha take one sip and then 3et her cup aside on the shelf of the
sewing-machine, her daughter held her cup cradled in her lap.
The old man laughed apologetically. "Ye can see, Martha. There's hands
MrS Gomartin was cautious. She studied the roughly set table and the choked
hearth. "Things might be red up a wee-thing, Andrew,” she agreed,
"Well, there ye are now" said Andrew slapping his leg softly.
The young men and the young woman studied each other discreetly in
passing glances. The seated men were framed in the long black oak dresser on
the shelves of which rested row on row of cottage-blue and willow-pattern plates,
the women itched to be at the soot that masked their bright faces. The mother
saw them sparkling; the daughter saw them sparkling and ranked in symmetry of
size and shape. But not a sign was made. Martha, her hands resting lightly